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I don’t much care for Ralph Waldo Emerson, but I appreciate his contribution to literature and philosophy, so we went to his house. One thing that was interesting about this tour was that they do continuous tours, which I’ve never seen before. What that means is, you ring the doorbell like you’re coming to dinner with Ralph, and then you join a tour already in progress. This is nice because it eliminated all of the milling around in the giftshop waiting for the tour to start. This was bad because we began the tour upstairs, and did not get all of the background on who all lived in the house. Then the tour guide would say things like “so and so’s room” without explaining who so and so was, and we did not understand the significance at all.
Upstairs girl was the better of the two, but they were both rather awkward. Upstairs, she mostly indicated at paintings and told us who was in them. She said um a lot, and seemed like she was rushing a bit. A couple people asked questions, and she said “I don’t know, but the lady downstairs does. We can ask her.” at least she didn’t try to make something up.
Downstairs girl was similar to the girl we had at the House of the Seven Gables. She was awkward, and very hard to understand. The situation was made more awkward by the fact that when we were on her part of the tour, we were the only two people. She stared at the ceiling and orated on the life of Ralph Waldo, while we scanned the walls trying to understand her. I think that there’s a trend among tour guides in New England to not only have a regional accent, but also a speech impediment and a penchant for mumbling– I’m kind of over it.
Fun facts about Ralph Waldo Emerson: In his later years, he was always late to church, and he blamed it on the fact that he could never find his gloves. Thoreau built a special drawer into Emerson’s chair, so he would always have a place to keep them, but he was still late all the time anyway. He had also been a minister for years when he was younger– must have been sick of church.
The best part of the tour was the end when we went downstairs and had a lovely conversation with the woman manning the gift shop. She was a librarian as well, so we complained about the lack of jobs, and made fun of library school. I kind of want to go back just to hang out with her.
This summer, since I have a lot of time on my hands, I decided to do something charitable. It’s really no different than how I would ever spend a summer of underemployment, but it’s a warm and fuzzie way to legitimize all this reading for pleasure that I plan to do.
What it is is the Not About the Buildings summer read-a-thon. Not About the Buildings is a non-profit/run by volunteers organization dedicated to promoting literacy in Providence. It was founded in 2006 as a response to the completely lousy way Providence Public Library has been running its organization. This is a problem that has been ongoing, and has received national attention (at least in library land).
Basically, PPL voted to close 2/3 of its branches claiming that it couldn’t afford to run them anymore though Library Director Dale Thompson makes an annual salary higher than those of Mayor David Cicilline or Governor Don Carcieri. These were branches in the poorest neighborhoods, very relied upon by the people who lived there. Thankfully, the branches still haven’t been closed (except one), and are now being taken over by a different non-profit group that actually wants to act like a library.
I live within 700 feet of one of the branches on the chopping block, and can say firsthand, that the building is heavily used. After school and in the summer, it is teeming with kids who have nowhere else to go (sometimes they hang out in my landlady’s potting shed until the police come). It still doesn’t have air-conditioning, so on days when it’s too hot, it has to shut down.
When I first moved to Providence, I was in there every day using the internet because my laptop cord was fried, my replacement had been stolen, and the library is the only place in Providence where you can go and use a computer with internet. The nearest library branch to this one is over a mile away through a less-than-delightful neighborhood, or all the way downtown where walking is hazardous to even the most mindful pedestrian.
Since the branches are being taken care of, this summer read-a-thon benefits The Providence chapter of Books through Bars, which is a program that provides reading material to prisoners. More than 2/3 of the more than 2 million state and federal prisoners in the U.S. are sub-literate, and more than half lack a high school education. This means that upon re-entering society, these people will remain unemployable, and more likely to re-offend.
Anyway, this is something that is very important to me, and if you are interested, you can sponsor my reading here. Or if you’d rather sponsor someone else– please do! It makes me really uncomfortable to ask anyone for money, and I know times are tough (believe me), so I’m only going to ask once, and get back to my reading.
Thus far in my underemployment, I have become both shockingly lazy, and strangely productive–all at once. I get things done, but I rarely leave my chair or my apartment, and I’ve managed to watch nearly two whole seasons of Gilmore Girls while earning a little bit of cash.
Typical day consists of:
8am- get out of bed, make coffee, brush teeth, start drinking coffee. While reading blogs, playing scrabble, and doing the tasks of the day, I answer SMS text messages through a company called kgb.com. I get $.10 per answer that I provide, so in the two hours of this work that I do per day, I usually make about $5 (I try to convince myself that it’s kind of like being a reference librarian). Intermittently, I do searches through a site called Swagbucks, which gets me points that can later be redeemed for giftcards, check emails from inboxdollars, which pays me 2 cents for each email of theirs that I click on, and complete surveys through Lightspeed, which nets me more points redeemable for giftcards (I’ve saving up for a cat fountain for Watson).
11am- If my kgbing is not particularly busy, I get bored and sign out, then read for pleasure for about an hour, if it is busy, I keep working.
12pm- Get on the treadmill and run/walk for about an hour to an hour and a half.
2pm- Just out of shower, prepare sensible lunch to enjoy while reading for pleasure. Then wash dishes from lunch. Yesterday, I had a tuna quesadilla (1 can tuna, seasoned with salt and pepper, and olive oil, inserted into 1 large flour tortilla, sliced monterey jack cheese, and a dash of chipotle tabasco sauce) with pasta and bean soup. Since I’m only eating food that I have in the house because I’m moving in less than a week, I’ve gotten a bit creative. I actually wanted a tuna melt sandwich, but am down to two pieces of bread. I had a quesadilla instead, which was delightful, and will use the last two pieces of bread for a fried-egg sandwich tomorrow. Since I bought both the tuna and soup on sale $10/10, and the tortillas cost about $1.50 for a pack of 14, my lunch cost about $2 and I have leftovers.
3pm- Read for pleasure and internet.
4pm- Since I am moving soon, I must pack. I reward myself for this by watching the Gilmore Girls while I do it. I’m also trying to clean up as I pack so it doesn’t get all frantic at the zero hour.
7pm-Dinner, usually something leftover, from the freezer, or boxed pasta.
After dinner: watch movie with Gentleman Caller, read, if any articles need to be edited (freelance magazine editing job)- do that, laundry, play with Watson, see friends, check kgb to see if it’s busy and I can make a few extra dollars, look for/apply for jobs, plan free or nearly free adventures, lather, rinse, repeat.
That’s just a loose schedule, a rough outline, if you will. Basically, my philosophy has become make a little money each day and spend as little as possible, and thankfully, I’m pretty good at entertaining myself. I have no problem using my savings to pay rent, that’s what it’s there for, but I should be able to earn enough to pay for everything else I need, or maybe I don’t need it. It’s weird because I still feel busy, though I’m really not. I think I’m either less good at being busy than I used to be, or else, the tasks I’m busy with aren’t nearly as motivating as other things I might be doing.
It is what it is.
If I need clean socks; it will take about two days– three if I need a towel, but it probably won’t smell good. Why am I saying these things? Because the dryer broke again, and landlady (who apparently STILL doesn’t wash any clothes–I swear, it’s been three months or more), seems unconcerned.
After the religious repairman left, the dryer worked like a dream. It dried more efficiently than before, made half as much noise, and brought me more joy than I thought possible.
Then it stopped tumbling.
It makes sounds like it’s working, but will not tumble. This noise fake-out let me leave laundry in there for 36 hours before I realized that it shouldn’t take that many cycles to dry my running clothes, which are designed to dry quickly. I emailed landlady and told her this– no response. Two days ago, I re-emailed her and asked again– no response.
Also, it has rained every single day for the last two weeks, so my plan of wash and air dry will not work, it will just result in moldy clothes. With the current level of humidity, it takes my hair 3+ hours to dry, I’m not taking chances with my towels.
I’m ready to move– officially.
I honestly do not know how many times I’ve read Little Women. It must be getting close to ten times, and I’m currently listening to an audio version in my car, which is also very good. I’ve read Invincible Lousia— a Newbery award-winning biography of Louisa May; Little Men; Big Guy, Little Women, which is a rather amusing book about a girl who is obsessed with Little Women, and then four girls move in next door to her who are almost identical to the characters; and I attempted to read A Modern Mephistopheles— Louisa May’s take on the Faust story after she claimed she was sick of writing “Moral pap for the young.”
The Alcott family moved around a lot. Bronson Alcott was a noted transcendentalist and educational reformer, neither of which paid any money at all, so it fell on the women to earn as much as they could. He started the Concord School of Philosophy in the backyard of Orchard House, and it still stands today. We tried to go in, but Skidmore College has reserved it for the day to host a lecture on the Great War. After we asked, we were told that we could stay for the lecture if we wanted. We opted out, but Jewish Friend snagged a nice leather bookmark of which she was inordinately proud.
The tour of Orchard House was top notch. Our tour guide spoke in a clear resonant tone and knew her stuff. She answered questions thoroughly, was approachable, and engaged us as tour participants rather than just talking at us. The tour begins with a video of an actress pretending to be Louisa May, which I thought would be really lame and stupid. It honestly wasn’t that bad. She provided a biographical sketch that wouldn’t have fit into the house tour very well, and didn’t do that stupid faux English accent that so many people do when they’re imitating 1800s folk.
This same actress, or a different one, may also make appearances at the Colonial Inn, just down the road. The bartender told us that some chick pretending to be Louisa May shows up there from 12-5 on Sundays and parades around offering answers to questions and posing for photographs. We didn’t see her, but I’m intrigued by this notion, and I think it would be hilarious if they had a second person there pretending to be Thoreau reading in the parlor, and then he and Louisa May had strident showy conversations.
I can dream.
The Alcott women were just as fascinating as the men, well, man. They were all very similar to their characters from the book. May Alcott “Amy” was a success full artist, and her drawings can be found all over the walls of the house. She was also six feet tall and married a man 15 years younger than she– well done, May. Beth was so painfully shy that she would knit mittens for the neighborhood children, but was too scared to actually hand them out. Instead she left them on the front steps. Anna Alcott “Meg”, was the pretty one, just like the book, and never actually lived in Orchard House, though she was married in the parlor.
I love Orchard House. I want to go back.
The House of the Seven Gables is adorable, as is pretty much everything in Salem, MA. Hawthorne never lived in the House, but he speculated about it and wrote his collection of short stories about it. The property that the House is on also now has Nathaniel Hawthorne’s boyhood home– the historical society bought it, sawed it in half, and moved it over for historical tourism convenience.
The seven gables tour is rad because it has secret passages (yay for secret passages!), narrow, winding secret passages behind concealed doors, but it is less rad because it really has very little to do with Nathaniel Hawthorne. It mostly deals with the Turner family, who lived there for three generations, and then the philanthropic woman who paid to have the house restored for touristic purposes. The tour of the Seven Gables House is guided, unfortunately, our guide was woefully sub-par. The tour of Hawthorne’s boyhood home is self-guided, but much more interesting.
I read Young Goodman Brown and The Scarlet Letter in school and there was a little discussion about Hawthorne’s life, but I didn’t realize what a reclusive and rather strange man he was. At the age of about 10-years-old, he suffered a minor injury, which should have had no lasting consequences. He then lived as an invalid for the next ten years even though physicians could find nothing wrong with him. I re-read his Wikipedia article recently, and noticed that the first 20 years of his life are just glossed over.
There were a couple of ancient women whose job it is to sit in the boyhood home and answer questions. I asked one about his period of seclusion, and she just scoffed and said, “yeah, he was kind of a wuss.”
Hawthorne also waited until he was 36 to get married, and married a woman who was 32. Neither had been married before, and knew each other for five years before making it official. So Hawthorne was a plodding, meditative man– not one to rush into anything.
Also in Salem is the Custom House, where Hawthorne worked, and the inspiration for his story– The Custom House, which usually serves as an introduction to The House of the Seven Gables.
I mentioned a while ago, that Jewish Friend and I went superfunadventuring to Salem for a trip to the House of the Seven Gables. More recently, we made a daytrip to Concord, MA to visit Orchard House, and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s estate. The plan is to embrace this summer of underemployment and use this deluge of time wisely– fill it with learning. The response to my photos from the Concord trip was almost overwhelming, and many people commented on how much fun it seemed to be (and it was!). It occurs to me that maybe people who are interested in this kind of thing, don’t know what all we have at our disposal here in the Northeast.
Since I’m a nerd, and have a lot of time on my hands, I made a list– what I think is the definitive list of literary tourism in this part of the country. I’m going to hit as many places as I can, and do a little write-up of each. Since I’ve eaten almost all of the mac and cheese Providence has to offer, I have to have opinions about something.
