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Sunday, June 27, 2021

Birds, Books, Bookstore Table, Dog with Issues

Birds in Books


I picked up and began reading a biography of Gene Stratton-Porter, one of my mother’s favorite writers, and wished my mother and I could discuss the author’s life together. After a while it occurred to me that I sent this book to my mother, who read it and returned it to me to re-sell as a used book (my frugal mother!), and still I had not read it before myself. How illuminating to learn that Gene (born ‘Geneva’) Stratton-Porter was not only a popular novelist but also admired for her nature books (I had her Book of Moths once) by writers as famous as Christopher Morley, who likened her work on birds (she also loved and photographed and wrote about moths) to that of the work of another of my naturalist heroes, Jean-Henri Fabre, on insects. High praise! 


In reading of her life and the agreement she made with Mark Doubleday to publish all of her work, exclusively, one nonfiction nature book for every novel (the fiction sold better, but Stratton-Porter was insistent on having her nonfiction published, as well, so the agreement was alternate years for each genre), I was surprised and delighted to learn that Mrs. Doubleday, Nellie, was none other than the writer Neltj Blanchan, author of Bird NeighborsBirds Every Child Should Know; and The American Flower Garden. It is easy for me to imagine wonderful conversations between these two women naturalists and writers. Stratton-Porter was a devoted gardener all her life, especially devoted to wildflowers, from her Indiana childhood to her later years in California. 


My mother fulfilled a dream when she and my father visited the Limberlost (though I think my father may have waited in the car while my mother made the tour), and I shall have to make the trip myself one day (she was always a stickler for “I shall”), as a pilgrimage in honor of my mother. It looks like a beautiful place to visit, anyway.

As it happens, I don’t have any of either Stratton-Porter’s or Blanchan’s nature books in stock at the moment, but I do have The Burgess Bird Book for Children, by children’s author Thornton W. Burgess, whose Old Mother West Wind series and other stories featured talking animals were so popular with child readers of the early 20th century. His Bird Book is told as stories, also, with dialogue between, for example, Peter Rabbit and Jenny Wren – “intended to be at once a story book and an authoritative hand book,” with illustrations by none other than famous naturalist-artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes.

Never a big Burgess fan myself, I appreciate the Fuertes illustrations more than the Burgess text, but I have had several Burgess fans among my bookstore customers over the years. Chacun à son gout, as my friend Hélène used to say. 



Quick Bookstore Story


And now here, to change the subject, is a little story that is very Leelanau: One of our neighbors came by the bookstore on Monday and said he and his wife were going to pick up sandwiches at the New Bohemian Café and that he’d like to buy me lunch, also. Or I could join them down the street, “but there’s no indoor seating.” No problem, I said. Come on back, and we’ll have lunch at my big table. I moved books to make space, and halfway through our lunch my neighbor slapped his hand on the top of the table and exclaimed, “This is my parents’ old dining room table! You must have found it at Samaritan’s Closet” – a thrift store in Lake Leelanau, as had indeed been the case. “So many birthday parties we had around this table,” he said, and I was for some reason happy to know about the table’s former life and to think of it as progressing from birthdays to books, all here in Leelanau County. 


Gotta love these little stories that connect us country people! And the Danish Modern furniture of the 1950s? Yes, I remember!



Another Quick Bookstore Story


This one you won’t believe. I can hardly believe it myself. My first customer of the morning on a rainy Thursday was a man from London, England. His wife is from Traverse City, so they visit every year, and he knows my shop well and goes right to his favorite sections. When he brought his choices to the counter, he said -- he really, really said this! -- “I have to tell you: This is my favorite bookstore.” 


I thanked him, so pleased -- thrilled! -- that I didn’t press for more specific information. (Favorite in Michigan? In the U.S.? All-time favorite ever?) Don’t investigate a compliment too closely, I say. Just smile graciously and thank and let the glow warm you for the rest of the day.


Recent Books Read (Since Last Post)


The first one below was a novel I re-read. Fabulous! Love the Socrates Fortlow character and wish there were more books featuring him.


