On the morning of April 19, 2018, Nicholas Surprise, Staff Writer for the Honors Pulse, sat down with Dr. Marcie Paul to reflect on her years as Director of the Honors Program. Throughout their conversation, they discussed topics ranging from literature and poetry, to politics and philosophy, to time and the root of all evil.
Nicholas: How are you feeling today?
Marcie: I'm feeling good, Nick. Better than yesterday. The sun's out.
N: The sun is out.
M: The sun is out.
N: I'm hoping it melts my car.
M: We're hoping that it melts about two feet of the snow.
N: I've been hearing this from Fr. Ciferni lately, do you think that the "freak" weather is a "sign" for you to stay?
N: Do you have any signs?
M: No. Do I have signs?
N: Yeah. Like anything that--
M: Oh, the "freak" weather, he thinks that's telling him to stay? [chuckles] No, I think it's global; I think it's climate change. [chuckles] ... No, I have a lot of, it's very bittersweet to leave.
M: There's never a good time [to leave]. I mean if you love what you do there's never a good time. And yet, I think, I get tired. You know, I don't have the stamina. I think I have the mental acuity and I have the experience, seriously, but, you know, I go home and I think, "I'm not going to grade twenty essays right now. [chuckles] I'm going to read a book!" So, you know, when you're forty you say, "Yeah! I'm going to grade twenty essays and I'm going to prep my next class and get up at 6." And I just don't feel like that, so. And I have other things to do. I think people worry a lot about retirement because they don't know what they're going to do, and I don't have that feeling. I just feel like I'm going to miss my people here. You know? So I don't worry about my time not getting filled up, or not having a purpose in life, I just think... Did you read the article I wrote for St. Norbert Magazine?
M: So that's my regret, that's my sadness. You can always walk out of your hall here and say, "Hey!" you know, And have an amazing conversation about something. I can go upstairs to Vicky Tashjian [History] and say, "So explain..." I was reading books lately about the Great Indian Rebellion when the Indian army rose up against the--
M: No, no, India-- against the tea company, actually. East India. And I just am fascinated by that, so I go up, and Vicky Tashjian [Professor of History] knows all about that because of the Punjab, and that's her stuff, so anyways, you can always just walk out anywhere, or go over to the Bio people and say, "So what's the deal with this?" and get this university-air lecture, and that's pretty fabulous, and I don't get that at the barn.
N: What are some things we don't know about you that you would want us to know before you leave?
M: Not much, probably!
N: Anything? Nothing?
M: Well, what kind of things? I love Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bruce Springsteen? That sort of thing?
N: Do you have any memories from growing up or you in college? You know, what advice you have for us, sort of thing?
M: I talk at you guys all the time... I was very immature in college, I think. I find you all, many of you, more focused and mature than I was. I was a Spanish and Art major, so I did Studio Art, that's what I did. Drawing.
N: I can't do that. Do you still draw?
M: Yeah, still draw, still paint, still write. I think that the fact, I would love, I've written a novel, you know that, I've written a couple novels.
N: I did not know that.
M: Didn't you know that?
N: Do you have a pen name?
M: No, it's my name. Tom Kunkel was great, he even introduced me to publisher houses, 'cause he read my stuff, but I've had this sort of series of unfortunate events. [chuckles] My book got accepted by a small publishing house, and then that publishing house got bought out by a bigger one that said no, 'cause they just reorganized everything and said, "No, we're going to start fresh with our writers." So then, it got accepted by another small press and then the editor at that press who wanted it said she was moving to a bigger press and she wanted to take it with her rather than publish it there, 'cause she could do more for me, ok? Then she quit, she was also a writer and her book sort of took off, so she quit. [chuckles] So then I thought, "I'm going to quit this small press-thing and go into agents," which you should do anyway. So, I had three different agents say they want to see it, the whole thing, immediately, which is a big, big, big deal, 'cause you're sending in cold and normally you don't even get a rejection, you don't get anything. And none of them picked it up. So, at that point, I felt really bad. [chuckles] And, which is not uncommon, this is all just, this is actually, I tell myself now, "I did really, really well." I mean, I had started other novels but that was my first novel. That's pretty damn good to have it get that far. So, I don't know, now I'm trying to decide whether to go back and really read that over with a really critical eye, which I think I've done. Or, I've already started a sequel to that one. Or, I have another one going. So, I think I'll probably work on the third one. So that's what I do.
