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Ten Words Faculty Brats Grew Up Knowing

Children of faculty grow up learning some very distinctive vocabulary.  Here are 10 words I learned through osmosis as a kid because of my mother’s job as a college professor– and what they meant to me at the time.

  1. Campus: Where Mom goes to work. I can’t remember ever not knowing the word “campus.”
  2.  The Dean: Somebody very important but often vexing and bossy.
  3. Tenure: Something you “get” after a lot of stress and arguing. My mom got tenure when I was about 5 and explained to me that “tenure” meant she couldn’t be fired. Then she had to explain what “fired” meant.
  4. The Department Chair: I was 6 when I learned this was a person, not a communal piece of furniture.
  5. Semester/ Trimester/ Term: Kind of like a season, but shorter and marked by flurries of intense grading.
  6. Advisee: Similar to a student except more lost, disorganized, chronically late. 
  7. Performing Arts Center: Where you take dance classes sometimes and see musicians, plays, and strange blob sculptures that are called “student art.”
  8. Conference: “Mom’s away at a conference again. Time to go see Terminator 2 without her!”
  9. PhD: If your mom is a doctor, but not that kind of doctor, she has a PhD. 
  10. Sabbatical: That year you moved to India or Boston or Alaska for “research,” Mom didn’t teach any classes, and your parents were so excited and happy.




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breaking up with the world

Breaking Up With The World

There are rules, Rapunzel told me, to estrangement.
Only one rule, really, and this is that you must
let the estranged party know you are estranging them.
You may or may not disclose the reason,
but the estrangement is as clear as Michael kissing Fredo
on the lips in Havana , saying “Fredo, you broke my heart.”

How does one estrange a planet? Is it as simple
as stepping off the ramparts into another life,
like the falling man who walked away from
burning towers into a new timeline?
Rapunzel thinks she is learning the rules as she goes
but she is just braiding a life-raft with her words.

Her miles of schemes cannot untell the lie she told herself.
She only has to pull one hair—the right one—
for her world to unravel like a wig made of yarn.
She can fortify herself within the stone of her illusions;
She can break up with the world, and yet
she cannot say: “My love, you broke my heart.”


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