Monday, November 08, 2004

call me Odysseus

It's Monday evening. I finally decided to attempt the pulling together of all the literature we've read so far, beginning with the stories and speeches of the native Americans, the pilgrims, the puritans, Ben Franklin, and Douglass's slave narrative, through the transcendentalists, through the moderns like Langston Hughes and Jack London, up to today. The most current literature we've experienced is a song by Tupac about change (it's a poem). There's a Jadakiss song called "Why" which I think will fit well. It's rap but with no bad words, just a guy asking a lot of questions about our society today. I'm still determined to bring them Bob Dylan. I'd love to bring them Gordon Lightfoot, who is my favorite, but that would be asking a lot of them. Anyway, he's Canadian. I did give them the Bob Marley line, "Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds," even though Bob's Jamaican and dead (but then again, so is Tupac. Dead that is, not Jamaican.). It's just too good a line to pass up. It fits right in with Frederick Douglass's comment about how the way to make a good slave is to keep him from thinking. So anyway, my plan is to present the hypothesis that there may be a link between the people's literature that came before and the people's literature now, and that all the literature somehow reflects us. I told them today that I want them to prove or disprove that, or anything in between, in a big essay, possibly an essay with research. However, we have two weeks before Thanksgiving and I want to finish this by then, so we may not get around to the research part. I'm thinking that after we finish this little project, and after Thanksgiving, we'll get back to the literature, more modern stuff and more of the stuff of living writers, and I think they'll then have this idea in their heads about trying to make connections and they'll do it on their own. One of my students today was so beautiful and honest. I read part of a piece of a speech by a native American and asked them to characterize the people about whom he wrote. The student, A, said she wasn't listening because she thought I was going to write what she needed to know on the board. And she said she'd listen next time. And she did. It was lovely.
The first two periods went great. The kids really got into the idea. I'm reminding them about all the literature we've read writer by writer and we're noting words and ideas that come to mind about each, trying to somehow get a picture of the character of the people who wrote before us and the character of the people about whom they wrote. Anyway, the first two periods were rousing. But third period, I don't know, they were dead about it. Maybe it's because of me. I don't do well doing the same thing all day. Maybe I was dead about it. I hate having all my classes the same. Also, that's the class that keeps me on my toes the most. I'm very easy going and I understand play. But they're rough hewn when it comes to knowing how to draw the line between being playful and being disrespectful. Today they were disrespectful. Tomorrow I'll need to point out the difference. It's an interesting process. I, of course, understand that it's all a lesson, for all of us, and that life is dynamic, and that letting things play out, then looking at them and talking about them, is possible and leads to change, and change in a very beautiful way. In other words, that it's all good. But I don't think they understand that. Yet.
I'm glad I'll have a whole new batch of students in January. I see some mistakes I've made and have some ideas about how to rectify them, but you know how it is, it's hard to do that in mid-stream. I had to let some things play out and now it's too late to change them. That's the way it always is with me. My classes feel like organic entities to me. And being at this new school I'm confronted with a whole new set of decisions and conditions.
But trying as it is, it's good to feel brand new. And anyway, I like trials. Call me Odysseus.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

entirely off the subject, but i've thrown this around in my head a bunch and i want to say it.

Saturday was the first time I've seen Brother Bill's room since he died. I was staring into space waiting for time to run out on aa SAT section that I'd already finished when I realized that my bladder wasn't going to hold out until the end of the test. The sympathetic proctor let me hurry to the restroom. The women's bathroom at St. Paul's is right next to Brother Bill's room. Since there was no one in the hall when I stepped out, much relieved, from the bathroom, I stopped to peer in the window. I knew that the room had been locked up since the funeral, but somehow I didn't expect what I saw. It was so empty, not empty in a way that would be refilled with life on Monday morning, but barren of the possibility of the joy I have always associated with it. Everything was in place as if he had just left for the weekend. The curtains were closed, and the room itself was darker than I've ever seen it before. All the desks faced his, with the TV on the left and his chair turned toward the right. The righthand windowsills were cluttered with trophies from past QuizBowl trouncings. Nothing had been touched. His desk was neat as always; even the kleenex box seemed as if he had left it there. I cried. I hadn't cried when I had heard the news or when I had given the card to Mr. Werther to take to the funeral, but I cried then. I'm not really sure why, except that I've never seen a room so deserted by life. It was real in a whole new way, more real than any funeral, more real even than seeing a made-up body in a casket awaiting burial. I've never been so stricken by death, and I'd never experienced the pure absence of life. But that's what I saw when I looked through that window. There were no happy images, no images of any kind. There was nothing, no clutter and no mortality.
I've never imagined QuizBowl without Brother Bill, but I guess I'll know that I never saw St. Paul's loose when he was there, even if they did win because of a misused conjunction.


8:36 PM  
Blogger Melanie Plesh said...

To Caitlin,
That was a beautiful thing you wrote. Beautiful in that you saw something real and that moved you, and you depicted it. Perfectly. I understood.
Brother Bill...I guess his presence was bigger than we understood until it wasn't there anymore, and now there's just a gap.

7:13 AM  

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