By Lily Thayer Derrick
From the Spring 2009 Caller
When Clint Darling, who has been dispensing bons mots and linguistic admonitions in equal measure to Catlin Gabel students for more than (never “over”) 40 years, decided not to return for the coming school year, it was less a surprise than a lightning bolt. In the minds of many of his former students and colleagues, Clint is nearly synonymous with Catlin Gabel. As John Chun ’87 pointed out, “how appropriate it seems that ‘Catlin’ can be anagrammatically viewed as ‘a Clint.’”
Clint started his career at Catlin Gabel in 1967 as a French teacher and head of the foreign language department. He went on to serve as English teacher, interim headmaster, and for 13 years as Upper School head. Most recently he served as head of the English department.
Clint and his wife, Lauren, who taught German and math at Catlin Gabel, originally came to the school for what they thought was a temporary stint on the West Coast: “Lauren and I came to Oregon intending a two-year stay since we were both confirmed ‘Easterners’ and couldn’t imagine living for very long in another part of the country,” Clint said upon the announcement of his retirement in January.
“Portland and the school welcomed and charmed us, and made a place to grow professionally and to raise a family,” he said. Daughter Claire graduated in 1988; Andrea graduated in 1990.
“In those early years Catlin was one of the most spirited and compelling schools in the country. As the school has developed and matured, it has also worked consciously to remain faithful to those fundamental values. I treasure the dozens of colleagues and hundreds of students who have contributed so much of significance to my life,” Clint said. Several of those colleagues and students shared their thoughts and memories of Clint with us for this issue of the Caller. What follows are choice excerpts.
John Chun ’87
I joined Catlin Gabel in 1983 as a 9th grader. Clint Darling was my English teacher that year. “Darling” seemed a misnomer because, at first, he scared the hell out of me. Also, from my 13-year-old perspective, he was a bit mysterious. Someone told me Clint had spent much of his summer at an apiary.
A very tall guy, Clint sported a goatee, a cowboy hat, and boots to match. The guy was demanding. The Paper Chase has Kingsfield. We had Darling. He drilled us frequently on vocabulary (including “apiary”), sprinkled us with “snowflakes” (pop quizzes on the books we read), pushed us to improve our writing, and marched us through the travails of Winston Smith and Ralph, Jack, and Piggy. He loaded our backpacks with the Oxford Annotated Bible; that brick of a book felt like the weight of the world. My parents wanted me to get good grades and get into college. Yet there was Clint, examining our brains to see whether we had understood the story of the mandrakes.
Clint mixed a terrific enthusiasm into his demanding teaching style. Among other things, he discussed the plights of fictional characters in terms we teenagers could comprehend. He cared deeply that we learned, and he taught like his life depended on it. He’d jump up and down, wave his arms, and raise his voice in approval upon a student’s astute observation. The pedagogical potion worked its magic. At some point during the year, I began to care too. I stayed up late, with my lamp illuminating the thin pages of the brick book, poring over footnotes. If I had to pinpoint a time in my life when I began to welcome the thrill of an intellectual challenge, I would say it was in that 1983-84 school year.
Josh Langfus ’11
Member of Clint’s final freshman English class
The strange thing about stepping into Clint’s classroom at the beginning of freshman year was that I’d heard so much about him. Opinions I had heard ranged from “Best English Teacher Ever” to “The Hardest Grader Ever” (which I later found out were not mutually exclusive). I decided that I would form my own opinion, something I think Clint would be proud of. That was one thing that he inspired us to do: think for ourselves.
The truth is Clint taught me a great deal about writing, about history, and more; he had a strange ability to make me feel awful about a paper without discouraging me from trying harder to make it right. The most rewarding part of the class, though, was picking Clint’s brain whenever we got the opportunity. He had the perspective and accumulated knowledge of a man who, it had seemed to us, had done just about everything in the world worth doing, and could tell you about anything else.
Elizabeth Rondthaler Jolley ’76
Community volunteer, Portland
Due mostly to my lack of interest in preparing for my French check-offs, Clint and I had a somewhat rocky relationship. I was often fearful entering his classroom, because I pretty much knew what sort of reception I would get from him as soon as he asked me a question in rapid, fluent French and I stumbled over the response.
Years later, I returned to the school as a parent and Rummage volunteer. At one sale set-up I needed help putting together and arranging three heavy, awkward glass-front cases. I asked Clint for help. He soon appeared in my department with a team of sturdy-looking students, and proceeded to give directions about putting the cases together, which he knew a lot about, and where to place the cases, which he didn’t know about. I stepped in to re-direct, making sure the cases allowed enough space for customers. Clint argued with me about the placement; I stuck to my guns. Clint stopped and looked right at me and said, “You’re not afraid of me anymore, are you?” I laughed and answered “Nope” while the students tried to cover their chuckles.
