31 January 2013

Lecture Notes on Human Nature, the Body, & Suffering

Today in my Writing in the Humanities class, I gave a lecture to end our first unit, wrap up our discussion of several texts, and tie together the major themes of this first part of the course. Sadly, I did not get an audio recording, because I was running two apps at once—one for recording and the other for reading my notes—and I didn't know that they couldn't run simultaneously. So, here are my notes.

We were talking about several pieces that all appear in the anthology Being Human: Core Readings in the Humanities:
Imelda” by Richard Selzer
an excerpt from Confessions by Augustine
Wither Thou Goest” by Richard Selzer
an excerpt from The Book of Sirach
Washing My Feet” by John Ciardi
an excerpt from The Plague by Camus
Musee des Beaux Arts” by W. H. Auden
To One Shortly to Die” by Walt Whitman

I. What makes us human?
“Imelda,” on p. 54, begins with the line: “I heard the other day that Hugh Franciscus had died.” This sets up the major theme of the piece: that all humans die. Does death, then, make us human? But many other living things die—all of them, in fact. Perhaps we could add this to our definition of “ALIVE”: something is alive if it can die. But that does not help, then, in defining the human. Augustine, in his Confessions, p. 197, adds something quite different to the definition of human. He seems to suggest that to be fully human, one must go through spiritual transformation, or at least consider that possibility. Perhaps Richard Selzer suggests that in his stories, too.
In “Whither although Goest,” p. 226, Selzer asks these questions explicitly. Hannah says, “Dead is dead” (p. 228). But that is only the beginning, and Hannah goes on to question her own dictum. Is her husband not all dead? Is she a widow? Or is he living on? That is the exploration of this entire complex, bizarre story. Is Sam dead? Or is he spread out, in all the people who got his organs? Does he have 7 lives (p. 228)? Maybe that is what makes us human: we go on living if we help someone else, or if part of our body lives on in theirs.
Some of you suggested “alive” means a lot more than “just living.” Selzer seems to be of this opinion in “Imelda.” On page 55, the narrator writes: “I think he had other things in mind than mere living.” So, mere living is not living? Animals and plants merely live: they eat, fight, and reproduce. Maybe the ability, and to desire, to do more than "just live" is at least part of what makes us human.
"Imelda" seems to suggest this, too. Dr. Franciscus is driven to do more than just exist: he wants to work, to help, to make things better. He wants to perfect people. Yet he does not love his patients, so is love not necessary? But then he meets Imelda. Imelda. His response to her is complex, but whatever else it is,is must be a kind of love. So perhaps the "message" there is that one must eventually learn to love to be human, or fully human, or a flourishing human.
And what about Imelda herself? She obviously operates in an entirely different universe then the doctor -- rural, uneducated, poor, limited, suffering -- yet in his response to her and in the narrator’s loving descriptions, she is the human in the story. She is this one who matters. Her death feels like it should be the end of the universe. Yet listen to how many times the narrator compares her to an animal: on p. 58, lapping like a dog. On p. 59, like an animal. She is “a bird with a broken beak.” She is called an “angel” and a bird again on p. 241. Notice, though, that it is Hugh's loveless ferocity that reduces her to this animalistic state -- and yet without that ferocity, there wild be no chance of her healing -and yet, she is not healed in the end. Was he right to treat her like that? Was it worth it? Is it right to treat people like animals even if the goal is to make them more human? That question seems to be raised by this story.
Even the doctor gets compared to an animal at one point, p. 61, horse. Yet at the beginning, he was compared to the gods, and on p. 63, to an angel. Is a human, then, an animal that is like a god? Or an animal that is like an angel? Or, conversely, an angel or a god that has come down among the animals? Notice, too, what the narrator says about the mother on p. 62. When she learned her daughter was dead, “her eyes were deadly, human.” In our grief and anger, we are human. Do animals feel emotions? Do plants?
If it is our emotions, especially our painful and dangerous ones, that define us, then the narrator is correct when he says on p. 65 that Imelda's life was summed up in the image of her exposed defect.

