Daily Prompt Golden Key You’ve been given a key that can open one building, room, locker, or box to which you don’t normally have access. How do you use it, and why?
For Milo 😉
Drawing by Jules Pfeiffer, illustration for Norton Juster’s great book, The Phantom Tollbooth
“I really like your cell phone case, Professor. Where’d you get it?”
“Etsy.” My backpack is open on my table. My cell phone face down beside it. I’m looking for a dry-erase marker that works.
“No way. You go on Etsy?”
“I have a store, well I used to. I used to sell paintings, but…”
“Why are you teaching us this? Are we every going to use it?”
“I have no way of knowing that. I have no way of knowing what life is going to throw at you. But that’s what this is for. That’s what literature is for. It’s for your life.”
“Is that going to be on the test?”
“There’s no test, Luis. Have you paid attention at ALL???”
“I, like, forgot.”
“Professor, if there’s no test and we’re not going to use this in our lives, why is this a required class?”
“There’s more to life than getting through school, taking tests, getting a job. There’s all the OTHER stuff.”
“What other stuff?”
I wonder, “Yeah, what other stuff?” Maybe there IS no other stuff. Maybe the highest achievement of humanity is my cell phone case. If I’m honest (and soon I will be) I hate most of these students. I have at least as much contempt for them as they do for me and what I’m teaching. I don’t care what will happen to them in their lives. I don’t care if they open up to this or not. The gaping maw of their ignorance coupled with their adamant indifference have proven to be the last straw. And here I had thought teaching an intro to lit class would be a great way to spend the summer, a joyous swan song to my 35 years in the classroom. Instead it has simply affirmed my perception that I’m done, past my sell-by date.
Just twelve years ago I taught the same class. A girl — woman — came in the first day with her little boy who was about 8. “Sorry about that, Professor. But I don’t have a sitter until tomorrow. And you need to know. I hate poetry. Are we doing poetry in here?”
“Yeah, actually, right now.”
“Well, I’ll try.”
“That’s all you can do,” I say and smile at her. She sits down. I go to the board and write, “We never know how high we are.” I stop, look at the class, and say, “It’s OK to laugh.” They do. Then I write the rest of the poem.
Till we are called to rise
And then if we are true to plan
Our statures touch the skies—
Would be a daily thing
Did not ourselves the Cubits warp
For fear to be a King—
“What’s a ‘cubit’?”
“Like a meter or a yard — back in the day whenever there was a new king they measured the distance from his nose to the end of his finger, like this,” I stretched out my arm and showed them how a cubit was determined. “It was a pain since everything had to be re-measured, roads, everything. So what’s Emily Dickinson saying?”
“She saying,” said the woman who hated poetry, “that we would do great things if we weren’t afraid.”
“And you hate poetry?” I say, kind of laughing at her.
“Is that a poem?”
“I didn’t know there were poems like that.”
“There are a lot of poems like that.”
“Do you know another one?” asks a kid in the back. “Like that? By heart?”
I think for a moment of the beauty of that statement, by heart. To know something by heart means it’s part of you. Forever. “Yeah.”
“But short, right? I hate long poems,” says a different poetry hater sitting near the door (to make an escape if needed).
I laugh and write another short poem on the board, this one by Stephen Crane.
“How many do you know?”
“I don’t know. We’ll find out.” And so that class begins.