Friday, September 30, 2011

"Everyone flies to the assemblies"

Yesterday I was teaching my favorite chapter of Rousseau's Of the Social Contract, Book 3, Chapter 15, where he rails against reliance on "deputies or representatives" to serve the state. In Rousseau's ideal state, the citizens would be eager to serve:

The better the constitution of a State is, the more do public affairs encroach on private in the minds of the citizens. Private affairs are even of much less importance, because the aggregate of the common happiness furnishes a greater proportion of that of each individual, so that there is less for him to seek in particular cares. In a well-ordered city every man flies to the assemblies.

We were talking together about whether this is an appealing or chilling picture of political community: do we really want private affairs to be swallowed up in the public good? But then, as we were arguing about this, it occurred to me that Rousseau's idealization is pretty much the life I'm living right now at DePauw.

Every night I fly to some assembly. Yesterday I flew to three: to a philosophy department talk on Nietzsche's metaethics, dinner with the speaker and with the rest of my philosophy department colleagues, then an event presentation: "YoYo Ma: A Life in Music." Earlier in the week I flew to a meeting of the Prindle reading group on James Stewart's book Tangled Webs, with the author present. I've been flying to ethics bowl practices, to Fulbright application meetings, to all-faculty meetings, to the class on The Tempest. What private business do I need to have, what private cares, when this is the public business of my little liberal arts community here?

So maybe Rousseau was on to something, after all.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Things Due Now, Things Due Later

Do any of you find that while things that are due now are impossible to face, things that are due later draw you with irresistible allure?

I have so many things that I need to do NOW: read for my Rousseau class, read Fulbright applications from my mentees, review books for Children's Literature, review a book for the Children's Literature Association Quarterly, organize some huge and wonderful event on life writing for the Prindle Institute (who could possibly face a task presented under that description!), revise a novel, write an overdue paper, and decide what paper I want to submit to the annual meeting of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics.

Am I doing any of those things? No. Instead, my brain is seething with ideas for a paper on Eleanor Estes's Pinky Pye, for next year's Children's Literature Association conference in June in Boston. That paper abstract isn't due until January. All these other things I listed above need to be done by mid-October, or should have been done last month.

All I can think about is Pinky Pye. I'm rereading it, as well as Ginger Pye, to see if my paper idea is going to pan out. Guess what: it is! I'm making notes, I'm drawing connections, I'm searching for relevant articles, printing them out.

This is very bad, of course. But I really couldn't help myself. And all those other things: they will get done - if only because they have to. But right now, Pinky Pye is polishing up her little white paw, and speaking her one little meow word to me: "Woe."

Oh, Pinky!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Don't Direct Each Other"

Yesterday was the fifth meeting of the interdisciplinary team-taught class on The Tempest that I'm sitting in on in preparation for the performance next month on campus by Actors from the London Stage. We worked on acting techniques and did one exercise where we walked around the room in male/female pairings (taking turns being male or female) in courtly fashion as Renaissance music played. The climax of the exercise came when we presented ourselves to the queen, played by Prof. Andrea Sununu, who did a wonderful job of receiving us graciously, with a dignified nod or distant smile, except for the one or two occasions when she saw fit to extend her hand so that some favored one could kneel and kiss her ring.

Toward the end of the class, we received the following acting advice which doubles as extremely useful life advice:

"Acting is trying to change your partner" - but don't try to change your partner by giving explicit instructions for how the other person should act: "Don't direct each other." (With a blush I remembered the previous week where I had been full of helpful advice for how the Ferdinand and Miranda in my scene - I was Prospero - could deliver their lines more effectively!) Instead, "React to what they're actually giving you."

Here was the best part: Instead of saying "This isn't working, you're not coming to me," GET THEM TO COME TO YOU.

Oh. All those doomed relationships, a lifetime full of them, where I expended so much effort directing the other person to do what I what I wanted him to do, now exposed for the failure of my inappropriate directorial stance.

Oh, well. Now I know!

