The Journal of the AGLSP


Kathryn Wade is studying in the Doctor of Liberal Studies degree program at Georgetown University. Kathryn works full time at Georgetown as a program administrator. She is also a part time Dharma Yoga teacher and professional baker. Kathryn holds an MA in Cultural Anthropology with a concentration in linguistic anthropology from George Washington University and a BA in Spanish Language from Georgetown University. 

creative nonfiction

A Letter to William James about Place

Kathryn Wade, Georgetown University


I wrote my friend last week and said that I wish I had met you, strange as that may sound. My friend is fond of you too, and has written a few noteworthy things about you. What happened is he sent me a photo of your house on Irving Street. It's a nice yellow house that William Ralph Emerson designed. He was up there for other reasons, and I guess he had time to pay your house a visit.

You see, when I got the photo, it was Saturday, and I was just off of work at the bakery. I sat outside, like I normally do, in my black pastry coat, letting my eyes adjust to the natural light. It always catches me off guard—the daylight—when I've been inside since before dawn.

Whether its gray or sunny, when I first hit that real light, it’s like waking from a calm, sweet dream, and I’m breathing deeply, and there’s a peacefulness in the air that I can’t explain. It’s a wonderfully gentle, wonderfully happy kind of awakening. The kind that always comes after a long morning’s work with my hands. Those early hours of kneading and shaping and hauling hot trays in and out of the oven go by like you wouldn’t believe. Sort of like the way time passes when you are with someone as sensitive as you are and you know it in their eyes.

So there I was, in my pastry coat, watching the world walk by, enjoying the day tremendously, when I saw the picture of your house. I had pulled out my phone, just to get a sense of the time, and how late I was running, and there it was. Subject: “William James’ house.”

You should have seen my face. I bet I looked so silly, smiling to myself, to my phone, while the throngs of people bustled up and down 14th Street. I think I was giddy, actually, like I was fifteen again, and had just exchanged words with that quiet, sad-eyed guy in the coffee shop.

I brought the phone in closer, and used my thumb and pointer finger to stretch the picture wider so I could get a better look. I thought to myself: “is this what I’ve been imagining, about you? And your house?”

What your house looks like hadn’t been much concern to me before, so it really was the first time I was seeing it. And I immediately wanted to picture you outside of the house, because that has concerned me—what you look like, that is. But all the photographs I’ve seen of you are in black and white. And so then I was picturing you, in black and white, standing outside of a yellow house. Funny, right?

Even so, there you were with your peculiar beard, and you were dressed like a gentleman, same as you are in all the photos I’ve seen of you. And you know what? I think you must have had really good posture. I pictured you standing tall, confident-like, but in a tender, non-arrogant way. Your lack of arrogance for someone so brilliant is one of the things I love about you.

Can I tell you what else I love about you?

The way you talk to me, like we are two friends walking down the street, trying to learn something together about the world.

In one of your lectures, “The Religion of Healthy Mindedness,” you quote a man who you suggest is an excellent example of optimism. When asked about his temperament, he says: “nervous, active, wide-awake, mentally and physically. Sorry that Nature compels us to sleep at all.”[1]

I smiled when I read that because “nervous” and “active” are words I might use to describe your temperament, which I have thought about a lot. Mainly because I sense it’s something like mine. I wouldn’t call you an optimist exactly. You might be more akin to your own description of a “sick soul.”[2] But I think some of those characteristics ring true. In you and in me.

* * *

I did the math while I was out running through the woods. Today you would be 175 years old. And yet it’s clearer to me every time I wake up how your pages contributed mightily to my dreams. And how much I’d like for you to be a real person in real life so that I might go for a long, ordinary walk with you.

I suspect that’s one of the reasons why Jacques Barzun titled his book about you A Stroll with William James. Something about you, well, it invites others along.

