On Campus

It’s still the pandemic and I don’t get out much.  It seems prudent and only a little paranoid.  I had the opportunity to meet someone from Lehigh University recently.  The interesting thing is, I’ve become shy about going onto college campuses unless invited.  I can still usually pass for a professor (the beard and glasses help, along with a natural disheveledness) and I behave well in public.  Still, universities are all about belonging.  If you’re an alum you can come in.  You’ve paid a lot of money, and, the thinking goes, hopefully you’ll pay more.  Of course you’re welcome!  The last time I visited Boston University I remember thinking how small it was compared to my younger memories of wider corridors and more welcoming faculty.  Many ways exist for measuring how we grow.

When offered the chance for a quick stroll around Lehigh I had to say yes.  Like Syracuse University, it’s set on a hill.  From downtown south-side Bethlehem you need to walk up.  Even growing up in Pennsylvania I didn’t hear much about Lehigh.  The western part is dominated by the University of Pittsburgh and the eastern by Penn.  In the middle there’s Penn State.  There are actually many colleges in the commonwealth, about 140 if you separate out branch campuses.  Still, I was struck by the classic feel to Lehigh’s campus.  As you come down the hill it grows more modern, but I always like the older buildings.  Something about their solidity is comforting.  How’ve I been here nearly four years and not found it?

My host pointed out one of the libraries and suggested I stop in before leaving campus.  I had a mask and a minute so I did just that.  There’s a danger to stopping into libraries.  It’s too easy to fall in love in them.  I could see myself whiling away the hours there.  I spent plenty of hours in my own undergrad library, even though it wasn’t nearly so nice.  The only bad thing about visiting campuses is that I eventually have to face the exile from them I feel each and every day.  Many people can’t wait to graduate and get away.  Some of the rest of us never want to leave.  I suppose it’s an artificial environment, but if a small segment of the population can make it work, I wonder why we can’t get more of the world to emulate it.  I may not get out much, but I like to make those rare trips worth the effort.


Blood Money

The overdose crisis is very real and very sad.  Even so I couldn’t help being stopped and shocked by how economics was brought into it in a recent New York Times article.  Lab-made drugs are cheaper, so dealers pass on the savings to users.  Does anyone else see the problem here?  Isn’t the real drug capitalism?  Or take the Republican acceptance of violence as a legitimate political tool, also highlighted in a recent Times article.  Their blind followers think it’s about saving unborn babies but anyone who’s studied politics knows it’s about the money.  If you can distract the electorate with an emotional issue you can pick their pocket at the same time.  Capitalism smiles on the wealthy.  And only on the wealthy.

I’m not naive enough to suppose we can do without the dismal science, but the more I learn of economics, the more dismal the dismal science becomes.  I was recently reading about the ranching industry in early American expansion and the amount of power concentrated in those who raise animals for slaughter would make the most bloodthirsty of gods smile.  Indeed, Europeans coming to a new country wanted to make it in the image of their lives back home (they were largely successful).  Especially those who raised specially bred varieties of sheep, goats, and cattle.  Since grazers and browsers require a lot of land, the American west appealed to them.  Although big beef and big dairy produce more environmental problems than most big industry does, we let economics make the decisions.  And in economics the big and the selfish always win.

Photo by Tanner Yould on Unsplash

A bit of wisdom comes from the musical 1776 where John Dickinson explains in “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” that the common person will always vote for those who preserve the (near impossibility) of becoming rich, the myth of capitalism.  The average person lives each day not worrying that they will be struck by lightning.  Those who are often believe it isn’t likely and remain out in a storm.  What are the chances of a poor person actually becoming rich?  In this economic system?  Don’t go outside in a lightning storm.  Americans have been taught to retch at the word socialism despite the fact that it works extremely well in most of Europe.  Instead we proliferate guns and drugs on the free market model and wonder what could possibly go wrong.  Yes, there really is an elephant in the room.  And we’re burying far too many people because of it.


