November 2002

 Crisis in the Publishing Industry

Cindy Malone

News from the Chair

Dr. Ozzie Mayers

On Not Getting Lost: Choosing to Major in English (or Any Major for That Matter) 

   Charles Thornbury

Soapstone: One Writer's Meat and Drink

Mara Faulkner, O.S.B.

Law School: An Interesting Place to Be

Art Boylan '01

The Civil War Goes On and On

Hilary Thimmesh, O.S.B.

Once a Teacher, Now a Lawyer, Always a Writer

Peter Carlton

Retired? Not Exactly

Patrick McDarby, O.S.B. and Sheila Rausch, O.S.B.

 



 

During the past four years, Cindy Malone has been teaching English 315: Editing and Publishing.  To gain the experience she judged necessary, she completed 1998 and 1999 summer internships at Graywolf Press in St. Paul.  She subsequently helped develop Inside Books, a week-long summer publishing institute held at CSB in 2000 and 2001.  These experiences, her research for the editing course, and guest presentations by Graywolf Press staff members have helped her understand recent shifts in the publishing industry, some of which are major changes.  Next year Cindy plans to research and write about the consequences of print-on-demand technologies in both academic and literary publishing.  Ed.

 Crisis in the Publishing Industry 

Cindy Malone

Perhaps the most dismal feature of today's publishing industry is the astonishing waste of printed books in the United States.  As journalist Michael Pakenham notes, approximately 50,000 new titles are published each year in our country, and this swelling wave of books floods a limited market of book-buying readers.  Pakenham's claim is confirmed in the October issue of the Atlantic Monthly: our bestsellers emerge from sales-conference and marketing hype even before  fall-season books arrive in stores; then the vast majority of the 50,000 titles simply fades away.1

 

What happens to these books?  Bookselling is a consignment business; bookstores can return unsold copies months, even years, after receiving them.  A few are "remaindered"; most are pulped.  Kate Tentler, publisher of Simon and Schuster Online, observes: "We currently manufacture five books to sell three or four, because of the copies used for display, or those returned unsold" (Reimers).  These returned books cannot simply be returned to the warehouse and kept there until they can be resold because storage space is costly and because for-profit publishers are taxed on inventory.  Publishers might donate returned books, but shipping costs for books (hefty commodities, as all English majors know) are prohibitively high.  Don Leeper of Stanton Publications, a pioneer in the field of on-demand publishing, estimates that "the grand total of books destroyed [each year] is probably between 300 million and 1 billion" (e-mail).  At our most recent CSB/SJU publishing institute, Inside Books, Leeper estimated the number conservatively at 400 million (presentation).  As publishers decree the destruction of millions of books, the backlist--books published before the current publishing season--vanishes, so that books we used last year for our courses are out of print this year. 

Academic presses face a particularly difficult future.  Stephen Greenblatt, President of the Modern Language Association, recently published a letter in PMLA, the primary journal for literature and modern languages, urging colleagues across the country to recognize that budgets for academic presses and libraries have been drastically reduced.2  One significant consequence of this budgetary crisis, he points out, is that younger scholars find it increasingly difficult to publish a first book in time for tenure review.  For more reasons than Greenblatt has space to outline in his letter (and more reasons than I have space to outline here), traditional academic publishing is in crisis.  Print-on-demand can help faculty and presses manage some of the problems threatening the future of academic publishing.  But writers, scholars, and academic publishers must also reconsider the purposes for which we use existing and new technologies.  Faculty members across the country need to ask hard questions about the audience of readers, about the uses of scholarly work, about the value we attribute to different forms of scholarship and creative work.  In addition, we need to examine the questions that new technologies raise: What kinds of evaluation processes will develop alongside or in place of the "referee system" in academic publishing?  How will the functions of editors change as authors choose alternatives to traditional publishing?  What kind of distribution system should publishers develop for specialized titles with small print runs?  

Print-on-demand promises to help reduce waste, invigorate academic publishing, and preserve the backlist.  As Tentler claims, this technology "creates a one-to-one correlation between what we publish and what we sell" (Reimers).  Conglomerate-owned publishers like Simon and Schuster will certainly benefit from their investments in electronic forms of publishing.  Tentler points out that print-on-demand "will significantly increase our margins" (Reimers). 