II. Are we our bodies?
But this suggests that Imelda was her defect: that we are our imperfections. And yet the way the story is constructed, we are led to believe that her defect needed to be fixed for her to really live. So, then, in our continual improvements, our struggle to overcome defects, we are human? We try to rise above just our bodies, to infuse and improve our bodies with something more. But the body always wins. Imelda's body killed her.
Sam's body died, but Hannah thinks he still inhabits the parts of himself that are viable in other bodies. His heart. Even if we are our bodies, don't our bodies lose meaning we we die? I have watched one person die, and her body immediately became meaningless as soon as she exhaled her last breath. “It wasn't Sam in that cemetery,” p. 228. But it was him in somebody else's chest? And what about Hannah, what about her body? Hannah narrows to one just one sense, hearing, p. 241, and gains some kind of spiritual insight and healing. She is made whole by just one part of her dead husband.
Augustine, p. 198, uses physical deformities as metaphors for spiritual problems, for sins and for turning the soul away from God. Cf. p. 200. He uses health, p. 199, to refer to conversion to Christianity. For him, God is the healer of the soul. This is also in the excerpt from the Book of Sirach, p. 124. Hannah thinks that listening to Samuel's heart will heal her, p. 230. Augustine calls lust a disease. Then he switches the metaphor and says his soul is naked to his sight; we can never get away from our bodies. There is no way of talking about the soul except in metaphors. And Augustine uses metaphors of the body. And of course, the body shows forth the state of the soul or emotions, p. 200. When he is going through a great spiritual,change, he has to move his body: he walks out to the garden, says his bones are crying out for God, and makes wild gestures p. 201. Weeping on p. 205. Falling on the ground. Then, at the crucial moment, he stopped crying, stood up, and read. The body is easier to move than the soul. But the final step is knowledge.
John Ciardi, p. 223, infuses the small, repetitive, daily acts of the body with deep significance. In fact, he does the opposite of what Augustine does: where Augustine used physical metaphors to describe the soul, thus subordinating the body to the sol, Ciardi says that the acts of the body are spiritual, this elevating the body to the level of the,soul. He also equates art with faith : Degas, Mary, feet washing. Service, daily tasks for the body, art, faith.
Augustine also believes we must discipline the body, put it under the control of our will and our soul. He believed that complete celibacy was required for holiness, and so gave up his mistress when he was converted. The Hippocratic Oath, p. 122, seems to suggest that doctors should also be celibate, suggesting something evil or unhealthy about sexual relations. Many regions and traditions have been suspicious of the body, thinking that it drags down the soul.
It is clear that Augustine believes we are more than our bodies: see p. 201, a discussion of the will, the mind, another will, the self. Sophisticated psychology. Not dualism, but a division of the self p. 202. Multiple good and bad wills simultaneously. I think part of the point here is that the human mind is more complex than any rigorous system to define it.

III. Why do we suffer?
In "Imelda," the conclusion is that she taught him perfection and pain, p. 65, as if both are necessary. Augustine suggests that we bring suffering on ourselves by our sins, or that sometimes suffering serves to drive us towards God. Camus, p. 129, says we must work to relive suffering, as does the Oath.

IV. Does suffering have meaning?
Whether or not suffering has meaning, there are certainly ethics in relation to it. It is always wrong to inflict suffering - unless some "grater good" is the end goal. The Hippocratic oath says that a doctor will never give anyone a deadly drug - so death is worse than suffering? It says a doctor will never do an abortion - so the child's life means more than the mother's possible suffering or death?
“Imelda” ends in uncertainty. Ciardi says it gets in the way of meaning: it prevents art, it prevents faith. It drove Hannah to seek peace from physical proximity. Augustine thinks it brought him to God and to salvation.

Then we read Auden (p. 466) and Whitman (p. 144) and talked about them very briefly.