Evening Out

It feels like magic.  The morning after staying up late for something special has a transcendent quality to it.  You can almost touch the veil.  Now, for me it’s an admittedly low bar.  I get up around 3:00 a.m. most days, so “late” is when I venture past about 8:00 p.m.  And I don’t mean for a board meeting where you’re trying to solve the problems of the world.  No, I mean staying up for something you anticipate.  Or even if it’s something you experience only by association.  I had to pick somebody up in Easton after an evening event recently.  It wasn’t over until after I’m normally asleep, but I made plans to hole up in Dunkin’ Donuts and perhaps even sip a coffee if I had to, for the drive home.

This was a Tuesday night so most businesses were closed.  After parking the car I found out that Dunkin’ wasn’t keeping evening hours either.  I try always to travel with a book.  The one thing I learned from my brief stint in Boy Scouts was “be prepared.”  With no Dunkin’ the only places open were bars and clubs.  Thankfully it was a warm evening, so I found a free bit of curb on which to sit to read my book.  Easton’s a college town so young people were out and about.  It was good to see other folks enjoying life.  Then a woman stopped and leaned down.  She was looking at the cover of my book.  “Just wondering what you’re reading,” she said.  “I’m always on the look out for something good.”

Reading in public

I can’t recall the last time a stranger struck up a conversation with me.  Especially about literature.  I was reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved (more anon) and she asked what it was about.  (You, dear reader, will need to wait a few more days if you don’t already know.)   I told her as best I could in a sentence or two, but I was in shock that someone I didn’t know was taking a moment out of her busy life to ask me about a book.  Her companion was ready to get going, so she left.  Shortly after that the event ended and I picked up my charge and headed home.  The next morning had that magic feeling.  I slept later than normal although it was a work day and when I went for my morning walk a startled bald eagle took off from the ground and flew less than twenty feet over my head.  Staying up late, talking about books, and a dawn-time walk in the morning.  Even everyday life can be magical, when it’s rare enough.


Foreign Christianity

I’ve been reading about missionaries in Southeast Asia.  One of the things that has become clear to me is that as Christians moved into different cultures they perhaps didn’t realize just how their religion was being blended with a completely foreign worldview.  Catholic missionaries were particularly savvy about accommodating local outlooks.  Add the mass on top of them and you’ve got your converts.  What they were, perhaps unknowingly, doing was changing Christianity.  Yet again.  Monotheism has a myth of the pure religion.  The fact is that as soon as Paul disagreed with Peter Christianity had begun to splinter with each faction believing it had the pure form.  When this protean religion moves into other cultures with other ways of thinking, interesting new forms emerge.

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

Today there’s a lot of interest in Celtic Catholicism.  This is another example of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”  Christianity, particularly in Ireland, took on a pronounced Celtic flavor.  It doesn’t always play by the rules, but as long as Rome’s okay with that, well, who’s to complain?  What is Catholicism?  What is Methodism?  What is Anglicanism?  It depends on where you join it.  Doesn’t that problematize those absolute truth claims?  Churches are savvy political players.  The rank and file believer has little idea what goes on behind closed doors.  They might be distressed to find out just how much bishops talk about budgets.  Theology is left to the public view.  No organization can survive without money and church leaders understand this.  Missionaries go to under-developed countries and make them capitalists.

People living in different parts of the world view life from varying perspectives.  Many see change as the nature of life where western religions see fixity.  Many religions know we’re reincarnated.  Western religions see one ride per ticket with souls ending up in a final holding place.  When it comes to eternity, people obviously want some security.  Even with reincarnation a badly lived human life can lead to a worse next life.  The question of what happens when such ideas come into contact with Christianity, or Islam, is a fascinating one.  Judaism, the root of monotheistic traditions, never really embraced missionary activity.  When missionaries encounter those whose very ways of thinking about life approach the question from a different direction, creative mixes are bound to occur.  It’s safe to say that when early Christians were sent out to “the whole world” they had no idea how big that world actually was, under the dome in which lived the sun, moon, and stars.  Nor had they any idea what interesting hybrid religions would emerge after their fertile preaching.


Status Check

It took many months, but one of my few Twitter followers was removed not for trying to take the nation by force, but because he’d died.  If I learn to tweet from beyond perhaps I’ll score a few more followers.  The situation, however, is one of the oddities of our socially mediated world.  I was trying to find some information on a potential author the other day and the only online presence I could locate was LinkedIn.  I clicked on the profile only to see the latest update was “Deceased.”  More than that, the Experience column indicated that “Deceased” continued from the date of passing up to the present.  I guess once you’re gone, your gone for good.  Social media, however, will perhaps find a way to keep you alive.