But much more is at stake than profit margins at the publishing firms owned by the top ten conglomerates.  Daniel Simon argues that "Independent publishers [including academic publishers] represent as little as 5 percent of overall book sales in this country, but we are responsible for a disproportionately large share of our country's cultural life, First Amendment responsibilities and writers' hopes." 

During the next year, I plan to spend time at Bookmobile, the print-on-demand segment of Stanton Publications, learning more about possibilities for using print-on-demand technologies in independent and academic publishing.  Print-on-demand may help reduce waste and help important scholarly books and excellent creative work find eager readers year after year.  By studying the problems that academic and literary publishers face and by learning more about print-on-demand technologies, I hope to suggest strategies for keeping important books in print and for helping new, significant work find an audience. 

Notes

  1 In "New and Noteworthy: The Best Bets in a Crowded Autumn Field," Benjamin Schwarz says,

            [T]o a large extent the game has been decided long before their books are in the stores.  Publishers, 

            of course, don't distribute advertising and marketing budgets evenly among their titles--they bet on

            the surest things and the sexiest subjects; at sales conferences in the spring they decide which books

            have the best chance of breaking out in the fall.  The rest are pretty much left to die--no ads in major

            newspapers, no national author tours.  During the summer, sales reps report which fall titles have won 

            over booksellers across the country, further refining the list of titles the publishers will push.  By late

            summer the trade journals--Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal--have nominated

            the upcoming season's winners and losers, which greatly influences which books, and how many of

            them, bookstores and libraries will order.  By summer's end the cognoscenti in New York have

            already decided which fall titles to anoint with elaborate author profiles in The New York Times (the

            only paper that matters in the publishing world) and other publications.  (139)

   2 Stephen Greenblatt writes in his letter of 28 May 2002,

            Many factors are involved [in the reduction of published academic books], but the core of the

            problem--which extends beyond our fields to such disciplines as philosophy, musicology, and

            anthropology--is systemic, structural, and at base economic.  Under financial constraint, universities

            have been unable to provide adequate support both for library budgets and for university presses. 

            Responding to the pressure of shrinking budgets and of skyrocketing costs for medical, scientific, and

            technical journals, libraries have cut back on the number of books that they purchase.  And university

            presses, suffering severe financial losses as a result of this shift in library purchases and a general

            decline in book sales, have cut back on the number of books they publish annually in certain fields.

Confirming Greenblatt's assessment is the study of 2001 book sales in the United States that was done by the American Association of Publishers.  It records a 7.6% decrease in sales of professional and scholarly books, a total loss of $4.74 billion ("AAP Industry  Statistics").

 Works Cited

"AAP Industry Statistics." 1 March 2002.  <http://www.publishers.org/stats/index.htm>.  19 September 2002.

Breen, Michael.  "Book Arts, Artsy Books."  2 May 2000.

Greenblatt, Stephen.  Letter to Colleagues.  PMLA 28 May 2002.

Leeper, Don.  Presentation at Inside Books, 18 July 2001.

---.  E-mail message.  19 September 2002.

Pakenham, Michael.  "Gibb's 'Mouthing the Words': A Debut Novel of Brilliance." Baltimore Sun 15 April 2001. 

     LexisNexis Academic.  College of St. Benedict/St. John's University.  21 September 2002.

Reimers, Barbara Depompa.  "New Technologies Transform Publishing Industry--Production Time and Costs Are

      Being Cut While Publishers Gain More Flexibility."  Information Week 27 March 2000.  Expanded Academic ASAP.  

       InfoTrac.  College of St. Benedict/St. John's University.  19 September 2002.

Schwarz, Benjamin.  "New and Noteworthy: The Best Bets in a Crowded Autumn Field."  Atlantic Monthly

     October 2002: 139.

Simon, Daniel.  "Keepers of the Word."  The Nation 25 December 2000.  General Reference Center Gold.  InfoTrac.

      College of St. Benedict/St. John's University.  23 January 2000.

 

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In October, the English Department sponsored English Night, an evening to help students choose a major.  The featured speaker that evening was Charles Thornbury, long-time professor in the Department.  His insightful reflection on his own journey toward making that decision is printed below.  Ed.

On Not Getting Lost: Choosing to Major in English (or Any Major for That Matter)

Charles Thornbury

 

 

Allow me to begin with a confession, perhaps a rather obvious confession as you might discern in my white hair.  It was many years ago that I decided to major in English, and even at that I didn't actually major in English as an undergraduate.  So who am I to advise you in 2002 about choosing a major?  I'm a slow learner obviously, but I can say that in listening over the past twenty-five years to students struggling with what direction to take I often hear the footsteps of my own passage many years ago.

