Read It and Eat: Southern Literary Recipes

There are a lot of things the South is known for, both good and bad, but one of the great things is food. In New Orleans, you have Creole and Cajun food that finds its origins in the multicultural background of Louisiana. North Carolina, Memphis, and Texas are all known for their barbecue, each with a distinctive style that makes them unique. The coastal areas of South Carolina and Georgia have their own low country boil and seafood specialties. Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia each fight over which one invented Brunswick stew, one of my favorite southern stews, and people all over the South have a different recipe for it.

The South is also known for its literary traditions that date back all the way to the humor traditions of the “old southwest,” which mostly is comprised of the states west of Georgia and the Carolinas. The Southern Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s saw some of the most famous works in southern literature. This time period gave us William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, and Tennessee Williams. The post-World War II period was dominated by women: Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, and Harper Lee. Throughout it all, “Southern Gothic” permeated many of the most famous works with its dark romanticism and southern humor. Southern Gothic authors included the likes of Dorothy Allison, Walker Percy, Ambrose Bierce, Anne Rice, Poppy Z. Brite, Truman Capote, Faulkner, Welty, O’Connor, and Williams.

While there is a lot to dislike about the South (racism, right-wing politics, homophobia, religious zealots, etc.), you can’t go wrong when you combine the South’s love of food and it’s love of a good story. Probably the most famous marriage of the two is Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg. In Flagg’s novel, the titular restaurant is the go-to spot in Whistle Stop, Alabama, for satisfying meals—and heartwarming company too. Flagg describes the quintessential dinner: “Idgie and Ruth had set a place for him at a table. He sat down to a plate of fried chicken, black-eyed peas, turnip greens, fried green tomatoes, cornbread, and iced tea.”

I used to love to pick the tomatoes while they were still firm and green, slice them up, and fry them. You’ll find them as a popular side, an appetizer, or offered as an off-the-menu seasonal special that’s prepared in a new, creative, flavorful way, usually with some type of special sauce or topped with seafood, such as shrimp Remoulade. I’ve even had them as the main dish on a BLT, which is quite delicious. While this Southern staple deserves its fame by simply being delicious, it also has Alabama native Fannie Flagg to thank for its unwavering popularity. In 1987, Flagg published the novel Fried Green Tomatoes, which would later be adapted into a major motion.

Anyone can make fried green tomatoes and enjoy them at home. To serve four to six people, the ingredient list is fairly simple and straightforward: cornmeal, flour, buttermilk, vegetable oil, seasoning salt (or Cajun seasoning if you want a kick), and pepper. The recipe starts with unripe green tomatoes, which are soaked in buttermilk and coated with flour and cornmeal mixture, and fried. Start with three medium-size green tomatoes, which you need to slice into ¼-inch slices, dredge through the cornmeal mixture, and fry until golden brown.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon seasoning salt, divided (preferably Lawry’s)
  • ½ teaspoon pepper + ½ teaspoon pepper, divided (you can substitute Cajun Seasoning)
  • 3 green tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch slices
  • Vegetable oil

How to Make It

Step 1
Soak the slices of green tomato in buttermilk with seasoning salt and pepper; set aside. Combine ½ cup all-purpose flour, ½ cornmeal, 1 teaspoon seasoning salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl or pan. Dredge tomato slices in cornmeal mixture.

Step 2
Pour oil to a depth of ¼ to ½ inch in a large cast-iron skillet; heat to 375°. Drop tomatoes, in batches, into the hot oil, and cook 2 minutes on each side or until golden. Drain on paper towels or a rack. Sprinkle hot tomatoes with salt.

It’s just that simple, but the next recipe is not. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout Finch’s neighbor, Miss Maudie Atkinson, makes a bourbon-loaded Lane cake that’s famous all over the town of Maycomb, Alabama. Miss Maude says in the book, “I’ll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her, she’s got another think coming.” Honestly, I have never eaten a Lane cake. I was always thought of this cake as a very fancy and complicated cake to make and to be even more honest, I am not a great baker. I can cook up a storm, and if I have a recipe, there is nothing I can’t cook. But when it comes to baking, I have only two specialties: a cranberry cake and cherry-pistachio cookies.

