Jami Fairleigh – Baking with Meryl Streep

Jami Fairleigh
Baking with Meryl Streep

Whenever I forget to feed Meryl Streep, she starts to stink. You could even say she goes a little boozy. A boozy floozy. I never imagined I’d have a relationship with Meryl or a relationship of any kind with something I keep in my refrigerator, but that’s the magic of these crazy times.
      Long before the rebirth of sourdough, before our Instagram feeds choked with images of glorious home-baked loaves, I’d ordered my copy of Ken Forkish’s book, Flour Water Salt Yeast. I’d poured over the descriptions, I’d read about the merits of home-ground flour, and I’d confidently begun a starter. And then another, and another. Each ended in disaster and the loaves of bread I tried to craft were bricks of doom: flat, lifeless, dead. I put away my fantasy loaves and did the sensible thing; I bought bread from the store.
      My foray into the world of baking was mirrored by my attempts at writing. Yearning to translate the stories my imagination conjured into real books, I bought a few books about creating fiction and got ready to write. That fresh document, that unsullied notebook with all those blank pages—they provided a sense of promise. Here soon, a story would be born, crafted of imagination and dreams.
      Like my baking, I soon learned that stories didn’t just happen; one could not write a novel armed with a wisp of an idea and the desire to have written a book. Sadly, I concluded that the magic of writing, that alchemy of creating something from nothing, was just not for me. I was a person who would buy my bread and buy my books.
      Then a tiny-tiny virus put the great big world on pause and suddenly, I had time. Time to worry, time to eat, and time to clean out our closets and my bookshelves. Time to reexamine my life, time to dust off old manuscripts, and time to revive story ideas that had been languishing in the recesses of my mind. I started again. I pulled out the draft of the novel I’d been working on, I revived my neglected blog, and I began a new sourdough starter and named her Meryl Streep.
      This time it worked. This time I had the secret ingredient, the magical component that had eluded me before; Time. Time to focus, time to experiment, time to dream. Now, I’ve picked the launch date for that novel, I’ve rediscovered how writing feeds creativity, and I’ve learned that when you make time for it, you can actually create something from nothing. I’ve also learned that a little of Meryl goes a long way. AQ

Wendy Kennar – Could I? Should I? Would I?

Wendy Kennar
Could I?, Should I?, Would I?

