The New Line

I’m starting to wonder if my students think I’m crazy. Or if maybe I’m using them as a mask to address the fact that I am in some ways very not normal.

I’m teaching Intro to Women’s Studies this fall, and as a part of that I’ve asked them all to post blog posts once a week. This week we’ve covered Phyllis Wheatley, Sojourner Truth, and Mary Wollstonecraft, and accompanying that I offered a brief tour through Romantic (capital R) art. People are visual creatures, and it helps to have the occasional graphic when something is available.

Now, where I’ve gone crazy is here: for starters, I’m blogging along side them, largely for kicks. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander (which I do not mean as a gender-based pun—I see it. That’s not what I’m doing). This is followed by introducing art, and political cartoons into the class. I admittedly do not have an art degree, and in fact I think I might only have a single art history class underneath my belt, but I am an art aficionado and if you’re around it long enough and do enough research, then sometimes you can pass yourself along as an expert. At the very least I can infer it. But what probably tops the cake—the thing that’s making me wonder—is that I’ve just finished a blog post comparing 18th century poet Phyllis Wheatley to 21st century rapper Rye Rye.

And it feels crazy because it was not a stretch. At all. It was a very easy comparison.

This kind of thing might absolutely fly at a Popular Culture Association conference, but within the more rigid structures of academia, probably not. It would be like going to school in the 1850s and writing about Dickens. (Because he was a populist writer, looking to make money—not unlike Shakespeare. But to make those kinds of comparisons in certain literary echelons could get a person in trouble, or at the very least draw ire.) At any rate, this sort of thing feels unprecedented in my schooling history—maybe I was in all the wrong courses, but no professor I’ve ever had invoked Madonna, or J. K. Rowling, or Tina Fey, despite what I consider to be their significant cultural contributions and lasting influence. Is this a part of the remove that academia maintains from mainstream society? Or is it a fear of falling down rabbit holes? (If you’re considering Madonna, then why not Lady Gaga or Erykah Badu, and then why not the next unnamed star with the expectation—true or false—that they too will make it big? Where do you draw the new line?)

I don’t know how my students will react to being closer to pop culture and to reflections of modern day society. I can certainly say that I’ve made it clear that that’s where I will be heading, and a lot of them appear to be excited about it.

Time. Time (and evaluations) will tell.

Face to the Sun

It’s still very much summer in New England.

I mean, despite the roll out of pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks and the promotion of hard ciders and pumpkin ales at local breweries, despite school systems coughing into gear after the mild stasis of a couple months off…despite whatever you may have heard, it is still summer. There are still leaves on trees (although some are starting to turn), it is still 90 degrees, and I’m still finding myself—even now in September—getting tanner. 

Usually, at the end of a season I’m thrilled to see it go. No more dirty snow piles and cracked lips in March, and no more soggy leaves and indecisive fashion choices in December (by then it’s no longer a question of whether or not a sweater is too warm). But this year, I somehow feel like everyone is jumping the gun for fall and I’m digging my heels in. 

Fall, of course, represents many things. Introspection, education, productivity, my birthday, planning for the winter up ahead, decay. And I’m sure that they all play their part in my hesitation for its arrival. But really, I’ll be as ready as I can be when the leaves start to fall, and the sun starts to set earlier and earlier in the sky—I just don’t appreciate rushing it, not any more than I appreciate Thanksgiving decorations in October or Christmas music in November. To reference a fictitious writer in a popular French film, it’s passing the time to force the time to pass, all the while avoiding the present. 

And sometimes the present sucks. Sometimes thinking of the future is a better use of the present. But, for those moments when that isn’t true, why not enjoy these last days of summer?

Mountain Air

I’m in love with New Hampshire. It’s illogical and unrequited; there is love lost in this relationship. (A delightful turn of phrase, because how does one lose love they way they might their car keys? But I suppose it’s not love misplaced—it’s love lost, like you’ve sent your love into the woods and the sun is setting and it’s dinner time and even though you’re ringing the dinner bell and calling its cell phone, your love is nowhere to be found.) But it’s the truth, the reality.

This is all brought on by attending my friend Stan’s wedding with my buddy Bob up in Bretton Woods. It was a long drive, up from Boston, and it was filled with traffic and the remarkably active New Hampshire state troopers. But when we got to the White Mountains, full and lush with summer, I couldn’t stop finding the scenery utterly bucolic and romantic—even the quiet mountain towns just seemed so easy to live in. They were bursting with flowers and and a homey lived-in charm, as though they were even aging in an adorable way; even the dilapidated, decrepit  buildings with alarmingly tilted add-ons and boarded up windows spoke more about potentiality than they did morosity. The stars were so bright and prominent that we even mistook a planet for a plane; Bob looked it up on our evening walk around the hotel grounds and verified that we were in fact looking at Mars. It was simply breathtaking. (As was the wedding and the venue, by the way, and Bob and I had some fantastic conversations and run-ins that maybe I’ll explore more later in blog form.)

We were there for three days, and by the third day I really did feel as though I could live in this peaceful paradise; I started wondering about the kind of job that would let me work from home so I wouldn’t have to worry about a commute to anywhere, and with the advances in those food delivery services that provide you with the materials you would have gotten at the grocery store and cook from home, I wouldn’t even have to worry about what would likely become the 15-20 minute drive to the grocery store. (I even started envisioning the dog, probably a Barbet, running around in the yard.) New England winters are cold, but at the rate that I’ve been tinkering with fabric arts, I’m fairly certain I’d construct enough warm clothing to offer a since of hygge in the coming months.

But Bob—in his sensible way—popped that dream like a soap bubble. 

He noted how lonely it could be, up in the mountains, and in the countryside. Which is very much true for a multitude of reasons; there simply aren’t as many gay guys out in the middle of nowhere, where the traditionalism of heterosexuality reigns supreme. Or to put it in a more stark consideration, those out in the countryside are often the ones who, upon growing up, couldn’t get away for one reason or another. As much as I can romanticize rural America, I can’t make the spiked instances of opioid addiction disappear. And really, unless you’re busy running a farm or working in an all-time-consuming industry like restaurant ownership for example, I do feel as though you’d be more likely driven into some sort of substance abuse or addiction simply out of boredom. Every time we passed through the downtown of some New Hampshire village, I was shocked to see other human beings, and so many of them as well. Bob and I kept being puzzled at what was keeping the local economy’s socks up, especially once we left the tourist destination of the White Mountains. 

It really got me thinking about cities built on mountains, with Montréal being the largest I could think of. (Colorado kept popping up, but really for me it would have to be Montréal or one of the smaller Mediterranean towns like Ronda, Spain or Positano, Italy. Switzerland, if one could afford it.) In some ways, the drive to live in a city is a preclusion to living in the view of mountains; something about it seems incompatible. (Oslo, Norway, perhaps?)

One way or another, it feels a little like having a crush on someone I know doesn’t feel the same. The feeling is nice, but truncated.