Fall: more excuses (a journal this time!)

Okay, since I now seem to be crawling out of the tunnel of crazy hard work that has been ruling my life this month, I wanted to offer one more excuse, in addition to THE BOOK, which has been taking up some of what would have been my free fun time... but it's something very nice: a fine little online journal called Journey to the Sea.

This is a project created by my genius former student, someone I met in my very first class on my very first day of university teaching in 1999 in a course on Ancient Epic (which has now morphed into my online Mythology-Folklore course). We've stayed in touch all these years - he's since graduated, and then got a master's degree in Business school (MIS) and now he's a webmaster for Blockbuster. You can tell this guy is a genius at web design - the journal looks marvelous, if I do say so myself. Talk about a tale of the pupil surpassing the master! Randy may have done his first webpages in a class with me ten years ago, but now he can run circles around me when it comes to web design. He is so talented! (He's also the genius behind the RotatingContent.com tool I use to build all my widgets, and he also created the online classical Greek typewriter at TypeGreek.com which I used when I was teaching Biblical Greek online.)

Anyway, over all these years Randy has kept pursuing his interest in mythology, and about six months ago he came up with the idea of creating an online journal. And sure enough... he's done it! The third issue just came out (it's a once-a-month thing) and so far it is all going according to his very nicely thought out plan. The idea was that he and I would each do pieces for the first couple of issues and on that basis he would then start approaching the artists and authors and scholars who interest him, and soliciting pieces from them, or asking for interviews. So, in this third issue, he has an interview with Travis Prinzi, and he's got the next four issues or so planned out with interviews and articles from some really interesting people whom he has contacted and who have agree to participate. The stuff he has been writing for the journal is just super. I think his piece on the Islamic legend of Iblis in the latest issue is fantastic.

What I think is really marvelous about this is Randy's decision to keep the articles all to around 1000-1200 words in length. This has been really good for both of us, keeping us from being too long-winded about things! (Everybody here knows I am prone to be verbose.) We've been reading each other's drafts and giving each other lots of feedback, which has been fascinating for me. I don't ever think I've had the luxury of someone really helping me with my writing like this. This type of writing - let's call it semi-scholarly - is not the kind of writing that I am normally inclined to do (I had totally sworn off scholarly writing), and without the structure of this whole project I never would have thought of doing anything like this on my own - but I am really pleased with the results!

For the next issue, the one we are putting together right now and which he will publish online on October 1, I wrote an article about a mystical Sufi interpretation of an Aesop's fable. It was so much fun to write! I used to be quite a keen student of Sufi wisdom literature, although that is definitely from a long-ago chapter in my life... but one which I am glad to reopen! I'll post a note here when that issue comes out. In the first three issues, I did a series of articles on the themes of European, Native American and African-American magic in Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series (so of course I was excited when Orson Scott Card came up as one of the authors Nancy does with her students).

Anyway, I'd like to be better about blogging here - I'm afraid of falling into that trap Nathan just mentioned in the technology discussion about teachers who are so busy teaching that they don't have to learn. I don't want to be so busy getting my students to learn how to blog that I forget to take some time to do a bit of blogging, too! But it's been a very productive few months for me, so I'm not complaining exactly... just bemoaning the limited number of hours in the day! :-)

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Comment by Ian Carmichael on September 12, 2008 at 11:42pm
Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts...
Comment by Laura Gibbs on September 12, 2008 at 11:13pm
Oh my gosh, Skip, your vision of the scripted teachers teaching students to take the scripted tests... TOO SCARY. I am both perpetually depressed about all this, and perpetually optimistic, since it seems indeed to be an age-old story, just as you say, and there's always something good going on in spite of (because of?) the fact that so much dreck is going on as well.

One of my favorite accounts of teaching of all time (the bad kind of teaching) is in Charles Dickens' novel, Hard Times... do you know that one??? I had a bad Dickens experience in high school (there's some bad teaching for you!), which put me off Dickens for years, but now I am devoted to him, and the opening scene of Hard Times, with Mr. Gradgrind (!!!), and the tyranny of facts and the persecution of creativity, is priceless, so true, so sad, and so funny, too! We are still grappling with the same problems Dickens saw in 1854!!!

'I'll explain to you, then,' said the gentleman, after another and
a dismal pause, 'why you wouldn't paper a room with representations
of horses. Do you ever see horses walking up and down the sides of
rooms in reality - in fact? Do you?'

'Yes, sir!' from one half. 'No, sir!' from the other.

'Of course no,' said the gentleman, with an indignant look at the
wrong half. 'Why, then, you are not to see anywhere, what you
don't see in fact; you are not to have anywhere, what you don't
have in fact. What is called Taste, is only another name for
Fact.' Thomas Gradgrind nodded his approbation.

'This is a new principle, a discovery, a great discovery,' said the
gentleman. 'Now, I'll try you again. Suppose you were going to
carpet a room. Would you use a carpet having a representation of
flowers upon it?'

There being a general conviction by this time that 'No, sir!' was
always the right answer to this gentleman, the chorus of NO was
very strong. Only a few feeble stragglers said Yes: among them
Sissy Jupe.

'Girl number twenty,' said the gentleman, smiling in the calm
strength of knowledge.

Sissy blushed, and stood up.

'So you would carpet your room - or your husband's room, if you
were a grown woman, and had a husband - with representations of
flowers, would you?' said the gentleman. 'Why would you?'

'If you please, sir, I am very fond of flowers,' returned the girl.

'And is that why you would put tables and chairs upon them, and
have people walking over them with heavy boots?'

'It wouldn't hurt them, sir. They wouldn't crush and wither, if
you please, sir. They would be the pictures of what was very
pretty and pleasant, and I would fancy - '

'Ay, ay, ay! But you mustn't fancy,' cried the gentleman, quite
elated by coming so happily to his point. 'That's it! You are
never to fancy.'

'You are not, Cecilia Jupe,' Thomas Gradgrind solemnly repeated,
'to do anything of that kind.'

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