“I mean, to whom do you beautifully belong?” ––Henry James

Remember?––it was on that hot day in April when we sat out in the quad under a tree. I gave you-all the article from that month’s Atlantic on the end of whom; and asked, “Will any of us really miss it?”

Even I do not think that I will miss it; not that much, anyhow. Like a relative who passes, and condolences are sent, but you admit, “We weren’t very close.” So: it was not a question to be asked. This was not a vigil for whom. The bell had already tolled for whomWhom (denied love) dies young, Menander.

Then, you-there (singular girl) said, “How is it used?” and I said, “As an object pronoun. If you can pair it with him or her, then you should use whom. At least: that’s how I always remember.”

And just when we had almost conceded––to just let it slip away––to say, “One day they will see whom written in our literature and, like something from Shakespeare; sneer, ‘Did people really used to talk like that?‘ and”––you-there said you were going to start to use it in the everyday; to keep it, object dropped into your pocket, all the more precious for being unwanted, all the more grotesque for being half-dead, and take it out at parties or in casual conversation.

“I’m going to start to use it now that I know how,” is what you said.

And I, because it gave me such hope for some reason (so beautiful to think that one girl saying that she would not just let a derelict word go-gentle should inspire such a desperate tenderness in me: that maybe all of it still mattered, at least for a hot moment in April under the tree), I smiled then; and said, “I hope that you do, Rachael.”

For whom will beautifully belong to you now––is what I mean.

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TST: “Let’s Go”––Matt & Kim

Miss Williams & I went to the Matt & Kim show at the HoB in AC last month.

Such a fun time!

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TST: “Golden Revolver”––San Cisco

My sister sends me songs she’s recording/mixing on Thursdays; ones to inspire me through the next week (or at least through the weekend). Most of them are TOP SECRET.

She calls this practice “Theme Song Thursday.”

Here’s my theme song for you this Thursday, sister.

You can find love in the most extraordinary places
Hiding away so no one can trace them
You duck and weave through the maze of hatred,
And found yourself something but you kept it all

So why would I try?
When you’re not even remotely, remotely kind?

Madison and I took in the San Cisco show at Johnny Brenda’s last month.

MADISON AND I had a quick bite beforehand at KRAFTWORK down the street from JB’s. Amidst hipsters and over homemade ginger beer, we talked about people in life who appear to be, in Madi’s term, “flailing.” But we are not flailing; do I seem to be flailing? (She said I did not.) People who need to “take their blinkers off this time and maybe…”

Maybe you will find what you’re looking for; is heavenly the sky
Slow down and read the signs
Cause you’re going too fast and you’re leaving us behind.

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“So that butter––can’t be butter, then.”

Two weeks ago (April 2nd), Lauren and I attended the American Vegan Society‘s spring dinner at Atlantic Cape Community College’s student-run Carême‘s restaurant.

Nota bene: While Lauren and I are not strictly vegan (she and her hubby went out for steaks this past Saturday), we rather fancy ourselves omnivorous bon vivants.

Confession: I was a vegetarian for six years during high school and as an undergraduate. I started eating meat again the summer I spent with another Lauren in another city.

We found seats at a table featuring a retired couple and a man with his mother-in-law.

The first course was waiting for us.

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SPRING ROLL with pineapple drizzle

Second course was maybe my fav.

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PURÉE of CARROT SOUP with cardamom drizzle / sweat pea

A mixed green salad followed. Then the fourth course / MAIN.

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“SALISBURY STEAK” with tempura ring, mushroom demi, sweet potato whip, and snow peas

(This “steak” was comprised of lentils, tempeh, and potatoes.)

Coffee & dessert.

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DONUT with jam and vanilla bourbon whip

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“It’s margarine.”

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“Oh, Brother. Thank god for you.”

––my sister texts.

“Oh?”

“Yes. [With everything...] Then I think, but Rich understands me, so I’m ok.

My sister had lost her key. But she found one: another one.

“It is good you got a key. That seems significant somehow. Like that scene in Mrs Dalloway.”

