Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lesson 9: You can/cannot go back again

Literature and others are filled with homecomings.

They love them.

Think of Odysseus and Penelope.

Or... more importantly, think of Desmond and Penny.

Ok. Now just think of Desmond.

I think I am losing my focus.
The point is that literature loves a homecoming.

My question is: do I?

I am beginning to think that there is no such thing as a true homecoming.

I think (if I am getting my Greeks right) that Heraclitus said that a person cannot stand in the same river twice.

(I checked - this Geek knows her Greeks).

Last week, I went to Rutgers to show my sister-in-law around. While crossing the bridge from Cook to Douglass, I was glad that I had gone there, and missed my experiences, but I knew if I returned - even if for a phD - it would not be the same.

Predominantly because I am not the same. I look back and so much and wonder why.

Usually, why was I worried or upset or freaking out...

and look back at other things and wished I still had the guts (I went into a crowded dining hall dressed as a fairy to get people to go see a play? What was I thinking?).

And now, on Beginning of School Eve Eve (tomorrow teachers, Thursday the world!!!.... or at least, students), I am sad because even if my posters are the same (mostly) or my setup is the same, or even if my plans are the same (rarely), it will inevitably not be the same.

I can try for the same jokes or be the same person, but... each year it's different.

Frankly, even if I teach two of the same class in a year, the experience is always different.

And so, while it is a homecoming of sorts, and while I may make sarcastic comments through yet another homecoming pep rally, it is not quite like going home.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Lesson 8. On Shin splints and recoveries.

So last week I hurt my leg running.

And I don't know if until this I realized what a connection running had on both my happiness and my self esteem.

Simply put - I need it.
I feel like a gelatinous blob without it.
I miss it desperately.

Despite that typically on a hot summer day, I don't exactly look forward to my miles.


since I am clumsy and hurt my shin, I've been on over a week off. And when I get back to running tomorrow (hopefully) it will have to be on the track.

That's right.

Circle after circle of boredom.

Which isn't fair.

Movies and television have taught me that the world loves an athlete. When they get hurt - like Chester from Invictus - they might triumphant and exciting comebacks.

They win games.

Break the ribbon at runs.

People cheer.

Instead, I will hobble along a track and pray to dear deity that the high school teams will not pick that time to practice.

(note: I almost wrote rehearse instead of practice. I guess I'm not the athlete I was faking to be.)

I think the most disappointing thing for me is that movies have taught me that underdogs typically win, and that injured underdogs do great.

But I suspect that I will be pathetically slow and woefully steady.
And while Aesop believes that's the real trick, we all know that in reality, the rabbit actually wins.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lesson 7. On the Renaissance.

In honor of today's trip to the NY Renaissance Faire, I have decided to compile everything literature et al have taught me about the renaissance.

Sources include, but are not limited to:
Monty Python, The Sword in the Stone, Le Morte D'Arthur. Shakespeare, Marlowe, Kyd, Middleton, Phillipa Gregory, Geraldine Brooks, the Tudors

The Renaissance were a bawdy time.

In America, we were more or less taught that - until the 1960's - all people acted like a mix of Puritans and Queen Victoria. And not Arthur Miller's sleeping around and asking for forgiveness later Puritans. We're talking dunk her in the water because she lives alone Puritans.

You know. The mean ones.

But... if literature et al serve me correctly, apparently all the wenches were willing and every knight had an invisible dwarf keeping the skeletons in his closet company.

And I'm pretty sure everyone in the Renaissance were open sexually. Shakespeare, check. Anne Boleyn? Wasn't there that rumor about her and her brother?

In the Renaissance, peasants had bad teeth, but gentry (and a few ready-to-rumble farmer's daughters) had impeccable teeth and great skin.

Except for those who died by pox.

Which was terrible.

But not as much as the plague.

And the women in the Renaissance? They were more Mary Mags than BVMs. But everyone listened to them.

And adored them.

Wrote them sonnets.

Put them on a pedestal while valuing their input.

Double-entendre intentional.

Those women at court were manipulative and basically ran the country because the boys just wanted to hunt, fight, and have sex.

And they all spoke the most beautiful formal English.

And knew myths, the Bible, the classics, while being for the most part illiterate.

And they were all Catholic. Except Shylock and Othello.

More later...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lesson 6. I'm really lucky.

This is probably the biggest thing I have learned from Literature and others.

I am really lucky.

I could've been born into a family with two wicked stepsisters, a crazy stepmother who has textbook narcissism, or a grandmother who would send me into the woods by myself when there's dangerous critters afoot.

I could've been born in the Sudan during the 80's, to a poor Nepalese family during a drought, or in Afghanistan in the 90's.

I could've met my true love only to poison myself within 24 hours, went mad because my dearest killed my daddy, or been burst into flames because I made someone mad at prom.

This summer a great many of the books I have read have been "thank God that didn't happen to me books" which is a major change from my adoration of fantasy - the "why can't this happen to me, God?" genre.

And yet in the weirdest way, all these survival stories leave me wishing I had their drive, their hutzpah, their abilities.

And at the same time, I sit back on the IKEA couch where I read and hope that I learn something.

Maybe become more anti-material. Anti-head-in-the-sand.

At least more aware of how lucky I am to do simple things. Leave my country without worries. Drink tap water. Have a job.

Write a blog...

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Lesson 5. Size matters.

Today's lesson is brought to us by Shakespeare.

Brevity [often] is the sole of wit.

So I have been trying, and not for the first time, to read Dostoevsky.

And once again I am finding myself having my Dickens-complex.

Or at least, symptoms of my Dickens-complex (See note).

