From an email to Fran, 12/13/17

Francis, we are in the last tight squeeze of the semester. One more day of classes for me and then exams next week. I was speaking to a student yesterday about this time of year. She was saying that she always feels stressed at the end of the fall semester, what with finals and the holidays; and how she finds the holidays difficult, being neither religious nor much for consumerism. I offered that it was also a difficult time for some because we are going into the dark time of the year, but then mentioned the first line from Theodore Roethke’s poem of similar title: “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” I think there is some comfort if we see this time of year as a time of reflection and re-visioning.
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Porching, 6/19

Uncle Bob: If I could relive any year––

Karen: Ooh, I love this game!

Uncle Bob: It would be the summer of either ’67 or ’68.

Karen: And you, Mr. Russell? Oh, I know…

That year in London.

Uncle Bob finds it much cooler on the other side of the porch. He peers over the rail. But just look at that sky, he says.

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Week 1: Thomas Cole and the sublime

THE passion caused by the great and sublime in nature is astonishment, and astonishment is that state of the soul in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. The mind is so entirely filled with its object that it cannot entertain any other, nor reason on that object which fills it. Astonishment is the effect of the sublime in its highest degree; its inferior effects are admiration, reverence, and respect. No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as terror; and whatever is terrible with regard to sight, is sublime. ––Edmund Burke, Elements of the Sublime

Another fall semester begins tomorrow.

Here I am sitting at the kitchen table listening to All Things Considered and considering everything 19th Century. Over the course of fifteen Thursday afternoons, we will listen to a nation struggle to find its sleepy voice, eventually awakening into electric song.

I realize: the last time I taught 19th Century American Literature was the semester of “the Sandy storm,” as one ESL student wrote.

When I was visiting Cedar Grove this summer, during a late-June stay with my sister in Hudson, I decided that this is who I would begin with on Day 1, after introductions and the syllabus are dispensed.


Kaaterskill Falls (1826)

Scenes of solitude from which the hand of nature has never been lifted affect the mind with a more deep toned emotion than aught which the hand of man has touched. Amid them the consequent associations are of God the creator––they are his undefiled works, and the mind is cast into the contemplation of eternal things. ––Thomas Cole, “Essay on American Scenery,” American Monthly, January 1836

River in the Catskills (1843)

In this age, when a meager utilitarianism seems ready to absorb every feeling and sentiment, and what is sometimes called improvement in its march makes us fear that the bright and tender flowers of the imagination shall all be crushed beneath its iron tramp, it would be well to cultivate the oasis that yet remains to us. […] Yet I cannot but express my sorrow that the beauty of such landscapes are quickly passing away––the ravages of the axe are daily increasing––the most noble scenes are made desolate, and oftentimes with a wantonness and barbarism scarcely credible in a civilized nation. The wayside is becoming shadeless, and another generation will behold spots, now rife with beauty, desecrated by what is called improvement. ––Thomas Cole, “Essay on American Scenery”

View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow (1836)

At a lecture last fall for the Stockton exhibit Tomorrow is Never, the artist Emily Weiner projected Cole’s The Course of Empire to illustrate our human fascination with architectural deterioration.

As she clicked through each slide, I felt such a frisson of ruinenlust run through me.

The Course of Empire: The Savage State (1836)

The Course of Empire: The Consummation (1836)

The Course of Empire: Desolation (1836)

Cole, too, will help to introduce themes of American Romanticism as we move to the Gothic; with works read for Week 2 including the first three chapters of Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly; Or, Memoirs of a Sleepwalker; Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” and Ichabod; and Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” […]

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“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.


SPRING ROLL with pineapple drizzle

Second course was maybe my fav.


PURÉE of CARROT SOUP with cardamom drizzle / sweat pea

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


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

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

Coffee & dessert.


DONUT with jam and vanilla bourbon whip


“It’s margarine.”

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