Utica College English Department Alumni Newsletter Winter 2010/2011

Confessions of a Word Surgeon
Rebecca (Barber) Harkins ’89 Using the scalpel, she inscribed and dissected words, ink flowed, and suddenly, completely unexpectedly, she became a renowned writer, a word surgeon par excellence. That is the romantic version. The reality is a bit more, well, realistic. In 1989, I was a homemaker with a BA in English, two young children, and nowhere to go with my degree. I had joined the Mohawk Valley Quilt Club and submitted short articles, blurbs really, to their newsletter. I volunteered for the library position in which I maintained two carts full of books and magazines and ordered new ones as needed. I was asked to write a review for the Kirkland Art Center’s fabric arts display. I had also joined the RoadRunners Club of America in Utica and submitted to the SpliTimes. In 1992, I received an award in the creative writing category, as an honorable mention, in the Eastern Division. One year, while ordering materials for the quilt club library, I discovered a magazine entitled Miniature Quilts. Our president, Carolyn Beam, had just presented her miniature quilts to the group during one of the meetings. I sent a query letter to the editor regarding writing an interview with this unique lady. Carolyn had sent in slides of her work at the same time, although I did not know it. I received a letter stating the editors had received her slides and would be quite happy for me to write the article. It didn’t hit home until I received the check. I was now a published and paid author. Due to some complex issues in my life at the time, I was unable to pursue this new endeavor. I moved to Texas in 1995 and, over time, wrote small pieces for Literacy Volunteers of America and The Huntsville Youth Orchestra, both of which I was involved in whether as secretary, newsletter editor, or volunteer. These small submissions not only helped refine my writing style, but let me explore various kinds of writing. This started my stint as a freelance secretary. In 2007, I started writing a monthly column entitled “Morning Reflections” for our neigh-

Barbara Witucki Associate Professor of English


John Cormican Jason Denman Gary Leising Rebecca (Barber) Harkins ’89 Melody Hallenbeck Nadeau ’04 Joe Perry ’90 The Spectator is published bi-annually by the English Department at Utica College Send correspondence regarding The Spectator to: Barbara Witucki Utica College 1600 Burrstone Road Utica, NY 13502-4892 Voice: (315) 792-3829 E-mail:

borhood newsletter, in which I attempted my own “modest proposal” regarding issues close to our hearts. I have heard good responses. In 2008, I signed up with Elance. com as a provider. As such, I offer my writing services in various categories. The majority of my jobs are in the Writing and Translating category: articles, resumes, white papers, ghostwriting, and more. A person wanting an article written or a book proofread, for example, continued on page 2

