Friday, December 27, 2013

What Do You Remember from Your Schooldays? Part II


A high school memory just came to me, inspired by this comment to my previous blog on memorization.
When I was in high school (not my favourite time), an English teacher said that everyone in my grade (nine, I think) had to write a one-page story in class right then. The best from the school would be submitted to a city-wide contest and blah blah blah.
Really? This sounded like bs to me - but I was often unhappy back then. I was not in the mood to generate a story out of nowhere.
I knew all the words to "For Emily Wherever I May Find Her" a beautiful song from Simon and Garfunkel's Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme album. so I just wrote them out as an essay, tweaking it here and there.  In longhand, it filled a page:
What a dream I had:  pressed in organdy, clothed in crinoline of smoky burgundy, softer than the rain.
I wandered empty streets, down past the shop displays.  I heard cathedral bells dripping down the alleyways, as I walked on.
And then you ran to me, your cheeks flushed with the night. We walked on frosted fields of juniper and lamplight. I held your hand.
When I awoke, I felt you warm and near. I kissed your honey hair with my grateful tears.
A week later, the teacher said I was chosen as a finalist from all the essays in the school. She wanted my permission to submit it.  Clearly whoever was screening the school's grade nine essays was a generation just enough older than me to not have been listening to Simon and Garfunkel.  I told her that I did not want my story submitted. "Thanks, Mrs. Laar," I said, "but it's personal."

I've been thinking recently of another high school memory.  The English curriculum in my grade 12 class included Greek tragedy.  We studied the elements necessary for a tragedy
  • hamartia - the fatal flaw of a tragic hero, usually hubris or pride
  • nemesis - the inevitable cosmic retribution 
  • fear and pity leading to catharsis
My essay for that unit, "Tragic Heroism in Two Films," asked whether the protagonists of Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy were tragic heroes.  Both films were released in the spring of 1969.  I likely wrote the essay that fall.

Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969)In my essay, I discuss the tragedy of Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman).  Rizzo was unhealthy.  His dream was to get to Florida where he could be warm.  Seeing that Rizzo is getting sicker and sicker, Joe Buck (Jon Voigt), robs and murders an old man.  He buys Greyhound tickets to Florida, but Rizzo dies in the bus on the way.  My essay says: 
"I left the film wondering whether it would have made a difference if Rizzo had made it to Florida.  Could he find happiness?  He could escape his situation, but not his wretchedness and self-pity."
Next to that paragraph, in red ink, Mrs. Wilson wrote, "No one ever makes it to Florida."

Every time I go to Florida, I think about Mrs. Wilson and wonder whether she was right.

Did anything that your high school teachers said still make you wonder?

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