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Susan's Blog

On my mother's 100 birthday

Joan as the Virgin Mary in her church pageant, 1938

December 20, 2022 would have been my mom's 100th birthday. Joan was born on the (almost) shortest and the darkest day of the year. Yet she shed light on all those she met through her kindness and empathy. In the image I choose here for her--as the Virgin Mary in a church pageant when she was just 16 years old--her beatific face gazes at a doll or flashlight depicting the baby Jesus. She was a precocious writer, compassionately considering His birth in this poem from Mary's perspective written the previous Christmas of 1937.

 

Christmas 1937       

      Mary's son was not cold

      When the Wise Men came with gold

      Mary's son was newly born

      When the shepherds came with morn.

      Mary bore her son alone

      While above the wonder shone

      Of the star on just that night

      Led the shepherds there aright.

      All the years since then have passed

      Stars that shine will ever last.

      Why did that star only then

      Shine and never once again?

      Only once He came to Earth

      Only once proclaim His birth,

      But each year at Christmastide

      Yet we think of Him who died,

      And was born in that small town

      While the Wonder Star looked down.

      Let all the heavens still proclaim

      Honor to His Holy Name.

 

May all of us consider those who are vulnerable this holiday season!

 

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The Three Most Important Words in German: When 'letters are considered sealed containers’

Susie and Sarah in front of Chicago's "Bean"

So fun presenting about my Stasi file in a talk called "The Three Most Important Words in German: When 'letters are considered sealed containers'"—a part of my book project about teaching in the former East Germany in the 1980's. The session, entitled "Secret Police Hermeneutics: Interpretation and Misinterpretation and the Secret Police in the Eastern Bloc," took place at the ASEEES [Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies] annual convention. Plus I got to see great art with my lovely daughter!

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Revenge by a Page Turner

Please read my short story about a lowly page turner to a great pianist.

My short story, "The Page Turner," has been published by Free Spirit Press in India in a volume dedicated to revenge. If you like revenge or what to know how to enact it, please read my work. In this short story, the inconspicuous page turner to a great pianist exacts her revenge to become visible. The gender dynamics complicate her actions.

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Smuggled Balsam and the Inscription of Memory

So excited an article I've been pondering since the 1990s has come out at last. Sometimes cooking thoughts slowly is the best thing to do. "Smuggled Balsam and the Inscription of Memory: Hugeberc von Hildesheim and the Pilgrimage of Saint Willibald." In Women's Lives: Self-Representation, Reception and Appropriation in the Middle Ages: Essays in Honour of Elizabeth Petroff, edited by Nahir I. Otaño Gracia and Daniel Armenti. University of Wales Press, 2022, pp. 141-156.

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Manuscript Discovery: Grendel’s Mother and My Mother

I was flipping through the pages of my mother's book from when she was a high school student in Chicago in the 1930s. I had held World Literature (edited by E. A. Cross, also 1935) numerous times. I opened it to gaze within, seeing her inscription: "Joan Wehlen October 26, 1938 U-High." In the Table of Contents, she had transcribed this famous quote from Anatole France: "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." Coming from a family with socialist leanings in the wake of the Depression, this sentiment must have resonated. She also had transcribed the word "Hrunting"--the name of the sword loaned to Beowulf by Unferth. To download a pdf of the 1904 translation of Clarence G. Child (Houghton Mifflin) as reprinted in World Literature (edited by E. A. Cross, also 1935), just check out my blogpost here.

 

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A Bittersweet Consolation on the Anniversary of my Mother's 99th Birthday

"Cavalier Poet to his Lady" by Joan Wehlen Morrison. "Cavalier Poet to his Lady" was inspired by the metaphysical poets and Carpe Diem poems from the early 17th century.

I was enthusiastic when my daughter asked if we had any books that needed to be bound properly as she was to attend a workshop on bookbinding and conservation. Did we ever! Coming from a family nick-named "the Morrison writing factory" by my mom Joan Wehlen Morrison, we had books galore--many tattered, with spines falling off and pages torn and ripped. I pulled a number out, assuring her, "There are more, if you like!" Read here about how I discovered two poems by my mother and how they brought light into my heart after a difficult year.

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YouTube Interview: "Wasting and Being Wasted: Self, Animals, Society"

Here's the delightful interview conducted by Dr. Asijit Datta with me about Waste. He is a terrific interviewer! Lots of fun! Enjoy!

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Wasting and Being Wasted

Poster for the zoom interview

I was delighted to be interviewed by Dr. Asijit Datta, Assistant Professor and Head (Department of English) at The Heritage College in Kolkata, India. Sadly, because of Covid, we could only meet via zoom. It was a delightful conversation about Wasting and Being Wasted, inspired by my books on waste and excrement. Also, fun comments were made by Dr. Bruce Clarke at Texas Tech University.

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The Stylite

I hope you enjoy my story, "The Stylite," published in Feminist Spaces. Rooted in stories of religious solitaries from the Middle Ages, "The Stylite" creates a feminist icon for all ages. Stylites were religious devotees who stood on pillars—sometimes for years—to demonstrate their devotion to God. Most of these named stylites were men, though anonymous women are said to have also performed these acts of spiritual and physical endurance. The female stylite imagined here elicits condemnation, only to ultimately triumph as resilient inspiration. As figures for public consumption both in the past and today, women have been told to hide themselves away via clothing conventions or to silence themselves via shame tactics. Yet some defiant ones accept—even revel in—their roles as public spectacles. 

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Song of the Lark

Song of the Lark, by Jules Adolphe Breton (France) 1884

The Song of the Lark was one of my mother's favorite paintings. This poem in The Ekphrastic Review is inspired by both my mother and that beautiful work of art at The Art Institute in Chicago. She even writes about it in her diary on Sunday, May 30, 1938 (age 15):

 

. . . Friday night Mom and I went to Lake View to see Il Trovatore—given by American Opera Company. Mom went to sleep during it and I had to hold my eyelids up! Are we cultural!

 

Mom and I went downtown and I got me a new peasant—dusty pink—dress. I look like the Song of the Lark or something. It's a dirndl and awfully cute.




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