Monday, September 26, 2011

A FEAST Indeed

I'm home from the Feminist Ethics and Social Theory (FEAST) conference. It was wonderful, despite the conference center "resort" itself proving a disappointment: closed pool, closed trails, meeting rooms with paper-thin walls, late-night revelry from the endless weddings going on simultaneously with our conference. But the conference itself was a banquet for the mind and spirit.

Often when I attend conferences, I deliver my own paper, go to a few sessions where friends of mine are giving papers, and then spend the rest of the time reading, writing, and sipping pomegranate martinis in the hotel bar. This time, because I wasn't giving a paper but was just going to to the conference in order to go to the conference, I actually WENT to the conference. I attended almost every single session, scribbling notes frantically in my DePauw University notebook - seventeen pages of them. In addition I scribbled down names of books I want to read, books I want to teach, ideas for future articles.

In the evenings I did curl up in my room and read a riveting biography of Emily Dickinson, Lives Like Loaded Guns, by Lyndall Gordon. The title is from a poem by Emily: "My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun. . . ." I started reading the book simply because I've long wanted to read a biography of Emily Dickinson; I had no idea how much the book would bear on my current interest in the ethics of life writing. It turns out that everything written about Emily Dickinson for decades - including much that is still written about her - has been shaped by an intense family feud, triggered by the torrid adultery of Emily's brother, Austin Dickinson, that split the family into two warring camps, each with their own interest in "owning" Emily's poetry - and shaping the mythology that came to surround her.

So by day I feasted on papers with titles like "Queering Reproductive Ethics," "Gender and the Politics of Invisible Disability," "The Epistemic Function of Narrative and the Globalization of Mental Disorders," "Muslim Women and the Many Faces of Patriarchy," "The Weird Adventures of Western Aid," and "On Having a Bottomless Source of Moral Failure." By night I feasted on Emily's poems and the life that inspired them.

And I even lost a pound in the process!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Off to FEAST

I'm leaving in an hour for the first of many fun weekend getaways this fall. This time I'm driving up to a resort on Lake Michigan north of Chicago to attend the every-other-year-conference of the association for Feminist Ethics And Social Theory: FEAST.

This is the first time I've ever gone to a conference where I wasn't presenting on the program. It had never even occurred to me to go to a conference if I wasn't giving a paper there. But part of the faculty culture at DePauw seems to be that it's perfectly okay to go to a conference just to - gasp - learn something new, something to bring back to the university in order to enrich our teaching, or to contribute to the quality of our shared intellectual life. The point of going to a conference doesn't have to be another line on our c.v.

Now, this isn't to say that I'm not wishing that I had thought of submitting a paper months ago when the call for papers went forth. I love giving talks and papers and value the critical feedback I receive. I wouldn't have a career at all if it weren't for forcing myself to give talks and papers at this kind of conference, gather the comments from the audience, head home to expand and revise, and then publish the paper somewhere. But this time I didn't get around to it. I was busy getting around to lots of other things instead, which were more urgent and important at the time.

So I'm going anyway. Just to learn. I'm taking my yellow DePauw University notebook that I bought at the college bookstore upon arriving to campus. I'll go to talks, take good notes in my notebook, see lots of University of Colorado friends, and return home with some new ideas bouncing around in my brain. Maybe an idea for a presentation at some future conference or a published paper. Maybe ideas to help me do a better job teaching my Feminism and the Family course here in the spring. Maybe just ideas to make me more intellectually alive right in this moment. Not all ideas have to be stored up for some future purpose, right? Sometimes we're permitted to learn, and think, and grow simply for its own sake, for the sake of the feast - FEAST - itself.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dupery through Hope

Today I'm giving a dinner talk at five o'clock at the campus Center for Spiritual Life in their "Food for Thought" series. Each speaker is asked to take as his or her topic: "What Matters Most to Me and Why." I heard that past speakers have given answers ranging from "human dignity" to "shoes."

