Steel

My darling friend, with whom I sat in the passenger seat of my own car, as he drunkenly drove it up the hill, from downtown Kansas City, to wherever we were going, it didn’t matter, the top was down, and I put in “Kind of Blue,” an entry-level, amateur jazz album, but the only level at which jazz admitted me.  We had been there to see each other embarrassed. We trusted each other to be weak, on occasion– a rarity for both of us. He drove, because he could drive a stick, and he could drink more than me, because I was a woman, and so I got to put my hand out the window, and feel the air above and below my palm. The lights were behind us.  Not the caverns of lights that are Manhattan, but the sofa-sized picture that is Kansas City’s lights. We were having a time in the small jazz town, long after jazz, and times, had left it.

He is the friend I would get as drunk as he would get me, which was very, very, which was whiskeys and whiskeys and I knew he would care for me.  I threw up in his bathroom.

Wine, wine, wine at either of his regular place, then whiskey, when your tongue and throat are softened to accept it.  There were always drinks, and with good company, they made me loquacious on the topics of opera, crossword puzzles, politics.  Then they made me mournful. Then they made me disclose: I’m afraid I’ll never. I’m not sure that I. And he told me secrets, too.  And we didn’t hold them against each other.

Then there was a night he didn’t remember where his apartment was, and I did, and I thought, this isn’t right.

Then I met him and tried to talk him through his trembling drying-out anxiety (I should have realized this was dangerous, it was), and walked him around the neighborhood on a cold, snowy day, on the iced sidewalks, and hugged him before he went into an AA meeting, in the basement of a stone church, just like in the movies.

I get a message from another friend.  He told me he had been beaten up. I have known these men who are so dangerous to themselves, who I think show me how to take chances with your body, chances I am not brave enough, or foolish enough, to take.  What if my primary concern was not protecting myself, because I am a slight woman.

I took a few small step chances, I mean, I do.  I will walk in any neighborhood, I took the subway at all hours, I talk to strange men, but I will reject their advances.  I will draw strong lines, and not mind being a bitch, not a bit. I swam naked in the Atlantic, and lay on the roof like Bathsheba once.  

Not the same.

Men’s bodies, I always thought, were the ones in danger.  

“I don’t understand why you are guys are always talking about wars,” I said.  

“Because if it happens, we’ll have to protect you, dummy,” thus said my friend who is a man, and I became a little less dumb that day.

This has changed.  Men my age, now, will not be called to fight for me.  Now, many of the men I know have been throttled, in combat with others, physics, or themselves.

It’s different, though I’m not sure how, that my female friends have certainly suffered.  A gallbladder lost. Babies pushed or cut out of them. They’ve been continuously shaken with unnatural anxieties, had blood vessels in their brains spout, had their backs opened up and rejiggered.  I don’t know why a female body seems so hardy to me, even in death. Too many pictures and statues of Jesus?

Once my father was in the emergency room on Easter.  We had already celebrated with him, and were at our next engagement, with my mother’s side of the family, and left for the hospital.  He had chest pain.

My father is a rhino. He has a tough skin, he can pull anything down, put anything up, stay up all night, stay up all day.  Annually, he personally re-blacktops the parking lot in front of his law firm. We got to the hospital, and he was the one in the bed, and my whole being rejected this notion.  He looked like a paper doll.

He was always the one sitting beside a hospital bed, whether my mother’s, when we kids were born, or my stepmom’s, as she went through various operations, or when I had my appendix out, or when my sister needed an IV for a flu, whatever it was, he was a person who visited people in the hospital, not someone who would be admitted.  I thought they would say, “Not you,” when he went to the front desk.

He had a pulled muscle from his persistent, awful cough that winter.  When he put his arms above his head, the pain stopped. When they noticed this, they sent him home.

I knew it was a mistake.

Image: “Large Blue Horizontal” by Ilya Bolotowsky, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Bulbs

So many things happen that you don’t know where to put.

1. I went to a wedding party.  I used to babysit for a family of three kids.  One of them grew up, got sick, and died.  The other two were at the party.  It made me think about how we were alive.  We danced until I was sweaty and woozy.  There was a little boy who danced just as much as I did.  He even did spinning breakdancer moves.  As I was leaving, a man with white hair said to me, “That is a beautiful dress,” and I didn’t know how to take that.

2. I met a friend and we ate hamburgers.  I decided to drink a glass of wine instead of a milkshake.  He drank a milkshake.  I felt I had made the right decision.

