But humanism is exactly why, in my view, a classroom with human bodies in it, struggling over the meaning of a short story, works. Because the literary arts are not the same as the study of economics or astrophysics. The literary arts are about emotions and human consciousness, and so the instruction can’t be converted into data points. The literary arts are more about a human in the room feeling something, expressing it, and the other humans listening, and, ideally, feeling similarly. Such is the invention of compassion. Our instruction is not only about dispensing information; it is also about bearing witness, grappling with the complexities of another.
If you replace “short story” with history or urban studies, this paragraph still holds.
I finished Meghan Daum’s book The Problem with Everything yesterday. One of her major points was that we stop trying to deal with complicated issues via social media. To stop, to think, to reflect, to talk, to deliberate instead of trying to capture things in 140 characters.
We read These Truths and I’m glad we did. I’m wondering if next year I might start the year with the 1619 project. And I’m wondering how I might use this debate as an endpoint for my These Truths project.
But the truth is that the longer I have lived, and the shorter my future, the less pursuing I have done. Some of this may come from a peculiarly Irish positive pessimism — be happy, things will get worse — more of it from the history of disappointment all artists know and the rest from a remnant Catholic guilt that says you don’t deserve happiness anyway. The point is, in my case, happiness seemed a thing that could not be pursued, only realized and chosen.
This is the ending of the article:
“I mean, what do you do to be happy?”
The question was a novelty to him and he considered it from all sides before answering.
“When I want a holiday,” he said at last, “I go over the road as far as the meadow. I go in there, take off my jacket, and lay down on it. I watch the world turning for a bit, with me still in it.”
He smiled then, and held me in his blue Atlantic eyes, full of the ordinary wisdom of a well-lived life, a wisdom that saw the many failings of the world but our still breathing and dreaming in it, and with a conclusive nod that defeated all arguments said, “That’s happiness.”
I loved this essay on fiction and will use it in my opening unit next year. I’m trying to think of questions that I can use to replace a straight literary lens approach to short stories and I’m toying with these two:
What can literature do for you? What can you do for literature?
She builds the essay around two poems, one we’re reading now (Song of Myself by Walt Whitman) and the other I’ll bring in asap, I measure every Grief I meet (by Emily Dickinson).
There’s a terrific short poem in the NYT magazine this morning entitled Small Kindnesses. For advisory tomorrow, I’m going to have the kids re-write this poem and set it in our school. What are the ways that you see kindness in the day-to-day? What are the actions they see all the time? At lunch? In the hall? In a class? What kindnesses do we want? For the last line, what are the things that create the “true dwellings of the holy” that we hear kids say all the time?
I might create a template where several lines are kept — the line about the plague and the line about having so little of each other.
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you” when someone sneezes, a leftover from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying. And sometimes, when you spill lemons from your grocery bag, someone else will help you pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other. We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot, and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder, and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass. We have so little of each other, now. So far from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here, have my seat,” “Go ahead — you first,” “I like your hat.”
There’s an awesome paragraph I’ll use in my history classes this week as a way of addressing notions of progress. Are things always getting better? Where does this idea come from? What would happen if we replace postwar (first sentence) with American?
The rosy and long-lived postwar belief that the world is generally stable and generally improving has always been in many respects an illusion of the privileged. But it’s beginning to falter, even for us. To live in our present moment is to discover, over and over, that much of what we have imagined to be solid and permanent is in fact fragile. Notre Dame is an icon, but its roof was held up by regular wood, old and dry and quick to light. American democracy is susceptible to frauds and demagogues. The value of your house can suddenly disappear; the global economic system works only to the extent that we all continue to agree that it does; and the complex web of production and commerce that brings us nearly everything we depend on to live is occasionally revealed to be deeply, alarmingly brittle.