My department chair called and asked me how it was going. "It's going," I said. I thought, going, going, gone.
"Good," he said. "I can't wait to hear it."
My department chair is a dick.
Books (hardcover and soft), term papers and manuscripts in disarray, stacked high and wobbly like the ruins of Mayan temples. The detritus of an academic career. It never budges; it doesn't even grow. It simply thickens. Congeals. The desk, the floor, the chairs, the bookshelves, the file cabinet are all layered with it. I cannot bear to put my hand in it, not even to throw it away.
My chair asked me once how I got any work done in an office like that. His, I knew, was disgustingly tidy: file cabinets labeled, books not only alphabetized but classed by subject, walls festooned with plaques and diplomas. He had swung by, unannounced as usual, and leaned in the door, doing a mock double-take, his mouth forming an amused "oh." Then, uninvited, he had cleared a seat and taken a casual, appraising look around. Pudgy and bearded, with his round glasses and black turtleneck, as in his student days. Smiling, too. He always smiles when he talks to me. In public the smile is deferential, in private patronizing. Either way it is maddening.
"When you get to be my age," I answered him that one time, "you'll know."
An old mentor, now gamely dead, used to jest about his grading method. Gather papers, find stairwell. Toss. Highest step, A. Next to highest, B. And so on down the line. He never explained how he figured the pluses and minuses.
Joke or no, I find his method cumbersome. I have perfected the art of grading by title. "Dickinson," for instance, earns a D, whether for unoriginality or initial letter, it makes no difference. "Onomatopoeia in 'Tintern Abbey'" rates a B for the literary term (a B-minus if it's misspelled). Epigraphs I find ostentatious: C range. A colon adds either a plus or a minus, depending on whether I find it precocious or pretentious. Students complain that I'm a tough grader. They have no idea.
And then there's the coup de grace: the final comment. "Needs work" always serves. "Fine essay." "Underdeveloped." "Strong argument." "Good!" I reserve exclamation points for the A's. The emphasis, I find, affirms their sense of accomplishment.
I have sometimes wondered, idly, whether the grades would change if I were actually to read the papers.
But to return to my predicament: the keynote. Six months distant. In the seven months since I agreed to it, I had succeeded only in producing the word "keynote," scrawled absently atop the first page of a legal pad. The rest, as they say, was silence.
The whole thing, of course, was my chair's idea. I had to give him credit: he had put enormous thought and effort into shaming me. It reminded me of my ex-wife.
You need to understand: it was not always thus. Some years ago, I would have welcomed nothing more than the opportunity to match wits with the rising crop of scholars. I would have intimidated and emboldened them in equal measure. Each, in turn, would have respected and resented me. The prospect of toppling me would have entered their minds, but only in the way that children secretly dream of unpardonable acts. They would have imagined breaking me only because they knew they could not dare or bear to carry it out.
But that was many moons ago. In the interim, I had lost the heart for it.
My chair understands this. He wants me broken. He dreams of it daily. He has tried to oust or at least out me, but to no avail. There is little he can do. My classes are securely mine: students line up for them, colleagues refuse to touch them. I avoid committee work assiduously. I have not published anything more substantial than a book review in a decade. He cannot catch me in a scandal, a lapse, an error of judgment. To my grading methods he is not privy. He suspects—Lord, how he suspects—but he cannot know, and it infuriates him.
He has visited my classroom, sidling into the back corner of the Brit Lit survey he has striven futilely to steal. Hoping, I suppose, to discover me rifling yellowed lecture notes, mumbling my lesson like a senile priest at his beads. His mug still youthful enough to pass for one of them. But his scheme has backfired, if anything further securing my rep. My students jerk upright in their seats when the eloquence of old flows. They do not realize the show is for him, not them. They tell their parents, some of whom were students of mine as well, "Yeah, he looks like he's losing it, but man! Out of the blue, he'll knock you out. The old man's still got it."
He cannot challenge my scholarship: there, too, my reputation is secure. He cannot even muster the courage to attack me in print. He knows he would be setting himself up for ruin; he knows his own miserable career has thus far been nothing but an unacknowledged footnote to mine. A postscript to my monograph. He cannot stand this either.
Once, he suggested we team up on a collection, share editorial duties, the introduction to go to him, the afterword to me. A bridge from my era to his, or some such nonsense. In truth an opportunity to strut his puerile mumbo-jumbo at my expense. I turned him down cold.
