Posted tagged ‘Western Michigan University’

The History of My Stomach: A Tristram Shandy Parody

January 20, 2012

The other day I came across the following paper that I wrote for an eighteenth century literature course when I was a graduate student at Western Michigan University. It was a fun little assignment where we were asked to write a parody of Laurence Sterne’s novel Tristram Shandy (1759-1767). For what it’s worth, here is my offering which has a bit of a Marquette connection since it references my ancestors.

The Life and Opinions of Tyler Tichelaar, Graduate Student


The History of My Stomach

            This work is intended to be the history of my life and opinions, yet as I sit here typing, I find that my stomach is so upset I cannot concentrate on my subject, but perhaps this is not amiss, as stomach disorders have been my lifelong problem. In fact, I probably had stomach troubles while still in my mother’s womb, so my life story cannot be told without discussing my stomach.

My stomach has always caused me grief. No matter what I eat, my stomach becomes upset. Similarly, if I do not eat, my stomach is upset. A doctor would suggest that I change my diet to remedy this problem, but since everything upsets my stomach, changing my eating patterns is hardly a solution. Nor is it a matter of nerves or stress which causes my disorder. As an innocent, sheltered infant, I was removed from all forms of stress, yet I went through more diapers as a result of diarrhea than is suffered by anyone who regularly eats three meals a day at Taco Bell.

The reader may then ask if it is not purely my imagination that makes my stomach upset. Reader, I am not like Joyce’s Leopold Bloom, receiving pleasure from my bodily functions, enjoying each chance to urinate, and indulging in the movement of my bowels.

The fact is that I have a stomach problem, and there is no solution to my problem;  nor is it simply my problem;  it is a family complaint. Would that my problem were only my nose!  Then, like the admirable Walter Shandy, I could find some consolation in Slawkenbergius. But if there is a worthy book on stomachs, I have yet to find it.

Perhaps the lack of such a treatise is why I dwell on the subject now. Perhaps it  will behoove the world if I write on the cause of my stomach complaints. Perhaps others like me will realize they are not alone, and possibly, they will even learn the source of their own complaints. But perhaps if I am to write such a treatise, I must first relate how I discovered the true cause of my stomach’s malfunctions.

One day, while in the midst of great gastronomical pain, I thought I would contemplate the enigma of my stomach. In my contemplations, I recalled my mother once saying to me, “You have a stomach just like mine.”  Therefore, reason led me to theorize that my stomach was a genetic inheritance from my mother;  further contemplation caused me to believe my theory was true, for the similarity in our stomachs is attested to by our fighting over who gets to use the bathroom first after a visit to Bonanza’s salad bar.

After contemplating the inheritance of my stomach from my mother, I inquired of her if she might have inherited her stomach from one of her parents. She contemplated my question and then recalled that her father had also had a weak stomach. Being an amateur genealogist, I knew my grandfather had had parents of his own;  perhaps from one of these parents, he had inherited his disordered stomach. But upon inquiring of other family members, I learned that the memory of my great-grandparents’ stomachs had disappeared into oblivion.

But I was determined not to give up the search for my stomach’s origins. It then occurred to me that some information might be derived from “The History of the Bishop and White Families” which Jean Martel, my second cousin once removed, had compiled. This family document was easily attainable since the author had given me a copy. In perusing this work, I learned that my grandfather’s father’s father, Jerome Nehemiah White, was a corporal in the Civil War.

But what does the Civil War have to do with my stomach the reader asks?  Well, reader, be patient rather than trying to rush me, and I will let you know. Corporal White fought on the side of the North during the Civil War. Most importantly for my theory, he was shot in the abdomen on June 19, 1864 at Petersburg, Virginia. Following this wound, he did not die, or else I would not be able to write this now, nor would you be able to read this, so be thankful that Johny Reb was such a poor shot, unless of course, you are not enjoying my discussion of inherited stomachs and wish my great-great-grandfather had been shot to death, but I am sure such a brutal thought never crossed my humane reader’s mind. See, I knew you were deeply interested in the state of my stomach all along.