And me, I talked to you on this run. I felt so good again running on the trails. The woods were fresh and alive this evening, in part, I think, because of the humidity of the day here. I could smell the earthy scent of survival in the wet mud, and the flowering plants and trees. And at one point, I caught that soothing, primal smell of wood burning, which was an unexpected reminder that winter isn't so far gone.

Where have I felt so alive like that running before? In the Bronx, actually, just recently when I ran through Van Cortlandt Park one early Sunday morning. Let me tell you about that experience, because I know how much you value strong physical activity, too.

That morning in the Bronx, it was early enough for the playground to be deserted, cool still, near 40 degrees, and the sun was not yet all the way up. I was feeling good in the aloneness, away from the attention of the past two days, and I took a new turn on trails I had run before (to follow the hare instead of the tortoise).

Before too long, I found myself utterly lost with no sense of where I was going or when the trail was going to end. And I wasn’t at all scared. I loved hearing my loud breath in the cold, and the gravel crunching beneath my feet. And the park is more city, much darker, than the park I know at home. Graffiti on rock faces, black barbed wire fences, and much lonelier trees. I felt so at home there, lost in that dark New York park.

And eventually, I made it out of the woods and onto the fields. By then, the sun was fully up, and more people were out, playing soccer and walking dogs. I stood to watch a man and his son who were in right in the middle of things, flying a small helicopter against the blue sky.

I was so affected by those two, and that helicopter up there. It was as if everything was stilled in that one moment, and I felt so lively from the run, the feeling of the dark park with me still, the company I kept in my thoughts, and the nature of that scene, father and son, together looking up at the immense sky. How well they flew that helicopter against a background of solid blue, just above those lonely, dark trees.

* * *

I will tell you about something that happened to me last night. Chris and I were invited to a Seder dinner.

We ate parsley dipped in saltwater, and drank wine, lots of wine, while leaning back in our chairs, and took turns reading from The Haggadah. I felt very happy participating in someone else’s tradition, and I read passionately when it was my turn. I am not afraid of the word ‘god,’ and I don’t find any issue with reading something with religious significance if I myself am not an observer of the religion. I know the reading alone won’t make me drop dead any more than getting struck by a bolt of lightning.

Anyway, when the more ceremonial aspects were over, later in the night, the conversation became more usual for a dinner party. You know, people talking about what they do for work, and what’s happening in the news. It came into the conversation that I work at a bakery. And that I teach yoga, too. That I do both of these jobs in addition to my regular job.

People were initially very curious about the yoga, where I teach, what the yoga is like, and so I told them all about it. Usually I don’t like talking in front of a lot of people. I get nervous about it, sweaty armpits, even now at this age, but I felt pretty good talking about yoga, and I even made them all laugh.

The next thing that happened, as well as I can remember it, is I saw a woman across the table from me calculating something in her mind. And I began to understand, or maybe you could say I began to expect, what was coming. Perhaps I shouldn’t be building it up so much, and it was nothing, but it didn’t feel like that. It felt like she was the inquisitor, and I was the accused.

Looking right at me, she asked, “So when do you relax?” And by then, all the others at the table were looking at me, too.

So let me ask you. What do you think? Is relaxation what is sought? Is that the secret element of a praiseworthy life? Or a normal, happy life? Whatever kind of life it is we are all looking for? Eating, drinking, working, sleeping, sex, and relaxation?

What I said back to this woman was something like, “I find the teaching yoga and baking relaxing.” I sensed that I needed to be normal in that moment, and not say anything too intense or peculiar.

But you know what I really wanted to say back to her, and to all those other watchful eyes?

“I only have this life.”

* * *

I think you would find one of my teachers, Dharma Mittra, to be rather interesting. He is Brazilian, now 78 years old. When he was 22, he left Brazil with a one-way ticket to New York to go and find his brother and study Yoga with Yogi Gupta.

He has been in New York ever since, sharing the teachings of his Guru with all sorts of people. It’s quite a thing to see—the Dharma Yoga temple on the sixth floor of an old warehouse at West 23rd Street.

