Rat-Obsessed Teacher and Doctor Zhivago
Intro to Lit had its good and bad points: Many of the stories were interesting, but many were dull or depressing, such as “Death of a Salesman.”
I told Clarissa, who also had the class, that the teaching style reminded me of high school teachers. I think it was from the way the teacher spoke to us (talking down to us like children) and the kinds of assignments he gave us.
Part of it was also the journal we had to keep: It reminded me of the folders (called “notebooks”) we had to use and turn in back in junior high. (If you didn’t do your folder correctly in junior high, you’d get a bad grade. With my NVLD, I constantly got bad grades on my folders.) I was in college now, and didn’t want to be treated like a high school student anymore.
I loved “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, though the ending disappointed me. I identified with the girl, with her being a loner and the odd one. I loved the football guy’s statement that because she was different, she was special.
At the end of one of my essays, the teacher wrote, “An excellent response. You write well (I hope you’re thinking about becoming a writing or English major!).” The funny thing was, I already was a Writing major, which I would have to be by junior year if I wanted to get my major completed before graduation. I wondered if he thought I was a freshman, like many people in the class were.
The teacher was a young man with dark hair, a brown leather jacket, and a gray or black cap in the style of the 1930s.
Junior Honors was quite an adventure. I also read its assignments while working in the library. I made out a reading schedule for the semester which allowed me to read everything on time, yet without having too much to read for some books and not enough for others each day. Because of this, I was often ahead of the rest of the class (the ones who even read the books).
I almost took one of the Junior Studies classes instead, especially since one of them was about the Holocaust. In the end, though I wished I could take both Junior Honors and The Holocaust, I was glad I stuck with Junior Honors. The books were fascinating and the class was interesting. (A few books, however, were dry.)
Our first book was All Quiet on the Western Front by Enrich M. Remarque. I had always heard of it, but never read it or seen the movie.
It was terribly depressing: As I read through the books of the course, at least two of which were about the Lost Generation of the twenties, I discovered why they were called this and why they felt this way.
World War I and its horrors of the trenches had instilled a sort of hopelessness; many young people apparently turned to the parties and drinking and dancing and sex and such of the flapper generation to escape this hopelessness and horror.
This book gave a good reason why they would feel that way, as it followed Paul Bäumer’s loss of innocence in the war. Rats figured prominently, invading the trenches and doing such horrible things that I never looked at rats the same way again. I didn’t know they were scavengers of dead meat. I didn’t know they–ate the things they ate. I’d thought they were more like mice, eating cheese and such. It took a long time to get certain images out of my head.
And the war itself destroyed Paul and his personality. He could find no other place to feel at home anymore except the Front.
Next came The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, September 24 and 29. This was a bit of a relief, but not much because now we saw the effects of the war on the young people after it was already over.
Before I read it, Sharon and Pearl and others were sitting at lunch one day looking for a topic of conversation, and Sharon said, “Let’s talk about Brett.” They thought it disgusting that she would sleep with so many guys so easily, and they didn’t understand her.
On October 8, we talked about “The Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx. It was surprising to see this slim, white book among the others I bought for the class. We were even amused at the idea of reading it in class, this subversive treatise. I wrote a scathing review of it.
Long before anyone else read Doctor Zhivago, or at least so it seemed, it was time for me to start reading it. Since it was so long, I gave myself plenty of time to get through it before the class discussion. I liked it a lot, though parts (such as the train ride) dragged just as I expected a Russian novel to do.
(I still remembered from high school English that Fyodor Dostoevsky was paid by the word, and got very wordy. From the way Zhivago was written, it appeared to be the same thing with Boris Pasternak.) Some liked the train scene, though.
Sharon, Pearl and I called Yurii a male slut because of the way he kept going from one woman to another, calling them wives while the first wife was still living (without any sort of legal ceremony or divorce), and sleeping with the new woman while forsaking the last. Was polygamy allowed in turn of the century Russia?
This book was also a welcome change from the depressing books we’d been reading. It had been suppressed by the Communist government, and after reading it, I knew why: It had some unflattering things to say about Communism.
And it also had a rat scene.
Though the front blurb said that the book had been made into “a magnificent motion picture,” we soon learned otherwise. We rented and watched it the evening of Friday, November 5 in the Phi-Delt suite. Mike and others joined us. This was the movie with the ever-popular “Lara’s Song,” the song on my old music box.
We thought Tonia was portrayed scandalously as a silly woman, when in the book she was not. The whole story was twisted and strewed around in different ways than the book told it. We thought the movie was just awful, and decided that a person should never see the movie after reading the book.
On December 1 we talked about The Plague by Albert Camus. Yet again rats figured in the story. The concept, a modern city stricken with the bubonic plague, was fascinating, though morose. I liked the book despite its depressing qualities, and was happy when the plague finally began to abate. On page 54, I noted that Camus seemed to refer to the premise of one of his other books, The Stranger. (I read that in high school English class.)
In class, I also mentioned the proper pronunciations of the French names, which Dr. Lister tried to use (though “Rieux,” when said with the French “r,” can be hard for those who don’t know how to say it). On page 220, I noted that the night before I had dreamed about a plague. I wonder why. The scariest thing I read was on the very last page: that the plague is never truly gone, that it is only just waiting to be brought back out again.
