Just Returned – Library Treats

Night on Earth, 1991, Dir. Jim Jarmusch

George of the Jungle, 1967

Woodstock, 1970, Dir. Michael Wadleigh

The Bad Seed, 1956, Dir. Mervyn LeRoy

Crazy Dreams

Okay, here goes. Night out at a silent Japanese film. I leave my date in the dark, to go out for snacks at the concession stand. I run into my friend Nick, whose mom has just passed away (in real life – not just in the dream). He tells me my date’s “doing the Sideways thing.” I go back in and find them in a steamy makeout session with another woman.

Another dream, or another scene from that one? Not sure. Still night. It’s cold and raining. I’m walking two dogs on separate leashes. Little guys. In the dark I’m careful to keep them from the curbs, cars splashing water on us, headlights shining in all directions and disorienting. I can see one of the dogs is my own, but the other’s unclear. Suddenly there’s a third leash and dog. It’s my own dearly departed love, passed away less than two months ago. He looks older than when he was still here, and not so good. I pick him up and see that his eyes are clouded. I start walking again and trying to keep the three of them from the curbs, but the leashes are starting to tangle. I am so happy to have my dog back, but sad he’s not so well. I walk them all home through a dark, deserted park, and the rain stops.

KVL Tribute

“And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass”

— Ezra Pound.

KVL. Kathryne V. Lindberg. I remember first being struck by the cool way her first name was spelled. It was no matter, anyway, because the fellow grad student who introduced her to me called her “Lindberg,” in a manner both formal and familiar. So, for a while, that’s how she remained to me from a distance, as Lindberg, a challenging English professor and someone with whom I never studied. I’d listen to my classmates’ stories of long conversations and painful paper rewrites with a mixture of relief and jealousy, thankful but yet also somehow wistful at not being pushed quite that hard, intellectually at least.

So, with great expectations after several months of reports, I met the famous KVL at last. On a December morning just after Christmas in 2004, we pulled into the driveway of her place on 1300 Lafayette Boulevard. She climbed into my friend’s SUV for a road trip to Philadelphia, and I realized I was meeting her in a very different way from most grad students who’d taken her classes. She was energetic for such an hour, fresh-faced and lugging several overstuffed bags.

“I brought the most delicious roast pork sandwiches,” she said. “I’m Kathryne. Let’s go.” And we were off on a five-hour drive to Pittsburgh, a one-night stopover before heading on to Philly, and my first MLA conference experience. I was a bit in awe of the whole thing, thinking it would somehow change my life and the reach of my young professional career.

“Aw, I’ve been to so many of these things,” she said, as she grabbed a pork sandwich and handed two up to us. They were, as she’d promised, really delicious. “I’m mostly going just to see some old friends.” The following hours, through which she talked almost non-stop, were filled with stories and memories meant to bend a green grad student’s ear, and bend they did. Those few hours speeding down the Ohio turnpike were, quite honestly, some of the most memorable and educational of my early grad-school life. In between a gas stop – and an impromptu stop at a mall so she could buy some opera CDs – she regaled us with the kind of old-time scholarly dirt I felt we could only get with a professor hanging out between semesters. The Christmas vacation version.

As we listened to her new copy of Carmen, she told us about how when “Eddie played piano, he had the most beautiful hands.” We nodded as if we had any idea who she was talking about, and it was only later we realized she was talking about Edward Said, THE Edward Said who had until then existed only as a revered name on our class reading lists. She joked about catching the “MLAise” and the “MLAgue,” two afflictions apparently contracted by those who had attended the annual conference for too many years. She told us all the good old MLA jokes, about how everyone wears tweed underwear (which in my naivete, she almost had me believing), and how she’d talked to room cleaning staff at conference hotels, who said “MLA participants drink more and screw less than any conference” they’d ever worked. I arrived in Pittsburgh with a slightly less dignified, but way more entertaining picture of what the experience was going to be like.

The three hours of driving the next day were no less informative. As it turned out, the “friend’s house” she’d had us drop her off at belonged to the chair of the English Department at Columbia. Well, la dee dah. When we picked her up in the morning, he shook my hand, and I thought, “Who is this woman? And where has she been, what has she seen?”  The time in Philly remains now in my memory like a highlight reel: fine dining, shopping at Lord and Taylor (comparing evening wear choices, with the famous Lindberg in the women’s dressing room?), seeing her not as department legend but normal human being, drowsy with morning bed-head, not wanting to get out from her comfortable hotel room retreat.

But that was Lindberg … who I came later to know affectionately, as simply Kathryne. Always surprising. Challenging. Sometimes profane. Loving the finer things in life. Never allowing you to sit on your laurels and wonder from your comfortable spot what should be thought or said. I found as the years went by a warm core of compassionate humanity underneath that tough and sometimes intellectually aggressive exterior. Instead of being put off, I was intrigued. And I am proud that I can now say that after years of party invitations both ways, shared film screenings from Derrida to House of Flying Daggers, hugs and “how are you doing?”s on the street, that I came to call her my friend.

Last fall there was a scheduling coincidence that at the time just seemed pleasant, but now is more precious. Our afternoon classes were at the same time, so several weeks we ran into each other in the little store in the office building, or on the patio at the restaurant outside. In the Indian summer sunshine, we chatted and traded short stories of how our students were, how the classes were going, and other general news about what was going on in our lives. The last time I saw her was just a few days before she vanished. I’ll never forget that hug. It was, for whatever reason I did not understand at the time, the most meaningful one I’d ever received from her. Noel Night in Detroit was coming up that weekend, and she said, “yeah, send me a message if you’re going,” and then we both hurried off to class. The phone call I received from a friend a few days later, telling me she had disappeared, was devastating. For someone who had so many words to share, I’ve run out. For once, on the subject of Lindberg, I am unsure of what else to say.

 

Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life

From Natalie Goldberg’s book:

“Style in writing is not something glib – oh yeah, she has style. It means becoming more and more present, settling deeper and deeper inside the layers of ourselves, and then speaking, knowing that what we write echoes all of us; all of who we are is backing our writing. That is very solid ground to stand on.”