The Lowedown


  • Butterside Down

    ‘Tis that season in the grander one when seniors begin to fan out across the state and the country to visit colleges in the bootless and ultimately fruitless attempt to formulate a sense of what the university experience might actually be. Also, Spring Break has already sounded its clarion call. Cabo and its Wabo, Maui and Orlando and all the available amusing confections, roadside attractions and the lakeside mansions of rich uncles are exerting their gravitational will and pull. Shakespeare has lost his pizzazz (in short supply in the best of times, alas) for them, Kerouac and Ginsberg are just whining in a wilderness the kids cannot recognize much less appreciate or long for. Which is to say that there are a number of seniors missing (actually and mentally) from a number of sections of Senior English these days and, consequently, one must look down deep in the lesson plan quiver (LPQ) in the hope of finding a shaft that might give something flight.

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  • Graduation Looms Large

    Graduation looms large on the other side of Spring Break like a vast and very deep pool, so deep that when you fall in, as you will, your feet won’t touch the bottom and you will have to tread and dog paddle and then, sighting shore, resign yourself to what they call a crawl. It’s the end of the sort of bells we have here.

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  • On Duty

    I was on duty in Senior Dorm last night and feel the need to send this dispatch from the front.

    I have been spending nights in Senior Dorm off and on since 1966. Some of the “offs” to be sure lasted years at a time but I have also so been a resident or a worker bee there under the Headmasters Dunn, Webb, Loy, Ruoss, Munger and Beck.

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  • You Mean Someone Who Is Dead

    Another former student has written me and asked me if I would send her some names of people “who have passed on” and who might “shed some light on one epoch or another.”

    What is going on in college these days? There is no place for euphemism in scholarship. What is this “passed on” evasion, circumvention, cop-out? This is the way of all flesh and that surely should not come as a surprise to a sophomore in an accredited university.

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  • Guatemala

    I returned from nearly three weeks in Guatemala and almost decided to retire a year earlier than expected so I can get back there and launch with earnest into what is, apparently, the denouement of a long and crowded life.

    The place is a dark poem, a diorama and a cautionary tale about all that can go wrong when an old world collides with a new one–if you consider 16th century Spain the “old” world as it was when shoved up against the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Incas, the Olmecs and all the other doomed peoples and cultures that, apparently, were in desperate need of the teachings of a Nazarene carpenter and his fishermen friends.

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  • February 12, 1809

    I’m reading a book of essays by poor Christopher Hitchins and in a chapter on Graham Greene, he tells the reader that Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day. I have yet to understand why I find this factoid, this snippet of luck, fate, serendipity or nothing at all, so compelling and, in a way, disturbing.

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  • The Sorrow of Magical Creatures – Period H Syllabus

    The reason most magical creatures are sad is the reason most people are sad. They are lonely, misunderstood, scorned for their appearance, unappreciated for their gifts. They are victims of a hand that was dealt by a force or fate that is particularly fuzzy. A common thread–particularly in German, Black Forest and Scandinavian magical creature accounts–is a Christianity that is accessible to all but the magical creatures. They must live beyond the pale because of the circumstances of their birth or the accident (vampires and werewolves) of which they are victims. But they are victims like all of us – trapped by the chromosomological peculiarities or the specifics of our own births. Our intelligence, sex, color, physical gifts, liabilities, our beauty or our ugliness – all are determined when the sperm meets the egg and we, our permission not petitioned or granted, our opinion unconsidered, begin a transformation into what has, in large part, already been determined.

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  • Too Late to Stop Now

    I’m teaching the hero’s journey in my Introduction to Philosophy class and planning the Greek trip. I rented Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland last night so I’m thinking about how many worlds there are and all the ways afforded us to slip into them. In other words, there are all sorts of rabbit holes and one need only to jump, hoop skirted or Levis clad, down into the adventure where you will be transformed by pastries or potions and where dragons, inevitably, appear for the perfect moment to convince you with their blood that you spill that you are Hero, the chosen, the one who is finally where she is supposed to be.

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  • He’s Over There, Under that Tree

    Many of my students “don’t really like to read.” They find it “boring.” There’s “too much description.” I suggest that at the heart of this is a limited vocabulary which does, indeed, make reading boring. If you need to look up every fifteenth word reading is a burdensome task, an onerous chore. I can read Spanish but it takes me a very long time and ancillary texts to ferret out meaning. So, I don’t read much Spanish. But, as it is in much of life, you don’t get better at something by not doing it.

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  • The Zebra in the Breakfast Nook

    One of our freshmen girls, the lovely Giselle, came to my classroom the other day for an exit interview concerning a book she had read as part of Laura Fox’s English class. The novel was, clearly, forgettable, underwhelming and blatantly derivative of the Hunger Games and the dreck that’s called the Twilight series – you know, those novels about sensitive vampires. Having dismissed her novel out of hand, we talked about what it is like to read. And, it being two days before Christmas break, Giselle was dressed like an elf.

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