The Broad is Back!

October 22, 2013

Infant Nation

My students are currently reading Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” one of my favorite Emerson pieces. Ironically, I didn’t even assign it to them–the department did.  As I tell my students, I’m not a fan of Emerson’s style, but what he has to say? Wow!

Rereading the essay, I’ve been struck by how very relevant it is in 2013.  There’s one line I particularly wanted to talk about today:

“Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.”  Taking in stride the 19th century use of mankind to mean all of us, this is pretty much what I see every single day of my teaching career.

I teach at a college. I do not teach at a high school or lower because frankly, I don’t like having to deal with children’s recalcitrance. And I don’t like spoon feeding information.

But American society treats young people like children far into their adulthood. We know this is getting worse. Just google “extended adolescence,” read and weep.

My students have been infantalized throughout their k-12 educations, by teachers and parents alike, and information is spoonfed into them. They no longer take responsibility for their own learning, but worse, they don’t like to take responsibility for their own behavior.

Emerson would despair.

I despair.

We have crippled a good chunk of a generation with all the good intentions in the world.  Maybe. But what if the point of infantalization was to create a generation of sheep more easily manipulated than many generations that went before?

I have been told, point blank, that I must change the standards I set for student behavior, lower them, because this is what we do now.  The Transcendentalist in me, and I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s as good a label for me as any other, roars in pain.

I am calling for a revolution. It’s not just our government that needs to be changed. Our whole society needs reform. I’m not saying go back to some “good old time” in the past. I’m saying look at the mistakes we’ve been making and change. Change radically.

We are too married to the old ways of thinking and the old dead forms of authority.  It’s time to take bold measures. As Emerson says: “It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance must work a revolution in all offices and relations of men; in their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; their association; their property; in their speculative views.”

I say, “bring it on!”

Points to ponder, I hope. And in the meantime, take a look at “Self-Reliance.” It’s a doozy.


February 14, 2009

It’s True–All You Need is Love

“Love, Love, Love” the Beatles sang all those years ago. An appropriate sentiment for the day, but it’s a topic I’ve had on my mind for a while now.  Today seems the most appropriate day to post it here.

Once upon a time, years ago, a writer friend of mine, Mark Goldblatt, wrote a newspaper column on the simple words “I love you.”  I’m relying on my memory here, but I’m pretty sure I’m paraphrasing him correctly.  He said he didn’t really say the words because they are overused.  People love potato chips and TV shows and Jimmy Choos, so the meaning of the word love has been cheapened. He had a point.

Whenever I find myself using the word love a lot, I think of Mark and wonder, am I overusing it?  Cheapening it? I love my family and friends.  I love my students.   I love most individuals.  Too much with the word?

No, and I think I know why.  I don’t love things.  I enjoy them.  I like them, but I don’t love them.  I love people–individuals and groups, but I love living beings.  (Okay, and I love animals, too, but again, living beings.) And frankly, I don’t think we can tell people we love them enough.

My problem is, I’m not comfortable saying the words, really.  So I have to try to let my actions speak for me.  But that’s all on one-to-one basis.  I try to use Love as my prime motivator, but how can Love be all we need?

I think what I mean by this was underscored in the Inaugural address this year.  I mentioned how I cried when President Obama quoted 1 Corinthians 13.  But this term I also taught the inaugural poem “Praise Song for the Day” in class, and what Elizabeth Alexander wrote there sums up what I feel.

Towards the end of the poem, she writes these words:

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Brilliant lines, really.  First she looks at the basic operating guidelines of some major groups–Christians, humanists and pagans and Communists and Socialists.  But really, how different are those creeds?  They all can co-exist quite easily.  And then she asks the perfect question: “What if the mightiest word is love?”

She follows up with the specifics on what she means:

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

Love beyond what we usually have here on earth.  Love that casts a widening pool of light–what an image!  Can’t you just see the light of love widening from each person, enveloping one another in that healing, caring light–the light that drives out darkness?  As Dr. Martin Luther King tells us, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that; hate cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that.

Love is the defining word of my life.  It’s been used by all the people I consider heroes and it’s the one guiding principle of my life. And as silly as it sounds, the Beatles played a large part in making me think of living a life of love.  I have said over and over that growing up listening to hippie songs warped my view of life, and there’s some seriousness under the joking.  One of the most powerful musical lines in the soundtrack that is my life comes courtesy of George Harrison: “With our love – We could save the world”.  I definitely believe that, and I think that’s what Alexander was talking about.

She ends the poem with these words:

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.

