Tuesday, April 14, 2009

To Wisconsin (an infinitive)

Picture this, if you dare: It's late at night. I am in a small, meticulously appointed room in an over-the-top quaint Victorian bed and breakfast inn in Whitewater Wisconsin. I am the only guest and I have not seen the proprietors of the establishment for forty-eight hours. I have nothing to read but a week old Newsweek magazine...There is no television, no radio and I have a full-blown case of insomnia. Maddeningly, there is a gospel tune stuck in my head and I can't stop singing it: "Oh, Sisters let's go down, let's go down, don't ya wanna go down, oh, Sisters let's go down, down in the river to pray..."

I am tired. I have just finished two long (albeit rewarding and great) days lecturing in the Art Department at the University of Wisconsin in Whitewater. I keep singing (ahhrghh) and reviewing the high points of those high point-filled days...My flight to Minneapolis--connecting to Albuquerque--leaves Milwaukee at 8:40 am. Milwaukee is more than an hour away. Do the math.

"As I went down in the river to pray, studyin' about that good old way..."

Fortunately, I am able to sing and think at the same time. It's a multi-tasking trick that has served me well on the countless occasions when I've been caught in a sleepless, bookless, conversationless state. This time it's the State of Wisconsin.

And so, I think!
What made me fall in love with Whitewater, Wisconsin, I ask myself--because I am clearly, clearly (double "clearly" intentional) smitten with everything Whitewater-ish. I'm moved by the kindness and friendliness of everyone. I'm in love with five or six brilliant and engaged members of the faculty of the Art and English Departments. I'm crazy about the students. And (surprise, surprise) some of the Art is almost remarkable. However, most of the food is not very good---which may be why I'm wide awake singing and recalling the mistake that was the penne pasta with chicken cubes and some kind of flour-y cheese paste.

There is a special sort of delight in finding oneself somewhere one has never fantasized about going and finding that that "somewhere" has a headful of surprises to bestow on the aforementioned self. To lose the ignorant (yes, let's call it ignorant) notion that one knows where the artistic excitement, cultural relevance, sophistication, pleasure and authenticity can be found is to lose a notion so narrow, so parochial, so self-defeating as to be intellectually crippling. I lost such a notion.
I went to Whitewater, Wisconsin to share some of my professional experience and knowledge (and to collect a small honorarium). I returned rested and renewed (yes, I slept on both planes). I returned home with a more open heart and with a secret embarrassment (now shared with you) regarding my narrow preconceived notions about things I should refrain from preconceiving--if I ever hope to become any sort of enlightened individual!

"...and who shall wear the robe and crown, Good Lord, show me the way..."

The infinitive "to Wisconsin" is newly defined as the ability to find inspiration, satisfaction, wisdom and/or love in an unexpected place. Wishing you "Wisconsin"!

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