Tuesday, June 27, 2006

I didn't attend university full-time until my early 30s, and at that point I'd read a bit and knew a little about life. While my life experience informed my view of the materials presented, my tiny talent for writing coupled with a penchant for the slightly off-kilter made for great fun. Indeed, I suspect my high marks in courses reflected how refreshing my view of the subject was after the professor read reams of desperately off-mark scratchings from my unengaged peers. My preference was for intense literature classes in which the whole merit of the semester rested on a mere 2 or 3 tests, preferably essay questions.

One particularly memorable course involved the origins of classical literature, with a particular focus on mythology including Gilgamesh and of course, Odysseus. On the final exam for that term, I hit a bit of a hiccup - unusual for me in those settings. The question involved extrapolating what Odysseus' Mrs. had got up to while he was away, the killing of the fatted calf at his homecoming, and yada yada yada. Our study of Odysseus (and my first introduction to that story) had been at the beginning of the semester, and I had rather dismissed the trials of his put-upon wife, Penelope, whose name I had a bitch of a time remembering, simply referring to her in every combination of adjectives for "long-suffering wife" I could conjure.

This was unfortunate, because my head is a zero-sum game- new information is crammed in only by purging the memory banks of other, previously important data that I crammed earlier material out in order to retain. I went round the bend in agonies trying to come up with that ancient sounding name that began with a P.

I made an A+ on that exam. The teacher didn't mention in remarks that I never used Penelope's name, but I clearly knew the story in and out, so perhaps she was giving me a pass. Or perhaps I trumped all other considerations when I cleverly wove a reference to Steve Miller into my recounting of Orpheus and Eurydice.

The story goes that Orpheus and Eurydice are so besotted with each other, that when E. is bitten by a snake and dies, O. is so forlorn that his mourning songs of sweetness and longing inspire the pity of gods of the underworld, and Hades and Persephone tell him they'll let him come to the underworld and spring his wife and bring her back to live with him. The one condition of this arrangement is that when he finds her, he may not look upon her, but must walk ahead of her and not see her until they are out of the underworld. Near the end of the journey - the end is within reach - he turns and glances at her, only to see her wrested from his grasp for all eternity, dadgummit.

Naturally, the line from Steve Miller that comes to mind is from Big Old Jet Airliner, when he says "you've got to go through hell before you get to heaven." I DID get a comment on being the first student to draw such an analogy. Incidentally, despite my garbage in/garbage out airlock on data storage, Steve Miller, old commercial jingles, and every embarrassing thing I've ever done or said seem to be exempt from the ranks of flushable data - those precious things will always be with me.

Anyway, I know reading and writing is not so simple for everyone, but it can be such a delight and such a great escape from mundanaity. What makes it all enjoyable is a very slight shift of focus, like looking at one of those magic eye images where the tiniest shift of focus allows a different dimension to unfold. By all means, we learn by hearing the accepted interpretation of stories, but it is important that we find a personal resonance for these stories and ideas. Also, for me the hallmark of good writing is the reader can take imagery in a wholly different direction than that envisioned by the writer, and in that way, the excitement of a story may expand exponentially. This is (or should be) a universal concept - not everyone can sing well, but everyone can be trained to sing better than they do. Same dif. But I'm rambling again, aren't I?

Oh, and one more thing: some people call me the space cowboy.


Tickersoid said...

I remember struggeling with literature at school. I tried writing what I believed instead of what I thought they wanted me to believe. It didn't work, partly because they found it disrespectfull and partly because I wrote utter tosh.
They probably thought I was the gangster or love.

phlegmfatale said...

...then I'm sure you won't mind if I call you Maurice?

aw, now - well I'm guessing you are just a wee bit older than me, but entering school in the 60s and 70s, the curriculae of school were not so flexible for different learning styles, and I think that harsh system of rigidity stunted the academic growth of a lot of people - people like ME! Toss out the oddballs for the good of the rule-following group. It sucks.

FatQuarterQuiltFarm said...

Ok ,so how many times have you heard this when referencing Steve Miller?" Really love your peaches wanna shake your tree"?Me personally, never....Glad to hear of your fond writing memories,I was always completely paralized..

phlegmfatale said...

