Dublin

The itinerary, driven by A’s interest in Ireland: the Book of Kells, Irish trad music, cliff walks, castle tours, bookstores.

IMG-1862The grand Trinity College library.

IMG-1865

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Book of Kells is just astonishing in its vibrancy of colors and intricacy of detail. I think A’s introduction to the manuscript must have been the movie The Secret of Kells, which is one of our kids’ all-time favorites.

 Circa 800, the folio page that opens the Gospel of John

 A page from the Gospel of John. Hand-writing (in this case, Insular majuscule) as integral to art really appeals to me. The Book of Kells is such a masterpiece not only because of its age (c 800 CE) but because Viking raids at this point disrupted the monasterial labors, and thereafter no comparably ornate manuscripts were produced.

IMG-1875Hearty pub fare at O’Neill’s and grocery-store lunches in the hostel.

One of the reasons I like staying in hostels is rubbing shoulders, so to speak, with people from all over, and usually people who are pretty friendly or interesting. It’s not what I would call a relaxing way to travel, but it is one of the ways to intensify one’s experiences in a different city. In this case, our hostel was a converted school, with soaring ceilings and massive windows. The night of England’s success in the World Cup quarter-final, the hostel and the streets outside took until the wee hours of morning to quiet down. Earlier in the day B had asked an Irish woman who she was rooting for, Sweden or England, and she brought one corner of her mouth up toward her squinted eye, saying, “Well, they both invaded us, didn’t they?”

2018-07-05 17.28.48“Let us go forth, the teller of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart long for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet.” (Yeats, The Celtic Twilight)

A traditional Irish musical evening was delightful! Starting out in the Ha’ Penny Bridge Inn:

We had dinner at long tables; we happened to be seated next to a family from the Netherlands and I love the way the paterfamilias is keeping time with his hand. Here’s Eamonn, Paddy, and Erin:

IMG-1920

IMG-1871Dublin Castle, which houses mainly government offices.

IMG-1816The River Liffey and the Ha’Penny Bridge.

The picturesque fishing village of Howth is a half-hour train ride north of Dublin. Its cliff walk is just stunning!

2018-07-06 15.56.22

IMG-1896

IMG-1900

IMG-1902

IMG-1911

IMG-1903

2018-07-06 16.32.47A. set out on every side spur of the trail, exploring higher vantage points and coming back with his legs covered with stinging nettle lashes. They didn’t really slow him down.

The seaside city of Dalkey is a half-hour train ride from Dublin’s city center, this time to the south. In the process of the castle tour, we learned about some of the literary luminaries who have called Dalkey home: James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Maeve Binchy, George Bernard Shaw.

IMG-1927Dalkey Castle (more properly, a fortified town house from the 14th century) is fun in large part because of the dressed-up re-enactors who expound on the castle and St. Begnet’s Church (10th century).

IMG-1934

IMG-1931

IMG-1930

2018-07-07 14.26.33

One of my very favorite poets, Eavan Boland, was born in Dublin and educated at Trinity. This is the end of her poem “The Oral Tradition”.

I had distances
ahead of me: iron miles
in trains, iron rails
repeating instances
and reasons; the wheels

singing innuendoes, hints,
outlines underneath
the surface, a sense
suddenly of truth,
its resonance.

 

 

Stockholm

Last week I took a trip I’ve been looking forward to for a long time — best of all was visiting an old friend.

2018-06-30 17.00.24B took some time off and we brought A with us. R and her family are a treasure!

Sweden is 9 hours ahead of Seattle and the first night there, I couldn’t sleep. At 59 degrees north, it doesn’t quite get dark at night. Here’s what 2:30 in the morning sounds like and looks like from one of R’s windows on Lidingö:

IMG-1684This great climbing stump is behind the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Nobel Park.

IMG-1675

IMG-1649

IMG-1669

IMG-1664

Happy kiddo with a soft-serve cone. Stockholm is simply gorgeous; we all came away quite smitten.

