The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Maine’

The Sharpened Pencil: An Interview with Nicholson Baker

October 4, 2016 | by

Photo: Jerry Bauer

Speaking to The Paris Review in 2011, Nicholson Baker remembered one of the small joys of his childhood. “The pencil sharpener was probably the best thing about school,” he said. “A little chrome invention under your control. It had a ­thundering sound, a throat-clearing sound, that I especially liked.”

As it happens, pencil sharpeners appear early and often in his new book, Substitute: Going to School with a Thousand Kids. But they’re all electric now, and they’ve lost their thunder. “There was a lot of earnest grinding away at the fancy electric pencil sharpener,” he writes on page thirty. Twelve pages later, “Someone else was grinding loudly away on the mechanical pencil sharpener.” On page 111 he mentions again “the remedial grind of the pencil sharpener.”

There’s a sound reason for this anti-sharpener rhetoric: in 2014 Baker became a substitute teacher at several Maine public schools, where the sharpeners’ grinding is just one agent in a multifront sensory assault, and further proof that technology doesn’t equal improvement. Substitute—Baker’s thoughtful, well-observed chronicle of his twenty-eight days in the classroom—catalogs the bells, the morning announcements, the iPad games, the lively chatter, and all the miscellaneous noise that characterize a day at school. Rather than a broadside against the education system, Substitute’s seven-hundred-plus pages offer a close, empathetic account of Baker’s time as a teacher, trading editorial asides for the richness—and, not infrequently, madness—of our efforts to impart knowledge. For every meaningless worksheet or recess infraction, there’s a warm, witty exchange with a student, or a moment, however brief, of genuine engagement. 

Substitute is Baker’s sixteenth book; though he’s written nonfiction before, it marks his first outing as a participatory journalist, and he called it the most immersive book of his career. I reached him in his hotel room in Atlanta to ask him a few questions about it.


This is basically an act of participatory journalism, but it’s not like any other account I’ve read. Did you have any touchstones in mind?



Well, there’s George Plimpton. If you want to write about football, get yourself on a football team. If you want to write about boxing, you’re going to have to get punched in the head a few times. That’s what I did with Substitute. When I was in high school I read Up the Down Staircase and really loved it—all those wonderful memos—and in fact there was an actual down staircase and an up staircase in the middle school where I was a substitute. Two nonfiction books, Death at an Early Age and The Way it Spozed to Be also made a huge impression back then, even though I’d gone to an alternative public high school that was nothing like what was described in those books. Once I began writing Substitute in earnest, I tossed educational theorizing aside for the most part and went back to the method I’d used in Human Smoke, a book about World War II, where I did a lot of quoting from daily sources—newspaper articles and diaries and speeches on the radio. Substitute is a sort of collage of voices. In Human Smoke, I took my own voice out completely, but in Substitute I couldn’t—I had to be true to my own teacherly fumblings. Read More »

Time Diptychs, Mirrored Rooms

April 25, 2016 | by

Eric Green has a new exhibition at Ameringer McEnery Yohe through May 21. Green’s two series, Time Diptych and Mirrored Room, use graphite grisaille layered with colored pencil and varnish to depict the almost imperceptible passage of time in various rooms in his home in Maine. “It is the amalgamation or comparison of the two images that creates the specific emotion, not each individual panel,” he wrote. “Gauging and balancing this convergence is everything.”

Eric Green, Time Diptych—Tern, 2014, grisaille, varnish, and colored pencil on board, 16" x 25".

Read More »

February: Pemaquid Point

February 4, 2016 | by

A postcard of Pemaquid Point, ca. 1930–45.

Ira Sadoff’s poem “February: Pemaquid Point” appeared in our Winter–Spring 1980 issue. His most recent collection is True Faith (2012). Read More »

A Travel Tip

July 18, 2014 | by


An 1854 French advertisement

Not too long ago, I was asked to contribute a travel tip to an article. I felt like a complete fraud, of course; my vacations, such as they were, consisted of the occasional bus visit to friends in D.C. and the odd weekend with my parents, heavy on historic sites. If I passed along any sort of “tip,” I risked conveying the impression that I was the sort of person who breezed through security with effortlessly straight hair, applied travel-size unguents in her seat, and, when she felt like napping, draped herself in an improbably large cashmere wrap. (This sort of person also had a roll for her jewelry, and had a pricey makeup bag that, in a pinch, could double as a clutch.)

