dual personalities

Month: June, 2019

A Good Time in the Badlands

Currently, we’re in Rapid City, South Dakota after a grand day on the prairie, where the road is straight, the speed limit 80 and you feel as if you can see forever.

We also visited Badlands National Park — the perfect location to film sci fi movies. You can imagine a Star Trek episode, can’t you?

I also thought a lot about Teddy Roosevelt who was profoundly affected by his time in the Badlands, although  I think he was mostly in North Dakota.

Parts of the park were full of tourists, but they mostly stuck to the obvious scenic stops and did not venture into less accessible places. Some of them behaved stupidly by trying to climb up the formations only to have trouble  getting down again, but that is to be expected.

The weather was perfect — in the mid-sixties and overcast but not rainy. And despite the ubiquitous warning signs,

the only fauna we saw was a chipmunk.  It was probably too cold for snakes anyway.

Being in South Dakota, the land of nuclear missiles, it seemed appropriate to visit the Minuteman Missile Visitor’s Center to relive Cold War nuclear Armageddon angst. Alas, we did not have time to go on the missile silo tour. Maybe next time…

Tomorrow we’re off to see Mt. Rushmore and will then drive into Wyoming.  We’ve done a lot, but I’m saving a few topics for later posts so I don’t overwhelm you with pictures.  Rest assured that we’re having a wonderful time and we’re still speaking. I’ve only locked myself out of a hotel room once (conveniently while the DH was in the shower and could not hear me pounding) and we’ve only had one epic fail: Wall Drugs in Wall, SD. It’s a horrible tourist trap.

This photo is from Google Image

The creepy elk-bunny says it all. I can take a little kitsch, but when it’s combined with crowds and tacky tourist junk, I’m gone. Do not visit Wall Drug!

Signing off for now….

your semi-intrepid DP.

A trip to Melville’s New York

When this posts, daughter #2 will be en route to New York City!

This week is the 12th International Melville Society Conference, which will celebrate the bicentennial of Melville’s birth. Melville was born in lower Manhattan and is buried in the Bronx, so there is much to see and learn. I am looking forward to partaking in a number of conference excursions, and will present on a roundtable about Melville’s religious thinking. DN and I will then extend our visit through the weekend, with an itinerary that includes comedy shows, lots of dining out, and our one big blowout: tickets to the American Ballet Theatre. (You only live once!)

It will be odd to visit NYC without my sister there — how many times did I visit over the years that she lived on the Upper West Side?


Too many to count! We will have to make do without our intrepid tour guide.

Hopefully we do not meet a fate like Bartleby the Scrivener’s–or of that story’s narrator, for that matter.

“Bartleby,” said I, in the kindest tone I could assume under such exciting circumstances, “will you go home with me now–not to my office, but my dwelling–and remain there till we can conclude upon some convenient arrangement for you at our leisure? Come, let us start now, right away.”

“No; at present I would prefer not to make any change at all.”

I answered nothing, but effectually dodging everyone by the suddenness and rapidity of my flight, rushed from the building, ran up Wall Street towards Broadway, and jumping into the first omnibus, was soon removed from pursuit. As soon as tranquility returned, I distinctly perceived that I had now done all that I possibly could, both in respect to the demands of the landlord and his tenants, and with regard to my own desire and sense of duty, to benefit Bartleby, and shield him from rude persecution. I now strove to be entirely carefree and quiescent, and my conscience justified me in the attempt, though, indeed, it was not so successful as I could have wished. So fearful was I of being again hunted out by the incensed landlord and his exasperated tenants, that, surrendering my business to Nippers for a few days, I drove about the upper part of the town and through the suburbs, in my rockaway; crossed over to Jersey City and Hoboken, and paid fugitive visits to Manhattanville and Astoria. In fact I almost lived in my rockaway for the time.”

— From Bartleby the Scrivener

Travel check-in: days 1-4 on the road

It’s day five of our epic trip and we’re about to leave Indiana for the wilds of Iowa — at least that’s the plan. It’ll be a long day’s drive in the rain, but that’s okay.  Let me bring you up to date on the trip so far. We started slowly last Tuesday, driving only to Liverpool, NY to celebrate son #1’s (belated) birthday. We had a wonderful dinner at a local Indian restaurant

Those are appetizers on his plate, not the main course.

and then went back to his apartment to open presents and provide moral support (i.e. watch) while he assembled new DVD storage shelves.

Mike Baxter at work.

Next morning we headed to Ohio; the drive was uneventful and we made it without mishap to Springfield, the home of the Heart of Ohio Antique Mall. The mall is so big that it took us three hours to do a quick browse through. We saw many wondrous things including this mounted turkey’s foot. There’s a story behind that one — perhaps involving voodoo?

Alas, there weren’t many antiques on the premises and those were overpriced.

Thursday’s drive was a little more challenging due to the heavy truck traffic and rain, but we made it to Indiana in time for a lovely dinner and a visit to the Backstep Brewing Co. for trivia night with some of Tim’s and Abbie’s co-workers. Our team won both rounds! It was loads of fun, but I confess that I did not contribute much.

Abbie clinched both rounds by getting the  bonus question!

On Friday we went to lunch at Maxine’s on the Green

and then to the Crawfordsville Strawberry Festival located on the grounds of the Lane mansion, which we got to tour.

Now owned by the Crawfordsville historical society, the house started life as a four-room cottage. When Henry Lane bought it in the 1840s, he enlarged it substantially. I like the side porch:

Lane was a U.S. Senator whose main claim to fame was that he represented Indiana at Lincoln’s funeral. As a prominent Crawfordsville resident he was also a good friend of Lew Wallace, author of Ben Hur.  After our tour, we did a little antiquing and then got ice cream in nearby village. Then we came home to relax on the balcony with Eve.

The DH and Eve relax.

Soon we’ll pack up and head out! We’re having a great time and will check in again on Tuesday if possible. Stay safe and follow the rules of the road!

What are you listening to? DN edition

“Huh. This sounds a little like Enya.”

It’s a remark that I get occasionally from my mother when I’ve co-opted the stereo. And it’s true; some so-called “chillwave” music (b. 2008, d. 2013) can skew pretty Enya-y. Given Enya’s reputation as a middlebrow or even kitschy artist, many would take this comment as a crack. “Enya” is less than positive. In fact, however, I take this as something of a compliment. This is not because I particularly enjoy Enya’s music but, rather, because I think “Enya” also means something other than Enya herself. Enya is also a description of listening context.

Close your eyes. Please, close them. Now inhale deeply, filling your lungs with the air that surrounds you always. Now push that breath out. Picturing Enya, tell me what you see. Let the flowing things exhale through you. A waterfall of vowels. Orinoco. A figure wreathed in billowing folds. Diaphony.

This sort of new age-y nonsense is the Enya stereotype. As the description in this YouTube video (“The Very Best of Enya”—nearly 18M views!) encourages us, “sit back and relax as you listen to two of Enya’s most beautiful songs accompanied by some of nature’s finest pictures.” Sit back, pretty pictures. But really, who wouldn’t want that? If it actually worked, I mean.

What “sounds like Enya” means isn’t only “sounds like Enya.” Theoretically, Enya brings ease, but what “sounds like Enya” can mean is also something closer to “I’m listening in the context of having already eased.” Which is exactly what I want! I try not to co-opt the stereo too often. The moment has to be right. It shouldn’t be a moment when one might pay too much attention. Attention is critical. So, never dinner. Dish-washing is ideal. Washing dishes, a song sneaks by you. Something nice, just on in the background. Not too far in the background—you should give the occasional “Huh.” But you shouldn’t be snapped to attention. Ideally, by the time you listen to a song, you have already heard it.

And now, a few (breathy) songs I’ve been loving recently.

Thursday mood

My Wednesday mood was soured by a 2.5-hour long meeting. But I did get to pick up the first bouquet of my summer “subscription” from the campus farm. So I’m going to try to keep up with that vibe.


Somehow, the presence of flowers can always bring you back from the ledge:

There were flowers: delphiniums, sweet peas, bunches of lilac; and carnations, masses of carnations. There were roses; there were irises. Ah yes–so she breathed in the earthly garden sweet smell as she stood talking to Miss Pym who owed her help, and thought her kind, for kind she had been years ago; very kind, but she looked older, this year, turning her head from side to side among the irises and roses and nodding tufts of lilac with her eyes half closed, snuffing in, after the street uproar, the delicious scent, the exquisite coolness. And then, opening her eyes, how fresh like frilled linen clean from a laundry laid in wicker trays the roses looked; and dark and prim the red carnations, holding their heads up; and all the sweet peas spreading in their bowls, tinged violet, snow white, pale–as if it were in the evening and girls in muslin frocks came out to pick sweet peas and roses after the superb summer’s day, with its almost blue-black sky, its delphiniums, its carnations, its arum lilies was over; and it was the moment between six and seven when every flower–roses, carnations, irises, lilac–glows; white, violet, red, deep orange; every flower seems to burn by itself, softly, purely in the misty beds; and how she loved the grey-white moths spinning in and out, over the cherry pie, over the evening primroses!

