Boston Musical Intelligencer Review of “Hell and Reason”

Fisk Opus 55 I am honored by the favorable attention given to “Hell and Reason” by Geoffrey Wieting in this review in the Boston Musical Intelligencer. If you’re wondering what you missed in the program that I presented with Christa Rakich at Old West Church in Boston last Sunday, Wieting’s piece provides both a summary of the essay that I read from, and a thoughtful analysis of Rakich’s inspired selection and performance of music. And though nothing compares to hearing a masterful live performance, this review may begin to give you a sense of what makes Fisk Opus 55 (the organ in Old West) one of Boston’s cultural treasures.

In Boston on May 21, 2017…


Behold, an explosive poster (designed by Dana Sigall) to promote a reading that I’ll be doing in Boston next week, in collaboration with the talented organist Christa Rakich. For more detail, visit the website of the Old West Organ Society. You can also preview the program here.

“Hell and Reason”
Sunday, May 21, 2:30 pm
Old West Church
131 Cambridge St, Boston, MA 02114

Now In Print: “Hell and Reason”

garev_spring17 I’m pleased to announce the publication of a new essay entitled “Hell and Reason” in the Spring 2017 edition of the Georgia Review. The full text of “Hell and Reason” is available now on their website, and the even more attractive printed version should soon arrive in the mailboxes of subscribers. You can peruse the contents and order a print copy here.

“Hell and Reason” is about Charles Fisk, who worked, unknowingly at first, on the development of the atomic bomb, before later becoming a pre-eminent pipe organ builder. The essay is also an examination of the reasons why the bomb was created, then used, then spun into–and out of–history and mythology.


For Swedes Who Read

granslosThe Swedish translation of my essay “The Long Run” is now in print in this volume of travel narratives entitled Gränslös–which, I’m told, means “Without Borders.” When I received my copies in the mail this past weekend, I was pleased, but not quite sure how to honor the occasion. Reading the book was not really an option, as I don’t speak Swedish. I contemplated having a party at which I would read it aloud to my friends while throwing food around the room, Muppet-style, but that seemed a little disrespectful of my Grandmother Tongue. Instead, I just loaned the book to my one Swedish acquaintance here in Albuquerque. I hope she’ll enjoy reading it, and perhaps tell me what sort of fun the translator had with my words, and fill me in on the kind of company my essay will keep in this anthology.

If you know any Swedes who are interested in travel narratives, direct them to adlibris or bokus to purchase a copy.


Dump Pickings

A postcard-perfect day at the entrance to the Rockport, MA dump.

It’s a dubious distinction to have the road to the town dump named for you. But that’s precisely what happened to Ann Fisk, (first wife of organ builder Charles Fisk, whose biography I am writing). To be fair, “Tin Can Annie” really earned the honor.

Back in the 1960s — long before recycling was a part of the zeitgeist — longer still before dumpster diving and freecycling were Things — Ann was a pioneer in these fields. Liberal ideals surely came into it, but there were more pragmatic reasons, too. Organ building is not a lucrative profession (in fact, you could do better financially waiting tables at the right sort of restaurant). For Ann, managing a household on what her husband brought home required a considerable measure of thrift. One of her strategies was to take the kids down to the dump on Saturday morning to see what was fresh on the pile. Some of their best finds were practical: clothes and shoes. Others were entertaining: her daughter Miranda once salvaged a dictionary so old that it defined a parachute as a safety device for evacuating a hot air balloon, and her son Si found a still-functional 8mm movie camera with just a slight defect in the mechanism for taking up the film.

The Ann Fisk Swap Shop: sparing frugal Yankees the indignity of sifting through smelly trash to find the good stuff.

Later, as a Rockport selectman, Ann worked to institute a municipal recycling program — a precursor to the kind of system that now allows most of us to leave our empty milk jugs in plastic bins by the curb. But instead of plastic bins, Rockport in the late 60s had the Fisk children. Ann drove around town and made them hop out and dash onto the porches of the houses that put out bundled newspapers for her recycling drives. Later, she arranged for the construction of the Swap Shop — basically a shed on dump grounds where useable and fixable items could be deposited or collected. It made dump picking a little more dignified. It endures to this day.