I don't believe that much has changed in the feeling that making an important decision about your direction is sometimes a lonely pursuit.  This evening's connection with you is designed to look after the lonely part.  You will find here some very good advice, much personal concern, and an almost infinite dedication in my English Department colleagues -- the best department, in my humble opinion, in our colleges.

What I wanted as an undergraduate and what you want now is an answer about what you should do.  Sometimes we have little to say about the direction our lives take, but sometimes we get to have a say.  I think you will find neither an answer this evening nor a clear road to travel, like Robert Frost's two roads diverging in a yellow wood, but more like points for your compass and a thread to discover and hold on to.

I started college as an engineering and mathematics major.  I partied more than was good for my grades, but, like many of you, I also worked part-time to help pay my tuition.  I drifted about.  I sampled courses in the arts and humanities, more mathematics, and then dabbled in business and economics.  There, in business, I thought--that's what I should be preparing for.  I kept hearing at age twenty, not exactly out loud, that I should pursue a career.  Not much was mentioned about pursuing a life.  I switched to Business and Economics.  After graduation, I went off to the army for nearly three years, got married, and returned to graduate school, not in business or economics, but in English.  Some of my friends still marvel that I am an English professor.

And so how did I come to that decision?  In my junior year, I took a course in the English Novel of the Nineteenth Century; and I was hooked, once again, on something I loved doing.  The professor had been my first-year composition instructor.  In this course and several more I took from him, he became both mentor and friend.   But I had taken so many courses in Business and Economics that I couldn't afford to change my major. 

After my time in the army, when I was casting about for an answer to what direction I should take, my mentor and friend, who taught by indirection, would not say what I should do.  But he did give me a thread to hold on to: "What you do day in and day out in a job," he said, "has much to do with who you are."  I thought then, I don't know exactly who I am, but I do have a sense of who I want to be, or be like.  And although I liked business and entrepreneurship, and still do, that wasn't who I was.  I took the LSAT to attend law school, but that didn't feel like who I was either.

Many years later, after a series of other adventures in Alaska, Germany, much of Europe, and England, where I landed in graduate school, I discovered what I had been doing all along in a poem by William Stafford.   It's called "The Way It Is."  (Note that we're in the present, not the past, of the way it was.)

There's a thread you follow.  It goes among

things that change.  But it does not change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can't get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.

You don't ever let go of the thread.

We could talk at length about this unadorned and profound poem, but I would hope that you carry it with you now and in the future.  Out of this poem, out of my own experience and that of many students like you, I would suggest a few points for your compass and threads to follow:

      ·First, listen, truly listen, to your good inclinations and your talents.  Your good inclinations and your talents tell you much about who you are, and they are strands in the thread you seek.

      ·Second, talk to others in the discipline you're interested in and find a mentor or two.  No more than two. Three's too many.  He or she will help you find a thread.

      ·Third, do what you love to do.   I mean both: "do what you love" and "love what you're doing."  Find that thread and don't ever let go.

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Law School: An Interesting Place to Be

Art Boylan '01

The law has a remarkably pervasive presence.  Each time you purchase something at a store, sign a lease, start a car, or even stroll through a park, law plays a part in what you do.  Perhaps more important and exciting, the law is also an integral part of significant issues like the bounds of our civil liberties, the death penalty, and the delineated powers of the government.  Gaining a legal education empowers each student of the law to affect political and social issues.  It provides knowledge of classic arguments about those issues and the legal intricacies entailed in them.

 

 

The stereotypical image of lawyers drives many people away from law school.  Admittedly, I was also reluctant to choose law school after graduation.  But the image of lawyers as sharks in suits is unnecessarily simplistic.  As is true of most things, the legal profession is more complex than its stereotype suggests.  Law students are drawn to law school for the same reasons I was once drawn to an English major.  In law school, as in the CSB/SJU English major, students find themselves in an intellectually challenging environment that encourages continuing development of analytical, leadership, and writing skills.

Legal work utilizes many of the tools that the English major provides students.  The ability to identify issues and then address them coherently and concisely is fundamental.  The ability to articulate one's reasoning clearly is important as well, even though a large portion of legal work does not necessitate oral argument.