IMG-1645We visited Skansen, a fascinating and extensive open-air museum showcasing authentic dwellings and structures from across Sweden and times past.

IMG-1745.JPG

A. was so happy to finally find the stilts the kids had been telling him about. B. liked the Viking-era rune stones, and I liked the cafe R found with a fika spread:

The sandwiches were a miss with the kids but a hit with the sharp-eyed birds near our outdoor table.

The work underway in the summer pasture barn was fascinating — traditionally, the work was taken up solely by young women, who would have spent the summer months in the separate pasture and barn, keeping an open fire going to make loads of butter, cheese, and whey butter (messmör). Skansen’s milkmaids shared this last with us; the flavor is a strange combination of caramel and gravy.

IMG-1779

On Lidingö: The path from R’s house down to the sea goes through a charming door. Down the other way lies the forest and lake. Low wild blueberry bushes blanket the forest floor, with small ripening berries. The lakeshore rocks are really slippery, I hear — A. fell in even though he was using the chain to brace himself.

2018-07-01 18.59.44R’s peaceful, verdant backyard.

There is a snippet of a Swedish poem I’m reminded of:

The airy sky has taken its place leaning against the wall.
It is like a prayer to what is empty.
And what is empty turns its face to us
and whispers:
“I am not empty, I am open.”

–from “Vermeer” by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robert Bly

Bairn o’ mine

StAmaterials

S. will be headed to Scotland in the fall (!!!), which means the whole family is involved in a sort of ancillary education about St. Andrews, Scotland, and the UK. For example, yesterday evening S, B, A, and I spent several hours at an admitted students event in Seattle, speaking with university admissions and support officers and hearing from a panel of past students.

It seems like a perfect match for S–my hopes are high. To-do lists are running long because we’re still in a thicket of deadlines and applications (loans, visa, housing, etc); nuts and bolts still have to be fastened down everywhere.

Thank goodness for K’s line of study just now: her main homework is to give practice massages (!!!).

The Best Things I’ve Read This Week

1. Last night I entered night owl territory, flying through David Grann’s riveting New Yorker piece on Antarctic journeyer Henry Worsley.

The story of Worsley is likely far more interesting if one has more than a passing familiarity with Ernest Shackleton–I recommend the documentary below, an excellent one that I’ve used to teach my freshmen storytelling techniques as they create their own documentaries.

2. Martha Nussbaum’s lengthy, wide-ranging interview here. Arguably the most important working philosopher today, Nussbaum’s archness here, with her regular precision and humanity, are at once inspiring and delightful. The Emotion Researcher site is having troubles this morning–The Atlantic’s article on her is also good.

3. Deep Work by Cal Newport posits a radical (to me) idea: that our brains don’t need light or shallow activity to recover from deep, focused work, they simply need a change, a switch to a different type of deep, focused activity. I have been guilty of glutting on Twitter at times over the past year, trying to make sense of things far and near, and I have been dogged by an unnerving sense that I’m shifting something fundamental in my brain. My students were often on my mind throughout this book; Deep Work seems to confirm my growing sense that my students likely are having more trouble with diving into deep work (such as timed writes) because of their regular smartphone use.

4. Speaking of timed essays, I read some good stuff this weekend from my smart scribblers:

• Children fear what they do not know, while adults fear what children should know.

• In this poem, the speaker pinpoints fear as the child’s biggest attribute to be stamped down by adults. For no one has more fear than an adult who has seen the horrors of reality.

• Collins indirectly poses the question, are such horrific events inevitable? Or can we change our fate if we change our actions and the way we educate our children?

A Look at Anti-Intellectualism in American Life

Richard Hofstadter won the Pulitzer prize in non-fiction for this book in 1964. It has likely never been more valuable reading than today.

His definition for anti-intellectualism is “a resentment and suspicion of the life of the mind and of those who are considered to represent it; and a disposition constantly to minimize the value of that life” (7), as “intellect in America is resented as a kind of excellence, as a claim to distinction, as a challenge to egalitarianism” (51). Hofstadter reminds us that anti-intellectualism “is founded in the democratic institutions and in the egalitarian sentiments of this country” (407), and should be understandable, while lamentable.

Intellect is distinguished from intelligence–intelligence is universally prized, while intellect is another animal altogether.

Intelligence: –an excellence of mind that is employed within a fairly narrow, immediate, and predictable range; it is a manipulative, adjustive, unfailingly practical quality

–works within the framework of limited but clearly stated goals, and may be quick to shear away questions of thought that do not seem to help in reaching them

–seeks to grasp, re-order, adjust

–will seize the immediate meaning in a situation and evaluate it

–tied to individuals as well as whole professions

Intellect: –critical, creative, and contemplative side of mind

–examines, ponders, wonders, theorizes, criticizes, imagines

–evaluates evaluations, looks for the meaning of situations as a whole

–not tied to a vocation or profession, but individuals

–has a spontaneous character and inner determination

–has a peculiar poise, which is established by a balance between two basic qualities in the intellectual’s attitude toward ideas: playfulness and piety

(24-28)

An intellectual views the life of the mind (reading, writing, thinking, conversing) as work done in the service of discovering truth, as a kind of moral imperative. This is what leads Hofstadter to refer to the “piety” of an intellectual’s attitude toward ideas. Then too, he notes that intellectuals as a class “have shown the largest and most consistent concern for the well-being of the classes which lie below…[they have] a passion for justice and order” (29).

At the same time, an intellectual’s mind is marked by a playful curiosity that is “inordinately restless and active…which gives a distinctive cast to its view of truth and its discontent with dogmas” (30). This playfulness can mirror the happy, grave concentration of a child trying to shape modeling clay; “there is no contradiction between play and seriousness” (30). And yet, the intellectual does not ask whether the end product of her thinking is practical, just as the child does not ask whether the end product of her modeling clay session is useful–that is beside the point.

Here I pause for a moment to ask what BHS aims to nurture in students–what aligns most closely with my AP English Literature course, for example?

Students must bring their intelligence to the prompt before them: they must read it quickly, grasp its nature and implications, and begin to rapidly formulate a response. However, students will not score in the higher tiers of the rubric if they do not bring their intellect to bear at this point. Their response must indicate a lively curiosity and ease with ideas–they must say something interesting and insightful about the text, not merely show that they comprehend what the original writer is saying.

Somewhere around the mid-point in the year, almost all of my teaching centers on nurturing my students’ intellect–I tell them to trust themselves, to reach within and find their own response, to bring all of their knowledge and ideas and inklings out on the page and to present them persuasively. To make connections between things large and small, and to make a claim about the meaning of the work as a whole. In this way, the task of an AP timed write is a perfect marriage of intelligence and intellect.

Hofstadter comments on intellectuals often aligning with the left side of the political spectrum, and on the tendency for anti-intellectual sentiments to arise in conjunction with the right–he shows that the progressive point of view is the same mindset of the 16th-century revolutionary Americans: the belief that life can be made better, that poverty and oppression do not have to be endured, that the pursuit of happiness is everyone’s business (44). He also shows why a conservative point of view is likely to be deeply unsettled by this, using John Dewey’s words: “If we once start thinking, no one can guarantee what will be the outcome, except that many objects, ends and institutions will be surely doomed. Every thinker puts some portion of an apparently stable world in peril, and no one can wholly predict what will emerge in its place” (45).

When we look at some of the strands of settlers of the American colonies, we see that they brought a strong intellectual influence with them; for example, the Puritan settlers “laid the basis of an educational system and…a community morale in matters of study which made New England and the New England mind distinguished in the history of American culture for three centuries. The clergy spread enlightenment as well as religion, fostered science as well as theology, and provided models of personal devotion to things of the mind in tiny villages where such examples might otherwise not have been seen” (61).

And yet the Great Awakening of the 1730s and 40s created a movement away from intellectualism, a movement in which individual, direct spiritual knowledge was regarded as more true, more pure, and more desireable than study and learning (70). This egalitarian infusion profoundly changed the character of American Protestant strains of religion–I am reminded of Harold Frederic’s 1896 novel The Damnation of Theron Ware, which features a Methodist clergyman deeply disturbed by the anti-intellectual bent of his new town in upstate New York.

During the revolutionary ferment, the shapers of our nation also prized learning and the life of the mind; “when the United States began its national existence, the relationship between intellect and power was not a problem. The leaders were the intellectuals” (145).

By contemporary European standards of administration, Washington’s initial criteria for appointments to Federal offices was high. He demanded competence, and he also emphasized both the public repute and the personal integrity of his appointees, in the hope that to name “such men as I conceive would give dignity and lustre to our National Character” would strengthen the new government (169).

“The first truly powerful and widespread impulse to anti-intellectualism in American politics was…the Jacksonian movement. Its distrust of expertise, its dislike for centralization, its desire to uproot the entrenched classes, and its doctrine that important functions were simple enough to be performed by anyone” (156) directly pushed back on the value of educated persons leading civic life in the country–and yet, it is clear that many intellectuals of the day (including Walt Whitman and Nathaniel Hawthorne) generally went along with the Jacksonian democracy.

For all of my love of the English Romantic poets and the values they espoused, I see these values turned to grotesque and giddy support of Jackson as U.S. president: “Jackson, it was said, had been lucky enough to have escaped the formal training that impaired the ‘vigor and originality of the understanding.’ Here was a man of action, ‘educated in Nature’s school,’ who was ‘artificial in nothing’, who had fortunately ‘escaped the training and dialectics of the schools’; who had a ‘judgement unclouded by the visionary speculations of the academician’–Behold then, the unlettered man of the West, the nursling of the wilds…little versed in books, unconnected by science to the tradition of the past, raised by the will of the people to the highest pinnacle of honour…What policy will he pursue? What wisdom will he bring with him from the forest? What rules of duty will he evolve from the oracles of his own mind?” (159).

We might as well say of Trump: He has been lucky enough to have escaped full literacy, to have been ignorant of biographies, histories, nuanced and reflective books which might have impaired his simplistic understanding of the world and his place in it. Here is a man of impulsive action, educated in business’s school to seize on every loophole and maximize profit without regard for human rights or suffering, a man who has a judgement unclouded by the complex realities revealed by academic knowledge–Behold then, the unlettered man of the people, the nursling of the xenophobic and the bigots…little versed in books, unconnected by science to the tradition of the past, raised by the will of the people to the highest pinnacle of honour…What previously announced policies will he pursue? What wisdom will he bring with him from Fox News and his circle of inexperienced advisors? What rules of duty will he evolve from the oracles of Bannon’s mind?

Let’s take a closer look at what Trump’s business background means for anti-intellectualism. Hofstadter says, “No doubt there is a certain measure of inherent dissonance between business enterprise and intellectual enterprise: being dedicated to different sets of values, they are bound to conflict” (233). I agree with Hofstadter’s summary of American novelists’ treatment of businessmen characters: they are “almost always depicted as crass, philistine, corrupt, predatory, domineering, reactionary, and amoral” (233). Of course, real life is complex, and by some, business is considered to be a way of life; by others, a way to life, a single side of a many-sided existence (244), as with Andrew Carnegie. Despite the simplification, even unfairness of many novelists’ portrayals, such characterizations serve to warn society of the potential for business dealings to corrupt character. How many of those descriptors fit Trump to a T? No wonder he rang the alarm bells early on for those who read widely.

Returning to history, not until the Progressive Era did the country feel more at ease with intellectuals–and it was the “moral and intellectual requirements of the period” (198) that created a reliance on experts and an acceptance of them.