I'm going to talk about hope. I'm going to begin by talking about the life-opening semester I had my sophomore year in college when I was simultaneously taking a religion course at Wellesley with Mr. Denbeaux and a philosophy of religion course at MIT with Mr. Brody. The MIT class reviewed the various arguments for the existence of God (the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the ontological argument - all bad) and the various definitional attributes of God (omniscience, omnipotence, omni-benevolence - all subject to crippling paradox). At Wellesley, on the other hand, Mr. Denbeaux told us that the characteristics of God were just "patience, long-suffering, and love." At Wellesley, Mr. Denbeaux told us that people who complained about inconsistencies in the Gospel record were like people who refused to listen to a warped record played on a fourth-rate stereo - despite the technical flaws, you could still "hear the music."

It was that semester that I read for the first time the most beautiful philosophy essay ever written, "The Will to Believe" by William James. James is arguing against another philosopher, William Clifford, who has a hatred of credulity; Clifford claims that it is always wrong to believe anything without sufficient evidence. James counters that someone like Clifford may succeed in avoiding any errors, but he will also miss out on believing crucial and beautiful truths. This, too, is a form of dupery, and "Dupery for dupery, what proof is there that dupery through hope is so much worse than dupery through fear?"

So I decided then and there always to let myself err on the side of being duped by hope. I read "The Will to Believe" to the man I eventually married, to make the case for taking a chance on love. I became a children's book author, because the distinguishing mark of children's books is not that they have happy endings - many do not - but that they have hopeful endings: or should! I hate the ones that dupe children through fear. And if anything requires hope, it's the enterprise of writing, word after word, line after line, page after page, with no guarantee whatever that it's any good, or that anyone will ever read it, or care about it in any way.

Dupery for dupery, what proof is there that dupery through hope is so much worse than dupery through fear ?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Golden Perfection

I've written before about how I generally send off half-baked scholarly articles, get back deservedly scathing reviewers' comments, and then set about to make the articles into real publishable pieces by adding in all the scholarship that should have been there before but wasn't. I'm good at going from half-baked to baked. I actually think my method is a pretty good one. It definitely produces more publications than the method of holding on to something forever trying to perfect it on my own. Baking is a collaborative enterprise.

I'm now working on a project where I'm taking an already baked article to the state of golden baked perfection. I have comments from one brilliant reviewer on my essay, "Redemption through the Rural: The Teen Novels of Rosamond Du Jardin." In the essay I show how Du Jardin uses the rural as a site of virtue, essentially "sentencing" selfish, shallow Pam, who is used to dating "smooth" guys with country club memberships, to marry a FARMER as part of her moral rehabilitation. This paper was not half-baked. I had already cited tons of books on American culture in the 1950s, on Midwestern literature, on pastoralism, on teen fiction. But this reviewer wanted even more.

So now I've found a 1960 master's thesis on Rosamond Du Jardin from Florida State University that quotes extensively from contemporary reviews of her novels as well as giving statistics as to her sales figures, and snippets from interviews and correspondence. The thesis itself is something to behold: typed on an actual typewriter! on that bond paper we were supposed to use for fancy projects! I showed it to some students here, and they were stunned by this blast from the past: "But what would you do if you were typing along and made a mistake?" Well might they ask!

I also ordered from E-Bay a copy of the December 1958 issue of the Reader's Digest that contains an article "The Danger of Being Too Well Adjusted," which appears thinly disguised in Double Wedding as Mike Bradley's school-paper editorial, "The Well Adjusted Generation."

I am digging. I am delving. This is going to be the best-baked paper ever.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My Little House

Some of my faithful readers have asked for pictures of my little house in Greencastle. I'm not very good at taking pictures and even less good at transferring them from my camera to the computer. I have to take out the little instructions Gregory dictated to me: 1) Use black cord; 2) Turn on camera (one step I always forget); 3) Open folder to view files; 4) Click on photo; 5) Open MY PICTURES; 5) Drop and drag. Actually I don't do those last two. I don't know how to drop and drag things. I only know how to click on things. So I click on COPY TO and save it to MY PICTURES.

Anyway, so here's my sweet shabby dear darling little house that I rent for $375 a month. If you squint you can see the tiny pumpkin I bought for it yesterday at the farmers' market. A tiny pumpkin for a tiny house and for the happy person living in it.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Moon Festival

Last night my friend Deepa and I went to the Moon Festival here at DePauw at the McKim Observatory (pictured above). This is the invitation for it that came to all of us over email:

We would like to invite you to the Annual Moon Festival next Friday (the 16th) at the McKim Observatory, starting at 8:30 pm. We will celebrate the mid-autumn moon in collaboration with the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the students in the ASIA Club, DePauw China Connection, and Physics Club. This is a great opportunity to see the moon through the historical telescope DePauw owns. The mid-autumn moon festival is a traditional East Asian holiday that occurs when the moon is considered most beautiful. Please bring your family and friends. Refreshments will feature traditional moon cakes, other Asian delights, and tea. There will be a chance for those who wish to share their favorite poems or songs in any language.

As you can imagine, this invitation filled me with great joy. It was the perfect example of the interdisciplinary richness that marks so much of my experience here: a festival hosted BOTH by the Physics Club and the ASIA Club, filled with astronomy, Asian culture, music, poetry, and food.

There was one undeniable disappointment that I must acknowledge: it was completely overcast last night, so we had no glimpse of the moon at the Moon Festival. But the observatory was thronged with students, faculty, friends; the moon cakes were delicious, and the menu of music performed on the stage behind the observatory was a multi-cultural delight. Deepa recognized the music for one dance performance: a song from an Indian film she had seen: "I can't believe I'm hearing this song in Greencastle!"

Happy Moon Festival, everybody!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dolce Domum

There is one chapter of The Wind and the Willows that I can never read without weeping: Chapter Five, Dolce Domum. In this chapter Mole is consumed with the wondrous adventures of his new life with Ratty and Mr. Toad, out exploring the huge amazing world, and then, as he is in the woods with Ratty, thinking of anything but the life he left behind, he catches a whiff of it, the scent of it: home.

Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way! Why, it must be quite close by him at that moment, his old home that he had hurriedly forsaken and never sought again, that day when he first found the river! And now it was sending out its scouts and its messengers to capture him and bring him in. Since his escape on that bright morning he had hardly given it a thought, so absorbed had he been in his new life, in all its pleasures, its surprises, its fresh and captivating experiences. Now, with a rush of old memories, how clearly it stood up before him, in the darkness! Shabby indeed, and small and poorly furnished, and yet his, the home he had made for himself, the home he had been so happy to get back to after his day's work. And the home had been happy with him, too, evidently, and was missing him, and wanted him back, and was telling him so, through his nose, sorrowfully, reproachfully, but with no bitterness or anger; only with plaintive reminder that it was there, and wanted him.

This is what happened to me this week. I've been so consumed with happiness in my new life in Greencastle; for the first time in my life I've been having insomnia, because I'm too happy to fall asleep. And then, it happened: I had that whiff of home. Mine was an auditory rather than an olfactory whiff. It came in a video posted for me on my Facebook page, from Boulder church friends, of the church choir's performance of the rousing anthem, "Sing Hosanna," which they perform every single year for "kickoff Sunday," the Sunday after Labor Day when the choir returns after a summer hiatus. Usually I've signed up to be an usher for the month of September, so I'm always at the back of the sanctuary as the choir is practicing, and I can't help but dance to the song as they belt it out.

When I heard the song, in the recording posted for me on Facebook, I became Mole, catching that whiff of what is so dear, so familiar, so forever-beloved. Home! Oh, home - oh, home - oh, home.

I still love it here every minute of every day. I still can't sleep for the very joy of it. But I'm glad I'll be returning home for fall break next month, to go to church, and hear the choir, and be with all those friends I love so much: "The call was clear, the summons was plain. He must obey it instantly, and go."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Come Hither

Yesterday was the third meeting of the interdisciplinary, team-taught class on The Tempest that I'm sitting in on in preparation for a campus performance mid-October by Actors from the London Stage.

We began with an acting exercise. One student sat in the middle of the room. Each of us had to speak to her the two words, "Come hither" (we're working on getting used to Shakespearean diction). Each of us was assigned a strategy for trying to get this student to come hither: pleading, threatening, enticing, teasing, seducing, bullying, commanding, scolding, begging, etc. Mine was "enticing." We were encouraged to put our whole bodies into this. This was a challenge for me: when I was in plays in high school I was great at emoting from the neck up, as I stood stiff as a board from the neck down.