More than 100 years ago, Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Alabama entered the annual baking competition at the county fair in Columbus, Georgia. She took first prize. The cake came to be known as The Lane Cake and gained literary fame in 1960 when it was featured in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. In March 1966, Southern Living featured the cake in its second issue. It is still a popular layer cake; however, it has undergone many changes since Mrs. Lane’s original recipe, mostly in the filling ingredients. Many bakers use other fruit in the recipe instead of the raisins. Coconut, pineapple, and pecans are popular additions. In North Carolina, chopped apples and cinnamon are used along with raisins, and apple brandy makes a good addition to the fruit.

Recipes for this cake vary from kitchen to kitchen and state to state. Part of the charm is making your own creation with ingredients that your family likes or are popular for the season. This isn’t one of those desserts where you can pop in and out of the kitchen; it takes some effort, but the moist cake, I am told it is totally worth the wait. It’s packed with Southern flavors like toasted pecans, coconut flakes, and dried peaches. The Lane Cake is topped with a Peach Schnapps-infused frosting that’s both incredibly unique and fluffy. Bourbon is one of the primary components in the dessert, which helps the flavor to improve as it ages.

1898 County Fair Winning Recipe

Cake Ingredients:

  • 3 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 8 egg whites

Instructions:

Step 1
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put wax paper in the bottom only of 4 9-inch cake pans.

Step 2
Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

Step 3
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter. Gradually add the sugar, mixing well until light and fluffy.

Step 4
Combine the dry ingredients with the creamed ingredients gradually while adding milk as you go. Mix together well and add vanilla while mixing.

Step 5
Separate the egg whites from the yolks and save the yolks for use in the filling. Beat egg whites with an electric mixer in a separate glass bowl until soft peaks form. Gently add the beaten egg whites to the cake batter. Be careful not to over mix (see tips below). The batter will be smooth but look slightly granular.

Step 6
Divide the batter evenly into the 4 pans. Bake in a 375-degree oven until the edges shrink slightly away from the side of the pans and cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center of each layer comes out clean—approximately 20 minutes. Place pans on wire racks to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

Step 7
Turn the layers out of pans onto wire cooling racks; remove the wax paper and turn the layers right side up; cool completely.

Recipe for Filling:

  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup seedless raisins, finely chopped
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 cup bourbon or brandy (or other alcohol of choice) or grape juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Step 1
In a bowl, beat egg yolks well. Add sugar and butter to the egg yolks and continue to mix well. Put in a 2-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat; stirring constantly until thick (this might take as long as 15 to 20 minutes to get thick).

Step 2
When thickened, remove from heat. Stir in raisins, pecans, bourbon, and vanilla.

Step 3
Cool slightly. Spread generously between each cake layer.

How to Make the Frosting

You can use your favorite frosting recipe for this cake, or the Seven Minute Frosting recommended here. Some people frost just the sides of the cake and put the filling mixture on top with just a rim of frosting around the edge to keep the filling in place on top. It’s your choice.

Seven Minute Frosting:

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Step 1
Set a heatproof glass bowl over a pan of simmering hot water. In a bowl put the sugar, corn syrup, 1/4 cup water, and egg whites. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until mixture registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer (about 2 minutes).

Step 2
Remove the bowl from the pan. Using an electric mixer, beat the mixture on high speed until glossy and soft peaks form (about 5 minutes). Beat in the vanilla.

Step 3
Immediately frost the sides and top of the cake.

1966 Southern Living Recipe

This version of the Lane cake is complete with a peachy makeover and an unforgettable meringue frosting.

Ingredients

Cake Layers:

  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups butter, softened
  • 8 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 3 cups all-purpose soft-wheat flour (such as White Lily)
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Shortening

Peach Filling:

  • Boiling water
  • 8 ounces dried peach halves
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • PEACH SCHNAPPS FROSTING:
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup peach schnapps
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • 1/8 teaspoon table salt

How to Make It

Step 1
Prepare Cake Layers: Preheat oven to 350°. Beat the first 2 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Gradually add 8 egg whites, 2 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Step 2
Sift together flour and baking powder; gradually add to butter mixture alternately with 1 cup water, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract. Spoon batter into 4 greased (with shortening) and floured 9-inch round shiny cake pans (about 1 3/4 cups batter in each pan).

