In Love…


“In love there are two things–bodies and words.” Joyce Carol Oates

And her rejoinder to me: “Our two bodies are our words–hello and good bye.”

Scribus Mundanus Me


 
Perhaps you have to be a teacher or know one to smile at this article a good friend sent me today, but I enjoyed seeing myself typecast as a certain type of teacher. Though I have taught my share of literature courses and may have been Libris Scholaris, especially in grad school as a Teacher’s Assistant, guest lecturer or contract lecturer at the university, but I am quintessentially Scribus Mundanus all the way these days, as I stare down a pile of ungraded essays beckoning me to my desk even at this late hour. 

John Minichillo on Timothey McSweeney’s blog writes “How to be a Better Teacher-Person Through Apathy: On the Heirarchy of English Professors, a Nonmenclature: Scholar-Type, Teacher-Type and Artist-Type” to illustrate and caricature teachers on this very week of the teacher. I have been all three, but teaching three composition courses this semester and some semesters four or more, I relate to this description:

The second type of English professor is the composition scholar, or teacher-type, Scribis mundanus. They use the word “text” with far less frequency and their obsession lies in “pedagogy,” a word never uttered outside of universities, but a catch-all title that means, broadly, “teaching.” While Libris scholares teach to make a living, so that they can study texts, Scribis mundani have always wanted to teach, and they have a way of resenting other professors who don’t engage in the frequent self-examination of their own teaching practices. They believe in a growth model for teachers, so that they are involved in teacher training and/or disseminating self-assessment tools, and they command their classrooms with a dynamic flair. They are forever pondering goals and outcomes, and will dole out experimental assignments, so that during any given semester the class content, approach, or grading methods of Scribis mundanus may have completely changed from previous semesters. The field of composition developed out of necessity and it’s the new kid on the block. At the beginning of the twentieth century students were interested in literature, and classes were introduced where these students would write “themes” each week, so that these primitive papers became what was graded in the course. Over time, English classes were separated into literature classes and writing classes, and composition was the methodology that grew up around paper writing, which became the subject, whole and entire, of composition classes.

I am a teacher. I am in it to teach. I use the word pedagogy, yes. Reading “texts” and creating art are collateral benefits that go with and develop from the art of teaching. Becoming an expert on others’ writing and teaching others to write, I have improved my own writing. The reciprocity has quite satisfactorily evolved into paid self-enrichment. 

Mundanus? Sure, the comp grind, as it is referred to in the biz, has its mind-numbing moments, for example, that pile on my desk that promises endlessly winding, often pointless poor prose as well as the surprise satisfaction of a well-turned phrase. I’m happy merely to find the few that followed the assignment directions. But then I remember that my own writing, discipline and substance have developed over a life-time, several decades. What can I expect in mere weeks? 

Maybe the next professor down the comp chain will have better luck weeding out the disorganization in this semester’s crop of students’ harried developing minds and the bad habits cemented over the years. In three weeks, my tenancy with them will be up (except for those who choose to try again with me). And then it’s summer school!

 
Image Credit: http://www.edweek.org

To the Thief Who Stole a Teacher’s Textbook

bae

I wish no ill will

if to steal will fulfill

a desire to learn–

a worthwhile return–

in literary taste

as is truly the case

in so fascinting a text

“What happens next?”

The suspense never ending

in essays mind bending

priced at a mere 100 bucks

which to you probably sucks

because you obviously can’t pay

so keep it and have a joyful day.

Oh, and the essay on morality

skip it lest it damper joviality

at having stolen a book

to resell to some schnook

who’ll think he struck gold

at this collection re-sold

replete with scribbles galore

like none sold at the book store

but good luck deciphering words

gifts as intended but to  fools, absurd.

 

Dooms Day

  
La Mort de César (ca. 1859–1867) by Jean-Léon Gérôme

 
Caesar:

Who is it in the press that calls on me?

I hear a tongue shriller than all the music

Cry “Caesar!” Speak, Caesar is turn’d to hear.
 
Soothsayer:

Beware the ides of March.
 
Caesar:

What man is that?
 
Brutus:

A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
 
Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 2, 15–19
 
Today is bad omen day, or “I told you so” day. Julius Caesare apparently was warned of the treachery that awaited him at the Senate–many times and ways–yet he remained in denial, denying even his own gut feeling that the nasty-liver-missing-heartless entrails of a dozen or more sacrificed beasts did not bode well.
 
According to UK’s The Telegraph, The Ides of March: The assassination of Julius Caesar and how it changed the world, Caesar was warned by an entrails reader that ill fortune awaited him. According to this account, Caesar actually died with an unopened scroll in his hands, given to him by a messenger warning him of the treachery. But nooooo, he had to go to show good appearances, at the beckoning of his so-called friends and countrymen.
 
