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From The Nightstand: Professor Roxanne O’Connell

Interview conducted by Brittany Parziale ’17, Connections Intern

 

Photo courtesy of Roxanne O’Connell

Professor Roxanne O’Connell is Professor of Communication, teaching Visual Communication and Media Ecology. She has been with Roger Williams University since 2003.

 

Current Reads

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Dr. O’Connell is currently reading a collection of detective mysteries by Margery Allingham. Finding her stories similar to that of Dorothy Sayers and Ngaio Marsh, O’Connell most admires how they “read as a puzzle.” Reading them is “a great way to disconnect— transforming oneself to a different time and place. I eat these stories up like candy.”

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To satisfy her thirst for nonfiction, O’Connell is also reading Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee, the account of the harsh lives of tenant farmers during the Great Depression. Alternating between prose and poetry, this book is “a very moving account full of anger regarding the lack of social justice in America.”

 

Memorable Reads

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The eldest girl in her family, O’Connell had a fantasy of what life would be like as an only child left alone with her book. For Dr. O’Connell, Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins fulfilled this fantasy. Eight Cousins is the story of Rose Campbell, a recently orphaned child living with her great aunts, and finding a place of belonging amongst her seven male cousins and numerous aunts and uncles.

 

Simon Garfield’s On The Map and Just My Type are O’Connell’s memorable nonfiction reads. Garfield taught her a lot about the art of storytelling by beginning his chapters with a story about a person who is “pulling you into their discovery or observations or the unbelievable mistakes they make.”

From her childhood, she recalls reading Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books. His works consist of the original telling of fairy tales such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Nightingale,” each teaching lessons on how to live in the world.

 

Upcoming Reads

Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, is on Dr. O’Connell’s list of upcoming reads. This story of Odysseus told from Penelope’s point of view imagines what it was like to be the wife of the great warrior, now left behind during the Trojan War. O’Connell is “waiting for a sunny hammock weekend where I can curl up and read uninterrupted.” O’Connell has many other books on her nightstand waiting to be read, as she fears “it being a Sunday and there being nothing left to read.”

 

Essential Reads

O’Connell believes there are two kinds of essential reads – “the timeless kind and the one that is a must read right now.”  An “eternal essential” would be Par  Lagerkvist’s The Sibyl as it “examines a person’s life and relationship with things they believe are predestined to provide an alternate realm of thinking.” The “right now read” would be Douglas Rushkoff’s Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus. Dr. O’Connell finds that its importance is in its thesis that the present is moving so fast that there “is no time to get over the shock of the new thing before being thrown into the next new thing–which is unsettling.” O’Connell believes that one reads to discover and that both of these books allow one to do just that.

 

 

 

 

From the Nightstand: Professor Edward J. Delaney

Interview conducted by Brittany Parziale, Connections Intern

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Edward J. Delaney, Professor of Creative Writing and Editor of Mount Hope magazine, has taught at RWU since 1990.

 

 

Current Reads

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Currently reading Literary Publishing in the 21st century edited by Wayne Miller, Kevin Prufer, and Travis Kurowski. This collection of narratives describes the transformation in the world of publishing brought about by technological developments, market pressures, and changing reading habits through a wide range of perspectives.

 

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“I am reading it to help with the literary publishing course I teach. But I also find it very interesting and insightful on a personal level.” As the editor of Mount Hope, the student run magazine operating out of Roger Williams University, Delaney finds himself gravitating to works about publishing and about the history of the modern publishing era. Also, to keep up-to-date, he regularly reads multiple magazines, including: The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Paris Review, and scores of smaller literary journals.

 

Memorable Reads

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James Joyce’s Ulysses. Multiple works by Don DeLillo. Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem. William Kennedy’s Ironweed. “You read a good book and find that your priorities in life at the moment change a little . . . Those are the types of books that stick with me.” Several books from childhood also remain memorable such as The Catcher in the Rye, and William Saroyan’s The Human Comedy. Delaney remembers reading Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, an anti-war novel, in his freshmen year of high school, and finding it “a very powerful read, telling the shocking story of the effects of war.”

 

“I have an interest in reading literary fiction and nonfiction of all kinds, ranging from historical context to biographies.” He enjoys short stories just as much as books, finding them “best when you want to get the entire reading experience in one sitting.” For Edward Delaney, it’s easy to be able to set aside time for pleasure reading. “I wanted to be a writer because I love to read; and a lot of the reason I read is because I write. Reading is an important part of my day. Every day.”

