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Filtering by Tag: happiness

Joseph Brodsky’s Utter Happiness

Rebecca Spears

a meandering intermittent stream courses through a foggy meadow in autumn Poet Joseph Brodsky began spending winters in Venice in 1972, and his holidays there continued for years. In 1989, he published his reflections of those winters in Watermark. In this lyric essay, Brodsky makes a rich physical and metaphysical journey into that city, where he calls up the primordial and the eternal, the fixed and fluid properties of the watery landscape, and the real and impressionistic architecture of the city.

Yet more notably, in this setting Brodsky is smitten with “utter happiness.” Newly exiled from his native Russia in 1972, he had come to live and teach in the United States, his “Purgatorio,” while Venice became “my version of paradise.” For one thing, the watery city reminded him of St. Petersburg, Russia on the Baltic Sea, where he spent his childhood. What’s more, the visual delights of Venice signified Eden to him. On first entering the city at night, Brodsky described entering “infinity,” traveling on a vaporetto over the water’s black surface. The city itself, he wrote, is “a porcelain setting by a crystal water,” where the Spirit of God might move upon the water’s face. Here, he wrote, people want to cover themselves because of all the surrounding beauty, “the marble lace, inlays, capitals, cornices, reliefs, and moldings . . . angels, cherubs, caryatids . . . and windows.”

I think we all have some notion of what is Edenic to us, a place, imagined or real, that brings on feelings of joy or comfort or rest. Like Brodsky, I appreciate both wintry and foggy landscapes—not because they remind me of my childhood, but because I am a creature of the endless Southwestern sun that often obliterates the views with its white glare. And like Brodsky, I “take heat very poorly.” No wonder I often find woods and forests, mountains and hills divine, especially in the summers. Yet even when I must summer in the boiler that is Houston, the softened panorama of clouded days and the obscurity of fogged mornings can remind me of God’s garden, however briefly.

Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Parker discuss early Christian concepts of paradise in their book Saving Paradise and especially in the article, “This Present Paradise.” The authors write, “In the early church, paradise—first and foremost—was this world, permeated and blessed by the Spirit of God. Early images of paradise in Rome and Ravenna captured the craggy, scruffy pastoral landscape, the orchards, the clear night skies and teeming water of the Mediterranean world as if they were lit by a power from within.” This world, they say, was “a world created as good and delightful.” God was present in it, for in early Christian images, a ladder often appears, where not only people could ascend to heaven, but God could come down to earth.

In Watermark, Joseph Brodsky delights in the “present paradise” he finds in Venice; and I am easily pulled into in his enchantment with it. When I read Watermark, I understand the poet’s sentiments, his overarching love of place, the watercolor of Venice. Wandering in Brodsky’s descriptions, I think of my own moments of heaven on earth. In such moments, peace, utter happiness.

Women Who I Love

Stephen Swanson

Stephen Swanson finally admits to loving women.  Surprise!

With this being near V-Day and the midst of the "Love Relief" campaign, I felt the need to write about something more pleasant than my anger with legislatures, both state and federal, or what's happening on the Bachelor.

I need to think positive, and you should too. Therefore, I want to write about my love for women. No, not THAT kind of love. Sure, I could talk about my wife or mom. I could write about my sisters. I could write about the wonderful, strong, and intelligent women who are my colleagues, both online and IRL.

However, there's a group of women that I respect more than any other at the moment: my students.

This is not to say that I do not have wonderful male students, friends, and colleagues. I do. They're great!

But, unfortunately for them this semester, I have some women in my classes that are not only dedicated, sharp students who make teaching fun and interesting on a daily basis but who have also overcome considerable obstacles to be there.

Take, for example, on of the students in my afternoon class. She is what we would call a non-traditional student, meaning that she is not 18-23, and I had the pleasure of teaching her in the prerequisite course. At the beginning of that term that I first had her, she struggled with everything. Not only was she frustrated with her own lack of experience with computers and word processors, she had a strong sense of self-criticism, that she just wasn't a very good writer.

This week, she not only led a discussion on her own but also takes time before class to help other students get their work formatted on the computer. She, like the rest of us, still struggles with self-doubt, but she does not let it stop her cold like it had.

I have a whole set of women with whom it is my pleasure to work as part of the dual-credit program which teaches high school students so that they get both high school and college credit for their work. They are not only smart, funny, and hardworking, but they have begun to take pride in the very value of intellectual pursuit in an environment where little value is placed, especially within their gender sub-culture, on thinking and consideration.

Now, I can only take a very small part of the credit for their evolution as students, but I can own the pride and affection that I have in them and a society where they can be what they are and become even better.

Therefore, in a new spirit of "Valentines", I urge you all to express your pride, encouragement, and...yes, love, to one another, as least for a few days in February.  We all need it.

Stephen Swanson teaches as an assistant professor of English at McLennan Community College. Aside from guiding students through the pitfalls of college writing and literature, he spends most of his time trying to remain aware of popular culture, cooking, and enjoying time with his wife and son. He holds degrees in Communications (Calvin College), Film Studies (Central Michigan University), and Media and American Culture Studies (Bowling Green State University). In addition to editing a collection, Battleground States: Scholarship in Contemporary America, he has forthcoming projects on Johnny Cash and approaches to analyzing detective narratives in terms of ethical responsibility.