“Here Is God’s Plenty”

The title of this post is a quote from John Dryden, writing of Chaucer. While not everything Dryden wrote about G.C. was accurate, this is pretty close. When I teach Chaucer to my kids, I make a point of talking about his amazing range, the vast assortment of genres he tackles, whether in the Canterbury Tales or his larger corpus of work. If you’re using literature as a way of understanding people, then Chaucer is right up there with Shakespeare as a lens.

This vast range also marks one of my favorite parts of being an academic, the International Congress for Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo. I’ve written about it in the past, and attended on several occasions, but it’s hard to capture the kaleidoscopic vastness of the stuff under discussion each year. In a way, it’s like a real-world example of the all-encompassing work Northrop Frye described as an anatomy. I’m not going this year, but I regret it a little every year when I don’t go.

I also regret staying home when I read articles like this impressionistic take on Kalamazoo by Josephine Livingstone. Check it out, and maybe I’ll catch you up there some May afternoon.

Posted in Education, Literature, Medievalia | 1 Comment

Mens insana in corpore sano?

A Chicago TV station reports that at Oral Roberts U in Tulsa, freshpeeps are now required to wear Fitbits — those little devices that monitor activity levels, heart rates, and such. The school will collect the data, and the results will reportedly affect students’ grades.

Of course, ORU is a private institution, and may conduct its educational business as it sees fit. Still, this seems both remarkably intrusive and academically unsound. I’m envisioning grading sessions where profs say, “Well, there’s no visible thesis here, but his heart rate rose dramatically and he got his 10,000 steps in. B+.”

And as a professor, I really hope the rule isn’t applied to faculty and staff. I know I wouldn’t want to grade on a treadmill.

Posted in Culture, Education, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Cutest Little Apex Predator

The Hound of the Basketballs is in late middle age for her breed — she’s a 10-year-old Boston Terrier. Her primary hobbies include sleeping, hanging out with Mrs. M, and cadging treats from passersby, which is why she’s basically a black-and-white cylinder about the size of a baked ham, although somewhat more mobile.

However, the terrier genes kick in on occasion, which has resulted in her frequent efforts to tree assorted fauna, some more memorable than others. And she has likewise done her part to keep our yard free of the Rodent Menace, investigating mole tunnels and chasing squirrels over the years, or not chasing them at other points.

This weekend, however, she appears to have upped her game a bit. On Saturday evening, we let her out, and a few minutes later, she trotted to the door with a thoroughly defunct squirrel. The deceased was stiff as a board, whether from exposure, rigor mortis, or cadaveric spasm. After wandering around a bit, the Hound deposited the dead critter on the patio, where Mrs. M bagged the rodent and dropped it in the garbage.

Which brings us to yesterday afternoon. Again, the Hound goes out for a few minutes, and again, she returns to the back door with an ex-squirrel, this one brand new and still cooling. She’s not particularly interested in gnawing on the critters, and neither is she really presenting them to us as a cat might do. If anything, I think she may be along the lines of Steinbeck’s Lennie Small, somewhat befuddled by the fact that the critters don’t move after she finds them, or squeak like her toys do.

So now the Hound sleeps on the sofa near me as I type. I hope I don’t have to tell her about the rabbits any time soon.

Posted in Family, Literature | Leave a comment

Lacked by Popular Demand

… here’s some potpourri. I really haven’t had a ton of things to say lately — hence the radio silence. Still, here’s a bit of what has been going on.

The Spawn and I went to Real City yesterday, and among other things, we caught a matinee screening of Pixar’s latest, The Good Dinosaur. It’s very much pitched as a kids’ movie, and the audience reflected that — lots of little folks who talk and ask questions during the film. Neither the Spawn nor I were bothered by this; she found it cute, and I found it nostalgic.

Apparently, the film’s production was troubled, with a change in directors and significant rewriting, and yes, the stitches are frequently visible. It’s not a perfect movie by any stretch, and it seems that some critics have basically said it isn’t up to Pixar standards. I disagree.

The Good Dinosaur isn’t a particularly original movie. The gimmick is that a certain asteroid missed Earth about 65 million years back, allowing saurians to continue to flourish, although mammals develop as well. Indeed, the reptiles appear to build a society. The film follows the adventures of Arlo, the timid youngest dinosaur of a homesteading farm family of apatosaurs. The family’s corn supplies are being raided by a pest, who turns out to be a young hominid. Arlo is tasked with eliminating the problem, complications ensue, and Arlo and the boy must make a very long trek through the wilderness back to his family.