We tried the exercise again, this time using two different strategies (e.g., trying pleading after threatening didn't work, or vice versa). Then we did it while assuming some role in a relationship: e.g., teacher/student, parent/child, abuser/victim, pimp/prostitute, master/slave, lovers, buddies, doctor/patient, confidante/confessor (this is the one I got).

What did we learn from the exercise? Lots. We learned that even within a given strategy, there is a range: of volume, of intensity. Threats can be loud or soft, pleading can be more or less desperate. We learned how much interest is added to a scene by varying strategies: it's much more psychologically fascinating to watch someone abandon a failed strategy to try a different one than to watch someone repeat a failed strategy over and over again. We learned how much freer we felt to add body language when we were embedded in a relationship.

I also learned how hard acting is. I think when all is said and done, I'd rather stick to being a writer. But taking a turn as an actor is good practice for writing. How many different ways can one character convey the message "come hither" to another? How many different ways can the writer make this interesting for the reader?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cake Balls

Just when I was resolved to address my new chubbiness, here's what happened.

At new faculty orientation several weeks ago, we had lunch one day at the Inn at Depauw, an old inn right next to campus that has been converted into a very pleasant hotel, restaurant, bar ("The Fluttering Duck"), and conference center. The lunch was a buffet, and for dessert there was something called "cake balls," these round objects with frosting on the outside and cake on the inside. I liked the cake balls a LOT.

Last week I had lunch there with a colleague. There were no cake balls to be had. I asked the waitress about them, and she asked for my email address so I could be alerted when cake balls were next available.

Sure enough, a personal email came yesterday, in my DePauw email inbox. The subject heading said only "Cake Balls." The message was a promise that there would be cake balls today. It was signed by the executive chef at the inn.

So how could I not go over there for lunch today and have cake balls? What dieter could be so churlish as to refrain from them after such a kindly notification? They even had a big handwritten sign next to them that said CAKE BALLS, when nothing else was labeled.

I now have one more reason to love my new life in Greencastle. Its name is: CAKE BALLS.

Monday, September 12, 2011


All right, so here is one sad thing about my new life in Greencastle. I am getting chubby. Quite chubby, indeed.

Part of the problem is that the university serves me food constantly. Everybody serves me food constantly.

Take yesterday. There was a "pitch-in" after church, which turned out to be a very abundant potluck (I had never heard the term "pitch-in" before, so I had feared it was some kind of all-church work day where we'd go right from worship to altar-vacuuming and shrubbery-trimming, but fortunately I was mistaken). So of course I filled my plate. Then there was pizza after an afternoon film at the Prindle. The film was Born into Brothels, heartbreaking in its depiction of the lives of children born into Calcutta's red light district, but also inspirational in its depiction of the power of engagement with photography to transform these lives. And the pizza was very tasty. And then I went out for a late dinner with a speaker who gave a talk about the work of the 9/11 Commission. I carefully refrained from ordering any food myself, but ended up eating half of one person's french fries, and half of another person's onion rings, and I did order and drink two (small) glasses of Merlot. DePauw paid for it all.

This was a pretty typical day as far as my being provided food in Greencastle.

But in addition, and here I can blame nobody but myself, I discovered that just about every store here sells my favorite kind of candy, well, one of my favorites: bags of large cherry, orange, or multi-flavored gumdrops, as well as bags of my even more beloved spice drops. I bought one bag early in the week at Headley Hardware, and then another one midweek at Tractor Supply, and then a third one this weekend at Dollar General. Each bag contains ten "servings" (don't you love the idea of a serving of gumdrops?). So I hate to think how many servings I've eaten in one week alone.

This has to stop. I actually threw away the bag of spice drops still half full. I took cottage cheese and a tomato for lunch today. I am NOT going to buy any more gum drops for a long time. I really truly am not!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Saturday in Greencastle

Yesterday I had no outing to look at any covered bridges or to explore the charms of Bloomington. Instead, I reveled in the charms of my own Greencastle.

First upon waking I called my sister. Our Saturday morning phone calls are a sisterly tradition of many decades, but now we have the fun of being in the same time zone for the first time in almost twenty years.