N: I didn't know that.
M: Didn't you?
N: Now I have to find them!
M: The first one is upper middle school, they call it "upper-mid," so it's got violence in it, but no sex or "weirdness," but it's a pure adventure. They're in a different world, they go into a pre-industrial world, these three kids. I think it's super fun. People did think it was super fun. But it's long, it's over 300 pages, so that was a little bit of a concern. But anyway, and then, the second one is a sequel to that. The third one I just threw out that whole thing and started a mystery-thriller that takes place on a college campus much like St. Norbert, which was really fun. [chuckles] 'Cause I have all the dialogue, it's so easy, but plotting a mystery, which I always knew was really tricky, really tricky.
N: I always love good ones--
M: I love mystery novels, I'm a huge mystery fan. All the way from way back to Wilkie Collins, to the first mysteries, to contemporary stuff. Huge fan. And, there's ones that I hate. I don't like spy stuff.
N: I only like watching spy movies.
M: No, I don't like cozy mysteries. I mean, if there's a cat in it, you know, throw it right out the window.
N: The last great one I read was "The Bone Collector", you ever read that?
M: "The Bone Collector" is good.
N: I saw it coming but I liked it.
M: Anything John Sanford writes is great. There's some series set in Victorian-times, Sherlock Holmes-y times, 'cause I love Sherlock Holmes too. But anyways--
N: Have you watched the BBC show?
M: Oh, yeah.
N: I hope it comes back.
M: [chuckles] So, I love them, so I thought, yeah, so that one has been fun to write. Yeah, so that's a big something you probably didn't know. And then you have to like, that's why I tell you guys in class, I did "guts-it-up" and I sent it. After a second agent turned it down... I said something's wrong, so I hired a professional editor who went through it, and that was hard, you know to say, "Here it is. What's wrong with it?"
N: Here's my bleeding heart.
M: Yeah! [chuckles] And he was great and he really gave me a lot of great feedback. Anyway, so that was actually really valuable for me to teach literature after doing that, or while doing that, because it gave me a whole new understanding of why authors do what they do and how anything you read does come out of an author's somewhere experience. You know how people say, "Did the author really intend for that?" You go, "No, but it's clearly part of the way you think, so it doesn't matter if you intended that or not." You know, if raspberries are a theme, raspberries are a theme, you know? The reader should still be able to see that and give meaning to it even if the author goes, "Huh, you know, you're right." Because you can see all those patterns in your own writing. So, yeah, that's been good and it's helped me teach students how to write, I think.
N: I could never write prose. I love reading it--
M: Have you ever tried?
N: [sighs] I get too stuck. I write poetry.
M: Oh, do you? Well--
N: So, I just take out all of the--
M: I used to write poetry, but I--
N: It gets me away from, I can't do, I'm not good at connecting dialogue, necessarily.
M: I love dialogue.
N: So I just throw away everything, I'll throw away everything and keep the dialogue there without having to say anything around it.
M: Oh, that's interesting. Poetry's tough.
N: I love poetry. Anyways, sorry I get distracted.
M: [After becoming Director of the Honors Program] one of the first things we did was take over Bergstrom.
N: What was it before?
M: Just a regular first year [residence hall].
N: Actually, these are names you don't know, but Cindi Barnett was Dean of Students or Director of Student Life or something, and she said, "Why don't we take [Bergstrom] as an honors [residence hall]?" And I was like kind of worried because... and the first year, especially, was difficult because students were like, "Well I want to live with my best friend from high school. I don't want to live in an honors dorm."--
N: No you don't!
M: And I was, "No you don't!" Promise me if you live with your best friend, you will not be best friends by December. It will destroy your friendship. And then Bergstrom became Bergstrom and people loved it. And it was one of the reasons people wanted to be in the Program. But yeah, it's been quite the journey. It's a good program.
