A Steampunk Christmas Carol

In looking for something else, I came across this steampunk version of A Christmas Carol. Happy early holidays.

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On teaching in an age of mass destruction

I have never not taught in an age of mass destruction.

That statement makes me sound more unique than I am; more than one teacher can make this sad claim. Yet, it is true. I did my student teaching/intern semester the same semester as the Columbine shootings. The year I taught high school was the same year as 9/11. My fifteen years of teaching has been punctuated by Virginia Tech, the 7/7 bombings, two wars, and numerous other school shootings. At some point at the beginning of next term, our college will review our active shooter policies–something I specifically brought up to my department head after the shootings at a community college in Oregon–, and somewhere in the back of my memory is still what to do in the case of an anthrax delivery because I got that training in 2001 as did everyone else in the school system I taught in.

Mostly, I don’t force my students to discuss these issues, particularly if the conversation is far afield from our current lessons. Fifteen years of teaching has taught me that no one reacts the same way to these events, and not everyone wants to discuss them in a classroom setting. It’s hard for me to navigate the conflicting emotions of a such a class when it does come up. In 2001, I spent 9/11 teaching the prologue to the Canterbury Tales. I couldn’t think of anything else to do besides the lesson I had planned. Watching TV was out of the question. I had a classroom in a portable, and the television I had only got one Spanish language channel. Five minutes made me realize that I couldn’t handle watching what was happening, and so I taught in the face of horror.

Yet, even though I mostly likely won’t discuss what happened in Paris this weekend with my students in two of my classes tomorrow, in one of them it is unavoidable since we’re reading Ian McEwan’s 2005 novel Saturday. An homage to both Mrs Dalloway and Howards EndSaturday is one of the first post 9/11 novels. It’s a novel about the aftermath of trauma, of how we both do and don’t see the world differently in the wake of mass terrorism events like 9/11, 7/7, and now Paris. It’s about the broken echoes of culture, about the longing for community, of connectivity with the human race. As one of my students said this weekend, this novel hits too close to home right now. Yet, it’s also about what art, literature, and music can do to heal, to restore. In the improbable turn in the dramatic home invasion sequence–which get to on Thursday–, one of the main characters recites a poem and illuminates the world for one hopelessly broken character. A poem saves them. As the novel repeats, “there is grandeur in this view of life,” a line from Darwin’s The Origin of the Species.

I imagine my 1915 counterpart, a facet of the main character of Saturday’s musings, with a teaching career buttressed by the first modern war in South Africa and a year into the horrors of the First World War, felt much the same way–how do you make literature matter in a world that seems bent on destruction? I don’t have answer to this question, although I believe literature matters deeply. Tomorrow, we’ll spend most of our time on the text itself, on the way McEwan etches out a picture of cosmopolitan family life. But since over half the class plans on teaching, we’ll discuss the fact that they too will be teaching in an era of mass destruction and that they will have to figure out how to navigate such topics when what they really want to do is go get a hug from their mothers and hide under the bed clothes so they can pretend that it’s only a nightmare, a phantasmagoria from the netherworld.

 

Commonplace: Wilfred Owen, “Disabled”

He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.
                            *        *        *        *        *
About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees,
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,—
In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease.
                            *        *        *        *        *
There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now, he is old; his back will never brace;
He’s lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
                            *        *        *        *        *
One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg,
After the matches carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he’d drunk a peg,
He thought he’d better join. He wonders why.
Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts.
That’s why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts,
He asked to join. He didn’t have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of, all their guilt,
And Austria’s, did not move him. And no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.
                            *        *        *        *        *
Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.
                            *        *        *        *        *
Now, he will spend a few sick years in institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?
~ Wilfred Owen, “Disabled”
Owen was a poet from the First World War who died in combat a few weeks before Armistice Day in 1918, which ended that war, what is now Remembrance Day in the UK and the Commonwealth and Veterans Day in the US.

Feminism, Newsletters, and Discussing the Things We Normally Don’t

So, I’m not a fan of Girls. I’ve watched an episode, and while realistically, an episode isn’t enough to judge a TV series on, I just wasn’t drawn enough to the characters to go back to it. Yet, I signed up for the Lenny newsletter over the summer, which is the brain child of Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, the creative team behind Girls. It’s been amazing, weekly read, and the reason I’m always a little late to my office on Tuesday mornings. (Ignore that part benevolent bosses and students.)

The newsletter is decidedly a fourth wave incarnation, using a digital platform without comments to address issues facing women. The without comments part is key; it allows Dunham and Konner to curate their content without the normal internet trolling and, hopefully, harassment that so many women and men who write about feminism and gender issues face. Topics have ranged from Konner’s mother relating her abortion story to Jennifer Lawrence discussing pay inequities in Hollywood, interviews with Hilary Clinton and Kirsten Gillibrand, and horoscopes. It’s not necessarily markedly different than the fare found in a fashion magazine, except it feels radically so given the way the newsletter and its attendant social media platforms discuss many of the things we don’t discuss in the mainstream media in a feminist way. After all, work advice is usually buried within pages and pages of fashion spreads and ads, which look like the fashion spreads, in a fashion magazine. Here, fashion is addressed, but only as part of the many things women and men may be interested in. And they have people tell their stories, letting their voices be without varnish, such as Ellen Pao’s piece today on sexism in the workplace–it’s in the newsletter, not the website.

As I’ve said previously, I’ve also become a regular reader of Man Repeller, a fashion blog/newsletter that also presents the fashion world through a tongue in cheek, feminist view. Leandra Medina and Amelia Diamond keep their content grounded in a kind of self awareness of the superficiality of fashion but also say screw it to expectations. And they talk a lot about the emotional affect of our contemporary lives in ways that resonate, such as this piece on pregnancy.

No one from either publication/site has a definitive answer for anything, but the sharing of stories seems to pull people along to a point of activism and reflection. Or perhaps reflection and perhaps activism.