…the aeroplane shot further away again, in a fresh space of sky, began writing a K, an E, a Y perhaps?

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“My friend Emily once told me that, when she was feeling depressed about her own life, But Rich Russell still loves me, and that she felt ok again.”

…he could not read the language yet; but it was plain enough, this beauty, this exquisite beauty, and tears filled his eyes as he looked at the smoke words languishing and melting in the sky and bestowing upon him in their inexhaustible charity and laughing goodness one shape after another of unimaginable beauty and signalling their intention to provide him, for nothing, for ever, for looking merely, with beauty, more beauty!

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A Statement of Some Purpose

In looking for a file just now, I stumbled across this statement of purpose I wrote up for graduate school. I was accepted to Oxford and to University College London that year; and chose UCL; for the same reason that Virginia Woolf might have chosen London over life in the country.

It’s strange, of course: I wonder if this is still the same statement of who I am now. Dani said, when we were having coffee the other day––”Yes, but you seem fairly stable,” meaning that she felt I was rather secure in myself; even if the world is still trying to make up its mind about me; and me about the world.

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            Elizabeth e-mails me to say, “I think I believe in astrology now. I want you to visit this web site and have your birth chart generated,” and so ok, ok––and after entering information such as name, time of birth, date of birth, sex, and so on, a five page so-called description of who I am appears. There is something beautifully intimate about the line that reads, “Rich Russell is eccentric, intelligent and lucid. Complex love life. He is happy in his imaginary world and thus is happy nowhere…”––because I take “his imaginary world” to mean the world of literature and of writing. And how could the real world ever hope to compete with that symbolic dreamscape?

            In my Honors Modern Fiction class at Northern Highlands Regional High School (Allendale, NJ), we read Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying in January. I like to wait until everything is a little colder and more desperate before starting upon my favorite book in the course. My high school students, I fear, bright as they are, are, in general, either turned off by Faulkner’s polyphonic prose or forced to merely feign interest on account of my much-professed admiration for the work. There are few students who will defend Addie Bundren in discussion, most finding her selfish, manipulating, and, as one student wrote in a recent paper, “noxious.” Maybe the students who sympathize with her most are also those who understand her well enough to know that for Addie, who thought language was so inadequate, that Addie would not want some prolix declaration of support. So the closest I have come to “rescuing” Addie, during my now three years teaching HMF, is a student’s journal entry admission that he cried after reading the last line of the book: when Anse replaces Addie with the new Mrs. Bundren. And I cried a little too, at his words this time and not Faulkner’s.

            I try to explain to my students Addie’s philosophy. “Isn’t it true,” I state, “that, what Addie says of love––if love exists, then there is no reason for us to have a word for it: that the word love would just be ‘a shape to fill a lack’ as she declares? Wouldn’t it be the same for something like happiness––that if we truly were happy we wouldn’t need to provide the term?” And now, as I reflect upon Addie and my students and that line from the birth chart, I’m struck by the possibility that I am content nowhere in life because I am most content in literature and in language: I am more happy in the word happy than I should ever be in a state of happiness.

            And so graduate school: my students first suggested the notion to me. I know the classroom is where I want to spend my waking life. I continue to realize that my life isn’t that of your typical Bergen County resident. Lunching at the Applebee’s in Paramus on a recent Saturday afternoon, the restaurant packed with shoppers talking about their cars or their clothes, my friend Amanda and I were having a heated chat concerning Beowulf, and the teaching of it in high school. “We have an obligation to our students. Our students (and, in fact, most people) outside of school might not pick up Beowulf on their own––” and then after pausing a moment to consider this, I conceded, “Well, I mean,––I read it on my own. But that was only because Seamus Heaney had written his new translation.” Amanda smiled and gently mentioned, “You do realize that you’re not most people, Rich. You do realize that you’re not normal, right?”

            “What makes you say that?” I asked, still upset over the prospect of a Brit Lit sans Beowulf. “Is it because I spent last Friday night watching three different film versions of Jane Eyre––or because I just joined JASNA [The Jane Austen Society of North America]?”

            Amanda smiled. “So what are you going to study?”