And so he figures he will let me do myself in. And he just might have something there.
The business of a keynote is manifold. It sets a tone, develops a paradigm, lays a cornerstone. It simultaneously tantalizes and sums up. It challenges, threatens, dares and mocks. It provokes and inspires, while at the same time it closes the book.
I should know. I've given many.
The irony—or perhaps he considers it payback—is that I delivered the keynote at his first professional conference, when he was still in grad school. He had approached me afterward, grubby haversack slung across his shoulder, hardcover copy of my first book held before him in the manner of an altar boy at the offertory. With that blend of cocksureness and toadying that grad students cultivate, he had engaged me in conversation about Dickens and Darwin, Trilby and Daniel Deronda. Not that he wanted anything in particular of me at the time (other than my signature), just the experience of having kowtowed and cartwheeled before me. Showing off and sucking up. Still young enough that pimples peeked through his beard. A wreck, and instantly forgettable, had I not been into that sort of thing in those days.
A few days later, a card showed up in my mailbox (this before the onslaught of e-mail). "Dear Dr. Chomley, it was a great pleasure, etc. etc." He must have written it on the plane ride home. Now I knew the kind of operator I was dealing with. Or so I thought.
Ironies proliferate. When his first book, an overly long exegesis of Christology in In Memoriam, was in manuscript, I gave it a positive reading for Oxford. Subsequently, in book form, I gave it an overly generous review for Modern Language Notes. I received a signed copy, the inscription effusive. I watched his career, crossed paths at conferences, saw that he remained firmly in my camp. On the strength of his second book—which garnered its share of kudos, though privately I thought it rode rather obviously on my coattails—he won tenure at the no-name institution he then called home. An opening for department chair coinciding with the departure of our junior Victorianist, I advocated strongly for his hiring. Little did I know what I was welcoming into my nest.
Beneath a collegiality so studied it sets my teeth on edge, I sense in him epic rage. He wants to see me pilloried, crucified. Without the protective shell of tenure and self-imposed hermitage, he imagines me stumbling, squirming, lost. He has summoned a pantheon of scholars, young and old, to witness my fall. He relishes the thought of their stunned looks, their outraged cries: "He's a fraud!" "The emperor has no clothes!" "Dinosaur!" "Relic!" He visualizes a feeding frenzy. With his flair for the poetic, he believes I will literally be hooted off the stage.
The keynote: the grand gesture that opens and closes. It will sate his bloodlust. He will finally be at peace.
Four months to go, and still I cannot dredge up the references, allusions, aphorisms I need to pull it off. And I cannot deny that in this respect he is right: I have lost touch. I no longer read. I find myself unable to parse the convolutions of high theory. I have no stomach for it. For the past decade at least, I have been riding on my reputation, on the trilogy that launched my career, the trilogy that everyone—even he—must cite: Darkness in Eden, The Amorphous Muse, Greylight. I cannot bear to look at any of them.
My breakthrough was startlingly simple: literature in general—and late Victorian prose in particular—proposes the unworkable solution for which its own texture is the irresoluble problem. Thus authorship, such as it is, devolves into entropy and repetition. An antecedent to its own unrealizable prospect. A lethargy, if you will, of the word.
This was radical stuff at the time. It blew them away. They grappled with it, and more often than not got it wrong. My editor used to send me every reference he found, and I used to chuckle, reading their piddling attempts at comprehension and application. Trying to be generous, I wrote encouraging notes, correcting their misconceptions and offering to read their manuscripts. I was young enough to imagine that the revolution I had begun would never end.
Now, it is old hat. As much as anything, it was my own desertion that made it that way.
So when my chair announced his brainchild, a conference to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of Darkness in Eden, how could I turn him down? When he insisted we play host to the gig, how could I refuse the keynote? When he suggested my publisher (my editor-conspirator long gone) print a new hardcover edition, with expanded preface and updated references, to be unveiled on the opening day, what could I say? He had my number, and we both knew it.
I will never forget that fateful meeting, now nearly a year gone, when he first dropped his bombshell. He sitting at the head of the conference table, I directly opposite. His moon face shining as if he'd just received a visitation from the Holy Spirit. He had spoken of it as a great gift, a supreme honor bestowed on one of the true giants in the field. I had seen through that in a minute, of course, but with twelve pairs of eyes turned expectantly my way and an entire lifetime on the line, what could I do but accept?