On a Friday afternoon when I was visiting Rockport last month, I persuaded the Fisk “kids,” Si and Miranda (who are now old enough and solvent enough to buy their own shoes), to take me to the dump for old time’s sake. I envisioned a historical re-enactment in the name of research. That is, I thought it would be edifying to talk about the Fisk family with Miranda and Si while doing something characteristic that the family used to do: searching through cast-offs for something useful or fun.

We met at the house where I was staying, piled into Si’s car, and drove to Ann Fisk Way. Unfortunately, there was a sign indicating that the dump was closed that afternoon, without explanation. But if anyone had a right to go to that dump when they pleased, it was the living descendants of Tin Can Annie herself; we flouted the sign and drove in. Nobody confronted us, but we didn’t linger, either. Perhaps the “kids” were relieved to have an excuse not to dig in. For a moment, Si eyed a freestanding toilet paper holder that would fulfill a present household need, though ultimately he decided that it savored too strongly of Someone Else’s Bathroom*. He climbed back into the car, and we drove away.

After dinner that evening, we screened the old family videos shot by Si on his 8mm dump camera, which Miranda had digitized. It was a mash-up of childhood scenes: a dog runs in circles while one kid pounds on another in what appears to be fun, at least for the assailant; kids use a rowboat in an unsafe manner; old cars cruise by; matronly women wear hats and sip drinks in somebody’s yard; mailboxes open and shut in an experiment with stop motion animation. Then a younger version of Miranda leaps from the rowboat in a ruffled bathing suit. Young Si pulls on his courier bag to begin his paper route. I think I see fleeting glimpses of Charlie and Ann, in the scene where they’re shoveling off the surface of the frozen lake to play hockey, but it’s hard to tell for sure. Like many home movies of that era, the action seems to race, frame by frame, to outpace the clock; people do not move with the same fluidity they do in life. And whatever the auteur’s artistic sensibilities may have been, he was a kid with a damaged camera he found at the dump. The movie is, on one hand, nearly useless for telling me anything of significance about the family that they were. On the other hand, it is a revealing artifact unsurpassed in its authenticity, for all its inscrutable details.

It’s true, last month’s dump picking expedition was a bust. I came away literally empty handed. Fortunately, most of my “real” research has been more productive. And yet, dump picking seems like an apt metaphor for the experience of digging into a personal history to write this biography. The research process has been largely about sifting through dusty old stuff in search of what remains useful. There are items that stink and items whose original use I cannot decipher, amidst all the metaphorical tuna cans and banana peels** (remnants of daily life), and a few real treasures that make it all worth the effort. The best moments of research/dump picking afford a satisfaction beyond mere entertainment. I imagine Miranda’s wonder, as a child, the moment she understood the world view of the lexicographer who had to define “parachute” without knowing that one day there would be planes.

— Corrections —

* After I shared this post with Si, he wished to clarify that the reason the toilet paper dispenser was unacceptable was that the rust patterns at the base were strongly indicative of pee splash. It’s not like he’s just too good for other people’s bathroom fixtures, in general.

** As Miranda points out: her mother would insist that these two items technically belong in the recycling and compost bins, respectively–not on the trash heap.

What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Conferences

The first time I attended a conference of a professional organization, it wasn’t exactly in my field. It was SIGGRAPH 2003–a convention on computer graphics and “interactive techniques” (which doesn’t mean what you might think–no social skills required). At the time, I was an aspiring novelist with a day job at Sony Computer Entertainment. I was the office administrator for the research and development group, which consisted of about 40 male and 3 female software engineers who were applying their vast brainpower to figuring out how to do more awesome shit with video games. Meanwhile, I was stocking the Post-It notes, booking travel, and devising innovative ways to monitor when the last pot of coffee had been brewed. They sent me to SIGGRAPH to help man an exhibition booth where my chief responsibility was showing people how to play games with the recently released EyeToy controller. Literally a five year old could do this, but this is an industry in which many of the exhibitors hire actual Booth Babes–you know, attractive yet approachable women just to stand around as nerd bait. (Remember this is also an industry which employs balding bachelors with stringy ponytails at a rate well above the national average.) It seems I confused people at the expo. One guy asked me a technical question that I couldn’t answer, so he followed up by asking condescendingly if I had ever been to college. I was apparently not knowledgeable enough to pass for an engineer and not hot enough to be a credible Booth Babe. I made myself feel better by reciting my CV to him. Then I decided to quit my job and apply to MFA programs.

