Lives of quiet desperation . . .

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem

 

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” ~ John Keating, DPS

I just finished watching Dead Poets’ Society. Or should I say, watching again for 10th, 11th, who knows how many times? Corey could hear me sniffling from the dining room. It’s always this way when I watch this movie, so I space out the time between viewings.

I understand that many people do not understand the attraction of this movie. Many felt that Robin Williams’ appearance was too over the top. For a poetry teacher, he quoted too much Whitman, someone once said to me. Some of you hate this movie because you have been made to watch it. But for me, each viewing brings back some of the best memories of my life.

Mr KeatingNo, not boarding school. Never did that. Never went to a same-sex school. Never had a teacher like Mr. John Keating, either. How I wish that I had. But time for complete truths here: Being in a college classroom, teaching English—poetry, plays, novels, short stories—doing that was the most rewarding job I have ever had. And I miss it just about every day of my life.

I loved to watch minds engage, regardless of the student’s age or background. It gave me great pleasure to watch students look at material that they had seen before or had never seen, and suddenly realize that they really got it. They understood it, and they understood not because I made them think what I thought, but because I allowed them to decipher for themselves. Too many teachers and professors still approach English as if it were written in stone. Classics only include old, dead white men. A poem’s meaning is not up to interpretation. Do not consider the time in which something was written as being related to the work itself.

I used Dead Poets’ in almost all of my applicable literature classes. I would use it in companion with pieces such as Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, as well as poems by Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, Bruce Weigl, Nikki Giovanni, Ntzoke Shange, Langston Hughes and countless others. A myriad of voices writing about similar themes, life experiences, points of view. A mingling of past and present.

We would discuss how the period in which the character was placed affected diction, outlooks, actions. We would discuss how the setting of a piece had a direct effect on a character’s actions. Is the setting claustrophobic? Is the setting controversial? Is the setting in opposition to the characters’ conflicts. We would discuss the roles of men and women in literature: the powerless, almost silent mother figure in the movie, the powerless female protagonist in A Doll’s House.

And then, quite often on the final exam, I would take a quote from the movie and have the students use a selection of the works read to explore a theme based upon the quote.

I’d like to think that I never taught the same class in the same way. I never used notecards in my literature classes, only the text, and my students learned that if they did not participate in the discussion, then I would move on to something else, because I was not there to tell them what to think about a poem, or what the author intended with her point of view choice or at what point the denouement of the story occurred. But it was important to me was that they try, they think, they offer their opinions, and they learned to embrace literature in an entirely new way.

“The powerful play goes on, and  you may contribute a verse.” ~ John Keating, DPS 

Old Book SpinesAm I patting myself on the back? No. Am I laying claim to this method of teaching? Of course not. I’m merely sharing with you why this particular movie holds such meaning for me. And why, sitting here now, I find myself feeling the same thing that I always feel after the movie ends: I belong in a classroom.

I cannot tell you how much I miss teaching. College, that is. I learned the hard way that I was not meant to teach middle school. I’m not entirely certain that I would be any better suited for high school, unless it was a progressive high school.

I suppose that I am still holding onto the dream that someday I might be able to get another post at a small college. Who knows? Who knows if I would even like it anymore . . . I think, though, that if I am to be honest with myself (which I try to be), then I would have to admit that there are few things that I would want more.

My friend Mari, with whom I shared an office for most of my time at ODU, is currently teaching part time at a community college in Massachusetts. Being an adjunct at any college or university is a thankless position that pays close to nothing, but Mari does it because she loves to teach, definitely not because she is making any money from it.

I wouldn’t mind a part-time position somewhere, except that adjuncts usually get stuck with composition classes. Unless you are known, it’s damned hard to get literature or writing classes as an adjunct.

But as usual, I digress . . .

“Excrement. That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard. We’re not laying pipe. We’re talking about poetry.” ~ John Keating, DPS

The Movie: Twenty years later, and I think that Dead Poets’ Society still holds up well. After all, the movie’s accurate depiction of the 1950’s in setting and costume is never going to be outdated. Where we are  as a society today does not reflect the roles of men and women during that era, something that the movie captures with its secondary female characters: They are all stock characters with very little to do, simply functioning as a stereotypes—the powerless wife/mother, the blonde girlfriend every boy desires, the ditzy girls who are pick-ups.

Father and SonThe timeless aspects of the movie still hold true, as well. For example, the relationship between fathers and sons can still be fraught with an inability to communicate true feelings. The youthful male bonding and search for identity is eternal.

Another aspect of the movie that I have always loved is the cinematography. The golden hues of autumn, sunsets on the water, misty moonlight forays into the forest, and one of my favorite scenes, Knox riding his bicycle through a flock of geese.