Step 3
Bake at 350° for 14 to 16 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks, and cool completely (about 30 minutes).

Step 4
Prepare Filling: Pour boiling water to cover over dried peach halves in a medium bowl; let stand 30 minutes. Drain well and cut into 1/4-inch pieces. (After plumping and dicing, you should have about 2 cups peaches.)

Step 5
Whisk together melted butter and the next 2 ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, 10 to 12 minutes, or until thickened. Remove from heat, and stir in diced peaches, coconut, and next 3 ingredients. Cool completely (about 30 minutes).

Step 6
Spread filling between cake layers (a little over 1 cup per layer). Cover cake with plastic wrap, and chill 12 hours.

Step 7
Prepare Frosting: Pour water to a depth of 1 1/2 inches into a small saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat. Whisk together 2 egg whites, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and next 3 ingredients in a heatproof bowl; place bowl over boiling water. Beat egg white mixture at medium-high speed with a handheld electric mixer 12 to 15 minutes or until stiff glossy peaks form and frosting is spreading consistency. Remove from heat and spread immediately over the top and sides of the cake.


Pic of the Day


Dirty Politics

Three times a week, I receive the History News Network (HNN) newsletter. HNN is a platform for historians at George Washington University writing about current events. I spend part of every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday reading a variety of articles, essays, and opinion pieces published by them. Some of the material is really fascinating. I often get blog post ideas from these readings. 

One of these ideas came from an essay by historian George C. Herring. Herring is Alumni Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Kentucky (UK). A native of Blacksburg, Va., he received a bachelor’s degree from Roanoke College after service in the U.S. Navy. He earned both a master’s and a doctorate in History from the University of Virginia. He joined the UK faculty in 1969, and taught classes at all levels from introductory survey courses in U.S. history to graduate seminars. A leading authority on U.S. foreign relations, he is the former editor of Diplomatic History, and a past president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. He authored America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975 among other books.

I cannot do justice to the words of Herring. He says what I have believed for over four years now. In essence, he describes how Donald Trump is destroying the very fabric of American democracy. While dirty politics is nothing new, Donald Trump has taken it to new (and childish) heights. He, and many of his followers, enjoy being bullies and making fun of others just for a laugh. I hope you will read what Herring has to say in his essay.

Dirty Politics, Then and Now

by George Herring

Donald Trump has brought to American politics and to the presidency a uniquely personal, combative, and mean-spirited style, honed in the cutthroat worlds of high-end real estate, finance, and show business, that relies on personal insults and denigration of foes. In the realm of dirty politics, virtually by default, he has been allowed to rewrite the rules of the game—to the enormous detriment of our country.       

To be sure, personal attacks, mudslinging, and name calling date to the beginning of this republic. “JEFFERSON—AND NO GOD,” nervous Federalists screamed in 1800 in a vain effort to thwart election of the allegedly infidel, pro-French Virginian. Andrew Jackson’s rivals had the temerity to besmirch his beloved wife, Rachel. The twin issues of slavery and secession made the election of 1860 especially ugly. Abraham Lincoln’s enemies depicted him as a “horrid looking wretch,” assaulted him with vicious racist attacks, and claimed that he favored miscegenation.  

Sometimes the mudslinging took on a lighter tone. In 1884, Democrat Grover Cleveland was rumored to have fathered a child out of wedlock, inspiring the ditty “Ma, ma, where’s my pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.” At times, it has been downright silly. In 1944, Republicans charged that Franklin Roosevelt had wasted millions of taxpayer dollars by sending a U.S. Navy vessel back across the Pacific to rescue his dog Fala, who, allegedly, had been left on a remote island. Today’s politicians thus follow a time-honored tradition.

But there is also something new in the volume of the attacks, who is purveying them, and how they are purveyed.  The internet gives a platform to political hacks, private citizens, extremist groups, conspiracy theorists, and even foreign governments—think Russia and Iran—to spread misinformation and outright lies with little or no test for truthfulness. This has exponentially increased the amount of personal smears and rendered them more nasty.