fancy diagram
This is the sort of thing engineers talk about at their conferences. (credit: Nathaniel Matter)

The next conference I attended (i.e. crashed) was the annual meeting of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine in 2006. My husband was giving a talk on the work he had done towards his PhD in electrical engineering, building a novel kind of MRI machine. I borrowed a badge from one of his colleagues so I could get in and see him standing on a stage in his suit, saying intelligent-sounding things that were not quite intelligible to me. All I can tell you is, his PowerPoint slides contained attractive graphs and tastefully arranged bullet points. This kind of conference is about a transfer of highly specialized knowledge. The people in that room (except me) were literally the only people in the world capable of understanding him, and they had an important stake in doing so, because his work could have a direct impact on their own. They all had a creditable reason for deciding to get together in Seattle for a week, beyond just drinking and visiting that market where they chuck the fish.

If Oscar Wilde were alive today, would he fancy a trip to AWP?

Contrast with AWP. I’ve attended the conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs twice. The first time, in 2008, I was mostly there to shill for Blue Mesa Review, the literary magazine of the University of New Mexico, for which I served as fiction editor at the time. When I wasn’t at our table handing out back issues and importuning passersby to submit, I went to readings and panels and parties and the like. I was struck by the fact that, well, transfer of knowledge isn’t really a thing at AWP. Among the aspiring writers who make up the bulk of the attendance, there’s a little bit of hero worship and a lot of shameless self promotion, all of which mostly serves as a prelude to other shenanigans, both colorful and banal. It seemed that everyone was hoping to capture someone else’s attention, not expecting to learn anything useful. Or they were simply going wild, having been released from the solitude of their writing desk for a few days. I wasn’t inclined to return the following year. But then I was invited to be on a panel, and I succumbed to flattery. The feeling I got from the other side of the panelist table was pretty much the same, though. Enough, I thought. I don’t need to fly to Denver to self-promote and swill beer with poets. (Don’t get me wrong, poets. I love you guys. But you’ve thrown up in the back seat of my car right here in Albuquerque. We don’t need AWP.)

In 2014, I attended the national convention of the American Guild of Organists for reasons related to writing, though it is blessedly not a writers’ conference. It was held in Boston, old stomping grounds of organ builder Charles Fisk, about whom I am now writing a biography. In addition to hearing performances on landmark instruments that Fisk built, I was able to stalk/network with some people who knew him. The experience was also revelatory for me in other ways. (Before the concert at which I saw a man in a purple velvet jacket greet a friend with a cheek kiss, I had somehow been oblivious to the fact that gay men occur in the population of organists at a rate even higher than balding ponytailed men occur in the population of software engineers.) The convention seemed to serve a purpose unlike either the ISMRM meeting or AWP. I suppose knowledge transfer and self-promotion both occurred, to a degree, but appreciation of live music was the focus. Especially with an instrument like the organ, where a live performance is a significantly different sensory experience than a recording, this makes sense. It’s a wonderful pretext for like-minded individuals to assemble.

I thought I would be done with writers’ conferences until, say, I have a book out that I am obliged to promote. Until then, I didn’t think I’d gain anything by going.  But then I heard about the conference of the Biographer’s International Organization, to be held in Washington DC next month. I perused the schedule, which consisted of diverse and interesting sessions–some of which  sounded genuinely practical and informative. I speculated that it could be downright useful for someone like me, who is trying to figure out how to frame and market a biography about a guy who is not exactly a household name, but who’s got an amazing story nonetheless. I’m sure there will still be plenty of self-promotion at the BIO conference; it’s a regrettable necessity for writers in this day and age. But there will also be an entire day of sessions devoted to library research–one of the nerdiest pleasures of the biographer’s job. I am optimistic that it will be time well spent.

I hope I will not be disabused of my impression that biographers are a breed apart from other kinds of writers. I know its silly to assume that just because one has chosen to apply his writing skills to telling other people’s stories, and has committed to doing some research rather than making stuff up or simply gazing into his own soul for inspiration, that this writer might posses worldliness or moral virtue that is lacking in, say, his memoirist cousin. It would therefore be naive to expect that the biographers’ conference will be a less solipsistic affair than AWP. But then again, we are talking about a gathering of people who cite external sources in their work. It sure as hell will be different, somehow.

