Saturday, December 10, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 312

The young man whom we have been attempting to portray was so evidently a woman that the women who looked upon him with desire were doomed (failing a special taste on their part) to the same disappointment as those who in Shakespeare's comedies are taken in by a girl disguised as a youth.  The deception is mutual, the invert is himself aware of it, he guesses the disillusionment which the woman will experience once the mask if removed, and feels to what an extent this mistake as to sex is a source of poetical imaginings.  Moreover it is in vain that he keeps back the admission "I am a woman" even from his demanding mistress (if she is not a denizen of Gomorrah) when all the time, with the cunning, the agility, the obstinacy of a climbing plant, the unconscious but visible woman in him seeks the masculine organ.  We have only to look at that curly hair on the white pillow to understand that if, in the evening, this young man slips through his guardians' fingers in spite of them, in spite of himself, it will not be to go in pursuit of women.  His mistress may castigate him, may lock him up, but next day the man-woman will have found some way of attaching himself to a man, as the convolvulus throws out its tendrils wherever it finds a pick or a rake up which to climb.  Why, when we admire in the face of this man a delicacy that touches our hearts, a grace, a natural gentleness such as men do not possess, should we be dismayed to learn that this young man runs after boxers?  They are different aspects of the same reality.  And, indeed, what repels us is the most touching thing of all, more touching than any refinement of delicacy, for it represents an admirable though unconscious effort on the part of nature: the recogniton of sex by itself, in spite of the deception of sex, appears as an unavowed attempt to escape from itself towards what an initial error on the part of society has segregated it from.
Marcel Proust, Cities of the Plain, pp. 644-645

Now this is what I keep coming back to: what is Proust's real view of homosexuality?  Again, I've made the conscious decision to not do any research or even any side reading on Remembrance of Things Past, so that I could read Proust's own words without bias (other than the general cultural understanding of what an educated person, or, in my case, a clumsily educated person, understands about Proust simply by being a citizen of the planet).  Here is clearly a product of his time, and his thought his very much steeped in a very Freudian worldview - and there is an accepted view of a strictly binary view of gender that many of us, and especially our students would struggle with today - but I still read his words as ones of understanding and not condemnation.  He tells us, "And, indeed, what repels us is the most touching thing of all, more touching than any refinement of delicacy, for it represents an admirable though unconscious effort on the part of nature: the recogniton of sex by itself, in spite of the deception of sex, appears as an unavowed attempt to escape from itself towards what an initial error on the part of society has segregated it from."  I'm reading this as Proust drawing a distinction between the perceptions and rules that society wants to impose on an individual, and the what the individual actually needs and feels.  In the end, what does it matter which sex, again, in a very dualistic way, we are drawn to, because in the end, "They are different aspects of the same reality."

Discography - Week 34

So, we've now two-thirds of the way through our year-long Discography music discussion (or at least the first year of our Discography music discussion).  I don't know if too many of us will weep piteous tears for the passing of 2016, a year of historic assclownery in American history.  Personally, it's been a pretty sweet year, but generally it has sucked beyond all sucking.  That said, one of the things that has made it wonderful has been the extraordinary folks who have participated in this blog discussion.

We our back to our normal anarchic non-themed approach, although several folks are still very much in the holiday season (including Dave Wallace who is unrepentantly holiday-themed all month).  We already have tentative thematic plans for Weeks 41 and 49, due to various and sundry secret high level meetings, but, as Master Shake reminds us, all will be revealed.

Oh, and I should point out that the last line of Gary Beatrice's posting was also the line of the night at Dave Kelley's senior prom.


Gary Beatrice

Old Crow Medicine Show, 8 Dogs 8 Banjos

I understand and share everybody's concern about the presidential election. But you can't stay down. I tried lifting your spirits with gospel songs, I tried raising you up with fast songs. By God, if you can't get your toes tapping and your body bouncing with this bawdy, rocking number from the world's most rocking and best live bluegrass band, Old Crowe Medicine Show, then there isn't anything I can do to help you.

If nothing else I bet I made Dave Kelley feel pretty good for three minutes.


Dave Wallace

Vince Guaraldi Trio, TheChristmas Song


When I was in college, I bought two Christmas albums that I continue to listen to repeatedly and religiously (pun intended) every holiday season.  One was the Phil Spector album discussed in my previous post.  The other was Vince Guaraldi's brilliant soundtrack for the Charlie Brown Xmas special.   I love the entire thing, and I could have picked any number of songs off it, but I've always been partial to the version of The Christmas Song that closes the album.  A perfect, serene way to end the album.