More important is the role of the mud-slinger-in-chief. In years past, presidents have generally turned a blind eye to the antics of their zealous underlings. They have left to others the job of responding to attacks. Surprisingly, perhaps, Jackson defended his wife’s honor with words rather than dueling pistols. In another exception, FDR turned the tables on his opponents with a brilliantly sarcastic riposte pronouncing that Fala was a Scotty and his “Scotch soul” would never condone such a waste of money. “Roosevelt’s dog got Dewey’s goat” was the verdict on this incident.   

Trump is the ringmaster of today’s supercharged political circus. The role comes naturally to him. It is a part of his persona and his modus operandi. He is a master of innuendo and hyperbole. He is not troubled by moral or ethical standards, and has no more than a passing acquaintance with the truth. He delights in churning up chaos and seeks to exploit it to his advantage. He early latched on to Twitter, and he spews out with seeming impunity so many tweets that opponents are hard pressed to know how or whether to respond. Mud-slinging seems to be the one part of the job that he truly enjoys. One must grudgingly concede that he has a certain gift for it.

He ventured into dirty politics before he ran for office by taking up the notorious “birther” theory that Barack Obama was not eligible for the office he already held. In 2016, presidential candidate Trump dreamed up belittling nicknames for his primary opponents: “Low Energy Jeb” (Bush); “Little Marco” (Rubio); “Lyin’ Ted” (Cruz). He hawked the preposterous insinuation that Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination. In the campaign itself, he labeled his opponent “Crooked Hillary” for her alleged misuse of government emails and led the chant “Lock Her Up.” His slurs can be blatantly racist and sexist: “Pocahontas” for Senator Elizabeth Warren, for example, and the unspeakably crude remarks directed at presidential debate anchor Megyn Kelly after she dared challenge him.   

Seeking reelection, he has picked up where he left off, shifting the low energy moniker to “Sleepy Joe” and “Slow Joe” Biden and questioning his opponent’s mental acuity. Childishly, he insulted Vice-Presidential nominee Kamala Harris by knowingly mispronouncing her first name. He launched a half-baked birther theory for her as well and piled on with a barrage of misogynist slurs: “phony Kamala,” “nasty,” “angry,” “madwoman.” The Trump family low–so far–has been the “like” (later removed) that son Eric attached to a tweet calling Harris a “whorendous pick.” Older son Don Jr.’s labeling of Biden as the “Loch Ness monster of the swamp” ranks a distant second. Junior has also hinted that Biden may be a pedophile.

It could be argued, of course, that Trump is simply being honest, that he is merely bringing into the open stuff that usually remains behind the scenes. But that is too easy. What the president of the United States says makes a difference. He demeans himself, if that matters. He demeans the office of the presidency, one of the most prestigious positions in the world. He demeans this nation in the eyes of its own citizens and the world. Actions have consequences, and Trump’s tirades can incite his followers and provoke his opponents to act similarly, revving up the already rampant divisiveness in this country, sparking hatred and violence, and even causing death, as with the killing of two people by a teenage Trump enthusiast in Kenosha, WI. “The unthinkable has become normal,” Senator Bernie Sanders has rightly noted.  

Shamelessly, the Republicans either won’t or can’t rein in their president. The only way to get rid of his toxic influence is to vote him out.   

https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/177409

Because politics can leave a bad taste in your mouth, here is some eye candy as a palate cleanser.


Pic of the Day


I Want to Tell You Something: Read This Book

A few days ago, I finished Chasten Buttigieg’s autobiography, I Have Something to Tell You. I loved it, and I think you will too. 

Chasten James Glezman was born on June 23, 1989. He shares his birthday with legendary bisexual sexologist Alfred Kinsey upon whose research the modern gay rights movement was built, and math-computer genius and gay martyr Alan Turing. During Pete Buttigieg’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Pete’s husband Chasten quickly became the campaign’s “not so secret weapon.” I followed Chasten on social media throughout Pete’s campaign and saw a few interviews with him especially those after his brother attacked him on Fox News. I found him charming, sweet, and funny, and I wanted to know more about this middle school drama teacher. That’s why I wanted to read his recently released autobiography, I Have Something to Tell You.