When I’m gone, I imagine WordPress will shut this blog down because nobody will be paying for it.  It’ll probably take a while for Facebook or Twitter to figure out I’m in the new category of “deceased.”  I do hope Academia.edu will keep my downloaded papers there for free. Real immortality, it seems to me, lies in the writing of books.  They too will eventually disappear, and who knows about the real longevity of social media.  It’s pretty difficult to believe Facebook wasn’t even around at the turn of the millennium.  I drive a car that’s older than Facebook.  I keep thinking of LinkedIn listing “Deceased” as a vocation.  Isn’t it really the ultimate vocation for all of us?  If you can’t be found online, do your really exist at all?

While experts debate social media, my job prevents me from using Facebook or Twitter during the day.  After work I’m anxious to get on to the other things in life that virtual friends and followers have to wait.  Early in the mornings I write and research.  I have mere minutes a day to look over social media.  I check Facebook only for alerts.  Life is short.  Is social media making it better?  It’s easy enough to be overlooked in real life, so why indulge in it virtually as well?  Of course, many see social media as a place to vent their spleen.  Why not try to inject some good into the virtual world instead?  There is hope for the dead, for they may still publish.  Their tweets may become somewhat less frequent.  Only the most callous, however, would drop them as friends for being dead.  Let’s just wait for Zuckerberg or Musk to notice.  It may take a few months.


Television Fed

There have been a number of television shows—The Simpsons primary among them—that instead of castigating the media-raised generation, celebrate it.  As I watch the younger, internet-raised generation, I realize that we were the kids raised on television.  Before the fifties and sixties televisions were too expensive to reach into every home.  Although we were poor, we managed to scrape and scrounge enough to buy a color television by the time I was an early teen (what’s now technically a tween).  And even before that I had a television habit.  Dark Shadows, The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Gilligan’s Island, Get Smart, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and the list could go on and on.  Since neither of my parents finished high school, we used television as a window into the wider, more educated world.

Photo by Ajeet Mestry on Unsplash

As an adult I’ve moved beyond that academic stage of being embarrassed about being raised on television.  I’m inclined now to embrace it.  It was forming me long before I started reading and these days I prefer reading to television, which I practically never watch.  Still, I have a great appreciation for its formative influence.  How else are you supposed to learn about the world when you’re poor and uneducated?  Dark Shadows taught me about vampires.  The Twilight Zone made me appreciate the strangeness of life.  Star Trek awoke wonder about space.  Gilligan’s Island and Get Smart taught me to laugh in tough times.  The Partridge Family taught me about music and the Brady Bunch prepared me for Zoom.

For many years I’ve tried to put this behind me as a cause of shame.  I was an academic.  A book-learner.  That way of life, however, shouldn’t deny what has made us who we are.  While following the new rendition of Sleepy Hollow in television format, I came to realize that there was a new direction to go.  Religion in horror had been lurking in the background for many years, even before my career malfunction.  To deny it was to deny the same academic pretentiousness that has refused me a place.  Media can hold meaning for us.  There’s no replacing those younger years in front of the tube, the intravenous meaning that successful writers and media producers of the sixties and seventies were giving us.  When you don’t have the free time for research, you can still access what childhood taught you in the first place.  And perhaps, if you’re lucky, move it forward.


Horror Deprivation

Is there such a thing as horror deprivation?  Life has been so busy that I haven’t been able to carve out the time to watch any horror movies for several weeks now.  That steady diet has given me blog topics and a strange kind of personal comfort in this all-too-scary world.  More than that, it is often a coping mechanism.  I sometimes think more people might read this blog if I “rebranded” it as horror-themed, but perhaps there’s a different way to go about it.  Some writers, with enough shares and likes, have their daily observations become part of the national wisdom.  The rest of us, it seems, are simply background noise.  I’ve also been told blogs are passè and that may be the case.  I have trouble keeping up.  I don’t even have time to watch horror!

As with most things in life, I keep a list of movies I need to see.  Like claws such a list continues to grow unless it’s trimmed once in a while.  A movie is a couple-hour commitment and when even weekends are programmed to the last minute it’s difficult to squeeze them in.  I always welcome the more pleasant weather of spring, but so does the yard.  I’ve always thought, like good haunted house owners, that I would let the yard go.  Here in town there are ordinances, though.  It doesn’t look tidy—right now dandelions exceed the tolerated grass length a mere day after mowing.  Like triffids they pop up and won’t go away.  I could be in, watching a movie.  My credibility’s on the line here!

The pandemic, from which horror movies will arise, led many people to having too much time.  Netflix soared.  For whatever reason, it had the opposite effect on me—is this a special effect?—I had even less time than before.  I had to cancel my Netflix account because I had no time to use it.  Horror is a coping technique.  Real horrors spill from the headlines daily.  Sometimes the antidote is in the poison itself.  The way to be less scared is to watch more horror.  We’re still in the pandemic and Putin decides to start a war.  Republicans confess that Trump tried to take over by force and then backtrack.  Global warming continues apace.  There comes a point when the only therapy is to watch something worse unfold, as long as it’s fiction.  It’s Saturday.  It’s raining.  What can one possibly do?


Free Research

I’ve lost track of how many times it’s happened, but it has been relatively few.  Someone I don’t know will approach me and ask me to post about something on my blog.  Sometimes they’ll even send me a book to highlight.  Perhaps not the most effective way to build a library, I’ll admit.  And some of the books haven’t been great.  I admire them nonetheless.  It takes great effort to write a book.  And not a small amount of faith, too.  Many books—perhaps most—never get published.  A great many are self-published.  (Those who work in publishing can be a stuck-up lot sometimes.)  Even those professionally published can use a push from time to time.  On this blog I’ve actively resisted the urge to make it about one thing.  Why?  Is life just one thing?

In a recent conversation I laid out for someone new what had been my research agenda as a young professor.  It had a direction still reflected in some of the categories you’ll find on the right column of this blog.  After writing on Asherah, I was going to give similar treatment to the other ancient goddesses attested at Ugarit.  This was perhaps ambitious for an academic waif at Nashotah House, but it was well underway.  My book on Shapshu was making good progress when the market (that dragon to every St. George) led friends to suggest turning biblical, which led to Weathering the Psalms.  A new research agenda—explore the weather terminology (the meteorotheology) of other biblical books—arose.  There were storms, after all, becalmed over lakes.  Horror entered in the jobless period and beyond.

And social justice.  I’m not a thrice-failed minister for nothing!  In fact, a recent freebie was a book on social justice.  I have a colleague as interested in monsters as me.  This particular scholar had decided to focus on the cause of the poor.  Even economists are starting to say the unequal distribution of wealth is hurting us.  While the rich fly to space on personally owned rockets, the rest of us have trouble filling up at the service station, even if we have jobs.  So it is that this blog is eclectic.  A friend told me early on that it would be more popular if I just stuck to one topic.  That’s probably true, but my mind can’t settle down like that.  And when people send me things to talk about, I’m happy to do so, if it fits somewhere in my mind.


Consistency

Consistency.  Back in Wisconsin I belonged to a group of Hebrew Bible professors who read a book and got together to critique it.  We came from different schools—Marquette, Sacred Heart, Carroll College, and Nashotah House (me).  We took turns on different campuses and spent a pleasant Saturday afternoon discussing our selected title.  Soon one of our members, an Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of Milwaukee, began to look at me right off and ask if the author had been consistent—my most frequent criticism was inconsistency.  It’s the way I think.  If is an argument is being made, or a story is being told, it has to be consistent in order to be convincing.  Recently I realized that this has carried over into my writing on horror.

The dream of many authors and auteurs is to establish a successful series.  Publishers and studios like them too.  Follow one success with another just like it, so the thinking goes.  People like to see how the story ends.  The longer a series goes, however, the more difficult it is to maintain consistency.  I’ve been noticing this in the articles I’ve been writing lately.  I follow the stories closely and inconsistencies creep in.  I noted this in a recent post about Dark Shadows and I wrote about it when looking at The Conjuring and Paranormal Activity franchises in Nightmares with the Bible.  I realize, just as my Bishop friend pointed out, that consistency is my problem.  Sometimes it gets in the way of enjoying the tale.  Deft authors and auteurs will tease you with it.  It’s part of the literalist mindset.