‘Can you still teach?’
      ‘Kind of,’ I answered.
      ‘You either can or you can’t. We can’t continue with this process if you can still teach.’
      It was November 2012, and I didn’t know how to respond to the CalSTRS (California State Teachers’ Retirement System) repre-sentative sitting across from my husband and me.
      ‘Can you still teach?
      There was a part of me that could still teach, that still wanted to teach. I’d only been teaching for twelve years. I wasn’t supposed to be looking into retirement this soon.
      But this wouldn’t be a traditional retirement. This would be a ‘retirement due to a disability. ’
      Could I still teach?
In my mind, the answer was simple. Yes. I still had the passion and the drive to go to school each day and create an environment within room 7 where children felt loved, safe, and empowered to try their best.
      Should I continue to teach?
      That was a different question. The answer was more complicated, and I was becoming less and less sure. I knew I shouldn’t be spending my lunchtime alone in my classroom, leaving voicemails for doctors, crying and pleading for their soonest possible appointment. I knew I shouldn’t be biting my lip, struggling with pain in my left leg, as I walked around the classroom checking on my students as they worked independently at their desks.
      Yet, how could I admit I was no longer able to teach? I had gone to college with one purpose—to become a teacher. Teaching is what I did, and who I was. If I wasn’t a teacher anymore, who would I be?
      I continued teaching after I first became ill, and I continued teaching after receiving my diagnosis almost a year-and-a-half later.
      I had initially considered my disease as nothing more than a minor inconvenience. It was a chronic condition, but so was my asthma. And fortunately, my asthma didn’t affect me on a daily basis. I assumed my autoimmune disease would work the same way.
      I assumed wrong. I learned that my disease wasn’t just a chronic medical condition; it was a chronic medical condition causing chronic pain.
      I told doctors that sometimes my legs hurt, as if I had repeatedly bumped into the sharp corners of a coffee table. Sometimes my legs felt heavy, as if someone had placed piles of books on them. Sometimes, it felt as if invisible shackles were attached to my lower legs, making it impossible for me to walk as quickly as I wanted. Sometimes my left calf felt hard and tight as if it was experiencing a never-ending charley horse.
      I had always prided myself on being a “tough chick.” I didn’t give up on things just because they were hard or more challenging or less desirable. After all, I was the girl who had gone to college while commuting on city buses. (A commute that required six buses a day and involved a total travel time of between three and-a-half to four hours.)
      I was the woman who had taught fourth graders until two days before my son was born. I was the woman who walked into the hospital on a Sunday afternoon, and six hours later, delivered my son through a natural, non-medicated childbirth.
      But this situation was different. There was no end in sight. This disease wasn’t temporary. I came home each day with less and less of myself to give my family. My thirty-plus fourth-grade students got the best part of me. I came home, and my toddler son got the rest of my energy. By the time he was in bed, I had almost nothing of myself to offer my husband. I felt increasingly fatigued, unhappy, and uncertain about how I could maintain my current pace.
      Working as an elementary school teacher didn’t provide me with a lot of opportunity for special accommodations or modifications. I couldn’t cut back on hours. I couldn’t just take a day off at the last minute. (A teacher’s absence must be called in ahead of time, sub plans must be provided; it is often more work to be absent than it is worth.) My rheumatologist had provided me with a note exempting me from teaching physical education. (I partnered with another teacher who helped during p.e. time.) I used the school elevator when I wasn’t with my students. But other than that, there was no way to lessen the burden, the stress, and the sheer will it took to effectively teach a roomful of children.
      I hadn’t even known there was an alternative. I thought I was living the life I was meant to be living. I had everything I had wanted—a healthy son, a loving husband, a fulfilling teaching career. Daily pain was just an unwelcome addition.
      My rheumatologist had advised me to explore my retirement options. At each appointment, he’d ask if I was still working. ‘Of course,’ I answered early on.
      My answers gradually changed. ‘Yes,’ I’d answer with slightly less enthusiasm.
      ‘I’m trying,’ I admitted.
      My husband and I met with the representative of the teachers’ retirement program to find out how the process worked. After the initial meeting, I spent hours completing pages and pages of forms that also required comprehensive medical documentation. My rheumatologist had his own packet of forms to complete, and I found out later, my school principal was also required to fill out her own set of forms. Upon receipt of my application, it would be reviewed to determine if I qualified for retirement. I was told the review process could take months. I asked my doctor if he thought I’d qualify, and he believed, without a doubt, I would.
      If I didn’t qualify, the decision would be made for me. I would continue to teach. This disease affected every aspect of my daily life—my sleep, my mood, my energy. I wanted to feel better for my son, for my husband, for myself. But I didn’t know if giving up teaching was the way to accomplish that.
      And, I still didn’t see myself as disabled. In my mind, my late grandmother had been disabled. She was a senior citizen who had suffered several strokes, whose body struggled with rheumatoid arthritis. She relied on a wheelchair on her bad days, and a cane on her better days. That wasn’t me.
      But I also knew that physically, I wasn’t the same teacher I had been when I had started teaching. Walking field trips were no longer possible. We used to walk to a neighbourhood park for picnics with our pen pals from another elementary school. We used to walk to the local Apple store for workshops. Those field trips had ceased. And, my leg had “given out” one morning while my class was testing, and I had fallen. (I quickly popped back up and assured my students I was fine though I was quite shaken.)
      The final decision came within days, not months. The state of California had approved my request for retirement due to a disability. I didn’t know what to make of the quick acceptance. Had the state of California quickly (and much more readily) acknowledged what I had spent over two years trying to ignore and deny?
      The school principal wrote a letter to my students’ families, telling them of my upcoming retirement and reassuring them that a substitute would finish up the school year. My students told me later that they knew something was wrong before I passed out the letters and told them the news. I closed our classroom door, something I usually only did during testing situations. They told me my face turned red. They told me I looked like I wanted to cry.
      They cried. I cried. I promised them that they were still stuck with me for about one more month. I told them we still had a lot of work to do. Nothing was changing during our last month together. One of my students told me he would start rubbing his bracelet, the kids called it a “superhero bracelet,” and ask it to fix my leg. And I wondered if I was doing the right thing.
      My co-workers wanted to throw me a retirement party. But I didn’t want to celebrate. I regarded retiring as failing. I couldn’t teach any more. My body couldn’t do it. I was disabled. What was there to celebrate?
      On the last day of my teaching career, my students came to school in their pyjamas for ‘Read Across America’ day. My students snacked and read with their second-grade reading buddies. And for the first time in my career, I didn’t participate. I couldn’t end my teaching career in flannel pyjamas. I needed my pants.
      The school acknowledged me with speeches and flowers at our weekly all-school assembly. And after school, we gathered at a nearby restaurant. Almost our whole staff, former teachers, our former principal. Colleagues who generally didn’t attend anyone’s retirement celebration came to mine.
It was March 1st, 2013, and I was less than a week away from my thirty-seventh birthday.
      To a certain extent, I have become a different woman since then. I am a stay-at-home mom. And when asked what I do, I reply: ‘I’m a writer,’ instead of ‘I was a teacher.’
      But there are times I desperately miss teaching. I miss bringing my electric grill to school and making quesadillas for Cinco de Mayo. I miss reading Roald Dahl’s Matilda with my class and then showing them the Danny DeVito film, as we compare and contrast the novel and the film (while snacking on honey graham crackers, in honor of the character Miss Honey). I miss our games—vocabulary bingo, multiplication volleyball, MadLibs. I miss taking my kids to sit outside on the front lawn for a social studies lesson, encouraging them to imagine they’re really college students, out on the front lawn of the quad…
      ‘Can you still teach?
      Seven years later, and I still don’t have a simple answer to that question.
      No, I can’t still teach in a traditional classroom setting. There are days I wake up and slowly shuffle out of bed and am grateful I don’t have to stand in front of a room full of children all day long. There are days I struggle to get out of my desk chair, and I’m thankful that no one is around to see me struggle.
      But, yes, I can still teach. I won’t ever stop teaching. I teach my son every day. I teach him values and morals. I use my extra teacher resources to supplement his classroom lessons. I teach him tricks to learn his nine times tables.
      And I am a freelance writer. I draw upon the experiences of my teaching career to write about education-related topics such as why we should never stop reading aloud to our children and how to get the most out of a parent/teacher conference. Most importantly, I am teaching through the use of my written words, educating others about my autoimmune disease and invisible disability.
      Retiring from teaching was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. And at the same time, it doesn’t feel like it was my decision to make. I used to see my retirement as a sign of failure. As a very public acknowledgement of what had largely remained hidden and invisible.
      Now, seven years later, I don’t see my retirement as a sign of failure, but as an act of bravery.
      Can I still teach?
      I taught myself that bravery takes many forms. And taking a leap of faith, being forced to imagine my life differently, is brave. AQ

Fiona Jones – Twinkling

Fiona Jones

For most of a century, urban legend has held that the Inuit have a hundred words for snow. Whole armfuls of different linguistic units, each with its own fine-lined nuances, distinguishing one snow from another by temperature, thickness, flake size, adhesion, building potential… Because the landscape that shapes our lives should also channel our language, and the weather should feed our wisdom.
      I wanted it to be true. It isn’t.
      But here I am living in the UK, where rain shapes our experiences as much as snow shapes anyone else’s. We see rain often. Thunderous downpours and grey-clouded drizzle, sleet horizontally driven, large spattering drops that blotch the ground and bubble the water. Alternating sunshine and showers, and that long, dreary, drenching rain that spills autumn over into winter. The very word ‘weather’, untempered by adjective, defaults to mean ‘rain’ for us.
      Situated as Britain is—on the boundary between continent and ocean, in the meeting-zone of conflicting air masses—we can receive our weather from Siberia one day and the North Atlantic the next, carrying its Caribbean influence of warmth and humidity. And so we see rain not only frequently but also variously.
      Incidentally (or not), we also have armfuls of words for rain—dialect words, slang, euphemisms, onomatopoeia, metaphors, traditions: April showers, a splash or a soak, nice weather for ducks, bucketing, pelting, chucking it down. Scotch mist on a dreich old day, spitting and mizzling, liquid sunshine to wry optimists leaning toward irony. Rainstorms, cloudbursts, deluges, dropping down cats and dogs, the old man’s snoring. A fresh phrase if we need one for every rainy day in the year.
      There’s an empty space here for just one more word: a name for that ambiguous, almost imperceptible twinkle of moisture from an open sky—less than drizzle, hardly more than dryness, a half-sensed droplet or two like a sneeze from a butterfly.
      Twinkling: brief, negligible rainfall that leaves you never quite sure if you felt it or not.                 AQ

