Sometimes the notes are ferocious, skirmishes against the author raging along the borders of every page in tiny black script. If I could just get my hands on you, Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien, they seem to say, I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.
Other comments are more offhand, dismissive - "Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" - that kind of thing. I remember once looking up from my reading, my thumb as a bookmark, trying to imagine what the person must look like why wrote "Don't be a ninny" alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.
Students are more modest needing to leave only their splayed footprints along the shore of the page. One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's. Another notes the presence of "Irony" fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.
Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers, Hands cupped around their mouths. "Absolutely," they shout to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin. "Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!" Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points rain down along the sidelines.
And if you have managed to graduate from college without ever having written "Man vs. Nature" in a margin, perhaps now is the time to take one step forward.
We have all seized the white perimeter as our own and reached for a pen if only to show we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages; we pressed a thought into the wayside, planted an impression along the verge.
Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria jotted along the borders of the Gospels brief asides about the pains of copying, a bird signing near their window, or the sunlight that illuminated their page- anonymous men catching a ride into the future on a vessel more lasting than themselves.
And you have not read Joshua Reynolds, they say, until you have read him enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.
Yet the one I think of most often, the one that dangles from me like a locket, was written in the copy of Catcher in The Rye I borrowed from the local library one slow, hot summer. I was just beginning high school then, reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room, and I cannot tell you how vastly my loneliness was deepened, how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed, when I found on one page
A few greasy looking smears and next to them, written in soft pencil- by a beautiful girl, I could tell, whom I would never meet- "Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."
I have to say, Mitch makes an excellent point for once.
"If the president says he is a human being, I'll take him at his word," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday on Meet the Press. "Though I've never heard him complain about being thirsty. Not once. That could be a coincidence, I suppose, but it's really not my place to say."
If I'd known how charming kittens were, I would have caved into the kid's wheedling long ago.
This thing is seriously cute. Mind you, we're all covered with tiny scratches, from where it has pounced upon us a bit too enthusiastically when it's showing us its Jasper The Mighty Hunter skillz; but none of us actually mind.
Today, when Herr Dr. Delagar and I returned from Harps, I called the Kid in to the kitchen.
The Kid: What?
Me: Look! (I showed her the new cat toy I'd bought, a little felt ball with a tail.)
The Kid: (Rolling eyes): Every time you go out you come home with a toy for Jasper!
Me: Yes, well. He's my grandkitten. Just wait until you have an actual child.
The Kid: She. She. SHE is your grandkitten.
Me: Sorry. You should have given her a more girly name.
The Kid: Don't be so heteronormative, Ma.
Me: Are you going to bring the kitty out to play with the new toy or what?
Here in Arkansas big signs festoon our world, explaining how Wal-Mart saves money for American families.
Some signs explain just how much money Wal-Mart saves American families -- this many dollars a year, or this many dollars per family since 1965, or this many total million dollars for the American family, blah blah blah.
These signs make me want to throw rocks, given that I have students who work at Wal-Mart, like the student in my office yesterday, or the one last year. Wal-Mart signs them on, works them, usually, 30-35 hours a week -- refusing to work around their school hours (the one last night was telling me how she could not make it to our night class, despite the fact that she was not supposed to have to work nights, because her supervisor wanted her to stay late to do inventory. "I'm getting paid for the extra hours, but..." "Did you tell her you had class?" "Yes, but she says I either stay or I quit.") or students who are worked at physically destructive jobs until their bodies are wrecked and then fired when they can't do the job anymore, told they "can't" file workman's comp -- of course they don't have health insurance, they can't afford it on Wal-Mart wages -- and set adrift.
Not to mention this, which is even worse in my mind. Wal-Mart might be selling us cheaper - slightly cheaper -- milk and blue jeans, though frankly their blue jeans are crap; but they are doing it by destroying the country. They're wrecking the infrastructure. What good are cheap jeans when no one has a job, when all the chickens are raised by farms like Tyson farms, when everyone's wages are so low that the government (that would be, in fact, you and me, folks) has to step in to provide supplemental health insurance and food stamps and housing?
You realize, in fact, that you and I, in the form of taxes, are making it possible for Wal-Mart to pay those low wages? That, in fact, our taxes are a kind of grant to the Wal-Mart heirs? Talk about socialism!
I've been laid low by some nasty virus, or perhaps it's a bacteria, who knows. Vomiting and fever, malaise and exhaustion. This bodes not well for the New Year. (Happy New Year, btw, for all those who were well enough to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. I staggered up from bed long enough to stare sadly at the chicken and matzo ball soup, apples and honey, challah, and kugel Herr Dr. Delagar had put together. Then I staggered back to bed.)
Today I was well enough to do a little work in the afternoon.
It's a little early in the semester for it, but okay. It's whiny pants day early at the delagar house.
I've got all great classes this semester. Those of you who teach will know what I mean -- generally there is at least one class on your work load that drags or is clunky, usually the one just before or after lunch, or the early morning class, or some class like that. Your other classes will be great; this class will be sullen and moody, low-energy, set like wet cats against you. Every day you walk into the room, there they sit, glowering and sulky: Go ahead. Teach me something. I dare you.
Well, this semester all my classes love me and want to learn. Yay!
And we are learning things! I've got two sections of freshman comp, one of English grammar (I love teaching grammar), and a Thursday night Fiction Workshop that is packed full and cooking with gas. I'm giving them truly vicious assignments & getting great work out of them.
So that's all good.
OTOH: WTF! Have the public schools just quit teaching reality? Just quit teaching? What?
No one in either of my freshmen English classes (ages ranging from about 16 to about 28) had read anything by William Faulkner. Most of them didn't know who he was. "I thought you meant that Faulkner guy on TV," one of them said. (Who? Apparently I am missing some hot new TV show.)
No one knew who Jesse James was.
No one was really sure what a liberal was, or a conservative. (No, I'm not kidding.)
I am told, however, that "most," that is, "almost all," of the Founding Fathers were ministers. Apparently this is something that is being taught in at least one or two of the local schools. I hope it is not being taught in the public schools, but it wouldn't shock me. As we know, the religious right just makes shit up these days.
"You know that's not true, right?" I said, about the Founding Fathers, a little winded. (This wasn't actually in class, this was with a student after class.)
He looked stubborn. "My history teacher says it is."
I told him he should do some research. "Remember what I told you. Authority is fine, but check his sources."
I feel like I'm turning into one of those get-off-my-lawn geezers. But surely the education systems wasn't always this bad?
And, while I'm posting, our next month's genre is one I'm revved up about: Characters of Color -- science fiction stories with characters of color as main characters. It's also a double issue, so we'll be taking ten stories instead of five. You have until September 30. Submit!