Ayn Rand’s Treasury of Children’s Verse

“The proper method of judging when or whether one should help another person is by reference to one’s own rational self-interest and one’s own hierarchy of values: the time, money or effort one gives or the risk one takes should be proportionate to the value of the person in relation to one’s own happiness.” — Ayn Rand

 

Good Riddance

Jack and Jill went up a hill
to fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after.

And none of John Galt’s women
and none of John Galt’s men
lifted one little finger
to help either of them.

Pork

This little piggy went to market (as bacon)
This little piggy as ham;
This little piggy was injected with chemicals
And ended up as spam,
And this little piggy (see below)
went wee wee on the killing floor.

Pitch Black Night

Three blind mice
Three blind mice
See how they stumble
See how they starve.

All three were poisoned by the butcher’s wife
Who didn’t get the dosage of the poison quite right,
So now they spend their very last day
in pitch black night, pitch black night.

Yuk

Georgie Porgy pudding and pie
Hung with the girls and not the guys.
Puberty’s hitting him, however,
Precipitated a change in Georgie’s weather,
So Georgie ditched his girly toys
And hid in the closet with like-minded boys.

Mistress Ayn has this to say
To all of you who might be gay.
Breaking nature’s laws
Denotes “psychological flaws.”

She finds you personally “disgusting”
For your perverted lusting.
If you want to join her nation
Then you better switch your orientation.

Lullaby

Now I lay me down to sleep
in a universe dark and deep.
If I die before I wake,
Tough shit, them’s the breaks.

In High Praise of Deadwood

 

Yesterday in the cool air-conditioned confines of the Irish Pub St. James Gate, I told my beloved (who is more intelligent and literate than me I) that I considered the HBO series Deadwood to be a greater work of art than Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, a particularly insensitive comment on the week of the Nobel Laureate’s demise.  However, I didn’t make the claim to diss Song of Solomon or Ms Morrison, but rather to heap high praise on Deadwood, which I went on to compare to a magnificent Victorian novel in its construction (created in the flux-time of serialization), its breadth and depth, the complexity of its characters, etcetera, etcetera.

Robert Penn Warren mentored the series’ creator and writer, David Milch, and as far as 20th Century narratives go, Deadwood might owe more than a little something to All the King’s Men, but forgive me; I digress.[1]  These multi-seasonal television series I consider a really important advancement in the making of fiction. No longer must Middlemarch be freeze-dried into 90 minutes of cinematic action, hence the breadth and depth alluded to above. We can see the action and hear the characters and tailor the pace of the narrative to our individual attention spans, be they flea-like or godlike, as we do when reading a novel.

Many have (to point of cliché-dom) compared Deadwood to Shakespeare’s works, not only in the broad array of human types incarnated in individual flesh, but also in the language Milch employs.

Here’s Milch addressing the language of the series:

Many of them might have been illiterate, but they knew the King James Bible and Shakespeare, and that’s what shaped the way they thought and the way they expressed themselves.

Formal letters didn’t convey a great deal of how people spoke, but informal letters—say, a brother writing a brother about life in a mining camp, or period memoirs or diaries—do. Of course, much of the best stuff wasn’t written with the idea of publication. But you can get a fairly good idea of the evolution of the language and the derivation of most words and terms in the Library of Congress papers on oral history, and H. L. Mencken’s The American Language is very good on this too.

 

The dialogue, often iambic, can be stilted in its diction and syntax, but is infused with jazz-like riffs of alliterative vulgarity and profanity.[2]

I’ll offer a couple of quick examples from Calamity Jane, who is mostly employed as a means of comic relief but who possesses, nevertheless, depth, because of her sensitivity and moral courage.

Robin Weigert as Calamity Jane

Here are a couple of examples of her use of language, both dealing with African American characters. When Jane tells Samuel Fields (who has dubbed himself the Little N-word General) that she’ll help him bury fellow African American Hostetler, he says, “That ain’t gonna raise your popularity with your fellow white people.” She replies, “Question I wake to in the morning and pass out with at night: ‘What’s my popularity with my fellow white people?’”

Later Aunt Lou, George Hearst’s cook, asks Jane if she could have a taste of the liquor Jane’s been chugging from a bottle.  Jane says, of course, but stops Lou from reaching for a cup as she hands her the bottle. “Do not employ a mug lest next we’d be donning white gloves.”