28 January 2013

An Open Letter to the Tolkien Professor

Dear Corey:

First of all, I want to tell you how much I enjoy and admire all of your work, especially your "Riddles in the Dark" podcast -- well, all your podcasts, really. Thank you for your excellent work! You are a brilliant scholar and a fantastic communicator. I find your lectures and chats informative and inspiring. So, with all that said, what follows is not a criticism or critique of anything you have done; rather, it is an academic debate between colleagues (I teach English at Penn State and one of our local community colleges). Please take this post in the spirit of the kind of lively conversation we would have over tea (or something stronger) if we met in person, mind-to-mind and face-to-face, Inklings-style, to defend our differing interpretations of The Hobbit movie.

This is, specifically, a response to your "Tolkien chat" on Adaptation and the Hobbit movies. I thought I was done with The Hobbit. I listened to your entire "Riddles in the Dark" series, wrote a preparatory article, hosted a riddles-in-the-dark quiz game, went to the midnight opening of the film (and got four great posters!), stayed up all night in a diner writing one review about textual background (that was heavily dependent on you and on John Rateliff) and another review about adaptation theory, gave a lecture on Tolkien at Penn State, brought 222 (twice eleventy-one!) people to see the film, sat around at Red Robin afterwards talking about it, then slept for a week. Oh, no; then I graded research papers and gave final exams. But you know how that goes.

Anyway, I was thoroughly immersed in Hobbit stuff for a month or more and thought I was done for a year, except for listening to your podcast. Then I heard Tolkien Chat 12 on adaptation, and found I had more to say. 

I love the whole first part of this podcast; the way you got through adaptation theory, defending the new work on its own terms, is delightful. I love how you pull in Virgil, medieval adaptations, etc. That's really great. 

And I think that your interpretation of each of the themes of the movie, in the contexts of Tolkien's evolving texts, of the exigencies of filmmaking, of the whole culture of Jackson's septet -- all that was marvelous. I agree with you on the content of each of those themes. You had some very subtle ways of using music and visuals to pull complex thematic material out of the subtext of the Hobbit movie. I agree that they were there, and applaud your analysis. 

However, here is where we differ. I do not think that The Hobbit was a good movie on its own terms. You said at one point that you didn't really care; that you enjoyed the movie, and that means it works. But I think I can make you care, by approaching the movie via a literary metaphor. It was a bad movie, and I think I can persuade you of that and of why it matters. 

At one point, you mentioned that some people didn't like the execution of the thematic material. I am one of those people. But I do not think it is a mere matter of taste. I think that I have the force of literary and cinematic history on my side in this discussion. As you enjoin your listeners to do, I hope not to do any comparing of the film to the book, but to take the film on its own terms, in the context of film history, its predecessors, etc. Here goes.

You talk about the themes of Took-and-Baggins, Home and Belonging, Vengeance,the Spread of Evil, and Destiny. Yes, those themes are there, in the ways that you brilliantly discuss. However, in short, I believe that the execution of the thematic materials was done in ways that were unoriginal, clichéd, saccharine, melodramatic, and otherwise poorly done. This takes away from the value of that theme, for form influences content. The most powerful theme in the world is stripped of its impact if it is presented badly. This is precisely why the same story can be told over and over again, because its presentation in different words, varying media, etc., actually changes the impact of the story. The same person might be deeply moved, for instance, by the musical Les Mis but not at all by the feature-film version of the same story without music. You know this, of course: this is almost precisely what you argue in the first part of your adaptation podcast. But I don't think you went on to apply this principle to the actual details of the Hobbit film, because you were (rightfully) interested in and delighted by whether or not Jackson & Co would depict certain themes, which distracted you from how they were depicted.

