Musings: The next civil war

This week has left me somewhat battered and dismayed, given the rancor and what I view as the blindness in the U.S. Congress. Watching too much CNN and C-Span can do that to a person. If the Hubs is not around, I often simply turn it off in search of a level of silence. I have a need to go far from the madding crowd in order to regain a sense of balance. Then the new The Atlantic finally showed up on the shelves of the library.

The new December issue of The Atlantic focuses on the subtitle How to Stop A Civil War a theme that runs through three sections of the issue: The Forces that Pull Us Apart, Appeals to Our Better Nature, and Reconciliation and Its Alternatives. I have read into the third section so far. I find it an interesting read that has built upon the other books I have read over the year. Indeed, in order to focus I turn off the noise or go into another room. I want to know and understand what these authors have to say.

For the most part, I find myself nodding in agreement with the authors and sighing in frustration because I am no longer in a position to do much about some of their arguments. On the other hand, I find that I am doing something about what I have read so far in Reconciliation and Its Alternatives. I should elaborate.

The nice thing about where I live is that people talk to each other. I am not talking about friends chatting over coffee, but about the group of us who wait at the door to the library or someone in line with me at the check-out. People talk to each other. I smile when I  hear riders thank the bus driver when they disembark. Even in these short conversations, interesting things get said. It is those sort of exchanges that give me things to think about. I hope my listener feels the same way.

For example, I met one lady, let’s call her Alyssa, on several occasions at the library. We got to talking about white privilege, about how we see such things in movies (specifically Glory) about the differing conversations parents have with their children regarding interactions with the police. I haven’t seen Alyssa in several weeks, so I have yet to bring out the idea that neither Black people nor White people should be taken as monolithic groups. We need some wiggle room for understanding that every person has a different experience. Alyssa has mentioned that she has memory problems. She forgets names, she forgets her schedule unless it is marked on her Smartphone. I am sure that by this time she has forgotten me. I have not forgotten her nor what she said, nor have I forgotten the way in which our conversation progressed. It was thoughtful and enlightening. I would like to invite her across the street to the new coffee shoppe to continue the conversation.

Would that there had been more of this. Still, that third section includes a thoughtful discussion of individual encounters. If one “chapter” focuses on the techniques of marriage counseling as allowing us to encounter those who differ, then the third larger section follows a similar line of thought. It is our connections on a local level that need encouragement.

We need to re-engage with each other.

It is easy to stay in our own lane with our own groups. That is not news. What should also be no news is that we need to encounter those who differ.  From Irshad Manjii’s Don’t Label Me I learned the line “I am not seeking to change you. I am seeking to understand you.” It makes a difference in the conversation. According to recent publicity surrounding the new Mr. Rogers movie, Fred Rogers used the acronym WAIT—Why Am I Talking. Rogers was said to be among the greatest of listeners. Yes, in the recent Atlantic, there is an article about Fred Rogers as well.

Mr. Rogers seemed to have several guiding principles. We were all children once. The president was once a child. Rudy Giuliani was once a child. You and I were once children. If I try to imagine the current president as a child, it brings home what I think are the roots of some of his narcissism. On the other hand, I don’t know enough. If the interruptive style of Joy Behar on The View drives me crazy, I think about the dinner table around which she sat when she was a child. In my greatest of frustrations I have tried to imagine the other person as a child. What makes us who we are?

In the end, I am happy and grateful to have discovered The Atlantic some time ago. If I could write a fan letter and think it would be read, I would. The idea of an oncoming civil war is frightening, but not impossible to imagine. Two years ago my juniors were sure it was going to happen in the near future. I am not so convinced. We have always been a contentious country. We have forgotten that we should understand that we are  not a fixed entity but always a work in progress. As a country, we personify the idea that if we are not growing we are dying. Our microcosm of the universe should be ever-expanding. The December issue is, for me, a solid read that pulls together many threads. After all, everything is connected. I recommend it to you, dear reader.