–Virginia Woolf, from Mrs. Dalloway

ALSO… I am updating this post to include that the news that the Blues won the Stanley Cup! Now there’s another mood. I woke up to excited texts and an entire Instagram feed of celebrating friends.

DN noted that the cup has passed to the Blues from the Capitals, so “we’ve got a real winning household.” Well, sure. But nothing beats the feeling of a St. Louis win.

So, to quote my siblings… Suck it, Boston.

Wednesday Treat.

Well, Daughter #1 here again. By the time this publishes, I will have spent a day travelling in the wilds of southern Missouri. And by travelling, I mean flying in the tiny plane. Zut alors!

That being said, back when I had my own blog, I used to post a weekly Wednesday Treat so I’ve decided to bring it back.


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Happy Wednesday!

Rolling, rolling, rolling

Today the DH and I start our epic road trip. We’ll be gone for about three and a half weeks. The basic itinerary looks like this:

Google maps reckons it’s a five and a half thousand mile round trip, which I confess is more than a little daunting. I do not feel remotely ready. I haven’t uploaded music to the tablet; I haven’t got audio books set up; I’m not ready with podcasts — I guess we’ll just sing camp song duets and play the license plate game.

We’ll manage. Whatever happens, I should get some good material for the blog! I’ll try to stick to the normal post schedule, but internet access may be a little sketchy, so don’t be surprised if I post late or not at all.

Although I’m eager to see my children and lots of neato sights, I’m not looking forward to sharing the road with nutty, impatient drivers.

Someone’s embarrassed!

In other travel news, I bought my plane ticket yesterday to visit my wonderful DP in July. It’s going to be a busy summer!

Stay tuned for further installments of “the Melvilles en vacances”. Now to the packing…

Monday round-up

Hi from daughter #2! How was your weekend? Ours was pretty low-key, which was just what we needed.

That said, I did actually go out on the town Friday evening. An old acquaintance invited me to a live show for a podcast we both listen to. (That’s the modern age for you — though I never see this person, she and I have kept up with one another’s lives entirely on Instagram, so we had chatted about the podcast via DM. Then, on Friday, many of our conversations began, “Your niece and nephew — they must be two and a half?” or “Did you guys buy the new condo or are you renting it?” A little bizarre, to be honest!)


A high quality photo, I know.

I had low expectations, and they were just barely met. I like the hosts, but they are not natural comediennes or performers, so it felt pretty rehearsed. And I disliked their guests a lot.

But I chalked this up as a new experience — definitely out of the ordinary for me!

For the rest of weekend, we did our usual routine. A visit to the in-laws, a trip to the grocery store, a yoga class. I really think that’s when I’m happiest: when I’m doing the things I need to do to lay the groundwork for a good day-to-day life! We meal plan, we stay active, we cuddle dogs for calming endorphins (or whatever). As my mother says, you have to know what makes you feel good, and you have to do those things.

So on that note, I’ll mention that I’ve continued to tap these resources:

We are just about finished with the Bob Dylan documentary after watching it bit by bit, and I was reminded of this song, which is one of my favorites.

Some more Walt Whitman:

O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?
And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone?
And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him I love?
Sea-winds blown from east and west,
Blown from the Eastern sea and blown from the Western sea, till there on the prairies meeting,
These and with these and the breath of my chant,

I’ll perfume the grave of him I love.

-Walt Whitman, from “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”

A colleague of mine will teach a seminar on “The Meaning of Death” this fall, and I couldn’t help but insist that he include Walt Whitman’s elegy for Abraham Lincoln on his syllabus. Have you read it? The neat thing is, his students will be able to visit Ford’s Theater, where there is a museum of items related to Lincoln’s assassination. A little morbid, sure. Interestingly, I recently heard Conan O’Brien talk about how he visited that exhibit when he was 5 or 6 years old, and he said he’s been obsessed with Lincoln ever since. There really is something jarring — in a good way — about that kind of history.