I simply cannot get through it.

I've tried The Brothers Karamazov. Notes from the Underground. Selected short stories.

And I get bogged down.

I mean, Fyoder - what were you thinking? A 67 page short story? That's a short novella.

I can do long. Elliot's Middlemarch? Loved it. Lord of the Rings? Once I skipped the Tom Bombadil section.

It's just something about Dostoevsky. Maybe it's the long names. I dunno.


Allow me to define the dreaded D-C (or c-d-c, if you want to be formal with old Chuck).

I know that I like Charles Dickens.

I will watch any Dickens based film any time of the year. They make me think of Christmas

Frankly, I like Dickensian times. Not the epidemics, labor conditions, or rigid social castes. But the outfits, party games, parlors, and country dances.

But when I sit with my annual Dickens attempt, I often find myself finding other things to do or getting stuck after page 30. Why 30? I don't know.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lesson 4. On English Teachers

I am avoiding writing AP handouts (on the joys of close reading).

I am a phenomenal procrastinator. I clean. I cook. I exercise.

And eventually, I put on the tv (my favorite!).

This time, what do I see? An ad for Easy A.

Basic plot: Girl fakes having sex with unpopular boys to gain some notoriety but winds up brandished a la Scarlet Letter for her sins.

Of course, it has the quintessential English teacher in it.

All high school movies have the quintessential English teacher in them.

Even Boy Meets World, Gilmore Girls and Saved By the Bell had them.

Never Been Kissed? Check. Dangerous Minds? Check. Dead Poets's Society? Check. The Emperor's Club? Check. Renaissance Man? Check. Freedom Writers? Check. 10 Things I Hate About You? Check.

What did they have in common?

Great clothes. No teacher could afford them. No teacher could spend a day in those heels. Or afford those outfits. And the perfect hair and makeup? Do they not get up at 5:30 like I do?

Great classrooms. Practically auditoriums. Bright and beautiful. Hip and fun. With busts of Old Bill standard.

Great students. Their lessons were always something out of a college English classroom. Clearly these kids have no trouble with writing or spelling or vocabulary. And all of them do their homework and understand Shakespeare. They are beyond Shakespeare. They have been writing sonnets since age 6 for fun. These teachers can ask tough questions and not worry about an "I don't get it."

Great curriculums. And by great, I mean non-existent.

I worry sometimes that this could be at least partially why I became an English teacher (because it certainly wasn't my long love affair with grammar, which is nonexistent).

And what do these images tell me time and time again?

Kids love English.

Screenwriters especially.

If I am not reaching the kids, it is because I am neither hip enough nor fun enough. I should rap or throw away the curriculum and let the kids do what inspires them. This is where the greatness and self-motivation will come in.

And, at the end of my day, I should hop into my ultrahip convertible, or on my even cooler motorcycle, drive to my local beatnik hangout, and sip coffee.

Though, at least - admittedly - an English teacher gets more love than a language teacher. Those are always shown as being a little nuts. Or maybe that is just Clueless talking.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

lesson 3. Armageddon...

This lesson is on the future - and how scary it will be.

It is sponsored by Atwood, Orwell, McCarthy, Golding, Ridley, and Ishiguru.

Who all seem to believe despite REM's optimistic "It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)" that... we're all more or less headed down the toilet.

I don't need any time machine. I have seen the future.

And damn... it's bleak!

I am already stockpiling my cupboards with Coke, Cocoa, spam and tuna (so I don't have to resort immediately to cannibalism, thank you The Road).

I might also buy a whole lot of freezedried food (Bladerunner) and spiffy jumpsuits in a variety of colors to enable me to pose as a variety of society's echelons.

I will guard my loins against injections, rejections, and inspections, wear tinfoil on my head against radiations, and keep my eyes down so as not to raise suspicions.

And I will constantly be on the lookout for orphans.

Why? If Harry Potter and Meet the Robinsons have taught me anything, it's that if we want to end tyranny and pollution, we need a bright young orphan.

And if Zombieland has taught me anything, I should prepare to nut up or shut up.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lesson 2. Regarding mothers. Part 1.

This lesson, I suspect, will be a long one.

We will start with the simplest.

Moms. Don't sleep with them.

That means you Oedipus.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Lesson 1: on Orphans

I think literature and the movies have taught me all I need to know about orphans and orphanages.

For example:

Orphanages are largely either horribly nasty places (Annie, Despicable Me, The Kite Runner) or are filled with horrible nasty people (ie, Tom Riddle, the General (Assef)).

In every orphanage there is one clear "best" orphan (Oliver Twist, Annie, Jane) who is so precocious and talented (Margo, Edith, and Agnes; Harry; Lewis from Meet the Robinsons) and so adorable (all of the above) that this chosen orphan will eventually have a dream life far superior to those non-orphaned around them.

Also, it is exceptionally easy to adopt. Even supervillains can do it.


Books, movies, and even really good albums have taught a great deal about the art of the introduction.

Anyone who has immersed herself into the epic introduction to Star Wars (sorry, but Lucas had me from the first blare of John Williams's soundtrack), puzzled over the boy under the stairs, or wondered why we should care that mother is dead (and why, more importantly, narrator does not), knows about introductions.

My introduction will be simple and expository.

As a human, I am fortunate to have one or two things at which I am good. Namely, I am pretty good at analyzing literature and pop culture.

In fact, my latchkey heart (both parents worked) might suggest that I was at least marginally raised by my library and my television.

[Fortunately for the whole world, my other influences were less nefarious.]

So the purpose of this blog is to help me to determine what exactly these things have taught me.

And, I guess, to share them.