When word got out that Hank Chomley would be speaking at a tribute conference, the thing took on a life of its own. Acceptances flooded in. There was a palpable buzz among the literary-critical establishment. Notices ran in all the journals, all the discussion boards (or so he told me). Much of the professoriate, the younger ones, had never seen me, except for pictures on jacket flaps and the departmental web site, all badly out of date. I had long since stopped writing my polite, chiding notes; I had reviewed only a couple of books in the past ten years, and those by colleagues my age or greater. These had been favors, and even they had been torture. I had begged off scores of invitations. I had unwittingly put myself in a position where any public appearance was sure to draw a crowd, and a ravenous one at that. For all they knew, this might be their last chance—at apotheosis or hecatomb, take your pick.
Before my divorce, when my wife could still ask me this with little hint of resentment in her voice, she used to prod: didn't I find the professional adulation burdensome, onerous, even a trifle silly? My answer tended to fluctuate with my post-coital condition. Fully satisfied, I would answer yes, it was a bit silly, all this hullabaloo over an untestable hypothesis concerning Wilde, Wells, and linguistic ennui. Frustrated, I would inquire what she had ever done to earn such applause. Both responses, I knew, were ill thought out, counterproductive: humoring her encouraged further amorous advances when all I really wanted was sleep, baiting her drew a cold shoulder when what I wanted was another go. But I couldn't seem to help myself.
Once, the bitter year before we finalized, when both the sex and the questions had dried up, I tried to explain to her what I had been unable to articulate during thirteen years of married life. I tried to tell her that the thing we do needn't be a good thing, a meaningful thing, to be the thing we need to do. I tried to tell her that the insight I'd had was far greater than anything so pedestrian as accolade or damnation had the power to affect. I tried to paint the joy and challenge I felt in the act of literary discovery, to picture for a woman mired in what I conceived of as the functionalist epistemology of the health sciences the pure delight I located in the word divorced from all ulterior motive and consequence. I espoused, I elucidated, I unbosomed. I delivered to her a keynote.
But here too I failed, of course. She was no longer listening, no longer capable of being aroused or accosted by my words. And it wouldn't have mattered even if she were. For by that time, my confession was no longer true.
There was one child from that marriage, a girl, now grown. Hilda. An attorney specializing in patents law. Contact between us is minimal, birthdays and Father's Day. Occasionally a call or card out of the blue. She has never married, has never shed her childhood obesity either. If I were the self-pitying kind, I would suspect both have to do with my absent parenting. More likely, she is still simply the girl I used to know, the girl who liked to eat more than she cared to wed.
Three months out, my chair stopped by to show me the program mock-up. To my chagrin, he had plastered a photo of me on the cover, a photo from the late seventies, when Darkness first came out. I remembered the shot well: it showed me at the head of the class, an open book cradled in my left hand, right arm upraised as if conducting an orchestra, tops of bowed heads visible in the foreground. It had graced the cover of the alumni magazine for a story heralding the resurgence of the arts and sciences on campus. He must have found it in the archives.
"Unless you have something more current. . ." he said. Smiling.
"No," I said. Although truth be told, time has not been unkind to me. Some would say it has yielded certain improvements: sharper facial architecture, a leaner frame. I have kept my hair, white though it is. I still get by without glasses. A lifetime of reading—and then another of not reading—have neither dimmed my eyes nor dulled my sense of the word as something holy, unapproachable.
"It's unreal," he said, sipping coffee from one of those eco-friendly, stainless steel and plastic contraptions. Shaming me, lonely straggler from the Polystyrene Epoch. "Dandridge will be there, and Becker, and Shivakumar. And—you remember Sokolow? He'll be there. I'm thinking of pairing him up with Estes. You know, get some sparks flying."
"Those two," I said.
"It's amazing, Hank," he said. It still irked me to hear him use my first name, though of course he'd been doing it for years now. "This is shaping up to be huge. Do you know how many bids we beat out for this show?" He made a self-deprecating face. "What am I saying? Of course I told you."
"First thing," I said.
"Well, this is a coup," he said a bit defensively, sticking his chest out. I couldn't tell if it was for real or part of the act. "We've got good reason to be proud. You've got reason to be proud. Can you believe it's been thirty years since Darkness?"
"Hard to believe," I admitted.
"I was thirteen when that book came out," he said, with poorly disguised nostalgia. It was his own age, not the book's, that impressed him. "The same year as Star Wars."
"Same impact, too," I said.
He laughed. "Around here, more. You put us on the map, Hank. We wouldn't be able to do half as much as we do, get the kinds of majors we get, none of it. In a way, I think of this as an acknowledgment of that. A paying of thanks."
I was silent. Waiting.
"And now all we need is that keynote address!" he said, after a pause just long enough to make it seem a non sequitur. "How's that going, anyway? I'm happy to read a draft, or if you'd rather. . ."
"I'd rather," I said. "No one saw Darkness before I sent it in, either."
"Element of surprise," he said. "Makes sense." Then, once more as if it had just occurred to him, "You know, Hank, I've invited the president and provost to introduce you. I think they're going to take me up on it. They know how good for business this is. And," he added hurriedly, "they want to pay their respects too."
"Isn't that what you do at a funeral?" I said.
He colored, tried to cover with a smile that showed gleaming if a trifle protuberant front teeth. "Unfortunate choice of words."
Next thing you know, the guy would be telling me he'd invited my ex-wife along for the ride too.
I struggle with the word, it is so strange to me. I attempt to summon the daimon that got me through Darkness, the same that visited me during the Muse and Greylight, the one I had come to consider my personal birthright, the one I thought I could never lose. My angel of Pentecost. I wrote Darkness in a rush, the inspiration so piquant it was painful, like an uncompleted act of love. It burned my flesh. It buzzed, I salivated. At night unbidden notions bombarded me, crowding my mind like the million specks of color behind closed eyelids. To a certain extent, the experience of writing the book undermined the theory embodied therein, but no matter. I was too young, too alive to my own powers, to trouble over self-contradiction. I was limitless. I was Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva. The final word broke my heart to write.
And now I quail before prepositions, cower before commas. I flounder in whorls of words made of sand and dust. I see the words shape themselves in the air, but when I reach for them, I realize they were never there to begin with.
One afternoon, two weeks and counting, I turned, like my students, to the World Wide Web. I tracked down sites offering free term papers, sites with names like "We Write U Right" and "Cheat Skate." The quality was questionable, though a search of "Henry Chomley" and "Darkness in Eden" did turn up a few hits. "Henry Chomley's Darkness in Eden explores various Victorian novels" was pretty standard fare. Pushing my luck, I graduated to the fee-per-page sites, finding slightly more sophistication: "In Darkness in Eden, Professor Henry Chomley examines the self-consuming narrative turn in works such as George Eliot's Middlemarch and Bram Stoker's Dracula." One young wanker had the gall to write: "Chomley's reinvigoration of formalist principles enjoyed a brief vogue in the late seventies, but has since been superseded by readings more firmly grounded in the Victorian social milieu." Now that hurt.
The custom sites came next. I studied their samples, mercilessly truncated to prevent the cheaters from cheating; I considered applying (the fee was not great). Or perhaps I simply hoped the not horrid imitations of scholarly prose, dissociated from the peer-reviewed journals I had come to loathe, would speak to me. Trouble was, they reminded me of my own work: orotund, flaccid, precise, mystical. Mere bombast and fustian wrapped in a prickly, brittle husk of technique. I couldn't believe students would pay for this shit. Though chances are mine had, and I had graded them—or their titles—accordingly.
It would have been ever so mildly titillating to cop a paper online, pass it off as my own. Who would suspect? I would carry the dirty secret to the grave.
But I could not do it. I found that I could not so clumsily trample on my own legacy. Even after all these years, I could not so easily sell what little was left of my soul.
Two days before the keynote, and panic had officially set in. The legal pad remained as blank as ever. My chair had been obligated to make adjustments: no anniversary edition of Darkness, to begin with. He had nonetheless trucked in several hundred copies of the original, never out of print edition. A pyramid of the things sat like an obscene float athwart the registration and reception area. Anyone who questioned the non-appearance of the promised revised and updated edition would be directed to the publisher, who would (presumably) cover my ass. My chair had begged, reasoned, fumed, but what could he do? No new preface and references were forthcoming.
Pleading sickness, I had thus far dodged the opening reception, the sessions, the screening of an indie film version of Great Expectations (with all-lesbian cast, I understood). But the keynote was looming. The president and provost had indeed agreed to headline. Only an act of God could deflect them, or it, now.
