Wednesday, April 17, 2013


In the classroom at the top of the stairs
(turn right - there are two doors
use either)
on the counter,
there are three bowls.
Clay, they're made of, impressed
with little fingerprints
pushed in.

In the bowls there are small mementos
snippets of lessons
the teacher hopes were learnt
or anyway, that they will be remembered when the fingernail sized heart
red felt clipped a little off-center
is touched.
Or maybe the bean
or the seed will remind.

In the light that falls through very tall windows
three clay bowls sit.
They are unbroken.
They hold the lessons.

Please be careful if you clean.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Skills Ancient and Modern

We Anglicans have long and lofty (and sometimes low) tradition of hymnody. (Yes, hymnody is a real word.) One of the most famous of Anglican hymnals is called Hymns Ancient and Modern - a title so extravagantly popular that there's even this easily packed edition. See the fingernail in the image? Um, yeah. This hymnal is 2 1/4" x 1 7/8" -- it's microscopic! How did anyone ever read it? Anyway, the title came into my head today because of what's happening in my school life. This quarter I'm taking a Shakespeare course that requires the students to use both Twitter and Pinterest. Um ... really???

Among students of the Western world, is there any more iconic topic signifying all things dull, stultifying, or perhaps just incomprehensibly old than the study of the Bard? I mean, Branagh and Fishburne notwithstanding, Shakespeare is synonymous with all that is old fashioned and academically traditional - right? I think of putting my Shakespeare coursework into the Twitterverse of babble in short bursts and some sort of anachronistic aneurism threatens my brain. I'm suddenly very very old. Just ... old. (My husband's grandmother got as far as toaster ovens but refused to learn microwaves. Somewhere in Paradise, she's laughing at me today.)

Then I did my morning prayer office. I calmed down. I remembered that the globe has convulsed and endured its spasms and fits on its way to modernity before. There was a little thing called the industrial revolution, after all. Or, more recently, the thrum of doom, doom, doom, as the End of Books was prophesied. Ha!! The end of books. What a joke! E-books are one more kind of books, and the computer has made the old-fashioned kind with pages in it into a work of art and wonder, not an obsolete museum piece. Sheesh. What am I so afraid of? Why should Twitter and Pinterest make me feel like a time traveler in a fur loincloth? New stuff doesn't eliminate old stuff - it winnows it.

New movies make the best of the old ones show up better. New books make old books useful and desirable and lovely in a whole new way, and the chaff and fluff and goop dies off. That, I think, is what new technology is doing. I think it's the vibrating screen that sorts things into various sizes and separates the big from the small. And, when the screens have shaken the load, some things remain. Some things are still here. I got to thinking about this and I started to compile a list in my head.

Useful Skills Ancient and Modern
  • needle and thread sewing;
  • good breath support during singing, and the ability to read music;
  • the making of a well-built fire of wood;
  • making stories up, telling old stories aloud and without any visual accompaniment (and listening to those stories);
  • acting stories out;
  • hiking, walking, strolling, ambling, and generally taking the world a the pace of a human stride;
  • spelling and punctuation conventions (because if you don't know the rules you don't know when to break them);
  • asking for forgiveness;
  • forgiving;
  • cleaning a house, a body, and clothing, without the use of commercially manufactured products;
  • being ill and getting well without pharmaceuticals (and knowing thereby when pharmaceuticals are a wise choice);
  • being quiet;
  • focusing the attention;
  • synthesizing old and new learning, information, and the wisdom of others.
Studying Shakespeare as a distance learner (which doesn't mean enrolling in "correspondence school") doesn't have to be a lonely slog through the pages of textbooks. Scantrons, be gone! Grueling exam schedule, join all antique academic bullies and take your rightful place with palm-thwacking rulers. It's time for Twitter and Pinterest and films streamed online ... skills modern for the study of the old. Lots of old things are better than ever in our brave new world - and I see that the new can enhance and enlighten the old. I see that. But you know what else I see? There isn't yet a time-turner anywhere but in the imagination of J.K. Rowling and her legions of readers, and so I will still have to tweet and pin and watch and write in the course of ten weeks worth of 24-hour days. (Dear Granny: the microwave's not that good for food anyway. I'm sorry I laughed at you even though you didn't know it. Pray for me.)