I’m in my office, prepping a bit for a lecture on Milton’s Areopagitica tomorrow morning and continuing my efforts to find the setting on my office fridge that doesn’t freeze randomly selected beverages while leaving others as cold as they ought to be.
While I’m enjoying my long weekend, I’m also enjoying getting back into the rhythm of classroom teaching. The kids seem pretty connected as well. This could be because I have three sections of frosh this term, and they’re not quite jaded yet, but I’m still enjoying it. The masks are a challenge, of course; my dinosaurian pedagogy means that I talk a lot, and that means that by the end of class I feel like I’m lecturing through a wet mop. The masks also make it a little harder for me to tell if my jokes — and more importantly, the Big Ideas — are landing as effectively as I might prefer.
Meanwhile, I’ve had several kids knocked out of class for COVID-related reasons, whether they’re actually ill or quarantined after exposure. This means that I’m doing my version of the hybrid thing, streaming/recording my lectures and such for the benefit of the kids who are hors de combat.
I think the worst part of the business is having to play mask cop. When class starts, I remind everyone to go shields up, and as I’ve noted, I’m doing my part to set a good example. Still, having to remind myself to make sure that everyone is suited up and no one is going off half-masked is a distraction from what I’m here to do, and a pain in another body part that I’m used to keeping covered up. What’s more, one of my classes takes place during a common lunch or snack time, and the kids who bring drinks or snacks into class are taking their masks down while they eat or drink. I suppose I could forbid the whole eating/drinking in class thing, but that seems like a jerk move. At the same time, there’s no damn way I’m going to interrupt my train of thought to make sure that the kids are covering back up between sips or bites.
We muddle along, and I hope through. Even so, it’s good to be back.
One interesting thing about teaching rhetoric these days is that we’re awfully close to a situation Richard M. Weaver considered, where potential speakers and audiences are so alienated from one another that the common ground sought by thinkers like Kenneth Burke may not be available and reasoned argument fails. In those circumstances, Weaver argues, persuasion may be more the job of the poet than the rhetorician (or the rhetorician can give up on persuading outsiders and preach to the choir instead. I would contend that this is the vast majority of public utterance these days.) If we can’t agree on the logos in Aristotle’s triangle, then we have to turn to the other corners.
Where I’m going with all this is an Atlantic article by Elizabeth Breunig I assigned to my freshpeeps last week. Entitled “Stop Death Shaming,” the article examines the phenomenon of vaccinated people grave-dancing as we learn of the illness or deaths of unvaccinated people. Yes, we may want as many people as possible to be vaccinated — while acknowledging it is not a panacea any more than the flu vaccine is — but Breunig argues that not only is jeering at COVID casualties unseemly, it is unlikely to persuade the unvaccinated and may in fact lead them either to further recalcitrance or simply to lying about their status or condition.
I understand compassion fatigue, and I do believe that given the ready availability of the vaccine for adults, the burden of protected activity needs to rest on the unvaccinated sooner rather than later. But at the same time, just as I think it’s wrong to feel smug when a smoker gets cancer or when a fat person (ahem) has health problems, I don’t think contempt for unvaccinated people who suffer from COVID is particularly useful. After all, when we get down to it, nearly all of us suffer in some way or other from the consequences of our own bad decisions. Let’s save the exultation for the moments when people make good choices, rather than for the comeuppances of the people who choose unwisely.
This long weekend also marked the true beginning of college football season, and I was pleased to see victories for both my graduate alma maters and my current employer. Even the Spawn’s current institution got in on the act. Mondoville’s home opener is this coming Saturday evening; I plan to be there — it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to watch a football game across a hot dog or container of nachos. Although it’s an outdoor event, masking will be encouraged, and there will be a socially distanced section at the stadium. It’ll be good to be back.
Speaking of the Spawn, she and the Main Squeeze are doing fine, and she’s heading into her penultimate semester. She’s really comfortable in her life up there, and things like weekend farmers’ markets have become standard parts of her routine. It’s deeply satisfying for us to see her doing well academically and still finding time to have a good time. It’s remarkable that we seem to have gotten things right on that score, even though we had very little idea of what we were doing.
And speaking of “No idea what I’m doing,” I’ve decided to attempt something against which my odds of success are simply astronomical. I’m not going to give details on the matter, other than to say that it’s a dream I’ve had for pretty much my entire adult life (No, not that one, you perv, nor is it the little British convertible) and as ridiculous as it is for me to attempt it, I don’t want to go to my grave knowing I didn’t at least try. Besides — I have the support of Mrs. M and the Spawn, and I’ve been a nexus of highly unlikely events for much of my life. Why not one more?
Wish me luck.
Well, Milton’s not getting any younger, so I’d probably better wrap this up. And why not do it with music. Scotland’s Famous Groupies are the project of Paul McCartney devotee Kircaldy McKenzie, who has chosen to let his 1970s pop freak flag fly. Dana Countryman (who recently graced these pages himself) clued me into this song earlier today, and I can’t help but pass it on. Fresh from its Friday premiere, this is “Marianne.” Caution: You may need a shot of insulin after watching.
See you soon!