Student Center

EMU Student Center

I am enjoying a few minutes of light computing in the Student Center at Eastern Michigan University right now: coffee, sunlight, email, Google Reader, Fantasy Football results. I try to spend an hour in the Student Center every Tuesday. The weekly, non-essential outing contributes to my New Faculty Continuing Orientation Plan. Basically, the NFCOP goes like this: leave your office every so often, develop a feel for the place. Frequently I run into students or colleagues as I make my way across campus, and we talk. Also, I walk alternative routes, get to know the landscape, the distances. These semi-strategic excursions are refreshingly ordinary, far less in the vein of anthropological scrutiny (a la Marc Augé) than in slow, deep, you-are-here mapping (a la William Least Heat-Moon). Walks less motivated by ground-truthing this "rhetorical country" than in walking, being here.

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The Small Convex Kind You Stick On

Dog-eared in PrairyErth, a book I was reading last summer:

But the stories didn’t work very well for me, and I walked on, the sky dimming like my mood. Then I remembered that in the little rucksack I carry on my tramps, somewhere among the notebook and pencils, binoculars and magnifying glass, camera and canteen, field guides and raisins, was a thing I’d bought a few days earlier and still had not used: a truck side-mirror, the small convex kind you stick on. I’d recently read about an eighteenth-century traveler’s device called a Claude glass that served to condense and focus a landscape and make it apprehensible in a way direct viewing cannot. When the English poet Thomas Grey first crossed Lake Windermere, he reserved his initial view of the other side for his Claude glass by blindfolding himself on the ferry. Maybe my mirror could rearrange things and show me, so memory-ridden, what I was having trouble seeing.

I pulled out the thing and walked slowly on, watching in it the hills compress and reshape themselves into something different, and what happened was strange and invigorating: in the glass the Chase prairie somehow took on the aspect of my first views of it, and I began to feel again the enchantment of those early encounters. By looking rearward, it was as if I were looking back in time, yet I was looking at a place where left was right, a two-dimensional landscape I could see but not enter: the prospect was both real and impossible, it was there and it wasn’t, and I entered it by walking away from it. If I turned to look, it was gone, something like the reverse of the old notion that when we turn our backs the universe suddenly disappears, to reappear instantly only when we look again. If I extended the mirror far in front of me, I–or a backward image of me–joined that turned land, a dreamscape that could exist only in my palm, a place behind I could see only by looking forward: I was hiking north and traveling south. And then, stumbling along as I was, I realized that ever since I’d come down off Roniger Hill and begun walking my grids I’d been traveling much the same way, and I realized that forward or backward didn’t matter so much as did the depth of the view, a long transit at once before and behind: the extent of cherishing depends upon the amplitude of the ken. (268)

This is William Least Heat-Moon on memory and perspective-two faculties that have, more than others, given shape to my day: a productively clumsy practice interview on campus this morning, the sawing and propping of a Fraser Fir in the living room, and intermittent, melancholic jabs in remembering that my mother, had she lived past 48, would have turned 60 today. So: I could have used a Claude glass–or a truck side-mirror–deliberately to adjust my perspective at a few different points–a mirror trick to help me vanish momentarily from the Syracuse landscape, reverse directions, “rearrange things.”