Mary B. Kurtz – A Dark and Gnarled Wood

Mary B. Kurtz
A Dark and Gnarled Wood

I want to write about the weather. I mean I want to write about climate change. But finding the words and naming the issue feels fearful to the point of unmentionable, like when we avoid speaking of ‘death’ and instead, say, ‘The deceased. She passed away. He’s at peace. She’s in heaven.’ But never straight ahead—‘She’s dead. She died.’
      I’m expecting my first grandchild in several months. In his or her lifetime, will he or she see what I saw today on the ranch where I live? The lone coyote who slunk across the meadow coming up from the riverbank as I sipped my morning coffee. A mallard duck pair searching for nesting ground as they wandered the cottonwoods outside my kitchen window. Three crows harassing one another for a mate and twigs for a nest, their decisions thoughtful but quick. The five, petite, white tail deer who ran across the county road, leapt over the barb wire fence and scampered south into an early spring wind. And the ritual first sighting of the diminutive Rocky Mountain Bluebell and the delicate yellow Glacial Lilly, faithful along my walking trail.
      I couldn’t watch Alfred Hitchcock and other scary shows when I was a child. The threat felt all too close and too real in my mind. And now in my sixties, when I lay in bed in the middle of the night thinking about climate change, I feel the same way: it’s too close and too real. When fears overwhelm me: I foresee heat so high life must be lived inside; I imagine drought that threatens food stores and fuels fights over caches of seeds; I draw up floods in my mind more primal in their will each spring as though Noah’s story may become mine.
      I am powerless in the inky silence. I grasp for control to protect my children and grandchildren. In the morning, I ask in daylight, how close, how real, how threatening?
      When my children were young, the micro-climate of our home was different. The year my daughter, Cassidy, was born, warm weather and shorts for Memorial Day picnics were never a given. The last few years, late May might be rainy, but short-sleeve shirts are hanging in Pete’s closet. For over thirty years, my husband, Pete’s, hay season began in late July and lasted through the county fair in mid-August. This year he the rolled out the mower, rake and baler and made tracks with his John Deere in early July. In the eighties, I expected the tomatoes in the garden to freeze by Labor Day. As the gardening season came to a close last year in mid-September, I gathered green tomatoes from my vines and put them in the windowsill to ripen.
      And in 2012, snowfall records were broken. We knew the run-off would be high, but when warm days and moderate temperatures at night collided, the melt accelerated. With my son, Andy, I stood on the county bridge over the waterway. Above the roar, I said, ‘Andy, my mind tells me we’re safe, but I don’t feel like we are. I’ve never seen a river like this. No one could survive in there.’ I failed to find the words for the raw power of the waterway that midnight in the years since. But if there were a nightmare, it was but a few feet below where we stood. The Steamboat Pilot, our local paper, wrote the next day, ‘Elk River sets a record at 8,250 cubic feet per second’. Later, it was declared a 500-hundred-year flood event.
      Thoughts and conversations about the weather, once light and inconsequential, a point of easy common ground in social conversation, now carry a heavier weight. Extreme weather events, like the 2012 flood, and the changes in our seasons shadow our thoughts about the future. Several years ago, I felt reassured that mankind could cooperate successfully with the will of the earth when scientists believed the stratospheric ozone layer could right itself if human activity changed: less carbon emissions and less deforestation. Now, new predictions, statistical data, forecasting models, create a new disquiet and questions arise.
      What mood are the climatologists in? Like me, do they toss in their fears, too, just as vulnerable in the silence of the night? Is there hope in the models, even those on the fast track? Will spring always erupt in the brilliance of green or will it one day weep?
      Michael Mann, a Pennsylvania State University climatologist, reports that changes in parameters like temperature, sea levels and carbon emissions have occurred ahead of the best projections. All time global temperatures have risen for the last three consecutive years. Both the North and South Pacific regions have experienced one of their strongest cyclones in the last year and a half. Tropical cyclone expert Dr Phil Klotzbach reported in Di Liberto on 5 May 2017, that tropical storm, Donna, was the strongest May cyclone on record for the entire Southern Hemisphere.
      And the West Antarctic ice sheet is on the brink of collapse, which in turn would destroy the ice shelf, creating a rise in the sea level of ten to twelve feet. This would be catastrophic for coastal life in Australia and New Zealand. When our overheated earth, now a greenhouse with only modest ventilation, threatens all living things with heat waves five times more likely to occur and portions of the Western Antarctica ice sheet due to collapse, what would help create change?
      The new Climate Assessment report now predicts, too, that the future of our world is truly threatened by climate change and a shift to extreme weather events. Produced by thirteen federal agencies, the scientific report predicts dire consequences to health, global food stores, economics, damage to infrastructures, and mental health. Of greatest concern, the pace of the changes to our climate that have occurred since the last report in 2014.


I recently discovered the word, krummholz in Barry Lopez’s book, Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape. The crooked, gnarled wood lives in the transition zone between sub-alpine and treeless tundra, pressed by extreme vagaries of weather and physical circumstance. It survives at its environmental limit, its growth slow and irregular, windward branches failing to develop, but it remains a survivor, an elfin tree seeking low lying growth, intertwining, fortifying, and strengthening its hold. I weighed the question: as the extreme vagaries of weather create extreme circumstance for mankind, can we maintain survival at some future environmental limit?
      Laurence Gonzales, writing in, Deep Survival: Who Lives, Dies, and Why, explores, with the help of science and story, how and why certain individuals survive, whether in the wilderness or in facing any of life’s challenges. From stories of those who survived, they did so by keeping their wits about them and seeing the world, the situation at hand, as it is. They didn’t protest the situation. They worked with the reality of their condition, their plight, the scene as it was, one in which they needed to survive.
      Mann believes there’s hope if we look at history. When we do, science and honesty prevail. When society delayed acting on the issues of tobacco, ozone depletion, and the banning of chlorofluorocarbons, and lives were lost and damaged, we did eventually take appropriate action. So, I look for hope.
      After the signing of the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2015 by 195 countries, Norway agreed to ban all sales of gas and diesel-powered cars by 2035 and France has pledged to eliminate coal in the production of electricity after 2022. In addition, the Dutch government has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 49% by 2030.
      According to recent reporting from National Geographic, China is focusing on renewables: wind, solar, and hydropower; Germany currently generates twenty-seven percent of their electricity from renewables driven by their commitment to reduce nuclear energy use; and with America’s Clean Power Plan, the United States will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by thirty-two percent by 2030 and produce thirty percent more renewable energy.
      In the middle of my nights, when I lay awake with restless climatologists, I still wonder, if the largest contributors to carbon emissions do not take effective action, what can I do to tame rowdy rains and winds, and polar bears looking for safe passage over a dwindling ice cap? Will my small efforts to recycle and reduce my carbon footprint, along with larger renewable energy programs and clean air plans worldwide, be part of civilization’s cooperative sculpting of a simplified but survivable existence, just like the intertwining of the crooked and gnarled krummholz wood?