The way those themes are deployed in the film is unoriginal and cheap. There is a fine line between the archetype and the cliché: The Hobbit is far, far over the line on the extreme end of the cliché side of the scale. Let's take vengeance. There is a scene in which a large, strange, overbearing villain stands with his back to the screen, looking over his dark empire. He has lost a hand and wears a prosthesis. A subordinate comes with bad news. The evil lord turns slowly, hears the bad news, and kills the messenger. The next-in-command rises to replace the dead one and is sent out with the same message of vengeance. 

Is this Star Wars? It was. Star Wars (the earlier three films, anyway, episodes IV-VI) was a brilliant deployment of archetypal themes in a new context. George Lucas & Co took elements of the Christian story, Oedipus, Hamlet, Norse sagas, and other deeply rooted myths, and put them into a space-age, technological context that simultaneously refreshed them for our modern age and gave them just enough distance to de-familiarize them and present them as if new. The emotional impact was powerful. 

In The Hobbit, however, this scene is unoriginal. It is a quick-and-dirty way of showing just how bad the bad guy is. He's as awful as Darth Vader. He's as awful as the Godfather. He's as awful as that mob leader in The Tourist. OK, sure. But a really superb director would have discovered a way of presenting the same material that was creative and original. 

Take the theme of Home and Belonging. It's really in your face. It is not subtle. It is not consistent with the character's personalities throughout the film. It is as if Jackson does not trust his audience to interpret the film at all -- not even to understand it -- without translators like yourself, so he had to thrown the subtext out onto the surface text. A better film would not have needed Bilbo make his little, "You've lost your home. I'm going to help you get it back" speech, because it would have been embedded in the actions, expressions, personalities, and situations of the characters. In other words, in this film Jackson violated the number one rule of art: SHOW, DON'T TELL. And it's also unoriginal: "There's no place like home; there's no place like home." 

Take the theme of Spreading Evil. Again, it's unsubtle. Again, it's stated directly, in our faces, rather than being artfully deployed in the fabric of the piece. And here the other huge problem of this film rears its hideous head. The acting in this section (and in other parts) is atrocious. Sylvester McCoy as Radagast was unworthy of himself. He stepped outside the bounds of the odd into the irrational, the impossible, the inhuman. There is a whole school of this kind of bad acting: the over-the-top, the ridiculous, the foolish beyond words. It makes me sick to my stomach. But I do believe this is not just a matter of taste; I do think it is poorly done, like "poems" written by people who have never studied poetry and don't know about line breaks, punctuation, specific word choice, etc. You know it; you have graded many an early attempt at creative writing or academic writing. The same mistakes are always present. There is a vast world of entertainment media that consists of these kinds of elementary attempts institutionalized: shows about untrained singers, dancers, etc., soaring on "raw talent." Actually, those are just how pretty much anybody would write, sing, dance, etc. without training. And somehow the highly trained Sylvestery McCoy slipped back into this awful style, probably due to the horrific script at that point.

I was shocked that you approved of "Sebastian" the hedgehog. That scene is intellectually embarrassing and inconsistent with the rest of the film and with the whole project to bring Tolkien's world to the screen. The 3rd-century Latin etymology of "Sebastian" makes no sense in Tolkien's linguistic world. The apparent death and resuscitation of the animal makes no sense in Tolkien's -- or Jackson's -- metaphysical world. A few minutes later, Saruman says that no one has power to raise the dead, which indeed is the case in the rest of the films. 

Consistency is a enormous problem throughout The Hobbit movie. I'm not talking specifically about consistency to time, place, etc., on which you have commented intelligently. I'm talking about consistency of character and tone. Thorin, for instance, is wildly inconsistent. The same person who appeared impressively in the doorway of Bag End, spoke about vengeance, fought Azog, and so forth, would not suddenly get all emotional over Bilbo and hug him. Yikes.