Being raised as a literalist, from my youngest days I learned that the story goes only one way.  The world, however, is much more ambiguous than that.  Stories have multiple points of view and endless iterations.  Not only that, but not even the author or auteur has the final say in what “really happened.” When I first learned of reader-response theory I was suspicious of it.  Even with a doctorate and teaching experience I was still looking for consistency.  Get the story straight!  But stories are crooked and queer and untamed.  They follow the imagination and defy literary convention.  Those that succeed best are remembered as classics.  The rest are nevertheless expressions of fertile minds with tales to tell.  I doubt I’ll ever get over my watching out for consistency.  I should, however, pay attention to that gentle teasing my erstwhile colleagues gave.  Relax and enjoy learning how it goes this time.


Heat Pump

We’re preparing our home to welcome a new resident.  It’s not human.  Those of you who are home owners know how you move from crisis to crisis, paying to repair this just in time to start paying for that.  Our current issue is a dead dryer.  We knew it wasn’t long for this world when we moved in.  The previous owners, as most working class folk do, let things go until a machine forces  the issue by dying.  Being concerned for the environment, we like to replace appliances with more environmentally friendly ones, if we can.  They are, of course, much more expensive.  With the dryer it was also a space issue.  Snuggled together like young lovers in bed, the washer and dryer leave less than an inch clearance total from either wall.  The first issue we faced—modern dryers are bigger.

Small and energy efficient is what we wanted.  I learned about heat-pump dryers.  They don’t require a vent and they’ve been used for decades in Europe because of both space issues and environmental friendliness.  Here they cost more and you’ll have to wait because they’re in demand.  We decided to side with the environment.  Then there’s the problem of the old vent.  I gingerly walked out the old dryer and was amazed at the detritus I found.  Now, I’m an archaeologist at heart, so instead of sweeping it all in the trash, I sorted through it.  I found a dollar bill.  And 32 cents—this helps defray the cost of the new dryer.  Three guitar picks and a heap of cosmetics.  A box of rubber bands for braces.  There was ancient history in this pile!  The lighting’s bad in that corner so I put on a headlamp like a phylactery.  Let there be light.

I had to use most of my tools to tug the old vent out.  You have to stuff the hole with insulation and put some furring strips in place to hold the new drywall.  Cut out the patch to fit the hole and mud the whole thing up.  Why bother painting where nobody will see?  By the end of the weekend we were ready for our new resident.  It still wouldn’t be here for at least a couple of weeks.  The clothesline is strung in the backyard where the even better method of using nature’s dryer is free.  For those days without sun and on which we have time to do a load, we’ll be glad for our heat-pump dryer.  Particularly when the weather starts growing cold again and global warming enacts its chaos.  Hopefully we’ll have a stop-gap solution by then.


Fight for Mom

The spring holidays come think and fast.  Depending on when you start spring we’ve got Valentine’s Day followed a month later by St. Pat’s.  On it’s roving schedule Easter hops along, with its precursor Mardi Gras.  There’s Earth Day, May Day, and Mother’s Day.  One thing they all have in common, apart from being holidays, is they’re not worthy enough to be days off work.  You have to wait for Memorial Day for that.  Today, in any case, is Mother’s Day.  We stop to think, as if we shouldn’t every day, about our mothers.  Women are pretty poorly represented in the holiday scheme, unless you’re Catholic (and even those aren’t days off).  Mother’s Day always comes on a Sunday so employers are eternally thankful.  A holiday with no consequences.  But should it be?

We’re only just beginning, after being “civilized” for five thousand years, to give women their due.  Only just beginning because capitalist systems are built on male fantasies of growing rich without the female humane element.  It’s not a system friendly to mothers unless we find a way to make people spend money.  Women remind us to look for cooperation and not just competition.  Working together we can make things better for everyone.  Men, left to their own devices, go to war.  Men take what they want and women act as our conscience.  Mothers sacrifice to keep us safe and alive.  Their self-denial resonates better with the Christianity suborned by men into a money-making venture.

