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.

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