Out of the blue, I called Hilda. Normally the other way around: "Hey, Dad. How's it going?" But I felt the need for human contact, someone in my gene pool. Someone who had legitimate reason to hate me.
A man answered the phone. "Hello?" I hung up, heart beating. For some reason, this most natural thing in the world shocked and saddened me more than anything else.
The night before the main event, my chair called to make sure I'd be there. Did I need a wake-up call, was I feeling okay, were there any last-minute loose ends? Too bad I'd missed the Sokolow-Estes exchange; it sizzled, was worth the price of admission. He'd arranged for a student escort, an undergrad named Matt, to pick me up. Matt, dim but punctual, was his ace in the hole. He was taking no chances.
D-day. I considered barricading myself in my home, Rambo with a recoilless, taking Matt hostage, but to no avail. Matt arrived on time, polite but businesslike. He would have driven me to hell if such had been his instructions.
I am no rock star, but I briefly felt like one when I entered the hall. By clumsiness or craft, my chair had contrived for me to make the walk up the aisle once the crowd had already assembled, and so they were waiting for me. Faces turned. Digital cameras pulsed. There were murmurs of surprise or relief. The program snapshot, now swollen to the size of a barn door, hung suspended above the stage. A few hands reached from the ends of rows, hands of colleagues leathered with age, for me to touch briefly as I passed among them. "Henry," I heard, and looked into the face of my graduate school teaching mate. He seemed close to tears.
It was evident that my nonattendance at all the preliminaries had only whetted their appetites for this crowning moment. I would be speaking to a crowd straining to hear every word, balanced on the edge of anticipation and euphoria. Young and old, fond and feral, they had come for answers. I would be delivering the keynote of my life.
And I still had not written a word of it.
To stage right an arc of four seats; to stage left a podium. President, provost, and chair clustered at stage center as I ascended the steps. Then I was surrounded by them, receiving handshakes and back pats. The president, who had mastered the art of steering those whom he greeted, gave me both at once. "Henry," the provost said. "Where've you been hiding?" My chair was beaming. He had dressed up for the occasion, which for him meant loafers, jeans, button-down and sports jacket. That I carried no script could not have escaped his notice.
The applause that had accompanied our chummy private conference subsided, and seats were taken. The president remained at the podium, erect and square-shouldered as he gripped its edges and stared straight out at the audience, showing us in the seats only his profile. A mathematician, he had little to say about the finer points of literary criticism, so he confined himself to setting the cultural stage for Darkness: legacies of Vietnam and Nixon, dawn of disco, the Carter presidency. He garnered no-brainer laughs for several scurrilous political comparisons. Then the provost, not much better off as an economist, sensibly read from the original reviews of Darkness, lingering over the Times Literary Supplement's prediction: "However controversial its conclusions, Darkness in Eden will long remain the touchstone for subsequent ventures in the field." "I think we can all agree that those words are as true today as they were thirty years ago," he said, pushing his glasses up on his nose and holding a copy of the review aloft, to thunderous applause. More mindful than his boss to stroke faculty sensibilities, he turned fully around to smile at me several times during his address. He did so once more as he yielded the podium to my chair.
He sprang from his seat and approached the podium. The smile had never left his face during the president's and provost's comments. He was aquiver. With a flourish, he produced from somewhere on his person a hardcover copy of Darkness, its dust jacket creased and nibbled, and laid it on the lip of the podium. The audience shifted forward. He let a moment go by, relishing it, then began.
"I can't tell you how much Henry Chomley has meant in my life," he said. "We've all had mentors, influences, people and books that have inspired us. This is different." He cleared his throat and went on.
"I was thirteen when Darkness in Eden came out," he said. I couldn't believe he was trotting that out again. Whom did he hope to have hooted off the stage? "I wish I could say I ran right out and bought a copy, but I was busy with other things. Baseball, Batman, girls." He made a face, leaving it open as to what it meant. The audience laughed nonetheless. His partner, Daniel, sitting near the front, smiled at him, and he smiled back. "Of course I was a serious reader—we all were—but I didn't know the true meaning of 'serious' until I read Darkness in Eden as an undergrad. That book gripped me as nothing else before or since ever has." Again a smile for Daniel—apologetic, maybe? or for backup?—and he forged ahead.