Attending law school opens the door to numerous career options.  Many of my colleagues hope to become negotiators, public defenders, judges, public interest lawyers, or business attorneys.  Each of these career options provides an opportunity to help solve important problems for people.  The common thread binding them together is a legal education.

Both classroom and extra-curricular activities in law school offer opportunities to intellectually curious individuals to develop a greater understanding of their world.  I belong to one such organization, the William Mitchell Law Review.  As a member of the Law Review, I take part in the scholarship and commentary that are traditionally associated with American legal culture.  William Mitchell Law Review sponsors Law Review, a student-published academic journal that includes articles of scholarly and professional interest from academics, practicing attorneys, judges, public officials, and student members of the Law Review.  Its articles serve the needs of practitioners, professors, and judges throughout the country. 

Each spring, staff members for Law Review are chosen in two ways: through academic achievement and through participation in a writing competition.  Students who are not selected based on academic achievement alone are required to submit a short article in the form of a case note.  This writing competition is open to any student who has completed at least one year of law school, is in good academic standing, and can serve as a staff member for at least one academic year.  I became a part of William Mitchell Law Review through the writing competition and my academic achievement.  Since then I have expanded my submission for the writing competition submission; it will be published soon in Law Review.

The English major at CSB/SJU is excellent preparation for law school because it helps develop the skills necessary for legal writing and persuasion.  Moreover, English introduces students to theoretical paradigms, historical and political, that aid in the analysis of many legal issues.  In many ways, then, studying  law can be the next step for English majors who wish to continue developing a greater understanding of their world.

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Once a Teacher, Now a Lawyer, Always a Writer

Peter Carlton

 

From 1985 to 1992, Peter Carlton taught in the English Department here.  Not convinced that English was the right profession for him, he left for the University of Minnesota's Law School to study law, which he now practices in Washington, D.C.   Ed.

 

 

Most people would refer to what I do for a living by calling me a "lawyer" or an attorney," just as most people would characterize what I used to do by saying that I was an "English professor."  They would be right, of course-and yet, these terms leave me feeling as though somebody else were being talked about, not me.  The term I would use to describe what I am, and what I have always been, is "writer."  My subject has changed-I used to write about literature, and now I write about something else-but the continuities between my former and current professions strike me as more salient than the discontinuities. 

I'm an attorney for the federal government.  Specifically, I work for the National Labor Relations Board, which administers the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  In a nutshell, the NLRA gives employees certain rights to act collectively, such as the right to form and join labor unions; and it also makes unlawful certain kinds of conduct by employers and unions.  Disputes are constantly arising under the NLRA, and they must be adjudicated by the Labor Board.  Space limitations prevent an adequate explanation of this process; but at the end of the day, many of these adjudications result in written decisions that are published and then serve as precedent for resolving similar future disputes. 

Somebody has to write those decisions, and there are far too many of them for the members of the Board-only five people-to write them all from scratch.  Thus, each member of the Board has a staff of roughly fifteen attorneys who (among other tasks) draft these decisions on the Board's behalf.  I serve on one of these staffs.  These draft decisions are for the members to use as they see fit.  At minimum, each draft decision is carefully reviewed by the members themselves; often it is extensively revised as well.  And of course, each decision bears the names of the members, not the name of the staff attorney whose words it may happen to contain.  In other words, I write constantly, but I author nothing.  I'm a ghostwriter.

I like a number of things about my job.  First, I spend most of my time writing.  Necessarily, this is solitary work, which suits my introverted nature.  Second, I am driven by inner demons demanding that what I put down in writing be precisely correct, and the writing this job entails puts a premium on precision.  Third, each case that crosses my desk throws open a window on the lives of other persons who are wholly engrossed in their own dramas and neither know nor care that I exist.  Thus, I am constantly reminded of how big this world is and of my own comparative insignificance, which keeps me sane.  Fourth, litigation there needs must be, but I find it satisfying to play a role in advancing some of these disputes toward a just resolution.  Fifth, I work for the people of the United States of America.  I'm proud of that.

When I was an English professor, I was fond of telling my students that interpreting a story was a matter of figuring out what is "going on" in what is "happening."  In other words, literary interpretation involves detecting patterns of significance in the stream of narrated events.  So does legal interpretation.  I take the story of a case, and I ferret out the patterns of legal significance in the story.  It's not really all that different from what I used to do-except that the stories are true and real lives are at stake, so getting the interpretation right is no longer just an academic exercise.  I like that, too.