3. I asked my niece what she wanted for Christmas.  “I want a microphone.  And a globe.  And I want to be teacher.”

“What do teachers need?” I asked.

“Highlighters!” she said.

4. I opened the ziploc of Christmas ornaments I’d bought, and set them on the mantle.  They are plastic, but look glass.  Red and green, shiny.  When I bought them, my mother said, “This place used to be J.C. Penney, and I bought my first maternity clothes here.”

5. I got up and out to go to church for the first time in a while.  It was only raining, but as I approached the church (two blocks from home, like most things here), someone opened a door and called out, “Church is canceled!”

“Good to know!” I answered, and then I wondered if he thought I was going to church, or going somewhere else, or if my answer sounded like I was being coy with church, like, eh, I didn’t want to go anyway.

I turned the corner and went into the closest coffee place to me.

I sat and picked at my oatmeal, which was not great, as none of the food there is great, though that might be lucky, because if it was great, I’d probably live there. I ended up talking with a guy who was willing to talk my ear off.

I learned about motorcycle gals, teachers accused, people with family money who get away with things, children who were killed and had group funerals.

That was good.  I had an unsocial day ahead, a day of snowing and cancellations.  He was wiling to dish local dirt, tell me a lot of things I probably shouldn’t know.  We were a good conversational match.  I decided to firmly put away my trip-wire fury at having men talk too much and not even notice I was a person, in order to enjoy the admittedly interesting assorted stories he would offer.

We talked and talked and talked.  The owner of the place sat with a buddy and methodically re-bulbed and re-wired a sign that would someday light up to say, “Merry Christmas.”  Their attention to this matter, particularly in contrast to what I knew would be my own response (throw the thing away), was touching.  They checked each bulb, plugged it back in, discussed what else to try.

Image: electric lamp designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The End of the World

 

Saturday morning, I was trained as a poll watcher.  It was a classic meeting of Democrats, mildly disorganized, with people passionate and loving and ready to leap down each other’s throats because we aren’t as good at organizing as the fascists are.  “But when do we…?”  “But who is our…?”  “Do we need to bring our own scissors?” (They cut off columns of this document to tell the home office who voted.  No violence intended.  Smile.)

I was not only on time, I was early.  So were about 40 other Lawrencians, all waiting patiently for the library to open at 9 am.

“What is going on here?” I said to the woman next to me.  “I love it!  People lined up to get into the library!”

“It happens here.  I mean, a some of them are homeless, but….”

Well, where else should homeless people be? (I know, it’s a problem sometimes, librarians, and we should help you with that more.)

Driving off after the training, I felt like things were going to be okay.  It’s been about two years since I’ve felt that way.

I spent the weekend out of town with family.  I left my phone at home.  This frustrated me, but ultimately saved me.  Apart from needing to listen to podcasts as my bedtime stories, and not being able to wander far from family lest I become lost, it was great.  Second thought: maybe not being able to wander far from family was a plus.

I enjoyed the ministrations of my nieces, who are as enthusiastic and adorable and loving as any children could be.

I went south, to a part of the country that is red, red, red.  And somehow, it didn’t matter to me.  I find it odd that we heard the story of Jesus three times in two days, as part of their Christmas celebration.  I found it odd to jump into Christmas before Thanksgiving.  (Usually I don’t approve of that, but it’s easier to travel before it gets snowy or icy.)

On a memorable trip down south, about eight years ago, I was in the midst of having a nervous breakdown.  I had headaches that wouldn’t go away, then panic attacks and anxiety such that I was afraid to leave the house.  I remember watching a stage show, and thinking, “All of these people will be dead someday.”  Which was true, but is not my normal way of thinking when I am on vacation.  Within a year, after a lot of doctor visits and medication and some therapy, I was much, much better.

It’s been too dark, and nothing was worth this, all this fear we’ve been swimming in, having to breathe in this white supremacist, immigrant-demonizing time.  It could end.

The way I’ve been thinking lately is that we have to go in a new way.  When DT was first elected, much of my thinking was focused on how to return the United States to a place where people felt safe.  That’s not enough, now, even if it were possible.

I want to look forward to how we can make things better than they were under Obama, still look forward to making college cheap or free, everyone having okay health care, rather than some people protecting theirs, setting limits on how people buy and use and store guns, celebrating immigration and finding ways to welcome new people to our country, lavishing our people with mental health support and opportunities, to combat racism and -isms of all kinds, and protecting and celebrating our journalists in a nonpartisan way (which doesn’t mean “lacking in values”).  Those are my priorities, anyway.