Jane Platt ’02
New York, New York
Clint Darling told me to go to Wellesley and then take over the world. I didn’t listen to him, and I wish I had.
Longtime Catlin Gabel Spanish teacher and staffer
I lived with Clint and Lauren in 1971 for the first few months of my life at Catlin Gabel. We have been like family for a long time. He had the most influence as a teacher: he was fun but no nonsense; cynical but not mean. Clint has been one of the most reliable and consistent supporters of the school. He was committed to maintaining a particular standard at the school, and he made sure things got done, even when he might not want to be responsible for doing them. He was Schauff’s right hand man, and then during a difficult period of transition for the school in the early 1980s, he did a very credible job as acting head. A huge part of his legacy was championing a group to act as liaison between the administration and faculty, and his proposal that a faculty member serve on the board of trustees.
In the last 15 years I think we’ve seen a softening of Clint. He was tough and demanding. But he was revered by a lot of people, supported by a lot, appreciated by a lot.
Debbie Ehrman Kaye ’73
Alumni board member and community volunteer, Portland
“You may call me Clint or Mr. Darling, but no one calls me ‘Darling!’”
This was how my French teacher for most of five years first introduced himself to our 8th grade class. He requested—no, exacted—our best, and insisted that excellent grammar accompany our burgeoning appreciation for French literature. Clint was also my C&C advisor for a year. His tutelage enabled me to take advanced coursework at Brown University and to have a successful junior year at the Université de Genève. My self-defined cultural final exam was conversing on the street in Paris with a French university student. I had the grammar and vocabulary, coupled with a Swiss accent, to pursue that discussion for half an hour. She never knew I was an American!
Clint shared his interests with his students. He loved to cook and would bring his crêpe pan to school. When he led a group from Catlin Gabel on an Experiment in International Living trip to France in 1971, we visited not only the museums and other sites one ought to see but also kitchen equipment shops in Paris. I was at loose ends one day, so Clint took me to his favorite restaurant, the historic Le Procope, where he introduced me to escargots and coq au vin. I don’t recall what else we did that day, but the time together helped form the foundation for a lasting friendship. Personifying the longevity of many Catlin Gabel teachers, Clint taught both my sons, Mason Kaye ’04 and Rob Kaye ’07.
Longtime Catlin Gabel PE teacher and coach
My first year as a teacher at Catlin Gabel, in 1974–75, I was a 23-year-old co-coach of the boys basketball team. At a game in Mt. Angel, some of our kids thought it would be funny to drop their shorts, and were benched for the game. To get back at us, some of the kids deliberately stayed behind in the locker room. We left, thinking we had everyone back on
When we got back to school late at night, Clint was waiting for us with Schauff and Bob Ashe. We knew this wasn’t a good sign. Clint asked, “Do you have everybody?” So of course we knew we didn’t. To our surprise, instead of having us drive another two hours to pick up the kids left behind, Clint, Bob, and Schauff—who were great friends—said they would go. That taught us a lesson. If we had gone, we probably would have been so mad at the kids that no one would have learned anything. Our mentors had helped us, and we wouldn’t forget it.
Upper School English teacher
The dry facts of Clint’s extraordinary service to Catlin Gabel cannot begin to express his influence. Some might claim that they learned more from Clint about subjects that were not strictly academic, such as how to respond to questions with additional interrogatives, the reasons why letter grades rarely serve young scholars and frequently inhibit their growth, and that negative reinforcement can help us to kill our verbal tics.
The most important lessons Clint imparted were about living thoughtfully, skeptically, and altruistically, with patience for others, passion, good humor, and self-forgiveness. By asking of us more than we thought ourselves capable, Clint consistently taught us to find inner reserves of intelligence and resilience so that we ultimately learned to expect more of ourselves, especially in the service of others. Through Clint’s example, many of his students and colleagues have learned not simply what the principles in the School Chapter mean, but also how to live Paul’s definition of “caritas.”
Lily Thayer Derrick is Catlin Gabel’s director of alumni.
For additional information about Annual Giving, please contact:
Director of Annual Giving
8825 SW Barnes Road
Portland, OR 97225
Guest Speaker: David Shipley '81, deputy editorial page editor and Op-Ed editor of the New York Times.
Lark, members of the faculty, members of the Catlin Gabel community, parents, friends, class of 2009, thank you for that warm welcome.