I could go on and on, but unlike a television series, a blog ain’t the medium for long-windedness, so I end with this admonition.  If you haven’t seen Deadwood, you need to check it out.  Despite its battlefield load of corpses, it’s life-affirming in the truest since of the word, the story, in Milch’s own words “of order rising from chaos.”)

Listen to the language here (there are vulgarities and racial epithets, be warned).


[1]I’ve never quite succeeded in squelching my bad habit of name-dropping.  I actually met Robert Penn Warren in a smallish group of English majors when he visited the University South Carolina circa 1974.  One of my teachers (a PhD candidate) had the courage to ask the first question:  “Mr. Warren, do you think a formal education would have ruined Earnest Hemingway?” Mr. Warren (screeching): How in the hell would I know!”

[2]There is a difference.  Vulgarity traffics in sex and excrement; profanity traffics in taking the Name of the Lord in vain.

Sweet Soul Music, a Brief History and Exegesis

Jean Mirre

One of my favorite one-hit wonders is Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music,” a sort of sonic collage of borrowed (polite word) sources paying homage to a few of the great soul singers of the Sixties.

The underlying source is Sam Cooke’s “Yeah Man,” released posthumously after Cooke’s bizarre murder (shot to death wearing nothing but a shoe and a sports jacket). [1]

I say collage, because Conley and his co-writer, the great Otis Redding, not only “borrow” from Mr. Cooke, but also co-opt the opening bars of the theme song from the movie The Magnificent Seven.

Here’s how “Yeah Man” commences:

 

Here’s the theme song from the movie:

 

 

And the beginning of Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music”:

 

 

Note initially the songs begin with the identical question, “Do you like good music.”  However, Conley substitutes Cooke’s “crazy about music” with “sweet soul music”  and sharpens Cooke’s “crazy about the dances” with “going to a go-go,” an allusion to the Smokey Robinson song of the same name. Specificity sharpens Cooke’s rather generic proclamations.

“Sweet Soul Music” is a tribute, a list of soul singers to be celebrated.

First Low Rawls.

Spotlight on Lou Rawls, y’all
Ah don’t he look tall, y’all
Singin’ loves a hurtin’ thing, y’all
Oh yeah, oh yeah

Then Sam and Dave

Spotlight on Sam and Dave, y’all
Ah don’t they look boss, y’all
Singin’ hold on I’m comin’
Oh yeah, oh yeah

Wicked Wilson Pickett is third

Spotlight on Wilson Pickett now
That wicked picket Pickett
Singin Mustang Sally
Oh yeah, oh yeah

Co-author Otis Redding is the penultimate singer cited

Spotlight on Otis Redding now
Singing fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa
Oh yeah, oh yeah

Finally, the Godfather is crowned king

Spotlight on James Brown, y’all
He’s the king of them all, y’all
He’s the king of them all, y’all
Oh yeah, oh yeah

Except Otis gets as encore allusion, the last singer’s name we hear in the song:  “Otis Redding’s got the feeling,”  Arthur grunts as the song fades away.

Check it out in its entirety:

 


[1]Hacienda Hotel, LA, 11 December 1964.  Check it out. Here’s one version: http://performingsongwriter.com/mysterious-death-sam-cooke/

Pulp Fiction Aficionado: the Genre of Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood

A few critics have panned Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in  . . . Hollywood because it affectionately depicts a past that predates political correctness. For example, Richard Brody of The New Yorker notes that some have called the movie “Tarantino’s most personal film,” then adds, “and that may well be true—it’s far more revealing about Tarantino than about Hollywood itself, and his vision of the times in question turns out to be obscenely regressive.”

Never mind that Tarantino’s Jackie Brown features a working class African-American heroine as protagonist, Once Upon a Time, in Brody’s words, “reserves the glory moments of actorly allure, swagger, and charisma for male actors: when [character Sharon]Tate blithely admires herself, it’s for the role of the ‘klutz’ who falls on her ass for Dean Martin’s amusement and titillation.”

Brody ends his review with this observation: “Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood is about a world in which the characters, with Tarantino’s help, fabricate the sublime illusions that embody their virtues and redeem their failings—and then perform acts of real-life heroism to justify them again. Its star moments have a nearly sacred aura, in their revelation of the heroes that, he suggests, really do walk among us; his closed system of cinematic faith bears the blinkered fanaticism of a cult.”

