Saturday, January 29, 2011

Obligatory weather post

We had our first significant (by that I mean "seriously disruptive") snowfall of the season here in Shepherdstown on Wednesday. We had already had a few smaller storms--enough to keep you off the road for the evening or make you really take your time in the morning--but nothing too bad. Even Wednesday's storm wasn't awful--about 8.5 inches. Shovelling out on Thursday wasn't fun and my back was quite angry with me on Friday, but all in all, I did okay, especially given my already documented snow PTSD.

In my efforts to overcome that PTSD, I told myself that once we got our campus visits done for this year's search, I didn't care if we got another blizzard like last year. And then I knocked on some wood and all that, because I really don't want another blizzard. But I am trying to have a better attitude about the weather now that I don't have to worry about candidates flying in or getting stuck here for four extra days like last year. Now the visits are over and everyone made it in and out just fine. I think that helped me deal with Wednesday's storm.

Still, though, although this winter hasn't had even a bit of the historic punch that last year's winter had, we have had threat after threat after threat of "potentially crippling storms" (that language gives me chills) since before Christmas. We've dodged most of the bullets. (Unlike the poor folks up in NY and New England who have just been slammed. I really feel for them.) But still, just those repeated threats are psychologically wearying for a traumatized soul like me. (And yes, I know that is a bit ridiculous.) And you know what? Phrases like "potentially crippling" make it even worse. As do verbs like "loom" as in, another storm is "looming." And accumulation ranges like 6-12 inches. Six I can handle. Twelve inches is one-hundred percent more. What the hell kind of prediction is that?

It looks like the folks at Gawker agree with me. This post about the terrifying Accuweather maps is spot on. Seriously. I need to stop checking out that damn so often. But I just can't help myself...

Anyway, here's hoping they are wrong about this stupid "Groundhog Day Storm" that could "affect 100 million!"

For the record, the Weather Channel isn't any more reassuring...check out this map I just saw there:


Rebecca Harding Davis in Boston...

Since mid-December, I've had a Word document filled with notes from Rebecca Harding Davis's 1904 memoir Bits of Gossip sitting on the desktop of my computer. I recently wrote a (very short) introduction to Davis's "Life in the Iron Mills" which will appear in the new volume of the Anthology of Appalachian Writers. (Davis is the second heritage writer the anthology will include--last year's volume included Jesse Stuart's "Split Cherry Tree," for which I also wrote the introduction.) This evening, I am giving myself a little break from other work, and decided it's about time to write about those notes I've had saved since before Christmas.

The bits from Bits of Gossip were beyond the scope of my introduction, but I saved them anyway, especially the parts where Davis recounts her 1860s visits to Boston and her meetings with various American literary luminaries including Bronson Alcott (she was not a fan), his daughter Louisa (more about her below), Ralph Waldo Emerson (she was quite a fan, but felt he was hopelessly out of touch and felt his deep respect for Bronson Alcott was "almost painful to see"), and Nathaniel Hawthorne. These memories are especially interesting for someone studying 19th-century American literature, because they show us an "outsider's" perspective on the sometimes very insular world of the Boston literati.

I'll share just a few parts here. First, on Louisa May Alcott:

"During my first visit to Boston in 1862, I saw at an evening reception a tall, thin young woman standing alone in a corner. She was plainly dressed, and had that watchful, defiant air with which the woman whose youth is slipping away is apt to face the world which has offered no place to her. Presently she came up to me.
'These people may say pleasant things to you,' she said abruptly ; 'but not one of them would have gone to Concord and back to see you, as I did to-day. I went for this gown. It's the only decent one I have. I'm very poor;" and in the next breath she contrived to tell me that she had once taken a place as 'second girl.' 'My name,' she added, 'is Louisa Alcott.'

Now, although we had never met, Louisa Alcott had shown me great kindness in the winter just past, sacrificing a whole day to a tedious work which was to give me pleasure at a time when every hour counted largely to her in her desperate struggle to keep her family from want. The little act was so considerate and fine, that I am still grateful for it, now when I am an old woman, and Louisa Alcott has long been dead. It was as natural for her to do such things as for a pomegranate-tree to bear fruit.

Before I met her I had known many women and girls who were fighting with poverty and loneliness, wondering why God had sent them into a life where apparently there was no place for them, but never one so big and generous in soul as this one in her poor scant best gown, the 'claret-colored merino,' which she tells of with such triumph in her diary. Amid her grim surroundings, she had the gracious instincts of a queen. It was her delight to give, to feed living creatures, to make them happy in body and soul.

She would so welcome you on her home to a butterless baked potato and a glass of milk that you would never forget the delicious feast. Or, if she had no potato or milk to offer, she would take you through the woods to the river, and tell you old legends of colony times, and be so witty and kind in the doing of it that the day would stand out in your memory ever after, differing from all other days, brimful of pleasure and comfort.

With this summer, however, the darkest hour of her life passed. A few months after I saw her she went as a nurse into the war, and soon after wrote her 'Hospital Sketches.' Then she found her work and place in the world.

Years afterward she came to the city where I was living and I hurried to meet her. The lean, eager, defiant girl was gone, and instead, there came to greet me a large, portly, middle-aged woman, richly dressed. Everything about her, from her shrewd, calm eyes to the rustle of her satin gown told me of assured success.

Yet I am sure fame and success counted for nothing with her except for the material aid which they enabled her to give to a few men and women whom she loved. She would have ground her bones to make their bread. Louisa Alcott wrote books which were true and fine, but she never imagined a life as noble as her own. "

It seems to me here that Davis is especially insightful and sensitive to so many important factors: what drove Alcott in her work, what it was like for women like Louisa who really did wonder what their place in the world was, how she very nearly did write herself to death to support her family. Yes, it is a bit sentimental, especially towards the end, but I find the whole sketch quite moving (especially her description of "that watchful, defiant air with which the woman whose youth is slipping away is apt to face the world which has offered no place to her.")

Davis's recollections of Hawthorne reveal her deep admiration for him and his work, not surprising since he was a life-long influence on her own work. She writes of her final meeting with him, a few months before his death. They walked around Concord, and sat down on the grass in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery:

"...In a few months he was lying under the deep grass, at rest, near the very spot where he sat and laughed, looking up at us. I left Concord that evening and never saw him again. He said good-by, hesitated shyly, and then, holding out his hand, said:-- 'I am sorry you are going away. It seems as if we had known you always.' The words were nothing. I suppose he forgot them and me as he turned into the house. And yet, because perhaps of the child in the cherry-tree, and the touch which the magician laid upon her, I have never forgotten them. They seemed to take me, too, for one moment, into his enchanted country. Of the many pleasant things which have come into my life, this was one of the pleasantest and best."

That reads a bit like a fan-girl's dream come true, right? To have one of your favorite writers--someone who has influenced you so much--share such kind words with you? Good stuff. As a side-note, I like this little memory of late-in-his-life-Hawthorne because so much of what I came across while writing my Marble Faun paper indicated how unhappy and unpleasant he was late in life. It's nice to see that there might have been some exceptions to that general mood of dissatisfaction.

You can read more of Bits of Gossip here (the whole thing's on Google Books!) or just look at the "Boston in the 1860s" section here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Confession time

All of these are true statements:
  • I am an over-educated person who is supposed to have refined aesthetic tastes (ha!).
  • As a rule, I don't like watching people falling down, getting hurt, or humiliating themselves.
  • I pride myself on watching "quality" TV.
  • I can't stand reality TV.
And yet, and yet, and yet...

Lord help me, I love Wipeout. Love it, love it, love it. I don't understand why*, but it's 60 minutes of TV bliss for me. It makes me happier than it has any right to.

Don't judge.

*I actually believe it has a lot to do with the writers--the jokes are HI-larious. And here, in tiny type, is probably a good place to also confess my love for "Minute to Win It."

