Thursday, November 17, 2011

Melville’s “The Fiddler” and Playing Basketball in the Late Autumn Sun

“So my poem is damned, and immortal fame is not for me! I am nobody forever and ever. Intolerable fate!” -Melville

You wouldn't believe the amount of grief it causes if I want to take the kids out for a little basketball in the fading afternoon sun.
“During the performance I kept my eye more on Hautboy than on the celebrated clown. Hautboy was the sight for me. Such genuine enjoyment as his struck me to the soul with a sense of the reality of the thing called happiness…” - Melville

Everybody has to get involved. Their homeroom teacher, the school's vice principal, the director of student affairs, even the English department coordinator has to ask me why. Why are you taking kids outside instead of pushing them to study? Basketball is not part of the curriculum? Freedom is not what we instruct... I am quoting directly.
“’I hugely love and admire him, Standard. I wish I were Hautboy.’” -Melville

But I am standing in the classroom and looking out the window of our six-story school and seeing the leaves change and feeling the cool breeze and the light is beginning to fade from autumn into winter and... well, no dicussion, get the ball, we're going outside to play.
“’Genius? What! Such a short, fat fellow a genius!” -Melville

The kids know... they understand... we have been reading Hawthorne and Melville and it's time to put their stories into action, to make stories of our own, to live... to be free. They have so little choice... so I made the choice for them.
‘“Ah? But could you not fancy that Hautboy might formerly have had genius, but luckily getting rid of it, at last fatted up?”' -Melville

You know, afterward the bell rings and the Taiwanese teachers all come out and shake their fingers and blow their whistles and order the kids back inside... they pretend not to listen but eventually I help push them back to their books... and then I am alone on the court.
“Poor Hautboy, how sad that your very cheerfulness should, by a by-blow, bring you to spite.” -Melville

I shoot. I dribble. I run the length and jump as high as I can... play like I used to. I tell the students often, that schools in America let the kids out early, around 2:30 or 3... then we play sports... I start by saying, "Do you know the biggest difference between American kids and Asian kids...?" The students are quick to answer..."American kids are happy..." They say. And then I leave it alone.
“Today, from house to house he hies, teaching fiddling for a living. Crammed once with fame, he is no hilarious without it. With genius and without fame, he is happier than a king.” -Melville

But what I was going to say is that they also have pressure to succeed, to be the best, but that they follow their hearts... that's what Herman Melville was trying to say in "The Fiddler." To walk away from fame, glory, to choose what makes you happy. It's a powerful lesson.

Well, as I shoot on the court by myself, I am happy. The critics have said their piece and left, the administrators have checked their clipboard boxes and retired... now I can do what needs to be done. Relax, enjoy, break the rules a little... show the kids a different way to live. It's lonley, yes. But I have the fading autumn sun and cool breezes, the sound of a bouncing ball and the sharp sounds of my shoes cutting no cement. I'll break the rules, for you. It's worth it every time.

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