Scholars like John Dewey were “animated by the heartening sense that the gulf between the world of theory and the world of practice had been finally bridged” (205). At the same time, President Teddy Roosevelt gave voice to a false dichotomy that has long plagued the popular view of intellect when he said “character is far more important than intellect” (208); he spoke as if it is possible to only have one or the other in abundance. Positioning character as an opposite trait to intellect falsely paints the thoughtful, knowledgeable person as someone lacking in conviction, ethical standards, and principles.

As the Progressive Era faded, “the evolution controversy and the Scopes trial greatly quickened the pulse of anti-intellectualism” (130).

“When Clarence Darrow said at Scopes’s trial that ‘every child ought to be more intelligent than his parents’, he was raising the specter that frightened the fundamentalists the most. This was precisely what they did not want, if being more intelligent meant that children were meant to abandon parental ideals and desert parental ways” (127). Not put to rest in 1925, this conflict has risen larger than ever with the appointment of Betsy De Vos as Education Secretary. At issue is the very nature and role of education in a democracy.

Hofstadter claims, “ours is the only educational system in the world vital segments of which have fallen into the hands of people who joyfully and militantly proclaim their hostility to intellect” (51).  I would wager that Hofstadter’s words here have never been more true at the national level. At the same time, there are hamlets where intellectualism is acknowledged as a desirable quality of educators, and I live in one.

Hofstadter notes that Americans have expected education to “be practical and pay dividends” (299, from Rush Welter’s 1962 study on Popular Education and Democratic Thought in America).

As the sage-on-the-stage model of education gave way to John Dewey’s student-centered philosophy of education, Hofstadter notes that “there was very little place in Dewey’s schoolroom for the contemplative or bookish child, for whom schooling as a social activity is not a thoroughly satisfactory procedure” (383). I would add that as 21st-century education philosophy has embraced even more group work and project-based learning, one of the unfortunate side-effects is a potential disaffection of intellectual students, who often need quiet thinking time during the process, not only before plunging in with peers who may or may not usefully augment their complex ideas.

Inasmuch as intellectual work is creative work, Hofstadter brings up another salient point worth considering: “The truly creative mind is hardly ever so much alone as when it is trying to be sociable” (426).

A final note on anti-intellectualism as described by Hofstadter:

During the 1930s Europe lost its political and moral authority, and fascism sent refugee artists and scholars fleeing to the United States. The tidal flow of whole schools of art historians, political scientists, and sociologists made the U.S. the intellectual capital of the Western world (414-415).

I feel a tremendous sense of loss as America loses her political and moral authority. I also feel a tremendous sense of hope that the pursuit of truth and enlightenment is worthwhile, and that more than ever, thoughtful people are roused to read and reason and respond.

Further reading: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1998/11/richard-hofstadters-tradition/377296/

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/06/books/review/06tanenhaus.html

Lull

We’ve weathered one storm system without too much damage, and now this is the lull before the big storm. Alexander McCall Smith graciously kept his speaking engagement here at the BHS commons this wet and windy afternoon, and it was entirely delightful!

2016-10-15-15-27-43

(Fun connection to my life: He is the grandson of the doctor who founded Hokianga Hospital in Rawene, NZ, G.M. Smith.) His gentle wit, the way he giggles at his own tales, the string of anecdotes from around the world–I could listen to him for a couple of hours, even though in principle I agree with his view that no one should go on about anything for longer than 50 minutes.

2016-10-15-14-31-28

He spoke about his writing process: Wake at 4 a.m. and write for two or three hours, turning out an average of 1,000 words per hour. This is very unusual for a writer, and even more unusual because he very rarely revises. For him, the stories just come out the way  they are meant to be; he taps into a subconscious part of his brain that is constantly examining and questioning the world.

He said he doesn’t hear the characters’ voices, but rather hears rhythms and fits their words to the rhythms.