I guess I should also extend a reluctant welcome to the H1N1 virus. We met back in New York. I hope his stay here is short.
I’ve had the chance over the last few weeks to read and think about commencements.
And I’ve come to a number of conclusions. The speeches tend to break down in a few different ways.
Long and less long.
Unbearable and barely bearable.
There are speeches where the speaker tells you all the things you don’t know.
There are speeches where the speaker tells you about wonderfully impressive things he or she has done — and how those wonderfully impressive things somehow apply to you. But they really don’t.
I’d like to try to do something a little different tonight.
I’d like to talk to you about all the things that you do know.
All the things you learned here. All the things that Catlin teachers, past and present, that the Catlin community, past and present, have taught you and instilled in you — things that will serve you well in the world — but that will also serve the world well — if you just hold onto them
Let me tell you why I feel this is important. My guess is that most everyone in this room would agree that this has been a tough couple of years. In too many ways, our world is fractured.
Everyone has a perspective on this. Mine is shaped in some measure by my job at the Op-Ed page.
The page is a national bulletin board. It’s a crossroads for conversation. It’s the main spot in the paper where the window is opened and the intelligence of the world is allowed in, to sweep across its pages.
And as I have seen the problems unfold — in economics, foreign affairs, and so on – as I have seen these problems documented and analyzed in the thousands upon thousands of articles we receive for consideration, it has occurred to me that some of the mess we are digging ourselves out of right now might not have come to pass had some Catlin thinking been applied.
If the approach to thought and learning and ethics that I was exposed to here, that you have been exposed to…if the culture that we are celebrating tonight had been more manifestly in play, then we might be in better shape today.
What does this culture look like?
I have an example. You do, too. You will find it in your program.
A while ago, I asked members of the senior class to answer, anonymously, the following: “What is your biggest question about your future?”
I then took the answers and ran them through a computer program called Wordle, which creates word clouds. It sizes the words according to how many times they are used. The more frequently a word is used, the bigger it is.
This piece of paper is the result.
What do we see?
Well, for starters, no misspellings. Thumbs up, English department.
“Jail.” A little troubling. I’m sure there’s a good reason.
And the rest of it?
Let’s ignore “future,” because that was part of the question. But that aside, look at what’s big. “Content” or “con-tent.” A positive either way. “Wonder. Work. Concerned. Life. Choose. Happy. Find. Figure. Matter. Know. Love. Able.”
And notice not just what’s small — Want, Need — but what’s not there at all. “Personal” isn’t there. Nor is “Mine.” “Own.” Possess. Deserve. Status. Due. Win. Entitle.
This is language about others, not about the self. It is language about connection, community, intellectual life and service.
It is language that is purely reflective of the Catlin Gabel ethic.
Which is great. But it begs the question: Will it last? Is this way of thinking and being going to slip away after you walk across this stage and out that door? After you leave this place?
I don’t think so.
At least not in my experience or in the experience of my classmates.
Here’s why. Preparing this speech, drove me — naturally, I guess — to look back on my time here, nearly 30 years ago. And what stood out was how much of that time I remember.
Which is kind of odd. You could come up to me and ask me what was on the Op-Ed page two days ago and I would pause. Or stare at you blankly. Eventually, it might come back to me.
Why is that?
It’s not because I’m not proud of it. When I look back over the page, it’s almost always with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
And it’s not, I think, attributable entirely to the fact that memory weakens as you get older. Though this, I fear, is increasingly a factor.
No…it’s the importance of the memory that gives it its durability.
And my Catlin memories are strong.
There are the simple ones. I remember where I napped as a first grader and the color of the towel on which I napped. (It was yellow.) I remember the corner of the lower school library I liked best. I remember the smell of the barn on a wet day, the quality of the dirt on the path down to the soccer fields, the way pine cones pile up in the fir grove. I even remember when the pod outside this building would light up and slowly rotate.
And there are different memories, more complicated ones – ones that encapsulate the ideas and teachings and qualities of thought represented on that piece of paper in your program. Maybe they came from Schauff. Or Clint. Charlotte Ohlman or Sid Eaton, Ed Hartzell. Maybe they came from someone you’ve heard of — or not. Those memories are indelible.
Here’s why I think that’s so.
There are a lot of different theories on memory and how it’s stored. One school of science says that memories with special resonance are those that interact with more than one part of the brain. The memory-related regions of the brain team up with the emotional regions of the brain — to bank the memory, giving it added staying-power and durability.
What you have been taught here isn’t neutral. It has an ethical dimension. For that reason, it’s likely lodged in your head good and tight.
And what’s been lodged? What are those Catlin-teachings that would have been useful had they been applied on Wall Street or in Washington?
