Late Summer Reading

In book four of The Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian, while the boys are skinning a slain bear for its meat, Lucy says to Susan,

Wouldn’t it be dreadful if some day in our own world, at home, men started going wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so that you’d never know which were which?

Susan doesn’t respond to Lucy’s fears, saying instead that they have too much to worry about right now in Narnia.

The dwarf has just killed a grey bear with an arrow after it tried to attack them; Susan hesitated to release her arrow because she thought it might be one of the talking bears she used to know when she was queen in Narnia.

It is a tricky line of reasoning for CS Lewis, since in the books the talking animals do eat fish and bacon, and in general behave as people did in mid-century England. They avoid killing whenever possible except in self defense. It seems like fish don’t count, only mammals, and bacon apparently is in its own food group!

The idea is that if a creature has the ability to reason, it should be treated with compassion. And even if it can’t reason but is not attacking, we should be gentle and kind with it.

Of course, if an animal were going to attack, we would defend ourselves. Humans are animals too. And unfortunately, some humans seem to have lost the ability to control their anger or fear and, armed with guns, they attack.

Sometimes society can be like Lucy’s fears, that we can’t tell the evolved humans from the ones who have lost a good part of their hearts. Who hasn’t met up with people who lie and manipulate for their own, hidden agendas?

The trick is to meditate, to stay true to our hearts, to be outdoors and in nature, to keep a clear mind and not fall into the dream of “getting and spending” and “laying waste our powers,” as Wordsworth put it so well almost two hundred years ago.

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What Say You In June, Teachers?

From a letter Sylvia Plath wrote to her brother:

and I am to sacrifice my energy, writing and versatile intellectual life for grubbing over 66 Hawthorne papers a week and trying to be articulate in front of a rough class of spoiled bitches…

(qtd in Stevenson).

Any artist knows exactly how Plath feels, especially if she is a beginning teacher. The first three to five years are the worst, especially in high school teaching.

When I began teaching English composition at the university level, it took five semesters before I stopped feeling nervous before each class, and even still the classroom gives me anxiety dreams. But teach I must if I want to earn at least some money!

I went into teaching after receiving a Master’s in Spanish with the hopes of writing poetry and short stories in the afternoons, but obviously that didn’t happen. I was too busy grading and planning to even think about any kind of writing besides in my journal.

And I did not have Plath’s genius nor her frenetic, passionate drive to succeed. I settled into conformity and set my sights on having babies. The down side is that it took me almost 15 years to get back to writing. But here I am, my children in college, and I’m shaping up a manuscript of poems.

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Sketch of Benidorm, Spain by Sylvia Plath, where Plath honeymooned with Ted Hughes. Photographed from illustrations in Bitter Fame by Anne Stevenson.