I do enjoy cross referencing things and this week there are many opportunities. In America we are getting ready to celebrate the New Year—which, interestingly, is a term of Middle English (1150-1200) origin. This term I am reading Literature of the Later Middle Ages and became very curious about references to New Year. I wonder what word and traditions people used with reference to the New Year before 1150.
This New Year I am celebrating in a southern city, Washington D.C. My home, Pittsburgh, is close to Washington DC and is also very near the Mason Dixon line. The Mason Dixon line is a survey boundary that separated the Union and Confederate states in the American Civil War. I live in a place referred to as ‘The Gateway to Appalachia’ (pronounce it Apple – At – Cha) Although we are a few miles north of the Mason Dixon line, the New Year traditions in Pittsburgh are very southern, especially among the ‘old’ families who arrived before the great waves of immigration America and Pittsburgh experienced in the late 19th and early 20th century. In addition to its southern traditions, proximity to Appalachia, and great immigrant communities, Pittsburgh is also known as the ‘Gateway to the Mid-West’ and the ‘Gateway to the North-East.’ That’s a lot of cross referencing and a bit of a puzzle when it comes to understanding the complex story of this community.
There are a lot of stories that make up this interesting, multinational, community; just like there are a lot of great stories that make up our very interesting student community. One cross – reference between the two is how much I enjoy hearing about my neighbors and my colleagues perspective on things like a New Year tradition or a text we are reading. My father always told me to try to see things from at least 3 different points of view before forming my own opinion. I guess that habit helps me to think of things as if they are an interesting puzzle I can put together this way or that. It is the way I have been viewingliterature the last few weeks; my texts are complex puzzles with layers of pieces. Sometimes pieces are missing, but that is because I have not yet learned to look for them. Like the southern traditions in my community are not always obvious unless you know they are there, or are looking and expect to find them. Now, when reading a text, I am more engaged with the puzzle of a particular story than ever before.
This year I am thinking about the stories I would like to tell as well as the stories I am reading. It is not easy to develop the kind of perspective required to observe and contemplate events or characters, then render the experience in a way a reader can appreciate. There are a lot of similarities between the complexity of literature as a reader or writer, the extraordinary set of experiences and history embedded in my small community, and the diverse set perspectives our student community brings to the study of English literature. The various perspectives my colleagues bring to seminars, study forums and the Student Cafe help me explore my literary puzzles fully. Studying in this program has helped me begin to discover the missing pieces in the stories I am reading and those yet to be told.
Stories waiting to be told need story tellers; people interested enough in language and the world around them to commit pen to paper, the intellectual energy necessary to scratch the surface of the world around us, and the generosity to share their perspectives with us. I expect some new stories will be told about Pittsburgh’s southern traditions as America commemorates the sesquicentennial of the Civil War in April 2012. I am expecting to find some fascinating pieces of my puzzle while writing about my community and reading 19th Century American literature next term. Meanwhile, as they say in the south, Happy New Year Y’all.