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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Post #18: The Final Dispatch

Hey Folks! It's Wednesday, August 8th and you know what that means. It's officially the last day of classes for the summer session of Bread Loaf.  Last night there was a nifty slideshow held in the Barn and afterwards the last of the Loafers headed up to Gilmore for one more summer shindig. The Mavens elected to remain closer to home, hunkered down in the front lobby of Inn, far from the remote hilltop glory that is Gilmore, but even from that distance we could easily hear the occasional happy roar cascade down the mountain. And this morning, you could hardly get through breakfast because of the rampant hugging of friends and the saying of goodbyes and the wiping away of the tears.  And now, if you hang around the Inn, you can hear the clang of car trunks slamming, and the hum of engines turning over, and the crunch of gravel spewing from under tires as they pull away. Heading Off the Mountain. Trading one life for another.

And seeing how this the last entry of Dispatches, I really wanted to get it right, folks. I wanted to deliver a doozy, a real humdinger of Dispatch. So I sat and thought of all things I could write to put a bow on the end of a fine Bread Loaf summer. I wanted to somehow write about all things that made for a good summer but maybe not a great blog. But then I didn't or couldn't figure out how to honor those things without it seeming contrived or trite. 

For instance, I wanted to tell you about what it was like to have breakfast every morning with good company, folks like Maven MacNair and David Huddle and Master Will; the kind of company where you can say a lot or say a little, but it's always comfortable and never forced.  

I was going to tell you about how it wasn't so bad working because it never felt like toil, even during those long slow stretches behind the front desk when no one came by the window for what seemed like eternity. I was going to say those were some of the best days being a Maven because on those days you could shoot the bull with Maven Gene about the most overlooked Zeppelin album or how Jay-Z is the hip-hop Jay Gatsby; or you could get into a much-needed chat about relationships with Maven MacNair or have fun impersonating Nicholas Cage; or perhaps you could get Maven Peter started--if you were lucky--on the elusive nature of good Haiku; and, thankfully, on some days the Writing Doctor, Maven Edward, would barge into to the room at just the right moment to let you know exactly how you could cure your writing blues. Which usually boiled down to "stop whining, shut the hell up, and keep writing." He's a good doctor.  

I was going to tell you how surprising it felt to discover it's not too late to make damn good friends.

And try as I might, I could never find the right words to paint you a picture of kicking back in the weathered Adirondack chairs after work watching the sun go down behind the mountains while Gene told me he never understood the lyric about purple mountain majesties until he came to Vermont. Neither could I get it out about how good it was having the occasional smoke with Maven MacNair while she pointed out the way sunlight played on something botanical nearby. 

I was going to tell you about how much fun I had writing these Dispatches even if I never did learn who was reading them in Russia and Ecuador (there's still time, guys). I had so much fun that I can't imagine never doing this again.  So maybe this isn't goodbye after all. Maybe it's more like, "See ya' later." 

I was going to say all these things but I didn't because how do you write those things down without being embarrassed? Without feeling like a Cliche Machine? Besides, I could hear Haiku Maven Peter say our best writing is found in the silences. I could hear the Blog Doctor chide me for trying to be "artistic."  And I didn't want to risk the possibility of making Maven MacNair sad because she has enough of that in her life.  So I didn't go in that direction. Scrapped my plans. Decided to not say those things. Instead, I figured why not go back to the headwaters, back to the original Bread Loafer himself, good ol' Bobby Frost, and let him have the last word? Seemed like the right thing to do. So here it is:

Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

Looking down Rt. 125, a few steps from the Inn.   

Thank you.
Christian Patrick Clarke
Front Desk Novitiate, 2012
Hic et Ubique

You didn't think I'd let you get out of here without one more insult, did you? Here it is. A while back the Mavens were eating lunch behind the desk. No one is speaking. Then Edward lets out a grunt. "She digs me. Hard." We look over to see who's digging Edward hard and see he's reading a People magazine article about Katie Holmes. I laugh and ask Edward what he thinks about Tom Cruise. He says, without skipping a beat,  "He--like you--is a complete fruitcake. And what she doesn't understand--unlike me--is that it's not all cake in life; sometimes, slick, you got deal with the nuts and the fruit, too." And then he finished reading the article.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Post #17: The Final Week

Hey folks, it's Monday, August 6th, which means we have officially begun the final, truncated week of the Bread Loaf School of English for the summer of 2012. (That's a mouthful. I need a nap now.) It's also the last week of Dispatches from the Mountain. Only one more entry remains after today's. Please stop cheering. But also permit me two indulgences. 1) This post is wicked long (that's what she...nevermind), and 2) I've included a brief, one-question survey at the end to help me clear up a long-standing mystery about Who You Are.