We have plenty.  We have all we need.  And now we know how strong we are, having gotten up every day during the last hellacious two years and going on, even on the day I pondered how I could protect my fellow Americans on the subway, the days I felt DT’s aggressive and dismissive treatment of women in my body, the day I ached for my student, a Dreamer, who cried and cried during our tutoring session.

We know we can march two years running, for women’s rights, even though many of us were born in times we thought we’d never have to defend women.  We can show up for kids who are scared of gun violence.  We can breathe through a presidency that attacks what we value day after day after day, and still make each other dinner and love people who aren’t like us, and change diapers and give money and make signs and set aside our worry about rent to give a dollar to a homeless dude.

We can start over, and start over again.  No matter what happens in the election, we will start over, because we create our world, it doesn’t create us.  Pat yourself on the back for everything you’ve done.  Good, fucking, job!  I know you already voted and probably did a lot more.  I love everyone who has worked so hard to stay sane, and to help others stay sane.  Thank you, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Image: detail from “Leaf from a Beatus Manuscript, at the Clarion of the Fifth Angel’s Trumpet, a Star Falls from the Sky; the Bottomless Pit is Opened with a Key; Emerging from the Smoke, Locusts Come Upon the Earth and Torment the Deathless.”  Public domain.

November to December

The Kavanaugh hearings made me dangerously depressed.  Everything went grey, like my head had filled with coal smoke.

Polluted times, breath shallow and unproductive, no sea, no mountaintops, all low.

Walking brick sidewalks, lumpy, getting books from the library, slick library covers sliding against each other. Walking under bright orange leaves before blue sky.  Carrying a pumpkin up the stairs, in both arms, a stout 10 pounds.

I’ve been fantasizing about voting for two long years.  I’m going to go vote, and then I will have to go home.  I don’t think it would be right for me to just stand at the booth until the next morning.

I need to arrange to be with other people that Tuesday night, listening, watching, waiting.  What will it mean, how will it feel, if we do not seeing an effort, or results, from people who want to protect this country from its darker nature?  I don’t know.  Translucent future.

Once I had my heart broken.  I had the wind knocked out of me, and then, for about a month afterward, I thought I was enlightened.

It was terrible, and it was good.  I knew there was nothing to hold onto.  I believed there was nothing I could do.  I let anyone love me.  I knew I had a good reason to feel awful, so when I felt awful, I didn’t have to question it.

It lasted a while.  It was winter, and everything seemed white, and was white.

So there could be enlightenment here, too, or somewhere in the future, not the past.  Maybe?  Maybe with the snow?  Maybe the snow will be white?

In the winter, when the cold is crude, the air can also be an unusual, complete clean.

Two years of writing legislators, over and over, making signs, walking, standing, yelling, “This is what democracy looks like.”   And always feeling like I should have been doing more.  More, what more?  Or did what I did mean anything, do anything?

Celebrating my beautiful new place in Kansas, with a crowd of happily drinking and chatting friends, carnations and roses and daisies in vases, bread and chocolates on peacock-colored dishes.

Two guests are kids, and they spend the evening making things with my art on demand.

“A unicorn.”

“A spaceship.”

“A saddle.”

“An alien.”

“A dinosaur.”

“A brush.”

They take these assignments, one by one, work furiously, and return with each piece.  A unicorn made of taped-together paper.  A spaceship from a paper towel roll.  A saddle.  An alien with antennae.  A green dinosaur.  A brush, for the unicorn’s mane, on my mantle.

Image: from “Autumn,” Charles-Francois Daubigny, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

How to Be A Poor Christian

It’s ironic because, of course, all the original Christians were poor as dirt.  It should be easy!  The founder kept saying things about how it was good to be poor, but in a nice way, not like, “Isn’t it great to wonder if you should get cereal at the grocery store because cereal is expensive?”  Because that sucks.

Can you imagine, the guy said, “It’s pretty much impossible for rich people to be okay,” and they kept this in the book of his sayings.  Think of the things they must have left out!

I have mostly belonged to churches that were rich, partly because I have spent my career working with the poor, and on Sundays I just can’t be freaking out about if the church can pay the light bill.  I need to know someone else has got that.