Here are a few of them.
One: Show your work.
My math teacher in Middle School was Mary McFarlane. Mrs. McFarlane. She was small, of indeterminate advanced age, wore a lot of nice wool. And she was wonderful. Now 8th grade algebra, I must confess, did not come naturally to me. In fact, as I watched my daughter work through 8th grade algebra this year, I was amazed at how much of her work looked completely unfamiliar to me.
But there is something I remember from the class. It’s a phrase I saw over and over in Mary McFarlane’s precise cursive: “Show your work.” Show your work. Prove to me that you know how you got from there to here. Be transparent.
Why do I bring this up?
Because in a year darkened by opaque derivatives and credit default swaps and mortgage-backed assets and all manner of untransparent actions, the belief that you should show your work — a lesson passed down by Mrs. McFarlane and Lowell Herr and many other people I encountered here — seems to me to be more important than ever.
Two, and this is related: Know how things work. Again, this is something that would have come in handy with regard to those complex financial instruments that got us in so much trouble.
When I was in first grade, we made wooden boxes. I remember Ed Adamy, the shopteacher, in his Ben Davis coveralls, helping us pick the wood, helping us put that wood in little red vises, helping us saw it, saving us from driving small nails through our tiny fingers. The boxes we made were shallow, with a bottom and four sides. They were basic, simple, elemental. But Mr. Adamy taught us how to put something together.
There are other Catlin examples. In 6th grade, we worked on go-carts, taking apart lawnmower engines and, theoretically, putting them back together again. Each year had a lesson that was meant to deepen our elemental understanding of increasingly complex things.
I mentioned transparency a moment ago. Transparency is great. I’m all for it. But for transparency to mean anything at all, you have to be able to comprehend that which has been made transparent.
There’s a wonderful passage in the second Harry Potter book — the Chamber of Secrets. Adorable Ginny Weasley has been possessed — really possessed — by the Dark Lord via a compelling, angst-ridden and completely bewitched diary that tells her to do all sorts of evil things.
After the diary has been destroyed and Ginny has been freed of its power, Ginny’s father has a few words of wisdom for her.
He says — or J.K. Rowling has him say, “Never trust anything that can think for itself unless you can see where it keeps its brain.”
Good advice. And close to the Catlin rule: We are taught here to learn to understand at the most basic level. That is at the core of experiential education. And we are taught to question the things we don’t understand.
Except for the iPhone. I have no idea how that thing works.
Three, another Catlin lesson: Hills. Every day of every soccer season Bob Ashe would have us run up the hill from the lower field to the track, and back again. Over and over. With a new hill added every day.
What’s the lesson here? Besides sadistic coaching? Hard work pays off.
I know. It seems kind of obvious. But think about it.
We’re emerging from an era where the operative idea was that you really didn’t have to do anything to get ahead. Real estate values would go up. So would the stock market. Anyone could flip a house or make money on borrowed money.
It’s a lovely idea. The notion that that essay will write itself or that you’ll get stronger by not going to the gym. But it’s just not so. And yet a lot of people in my generation forgot this.
Four: Step out of your shoes. In junior history with John Wiser, I had to make the case for slavery. I had to get up in front of the class and explain why something that was morally inexcusable made sense.
John’s intention, of course, was not to advance the cause of slavery. It was to force me to approach an issue from a fresh perspective, to change the frame.
How would this idea — and it was one advanced in lots of other classes I had here — have changed the world today?
Think for a moment about Iraq. Whatever your feelings about the war, it is now clear that Saddam Hussein’s regime did not have weapons of mass destruction. Saddam was putting up a front. Bluffing. He was trying to appear stronger than he actually was.
Had we done more to put ourselves in his shoes, understood what he had to gain by giving us and his neighbors the impression that he was on the verge of developing weapons of great power, would we have acted differently? I don’t know. It’s not a topic for tonight. There are sincere arguments on both sides. What is indisputable, though, is that in the process of decision-making, this would have been crucial information to have.
Five: Sort. If you go to Catlin, you understand rummage. If you understand rummage, you understand pretty much everything — and one thing in particular: you learn how to sort.
Is that shirt at the bottom of the moldy box garbage – or vintage? Is that tableau of a penguin riding in a Chevy convertible junk – or a collector’s item? Ditto with lawn gnomes, unicycles, steam tables, C.B. radios.
These questions are not unlike the questions you will be faced with in the years ahead. With information. What’s real? What’s fake? Is the news you get on Google the same as news you get from The Wall Street Journal? The Times? Do you believe everything you read on the Web? Is Huffington Post the same as Talking Points Memo the same as Drudge? Does a healthy Dow mean a healthy economy?
