Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The House with the Weeping Willow on East 32nd St.: Part II

Josette and her Son with Isis under Willow Tree

Myself at Dinette Table from my Grandparents with Curtain in Kabuki colors

Farewell luncheon at the Langs' on 18 June 1973

Some of my students at my house in Eugene

To return to the period of my tenure as Associate Professor and at the house on East 32nd, without rehearsing all the difficulties (shared, I'm sure, by everyone who taught in the late 1960s and early 1970s) of the few students who came stoned to take examinations and who had to plead with one professor to give a grade unearned to balance an unsatisfactory one in another's, on account of the draft, to avoid Viet Nam, and also leaving to history books and memoirs the horrendous events of that time from Los Angeles to Newark and everywhere in between, I shall try to put together some particulars of everyday life of my own. Above is an evening with some of my students in that house. I have shown the orange painting and the arm-rest of the black japalac'd oaken chair in my present house more than 30 years later, and the eye of their owner can recognize some of the books, too, that I still have. In Oregon, serving even beer to one's students some of whom were under 21 was unthinkable, and these parties were largely conversational.
MDR, my department head, spoiled me in many ways. I got an office made over from a passage way, rather spacious, with two full walls of cork board and two long 'retired' library tables and the oak chairs that went with them. A short wall was painted white for projecting slides, and I taught graduate courses in the office with all the books and photo files close at hand, besides having all the pictures I loved and all those currently related to the graduate course of the term on the walls where I could dwell on them all the time.
For the house, my grandparents repaired and refinished a Victorian walnut table (it had suffered a severe cigarette burn where my grandfather set in a patch of old walnut) and fixed, in some cases supplying a missing leg or part of the seat, four mixed-wood, early 20th-century, common chairs (one is at right in the photo above), which completed my little dinette. I still have those things and even the old bookcase that filled the wall: the dinette had windows on the east, opposite that wall. They even repaired and refinished a spool bed, for which new slats had to be made, for me. I gave that away when I entered the convent. The house had oak flooring, though not of very high grade.
I got from Goodwill Industries a metal-tube, formica top table, and two of the chairs that go with such post-WW II kitchen tables, for the kitchen. Student friends twice came over and we made taffy, pulling it over that forgiving surface. Also, for a seminar in sculpture we made copy photos from books for seminar reports, on Panatomic-X Kodak film and using a bakelite ElKay developing tank, which was useful because it drained quickly enough to get the next chemical into it promptly, we used Kodak's chemical kit for direct reversal of the negative film to positive. Deftness and timing and temperature were critical, but the slides were very good. A few dozen still survive. When such work was being done, I'd call Chicken Delight which delivered as much fried chicken and cole slaw as was needed. Surely, it was in Oregon that I acquired the habit of doing myself everything I needed for teaching. When lecturers came to our Eugene Society of the Archaeological Institute of America, I took wedge tipped felt markers and hand-lettered the small posters for bulletin boards in our building and those of other departments that might be interested.
When I think back I find it remarkable that the students both socialized with me and respected my scholarly authority. Equally remarkable, I do not recall much gossip or any backbiting either among my colleagues or the students (that cannot be quite true, but when I look back I can think of nothing to call it all but 'very Oregonian'). On the other hand, as time passed and my grand affair, as I thought of it, ended as it had to, I sobered up, I read more, and what with lots of Augustine and Karl Jaspers and reflecting on the ruin of the lives of my mother and brother, from whom I could hardly keep my own identity really separate, I found myself thinking that all the great traditions of Greco-Roman, of Medieval, of 19th-century thought and belief could hardly be foolish (Elgar's "Dream of Gerontius" suited me perfectly, and I had the Barbirolli recording of it). Not suddenly but in the space of a couple of years I became an Anglican. Rome was too hard for me to accept, and the Greek church (like Buddhism) was, one had to admit, not of my own culture. I loved Greeks, but I couldn't pretend to be one. So I also attended other churches' services, learned all the liturgies, and, once Episcopalian, rather yearned to be a priest. Partly to atone in some way (not rationally) for my brother, I also taught at the state penitentiary at Salem for a year. In all this I was indulged and cherished by all my friends, including many whom I haven't mentioned here, and not least by St. Mary's Episcopal church in Eugene. Even then I sensed the spiritual and psychological mismatch of superior knowledge of theology and of church history with the green state of the new convert but decided to let it be. And at church I met persons whom I had to respect purely for themselves, a rare privilege for someone who had been trying to become Something—artist, scholar, academic—all her life. Some of my colleagues, though, who were themselves devout, had contacts with the Community of the Holy Spirit in New York. Eventually, after visiting the convent, after keeping a lay person's Rule for a year, I gave a year's notice to the university and gradually broke up housekeeping (all my friends helped me pack). Even then, no one rebuked me, though some, certainly, were appalled and saddened, either in Berkeley or in Eugene. It was true, just a further complication, that the likelihood of my having to live in Eugene forever, as I was approaching another academic promotion that would put me out of competition for mobility, and as the economy and the society were souring, besides, seemed like something I needed to break away from. I had enjoyed Eugene so very much, but it had never become real. I never had become part of it. CHS was glad to receive me as a postulant, and I was glad to try a vocation (and in NYC), but neither of us knew what we were getting. The vocation would fail, and eventually the raison d'ĂȘtre for my fervent belief would fail, without rancour, too. In 1981 I was very fortunate to get a tenure-track position, and I have been in Louisiana ever since.
Here, at the top of this post, is a picture of the going-away party at my dear friends' house on June 18, 1973. In two days, in my VW beetle, I'd be on my way to New York.