 

Upcoming Reads

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Viet Thang Nguyen’s The Sympathizer. It tells the story of a Vietnamese, French communist spy living a double life in Los Angeles. “Primarily, I am interested in reading this because it recently won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It’s important for me to know what is being considered as among the best work out there right now.”

 

Essential Reads

 

“I don’t think there is an essential read, because no one needs to read any one book. So many different books speak to different human experiences. I don’t think any one good book can speak to everyone the same.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Reading Through Campus and Community Partnerships

Although the Roger Williams University campus and heart of downtown Bristol can seem like separate worlds at times, in fact it is only a six-minute drive between them. Through its open talks, lectures, and forums, the University Library has taken pride in sharing the campus learning environment with our Bristol neighbors. In order to further our relationship with the intellectually curious residents of Bristol, the University Library recently has been creating a series of partnerships with Rogers Free Library. This past year, jointly the University Library and Rogers Free were able to host Talking in the Library(s) event in the fall and the spring. The fall program welcomed novelist and short story writer, Jim Shepard, and the spring saw a packed house for novelist Claire Messud. In support of both of the events, RWU students and Rogers Free patrons alike engaged in the works of both authors, coming together in advance of each writer’s appearance to discuss the books. Additionally, Professor Ted Delaney hosted regular film screenings and discussions on Tuesday nights. “The expanding collaboration between Roger Williams University and Rogers Free Library is a great benefit for the local community,” says Rogers Free Circulations Supervisor, Cheryl Stein. “Increasing interaction and exchanging of ideas among students, faculty and members of the community has brought an ever widening world to all involved.”

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So what else is on tap with the partnerships taking place at Rogers Free?

 

From May 11 – June 22, Rogers Free will host a memoir writing workshop that was developed by Rogers Free staff in conjunction with RWU interim Dean of Libraries, Betsy Learned, and University Library writer-in-residence, Adam Braver. It will be led by Susan Tacent. (http://rogersfreelibrary.org/memoir-writing-workshop/)

 

On October 5, 2016, novelist Dawn Tripp will be reading and discussing her latest novel, Georgia, a fictional account of the life of painter Georgia O’Keefe. (7 PM at Rogers Free. A partnership between RWU’s Talking in the Library / Mary Tefft White series, and Rogers Free’s Jane Bodell fund through their Friends of the Library). The appearance will be preceded by a book group discussion, with the date TBD.

 

April 3, 2017, as the 2017 Bermont Fund Distinguished Guest Writer, novelist, short story writer, memoirist, and critic Rick Moody will be speaking. (7 PM. A partnership between RWU’s Talking in the Library / Mary Tefft White series and Bermont Fellowship, and Rogers Free’s Jane Bodell fund through their Friends of the Library). The appearance will be preceded by a book group discussion, with the date TBD.

 

Also on the horizon will be programming in collaboration with RWU’s John Howard Birss program that celebrates the anniversary of a great book. The coming academic year will honor the 50th anniversary of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Stay tuned for details on upcoming programs . . .

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Advocacy Seminar Students Take the Hill

By Maggie Daubenspeck, Connections Intern

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In mid-March of 2016, five members from the Advocacy Seminar class and their professor, Adam Braver, visited Washington, D.C. to advocate on behalf of the seventy-two-year-old Mohammad Hossein Rafiee Fanood, an imprisoned scholar and chemist in Iran. The Seminar works in collaboration with Scholars at Risk to serve as case minders on behalf of international scholars who are imprisoned for issues directly correlated to violations of their freedom of expression. Maggie Daubenspeck, Abby DeVeuve, Diandra Franks, Jen Gonzalez, Grace Napoli, and Adam Braver scheduled a total of thirteen meetings to be completed in a single day.

 

Tuesday Evening – March 15, 2016

The team arrived at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport at 10:00 pm, successfully navigated the Metro, and made their way to their Dupont Circle hotel. Being surrounded by the sights and sounds of the city made their mission real: they were in the nation’s capitol as participants of the democratic system—there to talk to members of congress and other officials about an issue of great importance.

But could they have an impact?

 

Wednesday Morning – March 16, 2016

The day’s first hitch was the late breaking announcement that all Metro transportation would be suspended due to maintenance. This news forced the group to have to rejigger their transportation and logistical planning. Somehow that seemed part and parcel of a day of advocacy in D.C., always being ready to rethink, readjust, and refine expectations.