C’mon, there ain’t nothing “real life” about Once Upon a Time, as the first four words of its title suggest.  It’s a comedy dressed up like a spaghetti western, often cartoonish. We have essentially two protagonists a la a buddy film, Rick Dalton, an actor, and his best friend, Clint Booth, his stunt double. When stunt double Rick repairs his pal Clint’s roof TV antenna, he foregoes a ladder, acrobatically propelling himself skyward, leaping from roof to roof like a ninja. It’s supposed to be funny, not realistic. Speaking of ninjas, Clint also out-martial-arts Bruce Lee with some spectacular kung fu fighting on a movie set. Unlikely to say the least. Oh yeah, Rick happens keeps a flamethrower at his hill top ranch house, which comes in very handy in the climactic scene. Think the Marx Brothers, not Joan Didion.

In other words, Tarantino’s goal is to entertain us, not to provide a commentary on the ‘60s.  So what if the protagonists don’t like hippies (and I was one sort of back then); most people didn’t.  Anyway, Tarantino doesn’t view the world through the annals history; he views it through what appeared on movie screens throughout the history of the cinema.

He’s not a social critic; he’s a pulp fiction aficionado.

 

 

Channeling Joseph Campbell

Chapter 1

Hello, I’m an English teacher, so this blog post is about sex.  All English teachers talk about in class is sex.  Just ask any of our students.

Above is a photograph of the finish line of the most important marathon in which you’ve ever competed. That sperm that helped bring you into existence went up against ~ 250,000,000 competitors.  You know that cloying cliché, “we’re all winners.”  Well, in the case of conception it’s true.

The image below is an artist’s rendition of a comet or meteorite’s crashing into our planet, an occurrence that scientists believe set in motion the series of chemical chain reactions that resulted in life.

Chapter 2

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. William Wordsworth.

           The  world is too much with us; late and soon,

          Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:

          Little we see in Nature that is ours;

          We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

          The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

          The winds that will be howling at all hours,

          And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

          For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

          It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be

          A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;                         10

          So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

          Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

          Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

          Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

                                                              1806.

The world that Wordsworth laments in the octave of this famous sonnet isn’t the magical world he describes in the sestet.  No, the world of the octave is the dreary quotidian world of getting and spending, the world of the long line at Food Lion where you find yourself because earlier at Harris Teeter you had forgotten eggs, so now you’re in bumper-to-bumper traffic headed home to a mailbox that holds a communication from the IRS.  No wonder as you walk back to the house with that letter in your hand that you don’t notice the hummingbird hovering above the impatiens in the forgotten flower box.

Wordsworth, of course, was big on childhood.  He believed in the pre-existence of the soul and that when children were born they brought with them traces of holy wonderment.  “The child is father of the man,”  he proclaims in “My Heart Leaps Up,” and “I hope my days to be/Bound each to each/By natural piety.”

Of course, what’s separating the Wordsworthian child attuned to the miracle of being and Thoreau’s wretched adult living a life of quiet desperation is school.

Chapter 3

 

Get born, keep warm

Short pants, romance,

learn to dance,

get dressed, get blessed,

try to be success.

Please her, please him,

Buy gifts, don’t steal, don’t lift.

Twenty years of schooling,

and they put you on the day shift.

Bob Dylan “Subterranean Homesick Blues”

By the way, I’m not one of these people who grew up knowing they wanted to be a teacher.  To the contrary, I couldn’t wait to graduate from high school, for the world of school for me was a factory world, very much like the world depicted in the above photo.  Each class, though configured exactly alike in gridlike fashion, was its own little self-contained kingdom.  No teacher ever wandered outside her dominion to help us connect the dots.  For example, in geometry, when we were solving proofs, no one mentioned that we were also using deductive reasoning in the essays we were writing in English across the hall, which, in fact, might has been across the Gobi desert.  School seemed random, a series of disconnected facts and skills taught for the purpose of preparing us for employment – the factory, the day shift.

Now, if ever there was a place that should instill in us a sense of wonder, it is a school.  We should constantly be reminding our students of the mysteries of existence and how all the disciplines we teach are interrelated so that our students don’t end up like poor Charlie Kaufman, whom we’ll meet in the next chapter, a man leading a life of quiet desperation, despite the fact that he’s a bigtime screenwriter.  This clip is from the movie Adaptation, written by Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze. In the film Kaufman – who has written himself into the script – asks the existential questions, who am I and how did I get here.