Confessions of a Word Surgeon continued from page 1
would post a job on the website and providers would bid on the job. One or more providers are chosen to do the work and are then paid when the work is completed. The majority of the work is anonymous ghostwriting (as opposed to getting a small byline), and the money is very minimal. I became a member of the International Association of Administrative Professionals to expand my knowledge base in the secretarial realm. Their trade magazine, OfficePro, listed an email for submitting queries to the editor. I suggested an idea for an article on filing since electronic filing was becoming as important as paper filing. The editor liked my idea. Only professional (published) writers were paid. I mentioned my published article from 1992 and hoped that it was enough to put me in the paid category. It was. My first check was for $700. I was floored. I have written two other articles for OfficePro since then and have made my name, sort of, in the small circle I run with. I’m currently a member of the Woodlands Writers Guild, a critique group for fiction writers. In 2009, the Winter Contest was called “Five – in – One” where the floor was open to five categories of short stories in one contest. I placed first in two of the five (Romance and Epiphanies). Having established myself, I became the newsletter editor (and later, secretary) of the Guild, which includes the creator of the MLA system, several screenwriters with contacts in Hollywood, a garden man who’s written many articles and blogs on Texas gardening, and so on. I will be giving a small seminar on Social Media to the Guild, as many members are pre-platform and pre-computer. It wasn’t until this year that I’ve heard of “platform,” although some sources date the concept as far back as 2008. editor C. Hope Clark has been pointing out in her editorials that publishers want authors to have some kind of Web presence whether on Twitter, Facebook, or some other social media site as well as have a blog or website with high traffic numbers. This, publishers say, is platform. It comes down to wanting the authors to do more of the promoting of the book than the publishers. We are learning this together. How did I get here? Stubbornness and perseverance. I kept writing no matter what. I joined groups and wrote for their newsletters. I devoured literature. I read the gurus who wrote for money such as Bob Bly (copywriting) and Michael Stelzner (white papers). I took technical writing and computer courses. I read old books on grammar and literature. (My antiques are 75 to 100 years old.) I reviewed my coursework from Cormican, Matza, and my other UC profs. I lived and breathed writing and reading. Besides writing for magazines, I am enjoying writing for contests — short stories and poems — for fame and fortune. Or at least a portion thereof. Learning to deal with rejection has been the most challenging. Elance. com is not a place to make money; it’s a place to learn how to compete, deal with impossible “bosses,” and be rejected. It took me six months to get my first job, and two days to wish I hadn’t. At twenty bids per month, that’s a lot of rejection. I’ve learned what my character is really made of. I won’t bid on “write my term paper” requests — even for Ph.D. wannabees who want someone else to do their research. I will edit and work with someone who is really trying. I’ll take a cheap job if it will add to my profile, but not at one dollar for ten articles of 700 words each. I’ve learned to be patient. Why is this important? If I’m going to write a novel or a nonfiction book, I need to expect rejection letters. I can’t afford to be thin-skinned. I am competing with thousands of others, especially now that rules have changed and authors are expected to have a platform with a thousand or so followers before a publisher will look at the manuscript. And, of course, the debate on selfpublishing versus publishing house continues. Whether waiting for publication of a novel, collection of short stories or poems, or submission of magazine articles anywhere, there are a few things to keep in mind: the competition is fierce; rejection is common; it will take “forever;” the thrill of success is worth it; writing to be published is not for the faint of heart; bulldog tenacity is a gift to be nurtured.


If the band opens with “Fortunate Son,” you know it’s gonna be a good set.
Melody Hallenbeck Nadeau ’04

A Letter from Beijing

Well that’s my opener for this Beijing update, folks…not sure whether to be cheery or gloomy but both seem appropriate after a month away from home. So, AJ and I were really really wishing for some honest-to-goodness American food tonight…nothing fancy, like you’d find at “Grandma’s Kitchen,” but just a burger or fries or a chicken Caesar salad. I got the salad and he got the wrap. At Lush (honest, it’s the real name of the bar/restaurant near our office) there was a new band for “live band night”—pretty sure that’s the name—a bunch of young-ish guys who turned out to be AMAZING! We enjoyed it so much. It was a lot like Lark St. without Aunt Dorie and Uncle Dave (which, if you think too much, is actually rather pathetic). Whatever. The band was good, the food was good, the relaxation went very well. Lush has several awards on the wall—Beijing’s best weekly happy hour specials, best student hangout, best bar food…. guess that sums it up. We were, hands down, the oldest people in the place—and possibly the only ones who knew all of the lyrics, including the lead singer. For a little hint at the income disparity that exists here—migrant workers, who are a large part of the Chinese labor force, were featured on the business news a couple of nights ago—because China has just raised the minimum wage to 900 yuan (about $133 US) per month. Our food alone (not including any drinks but water) cost 90 yuan at Lush. We would only get to eat ten

times a month if we made minimum wage. Every now and then, in class, I’m reminded of where my students have come from by some little thing...Thursday we had a dialog where one woman said she was “doing taxes.” Nobody understood taxes, so I told them they are money paid to the government to help maintain society. Blank stares all is very possible that neither they, nor anyone they have ever lived with, has been fortunate enough to make an income that requires the payment of taxes. And after reviewing my first paycheck, I’m pretty sure that the rates begin at 2,000 yuan monthly. Anyway...just before dinner, I braved the back alleys and upper rooms and got my first Chinese manicure and pedicure. We found a little shop off a hair salon and I sat down for what they said was a one-hour session…about two hours