And let's talk a bit more about Thorin. The musical analysis that you shared from one of your listeners was great, about the "Dies Irae" music playing when Thorin walks down to confront Azog, leaving his friends to dangle over the cliff. Yes, I agree: the music there tells a savvy viewer that this was an evil decision on Thorin's part and will lead to his downfall. That is a good example of subtlety, of showing rather than telling. I love when music carries a message that complicates the simple visuals. So, that was well done. But it wasn't carried through. Every physical gesture of the actors, every pan-and-zoom, every bit of timing and pacing, every tableau in that scene was copied from other cheap action movies. Slow motion, sparks flying, wind in the hair, the raised blade and its delayed fall -- these are all overdone in the history of film and must be avoided by great directors except as parody. 

That's is, right there: nearly two thirds of the film felt to me like parody, yet it was done seriously. How about the end of Balin's narration of the Battle of Azanulbizar, when Thorin stands up on the battlefield, hair blowing in the wind, aesthetically placed wounds accentuating his handsome face, oakenshield dangling from one hand, the stereotyped image of the comic book warrior? 

And that leads to my final point, about tone. Was this film an epic myth, hitting notes in the range of the tragic and the sublime? or was it a middle-school-boys' slapstick-and-bathroom-humor movie? or was it a superhero action story? Was it The Wizard of Oz, or Star Wars, or Superman, or The Three Stooges, or what? It certain wasn't The Hobbit -- not even its own Hobbit, I would argue.

So, there it is. A bit of a rant, a bit of my side of the conversation I wish we could have in person. What do you think, Corey? I value your opinion, especially since any Tolkien-related thoughts you put forward are founded on an encyclopedic knowledge of his works. I thank you again for sharing you knowledge with me and so many other listeners, and hope my perspective is of interest to you. Godspeed. 

~ Sorina Higgins 

19 January 2013

Lewis- and Inklings-related conferences 2013-2014

I am compiling a list of conferences related to C.S. Lewis and the Inklings over the next year or so. Please let me know if you have any others to add to this list. I hope this is helpful to you—and I hope you and I both get to attend some of them. Cheers.

Fifteenth Annual Christianity in the Academy Conference 
“C. S. Lewis, 50 Years On: What Endures?”
 Union University, Memphis, TN 
Friday, March 1, 2013
Abstracts due Febraury 1st 
 Here's one I am thinking of attending because of the Inklings' Medieval connection:
Putting England in its Place: Cultural Production and Cultural Relations in the High Middle Ages
Fordham University, NY, NY, March 9-10, 2013

16th Annual C.S. Lewis and Inklings Conference
Fairytales in the Age of i-pads: Inklings, Imagination, and Technology
LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas, March 21–23, 2013
Abstracts due January 30, 2013

Third Annual HBU Philosophy Conference
Looking Along the Beam: Philosophical and Theological Themes in the Inklings 
Houston Baptist University, March 22-23, 2013
Abstracts due 31 Jan 2013

An Inklings Weekend at Montreat
April 5-7, 2013
Montreat College, Montreat, NC

CCL Southeast 2013 Regional Conference

the relevance of Christian faith for Twentieth-Century Literature and the relevance of Twentieth-Century Literature for Christian faith
Covenant College, Lookout Mountain, Georgia April 11-13, 2013

C.S. Lewis: Life, Legacy and “Light”
in Morgantown, WV to celebrate the start of a Lewis society there
April 12th, 2013


The 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies
Western Michigan University
May 9-12, 2013

CCL Western 2013 Regional Conference
The Company of Others: Literary Collaboration and the Common Good 
Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, California, May 16-18, 2013
(Abstracts were due December 21, 2012) 

Inklings Gesellschaft
Symposium 2013
Aachen, Germany, May 24/25 2013 

C.S. Lewis Summer Conference
Living the Legacy: The Vision, Voice, and Vocation of C. S. Lewis 
University of San Diego, California, June 19-23, 2013
Abstracts due February 15, 2013 

The Image and the Word 
Spring Arbor University, MI, June 20-22, 2013
Abstracts due February 1, 2013