The unanswerable. The unknown.


I’m reminded of the movie, Life is Beautiful. Set during World War II, it tells the story of a father and his young son’s internment in a Nazi concentration camp. As the threat of death hovers each day, the young boy’s father creates an illusion of their life, a slight of hand in the movements of the small freedoms they both have. Guido, the father, tells his son, Giosuè he must perform certain tasks and with each task completed he will earn points towards a tank, a tank that would rescue them. As they lived each day, Guido was a joyful, magical mime for his son in the dysphoric scene.
      While I don’t wish to deny the reality of the changes in the climate, I feel the need to live with hope. So, as I place faith in science and technology to create a sustainable and viable transition zone where extreme vagaries of physical circumstance threaten our survival, I will also remember the inspiration of Guido, the joy in daily living, the mime he embraced so his young son would live each day free from worry and fear. AQ

Ivan De Luce – The Strange History of Amsterdam Street Names

Ivan De Luce
The Strange History of Amsterdam Street Names

My old street in Amsterdam, Pierre Lallementstraat, can hardly be called a street. It’s more of an open alleyway that leads to a courtyard. My old apartment building, a modern, pearl-white student housing behemoth, is one of only two addresses there. In fact, my building is so large it needs two separate front entrances.

Pierre Lallementstraat is named after Pierre Lallement, the inventor of the bicycle. This is highly appropriate considering the Netherlands is a land of bikes. But this tiny backstreet didn’t seem to deserve such a fascinating name. Then again, it seems as if every street in Amsterdam is named after someone. Coming from New York, with our numbered grid system, I’m not used to streets being named after anything. But in Amsterdam, there’s no grid. But there is a President Kennedylaan, a Churchill-laan, and even a President Allendelaan, named after the Chilean Marxist who was overthrown in a coup with the help of the CIA on September 11, 1973. As Social Democrats, the Dutch presumably saw him as a victim of injustice when they christened the street five months later.

There are other streets, too — ones named after Beethoven, Hans Holbein, Richard Wagner, Chopin, Rubens, Michelangelo, Raphael, Bach, Jan van Eyck, Titian, and Botticelli. And those are all within blocks of each other. My neighbourhood, in Watergraafsmeer, is composed of streets named after engineers. James Wattstraat runs along the front of my building. At least engineers are more interesting than grids of numbers.

Amsterdam’s street names started out like many old European streets — they were named after things that happened there, or after some unique feature about the location. But after the 1850s, as the city encroached on the countryside, the Dutch decided to come up with seemingly unrelated names. After 1870, cities began commemorating people by naming streets after them, especially in France.

While Holland was late to this practice, it made up for it by giving every conceivable figure a street named after them. There’s even a Lord of the Rings-themed neighbourhood in the town of Geldrop — take a right onto Laan van Tolkien, and soon you’ll walk along Frodo, Aragorn, Legolas, Gandalf, and more dwarf streets than you can imagine.

But back to our friend Pierre. He seemed to have nothing to do with Amsterdam or the Netherlands, but they obviously owe a great to deal to him. He was born in France in 1843, and in his hometown of Nancy, in 1862, he saw someone riding a dandyhorse, an early version of the bicycle which had no pedals and required the rider to pedal with their feet, like a bike from The Flintstones. He added the chains and pedals soon after, and so the bike was born. He never received the recognition he deserved, however. A Frenchman named Pierre Michaux became known as the man who invented the velocipede, and he was the first to mass-produce them. Pierre L. was probably dismayed, so in 1865 he moved to Ansonia, Connecticut and filed a patent for his velocipede a year later. When he returned to France two years after that, bikes were all the rage, which must have infuriated him even more. Pierre Lallement died poor and forgotten in 1891 in Boston at age 47. Thanks to an investigation in 1993, Lallement, not Michaux, is known to have created the first modern bicycle. Thankfully, Michaux does not have any streets named after him. AQ

John Talbird – Rembrandt’s Drawings

John Talbird
Rembrandt’s Drawings

Perhaps more than his paintings which he is more famous for, the drawings show a mind at work and struggling, a mind trying to connect personal thought to objective image, render two dimensions three, bring life to the white void with nothing more than pencil and eye. When you look at the paintings — especially his portraits with their flesh and earth tones, souls radiating from faces — you can see that he was a genius and understand why the world still loves his work, but I love the rough-hewn drawings more anyway. Rembrandt viewed these as the drafts, the practice runs for his real work, but their comparable simplicity has an electric charm. They put me in mind of a kid sketching cartoons on the subway or a bent old man with a floppy hat sitting on an embankment interpreting the creek that runs at his feet.

In Susanna from 1636, the biblical heroine surprised at her bath tries to cover her nakedness as she peers over her shoulder at we who have stumbled upon her privacy. She’s exposed to the elements — no roof over her head — to our eyes — a scrap of clothing clutched desperately at her groin — to two thousand years of fable, faith, and story. I got chills on the back of my neck when I first saw that painting in the Frick, but it wouldn’t be until much later that I found the sketch that led to it in a book and understood the rawness of emotion, the way it can peer out of the page like a creature hungry for flesh and I was glad that Rembrandt had had the time to temper that sharp outline with the colours of the world.

Bob Ward – Touching the Surface

Bob Ward
Touching the Surface

In Felbrigg Hall, a National Trust property in the east of England, there is a statue of an urchin examining the sole of his foot to remove a thorn. As usual in museums, you are not allowed to touch but, if you were, the sensation would be of cold smooth marble unlike that of a real foot roughened by trotting around without shoes.

