I've been working on Mark Twain papers for five months, and I am getting low on ideas for writing. First of all, I do appreciate all he has done for letters and literature, and not only is he the greatest satirist of all time, but he is one of the first to signal that all people are equally human, a philosophy that is again losing ground.
But I have a stack of papers and books a yard high, and I have no idea where to start. I have to write another literary paper about his work, but I'm confined to working with only one text, and I'm just not in love with it, so I am totally blocked. I vocalized my dread about the course and the text in a general way to my librarian, who felt compelled to share my feelings with my professor. My professor was unhappy with me, but I feel like she should be looking at the librarian who should have held my confidence while I pushed through my doubts and frustrations.
In the good old days your librarian was much like your bartender, willing to listen to your cry for help and offer solutions and research advice without judgement. I've been around a ton of professional librarians, (I had lunch with a retired librarian today) and not one of them has tattled on me for whining about a text or questioning the pedagogy behind a worksheet (yeah, in my grad studies I have been doing some worksheets).
Except now I am in a quandary because everywhere I turn some tattling piece of fluff seems to be perched around the corner. Asking questions is no longer considered a critical thinking skill, and you are to remain silent in the face of your doubt because freedom is only an illusion. But I am not really blaming the tattle tales because in the age of surveillance I believe some people have normalized pettiness and dishonesty. I am beginning to see that we are in the midst of a social ill that is yet to be diagnosed or given a name.
The typical tattle tale lives in fear and insecurity, is jealous and dramatic, and believes every little speed bump is a life or death situation. Most tattle tales are not only extraordinarily dishonest, but also malicious and thin-skinned, itchy about trivial stuff and constantly coughing up mucus because they make themselves sick. So maybe we could call this new social ill something like gastrotattletalencephalitis, and abbreviate it to chicken-poop. At this time, I am sitting on a treasure trove of interesting emails shared with me based on the ignorance and fear of such types of people. I'm thinking about finding a way to incorporate these documents into a poem, short story, or other creative enterprise. One such email was authored by a thin-skinned gentleman that sits on a rubber ball during the day and discusses karate--his composition would make a great piece of blackout poetry, and it raises an important question, "Don't they teach character at the dojo anymore?"
Another such funny email hails from a woman that believes that your teaching credentials should be held secret and considers the online- state-certificate-lookup the education department version of Wikileaks. The fact that this ridiculous email exists says a lot about the institution it comes from, and if I was working for their public relations firm, I would have said emphatically, "Don't touch that!" But the irony is completely lost on that particular institution because they failed to do their homework on the issue, or examine an outside perspective. The email reads like an admission of guilt...yes, we are secretive...no, those people are not certified...yes, no one needs to know what we are hiding...no, we are not proud of our staff. I am thinking of making a novelette with that document and use the student journalism story that initiated the whole discussion for a framework.
Mark Twain would have plenty to say about the way modern society has churned out, and I wish he could help me write these exciting things up. He would be devastated to see that Americans are rowing backwards rather than forward, and I know he would find my email treasure trove an interesting piece of anthropology (the dilemma of Huck and Jim just hasn't reached enough readers).
But not all of the news is bad. Today, I met with my friends for our annual luncheon at Brookwood, and we enjoyed sharing our teacher/administrator stories. We laughed, we prayed, and we shopped for flowers with new gardening gloves. I won a gift card, and we are providing fifteen-hundred dollars to three new teachers; one member may earn a fascinating position. Another educator shared how she examined Hawthorne and the theme of isolation while working on her Masters. The retired librarian, one of the best in the world, just returned from a 16-day European vacation, so she had stories and happiness to share. I was able to personally thank another teacher for the materials she had given me and explain how they worked in my classroom. We had chicken sandwiches, but no chicken-poop, a garden salad, and tomato soup; and we had an open and free discussion...imagine.