N: Yeah. I mean, yeah.
M: It needs stuff, but, it needs an Honors Thesis.
M: I got a lot of pushback on that from faculty.
N: Yeah, 'cause it's optional right now.
M: That's up to Joel [Joel Mann, Philosophy, upcoming Director of the Honors Program], I told Joel that's his job.
N: No, that would be good, because, otherwise, I mean what do you do?
M: You need a Senior Project. We need, I think strongly that we need a Senior Project or Thesis.
N: I mean, you start with a project, it would be nice to end with one.
N: What is your proudest accomplishment during your time as Director?
M: Oh! Huh... I can't say one. I think building a cohort, I think that we have a community of honors [students], that you know each other, and that's been super crucial to me and Stace [Stacey Wanta]. I think Honors 101 is finally in a good place and that was a tough course to design, it was rugged to get going. I think even from the beginning it was a valuable course but it has morphed a lot and I think it is really good, and I think it is going in a really good direction. One of my biggest moments was Tom Kunkel said to me, somebody said to me, "What is the most important thing that the Honors Program does?" And Tom Kunkel was sitting there and I was going, "Uhh..." [chuckles] I thought, "I don't know." And he said, "Mentoring the honors students." And that really, that was not too long into my tenure and I thought, "That's right, he's right." The most important thing we do is coach and mentor our honors students. And so that really helped me think of 301 [Preparing for Life After SNC], that helped me sort of reorganized my thoughts about why we're here. I mean it's not just about providing more challenging material, it is really encouraging and supporting and mentoring and coaching and promoting our honors students. That make sense?
M: 'Cause I think we do.
M: So once we realized that, that it wasn't about course, I mean it's about everything, but the coursework then, what makes it different, and Joel and I were just talking about that, is the way when he teaches Philosophy, he teaches Writing and Philosophy, 'cause he's really trying to scaffold you up to a different level of Philosophy writing.
M: So yeah, I think once that happened, then it became clear to all of us on the team what had to happen. And we still want other pieces to that that still haven't happened. Like, we want a course on analysis-inquiry, like a pre-methodologies course, so it's not like methodologies for your major, but it's inquiry. So it'd be a companion course to 301. I think that'd be really valuable, information literacy and inquiry. 'Cause any course that honors students take about research tend to fall really lame on honors students, like yeah, "Go behind Google? Okay.", you know? I think 301 has been a good course.
M: Yeah, so I don't know, I think we've come a long way and I'm proud of that.
M: So, yeah I think the top thing is just, I can't even, it's been a great ride. It's been a great ride meeting the students. And, for us, Stacey and me and now Joel, one of the greatest pleasures, I think is knowing students for four years. 'Cause no other people know students for four years. My majors I didn't know for four years. And to see you guys grow up is just so fun. And then we cry [chuckles]. We cry when you leave.
N: What do you challenge current and future honors students to accomplish before they leave?
M: My biggest concern about honors students is that, three things, one is you way overextend yourselves. You know, it really is a concern, we talk about it a lot among the faculty, it's a real common theme is that, and you guys are worse than most people, that think you have to do all these different things in order to do something. And, that's just not true. In your case, theater is theater, you don't need anything else, and writing seems to be your passion too. Pick a couple of things that really feed you. But we said this in class, there's no reason to fill this up, take some time, take time off, take time to think, take time to be, to read.
N: I get that one hour each night, that's my only time I have to myself.
M: Well that's pretty good. That's more than some people have I think.
M: Rachel Schindler was our alum of the year this year, and her talk, she said that I had said to her like seven years ago, which I have no memory of, she was taking a class and she said, "But does it count?" And I said, "It counts for life!" That really stuck with her, you know, and she said, "Yeah, a lot of things count for life don't count for credit." So that's one thing, I would say. Slow down. Do more reading or writing or acting or... give yourself time to engage with yourself. I think freeing yourself up, traveling abroad, doing those types kinds of experiences that... some of you are so focused on getting somewhere that you can't--
N: Enjoy where you are now?
