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Monday, July 30, 2012

Post #14: A Special Weekend

Hey Folks! It's Monday, July 30th, and we've officially begun Week 6 of Bread Loaf, the last full week for all non-seniors. Week 6 is notable for two things: 1) It's the debut of the summer play, which is Hamlet and 2) It's the week after Suppressed Desires. In other words this is the week where everyone cleans up the mess, both the visible ones and the harder-to-scrub invisible ones.

So much happened over the weekend, it's difficult to decide where to begin. For one, as you know, I had a Special Visitor. Having a Special Visitor carries with it certain obligations. One might call these obligations, "labors of love." The history books are littered with menfolk going to great lengths to please their Special Visitors. Would the Pyramids of Giza have been built were not for the Pharaohs trying to impress their Special Visitors? Methinks not. I am no different, folks. For instance, when the Special Visitor mentioned--weeks ago mind you--that she liked men with beards I put away the clippers.
John Walker Lindh beards: catnip for ladies who love English Nerds. 

When the Special Visitor said she wanted to peruse a groovy gift shop while stopping for lunch in the small hippie mountain town of Bristol, Vermont, I obliged. What the heck, right? And when the groovy and well-toned shopkeeper mentioned showed us a flier for something called The Gathering of Elders, complete with multicultural disembodied heads against a background of outer space, the Special Visitor said, "Hey, that sounds cool, let's go visit!" So we visited.

And that's how I, along with my Special Visitor, found myself in the middle of something called an Arbor Circle, a Stonehenge-like structure made of trees, with dozens of hippies of all ages, sizes, and colors, dancing around a sacred Native American fire. Not sure how that happened, folks. Perhaps it's because I was "smudged." That's right, a prerequisite to enter the circle was being "smudged," which meant being fumigated by a man named Brian who wielded a bowl of incense that smelled highly unusual. The Special Visitor said it was Sage. I say it was Peyote.  Regardless, I was smudged up beyond belief.  I won't tell you too much more since it doesn't pertain to English Nerds or Bread Loaf, but I will say that we re-enacted, through interpretive dance, the Big Bang, the beginning of the solar system, and the collision of the four basic elements of earth, air, water, and fire. For the record, I was earth and the Special Visitor was water. And then we sang a Native American hymn.

Following two women whose names I imagine are something PineMother and SoaringEagle into the Arbor Circle.

Luckily, once we returned from the astral plane, the Special Visitor and I made it back to campus on Saturday for the big dance.

To conclude today's post,  I thought I'd share a few self-selected winners from the Suppressed Desires Dance.

Most Nearly Unibrowed Nerd

Most Clever Nerd. Get it? Suppressed Desires=Hidden Drive?

Most Troubling Nerd: Matt, the director's assistant, as Oedipus Rex. This poor guy pours the beers for raging nerds at every single Barn dance but is not allowed a single drop himself. His ode to Oedipus Rex was well done, certainly, but when asked what his suppressed desire was Matt responded, cryptically, (problematically?), that it was the Oedipus Complex itself. What does that mean?

Most Best costume Nerd. Matty V., as Borat. He make nice impression character good. 
Most Scorned Nerd: Lindsay C., the co-headwaiter for Bread Loaf. Here Lindsay is dressed as Miss Effie. Lindsey, offended by the prevailing ignorance of her costume, indignantly informed people that Miss Effie is a character from The Hunger Games. A character we found out, who has about 6 seconds of screen time in the film. After Lindsay did not win the best costume of the night she showed her contempt for the contest by shedding her costume in favor of a bikini. That'll show 'em! 
Most Obscure But Cheerful Nerd: This young lady came dressed as Scout Finch from a scene in To Kill a Mockingbird when Scout dressed as Ham for the school play. Or something like that. By this time in the evening it was difficult to pay attention to things like Nerds who dress up fictional characters dressed as food products. 

This the tub in the men's bathroom on the second floor of the Inn. Until this weekend, this tub has been spotless, mostly because there isn't one man I know who bathes in a tub. When we woke up on the morning after Suppressed Desires, this is what we found, the evidence of someone gone off the rails and into the woods. 

And for today's installment of Edward Insults Me: recently, Edward and I were talking about how fellow Maven Gene, a connoisseur of culture, will someday likely become a well-known and very influential taste-maker. Edward said, "We'll be able to say, 'Hey, remember when Gene liked us?'" Then he thought for a second and continued. "Well, you won't be able to say that. You'll have to say, 'Hey, remember when Gene worked with me.' Sorry, slick." 