But by 9:15am, the entire team was sitting down in the office of Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) in the Rayburn Office Building. The idea of meeting with congressional members on the Hill initially may have been intimidating, but once in action, the group was ready, relaxed, and motivated. After all, a man’s future was at stake.

The team then split up into two separate groups to tackle a series of morning meetings, toggling between House and Senate offices at the Hart and Cannon buildings. While scrambling to different meetings in different buildings was initially confusing, the students soon became experts at navigating the legislative passages, making sure to include small breaks for team meetings to discuss all they were hearing, and continually strategizing for upcoming conferences. Before lunch, Team One met with Representative Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA), the staff of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Senator Bob Menendez (R-NJ). Team Two focused on an extended meeting with a law clerk from the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

Throughout the morning meetings, the students were met with mixed reactions, particularly on strategies specific to addressing human rights issues in Iran. What became more and more clear: most members were willing to lend some form of support, but they preferred someone else to take the lead.

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Wednesday Afternoon – March 16, 2016

The entire team attended a meeting at the State Department with Democracy, Rights, and Labor (DRL). This meeting proved to be very informative as the group sat down with the Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby, Foreign Affairs and Near Eastern Affairs Officer Matthew Hickey, and Iranian Affairs Officer Emily Norris. In addition to helping the team further understand the relationship between the nuances and complexities of human rights in Iran and the case against Dr. Rafiee, the meeting also introduced new speaking points to present in the day’s remaining meetings on the Hill.

By far, the most promising meeting of the day came at the end of the schedule. Following a spirited and up-tempo meeting with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and his staff, the team left Senator Whitehouse’s office with a strong indication from the Senator that he would draft a letter in support of Dr. Rafiee’s release. Finally, the students had found a representative willing to take the lead.

Other meetings to round out the day included the staffs of Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Representative Lee Zeldin (R-NY), and Representative Leonard Lance (R-NJ).

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Wednesday Evening – March 16, 2016

With all the meetings finished, the exhausted but happy team met over dinner to discuss and compare the details from the various meetings, as well as the overall experience. A plan was set up to send out follow up emails, and to write a final report for Scholars at Risk about the findings, allowing the parent organization to engage further with some of the representatives, as needed.

By 10:15pm, the team was in the air, and en route back to Rhode Island. A full day of meeting directly with government officials about Dr. Rafiee’s situation made the students feel hopeful that the case would receive the much needed attention that might help contribute to a positive outcome—further highlighting the responsibility of those who live in cultures that are granted freedom of expression to speak up for those who don’t have that right.

Birss Memorial Library Exhibition Celebrated the 50th Anniversary of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

By Christine S. Fagan, Collection Management Librarian

The sixteenth annual Professor John Howard Birss, Jr. Memorial Library Exhibition celebrated the 50th anniversary of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.  This exhibition was on display from February 1 through March 31, 2016.

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Featured items included:

  • First edition of In Cold Blood published by Random House (1966)
  • Serialized version of “In Cold Blood” in four issues of The New Yorker (September 25, October 2, 9, 16, 1965)
  • Facsimile book reviews from The New York Times and The Observer (London)
  • Facsimile local news coverage in The Hutchinson News at the time of the murders, trial and execution
  • Facsimile Kansas Bureau of Investigation report of the critical interview with Floyd Wells, which was the first clue leading to the capture of the murder suspects
  • Issue of Life (May 12, 1967) with a feature article on the making of the film, In Cold Blood, in the town where the murders took place
  • Facsimile portraits of Capote by Carl Van Vechten, Roger Higgins of New York World-Telegram and Sun, and others
  • Facsimile photographs of the Black and White Ball held by Truman Capote at the Plaza Hotel on November 28, 1966

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Other related events included a book discussion on March 2 lead by Professor James Tackach and jointly sponsored by the Honors Program and the RWU Library. A screening of the film, In Cold Blood, in conjunction with the FCAS Great Film Series took place on March 30. Professor Tackach offered a one-credit course on Truman Capote and In Cold Blood during the spring semester.

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Dr. Thomas Fahy of Long Island University delivered the Keynote Lecture, “What’s So Dangerous About In Cold Blood? Truman Capote, American Culture, and the Literary Canon,” on March 17. Dr. Fahy, a noted Capote scholar and author of Understanding Truman Capote, provided an engaging presentation focused on the cultural climate of America in the 1950s, the setting of the novel. Economic inequality and fear of global atomic destruction are themes of the 1950s that still resonate today as the economic divide continues to expand and the fear of global terrorism is on the rise. Dr. Fahy concluded that alienation and violence tend to thrive under such circumstances, which sadly makes this novel so relevant and frightening today. A lively question and answer session followed.