Mosley, Walter. WALKIN’ THE DOG (fiction);

Covington, Kathryn Rankin. THE RIPPLE OF STONES (fiction);

Roth, Michael. TIME BETWEEN SUMMERS (fiction/nonfiction);

Green, John. THE ANTHROPOCENE REVIEWED (nonfiction);

Lively, Penelope. TIGER MOON (fiction)



Peasy Report: A Milestone, a Message, a Sigh


The new wading pool wasn’t a milestone, but Peasy loves it. He loved splashing in his dog-friend Molly’s wading pool (bigger than the one he has, the only one I've found so far) after a long run-and-play session in the high desert, so when the weather warmed up (and it will again, I’m sure, despite the current cool spell) I figured he would love a wading pool of his own here in Michigan.


The milestone, however, is something different, and what made this particular red-letter event even more special was that it was practically a non-event. Did Peasy even notice? 


A little background first --.


Peasy, like Sarah, is not nuts about being groomed. To brush him at all, I resort to a soft curry comb made for horses. It won’t do much when he starts shedding and needs his undercoat combed out, but he tolerates the brush and is becoming accustomed to having it used on him, which is more than half the battle.


Toenails, though. That’s another story. (Do you know any dog that likes toenails clipped?) My old Nikki was so submissive that she didn’t put up a fuss, but Sarah was a real rebel when it came to her feet, and that was Sarah, the practically perfect dog, who never had anything bad happen to her in her whole life! So what to do with a dog-boy who has had as many rough challenges already as Peasy in his young life? 


Well, I am following the wisdom of Patricia McConnell on “reactive dogs” and that of Jean Donaldson, author of The Culture Clash. Rather than resort to a muzzle and a wrestling match (the alternative being outright sedation), I have been slowly and patiently desensitizing Mr. Pea to the clippers. I let him sniff them, I stroke his feet with them, I “clip” the air near his legs, and we’ve been doing that for a couple of weeks. Finally on Thursday morning I decided it was time to try following up the familiar routine with clipping a single nail. 


He hardly seemed to notice! Good dog!!! I was so excited! 


Working to desensitize a dog to reduce fear in situations the dog has long found frightening is a long, slow process. It takes a lot of patience. It’s time-intensive. But ask yourself: how long do you think you will be living with your dog?  Why not take the time to make both your lives easier and more pleasant? I could say this message comes from Peasy, and if he understood about telling you what makes dogs happy, and if he had even noticed the milestone in his life, I know he would have sent this message.


Lest I mislead with partial information, however, I must admit that the dog with issues still has them. The other evening when I retrieved, from under a porch chair, a sock he had stolen and chewed up, he showed me his very scary, snarly, threatening-to-bite face. You wouldn’t want to see it, believe me. I opened the porch door and sent him outside to stay out by himself for ten minutes. We didn’t fight about it-- he just had a time-out. He was then his regular sweet self the rest of the evening. On the other hand, as I say, he had no meltdown over the nail clipper, so I think we are continuing to make progress. I hope so. It isn't always easy-peasy. This dog has issues -- but I believe he has a lot of potential.


Sunday, June 20, 2021

Circle Game, My Northern Michigan

Music Again:


Remember the old Joni Mitchell song? If you’re too young (or need a refresher on some of the lyrics, as I did), go to the video here of Joni herself singing here

My question is, how did she know all this when she was only 24 years old? The boy in the song is only 20 at the end of the song. Is he already, at age 20, dragging his feet “to slow the circles down”? Wow....

When we are young, anticipation can be more torture than pleasure: “Don’t wish your life away!” my mother said over and over, when I would express impatience for a coming event, and as I recall that impatience lasted into my early 20s. It’s a different story now, and the words have a new and deeper poignancy:


And the seasons, they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return, we can only look
Behind, from where we came
And go round and round and round, in the circle game.


I loved the music and the poetry of “The Circle Game” when young, but it means much more to me now, the increasing speed of the carousel’s spinning a very real sensation, especially in summer. The hours and days and weeks, the sequence of flowers and fruits, the holidays, the entire season – it goes so fast, it’s hard to keep my head from spinning. 


