A Dream

In visions of the dark night

   I have dreamed of joy departed –

But a waking dream of life and light

   Hath left me broken-hearted.


Ah!  what is not a dream by day

   To him whose eyes are cast

On things around him with a ray

   Turned back upon the past?


That holy dream – that holy dream,

   While all the world were chiding,

Hath cheered me as a lovely beam

   A lonely spirit guiding.


What though that light, thro’ storm and night,

   So trembled from afar –

What could there be more purely bright

   In Truth’s day star?


~ Edgar Allan Poe, born on this day in 1809


“The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of” by John Anster Fitzgerald, 1858

Good Hours

I had for my winter evening walk –

No one at all with whom to talk,

But I had the cottages in a row

Up to their shining eyes in snow.


And I thought I had the folk within:

I had the sound of a violin;

I had a glimpse through curtain laces

Of youthful forms and youthful faces.


I had such company outward bound.

I went till there were no cottages found.

I turned and repented, but coming back

I saw no window but that was black.


Over the snow my creaking feet

Disturbed the slumbering village street

Like profanation, by your leave,

At ten o’clock of a winter eve.


              ~ Robert Frost


“Winter Evening in Maloyaroslavets” by Evgeny Mikhailovich Pozdniakov, 1958 (Иванов С.В., source/photographer)

My Janus Year

I have never been more delighted to greet the month of January.  While I’m always hospitable to the New Year and eager to take stock of the progress I’ve made on goals and aspirations during the previous twelve months, I practically threw Father Time out the door and slammed it shut in his surprised wrinkled face on New Year’s Eve.  I’m sorry—and I do hate to seem ungrateful—but 2017 was hard.  It started with such anticipation last January with the news of my acceptance into Claremont Graduate University’s Ph.D. in English program.  Shortly thereafter, my decision to sell my beloved purple house in a wooded suburb to move closer to campus in an area completely foreign to me also worked out just as I had (naively) hoped.  I had to move, I reasoned; the commute would simply be impossible, given my intricate work and class schedules.  Alas, that’s when the wheels came off.  From about March forward, my year can be summed up in one clichéd adage: Be careful what you wish for.

By January 16, I had found a new speculative house with space at last for a library and garden—all one needs, I’m told.  My new community was far from my then current one of sixteen years, but it was only fifteen minutes from CGU and still within reasonable proximity to my work office.  I had trepidations about moving, to be sure, but one semester of driving ninety minutes to two hours one way to class validated my decision.  I started packing.

I am known for my detailed and exhaustive planning.  Admittedly, I plan to a fault, leaving little if nothing to chance.  Every step of my relocation was choreographed, from the number of boxes I would need to how the closet spaces would be designated.  I practically lived in the model of my new house on weekends, measuring every wall and niche of the floor plan to determine what would go where and marked my two hundred or so boxes (half of which were filled with books, graded papers, novel research, and other weighty treasures I foolishly wouldn’t entrust to the movers) accordingly.  I scheduled the movers and all the conceivable installations: appliances, closet organizers, window treatments, intruder alarm, cable, internet, and The Mirror.  I engaged new landscapers and window cleaners and Christmas light hangers.  I changed the address on all my subscriptions and even thought to order new checks and return address labels.

But something went terribly awry between the planning of this major transition and its execution.  In fact, several somethings went awry.  Let it suffice that most of my organizing was wasted.  As nothing went according to plan, I had to be flexible and nimble and accepting of imperfection, traits that have served me well professionally but have been wholly absent in my personal endeavors.  I had to find comfort in the dark isolation of an unfamiliar and largely uninhabited neighborhood, sans backordered window coverings for two months.  I had to develop creative ways to resolve conflicts—and there were countless of them—as I learned to navigate a devolved and unconscientious pervasive customer service philosophy, not to mention an endless heap of boxes.

The physical and mental work of it all took a toll on me.  By summer’s end, my psyche had been damaged by disappointment and chaos and battle.  Call it textbook homesickness or a partial identity crisis, but I had difficulty relating to my new surroundings.  Had I given any thought to the human aspects of personal upheaval, I could have anticipated much of what went wrong.  But I was so focused on the minutiae, I failed to look after my affective needs.  Like the blind skater in Ice Castles who was focused on the size of the rink and nailing her long program, I forgot about the human response.  I forgot about the flowers.  And I fell hard.