(That is not to say these churches, and the Episcopal church as an international organization, don’t gather and send a lot of money to people and places who need it.  They do.  And I love their beautiful, beautiful buildings, which inspire me and make me feel safe.)

Belonging to a rich church, though, means that when they do the pledge-gathering and money-collecting, you can realize that the other people there are possibly not worrying about if they will be able to pay their rent.

There’s an assumption that everyone sitting out there is holding something back in these speeches, oh, God needs you.  And a person who is battered and shaky from working with people who are abused or poor or deeply suffering can feel like, “I don’t belong here.”

The guy who spoke at church today talked of a touching and worthy ministry with people who are poor, but I was also wrapping my mind around the idea that I now have a job where my superiors set up a food pantry for us, and that I was going to ask my parents for money for rent.  Why did I make life choices based on service and do-gooding instead of money?

I’ve been reading Sarah Smarsh’s book, Heartland, which if you have not bought or read, you should buy immediately (or demand it from the library!  or borrow my copy!).  She writes about the shame of poverty, and the way our government has slowly turned up the heat to boil people who are poor in their own oil since about Nixon.  (Fun fact she includes: Nixon was proud that more people applied for and got food stamps under his administration how can that be true?)

Her family was rural poor.  My family was overeducated, underpaid because doing “women’s work,” and without camaraderie in our money worries.  Basically my situation now except there are other graduate students around.

I thought a lack of money meant I had done something wrong, though what it meant was that people in power thought they deserved what they had, and more.

This is an idea Smarsh highlights repeatedly in the book.

I don’t think I can hear it repeated enough.

It just warms my heart so much when you reveal you lack money.  It’s so transgressive.

If someone, regardless of a lack of funds, still have a glass of wine or buy a $10 breakfast or a lipstick or a book and says to herself, well, I’ll figure that out later, I love this person forever.

I had a friend at my church in Kansas City named Wayne.  Wayne had some mental illness, or was two shakes short of a lamb’s tail, as my sister says, or whatever.  It doesn’t matter.  He was the fool in the Shakespeare play of our services.  When two of my students were shot, Wayne was one of the only people who responded to me in a way that made me feel better.  “That’s awful!” he said.  “Do you want me to pray with you?”

If I were not a very quiet Episcopalian, this might have been a normal exchange, but I am, and it wasn’t.

Wayne would tell me he needed money for food.  Sometimes I gave him some.  It depended on if I had cash, or if I was feeling safe myself, or poor, myself.  It was all right if I didn’t.  He would ask me for a ride.  I would drive him.  But I admired his ability to ask for what he needed.

My first impulse upon feeling I need something is to watch television.  Or feel sorry for myself.  Not super effective.

Wayne gave me silly little presents that no one wanted or needed and were not his.  Say, a boutonniere from a wedding at the church the previous day, or a brochure from the rack in the hallway.

So Wayne died.  He was old.  He’s the third person at the church who was sweet to me and died.  Three significant holes.

Wayne helped me remember that my show-off brain does not help me love people, or love myself.  It’s good for doing all this grad school reading and figuring out how to help my students.  But not for healing, not for love.

I listened to Dr. Ford testify this week, and then I got in the shower and cried and cried.  I got out of the shower and made myself get dressed, but I had to stop and cry again.

I couldn’t listen to Kavanaugh speak.  I just couldn’t.

Although I for real blame God for every instance of violence and the pain that comes from seeing and hearing an entitled dangerous bully have such power over my country, I went ahead to church.  Last time I went, I felt better, so maybe… whatever.

I walked in and felt quite self-conscious.  I am an experienced churchgoer, and a large part of me is showing off at a new church, like, look, I know what to do here.  But this is a small-town church, I thought.  People will, like, notice that I am here.  Why did I wear red?  And why are there so many white people?  I missed my thoroughly-mixed congregations in New York.

Then the acolytes and priests walked in, and both of the acolytes were young men who were black.  Stupid God and God’s stupid jokes.

Were these the anti-gay Anglicans?  I had checked that, right?  Right?  The anti-gay Anglicans have all changed to let everyone know they are Anglicans, not Episcopalians.  I think.  No, definitely.  It’s cool.

When we sat down because a hymn was done, someone up front was still standing, and a sliver of back was exposed in a black garment.  What’s up with that?  I was new there, and for all I knew, this was somebody about to read a lesson or something.

When I went up to communion, I saw that the person in the black garment was a guy wearing a Cat in the Hat costume, with eyeliner whiskers on his face, and purple sparkle fingernails.