As I said, not very original — but the monomyth rarely is (that’s why it’s a monomyth), and likewise, originality isn’t always a sine qua non for the film’s genre — which is the Western. The movie really doesn’t hide this, even introducing a family of T.Rex ranchers dealing with rustlers as a subplot. And like many good Westerns, the landscape becomes as important a character as the characters themselves. This is where Pixar’s legendary animation skills come to the fore. The mountains, grasslands, forests and rivers are astonishing, and look so realistic that the characters look even more cartoonish by contrast. Should the time arise when Pixar can depict humans as realistically as they do this landscape, the virtual movie star will be at hand.

So ultimately, what we have in The Good Dinosaur is a slightly cheekier version of the kids’ Westerns of days gone by. Parts are familiar (although there were enough variations to add flavor, and one moment at which the Spawn and I both dropped our jaws), and if you’re looking for something like the opening sequence of Up, you’re out of luck. However, the Spawn and I both enjoyed this movie more than the more critically esteemed Inside Out, and we agreed it’s a shame that this movie was buried under the hype of the latest Star Wars installment. And as ever, the popcorn was terrific.

***

In other news, the Spawn is absolutely thriving at Mondoville College, both academically and socially. In fact, she accepted a bid to one of Mondoville’s three sororities after chapel on Wednesday. That was another reason the two of us were in Real City. Apparently her sorority requires a white dress and white shoes on ceremonial occasions (including one that comes up Monday), and white shoes are hard to find at this time of year. In fact, we had to go to five different stores before we found a pair in her size.

This is new territory for Clan Mondo — neither Mrs. M nor I had the funds to go Greek when we were undergrads, and the fact that I transferred midway through my college career was another factor. So, like her entry into high school marching band culture, the Spawn is introducing me to a subculture about which I know little. This should be interesting.

***

While I haven’t done much — or really, any — writing in the last week or two, I got an update from the editor of an anthology where I placed a story. The cover’s going to be gorgeous, and it’s funny to see my name on the cover next to some folks who are very heavy business indeed. More to come.

***

This fall, it looks like I may wind up teaching a course I haven’t taught before. It’s an interdisciplinary course, which means I have to incorporate aspects of at least three disciplines into the work. As a medievalist, that’s not overly frightening, but I haven’t cut a course from whole cloth in a while, so this could be fun. I’m currently considering a course on theodicy in British literature, but we’ll see how it shakes out.

***

And since it’s a potpourri day, here’s a bit of music. The Creeps, from Sweden, were active in the garage revival of the mid-80s. This is perhaps their best known song, and I adore the main riff. The first time I heard it, it made the hair on my arms stand up, and I hope you like it as well. This is “Down at the Nightclub.”

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Medievalia, Music, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Quick Observation

My daily e-mail from the Chronicle of Higher Ed bears the subject/headline, “Does Higher Education Perpetuate Inequality?”

I certainly hope so. If it doesn’t — that is, if it offers no perceptible advantage* to people, why the hell would they want it?

* Not all advantages are purely economic. YMMV.

Posted in Culture, Education, Politics | Leave a comment

Known Unto God

One of the great tragedies of Rudyard Kipling’s life was the death of his son John in World War I, at the Battle of Loos, exactly 50 years before I was born. The younger Kipling’s body was unidentified during his father’s lifetime, and while Rudyard Kipling made numerous attempts to discover his son’s whereabouts during the course of the war, he appears to have accepted his son’s death by 1919.

John Kipling

John Kipling , 17 Aug 1897-27 Sep 1915.

 

While Rudyard Kipling was (and sometimes is) seen as an apologist for imperialism — a claim that I don’t really believe survives a reading of Kim, or his poem “Recessional” — quite a few of his postwar writings are rather understandably bitter. Also significant is the fact that Kipling became very active in the War Graves Commission. and is credited with both the standardized single-sized tombstone with no respect of rank (in consultation with Winston Churchill) and for serving as literary advisor with regard to inscriptions. In fact, it has been said that he was responsible for the simple inscription on the markers of unidentified soldiers: “Known Unto God.” Doubtless he was thinking of his own son then, as he was likely thinking of him when he composed his poem, “My Boy Jack“:

 

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

The BBC now reports that historical researchers are morally certain that they have found John Kipling’s grave, and confirm the Commission’s 1992 decision to reinscribe Kipling’s name on the stone, a decision that was apparently a subject of controversy for the last couple of decades.

