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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 – can be found 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.