But then there is Jimmy Buffet’s song, “The Stories We Could Tell.” Jimmy’s analogy of the carousel (yes, he uses that word, too) is to a musician’s life on the road, which makes me think that Joni’s life at age 24 was much more hectic than mine, since she too would have been on the road, traveling from gig to gig, so maybe that’s why her carousel was going so fast. In his song, Buffet wonders if the traveling is worth it but decides “we do it for the stories we can tell.” So, while we are, yes, “captive,” as Mitchell notes, “on the carousel of time,” we gather a lot of stories as we go along, don’t we? Oh, if only there were time to stop and share more of them on quiet evenings instead of going so relentlessly round and round!



From My Reading


Recently I revisited Alexis de Toqueville’s expedition with friend Beaumont and two Ojibwe guides into the near-trackless wilds of Michigan wilderness past the tiny village of Saginaw. Even their intention to go as far as Saginaw was questioned and doubted by an innkeeper in Flint: Why would a couple of educated Europeans want to venture through the forest to Saginaw? Only 20 people lived there! It was the end of civilization! Does the eighteenth century seem like a long time ago to you? I think I would have preferred it to the nineteenth, given a chance to travel back in time in some other than way than through books.


I only lately “discovered” Penelope Lively and wonder what took me so long. I enjoyed Passing On (1989), liked How It All Began(2012) even more, and was absolutely enthralled by City of the Mind (1991), an exploration of London inhabitants across the years. Her cast stars architect Matthew Halland, a human being more aware than most of the layers of time in his surroundings. 


…He is alone, and at the same time less alone. He sees that time is what we live in, but that it is also what we carry within us. Time is then, but it is also our own perpetual now. We bear it in our heads and on our backs; it is our freight, our baggage, our Old Man of the Sea. It grinds us down and buoys us up. We cannot shuffle it off; we would be adrift without it. We both take it with us and leave ourselves behind within it—flies in amber, fossilized admonitions and exemplars.


-      Penelope Lively, City of the Mind


Language, meaning, the persistence of the past in the present, the terrors of the unknowable future – Matthew never sees only what is before his eyes but layers and layers behind and beneath. Lively’s narrative, too, jump-cuts from Matthew’s London, constantly tearing down old buildings to remake itself by building anew, to London during the Blitz, when survival was the city’s goal. All my philosophical obsessions are addressed in this novel, and yet it skips right along as unstoppably as time itself.


Leelanau County is far from London in a multiplicity of ways, and yet Leelanau too, like London, has its historical and archaeological and geologic layers. Once I made a remark to a publisher wanting to put together a book on the Sleeping Bear Dunes that it would be interesting to speculate what the landscape might look like when the Dunes are no more. She was shocked by the thought. Yet the Great Lakes were not always the five lakes we know in their present configuration, and if mountains are not eternal, how could always-shifting sand dunes be so?



Additions to ‘Books Read’ list:


In my last post, I mentioned issues (read “problematic”) I was having with the upgraded Blogger platform, namely the way it wouldn’t seem to let me add books I’d read recently to the top of my “Books Read 2021” list. In that post I included the books I would have added if not for the problem. But now I’m thinking that maybe it’s okay if I don’t keep those annual lists going constantly in the right-hand column of my blog page – where, I now realize, those who read on their phones don’t see it anyway. Maybe it will work just as well or better to include a small note of recently read books into each post. As an experiment, then, following on what I did last week, here are titles of books I’ve read since then. And I hope you making time – because we will never simply stumble over it and find it, like a gift left on our doorstep – to read and relax and listen to the birds this summer.






Waters, Alice, with Bob Carrau and Cristina Mueller. WE ARE WHAT WE EAT: A SLOW FOOD MANIFESTO (nonfiction)







The Peasy Report:


Ah, the little guy! Peasy, officially and legally a licensed Leelanau County dog now, has no idea what a large, unofficial fan club his story has generated! “How’s Peasy?” someone asks every day. 

Peasy with instantly destructible ball

He is doing well. Still shy and skittish and basically unapproachable with strangers, he is happy and healthy and young and strong and -- with his family at home -- very affectionate and loving. It’s almost impossible to imagine these days that we came as close as we did to not bringing him from Arizona back with us to Michigan! 


So on Friday, while Bruce was at the bookstore helm for several hours, the Artist and I made a foray into the wild traffic and crowds of Traverse City, marveling (rather horrified, actually) at all the new buildings and feeling like a couple of Rip Van Winkles. 