I’ve a penchant for noir, and McCall Smith doesn’t really write noir. His mysteries are gentle, almost employing the genre as a pretext to examine the humanity and warmth that we are capable of, rather than the dark complexity of, say, Mankell’s world. That being said,  I’m a big fan of McCall Smith’s No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, set in Botswana, and the Isabel Dalhousie Mystery series, set in Edinburgh. Today he told some stories from his 44 Scotland Street series, and I’m intrigued–they’re on my to-read list.

The New York Times reviewed his short story collection recently–I love the way that review ends: “These stories trust in the liberal, humane values that are at the heart of all McCall Smith’s fiction. Can one have too much of that hopefulness? I doubt it.”

McCall Smith’s themes are above all, compassionate.  His books are soothing, even lulling. Though comparatively sweet and therefore seemingly less important than fiction that exposes a grim and splintery world, I would argue that right now, we’ve all had enough of that.

A ‘lull’ can connote a false sense of security, but it can also mean a welcome relief from a storm. Thank you, Alexander McCall Smith.

 

 

Manhattan

2016-08-17 10.56.53Our street on the Upper West Side. Manhattan was a study in contrasts: heat wave, air-conditioning blast; subway heat/noise/crowds hell, Central Park Ramble shade/birdsong/open space heaven; inexpensive meals at the apartment, pricy meals out; lovely conversations with native New Yorkers, S getting yelled at on the subway; goingdoingseeing, restingwaitingstaying.

2016-08-17 10.58.00We stayed very close to the Museum of Natural History, which is the first in a short series of Holden Caulfield sites for my students.

2016-08-17 19.24.03

2016-08-17 19.29.05Next up: Rockefeller Center:

2016-08-19 09.42.26And last, ducks in Central Park:

2016-08-20 14.45.57

2016-08-17 11.29.41Looking back at the San Remo apartment building on Central Park West. We walked past it every day on our way to the subway.

2016-08-17 12.02.14-1In Shakespeare’s Garden.

2016-08-17 11.37.11I was impressed by all the runners and cyclists using Central Park in the August heat. We brought our running shoes and clothes, but I didn’t go running once–that goes on the list for another visit.

2016-08-17 13.32.13Something Rotten on Broadway was a hit with everyone. Amidst the humor, catchy songs, clever allusions, and showstopping dance numbers, it’s a thought-provoking exploration of what a marriage is.

2016-08-18 16.37.08Beautiful St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.

2016-08-18 16.39.12

2016-08-18 16.41.09

2016-08-18 17.22.10My favorite skyscraper: The Chrysler Building.

2016-08-18 17.09.51English teacher grin.

2016-08-18 17.09.17The kids were more excited to sit down and read in NYC’s libraries than nearly anything else.

2016-08-18 17.18.06Cool Lego lion downstairs in the children’s section.

2016-08-18 11.47.25K, B, and I toured Juilliard (fun to see where so many talented people have studied, including my aunt C) and then sauntered over to the Met Opera House.

2016-08-17 18.33.41Laundry dropped off at the neighborhood cleaners: done, folded, and ready for pick-up after a day of us being out and about.

We made our way to Chelsea Piers and then boarded the 1920s-style yacht Manhattan II for an architecture tour around the entire island of Manhattan. Narrated by a delightful member of AIANY, this was one of our favorite experiences.

2016-08-19 13.40.44

2016-08-19 13.44.01

2016-08-19 13.42.40

 

2016-08-19 14.11.12

2016-08-19 14.12.01

2016-08-19 14.01.11One World Trade Center (at a deliberate 1,776 feet tall, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere).

2016-08-19 16.08.45The Empire State Building, among others of interest, as seen from the Hudson. Right about here was where Captain Sullenberger landed his plane.

2016-08-20 12.15.15Last day in NYC: thunderstorm; the Guggenheim’s soft white curves.

2016-08-20 12.18.29