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Pages from Patricia's Journal
February 12, 2002
. . . I
love the idea of home. I built a whole course around that theme one
year: what home is, what makes home matter, what we feel when we’re
not at home. In my own life, the "idea" of home has become more
real. I spent so much of my life moving, and even when I was settled
in an area—a convent or parish for a period of time—I always felt
somewhat unsettled. And the convents where I lived—I couldn’t
really make them my "home"; one simply had to move into a décor
(usually bad)—bland, neutral, colorless so as not to offend anyone’s
sensibilities. Lots of beige and white. Maybe this is why home is so
important to me now—and color. I’ve been relishing my decisions
about hues and tones in the new addition—vibrant or muted—color!
Above: Dr. Patricia
Dwyer (left) with student Anna Hughes (photo by Linda Tate)
I walked around Shepherdstown tonight recalling my job interview here.
That was not my first visit to Shepherdstown, but certainly the one that
changed my life. Interview with Linda and Betty, break at what is now the
Blue Moon, teaching a class on, of all things, Gulliver’s Travels. Walking
around this very familiar little town tonight. I am aware of how different
it is now eight years later. Memories fill every space I see—the shops
where I meander, the little house on Princess Street where nieces and
nephews have roamed, the first apartment I lived in, the building where I
teach, the street where I have my wonderful home.
What does a sense of home do for a writer? Why is place important? I
remember going to Brazil and Nova Scotia to Elizabeth Bishop conferences
and seeing the terrain in both of these countries. I remember thinking . .
why Bishop wrote about this type of house, or those little cobbled
streets, these steep hills, or those window sills. I saw it as she may have
seen it—I felt the chill or noticed the "slant of light."
Does home make one feel more
settled? And then really able to notice?
Or is there the danger of not seeing because the place is so familiar?
There is something about home and settledness that is freeing at the same
time. It makes for a settledness inside.
February 20, 2002—in response to class discussion on Whitman
All are one: all people, all regions, all life.
All are different: all people, all regions, all life.
Whitman notices! What makes us one and different at once
(reminds me of Elizabeth Bishop’s "In the Waiting Room"). He
screams out the "yawp" of individuality, yet he speaks of such a
common experience. All the parts of life that attract and excite us: love,
voice, sex, democracy, divinity. And all the parts of of life that we try
to cover over, erase, hide—the outsiders, the rejected. All of this is
part of Whitman’s divine energy. "I am divine inside and out."
Do I believe that? Do I see that in myself? In others? I would love to
have Whitman’s energy—his courage—to be as free as he seemed to be.
To be OUT THERE! To take all the confinements, the internal checks, the
norms that society deems important and just blow them to bits.
March 20, 2002
Emily...what a thrill to be in your home today. To imagine you in your
room, at your desk, looking out the window at your garden in Amherst. It
snowed here today and we could hardly find the path to
"Evergreen," where I imagine you also gazed often. Your
relationship with Susan, the excitement you must have felt to have her so
close. One of the highlights of the day was standing at your grave with
our group while the snow was coming down HARD and reciting the poem that
has always so inspired me . . . "After great pain a formal feeling
comes." I remember studying that poem in high school with Sister
Helen Anthony. What a teacher she was—really made your words come alive
for me. What fascinated me about this poem was that you so "got"
that feeling of numbness, the shock, the mechanical way one proceeds after
a loss. As I look back at myself now, I don’t really think I, myself,
really got that feeling as a junior in high school. At that point, my life
had been relatively undramatic. But now that I’ve lost a parent and
close friends, I know all the more how, you Emily, so clearly articulated
grief in such few words.
I decided to teach English because of this poem, Emily—so thank you.
I love my job that gives me the chance to teach and learn about literature
with the students I meet. Gives me a way to talk about values that I
believe in—that are radical and inspiring. I have you to thank in large
part for that Emily. It was good to be in your home today. I felt your
spirit—and I’ll try to remember that feeling each time I teach your
words—after great pain. . . .
April 15, 2002
A Reponse to Wendell Berry’s "An Entrance to the Woods"
"It is only beyond this lonesomeness for the places I have come
from that I can reach the vital reality of a place such as this. Turning
toward this place, I confront a presence that none of my schooling and
none of my usual assumptions have prepared for me: the wilderness, most
unknowable and mostly alien, that is the universe. Perhaps the most
difficult labor for my species is to accept its limits, its weakness and
ignorance. But here I am. This wild place where I have camp lies within an
enormous cone widening from the center of the earth out across the
universe, nearly all of it a mysterious wilderness in which the power and
the knowledge of men count for nothing."