For drama’s sake, Shakespeare spiced up Caesar’s departure with parting words, “Et tu, Brute?” and anyone who knows anything popularly about Caesar’s death, probably knows it through Shakespeare’s play, required reading in many high schools and undergraduate college courses.
 
In the English-speaking world, we know a slightly different story, thanks to Shakespeare. He lifted Caesar’s dramatic dying words, “Et tu, Brute?” from an earlier play by Richard Edes, and made them a part of the assassination mythology. In reality, most Roman writers state that Caesar said nothing, but merely pulled his toga up over his face. They do note, however, that some people were spreading the story that Caesar had gasped, “καὶ σὺ, τέκνον?/You too, my child?” to Brutus. (Many Romans of all classes were bilingual, with the more educated frequently preferring to speak Greek.)
 
Most famously, however, Shakespeare does away with Spurinna, the venerable entrails-gazer, and instead invents a soothsayer in a crowd, who shouts the famous prophetic warning to Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March!” It is, perhaps, one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines and, as a direct result, “the Ides” has come to mean a date of doom.
 
Doomsday. I hope not. My father has a doctor’s appointment today in preparation for surgery. The innards of my breakfast cereal looked okay this morning, however. I think it’ll be all right.

Umberto Eco

  
“I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.” 

― Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

I first learned of Eco after reading The Name of the Rose in graduate school, though I cannot remember whether it was the first round in 89 or the second in 2003. I saw the movie of the same name and cannot remember whether I saw it before reading the book or vice versa. I do know I enjoyed both immensely, so much so that I read a second book, the one from which the above quote comes, which I also enjoyed, though I believed that the text was far more about the title namesake than it was before reading it. I had read Michel Foucault, who I found as intriguing as mystifying, so naturally was drawn to the title. 

The text, like all Eco works, is complex and dense with plot and erudite history, lore and textual references–not your read on the beach in paradise. Eco demands you grapple. And while many details of both books I read are long forgotten, the words and specific scenes remain etched in the beautiful keepsakes section of my brain.

Like many faithful readers, I seek treasure–that unique turn of phrase or universal truth that hangs with me, bubbled to the surface when I need a lift, a reason or insight. Countless times the belief in mystery became and becomes my mantra. Some people often sigh, “It’s God’s will” when at a loss to explain the inexplicable and I just as often say, “Bow to the mystery.” Though both signal surrender, one does far less resignedly. 

That the “world is an enigma” satisfies, becalms and relieves humans of the burden of making sense of chaos and that which we cannot understand due to the size of our brains, undiscovered truths or components necessary to solving riddles, or both–or neither. That we madly “attempt to interpret” the world smacks of vanity or fruitlessness but not necessarily. Human’s drive to know, to understand and control is itself an enigma, one with benign origins though sometimes malignant intent or results. 

This quote counters another oft-pronounced snippet pulled out of pocket at the cause-effect chain’s logical end with no solution: “Everything happens for a reason.” Eco obviously disagreed and wrote legions against that idea, wracking ordered plots with disordered interferences from magic, evil intent, human contaminants and other messy interlocutors, all in historically altered (small and large) and imagined context. 

One thinker, writer and human I mourn, Umberto Eco died yesterday, a significant loss or gain for the mystery.

Pass the Fudge, Alice

  


This is the food of paradise — of Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradises: it might 

provide an entertaining refreshment for Ladies’ Bridge Club or chapter 

meeting of the DAR. In Morocco it is thought to be good for warding off the 

common cold in damp winter weather and is, indeed, more effective if taken 

with large quantities of hot mint tea. Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; 

ecstatic reveries and extensions of one’s personality on several simultaneous 

planes are to be complacently expected. Almost anything Saint Theresa did, 

you can do better if you can bear to be ravished by ‘un évanouissement reveillé‘.

Alice B. Toklas’ introduction to the recipe for “hashish fudge” in her 1946 Alice B. Toklas Cookbook.

Read the rest of the recipe and trip once again on the heart-of-the-art love story of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas here.

Mindful, Mindless Moment

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Slow sipping coffee on a pre-work, getting-ready-for-it morning break, she looks out the window onto the busy street. The soft drizzle powders passersby with a glint but there is no sun to reflect the shine and create jewels of these busy movers, so they merely look dusty wet.

“I work at a mindless dead end job,” she thinks as she sits and stares out the window, the people now in bas-relief, mere objects of her unfocused gaze.