before I left! AJ had plenty of time to go home, change clothes, come back, go shopping… The girl who did my nails was very good and spoke some English as well. She told me that she likes studying English but doesn’t have time for it now. She was very excited to learn that I’m an English teacher—so much that she asked me to “write English name” for her. I couldn’t figure out what she wanted for a while, then I realized that she wanted me to NAME her! Her Chinese name was something like Seia Sho, so I though…Samantha! She couldn’t say Samantha, but “very liked” Sammie. Long story short—I now have a nail technician named Sammie. All of the other girls in the shop laughed, but she assured me that she very much liked the new English name and made me write it down and say it several times. At least that solves the mystery of how continued on page 4


Letter from Beijing continued from page 3
all of those Chinese students who come to New York get American names—some random lady in a nail salon arbitrarily picks one and—voilà—you have an English name! We are missing home a lot these days—I heard someone learning to play saxophone outside of the office yesterday, working on a rendition of “America the Beautiful” throughout the day. Over and over and over. Sure made me homesick, especially when the Nadeaus are gathering in Ticonderoga for “The Best Fourth in the North,” and the Hallenbecks are gathering at Verona Beach for whoknows-what reunion insanity. The band guys gave us the name of the club where they’ll be playing on the 4th, and the pastor from the Beijing International Christian Fellowship called today—who knows if they may have a cookout going too? It could go either way. Oh, and some guy from DC named Chris is throwing a pool party at a swanky hotel in the Central Business District…150 yuan gets us transportation, LOTS of drinks, swimming, and, if the flier is accurate, an after-party with Eva Longoria. Hmmm. Better throw Chris off the short list. It’s a bit of a toss-up…when I work, I know the kids benefit from me being there, even if I do feel like it’s a cross between The Twilight Zone and Let’s Make a Deal (because there are too many bizarre things to describe), although AJ has definitely tried. I really need to have EVERYTHING in my purse, in case I’m called on to define something like “Charge it” or “Sewing.” The kids are, have been, and will be rewarding, and remind me daily of why I’m here. But then there are the very long sessions in the office doing weekly paperwork, writing lesson plans (not to mention inventing curriculum), and the times at or en route to home when I get the impression that there is NOTHING dust-free in Beijing. And, by the way, there are NO women in my office, unless we count three twentysomething part-time Mandarin teachers who I’m going to be teaching conversational English to beginning next week. Also, of course, I miss my kids and grandbabies incredibly. I am honestly not sure how people do this for years and years at a time. If you ask me, I will say that I am certain this is where we belong—there were too many “coincidences” that led us here for me to think otherwise. And when I see a sentence in the homework that says, “We loving the teach very much,” it doesn’t hurt. When the kid who doesn’t really care if he stays or goes lights up for AJ’s tutoring sessions, that’s pretty awesome, too. I’ve heard a cheesy preacher saying that rings true at times like these...the will of God won’t take you where the grace of God can’t keep you. I am finding this to be quite true. I heard a rumor today that the school closes over Christmas for a week or so. Not sure how the guy came to this conclusion, seeing that we’ve only been open since March, but…wouldn’t that be amazing, to be able to come home instead of wallowing in limbo between Narnia and Nirvana? One can only hope. And by the way, yesterday we finally found ground coffee—AJ had bought me a VERY expensive, VERY tiny coffee maker, only to discover that the stores that sell the pots don’t really understand about the coffee….Starbucks carried some for around $50 a pound…not happening…then, finally, there was a small brick of French coffee at a market where they have some imported goods. It tasted AMAZING this morning. Now all I need are some authentic Italian herbs…basil, oregano, parsley, maybe some Parmesan cheese…and I will be in business. Italian night, here we come! Whatever happens, I’ll let you know how the concert goes…or how the pastor’s barbecue tastes. Eva will have to wait for another time. Don’t you wish every day was the Fourth of July? (I have been working on my Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction at University of Albany for the past several years. I went there for the TESOL MS program, earned that degree in 2006, and am now ABD in Curriculum and Instruction with a language education concentration. I was recently hired at a small NGO in Beijing to teach English to orphaned youth.)