But before we discuss the Final Week, I think I should tell you about this past weekend. It was a doozy, folks, a real humdinger filled with Hamlets, stormy weather, moonlight swims in mountain lakes, and a massive power outage on Sunday night. The power outage happened at a particularly inopportune moment for the Loafers, as many were in the midst of frantically writing their final papers. The outage left the power-deprived Nerds with nothing to do except wander helplessly into the front lobby of the lantern-lit Inn where they huddled together to form what Edward aptly termed a [Nerd] "refugee camp." There they played games long into the night while the Mavens looked on in bemusement. The Nerd Refugee Camp inspired Fellow Maven MacNair to proclaim, "Isn't this wonderful! I hope it lasts for the next four days!" I agreed. We turned back the clock. We experienced a childlike innocence for one lucky night. With beer and whiskey, of course. 

Fellow Mavens Peter and Victoria entering the Little Theater for Friday Night's Hamlet: Don't Fear the Reaper.  

 Blurry Nerds, a painting by Van Gogh.
Postmodern Prometheus: Maven Overlord Victoria springing into action, bringing artificial light unto the Nerds.
Last summer, I leapt off an outrcropping of rock into a pool of water called the Warren Falls. It was a moment facing true fear. This summer, the moment of fear was taking a moonlit swim in a mountain lake. Moonlight swim sounds harmless to you, but you are not in therapy. Pictured here: Half-naked Nerds on Rocks. Not pictured: my fear of water snakes, stirrings of love for Mother Nature, and longing for my Special Visitor, whose absence was deeply felt. Too much?

On to the Final Week. The Final Week ends early, on Wednesday, but there are still a few bits of business that need to be attended to. There's the final Karoake night, of course, when Bread Loafers stream down off the Mountain in droves to lay siege to the local tavern, Two Brothers. That's tonight. Then there's the final Gilmore bash tomorrow evening, which promises to be the picture of class and restraint, save for the planned Drunken Nerd Mud Wrestling competition. And finally for the Final Week, there is the small matter of settling the Bread Loaf Bocce Ball tournament. Second only to March Madness in terms of popularity, the Bocce Ball Final Four wraps up over the next two days. And guess who's playing today for the right to compete in the championship game? That's right, Fellow Maven Gene and yours truly, otherwise known as the MacNair-Do-Wells. Your fearless Maven Duo are facing off against another team of Bocce Nerds right after dinner. It's on, folks, it's on.

This is Oliver L. He's ten years old. He likes to read the New Yorker. As you can see, he's sitting in the wicker chair normally reserved for the Mavens. He was one of our opponents on the way to the Bocce Final Four. Don't worry: we stomped him.

In conclusion, let's just say that the Final Week is different for every Bread Loafer from the first year students to the veteran professors to the kitchen staff. Some are wistful, some are tearful, some are grateful to be done. Nonetheless, two days from now, most of the Loafers will say goodbye to the Mountain and head back to their "regular" lives, wherever those may be, and as they drive away down Rt. 125 past the Ripton Country Store, you can bet they will ask themselves questions like, "Did that really happen?" and "What is that stain?" and "When can I come back?"

For today's installment of Edward Insults Me: Recently, Maven Overlord Victoria invited the Mavens to enjoy a nice glass of wine on her back porch before attending Hamlet. It was a really pleasant affair, full of good cheer. Edward wasn't there but when he did show up he looked around the porch, saw me, and announced, "You're here? How did you get invited? This used to be a nice house. Used to be." 

Christian Patrick Clarke
Front Desk Novitiate, 2012
Hic et Ubique.

And now, being that it's the Penultimate Entry of Dispatches from the Mountain (Penulti-what? Penulti-who? Yes, I could have written the "second to last entry," but that's not what Nerds do.) I thought I would turn the tables and ask the readers from the overseas countries to stand and declare yourselves. Who are you? I'm bursting with excitement to know. You can do it publicly in the comments section or shoot me an email or leave a comment on Facebook. I have a fair idea of who the readers are in some of the countries, but I'm absolutely dying to know: Who are you in Russia and Ecuador and Spain and Germany? Do I know you? Have we met? Did I embarrass myself? I was probably drunk and/or sober. I'm sorry. So very sorry. 

I'll miss you.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Post #16: Five Minutes with Marcellus

Hey Folks! It's Friday, August 3rd, and we're
winding down on the Mountain. Next week is closing time, but a steady stream of Loafers have already turned in their departure information to the Front Desk.

Sad Nerd Face.
But alas! The summer term is not over yet, folks! Tonight I'm off to see Hamlet: Live from Denmark State Prison. Rumor is, Hamlet does an awesome 16th century cover of "Walk the Line." Tonight's show will be the third performance of Hamlet, and the consensus from the Bread Loafers is that show is Simply Nerdtastic! Delightfully Nerdiful! Absolutely Nerdulous!