On any given day, in a large room decorated with statues of Lord Krishna, framed pictures of Swamis and overgrown plants, you will find a gorgeous, long-legged ballerina next to a middle-aged, short and squat, white woman in a tie-dyed tee-shirt, next to a young Venezuelan man, doe-eyed and muscular. And they are all trying with great effort and concentration to stand on one leg, and for utterly different motivations.

You know, it’s curious to imagine Dharma as he once was, a pilot in the Air Force and a professional bodybuilder, because he’s so gentle and playful with all his students now. But you can see the seriousness in his dark eyes, too. And maybe that’s what makes people of all kinds so drawn to him—that combination of serious and tender.

One evening I was there for class, feeling pretty dazed, lonely. I had spent all day at New York Presbyterian, on my feet next to my motionless brother, in a sterile, white room, beep after beep, alarm after alarm, enough to make you question whether the noises were real or in your head, and then in the waiting room, the only place to sit, garbage everywhere, chip bags, half empty sodas, watching Dominican families eat and talk loudly, the smell of fried foods, and then flowers, balloons, anything to distract from the fact that abuelo was with a critical case of pneumonia.

Anyway, that evening Dharma said something I heard. He said, “when you are quiet, you see everything with love.” And you know what? I found such relief in those words.

He was talking about the quiet of the mind, when it’s still, more controlled, the thoughts not running wild, I know. But I interpreted, “when you are quiet,” in my own way. To me, it meant “when you are not one to say too much.” And it made me feel better to know that being quiet, as in not saying too much, doesn’t mean that you are any less.

Did you know I was very quiet for a period of time?

* * *

You came into my head in the yoga studio the other morning. It was after the students had left, and I was alone, the sun coming in through the front window, making shapes on the wood floor and the white walls.

When I’m alone like that, I find myself practicing some of the more advanced poses—the forearm balance and the handstand. They are strong, those two poses, and I pour all of my energy and love into them like they will somehow save me, from myself or from the tedium and busywork of the day ahead.

What the poses are saving me from really depends on the day, I guess. And usually I light some incense—for how I love its burnt and holy smell—and then I turn on some soothing songs. The morning you were there was no different in that I burned incense and played music. The song “Brindavan Hare Ram” was playing, as I recall.

So I was practicing the handstand, carefully pressing my hands into the mat, gently kicking my feet up, focused, and everything was perfectly still. Quiet except for the deep, melodious singing, and my steady, long breaths.

And then I thought of you. It was something you wrote.

And you know what? I think it was in the very same moment that I found myself caught, suspended and floating in the handstand, that you came into my mind. Not only did I feel as light as a feather, but I also felt happy, thinking of you and what you wrote about the images of the mind, that each image of the mind “is steeped and dyed in the free water that flows round it.”[3]

“Oh, the potency of those free waters,” I remember thinking to myself, feeling utterly strong and surprised in that moment.

And I wish I could be even more certain about all the events of that morning, because you were there, and I’m telling you about it now.

But it was such a great swirling and coming together that I can’t be sure about the precise order of things, all the feelings, when exactly I sensed the piercing, quiet truth of your words. For there were other thoughts that morning, too.

And that whole time I was suspended, I remember I was also anticipating the fall. Sometimes it’s quite graceful, the way I land, softly, and other times my feet come hurtling down, and the weight of it echoes in the walls. I’m not quite good enough at the handstand to control how I land, gentle or thunderous, at least not yet.

But anyway, it’s a strange thing how easily I return to that morning, that specific morning, when the handstand is something I practice nearly every day.

* * *

I have been reading your book, The Varieties of Religious Experience.

And I have to tell you that I am no devout Hindu, but the handstand, and other Yoga poses (Yoga asanas as they call them), they really do something for me. Maybe that is already clear to you by now.

And there is actually something else I like that comes from Hinduism, too. It’s the word “Om” (Aum or Sanskrit ॐ).

