I'm spending a week in Amherst, "where "only the 'h' is silent," at the NEH's Emily Dickinson summer camp....and it is bringing back a tidal wave of memories. It was 23 years ago this summer I landed on another rural New England campus for freshman year...
I haven't spent time in this part of the world in the summer for a while, but it seems remarkably unchanged. Some things I'd forgotten:
- Food SO bland, you have to add pepper bite per bite.
- The intensive upkeep of these old campuses, how many people are involved, and how early the grounds crews get started.
- Tap water that tastes of chlorine. At the Emily Dickinson House Museum, our guide said the early water closets had poisoned the ground water in New England villages -- maybe that's why.
- The wry and twisted sense of humor that some of the natives have -- an affect so different from the norm at home. Our Professor Boghosian poked fun at anyone he found writing letters, "Tell them ALL about it." That sort of encapsulates the attitude around here, too.
- What it feels like to wake up shivering on a mountain summer morning.
The workshop experience itself is terrific, well-organized and run, bringing in some real heavy-hitters in Dickinsoniana. My final project is looking at Dickinson as a proto-modernist, so I get to think about capital-L Literature for a while... Dickinson has been a touchstone for me, and I'm really appreciating moving beyond a "Belle of Amherst" superficial understanding of the poet as a eccentric and towards a fuller understanding of her place in her family, community, and world.