The Pearl, a Crayon, and a Lego
Kline, Daniel T.
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 15 (1998)
Walking down Bardstown Road in Louisville, Kentucky, and considering whether to take an academic position in Alaska, my wife and I happened into a small curio shop. Among the baubles and figures, we found a small image of San Antonio, patron saint of children. Carved and painted in Guatemala in the 1920’s or 1930’s, he carried a tiny baby; no bigger than a thimble, the child was tied to the saint by a small string. “Oh!” I remember my wife saying, “It’s perfect!” We bought it and put it on the mantle.
My academic work has always been a place I work out, at some level, my own preoccupations; and if I were to generalize, I would say that perhaps we chose to read the literature we do and work on the issues we do because it lets us talk about what’s important to us. In my case, I began Ph.D. work at Indiana University when my first son, Sam, was five months old. He was a colicky kid, crying regularly and inconsolably from 8:00 to 11:00 three or four nights a week. That first term of Ph.D. work, commuting to Bloomington, Indiana, from the Louisville, Kentucky, area where we lived, I carried Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care under one arm and The Riverside Chaucer under the other. In a sense I was doing much the same thing listening to my son cry and reading Chaucer. I was learning to interpret a new language; looking for subtle clues of intonation and rhythm, of pitch and tone; hoping for understanding, seeking a sign.