I will tell you more about why I like the word. But first I want you to know that I am as careful as you are of what you call the “Mind-Cure movement,” and doctrine that leaves no room for pessimism and fear.[4]

You say that Hinduism is one of the sources of that movement, as is Emersonian Transcendentalism, and I guess I just want to be sure you understand that what I like are certain elements of Yoga. And now that that’s been said, I feel more comfortable telling you about the “Om,” and what I like about it.

It has to do with language, mostly, and the way that when the word itself is recited, because of how it combines three letters (A, U and M), it requires the reciter to activate the entire vocal organ, going from the back of the throat (A) to the middle and front of the mouth (U) and finally to the very front, when the lips close for M.

Yes, the “Om” is said to encompass all possible sounds, and I think there is something to love about a word that in a sense, says, “I am the vibration of everything, everywhere.” A word where inherent in its meaning, nothing is excluded—not pain and suffering, not messiness and confusion, not what might be considered “bad” in the eyes of some. No, I think it’s interesting that a single word is trying to say, “I am all the sounds. No one sound is more or less valuable than another.” I wonder if you would agree, anyways.

* * *

You were with me that morning in the yoga studio, and then you were with me again in Iceland, bearing witness to those raw, powerful lands. The endless stretches of volcanic rock, black, and turf, green, yellow, brown, muddy from the snowmelt. Oh, and those mountains, glacier-white, against the bright blue and clouded gray skies. Breath after breath of pure, sharp air. Yes, it was all so beautiful and alarming, everything waking and opening up. It was sublime, if it can be described at all.

And everything was so amazingly quiet, too, like it was all waiting for the next eruption. You and I, we barely ate for two days.

There is one day in particular that really stands out. I talked to you as I walked, climbing gently towards something, but not aware of what, for all I could see ahead of me were miles of rocks, varying shades of brown, black and red. “Is this Mars or Iceland?” I asked myself.

Then, as I was incredibly hungry and nearing the point of fatigue, I came upon it—a sudden, hidden valley. The earth dropped into itself and revealed a sacred low land, illuminated by the sun, where blue waters flowed down from the cliffs, and gathered into small pools, and the rocks gave way to golden grass, and the birds were all there, singing to the spring.

When I saw that valley, something so unreal and surprising, what a sweet, happy sadness I felt in myself, and all around. It hurt somehow, and I wanted to cry hot and wet tears right at the edge of that valley.

And once I climbed down into it, the soft, golden grass beneath my muddy boots, and I was closer to that blue water, those gentle falls, the birds singing to me now, I felt something else. Something so significant, and it could not be mistaken for anything else. I felt like I wanted to make love, right then and there in that valley.

And you know what else? It’s a good thing it was so cold that day.

Forgive me for sharing something so intimate, but those are real feelings, true to my existence.

* * *

You know why I think I find it so easy to talk to you? It’s because of the way you revealed to me so clearly how much you suffered.

And yet also your strong will, and your initiative, your ability to fight, too.

You know when you’ve gone to bed and the sky is full of clouds, and then you wake to start the day, and it’s still dark, and there’s a small window, and through that window, you can see the moon or the stars?

That’s why I think I feel so easy talking to you. Because you, this intimate, trusting conversation, it’s just like those dark mornings when the clouds are gone away, and I see that big moon or those unusual constellations—Hercules, Sagittarius, Leo…. Oh, and the water snake I saw in the sky in Peru once, Hydrus, and its one really bright star.

* * *

And I wonder. Can I love you always? Can you be in my life forever? I am swimming in a stream. I feel strong. I am swimming upstream. How strange this swimming is…

* * *

Bibliographic Essay

On my bike ride to work, I pass by any number of places every day: bus stops, restaurants, banks, parks, schools, and more. In one moment I am in one neighborhood, a place, and a few minutes later, I am paused at a stoplight, alongside another biker, in a new place. And it strikes me how ubiquitous place really is, at least in the physical sense.      