His story verifies much of what I thought I knew about Chasten. From his public appearances, social media, and broadcast interviews, he appears to be intelligent and funny, given to emotion, and passionate about kids especially LGBTQ+ kids, and his love for Pete. I think you too will find the book reinforces these impressions. I listened to it as an audio book; reading a physical book is often difficult because they tend to exacerbate my headaches, and it becomes difficult to focus my eyes to the words on page. Chasten narrated his biography. I think listening to him gave the book a richer meaning. You may remember I originally came to Vermont from Alabama for a position as an oral historian. Oral histories allow you to hear the person’s emotions, and that is precisely what you get with the audio version of I Have Something to Tell You.

Throughout the campaign, Chasten and Pete were criticized by groups like “Queers Against Pete” who trolled Pete and Chasten around the country from one campaign event to another always trying to shout them down. They gave various excuses for not liking Pete, but #1 among them was that the couple was not “gay enough.” What a crock of shit! They are two men married to each other. How much gayer can you get? Just as sexuality is on a spectrum so are gay men. Chasten and Pete are identified with a gay sophistication often derided by some in our community; however, Chasten’s roots are surprisingly middle America. He was reared in Chums Corner, Michigan (population 946), “a hop, skip, and a jump from rural farmland.” Both his parents had to work hard to make ends meet. He recalls simple meals like meatloaf, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, canned tomato soup, peaches, and pears—and his mom Sherri, “in a bathrobe, her hair still wet from the shower getting her purse and writing us a check for school lunches in the mornings saying that it might not be enough.”

Growing up in rural Alabama, there are a lot of things I felt a connection to with Chasten’s story. He writes, “When fair time came around, I always felt so nervous and conspicuous. As you might suspect, the typical 4Her is a tough guy or wants to be. They present as very masculine, and I never did.” My parents forced me to play sports, but I was not the typical athlete. I was never very masculine, and like so many young sensitive boys who grew up as Chasten and I did, other boys noticed and pounced.

Also, like Chasten, I don’t remember “seeing” any gay people in person growing up. Just as Chasten relates in his book, I remember vividly the words fag, faggot, and sissy, and all the many other descriptors for boys who were different, feminine, and soft. I remember being pushed around in the halls and treated differently from other guys. Chasten says in the book, “The classic move was to push me into a locker while calling me a “freak,” but the comments about my sexuality were much more hurtful than this general term. Something in those insults told me other kids knew more about me than I did myself, and I didn’t like it….” I remember feeling the same way.

The combination of terror in the hallways and the locker room, the dogma of Catholicism (for me it was the Church of Christ), our Republican communities (Alabama began to be more Republican as I got older), the country, and the world in general were all things with which many of us can identify. The constant message of what we were expected to be, but knowing we were different led to deep emotional scarring of our sense of self that negatively impacted our lives in multiple ways.  Much of the first chapters can be summed up in this passage: “Fighting the waves of exclusion, I often felt like an undertow was pulling me away from everyone and everything.”

Chasten also struggled with student debt something he and Pete talked about on the campaign trail. I understood completely. After nine years of graduate school, I racked up massive student debt and couldn’t pay them when I got a job as a teacher which paid barely minimum wage. Chasten has also struggled with medical debt, something I too know very well as I have searched for treatments for my migraines. Before the Affordable Care Act, most insurance wouldn’t cover migraine medicine because it was a preexisting condition. And let me tell you, migraine medicines are expensive.

As painful as these struggles are to read and identify with, there were many funny moments. Chasten can throw shade. From his Tales of a Starbucks Barista: “Caramel Frappuccino perfectionists are a whole breed of human being [but they were] preferable to the Foam People….” There were fewer laughs regarding his doubts and fears from all the dead-end dates; like many of us, he was initially surprised to discover most men he met through apps had no interest in a committed relationship and family. We all know what most guys on apps really want even if they start out by saying they are looking for more.