 

Stay tuned as plans are underway for the 17th Annual Birss Memorial Program celebrating the 50th anniversary of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

 

 

Honoring the 4th Annual Bermont Fellowship – Claire Messud

The annual Bermont Fellowship in Fiction and Nonfiction took place over April 10 – 11, 2016. Each Fellow, from several corners of the university, applied and were chosen through a blind submission process. For an afternoon, as guests of Katherine Quinn at the Anthony Quinn House, this year’s Fellows engaged in a Master Class with Distinguished Visiting Writer, Claire Messud.

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We are pleased to honor the 2016-2017 Bermont Fellows:
Alexis den Boggende
Kaitlin Della Rocca
Olivia Fritz
Kerlie Merizier
Brittany Parziale
Adrienne Wooster

The following evening, in a collaboration between the RWU University Library’s Talking in the Library series, the RWU Department of Creative Writing and English Literature, and the Rogers Free Library’s Jane Bodell Endowment, Claire Messud gave a public talk at Rogers Free in Bristol.

 

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16th Annual Professor John Howard Birss, Jr. Memorial Exhibition, “In Cold Blood and Truman Capote”

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The 16th Annual Professor John Howard Birss, Jr. Memorial Exhibition, “In Cold Blood and Truman Capote” commemorates the 50th anniversary of this major work of literature.

When In Cold Blood was published in 1966 it was an instant bestseller, having been serialized in The New Yorker during the fall of 1965. Capote labored over this “non-fiction” novel, as he labeled it, for almost six years. He meticulously documented the Clutter murders, including the background, investigation, trial and eventual execution of the convicted killers. Capote’s unique fictional style of telling a true story, including dialogue, engages the reader in a unique and unparalleled manner.

The exhibition is open daily through March 31 during the library’s operating hours.

Featured items include:

  • First edition of “In Cold Blood” published by Random House (1966)
  • Serialized version of “In Cold Blood” in four issues of The New Yorker (September 25, October 2, 9, 16, 1965)
  • Facsimile book reviews from The New York Times and The Observer (London)
  • Facsimile local news coverage in The Hutchinson News at the time of the murders, trial and execution
  • Facsimile Kansas Bureau of Investigation report of the critical interview with Floyd Wells, which was the first clue leading to the capture of the murder suspects
  • Issue of Life (May 12, 1967) that includes a feature article on the making of the film, “In Cold Blood,” in the town where the murders took place
  • Facsimile portraits of Capote by Carl Van Vechten, Roger Higgins of New York World-Telegram and Sun, and others
  • Facsimile photographs of the Black and White Ball held by Truman Capote at the Plaza Hotel on November 28, 1966

Artifacts on display are courtesy of: Douglas and Judith Krupp Library, Bryant University, Smithfield, Rhode Island; Providence Public Library, Providence, Rhode Island; Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC; Redwood Library, Newport, Rhode Island.

Upcoming Books: Prodigals: Stories by Greg Jackson

By Kevin Marchand, Connections Intern

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Prodigals: Stories by Greg Jackson

Farrar, Strauss and Giroux

March 2016

 

Writers like Greg Jackson continue to prove that the short story form is not dead. In his forthcoming debut collection, Prodigals, Jackson has strung together eight mind-shattering stories, a number of which formerly appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, Granta, and Virginia Quarterly Review. With sentences that drive on for half a page, and a lyricism you can almost taste, Jackson’s characters navigate the deceivingly mudded waters of today’s privileged elite. Out of the eight stories, six are told from the first-person perspective, and frankly, these narrators leave nothing unsaid. As readers, we are privy to every moment of their spiritual and philosophical unraveling, and we accompany them as their relationship to reality becomes more and more fragile, their disequilibrium increasingly jarring.

 

The terms of the ensuing ride are set in the opening sentence of the first story, “Wagner in the Desert” (previously published to much fanfare in The New Yorker). “First we did molly,” the narrator explains, “lay on the thick carpet touching the pile, ourselves, one another.” At this point we know to buckle up, and Jackson doesn’t disappoint. He keeps the pedal to the medal in every story, barely leaving enough room for breathing. Indeed, by the end of most these stories, it can feel like one has just run a marathon. So in the event of profuse sweating, don’t be alarmed—you are not alone.