           I am still a student of twentieth century authors myself. That beautiful synthesis of expectation and despair that prevailed during the first half of the twentieth century––how would I give that up? But as a focus, I should like to explore British novelists between the wars [World War I, World War II]. In many ways, that period seems symptomatic of our current American circumstance––waiting for the next turn of the gyre, as it were.

            For in addition to a love of literature and a desire to pursue teaching at the college level, I want to enter graduate school for the same reason Jude Fawley wished to go to Christminster: to be a scholar. I want to return as a full-time student, having now occupied the other side of the teacher’s desk, and work towards my doctorate and a chance to serve the University. I can think of no place I would be as happy.

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Bangs & Beard Go to the Museum. Later that weekend: Men Who Brunch; A Most Uncharacteristic Peppermint Mocha.

Madison & I drift through the European wing on the second floor of the museum. Here, a little Dutch room, where I imagine myself very happy; in Het Scheepje (The Little Ship).

Madison seems to much prefer the English drawing room. Would Lord Shelburne have ever expected part of his home to end up here; in Philly?––his dining room shipped off to the Met in New York. The autopsy performed; and the house on Barclay Square chopped-up & sold to these Americans.

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In the ceremonial tea house, Madison tells me how she had wanted to spend time in a Buddhist ashram when she was a teenager; but we both know how those things go. So many projects abandoned; left like toys out on the drawing room floor. I almost trip over the new ukulele I’ve just purchased.

We descend a side staircase to have coffee & hot cider in the great hall, serenaded by loud, Cagey music. Should we have dinner somewhere (else)? We wander out into the night, which is cold but not unkind (a relief since I am wearing but a cardigan for comfort) and find ourselves outside the Eastern State Penitentiary, where Madison had her first date with the guy she’s seeing. There is a converted firehouse/restaurant across the way.

On the walk back to the car, I ask, “But you don’t regret the path your life has taken?” But we don’t regret: and what I have done, I would have to do again. We have made choices, at least, and that is to our credit. “And your new bangs!”––I remember to compliment. But me with my newly-cultivated beard; which seems to have accompanied a great sadness this month. I said to Devin and to Jessica: “Do you think the beard has effected such sadness or has my recent sadness only served to condition the beard?”

[Stray dialogue that doesn't really seem to fit anywhere else.]

“Let us all live near (if not in) the museum.”

“Can we get a Xerox machine & make zines all day?”

“And if we can’t afford heat, we’ll just press ourselves up against the copier for warmth.”

[Let it be decided.]

Sunday I knot a bow tie, pull the jacket from my new three-piece suit & drive down to Cape May Point to meet Tyler for brunch. As I drive into the fog, I think, This is the end: of not only New Jersey but of all of what was/seemed to be. This is where we come to see what might be again; what we might imagine. A new world to amend for the inadequacies of the old one. (Oh, little ship!)

I order baked eggs, and immediately wonder if I will regret the baked eggs later. Tyler & I kibitz about life & what will be/why. Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t all just a bunch of awkward Harolds with our purple crayons, sketching out temporary shelters for ourselves as we move through life.

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Good, then, that I bought all of those new crayons earlier in the semester…

The fog has begun to lift by the time Tyler & I leave The Red Store.

[The curtain rises on the final scene.]

Dani meets me at Target, where I am musing among the cards. I thought about opening a stationery store last week. A non-stationary, stationery store; just boxes of cards set up in the back of a van; to drive from town to town selling cards; sending them to anyone who will listen.

But I forget to tell her this. There is much I neglect to tell.

We go to Starbucks and, most uncharacteristically for me, I order a Peppermint Mocha. It is good going down, but later I will be left with an aftertaste. “I get depressed around Christmas,” I admit to Dani. “Everyone seems so set on consumption to fill up their otherwise empty lives/relationships; getting snippy at salespeople. When all I can think about are the little match girls…”

Huddling outside the Consumer Squares, striking a match––once, twice––then the light going out forever.

All of us, just these little matches; striking & striking ourselves; to set something on fire––finally. To finally get something that will burn in us. For warmth, as it were.

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