Kathy Seiler

Louis Armstrong, What a Wonderful World

My song this week isn't a Christmas song, but since we watch "Christmas Vacation" (one of my favorite movies), every year after we decorate the tree, I associate this song with this season. So I'm sort of both still in and not in theme with Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World". I love the message in this song. The amazement of the beauty of nature around you, appreciating my children will eventually know more than me (oh please please please let this happen), acknowledging the rainbow of people in the world, and my favorite part - that when friends shake hands, they are really saying "I love you."

I'm struck by how hard it must have been for Mr. Armstrong to sing this song when it was released in 1967. Racial tensions abounded, and yet this man could sing this song with a smile that could light up an entire theatre. I often find tears in my eyes from this simple message of peace and joy to be found in the world around us. But when I consider who sang it and when, I get that feeling in my gut that reminds me of how awful we can be as human beings to one another at times. Rising above that and continuing to send messages of peace to combat our violent and often hateful tendencies as a species is the only real weapon I own. 


So I send to you all, whether I have actually met you or not yet, this song and a handshake. I am proud to be among such wonderful friends.


Phillip Seiler

"I walk where the bottles break
And the blacktop still comes back for more"


So begins John Gorka's "Where the Bottles Break" and it sets the tone immediately for what is to come. The visual is clear. This could be any city street where shards of broken glass gather in the crevices and corners. But how do those bottles get broken? Who does this? Gorka lets us know: the bottles just break. Nobody does it. Or perhaps where we find ourselves, everyone does. Does it matter? The broken glass just is. 

The song features John's wonderfully rich baritone voice over the restrained but quietly intense acoustic guitar. There is pressure here, waiting to explode, much like the people of the streets he is singing about. 

These people aren't saints
No people just are
They want to feel like they count
They want to ride in their own car

John has wonderful turn of phrases in some of his lyrics but I find him strongest when he paints these everyday pictures of life. They are vivid and real and raw. We know these people. We know what happens to them.

It happens when the money comes 
The wild and poor get pushed aside
It happens when the money comes
The poor get pushed

But the kicker to this song written in 1990 or 91 comes in the chorus and is why it is spinning round my head these days. 

Buy low, sell high
You get rich and you still die
Money talks, people jump
Ask "how high" low life Donald what's his name
And who cares , I don't want to know what his girlfriend doesn't wear
It's a shame that the people that work
Want to hear about this kind of jerk


Yes it is.


Dave Kelley

"In a world so hard and dirty
so fouled and confused
I went looking for a little bit of God's Mercy
And I found living proof."

This is a line from "Living Proof" off of Springsteen's woefully underrated "Better Days" album.  It was written shortly after the birth of his first child and is about how that event pulled him out of one of his depressive periods.  It is also not my selection this week but does a good job of setting up my choice.

Steve Earle, Nothing But a Child

On one hand this song fits in well with the time of season as the first verse tells the story of the Three Wise Men and the birth of Jesus.

"They chased a brand new star
ever towards the West
Across the mountains far
but when it came to rest
They scarce believed their eyes
they'd come so many miles
And this miracle they prized 
was nothing but a child"

I was raised in a religious household but struggle to keep my faith.  As Miranda commented last week, that does not prevent me from embracing the moral teachings of Jesus and the code of ethics laid out in the New Testament.  I wish the vast majority of professed Christians would try to follow his teachings.  As has been pointed out by many, religious conservatives are always trying to put the Ten Commandments everywhere while never discussing the Beatitudes which are so much more profound and beautiful.  I find it amazing that the New Testament tells the story of a savior who was born, not into great wealth and power, but in a manger to a poor couple.  He then spent his time on earth with the beggars, the prostitutes (Phrasing), the poor, and the afflicted.  His teachings preach compassion, love for your fellow man regardless of his or her station, tolerance, and kindness.  His few harsh words are reserved for the wealthy or those who harm children or try to prevent them from coming to him.  Yeah man, sign me up for that.