Christian Patrick Clarke
Front Desk Novitiate, 2012
Hic et Ubique

Friday, July 27, 2012

Post #13: Suppressed Desires!

Hey Folks!

It's Friday, July 27, and that means of several things. First off it means that yours truly has a special visitor this weekend. Which is awesome, but let's just say that this special visitor has given me a strict time limit to produce today's post because this special visitor drove several hours and hundreds of miles to see me and this is not how this special visitor wants to spend a few days away from the city.

A special visitor, huh? Who is it?  oh, let me guess, is it...Satan? 

Today is also the last day of Hell Week. Which means tomorrow night is the yearly summer bacchanal known as the Suppressed Desires Dance, a tradition dating back at least 2,000 years, around the birth of the founder of Bread Loaf, Mr. Miyagi.

The First Suppressed Desires Dance, circa 67 AM (Anno Miyagio). 
The unofficial, unstated rules for this particular masquerade are that one comes dressed as one's suppressed desire. This is no mere costume party. A costume party is where normal men and women dress up as firemen and french maids to behave in ways they usually shun as naughty or reckless. A Masquerade is where stuffy aristocrats with funny accents wear tuxedos and gowns and hold up masks--masques--to disguise their hideous faces so they can have sex once a year.  A Suppressed Desires Dance is when English Nerds decorate a huge yellow barn and compete with each other over who can come up with the most wildly clever costumes in the history of mankind. 

Royal Nerd. 

Now, in years past, there are have been numerous examples of stunning costumes, too many to list in one mere blog post (also, I'm running out of the time allotted to me by my special visitor.)

I'm almost finished, I swear!
Typically the English Nerds will select costume ideas fall under a few broad categories. Many people go for the clever play-on-words costume, like Renee L. who was dressed in a Freudian Slip, or Melissa R. who came as a "One Night Stand," complete with body-hugging table and lampshade. Probably the coolest literary pun costume was worn by Christian G., who not only decorated the barn one summer (theme: brothel. Talk about literary!), but also arrived as The God of Boxus (Bacchus), which featured a Franzia wine-dispensing breast box.  Finally, there's the category of Dang-That's-Just-Freakin-Brilliant. One year Jim S. came dressed as a fully operational Photo Booth, complete with a working Polaroid camera. Loafers could step "inside" Jim and have their picture taken. (I'd show you the pictures taken that night but most of them came out blurry and the ones that came out well are not appropriate for a family friendly blog.) But the grandest costume of all, the one that tied in humor, creativity, and a genuine Suppressed Desire belongs to Andy P. One summer Andy and his housemates had so much fun hanging out on the porch of the Annex house that the then-director of Bread Loaf intervened. The director wrote Andy and his mates a polite but stern letter regarding their Annex porch festivities. Andy's response was to transform himself into his beloved Annex porch for Suppressed Desires. 

The Letter. 
The Buddha once said: You can take the man off the porch,
but you can't take the porch off the man. 

As for the Front Desk Mavens, attending the Suppressed Desires Dance isn't so simple. Maven Gene has yet to reveal his costume. Maven Overlords Edward, Victoria, Peter, and MacNair usually attend the dance for the sheer fun of seeing the costumes rather than dressing up themselves. As for me, well, I'm constitutionally allergic to costume parties for a simple reason. One Saturday morning in 1986 in the small town of Sherman, Illinois (pop. 1400) where I grew up, my mother, The Original Maven, heard me impersonating the twisted laugh of Pee Wee Herman. Realizing that the 9 year-old version of me resembled Pee Wee flipped a switch in Ma Clarke's brain and she instantly become a small-town Hollywood Mom. She entered me in that year's best costume contest at our local neighborhood Halloween block party. Tragically, I won. For there on, for four straight Halloweens, from 1987-1990, I dressed as Pee Wee Herman in order to defend my title. And I always had to do the laugh and say, "Hey, Cherry," in the voice. Luckily, all that changed in July, 1991 when Pee Wee got caught touching his pee pee in public. I have shunned costumed parties ever since.

No, mom, not again! I'm 34 years old. 

And so, tomorrow evening, the English Nerds will finally have their due. They will get out of their heads for one evening and into their Masques and cut loose. I will be there to enjoy the evening's festooned festivities from a comfortable distance. But I will have my camera ready...

And now for today's installment of Edward Insults Me: On Wednesday night, the special visitor joined one of the teams for trivia night. The next day at work one the special visitors' teammates, named Liz, approached the Front Desk. Liz let me know it was really nice meeting my special visitor. "She's really smart," she said, adding, "She pretty much got most of our correct answers." Edward, overheading this, chimed in. "Look, let's get real, here, Liz. If she's dating Christian Clarke, she just ain't that smart."

Christian Patrick Clarke
Front Desk Novitiate, 2012
Hic et Ubique 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Post #12: The Mid-Point Malaise

Hey Folks!

It's Wednesday, July 25th, which means we have hit the half-way mark of Hell Week, otherwise known as the Midpoint Malaise. The Midpoint Malaise is that painful stretch of time when Loafers are drowning in essays, finishing essays, or turning in essays. Often the Loafers are beset by other concerns that compound their essay-writing woes: they are tired of the food, or fighting off sickness, or missing their off-Mountain lives. And while a fair number of Bread Loafers carry on, availing themselves of Fun(!), the signs of the Midpoint Malaise are everywhere.

Paper? What paper? I scoff at thee.

Sign #1 of the Midpoint Malaise: ominous, gloomy, weather. The nights are cold and rainy, the days are the epitome of unpredictability--torrential downpour one moment, blindingly sunny the next. Sometimes both phenomenon occurring simultaneously, which is a real goocher. The point is, for the Bread Loafer, they never know when their sunshine might be vanquished, and with it, their joy.

A Real Goocher.

Now, the rest of America may not make much of the gods' meteorological hijinks, but the English Nerd is different, folks. They are trained to see the weather as a symbol of their inner lives. They see their Midpoint Malaise reflected in the grey heavens above and the soggy landscape below. That's me, they murmur, standing on the Inn porch, overlooking the southern meadow, gazing upon the falling rain, as a single tear glides down their cheek.

No one understands what it's like to care about penis imagery in Proust.

As for the Front Desk Mavens, we are busy playing our part in the term-paper economy of Hell Week, the academic business cycle of essays. First, students seek out MacNair, looking for comfort after Edward has told them to burn their essays in the nearest fireplace. Somehow, they push forward and finish the essay. Soon, they approach the Front Desk, looking hopeful, hand us their essays to turn into their professors, and walk away.  Edward looks at the essay titles, reads a few lines, shakes his head, chuckles, walks four feet to other side of the office, and puts them in professors' mailboxes, from which they are often retrieved in a matter of hours. Next day or so, professors show up to the Front Desk, looking grim, return the essays, and walk away. Edward takes them, checks the grades, shakes his head, chuckles, walks four feet to the other side of the office, and puts them in the students' mailboxes. Shortly after, we listen for the inevitable gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. Then MacNair comforts them. Cycle complete.

Maven Overlord Edward refuses to accept an essay from one Bread Loafer that interprets Paradise Lost as an allegory for being dumped by Clair McCaskill back in the 11th grade.   

To comfort you, Maven MacNair will knit you a beautiful wool sweater. It might take her 22 years to complete, like this one did, (seriously, no joke, it did), but as you can see, it's well worth it.
Sometimes, in the event of receiving anything less than an A-, it's necessary to bring in a higher authority. 

But as we round the corner on Hell Week, there is hope, oh yes, indeed, there is. For you see, folks, bubbling below the surface of the Midpoint Malaise are the fevered dreams of the Bread Loafer, dreams of the carnal delights they hope await them Saturday night at the Suppressed Desires Dance. The Loafers minds are like stainless steel Cuisinarts of Desire, as gaudy images of cleverly costumed Nerds dancing in a Nerd frenzy percolate at a low boil, goading them on, prodding them forward, urging them towards the finish line, the mountain top, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Yes, yes, yes

The vehicle of desire, circa 1963.

Christian Patrick Clarke
Front Desk Novititate, 2012
Hic et Ubique

And now for today's installment of Edward Insults Me: during a recent conversation, I complained about not having a car to drive off the Mountain and back. Edward replied, not ungenerously, "Listen, slick, I'll give you a ride back up the Mountain." My face brightened as he continued. "I prefer not to, but I will, because I know that if I don't someone will. Probably the cops."

Monday, July 23, 2012

Post #11: Hell Week

Hey Folks!