These old giant white pines are rapidly disappearing in Traverse City. 

But we managed to get our several errands done with maximum efficiency, one of mine being dog-shopping. -- Not shopping for another dog, but shopping for things for the dog we have: a new, “indestructible” ball to throw around the yard for him; the sturdy, long-lasting type of chew I bought for him at the feed store in Willcox, Arizona, that is so hard to find here (McGough’s feed store is the answer, and I bought three); a package of little soft treats; and a leather toy whose nose he managed to destroy minutes after having it in the backseat of the car. That’s okay. If he prefers his alligator -- or whatever it’s supposed to be -- without a nose, it’s his choice. It’s his toy. 

Hours of chewing pleasure

Instantly altered by chewing

New ball, old ball, sticks

But while he loves his new ball and the chew and the toy, the truth is he’s just as happy with an old plastic bottle. He is, after all, a dog through and through.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Snippets from My Northern Michigan June World


Backyard Camping


Sunday I decided to sleep out in our little backyard Avion. Often, years ago, I did so, and it has functioned as a spare bedroom, too, when we’ve had guests, but somehow one falls out of habits – gradually, without noticing – just as easily as one falls into them, until now I can’t say how long it’s been since I’ve camped out in the trailer. We had overnight company in the house, however, and I was concerned about Peasy with people he didn’t know moving about at night, so he and I were the backyard campers. I went out to get us settled (me with a book, Pea with his water bowl) before dark, eventually falling asleep over The Desert Smells Like Rain: A Naturalist in O'odham Country, by Gary Paul Nabhan -- and in the middle of the night I woke to the sound of rain. Delicious! The second time I woke was to starlight. Finally, in the morning, to a freshly washed world. Sweet and quiet and peaceful and lovely. 



(I sure hope my friends in the Southwest have a good summer monsoon season this year!)


Peasy Report

Recently I posted a photo of Peasy on Facebook (nothing new: he is very photogenic), and a friend who met him out in Arizona when first he came home with us commented that he seems to have “filled out” a bit, as indeed he has. The poor little scaredy-dog with a coat full of mats and bony, jutting hipbones has become a joyful, handsome guy in his new Michigan home. I knew he had been fully integrated into the family on Friday night when he joined us on the bed for pack time, and the Artist said to him lovingly, “I guess you’re our dog.” Peasy was, I was reminded over and over, my dog for weeks and weeks, so becoming “our” dog is a giant step forward. And the little guy is not nearly as much trouble as I thought he would be. I mean, there is plenty of room for improvement, but a lot of his issues seem to be gradually dimming, as security and routine work their magic.


Before I found Peasy, the “dog with issues” and long-time inmate at the Graham County Animal Control facility, the Artist and I had a list of what we were looking for in a dog: a female Aussie or Aussie mix but one with a tail and a dog that would be friendly and gentle with children so as to be able to spend days in the bookstore with me. “You have a lot of requirements,” my son commented. We also wanted no blue eyes in our new dog. Well, and then, as you know, we (or I, as it was then) ended up with Peasy, a skittish boy with only a stub of a tail. (But clear brown eyes!) I bemoaned the absence of a tail but am getting used to the funny look, and as the Artist remarked thoughtfully one evening, “He doesn’t knock things off tables with wagging.” Another point in Peasy’s favor!


He is still very nervous and wary with people he doesn’t know. Not at all our old Sarah, who adored company! So the Artist and I were relieved and delighted on Monday morning when our old friend Michael -- who loved to call our Sarah his dog! – said he thought Peasy was going to be a good dog. We had both been very concerned that Michael might not like little Pea at all. “Really?” Michael was astonished. “Oh, yes! Michael’s stamp of approval is everything!” the Artist assured him.


Blog Issues! 