Monday, January 10, 2011

Day One: done.

Spring 2011 semester: So far, so good.


I first came across this poem back in November when it was on the "Poem of the Day" podcast. I've thought a lot about it since then, so here it is.

(You can listen to the audio here and find out more about the poet here.)

Amit Majmudar

My mother when she feared that we might starve
would give us candy taking up her violin
and playing each of us a bar
My mother when we danced the winter from
our boots and kicked the walls of circumstance
would write the needed letters over newsprint
and crinkle crackling fire till our hands
came back to us attracted to her gift
My mother painted us a still life and we peeled
and ate the fruit for lunch my mother sculpted

my sister earrings out of pebbles sculpted me
out of abandonment and earth my mother said
you are not poor until you’re at a loss
for worlds you are not rich until like Alexander
you’ve conquered foreign languages
somewhere a rich man pokes his fireplace
reminding it to give him heat she said
somewhere a rich man’s hand lunges in search
of sweetness down his horn of plenty
but there is not a fruit his fingers recognize

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Holiday Catch-up Posts: Christmas

Christmas really flew by this year. I was only in NY for a couple of days. I actually left on Christmas Day, anxious about driving through the bad weather the next day. But I do have some decent pictures to share. (Again, I wish I had gotten at least one shot of everyone.)

 Hanging out with Aidan on Christmas Eve. This is right before he helped me make the mashed potatoes.

Erin and Kelsie on Christmas Eve.

Colin on Christmas Eve. At this point, I had given the camera to Kelsie, asking her to take pictures while Erin and I finished dinner. This led to some pretty silly pictures, but this one is kind of cute.

Olivia--and Aidan peering in from behind.

Erin and I cooking dinner.

 Jeff and Eric. I like this one quite a bit.

Olivia and I. I look like I'm about to fling her...

Tara and Olivia. Cute stuff!

Holiday Catch-up Posts: Thanksgiving

Just a few pictures...I didn't get everyone this year.

 Colin and Ava.

 Olivia and I.

 My mom and dad.

 The cheesecake! It came out really good this year in terms of aesthetics. No cracks!

Eric and Erin.


Here we go again...

Classes start on Monday, but meetings and stuff start this week. I actually have an 8:15 meeting on Tuesday, which seems mean to me. I've been in my office almost every day I've been in town these past couple of weeks, but being compelled to be here before 8:30 on one of our last days of "break" is a bit much. Oh well.

The good news is that I've got 3 of 4 syllabi ready to go. I am still working on my ENGL 372: Advanced Composition syllabus--and probably will be until Sunday. (Maybe I'll post more about that class later...)

For now, though, how about some good old-fashioned linking-posting as a way of taking a 20 minute break from syllabizing?

1) Just because the kid is so very very cute, I must link the "Baby in Tub Assures You that, No, He Does Not Like Anything You Suggest." I love that the kid is saying pretty awful things, but you can't help but smile--and that you kind of want to ask him/her more questions.

2) Lots of folks are talking about last night's How I Met Your Mother and its big surprise ending. I'll admit that it made me tear up. It's a pretty bold move for this kind of comedy to make, but I don't agree with people saying that it doesn't work because it came out of nowhere. Isn't that precisely the point? I also didn't really get the countdown thing happening, although as soon I heard people talking about it, I remembered certain numbers standing out.

3) This is one of the silliest columns I've ever read at I don't have vast amount of experiences on hiring committees (I've been involved in 6, on the committees for 5, and chaired 3), but I can say that we really and truly never talked about what folks wore. I don't even think it was a "back of my mind"/subconscious consideration for us. Sigh. Fortunately, people are tearing the piece down in the comments. 

4) Women laughing alone with salad. Love it, love it, love it. And, as Homer and Bart remind us, you don't win friends with salad.

5) Well played, James Van Der Beek. And the website is real.

6) Finally, this one, because yeah, it's not exactly new, but it really makes me laugh.