At the end of the day though, I find that this song is really about hope and redemption.  Specifically the hope and redemption we see through children.  Last week several noted the fact that during this holiday season we are kinder and more compassionate than usual.  More concerned about giving unto others and placing ourselves a little lower in our hierarchy.  I totally agree with that as well as the concept that basic to humanity is a desire to help others.  I think where children are concerned, those feelings are true 365 days per year.  I cannot even imagine the fierce love that parents have for their children no matter their age.  It is true that there is a percentage of parents who are truly horrific to their children, but these lowlifes are outliers.  The vast majority of people are very concerned with the welfare of children whether they are the parents are not.  If adults could be as awesome with each other as the vast majority of us are with children, imagine what this world would be.  I also firmly believe that while childishness is a bad thing (See Trump, Donald), being childlike, being able to see reality briefly through the eyes of a child is a wonderful and beautiful thing.  I suspect the Christmas season helps us to do that as the traditions remind us so strongly of our own childhoods.

"Now all around the world
in every little town
Every day is heard
a precious little sound
And every mother kind
And every father proud
Looks down in awe to find
Another chance allowed."

"Nothing but a child
Could wash those tears away
Or guide a weary world
into the light of day
And nothing but a child
could help erase those miles
So once again we all
can be children for a while."

This was the last song on the last record that Earle recorded before descending into several years of personal hell which involved divorce, heroin addiction, and imprisonment.  Even at his happiest he is no sentimentalist, and he was not anywhere close to his happiest when he wrote this song.  Even at his most desperate he found hope, not so much in religion I think, but in children.  Hell, maybe children should be our religion.


No one needs to be told how much of our world is hard and dirty or how fouled and confused things are.  God knows the horrors that the incoming administration may lay at our feet.  For me, I have to take solace that there is so much living proof out there that we are better than this.  Peace on earth and goodwill to all won't be achieved anytime soon, but we can all make our little corner of this earth a better place.


Gary Scudder

Amalia Rodrigues, Povo Que Lavas No Rio

OK, this week's pick is as strange as it is utterly predictable.  When Mike Kelly, Kelly Thomas and I were shepherding the students around Portugal we were able to see a, sadly brief, Fado performance in a tiny bar in Lisbon.  The singer had to be somewhere in his 80s and maneuvered around the bar with canes.  Still, he worked the room, including a very Ric Flair worthy fake handshake with an admirer (he didn't put out his right hand then swipe it up to brush his hair, but instead swung it around, in glorious pantomime, to scratch his left forearm - which must be the Portuguese equivalent).  He only sang four songs, which still inspired me to buy two of his CDs from him that night.  I don't speak Portuguese, and at times it sounded like a Russian doing sections of the music from The Third Man at the Buena Vista Social Club karaoke night, but I still found it oddly moving.  During his last song he ended up performing a duet with the bar owner, who I'm assuming was his son.  My interpretation of the song was that it was a metaphorical discussion between old age and young age on the impermanence of life,  but Mike, who has much better instincts for this sort of thing, proposed that it was just two dudes fighting over a girl.  I don't really know that much about Fado other than the fact that it's essentially Portuguese blues about how much it sucks to be Portuguese.  My choice this week is Povo Que Lavas No Rio, by Amalia Rodrigues the "Queen of Fado".  She was buried in Prazeres Cemetery (the "Pleasures" Cemetery) in Lisbon - my all-time favorite cemetery, which I revisited on our trip - until public outcry led to her being re-interred at the National Pantheon (the first woman to be so honored).  Again, I don't understand a word she says (sort of like listening to an early REM album), but she can really sing - and how can you not love a song that starts out with the words:

"To those who wash (clothes) in the river
And who use their axes
To carve the wood for my coffin . . ."

And my lack of Portuguese didn't stop me from downloading two of her albums on my iPod.  In a painfully inauthentic world, I love almost anything that is authentic.  Oh, and Dave Kelley told me that he also heard Fado in Portugal and loved it.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 311

. . . living, in short, at least to a great extent, in an affectionate and perilous intimacy with the men of the other race, provoking them, playing with them by speaking of its vice as of something alien to it - a game that is rendered easy by the blindness or duplicity of the others, a game that may be kept up for years until the day of the scandal when these lion-tamers are devoured; obliged until then to make a secret of their lives, to avert their eyes from the direction in which they would naturally turn away from, to change the gender of many of their adjectives in their vocabulary, a social constraint that is slight in comparison with the inward constraint imposed upon them by their vice, or what is improperly so called, not so much in relation to others as to themselves, and in such a way that to themselves it does not appear a vice.
Marcel Proust, Cities of the Plain, p. 640