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

250,000.000 sperm

Now, we’ve seen how Charlie got to where he is, but what exactly the odds of his having gotten there? We’ve established that each ejaculation yields approximately 250,000,000 sperm, but then we need to factor in 300 or so ova an average post pubescent woman carries.  Humans have come up with a language that can compute these odds – mathematics, a sort of poetry in its own right – but what if we extrapolate those individual odds up the family tree to Genghis Kahn, and what if my great-great-great grand pappy hadn’t just ducked out of the way of that musket ball at the Battle of the Second Manassas – I wouldn’t be here in my this particular incarnation.

The odds of our existing are so infinitesimally small, it’s mind-blowing.  The idea that we possess self-consciousness on a pebble swirling around a hydrogen explosion wheeling through a vacuum shouldn’t drowned by the mundane.

Chapter 6

This is essentially the first lecture I delivered each year to my Honors tenth grade British Lit survey course when I was a teacher. To try reawaken student wonder of the world, I turned to mythology, and my guide was Joseph Campbell, he of the famous admonition – “follow your bliss.”  I used the word mythology, instead of religion, because, I know all too well that another person’s religion is a mythology.   However, as Campbell has eloquently demonstrated, myths are what make the world come alive for us, so each year, in British Literature, I began by talking about mythology and establishing science as the preferred myth of the class.

At first, students balked at the idea of science being a myth, but through the Socratic method, I led them to the idea that myths can be defined as symbolic configurations that attempt to explain the mysteries of Being – Being with a capital B – how the universe came to be and how we came to be.  I stressed, however, that although myths are not literally true, they can be metaphorically true.

But science is literally true they claimed.

Well, I said, let’s hop into my time machine.

Chapter 7

The year is 1970, and I’m in Mrs. Ballard’s physics class.  There I am center-right standing, tilting towards a desk (obviously, Mrs. Ballard’s classroom management left something to be desired).  Anyway, Mrs. Ballard asks, “What do we call the smallest component of an atom,” and my hand shoots up.  “A quark!”  I proclaim.   Mrs. Ballard frowns.  “No Rusty,” she explains, “we’ve been over this time and time again.  An electron is the smallest particle of an atom.”

Atom 1970’s style

Atom 2010’s style

 

Actually, though, I’m right.  Quarks are smaller than electrons, but in 1970, they hadn’t made their way into science books. By the way, Murray Gell-Mann, the discoverer of the quark didn’t know what to call it until he ran across the word in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, a novel so difficult it makes quantum mechanics seem like child’s play.

Three quarks for Muster Mark!

Sure he hasn’t much of a bark

And sure any he has it’s all beside the mark.

But O Wreneagle Almighty, wouldn’t un be a sky of a lark

To see that old buzzard whooping about for runs shirt in the dark

And he hunting round for runs speckled trousers around by Palmerstown Park?

Hohohoho, mounty Mark!

Of course, we could take this idea of science not being literally true back even further to Aristotle who had scholars convinced for two thousand years that the earth was the center of the solar system.

However, science does possess a significant advantage over older myths because it’s self-correcting, and that’s why it was the chosen myth of my British literature class.  I found myself needing to establish this standard because in past years I had had folks who took the Genesis myth literally, wasting class time challenging Darwin, whose theories had created a crisis of faith in Victorian England, a crisis that profoundly affected Victorian poetry and fiction.  In Wordsworth at the turn of the 19th century nature is paradisal; in Hardy you can hear the shriek of the raptors; nature is coldly indifferent to him.

Chapter 8

So on the first full day of class, I offered my students a history of the universe from the Big Bang to the present, according to the myth of science.  In doing so, I hoped to engender in them a sense of wonder, but also to underscore the importance of science, how it is central in understanding the mechanics of the world, and how it informs the other disciplines they study.  I had a timeline that ran from left to right at the top of one of my white boards board, starting with the Big Bang.  The only two historical events (i.e. non-biological) I had listed on the timeline were the discovery of agriculture and the detonation of the hydrogen bomb at Hiroshima, eye-blinks apart in our species’ past. I would choose a student and ask her to plot the Eden myth on the timeline.  Of course, it comes after agriculture, right before Hiroshima.  Adam’s curse was farm labor.

Chapter 9

But what about the older myths – how can they be true?  Obviously the Greek myths are mere fantasy.