Yet “place,” by dictionary definition alone, is not merely a physical notion. Place is also defined as: “a moment or point in time,” “a distinct condition,” or even “a state of mind.”[5] So while initially the question of place might seem straightforward, once considered more carefully, it becomes rather messy. We find out that place is a word we use all the time, in our everyday conversations, making it both incredibly “familiar” and “more slippery.”[6]

But to go into the mess and to ask the question—“what is place?” and even better, “what is my “place?”—is incredibly valuable.[7] And it is so for the necessary relation of place to who we are.[8] In considering place, we consider what our experience as human beings is all about, on both a personal and a collective level. This is a topic worthy of endless discussion.            

One of the individuals I find myself conversing with most when it comes to this topic is the late William James. He is an individual who once concerned himself seriously with questions of existence, questions ultimately, of place. And we could also consider it important to have conversations about place with those who show up in places of our own, in experiences where we say to ourselves, “yes, this for me, is place.” And for this reason, too, it is to William James who I write about place.

I tell him, in my own way, what I find it to be: a sudden hidden valley, or other “exhilarating moment,”[9] where suffering, strength, and the strange come together, and where I am overcome by emotions, by something that feels like a lot, and where what is felt is something whole and complete. Though I have been there time and again, as one of my classmates observed, finding it depends on attention, on experience, and on feelings. And for these reasons, too, I sense that I am also drawn to William James, and that he would appreciate me, and my “place.”

The books listed below have most influenced my letter to William James, and have helped me to see that I am learning about place just as I am learning about the self. Furthermore, they have helped me to understand that my place, though unique and my own, is not entirely unlike the place of others. The order of entries in my annotated bibliography reflects, to some degree, the order in which I read these books as a student in “LSVH-399: Sense of Place.” But not exclusively. I encountered Nietzsche and Knausgård outside of the course, and there was also an effort to order based on connections, according to my mind flow, which disrupted a perfectly alphabetical or chronological approach. The important matter is that these people were all participants in my ongoing conversation with William James.


Tuan, Yi-fu. Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.

Tuan introduces the senses as providing important and abundant place-making information. And a useful suggestion is made that place requires “a reaching out to the world.”[10] It is active, something that involves experience, choice, and preference, and something for which human beings have “persistently” searched.[11]

Even more importantly, perhaps, Tuan suggests that place and place-making is about “seeking for a point of equilibrium that is not of this world.”[12] More practically speaking, Tuan writes of the way in which we move from one place to another in our search of this point. For him, we move from “the garden of innocence” to “the cosmos,” seeking something, which arguably we are affected by, and we sense is “not of this world.” It is this seeking that is of importance to me.

In addition, I find Tuan’s emphasis on the importance of three more elements highly valuable. These elements are: “pause,” “essence,” and “feel.” Tuan suggests that the feel of a place “takes longer to acquire” for it comes from “experiences, mostly fleeting and undramatic, repeated day after day and over the span of years.”[13] And he also writes that “place is pause.”[14]

I encounter pause in my place, and I find what I feel to be, perhaps, most critical. It is no surprise to me that two of the strongest things I feel in place, an undercurrent of suffering (anxiety, vulnerability) and the presence of strength, too, have been repeated day after day in my own experiences (“fleeting and undramatic”). Where perhaps I differ from Tuan is that there also must be a feeling of something strange, something completely overpowering and overwhelming, a strange need or emotion. And this is not an everyday experience repeated day after day. It is one of the elements that makes place, noticing place, so profound. And perhaps the strange is more akin to something piercing, as in the piercing of Virginia Woolf’s mind that helps her get to her center.


Lehrer, Jonah. Proust Was a Neuroscientist. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 2008.