The way things feel to our hands, feet, or tongue is an important part of human experience. That impulse to reach out and touch whatever seizes our attention is very strong and similarly we speak of ‘being touched’ by poignant events. We stroke friendly dogs; the physical contact creates a bond. When people are buying clothes, they finger the fabrics to judge what they might be like to wear. After all, the word ‘texture’ derives from the Latin ‘textura’ for weaving. A couple of centuries ago an ancestor of mine was apprenticed to a cloth-dresser, a specialist in improving the surface of newly woven bolts of woollen cloth. In the City of Leeds there were fifty tradesmen practising that craft. However, should you ever be wracked with remorse, one garment you won’t find on an outfitter’s rail is a hair shirt. Fashions change, even among penitent sinners.

Upstairs at Felbrigg the four-poster in the master bedroom is adorned with sumptuous hangings. You need to restrain an urge to let your fingers flirt with the tassels that dangle from the fringes. At a humbler level you might recall that Rupert Brooke in his poem The Great Lover celebrated both

. . . the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon
Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss / of blankets . . .

These days we have created a culture of tactile keyboards and touch-screens that makes us even more ‘hands on’. Through our finger-tips we enter the world. Just now my right hand rests on a mouse that controls my computer. But as a photographer I have long enjoyed recording the visual quality of different surfaces beyond what textiles offer. In my pocket I carry a small camera capable of taking good close-ups wherever I go. Etched by salt-water the blistering paint on a fisherman’s tractor can be revealed as an abstract masterpiece. Or I might see the spiky hoar-frost edging dead leaves, or a discarded viper’s skin, part of a creature you otherwise would not dare to contact.

Tree trunks bear close study and appreciation for their subtle variations between species. Scots pines have bark that breaks into islands, richly coloured especially when wet, whereas the bark in sweet chestnuts is incised with dramatic swirling ridges. In my garden there is a kind of birch where, as the trunk expands with growth, paper-thin bark peels off in curls tinted green by algae. In the creviced surface of trees lurk spiders and beetles, often the prey of small birds. Springtime snails venture upwards across this rough terrain in a search for the succulent fresh leaves in the woodland canopy. Ivy, of course, constantly exploits trees as a passage-way towards the light. Even when torn away the ivy’s clinging roots get left behind as tracks across the bark.

Walls too are worth inspection. In the area where I live, East Anglia, bricks were in short supply and those made in the region weathered badly as time passed. So many buildings were faced (and still are) with flint cobbles dumped by retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice age. The resulting walls are full of character, supporting small ferns, moss tufts and colourful crinkly lichens.

Text itself literally acquires ‘texture’ on the spines of leather-bound books, where the lettering may be embossed in gold leaf. However, you could say that a printed page assumes a virtual texture arising from the nature of the typefaces used in all their different forms, serif, non-serif, italic, bold . . . Contrast ‘Impact’ with the refinement of ‘Palatino Linotype’ or the eccentricity of ‘Crazy Loot’. As you read, let your eyes, as it were, caress the words. For the non-sighted, they are trained to feel words through the medium of Braille. But in doing so, I wonder, can they ever hear the surfaces they touch by the process of synaesthesia? That’s an attribute known among small children but mainly lost in adulthood, whereby a stimulus to one sense raise a response in another.

By analogy, music may be described as having texture. Performers touch their instruments with their hands or lips and we talk of being touched. How running your fingers across harp strings evokes the ripples in the surface of a lake. Composers meld complex layers of sound, fabric for the ears. Harmony relates to smoothness, discord to rough edges. The ‘minimalists’ Steve Reich and Philip Glass arouse one’s feelings with repeated phrases in constant variation that manage to haunt the soul.

Human sensations are richly textured. Do keep in touch.

Four-poster bed hangings, Bob Ward, photograph, 2017

Bryan R. Monte – My Calling

My Calling
by Bryan R. Monte

As a lecturer of English language and culture at a Dutch polytechnic, I watched for years as some of my freshmen struggled to declare a major and choose an eventual profession. For me, however, this important decision came quickly, easily and by accident at the very beginning of my education.

When I was in the first primary school class, I came home every evening and taught my younger sister that day’s reading lesson. I helped her learn how to sound out the words using the examples from my Fun with Phonics book. “Hs,” I told her, “were the sound you made after running hard and had to catch your breath. Ss were the sounds snakes make as they slithered through the grass.” I was so happy to share what I was learning in class that was helping me to start to decode the newsprint my father read every night as he argued with the television news announcers. With my help, my sister was soon reading the simple texts tacked above her kindergarten classroom’s chalkboards and recognising words and phrases from the books her teacher read to the class. So at the age of five, I discovered I could not only learn how to do new things, but I could act as a conduit for this new knowledge. I could pass information onto others and check, whilst I was doing it, if they grasped what I was trying to teach.

Sometimes, though, in later life, I wondered, as some of my undergraduates did, if I had made the right career choice. Even though teaching seemed to be my calling or beroep, the Dutch word for profession, it was also a very labour-intensive, low-paid profession in comparison to other specialist and similarly complex and continuously-certified professions that work with the general public, such as pharmacists, (my father’s and next younger brother’s choice) or audiologists. I wondered if teaching was perhaps the best expenditure of my time and energy and if there was a measurable, social return on my efforts.

In addition, I wasn’t able to teach every year after I left college with my MA in English and writing. I taught for one year in exurban New England where I felt perhaps I’d been chosen for the job because my name, as the other teachers, ended in a vowel. Here, the male and female teachers sat at two, separate tables and I felt I would only be accepted if I married, produced children and lived there for a generation. In addition, every Friday evening that winter it snowed heavily. By midnight, the roads were impassible, making a foray into Cambridge gay society for the weekend impossible.

I knew there was a place in America where you didn’t have to worry about blizzards or being gay so, at the end of that school year, I moved back to California where I had obtained my BA at Berkeley. Here I never had to worry about spending an hour digging my car out of the snow in the winter before I could drive somewhere. I could also chose from scores of gay places and organizations for society. I did, however, discover I had moved back to an area that had a glut of teachers. After applying for dozens of teaching positions, I ended up getting a job in an insurance company because I was literate, organized and could file, retrieve, update and print computer forms with ease. I stayed in insurance because I discovered that most of the teaching jobs available in the Bay Area were free-lance and without benefits, including most importantly, health insurance during the AIDS epidemic. So I held a weekly writers’ workshop in my living room and taught technical writing classes at the UC Berkeley Extension one evening a week every other semester to keep my teaching skills sharp and my CV updated.