It's Monday, July 22, and you know what that means: we have officially launched Week 5 of Bread Loaf, often referred to by experts (me) as "Hell Week." Week 5 is termed Hell Week for several reasons, but chief among them is the allusion to the last week of the Navy Seals' basic training when aspiring soldiers are pushed to the limit of human endurance. Often the soldiers are forced to hike hundreds of miles in harsh terrain, on little or no sleep, while lugging cumbersome battle gear, knowing full well that failure to complete the course will eliminate any chance of becoming a Seal.

If you boys let go of this log, which may or may not be a phallic symbol, the terrorists will win, damn it. 
For Bread Loafers, the tests of Hell Week are equally grueling, the punishment equally severe. Hell Week is a veritable existential nightmare filled with sleepless nights and long hours spent in the library plumbing the depths of Milton, Shakespeare, and Chaucer, hoping against hope to say something original. In 10 pages or more. Often in the wee hours of the night one will hear maniacal laughter bellowing from the bowels of the Davison Library. That laughter is the surest and saddest sign that the English Nerd has thoroughly cracked. Usually from staring at a blank computer screen for one too many hours. Hell Week is not for the faint of heart, folks.                              

"Say something new about Hamlet. I dare you." 

And should the English Nerd fail, the punishment is harsh and terrible. The consequence for the soldier who cannot complete Hell Week is merely the crushing disappointment of not being accepted into the ranks of the Navy Seals. The punishment for the English Nerd who fails is something beyond all evil, beyond all malignancy: a grade of B-. I shudder to write those words, folks. Somewhere a fairy elf just lost her wings.

We're not sure this English Nerd survived his grade.

It is at this point that the role of the Front Desk Maven begins to shift. During Hell Week the Maven becomes sounding board, tutor and counselor. Bread Loafers desperate to find their way out of their own intellectual abyss will humbly petition the Mavens to listen to excerpts of their writing. Maven Overlord Edward Brown's "advice" will often be to "start over." In response, the English Nerd will  begin what trauma experts call "crying." Finally, the Mavens are on hand to remind English Nerds in the throes of essay-writing lunacy to remember basic things in life like the location of the cafeteria. And pants.

Maybe Edward is right; maybe my writing would benefit from total incineration. 
Interestingly enough, at the conclusion of Hell Week, on Saturday night, just when the typical Bread Loafer is at wits end, thoroughly exhausted, and on the point of sheer spiritual collapse, it's time for the Suppressed Desires Dance. I won't say too much about this revered and hallowed annual event, but remember that Zion Rave scene from the second Matrix movie where there thousands of semi-clad bodies are writhing ecstatically to the pulsating rhythms of the music? It's sort of like that, just subtract underground freedom fighters and insert sexually pent-up Nerds.

Her: I loved what you said about temporality in Swan's Way. Him: Hold me.

And so, folks, let Hell Week begin.
And may the Loafers rise to the occasion.
Semper Fi, English Nerds, Semper Fi.

Christian Patrick Clark
Front Desk Novitiate, 2012
Hic et Ubique

And now for today's installment of Edward Insults Me: recently, during a conversation with fellow Mavens I expressed disappointment that I would not be working during the upcoming Writer's Conference, when dozens of world class novelists and poets will be filling up the Inn. I even offered to work for free. Edward smirked and said, "What are are you going to do, stand around and act creepy?" He then walked away before turning around and adding, "By the way, there wouldn't be much acting involved with that."

Friday, July 20, 2012

Post #10: The English Nerd Blues: or, a Frost in Summer

Hey Folks! It's Friday, July 20th, which means we're coming to the end of the Week Four Shift.

At the end of the Week Four Shift another phenomenon tends to occur: the English Nerd blues. As difficult it is to believe, life on the Mountain is not immune to the summertime blues. English Nerds get lonely too. They miss their friends and family. They miss their sweethearts, too. You think that just because someone likes reading books and writing about them and then sitting in a meadow to watch the sun drift leisurely behind a stunning mountain-kissed landscaped means they don't have feelings? Pishaw.  

The English Nerd Blues are serious business, mister. You see  it all the time on campus. Overworked men and women dressed in rags, the concept of personal hygiene long forgotten, shuffling around in a daze after dinner, hunched under the weight of an overstuffed backpack mumbling to themselves with sarcastic joy, "Gotta read my Chaucer, Oh boy! Gotta Chaucer read my Chaucer, yay! Can't wait."   

