Small Demon
Jan 242010
 

Vietnam seems very far away at the moment. It’s below zero here and I’ve been running for ten days to catch up from . . . being in Vietnam. In a few days’ time I’ve gone from the leisurely life of a poet in a tropical clime to being a professor of literature living beside a frozen river and teaching, in addition to a class about Vietnam, an American Literature course. The distance, both physical and psychic, is considerable. Perhaps surprisingly, I have felt on top of things in the classroom despite my preparation being a little on the thin side — my students have filled in any gaps I’ve left, bless them. Also, I came home from Vietnam filled with enthusiasm for various projects that I’ll get too as soon as things settle down a bit over on the teaching side of life.

I’m teaching the first half of the American Lit survey, which in twenty years at Clarkson I’ve never done before, and while I can’t work up much enthusiasm for the likes of John Winthrop and Jonathan Edwards, we’re quickly moving on to Emerson next week and I’m rereading some of the central essays with real pleasure and greater understanding than previously.(I’ve found Emerson something of a pious pill in the past, I confess.) Emerson sometimes seems tantalizingly like an American Buddhist, but then he starts talking about superior and inferior intellects in a way that seems contrary to the spirit of enlightenment,i.e., that while there may be quick and slow people that all are capable of enlightenment; the slow require “indirect” teaching (rituals and chanting, etc.) while the quick can grasp the truth sometimes from a single sentence or the way light glances off a bowl. Emerson, on the other hand, seems to condemn “the mob” to live their unenlightened lives as best they can — and women as well, though he never comes right out and says this, perhaps because he had lively daughters. Still, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the audience for “Self-Reliance” consists of young men of a certain class.* In getting ready to teach thias essay, I find myself wavering between asking students to defend themselves against Emerson’s charges of conformity and questioning Emerson’s assumptions about the “nature” of the individual. Of course, I’ll do both.

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There is an provocative complication to this observation in “Self-Reliance.” When Emerson compares the “Vermont or New Hampshire” country boy to the effete city boy he seems to be making room for a broader distribution of “genius,” but this strikes me as more of a rhetorical flourish than a heartfelt sentiment; that is, Emerson seems to be using the figure of the farmboy to beat up the city boy a little bit.

Jun 082009
 

I don’t bounce back like I used to. This cold hit me ten days ago and today is the first day I’ve felt like doing anything. Carole has it too, along with a couple of friends and it’s a real beast. Something like regular blogging should resume here in a day or two. Today, though, I go pick up my new car, a Honda Civic EXL. We have usually bought cars that were a couple of years old, letting someone else take the depreciation hit, but this time I decided I wanted to watch all those dollars fly out the window myself. Come January, the heated seats are not going to seem like a luxury at all. The morons at Dealmaker Honda in Potsdam ordered the wrong model.

Cold Snap

 Cold Snap  Birds, River Notes  Comments Off
Jan 112009
 

As if to remind me to stay inside at my desk writing, the temperature yesterday morning here in South Colton was -22° though it’s a little “warmer” this morning at 5°,we are in for even colder weather over the next few days. The forecast has highs in the single digits below zero (F). Lots of birds taking advantage of the seed & suet I put out. We’ve had the usual lot of chickadees & a huge flock of goldfinches, smaller numbers of juncos, woodpeckers large & small, along with nuthatches & the bluejays, tricked out like 1960s Cadillacs. Yesterday there was a very large hawk –maybe an eagle, we only saw him from the back — perched in one of the snags down by the river. Both yesterday & today Carole has put toe warmers in her boots, donned many layers of clothing, & gone off to the barn in Crary Mills where she boards her horse to muck stalls. What a woman! And she splits the firewood, too! All I have to do is keep feeding the woodstove. Which reminds me…

Dec 202008
 

Just went out into a bright, sunny afternoon to shovel the walks and deck clear of last night’s foot of snow. It’s cold — hovering around zero — so the snow is light and easy to move. I cut a racetrack around the dogrun in back so that the terriers wouldn’t be over their heads. Have to keep ahead of the shoveling, though, since the forecast is for another foot starting tonight. As I was taking a break & leaning on my snow shovel, I stood still near the bird feeder and let the chickadees fly up and down around me, cold enough that I could hear the beating of their wings. All the while I was there, a harry woodpecker braced himself against the pole with his tail and pecked at the suet I’d put out yesterday. The sun was remarkably warm for December, though the air was cold, & we were all enjoying it, I think, the animal pleasure of warm sun in mid-winter.