For the nester, home is where you regroup, recharge, and find your center.  For most of 2017, my home was my greatest source of stress and instability.  I lived out of boxes and suitcases and began each day with subcontractors traipsing through the house.  I reminded myself constantly that my efforts and seeming lapse in judgment had a purpose and would prevail in the end.  I looked ahead to the fall semester and my classes and could only hope that my academic activities would help me make sense of it and feel “home” again.

In my 2016 New Year post, I examined the notion of unfulfilled purpose:

Before beginning any endeavor, there is a dream, desire, or calling.  Then there is the evaluation stage; this is when feasibility and cost-benefit correlations are assessed.  (Many of my aspirations are dashed at this point, once I realize the impracticality of, say, climbing Mount Everest or buying a castle in Edinburgh.)  Lastly, at least for me, there is a critical alignment phase, during which I have to decide if the pursuit is consistent with my core values and believed purpose and is, beyond a good, long, sometimes painful stretch, still within reach.  Because, at the end of the day, nothing turns a dream into a nightmare faster than inner conflict, an incongruous or unintended outcome, or impossibility.


In “Little Gidding” (the fourth and final poem in Four Quartets), T. S. Eliot writes of endings as beginnings and of routes that start from the place to which you just came.  It conveys exactly how I felt then and now, surveying my piles and plans and recalling that I had embarked on previous journeys from much the same cluttered and overwhelming point.

When you leave the rough road

And turn behind the pigsty to the dull façade

And the tombstone.  And what you thought you came for

Is only a shell, a husk of meaning

From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled

If at all.  Either you had no purpose

Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured

And is altered in fulfillment.


Somehow, I managed to flourish in my first year at CGU, despite the turmoil of my home life.  I relished every moment on campus (smiling smugly on the short drive to and from), made important and rewarding connections, and researched and wrote a multitude of new papers—several of which have been accepted for print publication.  This spring, I will be immersed in Shakespeare and cognitive neuroscience theories and beginning Latin.  I’ll be co-editing The Concise Oxford Companion to American Literature and submitting papers to various journals and conferences.  Oh, and did I mention I completed my library?  It’s right off my office at the top of the stairs in my new house…home.

In ancient Roman religion and myth, Janus, the god of transitions and journeys, presided over the beginning and ending of conflict.  He is usually portrayed with two faces, one looking toward the future and the other turned to the past.  As this new year commences, I’m determined to look only forward now, leaving the conflict and rough road of 2017 behind and focusing solely on its purpose.

Welcome, 2018!


All Nashville is a chill.  And everywhere

Like desert sand, when the winds blow,

There is each moment sifted through the air,

A powdered blast of January snow.

O! thoughtless Dandelion, to be misled

By a few warm days to leave thy natural bed,

Was folly growth and blooming over soon.

And yet, thou blasted yellow-coated gem,

Full many a heart has but a common boon

With thee, now freezing on thy slender stem.

When the heart has bloomed by the touch of love’s warm breath

Then left and chilling snow is sifted in,

It still may beat but there is blast and death

To all that blooming life that might have been.


                              ~ George Marion McClellan



With what stillness at last

you appear in the valley

your first sunlight reaching down

to touch the tips of a few

high leaves that do not stir

as though they had not noticed

and did not know you at all

then the voice of a dove calls

from far away in itself

to the hush of the morning


so this is the sound of you

here and now whether or not

anyone hears it this is

where we have come with our age

our knowledge such as it is

and our hopes such as they are

invisible before us

untouched and still possible



~ W. S. Merwin


“A Dream of a Girl Before a Sunrise” by Karl Briullov (1830-1833)

December 31st

All my undone actions wander

naked across the calendar,


a band of skinny hunter-gatherers,

blown snow scattered here and there,


stumbling toward a future

folded in the New Year I secure


with a pushpin: January’s picture

a painting from the 17th century,


a still life: Skull and mirror,

spilled coin purse and a flower.


~ Richard Hoffman


“Self-Portrait with Vanitas Symbols” by David Bailly, 1651

Year’s End

Now the seasons are closing their files

on each of us, the heavy drawers

full of certificates rolling back

into the tree trunks, a few old papers

flocking away.  Someone we loved

has fallen from our thoughts,

making a little, glittering splash

like a bicycle pushed by a breeze.

Otherwise, not much has happened;

we fell in love again, finding

that one red feather on the wind.


~ Ted Kooser


Poul Friis Nybo, 1929

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