It’s Mother’s Day.  It’s a day to put aside our acquisitive, war-like tendencies and think of someone else.  It’s a day to imagine what it might be like if we made a habit of good behaviors.  It’s like those grades they used to give in school for “deportment.”  It wasn’t all just about how well we learned our facts.  Mothers teach us what it means to set aside our own wants for the needs of another person.  Without that the human race simply wouldn’t survive.  Instead of politically stacked courts taking away women’s rights, today we recognize that without women none of us would be here.  The human experiment only succeeds when women are recognized for all that they contribute to life.  To civilization.  To society.  We may not have commodified it, so why not listen to our mothers’ wisdom?  Why not make it every day instead of just the second Sunday of May?  Don’t forget to thank your mother today.  Better yet, fight for her rights.


For Sale for Free

It’s one of the signs of spring.  Although it may be more appropriate for winter when we’re holed up inside for much of the time, the library book sale often takes place when it’s a bit more conducive to being outdoors.  When we travel, which isn’t frequently these days, we often spontaneously stop into an advertised library book sale.  Most of the fare is fairly pedestrian, but sometimes you find something you simply didn’t expect.  On one such recent outing, that’s just exactly what happened.  Back when we lived in New Jersey the Friends of the Hunterdon County Library book sale was a much-anticipated event.  It remains, in my experience, one of the largest of such sales.  (Believe it or not, there are websites dedicated to pointing inveterate readers to book sales and that’s how I found this one.)  That’s not the surprising part, however.

One year when I went, one of the library friends was working the pre-entry crowd, proclaiming some of the treasures inside.  One of them, he announced, was a Bible from the nineteenth century.  They were asking more than the usual one or two dollars for that one.  If I recall, it was $100.  No, I didn’t buy it.  I have dozens of Bibles right behind me at this moment and if I had a Franklin to spend I’d load up on books I don’t already own.  Many of the books mentioned on this blog came from just such sales as these.  That big Bible’s not the surprising thing either.  Here it is: on a recent library book sale day, I saw a shelf with Bibles.  They were free.  Library book sales are intended to raise money, but Bibles for free?  Unexpected, no?

America is the land of free Bibles.  They are printed in vast quantities and sold cheaply, without a thought to what this says in a capitalist world.  Some Christian rock groups were famous for throwing free Bibles from the stage—you’ve got to think those in attendance already had one—and any county fair will usually have at least free New Testaments for the taking.  Ironically, most of those who distribute free Good Books are also the staunchest supporters of capitalism, one of the most exploitative economies ever invented.  Attending library book sales entails more than just finding books that you perhaps didn’t know about.  It’s more than being tempted by something for which you’d rather not pay full-price.  It is, perhaps surprisingly, a learning experience in and of itself.


Highest Education

The average church-goer is often impressed with the idea of seminary.  The thought that someone could devote three years of their lives to theological minutiae in order to take a job with long hours and substandard pay, is mind-boggling.  Having been a seminary creature for so many years, however, makes me wonder if many church folk realize that seminaries are businesses.  Non-profits, yes, but businesses nonetheless.  This is a trait that they share with other institutions of higher learning.  Customers pay money for a good or a service (I’m not sure which) in the form of a degree.  If a student can’t cope academically, they’re often “grandfathered”through because, well, it costs a lot of money and you deserve to get what you paid for, right?

This business concept of higher education is dangerous and is primarily prevalent where governments do not support education.  Schools have to raise money and if alumni don’t give, well you have to raise tuition.  And the more somebody pays the better case they have for getting their degree.  Seminaries, however, also suffer from generally low-income alumni and sponsoring churches needing clergy.  (It’s not difficult to get accepted into most seminary programs.)  Only when a candidate is a serious problem will they tend to be weeded out.  And congregations get the results of such a system.  My level of cynicism probably results from having gone through seminary and then having taught at one for many years.  At no point have I been ordained.  In fact, even churches facing clergy shortages have shown no interest.  Call it sour grapes.

To me, however, the crisis in higher education is the result of business practices being applied to education.  The two don’t mix.  In a world where job options are limited for those too weak to dig and too proud to beg, ministry has some appeal.  You can be considered a community leader and an expert in the relatively innocuous arcane area of “theology.” And most of the people you serve will have no idea what seminary delivers, or doesn’t.  I attended events for seminary administrators offered by the Association of Theological Schools—the seminary accrediting body.  I learned that they too are under pressure to approve unless there’s a serious problem.  Even heads of accrediting bodies have to eat.  So we let the system churn on as it has since the earliest universities turned out educated clergy.  And we don’t stop to think what all of this means.