How beautiful!  If we, as a people, as a country, walk forward into the light of love instead of into the destructive dark of hatred, what a world we could have!  And while my brand of love tends to be Christianized, who can’t find some reason to love?

On many levels, I’m not saying anything too different from what my country has believed from its start.  As a nation, we were founded on precepts of Christian or Humanist brotherly love. And we don’t have to be Christians to agree that the definition of Love found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is a pretty useful one:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

If we could pull this off as individuals, as a country, that would be amazing.  And using this definition, all we really do need is love.  With this love, we could change the world.

I wish you love.  I wish my country love and my whole world love.  In the spirit of my pop music gurus, especially George Harrison, John Lennon, and Donovan, and with Elizabeth Alexander, I wish we all walk forward to the light of love and change our world.

End Note: Since I hear “All You Need is Love” while reading this, let me paste some of the lyrics here:

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game.
It’s easy.

Nothing you can make that can’t be made.
No one you can save that can’t be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time.
It’s easy.

November 27, 2007

Thanksgiving experiences

Filed under: American culture,holidays,New Broads,traditions — by maggiec @ 9:38 pm

It’s been 13 years since my son and I celebrated Thanksgiving.  I’ve written in the past about being away on the holiday, more than once in fact, but I think the strangest experience of all was being back.

The last Thanksgiving I spent in America was celebrated at my mother’s house, as we had all the Thanksgivings I’d celebrated before that.  When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was a “fancy” holiday–Mom pulled out the good china, silver and crystal.  We had the white tablecloth, the candles; we dressed for dinner.  This was the formality of my youth.  At that last celebration, there were two grandchildren, the three children, one fiancee and Mom.

This year we had Thanksgiving at my brother and sister-in-law’s (the former fiancee), who have been the holiday hosts since I’ve been gone.  Mom was down at her place in Tennessee, the eldest grandchild was up at college and there were three new grandchildren.  The dinner was delicious and traditional, the table lovely if more casual than my mother’s taste, but it didn’t feel like a holiday to me and definitely not to my son.  This is no reflection on my brother and sister-in-law.  It’s a reflection on my son and me.

My son was three at the last Thanksgiving he celebrated.  He is clueless about the whole thing, but visiting family is always a good thing.  For me, I wondered, what happened to me?  Why don’t I care about the holiday?  Maybe because it seems so different?  Driving down to my brother’s we made some pit stops, and no one was dressed up.  I was in a work outfit, but my son was in jeans and a tee shirt.  The majority of people traveling were in jeans, sweats, even pajamas!  In my mind, holidays should mean uncomfortable clothes–pantyhose at the very least!  Kind of twisted, I know, but I still associate holidays with scratchy, tight, fussy and unpleasant clothing.

Was that it?

I wasn’t with my mom, so this is the first Thanksgiving that I’ve celebrated without Mom.  I didn’t celebrate abroad.  But no, that’s not it.

It’s not that I don’t care about the entire concept.  I do care, very much.

So I’m forcing myself to think about this, and I think the problem is the same problem I’ve seen since I’ve been back.  Commercialization.  Buy, buy, buy.  Eat a big meal, but then the focus shifts to Friday–Black Friday, the official start of the Christmas shopping season.  It was like this before I left, of course, but it seems worse now.  It just could be that I notice it more after being gone so long, but most people I talk to feel that things are getting more and more commercial every year.

Our Puritan forefathers and mothers would be horrified.  Lincoln, who called for a national day of Thanksgiving during the Civil War, would be stupified.  Even FDR, who set the fourth Thursday of November as our national day of Thanksgiving in 1939, would look askance at what has happened to our spirit of thankfulness.

Of course I’m grateful for all of my blessings, and I was happy to be with family, but the specialness was gone.

Black Friday is also called “Buy Nothing Day” to counter the rise in materialism and commercialism, but this year I didn’t hear a peep from the organizers.  It’s an international movement, not just in the US, but still, didn’t see anything about it till I googled it just now.

WOW!  Off the track, but you know one of the reasons why I didn’t hear anything.  Found this on “MTV, the channel that markets itself to hip youth, has decreed that our Buy Nothing Day public service spot ‘goes further than we are willing to accept on our channels’. Gangsta rap and sexualized, semi-naked school girls are okay, but apparently not a burping pig talking about consumption?”

Well, that was shocking.  I watched the ad and it was a big nothing in terms of shock value.  But I can see MTV’s point.  If you’re advertising demographic is youth, with it’s large disposable income spent on largely unnecessary objects, you don’t want to be annoying the big account advertisers, do you?

So, there it is, the first Thanksgiving back in the States.  Hard emotions to articulate, but very agitating on some levels.

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