What has happened to my “Books Read 2021” list? Why did one title get added at the bottom rather than at the top of the list, and why won’t the list let me add other titles at all? Clearly it is something I am doing wrong or not doing right, but why these oh-so-unsatisfactory changes? For the record, recent books read were the following (with #1 below actually figuring in at #71 since January 1): 


1. Latham, Jennifer. DREAMLAND BURNING (fiction – YA)

2. Offill, Jenny. WEATHER (fiction)

3. Perkins, Lynne Rae. THE MUSEUM OF EVERYTHING (juv.)

4. O’Brien, Edna. THE COUNTRY GIRLS trilogy (fiction)

5. Lively, Penelope. PASSING ON (fiction)



8. Lively, Penelope. HOW IT ALL BEGAN (fiction)



I hate to think I’m going to have to re-do the whole list. Any ideas, other users of Blogspot?



Waukazoo Street Update


You can find my latest bookstore news -- and I urge you to do look for it, especially if you are a fan of audio books – on my dedicated bookstore blog, Northport Bookstore News, but other things are happening on our street, as well. It is lively already, well before the 4th of July.


The Garage Bar & Grill and New Bohemian Café are both open to supply you with everything from morning coffee to late-night beer, along with plenty of good food. The former Tucker’s, down on the site of the former Woody’s Settling Inn, has been reincarnated as Northport Pub & Grille, and across the street from them, the food truck people, Around the Corner, are giving Northport an architecturally appropriate-to-Northport building that will house an intimate minibar.


In General


We are back, all of Northport as well as Waukazoo Street. The library is having its author season again, Music in the Park is set to happen on Friday nights, and even the dog parade is scheduled again for this August.  

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Thoughts on Death – Literary, Botanical, and In Summer

Leelanau Township cemetery


In Books


I was writing something completely different the other morning when out of the blue came this thought: I believe there are many more murders and suicides per capita in literature than in life. Doubtless part of what gave rise to this was having finished reading Edna O’Brien’s Country Girls trilogy. Women as well as men, O’Brien makes clear, can lead lives of quiet desperation. 


The per capita notion always puts me in mind of a graduate school friend from Winnipeg, who told me of a friend of hers, a fellow Canadian, who always insisted on putting Canadian statistics in per capita figures so his country could come out near the top. It does make sense, though. Ten of anything in a population of a million isn’t much, but ten in a population of twenty-five is significant. 


What makes soap operas seem unreal, I realized back in my teen years, was the small population involved. Affairs, unplanned pregnancies, marriages, divorces, murders, and incidents of injury causing amnesia (a popular soap tragedy) all happen in real life but spread out much more thinly among the population of a community. In the soap world, the cast of characters is limited, and so every dramatic event possible will eventually befall a character who is on the show for many years. (Numbers by themselves are only numbers.) In a work of fiction, though, while the number of characters is limited, we usually have a sense of those characters as placed in a world as large as our own, usually in fact having a great semblance to the world we know, and so what happens to the characters in their lives seems more realistic than what happens to characters in a television soap.


Yet for every Anna Karenina or Caithleen Brady, for every Tom Buchanan or John Proctor, how many men and women go on with their lives despite unhappy love affairs or marriages (either with their spouses or their lovers), and how many divorced parents remain involved in the lives of children by former spouses, often with the blessings and cooperation of those same former spouses? I’m not really asking for numbers, only pointing out that heartbreak leads to a tragic end much less often in real life than it does in books, which makes me wonder what writers and readers are looking for in literature. Something more (or at least other) than simple reality, clearly. More structure, more logic, more of a moral lesson? Clear consequences?


I told the Artist that I would not have wanted either of the country girls in Edna O’Brien’s books for a close friend. To me the emptiness of their lives was worse than anything they did or anything that happened to them, and I hope those I have loved went to their eternal rest with a greater sense of peace and satisfaction in the lives they lived.

Black locust flowers

In the Garden


Years ago I was telling a fellow gardener about dead-heading flowers in my garden, and he advised me that it were well to leave room for death among the flowers. “My garden isn’t big enough,” I objected. Flowers do bloom and fade and fall, of course, as leaves bud and grow and die in their turn, and all that is part of the natural year. But a perennial shrub is not meant to die during the long days of June! Its flowers are meant to fade and drop petals, not turn brown, and the leaves should stay green and moist, not shrivel up and fall off! I am stricken to the heart by this development. 

Sad, dying viburnum!