So much of Virginia Woolf is in my place. First and foremost, her appreciation that “the self is no single thing and the stream of our consciousness just flows.”[15] The letter to William James, a place in itself, is my stream of consciousness, mind flow, on different days at different times, and at times, thoughts interrupting thoughts. Like Virginia Woolf, I value the stream, and I see how much “the permanent seeming self is actually an endless procession of disjointed movements,” which is why I also find the acknowledgement of all of these fragments (and feelings) in place is of utmost importance.

Next, it is what she says about how the self emerges from these fragments, through the “act of attention” that is also valuable. Lehrer goes to what he calls one of Woolf’s “finest descriptions” of attention—the dinner table scene in To The Lighthouse. Lehrer describes:

Mrs. Ramsay drifts into a reverie, her mind settling in that ‘still space that lies at the center of things.’ She has stopped listening to the dinner conversation…and has begun contemplating the bowl of fruit at the center of the table. With a ‘sudden exhilaration,’ her mind becomes ‘like a light stealing under water, piercing through the flowing, the fleeting, the spectral.’ Mrs. Ramsay is now paying attention: the tributaries of her sensation have flowed into the serial stream of consciousness.”[16]

It is this coming together of sensation and stream of consciousness in a sudden and exhilarating (powerful, strange) moment that I’ve understood to be place, for me personally. And William James becomes privy to the places where I’ve experienced these moments of attention, where my mind becomes like that light piercing through something, just for a moment. Whether in a handstand in the yoga studio, or outside the bakery, or on a valley’s edge in Iceland. He also becomes privy to much more, too, some of the chattering of my mind as I understand where I am in this life.

Yet there is another important place-making concept I gained from Virginia Woolf, and that is the difficulty and messiness in knowing people, and in knowing place, including the subjectivity of it. My place is not a tidy package, it’s a messy coming together that becomes place through attention, and it’s my “own fleeting interpretation of the world.”[17] I seem to find place, feel placed, in distinctive moments, and I do have to go out in the world to encounter them. What I especially like about her is the “precariousness” she awards to our being, and the way she emphasizes how much we are at the “whim of feelings we don’t understand and sensations we can’t control.”[18] Strange sensations and feelings are also a core element of my sense of place. And to say more about the strange, I must mention Nietzsche, another important influence when it comes to this letter, and my sense of “place.”


Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, Bernard Williams, Josefine Nauckhoff, and Adrian Del Caro. The Gay Science: With a Prelude in German Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001.    

I love Nietzsche’s attitude about life, the way he accepts and values suffering, in particular, and how critical he is of individuals steeped in “comfortableness,” calling them followers of “the religion of smug ease.”[19] And yes, I love the strange power and will that he gives the self. Do not follow the herd, he urges, but rather, follow the passions and what gives life, more life. And there is one well known and stirring passage, in particular, in The Gay Science that influences the present essay, where Nietzsche asks us to consider—“what if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more.’”[20] It is this kind of attitude I love, and that I find in my place—an attitude that values being alive, and even still, craves more life—the strength as much as the suffering and the strange.


Jackson, John Brinckerhoff. A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

J.B. Jackson writes of what our modern translation of “genius loci” has strayed from: the idea of “guardian divinity” or that the unique quality of a locale has to do with “the presence or guardianship of a supernatural spirit.”[21] Nevertheless, he also makes the case that maybe we are not so far from classical understanding as we think. To that point he shares that what is common in early translation and in our more modern interpretation is the concept of ritual. Place then, in both interpretations, is where we want to celebrate, and where we want to return again.[22] The idea of ritual and return is also one that has influenced my final place: a letter to William James, an intellectual relationship, a place I can come back to, time and again that is “cherished because [it is] embedded in the everyday world around [me], and easily accessible, but at the same time…distinct from that world.”[23] The element of distinction that Jackson gives “a sense of place,” and the way he finds a visit to place “a small, yet significant event,”[24] is also something that I find utterly wonderful and important to my findings of place.


Heuet, Stéphane, Arthur Goldhammer, and Marcel Proust. In Search of Lost Time: Swann's Way. 2015.

