BLOGGER Will Shakespeare’s birthday was just yesterday
A day that (horrors!) has just by me passed
And I have sev’ral things that I could say
I guess I’d better get and say them fast.
(Aside, before this tale can get a start:
Four hundred fifty years, he would have been!
And I somehow had missed this date, and so
Had major media outlets. It’s a sin.)
Blogger clears his throat.
Not all the people thrill to Shakespeare’s work
In part because the language is obtuse.
Well, clearly! It’s five centuries removed
From current-speak; our ears it can confuse
Unless we have a native guide or two
To help us understand and ‘preciate
Just what old Will was on about back then;
I did; about him I’ll now bloviate.
In junior high, specific’ly grade eight
(Teach them? For you my admiration grows),
By any other name, our “native guide”
Would not, thus, have gone by the name Tornrose.
In those days, Shakespeare wasn’t on the list
Of authors taught to middle school rugrats.
But Tornrose, always thinking, thought perhaps
He ought to lay the groundwork for all that.
So every Monday afternoon, from fall to spring,
He offered up a session, free of charge,
For interested students to come by
And though the roster wasn’t very large
‘Twas probably just fine; for five of us
Accepted his fine offer and we met
An hour a week to read and write and laugh
And clearly I retain the mem’ry yet.
The first part of the session, we’d recite
The writing we had done since parting ways
The week before; critique, admire and hone
Our poems, stories, narrative essays.
But then! Away with those unfinished drafts!
The moment came to lay aside our quills
And read a bit, collectively, the works
That helped ol’ Shakespeare eat, and pay his bills.
To each his own, a copy of “MacBeth”
Or other play, and parts within to read,
To dramatize (not memorize!) these tales
Which rightly made Will famous, yes indeed.
“Is this a dagger?” students hollered, and
We also got to say “Out, out, damn spot”
Encouraged by our teacher when we did!
(No punishment for cursing, indeed not.)
And so, while modern movie fans depend
On Branagh to reveal the Shakespeare brand,
For Serge and Cindy, Kathy, Helen, me:
We had a “pers’nal trainer”, on demand.
Whenever I approach the Bard’s fine work
(You can predict the path this story goes)
I always think upon my English teach’,
The justly-famous Russell T. Tornrose.
Flourish. He exits.
I learned something recently that caused me to totally re-think my view of something. And, for a change, it made something in life easier to understand.
Far too often in life, we learn stuff that just complicates matters.
Close to a year ago, I posted an essay that had to do with an organization which travels around the country, not unlike the barnstorming stunt pilots of yesteryear, but with one small exception. They don’t do what they do to entertain people. They do it to inflame people.
It’s your friendly neighborhood Westboro Baptist Church, except: they’re not friendly, they’re not from your neighborhood (unless you live in Topeka), and the last difference is what I just figured out.
As has been chronicled … well, actually, very honestly, since this outfit lives for publicity, I ought not even bother to write this, since it will just cause people to think about them when all our lives will be made better by not thinking about them. But … as has been chronicled in this space: this bunch of people finds any ol’ excuse to go somewhere and hold up signs which express their hatred for gay people. No, friends, it’s not disdain, it’s not disapproval, it’s not dislike, it’s hatred. That’s not a judgment call on my part; “hate” is in their frickin’ Internet domain name.
They demonstrate at events which, by their calculations, have something to do with gay people. Most commonly, it’s some “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” linkage of almost anything with the scourge of homosexuality. Usually, they can traverse just about any old distance from point A to point B by pointing out that by not immediately adopting laws and policies that make it impossible for gay people to go about their daily lives, or even to live in this country, then this country is promoting The Gay Agenda. Therefore that American event or American person or American organization over there must be the target of a demonstration. Well obviously.
(Friends, the only time I’ve been aware of a Gay Agenda is when a gay person might have been running a meeting I was attending. But I cheerily digress.)
So the Westboro Baptist Church has demonstrated at events like funerals of military personnel (the military has something to do with the US government, which does not immediately adopt laws, etc etc) … Kansas City Chiefs football games (yeah… I don’t know how to square that one either, honestly) … and last year at this time, the funeral of the eight-year-old kid who was killed by one of the Boston Marathon bomb explosions (okay, you really got me there; clearly I’d never make it past the initial WBC job application form).
This most recent protest destination is so much more straightforward and predictable, though. Kind of a gimme. An uncontested layup, if you will.
Derrick Gordon, a sophomore basketball player for the recently-resurgent University of Massachusetts Minutemen, came out last Wednesday. His teammates responded by expressing all kinds of support and admiration for him. His coach, former UMass player Derek Kellogg, helped him make that announcement to his teammates in a humorous and supportive way. A very very recent UMass basketball recruit has already commented positively about Gordon’s decision. Derrick Gordon is, after all, reportedly the first openly-gay male basketball player in the NCAA’s Division I.
Therefore, the WBC protesters are coming to Amherst to demonstrate. Late last week, they thought they’d be setting up their signs and such at the corner of Route 9 and University Drive, which is just about a mile and a quarter’s walk from the center of campus.
Within the last day or so, they changed their collective mind. Now they want to demonstrate on campus.
There are colleges and universities that forever will hold the absolute unbreakable record for most expressive and most numerous American student demonstrations. Whatever school you attend, it’s got a long way to go before it can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Berkeley or Columbia in the 1960s.
But UMass-Amherst has been known to be fairly expressive, itself. Lately that expressiveness has gone more toward riots borne of disappointment with local sports teams … or of happiness with local sports teams … or of the mere presence of a party, for that matter. When I joined the UMass community in the mid-1980s, the nickname “ZooMass” was well in place, and it does not seem to have faded much. It has occasionally made us alumni sad; but it has not surprised us.
