Saturday, August 27, 2011

Imaginary Places: Pt 2


I had a strong desire two days ago to watch the old movie version of "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe". It was sparked by listening to a radio theatre production of the book and feeling like I was listening to the story of an actual place I had spent time.


Narnia was, and at times still is, a very real place for me. An actual experience. Produced by reading and imagining. This experience of knowing a place that does not exist felt like an inverted experience of my visit to Walden Pond: the present Walden was not the one I had known; Narnia is a place I know but a promise I will never actually see falsified because I will never be able to get there.

I've even had dreams about Narnia. About snow and a wardrobe and running from the White Witch while the snow melted. It sadly disolved into a world with parking lots at some point and I kept trying to get back but couldn't.

The love of an imaginary place is deep in my memory. From my earliest memories, many years before the ability to read, I used the book cover as a jumping point for my internal story telling. I don't understand quite why this picture so inspired me and drew me into reading, poor design it may now be considered.

Music also takes me back to this nonexistent place. he music at the beginning of this video has a strong visceral response in my gut. Lots of memories of watching it. The sounds and experiences are so deeply played in my life that they are almost sounds and experiences that belong to me. As if I have actually been there.

I know I am not alone in this. I know I am not alone in walking into closets and wondering if this time the pack of the closet won't be there. And perhaps others have had a similar experience with other places or stories. 

What is it that makes such a love for the imaginary places? What is it about art that weaves its way into the pre-memory, pre-literate heart and makes it grow? And why does it seem so right that is should be so?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Imaginary Places

The day after visiting Author's Ridge, we took a few hours and visited Walden Pond. This was the year long home of Thoreau who then wrote the book "Walden Pond". The philosophy, observations, and practices of this writer during that one year have had significant influence American writing, ideals, and self perception. I had read significant portions of "Walden" at various points in high school and in college. I had never looked up a picture or took too active a time in researching the details of that year in the woods.

Walden Pond was very different from what I had imagined. 

I am not sure I had imagined something in great detail. I could not now describe to you what I had imagined, but can tell you what surprised me.

First, it was very large. The trail around it was about 2  miles in length. I would have cut it off by the first cove we came to. My southern PA pond experiences perhaps influenced this thinking.

Second, it was anything but secluded. I know: things change in hundreds of years. This did not seem possible though while reading the book. The constant presence of highway sounds were startling. Rangers wandering in their uniforms. Families armed with beach towels and chairs an afternoon in the roped off swimming area. A large bath house. A gift shop. A fee to park in the lot up the hill from the water.

Simplify? Maybe not.

But yet this was the historical pond. And I began to question the difference between my imaginary Walden and the one that was sitting in front of me full of a open water swimmers, international tourists, and the occasional fisherman. Boston had a similar effect on me: was this the city I felt I knew from years of reading history, both in fact and story? The imaginary place had been very real to me even if I could not have told you all of its details. I would be able to tell you when it seemed to fit my expectations and my imagination.

But what is more "real"? The one I have known through reading? The one I knew through visiting? Both have an affect, shape an experience. Walden Pond, as Thoreau knew it, is no more. And yet it exists in the pages of a book.

Can the imaginary real be real as a bathhouse by Thoreau's home?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Author's Ridge


This last week(end), I visited Boston for the first time. My first official time was this last April when I competed in ballroom at MIT. This time though, I got to see more than the walk from the hotel to the competition site! My travelling companions were Sara Rhodes and Robbie Fraleigh. Our first night, we stayed with the lovely Liz Jackson (of Rice University) in Bedford, MA. This lovely town neighbors Lexington and Concord, all with lovely New England farm house-like homes everywhere, lots of trees, and lots of historical markers. I had read in a guide book that the graves of Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Alcott were in Concord but I had no realized until we drove through the town how close we would be. Then Liz said the cemetery was less than a mile down the road from her house. On our way to get ice cream, we stopped and began the search for Author's Ridge.

It was evening and still. Robbie found a picture of Emerson's grave but that was the only direction we had. It took several minutes of searching along the hilly edges until we found his grave marker: a large uncut stone. A few seconds later, we found Thoreau. Then Hawthorne. Then Alcott. The graves were easier to find once we saw how Emerson's had been treated: people had gathered small stones and piled them around the grave, as well as pine needles and cones, bits of flower and leaves, and lots of small hand written notes and pens. Some of the notes were of gratitude. Some were a little silly. One young girl left a note thanking each of the authors for existing and that she was looking forward to being older someday and reading their books.

I felt I should have brought something, but hadn't.

