Willa Cather, The Professor’s House
I first read The Professor’s House in a seminar on American Modernism, halfway through my master’s. The professor appeared barely older than me – way too young to be a professor. Still, there was something wearied about the first grey wisp in her tendrils and the way she trudged into class, as though the epiphanies of modernism had long grown boring. She didn’t want to be there, and I couldn’t understand why.
But five years later, it was me up in front of the auditorium of students – now they expected me to be waxing lyrical and conjuring pearls of wisdom from the text. Pearls? I was more concerned with controlling the sweat drops on my nose. Dwarfed by their fresh-faced smiles and shining eyes.
It’s a strange thing being a professor. Everyone looks to you for inspiration, but what are you supposed to do when your mood plummets and you want to shut out the world?
This is why I’ve come to love The Professor’s House. It’s the story of a professor who has a mental breakdown. After decades of toil in the badly ventilated “office” of his attic, Professor St. Peter falls out of love with the life of the mind. Suddenly, he wants to break out of his head – he wants to do something real instead. His life of contemplation and critical navel gazing pales in comparison to the lives of the primitive men he studies (his discipline is Spanish colonial history). Sound depressing? Not entirely. For St. Peter has an active imagination. In the midst of his despair, he finds himself fantasizing about what it would be like to be one of his students, a young man by the name of Outland. Outland used to live on a mesa - a life as authentic as his name. As St. Peter gets to know him, Outland becomes his alter ego, casting light on the man St. Peter could have been.
(Since I have been warned by a certain follower not to give away too much – lest my entries turn into SPOILERS – I’ll leave off here. Suffice it to say that The Professor’s House is the perfect bed companion for anyone who has gotten used to going to bed alone, pondering how to go on when life seems to have lost all inspiration….)
There is a way to jumpstart your creativity. It begins with making up stories about other selves, fantasizing your alter ego....
Photo from: here
- Leslie Shimotakahara
- Toronto, ON, Canada
- Leslie Shimotakahara is a writer and recovering academic, who wanted to be simply a writer from before the time she could read. Hard-pressed to answer her parents’ question of how she would support herself as a writer, Leslie got drawn into the labyrinthine study of literature, completing her B.A. in Honours English from McGill in 2000, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern American Literature from Brown in 2006. After graduation, she taught English at St. Francis Xavier University for two years. Leslie woke up one morning and realized that she’d had enough of the Ivory Tower. The fact that she wasn’t doing what she wanted to do with her life loomed over her, and the realization was startling. It was time to stop studying and passively observing life and do something real instead. She needed to discover herself and tell her own story. This blog and the book she has written under the same title (Variety Crossing Press, spring 2012) are her foray. Leslie's writing has been published in WRITE, TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and GENRE.