And also, my spiritual resources, which largely include Jan Karon.


Will Father Tim marry his neighbor?!?

On top of A Light in the Window, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a top-hits radio station in my region was purchased by K Love, a Christian radio station. As I was leaving Whole Foods, annoyed that it was raining when I had to load up my groceries, I turned on the radio to hear, “It’s our worship hour this morning — let’s take a moment to reflect on gratitude!” I thought, “Well, OK!” And that’s the attitude I’ll take into this week.

“Come now,” said Yousef. “Everyone fights an American War.”*

Recently, a friend lent me a book that she particularly wanted me to read so we could talk about it. She told me that Rochester, NY chose it as an all-city read (is that a thing?) and she heard about it on NPR. “Hmmm,” thought I, “those are not very good recommendations. But I’ll give it a try.” So I read Omar el Akkad’s American War.

The book is set in a near future America in which climate change has caused the seas to flood the coasts, fossil fuels have been banned, and the south has seceded from the union as a result. The ensuing civil war has caused widespread depredation throughout the south, and many people, including our main character, a young girl named Sarat, have ended up living in refugee camps. Sound familiar? You can see where this is going. Sarat’s family gets killed, she is manipulated into becoming a terrorist, gets captured and tortured for years, and ends up committing a terrible war crime. Betrayed at every turn, by nearly everyone she meets, she becomes a soulless killer.

The book is aimed at making Americans understand how an average person can become a terrorist. In an interview, the author claimed that he did not want his readers to sympathize or empathize with the characters; he wanted them to understand. That sounds like a reasonable goal and the book accomplishes it, though I learned nothing new. It is full of pithy statements that sound insightful until you think about them:

“And what she understood… was that the misery of war represented the world’s only truly universal language. Its native speakers occupied different ends of the world, and the prayers they recited were not the same and the empty superstitions to which they clung so dearly were not the same – and yet they were. War broke them the same way, made them scared and angry and vengeful the same way. In times of peace and good fortune they were nothing alike, but stripped of these things they were kin. The universal slogan of war, she’d learned, was simple: If it had been you, you’d have done no different.”

The cynical view that all governments will do anything to keep power, that people will always put self-interest ahead of duty or morality, and that most people are powerless victims is understandable these days and therefore forgivable. We see the same thing all over TV and the news can sure make it look that way. But is it true? Maybe for some, but not for most Americans (and, indeed, Canadians, Brits, etc..). Nor has it ever been.

Didn’t we just celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day?

Reflect on that for a moment and consider the remark quoted above,  “If it had been you, you’d have done no different.”  Isn’t that the point? We fought WWII because we did not believe that in the Nazis’s place we would have done no different, and we fought to defend our way of life. Yes, people get swept up in global movements against their will and some of them will do bad things as a result, but the majority will not. That’s what American War leaves out.

Humans are much more complex and certainly better than el Akkad would have us believe. Moreover, while American War paints a very dark picture, it offers no solutions other than the implied ‘do the opposite of what was done to Sarat.” That is, governments should not use the weak, torture, kill or engage in Game-of-throne type political games (indeed, they should not). But it seems too easy to blame governments, for we know that terrible experiences do not uniformly produce terrorists. There is nothing in the book about fanatical religious or political beliefs; there is no moral dimension and no suggestion that the perpetrator take responsibility for her actions.

I cannot recommend American War. It left me dissatisfied, although perhaps that was its goal.

Next time I blog about a book it will be one that I truly enjoyed!!

*el Akkad, American War




River content.

Well, I imagine my followers on instagram are pretty tired of my content lately–it has been pretty much exclusively focused on the flooding river and what I see each day on my drive to work. Too bad, I say. The river is fascinating, the flooding is incredible, and it is June in Jefferson City and that’s what’s going on.

Anyway, I thought I’d round up some other river content for your Friday.

I imagine that Mark Twain was just as struck by the Mississippi River as I am daily by the Missouri. Huck Finn has been on my Should-Read-List for awhile–so I think after I finish Moby Dick, it’ll shoot to the top.


–This is the best river content:

Which also always makes me think of this:


–A solid Friday movie pick could be The Africa Queen.


–And I’ve always liked this song.

Maybe next week I’ll have another topic to talk about. Hopefully, the river won’t keep rising–if it goes a foot further, I won’t be able to get to work!