Then: off to the farmers' market to buy apple squares at my favorite farmers' stand, after an initial panic from finding that it had shifted its location in the square. Many other DePauw faculty were there, pushing strollers and filling totebags with freshly harvested local produce. I also took the occasion to go on a shopping spree at the Goodwill store, where I bought three skirts that I adore and six tops, for a total expenditure of $28. One of the skirts I love more than anything else in my entire wardrobe.

Colleague Jen and her adorable two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Clara stopped by for a visit, and I had the fun of sitting on my little front porch with Clara and rabbit puppet Ruby, chatting about various vehicles that passed by: truck, motorcycle. After they departed, it was time to meet up with a student who is interested in writing children's books for lunch at the Blue Door Cafe. Everything in Greencastle is so compactly organized that we finished up our meeting in the children's room of the public library, a block away, to look at books that might be a model for the kind of project she is interested in pursuing.

In the afternoon I stopped in briefly at Putnam County Airport Appreciation Day, to see little planes and helicopters of all kinds taking off and landing. But then I returned home for my own Jane Austen Appreciation Day and spent the afternoon rereading Emma in preparation for the meeting of the Janeites book club on Tuesday evening.

The day ended with dinner at the home of two friends, a five-minute walk from my house. We talked for hours. And then I walked home and climbed into bed and finished the last chapters of Emma.

So this is the report of my Greencastle Appreciation Day.

Friday, September 9, 2011

All I Got to Do

I have a dear friend who is in despair because she thinks her life is pointless, without any larger overarching purpose, not lived in the service of anything that matters. This has been making me think about what the point and purpose of my own life is. I've decided that it's just to love the world as fully and fiercely as I can.

"What!" I can hear my friend moaning. "What good is THAT?"

In George Eliot's Middlemarch, the character Ladislaw thinks this has a point. He says, "The best piety is to enjoy - when you can. You are doing the most then to spare the earth's character as an agreeable planet. And enjoyment radiates. It is of no use to try and take care of all the world; that is being taken care of when you feel delight - in art or in anything else."

I think Ladislaw is right. Delight does radiate. Ever since I've come to Indiana, I've loved everything about Greencastle, DePauw University, and the Prindle Institute for Ethics so openly and extravagantly that more than one person has thanked me for letting them see their familiar world with renewed appreciation. I'm helping them to love it better, too. That isn't nothing. Right this minute it feels as if it's everything.

I'll close with quoting another George who affirms this, too. In "Blow Away," my favorite George song ever (well, second only to "Here Comes the Sun"), he writes "All I got to do is to love you. All I got to be is be happy."

That's the song I'm singing to the world right now.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Get One Thing Right

Last week I spent a happy day reading Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, edited by William Zinsser, in preparation for the reading group I'm organizing on ethical issues in life writing. There were so many terrific essays in the book written by prominent memoirists reflecting on their experiences; some of the best were the ones by Russell Baker, Eileen Simpson, Annie Dillard, and Ian Frazier, or at least those are the ones I chose for my group to read.

Here's one passage I loved from Ian Frazier's discussion of how he worked on his book Family:

"I began with the premise that I wanted to get at least one thing right. My analogy comes from hunting. When you're in a field and a whole bunch of quail go up, if you're a beginner you put your gun to your shoulder and just go BANG. You see all those birds and you shoot at them all and you won't get one. If you want to get a bird, pick one bird and shoot it. . . . So first, get one thing right - one thing that you really want to say."

Hunting metaphor aside, this struck home for me. Lately I've been having too much of a scattershot approach to getting my work done: take a bunch of work off to my office at the Prindle, stay there all day with nothing to do but that work, and figure that at least I'll accomplish SOMETHING. That doesn't always lead to the best results. Often on this approach I tend to accomplish only easy, lazy, peripheral things.

Today I'm going to pick one bird and shoot it - well, pick ONE task and DO it. I'm going to revise the first three chapters of a novel-in-progress. I'm in luck because I actually have to do this today, as I'm submitting these to the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) retreat that I'm attending in early November here in Indiana, and today happens to be the deadline for mailing them in. Of course, that doesn't guarantee that it will happen.