Here’s the list:
Orchard House— house where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women and lived for many years.
Ralph Waldo Emerson House— self-explanatory.
Walden Pond— Pond where H.D. Thoreau camped out and wrote smug essays.
Wayside— Another home occupied by the Alcott family, and the only home that Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in outside of Salem.
The Old Manse— Place where R.W. Emerson lived before settling in his later estate. Also, Mosses from an Old Manse by Hawthorne…
Emily Dickinson Museum— Self explanatory
Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast— Not exactly literary, but a lot of books have been written about Lizzie. If you stay there overnight, which is grossly overpriced, you must vacate your room at 11, 1, and 3 so the proprietors can run tours through it, but they serve you a breakfast similar to the one the Borden’s consumed on that fateful day– hilarious.
Melville’s Arrowhead-– You can find Melville stuff all over this area, plus there are two annual marathon readings of Moby Dick, one of which allows you to stay on an actual whaling ship (if you book early). Arrowhead is the estate where Melville and his family settled and lived for 13 years, during which time he wrote extensively.
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center— I really don’t care for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and I have no idea what else Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote, but what better way to learn?
Mark Twain House and Museum— My parents have find memories of Twaining in Hannibal, MO, but all they have there is his boyhood stuff. In Connecticut, you get Twain as adult, and can view his beautiful 19-room Victorian estate.
The Mount–Edith Warton’s country estate– huge, beautiful, designed by Edith Warton. Sassy Redhead has visited this place already, and seems very happy in pictures.
The Longfellow House–occupied by H.W. Longfellow from 1837 to 1882.
Sunnyside— Home of Washington Irving. I’ve wanted to visit Tarrytown since I was about 9-years-old and first read Otherwise Known as Sheila The Great. In that particular book, Sheila Tubman, menace to Peter of Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing Fame, leaves NYC for a summer in Tarrytown. A friend of hers lives in Washington Irving’s old house (which is clearly not true, but really cool, I thought). This was the first time it dawned on me that you could go to places where authors had lived and wrote, and I’ve been desperate to go ever since. The fact that I’ve lived this close for a year and a half is something that I’m not very proud of, but it is what it is.
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery--I’m not terrifically excited to go to a cemetery, but these old ones can be pretty cool. Also, you can’t do a literary tour without Sleepy Hollow– for reals.
Fenimore House--Just what it sounds like. Apparently, there’s a Cooper house in New Jersey too…
Naulakha (Kipling House)-– Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book while living in the mountains of Vermont.
Robert Frost Museum–Just what it sounds like. I don’t care much for Frost, which is why this is last on the list.
Lentils, 1 bag soaked for 1 hour (place in a pot of water, bring to a boil, then let sit)
1 cup (ish) either rolled oats, or I used leftover challah bread–if using rolled oats, moisten first or they will dry out everything!
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar
1 whole egg, + 1 egg white
1 can tomato paste
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp basil
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350
mix all ingredients in bowl
add more stuff, if needed
make sure it’s mixed well, then pour the whole mess into a greased loaf pan
bake uncovered 30-40 minutes, let cool for 10
cut into slices, melt Gorgonzola over top, or enjoy without
Recently, a woman called the library and was asking questions about the postal service exam, specifically what kind of study guide would be best for her. We have three on the shelf, so I examined them to see what the difference was, while she rambled on in my ear about how hard the test is, how expensive it is to buy the study guides, but how if you fail the test, you get your money back.
“That’s awfully nice of them.” I commented.
Then I started thinking that I should take the postal exam just to see how hard it actually is. I justified this in that I could then tell people who come into the library for postal exam study guides how hard I found it to be, and either assure them, or insist that they need to study.
I’ve always been a sucker for assesment. When I was a junior in high school, our study hall supervisor announced that anyone in grades 11 and 12 could sign up to take the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) I had no intention of joining the military, but it was free, I got out of class, and I was curious if I did ever want to join the military, how good I would be at it. I took it again the following year to see if I could beat my previous score.
Since I went to High School in the Midwest, most schools I was applying to did not require the SAT. For some reason, this is a test I’ve always been afraid of, and so I never opted to take it. Instead I took the PSAT, and the ACT (twice).
Once I got to college, I stayed undeclared for my first two years (much to the horror of my mother). During that time, I joined an undeclared students group devoted to helping us find ourselves, via Meyers-Briggs and other personality analyzing tests. I would say that in my first semester of college, I took about 20 self-assesments, and always found them fun and insightful (though they always said the same thing).
None of them helped me discover the secret talent that I knew lurked deep beneath my snarky surface, and by the time I finally declared myself an English major (my name is Andria, I’m an English major), everyone who knew me sighed a huge sigh of relief and asked “what took you so long?”
Aside: I’m not just being self-centered when I say that. My High School English teacher cornered my brother one days after class and asked him, “Has Andria realized she’s an English major yet?” He just sighed and said, “No, she still hasn’t figured it out.”
When I finished my first masters and was in the throes of my first major life crisis, my solution was to take the LSAT and the GRE. I eventually scrapped the LSAT, but I actually studied for the GRE, which I had never done for a test like this before. My philosophy up to this point was that I was testing what I already knew. What I knew about the GRE, was that I hadn’t done math since sophomore year of High School, and I was in desperate need of a refresher.
As I look at all of the testing study guides on the library shelf, I feel supremely inadequate. There are so many tests I’ve never taken, which means that there are people out there who know things I don’t, which bothers me for some strange reason.
I have no interest in taking a more specific test like the GMAT or MCAT, but I just want to know if I took the test for x, how I would do.
I won’t take the postal exam because if I passed and couldn’t find a library job, I would feel foolish for not wanting to work for the postal service. If I failed, I would feel foolish; and if I passed and took a job with the postal service, I would never be able to take the necessary pay cut to go back to being a librarian.
That is a Pandora’s box best left unopened.
I was listening to… something.. the other day, and re-heard the song Mother Mother by Tracy Bonham. Of all of the 90s song that I’ve heard played nostalgically over the years– this one has always been skipped. I’ve never really enjoyed this song, seemed a bit obvious to me even when I was a petulant pre-teen, but this time, it had a new poignancy.
As I listened to it, I started feeling all these feelings, and much like the third time I saw the movie Singles, or saw a commercial that mimicked my way of life, I realized “holy shit, this is about me.” I suddenly wanted to call my mother and make amends for my distance and lack of real communication; apologize for every time I’ve glossed over things, or blown off questions, and promise to re-read all those Republican propaganda emails that she just sent me because she cares!
Naturally, I forgot/couldn’t be bothered to call her, and the feeling passed.
A few days later I was on the phone with little brother and he said “You know, mom and dad have told me that they’re worried about you, and they wish you’d call more often.”
I responded with my standard, “well, they never call me!”
“Jesus Christ, Andria,” he sighed, “Just be the bigger person for once.”
So I made the call, and caught my mother home alone one Sunday afternoon. Admittedly, I picked that time to call because I thought neither of them would be home, but whatever, I was still the bigger person.
We were actually having a rather lovely conversation about her life, my life, my job prospects. I explained to her that even though I don’t have full-time employment, I am picking up a lot of extra shifts, I have a work-from-home gig, I’m applying for things, and I’m optimistic etc.
“I’m also teaching a screenwriting workshop at a library this summer,” I told her, “It’s similar to the one I did last summer, but for adults instead of teens. I think it will be a lot of fun.”
“How did you get hooked up with that?” she asked.
“Someone had heard about my other one, and they just called me.”
“So, how do you know how to do screenwriting? Is that something you learned in your librarian classes?” she asked.
I was simply stunned. There was a pregnant pause during which I tried to think of how I could possibly answer that question without yelling at her. Finally, I settled for a terse, “I have a masters degree in screenwriting, mother.”
I always think of my father as the more vacant of my parental pair, because he usually is, but sometimes my mother is simply amazing.
I could blame myself; I’m a secretive person, I don’t really like to talk about myself that much (this blog directly contradicts that statement, but I maintain that it’s true), I’ve given up trying to talk to my parents about what matters to me etc. The flaw in that logic is: the 2.5 years that I spent working on my Master of Fine Arts in fiction and screenwriting with a certificate in publishing, my mother asked constantly what I was going to school for. Every family dinner “What are you studying again?” “Is this something you really need to do?” I explained and defended, and took in her disapproval as I revisited the salad bar (the salad bar, for god’s sake!); her claiming ignorance on this front is absolutely astonishing, but not completely surprising.
I’m thinking of sending her a CV.