Oh, and one more thing. The pool of poetic quotes from which Keating draws is limited, but remember, the era of confessional poetry was just coming into its own. Women had yet to gain prominence in the genre, and I just cannot see the Harlem Renaissance as being a mainstay in the curriculum for an all-white, male preparatory school in New England.

Say what you will, but this movie still speaks to me. And the last scene absolutely kills me.

What will my verse be?

 

More later. Peace.

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My Version Of The Bucket List

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Starry Night by Van Gogh

The Bucket List

 This list has been circulating for a few months, and I posted it with my answers already. However, this list has a few new questions, and I added a special question the end. But for the sake of this post, I thought that I would elaborate a little on my answers to some of these questions.

Things you have done during your lifetime.

(X) Gone on a blind date: I have done this twice in my lifetime. The first time was such a disaster that it is still imprinted in my memory after all of these years. I was working at the newspaper, and a friend (using the term loosely here) wanted me to come to a Halloween party. I didn’t really want to go, so I made the excuse that I didn’t have a date. She said that that wouldn’t be a problem as she knew the perfect guy for me. Those are scary words, people.

His name was Mark, and he sold spices, as in salt, pepper, seasoned salt. He also drove a white Corvette which he told me that he liked to drive very fast. The street that I lived on at the time was a dead end and not very long, but somehow, he managed to top 40 mph in just a few seconds before hitting the brakes at the stop sign. I was supposed to be impressed. I wasn’t. The night went downhill from there.

(X) Skipped school: In my senior year of high school I skipped French class 17 times in one grading period and still managed to get an A. Madame Thomas was, shall we say, oblivious. I would stick my head in the door and say, “Madame, I have rehearsal for the senior play today,” and she would wave at me. Very nice woman.

(X) Watched someone die

( ) Been to Canada

(X) Been to Mexico

(X) Been to Florida

( ) Been to Hawaii

(X) Been on a plane: When Alexis was one, her father and I took her on a plane with us. We were flying to Massachusetts for a family vacation to see his grandparents on his dad’s side and to introduce the first great grandchild. Alexis was fairly good until she had a messy diaper right as the fasten seatbelt sign came on because of turbulents. She was most unhappy that I wasn’t changing her, and made her unhappiness known to everyone on the plane. It was a wonderful flight.

(X) Been lost: I would just like to say that Corey deserves some kind of award for this, and as soon as we are able, I’m going to buy him a phone that has a buit in GPS.

(X) Gone to Washington, D.C.

(X) Seen and/or swam in the ocean. Which one(s)? Atlantic, Pacific

(X) Cried yourself to sleep

(X) Played cops and robbers

( ) Recently colored with crayons

(X) Sang Karaoke: I am a karaoke ham. Lola really comes out to play when there’s a microphone around.

(X) Paid for a meal with coins only

( ) Been to the top of the St. Louis Arch?

(X) Done something you told yourself you wouldn’t

(X) Made prank phone calls

(X) Been down Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Before or after Katrina? Before. When I was a teenager, my parents and I went to New Orleans to visit his cousin. We went down Bourbon Street one night, and it was pretty incredible. All of the doors were open to the bars, and since I was behind my parents, I managed to catch glimpses of things I had never seen before. The best one was this man dressed in drag coming down a ramp from the ceiling to the middle of the bar. He had this wonderful feather headdress on and a few pasties and strategically placed feathers. I still remember that they were peacock green.

Bourbon Street was wonderful in those days. My daughter and her boyfriend visited just before Katrina hit.  When I saw the devastation on television, I was so overwhelmed with sadness at the destruction of New Orleans and the deaths of all of those people.

(X) Laughed until some kind of beverage came out of your nose

(X) Caught a snowflake on your tongue

(X) Danced in the rain: I love rainstorms, but I hate cold rain. Often during summer storms, I am tempted (or at least I used to be) to run outside in a bathing suit and wash my car in the rain. It makes perfect sense to me.

(X) Written a letter to Santa Claus

(X) Been kissed under the mistletoeblowing-bubbles

(X) Watched the sunrise with someone

(X) Blown bubbles: My old lab Mokie was an absolute fiend for bubbles. When the kids were all younger, they had those bubble wands that would make hundreds of bubbles at once. Mokie used to bark in delight and jump high into the air trying to catch as many as possible. It was so much fun to watch her, but we would have to stop her because she would completely exhaust herself.

( ) Gone ice-skating

(X) Gone to the drive-in movies: One of the drive-in movies that I went to was The Exorcist. I went with several friends. They watched. I hid behind my hands the entire time. I was a real coward when it came to scary movies when I was younger, and that’s because my dad let me stay up one night and watch a scary movie with him, and I had nightmares about it for months. I still remember there was a coffin scene and maggots. Scarred for life.

