Start to Finish

misers

I’d like to post today about two things that happen this time of year. One is what I will call The Rankin Bass Conversations, or People on social media and elsewhere enthusiastically discussing mutant reindeer, earnest v. snotty elves, and Gigantic yo-yos and such. (For the Record: Abominable Snowman, thumbs down. Winter Warlock, thumbs up. Winter is The Man.)

The holiday season abounds with Creativity. Herbie’s cosmetic dentistry, Schroeder rocking the house via Vince Guaraldi, a corncob pipe and a button nose. Boston looks beautiful, and did you know every snowflake is unique. Especially Me. And the weather, remember, is Created by the two bitchy sons of Mother Nature, Cold Miser and Heat Miser, who resemble a blue 1960s TV actor and an orange troll doll. But those songs do Rule. You know they do.

The second thing that happens is the end of another semester barreling down on students and professors, itself like a force of nature. And this situation sometimes requires using Creativity to be silly and have some fun, as you float somewhere between This Pile of Papers and That Pile of Papers. And the Island of Misfit Papers…no, ok, sorry.

So I’m borrowing the bratty brothers to create two more opposite, difficult Siblings, called Beginning of Semester and End of Semester, or BEG and END for short. Imagine something jazzy playing.

BEG: Should I accessorize my Look for class today with layered necklaces or a scarf?

END: Clean is the New Black. (Thanks, Leah W of UNH, for this.)

 

BEG: Now that I’ve Prepped for class tomorrow, let me just get the dishes done and everything tidied up.

END: There’s one mug left for Coffee in the morning. OK, yay.

 

BEG: Done grading for the day? Prop up the pillows and read!

END: Done grading for the day? Punch down the pillows and drool.

 

BEG: Student approaches desk. Put on the expression of a goodhearted professor character who will brilliantly help the Oxford police pair solve a complex mystery on the British detective show.

END: Student approaches desk. Put on the expression of any character trying to survive in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

 

BEG: Well, good morning! How nice to see you again by the staff lounge coffee urns! How are you? Yes! I know! You also have a great day!

END: You’re blocking the spigot. Move aside. Move. Aside.

 

BEG: A free weekend day with no grading? Make plans. Take a nice little walk. Read a new book.

END: Sudden shocking abundance of free time after submitting course grades? Curl up to read YA fiction you have long since memorized. Decide Harriet the Spy should be APPRECIATED as a Writer rather than MISUNDERSTOOD by a thick-headed world. Sniffle a little. Take multiple obsessive walks. Buy used books you’re too weary to read. Have anxiety. Sniffle a little more. Consume only popcorn and white wine. Stare at things.

 

I BEG your pardon for this. The END.

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Subversive Writing and Rambling

Subversive documents

We historic site colleagues were picking words to describe our presentation styles with the public. We like words: They’re artists and grad students who love communicating about history, and I do, too, and I’m, you know, CPT Me.

I suggested I’m “Intellectual but Funny.” They nodded agreeably, and one said, “The word we chose for you was Subversive.” Really??? Explanation: Because I had dismantled and rearranged our Revolutionary Personages talk to add in colonial poet Sarah Wentworth Morton, and to connect the subjects of the talk in my own chain of meaning.

My colleagues are young and in Master’s programs, blissfully unaware that in the Academia where I used to dwell, that’s not Subversive. That’s Required. That is called “intervening in the conversation,” and You’d Better have a new twist on things if you want to live in EnglishPhDland. Theoryguay. LitReviewistan. Jonestown.

OK, OK, a little dark humor isn’t going to leave a stain. I am proud of some of my work, deeply impressed by some scholars I know and read, and full of stuff to say about the 18th century. But I gloriously failed to be an academic many times while acting like I was trying to become one. That’s OK, though. Let’s all live our best lives.

Of course, there’s plenty of evidence that Scholarly and Creative can harmonize. But often they don’t, and I still don’t quite get it. For example, the author of an important book in my field said to me over cocktails that, although nearing retirement, she was discovering a whole new way to approach theater history. She was now attending actual rehearsals at her university for the first time in her career. Yeah. From her tone, she felt subversive. I felt a little sick. I can laugh about it now.

My Revolutionary talk at work is a good, coherent little talk, a star shape nicely squeezed out of the Play Doh Fun Factory of my Intellect. But it was prompted by real, personal interest and Creative Sisterhood with Mrs. Sarah, and those things aren’t too academic. Do I get to call the talk Creativity? I don’t know, yet oddly, I care. I hope someday to have more Intellectual/Creative harmony.

Am I subversive? I don’t write in a bare garret, rejecting everything but Art; I have an AC. I read mysteries and watch Antiques Roadshow. I like vanilla ice cream a great deal.

The writer and queer/feminist activist Michelle Tea described “Sister Spit, the all-girl performance tour that tore up the United States at the end of the last century” as, among other things, “the my-poetry-can-beat-up-your-theory menace.” I like that. That’s funny. I value poetry a lot more than academic writing. I’ve been dealing with some things and been pretty sub-versive lately (get it?), but I still see a poet in the mirror. And will even if I do finish that book about 18th-century theater history.

I don’t know if I can reach Tea’s subversive heights, but I was busy writing this today instead of writing for money. Taking an actual day off work to prioritize whatever creativity showed up. Not wearing pants. Reading literature in the current administration. You do what you can.  I could murder some ice cream right now. Chocolate? I like eating it with a fork.

 

The portrait of John Adams by J.S. Copley belongs to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I quoted from Michelle Tea’s piece “Sister Spit Feminism,” in her new book Against Memoir, published by Feminist Press. I highly recommend it. My talk and other good ones are available at King’s Chapel on the Freedom Trail, Boston.