Poets, I want to reiterate that I love you for who you are and for what you’ve given the world. I just tend to like you better on the page, or one-on-one, rather than amassed in a convention center. But to prove there are no hard feelings, the next round is on me when you’re in ABQ. I’m just not driving you home in my car.

Biographers, I’m looking forward to seeing some of you in D.C. next month. Don’t be outclassed by the poets, please.

A Virtual Schubertiad

Publishing literary essays is not a viable way to get rich or famous, but it’s a surprisingly effective way to meet interesting strangers. No essay of mine has provoked correspondence with more interesting strangers than “Franz Schubert Dreamt of Indians,” which first appeared in The Georgia Review in 2010. The messages still trickle in, five years later. While some of these readers have reciprocated by sharing their own feelings and ideas about Franz Schubert or James Fenimore Cooper, others have just sent me examples of art (literary, musical, and visual) that they themselves have appreciated or created.

“Love and Death” by George Frederic Watts

One reader took it upon himself to mail me a print of “Love and Death” by George Frederic Watts, expressing the hope that it would cure me of the “emotional blindness” to paintings to which I admitted in the essay. While I appreciate the reader’s consideration, I regret to say that this picture–of Thanatos with his toga all in a bunch, advancing on naked little Eros–gives me the creeps. I get that there’s supposed to be symbolism here, but I can’t get past the fact that Thanatos just looks like some kind of skeevy pederast. (Apparently that was kind of a thing in ancient Greece?) I guess if a shudder was the intended emotional reaction–and maybe it was–then I am indeed cured?

Other reader offerings in response to the essay have included:

  • an illustrated calligraphy print of a W.D. Snodgrass poem,
  • a stack of newsletters about a shop class program at a high school in Oregon, and
  • an 800-page manuscript of a psychological biography of Schubert.

All these delight me. The fact that somebody wanted to share them with me delights me still more, even when the offerings are, on occasion… curious. I suspect my Schubert essay appeals to eccentrics and obsessives because it so plainly reveals that I am one of their tribe. Even when I don’t share their particular obsessions, I know what it is to be so enraptured by an arcane subject that you just want to share it with other people–anyone–who might understand.

Schubert himself enjoyed an eclectic circle of artistic friends, including painters and poets as well as other musicians. When they gathered in someone’s living room to listen to performances of his music, they called these evenings “Schubertiads.” I relish the thought that my essay has engendered such a gathering, if only in a virtual setting. Perhaps it would be cooler if we were all sitting around together, listening synchronously to the same music, instead of connected by tendrils of electrons across the ether, each of us jamming to our own private soundtrack. But a connection is a connection. And in many ways it’s better that I don’t actually have to host. We can each enjoy the sense of affinity while being eccentric and obsessive in our own living rooms, wearing pajamas.

Schubert, hanging with his friends, as depicted by Moritz von Schwind in
Schubert, hanging with his friends, as depicted by Moritz von Schwind in “Schubert-Abend bei Josef von Spaun “

This week I received the most delightful offering yet: a YouTube link to a performance by Lili Kraus of Schubert’s Grazer Fantasie, emailed to me by a pianist in Poland who had stumbled across my essay. I am so grateful that this reader was moved by his love of Schubert and appreciation of Kraus to share it with me. I was not familiar with Kraus before this, and she plays Schubert as beautifully as anyone I have ever heard. After listening to the Fantasie, I followed a link in the sidebar to a recording of her playing the B-flat sonata (D960)–the piece that inspired my essay–and I was even more delighted. Kraus’ interpretation of the sonata satisfies me more than other recording of it that I’ve heard. My disappointment with other recordings and my own inability to play the sonata as I wanted to provided the impetus for writing the essay. Would I have written it at all if I had found Lili Kraus to listen to, seven years ago? Probably. Obsession is not so easily cured. But it would have been an entirely different essay.

Today, when I look at what I wrote all those years back, it seem not half as marvelous as what Lili Kraus did, decades earlier, at the piano keyboard. So let me stop talking about the essay. Just listen to her play, and join the virtual Schubertiad. Then feel free to share your own strange artistic affinities in any way you like.