“The repetition of breaking down and building up the frozen yogurt machine, it’s the same mechanics every day of draining the yogurt, both bins of the machine, in plastic four-gallon buckets, lugging them full and heavy to the refrigerator, running water through to flush the yogurt from the moving parts inside, wiping down the yogurt bins with sanitizer, unscrewing the faceplate of the machine, pulling it out along with the mixing blades and the crank shaft, and then stripping each of those down to their basic components, washing them all methodically, drying them just as methodically, greasing them back up, putting all the pieces to the basics on again, re-assembling them into the machine and finally pouring in the yogurt and turning the machine back on. It’s mind-numbing.”

Two young girls, perhaps late teens, walk by animatedly close to the window, their pink, teased out hair bobbing before her at eye level as she sits high on a pine stool tucked in close to its matching table. She is momentarily re-focused on the street activity, removed from her reverie.

She senses she has five more minutes before she needs to hit the road and off to work, giving her enough time for prepping and opening up the shop for the day’s business. She looks at the tree trunk of a clock seemingly growing above the serving counter on the other side of the cafe to confirm her suspicion.

The decor is eco-earthen hippy with its unvarnished pine tables and chairs and natural, charcoal wood-beamed ceiling, autumn colored table cloths of deep rich dark chocolates, rusts and oranges, and leafy printed matching napkins. The coffee is organic and the pastries vegan. Los Angeles.

“But there must be a reason for me to continue working there. I could quit any time. I should quit,” she continues. “I have a Masters degree in Political Science. It’s humiliating. I could wait tables and make more.”

Approaching her table now is the smiling young waiter with the heartbreak haircut, romance and freedom spelled in its asymmetry, long locks below the left ear sweeping from short shaved up right side of his head. His eyes are rich deep espresso gleam, his smile a thin lemon peel twist.

Holding a mini coffee pot, he asks, “Do you need a re-heat?” as he smiles that twist to the corners, exposing pleasantly symmetrical square white teeth. His entire face smiles.

She cannot help but smile in rejoinder–slightly, the corners of her mouth marginally upturned while the rest of her lips remain in repose. “No thank you.”

He moves on past her after nodding faintly in her direction, the smile still installed in his face fitted out for it.

“I’m sure his job is mindless too. He seems intelligent, something in his face and eyes, his hipster clothes. I wonder if he is staying in it for money or because the schedule fits in with his school schedule, or a second job, or perhaps he’s in between careers, has criminal charges pending or is helping out a family member,” she muses. “No, those would all be me.”

Swiveling her head slowly toward the window again, her chin re-installed onto her folded up fist like a podium, she watches the people-wave rushing by. So many colors, shapes and pace of the life-passing-by street, a whir of stewed up cells, ions, protons, all the biospheric material.

“I think I have to learn something there, something about patience and process,” she ponders, immediately looking down on the three healing cuts, one deep and aggravated on her thumb and the other two older and more superficial on her index fingers.

“When I drift, let my mind wander from the immediate task, the immediate step in the process, steps as unforgiving as instructions to fixing a computer software problem, unmerciful in its unwavering necessity for methodological exactitude, I get hurt.”

A skateboarder threads the lull in the ever-marching morning mania, only two groups of three people each to skirt around.

“I have to be present and faithful to each movement in this mindless operation. Otherwise, I miss something or do it inexactly, which causes something else down the line to malfunction. Or I try to rush bending the plastic blade coverings over the metal blades, so that when my fingers force them into the tuck of the fastener, I brush the top of my thumb over the blades and catch the sharp edges for a painful skin divot.”

The smiler returns and deliberately places the bill down beside her elbow planted atop the wood and ingratiatingly near-whispers, “When you’re ready,” and he’s off, leaving the suck of air that follows him from the heated room’s palpable atmosphere of coffee particles and central heat from shared street-lined shops dust.

She opens her purse and reaches in a pocket without looking, pulling out a few singles and a five in a grab fist of money. She looks at the singles, realizes it isn’t enough and lays the five down on the check, looking for brown eyes to meet hers in the unspoken code of near departure.

She lifts her thrift-store faux leopard skin lined trench coat as it drapes across the stool on the opposite side of the table, and fits her shoulders inside the arm holes, wearing it as a cape. She swings her purse strap over her left coat-covered shoulder as she walks to the door and opens it, looks out onto the busy street, first glancing left then right, as if she were expecting to cross traffic safely. Stepping out the door onto the sidewalk, she turns right, quickening her pace to meet that of the masses, even though no one is immediately nearby to keep pace with her.

“Back to the rock pile. There’s froyo to be served to sweet craving, self-deluded folks,” she sighs as she heads briskly down the now wetter sidewalk.

Chekhov on His Mistresses

Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress. When I get fed up with one, I spend the night with the other. Though it is irregular, it is less boring this way, and besides, neither of them loses anything through my infidelity.

Anton Chekhov
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