It feels like my world is losing important pieces, lately. A death here, a death there, a third one just behind them. A lot of friends, colleagues, and the family of both have taken wing. Elsewhere. Wherever the dead go.
This time, it was the dear man who, in many ways, made me believe I could do a doctorate. In all humility, I wasn’t so worried about the actual work: I was worried I’d hate it. That it would be useless, an exercise in esoterica that would have no real world application.
It was Ravi who showed me, in my first two classes, that I was wrong. He was funny — even goofy sometimes, a rare quality in a true scholar. He was also brilliant, in a low-key manner that never distanced anyone. A genuinely good person.
In my first class with him, I received an A- on a paper. He offered the opportunity to revise, so I did. When I turned in my paper, he asked: Britt, you have an A. Why are you revising?? I told him I wanted a higher grade — I’m not an A- girl. He laughed. And then he sent my final paper in that class — taken my first semester in my doctoral program — to a famous colleague, just to show him.
What kind of amazing is that? In one gesture, Ravi made me feel like a member of a very elit
e club: linguists and scholars. Wow.
Years later, as I became an administrator of a federal grant for teachers, Ravi was the faculty member I never failed to ask to present at our summer graduate seminars. He honoured the intelligence and acuity teachers bring to their classrooms — never speaking down to them, always providing witty embroidery for useful scholarship.
Ravi never lost sight of the importance of teaching, even as he continued important research in learning language. Students loved him, and all of us appreciated his commitment to the next generation of scholars.
As a friend, he was encouraging of us all. You were your best self in his presence: funnier, smarter, kinder. And sometimes goofier (his puns were notorious groaners).
In lectures, Ravi often brought in family stories — he adored his wife & son, and it was evident in the way he spoke of each. Another of his many endearing traits.
Now, he’s gone. Just like that. A fluke infection from an operation that went well, otherwise. Days later, the mentor, friend, & scholar is gone. I know all the platitudes about no one is gone if you remember them. But there will be no more bad puns. No more summer lectures. No more admonishments not to use a restaurant in Tulsa, because he knew the kitchen. And that breaks my heart.
So I’m trying to remember that the cracks in a heart — even a beginner’s heart — let the light in. But right now, it all seems pretty dark…
My friendship with my dear friend M is the product of technology, for which I’m very grateful. M started a book group several years ago, and we all talked books online. I’d met only one of the group f2f, as my students would say. And she wasn’t M.
M, whose background is Russian, insisted we all needed to read War & Peace (another of those things for which I’m thankful!). So we did. M only wears his equable demeanour to fool you: he’s pretty strong-willed.
Since then, we’ve probably met f2f 2-3 times; we used to both work for the same non-profit. I’ve since retired, but M continues to make the world a much better place.
Recently — possibly because I’m constantly posting pictures of tea, trays, and spouting off about tea (get it??) — he asked if I might like his beloved uncle’s Russian tea set. Would I?? You can see from the picture how lovely the set is. What you can’t see are all the stories: M and his uncle, sharing culture and family and sorrow and love. M’s partner, present in the vivid red amaryllis. The Russian tea I brewed for the teapot, in honour of M’s heritage.
You can’t see the museum membership M leant me so I could go to an expensive museum in Chicago w/ my best friend. Or the many many musicians of all types he’s turned me on to: Brazilians, classical pianists, violinists, orchestras, jazz, doo-wop… M’s musical tastes are eclectic as my teas!
You can’t see the many emails about this and that — music, pop culture, the trivia of every day — that wing from the coast to the heartland. And more importantly, you can’t see how humbly astonished I am that someone would care enough about me — via the airwaves! — to send me something so precious, so treasured. But M’s like that. He thinks things should have good homes. And be used by people who love them.
The beginner’s heart in this equation is that M’s friendship reminds me of the wonderful twists life can take. Who would think an online book club through work would result in a dear friendship? With someone who lives half-way across the country?