"In Darkness in Eden, Henry Chomley writes: 'The vagrant light that reveals our path illuminates our missteps. We stumble to proceed. There is wreckage on a scale for which we are wholly unable to account, and there is grace abiding, for those with eyes to see.' As the president has reminded us, these soaring lines were written during years of recovery, at a time when our nation was yet reeling from its futile escapades overseas and from internal divisions as deep as blood. It took enormous courage and insight to pen those lines, to perceive in the workings of the word a balm for what ailed the world. Such moral intensity was rare in the ivory tower, rarer still in the privileged world of literary scholarship." Here he might have been overstepping his bounds, as a murmur from certain senior members of the audience suggested, but remembering those days, I had to grant that the picture was more or less true. I never thought of Darkness in quite those terms, though.
"It was this moral intensity that drew me to Darkness, more so than its glowing prose and dead-on readings. It made me believe that something so common as the written word could matter profoundly, that it could be—must be—handled with the greatest of care and trust, like a relic. In the immediate sense, it was Darkness that made me change my major from government to literature." Another ineffable grimace; more laughter, though subdued. "But in the larger sense, it was Darkness that showed me the light." Applause, sudden and protracted, so immediately overwhelming he flushed and stepped back from the podium. I had to admit, he had gotten off a good line.
He waited for the noise to settle. This was his show, and he could not have been more in command if he'd raised his hands to still the waters. "Times change," he said. "Henry has been on the faculty for thirty-three years. If he ever retires, I don't know what I'll do." More applause, the political rally kind: Four more years! "But," he continued, "the work endures. There are those who have said that Darkness has lost its relevance"—there was actually a throaty call of booo, silenced instantly when the idiot realized no one was joining in—"and that may be for the future to decide. But for the present, we can only be thankful that such a work exists, and that we are the ones to whom it has been given." He paused, but instead of cheers there was dead silence, as if he had willed it. "My friends, Henry Chomley."
Then the applause broke loose, and I really was a rock star.
He met me, grinning broadly, as I approached the podium, and to my utter astonishment wrapped me in a hug. His face was glistening with sweat as if he'd come straight from the gym. Not knowing what else to do, I returned the hug, though stiffly. He let go of me quickly, however, and with a pat and an extended hand ushered me to the podium. Then he sat.
I stood, flustered, awkwardly gesturing for silence. I recognized so many faces in the crowd, though far too many of their names escaped me. All were smiling in affection or self-regard, maybe both. Then the cheering ebbed away, and I was left with the silence of the void.
If I could recall my keynote, it might have gone like this.
My friends, my good friends. You awe me. Your fond wishes, your presence here today tell me I have lived a life not altogether unworthy of consideration.
You have gathered here to celebrate an accomplishment. But I think, if I may say so, that you do not truly know what that accomplishment is. You have come to commemorate a book and the man who had the good fortune to write it. For each of you, that book has had its meaning: it has been a companion to some, a challenge to others, a source of frustration and resentment to still others. To the man who wrote it, it has been all these things and more. In more ways than one, it has been his life.
My younger colleague, whose too kind tribute you have just heard, was only a child when this book was born. He has now grown to be a man. He sees in this book his own life, the many years of struggle and bafflement connecting his youthful self to his present. He wishes to honor a debt he believes he owes me, the author of the book of his life. He wishes to say to me, Father, you have dogged my steps to manhood, you have charted my course, all the while not knowing it. In payment of that debt, I offer you the only thing I have: my life, such as it is, the man you have made. May you take pride in it.
But what he does not see, what he cannot know, is that the father cannot discern his life. The book is closed. The darkness is approaching. The word that once so brilliantly shone has diminished.
If I could offer one word of comfort to you, it would be this: the vision you cherish must be remade, has been remade many times. It is never enough. Though the darkness is lasting, the light is stronger still. It will not be for me to see, but it may be for you. Sick at heart though I am to leave you, I find a degree of redemption in this final thought.
My friends, my dear friends. Bless you. If I have given offense, if I have misjudged, if I have failed you in any way, I pray you will forgive me.
On the day following my keynote, I tendered a formal letter of resignation to my chair. As of this writing, I have not heard back from him. But then, he is busy with the conference wrap-up and it is possible he has not read it yet.
Title graphic: "Podium Principle" Copyright © The Summerset Review 2012. This story was originally published in Third Reader in 2008.