Sad closeup

Talk about heartbreak! This viburnum was my garden pride and joy, the most beautiful plant I had -- flowering in spring, leafy green all summer, with brilliant fall color. Then this past week its lovely flowers began to shrivel into ugly brown frozen-looking chunks, and the leaves began to wilt and fold up and dry out and die, and I’m pretty sure – believe me, I make the diagnosis reluctantly, not looking for drama – that the culprit is verticillium wilt, a horrible soil-borne fungus that strikes all manner of plants. And once it strikes, it is incurable. So the viburnum may not be the only plant to die for me this summer, and that makes me grateful, in a sighing, could-be-worse kind of way, that I didn’t buy more perennials, tempted as I always am by the idea of beauties that “come back” every spring and don’t need to be replanted.  

Northport corner

In Summer


It is June already! The longest day is coming fast upon us (June 20), after which date the hours of daylight decrease toward December. Oh, no, no, no! Do not turn around so quickly, summer!


Of all the seasons of every passing year, for me summer holds the most and thickest layers of memories with old friends. So many little things remind me of those who are gone – but I cannot begin naming those absent ones, as the list is longer and longer each year. I can accept death in the abstract: it is normal, it is part of the natural cycle (like those fading blossoms). When it comes to individuals, however, it seems unfair


“I’m tired of _____ being dead!” I complained impatiently to the Artist one day. “She’s been dead long enough, and I want her back here!” 


In fact, I would settle for having her somewhere on earth again, among the living, and taking comfort in that, even if we never talked on the phone again and she never wrote me another letter. But no, that time will never return. I know we were fortunate to have had the friendship for the years we were both alive. Still….


So strange, how infinitesimal tiny human lives are against the great sweep of history, let alone against the unfathomable backdrop of geologic time. How insignificant, all of us in that perspective. And yet how vivid, how intense, life is for each of us in our brief, immediate days. The brilliancy of buttercups in a patch of sunlight, sudden cry of redwing blackbird, soft kiss of evening breeze, taste of juicy strawberry. Heartache and joy. Oh, the joy of my little dog, rolling on his back in the grass like a horse in the desert dust, scratching an itch with sybaritic abandon. As my friend in New South Wales says, I wouldn’t be dead for quids. -- Except that one day, of course, I will be, so all the more reason to take in as much of life and love and beauty as possible in the here and now.

Calm morning on the bay

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

You probably don't want to read this.


Academic Camelot "moment" -- having a real office!

Once long ago (in April 2009) I introduced my personal philosophy in the form of an interview with myself but never went back to do the threatened second interview. In 2011 I introduced as “Part I” the beginning of the story of my relationship with the philosophy of Freidrich Nietzsche, and again did not follow through with a second part. What does it matter? I never received a single complaint about my lack of follow-through and doubt whether anyone has been awaiting Part II of either my personal philosophy or the story of my Nietzsche crisis.  Whenever I do get onto philosophical topics, on a blog or in a crowd, I generally lose most of my audience. Recently, however,  reading a book by one of my graduate school cohort has brought back pieces of those days, and so this morning, if only to provide myself with some sense of closure (wishful thinking?), here it is, the story of a philosophical crisis in the life of one middle-aged graduate student. 

Me and Philosophy, Part II of My Nietzsche Crisis


In my long-ago Part I to this story, I gave skipped over my crisis to the solution I cobbled together, which essentially was an evasion of the problem. In Part I, I wrote (quoting myself here -- ahem!):


The supposedly objective, unbiased and fair way to read Nietzsche is—well, first we set aside The Will to Power, an abortion of a book heavily edited by the philosopher’s sister, whose agenda was to make her brother’s work not only accessible but also of service to the Nazis. Ugh! Okay, so we’re not going to give any credence to that! But then (getting back to academic “fairness”), we “bracket” all those pesky, troublesome remarks about Jews, women, blacks and others said to share a “slave mentality.” Nietzsche was only using the terms metaphorically, we are told, and we are not to “paw at them” with clumsy, literal hooves. Only metaphorically? This is a defense of one of metaphor’s strongest philosophical advocates? Well, okay, I thought, I’ll bend over backward in the spirit of the so-called principle of charity (usually applied upward to Big Names but not downward to unknowns), and I’ll focus exclusively on language claims and not deal with statements about morality or about superior and inferior types of human beings except as these illustrate the philosopher’s views on meaning and metaphor. That should be fair enough. 


