Priorities

The list of things I had in my youth that I later decided were “lame” and got rid of and now wish I had again continues to grow

- crazy creek camping chair everyone had in high school but in college it was associated with hippies so I got rid of it
- incredible Pendleton blanket I somehow thought looked stupid
- very high-end deeply waterproof LL Bean raincoat I replaced with weird quilted jacket found at Goodwill
- contact lenses (threw in garbage)
- rad hiking boots that were probably Danners or something crazy that I probably just left by the side of the road during a move in the late 90s
- dead grandmother’s shell collection
- entire early Stephen King canon in battered paperbacks all lined up in a row
- a banjo
- a mandolin
- Pearl Jam “Ten” on CD (JK I still have that)

I love that there’s this whole heart-breaking list, but then I somehow never got rid of Pearl Jam “Ten.” That album, quite frankly, does not hold up.

And like everyone, I also of course did not appreciate my lithe sinewy body which could run and leap at will. Youth truly is wasted on the young! Did Oscar Wilde say that? It sounds like him. I went to the doctor yesterday and she was like “is there any special concern you’d like to address today?” and I was like I’M GLAD YOU ASKED and pulled out a huge piece of paper and started reading maladies off it. Who knew I would ever one day have a big sheet of paper with things like “fluoroscopy” and “MRI” and “menopause” and “cartilage” and “arthritis” and “despair” written on it, and I’m not even forty yet, it doesn’t seem fair. Then she said she didn’t know why any of these things were happening to me but that we should run the same battery of tests I’ve already had twice, which all came back normal the first two times and which indeed have now already come back normal this time, which, I don’t even know if I should feel glad or bummed about it, because at this point I just want to understand what is causing this incredibly violent thing that my body is doing to me that is getting worse every month, and now I’ve seen three doctors about it and all of them are just like “huh, weird.” All she did was randomly give me a tetanus shot, which I could not give less of a shit about.

In other news, the final grading push is here! I am resisting it by writing this very blog entry, is that not clever of me. Every night I dream about my job then I wake up and have to keep doing my job. My dream life is betraying me! I used to dream about flying over canyons and rivers, or battling zombies. Now I just dream that I am grading or teaching or sitting in my year-end review. I’m starting to get confused about what has happened in reality and what has happened in a dream. For example last night I dreamed I got dog food but I thought it had really happened until I went to feed the dog and saw that I still need to go get dog food. This seems like no way to live. The last time this dream/reality boundary got this blurred for me was senior year of college when I was having emotional problems and all I did was cry in bathrooms and get drunk alone in my house.

This tetanus shot hurts like hellfire. What on earth

I went to the library and got two novels, which feels like a double middle finger to my career anxiety, which feels good. One of them is Thackeray’s Vanity Fair! I have no idea why I have been wanting to read this so badly, except that it is monstrously long and about a past historical era, two things I am a major sucker for. I imagine I won’t be able to get through it but you never know. Also I got the first book of the Gormenghast trilogy, which I accidentally read the second book of first. I found this cool edition of Mervyn Peake’s short stories combined with his artwork in a weird bookstore here and I read it one afternoon and it reminded me of what an incredible weirdo he is. “Boy in Darkness” is an unreal story–you should go read it right now. “Mervyn Peake” sounds like a pseudonym but it’s not–it’s merely the greatest name on earth, and a name that exactly matches the kind of fiction he writes! God is great. The book has a foreword by Sebastian Peake, his son, who tells this bizarre story about when he was in grade school and he and his friends found a hidden stash of German army stuff–a helmet, a dagger with a swastika on it, etc.–and they divvied it up and took it home. But then the mayor heard about it, and made them give all the stuff to the police–but Sebastian had already hidden his in a secret location, “where it remains to this day!” Whoa dude

And I am deep in the war years, in these Sylvia Townshend-Warner letters. I read them in bed at night. I get through about two before falling uncontrollably asleep. She and her girlfriend Valentine have a goat named Victor Ambrosia that they are very interested in (she is very picky), and they start keeping rabbits to supplement their wartime rations but then they can’t bear to kill the rabbits so they just keep them as pets. There is also a long discourse on how there are no more stockings to be had, nor garters, so everyone is hysterically shepherding their last remaining pair of stockings and trying to keep them up with adhesive tape. She says one has to wear stockings because in one’s war work one is always talking to ministers. She and Valentine sit in the garden in the evening listening to the German propaganda on Radio France–she says when Germans try to act nice it is like a clown crying–and at one point her cottage gets blown up by a bomb but all the people inside get somehow sucked out the door by the blast so they are all saved. Meanwhile she is writing a novel about 14th century monks, and Valentine looks at the moon through a telescope every night.