( ) Been deep sea fishing

( ) Driven across the United States alone

( ) Been in a hot air balloon

( ) Been sky diving

( ) Gone snowmobiling

(X) Lived in more than one country. Which one(s)? U.S., England, Philippines

(X) Visited another country. Which one(s)? Scotland, Spain, France, Morocco, Mexico, Cayman Islands, Philippines

starry-sky(X) Laid outside at night and admired the stars while listening to the crickets

( ) And watched a full lunar eclipse while listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”

(X) Seen a falling star and made a wish

( ) Enjoyed the beauty of Ole Faithful Geyser

(X) Seen the Statue of Liberty

(X) Been to the top of the Empire State Building

( ) Gone to the top of Seattle Space Needle

(X) Been on a cruise

(X) Traveled by train

( ) Traveled by motorcycle

(X) Been skiing or snowboarding: I used to love to snow ski and water ski, and believe it or now, I was actually pretty good at it. I used to go snow skiing a lot during college. If I got on a pair of skis now, I would probably end up in traction for life, and that kind of makes me sad because I loved the feeling of racing down the slopes.

(X) Been horse back riding: We won’t discuss the time the horse threw me the first time I went riding with a person of the opposite sex that I was trying to impress with my horse back riding skills. Damned horse knew it, too.

(X) Ridden on a San Francisco Trolley

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Tropical Rain Forest

(X) Been to Disneyland or Disney World

( ) Truly believe in the power of prayer: Unfortunately, not in a long while. 

( ) Been to the top of an active volcano and seen hot lava

(X) Been in a rain forest

(X) Seen whales in the ocean

( ) Been to Niagara Falls

( ) Ridden on an elephant

( ) Swam with dolphins

1. Any nicknames? Not any more

2. Mother’s name? Ethelda/Babe: My mom was the baby of 12 children. She’s probably lucky they remembered to call her to dinner.

3. Favorite drinks? Hot tea, Pepsi, and wine occasionally. I used to really like microbrewed beers. I probably still would if I ever had occasion to drink them.

4. Body Piercings? ears

5. How much do you love your job? Don’t have one any more

6. Birthplace: Norfolk, VA

7. Favorite vacation spot: the Caribbean

8. Ever been to Africa? Yes.

9. Ever eaten just cookies for dinner? Yes. And I have also just eaten chocolate for dinner.

10. Ever been on TV? yes. I did a few television interviews when I worked for the Museum, but the most fun was when my former husband and my three children and I were featured in a commercial for the Museum. The kids were absolutely adorable.

11. Ever steal any traffic signs? no

12. Ever been in a car accident? yes

13. Drive a 2-door or 4-door vehicle? 4 door

14. Can you drive a standard shift car? yes. I love to drive standard shifts, but I’m hard on clutches, and they are expensive to replace.

15. Favorite pie? Homemade apple pie. My mom-in-law used to make me a homemade apple pie every year on my birthday because it was my favorite. She also used to make the most amazing strawberry/rhubarb pie. 

16. Favorite number: 7

17. Favorite movie(s): The English Patient and The Lord of the Rings

18. Favorite holiday? Christmas

19. Favorite dessert? Depends on mood: cheesecake or hot fudge cake

20. Favorite food? Salmon with tequila sauce

21. Favorite day of the week? Sunday afternoons are my favorite time for reading a good book. When the house is quiet and no one is around, and if I can keep the dogs from barking at air and leaves, then I can consume a novel while wrapped up in a soft blanket. Good times.

22. Favorite brand of body soap? Depends on season. Usually some kind of liquid body wash that is clean-smelling or that smells like lavendar

23. Favorite toothpaste? Colgate Total

24. Favorite smell? Lilacs or Rosemary

25. How do you relax? Read a book or write

26. How do you see yourself  in 10 years? In the islands

27. Furthest place you will send this message? Germany

28. Who will respond to this the fastest? No idea

                                                                                                                                        

 
Big Question: What is the one thing that you feel deep in your heart that you must do before you die?

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Great Wall of China

Travel. I want to see Ireland because it’s someplace that I’ve always wanted to go. I want to visit Wales for the same reason. I’d like to go to Greece because it is such a beautiful country. I also want to see the Great Wall of China. I’ve always wanted to go to Australia and Iceland, and I’ve also always wanted to take an Alaskan cruise. Then I want to spend the rest of my days someplace that is warm and green and lush and near clear blue water and far away from Wal Marts and malls in general. I don’t want to be living in a cookie cutter house in the suburbs. I want to be able to go outside and get in my hammock, or sit under a tree with a laptop and write.

I don’t know that I’ll ever have these things, but this is what I wish for. I don’t want to have lived without living as deeply as possible, without sucking “all the marrow out of life and end my days as if I had never lived.” I know that it may sound like a cliché, but from the first time I heard Thoreau’s words, I knew that that was what I wanted to feel before my end of days.