Thursday, July 31, 2008

Another Apex

Well, in spite of all of the other more pressing things I need to get done over the next few days I decided to spend the last five hours finishing my eighth Wharton novel. Although I can see why so many critics think it is "her most sentimental" I am not sure that I completely agree. While there is a romantic happy ending that verges on sappy there are elements in the language that complicate the "sentimental" reading. For example, the last glimpse of the moon, the last line of the novel, is: "a few drops were already falling, the moon, labouring upward, swam into a space of sky, cast her troubled glory on them, and was again hidden". How this should be read is perplexing. 

For my thesis purposes this text might work nicely. It is another novel where water is a significant presence. Ironically it also has characters who hail from Apex City, which is the fictional birthplace of the Spragg fortune in The Custom of the Country. The presence of water in this text however is not strictly as a commodity but is valued more for its aesthetic beauty and emotional associations. I am not sure if this is something I want to really get into, although it is a fact that people in the business of managing natural resources now take aesthetic value very seriously in their planning. 

I suppose now I need to consider what to read next. The search is on.

In the meantime I have to revamp my Eco-Historical Reconstruction proposal for my Columbia Basin class. This is most trying since I feel as though resources are limited and instruction sorely lacking. Oh well. That is due by tomorrow night. I also have  six page paper that is due on Monday. Fortunately six pages is not all that daunting, and I have a good plan for what to write. The real wrench in the works is the fact that I have every intention of spending this weekend in Bastendorff  with Bird and confirming our handfasting vows at the ocean's edge. I suppose that means I should be writing and not blogging. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Other T-Word

I am feeling overwhelmed. It's not the anxious panic-stricken sort of overwhelmed-ness but rather a strong sense that I have ohhh so much to do. I have so much work between classes (two impending papers), the thesis, new TA training, and being a teacher myself. In some ways I am behind the program; I haven't really worked out my schedules, or made any lesson plans. In other ways I feel as though I've been productive; in my head at least I have a good plan for how I want my schedule to look/work, and I have several class activities thought out. 

It'll all get done.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thesis Formation in Fluctuation

I met with Betjemann today and we discussed the progress of the thesis. I am feeling pretty good about the whole thing. He suggested the idea of three case studies which was right on target with what I was thinking. 

Three chapters, three novels, three water issues. 

I am feeling certain that the first novel I discuss will be The Custom of the Country. A history of reservoirs and drinking water with close attention to water issues in NYC should work well. Furthermore there is the Wharton family connection to a proposed drinking water project in New Jersey's Pine Barrens

The Fruit of the Tree will likely be the second case study with overlapping focus on the history of textile mills and water pollution in New England. I'm also intending to look into land reclamation and wetland loss in the region. 

The third novel is a mystery, but right now I'm thinking that The Glimpses of the Moon might work with regard to the recreation commodification of water. We'll see.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Review and Updates etc...

So Ethan Frome (the film version) was not a letdown. It was actually quite good.

Nella Larsen's Passing was fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. If one were looking for a quick and interesting read I highly recommend it. 

Laura Mulvey's essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" on the other hand is not my thing at all. We graduate students were instructed to read it for Women's Literature. We're discussing it tomorrow. Although I have a fair grasp of Freudian / Lacanian theory, at least the basics of it, I am not all that interested in it since I find myself unable or unwilling to commit to the underlying assumptions of the theories. Thus, my experience with Mulvey was tainted by my inner resistance to her premise. Nevertheless her rant regarding voyeurism and Hitchcock was fascinating.

I gave my presentation on Chopin's The Awakening in class today. It went reasonably well. The final product was a look at intoxication and archetypes as portrayed in both the novel and visual arts produced during the late 1890's. This topic will likely end up as the basis of my long paper for this class. 

Tomorrow I have a long day of meetings. Tonight I'll start another Wharton novel. 

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Completion and Contemplation

Some what recovered from my first week of class I took the better part of today to finish reading The Fruit of the Tree. I was pleased to finish it and am happy to think that I have now completed six of Wharton's novels. Of course there are many more to go before I could claim to have read all of them. She completed 16 novels in her life and many other works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I was somewhat perplexed by the ending of the novel, but I am sure it will make clearer sense to me in time.

In class we have moved on from Chopin to Nella Larsen. I am excited to be reading a work I have never heard of before from the Harlem Renaissance. This is a period in American Literature which I dearly love and have had little exposure to since Steve Brown's Modernism class several years back. Part of me wants to write about Larsen for my final paper but I am concerned that such a decision would result in a massive increase in work for me, not something I particularly need at this moment. 

Tonight though I want to forget everything class related and focus only on Wharton, whom I feel deserves as much weekend attention as I can offer. Tonight we're watching Ethan Frome. Although I was grossly dismayed by how The House of Mirth was adapted to film, I have hope for Frome. We shall see.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Examining a Beer

Bird and I had our midterm in Ecology of the Columbia Basin today at 7PM after which it was determined that we should go out into town and partake in a few drinks. This unusual act of "socialness" was exceedingly out of the ordinary as we actually met a friend and chatted.