M: Yeah, or be, or learn. And then, when people don't get in, or it doesn't [work out], they don't have enough life of the mind to think, "Who am I?" Because if you're learning who you are all along the way, those changes aren't so horrible. They're like, "Oh! That fits with this. I did always want to take a year off so I'm going to go to Montenegro for a year, what the hell, why not?" There's so much pressure among you guys to reach a goal. Relax a little bit. Which is contrary to I always say which is if you're going to go Pre-Med, you can't lose your grades.
M: But I think both things can be true, you know? I've seen students do it really, you know I think of Davey Holzer [Class of 2017]. I mean Davey's the most--
N: Blows my mind.
M: But he's laid-back at the same time! And so is JT! And those guys are machines in the classroom, you know, but they didn't clutter their lives too much either. I mean they had fun and they studied. It wasn't like, "And then I got this club, and that club, and this club, and that club, and this, you know?" And so, I would get rid of a lot of that. That's me, though. I mean, other people might say other things. I hate to see you guys take on so many obligations that I just don't think are all that productive.
M: One of my friends from Spain said to me years ago, "You are such an exaggerated culture in the United States." And we are, and that really helped me clarify that. It's like if you're not absolutely running, you're lazy. If you're not dieting, if you're not doing "vegan", "raw food", you're two hundred pounds overweight eating pizza and fast food. We don't do nuance well in this country, we don't do balance well, we don't do, "Yeah I can do that and still be okay." And I'm not a model of that behavior. You know, I've done the same thing, but I think a lot of stuff, especially for smart people is thinking and if you don't have time to think--
N: I haven't had time to write in forever.
M: And for me, writing is thinking... Or whatever it is. I think writing and reading, but it could be music, whatever it is. Friends, you know? Cooking? I like to cook.
N: What does your Utopia look like? We're going back to the beginning.
M: Oh! My Utopia!
N: We're going back to the beginning at the end.
M: [exhales] I think this is a super hard assignment because, two things, I like, I believe in a Utopia that would be sort-of hippie culture, commune, you know? Where people share tasks and you have your own gardens... but I also don't like disorder and messiness so that's always a problem because creativeness is messiness so that's always my struggle. I think a toward-Utopian model is, for me, very political, so. Prioritizing people over corporations, prioritizing universal collective over greed and accumulation. So I tend to think in those terms of Utopia lately. I think of country Utopias, like Denmark is clearly doing a whole lot better job than we are because they don't emphasize, they emphasize much less capital accumulation and they emphasize much more family support and social support so that people don't feel like... I mean, here, the griefs that I see in our culture are people who are sick and are worried at the same time that they are going to run through healthcare. I mean that just makes me crazy. You shouldn't have "Go Fund Me" for Cancer or benefits, "Benefits for Lee's Pancreatic Cancer" which is plastered all over. I mean that makes me insane. Or kids being sick and parents not being able to take time off to take care of them. So for me, a Utopian vision is not, none of these little Utopias work, although I think that's really cool that people are trying. In Spain, there are still anarchist villages. That works on a village-level, but on a bigger level, I don't think any of those things work. I do think that it's just constant effort to remember and to implement common good over personal success, success in the U.S. term which is like bigger house, bigger car, bigger carbon footprint, and a bigger... I don't know what the point is after a while and the older I get the more radical I get that way. The more I think, you know, if we can't--
N: Get away from saying, "I have."
M: Or, "Who are you? I'm a doctor." Or "What do you do?" And corporations being people just makes me insane. The culture that glorifies... you think back to England when acting was considered a terrible profession, you know? They were all seen as like loser and prostitutes. Which was not good, obviously. But the Kardashians is not good either. I mean there should be some---
M: Yeah! We don't have any cultural pride! So part of what I think when you read "Utopia" is cool is education. That they are committed to education. They're committed to good entertainment. That all sounds so prescriptive and boring and people get upset but... And that's my other pet peeve really. Any Utopia would have to include really good public access to education, which we are failing miserably at in our country. I mean right now--
N: I always say if I ever ran, I would run on education.
M: And I saw Spain do that, during the transition because, under Franco, all the schools were really Catholic. And true public education was one of the platforms of the Socialist, the workers, it was very centrist Socialist party, but I think that here, it's all in your ZIP Code. If you come from a shitty ZIP Code, you get a shitty education! And where is that? The whole idea of a public education, to me, is accessibility and some leveling. And we have totally lost that.
N: What about Jason Taylor's story strikes you as most poignant, or most relatable, or both?
M: I was just talking about that yesterday with Mitchell...
N: I would love to go through my "Black Swan Green" book with you at some point. Now that you're talking--
M: It's a great book.
N: I re-read it this summer--
M: Did you? What did you think?
N: And I Sticky-Note'd the whole thing.
M: What did you think?
N: I loved it when we read it the first time.
M: It's phenomenal, he's phenomenal.
N: There's a lot, there's so much there, and so many, like, I have theories going that no one around me believed, but I really think that sections are dreams, I really think that sections of the novel did not actually occur.
M: Yeah, you never know with Mitchell [author of "Black Swan Green"] because when you read more of Mitchell, he does do supernatural.
N: Like the sour aunt? I don't think that ever happened. I think it's a... there are themes that occurred earlier to him in that day that I think are inverted in the dream.
M: Mmhmm. Oh, they are completely. I like that, I like the Madame whatever-her-face-was I never can say her name.
N: Oh, yeah.
M: Did you realize that the name of the antique store was from "Utopia"?
M: And the woman who runs it is a character from "Utopia"? So I love that because he's entering into a Utopian situation, and then, you know that the clerk who was a woman is really a man. Did you realize that?
N: I got that sense, but I didn't--
M: So it's all those inversions again, you know when it frees up the idea of what gender is to him too. Like what is time? What is gender?
M: Because she is also the one who tells him, "What do you think your dad's going to do? Kill you? I mean seriously." She gives him a lot of insight into who he is. But I, my favorite part is when they go on the trail. I think everything about that is so incredible. I mean, the dogs at the beginning that attack him, the Tom Yew sex scene, which is so poignant because it absolutely foreshadows his death and her pregnancy. I love, love, love the ending of that when he's--
N: Sitting on top of the barn?
M: No it actually ends up with the medical asylum--
M: And the person who's screaming about him leaving her is actually a character from a French novel. Which I gave to my students to read if they wanted it. So she's yelling at him that he's the character that, in that novel, left her. And so I just am blown away by his, well he's like we are in a way. He's a reader, a total reader, to whom literature is as real as life, and probably, his dream-life is as real as life. Just like what you were saying, his imagination or his dreams are reality because what difference is there between what he sees inside, what he see outside? But I love that too, the idea that madness being the revelation of truth, which is an old, old trope in literature but still seems, to me, to be really true. You know, when he runs into that. I love that. And the nurse is not actually the nurse, the nurse is an in-patient. I guess I like it because it's Borgesian, he's just playing off all the tropes of timeless literature, and at the same time, making this kid absolutely believable. You know? And he's having this horribly, great day, you know? You just can't even wrap up that day for him, he finds out about all that stuff. He finds out about seduction and about real love and about what is madness? and what are roles?-- because is the nurse a nurse? Is the owner a man? You could spend a whole semester doing that book. Especially when you start tracking down its allusions to other literature.
N: Its symbols, all of its themes.
M: Yeah! So I don't find it as poignant as I'm supposed to that he writes and he's embarrassed about it. Nor do I find his stammer as poignant as I'm supposed to. He's a real stammerer, Mitchell is, himself.
N: Oh, okay.
M: Yeah, so that's very autobiographical. I find Tom Yew's death very, very moving. And because he is not a great kid, you know? He's just like everybody we knew in high school, you know? Kind of going nowhere, and then he gets into the service, and that's kind of a good thing. You know? So I found that terrible when he died because it's just--
N: How it's announced too. They're all running down the street.
