It’s hard to say when and where Mythic hot spots started to get my attention. It may have been the first time I was in Gettysburg, in 2007, and I was laughing over the urgency with which some people wanted to find exactly where Abraham Lincoln was standing when he read the Gettysburg Address. Hence Lincoln’s place in the first post on this site.
It also might have been a few years earlier, after my wife’s mother died while taking an afternoon nap. We traveled to Indiana for the funeral and slept in her bed. To say that I was not conscious of a certain energy, concentrated in the pillow, and that I did not lie down without a due sense of respect, would be to deny a very powerful feeling. Fortunately, Margaret was a loving woman, and I cared for her very much, and I slept well.
It really hit me, though, in a palpable moment of reification, while standing in front of a class. The morning went like this:
I had just discovered the adjunct office at the community college where I was teaching. It was a small, crypt-like space, with room for 2 desks and a book case, and when I first went in, an instructor named Keith was sitting just inside the door. The only light came from a table lamp, and a radio was playing Hold On Loosely, by 38 Special.
As soon as I sat down in the only available seat—an old blue swiveler—Keith said, “I hope it’s not too dark in here. I keep it this way in honor of the person who used to have that desk. He died last semester, reading his emails. I found the body.”
The chair under me suddenly got warm and started to tingle. I nearly stood up. Then I saw a picture of a genial-looking man, a bit older than myself, beaming down at me like an angelic mentor from a book shelf. So I laughed it off, and prepared for my first class of the day.
English 102, Advanced Composition. I started it off with a lame story, as usual, this time about the Death Chair in the office across the hall. The response was good; one girl even said, “Eeeeeuw!” Then I introduced the first essay. It was Writing About an Idea, or something like that, taking a concept and chronicling its history, influences, and whatever other trouble it had managed to cause in the world. Thinking about thinking turned out to be a slippery concept to many of the students, who were used to writing about concrete things like car crashes and lacrosse games. So I tried offering some examples—Coriolis Force, The Peter Principle, The Stendhal Effect—and then told them that, if they couldn’t find an idea that interested them, they could think one up and put their own name on it, just like European guys had been doing for centuries.
That’s when it happened: Lincoln and my Mother-In-Law came rushing in, and “The Gosselin Spot” flashed into my consciousness. The name stuck (one student even threw it back at me later in the semester) and, I believe, the class grew more comfortable with the idea of The Idea.
So far so good. But the name, despite its poetic ring and protective cocoon of self-irony, would never do. For one thing, it could easily be shortened to “G-Spot,” which was obviously out of the question. But mostly it gave an offensive amount of facetiousness to a very serious subject. For instance, how could I possibly put such a name on a spot like this:
Then I started looking into the literature. I re-visited Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory (an old favorite) and scoured Tennyson’s Demeter and Persephone, and from there it was a short walk to the Metamorphoses of Ovid. That’s where I found the word “Pergus,” referring to the lake where Persephone was abducted by Hades, and where she made her tentative return. It’s a good word; it’s Mythic and dignified, and sounds nice when spoken, and I’m still quite fond of it.
I started seeing these things everywhere: sidewalk shrines to shooting victims, famous pieces of furniture, car-gouged tree trunks with bouquets strapped to them, Lourdes/Fatima/Guadalupe, death certificates showing the exact time, and wooden crosses at tricky intersections, slowly moldering into Gothic ruins. There were/are simply too many to ignore, so I thought a kind of catalog would be in order. Here it is.
And I’m still looking for a suitable home for “The Gosselin Spot,” because I’m a bit vain, and because a name, too, is a kind of pergus, where you and I might see each other’s face through the void.