Who would have thought — those many years ago, when tea saved my sanity in a land long ago & far away — that tea would become such a part of my ‘brand’…? And who would have thought I’d be making Russian tea in an imperial blue & white teapot, courtesy of a very dear (virtual) friend…
Poetry — the breath of love, life, grief, terror, justice. And more…
We woo with it, grieve with it, celebrate and commemorate and just plain live with it. All around the world today, poets and readers and appreciators are joining together in praise of the mystery of poetry.
In other countries, poets have the fame and star power of movie stars here. Poets can — and have — destroyed totaliarian governments. They’ve also won the hearts of fair love, from Albania to Zimbabwe. It’s only right that the world should join together to honour the vastly colourful and infinitely varied body of poetry our various countries’ poets have written.
Next month, fittingly (since it’s my birthday month!) is National Poetry Month in the U.S. So prepare for an onslaught of poetry. Today, though, I want to share a goofy poem by one of my favourites, Ogden Nash. I’ve never understood why Nash ‘gets no respect’ in academia. Lauded poets are far less skilled, in my humble opinion. And as far as laughter at his antics? Who doesn’t need a laugh? Almost any day of the year??
Here’s “Spring Comes to Murray Hill,” courtesy of The Writer’s Almanac this week:
Spring Comes to Murray Hill
I sit in an office at 244 Madison Avenue
And say to myself You have a responsible job, havenue?
Why then do you fritter away your time on this doggerel?
If you have a sore throat you can cure it by using a good goggerel,
If you have a sore foot you can get it fixed by a chiropodist,
And you can get your original sin removed by St. John the Bopodist,
Why then should this flocculent lassitude be incurable?
Kansas City, Kansas, proves that even Kansas City needn’t always
Up up my soul! This inaction is abominable.
The pilgrims settled Massachusetts in 1620 when they landed on a
Maybe if they were here now they would settle my stomach.
Oh, if I only had the wings of a bird
Instead of being confined on Madison Avenue I could soar in a
jiffy to Second or Third.
I’ve loved books since before I could read them. I vaguely remember chewing on a cloth book my mother or aunt gave me, but it may only be a family story. I do know I read early, and with gusto. ANYTHING: cereal boxes, manuals, maps, kids books, the paper, comics, and whatever else had letters on it.
Later, I’d end up an English major — where do most readers fetch up? So, this is a life-long reader’s ode to her most recent love affair with a book.
Because last night, I read one of those books you know will stay with you. Maybe it won’t be everyone’s big book — it’s not Tolkien or Tolstoi. But it a little like the books I read as a child — those books you inhaled, staying up into the late late night to finish.
I checked it out of the library yesterday afternoon, and was done with the 300+ pages by late evening. It was that necessary to read every word.
I’m not going to say what book it was — that’s not the point. It could be any of at least 50 books I’ve read through my life: Little Women, as a child. Later, The Last Unicorn. And of course Moby Dick, and a book of poetry by Ishmael Reed. Another by Mark Doty. M.F.K. Fisher’s Art of Eating. May Sarton and Carolyn Heilbrun, Mary Oliver and Mary Rose O’Reilley. Jack Kornfeld. Howard Gardiner and Richard Rodriguez and so many others. Books that transformed me, changed as surely as if I had them tattooed onto my skin.
This is just one of many many bookshelves through our house, crammed with mysteries, sci fi, theory, science, how-to, gardening, war lit, poetry, art, esoterica, religion and spiritual thought, cookbooks… Almost any kind of book you can imagine.
Because here’s the point: books are FOOD. Food for heart and mind and growth and the broadening of all our horizons. It’s why people fear them, why writers are still killed in some countries. Why various volumes have been banned over the centuries.
Sometimes, when I am teaching, I remind people that the first of Hitler’s victims were not the Jews. They were the artists, the teachers, the intellectuals. Because within those minds were books. And books are as dangerous as any weapon, if not as immediately fatal.
Go find a book. Be ready to change.