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News from the Chair                                

Dr. Ozzie Mayers

Some of us go, some of us stay, and some of us return.

Many of you will remember Dr. Monza Naff, who was a member of the English Department from 1978-1980 and again for a one-year stay in 1986-87.  After leaving us, Dr. Naff taught in the Robert D. Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon in Eugene.  Since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area seven years ago, she has been teaching privately as well as consulting, facilitating workshops and retreats, speaking at conferences, giving readings, and writing.   I say all this because Dr. Naff returned to our campuses for a very brief time on November 6 to give a presentation for the Women's Lives Series.  The title of her talk was "It's about the Figs, Not the Leaf: Health, Sexuality, and Spirituality."  For those wanting more details about Dr. Naff's career, check out the February 2001 issue of The English Web.

 

In spring of 2002, I was on sabbatical, making me one of those who go, return, and stay.  In my absence, Dr. Mike Opitz served as acting chair.  One of the best results of that sabbatical is that I  returned refreshed and ready to complete my term as chair, a role I have filled for the past six years.  Although I know the realities of teaching a full load, I hope that without the duties of being departmental chair, I will be able to do even more of what I so enjoyed while on my sabbatical.  I caught up on my reading (my bedside pile of books dwindled considerably, although over the past two months the pile has risen again), completely revised two of my courses, had four book reviews accepted for publication, prepared two papers for presentation this fall, and simply enjoyed not having to meet the daily schedules of teaching and of departmental and committee work.  I must add that going to Hawaii at the start of my sabbatical helped me make a quick transition into a more relaxed mode.  My trip was not all pleasure, though, since I attended the annual conference of the Japan Studies Association, a meeting held every other year in Honolulu.  It was the third such meeting I've attended.  Each has helped expand my understanding of Asian literature and culture.

This year Brother David Rothstein is on sabbatical.  He is currently studying and conducting field research on communitarian movements in American history along with developments in intentional communal living.  According to Brother David, his project "will involve traveling to current intentional communities based on environmental sustainability practices, cooperative organization, or religious affiliation.  This project will be the essential groundwork for two new courses (Senior Seminar and Symposium), both of which will explore community building, community ethics, and sustainable community practices."  Completing this part of his sabbatical will take Brother David to sixteen locations all across the country.  Next semester he will study current developments in Marxist and cultural materialist theory, theories of subjectivity, and theories of national identity and class formation at City University of New York.

Dr. Madhu Mitra, also on sabbatical this year, is continuing her research on Robert Clive, who in her words is "a controversial figure in the literature of imperalism."  Her research is guided by two fundamental questions: 1) How was the figure of Clive deployed and received in India during the time of the British Empire?  and 2) Why does he continue to draw so much attention even today?  In addition, she will continue her work of translating five or six Tuntuni stories from Bengali.  These Bengali stories, which fall within the tradition of the trickster figure, are somewhat related to her work on Clive in that they might be viewed as part of the "cultures of resistance."

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Soapstone: One Writer's Meat and Drink 

Mara Faulkner, O.S.B.

Keeping in mind the old adage that one person's meat is another person's poison, I can't claim that Soapstone would suit every writer.  But given my writing habits (or lack thereof) and a hermit streak that comes to the surface now and then, the ten days in August that I spent at this women writers' retreat in the Oregon rain forest were close to perfect.  Soapstone is a beautiful, homey cabin with space for two writers.  I was there with Monza Naff, a long-time friend and a former CSB/SJU teacher.  We spent our days alone, each of us working in a light-filled writer's studio.  In late afternoon we got together to cook and eat supper, read our work to each other, or walk in the woods or along the Pacific coast at Manzanita.

 

I was working on a memoir about my father, tentatively called "Going Blind."  As is always the case when what I'm writing matters greatly to me, my days were often filled with the anguish of memory and the struggle to wrap true, fresh words around experience, and my nights with the dreams that silence pulled out of hiding.

 

Soapstone

What's to love in ten days of anguish, you might ask.  For me, the chance to think thoughts and feel feelings all the way through without having to pull myself together to meet classes or make light conversation.  A character in one of John Updike's short stories says that modern people "have lost whole octaves of feeling."  Many features of our lives account for that loss, certainly one of them being the fragmentation of time and attention that sends deep feeling into hiding.  The silence and solitude of Soapstone let a lost octave or two venture into the open and seep into the story I was telling.  This time also gave me the unseen, silent presence of another writer breathing words over my head as well as the encouragement and sheer fun of those long evening conversations about everything under the Oregon moon, including our favorite writers and places where we might publish our work.

 

Soapstone is one of several writing centers founded specifically to encourage women's writing.  Two others are Hedgebrook, on Whidby Island across the Sound from Seattle, and Norcroft, on the shore of Lake Superior near Lutsen, Minnesota.  Many other retreats around the country accept men and women.  Some are for well-established writers; others want writers in all stages of their lives and careers.   Most are endowed and provide free board and room.  All you need to do is get accepted, get yourself there, and, once you're there, write your heart out.  These places give writers protected time and space for their work as well as the company of other people who value the written word as much as they do.

 

 

             Looking out from Soapstone

 

 

If Soapstone sounds like meat and drink to you, I urge you to check magazines like Poets and Writers or The Writer for addresses and applications.  Or you can e-mail me at [email protected] and I'll gladly send you any information that I have.

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In March 2002, St. Benedict's and St. John's launched the Benedictine Center for Lifelong Learning.  Its purpose is to link graduates, parents, and friends on an academic plane by providing courses both on and off campus.  Father Hilary recently participated in one of these off-campus courses, which he writes about below. 

The Civil War Goes On and On

Hilary Thimmesh, O.S.B.

 

This was not Confederates in the Attic, Tony Horwitz's amusing book about Civil War re-enactments and other latter-day exploitation of the perennial fascination with our great national conflict.  Instead it was a rather farfetched but in the end thoroughly enjoyable connection between the new St. Ben's/St. John's Lifelong Learning center and some of our students-mostly past (twenty-three in all), one present (Megan Wicker,'03, who accompanied her father, Bob Wicker, '64), and one possibly future (Jim Hutchinson, now in high school, who came with his father, Tom Hutchinson, '74, and brother Josh, '01).

I'm talking about a long weekend in Virginia, April 11-14, 2002, billed as a personal view of the Civil War.  Whose idea it was that I should join in this tour as a guest lecturer on local events of 140 years ago I never discovered.  Thom Woodward, director of the tour, convinced me that I'd love to do it despite my strictly amateur status as a Civil War historian, which I have gained mostly from inflicting my enthusiasm for the history and the literature of the Civil War on successive Symposium classes.

Our group gathered at a motel near Dulles airport on Thursday evening.  Some came from Minnesota, some from places in the east.  We were virtually on the battlefield of First and Second Manassas (Bull Run to you Yankees), so it was easy to situate our group in relation to some critical moments in the summer of 1861 and fall 1862. 

Next day we took a bus through the misty Virginia-Maryland back roads to South Mountain and through a gap, like McClellan's army in September 1862, to the corn fields east of Sharpsburg where Antietam Creek flows and where the bloodiest one-day battle of the war took place.  We tramped the rainy, somber terrain there with a splendid local guide, stopped for lunch at Shepherdtown College on the Potomac where Lee crossed back into Virginia, rounded Harper's Ferry without stopping, and reached Fredericksburg for a brief stop and a stretch in late afternoon.

From there it was a quick run into Richmond and the welcoming arms of Carol Matt Beirne, '59, her husband John, and children Rupert, '87, and Ida, '90.  We stayed in Richmond two nights, had marvelous hospitality, good food, and Ida's whirlwind tours of the Confederate Museum and White House and Tredegar Iron Works, now a Civil War museum.  The highpoint for me was the way Ida put together a crew of six to fire a twelve-pound Alexander on the lawn at Tredegar above the waters of the James River curling past in the September afternoon.

We toured Richmond by bus, visited Jefferson Davis's family plot in Hollywood Cemetery, and had a southern dinner with music and a historical impersonator before the night was over.   For brunch on Sunday, Lorayne and Ray Olson, '60, invited us to brunch at their home outside of Richmond on the site of Lee's last bivouac.  According to a marker there, that bivouac took place exactly 137 years earlier on April 14, 1865.  Sunday afternoon we said farewells and most of the Minnesota contingent bussed back to Dulles and a quick flight home. 

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Since many of our readers have written to express their pleasure at hearing from and about their former professors, we asked two retired members of the English Department, "What are you doing in retirement?"  Each answers that question below.  Ed.