I did learn something meaningful, however, when I worked at one of the insurance company’s divisions that had underwritten a lot of “bad business” that year. Due to the losses from these new accounts, which outstripped the earned premiums, the underwriter at the desk next to mine remarked that if the company had shut its doors for a year and we had just sat at our desks and read our continuing education insurance books and not written any new business, then the company would have made a bigger profit.

But insurance as well as education, has a social benefit that is largely discounted these days by companies and governments driven by short-term profits or objectives. And I could enumerate and measure these educational and social benefits as clearly as I could my incoming freshmen’s English fluency seven years later in the Netherlands. At the beginning of the college year, I administered the same standardized tests in writing, listening and reading, whose scores dipped consistently overall by a percentage point (two points for reading) each year for over a decade.

Despite this, though, I could see definite progress in my students’ spoken English once they were in my class. At the end my of my first class of freshmen English, the students left the classroom complaining to each other in fluent Dutch (usually unaware that I could understand their every word) that they had too much homework. After going on their freshmen and sophomore excursions to London and Dublin, visiting museums by day and pubs by night, however, the value of English and my small talk conversation drills became more than apparent as they suddenly discovered they wanted to chat up that handsome or beautiful British or Irish young man or woman at the bar. (My coach drivers for these excursions also complimented my students saying they were the only group who consistently showed up on time and who took their rubbish with them). By their senior year, these same students left my classroom at the end of the first class complaining to me in fluent, polite English, using the persuasive phrases I had taught them, that they had too much homework. Then I knew all my time and energy as head of English had not been wasted, that it wouldn’t have been better if I’d stayed in the teachers’ room and spent most of my time reading books and planning curricula as some of my predecesors had done. I knew that due to my efforts, I had managed to change the world, even if by just a little, for the better. AQ

Jim Ross – The Substitute

The Substitute
by Jim Ross

Nearly every country, culture, and school system uses substitute teachers to fill in for occasional teacher absences or for longer time periods while schools seek permanent teachers. Almost universally, substitute teachers are mocked and reviled by students and by schools, which accord them a status equal to a mayfly.

For four years, I eked out a catch-as-catch-can living as a substitute teacher. I knew the priority was keeping students reasonably safe, but I clung to the illusion I might occasionally get to teach.

After being certified in social studies, my first call came from a self-contained, special education school. On arrival, I was told I’d be teaching blind primary schoolers. When I reached the classroom, I found eight smock-clad students spread out on the floor, engrossed in finger painting. The teacher watching over suggested I let them continue for thirty minutes, handed me a lesson plan, and smiled knowingly.

I hadn’t laid eyes or hands on finger paint since I was five. I squatted down as the students smeared colours from their papers to the floor and back.

“What are you making?” I asked.

“Snow man,” one told me.

“Man walks on moon,” said another.

“Big mess,” said a third.

Fearing for the floor, their clothes, and my job, I encouraged staying on the paper. Then, one by one, I ported the children’s masterpieces to safety, walked each artist to the sink, and then situated them at desks.

The teacher’s lesson plan: Review latest Braille lessons. We conducted a round-robin reading from Braille to English. Whenever Stephen read a long word, he said, “Midnight.”

I checked into the office before leaving. The vice-principal asked: “How’d it go?”

“Through a glass darkly,” I said.

“Perfect. You free tomorrow?” he asked.

Next day, I had deaf students. My background with deaf people was seeing deaf students on the subway when I was in high school. How they communicated via sign language, gestures, and facial expressions fascinated. When I reached class, the students were wearing headphones.

“We’re not teaching sign language,” my escort explained. “We’re trying to tap what’s left of their residual hearing. You’ll communicate with them using this microphone. If they don’t hear you, hike up the volume.”

Thirty minutes later, the principal announced over the PA system that the entire school was departing imminently for the White House. I herded my twelve students onto a bus. Once students disembarked, we tried to keep track as they scurried across the White House pasture, blending in with students from other schools. On signal, I drew my deaf students as if with magnets to a row of folding chairs and observed them fidget to the Youth Orchestra’s beat. After the orchestra’s performance, a White House rep invited the assemblage to approach for cookies and punch. Running amok, students crumbled cookies over the lawn. Eventually we coaxed them back onto buses. I’d hardly begun debriefing my class about their field trip when the dismissal bell rang.

Most mornings I’d wait by the phone with my cup of coffee, bowl of hot raisiny oatmeal, and the newspaper, catnapping. More often than not, between 7.00 and 8.00 AM, the phone rang. The waiting game resumed from 3.00 to 5.00 PM. When I answered, I probably sounded like Helene, from Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, “Who Am I This Time?”

The first two months made me question why more teachers didn’t come unglued.

      •   I observed eight 4th grade girls shove two scrawny boys into the girls’ room. There they beat up the boys, then called for help claiming the boys had barged in and attacked them. Jumping to the boys’ defence, I said, to the contrary, the girls had forced the boys into the girls’ room. Said the vice principal: “Some of those girls were angels … until today.”
      •   I’d been told that if 3rd grader Robert cried, I was to send him to the office. Robert’s Valentine to Mike reached the wrong Mike, who tore it up. Heartbroken, Robert cried. Instead of sending him to the office, I let him lead the game at recess.
      •   Two 6th grade girls fought in the hall, drawing a crowd. The loser’s friends sought asylum in my class, blood streaming from nose and mouth.
      •   As I was teaching French to attentive high school students, rocks came flying through the windows. Glass shattered; students scattered.
      •   When a junior high school girl kept disrupting class, I sent her to the office, where she alleged, “That man tried to stick his worm in me.” The office staff’s refusal to take her seriously gave me cold comfort.
      •   On May Day, I escorted a Russian class onto the school’s front lawn to plant their Russian flag. Thinking I was a student, two passing students offered me drugs.

Almost no teachers left lesson plans. Some left terse notes like: “Have students draw their emotions using charcoal.” At best, they left busywork. Teachers who left scant or no instructions sent an implicit message: ‘Use your creative discretion.’

A 3rd grade teacher left instructions to randomly assign each student a required spelling word. The students’ task was to write a sentence using their assigned word and incorporate the sentence into an Earth Day card. The teacher would forward the cards to the White House. Eduardo drew the word “smother.” I expected a cautionary tale about how to keep a baby warm while avoiding tragic over-diligence but hoped for Maya Angelou’s recipe for smothered chicken. Surprising only me, 8-year-old Eduardo articulated the poetry of protest like a young Langston Hughes:

         My, oh my
         Do they smother
         Our cry?