C.S. Lewis Summer Seminars
“C.S. Lewis, Mere Christian”
 Oxford, England July 6-12, 2013 and July 14-20, 2013

An Inklings Week in Oxford
 St. Aldates Church, Oxford, England, July 14-19, 2013

MythCon 44
Green and Growing: The Land and Its Inhabitants in FantasyMichigan State University, 12-15 July 2013
Abstracts due 30 April 2013

Southwest Region Conference on Christianity and Literature 
‘Love that Moves the Sun and Other Stars’: Exploring the Virtues in Literature
Houston Baptist University, Sept. 20-21, 2013
Abstracts due April 1, 2013 

C.S. Lewis Fall Conference
The Forge of Friendship: Tolkien, Lewis, and the Creative Impulse
Houston, TX, Nov. 8-10, 2013

I have heard rumours of a conference at Wheaton College to honor the 50th anniversary of Lewis's death, and another in England in connection with the installation of a commemorative plaque for Lewis in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey,
both in November 2013, but I have not yet come across a Call for Papers for either of these. Does anybody have that information? 

There will be another Mythmoot in December 2013 around the release of the next Hobbit film, followed by another in the summer of 2014 and a larger conference in 2015 hosted by Mythgard Institute. 

the MLA 
Theme: Vulnerable Times 
Chicago, 9 to 12 January 2014
Abstracts and panel proposals due 21 February 2013 

The 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies
Kalamazoo, MI, May 8-11, 2014. 

11 January 2013

Desolation and Creation

I recently wrote an article about what happens to creativity when the artist goes through a time of darkness, whether depression, spiritual desolation, or religious doubt. This was perhaps the most difficult piece I have ever written. You can read the whole article here. I would love your comments.

I also want to thank several people who helped with this piece.

First, Rebecca Tirrell Talbot worked patiently and kindly with me for a year and half (I think; was it that long, Becky?) on a paper about Gerard Manley Hopkins, Charles Williams, and desolation. It was Becky who first taught me about Ignatian spirituality.

Next, two of the great artists of our time, Bruce Herman and Makoto Fujimura, for their willingness to talk about desolation and to point me to paintings of theirs that fit the theme. Thank you, Bruce, for sharing the image of The Crowning
with me; it is very powerful. (I have already written, in my 2012 retrospective, about how Bruce has helped me in the past with a sense of vocation and inspiration.)

The members of Ekphrasis: Fellowship of Christians in the Arts workshopped this piece very helpfully for me at one of our meetings. Thank you especially to Sharon Barshinger Gerdes (Director of Players of the Stage), Abigail McBride, and Jim Femister. That was an extremely useful session, and as you'll see, I rearranged the content of the piece a lot after we talked about it.

Brenton Dickieson, intrepid Pilgrim in Narnia, gave generously of his time and talent to comment on the piece more than once when it was in progress. Brenton, thanks for your editorial eye!

Mezzo-soprano extraordinaire Nadine Kulberg gave valuable musical advice and listened to me babble incessantly about writing this article. My mother also listened for hours and recommended books on the subject. Rosie Perera shared some reading ideas, too.

Finally, my kind editors at Cardus, Brian and Dan, were patient and long-suffering with me while I wrote this. Thanks, gentlemen, and I hope I can write for you again in the near future.

Anybody have any ideas what I should write about next?

01 January 2013

2012 highlights of faith-and-arts

This has been a very dark year. It has been the hardest season of desolation in my adult life, personally, professionally, and spiritually. Yet there have been many very bright spots in the arts scene -- not so much on the "faith" side of things, but that is a different story. Actually, I have written a little bit about that side of the story in an article entitled "Desolation and Creation" that's supposed to appear in Comment soon.

But here I want to dwell on the bright side, reveling in the artistic blessings I have received or seen this year. I hope you enjoy this list. What artistic blessings can YOU count this year? Would share some of them in the comments below? Thank you, and Happy New Year!