But what happened to Corporal White?  Well, reader, he went to a hospital in Washington D.C. and recovered. In fact, he was released soon after the Civil War ended. Feeling much better, and wanting to celebrate both his recovery and the end of the war he had so bravely fought in, he decided to see a little of his nation’s capital before returning to his Michigan farm. After all, he was only twenty-four, and since he had seen little of the world he was in little hurry to return home. So one night, Corporal White went to the Ford Theatre to see the play Our American Cousin. But reader, you are anticipating me. Yes, you have guessed my family’s secret claim to greatness. My ancestor, Jerome Nehemiah White, witnessed the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth. There you have rung from me the surprise I intended for a future chapter since this chapter was only meant to explore the history of my stomach, or actually my birth, but since I am off the topic, let me discuss how this digression relates to the main topic.

Reader, I am a firm believer in cellular memory. I believe parents pass their memories on to their children through their brain cells, but only those memories of things that happened in their lives up to the time their children are conceived. My great-great-grandfather returned to Michigan and assisted his wife in conceiving my great-grandfather;  in doing so, Corporal White passed on the memory of his wounded abdomen to my great-grandfather’s subconscious, causing all of Corporal White’s descendants to have upset stomachs. Therefore, my stomach is a direct descendant of the Civil War, as the following stomach chart illustrates.


Corporal Jerome Nehemiah White’s Stomach (1841-1900)

Jay Earle White’s Stomach (1880-1963)

Lester Earle White’s Stomach (1905-1987)

Nancy Lee Tichelaar (nee White)’s Stomach (1941-    )

Tyler Richard Tichelaar’s Stomach (1971-    )

Reader, I intended to write about my birth in this chapter. I keep trying to return to my topic, but you keep demanding other information from me. But perhaps these digressions are not without value. Certainly, a little family background is needed to understand how I became the person I am. Really, going back 107 years into my family history is only a small leap, considering I have traced my family tree back nearly two thousand years, and my cellular memory goes back nearly as far. For example, I often have dreams of being in Hastings, England during a great battle. Such dreams might strike you as odd, but since Corporal White was descended from both William the Conqueror and Harold Godwinson, who fought each other at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, my dreams are also the result of a cellular memory passed down for twenty-six generations.

Cellular memory is so marvelous it now enables me to begin the history of my life, or my memories anyway, in the year 1066. But I shall not begin this history until the next chapter, having already filled up enough of this one. In fact, my story should rightfully begin in Chapter One, so I will name this section The Preface. And now, on to the Battle of Hastings.

Remembering T.A. Alley – NMU’s English Department

August 23, 2011

Eighteen years ago today–August 23, 1993–I attended Teaching Assistant orientation at NMU and was hired to teach freshman composition in the English department while I worked on my Master’s Degree. So I thought it appropriate to post my memories of those years (1993-1995) at NMU from My Marquette:

The English Department
Below the library in the academic mall were the offices for many of the professors, including most of the English Department until early 1995 when the department moved to Gries Hall. In 1993, as I completed my bachelor’s degree in English, I did not know what to do. My plan had been to write novels while earning my bachelor’s degree and end up published and famous by the time I graduated so I could begin my career as an author. While I did write and send my manuscripts out for publication, I was not successful finding a publisher. During these years, I completed writing the first draft of The Only Thing That Lasts which I had begun in high school as well as the original version of Narrow Lives and another long-winded novel that remains in a drawer.

Upon graduation, and still not a famous author, I decided I would get a Master’s Degree, and when I learned that being a teaching assistant paid $4,500, I was thrilled since I had spent most of my undergraduate years working at McDonalds and NMU’s Writing Center for minimum wage which over a year had averaged about the same as the teaching assistant wage. And better yet, the teaching assistants got a gigantic raise that semester, so I felt quite prosperous making $6,000 a year and living at home while I earned a Master’s Degree. After a few weeks of teaching, I found I liked it and decided I would get a Ph.D. and become an English professor—again, until I became a famous author.