One day, we asked, “Why do you keep making us read about rats? Are you obsessed with them?”
The teacher, a UCC pastor named Dr. Lister, said, “Rats? No, I’m scared of them, actually. I didn’t realize they’re a common theme.”
Though Dr. Lister was often considered a difficult teacher, we disagreed. Though other classes might have an almost impossible time getting an A out of him, with us he seemed much more lenient. We liked him.
Advanced Fiction Writing class was supposed to be about writing fiction, but all we really read or studied in class were true-life narratives. That’s not fiction! The teacher would have us pass around and read paragraphs from stories she brought in, which were always narratives and usually bored me to tears. I don’t have a problem with reading about other people’s lives (heck I’ve been writing about my own); she just always seemed to find the most boring ones.
I’d expected this to be one of my favorite classes, as Fiction class had been the previous year, but instead it was the one I liked least. Whenever any of us tried to write what we considered fiction, or what we wanted to write (science fiction or fantasy, for example), she wouldn’t know what comments to give about it.
The genre of the story shouldn’t have mattered: She could still have looked at structure, plot, characterization, punctuation, sentence structure, and the like. She told us she didn’t want us writing science fiction or fantasy, which was a problem because at least two or three people wanted to.
Terry was supposed to be my Fiction teacher, but he left the college before junior year began. I forget why; I think he and his wife moved.
For a final project, I handed in a revised version of “An Unwilling Time-Traveler,” a story I wrote in high school. Friends loved it. When the teacher had me come see her about it, as she did with everyone, she said that because it was science fiction she didn’t know what to say about it. She had very little helpful to say.
The teacher was definitely a sixties rebel. She may have even been at Woodstock. She sometimes wore her shortish, graying hair in two ponytails or maybe even pigtails.
At the end of the year, we were to prepare a story for publication, and have another member of the class read it. I re-wrote “Bedlam Castle,” and a classmate read it. When the teacher asked her about it, she said she didn’t quite understand it. But when asked if she would publish it as an editor, she said yes.
She also recognized it from Fiction, having been in Terry’s class with me. I was glad she read it and saw the changes I’d made, which I was proud of. I took it back and set it aside for a while, wondering what I should do with it to make it easier to understand.
A Teacher Dated a Student; InterVarsity Fun
On one of the first days of school, as Pearl and I walked around campus, she told me that working for the faculty secretary meant she heard campus gossip about teachers. She told me that Wesley had dated a student, and that he was now married.
A few years later, I discovered that the story was true–and that the student was a friend of mine. But I won’t reveal her name on the Net…. I will say that he still remembered her years later when I found Wesley on Facebook.
Here are some stories from Pearl’s childhood:
1) She found an old picture of herself sitting on the refrigerator, put there as a punishment. She was very small, and wore ugly, plaid, ’70s pants.
2) Her parents would tell her to behave and she’d say, “I am being have!” This became one of our catchphrases.
3) One day, Pearl looked at a guy’s yard and said it was ugly. Her parents joked that his garage door was open, he might hear, and “he’s probably in there with a rifle.”
So that became a code word between her and her dad: “rifle” meant “the person you’re talking about is right behind you.” We also adopted this in the Group.
All semester, InterVarsity taped posters to the walls of the Campus Center in Bossard and the stair well. We’d advertise meetings, special events, Bible studies, and the group itself. We spent many evenings in the RC-CAB (Roanoke College Campus Activities Board) room, which had rolls of poster paper and large and small markers.
These were special markers, not the kind you buy in the store, but gigantic markers. I loved the intoxicating, heady smell of the ink, and we had lots of fun making the posters. It was usually me, Astrid, Pearl, Sharon, maybe Mike, Tara, Clarissa, and maybe others.
We and, especially, Astrid loved to joke about putting subliminal messages in the posters: “Come to InterVarsity!” I think we may have tried this once or twice, putting in little notes like this all over the poster.
For Christmas time, we were assigned to decorate the display case in the Campus Center lounge. We decided to do a group of small posters showing the events of the birth of Christ. I designed and drew them. Sharon told me to make them simple, so I did, as much as I could.
I can remember a picture of Mary and Joseph on the donkey. I was very proud of these pictures, which Sharon and maybe others helped me color. I took pictures of them for my mom, but never did get around to getting those pictures developed, which is a pity.
We put these pictures, empty boxes wrapped up like presents, and maybe other decorations in the display case one night. It was fun to open up the glass doors and crawl into the case.
Over one summer, possibly the one of 1993, we saw a commercial by a group called the 70s Preservation Society. This guy sat at a table in a leisure suit and advertised a CD of 70s disco hits.
We all thought it a good joke: Who’d want to preserve the 70s, and why would someone be advertising disco, widely thought of as the biggest, lamest joke of the 70s? (Though I admit, some of those songs still sounded good.) Youtube did not disappoint: The commercial is here for your viewing pleasure.
Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)
Table of Contents
December 1991: Ride the Greyhound
January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD
March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?
April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign
October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:
Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams
June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:
July & August 1994: