Micki McElya

You Should…Pre-election Edition. Part III

In advance of the upcoming election, we’ve asked members of the UCHI community to suggest a book, article, poem, painting, video, or piece of music that they think everyone should take a look at in this current moment.

Micki McElya says you should read…

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994). This book has been like a warm blanket and darkly funny, knowing friend in these days of struggling to teach, mourn, write, rage, understand, and remain hopeful.

Book cover of Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird

Kenneth Gouwens says you should read…

“Desiderata,” an early 1920s prose poem by the American writer Max Ehrmann. At this moment, we might consider some famously wise words from a meatpacker in Terre Haute, Indiana (who also took grad courses in Philosophy at Harvard). Those who find this too earnest might at least get momentary comic (if corrosive) relief from current preoccupations by listening to the National Lampoon parody, Deteriorata.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.


Micki McElya is Professor of History at the University of Connecticut. She received her B.A. in history from Bryn Mawr College in 1994 and a Ph.D. from New York University in 2003. Before joining the faculty of the University of Connecticut, she was an assistant professor of American Studies at the University of Alabama (2003-2008). Her recently published book, The Politics of Mourning: Death and Honor in Arlington National Cemetery was a Choice Outstanding Academic Title of 2017 and a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. It was a co-winner of the 2018 John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize from the Foundation for Landscape Studies, winner of the inaugural Sharon Harris Book Prize from UConn’s Humanities Institute, and finalist for the 2016 Jefferson Davis Book Award from the American Civil War Museum.

Kenneth Gouwens is Professor of History at the University of Connecticut. He has published extensively on the culture of Renaissance Rome. His current research interests include Cultural history of Italy, 1494-1530; Pope Clement VII (Giulio de’Medici); and the distinctions drawn between humans and simians in the Renaissance and in our own era.