Still. I'm picking ONE thing. I'm lifting my gun to my shoulder. I'm taking aim. I'm taking aim RIGHT NOW.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Slow Down

Now, I'm NOT saying that Greencastle, Indiana, is a sleepy little burg. But I AM saying that as I drive on the road home from my office out at the Prindle Institute, there is a stretch where the speed limit is twenty. Not twenty-five. Twenty.

As I approach the twenty-mile-an-hour zone, a blinking light signals to me that my speed is excessive. It has a frenetic red blinker that silently shouts out my dangerous speed: 23!!!! 22!!!! 21!!!! And then, when I finally slow down in obedience, the blinking ceases and I can see the approved number: 20.

There is no elementary school or preschool nearby. What is nearby is DePauw University. The frantic blinking light is to protect the college students from speed demons going twenty-two or twenty-three miles per hour.

I love slowing down to twenty.

I said above that Greencastle is not a sleepy little burg. As evidence, I submit the fact that the university is in session today, classes and all, despite its being Labor Day in every other part of the country. We are laboring mightily on Labor Day. The faculty and students here work as hard as I've ever seen anybody work.

But still, a diligent little blinking light here does everything in its power to tell me, "Slow down, you move too fast." And when it does, I feel (readers in my age bracket will understand this). . . I feel GROOVY.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Surprise and Serendipity

Yesterday I went with new acquaintance Deepa, a beginning professor in the Political Science Department who works in the field of international affairs (we met at new faculty orientation), for an outing to Bloomington, home of the University of Indiana. Off to the big city! It was a day of both expected accomplishments and unexpected pleasures.

Expected accomplishments: I deposited my first DePauw paycheck at a Chase bank outside Bloomington - there is one Chase ATM in Greencastle, but no Chase branch where I can deposit anything; and I got a broken strap on my sandals repaired at a shoe repair shop (again, not a service offered in Greencastle). Other expected accomplishment: we had a delicious Thai lunch on an eatery on Fourth Street - our mission had been to go in search of a meal at the kind of ethnic restaurant unavailable where we live.

Unexpected pleasures: oh, so many! As we were driving, we saw a sign pointing us to Cataract Falls, which I knew from reading tourism brochures given to us at new faculty orientation are the highest falls in the state of Indiana. We made a detour to behold them and also came across a nearby covered bridge, this one filled with inscriptions of love poems, drawings, and other writings too tender and heartfelt to merit the name of graffiti.

Unwittingly, we had chosen to come to Bloomington on the day of a major street fair, which made for more difficulty parking but also gave the day an even more festive feel. Because of the limited parking options, we found our way to a florist with a parking lot a few blocks from the center of town: Ellis Florist. The sign in the parking lost said "For Ellis Florist customers only." So we became Ellis Florist customers: I bought a birthday card for Christopher, Deepa bought a beautiful plant, and by the time the plant was lovingly prepared to travel to its new home (its leaves misted to shine, its pot festooned with a big purple bow), we both felt as if we had a new friend in the florist lady.

And best of all, we made new friends in each other. We shared stories in the car. We critiqued the attractions, or lack thereof, in the various towns we traversed, always with an eye to extolling the greater charms of our own Greencastle. I was in need of a recipe to make for dinner guests that evening: Deepa talked me through how to make a delicious chickpea salad, which I served later that day to an appreciative response. We made plans for future fun.

Despite near-100-degree temperatures, this was a perfect day.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Low-Hanging Fruit

In my plan to start turning my energies to my professional writing (I will no longer say "real" writing, as I have been corrected - blog writing is real!), I started, as I always do, with low-hanging fruit. I am a huge fan of low-hanging fruit, where I can reach out my hand and pluck it, just like that.

I have two children's literature essays in my work pile. One has never yet been submitted for publication (I gave it at the Children's Literature Association conference in Roanoke last year); one has been submitted and returned to me as a revise-and-resubmit, with comments considerably less scathing than my norm (probably because the reviewer is a friend - reviews are supposed to be double-blind, but the field is small enough that sometimes the foremost expert in a tiny sub-field can't help but know everyone else in that same tiny sub-field; that said, the comments were extensive, probing, demanding - but kindly worded, for a change!).

