Notes from the Classroom: On Teaching Translation
I am old enough to remember when creative writing was something you “couldn’t teach” and was considered by the academy to be a less than legitimate area of study. (Journalism didn’t even merit a raised eyebrow.) In my youth, there were only a handful of MFAs in creative writing on offer throughout the US. Now creative writing departments and graduate degrees in writing and journalism are like porcini in a forest after a rainy spell. Although translation is certainly one of the world’s oldest professions, when I was an undergraduate at Williams College, there were no classes in Italian language, much less in translation. Today, however, academic programs in translation, like the creative writing programs of yore, are on the cusp of mushrooming throughout the world of higher education in the US.
Refreshing a Mother’s Memory With Love and Stories
My mother is slowly losing her mind. This fact, as well as all the tragic repercussions along the way, takes up a large chunk of my chats with my four sisters — and with many of my friends who are going through similar issues with their parents.
My Mother the Feminist
Until I was seven years old, my mother was a housewife in New Jersey. She had wanted to be a writer but was persuaded by her family and 1950s mores to marry one instead. (My father, John McPhee, was actually working for a shipping company when they married, but his ambitions were clear.) When my father left my mother in 1969, the early call of feminism was barely making itself heard in our suburban town. But my mother, alone and reflecting on her life, began listening to what “liberated” women were saying, and she repeated it to me and my sisters. “There is nothing you can’d do,” she would tell us. “Nothing you can’t be.”
The Pursuit of Happiness
I have had my share of struggles with depression, but my greatest battle has been with happiness. Growing up one of four sisters, I was deemed the “happy” child. My father and mother called me their Sunshine Girl. I had such an easygoing disposition, the family used to wake me up after my sisters were asleep just to have a little fun after a stressful day. Cousins and friends told me in confidence that I was the “nicest” of the sisters.
A Feminist Redefined
The other day, I was having lunch in a croissant shop in midtown Manhattan and eavesdropping on the people sitting at the next table. A twenty-something college-educated woman was describing her wedding plans in detail to a friend. Between discussing how much the caterer would cost and what color the bridesmaids’ dresses would be, she said, with considerable embarrassment, “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this, that I’m talking about me doing this. But if I don’t get excited about it, who will?”
A Mother’s Name
When I was 5 month’s pregnant with my son, I went to a dinner party in Florence, where my husband, Luca Passaleva, is from. The conversation briefly left politics when someone suggested that I name my son Silvio, after Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister at the time.
“No,” a friend said, “Silvio Passaleva sounds terrible.”
“Actually,” Luca responded, “his last name will be McPhee.”
Generation IX: How an Act of Congress Changed the Lives of Thousands of American Girls
The previous summer, Congress had passed Title IX, the law prohibiting gender discrimination in educational activities that receive federal money, but the effects of Title IX had not yet reached us. For our half sister, Joan, however, who was born that summer of 1973, childhood was something quite different.
Imagine in some future world that you go to your doctor because you’re feeling down, and she hooks you up to a brain-imaging device, watches a screen while she asks you a few questions and shows you images, and then send you on your way with a prescription for, say, tickets to the philharmonic or a large slice of Junior’s cheesecake…
How Not to Let Your Family Ruin the Holidays
Every year as December approaches, I find myself longing to return to the family hearth, where I might encounter chestnuts roasting on an open fire; a goose roasting in the oven; Rudolph, Donner, and Blitzen prancing on the rooftop; and piles of brightly wrapped presents waiting to satisfy every heart’s desire. Although those details (minus the reindeer) genuinely describe my childhood yuletide seasons, Christmastime at home was always a nightmare.
Where London Gets the Bird
When I first moved to London, one of the worries foremost in my mind was whether I could find a butcher who sold turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t worry long. Every American I asked had the same response: “Lidgates.”