ETHOS

ETHOS

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

So I'm reading a book called Maiden Voyage by Tania Aebi, the first woman and youngest person to circumnavigate the earth alone in a boat. The story is that her dad offered her an ultimatum- "Either go to college, or I'll use this tuition money to buy you a boat." She took the boat. The catch was that if she took the boat he expected her to sail around the world. She did it, and Maiden Voyage is her story. I had never heard of her, and I really like the book. I don't feel for the writing the way Maxwell Perkins felt about Beryl Markham's, but hell, I'm not Maxwell Perkins. I DO think Tania Aebi is a really tough chick- and she can write, which makes her that much tougher.

I'm teaching Oedipus the King to some advanced seniors. I've been really impressed with their insights.

"Why is there a plague at the opening of the play?"

"Sophocles needed a reason for Oedipus to find Laius' murderer."

I imagine life got a lot harder for storytellers when the pantheon broke up. (I refer to them as if they were a band, but that's how I always imagined them-Hermes as Paul McCartney, Poseidon as Ringo, John Lennon... probably Dionysus). What's the implication? Writers could no longer use the gods to act out conveniently in their stories.

Jocasta brings up the idea that life is chaos, and that we are all living day to day at random. When 70 mph winds took down a tree in my front yard and I was out there with an axe chopping away, (I can only guess how folks in New Orleans, heck, even Texas feel about this right now), I felt subject to really powerful forces, forces as unruly as that rock and roll pantheon.

The prophesy, of course, proves this idea wrong, and that Oedipus' actions do have consequences. I was asking my students how they feel about this, and, "Of course Mr. Skarl we know there are consequences for what we do... that's why our parents make rules, there are rules at school, the law, etc." They've been told this their whole lives, have been shown that their actions have consequences, and it's why they're good kids, but I wonder... what happens when the individual outgrows parents' rules, teachers, etc. ? Well, my students say, you're supposed to turn around and create and enforce rules for young people- there's a swapping of roles.

I had to ask myself, is this how it's supposed to work? Am I staying up past my bedtime to create bellwork for students so they don't feel the fingertips of chaos? Is this what teachers are for? What about writers? Is their job to filter chaos until it's palatable? Anyway, it got me thinking... about my job and about my life. About what I need to do as one of Wyatt's parents. I appreciated a moment of clarity in an otherwise chaotic day.

Thematically I was kind of excited to see this idea of chaos versus order brought up so soon in the year... it's such a motif of John Gardner's Grendel, which is next on our list after Antigone. As for Wyatt, he's hooting away on his play mat, batting a blue elephant as I type this. Who knows, maybe I'll take a page from Tania's father's book. Either eat your vegetables or break the world pogo stick record. It's over 23 miles. How badly do you hate broccoli?

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