I think it was because I had never conceived of them as real individuals before. I had read their words and they were part of my life in a real way. Because of the intimacy and distance and reading words can cause between writer and reader, I had not imagined them with bodies and breath and life. Writing came from another place than that. But looking at their graves gave them bodies, ones that had long since become indistinguishable from the ground and pine trees that hung over them.

It made me grateful for them in a way I had not felt before. Alcott was a strong influence in my life in late elementary and middle school. The others came by forced acquaintance. Visiting them opened me to appreciate them as American authors whose shoulders I now stand upon as an American English major. If nothing else, they helped to define American writing as separate from British literature in a time when most believed they had to look and sound like the writing movements across the pond. They lived within the towns that I had passed through; had friends and enemies; cooked and ate food; they had actually lived.

We wandered through the rest of the cemetery and remarked on how old most of the headstones were. There were markers with symbols I did not understand. We came down of Author's Ridge and made our way back to the car. The sun was almost set and the place closed. Liz observed that she had never been here before even though she lives down the street. "Funny how one doesn't do things if they are really close. But I'm glad I came." "Yes," I agreed. "I feel like I'm friends with them now."
This last week(end), I visited Boston for the first time. My first official time was this last April when I competed in ballroom at MIT. This time though, I got to see more than the walk from the hotel to the competition site! My travelling companions were Sara Rhodes and Robbie Fraleigh. Our first night, we stayed with the lovely Liz Jackson (of Rice University) in Bedford, MA. This lovely town neighbors Lexington and Concord, all with lovely New England farm house-like homes everywhere, lots of trees, and lots of historical markers. I had read in a guide book that the graves of Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Alcott were in Concord but I had no realized until we drove through the town how close we would be. Then Liz said the cemetery was less than a mile down the road from her house. On our way to get ice cream, we stopped and began the search for Author's Ridge.

It was evening and still. Robbie found a picture of Emerson's grave but that was the only direction we had. It took several minutes of searching along the hilly edges until we found his grave marker: a large uncut stone. A few seconds later, we found Thoreau. Then Hawthorne. Then Alcott. The graves were easier to find once we saw how Emerson's had been treated: people had gathered small stones and piled them around the grave, as well as pine needles and cones, bits of flower and leaves, and lots of small hand written notes and pens. Some of the notes were of gratitude. Some were a little silly. One young girl left a note thanking each of the authors for existing and that she was looking forward to being older someday and reading their books.

I felt I should have brought something, but hadn't.

I think it was because I had never conceived of them as real individuals before. I had read their words and they were part of my life in a real way. Because of the intimacy and distance and reading words can cause between writer and reader, I had not imagined them with bodies and breath and life. Writing came from another place than that. But looking at their graves gave them bodies, ones that had long since become indistinguishable from the ground and pine trees that hung over them.

It made me grateful for them in a way I had not felt before. Alcott was a strong influence in my life in late elementary and middle school. The others came by forced acquaintance. Visiting them opened me to appreciate them as American authors whose shoulders I now stand upon as an American English major. If nothing else, they helped to define American writing as separate from British literature in a time when most believed they had to look and sound like the writing movements across the pond. They lived within the towns that I had passed through; had friends and enemies; cooked and ate food; they had actually lived.

We wandered through the rest of the cemetery and remarked on how old most of the headstones were. There were markers with symbols I did not understand. We came down of Author's Ridge and made our way back to the car. The sun was almost set and the place closed. Liz observed that she had never been here before even though she lives down the street. "Funny how one doesn't do things if they are really close. But I'm glad I came." "Yes," I agreed. "I feel like I'm friends with them now."


Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Moving

Last night was my first night in Whimsy Cottage [aka Whim Cotty], my home for the coming year. It was strange to have moved just a few streets away from Patty's Place. As small and homogenous as State College can be, living here for four years (starting my fifth!) has revealed some of the nuances of residence cultures and economic structures. And let me tell you: S Barnard is a different beast altogether than the corner of W Foster and Sparks. Whim Cotty is on what I can only describe as a partying street, though perhaps not quite as intense as what I've seen happen on N Barnard. My house has been the exception to the rule: a two story, yellow stone house with a white picket fence and a maple tree, it seems to have drawn a quieter crowd than the apartment buildings and old duplexes that make up the rest of the street. This year is no exception. Patty's Place was very different. It had a larger yard and lived on the border street between student housing, smaller houses, and the lovely well groomed yards and homes of professors. It was very quiet. Whim Cotty is a small plot of quiet in a busy street. It is also a change in sleep for me: this is the first time since we moved from Georgia when I was nine that I will have a room on the ground floor and this time with a fireplace!

Oh and the desk has found a new home facing the window that looks out on the walkers of Barnard street, all likely headed to campus.  It'll be fun to have people to watch!