Musings: The time of rhetoric

If poetry is defined as the argument we have with ourselves, then rhetoric is the art of the argument we have with others. It takes practice to use the tools of rhetoric well. The art of rhetoric was considered one of the original arts of discourse in the ancient world. Skilled rhetoricians were admired. Today, I see evidence of rhetorical skill in prepared comments, but not so much in extemporaneous speaking.

Consider the diatribe. Diatribes are sarcastic, full of irony, and often bitter. We see examples in literature, even in the Christian Bible. St. Paul uses diatribe as a teaching tool in Romans. Shakespeare uses diatribe. So does Joseph Conrad. The most vivid recent example was Adam Schiff’s interpretive reading of the president’s July 25 phone call to Ukraine President Zelensky.* Schiff characterizes the call as representative of a shakedown on the part of a mafia Don, then goes on to demonstrate what that sounded like.

Schiff uses asides as a technique, commenting and expanding on the text of the call in order to demonstrate the intent of the U.S. president to hold hostage funds that would help Ukraine in her efforts against Russia until Zelensky started an investigation of Joe and Hunter Beiden. In the end, Schiff’s use of diatribe backfires. The Republican minority in the House and the majority in the Senate excoriate Schiff, say that he was inappropriate and disrespectful to the office of the president. They called for his resignation from the chairmanship of the committee.

Here’s what puzzles me: Did the Republican commentators not recognize diatribe or did they simply choose to ignore it? If I, a mere high school English teacher, can recognize this tool, why did those who should be trained in the use of rhetoric, whose very skills in this art are part of their everyday usage in the legislature not see it? Why did those who comment on such television news and commentary shows not see it? If they saw it and understood it, then they chose to ignore the tool.

Would it be worth mentioning the skill of diatribe? Should this technique be pointed out in commentary? Are we attacking the messenger? Was the purpose of this diatribe to exaggerate the nefariousness of the request? If so, then was Schiff successful? Was his intent in exaggeration and asides to point out the unsavory purpose of a line pointed out by the opposition as innocent and justified: I would like you to do us a favor, though. 

Finally, and this is a question I need answered: I recognize Schiff’s interpretative reading as diatribe. Can we call the president’s riffing on Peter Strozk and Lisa Page’s emails at a recent rally, diatribe? What about his mocking of a reporter with a particular disability or a recent ridiculing of  what he termed a “politically correct” security person? Is this also diatribe or is this simply the rhetoric of the playground? My impression is that diatribe is a teaching tool. Schiff, through exaggeration, through a sarcastic, sardonic tone, through his asides, intended to call attention to the significant implications of the president’s request. If this is true, then we are dealing with false equivalencies and my question is moot.

Schiff interpretive reading introduction at 3:17, reading at 4:17

Musings: The open road

I confess that I like to drive. Most of the time nothing is out of the way. I just like to go. Anywhere. I don’t always need a companion, though there are times when traveling together can be a great deal of fun. A companion on the road might actually keep me out of mischief.

The longest solo trip? From my place in the middle of a Great Lakes state to Manitou-Wabbing Ontario, Canada. It took me two days. The fun of it was that this adventure was at the time of the CB craze. My handle? Enterprise. Citizen’s Band radio meant I had contact with anyone else sharing channel 19 with me. The resource helped me find coffee when I wanted some, a gas station when I needed one, and directions to the camp at which I was supposed to teach. It was a beautiful trip.

The problem came on the way home. The cello teacher needed a ride to Toronto. Of course, since nothing is out of the way, I said sure. Bad decision. Toronto was three hours in the other direction. That added six hours to the trip in total. Since I didn’t want to be on the highway on Labor Day, that meant I drove to Toronto, then back through Michigan and on to my place. It took, including rest stops, a total of 23 hours. I went to bed and slept for almost 18 of the next 24. Twenty-three hours in addition to the last night of camp, a late night, meant a long stretch.

I did collect one story along the way. I stopped at a Union 76 truck stop just outside of Ann Arbor for supper and to refill my coffee thermos. I misread the sign that separated the truckers from the non-truckers and wound up at the counter in a mostly empty restaurant. I didn’t think about it until I got the check and found a big red TRUCKER stamp on it and got a free refill of my thermos. I must have looked the part, given that I was wearing jeans, a white tee-shirt and a red plaid flannel shirt over that. I also looked pretty worn and grubby by that time. In a brief conversation where I was asked my destination, I mentioned that I was en route to the other side of the lake and was told to keep the shiny side up. I left a nice tip, went out, got into my blue Gremlin and pulled away into the darkness. Thank goodness no one asked what I was hauling.

The other memorable trip was a cross-country excursion through the National Park system in the west. It took almost three weeks. Certainly, one gets a sense of the size of this country when traveling by ground. We “did” several parks in addition to taking the cog train up Pike’s Peak: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and best of all, the Grand Canyon. Truly the Grand Canyon lives up to its name. On the way home, we went through a corner of Yellowstone, then over the Bear Tooth Highway and across South Dakota to home.

I do not do well in the mountains, and given the chance to drive a western swing again, I would probably take a southern route. My late Hubs insisted on taking the Bear Tooth because it was so spectacular, no matter that I told him several times that I was subject to altitude sickness. He was so enthusiastic though, that I acquiesced and we added this route to the plan. He did all the driving while I eventually had to ride with my head on the headrest. Every so often he would say “Look At That,” and I would raise my head, look out the window and snap a picture. I don’t remember much about the trip but the pictures are great. Anything much higher than 6500 feet and I am green and headachey. When we finally got home, he apologized for not listening to me when I said I don’t do well at altitude. Given that this highway, yes, a modern engineering marvel, zig-zags across the Wyoming-Montana border at almost 11,000 feet, I was pretty flattened by the whole experience.

No trip is without it’s adventures, though. We were in Grand Junction Colorado, arranging for another experience when the person in charge suggested that we take Utah Highway 128 to Moab rather than the interstate. She suggested that it was much more scenic that the I-road. Off we went on the back road. We started on a nice asphalt two-lane highway that turned into a gravel road, then into a road consisting of much larger gravel. No, I would not call them boulders, but the ride was pretty rough. We came to a wide river that we learned was the Colorado, then crossed on a narrow, open bridge–two lanes and minimal guard rails–into Utah. We turned the corner and got our first glimpse of red rocks. It was, indeed, spectacular! I had never seen anything so amazing as the colors and shapes of the rock formations along the river. The road on the Utah side of the river was well paved, though warning signs of wash-outs and flash floods were a little worrisome. All in all, it was one of the best parts of the trip.

Food stops can be adventures as well. The Elk Ridge Cafe in Elk Ridge Utah, just south of Moab was wonderful. Where can you find the best French toast? At the Elk Ridge. It’s not far from the local laundromat. The now-defunct Hotel Utah in Salt Lake had incredible apple fritters. Not the heavy and glazed pastry, these apple fritters were sliced and cored apples, lightly battered, fried crispy-done, and dusted with powdered sugar. Lovely.

Over the years I have traveled miles and miles by motor vehicle. Lying awake the other night, I counted the states I have visited either on my own travels or on band tour. The total is 30 so far. I am still hoping that I can do at least one more road trip just for the fun of it. Next destination? Perhaps it will be Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse memorial. Maybe I’ll make a stop at the Little Big Horn monument and pay my respects at Wounded Knee, if possible. Then go south. I’ve been in Las Vegas but not in New Mexico. Maybe it’s time to visit the Santa Fe Opera Festival.

Or maybe, because it is actually on the bucket list, the Stratford, Ontario Shakespeare Festival. I thought more than once about taking the Presidential Library road trip. I even located all of them and plotted the route just for the fun of it.

The sun is out. The day is bright. The open road beckons.

