Friday, July 22, 2016

Roads not only less taken, but not even open anymore

Had a strange experience--for the first time--the other day.

I was looking through old books, and I came across a small, as yet unread, collection of works on Central Asia.  I had spent a week in Kazakhstan about 10 years ago (and my wife spent the summer there in 1994).  I was also, at one time, a political scientist studying and teaching on comparative politics.  After visiting, Central Asia moved up my list of topics I thought I'd like to know more about.  I even imagined the different ways I might get back--some sort of short-term teaching or mission trip.  And there were opportunities.  I know folks who do that kind of work in various parts of the region.  I even made some enquiries.  And the first step in all this was to buy some books on the this case, the region.

But as I looked at those books, a new and odd sensation came over me.  I leafed through one and consciously thought, "You're not going there.  That's no longer available, because you've got other priorities and opportunities.  You can't do everything you ever wanted to do, after all." 

As I put the books in the "sell" pile, I could palpably recall the thoughts and hopes from earlier years.  "I want to go here, and I want to do this and that, and, and...."

I've done plenty.  And there's plenty I'll never do, but would be pleased to have done.  And there are some remarkable things I've gotten to do that I would never have imagined.  So, I have no need of a bucket list.  I'm sure I wouldn't put together one that created anything but the most temporal--in both senses--satisfaction in me.  Further, to think I could "construct" some sort of experiential delight would diminish the essential joy I've had in all the things I have done...even the ones that weren't so enjoyable at the time, but fundamentally constitute the breadth of my life.

Friday, July 8, 2016

A Rat Caught in a Trap

If you've read any of this blog, you probably know that I'm not a huge fan of digital life, especially when it draws youngters' attention resources away from academic pursuits.  But I will admit that I am glad for YouTube inasmuch as it enables me to get access to gems like the film version of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, based on Ambrose Bierce's brilliant short story by the same name.

I read this with my 8th graders every year (though I cut out the last paragraph, so they don't know the outcome), then watch the video.  It's a good day.  Great story, fantastic film adaptation--remarkable for many things, one of which is almost complete absence of dialogue.

Well, today, my 8-year-old son and his friend were wanting to watch videos about trapping rats and mice.  I said, I got one for you, and I turned on the video.   (They don't know the story.)

It was interesting to sit in the other room and listen to my son trying to figure out what was going on.  Almost immediately it was, "Is somebody going to get hanged?"  Then as he was watching the preparation for the hanging and working out what was going to happen.  "Oh, I get it...that guy will step off the board, and the other guy will fall."

Soon, it was, "What's this have to do with rat traps?"

"Wait," I said.  Then the line (added to the film, not in the story) came up.  "Payton Farquhar.  You're caught, like a rat in a trap."

When Farquhar fell into the creek and swam away, it was, "Did you ever think he should have been shot by now (with the number of soldiers shooting at him)?"  And, "I don't think he could swim that far...he would be tired."  Later, during the long run, "He would have been out of breath by now."  And, eventually, "He couldn't run for this long!"

Then, upon the reveal at the end, "Ohhhh...that was harsh."

Not a 5 on the AP test, but this is"engagement with the text," as it were.