The Lowedown

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  • Harry, Eve and Pandora

    J.K. Rowling writes in her introduction to The Tales of Beedle the Bard that “in Muggle fairy tales, magic tends to lie at the root of a hero’s or heroine’s troubles—the wicked witch has poisoned the apple, or put the princess into a hundred-years’ sleep, or turned the prince into a hideous beast.”

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  • Benediction

    Ralph Lowe's benediction from Sunday's graduation ceremony for the Class of 2014.

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  • Silence

    As the academic year begins its exit with a whimper and decidedly not a bang, I asked all the seniors in my three English 12 classes to write down ten questions or statements gleaned from the bibliography of the course over the course of the year. I said the rules of engagement are as follows: The questions you ask and the statements you make will lay open the doors that lead right into the marketplace of ideas. That marketplace is raucous, unforgiving, free and filled with promise. The currency accepted there is circumspection and genuine curiosity. You need to learn how to hold your own in there, be ready to be shot down as you shoot others down in the rodeo that is scholastic inquiry. Antithesis + Thesis = Synthesis, the Defense vs. The Plaintiff = Verdict. This is how we make laws and render the physical world coherent.

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  • After Philosophy Class

    After philosophy class this morning, one of my students stayed behind to ask me why tragedy was so important and when was I going to talk about comedy? I told her the usual, like: it is substantially more difficult to make an audience weep than it is to make it laugh, or that tragedy takes the universe itself on, rolls it as Eliot wrote “into a ball,” the scale is grand the players crowned and ermined, the mutters and asides of great moment infect or disrupt the life of the very state. “Something is rotten in Demark” is the first intimation (followed by the appearance of a ghost like Chekov’s gun above the mantle–something has to happen now) that things are about to come undone. That the “time” itself is “out of joint.” There is plenty of sound and fury ahead and the stage will be mighty bloody before one finds the source of the stench.

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  • 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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