So yesterday I faced both of those projects. For the first one, I had planned to do some fairly substantive expanding and revising before submitting it to my targeted journal. But then I read it over again and decided, hey, I liked it just fine. (I often decide this about my articles, hence the scathingness of the reviewers' comments.) I really DID like it just fine. I couldn't imagine what I could add to make it longer, or better. So rather than sit on it for six more months, and THEN say, oh, heck, just submit it and see, I submitted it (online) to the journal in question. One down!

For the other one, the revise-and-resubmit, the reviewer mainly wanted me to "contextualize" the discussion much more. And, kind and wise as she is, she suggested a bunch of ways in which I could do this, and suggested the scholarly texts I could call on in doing so. Step one, then, was to get those books. I trotted off to the university library, hauled home half a dozen of the books, and ordered three more on inter-library loan. I trotted off to the public library for a few children's books the reviewer mentioned. And I ordered a couple more on one-click.

So THAT is done. Now I need to READ them, of course, but I might as well wait till I have them all lined up in a neat little row, right?

Today, I'm turning to fruit that's higher on the tree. I have brilliant editorial comments on a children's novel-in-process, the one I was working on last May in Cabo. I have to decide whether I should try revising the book or whether I should abandon it for a more promising project. I know when I reread it, I'll end up liking it and wanting to work on it again. So I need to reread it. Actually, that's pretty low-hanging fruit right there: just read the thing! But for some reason, this feels scarier. Still, I found the right place to do it: the Blue Door Cafe, which I discovered this past week, with its cozy couches and appealing menu of treats. So: "reread the novel" is the lowish-hanging fruit I'm going to harvest today.

Maybe all fruit can be made to seem low-hanging, if I just take things step by step. Anne Lamott says, "bird by bird." I'll say, "apple by apple."

Friday, September 2, 2011

Brick by Brick

I am making good progress on building the edifice of my new life here in Greencastle. Such edifices are not constructed in a day, so I've been adding new bricks steadily, where I'm at the point of being ready to add the capstone - maybe today?

First was just getting here: saying goodbye to my old life, packing the car, planning my route, buckling Ruby the jackrabbit puppet into her seatbelt, and driving a thousand miles across the country.

Next was all the logistics of settling in: finding my house (rented sight unseen), figuring out how to turn on the AC and work all the light switches, buying my first groceries, locating the only Chase ATM in town, locating the nearby Methodist church, getting the lay of the land. And settling in at the university: finding my TWO offices, getting keys to open them, dragging in my cartons of books (and deciding which books go in which office), getting my university ID, getting set up to use my ID to print on university printers (MANY hours of tears), and decorating my philosophy department office door. Plus days of new faculty orientation and welcome-back picnics and parties galore.

Another row of bricks was organizing how I would spend my days: MWF at my peaceful, serene office out at the Prindle Institute for Ethics, Tuesday/Thursday at my cozy office in the philosophy department on campus - and what kind of work I would do on each day.

Then I had to start DOING the work: finalizing the syllabus for my class, meeting with my students, organizing my reading group for the Prindle, making a plan for my Prindle intern.

Oh, and exercise! I had to start walking again. I found that the walk from the shabby end of Seminary Street (where I live) to the posh end of Seminary Street (where the university president lives) is a half hour, there and back. So I've started doing that every morning before I leave for work. And I found out how to walk to the Prindle entirely on trails through the university's 500-acre nature park, and I've started exploring walks within the park as well.

But now I have to start doing the core work of my life: writing. Here is where my building-an-edifice metaphor breaks down. Writing is not the capstone. Writing is the foundation. I would never have been invited here if I hadn't written all those papers in college and graduate school, written a doctoral dissertation, written enough articles to get tenure. And I wouldn't be who I am if I hadn't written my 45 children's books. I try to remind myself of this every single day: WRITING IS THE FOUNDATION OF EVERYTHING.

So now I have to start writing. Today. TODAY IS THE DAY I AM GOING TO START WRITING.

There, I said it.
Now I'm off to do it.