Well, let’s take a peek at the Greek creation story – Uranus the Sky mated with Gaea the earth to produce the first living creatures, which is more or less the current scientific theory a comet (sky sperm) impregnates earth to produce life. See, it’s true! The Greek creation myth and the scientific creation myth are essentially the same.

Chapter 10

Students love connections like this – love the integration of our disciplines, and, of course, what happens in outside of the realm of literature affects literature and the rest of the arts.  After Freud, the novel goes inward; after the invention of the camera, painting goes abstract; after Planck, poetry goes atomistic.

So, the more we can cross-pollinate across the curriculum, the more engaged our students will become, and the more connections they’re able to make, the more likely school will be a positive experience for them, and not the drag that Wordsworth bemoans.

Adventures in Editing

IMG_1968.jpeg

 

A few years ago when I chaired an English Department at an independent school, it occurred to me that I could save my employer literally thousands of dollars by replacing the ridiculously expensive textbooks of our survey courses with compilations we put together ourselves.  After all, 90% of our texts fall in the realm of public domain.  Rather than forking out $145 a pop for an anthology, we could download the material, format it, print and bind it for $20 each.  Although the volumes would lack background on historic periods and authorial biographies, we could provide the cultural underpinnings of the Augustan Age or Ernest Hemingway’s gallivanting via lecture. Even better, the kids could keep the books and therefore annotate the texts.  Since it was my big idea, I volunteered to do the amassing, formatting, and editing myself.

O, dear readers, that was a promise I wish I could have undone.  Formatting was nightmarish.  Any slight correction would send the text gaping open, sliding along the screen, the blocks of prose or poetry gaping open here and there, like this:

 [. . .] afraid of Jim; he was a drunkard, but he could twist the law to suit his client’s needs as no     other man in all western Kansas could do; and there were many who tried. The lawyer closed    the door gently behind him, leaned back against it and folded his arms, cocking his head a little             to one side. When he assumed this attitude in the courtroom, ears were always pricked up, as it    usually foretold a flood of withering sarcasm.

Plus I needed to number lines or paragraphs, which further disjointed the format.  We’re talking hours, days, weeks, a summer of uncompensated labor.

One aspect I came to enjoy, however, was providing footnotes.  Ever since I was a child, I’ve dug footnotes (endnotes not so much). Anyway, I started traditionally enough:

Passage: A wise man will only be useful as a man, and will not submit to be “clay,” and “stop a hole to keep the wind away,”

Footnote: From Act 5.1 of Hamlet, the graveyard scene, when Hamlet contemplates Alexander the Great’s corpse decomposing into clay and Alexander’s clay ultimately being used to plug up beer barrels.

However, as time passed, I started relating the material to works they had read the previous year.

Passage: “The false society of men —

— for earthly greatness

All heavenly comforts rarefies to air.”

Footnote: From George Chapman’s (c. 1559 – 1634) The Tragedy of Caesar and Pompey. Chapman, by the way,  is the translator Keats lauds in “On First looking into Chapman’s Homer.”

As even more time passed, I became self-indulgent and egocentric.

Passage: By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged (sic) our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one    of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”

Footnote: Psalm 137.  Also, the first two lines are the beginning of the Reggae great Jimmy Cliff’s “By the Rivers of Babylon,” a lament about Jamaicans’ colonial enslavement. Slaves of the Americas identified with the Israelites of the Old Testament.

 

And then even more egocentric.

Passage: Porphyrogene!

Footnote: Literally “born to be purple,” as in of royal blood. Cf. the composer of “Purple Rain” and ”Little Red Corvette.”

Then downright sardonic:

Passage: “The evil that men do lives after them.”

Footnote: This famous line you should know, damn it! (BTW, you don’t get footnotes like this at the Magnet).

Passage: It is the excess of the suggested meaning — it is the rendering this, the upper instead of the undercurrent of the theme — which turns into prose (and that of the very flattest kind) the so called poetry of the so called transcendentalists.

Footnote: Not exactly a ringing endorsement of ol’ Ralph Waldo and his gang.

Passage: The next desideratum was a pretext for the continuous use of the one word “nevermore.”

Footnote: Why spend all those days and nights studying Latin unless you get to flaunt your learning with an unnecessary, showoffish phrase or two?

At any rate, I managed to complete the project in time, and now, even in my retirement, I continue to edit the Readers as my former colleagues add and subtract entries.  It’s not nearly as burdensome now that I don’t have classes to prepare for or summer reading to complete.