Tradition

Boone to Some

Folk heroes sometimes put us in compromising positions.  We appreciate their importance for where we are and yet we recognize that where we are came at a tremendous cost for those who lived here first.  Still, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Daniel Boone was born right here in Pennsylvania.  Like most people my age, I learned of Boone primarily through the television series that aired in the 1960s.  In other words, I learned the commercial Boone.  In reality he was a fascinating individual who preferred outdoors living to the comforts of home.  His prominence meant that he would meet and know such figures as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  He was largely responsible for US westward expansion, leading the first Europeans into the territory of Kentucky.  His association with the south is so pronounced that I was surprised to learn he was born in a homestead, that is today, less than an hour north of Philadelphia.

Of course, the land settled by the Boone family was stolen from American Indians.  The story might be somewhat easier to appreciate if we treated Indians better today, but our culture still insists on repressing them.  Racism runs deep, it seems.  Boone himself seems mainly to have gotten along with the Indians he knew.  The fact is his story is exciting to hear.  He was an able negotiator and both Indians and other settlers respected his position.  When tales of his adventures were written down he became famous, if not wealthy.  What seems to have really struck those who heard his story is that he continued his outdoor existence into his eighties.  At an age when many have become frail, he continued to spend months of the year living outdoors in the wilderness.

Being there where he was born felt like a revelation.  Of course the docent was a gifted storyteller, and she told his story with humor and an obvious pride in the man who’s responsible for her living.  I reflected how television once again had shaped my childhood.  Fess Parker’s portrayal of Boone was among the most popular prime-time shows of the mid-sixties to 1970.  I had no idea that I was consuming pop culture in such quantities as I watched it, along with other staples such as Dark Shadows, Gilligan’s Island, Scooby-Doo, and the Brady Bunch.  Some people worry that the rising generation “learns” its narratives from the internet, but my generation learned them from television.  Daniel Boone would have, and indeed did, learned from the outdoors.


Shadows of Childhood

Childhood, it seems to me, is where we define ourselves.  In the days when life expectancy wasn’t terribly long and people generally lived only long enough to reproduce, there was not much of a need to revisit childhood.  Now that we live several decades, however, childhood begins to loom large.  We have time to revisit and reassess.  This is one of the reasons I’ve been addressing Dark Shadows so much, and why my memories of it have been of such interest.  I recently watched the second feature film based on the series, Night of Dark Shadows.  This was aired after the original soap opera had been cancelled.  It focuses on Quentin Collins rather than Barnabas and it again caused me to reassess.

The story is complex—the soap opera was quite literary and intelligent to begin with—and it involves several characters from the series.  In my mind Quentin is a werewolf.  In the movie he’s not.  This made me realize that my image of Quentin is largely from the Marilyn Ross novels, not from memories of the television show.  I never did see the original series through.  Nor did I ever read all the novels.  Like most people my childhood was a pastiche of this and that as I sampled the somewhat small set of offerings made available in a modest family in a small town.  Fossil collecting and exploring within two or three blocks of home were about all the options.  And then there was television.  I watched a lot of it.  When the rigors of homework started to really hit in high school, I stopped watching so much.  I’d begun reading quite a bit by middle school, and many of those books are the ones I’ve been seeking out in recent years.  Not that middle school was that great, but it was formative.

Night of Dark Shadows, although set in Maine, lacks the Collinwood I remembered.  Yes, it’s a grand old house, but there’s no hint of being on the Atlantic coast.  No crashing waves.  No theremin.  Quentin is instead haunted by the ghost of Angelique and is apparently a reincarnation of an ancient ancestor whom she loved.  Angelique decides to kill off Quentin’s young bride so as to have him to herself.  It wasn’t bad, but I guess I was expecting a werewolf movie.  My view of Quentin was formed by the imagination of W. E. D. Ross, I’m coming to realize.  Sam Hall wrote many of the original episodes.  He also co-wrote this movie.  My childhood, however, remembers all of this differently.