Friday, September 23, 2011

we are such stuff as dreams are made on

we are such stuff as dreams are made on


When I was a sophomore in college ('university' as they make us say here, or 'uni' as I like to say when I'm pretending to be British), I had a professor named Peggy.


The class was Shakespeare Histories and Tragedies. Now, as an English major, I was required to be ludicrously fanatical about one Billy Shakespeare (still am, in fact – still working on my goal of reading all the plays, though I have been plateaued at 17 or 18 for a good while now, and I already know Titus Andronicus is going to give me nightmares). However, I tend to run afoul of the academic world in the fact that I actually prefer the comedies and romances. Give me the bickering of Beatrice and Benedict over the backstabbing, blindings, and bloodspilling that pervade the tragedies any day. Besides Hamlet, which Amanda and I read in a freshman writing class(, a class in which we discussed, in-depth, Snakes on a Plane and how, when Shakes didn't know what to do, he brought in the pirates!), most of the tragedies I'd read had been either in high school, where approximately three out of twenty-five students actually cared, or on my own, where I had no one with whom to discuss the difficulties in the text. In fact, my preferred method of making sure I knew the sense of it was to Netflix an adaption right after I'd read a play.


My overdue point though, is that this professor opened up a new world to me. Suddenly, the tragedies were not just plays where all the characters ended up dead and there were no respectable female characters to speak of. They were exciting. And goodness gracious, the histories! I hadn't even realized they existed! Wonders awaited in these stories I had foolishly overlooked.


It's impossible for me to give a sense of Peggy. The best adjective I can think of is 'sprightly,' because I always think of how she'd bike to campus in these long skirts she'd wear. And what is more fun than watching an older professor pedal across campus, knowing her bag holds the secrets and marvels of Shakespeare and Marlowe and Jonson and Chaucer? She's someone you just have to meet in order to understand the magnitude of her personality. She's not a person who strikes you immediately, with her unassuming, easygoing, friendly demeanor. Instead, she's one of those people whose intelligence and passion sneak up on you, catching you off-guard. In a moment, you go from simply needing to understand the material for one course to wanting to know everything she has to offer, because you've suddenly understood that there is this brilliant person standing before you, sharing their time and knowledge, and you know you have to make the most of it.


When I say Peggy is brilliant, I don't mean she is simply an expert in her field of medieval and renaissance literature. I mean she has knowledge about every subject – literature, history, science, you name it. There are a lot of people you can talk to and think, "Oh, hey, this guy/girl is smart." But there are only a few people whom you can talk to and know, "Oh, wow, this is someone special." When you talk to Peggy, it's not just a conversation between a student and a professor. It's an exchange of knowledge, and as much as you want to sponge up what she's saying, she also wants to learn from you, from your ideas and opinions. Because of this, her classes were always my favorite, so much so that I would take classes just because she was teaching. If it hadn't been for her, I never would have taken a renaissance drama course and read plays such as The Revenger's Tragedy or Volpone or The White Devil. I never would have taken the course on Chaucer and learned to read Middle English (I'm not fluent, but this is a life goal of mine). And I never would have recognized the relationship between Faust and Battlestar Galactica, because she is the only professor I know who could seamlessly weave together a comparison between science fiction and renaissance literature.


I looked forward to her classes every week. They were the first thing I looked for when the next semester's schedule came out. They made me excited about literature, introduced me to authors and stories I never would have found on my own, connected me with students with similar interests. Just listening to her talk about Shakespeare or Chaucer would motivate me to want to learn as much as I could about them myself. I'm grateful for that.


Because now, I find the tables have turned, and I'm the one who has to motivate and inspire students. Teaching – especially in a different country, in a different language – is a frustrating, chaotic, confusing experience. Thankfully, however, I've had some fantastic examples, Peggy among them. I know from my personal experience with her and with my other teachers that students respond to passion, and if I can tap into my interests in order to motivate myself, I can in turn motivate my students and hopefully inspire them to want to learn English. I haven't made much progress as of yet, but it's only three weeks into the school year. Hopefully I will find ways to reach at least a few students.


Right now, though, I would just like to thank all the teachers who have inspired me over my life. I've had a lot of teachers, even in just 23 years – from music teachers to softball coaches to friends and relatives to good old 'regular' teachers in brick-and-mortar schools. I've learned something important from each and every one of you, whether it be something academic, like the value of pi (and the importance of Pi Day!), or a skill, like throwing a fastball, or something a bit more abstract, like how to have confidence and courage in every step you take. Thank you for all your lessons. Thank you for your encouragement. Thank you for your examples that I now follow as I take baby steps in this profession and in my adult life.


And just because Kaz is turning my heart to mush ('emotional wreck' is what Emily and I call it), I have to thank everyone who sends me letters, missives, notes, packages, etc. I appreciate that you take the time out of your day to do so, whether it's posting something on Facebook just to say 'hi' or sitting down to be my penpal every few weeks. When things get lonely here, it's nice to know I'm being thought of somewhere. :) And always know I'm thinking of you, too.


What I'm Reading: Reread The Hunger Games in about two days. I'm still obsessed about it. The awesome thing is that it's one of those rare books that reminds you how wonderful reading can be – how it can transport you and challenge you and sweep you away. The only bad thing about reading this book here? Do you realize how often they talk about food? I need to learn to think about something other than school and food, thank you, and it doesn't help that you're waving lamb stew and hot chocolate in my face every few pages.


On an extremely different note, I've been delving into a book called We Two, about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It's riveting. Did you know that Victoria had two older half-siblings? That Albert was pudgy and awkward before he grew into the handsome, slim-wasted Rupert Friend? That Vic had a cousin who may well have been queen, or the mother of kings, if she hadn't died a few years before Vic's birth? I'm absolutely hooked, and thoroughly convinced that I don't belong in this era.


Also, because writing this has made me remember my goal, I've started reading All's Well That Ends Well. Not far into it yet though.


Song of the Blog Post: "Opening: The New World" from Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World. This song is exactly what all of us are going through right now. "Nobody told you the best way to steer when the wind starts to blow."

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