 

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Musings: Tomato-TomAHto, Potato-PotAHto

Once again we are in the seasonal battle of Holiday Tree vs. Christmas Tree. I know that words are important, but do we really have to go through this every year? Some of this gets trumped up simply because the occupant of the oval office decides he needs to get a little more attention. He stated a few weeks ago that there was now a “War on Thanksgiving.” Is that because our indigenous people want to tell more of the truth about that first big sit-down?

Sigh. 

Don’t we have better things to think about, much less argue over?

Me, I think whatever. Personally, I think  Holiday Tree is more inclusive. That tree in the capitol building may simply be a Hanukkah Bush. It could be a Solstice Shrub. It could be a Hannachrismakwanzakah Hardwood. Who cares? It’s beautiful and often it smells good. The tree in the state capitol and trees around the community are decorated by children. What could be sweeter?

I have a table-top tree at home. It is the top part of a much larger plastic tree that was given to me almost thirty years ago by friends who found out that we didn’t have a tree at home. Truly, part of that no-tree Christmas was because we were leaving town for the holidays and didn’t want to leave behind a fire hazard. The other part was that the budget was really tight and a live tree was not the best use of the cash we had. To the rescue came friends. I still use that tree even though now we could afford something “better” and I think about these friends every time I put it up.

I don’t want this to be yet another rant on the commercialization of the holidays. They are whatever each individual makes them to be. I have no need to indulge in oneupmanship. I prefer to make the gifts for others by hand. They may be more humble and they may not light up, twinkle, and beep, but they come from the heart and there is love in every stitch and brush stroke.

What I wish is for all of us to take a deep breath and be kinder to each other. Kindness given to others is a force multiplier. To you, dear reader, I wish only the best of times, no matter what you may label them.

 

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Musings: The Berlin Mission

I have been deep into The Berlin mission : the American who resisted Nazi Germany from within by Richard Breitman. It is an amazing story about Raymond Geist who served as consul in Berlin beginning in 1929. It was he who expedited the emmigration of Albert Einstein to the United States. Because Geist was of German descent and fluent in the language, he managed over the years to establish relationships with Hitler’s inner circle. As Hitler’s oppression of and persecution of the Jews  increased, Geist’s role became increasingly important. As the ambassadorial side of the Embassy cycled through several Ambassadors, Geist devised ways to circumvent the quotas imposed on the immigration of Jews to the United States in order to save as many lives as he could in spite of the turnover at the top of the chain of command. 

I found it interesting that Ambassador William Dodd, the subject of In the Garden Of Beasts by Erik Larson, was among those bureaucrats who, according to Breitman, was considered less than effective in his Berlin post. The two books together make for  an interesting contrast.

Geist took enormous personal risks to accomplish this in that he is gay and has a closeted relationship with Edward Mainz. At any time, Geist himself could have been jailed and at the very least, thrown out of the country for being gay.

No, I have not reached the end of the narrative. I still have 150 or so pages to go, but I do find this a compelling read. However, I wanted to get a line of thought down before I lost the mental link. In one section, Breitman discusses the prevalence of anti-Semetic Nazi propaganda. The newspapers and airwaves were full of agitprop blaming everything on the Jews. I have been drawing a parallel in our own time wherein those who promulgate the phrase “fake news” blame everything on Ukraine rather than trust our own intelligence services that point directly to Russia as the source of a disinformation campaign during the 2016 election. Like good little sheep, those who refuse to think critically follow right along–1933, 2016, what does it matter?

Furthermore, some of the latest “stuff” on immigration includes the ability on the part of the emigrants to prove that he or she will not need public assistance, that they will not become wards of the state. That appears as one of the issues barring German Jews from coming to the U.S. in the early 1930s. Yes, we were mired in the depths of the Great Depression, but by the late 1930s when we were beginning to come out of the economic swamp and jobs were becoming more plentiful, we still barred German Jews from entry. Even though Raymond Geist thought most of those whom he recommended and wait-listed for travel to the U.S. would be good citizens and assets to the country, he was stymied by the reluctance of Congress to see things similarly. Although professionals were said to be favored emigrants, it was difficult to obtain visas for them as well. Moreover, there was the issue then of not being able to remove personal assets from Germany. This does not seem to be the case among those applying for asylum today given that they had little and have left even that behind to make the trek to the border. As in the 1930s, today the current government states an intent to lower over-all immigration quotas. Have we already gone back into isolationism?

We need to think critically, though we also need to be suspicious of pretty much everything. The latest? A recent Washington Post report on the progress of the war in Afghanistan.* The whole thing sounds much like what we learned from the Pentagon papers released by the news media in 1971. I trust true journalists more than I trust our government sometimes. Journalists are and should be the watchdogs for the people.

But I digress.

I find The Berlin Mission a great read. Like many great reads, the reader is led from one idea to another. The advantage of being a reader is that there are more things to think about. Yes, once more, I can say that everything is connected.

*        https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/investigations/afghanistan-papers/afghanistan-war-confidential-documents/

Musings: Graphic Novels

I usually don’t read graphic novels. Even when occupied with comic books as a child, I was more focused on text than art. I read those comics fast, not pausing all that much. I never studied the pictures. Really, how long does it take to look at a giant-sized BAM! when Batman punches out a villain?  I find the same to be true of my approach to graphic novels. Ok. Protagonist sad. Let’s move on. I appreciate the art, but appreciate the text more because of my own orientation, I think. That does not prohibit my occasional dip into Graphic Novels. The list is short, but the novels are good. I feel confident in recommending them to you, dear reader.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu is on the list of top books as decided by the local library Teen Board. It is a good read that focuses on a diverse variety of women such as Nellie Bly, Mae Jemison, Josephine Baker, and Naziq al-Abid. Bagieu addresses far more than the women who have changed the political world. Goodreads rates this at 4-1/2 stars. I concur.

March, Book I by John Lewis relates Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall. Goodreads rates this at 4-1/2 stars. There are now two other volumes which I confess I have not yet read. A Coretta Scott King honor book, it has received numerous awards for its story and illustrations.

Finally, I have recently read George Takei’s new book They Called Us Enemy.  Of the three titles here, I liked this one the best. Takei relates the story of his family’s internment during World War II. Rounded up in 1942, four-year-old George and his family were relocated to a camp in Arkansas. The story relates his experience with life in the camps, with racism en route, with his involvement in the civil rights movement and work with Dr. King. Moreover, we learn more about his continuing work for the LGBTQ community. I thought the story was more approachable than Farewell To Manzanar and revealed aspects of Takei’s life of which I was not aware. Who gets to write history? Those who live it.

 

 

Musings: At a loss for focus–and wandering.

Today I am at a bit of a loss as to where to focus. Events are happening fast. We had another shooting on a naval base, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, announced that the House will write articles of impeachment on the current occupant of the oval office. The current occupant of the oval office seems to want to turn this into another chapter in the Reality Show of the Big Top. Joe Biden, candidate for president, lost his patience with an elder who parroted yet another conspiracy theory straight from Fox News, though the man who spoke insisted it was MSNBC who posited the issue. I am missing an interesting embedded podcast on the biography of Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the Senate.

The man at the computer next to me has been asleep so long that his time has run out. There is a two hour limit on library computers.

A student running from a recent school shooting guided others to the mosque across the street from the high school, then, because she is a member and knew, she punched the door code in and held the door while others ran into the mosque for shelter. She then called her dad to let him know that she opened the mosque. He rallied other members and together they brought water and comfort to the students. Cool thinking under fire. Nice work.

The weather is sunny and at a typical November temp for our latitude. I learned last night that yet another storm is headed our way. I swear that my body goes on overdrive when that news comes across the airwaves. I never sleep well on nights when I know that bad weather is on the way. Once it comes, it’s all good. I sleep better.

Anticipation.