Now I must take the dog out for a stroll through this cold windy day, fare thee well my wayward son

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Patriots Act Day

Monday was yet another state holiday! Which means today acts as a Monday schedule, which means I again don’t have school. I feel very blessed that I randomly moved to a state that apparently has more state holidays than any other state in the union. I can’t believe how many days off we get. I think we have the absolute minimum number of school days you are allowed to have and still be an accredited university, which is fine by me. Anyway, it’s “Patriots’ Day,” a holiday that I assumed was a joke the first couple of times people at work referred to it. Not a joke! It refers to patriots like Thomas Jefferson or whatever, not, like, members of the Michigan militia, which is the first thing that I think of when I hear the word. We don’t get a lot of the Revolution stuff out West. We get more small-r-revolution stuff from creepy survivalists who mostly just hate black people. And certainly there are no state holidays for them (knock on wood).

The other thing you don’t get much of in the West is fancy hotel/restaurants in swanky liberal towns named after one of these patriots who specifically famously committed race-based genocide, at least, not that I know of. This restaurant, and the town it’s in, are named after the first person to suggest intentionally giving Native Americans blankets infested with smallpox. Here is an excerpt from one of his letters on this subject:

P.S. You will Do well to try to Innoculate the Indians by means of Blankets, as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race. I should be very glad your Scheme for Hunting them Down by Dogs could take Effect, but England is at too great a Distance to think of that at present.

Charming! And yet, the town is named after him, a million roads and schools are named after him, the fancy restaurant is named after him. He is one of the local high school’s MASCOT.

This is one manner in which the west coast/east coast culture shock makes itself felt. The equivalent of this on the west coast, I think, would be something like a very fancy restaurant right in downtown Santa Fe called “The General George Custer Inn” or something; it’s unthinkable! Right? Maybe I am wrong and such a place does exist. Is there a “Custer, Utah” or such? Maybe, but is it a swanky progressive liberal paradise? This I would find harder to believe but again I could be wrong. But it just seems like if you lived long enough ago, even full-on genocide isn’t enough to topple you from Founding Fathers status levels. Custer is recent history compared to Lord Jeff; and in the West all there is is recent history. I guess? Things in the east fade away or seem mythically long ago/distant because “our” history here stretches so much further back than it does in Oklahoma? So more can be forgiven. Like how we find the story of Scheherazade charming or something even though it’s literally a story about a dude who graciously decides not to murder his wife because she entertains him more than his other wives have.

Then again, nobody hates anybody as much as everybody hates women, so there’s that. It’s such a profoundly unifying underlying sentiment we ought to base our entire society on it! OH WAIT

But enough about me

It’s just interesting how much older the history is here. Every type of history. The relationship with the past feels different, less raw and present than it often does out west, at least to me. The “mountains” here are these small, gently-rounded hills. They are impossibly ancient–the Rocky Mountains of my youth are jagged teenagers in comparison. For a long time I assumed the “Mount Tom” everyone here referred to must be far away until I finally realized it’s this little sloping hill you can walk all the way up in about 25 minutes in sandals. There are “old growth” forests here that were actually chopped completely down by the colonists; enough time has passed that they’re old growth again! And also the violent, horrific, shameful human history of this area is further back in time than it is in, say, Arizona. So maybe it feels shrouded in myth; the blood and guts and suffering is distant, like when you read about the siege of Troy or something. In the West the sense of living in someone else’s land is very present, or it was in the places I grew up.

Then again, again, I guess we are all perfectly comfortable with things being named Washington and Jefferson, even though those people bought/sold/raped/murdered other human beings while writing their treatises on equality. Damn, this earthly life is mysterious as hell

Anyway, its Patriots’ Day, which specifically celebrates the Battle of Lexington, I believe, which is some Revolutionary battle I am sure I learned about in 3rd grade and then never thought of again one single time in my life. I definitely learned about the Revolution in school but it felt very distant and general; it didn’t feel like something even my teachers were very interested in. I learned much, MUCH more about some of the Native American cultures of the West than I ever did about the Revolution. I definitely knew more about smallpox blankets than I did about the Battle of Lexington but I bet here it is the opposite, although who knows? I should ask one of my friends with kids.

I wonder how much of this vague personal sense I have of the west/east difference is founded in reality. I’m sure part of my exposure to native history wasn’t necessarily a “west” thing generally but was more due to the fact that I grew up in a tiny hippie town in which it was not uncommon for dreadlocked white people to do peyote ceremonies out in their own tipis and claim to have communicated with a Navajo man named “Blackberry” who lived 300 years earlier and who was now doling out marriage advice from the Spirit Realm (true story); I’m just documenting a difference that I was totally unaware of until I moved here. The native peoples stuff felt like the cultural history that was important to my teachers and the people in my town and the chambers of commerce in the area etc. etc. Here, at least from what I have seen (which is not much–I’d be interested to know what actual schoolchildren here are taught about the region–if anyone reading this grew up in new england let us know what you were taught about local native history!!) there doesn’t seem to be a ton of awareness of regional native cultural history. Even though I know that those cultures still exist here, of course. But honestly, the idea of a restaurant in my hometown being named after the smallpox blankets guy is just absurd; someone would burn it down. The very idea would not even occur to anyone.

