Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The author vs. the 8th grader.

The Jr. High School Student won.

Back to the scene of the crime. I, trying to be an, uh, adult and all, enrolled for a pro bono project where I would write letters to an 8th grader about books and poems that she would be reading in her English class. The first letter was about the only Emily Dickinson poem that I truly truly hate. This was not a good sign. Since I care about you, truly, deeply, as a mysterious cyberspace entity, I'm reproducing the poem here, in toto.

If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

One can surely do better. One single heart? One pain cooled? A robin? What about two sparrows? roughly the same weight: To quote Jesus (by way of Matthew) "you are worth more than many sparrows." Couldn't say it better. Shakespeare disagrees with me; to wit: "here's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow." (Hamlet, but who can trust him?) Wait, I was talking about my very own personal 8th grader.

So, I have this person whom I lob missives at, and she glides letters (handwritten, legible!!!) back. I basically rail rail rail against the status quo as represented by the totally lame-o questions we are supposed to answer about sub-prime literary works while she sends me totally and perfectly diplomatic letters where she agrees with all my wild wild wild statements. But, reading slightly between the lines I could always feel her managing me.

After the third letter, I lost interest. All I wanted was for her to disagree with one statement that I made. At some point we were asked to list a favorite quote. I listed a number; including some favorite Wilde quotes, including: "People who count their chickens before they are hatched, act very wisely, because chickens run about so absurdly that it is impossible to count them accurately." She countered with some Oprah-worthy quote which made me realize how totally shallow, like, ya know?, that I am because it made me see red, and not a lovely pomegranate red with touches of lavender if looked at from the right angle either, just red.

I seem to have lost the letter with the offending quote, but it had something to do with closing doors and opening windows. "When God closes a door he opens a window" perhaps. Do people say such things? Anyhoo, DF talked me down, and I lied through my teeth and told her how important such quotes were in one's life. After all, who am I to, uh,........ We then read the Outsiders. Can I tell you how much I hate that book? I managed to reach the ripe age of 48 without subjecting myself to it. A feat I tell you. Yes. The book (if you too have managed to abstain) concerns a group of saintly lower-class kids, the Greasers. Every time you think they can't get more pure, yep, the author exceeds your expectations. Ponyboy (blond, perfect) and his friend Johnny (his parents don't love him, yet he has no discernible flaws) are set upon by the Soc's (not pronounced Socks everyone, including stray people at red lights tell me) rich, cruel creatures.

Ponyboy and Johnny then accidentally kill one of the evil ones, escape, and save children from a burning church. Deep sigh. I wrote an overwrought letter to my child explaining same. I wrote her anothereven-more-overwrought letter explaining how the novel actually glorified violence in spite of the cliffs notes fake questions we were to answer. Deep sigh. She agreed. Nicely. I predict great things in her future.

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