And we revisit this long section once more.  Actually, Proust continues his exegesis on homosexuality and society's response to it for a while longer, but he finally decided to end the sentence, and even the paragraph.  One of the things about the recent election which is so disconcerting is the continued advance of the radical wing of the GOP, and the hope we be that they're not going to roll back so much of the progress that has been made on social issues.  In my heart of hearts I just don't think that they will.  As I'm wont to point out, my students are simply much more open-minded on so many issues than even a few years ago, and I go out of my way to praise them for that.  In some ways this, at least in my opinion - which I'm sure is tainted by my own very liberal beliefs - that this is the last rage of the angry white man.  Trump's victory isn't going to alter the browning of the country, or the fact that a younger generation just more tolerant on so many social issues than even the previous generation.  Once only has to look at the numbers on the acceptance on gay marriage, and how dramatically it's changed in the last decade to see that.  Of course, I could truly be delusional since Ohio is trying to pass through a law to outlaw abortion, without even concessions related to rape or incest, after six weeks, which is, of course, before many women even realize that they're pregnant.  It would be so criminal to go back to an age like the one that Proust describes.  What must it be like to a painful charade, "a game that may be kept up for years until the day of the scandal when these lion-tamers are devoured; obliged until then to make a secret of their lives . . ."?  In Islam, a religion, sadly, with enough intolerance to go around, but still, we are reminded that our job is merely to remind others, and that in the end Allah will see to these things.  Personally, I don't think Allah gives a tinker's damn about these things, and as long as you're a good person everything else will take care of itself.  That said, the point is that it's not your job, or within your skill set, to judge others.  Seriously, how arrogant are you to believe that you are constructed in such a way that you can judge other people?  It's especially galling for me when it is Christians who are doing the judging.  Of all the important religious leaders in history was there ever one who stressed not being judgment more than Jesus?  Granted, almost every one of them stressed that concept as well, but did anyone ever do it is beautifully as it is rendered in the Sermon on the Mount?  Apparently they don't read that in Sunday school anymore.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 310

OK, so I know I've mined this section twice before and commented on it - and will again tomorrow and the day after - but I just felt compelled to take a step back and include all of it, mainly because I think it represents the best and worst of Proust.  Since I'm commenting on this at length elsewhere I won't have much to say here:

Their honour precarious, their liberty provisional, lasting only until the discovery of their crime; their position unstable, like that of the poet one day feted in every drawing room and applauded in every theatre in London, and the next day driven from every lodging, unable to find a pillow upon which to lay his head, turning the mill like Samson and saying like him: "The two sexes shall die, each in a place apart!", excluded even, save on the days of general misfortune when the majority rally round the victim as the Jews rallied round Dreyfus, from the sympathy - at times from the society - of their fellows, in whom they inspire each disgust at seeing themselves as they are, portrayed in a mirror which, ceasing to flatter them, accentuates every blemish that they have refused to observe in themselves, and makes them understand that what they have been calling their love (and to which, playing up the word, they have by association annexed all that poetry, music, chivalry, asceticism have contrived to add to love) springs not from an ideal of beauty which they have chosen but from an incurable disease; like the Jews again (save some who will associate only with those of their face and have always on their lips the ritual words and the accepted pleasantries), shunning one another, who do not want their company, forgiving their rebuffs, enraptured by their condescensions; but also brought into the company of their own kind by the ostracism to which they have been subjected, the opprobrium into which they have fallen, having finally been invested, by a persecution similar to that of Israel, with the physical and moral characteristics of a race, sometimes beautiful, often hideous, finding (in spite of all the mockery with which one who, more closely integrated with, better assimilated to the opposing race, is in appearance relatively less inverted, heaps upon one who has remained more so) a relief in frequenting the society of their kind, and even some support in their existence, so much so that, while steadfastly denying that they are a race (the name of which is the vilest of insults), they readily unmask those who succeed in concealing the fact that they belong to it, with a view less to injuring them, though they have no scruple about that, than to excusing themselves and seeking out (as a doctor seeks out cases of appendicitis) cases of inversion in history, taking pleasure in recalling that Socrates was one of themselves, as the Jews claim that Jesus was one of them, without reflecting that there were no abnormal people when homosexuality was the norm, no anti-Christians before Christ, that the opprobrium alone makes the crime because it has allowed to survive only those who remained obdurate to every warning, to every example, to every punishment, by virtue of an innate disposition so peculiar that it is more repugnant to other men (even though it may be accompanied by high moral qualities) than certain other vices which exclude those qualities, such as theft, cruelty, beach of faith, vices better understood and so readily excused by the generality of men; forming a freemasonry far more extensive, more effective and less suspected than that of the Lodges, for it rests upon an identity of tastes, needs, habits, dangers, apprenticeships, knowledge, traffic, vocabulary, and one in which even members who do not wish ti know one another recognise one another immediately by natural or conventional, involuntary or deliberate signs which indicate one of his kind to the beggar in the person of the nobleman whose carriage door he is shutting, to the father in the person of the daughter's suitor, to the man who has sought healing, absolution or legal defence in the doctor, the priest or the barrister to whom he has had recourse; all of them obliged to protect their own secret but sharing with the others a secret which the rest of humanity does not suspect and which means that to them the most wildly improbably tales of adventure seem true, for in this life of anachronistic fiction the ambassador is a  bosom friend of the felon, the prince, with a certain insolent aplomb born of his aristocratic breeding which the timorous bourgeois lacks, on leaving the duchess's party goes off to confer in private with the ruffian; a reprobate section of the human collectivity, but an important one, suspected where it does not exist, flaunting itself, insolent and immune, where its existence is never guessed; numbering its adherents everywhere, among the people, in the army, in the church, in prison, on the throne; living, in short, at least to a great extent, in an affectionate and perilous intimacy with the men of the other race, provoking them, playing with them by speaking of its vice of something alien to it - a game that is rendered easy by the blindness of duplicity of the others, a game that may be kept up for years until the day of the scandal when these lion-tamers are devoured; obliged until then to make a secret of their lives, to avert their eyes from the direction in which they would wish to stray, to fasten them on what they would naturally turn away from, to change the gender of many of the adjectives in their vocabulary, a social constraint that is slight in comparison with the inward constraint imposed upon them by their vice, or what is improperly called, not so in relation to others as to themselves, and in such a way that to themselves it does not appear a vice.
Marcel Proust, Cities of the Plain, pp. 638-640

It wasn't until I was re-reading my notes that it dawned on me that this is ONE SENTENCE.  As is my wont I had scribbled notes all over the book and was planning on breaking it up into three or four different posts, and so I had apparently convinced myself that it was three or four different ungainly long sentences.  And then I realized that it's the mother of all sentences, although, truthfully, maybe not the longest sentence in Remembrance of Things Past.  I've decided that it's the Sentence Where Rhetoric Professors Go To Die.  Consequently, I'm officially challenging all my friends who teach Rhetoric or Composition to assign their students the job of untangling it, if for no other reason than a Scared Straight moment.  Recently I was talking to my good friend David Rous about Proust and he used the word "impenetrable", which I think is just about perfect.

At the same time, in other ways it's Proust at his most, well, Proustian.  Who else had the intelligence, vision, patience, singularity of vision - and, truthfully, audacity - to write like this?  Yesterday I was talking to my first year students about perception and they were reflecting, painfully, on the Proust I had shared with them early in the semester.  I reiterated that one of the reasons why I undertook this challenge was that in an age of social media I was finding it more and more difficult to slow down my mind and to dig more deeply, and I didn't even grow up online.  Say what you want about Proust, but who else ever saw the world like he saw it?  Reading Proust is definitely an acquired taste, and, as I've proposed, Proust makes Dickens read like James Ellroy, but it is beautiful, albeit maddeningly and exhaustingly so.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 309

. . . though they have no scruple about that, than to excusing themselves, and seeking out (as a doctor seeks out cases of appendicitis) cases of inversion in history, taking pleasure in recalling that Socrates was one of themselves, as the Jews claim that Jesus was one of them, without reflecting that there were no abnormal people when homosexuality was the norm, no anti-Christians before Christ, that the opprobrium alone makes the crime because it has allowed to survive only those who remained obdurate to every warning, to every example, to every punishment, by virtue of an innate disposition so peculiar that it is more repugnant to other men (even though it may be accompanied by high moral qualities) than certain other vices which exclude those qualities, such as theft, cruelty, breach of faith, vices better understood and so more readily excused by the generality of men; forming a freemasonry far more extensive, more effective and less suspected than that of the Lodges, for it rests upon an identity of tastes, needs, habits, dangers, apprenticeships, knowledge, traffic, vocabulary, and one in which even members who do not wish to know one another recognise one another immediately by natural or conventional, involuntary or deliberate signs which indicate one of his kind . . .
Marcel Proust, Cities of the Plain, pp. 639-640