That is the background. Today’s post is my account of the crisis itself. 


Curtain goes up: There I was, pre-crisis, struggling to give Nietzsche every benefit of the doubt, looking at only the least objectionable linguistic claims and trying to keep the rest in a locked cupboard. Well, as any writer will tell you, to get your writing done you need to sit down and do it, but I will tell you that it is also necessary, very often, to get up and move around, even leave your work space entirely for an hour or a day to recharge your mental energy. Sometimes a long walk is in order. Other times a shower will suffice. On the day my crisis erupted, full-blown, I had roamed only as far from my desk as the living room bookshelves, where seemingly at random (was it?) I plucked a book from a shelf. It was a fateful selection.


Now, this is terrible to admit, but I cannot dredge the title of the book or the author’s name from memory’s recesses. The author was a woman – that’s all I remember. It was a serious work, but what was the overall theme? Was it a book on psychology, literature, what? I have tried and tried to remember. Perhaps someday the book will find me again. Whatever the details, I was skimming through the book's pages, giving my brain a rest from Nietzsche, when I came upon a chapter (this may or may not have been the chapter title; I don’t know) on a personality type the author called “the Narcissist,” and I went into shock.

The name Nietzsche appeared nowhere in either the “Narcissist” chapter or book’s index, but it was all I could see in every line of that chapter. Everything that had ever troubled me in Nietzsche’s writings, everything I had tried to “bracket” and ignore as I bent over backward to extend the principle of charity, came pouring through the pages before my wide, panic-stricken eyes. Nietzsche’s most superficially innocuous linguistic claims, I saw suddenly – and once I saw could not stop seeing -- were hardly free of the prejudices that tainted his written views on women and dark-skinned races. It all went together without contradiction in his obsession with purity. An overriding obsession. The shock to my system was physical, a paralyzing lightning strike.


I have recounted the eruption of the crisis in the above paragraph without italics or underlining or exclamation marks because such emphasis or punctuation could add nothing to my story. Most of my blog readers (if any have stayed with me in this post), even close friends, will shrug and think the term “crisis” either misapplied or, if accurate, denoting an overreaction on my part. I can only report that for me the revelation brought on full-blown panic. Free-falling through  space, I could barely focus on my immediate surroundings. 


But who understands the existential crises and panic attacks of graduate students in philosophy, other than another graduate student in the same department? I managed to get to the phone (a kitchen wall phone in those long-ago times) and in desperation called my metalogic study partner, J., to tell him what I’d read and what I’d seen in what I’d read. Bless his heart! He too was horrified! He understood instantly not only what I was saying about Nietzsche but also what it meant for me in our department, the chasm that had opened in front of me: the professor of the class for whom I was writing the paper was also my advisor, and he and the department chairman had both built their reputations on Nietzsche. J. saw it all. I was doomed! “Oh, my god, Pamela!” he exclaimed. “What are you going to do?”


If you read my Part I, you know that my solution to the immediate problem was to move from the one long paper to the two short papers option for that particular class. Rather than hanging myself on a Nietzschean noose, I shifted to Scheler in my second paper. Scheler was someone I found more compatible. Nietzsche had now become my nemesis.


In the end – or rather, to reach my academic end, the Ph.D. -- I changed advisors (which was not a piece of cake), and neither the chairman nor my former advisor attended my dissertation defense, although one entire chapter was devoted to Nietzsche, in which I wrote what I had seen and what I understood as gently as possible but standing by my revelation. And in the yet larger end it didn’t matter much, as I never did go on the national job market. By the time of my dissertation defense, I was already living Up North and was already started down the bookselling path, on which I have found also a life of the mind and the freedom to think and to hold to my own views. I am happy for those of my cohort who found academic positions and have been happy in their classroom lives, but I feel no envy and would not change places.


As for the crisis, I’ve had a handful of others since, but what I learned that day in Urbana was that they are survivable. Hideous and even fatal as they can feel at the time, they are like hurricanes that eventually blow themselves out. And an intelligent, sympathetic, understanding friend in the hours of existential darkness is priceless and unforgettable.