P.S. [added on October 30, 2015] : In this week’s New Yorker, there is a wonderful article, “The Trill of Doom” by Alex Ross,  on András Schiff’s interpretation of D. 960 and how his experiments with historic instruments influenced his performance of it. A great read for Schubert Obsessives.

People Who Love Whales

"Sperm whale and Bottlenose whale" by Archibald Thorburn. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
“Sperm whale and Bottlenose whale” by Archibald Thorburn.

There are (at least) five kinds of people in this world:

  1. People who have not read Moby Dick and really can’t be bothered.
  2. People who intend to read Moby Dick one day.
  3. People who have read Moby Dick and thought that it was about whales.
  4. People who have read Moby Dick and thought that it was a masterpiece of American Romanticism, exploring themes of destructive obsession, deception and the elusiveness of accurate perception, violence, race relations (and homosexual miscegenation?), or some other abstract noun that lends the novel to an array of scholarly and/or psychoanalytic interpretations.
  5. People who have read Moby Dick and thought, “Holy shit! This is not just a book about whales!” but really, really loved reading the parts about whales anyway.

If you are not in the overwhelming majority of Americans who fall into that first category, you ought to read Kamila Shamsie’s essay in the latest NY Times Sunday Review: “Reading Antarctica: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Moby Dick.

Shamsie’s account of reading the great white whale of a book aboard an icebreaker bound for Antarctica throws me back to the time when I read Moby Dick: I was in my early twenties, and I was spending two hours a day commuting aboard the Caltrain between our small apartment in Mountain View and my job in San Francisco. Having just finished a couple of serious degrees in literature, I found myself in category 2, feeling a bit fed up with the preponderance of people in category 4. Meanwhile, I was working my way through a list of classics that I assumed all literate people had read, but which, somehow, nobody had required me to read to get my English degrees (bachelors or masters). I read these books to understand why people persisted in reading them, but I also felt free to cast them aside the moment I could see no reason why I should persist in reading them. There was one train conductor who teased me when he saw me pulling tomes like War and Peace from my purse, and once went so far as to beat me (playfully) over the head with a rolled up People magazine that another passenger had abandoned, “to knock some common sense” into me. In spite of the abuse, I persisted. This was the golden age of reading. I finished books that I had purchased aspirationally when I was in high school, and found myself unable to appreciate when I had first attempted to read them–in fifteen minute increments, by the light of a bedside lamp, after finishing my math homework. Moby Dick was precisely such a book. I couldn’t get into it at all when I was sixteen. But at twenty-three, it consumed me. I loved it–loved it!–when I discovered how much there was to be learned about whales, and how literature–literature!–could be about this. I was initiated into category 5.

“Why do people persist in claiming that Moby Dick is about Ahab’s obsession with the white whale?” Shamsie writes. “Certainly it is a book about obsession, but it is Melville who is obsessed, with the need to capture the visible in a net of words.” Here, she introduces what I see as one of the book’s principal pleasures. By rendering the life of the whaler and the whale alike in such visceral and relentless detail, Melville ensnares the reader as well.  (Admittedly, some readers feel trapped in these lengthy descriptive passages, while others, like me, are “hooked” in the positive sense.)

My delight in learning about whales may have foreshadowed the shift in my own writing and reading habits. As a writer, I have moved away from fiction, which constrains me to what I can imagine, to non-fiction, which offers possibilities in subject matter far vaster than the limits of my own speculative capacities. The world is full of more strange and interesting stuff than it would ever occur to me to invent. Like the stuff inside whales.

As a reader, I now consume fiction and nonfiction with equal enthusiasm, but I read fiction differently than I did when I was younger; instead of being most interested in the internal world of the novel itself, I am now just as concerned with what fictions reveal (subconsciously or consciously) about the storytellers. It affords me a different sort of pleasure–one more like the pleasure of reading good nonfiction. And yet, the very best books are those like Moby Dick: the ones that afford the pleasures of fiction and non-fiction simultaneously. Melville supplied my first intimation that literature could enlarge my knowledge, that is my factual understanding of the actual world, while taking me from the world I presently inhabited (there on the Caltrain) by telling me a story that invited empathetic contemplation of my fellow man, and myself. We have dark and twisted depths I could not have fathomed if I had not first learned about the intestines of a whale.