You know, strangely enough, schnoobie - I've only heard that line quoted once, and it was when a friend was saying she was mortified when a friend played that song when she had my friend and her very young daughter were over for a pool party. I hear the space cowboy/gangster of love line more often than any of the rest of it. Good stuff!
Sorry you were paralyzed for literature - it's too bad teachers don't make it exciting for the pupils, but I guess they get burned out, too.

Liz said...

No we don't. We call you Maurice, dammit.

Anonymous said...

Ahh, English and World Lit. My secret loves, but I can never remember those Greek Myths (my own zero sum gain? Greek comes in the wrong end) except to form a punk band and call it Eddy Puss and the Motherf*ckers. Perhaps have a female backup group called The Electra-lites. Where's Diogenes when you need him? (badoom doom chic!)
Steve Miller???!!!! OhmyGah! Girl, did you speak of the pompatous of love?( Papatis? Popatits? Pompadous?) Does anyone know what he's saying or what the hell that word means?) Perhaps you were just a midnight toker (heh heh). I can't remember "Penelope" (Penny loap?) when I'm straight, much less stoned...
xxxooo -Al

The Mistress said...

I'm a midnight toker myself.

Here's the Straight Dope on The Pompetus of Love

Becky said...

I'm totally impressed you found a way to segue Steve Miller and mythology. I can somewhat relate to this, even with a different field of study, in that having a few years of life and work behind me put my grad studies in to a much better perspective than had I gone straight through or even majored in business in undergrad. Things just made sense more and I was interested in the classes, rather than just going through the motions.

LJ said...

Here's to your magic eyes, kiddo. I can't believe you got an A+ and actually used a reference from Sweet Old Jet Airliner.
I curtsey.

Dick said...

Just in case you ever wondered, Steve's a regular guy.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I remember the good old days...
as I tell my daughter now, who just finished up her freshman year of high school, you can make up anything you want, bull-shit, pull stuff out of your ASS, as long as you can back it up somewhere in the text, the instructors have to accept it!
That's how you can get really creative and let your imagination go, that's what makes literature FUN!

Anonymous said...

Have you heard Laura Love's cover of both Miller and Lennon?


Her cover medley of Steve Miller's "Fly Like An Eagle" merged with The Beatles "Come Together" is a fabulous marriage of two classic songs with wonderful fiddle work by band member Barbara Lamb.

Welcome to Pagan Place

Gave me goosebumps, it did.

Tam said...

"But I'm rambling again, aren't I?"

Hey, ramble on! It's what we're here to see, after all. :)

(There are folks in blogland who wish they could focus half as entertainingly as you ramble. Or if they don't, they should. ;) )

Zelda said...

Well I just really love your peaches and wanna shake you're tree. I hope that's okay. :-)

phlegmfatale said...

liz - oh yeah, maurice. That's it!

Anonymous Al - I love your Greek band name - I'd go see your Greek band and I'd definitely buy the t-shirt.
Maybe Steve Miller was talking about Indian food and it was actually the popadams of love. Yummy spicey woohoo! You are a super-cool guy, Al.

mj - wikipedia has a good entry on this too :

becky - I'm with you on being older and more focused in one's studies - as it is now, I 'bout have the attention span of a lit match, and it was much much worse when I was younger. At least now I can sit still for more than 5 minutes at a time.

lj - well, that's just the kind of hairpin I am, babe! I curtsey right back at ya!

dick - Yeah, I heard that about Steve Miller - that he rides a bicycle around the parking lot of arenas and says hi to people before his shows. He's another super-cool guy. I LURVE him. None of that stratospheric rock-star bullshit for our man Steve, bless him.

Christina - that's it totally, and I think the professors are so used to people who just go through the motions, and if the student can extrapolate some correlation to life in essay form, then I think the instructor is apt to be delighted. Good for you for encouraging that bent in your daughter.

nicht - I will check that out on Amazon as soon as I post this. Thanks for the head's up!

Tam - garsh! And from you, one of the cleverest people I've ever read, high praise indeed. I'm not worthy!

zelda - *LOL* Same back at ya, love!