All the Small Things: Rick Bailey's essay collection "The Enjoy Agenda" is a humorous and touching look at some of life's little moments


Rick Bailey and his book The Enjoy Agenda

Author photo by Tiziana Canducci.

With warm and inviting prose, Rick Bailey takes us through life's hilarious and melancholy moments in The Enjoy Agenda: At Home and Abroad. 

“Part of the pleasure in writing these essays is capturing moments that go flying by and would otherwise be forgotten," says Bailey. "Every moment is potentially reverberant. In the essay 'iSmell,' after a not particularly successful home repair event, the scent of WD40 on my fingertips causes me to remember my first experiences wearing cologne in seventh or eighth grade, and then to recall the smell of Dow Chemical in Midland, Michigan, and tobacco in Durham, North Carolina, where I spent some time in graduate school, leading to some thoughts on possibilities of digitized smell and the chemistry of smell in outer space. Reverberance is cool.”

These sorts of memories resonate through this charming book which includes stories of Bailey’s recruitment to a high school wrestling team, attempts to use mindfulness as a way to control blood-pressure results, and a long path to find just the right kind of milk. 

Some stories, like "Call It a Dance," begin with musings on the de-evolution of dance and gently leads the reader into a patch of statistical research on the subject. These sorts of connections are plentiful in the book.

“Bite Down is a good illustration of this approach to the essay -- linking personal narrative to investigative research," Bailey says. "In that essay, I tell the story of having a toothache in Venice, Italy, and use that experience as a springboard into a survey of home remedies for toothache and the history of dentistry. Who knew that one of the seminal works on dentistry was written by one Bartolomeo Eustachi, a Renaissance physician and scientist who was avid about dissections and autopsies and that his work #Libellus de Dentibus# was published in Venice in 1563? I did not know that. It was a happy discovery and helped me have even more fun with the subject of toothache.”

The Enjoy Agenda is Bailey’s second collection published by University of Nebraska Press; his first book was American English, Italian Chocolate: Small Subjects of Great Importance. Bailey and his wife spend three months of the year in her homeland of Italy and this is when he assembles his manuscript and works on the editing process. 

Prior to his retirement, Bailey taught freshman comp for 38 years at Henry Ford College.

“In the last 20 years of my teaching I wrote instructional materials for my classes," he says, "providing them with sample essays in which I told stories from my life experience and linked that experience to what I was reading. By the time I retired I had generated a ton of material that felt and read a lot like creative nonfiction.”
Bailey also encouraged his students to draw from their personal experiences in their writings.

“By the time they arrived in my classes, most of my students had been persuaded that their experience and their stories didn’t matter and had no place in their writing," he says. "I understood that argument -- writing for the academy and all that stuff -- but I found that notion both offensive and wrong. My practice in the classroom was about helping them find their voice and give shape to their stories, generating meaning and enjoyment from their words.”

And thanks to Bailey’s books, we can now all learn from his tender prose and gentle encouragement.

Patti F. Smith is a special education teacher and writer who lives in Ann Arbor with her husband.

Rick Bailey reads at Literati on Monday, July 15 at 7 pm.