Retired? Not Exactly

Patrick McDarby, O.S.B. 

Well, I guess the first thing I should note is that I'm trying to be a halfway acceptable monk, a job that doesn't seem to get any easier as the years advance.  But I doubt that readers want to know details of that struggle; even less do I want to parade them before an appalled world.  But here's some pretty parlor-conversation stuff I'm up for and to.

I edit the monastery's in-house eight-issues-a-year newsletter, Confrere, each number ranging from eight to fourteen pages in length, depending on the inspiration of my contributors and the eventfulness of the past few weeks.  It's kind of fun.  Then I write an occasional short feature for the Abbey Banner, the magazine we send to friends of St. John's Abbey--only fair, since its editor, Daniel Durken, has been one of Confrere's chiefest and loyalest contributors.  And I do occasional ad hoc editing of essays and poems that people want to run by me.  My years of teaching writing prepared me for such favors, and I enjoy doing them.  Then I get occasional commissions to compose something.  For instance, I was asked to write texts for this year's Christmas cards for the abbey and for the university.

I go to the state prison in St. Cloud most Saturdays to help the chaplain there, our Joel Kelly, with the music at Mass.  The other volunteers are retired women of St. Benedict's Monastery and students from our two colleges, plus some from St. Cloud State.  It's a sobering and moving and sometimes even funny experience.  I value it.  And two or three times a year I help with confessions there for inmates who are making a REC retreat--a TEC for grown guys who are jailed.  Again, for me, deeply moving and rewarding.

I also spend a lot of time on the computer.  I have a fine program for magnifying what's on the screen (I'm macularly degenerate), and it allows me to surf and, especially, to correspond profusely by e-mail.  I'm in regular touch with people I hadn't communicated with in years.  Love it.

When I reread the paragraphs above, it doesn't seem like much.  And I'm glad; that's the way I like it.  I am, after all, retired.  And it's great.              

 

Sheila Rausch, O.S.B. 

Having recently retired from the co-editorship of the monastery's publication, Benedictine Sisters and Friends, I revel in the closest thing to retirement I have ever known.  I still do writing, editing, and proofreading for the Office of Development and Communications.  On weekdays I do as much social justice lobbying as time permits, chiefly on the Internet.  Doing so makes me grateful for my years of studying and teaching English.  When I have something to say, in a letter to the editor, for example, I need not feel uncertain as to how to say it.

Apart from that work, the activity in my regular schedule that I find most involving is the Sunday morning ministry at the Stearns County Jail in downtown St. Cloud.  Sister Marian Zimmerman and I usually ride into St. Cloud with a retired businessman who lives in the Collegeville area, one of our Sunday morning "regulars" at the jail.

When we arrive at the jail, about 9 a.m., we learn who the presider will be, what musical accompaniment we can expect, and whether all the members of the team will be present.  If there is no musician (a rare occurrence), Sister Marian and I select songs from the missalette, introduce them, and lead them.  Usually, though, our first task is preparing the altar for Eucharist.  Then, unless an inmate wishes to proclaim the readings, one of us prepares the day's readings.  The Eucharist follows, then an informal mingling while the inmates enjoy a treat from the Cold Spring bakery, supplied by a generous parish.  Last comes the highlight of our social and apostolic work--either an informal discussion or a sing-along or a combination of these.

Although Sunday morning at the jail may be regarded as an act of mercy, a "good work," there are other rewards.  It is an opportunity to make new friends, to receive the support of the other volunteers, who have truly become friends, to listen to and talk with persons I would normally never encounter in my life at the monastery.  It heartens me to learn how many of them really want a relationship with God and how being behind bars can facilitate this relationship.  But it also saddens me to learn why that relationship is so difficult to maintain "on the outside." 

It is a privilege to pray with these persons and to learn to understand why they need our prayers.  Although discouraging, it is also valuable to get their insight into the injustices of the criminal justice system.  And it is enlightening to learn that these people are frequently intelligent and personable but handicapped in their backgrounds and often unfortunate in the choices they make.  They are always grateful for our presence at Sunday morning services.  They thank us every week.

Jesus' words, "I was in prison and you visited me," were my original motivation for joining Sister Terence Nehl and the other jail volunteers.  It was difficult to hear those words without realizing that I had done nothing to fulfill them.  But having been a part of this ministry for about five years, I now find an emptiness in the Sunday mornings when I am unable to meet the Lord there.

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