"I laughed! I cried! I nerded all over myself twice!"
On Wednesday we talked with the lead of the play, Stephen Thorne, but for today's post, I thought I'd take a different route. For today's Esquire-style interview, we have as a guest one of the student members of the cast. Student actors are essential to the plays. The professional actors typically number around a dozen, which is never enough to fill out all the roles in the average Shakespeare play. To round out the cast, the director auditions the minor character roles to Bread Loaf students and faculty. It is, without doubt, one of the coolest traditions of the play and a true act of community. As stated before, (but never stated enough) I was lucky enough to score a role in a couple of summer plays back in my pre-Maven student days.  The experience was so kick ass that when I was fortunate enough years later to find myself co-directing the school plays for my high school, the Bronx Academy of Letters, we incorporated the communal spirit of Bread Loaf. Every play for the past three years has included students, faculty, staff, and administration. 

Shakespeare in the Bronx. Gangsta.  
On to the interview. Out guest is Matt Kasper. Mr. Kasper has several roles in The Hamlet, most notably the role of Marcellus, who I think is one the soldier guarding the ramparts of Elsinore. But he also might be a mysterious drug kingpin from Los Angeles. I'll get my crack research team on that. When he isn't busy guarding Elsinore or being sexually assaulted by a gimp, Mr. Kasper teaches literature at St. Paul's of Baltimore. Hey, you know who else teaches literature at St. Paul's? Maven Overlord Edward Brown. You know who taught Matt back in the day? Both the Maven Overlord Edward Brown, AND the Maven Overlord's Overlord, Victoria Brown. Once again, because of my high journalistic skill level, I managed to record nearly 40% of everything Matt said during our conversation.

Can you imagine being the student of both Maven Overlords? The result is this guy. 

WHAT I'VE LEARNED (for five minutes)
with Matt Kasper (Marcellus)

Hamlet [the play]: I'm almost overdosed on the greatest play. Taking the class, in the play, and preparing to teach it next year. and I still haven't determined who Hamlet is. I'm in a weird place with Hamlet. [The man?]

Acting: I'm excited about trying to re-engage with that. I was in The Changeling two or three summers ago and that was my first acting experience ever. This year I wanted a chance to have lines. I'm ready to take the next step: play a part in a play, any play. But it's hard. As you know, during the school year, it's hard to pursue fledgling interests. Now that I think about it, teaching is a form of acting. You're not yourself. I never thought about that connection too much before acting.

Marriage: Uh, less than a month away.

Fathers: Have one right now. Which is good. The idea of the Father Figure to me is overrated because I such a great father. I was talking to someone about Batman, they were frustrated about his need for father figures. I didn't see it that way. I saw him as self-contained. All he needs is Albert. I've never been interested in looking at things through the lens of a father figure.  

Mothers: Mother figures, hmm. Maybe that's more attractive to consider. My soon to be wife does things that my mom use to do. [Laughs. A lot. Too much?] I mean, in the sense of keeping my life organized. She helps me understand the purpose. [Laughs more.] Is this gonna be on Dispatches from the Mountain? I'm glad I never ran for office. I'm like Joe Biden.

Bread Loaf: Always hungry for more. It's the appetite that's never satisfied. It's like Dim Sum. But at some point, you just have to get up, walk away from your table, get in your car and drive away. And I'm full. I'm going to remember this taste of this place as long it lingers on the tongue.

Edward Brown: Edward is this all consuming force. I'm around him constantly. We work together. we hang out together outside of school. We're up here at summer. It's hard to gain perspective. He loves baseball. That's my most recent discovery. Rabid fan. He watches games constantly. He gets in trouble for it with Victoria. He has to make up reasons to go to the game. For his fiftieth birthday I wrote a play about him. It's all the different versions of him talking to each other: the jock, the teacher, the photographer. They don't get along. In the play he starts off asleep and  all the versions decide whether to wake up his consciousness. Eventually he decides to start a school where all the versions can teach, but then one version wins the lottery and they open a cheesecake factory. Because Edward loves cheesecake. I should have sent that to you instead of talking.

And that's that. See you on Monday, for the final week of the Bread Loaf School of English.

And now for today's Re-Installment of Edward Insults Me: Recently while debating the merits of driving stick shift vs. automatic, I commented that I have problems driving stick. "Oh, you got problems slick!" he said. "I just hate it though when you limit them to driving."

Christian Patrick Clarke
Front Desk Novitiate, 2012
Hic et Ubique

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Post #15: Five Minutes With Hamlet


Hey Folks! It's Wednesday, August 1st, which means today is the world premier of Hamlet! The Musical! Just kidding, it's actually the real play, Hamlet: A Downer in Five Acts. I thought for today's post it would be cool to do an interview with Stephen Thorne, the actor playing Hamlet. But first, let's have a little context.