The story of meeting Pete and their relationship was so sweet. You got a sense of just how laid-back Pete really is, but also of just how much they love each other. The two are quite different, but they seem a perfect match. They both had struggled with coming to terms with their sexuality, something many of us have experienced.

One of the remarkable things about the book is the campaign. You get to read about Chasten’s experiences trying to help LGBTQ+ kids accept themselves something still difficult for many in 2020. The Internet is full of pictures of young kids on the campaign trail locking eyes with Pete (who leaned over or knelt to their eye level as Chasten taught him to do). During the campaign, Chasten visited over 100 LGBTQ+ centers across America. Some of the campaign stories are extremely emotional; I was teary by the end of the book.

While I don’t see Chasten getting into politics for himself as he seems to prefer teaching, I do hope one day we see Pete serving this country in a greater capacity perhaps even as president. If you have any interest in Chasten or Pete Buttigieg, I urge you to get this book. It is beautifully written with an appealing and witty approach that comes across easily. It’s the story of a life that wasn’t always charmed or humorous, but instead a life with which I think many of us can identify. It’s just a damn good book, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Pete Buttigieg kisses his husband Chasten after Chasten introduced him before a speech where he announced he was ending his campaign to be the Democratic nominee for president on March 01, 2020, in South Bend, Indiana.

Pic of the Day


Two Poems about Rain

The Rainy Day
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82) is best known for “The Song of Hiawatha.” He also wrote many other celebrated poems. And then there’s ‘The Rainy Day’, which isn’t numbered among his most famous. But it is one of the finest poems written about rain, so deserves a few words of analysis for that reason alone.

Rain and misery are two certainties in life, at least in the New England that Longfellow knew so well. Longfellow’s poem uses the rain/misery connection to offer a misconception about life. In the first stanza, Longfellow talks of the rain and wind outside. He uses the second stanza to discuss the internal, miserable weather raging within his heart. For the final stanza, he shifts from simply describing his mood to the authoritative, as he commands his heart to be of good cheer and remember that, although it may be raining now, the sun is still shining behind the clouds, though he can’t currently see it. When we’re miserable or sad, it can be very difficult to recall happiness, to remember what’s now out of sight. In his penultimate line, we find the most famous line in this poem: ‘Into each life some rain must fall.’ Misery is part of a common lot of humanity. Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying, “When it rains look for rainbows when it’s dark look for stars.” Longfellow might have been well-advised to listen to Wilde’s advice.

There Will Come Soft Rains
By Sara Teasdale

(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Unlike the majority of Teasdale’s war poems, “There Will Come Soft Rains” has not been entirely forgotten. Three decades after its initial publication, in the wake of World War II, Ray Bradbury featured the poem as the foundation of a similarly post-apocalyptic short story, also titled “There Will Come Soft Rains,” in his 1950 novel The Martian Chronicles. In his re-appropriation, Bradbury portrays a future world that has been destroyed by mankind’s heedless progress, in a gruesome fashion that I don’t want to discuss. Bradbury’s story shares with Teasdale’s poem the terrifying insight that mankind is no longer connected, organically, to the natural world. The only species capable of mass, mechanized, self-destruction, humans are utterly alone, detached from a natural world that no longer even notices we are there. Imported into the futuristic world of 2057, Teasdale’s words become bitterly ironic. As early as World War I, Bradbury implies, mankind had been warned.

The poem awakens that old sentimental longing to return to a state of deep connectedness with nature. It even deploys a set of familiar stylistic markers that seem to have been borrowed directly from a nineteenth-century aesthetic economy. The poem’s alliteration, for instance — “whistling their whims,” “feathery fire”— and the sing-song rhymes— “ground/sound,” “night/white,” “fire/wire,” all evoke a sense of comforting gentility. But this veneer of conventional sentimentality merely heightens the profound impact of nature’s heartlessness. The poem’s sweet, sentimental quality and its tranquil, idyllic descriptors are deceiving. Ultimately, all of our sentimental feelings about “frogs” and “wild-plum trees,” as well as the language through which we have constructed those myths of a connection to nature, are tossed, mockingly, back at us. The reader is led to believe that the “soft rains” will signal our own renewal and that the birds will sing to celebrate our salvation. 