As a teaching assistant, I was given my own little office down a hallway off the academic mall along with about a dozen other new teaching assistants (T.A.’s) who were working on their M.A. degrees. We dubbed our new office space T.A. Alley and set about becoming great friends. Some of my best and longest friendships began during those two years.

I have nothing but good things to say about the education I received at Northern Michigan University, and especially in the English Department. And beyond the stellar professors I had, what I most appreciated and failed to find later at other universities was a real camaraderie among the students and professors. I’ve been in other English departments where you walk down the hall and all the doors are closed, but at Northern, the professors’ doors were always open. Most of them spent several hours a day in their offices and were always available to their students. Professors and students passed each other in the halls, we all knew each other, and we always talked to one another. Even if I did not have a class with a professor, I never felt I couldn’t talk to him or her. While I was just a graduate student, nevertheless, I felt accepted as part of the department and encouraged in my teaching and academic goals. I saw none of the snobbery or competitiveness among graduate students or professors I unfortunately witnessed elsewhere in academia. I don’t think I could have had a more fulfilling start to my career than being part of that supportive, learning environment, and while I have long since left academia, those years remain frequent and pleasant memories.

I did not party a lot in college. Yes, I did occasionally hang out at the Shamrock with my friends, and we had parties at friends’ apartments, and the camaraderie added a great deal to the general happiness of those years, but part of what made me so happy was the learning environment. My classes at Northern fulfilled my intellectual needs without making me feel stressed about competing with others. Sitting in Dr. Maureen Andrews’ Survey of British Literature class, where I was first introduced to the poetry of William Wordsworth, was like having rockets go off in my brain. Dr. Peter Goodrich was the insightful director for my master’s thesis King Arthur’s Children in Fiction and Tradition. I enjoyed working under Dr. Mark Smith at the Writing Center and also being a teaching assistant under Dr. Bill Knox. Although I eventually left teaching in an official way, today as an author and editor, I continue to teach people as well as entertain them, and I feel highly fulfilled as a result; without the education I received at NMU along with a little creative entrepreneurship, I wouldn’t have been able to start my own business Superior Book Promotions (, writing, editing, reviewing books, and basically, doing what I most love to do.

TA. Alley

Photos from my TA years, including the Alexander Family, Becky Shusta and Stephanie Hill at Presque Isle; Jill Nelson, Larry Alexander, and Chris Rencontre in TA Alley; Tyler, Larry, and Jill on graduation day April 29, 1995; Max Alexander

Many of my college friends remain my friends today—Stephanie, Becky, Tom, Chris, Paul, Dana, Greg, Jill, and Larry. Hopefully I have not forgotten any. Larry Alexander ended up sharing an office with me when the English Department moved to Gries Hall. In those days, he and his wife, Ann, had a newborn son, Max, whom Larry would bring to school with him. I ended up volunteering to babysit Max while Larry went to teach his class. The paternal instinct unexpectedly blossomed in me at that time. I changed many diapers, but it was all worth it whenever Max fell asleep with his head propped on my shoulder. Time goes by too fast—Max is sixteen today—but time’s passing shows that friendships last a long time. And little did I know then that someday Larry would design my websites as well as the layout for this book.

I cannot discuss every professor and student I knew at Northern, nor all my friends I had in college. I hope it is sufficient to say that whether I was teaching a class, hanging out in T.A. Alley, having lunch at Bookbinders, attending a play at Forest Roberts Theatre, sitting in a class at Jamrich Hall, studying in the library, or walking across campus, I was happy at NMU, and everyone I knew there contributed to that beneficial experience for me. It’s been said before a million times, but for me, the college years truly were the best years of my life.