I often wondered, did the White House write back? Did Eduardo keep asking questions? Did anyone hear him? Or did someone just shut him up?

After four feast-or-famine years, I quit substituting. Believing I might make a difference made quitting hard, but seeing capable, compassionate teachers become worn down and afraid helped set me free. AQ

Stephen O’Connor – “Lalla Roohk” and the Great Slide

“Lalla Roohk” and the Great Slide
by Stephen O’Connor

My grandfather, John O’Connor, once told me, in definitive tones, that Thomas Moore was the greatest poet in the English language. I was a boy, and when my grandfather made declarations, I set them down in the book and volume of my mind as facts, as infallible to my young Catholic understanding as papal bulls, and I remember many of them to this day. Besides, if anyone knew poetry, it would have been “Papa,” as we called my grandfather, for he was a great lover of verse. He often boasted that he had won an oratorical contest as a lad back in Ireland for a recitation of “Bingen on the Rhine.” The sponsors of the contest were supposed to have sent him a prize—a major award, no doubt. “I’m still waiting,” he would say, leaning toward me as we sat in the wicker chairs on his porch, slapping my knee or pushing my shoulder and laughing.

There was a tremendous thick tome on his bookshelf called The Poetry and Song of Ireland, edited by John Boyle O’Reilly. It was a literary mainstay of Irish American households, and held within its sacred pages the complete poems of Thomas Moore. A frontispiece depicted Cathleen ni Houlihan, the beautiful woman who was the embodiment of Ireland. While her people bore the yoke of foreign bondage, she was the Sean Van Vocht, the poor old woman, but whenever the Irish took up arms and shed their blood in the cause of freedom, she was transformed into the Gile na Gile, the Brightness of Brightness, the lovely Cathleen. Under the depiction of this radiant queen was a line from Thomas Moore, “Rich and rare were the gems she wore.” Papa gave me the book, and it sits in front of me on the desk as I write, one of the granite blocks in the foundation of my identity.

Papa, who was born in Rathkeale, County Limerick, in the late nineteenth century, was not alone among his contemporaries in his estimation of Moore’s greatness, or in his certainty of the genius of his chef d’oeuvre, “Lalla Rookh,” published in 1817. The Norton Anthology of English Literature states that the three thousand pounds that Moore was advanced by his publisher was the largest sum ever offered a poet for a single poem, and this at a time when Byron and Shelley were household names. Before Moore’s death in 1852, “Lalla Roohk” had gone through twenty editions.

I was reminded of all this the other day as I was thumbing through a copy of Huckleberry Finn, and noticed that Huck mentions a Mississippi riverboat which he refers to as “Lally Rook.” The poem is also mentioned in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and Schuman wrote music based on scenes from the work. Moore’s “Lalla Rookh,” it seems, along with Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Les Miserables, was one of the most popular works for soldiers to read “by the bivouac’s fitful flame” during the Civil War.

Papa had declared “Lalla Rookh” a masterpiece, and since the verses he recited from memory had such a rich sound rolling off his Irish tongue, I was eager to read it. I must have been about thirteen, so I hoped that it would be a tale of mighty Irish heroes like Cúchulainn and Conall Cearnach, or The Fighting Prince of Donegal, whose exploits I had seen in the film of that name at the Strand Theater—still the only movie in my life that I sat through for a second showing. When I finally sat down in the rocking chair in my room with the heavy book opened in my lap to “Lalla Roohk,” I was immediately puzzled by the subtitle: “A Persian Tale.” It was a work of what is known today as Romantic Orientalism.

Let me be honest with you, and hope that my grandfather is not listening from a perch in heaven. I never did read the entire poem. In fact, I’ve never read most of the poem. The reason is that no one ever held a gun to my head and forced me to spend the hours that it would take to plough through all the maidens beckoning the brave to their bowers, or the descriptions of “the crimson blossoms of the coral tree in the warm isles of India’s sunny sea.” Three pages of this stuff would cure the most obdurate insomniac. The footnotes alone would keep the Prisoner of Zenda busy for months. On the first page of the poem, there are twelve explanatory footnotes drawn from atlases, treatises, mythologies, Persian miscellanies, and dictionaries.

Now I will not say that none of this is interesting; in fact, in some respects the footnotes are more interesting than the poem. Who knew that a “bulbul” was another name for a nightingale? But what I find truly interesting—fascinating, really, is the simple fact that throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such a dense and verbally ornate poem was enormously popular. It was not read by graduate students, (if graduate students even existed, they must have been rarer than a bulbul in February); it was read by a lot of people like my grandfather, who was a house painter with a grammar school education. Melodrama is out of favour, but beyond that, would anyone today have the attention span required to read a heavily footnoted, book-length poem? Most modern readers, including me, would not get beyond the first sentence of Moore’s introduction, which begins, “In the eleventh year of the reign of Aurungzebe, Abdalla, King of Lesser Bucharia, a lineal descendent from the great Zingis, having abdicated the throne in favor of his son, set out on a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Prophet, and, passing into India through the delightful valley of Cashmere…” Is your mind wandering yet?

My point here is not just that such works have gone out of fashion. What strikes me forcefully is that people in the past, those who could read, possessed an extremely high order of focus, comprehension and expression relative to the modern reader and writer. Even the illiterate groundlings relished Shakespeare’s elaborate word play. And we need not go back so far. In the grammar schools and high schools of our grandparents, or in my case even aunts and uncles, American students still committed great swaths of Longfellow to memory, verses from such epic poems as “Evangeline,” (which sold 36,000 copies in the decade after its publication), “The Song of Hiawatha,” (50,000 copies within two years of its publication), and the ever-popular ballad “The Wreck of the Hesperus.”

Memorization of poetry? I’ve been teaching high school for twenty-seven years; when other teachers find out that I’ve had my students memorize “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” they look at me as if I had required the youngsters to put away their pencils in favor of a quill and inkwell. The last professor I had who expected students to commit poems to memory was another Irishman, Augustus Martin at University College, Dublin, who seemed to have the complete poetical works of Yeats at his fingertips, and in 1980, his fingertips were not connected to a hand-held device.