The poem challenges those idyllic fantasies with the reality of a natural world dominated by indifference, motivated only by its own survival, and oblivious to the existence or extinction of man. However, Teasdale locates a kernel of hope in this harsh vision. Devoted exclusively to its own survival, nature, in Teasdale’s conception, proffers no comfort to mankind, but can, nonetheless, provide the key to our own preservation. Rather than a retreat into an irrecoverable, idealized past. Teasdale was influenced to write this poem by reading Charles Darwin’s 1859 book On the Origin of Species. In such, she was urging her audience to adopt the ways of nature—to focus more whole-heartedly on their own survival.

“There Will Come Soft Rains” first appeared in Harper’s Monthly Magazine in July 1918—less than two months after the passage of the Sedition Act. Meant to strengthen the provisions of the already-repressive Espionage Act, the Sedition Act of May 16, 1918, was designed to quash American opposition to the war, outlawing “virtually all criticism of the war or the government.” Following its passage, anthologies and magazines continued to publish a small number of anti-war poems, but only if the poems were strategically nonspecific in their critique and refrained from offering a political alternative to the war. This climate of censorship casts a different light on the apparent obliqueness of Teasdale’s anti-war poems. Rather than a limitation, their historical imprecision might be what enabled their circulation at the height of World War I. It is possible, in fact, that Teasdale’s cultivation of a demure, “poetess” persona might have, contradictorily, enabled her to publish anti-war poetry more freely.


Pic of the Day


Botox

Today, I am driving down to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital’s Headache Clinic for my first set of Botox injections for my migraines. The Botox will be injected around the “pain fibers” that are involved in causing my headaches. According to the Botox website, Botox enters the nerve endings around where it is injected and blocks the release of chemicals involved in pain transmission to prevents the activation of pain networks in the brain. Botox is supposed to prevent migraine headaches before they start, but I’ve read that it takes time to work. It can take two to three treatments (6-9 months) before the treatment reaches its maximum effects. A treatment lasts for 10-12 weeks, and patients report that in as little as two Botox treatments headache days are reduced by approximately 50%.

In general, the FDA-recommended dosage of 155 units costs between $300 to $600 for each treatment. As I understand it, Botox is packaged in 200 unites, so many doctors inject the remaining 45 units into the worst affected areas so as not to waste the medicine. Luckily, my insurance company seems to have approved the treatment. I have not heard anything to the contrary. It has taken over a month to get the treatments approved. My insurance company has fought my doctor and me on each of these new migraine treatments, but my neurologist is very good at getting appeals approved. I have tried the CGRP migraine preventive medications (Emgality and Aimovig), but the first was not deemed successful enough by my neurologist, and the second caused no improvement at all. In fact, with the second, I went back to having daily migraines. Throughout my life, I have also tried a variety of antidepressants and blood pressure medications that are typically used to prevent migraines. I am unable to take any of the anti-seizure medications because I have a sulfur allergy and thus would likely be allergic to those medications. The Botox injections are getting close to the end of the line of possible treatments. I’m not sure what the next step would be, but there are some alternative medicine techniques that have been helpful in some migraine sufferers.

My appointment is expected to only take about 20 minutes, a short appointment for an hour’s drive down to the clinic. The doctor will use a very small needle that I was told would feel like a pinprick. At my last visit, she told me that it would be painful and/or uncomfortable but with my history of migraines, it should be a breeze. Each treatment typically involves 31 injections in seven key areas of the head and neck. Sadly, it can take up to six months to see the maximum benefit from Botox. I just hope and pray I see some improvement fairly soon. I am at my wits end with these migraines. I’ve read that I could see results in as little as two to three weeks after my first treatment.

UPDATE (2:30 pm): I just got back home from getting the Botox treatment. It was a little painful and uncomfortable but nothing too bad. The whole procedure took less than 10 minutes, actually closer to 5 minutes. I have little red dots all over my head form where I bled at the injection spots. I am not sore from the injections which is good. Time will tell how well it works. I currently don’t have much of a headache, but I slept wrong last night and my neck and shoulder are in a lot of pain, so that is overshadowing any headache I have. I just wanted to give a quick update and say that all went well.


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