I knew of no special hydrating sprays or extra-good earphones. I almost wrote, “Bring steak sandwiches,” since this is in fact something I like to do when I travel. But certain standards must be maintained. So I recommended wearing a new perfume when one goes on a trip.

I’m not advocating for the purchase of an expensive bottle every time you go to a cousin’s wedding. But for me, the act of dignifying a journey with its own scent can be enough to elevate a humble getaway to vacation status. It’s nice to find something that has a connection to wherever you are, but the actual perfume is secondary. The point is to create a sense memory for the experience that has, for you, no precedent. I’ve worn the same perfume since my twenty-third birthday, when I treated myself to my first bottle of En Passant, but from the moment I get in the cab to the airport, I like to wear something different, unfamiliar.

It should be a scent you can live with, of course, but it need not be one you love. I usually look for something inexpensive, in a travel roller; perfume samples are also perfect for this. I found an eau de toilette called Green Leaf in the LaGuardia terminal before leaving for this trip to Maine, and I have applied it religiously throughout my days here. Months later, I will be able to smell it and remember—or not, as the case may be.

I know it all sounds rather twee. “I wish we could see perfumes as well as smell them. I’m sure they would be very beautiful,” says Anne Shirley, in Anne of the Island, when she is at maximum insipidity, and everyone is in love with her, and everything she does is ethereal and enrapturing and the relatable, human Anne of Green Gables is a distant memory. Even by her standards, however, this is idiotic: a scent is a million times more transporting than an image. Stanislavski could have told her that. Because, really, that’s what it’s about, isn’t it? You’re creating a character: someone who travels, who’s capable of relaxation and maybe even adventure, and who—why not?—has an improbably large cashmere wrap in her bag. Or pretends to.

Thinking of You

July 17, 2014 | by


A postcard from Maine. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

When I was thirteen, and my dear friend Laura went on a teen hiking tour of the British Isles, I wrote her religiously. Letters, yes, but cards, too. I was stationary in New York, but I had found a lot of vintage postcards somewhere ,and sent a pair of fictional spinsters around the country on an imaginary road trip; each card chronicled their increasingly lurid and ridiculous adventures. One of the sisters proved man-crazy, the other developed a gambling addiction in Reno. When Laura transferred to a boarding school in Wales, their adventures continued.

Nowadays, that doesn’t seem like that big a deal. People are always sending Flat Stanleys and toys and gnomes around the world; you can download a template right from the Internet. Nothing new under the sun, I guess, but I loved having that imaginative connection to a friend across the world.

Now, as a grownup on vacation, I’m sitting here with a pile of postcards in front of me, wondering what to do about it. What, after all, is a postcard? In the age of e-mail and Instagram and Twitter, it’s a self-conscious anachronism. When you read an old postcard, their messages—in that spindly, legible, Palmer-script hand—are often strikingly banal. People really do say “wish you were here,” without embarrassment, and talk about the weather. With traditional postcards, the thought is what counts; these were, by and large, generic images bearing the most impersonal of greetings. Read More »

Tragic Beauty

July 16, 2014 | by

Axes from The Shining

Axes from The Shining at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo: Eric Chan, via Flickr

The thing under my bed waiting to grab my ankle isn’t real. I know that, and I also know that if I’m careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle. ―Stephen King

The rain is pouring up here in Maine: King country. The weather is regenerative and generous, but awfully forbidding, too. Someone hearty told me that this weather is, in fact, the best time to take walks up here—certain vivid mosses have been known to appear. But this is the sort of individual who enjoys icy five A.M. swims, and I did not want to admit that my study of bryology never really extended beyond carpeting bowers for the occasional fairy, and that said experiments generally resulted in pulling up large hunks of moss, moving them, and then being surprised when they died. In short, I am still indoors. And for good measure, we watched The Shining. I remembered it having been much scarier.


Cabin fever is an idiomatic term, first recorded in 1918, for a claustrophobic reaction that takes place when a person or group is isolated and/or shut in a small space, with nothing to do for an extended period. Cabin fever describes the extreme irritability and restlessness a person may feel in these situations.

A person may experience cabin fever in a situation such as being in a simple country vacation cottage. When experiencing cabin fever, a person may tend to sleep, have distrust of anyone they are with, and an urge to go outside even in the rain, snow, dark or hail. The phrase is also used humorously to indicate simple boredom from being home alone.

Read More »