M: But also, it's just exactly, now I go political again, but it's who gets killed? Who gets sent? You know? It's the poor kids. It's the kids that don't have a good future. It's the, you know, Eagle River, when you go to the cemetery, it just blows my mind there-- I go to cemeteries to check them out-- and the number of people there who died, you can go back World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam, Afghanistan. It's all rural poor. It's their way out. It's their--
N: It's starting to pick up in Wautoma.
M: Yeah, I bet.
N: Rural, poor.
M: Yeah, it's like how many of our friends went?
M: Anyways, Vietnam, yeah, 'cause it was a draft.
N: Have you ever had a stammer? Literal or metaphorical? How did you get over it?
M: Oh! That's an interesting question.
N: This is what I really wanted the interview...
M: Stammer? I was terrified of public speaking. Even when I was teaching. If somebody said, "Hey, come and say a few words," I would... So what does that mean? Stammer? No, I think just regular stuff, like... Oh, it's such a good question, Nick... No, I think if anything, especially in my adult life, even as a kid, though, I think I was criticized, probably correctly, for jumping-in too soon. You know, and I often talk through things. And I still do, but now I talk to my husband through things and that's a better place [chuckles], you know, than talking through in faculty meetings and stuff. No, that would probably be my stammer is that I think I'm too opinionated or I put my opinions out too fast. Does that make sense? Because I think then I back-up and think them through, but they're already out there. So some people are like so afraid to engage or to debate and I'm overly, "Yeah!" and then I think afterwards like, "Well that was stupid", well not stupid but not well-developed, you know? When I was a little kid, one of my teachers told my mom, "Marcie's always the first one to disagree with anything, but then she's also the first one to say, 'You know I think I was wrong." But my mom was horrified, you know, because it wasn't feminine...
N: My mom brought duct tape to a parent-teacher conference, for me.
M: Yeah, you see? But I think we all have our, you know... I look at people whom I think are successful, or just like amazingly, I'm still in political mode because of what's going on, but you look at Biden, what a person! And I'm thinking, like, how do you get through the death of your--
M: Two kids. He's lost his wife in the car accident and his daughter, and then his son, and he's not a kid. And he just keeps going and going, and thinking and thinking. And John McCain, like how does he get up in the morning with cancer-- his kind of cancer-- and put on a suit and tie and shave, instead of, just like, getting in my PJ's and sweats and curl up with some whiskey [chuckles].
N: And not only, but fighting against--
M: But still fighting!
N: Fighting for what he thinks is right.
M: I mean I just find that-- or Elizabeth Warren, who really threw away a life of privilege--
N: Professor, she was a professor, was she not?
M: Yeah, and beautiful, and threw away this very easy, very comfortable, very, very, big life-- I mean you could be doing museums in Paris, or you could have lots of horses [chuckles]-- and just persevere.
N: I always read her Senate hearing, or listen to them, because she's so articulate.
M: She's so articulate, they have so much energy at an age where most people who be like, "I'll play a round of golf in the morning and then take a nap and then go to Early Bird Dinner at the--
N: Mar-a-Lago Cafe?
M: But I think that impresses me and I don't know how people have that kind of energy. 'Cause, I mean, Biden is as old as Trump, he's in his seventies, and McCain, God bless him, you look at that whole life.
M: Yeah, before that he was almost the anchor at Annapolis [Naval Academy], he was the second to last in the class, which he obviously did on purpose to piss off his father, you know? And to keep doing that, I think wow that's just, that kind of inner core something that most of us don't have. But at least we're aware. 'Cause a lot of people aren't. Anyway, so a stammer, I don't think, not typical.
N: Does yellow and blue make green?
N: Can we ever separate the former from the later?
M: The green from the--
N: Like, is there any way to-- maybe this is more philosophical, but that's okay-- is there any way to identify what's truly yellow, or good, and what's truly blue, or bad, or it just all green?
M: Oh! Yeah...
N: Are we all green?
M: No... I am more and more convinced that there is good and bad. Twenty years ago I probably would have said, no, it's all just a smear. And I think my notion of what's tru