Proust’s writings of his memories are so emotional that not only did I take the value of memory as an entry point to place-making, but I also, and perhaps more importantly, took emotional intensity as another important tool. I was affected in so many lines by his emotional vulnerability and availability. For example, the description he provides of his “Mamma” in “Overture,” and how “sweet” the evenings were when she stayed even a short time in his room at night, which gave him the ability to “drink deeply the sense of her real presence, and with it the power to sleep.”[25] This is a real and true kind of emotional presence in an event that for others might be described in a more practical manner. The lack of fear to share true emotional experience, and the beauty of it, is a tool I took from Proust.


Knausgård, Karl Ove, and Don Bartlett. My Struggle. New York: Archipelago Books, 2012.

In Karl Ove Knausgård I find a kind of love that is so different from “numbness,” or something like what the poet Mary Oliver calls a “motionless heart.”[26] How he seems to experience and write about the ordinary feels steeped in sensitivity, aliveness, and will. In one passage, he writes of playing a gig in a shopping center with his friends, and what goes through his mind as he prepares for it. He remembers the way he plays alone at home, amplifier at “full blast,” his house filled with the sound of his guitar, and most importantly, “the congruence that evolves between his feelings and the sounds,” as though they are one, and that’s “the real him,” and he wants to be out in the “great, wide world.”[27] That is so much like what I desire to encounter, and all the time: some feeling of congruence of feelings and sounds, and wanting to be out in the world. And it is what I do find in those strong things I love—baking, running, yoga.

And better yet with Knausgård, the love doesn’t suddenly end then with sounds and feelings coming together, a craving for life. After all of the preparing, after those thoughts, Knausgård also becomes utterly aware of his surroundings, and it all stays with him, as he notices the wind picking up, and then a raindrop on his face. Really, it’s beautiful—his presence and ability to feel. It reminds me of another time recently, when I was in New York, and finally went for a run along the Hudson, and at the end of my run, tired from all the exertion, I felt the wind, and I held out my arms while I was still running, among all of those strangers, and I felt so strong, so alive—and again, like it was somehow, all together in its messiness, my “place.”



[1] William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970), 91.

[2] Ibid., 127. James describes the “sick soul” as one who “cannot swiftly throw off the burden of the consciousness of evil” (and who suffers from its presence).

[3] William James, The Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1981), 255.

[4] James, Varieties, 92.

[5] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, “Place,” accessed April, 2017.

[6] Tim Cresswell, Place: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell: 2015), 6.

[7] I began asking these questions and writing this letter as a student in “LSHV-399: A Sense of Place,” a course cross-listed in the Doctorate in Liberal Studies (DLS) and Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) programs at Georgetown University, and taught by Charlie Yonkers. It was importantly inspired by another course I took at Georgetown University, also cross-listed within the DLS/MALS programs, “Alienation and Self Identity,” taught by Frederick Ruf. This letter is part of a larger conversation that I hope will go on for a long, long time.

[8] Cresswell, Place, 49.

[9] Virginia Woolf uses this phrase.

[10] Yi-fu Tuan, Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 12.

[11] Ibid., 248.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Cresswell, Place, 79.

[14] Ibid., 15.

[15] Jonah Lehrer, Proust Was a Neuroscientist (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 2008), 176.

[16] Ibid., 181.

[17] Ibid., 169.

[18] Ibid., 176.

[19] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science: with a Prelude in German Rhymes and an Appendix of songs (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press), 2001, 338.

[20] Ibid., 341.

[21] John Brinckerhoff Jackson, A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 157.

[22] Ibid., 158.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Stéphane Heuet, Arthur Goldhammer, and Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time: Swann's Way (New York, NY: Liveright Publishing), 2015, 11.

[26] Mary Oliver, Dream Work (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press), 26.

[27] Karl Ove Knausgård and Don Bartlett, My Struggle (New York: Archipelago Books), 2012, 95 and 96. 


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