You, too, can shock an SMU student

Zach. A fine student, too.

Zach. A fine student, too.

Some morning when I won’t bother anyone, I’m going to take a picture of my clock when I wake up. 3:59 AM. Almost regular enough to set your watch by—except no one needs a watch with all of our electronic gadgets showing the exact time. How does that happen? How do my computer, my iPad, and my phone all know exactly the same time? One of the mysteries of the digital age that—if I ponder it longer than it’s taken me to type this sentence—can drive me to distraction.

My neurologist told me once that as I get older the symptoms of TLE would “soften.” That was his word. “Soften.” I have no clue. The only thing that has changed over the years is that actual seizures are almost a thing of the past. Your seizures couldn’t withstand the massive doses of Carbatrol I take, either. Oh, right—you don’t have seizures.

Maybe you do. Perhaps I’m the one with the normal-firing synapses and all of you are really living in constant seizures. That would explain a lot. Consider John Boehner. Perhaps his problem is the massive misfirings in his temporal lobe, misfirings he thinks are normal, and he’s glad I take Carbatrol to make my brain like his. Glad as long as I pay for it myself because his wife has hundreds of shares of Shire? Who knows? Makes as much sense as any other theory I know.

But the TLE symptom that has not gone away? I’m in pretty much full hypergraphic mode this morning. It used to scare me or piss me off which, of course, only made things worse. Now I simply write and write and write and write, and who knows what might dribble off the ends of my fingers.

On a morning when I thought of something to write about the day before (or even when I woke up in the night ready to write and took an Ambien instead) it’s not so much a problem. But on a day like today when I simply have to write and have nothing in mind, it’s a pain in the ass.

In fact, I did have an idea last night, but  I can’t write about my students and put it out here to zoom around in the Ethernet for all of eternity (apparently).

I can tell one little harmless student anecdote. This week is conference week—we suspend classes and I meet with students individually to try to help them make sense out of the essay they’re writing (the person who is writing this is going to help someone write something sensible? There you see the entire problem with our educational system). I have sixty twenty-minute conferences in one week. No wonder I’m in full swing this morning.

They’re writing about the rhetorical means of the Gettysburg Address. Seems a little like having a picnic lunch at the Tomb of the Unknown

The team.

The team.

Soldier at Arlington. The word “desecration” almost comes to mind. I’ve suggested to most of them that they should see the movie Lincoln. Really, it’s a great movie and passably accurate historically. One kid said when I asked if he’d seen it, “My grandfather told me it was boring.”

Well, now. Let’s unpack that sentence.

My grandfather. And just what kind of man is his grandfather? First his age. If the kid is 19 (he’s what we used to call a “Freshman”—now they have much fancier non-sexist names) he was born when his father was, say, 23 (married just out of college), that’s a total of 42. So if his father was born when his father was 23, that makes the grandfather 65. I’m older than his grandfather. Yikes! What am I doing in that office, anyway?

So his grandfather is either 1) not a movie buff, 2) an old man who likes “Terminator” movies, 3) not a history buff, 4) from Texas and has little use for Lincoln, or 5) a grandfather who understands the great chasm between generations.

Those possibilities pretty much unpack the rest of the statement. There’s no way to tell without meeting the grandfather. I don’t want to do that because he’s obviously an old straight white man, and they are a dime a dozen. He’s old. I’m in the prime of my career. Enough said. Except that I do have quite a few straight friends.

So I told the student the story of my being one degree of separation away from Abraham Lincoln. He was pretty amazed—not that I have a real personal reason to be so caught up in studying Lincoln, but that it was possible I could be that old. That’s not what he said, but I could, as they say, see the wheels turning.

Now we come to the end of this little exercise in slowing my mind down. Or not. Is there a point here? That study of rhetorical means? Anyone who knows the Gettysburg Address knows the metaphor of “conceived in liberty” and “new birth of freedom.” What lofty language. Our nation came to be in the fervor of liberty. So, I ask my classes, what is the metaphor, really? Blank stares.

Eminently shockable

Eminently shockable

“What’s the semen for the conception of America?”

That’s how you shock a bunch of college kids.

And probably you, too. Mr. Rarefied Lincoln couldn’t possibly have meant that.

And I say President Lincoln understood liberty in an earthy, primal way John Boehner and the Tea Party cannot even imagine.

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