“Mnemosyne—Memory, is the mother of all the Muses,” he would remind us in that sonorous Richard Burton voice of his. “Memorization” in the modern educational lexicon is often coupled with the culpatory adjective “rote.” Why would you want a head full of poetry when you can google whatever you need? But what if knowing things, rather than just knowing where to find things, is a formative experience? What we know, what we memorize, lives in us, becomes part of us. The words return to us as we witness the beauty and tragedy of the world around us; they lend depth to every scene and illuminate every experience. I found strength in the words in my head as I spent time with my terminally ill father. The lines that always came back to me, as his days dwindled, were from Sonnet 73:

           This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
           To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

There are no longer popular poems which most Americans can quote. As a child, I used to look at a framed needlepoint my great aunt had done, which hung in the parlour. It depicted a homey cottage above the lines: “Let me live in a house by the side of the road, and be a friend to man.” Many visitors recognized those lines from a poem by Sam Walter Foss, “The House by the Side of the Road.”

Such popular poetry no longer exists in America, and popular reading is synonymous with light reading. It was not always so. While watching a documentary on the Mexican American War recently, I was surprised to hear that many of the American soldiers in that conflict (or invasion) carried Prescott’s 1843 Conquest of Mexico, which they read to pass the tedious hours between marching and fighting. Now I happen to have inherited a copy of Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico, or I should say copies, since the work was published in two volumes. Opening volume two at random, I read, “Cortes reflected on his own impotence to restrain the fury of the Mexicans, and resolved in spite of his late supercilious treatment of Montezuma, to employ his authority to allay the tumult, an authority so successfully exerted on behalf of Alvarado at an earlier stage of the insurrection.”

Whether we can appreciate their tastes or their world view—whether we feel that their histories are slanted, their plots incredible, their scenes sentimental, or their poetry flowery—the sheer literacy of our ancestors astonishes me. Look at the works that they read; in 1842, a year before Prescott published his Conquest of Mexico, Charles Dickens visited my hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, (hardly the Oxford of America), and was the toast of the town as the most celebrated novelist in history. Fans crowded the docks of New York awaiting the next instalment of Martin Chuzzlewit or The Old Curiosity Shop. Yet I suspect that the average modern reader would be flatly incapable of getting through Bleak House, or even David Copperfield. And the difference shows. Read the letters of Civil War soldiers; visit the Nantucket Whaling Museum and read the letters sent home by those rugged men who thrust the cruel harpoon, (one letter I recall recounts that members of the ship’s company were performing Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar for the entertainment of the crew); read the prose that was written by young women mill workers here in Lowell, who were largely self-educated and often sent their pay home to put their brothers through school. Yet the discussions and debates conducted through their literary magazine, The Lowell Offering, were carried on at an intellectual level far beyond the capabilities of most of today’s college graduates. The magazine impressed Charles Dickens; in fact, Professor Natalie McKnight of Boston University, and grad student Chelsea Bray, have put forth a convincing theory that Dickens conceived of the idea for A Christmas Carol after reading stories in The Lowell Offering, stories written by “mill girls.”

The evidence of a general decline in literacy may be anecdotal, but it is persistent. New examples present themselves continually. A woman told me recently that she read War and Peace in its entirety with her English class at Lowell High School in the 1950’s. When is the last time you saw a high school student sitting in a coffee shop reading Tolstoy? And you never will. Am I nostalgic? Perhaps, but the incontrovertible fact remains that The Hunger Games is not Wuthering Heights, and that the preponderance of what high school students read today is much closer in style and level of complexity to the former than to the latter. Earlier I mentioned Jane Eyre—a retired librarian informs me that for many years, and again, we’re probably talking about the forties and fifties, and probably into the sixties, it was the most frequently borrowed book from our city library, principally by girls and young women. Try to read the novel with a typical high school class today—I speak from experience—and see how many pages are turned before students are yawning and peeking at their iPhones. A couple of years ago, I asked my daughter, then nineteen, what she and her friends were reading over the summer. She responded that most of them were rereading Fifty Shades of Grey because the film was coming out. In terms of the quality of the prose in that quarter, I can only repeat a question that was posed by a reviewer of the novel on Amazon, “Was this book written by a teenager?”

What happened to us? Shall we blame our schools? Was it TV? Was it the cult of self-esteem and lack of self discipline? The proliferation of excuses and accommodations? The belief that education could be had without a price and it would all be just good fun—a group project with crayons? Flannery O’Connor once responded to the assertion that students should be given what they want to read rather than what they should read. Her response was not ambiguous. “Their tastes should not be consulted,” she declared. “Their tastes are being formed.” Score one for Wuthering Heights. But the brave new world requires us all to change with it, they say, and so we continue, as Neil Postman argued decades ago, to “entertain ourselves to death.”

Politicians talk about the need to get the internet in every classroom across the globe, as if it is a given that this will, that it must improve education—a key component of “21st century learning” as they’ve dubbed it. But what if part of the problem is that we have all slipped into the world of the quick link—of “surfing” the web instead of deep-diving into a book. I know that many of the works I enjoyed easily as a young man strike me as dense and difficult when I reread them today. Maybe it’s true that the internet is changing our brains, as a recent book posits. What this will mean for our future, I don’t know, but I continue to swim against the tide, often repeating to my own high school students the simple admonition that John O’Connor, Papa, once used to chastise me for not having read a book of Irish history that he’d given me: “If you don’t read, you don’t know.” I’ve always remembered those words, but I’m quite sure my students have already forgotten them. For the very young, it is a world of distractions, a world of tweets and texts and sexts and posts and Instagrams and likes and downloaded videos, distractions with which even “high-interest” reading books cannot compete, let alone the interior life of Emily Dickinson’s “landscape of the spirit.”

Clearly, an ignorant populace is not a solid foundation on which to build a democracy. Beyond the political implications, I feel a sense of regret for what we’ve lost, for what people of all cultures are losing, for what we parted with all too easily, for what we are not handing down to our children. “It’s over,” an old book dealer said to me recently. She didn’t need to explain.

I’m sure there will always be a silent student somewhere reading Thoreau in the corner of the library—who knows, maybe even “Lalla Roohk,” but the general decline in the kind of deep literacy of a not so distant past is undeniable. We are approaching a time when, for many educated in American schools, our “native English,” will have become, in Shakespeare’s words, “like a cunning instrument cased up, or, being open, put into his hands that knows no touch to tune the harmony.” AQ