Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Fun with the First Day, and Thoughts on the Common Reading

OMG it is Wednesday again, already, which means PR is on tonight, which is good, but that I have just five days of vacation left before my life is full of shtooodents again. Help help help!
Oh, wait...I have all my bidness done for the first week. I forgot.

Here are some things I might do to shake up my students on the first day of shkool:

1. Show up in KISS makeup.
2. Crack open my Dr. Pepper, drink it straight down, and then belch so loud the windows in University Hall rattle.
3. Deliver my entire opening monologue in French.
4. Deliver my entire opening monologue in Hebrew.
5. Deliver my entire opening monologue in Sindarin. (that's elvish, for those of you who aren't nerds)
6. Wear my Star Trek costume.
7. Open fire with a super soaker.
8. Do the cancan in full regalia. (I used to do a double pirouette on the first day, so maybe that's not so funny)
9. Tell "My wife is so..." jokes, ala Rodney Dangerfield, for an hour.
10. Fashion origami puzzles out of everyone's syllabi, and insist that if they can't open them in five seconds, they get Fs.
11. Pretend that I was asleep under my desk when they all come in. Do not wake up until exactly 11:30.
12. Break a piece of chalk and begin sobbing uncontrollably.
13. Insist that a fire drill is called for, and that if we can't do it in thirty seconds, we have to do it again.
14. Prepare them all for the coming of Gozer.
15. Pretend I am Dutch.

Now, about Into the Forest. I'm reading it, because I though it might be interesting, more interesting than previous Common Reading Experience books have been to me. I've read ahead, actually, meaning that I've looked at the end and at a few key points throughout the book just so I know what's going on there.
The book is interesting, certainly, but also for me very frustrating. I didn't think I'd be irritated, but to be honest, those girls strike me as being kind of useless. The girl wants to go to Harvard but she can't climb up on the roof and melt some rubber into the leaky spots (mysterious and evidently purposeless chunks of rubber found in the workshop, anyone)? I don't believe it.
My response is not entirely to the characters as people, but to the characterization: The book seems to be about how useless everyone becomes without their precious gas and electricity, and I get that, and I certainly sympathize with those concerns. I think a lot of people would be useless, and I have very vocally put forth arguments in favor of the ability to do things more than one way, and to keep written records like, you know, books. Heck, I built a bookcase without the use of any power tools whatsoever. And this is my problem: the book chooses to ignore legions of people that grew up on farms without electricity, people who to this day still do not have indoor plumbing, and people who have dealt with the dangers of rural ruffians, etc. People who can in fact do things without power, and people to whom this knowledge has been passed.
Of course, the book covers one small area, so we don't know what's happening elsewhere. But, for instance, I did not think Nell's visions of farmer's markets and so on were all that idealistic, as they were portrayed. We've seen the worst of people after the hurricanes, but we've also seen the best in the midst of the NYC blackout (which, after all, is a closer scenario to that which the book describes). Being without the comforts of life are demoralizing, there's no question. But I object to a depiction of all characters as essentially idiots without their power. One moment that particularly bothered me was discussion of the doctors... essentially, it said sure, they're still around, but they can't do anything without their tools and drugs. Are you kidding me? Especially in rural areas like the one in question, doctors would know the local folk remedies and how to use their environment. Doctors know where penicillin and aspirin came from. An associated concern is diseases that aren't responding to usual treatments. I am more than willing to buy that problem, and the consequent deaths, but the book mentions people dying from simple things other than those diseases and the problem of distance, and I'm not going along with that. We simply have not reached the point where NO ONE aside from one old lady can figure out how to get medicine or how to treat basic wounds and illnesses.
Then there are the girls themselves. They'd gone through tragedy, certainly, but for me this is not a viable excuse. I saw nothing in the character of either that justified their complete and longterm inertia following horrific events. Or their lack of common sense. Even down to the elder sister's inability to dance without music...I can sympathize with wanting music, but did anyone once mention Nell simply going and singing while her sister dances? It would be better than a metronome. I also didn't buy that, with the eccentricity of the parents and their desire to keep the kids out of school, that they would permit the daughter to ONLY study online, even for Harvard. They would make pretty darn sure that a: Each daughter had survival skills that are clearly not being employed, and b: the studying daughter had a non-power-based way to study.
Basically, it seems like the book is showing how the girls learn skills to survive, and I do appreciate that, and that's what appealed to me in the first place; but on the other side, these are skills that, with the nature of the characters, they should already know (who runs around the woods without learning to build, let's say, a bird house?), and that others certainly know. In the larger implications, are we to believe that there are NO leader-types in the town that could and would step up and inspire others to do so? NO Samaritans? The book simply ignores some more obvious plot and character points that become gaping holes in the book's logic. I'm not willing, as a reader, to play into the book's isolated atmosphere and believe in the characters' struggles, or be invested in them, when there are so many things that cause my suspension of disbelief to crumble.
In short, if I'm going to read what comes across partly as a cautionary tale, then the cautionary tale part of it should be more realistic in examining the nature of humanity. We've gone a long, long way down a problemmatic road of dependency on and learning through power that could disappear in an instant. But essential character of humanity does not change...people with skills and values are still out there, people still have the instinct to band together to survive, and there are certainly still people who know how to fix a roof and teach it to their children.


Carrie said...

I like #1 and #10. Heehee...

MAW said...

I actually had a teacher do #12 once. It wasn't on the first day, but it was scary nonetheless.