Reflections Upon Emergent Occasions
John Cormican, Professor of English Some of my former students think highly of me; some of my former students hate me. I like to think that I might actually have earned the positive responses of the former group, but I am quite certain that some of the second group are correct in their feelings toward me. Although I see myself as a teacher rather than a scholar and I try to teach the students in light of their current abilities, I too often fail. In the medieval world where I live, pride is a sin, so God provided an antidote to pride about the time I received the Crisafulli Distinguished Teaching Award this year by having a student in one of my classes last spring write the most scathing comments on a student evaluation that I have ever received. While I appreciate receiving the Crisafulli Award, I am not terribly impressed by myself for having received it. There are a large number of my colleagues who deserve it as much or more than I do. Besides, while there have been some really good teachers who have received it in the past, there have been a few who received it who were not considered by many people to be good teachers at all. I am particularly appreciative of my colleague Professor Jason Denman’s efforts in getting the award for me and of the praise and congratulations from former students who have called or written me since the award was announced. When Jason asked if he could nominate me and then

campaigned for me to get the award, I suspected part of the motivation was embarrassment that I had been at Utica College so long and not received the teaching award. Besides, since I am so old, the college might as well give me the award before I die. Among the more astute comments I received from one of my former students was, “I know you don’t put much stock in such awards.” The truth is that I feel uncomfortable calling attention to myself. I grew up in a culture that the anthropologist Ruth Benedict would call “Apollonian” as opposed to “Dionysian,” and which valued living in harmony with others rather than achieving some elevated position. When the first President Bush was running for president,

his mother criticized him for talking about himself during the campaign. When I heard that I laughed because I understood that kind of thinking. When I graduated from high school and received all kinds of awards at my commencement, I had to leave my seat to walk across the stage to receive each one, and my mother, who had been brought up a Quaker, was embarrassed. After the graduation, she said to me, “Couldn’t you have let some other people have some of the recognition?” Therefore, while I appreciate receiving the Crisafulli Award, I am rather uncomfortable about it too. I still don’t impress me that much.


Joe Perry ’90 I met John Cormican when I was a first-semester freshman at UC back in the fall of 1977. My first class with him was English 103 – Introduction to the English Language, which John still teaches. Back then, I had a habit of drawing cartoons in the margins of my notebook, and during one of John’s classes I had absent-mindedly sketched a fellow asleep at his desk, his face in his arms, Z’s emitting from the top of his head. Passing my desk, John saw the depiction and asked, in his characteristic sotto voce, “Is that you… or me?” I knew then that I could work with this guy. That voice, though. Even with the relatively sharp senses of an eighteen-year-old, there were times when I could barely hear the man. I can recall, early in our association, standing with him in the backyard of his house on Higby Road, nodding politely as he watered his tomatoes and muttered some piece of sardonic wisdom I couldn’t begin to make out over the gentle hiss of the garden hose. (Based on her observations of Noam Chomsky, my wife Karen contends that muttering is a disorder shared by all linguists. I swear I am not pursuing my M.A. in the discipline just to annoy her.) I’m not certain, but I may be the only one of John’s students to have taken his History of the English Language course twice and lived to tell the tale. The first time was in the Spring of my Freshman year, in a section filled with raucous East Utica seniors and Joe Caruso (who was anything but raucous); the second as a junior, I believe, and a student assistant. Of this experience, I can recall a signature Cormican test question on the legendary Hengest and Horsa that went something like this: Identify two brothers in early English history named “Horse.” (Pre-Bonanza.) Needless to say, there is much more that is memorable about my association with this man over the past thirty years. I have benefitted immensely from John’s instruction, his counsel, and his friendship. And now that I’m working my way through morphology once again, I can finally appreciate the value of learning that damned Swahili affix matrix.