Proust continues to ruminate at length on the question of homosexuality and the role that homosexuals play in society.  He draws the comparison to two groups, Jews and homosexuals, who, in his age, had to play a delicate balancing act of being in society, and yet being essentially invisible in society.  As part of the analogy he proposes that both groups sought out "cases of inversion in history," in the case of homosexuals "recalling that Socrates was one of them" while "the Jews claim that Jesus was one of them."  Proust then makes the point, seemingly accusatory, that that groups make these claims "without reflecting that there were no abnormal people when homosexuality was the norm, no anti-Christians before Christ."  But see, here's the thing, I think this is actually where Proust shows his sympathy for both Jews and homosexuals, and displays the humanity and sympathy that I associate with him.  He discusses their high moral qualities, as compared to the laundry list of bad qualities that people readily accept while persecuting both groups.  I don't think you even need to go the lengths of discussing Proust's own sexuality here.  I would propose that Proust, maybe because of his lifelong poor health - or the lonely life of driven artist - would have felt a natural brotherhood for two other misunderstood and shunned groups.
  

Monday, December 5, 2016

My Year With Proust - Day 308

And lastly - according at least to the first theory which I sketched in outline at the time, which we shall see subjected to some modification in the sequel, and in which this would have angered them above all else had not the paradox been hidden from their eyes by the very illusion that made them see and live - lovers who are almost precluded from the possibility of that love that hope of which gives them the strength to endure so many risks and so much loneliness, since they are enamoured of precisely the type of man who had nothing feminine about him, who is not an invert and consequently cannot love them in return; with the result that their desire would be for ever unappeased did not their money procure for them real men, and their imagination end by making them take for real men the inverts to whom they have prostituted themselves.  Their honour precarious, their liberty provisional, lasting only until the discovery of their crime; their position unstable, like that of the poet one day feted in every drawing room and applauded in every theatre in London, and the next driven from every lodging, unable  to find a pillow up which to lay his head . . .
Marcel Proust, Cities of the Plain, p. 638

Proust continues his discussion of M. de Charlus and the loneliness of homosexuals in the society of his age.  He also offers his own theory on why homosexuals choose "real men," who in the end "cannot love them in return; with the result that their desire would be for ever unappeased."

One can't read the following line without thinking of Oscar Wilde: "Their honour precarious, their liberty provisional, lasting only until the discovery of their crime; their position unstable, like that of the poet one day feted in every drawing room and applauded in every theatre in London, and the next driven from every lodging, unable  to find a pillow up which to lay his head . . ."  This is apropos of nothing, but I suddenly remembered how Wilde would use the pseudonym Sebastian Melmoth during his exile, a combination of St. Sebastian (full of arrows, no doubt) and Melmoth, from Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (my favorite obscure novel). I just had this thought that I'd like to teach a Heroines & Heroes class and have the students read Melmoth the Wanderer, and we could explore the notion of the anti-hero before there was such a thing.  OK, having gotten that out of my system (sort of - what about a travel course based on Melmoth the Wanderer?).  OK, now I have it out of my system.  Well, almost.  I had this thought the other day that I'd like to teach a Heroines & Heroes, probably in my last semester at Champlain, where we focused on David Copperfield.  How great would that be?  I told my friend Kathy the other day that if she ever saw David Copperfield on the shelf at the bookstore next to my name that she should assume that I was going to be retiring that semester, probably unannounced.

Cruel Summer (Palace)

Just as there is something great about getting an unexpected letter or email from someone, there is equally something wonderful about receiving a picture that you didn't know existed.  My great friend Craig just sent me a picture that he came across when organizing his files from the summer that he and I, and several other Champlain professors, traveled to China.  Here's a shot of me at the Summer Palace outside Beijing.  This was before we all split up and went our separate ways, an entire group to southern China and me, alone, per usual, heading off to the Taklamakan Desert.  It was the summer when I was first separated from my wife and pretty miserable, living in my office and mainly eating ramen noodles, and trying as best I could to find new ways to be unhappy and guilt-ridden.  So, I embarked on a seven country, seven week tour, with stops at multiple universities and presentations at a number of conferences.  At least I had a place to sleep and food to eat.  A day before I left I had a spectacular bike wreck, wrapping my face around a railing, knocking out a tooth and resulting in stitches - just to make the entire experience even more special.  Still, I survived, as we do when we keep plugging away, and lived to see another day.

Normally in pictures I looked either amused or angry, but in this one I just seem confused, and more confused than usual (which makes it a pretty solid metaphor for my emotional state at the time).  I also can't help noticing how thin I am.  The divorce misery diet is a wonderful way to lose weight, although I wouldn't normally recommend it.