I’m still mad as hell at God, and scared, but I like to sing.  And they read the story of Esther, which was a good call: woman speaks truth to power and saves her people.  And it was nice to see the Cat.

Image: “The Lost Piece of Silver,” Sir John Everett Millais, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Make A Man Out of You

When I began teaching college students, I realized: this is what it’s like to be a man.  I was a woman, and now I’m a man.

All right: this is what it’s like to do work that has historically been done by people of privilege (teach college) instead of by women (teaching people younger than 18).

Will #metoo ever get to teachers?

In two of the schools where I taught high school, I was sexually harassed by students.

At the other, I taught older students, and administrators were willing to stand up for me when students were disrespectful.  They were not willing to do this for all of the teachers.

The solution to this was that I have talks with the student and the counselor, talks that neither the counselor (who was great) nor I had time to attend.

The counselor also refused to hold repeated meetings to discuss why a student was harassing or threatening me if the student would refused to participate, or did not follow through with anything from a first meeting.

Thus, students who talked about my body, asked about my sex life, or physically threatened me, were my problem.

I was not reaching out to them to build relationships.

The bigger problem was that those students, mostly male, were taught a lesson about sexual harassment.

Teacher friends of mine have their asses grabbed, have students yell at them, “She’s a cunt!”  Have students talk about their bodies.  Especially difficult when your job is to stand in front of people.  Every day.  All day long.

Many of those people are no longer teachers, though I considered them to be talented and thoughtful and much-needed.

A decade ago, I showed up in a public high school classroom.  I had spent two years studying education.  I was expected to screw it up.

It was repeatedly demanded of me that I prove what I was doing.  Why aren’t your objectives on the board?  Where are your lesson plans?  Why are you doing that?  Why aren’t the students doing this, or that, or that?  

A great deal of my job, a large percentage of my mind and my time, was spent on trying to defend what I was doing, rather than actually doing it.

I was also expected to be kind and friendly and sweet to all your students, even when their behavior was abusive.  If you show them you care about them, they will work for you.  Sometimes that’s true.

As a teaching assistant at a university, with no teaching background necessary, it is expected that I will do well, do my best, and make my work environment comfortable and healthy for me.  Don’t accept late work.  It’ll just drive you crazy.

Teaching at a university has been a job for educated men.

After I am done teaching my college students, I have TWO DAYS to think about how it went, and what to do next time.  I get to spend some of that time reading theory and stories about what might be helpful for my students.

If my college students express emotional distress, I am to refer them to mental health professionals.  I am not trained for that.

If most pre-12th teachers were to refer a kid to a mental health professional, it would take between days and never.

Days for a kid are years.

I have 36 papers to grade, instead of 80.  It is awkward for me to talk about grading multiple drafts of a paper.  A university colleague says, “How do you have time for that?  That’s so generous of you?” How did I have time to grade 80 papers?  I didn’t.   I read fast.

No one throws things in my classroom.  And no one shows up to attack me because I can’t figure out who is throwing things, and why, or how to stop them.

At my most dysfunctional school, the principal moved me from freshmen to seniors.  They hired a man for the freshman spot.  He quit.  They hired another man.  He quit, too.  Those kids had five teachers in one year.  None of the three women quit.  (One moved, one was fired, and I stayed.)

Teaching college, no one talks over me.  I get to say what I want to say, what I’ve learned I want to say over many years of studying literature, writing, and life.  What does it do to your view of what you deserve when no one will listen to you, year after year?  And when you are told that is your fault.  You’re not engaging the students.

No one has told me I don’t care about my students.  In fact, they have told me, don’t do too much.  You have to keep your sanity.

My college students, all freshmen, wrote literacy narratives, and many of them wrote about influential teachers.  I read several essays about wonderful, inspirational teachers.  And several that suggested none of their teachers cared except this one.

How was your teacher treated?  By administrators, by students?  We know that she (before middle school, almost definitely a she) may suffer significant financial stress from low pay, lack of cost-of-living raises, and spending money on  basic supplies to do her job.

I am encouraged and heartened by teachers’ unions growing power, and the possibly the pendulum may swing to give teachers more security and respect.  It is not nearly, nearly enough.

Students are not employees.  They are learning and growing, and making mistakes, of course.

But without a strong system for handling teacher abuse and harassment, one that both protects teachers and educates students, our schools perpetuate cycles of misogyny and abuse.