Berry raises so many issues here that remind me of our Transcendental
writers. Of course, Emerson’s ideas about rejecting conventional
education and knowledge in favor of the intuitive—those insights we don’t
learn from books or in a library. And then there is Berry’s encounter
with "the wild" that makes me think of Thoreau’s "A
Winter’s Walk"—the wild as exploration of the west that we don’t
know rather than the east we do, choosing the mysterious over the
conventional. But something Berry brings up that I don’t sense in these
other writers is the uneasiness one feels with the unfamiliar—a certain
lonesomeness one experiences for what one knows. He refers to the garden,
his house, the woods near his home—and he names his void a
"loneliness" that one must feel and move through in order to
really understand that mysterious place that is wilderness.
I’ve written before in my journal about wanting to enter that wild
zone of Whitman and Dickinson and Thoreau. But does loving and longing for
the familiar keep one from getting there? Keep one (me!) complacent?
Dickinson certainly stayed in familiar surroundings yet her work was so on
the edge. So how can that translate in my life? Perhaps the wilderness can
be a state of mind as well? That one needs to be able to be open to
unfamiliar ideas, to acquire a willingness to push ideas to the edge. I
remember in meditation I have tried to acquire that ability to keep
emotions, viewpoints in balance (not always successfully). Berry writes
later in this work about the need for simplicity—leaving behind the
"baggage" and coming to the woods "naked." Perhaps
that’s one way to move into that realm of the unfamiliar—let go of all
the "things" (ideas and materials) that I cling to so tightly
and let the possibility of new ideas and fewer things enter my world. But
what about the passion one feels for one’s ideas (like mine!)? Is it
right to be "disinterested"? Maybe I should start with simply
taking a walk in an unfamiliar place—see how it feels—really BE THERE.
I was going to try to bike the C & O canal last year—maybe that
would be a venture to try this summer. It’s not exactly the experience
that Berry describes, but perhaps would give me a taste of the wilderness
he experiences—but it’s a step in the direction of "wild."
May 1, 2002
A Response to "Moose" by Trudy Ditmar
"Moose can be difficult. You try to give them a wide berth. But at
the same time, they are unpredictable—there’s no standard m.o. with a
moose. Despite all the bar and café stories, and despite those few times
when I felt I was about to be grist for one of those stoeies myself, in
the gamut of moose ways the moments of bluster are far less rule than
exception, and almost all my encounters with moose have been very
different from the stories they depict. They’ll surprise you by what
they do, but what they won’t do can surprise you more. A moose is
enigmatic. A moose is, at times, a bottomless thing."
Last year was my year of the moose. I say that because I was with
friends on New Year’s day (2001) and we each picked an animal card that
described the spiritual and psychic benefits and pitfalls of the animal each
chose. Mine was the moose. I was thrilled. The moose was described as the
most unusual of animal totems. She is a feminine force, that symbolizes
death and resurrection. (Is this because she can go underwater for great
lengths of time? Could that be right?) The moose appears gawky and
uncoordinated but, in fact, is quite strong and graceful. She is solitary
and, according to the card, can teach the ability to move from the outer
world to the inner world.
The moose also reminds me so much of Elizabeth Bishop—that great poem
of hers called "The Moose." A female presence that is wonderful
and otherworldly—homely, surprising those in the traveling bus with her
dramatic entry onto the macadam. Bishop’s wonderful line in that poem—"'Yes
. . .' that peculiar / affirmative. ‘Yes . . . '—half groan, half acceptance—Life’s like that / We know it (also death)."
After that New Year’s Day, I began to see moose everywhere. Signs on
"Moose" halls, pictures in magazines. I went to Canada that
summer and saw moose on t-shirts, in souvenir shops, on bumper stickers. I
even bought a picture of a moose that is somewhere in my attic at the
moment. It wasn’t until this winter that I sensed the presence of the
moose in my inner world.
Out of my home for seven months, health issues in my family, job and
personal issues that have surfaced—I counted on my moose for some
comfort or inspiration—or something.
I have to say, as spring rolls around, I sense a feeling of
resurrection after many darker days. This class and the people in it have
been so wonderful—I treasure this time. I’m back home again, my mother
in on the mend—I’m feeling strong, having gone through so many
upheavals. And then I read Trudy Ditmar’s "Moose." I loved
her detail—especially about watching the moose try to get out of the
mud. They are bottomless creatures—what does that mean? To me their
mystery, their enigmatic nature, keeps you wondering about the
possibilities. Maybe that’s what I’m wondering about myself at the
moment. I’ve felt several small "deaths"—but now the space
that has been opened wide seems less empty—seems more like potential. It’s
spring—I’m grateful. And I want to see a real moose in the worst way.
Maybe in Vermont this summer. Maybe never. But the possibility keeps