Jennifer Finney Boylan, Professor of English at Colby College, is well known in our circles as the best-selling author of She's Not There, a memoir of "a life in two genders," though she's also written a dozen other books worth reading. She has an op-ed in the New York Times today entitled "This Astronomical Recession." It's about Maine, outer space, the recession, and a man who built a model of something that is 94 miles long, as Jennifer indicated on her Facebook page.
As befits a Professor of English with a comic bent, it's filled with metaphor and hypocatastasis and other Magickal Feats of English Composition, which, of course, meant that it took me a few reads to figger it out. We lawyers are such literal-minded beasts. I prolly got it all wrong, but as I read it, there is an eerie similarity between the indifferent solar system, where entropy is playing havoc with our paint jobs and our status (alas, poor Pluto), and our downsized and recessionized lives, particularly those who already were in hardship before the recession.
"If the decrepitude of Neptune caused me to briefly lose my faith in America, it was the ingenious rings of Saturn that restored it for good," says Jennifer. You have to watch out with her, because she's a longstanding member of the Irony Board, and it comes whizzing by when you least expect it. She details her trip to view all the planets in the 94-mile long orrery built by Kevin McCartney, a geology professor at the University of Maine, where the Earth is scaled exactly one mile from the Sun. The trip is also a description of the recession's impact on Aroostook County, Maine's northernmost and poorest county, as the government prepares to cut the nation's safety nets.
The op-ed describes the decrepitude of the county and the planets (Neptune is flaking), the positive asides of the staff at the Budget Traveller Inn and Percy's Auto sales, sees hope in the lowly potato blossom, and takes comfort in the impressive beauty of Saturn, over which local students had long labored. While the downgrading of Pluto to dwarf planet status was a blow, Prof. McCartney fought back. And the professor's wife, Kate, who runs The Old Iron Inn Bed And Breakfast in Caribou, Maine, minutes from Presque Isle, sounds a hopeful note at the end. But with Jennifer, you have to watch out, as I said, for the irony, and I'm left unsure, in the end, of what she's saying and where we're going, which, I suppose, is my deeper truth underneath. I'm hoping my 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee will make it to Pluto.