Oh, there's a three-hour lecture that goes until 10 pm? On Proust? Awesome. 

Truth be told there's only one cure for the English Nerd Blues: a nice long walk down west Rt. 125. Or as I like to call it, "The Road Sparsely Travelled." That's an allusion, folks. English Nerds eat that stuff for breakfast up here. They're like Allusion Ninjas. Heck, one spotted it before I wrote it.

Our destination is Homer Noble Farm. "What's Homer Noble farm?" you ask. Homer Noble is the name of the kindly farmer who gave Robert Frost total use of his backwoods cabin, free of charge, to use as his personal one-man writer colony. In return, Robert Frost religiously slept with Homer Noble's wife. Quid pro quo, Clarice. 

The important thing is not to dwell on Robert Frost's moral failings. The point is that walking to his den of sin in the woods is a great way for overworked English Nerds to let off steam before they take some poor library hostage. 

Give me the Chaucer, and nobody gets hurt.
As you foot it down Rt. 125 be mindful of your surroundings.  There are many wonderful things to see along the way to the Frost Cabin. 

For instance: This tiny cabin, which is not the Frost Cabin, is nestled just off the shoulder of Rt. 125, not far from the Inn. Local legend says this is where the famous Ripton Troll is supposed to reside. Or as he's known to Bread Loafers: Edward Brown. Rim shot, please. 

Moose are everywhere along Rt. 125. Moose are crepuscular, which means they only emerge at dusk or dawn. Or it might mean they suffer from terrible acne. I can't remember. 

Locals say it's rare that anyone or anything survives on a head-on collision with a moose. The location of this cemetery opposite of the Moose Crossing sign doesn't bode well either. At least the fallen Moose  served their country with dignity and honor. 

After a mile or so of walking westward down Rt. 125, you will come to the road that leads to the Robert Frost Cabin. For all you literature lovers out there, know that the path is suitably unpaved, so when you walk you feel as if you are taking the road less travelled.

If you stand in the middle of this road  and say out loud in a poetic manner: "Whose woods these are I know..." the disembodied voice of Robert Frost will whisper in your ear, "mine, bitch."  

The Farmhouse where Homer Noble lived, and the path that behind the house that leads up to the cabin.

Be prepared!

The path to the cabin isn't long but bring bug spray. Don't forget. Use it. The bugs are vicious. I don't like to sound preachy but in 1983, Bread Loafer Carl Weathershack tried to walk the 50 feet to the cabin without using bug spray. Tragically, he never made it. The mosquitoes picked him clean. The bones were left as a warning.

And the cabin itself! This is where Robert Frost schemed his next conquest of Mrs. Noble and then wrote poems about being good neighbors.

The actual Frost Cabin.

As you can plainly see, the cabin is locked because  68% of all people who visit are English Nerds who turn psychotic whenever in the presence of Robert Frost paraphernalia. Luckily, as a Front Desk Maven, and as someone who holds a sterling reputation for responsible, level-headed behavior, I was allowed special access to the cabin. I'm happy to report folks, that, eventually after the proper authorities were consulted, everything turned out juuust fine. 

The parlor. 
The Library. 

The Stove. Boiling Water. For those Frosty nights.  On a roll, today. 
The Foreman Grill.

The Boudoir. 

Literary history: where Frost did some of his best work.
Sorry, that was just cheap. I couldn't help it. I'm better than that.  Right?  

And this is the man who told me about Robert Frost's adulterous ways.  
In his words, "When Homer Noble went to plow his fields, Robert Frost when to plow his wife." 
He is a literature professor with a beard and glasses which means two  a) you have to believe everything he says because b) he's an Alpha Kung Fu Nerd Master. He just chopped your nuts off with his brain.  

And that's the walk to the Frost Cabin. So the next time you find yourself on a Mountain in Vermont reading one too many Victorian novels, or having one too many late nights, or seeing too many familiar faces eating the same food day in and day out, don't fret. Don't let the English Nerd blues get you down. Take a deep breath and head down the road sparsely traveled. It'll do you some good. 

Christian Patrick Clarke
Front Desk Novitiate, 2012
Hic et Ubique 

And for today's installment of Edward Insults Me: Recently,  Edward was discussing  a poem about death by Ted Kooser. I remarked that I'd prefer to die in my sleep. Before I could finish my thought, Edward interjected, "Okay." Okay what, I asked. "Okay, I'll do it tonight for you, it's not hard."