Looking back at my blog this year I realize that I've done very little writing of consequence. Even more strangely, I've realized that I wrote a heck of a lot more during the worst part of my year than I did when things actually started going well. Some of that may be because while I have had a wealth (a wealth) of things to write about, I haven't felt quite ready to. Or the parties involved other than myself deserve more courtesy than my writing about "the things" in a forum even as semi-(barely) public as this one is.
So I'll confess to being at a bit of a strange crossroads where I find myself with plenty of things I could write about but debating one what to pick and how to go about it. Some ideas (writing about the quilt my grandma made me, for example) are safe and standard and will probably happen when I feel up to it. Some are topics that feel already beaten to death in this venue even if there have been new developments in recent months (re: I started taking anti-depressants). I could write about (and probably will) the saga of my new home-ownership life. And then there are the things I would desperately like to write about but don't really feel like I should. What's a girl to do?!
I'll start with something more journalistic, then. My life, for the time being, needs to settle a bit before I can pick it apart again.
I recently finished teaching The Great Gatsby to one of my classes. It's a book I'm still learning how to teach - it's a tricky one in part because of the molasses-in-winter writing chewiness but even more so because there are so few people in the story that you don't want to throw out a window by the time all the damage is done. I persist in teaching it because it fits so well with the curriculum, but also because I'm a bit sadistic and think it's important to expose my coddled, conservative little crew to find value in things that aren't sugar coated. Gatsby is a book I have to dare my students to love. Every year I teach it I seem to catch a few more people with it.
One of the reasons I continue teaching the book even though it isn't universally popular is because, without fail, it brings about strong emotion. I love books that spur passionate response - either positive or negative. Usually I do my best to step back and allow students to feel those emotions with whatever strength they want. I tell them, and I mean it, that I really don't care if they like something, but if they learn from it. (With a book like Gatsby I add that if they leave the book wanting to be like any of the characters, that's when I'm a bit worried.)
Every once in a while I do feel like I need to step in - particularly when that passion is misguided in one way or another. This time around it's a handful of students appalled with me for assigning such a book because of the way it "condones adultery and alcoholism" and a number of other vices presented in Gatsby. I nearly grabbed the copies of the books these students had been reading to see if they'd managed to find some strange copy that ended differently than mine had. Considering that characters involved in said bad behavior end up either dead or thoroughly disgusted by what's happened, I decided it was time to intervene.
There's this phenomenon in conservative culture that often suggests where media is concerned that including "content" (re: immoral behavior in one form or another) means an automatic condoning of said "content". For example, I recently stumbled on a Facebook post a friend had commented on where the original writer went on a tirade about the recent release of Into the Woods and warned parents everywhere about how sin-filled it is because of adultery and suicide and other things that the writer found objectionable for children to be exposed to. The writer didn't feel the need to include any information about how the moment of adultery in the story is almost immediately regretted (and some would interpret rather thoroughly punished as well), and that the "suicide" in question is non-existent in the movie and really more of an accident induced by mental illness than anything. The writer also leaves out the lessons Into the Woods offers about overcoming challenges and being careful about what you wish for and the power of story. No no - including the content was the same as condoning it, even though anyone who has seen Into the Woods should know otherwise.
That in mind, Into the Woods is more moral than other shows that no one complains about. Say, Hello Dolly!, which is all about guys seducing and lying to girls just to get a kiss. And the guys get that kiss and never (so far as we know) get punished for their deception. They actually get rewarded for it (they get promoted!) Or what about Aladdin? Boy lies to get a girl and even after the girl finds out the truth, he gets her. The lie is rewarded. Don't get me started on Phantom of the Opera.
The point, then, is that we've got to stop teaching what Dumbledore would call "fear of a name". The world adultery or sex or violence or slander or whatever other word you want to pick taken out of context means nothing - just some squiggles on a page or screen. When we teach or encourage fear of something without understanding what it is, we risk lying about what something really promotes or encourages. Imagine, for example, how easy it would be to list all the awful "content" options in Les Miserables - prostitution and deception, thievery and suicide - it's full of any number of sins. It's not until you take into context the reason behind each action that you realize that the actions aren't necessarily condoned, but they do need to be understood.
So, dear students, feel free to hate me for giving you Lord of the Flies, or Animal Farm, or The Great Gatsby. I'm #sorrynotsorry if they make you uncomfortable, mainly because they should make you uncomfortable. But don't think they're making you uncomfortable because they are condoning what's going on. Far from it. You can learn from tragedy. (The vast majority of you do so every time you read The Book of Mormon, after all, which skips over all the years of happiness.)