My point is: really, WBC? Of all the bears you want to poke … UMass?
Good luck with that.
Students have been cautioned, by administration and other groups on campus, to keep it light, keep it bright, keep it … civil. If you’re going to counter-protest, make sure (for the love of Joe Duffey) that you do it in a way that for once will put UMass student expression in the national spotlight for good reasons. Do up creative signs, stand three-deep across the street from the WBC protesters, face the other way, and stand in utter silence. It’s worked in other places before. (It’s also pretty unlikely. The greater Amherst area is nothing if not vocal.) Whatever you do, be a Jedi about it: y’know … fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering, or at least to multiple arrests if you do this wrong.
But here’s what I didn’t know very well: the cautionary UMass Facebook posting that I read a couple of days ago reminded its readers that WBC’s point is to inflame people to the point that they feel compelled to make physical contact with them … at which point they sue the living snot out of the counter-protesters.
That’s where they make their bucks. That’s largely how they fund their “outreach” projects. Not with their weekly offering-plate revenue. They make money the old-fashioned way … they litigate. First Amendment, bay-beeee!
So, as I mentioned: the Westboro Baptist Church as an organization is not friendly, is not from your neighborhood, and … most crucially …
… it isn’t a church.
And its shenanigans manage to help give churches in this country, who may be trying to contribute positively to the world, and trying to, you know, help people … a bad name. At just about the point where all of us in the church gig business are trying to figure out how to re-bolster the dwindling population of “churched” Americans.
I’ve said two things before, in this space, in the direction of the Westboro Baptist Church; and I’ll paraphrase them here, again:
 thanks for nothin’. And …
 the Pioneer Valley? Really? The People’s Republic of Amherst? Down the road from Northampton??
You sure you wanna poke that bear?
There are just some places that are hard to go back to.
These places can be physical locations on Earth; or virtual places, websites and televised collections of pixels and such; or pockets of memory.
You can drive past certain buildings or signs and wish you hadn’t. You can bring up a webpage in your browser and wish you hadn’t. “A memory stirs…” and you can wish it hadn’t – and wish it would just sink back down below the surface and stay put, thanks.
I used to work in that office building. We took an walk through that park. He grew up in that town. I’d rather not watch that young singing sensation again. Oi, that was an embarrassing moment – well, at least after tripping over that cord, I didn’t hit my head on something.
Indeed, dear reader, if you’re conjuring up examples of your own places best not conjured … I bet the great majority of them are relatively small matters, in the grand sweep of human civilization. Whether or not they were small to us at the time – and chances are, if external things trigger strong internal reactions, they weren’t – it’s unlikely that they registered on the Richter scale outside our spheres of awareness.
For most of New England, though (and because we New Englanders are who we are, we assume that this also implies “for most of the inhabitants of planet Earth”), Boylston Street in Boston is a very much less trivial place to go back to, today.
And most of New England wasn’t even there. We may have been watching on television, a year ago this afternoon, as two homemade bombs went off, not far from the Boston Marathon finish line, killing three people and injuring two hundred and sixty others. We may have heard about the explosions second-hand, from a friend or a news anchor.
But lots of folks were. Actual Marathon runners. Spectators, along the street and in the bleachers. Police officers, whose activity for so many years seemed to be merely standing and keeping the enthusiastic spectators from inching too far out onto the street as runners passed by. Race volunteers, who usually only dealt with medical issues like dehydration and exhaustion. TV reporters, who usually only raised their voices in response to a Kenyan or Ethiopian runner finally separating him- or herself from the pack.
In the space of 12 seconds, last April 15th, the Boston Marathon finish line – heretofore merely paint on the street – became more than a historic landmark. Since eleven minutes before three in the afternoon that day, it has been an image that has brought back memories of violence, and chaos, and injury, and outrage, to a great many of us – whether we were nearby or not.
I’m not sure what it would be like to have been there … and then to try to revisit the site – whether today or next Monday, or any day really. Last year, for some curious and unknown reason, I knew of an unusually large number of friends who were running the Marathon. Some were running in the name of charitable causes; some were running to see if they could do it; some were running because it was Boston, and you gotta run Boston if you’re serious about this sport. I think some had already finished at 2:49 PM. Some were not too far from the blasts. Some hadn’t made it to Boston yet. Many, thanks to where on the course they were at the time, never even made it to the finish line; they were diverted elsewhere, because at the time no one knew whether any more loud bangs were coming. It took awhile that day, but they all did check in to let us know they were okay.
To my knowledge, none of them were right there. “And yet,” the local news anchors and the national sports reporters would intone (probably already have), with great emotion and Don LaFontaine-ish-ness … “we all were right there.”
A few nights ago, as I screened my copy of the 2013 Boston Red Sox official World Series DVD, it got to the chapter wherein the Sox had started the season relatively well, and were about to play their traditional Patriots Day / Marathon Day morning home game. Fade from black … to a shot of Boylston Street from beyond the finish line, on Marathon Day 2013, just before the explosions.
And I looked away, briefly, and reflexively – even though I hadn’t come close to being there. The, quote, scene of the crime, unquote.
I think I have all kinds of respect for the people who actually were there and will be back there next Monday regardless. To differing degrees for each of them, it’ll be a challenging place to to go back to.
“We were all there.” Well, no, we all weren’t. For those who really had been, I imagine that the mere posting of new and commemorative Facebook profile- and cover-photos (like I did this morning) won’t be quite enough to settle this matter.