We should begin by explaining the summer play is a big deal for us English Nerds. You see, for one week during the summer, Bread Loaf is transformed into a veritable hotbed of culture. Theater lovers from all over New England come in droves to pack it in at the Burgess Meredith Little Theater. (Mostly to see the summer productions, but also to gawk at English Nerds in their natural habitat, giggling when they spy a Nerd buried in a book running smack dab into a wall or pine tree.)

Undercover Nerd. 

And yes, we are referring to that Burgess Meredith, the actor who played Micky, the guy who trained Rocky, who right before the best training montage in film history snarled, "You's gonna piss lightnin' and crap thundah!" Turns out Micky was a serious patron of the arts and funded the re-building of the Little Theater after it burned down several years ago. Who knew?

Back to the plays. The way it works is that a troupe of actors cobbled together from the Trinity Rep theater (located on the mean streets of Providence, Rhode Island), along with a few strays from New York City, gather on the Mountain to perform plays. And when they aren't dazzling English Nerds with their acting skills, they assist the Bread Loaf professors with dramatic performances of classic texts. No one is sure how many years actors have been an integral part of the Bread Loaf way, but we managed to locate an old photo album documenting past productions.

1924. Ancestral Nerds.  
Same play, 57 years later. More Chicks + More Writhing= ManNerd Heaven.  
And now for Stephen Thorne. Stephen has been coming to Bread Loaf as an actor for thirteen years, playing the lead in several plays, the names of which I would write in this sentence if I were a real journalist. The point is, Stephen kicks ass, to the extent that acting in plays can be considered a form of ass kicking. When he's not an actor on the Mountain, he is a member of the Trinity Rep and a doting husband and father.
It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Super Nerd.  Feel free to add your own Nerd jokes.  And no, I didn't ask him to wear this t-shirt for the sake of few Nerd jokes. I wish. 

On to the interview. Being that Esquire is one of my favorite magazines, a natural choice for the Urban Daddy that I am, I decided to borrow from one of Esquire's best features called,"What I've Learned." Here's how it goes: celebrities are given a word to consider, expound, and riff on while a professional interviewer--in this case, me--writes down everything they say. Well almost everything. It was really hard to type as fast as Stephen Thorne talks but I'm fairly certain I got at least 43% of what he said. Don't sneer, folks. It's called "Journalistic license." Look it up. Amateurs.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED (in five minutes)

with Stephen Thorne (Hamlet) 

The Little Theater: I love Burgess Meredith. I love that space. I feel like the audience and the actors have such intimate direct contact with one another. 

Mothers: (laughs) Working as an actor, you work at night. Angela [Stephen's wifehas been with the kids more this summer, but even when I'm at home more, mothers tend to be a center for kids. The first person you call out for is mother. I find that rather profound. 

Revenge: I spend a lot of time in my car thinking about the things I'd like to say or do to other people.  I know that makes me sound mad, but other people do it too. It's a funny instinct. You find a way to negotiate it or get around it. 

Bread Loaf: A calm.  

Beards: I can't grow one. Mine is patchy. 

Madness: Someday they'll have a name for Hamlet's type of madness. When you disregard any rules of how to behave or communicate and just do what you want it makes life difficult for everyone else. [Editor's note: I took this comment as a personal attack.]

Front Desk Mavens: The pillar. Answer to and for all things. And yet I always have to look up the freakin' number. You'd think after 13 years I'd have it memorized. 

And that's that.

In a departure from the norm, today we have Edward talking about Edward. Recently, Edward shared some insight about the difficulty of successfully biking up the Lincoln Gap,  a legendary road which boasts a stretch of pavement said to be the steepest in America. Cycle enthusiasts speak reverentially of it.  Edward says he's made it up once. I asked him how that made him feel, emotionally. "Emotionally? Listen: I go to bed a wreck and I wake up a wreck. Riding a bike ain't gonna change that." Word. 
Christian Patrick Clarke
Front Desk Novitiate, 2012
Hic et Ubique

Who's that? That's right, in 2004 I scored a small role in the summer play as the executioner in Measure for Measure. Opposite me is Jacques Lezra, a frequent Bread Loaf instructor. Jacques had the role of the defiant prisoner, Barnadine. Coincidentally, Jacques was my literature professor during my senior year of college (2000). Alas,  he did not remember me. (This is often the case with teachers. I know from experience. I barely remember the names of 8% of all the students I've taught.) He forgot, that is, until we found ourselves rehearsing for this very scene. In the middle of rehearsals he blurted out, "Oh, Christian. Yes, now I do remember!" And then I sent him off to be killed.