The Biographical Quest – Part 3 of 3

All research is a quest–a quest for knowledge. Granted, it may seem grandiose to apply the word “quest,” with its epic connotations, given the ways in which research is actually conducted. This is especially true in the humanities. (While there’s a modest amount of romance in, say, pipetting DNA samples into electrophoresis gels until thumb cramps strike–cramps being a more recognizable form of martyrdom than the pallid complexion one cultivates beneath the fluorescent lighting of the subterranean library stacks–with a few exceptions like space exploration, even scientific research is hardly the stuff of drama.) But it is indubitably thrilling to find out what you have long sought to know. wife of bath

It’s worth remembering that some of the classic chivalric quests of old were also quests for knowledge. Yes, those old knights errant did pursue their share of grails and monstrous adversaries, but in Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath’s Tale,” the dubious hero is sent to figure out “what thyng is it that wommen moost desiren”–in other words, what women want. The knight supplies a pretty reasonable answer in the end: personal sovereignty. (Meanwhile the Wife of Bath’s prologue implicitly provides a compelling alternative response: fresh action in the marital bed.) Even so, Chaucer’s canny tale failed to put the question to rest. It has continued to vex thinkers like Freud and inspire lame rom coms centuries later. I guess some questions just grab hold of us and don’t let us go until we’ve grappled with them for ourselves. That’s what makes them the stuff of stories.

As a biographer, I have to grapple with a lot of different questions. Over time, the questions evolve. One begins as a reporter (who? what? where? when?), and becomes a psychologist (or the Wife of Bath’s knight, parsing desire and motivation), and thereafter a poet (seeking symbol, significance, some way to express the universal truths that one life can illuminate), playing various other roles in between. In fact, it’s hardly a compartmentalized, linear progression. Though a poet, a psychologist, and a reporter could each take the same data and make of it a different story, somehow the biographer must speak simultaneously for all three.

Recently I have been most deeply immersed in the role of reporter, delving through documents, searching for specific facts, trying to fill in gaps in the story of who-what-where-when. Specifically: I’ve been reading letters. Hundreds of letters. Hundreds of boring, redundant letters, many scrawled in execrable cursive, which contain nuggets of valuable information mixed in with discussion of the price of pork chops and the possibility of rain.


When my subject, Charles Fisk, was nineteen-going-on-twenty, in 1944-45, he lived and worked in Los Alamos, as a member of the Special Engineer Detachment on the Manhattan Project. His parents, back in Massachusetts, sent him letters several times a week. Occasionally he’d get mail from his younger sister, an old high school buddy or ex-girlfriend, or an aunt. He filed many of these letters in chronological order and then bundled them with wire. He then he went on to stuff them in a box for, it seems, the remainder of his life. In a letter Fisk wrote to his own son, in 1980, he complained about how boring all of his father’s letters had been. Though he cherished his father, he took no joy in receiving his letters during the war, rehashing the latest news he had read of the Tunisian campaign, or musing about the robins on the lawn. No wonder he never read them again.

That task, however, has now fallen to me.  These old bundled letters came into my custody in November when I visited Fisk’s daughter.  She loaned them to me quite generously–but also, I think, gratefully. She did not just throw open her attic the moment she met me. After hours of cautious conversation on the phone, she agreed to spend some time with me, from which she (fortunately) concluded that I was not a complete ogre or idiot. Thereupon she recognized an opportunity, as well. Coming from a family of paper-keepers and dutiful correspondents, she had reams of family letters. In a way, this was a blessing; in a way, a burden.  But here was someone (me) perversely willing to read through the hundreds upon hundreds of missives, figure out which ones were interesting and important, and create a digital archive of them all. I could fill her in on the juicy bits and spare her the price of pork.

That, then, is how I’ve been spending many hours over the last couple of months. If research is a quest, a grand picaresque journey, this particular leg  feels a bit like a long road trip across Kansas, where I do a little scavenger hunt each time I stop at a convenience store. Every once in a while, I find some interesting graffiti on the walls of the toilet stall, but little of that is of consequence. But then–then!–the answer to a question that has been aggravating me for months (like how Fisk came to be a regular guest of Mr. & Mrs. Gustave Baumann  during his New Mexico years) comes to light. Suddenly, forsooth, it feels less like a gas station in Kansas, more like I have just done battle, struck a blow for knowledge, vanquished a persistent foe.