Anyway, here it seems to be the Revolution itself that is the very present history. Here the arrowheads and pictographs of my childhood are replaced by colonial artifacts that are everywhere. Here it’s like “oh guess what, my husband and I just bought a little house and are renovating it” “oh congratulations” “Yes it’s lovely, and we’re putting in an organic garden out back. It’s a pain though because George Washington used to live in it so we aren’t allowed to change the floor plan” “Oh bummer. Wait, what??”

“That rock you are tying your shoe on is where Paul Revere sat to catch his breath after his famous ride.”
“What?? Why isn’t there a plaque or something”
“Oh everyone knows that”

“This Urban Outfitters used to be where Benjamin Franklin would bring his whores”
“[cries single tear of pride]”

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1.5 Weeks

And verily it came to pass, that one day the people of campus looked at their calendars and realized there were only 1.5 weeks until summer vacation, and that their grad students were in presentations so there was no more course prep, and next Wednesday is a Monday schedule which means the late-night class doesn’t meet at all, and anyway it’s almost over.

I’ve noticed a psychological pattern and I’m hoping that noticing it will help me overcome it. Basically I go the whole day feeling okay, solving problems, getting my shit done, and feeling productive and more or less good about everything. Then, during the 20 minutes or so that we read in bed before going to sleep, I suddenly become filled with regret and dread about all the mistakes I actually made that day, and all the horrible stuff I have to do the next day, and all the things that have been happening that surely mean everyone hates me and I am not going to get tenure, and then it’s hard to go to sleep. Then I wake up in the morning feeling normal again. This is clearly some mode of self-sabotage my brain is performing for unknown reasons. I feel like for the first time in my life I might want to see a good therapist. I have a list of mysteries about my psyche that I would like to try to get to the bottom of. Perhaps this is an impossible dream, however, as surely one of the greatest truths of contemporary western consciousness is that we will always have an unconscious that, by definition, we will never comprehend.

ANYWAY, the end of my first year. I think all told I am feeling okay. I didn’t cry much at all; everyone told me they cried all the time their first year. I definitely have struggled with depression for the first time ever, and have had some dark nights of the soul, and have questioned my life choices, and a lot of things I’ve experienced/observed have made me feel real true despair about the future of humanity, but overall I think I have stayed more or less upbeat (I didn’t have great hopes for humanity anyway, even before, so it’s like, whatever, throw it on the pile). We’ll see what happens at my end-of-year review; things could still go horribly south.

I’m very much looking forward to the summer, when I will not have to grade or go to meetings, and can really focus exclusively on research. I’m beginning to bring home my stacks of summer reading already, and have a solid draft of my summer to-do list done. I’m really excited because the big items on my to-do list (2 conference papers and an article) are all on the same topic, which has never happened to me before because I’ve always been working on 2 totally different topics at once, and it’s been hard to negotiate between them. Now I can really focus and maybe finally read all these books about capitalism that have been piling up. After 3 years of failed attempts I also finally got into my field’s fanciest conference again, which is making me feel legit, even though I just re-read my abstract and it seems to me to be pretty incomprehensible.

And of course it will be summer, which means ramblin’ in the woods with the dog, swimmin’ in the river, wearin’ flip flops, and generally chilling out. We’re going to go camping in Vermont, or so we claim.

My old man is reading a book about the Saint-Simonians and I’ve never seen him so excited about a book before. He’s even more excited than when he was reading Magic Mountain and kept joyously proclaiming it “the most boring book ever written” (his highest praise). He is like a little boy who gets a toy gun for christmas and then wants to have the gun with him everywhere; in the bath, in bed at night, at the dinner table, etc. Yesterday he was driving us to school and when he got out of the car the book fell on the ground and I realized he’d just been holding it in his lap while driving, the whole time, I guess in the hopes that we’d stop at a stoplight or something and he could keep reading it. He wants to talk to me about it all the time; he keeps bringing it in to wherever I am and pointing at things in it, including once a drawing of a man with a truly incredible beard, which I did like.

I meanwhile at night am reading the letters of Sylvia Townshend Warner, which are utterly wonderful. I’m learning so much about her. She sent a copy of Lolly Willowes to an actual witch and then she and the witch had lunch together! “She said things that would make the hairs on your head stand on end.” She is friends with a small child named Theo who she appreciates because she says he understands that Death is not actually as frightening as Life. She and her girlfriend rescue an owl from a farmer and set it free at night, and they have a million cats and dogs who are named things like “William.” I will tell you more about her at some later date.

I’m trying to fix our compost pile. It’s not composting! It’s just a pile of gross garbage. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong; my next step is to buy some worms and dump them in there, see if they can make sense of the mess.

I’ve fallen behind on my Beowulf and Chaucer leisure-reading. Got to get back on that horse. I refuse to be one of the millions of people who gets halfway through Beowulf and then abandons it forever. I know I read the whole thing in high school, when I was much stupider, surely I can deal with it now that I am old and smart.

Alas

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