There’s an old saying in chess  that the threat is greater than the execution. In so many ways that’s true. The anticipation of bad news is no much worse than actually dealing with bad news. Perhaps the opposite of knowing that bad things are coming, thinking one is prepared for it, then coming to the understanding that things are so much more difficult.

Other old sayings come to mind: Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain. That came from my late husband. I used it often enough when drivers rolled through stop signs or drove the wrong way on a one-way system that my current Hubs asked me to stop. I did. . .at least aloud. I still think it. Another? Arguing with a fool is only two fools arguing. I used that one as a guide when I had to remember that I was the adult in the room. There is a reason that these old maxims are still around. Another of my favorites? A woman’s place is in the House. . .and the Senate. We could add and in the Oval Office these days, though I doubt is the male establishment would let that happen in my lifetime. I could be wrong though. I once bet that there would be a woman in the White House before there would be a Black man. I guess I was wrong on that one.

Labyrinths and mazes are different. A maze may have one route to the center; you will encounter many blocked passages en route. A labyrinth, on the other hand, is meant to be meditative rather than a puzzle to be challenged. There are several paths to the center and the goal is not to be fast, but to be thoughtful. This entry seems to be more the labyrinth than the maze. It has flow, though I have yet to reach the center. I am running out of computer time, so I shall close with this thought: there are paths to the center, though it will take time to get there. Tomorrow is another day and I promise to bring my notebook so that you will not have to wander the labyrinth with me.

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Musings: Everything is Connected

I had a rough start in college. I felt as if everyone knew more than I did. Everyone was more savvy about, literally, everything. I went to college not even knowing how to use make-up. It was something not important to me, nor not encouraged in the family. I made a lot of mistakes, things that I would have done in high school had I started earlier. I didn’t even know what pom-pon girls were. We never had them in the urban school I attended. It was a mystery. A bad habit of pushing my bangs away from my face, something I have come to understand as my gesture of anxiety, left me with greasy hair by noon even though I shampooed every night. In many ways, I was a mess.  It took me some time to figure these things out.

It was more than a little difficult to start a music major without any background in theory before I started. Freshman theory was a nightmare. I barely survived. There was no one who had any understanding of my instrument, so the private lessons I paid dearly for were not all that great. I seriously considered changing my major after one teacher told me that “at least you want to be adequate” and another told me to transfer to a larger university where I would discover that I had no talent. I almost quit college all together in the absence of any sort of guidance or encouragement.  The good news was that when I returned for sophomore year, both teachers were gone and I had a fresh start.

Enter Dr. Colton, new head of department. He pulled me aside and told me that he was aware of the rough start and that he would give me the semester to show improvement. Luckily, third semester theory consisted of form and analysis–something, it turns out, that was right up my alley. I loved it and excelled. Third semester was counterpoint. Another win. By the end of sophomore year, I had redeemed myself. By junior year I had enough confidence and decided that grad school might be in my future. I needed the grades to gain entrance to somewhere. By junior year, I was well into the major. Out of 16 credits, 12 were in my major. I flew. Life was great.

Don Colton had a particular philosophy when it came to teaching music history. Everything was connected. It wasn’t enough to know about composers, Koechel numbers, or librettists. We needed to know about the political history, the visual arts, which composers knew each other, the theater. The infamous question at the end of the Mozart/Beethoven unit? ( I truly have never forgotten this.) “Write about the music of the age of Mozart and Beethoven without mentioning either Mozart or Beethoven OR Write about the age of Mozart and Beethoven without mentioning music.”

I wrote about fashion. Dr. Colton had to research my answer. I aced the test. Even now it makes me smile.

“Everything is connected” has been an important part of my personal philosophy ever since. I live that way and taught that way. Encounter “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”? Start with a quick study of comparative religions. Chart their view of the the divine in terms of salvation, good/evil, laws, heaven, and hell. What is the view of Jonathan Edwards in terms of the society’s view of the role of children. How do we see echos of this world view in Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible”?  Along the way, let’s encounter the Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem.

