Tuesday, August 4, 2015

My favorite class

My favorite class to teach is literature, because all we do is read good books and discuss them.  My kids are old enough to engage in fascinating discussions now, which gives me such a charge!  At the moment, we're reading Waking Up in Heaven by Crystal McVea.  It has brought up some very heavy topics that we have not discussed before, like sexual abuse and abortion.  I try to just guide the discussion and not lecture, but sometimes I can't help myself.  I lectured at length about abortion today. The kids asked some good questions. Noah thinks deeply about everything and is very articulate. Sarah spouts out a golden nugget once in awhile, and sometimes she just provides comic relief.  For instance, after I told them to never, ever allow my grandchildren to be aborted and that I would raise them myself if I had to, Sarah said, "How about I give you my baby and you raise it until it's about three or four years old and starts to be a decent person, and then I'll take it back." 

Not surprisingly, my favorite class in college was a literature class about short stories.  We read fantastic short stories and discussed them in class.  Since class participation was 50% of the final grade, everyone had to participate.  I still think about some of those stories to this day.  There was one called "Letter to a Young Lady in Paris" by Julio Cortazar.  I don't remember a thing about it except that I was skimming along the fairly boring story when all the sudden this line appeared: "I was going up in the elevator and just between the first and second floors I felt that I was going to vomit up a little rabbit."  Wait....what?!  I went back and reread that sentence, and it certainly grabbed me.  I don't remember any plot or characters or anything except the fact that this guy would occasionally puke up a live bunny and let it graze on his balcony, where he grew clover for them.

Another one that rocked my world was "Bartleby, the Scrivener" by Herman Melville.  Bartleby worked for a lawyer and did a great job and didn't bother anyone, until he was asked to do something above and beyond his usual tasks.  His reply was, "I would prefer not to."  Having always been a people-pleaser and authority-obeyer myself, I would never have dared to say anything like that to my boss or anyone else.  Bartleby became my hero for awhile. I tried to copy his line, but I was never really able to pull it off.  Bartleby did less and less as the story went on, and rather than fire him, the lawyer ended up moving his practice to another building.  Bartleby finally starved to death because he preferred not to eat.

The one that really blew my mind was "The Circular Ruins" by Jorge Borges.  All the characters turned out to be figments of other characters' imaginations.  The whole thing was a dream.  You're going along reading what you assume is a normal narrative, and then you realize the whole thing was a farce.  I felt betrayed, like someone had yanked the rug out from under me.  Then the professor said, "What if we're all just characters in someone else's dream?"  That actually still haunts me.

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