Week one of my Women's Literature class is finally over and I am almost done with my presentation which is due on Monday. I've decided to show my classmates some classic images of women from the time period when Chopin wrote. I am especially focusing on Waterhouse and Mucha. My rant will be focused on archetypes in Chopin and in the art of the time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Gulf

As if Kate Chopin hadn't done a considerable amount to bring New Orleans to my mind, news of the oil spill has focused my attentions firmly on the delta. This class is mentally exhausting me. I've read another three articles relating to Kate Chopin and nature. Each one seems to be written from a different theoretical perspective. This seems to be a result of the novel's popularity. While it is exciting to work on a novel that has been so widely considered it is also daunting. With so many voices in the conversation I am beginning to feel bewildered. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

One Project Down, Two Biggish Ones to go

I've completed my first short paper for this Women's Literature class, a two page rant regarding late 19th century women's clothing and the final scenes of The Awakening. I think it was perhaps too brief, too rushed, but I wanted to stay within the page limits assigned so I cut my thoughts short.  

Now I need to whip up a ten minute presentation regarding this text for the amusement of my classmates. I am thinking of an essay which compared the text to the theoretical works of Bataille. This might be a touch over the heads of most of my classmates, but that might make it all the more tempting. Not because I want to confuse them, but because it might be a pleasure to introduce them to someone I find interesting and productive to think about.  I also need to get to work on my final paper for this class.  A four week class in the middle of summer was a foolish notion.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Of Pangs and Pages

Feeling the pinch of a day without Wharton, I've spent today attending to other literary pursuits. My class in Women and Literature ran from 9 am to 11 am and then spilled over into another 45 minutes of conversation for those of us who are graduate students. I had been hoping for a small class, but this class is well stocked with undergraduates. In all we as a class probably total around 25 people.

The first read of the session is The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Written in 1899, this novel has some stylistic and thematic similarities in common with some of Wharton's work. This is helping to ease my transition away from my serious focus on the Thesis. I intend to do all of my major projects for this class on this particular novel so that my energies expended here can double by providing some more background for my thesis work (fortunately this work has a significant body of water at the center of its action). The syllabus for this class is stuffed and I have read my 57 pages for the night.

Now onward to dinner and blondies (vegan).

3/4 c. butter or margarine
2 c. brown sugar (packed)
1 Tb. vanilla
1-2 Tb. finely ground coffee
2 eggs (or egg replacer)
2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp Baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 - 1 c. chocolate chips
1/2-1 c. walnuts

melt butter/margarine dissolve sugar in it
let this mix cool then add vanilla and egg (mix it up)
add this liquid to the mixed dry ingredients
fold in choc chips and nuts

press into greased 9x13 and cook 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Classes, Classes and more Classes

Tomorrow another class begins. I'm a bit down about losing all the time for my thesis work, but the class at least promises to be interesting. Onward to Women's Literature.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mills, the Mount, and the Moon

Lucky me, my Aunt (superawesome) went to Edith Wharton's house The Mount today and took a number of beautiful pictures for me. She also captured images of several old mills in the surrounding area. Furthermore she procured a book for me of Wharton's correspondence and is mailing both book and pictures my way. I am very blessed and quite inspired by the mill and garden fountain photographs.

Today as not a productive thesis day on my part, but it is the weekend. We went to Grower's Market in downtown Corvallis bright and early this morning. Lovely. We bought peaches, potatoes and peppers there as well as some lovely jewelry for our upcoming confirmation of vows. Later in the day we took Jan and the dogs to E.E. Wilson for a hike (Birdwatching). This evening in honor of the moon we had a lovely soup and frybread feast.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Conflation, Conflagration, and Connections

In working on the thesis I bent my mind to Beverly Gordon's article "Women's Domestic Body". Dr. Gordon's article examined the conflation of women's bodies with their homes, and discussed the ways in which the home became an extension of the woman. Of course all of this sounds ok except for the underlying dehumanization of women as property that this system of metaphor seeks to naturalize. Gordon elaborates upon this and looks to the etiquette and advice literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to make her point. A good read though not as relevant to my thesis as I might have liked. I amused Bird by reading sections of the text aloud to her. 

Between a trip to Blockbuster and my thesis readings Bird and I watched a lecture on fire regimes in the Columbia River Basin. The speaker, Mr. Boone Kauffman was highly amusing to watch and listen too due to his late 1990's gen x looks and southern accent. The lecture was in some ways depressing since the altered fire regimes of the west have contributed to a number of unhealthy forest conditions which will likely only sort themselves out by extreme destruction and regeneration over centuries if they are not actively restored via human interventions (which of course also come with substantial risk since we are pretty good at screwing up nature even when we think we're doing the right thing). 