When I finished my Master’s Degree, I moved to Kalamazoo where for five years I worked on my Ph.D. at Western Michigan University. While I found a couple of good friends there and I appreciate the excellent education I received, the atmosphere was not as friendly as what it was at NMU. Partly I’m sure the experience was different because doctoral students have more stress than undergraduate and M.A. students, partly because I didn’t know anyone in Kalamazoo when I moved there, and partly I felt displaced from my native environment, but I think the truth is ultimately that Northern Michigan University, like all the U.P., is a superior place.

Award-Winning Authors Galore on U.P. Book Tour

July 4, 2011

Did you know that Escanaba native Tom Bissell had a Guggenheim fellowship? You’ll be able to catch the author of Chasing the Sea at Negaunee’s Vista Theater on July 14th, and at the Escanaba Public Library on July 16th.

Chasing the Sea Tom Bissell

Chasing the Sea by Tom Bissell

Tom Bissell is just one of more than 60 authors participating in the UP Book Tour which continues through July 23rd and includes more than 20 UP locations and 50 events.

Many of the tours’ participants are UP-based authors like Gretchen Preston, author of Valley Cats, Jerry Harju, well-known humor author, poet Marty Achatz, author of The Mysteries of the Rosary, and Beverly Matherne NMU professor and winner of numerous awards for her poetry that she produces in English and French, including most recently a book about the childhood of the French founder of Detroit, titled Lamothe-Cadillac. I know all of these authors well and have followed their work in some cases for nearly twenty years. I highly recommend each of their books.

Lamothe-Cadillac Beverly Matherne

LaMothe-Cadillac by Beverly Matherne

Many other authors on the tour may be new names to UP residents. One of NMU’s newest professors, Matthew Gavin Frank, who just moved to Marquette, is ready to meet lovers of poetry, food, and travel books. The author of Barolo, about Frank’s time spent working in the Italian wine country, will be part of an author panel at Peter White Public Library on July 13th. Joining Matthew will be Darrin Doyle, author of The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo. Darrin and I both lived in Kalamazoo and attended Western Michigan University at the same time, so I can’t wait to talk to him about his depiction of Kalamazoo in his writing. Another of my former colleagues from Western Michigan University, Jonathan Johnson, is a well-known poet and the author of Hannah of the Mountains, as well as the son of Ron Johnson, an NMU creative writing professor.

The Girl who ate kalamazoo darrin doyle

The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo by Darrin Doyle

And the tour also offers plenty of variety. Some authors write about the U.P., some about Michigan, some live in Michigan, others are former Yoopers who have returned for the tour. Adam Schuitema’s Freshwater Boys is set around Lake Michigan and was a Michigan Notable Book. Lauri Anderson and Jane Piirto are influenced by their Finnish heritage in their writings, and Saleem Peeradima is a native of India.

U.P. Ron Riekki

U.P. by Ron Riekki

Freshwater Boys

Freshwater Boys by Adam Schuitema

The U.P. Book Tour has been organized by Ron Riekki, author of U.P., a book currently in the works to be turned into a film. Riekki has brought together all these authors and seeks to bring them to places not normally on book tours, including places like Palmer and Gwinn in the U.P. His passion for U.P. literature has been apparent in the many interviews he has done, including on Public TV 13’s Media Meet and in Marquette’s Mining Journal. Riekki and all the authors, bookstores, and libraries participating on the tour hope that people will come out to support Michigan and U.P. literature and authors. Who says the only places worth reading about are New York, L.A., or London? We know that Michigan is a wonderful place to live, a place rich in history and storytelling, so it’s time to celebrate it.

For a full schedule of the UP Book Tour and author bios, visit Ron Riekki’s website at

Barolo Matthew Gavin Frank

Barolo by Matthew Gavin Frank

And if I may slightly alter the state motto, “If you seek a great award-winning author, look around you.”

Valley Cats Gretchen Preston

Valley Cats by Gretchen Preston

the Mysteries of the Rosary Martin Achatz

The Mysteries of the Rosary by Marty Achatz