Sixth graders are studying ancient Egypt. Enter Verdi’s Aida. Math? I devised a way to approach composition through the language of fractions. That which puzzled those sixth graders became much clearer no matter whether they were performers or not.

And so it went.

I owe so much to Donald Colton.

Recently, I invested in a copy of Karen Armstrong’s The Lost Art of Scripture. I love her writing. She too sees that everything is connected. I found the following paragraph early in the text and it is this that got me thinking about my undergraduate years.

A work of art, be it a novel, a poem, or a scripture, must be read according to the laws of its genre and, like any art work, scripture requires the disciplined cultivation of an appropriate mode of consciousness.  (p13)

Over and over across the years, I have said similar things. We have to enter Shakespeare’s world in order to understand his plays. We have to think in terms of the century and the era in which he lived to get a sense of the drama. The same is true whether it is George Orwell, Walt Whitman, or Tim O’Brien. Good literature is a product of the age in which it is produced. These things are important. Then, following up, we have to connect the work to the present. Rhetoric? Kairos–the historical setting is important. It is not just the occasion, it is the time. What was going on in the world when this bit of rhetoric was written.

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether it is the web of the social environment, the ecological environment, the economy, or the arts. Everything is connected. Everything relates to everything else. I think it was T.S. Elliot who said that “Hell is where nothing connects with nothing.”  If my understanding and commitment is to the idea that everything is connected, then, indeed, I can agree with Elliot’s definition of hell.

Musings: Memorization–the challenge

I was the mean teacher. I expected students to memorize and recite passages from Shakespeare and Lincoln. I wanted them to know something so that when it appeared in another format, they would recognize the allusion and understand the message. If we don’t have enough background, then we don’t get the message–or the joke. This is the problem, I think, with the idea that we shouldn’t bother with the learning  of what should be common knowledge because we have the world at our fingertips. All we have to do is use our phones.

I know. I have written about this before.

Imagine a world in which those in conversation have to look everything up before continuing the conversation. The more we know, the more we can converse.

Is there a difference between knowing and memorizing? Yes. Often, memorizing is temporary where knowledge is longer lasting. Even now, that which I know may escape me in the moment, but eventually comes back to me. I may have memorized pages of Luther’s Small Catechism and have forgotten much of it, but the last line of some of the longer passages is “This is most certainly true.” That, I remember. I remember the Socratic format of the catechism–the question and answer rhythm of the text that helped the student learn the passages.

Knowledge, on the other hand, is longer in duration. For the most part, I want to not simply memorize, but that I want to know. That memorize Shakespeare project that I have assigned myself is not just to memorize the lines but to internalize them. I know that I am onto something when I can begin to visualize the scene and the movement of the actors within it. I know I am onto something when I have some sense of how I would want the scene to go if I am directing it. That is a deeper knowing than being able to parse the words.

My students had a choice of passages, depending on the play. For example, they had a choice of “Double, double, toil and trouble” or “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” from Macbeth. The first has strong rhythm and can be rapped  if one pronounces things correctly, the second is more thoughtful. Julius Caesar? Of course, “friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” versus “O pardon me thou bleeding piece of earth.” Othello? There, only one choice: “Good name in man and woman, good my lord, is the immediate jewel of their soul.” Why Shakespeare? Next to the Bible, Shakespeare is the most quoted text. We use the language of Shakespeare in everyday speech, though not everyone realizes it.

The other larger text I had my students memorize was the last paragraph of Lincoln’s second inaugural address: With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Why this text? It, too, is often quoted, if only in part. The text resonates with Micah 6:8 “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”  It’s about social justice. Both excerpts are often quoted within that context. If I did not require the students to know, then I think I have cheated them. Would that I could have required more. Even these small passages were greeted with moans and groans. There are students who opted to take the zero rather than make any sort of effort.

What can I say about that?

Rather than go on a rant about this state of affairs and risk an Ok, Boomer, I will simply reiterate that the larger the body of knowledge we have from which to draw, the better off we are, the more capable we are to think critically. Somewhere in this favored land, students are still rising to the occasion and still building on their knowledge.