 

Jackson demonstrates a fondness for picking his characters up by their ears and plopping them down in settings they did not entirely ask for, with people they do not necessarily want to be with. And, predictably, this technique tends to create immediate tension, a tension Jackson sustains line to line, page to page. In perhaps the most obvious case, “Epithalamium,” the protagonist, Hara, a youngish woman in the midst of a semi-mutual divorce, arrives at her beach house to find a stranger—a college-aged, free-spirited young woman, named Lyric—living in her home. Hara wanted time alone, and now, she’s got to deal with the presence of a young woman who could not be more different than her, and in turn serves as a constant reminder of all the aspects of Hara’s own personality that she is hoping to avoid. With his unique characters and his dazzling use of language, Jackson holds us rapt as the situation continues to escalate in the most unexpected ways.

 

In the final story, “Metanarrative Breakdown,” the narrator describes a feeling that over the summer he has “been on increasingly intimate terms with . . . A vertigo of disconnection.” If I had to pick a prevailing theme that carries through from “Wagner in the Desert” to “Metanarrative Breakdown,” it would have to be this: disconnection. Although almost all the characters in Prodigals are financially well-to-do—or at the very least, comfortable—they are all spiritually bankrupt. And this, it seems, is the point Greg Jackson is trying to make about our current predicament. It is becoming increasingly difficult to connect, really connect—to feel fulfilled. In “Tanner’s Sisters,” Jackson’s narrator announces, “I don’t think I’ve ever been present with another person as deeply as I was in that moment.” For him, this is everything; for each of Jackson’s characters, this is what they long for. Yet, in most cases, they fail. Frequently, it is a challenge to pin down precisely why it is that these characters can’t seem to connect, but it’s all too clear that their hold on life—their notion of existence—is dauntingly and increasingly “tenuous.”

 

These eight stories that make up Prodigals are remarkably unsettling and shockingly beautiful. Philosophically uprooting and spiritually crucial. Greg Jackson probes the very depths of our existence, highlighting the ever-lingering sense of discontent that’s always waiting to strike, shall we let our guard down and look past the hidden beauty of a life that so often appears to be anything but.

 

 

 

 

SHORT TAKES: Upcoming Books

Novels

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Hotels of North America, by Rick Moody

Little Brown

November 2015

 

Rick Moody’s latest novel is the story of a one Reginald Edward Morse, a top reviewer on RateYourLodging.com. The novel is told through a series of Morse’s online reviews of hotels over several years. Each review offers its own story, while slowly building a larger narrative that gets pieced together through a series of revelations that come out over time in the postings. On the surface, Moody’s book is wildly funny, but once you settle in deeper, you find a very moving and brilliant account of what it means to search for dignity and love and family.

 

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The Heart, by Maylis de Kerangal

Farrar, Strauss and Giroux

February 2016

Originally published in France in 2014, The Heart (Réparer les vivants) was a widely lauded, including winning the Grand Prix RTL-Lire, and the Student Choice Novel of the Year. The novel, artfully translated by Sam Taylor, takes place over a twenty-four-hour period, from the moment of a fatal accident to the heart that is harvested from the victim and then transplanted. Stylistically, the prose explodes off the page, reflecting the urgency of the situation, where any and every pause is a question of life and death.

SHORT TAKES: Upcoming Books

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The Givenness of Things, by Marilynne Robinson

Farrar, Strauss and Giroux

October 2015

 

Marilynne Robinson’s new collection offers seventeen essays that probe the state of humanism, theology, and morality in our contemporary culture. Readers who know Robinson through her fiction (Housekeeping, the Pulitzer Prize winning Gilead) will not be surprised at the depth and intellect that Robinson brings to her essays (a thoughtfulness well on display in the November 5 issue of the New York Review of Books, in which Robinson is interviewed by President Obama on many of the issues addressed The Givenness of Things). In looking forward to the book, we will expect to find ourselves in states of contemplation, in states of rage, and in states of hope.

 

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The Fate of Ideas: Seductions, Betrayals, Appraisals, by Robert Boyers

Columbia University Press

September 2015

 

In his most current book, noted literary and cultural critic Robert Boyers brings us essays that are as much criticism as they are memoir. As someone who has been on the frontlines of much of the intellectual culture of the past half-century, Boyers is able to take his experiences with some of the great minds of the last century and fuse them into personal essays that address specific ideas that permeate our contemporary culture, asking why some fade into fashions of the time while others define us.