Keats House
Gary Leising, Associate Professor of English
This past summer, with the support of a Harold T. Clark Fellowship from Utica College, I spent some time in London working on a small collection of poems inspired by the British capital’s places, art, and people. I was there in May, right after our Spring semester ended. As a poet, one essential stop on my itinerary was Keats House in Hampstead, just north of London. This is the place where Keats lived for two years, wrote some poems (“Ode to a Nightingale” in particular inspires visitors to pause beneath the grounds’ black mulberry tree to imagine the bird’s song and fall, albeit morbidly, “half in love with easeful Death”), and met and fell in love with Fanny Brawne (whose family occupied half of the house). Though I had been in London a few times in the past several years, I had yet to visit the house known as Wentworth Place until it was rechristened in honor of its most famous resident. It had been undergoing massive renovations, repairing structural damage. When I stepped off the number 24 bus, the first thing I saw was a chain restaurant with a plaque explaining that its building was once the site of the bookstore where, as a young man, George Orwell worked. Hampstead, like the rest of greater London, is steeped in literary history. From the bustle and noise of South End Green, I made my way uphill along the edge of Hampstead Heath, its walkways covered by arching trees (those tree-rich paths, covered with winter snow, supposedly inspired C.S. Lewis to create his mythic land of Narnia), eventually coming to a quiet street: Keats Grove. With the exception of a small group of pensioners reading poems to each other in the house’s largest parlour, the place was quiet, perfect for contemplating Keats’s short life. In the smaller parlour—the one where Keats did his reading and writing—a copy of a portrait of the poet by Joseph Severn hung above the fireplace. The original is in London’s National Portrait Gallery. Though Severn, who nursed Keats on his deathbed in Italy, worked on this oil painting after the poet’s death, Severn said it reproduced the posture Keats struck in that very parlour right after he had written “Ode to a Nightingale”; observing Keats


continued on page 8

Coffee and Old Books
Jason Denman, Associate Professor of English I spent the month of June ensconced in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. Family, friends, and colleagues kept asking the same two basic questions: 1) How’s the coffee there? and 2) Do they make you wear gloves? The first question is predicated on a misleading association. The Folger Shakespeare Library has nothing whatever to do with the coffee company. Henry Clay Folger made his money with Standard Oil, not in the coffee business; his library opened in 1932, two years after he died, housing the largest collection of the printed works of Shakespeare in the world as well as a theatre loosely modeled on the Blackfriars and an exhibition hall. While I was there, the exhibit focused on the English conception of the watery part of the world during the intense explorations of the early modern period. Despite the “Shakespeare” in the name of the place, the library is, much more importantly for my purposes, a repository of early modern literature in general: If you want a book that hasn’t been reprinted since, say, 1620, the Folger is one of the first three or four places in the world that you would go looking for it. Receiving one of their fellowships gives scholars funds and access to the collection; I had the additional luxury of summer fellowship support from Utica College that helped me get a new laptop and work hard without glancing anxiously at my checking account. The library coffee, by the way, was ho-hum, but who would complain when you have every resource you could need and a supportive, resourceful staff on hand? As for the gloves, the answer is no. I never saw a pair. Two summer visits I made to the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles a few years ago were also glove-less. Early modern English books are actually pretty rough-andtumble creations. To be sure, they require care—most obviously storage at the proper temperature and humidity and under the correct light. But the paper they made in the 16th and 17th centuries happens to be an extraordinarily high-quality, lowacid cotton rag that holds up really beautifully. The library has signs asking you to keep your hands clean. V-shaped foam stands protect fragile bindings and shoe-strings full of tiny lead weights help keep books open without forcing them. Gloves are only for very special circumstances, or, ironically, for newer books made after industrialization led to more fragile and acidic paper. First editions of Shakespeare are pretty easy to handle; first editions of Dickens are more fragile. At the library I pursued two main projects I originally proposed to their fellowship committee and, pleasantly enough, a loose-end project I didn’t even see coming. The loose end involved stumbling across an obscure play from the 1640’s which I will argue is a previously un-noted source for a major Dryden play. The larger pieces of writing that emerged (and which are on my computer’s desktop begging me to revise them) are two chapters of a would-be book manuscript. One chapter attempts to historicize our understanding of John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont’s King and No King (1611, but constantly revived throughout the century) by situating it in the context of the Restoration paranoia surrounding Charles II’s sexual proclivities. The other asks what Fletcher and Massinger’s The Sea Voyage (1622) really has to do with Shakespeare’s Tempest and how the Fletcher play influenced one of the most popular Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare, Dryden and Davenant’s The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island (1667). As in other portions of the book, my aim is both to clarify the political functions of tragicomedy and to contribute to scholarly understanding of the seventeenth-century vitality of the Fletcher plays, which were performed more than twice as often as Shakespeare’s during the Restoration.