Lastly, and somewhat self indulgently (as if this entire enterprise isn't at least 80-90% self-indulgent) I'd like to point out that some links on this page will now appear green. Green links will lead the intrepid traveler to photos I've personally if one is so inclined follow the links.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Good Finds, Great Foods, and Garden Delights

Today I tried my best to get some work done on the thesis. I started out hearing from Betjemann (superhero lit master/thesis advisor). He essentially assured me that my original thesis idea was probably worth sticking with. We're meeting up next week to discuss it. In the meantime I've been advised to look into Italian Villas and Their Gardens in hopes of some info pertaining to water. Of course in this text I would likely find writings about fountains, ponds etc... I haven't followed this advice yet, but I did read a good essay today; Peter Hays "Undine is Us". The essay gave a good overview of how Undine (The Custom of the Country) is an embodiment of American materialism at its worst. I was also pleased to find several passages in The Fruit of the Tree which referred to swamps and marshes. I am still trying to figure out what state Westmore mills is set in so that I can better guide my historical research though I suppose it doesn't make too much of a difference if it's in New York or New England since the industrial histories of the two are quite similar.

In an effort not to let my whole day be consumed by Edith I took some time to cook world class awesome pancakes, prep a fruit salad, a garden salad, and make a pizza. Of all these I must say the pancakes, although I make them frequently, were amazingly superb. How to make such awesome pancakes?

1 cup whole wheat flour (organic of course if possible)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
1-2 tbsp raw sugar (or brown sugar)
2 tsp vanilla
1-2 tbs oil
1-1.5 cups water or soy milk

To this deliciousness I added liberal amounts of Wilt's Blueberries.

I also gave my garden some attention. We've finally run out of lettuce. I harvested the last head today and it has been consumed (yum). The tomatoes are looking good, the strawberries also look awesome and have been taken inside to avoid fruit loss to the marauding Western Scrub-Jays. The garden, small as it is and totally done in random containers, has been very productive for us. We've harvested six heads of lettuce, a large pot of salad greens, two types of peas, two types of radishes, cilantro, lavender, sage, oregeno, and strawberries. Still in the works are garlic, carrots, two tomato plants, gladiolas, beans and cukes.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Finley, Fruit, and Film

This morning bright and early-ish Bird and I headed out to the William L. Finley wildlife refuge where Bird is doing part of her study. The place we were looking at is basically a field dominated by various grasses and small rose bushes. Unlike where we were yesterday, Finley had almost no fruiting plants. There were, as far as I could see, no cherries, only a few apples and some other dark berries on a tree I've yet to identify. There were a number of lovely wildflowers, some that I know by name, but many unfamiliar to me. I took photos of them for later identification.  While at Finley we saw a group of about five Western Kingbirds. They are apparently uncommon in this area, so it was a nice find. They were also terribly cute and talkative. 

On the thesis front, my reading of The Fruit of the Tree continues. I spoke with one of the instructors at school today. She is the Composition Coordinator, in other words she essentially runs the writing program and is my boss when it comes to my capacity as a TA. She gave me some advice about planning out the organization of my thesis, and suggested that I make multiple introductions until I can nail down exactly what I want to focus on in the thesis. I told her that my focus might be shifting from Water to more broad connections between Ecology and Wharton's writing. She did not discourage the idea and suggested looking at Woolf also. I've considered combining a look at Wharton and Woolf before, but in many ways it seems like it might just complicate matters, or prevent me from digging deeply enough into either. I am unsure. The deadline for a Conference proposal I had been hoping to submit is tomorrow and I have nothing, but maybe it's for the best. I have a paper from my Columbia Basin Ecology class coming up (eco-historical look at Pendleton), my thesis to work on, and an English class starting on Monday. On top of all this I signed up to be a Comp. Coordinator Assistant this summer and that involves quite a bit of work that I've yet to attend to. There will be other conferences.

For tonight work is over and we're watching a film, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. I read this book some time ago, but so far the film doesn't disappoint.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Red Rose Tea, Birds and a Box Fan

It is finally heating up in the Willamette Valley. Not that I wanted it to get hot, but it had been cool and rainy from October well into June. Enjoyable, but I had wondered if there would be a summer. There is. It is overwhelmingly warm. We have the front door propped open with the dog kennel and a cheapo (though oddly made in the USA) box fan on top of it. 

We fill a giant glass jug with Red Rose and ice every morning and by the next day we need to do it all again. For some reason I love this tea and this tea alone though my current financial straits have prevented me from branching out toward some organic black tea (this will be done eventually, though by then it may not be hot enough to warrant it).

Bird and I went to EE Wilson today to prepare for her upcoming research project regarding mature forest birds in early sucessional forests. EE Wilson is run by the Fish and Wildlife folks, and has some interesting history (good overview at the attached link) .  There we saw a number of birds; osprey, herons, orange crowned warbler, bushtits, pied billed grebe... as well as some great plant life, butterflies, dragonflies, and deer. 

The rest of this day has largely been spent prostrate in front of the fan. I'm about 200 pages into Wharton's The Fruit of the Tree. Originally published in 1907 (after The House of Mirth) this book seems to have been ill received by the public and critics alike, but I am enjoying it quite a bit. It centers on a mill in the North Eastern US (I believe New England though others claim New York). I don't know how useful it will be for my attempt at ecocritical analysis of Wharton, but it is a good read.

On the topic of Wharton I am trying to assemble a list of any novel or story (or poem) of hers which contains suicide or attempted suicide. Any help is welcome. So far I have:

The House of Mirth
The Custom of the Country
Ethan Frome