In closing, dear reader, I leave you with a moment from the movie Dead Poets Society–for me, the best moment:

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” “Answer. That you are here — that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.” That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?” — John Keating (Robin Williams), Dead Poets Society

Musings: The Joy Of Cooking

I enjoy cooking. I enjoy trying new recipes and discovering new things. Recently I checked the new edition of The Joy Of Cooking out of the library. Imagine 1000+ pages of recipes that include everything from recipes for omnivores, vegetarians, as well as for those who need gluten-free food. It was overwhelming. I took it back the next day, feeling that once I looked up the recipe for mushroom lasagna, I was finished. Why someone would publish all this in one volume is beyond me. I could use the dictionary stand my father built to hold this while I worked. It’s that large. I appreciate much more my Julia Child two-volume collection of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I believe that overkill exists.

For some reason I had always wanted a copy of Rombauer’s The Joy Of Cooking. When we were about to finish our undergraduate studies, this cookbook was one of those standard wedding shower gifts. I never got one. What I have is my mother’s old and well-loved edition of The Settlement Cookbook. It is stained, the cover is falling off and it is easy to tell which recipes were used most often. It is full of great information about pretty much anything. I keep promising myself that I will look up the publication date, but, you know –forgetfulness.

What is it about cookbooks? I know I am not the only one who reads cookbooks for the fun of it. That’s another wonderful thing about the library. I can check out any sort of cookbook, look through it, choose to scan and save whatever recipe I want (thank you, technology) and then move on. Of course, it is so easy to go down a culinary internet rabbit hole as well. I have two binders of recipes printed and many on my thumb drive. All of this leads to far more recipes than I probably could ever make.

In the meantime, I have my own shelf of cookbooks. Besides The Settlement book, the most often used volume is an old Pillsbury’s Best cookbook I sent for in 1980. That’s my equivalent to mom’s Settlement. The binding’s broken, the cover is coming off, the pages are stained. There are bookmarks and sticky notes. There are notes in the margins and corrections made to make some recipes tastier according to the family palate. This book, like my box-o-recipes is certainly the hand-me-down to my son when the time comes. The rest, well, they can go to Half Price Books if necessary.

What is it about the act of making a meal? It seems to be a sort of offering to the family. Sometimes, I confess, it is a burnt offering. However, experience has taught me how to manage that. The Hubs has said he is easy to cook for–BORING–but easy. Truly. Boring. If it has beef and potatoes, good. If we do a veggie day, fine. That’s about the extent of it. When I decide to experiment with a new recipe, I have to make something that looks good to me because I may well be enjoying it for several days.

For the most part, I grew up on soups and casseroles–things that will feed a family of five on a budget. A full-out meat and potatoes and veggie meal was reserved for weekends when a working mom had time to prepare one. I don’t mind the melange that is a casserole. Take one from column A, one ingredient from column B and glue it all together with a sauce or good old cream of something soup, pop it in the oven at 350 and voila! Supper. All in all, though, mom was a good cook. Everything was pretty tasty or at least edible.

I do like to try things that are more challenging. I once made a beef Wellington. It took me two days, but it was amazing. I have learned to stir-fry through the experience of assisting the cooking demos at the local Asian Fest. Cooking any variety of soups at the Renaissance Faire has taught me about spices and how to make the meat in the meat soup last longer. All in all, over time, I have learned a great deal.

My goal is to tackle Julia’s Boeuf Burgoyne one of these days. I have read that particular recipe over and over and it is not all that impossible. I just need to get it done. I am not up to cooking my way through Mastering the Art of French cooking, but on the other hand, I do want to do more recipes. Her chocolate mousse is wonderful as is an eggplant in tomato sauce.

In the end, Julia child YAY, the latest Joy of Cooking, not for the faint-hearted. No matter what, I intend to keep experimenting, even if I have to eat it all myself (or perhaps invite a few friends over.)