Wednesday, December 31, 2014
It's been a good six-year run. The Hartenstein Family ends the 2014 Year of the Horse riding high into the sweet bye and bye. I would like to thank so many people for finding this blog, supporting it, reading these stories, and contacting me from around the world with yours. I stared writing here for one very singular and personal reason, but that changed over time and renewed something in me. I’m grateful for it. Thank you, my dear friends, and Happy New Year to you all.
“I tell ya,” he cried. “I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick.”
-Crooks, Of Mice and Men
All I’ve ever really wanted to do was read and talk about books, and this semester I’ve been so fortunate to teach some of my favorites.“I think I’ll be a clown when I get grown… yes sir, a clown. There ain’t one thing in this world I can do about folks except laugh, so I’m gonna join the circus and laugh my head off.” -Dill
Often it’s the minor characters of novels that stir us so deeply. The bit players who strut their hour upon the stage and are heard no more.“Hesitation of any kind is a sign of mental decay in the young, or physical weakness in the old.” -Lady Bracknell, Importance of Being Earnest.
Whether it’s Lady Bracknell’s cucumber sandwiches or Charles Baker Harris sprouting whoppers from the collard patch or Desdemona’s superstitious father fearing his daughter is bewitched by a Moor or Charlie Bates who traded it all in to become a farmer…I loved teaching the minor characters this year, and none more than Crooks, the black stable buck from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.“With this irrepressible ebullition of mirth, Master Bates laid himself flat on the floor…” -Charley Bates, Oliver Twist
It’s hard to build compassion in others. Here in Asia, it’s an impossible task, but reading the tale of the ranch boss who drops a jug of whiskey on the bunkhouse table at Christmas for the drunken men to kick fight and give hell to the negro…and watching my students giggle and squeal in delight at the thought of Crooks’ isolation and pain, then stepping outside at the break to leg sweep and punch and ridicule one another… is often more than I can withstand.
“O thou foul thief, where hast thou stow’d my daughter?” -Brabantio, Othello
So I return to books as a solace and bunker down with humanity. That’s all one can really hope to become in life, isn’t it? A bit player in the masterpiece narrative of someone else’s life. A brief confidant. An impassioned bar-stool soliloquizer. An off-the-cuff anecdoter. A stealer of scenes. I hope this blog is reminiscent of that for people, a place they visit, just for a moment, and old friend they return to and take solace in. Merry Christmas Everyone!
Saturday, December 20, 2014
Sunday, December 14, 2014
So of course...nearly twenty years later, I returned. The man with two thumbs on his hand is long gone... but the folks inside enjoyed my tale. Did I let them ink me up again...? Well, that's another story, isn't it?
Thursday, December 11, 2014
Saturday, December 6, 2014
(The following pictures were taken on the Singapore Cable Car over Sentosa Island)
There’s nothing like teaching literature. Nothing in the world. Working a kid, working a whole room of fifty kids through a book of classic art that you chose for them in hopes and prayers and pleading begs and shattering will for it to point them in life’s right direction. Only those that have attempted this can understand the joy and heartbreak.
Knowing every twist and turn of narrative yarn. Setting ‘em up. Knocking ‘em down. Pausing at just that right moment to milk a word into existence. Breaking at just the right time to tell a story from your life that brings it home.
It’s like having fifty individually intimate conversations with every soul about who they are and what they want and dream and scorn and secretly wished they had the guts to go after... and of course, what they fear most in life.
On your best days the earth actually tilts in your favor. Time stops. A buzzing surge enters you. You’ve done something. Created a thought in someone’s head. Provided a mental axiom for someone’s hat to hang. Given clarity, or just…been the one who listened without judgment. You were exactly what you were supposed to be.
But on your worst… you’re reduced to ash. Human rubble. A blithering sobbing mumbling manic sitting in the dark on the floor wondering…what just hit you?
For my money…perhaps the greatest sentence in the entirety of American literature is: He stood up and pointed his finger at Tom Robinson. “I seen that black nigger yonder ruttin’ on my Mayella!” (p. 231). Harper Lee nailed it. The courage it takes to write that sentence...completely baffles me. Yet here I stand in a classroom and deliver it for analysis...offering it as a sacrifice. Armed only with words, shielded only by thin wrinkled pages. God Bless You, Harper Lee!
Deep into the pockets of Little India Singapore...
Past the news stands and the sidewalk seamstresses...
Sunday, November 30, 2014
“Everybody knows the story of another experimental philosopher, who had a great theory about a horse being able to live without eating, and who demonstrated it so well, that he got his one horse down to a straw a day and would most unquestionably have rendered him a very spirited and rampacious animal on nothing at all, if he had not died, just four-and-twenty hours before he was to have had his first comfortable bait of air.” -Dickens, Oliver Twist
I suppose this year was dominated by three stories: Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream (our play was fantastic, the DVD just released) the musical GREASE, and Dickens' Oliver Twist!
“Some people are nobody’s enemies but their own.” -Dickens, Oliver Twist
I had no idea that Oliver Twist would affect me so mightily.
“People like us don’t go out at night cause people like them see us for what we are.” -Dickens, Oliver Twist
I had attempted teaching Dickens before: A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations and even in honors classes it's difficult to force kids to read those books. But Twist was different. I enjoyed it as much as any book I've read or taught in years. It was a feast. The rich characters so poor in morality but mighty in catechism...I found myself reading passages aloud over and over and enjoying it so much.
“Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of coat and waistcoat than some people imagine.” -Dickens, Oliver Twist
I know for many educators it's very challenging to break a new author or narrative into the dusty canon of books they use so brilliantly (and often lethargically) to their students as if we're so starved that we sustain ourselves on only a handful of titles bereft at the chance of falling in love with another.
“It opens the lungs, washes the countenance, exercises the eyes, and softens down the temper… so cry away.” -Dickens, Oliver Twist
It's nice to be surprised... imagine that, by a book no less!
Monday, November 24, 2014
“Think of me, think of me fondly
When we’ve said goodbye.
Remember me, once in a while
Please promise me you’ll try.” -Think of Me, Phantom of the Opera
Preparing this week for a short performance of Phantom at the Christmas Festival here at school. I've been blessed this year with a group of about ten sophomores with voices like angels and one German exchange student who will make a fantastic Erik...(surprised how little effort it took talking him into the cape and mask!)
“When you find that once again you long
To take your heart back and be free
If you ever find a moment
Spare a thought for me.” -Think of Me, Phantom of the Opera
We talk a great deal about the cycle of memory during this play, about thinking back and remembering so that when we re-live certain feelings and experience again, we recognize their importance.
“We never said our love was evergreen
Or as unchanging as the sea
But if you can still remember,
Stop and think of me.” -Think of Me, Phantom of the Opera
Especially love, which is such a powerful force.
“Think of all the things
We’ve share and seen
Don’t think about the way
Things might have been.” -Think of Me, Phantom of the Opera
“Think of me, think of me waking
Silent and resigned
Imagine me trying to hard
To put you from my mind.” -Think of Me, Phantom of the Opera
The memory of love is often sweeter than it's reality...the mystery more alluring than its confirmation in our hearts.
"Flowers fade, fruits of summer fade
They have their seasons, so do we
But please promise me that sometimes
You will think of me!” -Think of Me, Phantom of the Opera
Standing in front of these students today, hearing them sing so innocently... brought such joy... knowing our performance will bring that same feeling to others.