Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

The 31-Day Blog Challenge, Day Seventeen: Inside of a Dog, It’s Too Dark to Read

Today’s writing prompt:

31 DAY BLOG CHALLENGE, DAY 17: “Favorite childhood book”.

This is where regular readers of the Blogge may get that feeling of slowly dawning horrible realization … so this is why he is why he is.

 

In response to this prompt, I tried to think back to the various books that made an impression on me, usually thanks to a teacher (darn; Teacher Appreciation Week was earlier this month).

[] My first grade teacher, Ms. Baird, sent a couple of us off to the school library to go look for a book we would like to read. (That was in the age where a teacher wouldn’t be reprimanded for deviating from the standardized-test prep curriculum.) I ended up with a book called “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet”. (See again the first paragraph of this post.)

My research about this book tells me three important things: [1] there were actually eight of those books in a series, [2] based on a television series of the 1950s, and [3] written by several authors who all used a pseudonym, and had a technical advisor. No word as to whether the technical advisor’s name was also a pseudonym.

[] Some time during the third grade I think, I found a book on the classroom shelves of my teacher, Ms. Howe, called “The Mouse and the Motorcycle”. It was written by the estimable Beverly Cleary (who, trivia alert, celebrated her 100th birthday last month!), of “Ramona” book series fame … about whom West Chester University professor of children’s literature Pat Pflieger wrote, “Cleary’s books have lasted because she understands her audience. She knows they’re sometimes confused or frightened by the world around them, and that they feel deeply about things that adults can dismiss.”

At that time I felt deeply about a mouse who finds a toy motorcycle in a house in which he lives, and rides it around, making its engine work by making a vrrrrroom!! engine noise. Talk about environmentally-friendly fuels! (Although, oi, the noise pollution…)

[] I have already blogged about my eighth-grade teacher, Mr. Tornrose, organizing a creative writing / dramatic reading after-school activity (not listed in the school yearbook, therefore I suspect he wasn’t drawing a stipend; therefore this was out of the goodness of his heart and his interest in expanding our middle-school minds a bit) … during which, most memorably, I and four of my classmates had Shakespeare and his mighty “Macbeth” revealed unto us.

We even got to say “out, damn spot!” on school grounds.

 

But unquestionably, the book which had the biggest childhood impact on me, I would judge, was one that I found at a church yard sale on Cape Cod during one family summer vacation. It was an oversized book, packed equally with illustrations and text regarding a topic that would permanently re-define my idea of what was funny and how to express it.

It was called Why a Duck: Visual and Verbal Gems from the Marx Brothers Movies.

I was ten years old.

And only now, at the end, do you understand…

I was doomed.

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May 17, 2016 Posted by | blogging, books, education, humor, language, literature, teachers, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Forsooth!

Enter Blogger.

 

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.

April 24, 2014 Posted by | books, education, language, literature, teachers, writing | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sententiae

As I was out and about this morning, unwisely braving Columbus Day sales and other ravages of American civilization, something (never mind what; unimportant) caught my attention. Momentarily confused, I muttered to myself, “Quid est?” What is it?

It occurred to me in that moment that when I say phrase that out loud, it’s in my voice … but when I think it to myself, I do so in a different voice. I say it in Mrs. Lowe’s voice.

 

Shirley Lowe was my seventh- and eighth-grade Latin teacher. (I never called her, have never called her, and probably will never call her Shirley in person. In print, of course.) “Quid est?” would occasionally appear on some of our Latin homework papers, in red ink, if she didn’t think we’d quite gotten the translation right, or if we wrote an answer that didn’t quite grasp the point of the question. Or, on occasion, if she really genuinely wasn’t sure what we meant but was curious to know.

We liked Mrs. Lowe – after the first six weeks of school, during which time she was the “strictest teacher who ever lived!!” Our frail middle-school selves were hit head-on by what we took to be an almost unreasonably demanding, strict, unyielding teacher. Welcome to junior-high; it’s not quite as cozy and color-inside-the-lines as elementary school was, eh?

It wasn’t until mid-October that we started to glimpse the actual truth, which was: Mrs. Lowe wasn’t just making us work really really hard for her own amusement, but for a larger purpose, and we actually did come to appreciate that she wouldn’t let us get away with slacking off. And somewhere in the dead of that seventh-grade winter, we realized she had a wicked sense of humor. And she liked us (as long as we did our homework!). I’m not sure she was actively obeying the “don’t smile until after Christmas” teacher guideline, but by January, we knew she was one of our favorite teachers.

We learned Latin forms and grammar. We learned vocabulary. We translated textbooks’ ideas of common Latin phrases. I have no idea whether the ancient Romans spent as much time obsessing about agricolae (farmers) and ranae (frogs) as our textbook did, but you will note that the word agricola is perilously close to “agriculture”, and aha! Behold! Eheu! Latin words revealed themselves as the roots, the gateway words to Italian (of course) and Spanish and French (sort of) and German (well, maybe) and English definitely!, and if you know Latin, you can fake your way through reading several other languages, and THAT’S useful! Surely? Yes, dangit, and stop calling me Shirley!

Sorry.

I’m not sure whether anyone has ever described the transition from tadpole to frog as “ranafication”. Or described the transition from frog (smooch) to prince (smooch smooch) as “antiranafication”. But I’ve found that Latin can foster verbal creativity, and certainly, no ancient Romans are around to critique my inventions, so, bleah on them.

We declined nouns and conjugated verbs; we learned that Latin words had genders associated with them (what’s that about?! – rana, ranae, feminine. Did the Roman Empire have male frogs?). We even learned a joke from Mrs. Lowe, about weird advanced verb forms: the Latin word for “to pig out” was “pigo, pigere, squeali, gruntum”. (It’s not, but she got a chuckle out of us.) And when we’d finished our classwork, we were allowed to take the “Asterix and Obelix” graphic novels down from the bookshelves and pass them around. Prize!

More than a prize; a gateway to the other part of Latin class. We learned about ancient Rome, ancient Romans, ancient Roman culture, the Roman Empire, togas, the Roman military machine, catapults (cooool), aqueducts, et cetera. (See? Latin.) I still joke that I survived Latin class in junior high and high school thanks to the stabbings in the Senate and the chariot races and the Coliseum and the gods on Mount Olympus who were as snarky and misbehavior-ridden as they were immortal. But I say that only half-jokingly, I think. What was named on the class syllabus as “Cultural Background” was the portion of that syllabus where I threw myself into high gear. This part of class was what got my snarky little creative mind going, to the point that when I hit high school and discovered that the Latin Club (–there’s a Latin Club!!–) produced an annual classical-mythology-themed musical show that was usually written by students … I knew all that attention I’d paid to Cultural Background was going to finally pay off.

Still though, about those vocabulary words, and forms, and conjugations and declensions, and word order with the verbs at the end of sentences … (…and I was just thinking that it’s a good thing that “The Empire Strikes Back” was released just after I finished junior high, because I couldn’t have stopped myself from informing Mrs. Lowe that Latin word order is suspiciously similar to Yoda Grammar) … many times in my life I’ve heard the question, “what good is Latin as a language?” It’s a dead language. No one speaks it anymore, at least as a language of doing business with the world. Might as well be trying to communicate in Aramaic or Sumerian. If you’re a biologist, Latin is helpful if you want to name a new species, perhaps. Or if you need the aforementioned help with quick decoding of Latin’s descendant languages. But other than that?

Well. Aside from giving one the ability to laugh even harder at some of the jokes in “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life” … a couple of things, perhaps.

 

One thing I remember vividly about my seventh- and eighth-grade Latin classes with Mrs. Lowe was her daily or close-to-daily routine: at the beginning of every class, we were to copy into our notes a famous Latin phrase, listed on the chalkboard at the back of the classroom. Sometimes we recognized the words as vocabulary items we were already familiar with; sometimes the vocab was new to us, but the phrases meant a bit more than just a string of Latin words. They were called “sententiae”.

The dictionary’s (partial) definition of sententiae is: “opinion, view, judgment; … meaning, sense; sentence; maxim.” Another assessment of sententiae that I found is this: “brief aphorisms from ancient sources, quoted without context; popular in the Middle Ages as a form of rhetoric.”

Sometimes they were fairly bland: “ab ovo usque ad mala” (from eggs to apples). Sometimes they were less mysterious and more useful: “ad nauseam” (to the point of sickness or disgust), or “cum grano salis” (with a grain of salt), or “caveat emptor” (buyer beware).

Sometimes they were meant to inspire: “ad astra per aspera” (to the stars through difficulties), or “carpe diem” (seize the day, said Horace), or “pax vobiscum!” (peace be with you), or “possunt quia posse videntur” (they can because they think they can). Sometimes they were Roman history: “veni, vidi, vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered,” reported Caesar, speaking of his military conquest of Gaul with muscular understatedness; what’s Latin for “you and whose army?”?).

Sometimes they were philosophical: “ars longa, vita brevis” (art is long, life is short). Sometimes they could be taken with us to Social Studies class: “e pluribus unum” (one [country] out of many [states]), or “ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem” (“with the sword she seeks quiet peace under liberty,” the motto of Our Faire Commonwealth of Massachusetts).

Sometimes they were a comment: “non compos mentis” (not in possession of one’s senses). Sometimes they were a subtle (or not) hint: “labor omnia vincit” (work conquers all). Do your homework, kids.

 

Through these little snippets, Mrs. Lowe introduced us to ideas that went beyond vocab quizzes and scale models of Roman architecture. “Divide et impera” meant divide and conquer, and it had more than a little to do with useful techniques for imposing one’s governing will on a large group of less-than-aware people. Speaking of under-educated or ill-informed populations, “timendi causa est nescire” meant “ignorance is the cause of fear,” a quote from the Roman author Seneca that has a little more “war on terror”-ish resonance and relevance now than maybe it did when we were 13 years old.

And part of our Cultural Background studies included, in a sense, watching as the mighty Roman Empire decayed from within and eventually, unthinkably, impossibly, but inevitably, fell. The phrase “bread and circuses” sometimes comes to mind if I stumble onto reality TV. I’m not sure whether “people who ignore history are doomed to repeat it” is a Latin sententiae or not, but it could be, and it ought to be. Some of those people, ignorant of history, are (or wish to be) charged with shaping the immediate and distant future of OUR population, and I suspect they didn’t study Latin with Mrs. Lowe or anybody remotely like her.

Which is their loss. Let us work to make sure that it doesn’t turn, by extension, into ours as well. Labor omnia vincit.

October 10, 2011 Posted by | education, literature, Starred Thoughts, teachers | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments