Helen and Teacher

Helen and Teacher
The Story of my Life

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Yellow Brick Road; Memoirs of Autumn

My friend's sloping driveway was covered in several inches of glowing gold leaves today. It looked like The Yellow Brick Road. It is 80 year today, and very strange. It looks like Autumn, feels like late May. But, everything is glowing with beautiful death, reds, and oranges, blazing yellows. There are branches outlining the sky, looking like dead hands supplicating heavenward with long, skeletal fingers. There is an elegiac tone to everything.
We are gearing up for Halloween, and I am going to make Sugar Skulls for a book group on La Lacuna by B. Kingsolver. I find her and David Abrams to be among the most spiritual writers I have ever read. His "Ecology of Magic" is not to be ignored. I am studying more about another interest of mine, water sustainability and aquifers. I learned that as a result of the New Madrid quake, the Mississippi changed its course. We recently celebrated the anniversary of the loma prieta 1989 quake, which I was in. I still hear the radio playing "Shake, Rattle, and Roll." I have a doll that is a survivor of hte 1906 quke, too. Six months to the minute, on the anniversary of the 1906 quake, we had another major after shock. This was a truly humbling experience for me. I am planning to winterize some of my plants, my Harlequin petunias if possible, my Geraniums, a couple begonias. Many of my plants were eaten or destroyed by the capricious weather patterns. I was reading about Fractals, and how random much of what is really patterned and organized seems. Something I can relate to. The holidays approach; I am looking forward to them, and unpacking old family ornaments to use this year, remembering when all my shopping was done the day after Xmas for next year. I am slowly gathering gifts for our charity, The Sun Valley Indian School for Navajo children, and for my family. Much of Christmas died with my mother, as did all good things, but his year, I feel her spirit in all of this. I plan to bake again, and to store goods for candies to give as gifts. Start browsing craft magazines now, and look for coupons and sales. I love running around Black Friday to taste the sights, but I don't want to have to shop then. I was never last minute. Mom and I shopped ahead, then sorted and labelled who got what. I used to wrap on Halloween night and do Xmas cards over Thanksgiving. My classics were pecan pie, Dear Abbey's recipe, cranberry bread, and mom's Oyster Dressing, with the family joke that they forgot the oysters one year, but told everyone they melted. Mom made baklava and melomakarona, and we ate pheasant, duck, or smoked turkey. I decroated the table with all my little pilgrims and Gurley candles, and we had special table cloths and placemats. Mom made my Halloween costumes by hand, a Greek gypsy when I was five, a witch, a pioneer girl, a Vampire. A Raggedy Ann that should have won a prize. She only bought three costumes for me; Lamb Chop, when I was 3 or so, a Fairy when I was seven because I loved it, and a Spanish Gypsy from Madrid when I was 9, a terrific souvenir I still have. I wore the dress through College for different events and a homecoming float. She dressed the dolls, too, and they often tricked or treated. At 12, we made an Anne Boleyn gown and fantastic paper mask from bags and her old debutante gown. We made cutouts and bought new ones for our window, and got the biggest pumpkins we could out in the country. It was a simpler holiday than today, but we had a wonderful time. Happy Trick or Treating, and Happy Holidays to all.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How we read Changes Faces

From the newsletters of one of my alma maters; the changing face of reading.  How do you read?

The Changing Face of Reading

Tonight, when you curl up with your bedtime story of choice, will the glow

of a Kindle illuminate your sleepy face? In the morning, when you rise to

apprise yourself of the world’s happenings, will you do so via an iPad, laptop,

or smartphone? Will your day be punctuated by emailed communiqu├ęs from

friends, family, and colleagues? One thing is certain: Reading isn’t what it used

to be. Over the last thousand years, the texts themselves, and the ways in which

we read them, have undergone a succession of thrilling transformations.

Of course, long before books, there were stories that spilled not from pens

but from human throats. The first form of “reading” was a synthesis of listening

and talking, an oral tradition perfected by indigenous cultures around the world,

and still practiced by people everywhere.

Even with the advent of alphabets and the practice of writing, an emphasis

on the human voice remained; this concern with the sound of words was a

notable characteristic of some medieval literature. “During the Middle Ages

in England,” explains Professor Kathy Lavezzo, “a lot of vernacular literature

was written in alliterative form and therefore intended to be read aloud before

an audience. In some of this literature, such as the

Alliterative Morte Arthure (c.

1400), the author seems so excited about alliteration that at times he/she makes
up words for the sake of consonance and at the expense of coherence. In this

case, reading is about the sheer enjoyment of alliteration.”

In the early modern period, readers were less likely to recite, and more

likely to write; the act of reading was inextricably tied to that of putting

words on a page. “In the Renaissance,” says Professor Adam Hooks, “readers

were trained to encounter a text with a pen in hand, in order to mark

up—and hence actively engage with—the text. Simple reading alone was not

sufficient; the proper scholarly reader needed to actively use the text, taking

the time to fully comprehend its meanings and

implications. Reading was also aimed at some

practical or intellectual goal: a used text was

inevitably incorporated into one’s own writing.”

Consequently, a blank—or “commonplace”—book,

Hooks explains, “was an indispensable tool for the

Renaissance reader: here quotations from various

sources could be collected, so that they could be

retrieved and used at some later point.”

This brings to mind the comparatively simple

act of “bookmarking” a webpage. Today, texts

are portable, downloadable, listenable, copy- and

paste-able, and can be discarded and replaced with

the quickness of a mouse click. We see them on

displays as wee as two square inches and as wide as seventy feet—the width of

a movie theater screen, which, today’s English majors know, can be “read” as

readily as a book.

The act of reading no longer requires the presence of words—be they spoken

or printed—at all. Photography, film, television, the Internet, and an assortment

of gadgets ensure that we are swimming in images, all of which serve as fodder

for a thoroughly modern kind of reading. Today’s most avid readers and critical

thinkers realize that every picture really does tell a story. “The ability to ‘read’

an image,” says Professor Miriam Thaggert, “as well as a literary text, shapes the

face of reading now—to analyze the composition of a photograph with as much

attention as we examine the structure of a narrative. Reading now recognizes the

visually-inflected world we live in and studies how image and text work together

to shape our world.” Students in English courses such as

Popular Culture and

Everyday Life in the U.S.

, Topics in Film and Literature, and New Media Poetics learn

this. Meanwhile, the rest of us can learn by watching them.

“We learn a great deal about the future of reading by observing young

people—what and how they read, with which technologies, and as part of what

media cultures,” notes Professor Stephen Voyce. “We are told that manic

tweeting, text walking, and the chronic facebook updater fill the world with

ephemeral, disposable language. Yet, one finds a handy riposte to this version of

things in their dedication to Harry Potter novels and video games whose quests

take months to complete. So it would seem the so-called Millennials love extremes,

reveling in a seven-part epic whose vast symbolic arena echoes Homer’s imaginative

universe, whilst taking joy in Twitter’s cheeky 140-character restriction.”

Today’s young readers both keep pace with and perpetuate reading’s

ongoing evolution. “The young have no problems moving between radically

different media and border-blurring genres,” says Voyce. “I see in my students a

generation swinging wildly from that jungle gym of language we used to call the


If yesterday’s avant-garde is today’s conventional reality, tomorrow’s reading

practices will only further stretch our collective imagination, as well as our

capacity for invention. What will abide, however, in spite of reading’s perpetually

changing face, is the love of words and the stories they shape—the very human

craving for both true and invented tales that will last as long as we do.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Thursday, October 4, 2012