While there can’t really be a happy ending to this story, there may be some solace in the idea that John Kipling’s body rests in a place no longer known only unto God, but to the rest of us as well.

Posted in Culture, Literature | Leave a comment

Odd Conversations and Potpourri

I was talking with one of my new groups of freshpeeps a couple of days ago, reviewing the syllabus, discussing class policies, and the like. Having reached a reasonable transition point, I asked if there were any questions. A student raised his hand and asked, “Is it true that you read 10,000 words a minute?”

I said, “No. I read really quickly, but not that fast.” I explained that under average conditions, my typical pace is probably about 1300-1500 wpm, and that I can double that for about a 15-minute stretch, but that can give me a headache. Another kid asked if I remember the stuff I read. I told him that if I didn’t, I probably shouldn’t count it as reading, that reading was more than just dragging my eyeballs across a page.

Then a third hand came up. “Have you read a hundred books in your life?” I was taken aback a bit, and before I could answer, another kid said, “I bet he’s read a thousand.”

I said I had never really done a count, but that for a long time I had read at least one book daily, and in many cases, several books a day. And I segued into my lecture.

It’s useful, I think, to be reminded that for a lot of people — not stupid people, but kids who are interested and curious — the idea of having read 100 books in a lifetime requires an imaginative leap. It’s also saddening, because I think it carries a strong hint of lost opportunities and avenues unexplored. Still, it gives me hope that I may help some of them find that as-yet-undiscovered country.

A previous president here at Mondoville said a lot of things with which I disagreed, but at least one thing I like a lot. “Colleges like Harvard take eagles’ eggs and raise eagles. We take chicken eggs and raise hawks.” There’s satisfaction in that, even if odd questions are sometimes part of the gig.

***

The Spawn and I went to Mondoville’s basketball doubleheader yesterday. I sat in my accustomed place — two rows up, one seat to the home side of the midcourt line — and the Spawn sat across the gym in the bleachers that make up our student section. She’s been concerned about meeting people and making friends as a new student, and because we got there a half-hour before the first game, she sat alone for a few minutes, as other kids hadn’t trickled in. The Spawn is sometimes rather introverted, and from my own experience, I know it can be hard to know what to say to new people. I’ll admit I was a little worried.

After a bit, however, she approached a couple of girls and a guy in some nearby seats, and wound up sitting with them, chatting with them during the game, and developing acquaintances. During slack moments in the games, I’d look across the court — she seemed to have a good time.

After we got home, I asked her what she had said to the kids when she first walked over to them.

She said, “I told them, ‘I’m a transfer, but I don’t want to look like a friendless loser. Can I sit with you guys?'”

Well played, Spawn. Well played. And yes, she’s talking about going to next weekend’s games as well.

***

One of the Spawn’s classes this term is a history course dealing with genocide. I mentioned that I have a book that looks at the 100 worst mass slaughters, and that it might prove useful at some point. A little later, I noticed that the book has been reissued in paperback under a new, more academic-sounding title. Still, I find a certain charm in the idea that my daughter may submit a paper that uses The Great Big Book of Horrible Things as a source.

***

Although we’re in our 13th year living in the Greater Mondoville Area, I still haven’t fully acclimated. In particular, I’m still amused by what passes for cold snaps down here. A couple of days this week, I’ve gone out to find frost on the windshield of the van. Because we live so close to campus, I decided the time difference between walking to work and windshield scraping/driving was negligible, so I walked. Being um, better insulated than most, I didn’t wear a coat either time, and I have to admit I was tickled when I saw students dressed like extras from Howard Hughes’s favorite movie. I suppose my walking around in short sleeves on days like that enhance my eccentricity factor on campus, but I don’t mind.

***

And for today’s musical selection, the garage rock grandaddies, the Sonics, recently put out a new CD (a mere 50 years after terrorizing the Pacific Northwest), and toured in support. Here’s a bit from that tour — their classic stomper, “Strychnine.” It’s good for what’s ailing you. The hair might be gray, but these guys still rock.

See you soon!

 

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music, Why I Do What I Do | 2 Comments