Non-Profit Organization U.S. Postage 1600 Burrstone Road Utica, NY 13502-4892

Utica College

Tradition. Opportunity. Transformation.®

Keats House continued from page 6
that day, Severn was, he wrote, “struck with the first real symptoms of sadness in Keats.” That particular poem was written in 1819, but it may be less sadness than illness that dogged Keats for the short remainder of his life. I thought as much as, in the pale pink bedroom Keats once occupied, I recalled the famous story of Keats in that room in 1820, coughing up blood, and telling his friend and the owner of the house, Charles Brown, “I know the colour of that blood;—it is arterial blood;—I cannot be deceived in that colour;—that drop of blood is my death warrant.” Keats, who had studied medicine before choosing poetry, knew well that he had contracted tuberculosis. Having nursed his brother Tom through the same illness, Keats knew what awaited him. Though the poet’s mortality, his death at a young age before achieving fame or before his engagement to Fanny Brawne led to marriage, occupies a central theme in any Keats biography (I, by the way, recommend both Stanley Plumly’s and Andrew Motion’s; no other matches these poets writing about Keats), something about the house’s interior made me conscious of Keats’s immortality, his poems living on and, through them, his short life is made eternal. Literary artifacts on display suggest as much (the facsimile of the manuscript of Keats’s sonnet to Brawne, “Dark Star,” for example). So, too, do the personal effects (the almandine ring he gave Fanny on their engagement). Few of Keats’s personal effects survive, though; upon his death in Rome his possessions were burned as a precaution (unnecessary, medically, it turns out) against the spread of tubercular germs. Throughout the house reminders of the poet’s death abound, such as the death mask, a final image of the poet’s corporality. I was surprised and particularly moved to see a copy of Fanny Brawne’s collection of fashion plates. From a young age, she saved the images of clothing—theatrical and historical—from European fashion magazines in a scrapbook. Interestingly, there are few plates from the years following Keats’s death, suggesting her interest in this hobby waned (the collection picks up again following her 1833 marriage to Louis Lindon). Leaving the house, I kept thinking about Keats’s life going on through his poems, through this museum—as W.H. Auden wrote about W.B. Yeats, “The words of a dead man / Are modified in the guts of the living.” Two pieces of writing from Keats echoed in my head as I descended the stairs to leave Keats House. First, the last line of the last letter he wrote—the last words this poet wrote, period: conscious of his inability to say farewell to Charles Brown, he wrote, “I always made an awkward bow,” a brief, understated end to a writer’s career, yet in the beauty of iambic tetrameter. Second, his brief poem, “This Living Hand.” “This living hand, now warm and capable / Of earnest grasping,” it begins, “would, if it were cold / And in the icy silence of the tomb, / So haunt the days….” The poem’s ending reminds me (oddly, perhaps, and, certainly, anachronistically) of the ending of Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” “see here it is,” he writes of his hand (a metonymy for the poetry?) “I hold it towards you.” The summer arrived early in London this year—the temperature was high and the skies clear blue. St. James Park—where I would have a Borough Market-bought dinner of cured meat, Stilton, crusty bread, and a half-bottle of wine that evening— would be overfilled with Londoners enjoying the outdoors, the weather, each other, life. But when I left the house, stepping through the back door, I could only think of the dull fact of mortality. I could only think that, like Keats, I, too, will die. Nota bene: Gary’s poetry chapbook, Fastened to a Dying Animal, has just come out and is available from Pudding House Publications (

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful