Tag Archives: books

Literature and Modern Teaching

Literature is on my mind this week. I have had a lot of time on my hands with little else to do but sort books on Goodreads. As I add books I have read over several decades and rate them, date them, sort them, and check for similar titles I have though of recent conversations about historical pieces of literature and entertainment such as plays. I studied a fair amount of literature and language over the years and read a lot on my own. As someone that enjoys reading of all types and the development of language I am interested in more than just the story in what I read.
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A book is a product of the time leading up to it and of the cultures that impacted the author. It is also a product of the language and history of the author. I write in the English forms I learned. I learned to read in Old English with books like the King James Bible, then authors like Rudyard Kipling opened my mind to other perspectives on the cultures of the people I knew. I read everything I was allowed until I left my parents house, then I just read everything that struck my fancy. When I took literature classes we read the classics in a way that feels a little like the way churches teach scriptures.
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Classic and historic literature is presented as the shining example of how to write and what literature is as opposed to modern books. But literature is writing with enduring merit not just any historic piece that survives and not automatically discarding anything new. Some pieces are worthy of study because of their historic significance. Others are prime examples of the language of the time (as far as we know.) Some showcase the culture at the time and others protest the culture at the time. The difference can grow confused the greater the distance from present.
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What I see however is that classic literature does not mean better. I do not mean because the language is old and hard for many modern readers, that just takes the time and willingness to adapt. I refer to the continuous development of culture, language, writing forms, and moral understanding. In the same way that I grow and change over time, giving up attitudes and behaviors when I learn better; I expect culture to grow and art forms to grow. As artists we develop our skills on the knowledge and examples of the past. The masters of the past are our foundation. We strive not just to be different and new but to grow and develop, to reach people with a well developed understanding of our craft.
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I do not accept the attitudes of the past as acceptable because they were common at the time. Some authors were opposed to them even then. Yes, reading the pieces is important. Understanding them in the context they existed is vastly more important. However, I do not want to emulate them. Language has changed. Culture has changed. I am a product of a mixed tapestry of cultures, languages, people, and teachings and am not as much a product of the mass culture around me as a touchstone of oddities from our time. My writing shows the perspective of one observing the culture and interacting with it as not quite a part of it. I see this same phenomena in some classic literature.
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We can appreciate the skill of a writer that opened a genre or questioned their culture but we do not need to feel they are an example of what to be. They are a signpost of change, a piece of history to be understood, appreciated, and improved upon. Dismissing modern writing as less than because it uses modern language, modern concepts, experimental forms, new genres, or is in electronic form only does us personally and all of society a disservice it shows a blindness to the purpose of writing. Those methods, thoughts, and examples from the past developed the communication tools. Those are the tools of improving culture and writing. History and experience are the foundations of new literature to be. Shakespeare is held up as a shining example now but was written for the masses entertainment. It was the soap opera of the time not the high brow art. Sherlock Holmes stories were a newspaper serial and are a favorite sample from the time.
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Literature can come from any genre or culture and in any form. Quality writing is not limited to the past or to what publishers approve of. This is a topic I love to explore and discuss and as it keeps coming up I may well return to it again soon. But for now, I leave you with the thought that we should read broadly and consider each piece in it’s context and with it’s purpose. Remember the story behind each author and think how does it touch the audience. If it does not reach a broad audience it will only survive in a limited circle. So a piece that is considered a literary achievement by the university but that people just aren’t drawn to has no place in the world of literature. It did not achieve the goal of communication and connection and cannot endure. Quality writing is in the tone and reach not in the approved words and form.
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Neverwhere and Distance

Taking the bus to work allows a lot of time to read. One of my books this week is Neverwhere. I am reading it again for a book club but it has been a favorite for years. One idea has especially stuck with me for years. That is how easily one falls from society and how hard it can be to return.
On the streets near my place you see a lot of homelessness. Mostly people ignore them, avoid them, and fear them. I often wonder why. What is it their fear? Sometimes I wonder if part of it is the fear they could easily be in that position themselves. Does it feel contagious or dangerous to get to close or acknowledge them? This is part of the the idea in Neverwhere. The act of acknowledging them, of helping them causes him to lose his place in society and fall through the cracks into the city under the city.
I understand this. Over the years I have spent a lot of time with homeless in many cities. There is a distance, a sense of separation from society that feels insurmountable. Being there either with them or as one of them you feel like you are in another world, a harsh and dangerous world far removed from the life you so recently knew. People rushing by have no connection to you and look down with a demeaning disdain and fear of contamination. Parents pull children away like you will eat them or infect them. Women move across the street like you are a threat to their safety.

By contrast, living in the high rise and living on the farm were vastly different from each other but they are connected. There is a pleasant and casual hostility between the sections within society, a rivalry of place and meaning. It is vastly different than the alien world underneath that none of them want to acknowledge.

The department head at one job asked the group how many of us were 1 or 2 checks from being homeless. Less than 5% could say no and most of those shared expenses with families. Working every day, many with multiple jobs, most with two or more family earners, many in school, most sharing expenses, yet we all lived paycheck to paycheck. Each of us knew that we needed every single check just to survive.

When that is always in the back of your mind (And how could it not be niggling at you to some extent) you see those homeless and know that you are one injury, illness, pregnancy from being where they are. Maybe the fear isn’t fear of them but fear of our economy and society that will not protect those on the edges. Would your friends be there if you went on the street? Would they blame you for being lazy or understand what happened? Would they help or would the distance grow? Would you be able to let them help or would your shame increase that distance?
I volunteer at a public garden and many people walk there or take the bus. Nearby is a walking underpass everyone avoids and says is unsafe. But the only reason anyone has ever given is that the homeless sleep there and need to have regular purges by the city. Daily I see homeless people. They are desperate, hungry, dirty, often broken. Many have given up. Sometimes they make me uncomfortable with smell or actions or talking to themselves but they don’t make me afraid.

But I approach them as someone that feels a distance from society and those around me at work, in stores, on the bus, on the beach. I still struggle to relate and communicate as a part of society. They talk about sports, family, nights out drinking, casual friendships, and simple lives they assume everyone relates to. Groups have always been hard for me anyway but life has made that more true rather than less. My degree was gained in classes with students half my age. My family is distant, callous and judgmental. Friends are far away. I worked my way to a high rise apartment and fell more than once in life. I have lived in many cities and in many parts and sections of society from the farms to the law offices, the hospitals to the construction sites, the streets to the high society events.
When people around me talk about how hard it is to afford living I remember mom sitting in the car calculating how she would feed 8 of us on $10 for the week. I remember selling cookies or anything else she and I could make so I could afford to be a part of the business meetings. When they talk about taking time off work or leaving their jobs or their 18 year old needing to look at getting something I remember I was a model at 14 and carrying lumber before 12. I remember working 5 part time jobs to pay for school and still being buried in school debt now. I remember driving my shiny new Mini and my limping 40 year old Honda. They talk about fearing the homeless and I remember the van of guys trying to grab me and the old man shooting the shotgun at the kids picking blackberries and us running unsure if he would really shoot us. I remember fights in the street and quiet nights answering phones in the room beside the morgue. I remember gardens and farm animals. I remember dark streets and formal dresses. I remember dying friends and casual game nights. I remember motorcycle trips and camping in the cold. I remember hospitals that couldn’t tell me what was wrong because there was no point in testing someone with cheap insurance and hospitals with spacious private rooms for comfortable recovery for those with the right insurance. I remember losing my job knowing I wouldn’t be able to pay rent and just leaving to avoid it. I remember using a public bathroom to get into my suit or formal dress so I could be at the event and smiling or the interview. I remember mother crying after a hellish trip to get to a meeting because she realized everyone there just had dinner, dressed, drove over and was reasonably calm and feeling normal and she was desperate, stressed and exhausted. The car caught on fire on the way there, her cancer treatments were possibly coming back, she had a migraine, one child was sick and another hurt, dad and she fought that day, a storm slammed into the house as we left for the meeting but there was no rain when we arrived and everyone else was dry, the floor in the bathroom collapsed and the mortgage company wanted to take the house.

Distance. It will never fully leave me. I can never completely escape the feeling I may not belong and that those around me can see it. Even when they cant and I know it, I feel like they can. I feel the distance so I can’t escape it. So, I understand the idea of falling through the cracks.

Distance

Update and an Idea.

Well, we have been working madly to remodel the house before we move. We have a little over a week and lots to do. I put in a shattered tile mosaic floor in the bedroom, and will be doing class tile in the bathroom. The former laundry room has new red fence walls, and the new laundry room isn’t started yet. I will post pictures as I finish and get them. They are creative and they were a lot of work so they fit even if they were frequently more than a day. Though given our schedule, most weren’t actually.

On an unrelated note, I found something really neat today. I would very much put one of these tiny libraries on the property if I were staying here. As it is, I am looking for partners to help install and act as stewards in as many places as I can. I will try to help find funding and people to build them. We shall see, I really like this idea.

http://www.littlefreelibrary.org

WASHINGTON, Bothell #4842  Dr. Who, anyone?

free tiny house library 01   Tiny House Libraries Are Real in Wisconsin

http://pinterest.com/marschaeffer/free-little-library/

NEW YORK, Sloatsburg #1413

WISCONSIN, Kaukauna #2171ILLINOIS, Peoria #3577 

WASHINGTON, Yakima #2994