* The year started out very brightly indeed with the release of my first full-length book of poetry, entitled CADUCEUS. Here, here, here, here, and here are some excellent reviews. The book was well received when it was received at all, but like most poetry nowadays, got little attention. Although it is now out of print, you can get copies on amazon. [Do you own a copy of Caduceus? Leave a comment telling me what you think of it!]

* Many delightful events followed the publication of Caduceus. The community college where I teach generously hosted the book launch party, which was a beautiful evening of roses, refreshments, Choreologos, fellowship, and poetry. You can watch the video of the whole reading and of the Choreologos here (although I think I read too long, so I recommend skipping to the end -- thanks to Jim Femister for the video recording!).

* I was able to offer several "Poetry, Dance, & the Patterned Glory of the Universe" events; this is a really fantastic, fun presentation of the techniques of poetry, along with music, visual arts, and dance.  I have written about the best of these events here, and here is a video of one of the dances. Thank you to Betsy Gahman for calling an English Country Dance at one of these events; to Betty Barbour for playing the violin; to Nadine Kulberg, Sharon Gerdes, Marian Barshinger, other members of POTS, Ian Bridgeman, Emily Graham, Zach Kunkel, Mark Dobson, and Kitty Eisenmann for dancing and reading! [Were you at any of these? Did you dance? Leave a comment!]

* A variety of different venues gave me the opportunity to read from my book. One evening, I led the writers' group at Redeemer Presbyterian Church's InterArts fellowship in New York City, talking about the "priestly" or vicarious role of writers who can be a voice for the voiceless. I read and talked about Arts as outreach at College Church's missions night in Northampton, Massachusetts. I gave a reading and talked about the influence of Hopkins and Lewis, at King's College in the Empire State Building. I gave a reading at my alma mater, Gordon College, in Wenham, Massachusetts, and another in a great little art galley hosted by the Lehigh Valley Arts Council. [Were you at any of these readings? If so, what did you think?]

* In the midst of these readings, I was given an hour in heaven -- a glimpse of what fellowship may be like in paradise. The great artist Bruce Herman, professor at Gordon College, invited me to his home studio in Gloucester, Massachusetts. There, under the unfinished glory of his Four Quartets, he served me tea, homemade toast, and honey. He noted a flaw in one of the paintings and went over to touch it up. He discoursed eloquently about T.S. Eliot, inspiring me by his wide reading, deep understanding, and profound commitment to excellence. We sat and talked about art, painting, poetry. He asked many questions about me, and inspired me to make some new commitments to my own dreams. Sadly, circumstances since have forced me to postpone some dreams and give up on others, but I will never forget Bruce's brotherly, godly concern and council, nor will I lose the image of his masterpieces exposed in their fragmentary state, glowing with spiritual fervor, layered with meaning, colored by grace. [Thank you, Bruce!]

* Another paradisiacal sort of experience in the arts was the IAM regional leaders gathering at the end of February. I have already blogged about that, so let me just say now how encouraging that weekend was, and how much I have enjoyed keeping in touch with some of the hard-working artists and arts promoters I met there. Here are the websites of some people I met: composer Kent Smith, illustrator Matt Crotts, Mark Sprinkle of the BioLogos foundation, Christopher Bennett Gaertner of the band Avodah, and of course all my great current and former editors at Curator. Here is Makoto Fujimura's current project -- the same Four Quartets in which Bruce Herman's works will be shown. Here is an interview I did with Christy Tennant on IAM Conversations. [Thank you, IAM! Readers, please consider joining IAM or giving them a gift to continue their work.]

* Another amazing blessing came out of that IAM weekend: Shann Ray's shocking, unforgettable, serious short story collection American Masculine, which I reviewed on amazon. It's a powerful book, and I recommend it highly to those with strong stomachs and without faint hearts. Shann and his wife were wonderful friends to meet there at IAM.

* ...and one more new friend, with another amazing new book: Carrey Wallace's debut novel The Blind Contessa's New Machine is a remarkable jewel of a story. I reviewed it here. [Get it! Read it! Give a copy to a friend!]

* Also in February, I attended a glitzy opening party for the newly renovated Allentown Art Museum and its debut show, "Who Shot Rock-n-Roll?" Photographer Nienke Izurieta came with me, and we enjoyed great fellowship. Lydia Panas also had an exhibit of her portraits running at the same time. It was a swanky party and an exhilarating show. I also wrote an article partially inspired by the third exhibit that was running at the time, here--about hair salons and art.
[Thank you, Nienke!]

* Later in the spring, when my Caduceus energy was running down, Nadine Kulberg, mezzo and Ivan Tan, pianist, gave a performance of Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin at LCCC. The literary club, Xanadu, hosted this event, which included readings of some German poetry and a brief introduction to the tradition of art song and Romantic poetry.  It was very well attended! [Thank you, LCCC, for this event! Anybody who was there, please leave a comment sharing your memories of this concert.]
* A big literary and social adventure unfolded in May and June. I took a three-week trip (generously supported by professional development funding from LCCC) to Seattle, WA; Upland, IN; and Chicago, IL, for research, conference presentations, and visits with friends. Some highlights include the Avatar exhibit at the EMP museum in Seattle with Leila Hepp, reading an unpublished Charles Williams play at the Wade, watching fellow researcher Brenton Dickieson make an exciting discovery about C. S. Lewis, and attending a poetry slam with the daddy of the poetry slam movement, Marc Smith in a sleazy club in Chicago. Whew! You can read some reports about these adventures here, here, here, and here. 
[Thank you, Leila & Becky, for hosting me!]

* Later in the summer, we spent a nice weekend in Newport, RI, looking at the mansions, enjoying the beauty of architecture. We got some ideas for our own (ahem) little "mansion," if we ever get back to working on it. [Did you know that The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow was filmed in Rosecliff? Are you going to see Baz Lehrman's new Gatsby in May?]

* Ekphrasis meetings continued on the first Monday if every month, replete with hilarity and detailed critique. One high point came in July when Sharon Gerdes, artistic director of Players of the Stage, performed an original series of 7 monologues that were sort of spiritual autobiographies in short, tight, emotionally packed character sketches. [Thank you, Sharon, and thank you, all Ekphrasians -- I love you!]

* The Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival was in fine feather this summer, but I was a bit out of it, so I didn't see all the shows, and I didn't review them this year. Next season, I hope!

* Xanadu, the literary club at LCCC, continued to thrive this year. I had the great pleasure of advising the club along with fellow members of the English faculty Katie Hostetter and John Nardone. Here you can view the most recent issue of the magazine we created, which looks gorgeous thanks to Kitty Eisenmann's fine design work.

* Nadine Kulberg also performed in the gorgeous opera Adriana Lecouvreur in New York's Lincoln Center in October, another glorious and heartbreaking musical event! [Do you need a mezzo? Give Nadine a call!]

* This was the year I got addicted to Sherlock and Doctor Who! I've always been a theoretical Doctor Who fan, but lack of cable, limited internet access, etc. have always kept me from indulging. This year I decided to (ahem) abuse my faculty library privileges a little bit to get the dvds. Don't tell! But, wow. British TV just rocks. I am in love. Seriously, dangerously. Whew!

 * Then, of course, there was The Hobbit. The movie itself was not a highlight -- you can read my reviews here and here -- but I had TONS of fun getting ready for it!! I wrote a a href=>prep article
, listened avidly to the Tolkien's professor's podcast, went to the midnight showing with a few friends. stayed up all night in a diner writing one review for Curator and another review for Comment, gave a lecture at Penn State, then took 222 people to see the movie. Whew. And now I'm involved in a financial dispute with the movie theatre, which accidentally double-charged me the enormous cost of the group showing, and is making a huge fuss about refunding the money. But that is also another story.