Important, though aside, asides:

Probably a woman?  About 70% of the time, but higher in preschool (90%), which is also, I hate to tell you, school.

Teaching assistants are on a nine-month contract, so they can work at another job during the summer, and they receive tuition for their courses.  Also, though this is another post, at my school, the GTAs are unionized (which is very unusual) and they have gotten me/us a raise, thank you, union!

How much teaching is done by teaching assistants? About 40%.

Teaching assistants are not adjuncts.  I haven’t been an adjunct, but I believe they are treated as if they all have husbands who make a lot of money, and their job is a charming hobby, like Japanese flower arranging, although they may actually be people who need to buy groceries and go to the doctor and want to know if they will have a job next month.

Image: detail of “Classroom in the Emerson School for Girls,” Southworth and Hawes, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Two Weeks a Scholar

I have always lived at the top of a hill.  Here I live not at the bottom, exactly, but quite a ways down.  Where the town is.

The climb to the top, where the university sits purposefully poetic, is three short blocks at a steep angle, on concrete, and then brick, sidewalk.

It rains and rains, so that as I descend today, in the short steps of a mountain goat, a sheet of water runs down 11th Street, a centimeter deep but the whole street wide.  The former rain waterfalls into the gutters, which are barely keeping up.

I slept twelve hours, from ten to ten, and woke up still feeling tired.  Maybe this was illness, my teacher has just been ill.  Or maybe it is just exhaustion.  My last boss once said, “Everyone has different levels of energy,” which I took to mean that he didn’t think I was a bad person because he had gone to Harvard and worked 21 hours a day, while I spent Sundays sometimes doing little more than eating and lying around.

I sat on the couch to decide if I was going to class or not.  (Student class, of course teacher class would have been different.)

I climbed the hill, and the obtuse theories of my teacher became compelling and complex as she explained them.

The ways I feel fish out of water in academia: I think scholarly writing and research are often boring as well as useless; perhaps it is elitist; people using words that are fancier just to sound fancy almost enrages me; when I am in a lovely, clean classroom with quiet, polite people, I remember how poorly I was treated when I was “only” a high school teacher; too may white people; and: for every theory there is an opposite and equal intellectual masturbation, which is what I am probably thinking about as you explain anything to me.

But also I love books, study, and learning.  After my compelling and complex class, I ducked into the library.  The outside of it is a gothic imposition, demanding to be noted as an homage paid to scholarship.  The inside is flat blue carpet and desks, and then, if you go through the right doors, the five stories and half-stories, straight out of “Being John Malkovich,” where I led my high school students to see how many books a university has, and prayed we would not encounter anyone fucking in the stacks.

I did not encounter anyone but people innocently sitting at desks.  The first floor of the stacks has nice new desks with outlets and windows, on that back edge of all the metal shelves with all the books, almost worth nothing, almost outmoded, but not quite, still content to sit there and wait for someone to have an interest in what’s inside them.  I opened one wide, dusty volume that had a bookplate: “Gift of the Author.”  I opened someone’s published thesis on Melville.

The ceilings must be no more than seven feet, in the corridor between sections of stacks, they must be a little over six feet. I could easily touch the ceiling with my hand.  It’s for rabbits.  For smaller people.  For emaciated ghosts.  There is no trace of the idea of pointed arches, grey stone, the suggestion that there might be stained glass or statues.

I walked back down the hill, home.

I have this magnificent mantlepiece in my apartment.  In front of where a fire once was, in front of what is now sand and corn cobs and some newspaper that crumbles immediately, is a cast iron grate.  It is broken into two pieces.  You can easily set the top piece on the bottom one, though, balance it, so that the design shows and there is no alarm at it being broken.

It is so beautiful, I struggled (wrong word) with how to get the eye to hit it right away.  I watched decorating show after decorating show (see, not struggling) to figure it out.  I have deep aesthetic opinions, but they are only accessible after seeing the idea.

I hung a big dark grey drape on the chimney’s body, above.  And I bought some fake candles which came with (wait for it) a remote control.  So I can aim it at my “fire,” and the “fire” goes on.

Now you see it.  And outside it rains.

Note: Watson Library has a charming and funny history, being a disaster since its birth.  The university has continuously failed to have a nice and appropriate library.  And it was named after a woman, a librarian.  More here.

Image: Rain ensemble, Bonnie Cashin, Metropolitan Museum of Art.