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William C. Bonaudi Library's Down the Research Rabbit Hole | Issue 19 | Jennifer McCarthy | Mind's Eye

by Rhonda Kitchens on 2023-02-06T15:45:00-08:00 | 0 Comments



Down the Research Rabbit Hole Jennifer McCarthy



How has reading helped you navigate the world? What books, authors, and ideas have supported and expanded your worldview or daily life?

I have been a reader for as long as I can remember. Books have always been a source of comfort, entertainment, distraction, and clarification to me. They allowed me to experience the world from someone else’s point of view, place of residence, culture, and lifestyle.

I have enjoyed reading Stephen King since the 1980s. He may write popular fiction, but he is beloved for a reason. His novels and characters speak to me from a familiar place and have a tone that is very comforting and comfortable to me. I know that he is going to bring me into the experiences of his characters and that it’s going to be a strange but awesome voyage.

Two of my all-time favorite novels are To Kill a Mockingbird and Dangerous Liaisons (Les Liaisons Dangereuses). To Kill a Mockingbird is chock-full of memorable characters and transports the reader back in time to a small town in Alabama. I adore the goodness of Lawyer and father Atticus Finch as he defends an African American man against a false charge of rape. Dangerous Liaisons is almost the polar opposite of books in that it is a novel by letters (epistolary) written during the 18th century. It portrays the lives of two members of the French aristocracy who are libertines living only for pleasure despite the mores of the society of the time. I adore the lack of empathy expressed by the Libertines for the people they seduce, betray and play with.

A thick yellow book I had in my childhood, A Children's Guide to Knowledge: A Caravan of 16 Books, showed me that foreign languages and cultures were a thing. I can still see in my mind’s eye the pages about Germany and the German language with the picture of the little girl in a mountain meadow. Ein, zwei drei (one two three) – and I was off on a path to learn languages and teach others. I referenced this book in a feature story I wrote for my high school newspaper in which I proclaimed my ambition to become multilingual and learn several languages. (Did it, too! ūüėä)

Children's Guide to Knowledge

Children's Guide to Knowledge, 1970s


You live with Traumatic Brain Injury. What type of research have you done on this? Do you keep current with any particular site or journal?  Has research helped you manage? Is there a particular researcher or organization you follow?


I live with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that I got in a car accident at the age of 14. It was through the Washington Brain Injury Alliance that I first started learning about what it meant for me to be living with this hidden disability. I have been facilitating a brain injury support group under the BIA’s umbrella since November 2009, and through training have gained both knowledge about and tools for coping with my TBI. We lost our funding as a support group during COVID, but I have kept up monthly get-togethers with a small core group. We meet for lunch and an activity – lately, we are creating paintings that we hope to enter in the Grant County Fair as a collective.



Your classes are lively fully engaged adventures.  Where do you get your instruction ideas?

I was exposed to the language teaching philosophy/method, Total Physical Response Storytelling (TPRS) by Angela Leavitt, the Spanish Instructor at BBCC back in the early 2000s. It was developed by Blaine Ray, who taught the Workshop I attended back in 2006 or so. I became hooked! The teaching method is based on the idea that children learn language through using it, not by studying its grammar. In our classrooms, students dive right into communication in the target language from day one. I have been personalizing the stories from my TPRS teaching materials for years in both my German and French classes.

I also use songs as a pedagogical tool, and I learned about the neuroscience behind doing so from a wonderfully interesting book by Daniel Levitin, This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. Levitin is a cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist who has a background as a session musician. While he was leading the Center for Musical Cognition at McGill University in Montreal Canada, he did studies on how the brains of people who are singing together release the neurotransmitter oxytocin. This is the same stuff released by our brains during orgasm and breastfeeding (both mother and baby). Oxytocin is a bonding and interdependence neurotransmitter (think about the feeling you get when singing a hymn in church or the National Anthem at a ballgame!). I was sold, and ever since reading this book, I sing with my students in class every day, and the results have been excellent. The students are better able to engage with the class and the subject matter, as they have shared with me in writing and verbally every quarter.


What countries have you lived in and what type of spirit or idea have they added to your life?

I spent my senior year of high school in Motala, Sweden as an exchange student back in 1987-1988. Every year ever since leaving Sweden, my host parents, Kerstin and Bosse Johansson, call me on the telephone around my birthday in January and we speak in Swedish (and a little English when needed) and visit for at least an hour. My world has encompassed Sweden ever since living there. It has become a part of me.

I studied at l’Université de Paris IV: La Sorbonne France during my junior year of college. [I earned my BA in French and German from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA in 1992.] I stayed there with the Sweet Briar College Junior Year in France program, and so was part of a cohort of American students in Paris that year. Paris is a force of nature unto itself, and anyone who has lived there will always carry a bit of it with them. {I like to think that my love of scarves is a little manifestation of my Parisian year. But Swedes also love their scarves, so…}

The last country I lived in was The Czech Republic. But I also lived in Czechoslovakia: when I first moved to Prague in August 1992 after graduating from college, the country was still Czechoslovakia. However, life is change. I traveled back to Sweden for Christmas in 1992 and returned to Prague, the capital of a new country: The Czech Republic. 

Name of the country aside, I moved to Prague in 1992 to teach English at the Prague University of Economics, the Vysoká škola ekonomická. It was exciting to live in such a vibrant city while the newness of the fall of the Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain instilled in everyone a sense of optimism about the future. I enjoyed my students and traveled extensively. Living in Prague was a lot of work, however. I never did manage to learn very much Czech while there, and navigating the streets with the cobblestones and all of the streetcars (I was nearly run over by one!) was exhausting. It was while standing inside the English Department office at the University that I articulated to myself my desire to move to a small town in the US and teach French and German at a college one day. I did not extend my teaching contract but returned to Massachusetts in June 1993.

Oh, and that plan to teach French and German at a college? Doing it. ūüėä


What book, poem, or study have you read that engaged you so deeply you were changed?

My life has been changed by learning about Stoicism from the Enchiridion, or Handbook by Epictetus. 

He teaches that unhappiness is caused by our desires not matching our reality and that happiness is found in having our desires match our reality. I have tried to live by this maxim for the past twenty years or so. It has made it possible for me to live here in Moses Lake, Washington, “down on the farm” even after having lived in Paris! I make the conscious decision every day to focus on the things I am grateful for having rather than on the things that are lacking or the way I wish things were.

This lesson is made by Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book, Wherever You Go, There You Are. He talks about using the practice of mindfulness in order for us to wake up to our true selves – the selves that we are, not the selves we wish we were or we hope we will be or we wish we had not been. We breathe in the here and the now, and that is enough. Just breathe.

I feel like Epectitus would agree.



Painting by Jennifer McCarthy
Painting by Jennifer McCarthy

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The William C. Bonaudi
Library provides 
study space,
a large and growing
collection of books 

multiple online resources,
and other library services. 

We are committed to meeting
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living within the
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William C. 
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