Treat information the way you have been taught to treat rummage. Ask where it comes from – what’s the source. Put it in context. Then decide if it’s good, bad or moldy.
And remember: This is not trivial. The decisions you make as an informed citizen depend on how you choose to be informed.
I want to share two last lessons — lessons that are ingrained in experiences that took place in this very building.
Acting is believing. Back when I went here, the drama program was run by a remarkable guy by the name of Alan Greiner. We had one textbook. I still have it. Acting Is Believing. At the time, I pretty much made fun of it. It was heavy. And Stanislavskian. And mildly new agey.
But as the years have gone by, I’ve come to appreciate its message.
What the book — and Alan — were trying to get across was this: A play is a work of fiction. You’re pretending...whether you’re a prison guard or a French sailor or a goat. But for that pretending to be effective, it has to be rooted in truth. Your actions as an actor have to be based on something real.
I bring this up because in the last year or so we’ve had notable examples of people who believed the opposite. People who asserted truth when it was actually fiction.
Recent example: The other day the CEO of Countrywide, the giant mortgage company, was indicted for doing the opposite of what Alan Greiner taught us: pretending something was real when he knew it wasn’t, telling consumers that his product was fine and then turning around and writing emails to his pals calling those same products “toxic” and “poison.”
Alan’s lesson was one that’s stayed with me: if your fiction has to be truthful, then your reality had better be truthful, too.
Last lesson. Something I did many times on this stage. Something maybe I’ve even done tonight. Make a fool of yourself.
This lesson is distilled in a timeless and emotionally charged work of art that has touched us all: St. George and the Dragon. In St. George, you are compelled to make a fool of yourself. You have no choice. Whether you’re a dragon or a janitor or a twinkly-fairy.
Why do I bring this up?
Because you will see that in the world beyond this room people are afraid to make fools of themselves.
And it seems to me that many of the problems I mentioned earlier must be attributable in some measure to this phenomenon, to people being unwilling to stand up — in meetings, in boardrooms, in the White House, on the Senate floor, at newspapers, wherever — because they were worried about embarrassing themselves or getting shot down.
And the fact is, there are good reasons for this. Life is easier if you don’t make a fool of yourself. If you always sit quietly.
You probably have more friends. Lower blood pressure. More hair.
But what’s lost by that silence, that missed chance to hear another point of view, that possible challenge to the prevailing wisdom that just might be right?
So if one day you find yourself trying to decide to speak up in a room that’s against you, think of St. George. And remember that most of the people who graduated from this place took part in it. Even if they’re now adults. In positions of gravity and power. Once they skipped across this stage. In pretty pink tights. With a wand.
Also remember: If you were in St. George, you were nervous beforehand. Petrified. The risk of embarrassment was high. But afterward — didn’t you feel good? The risk of foolishness was worth it.
I end tonight with the knowledge that maybe it was cheesy of me to have spent the evening telling you what you already know. But what you know, what you learned here, all this place represents, is truly, crucially important.
Look, as someone who works in an industry that is desperately trying to find its way, I would be lying if I said it was easy out there. Even at this stage in my career.
I would be lying if I said that the generation that came before you didn’t mess things up. They did. And you have your work cut out for you.
But I would also be lying if I didn’t say something else. What you learn and experience here dies hard. If you keep close that knowledge, if you stay in touch and remind one another of it, then you will be equipped not only to make your own way, but also to repair this fractured world. For many years to come.
And judging from this little [Wordle] printout, it seems to me that you’re off to a really good start.
Now I think all that stands between you and these beautiful blue diplomas is…me. And so I will do what every generation should do for another: I’m going to get out of the way.
Good luck and godspeed.
Climbers near the halfway point. The shadow of Mount Hood is visible at sunrise
On Tuesday June 16th students from Catlin Gabel school found themselves looking across the entire state of Oregon (and Washington) from the summit of Mt. Hood. The day was perfect, with a light breeze, and the students made the ascent in less than six and a half hours.
Just below the summit at 9:15 am
Snow school the day before the climb
On the top
Carefully descending from the top
After the climb
Twenty-one members of the Class of 2009 are Lifers. The Lifers joined current preschool and kindergarten students in the Beehive to give advice, sing songs, and say, "so long it's been good to know you."
Teacher Mark Lawton and his sister Sheila present their account of Sheila’s decades-long battle with mental illness and its interplay with a large otherwise “normal” suburban family. It includes video and narrative interviews as well as Sheila’s artwork, which is at times light-hearted and playful and at other times haunting. The presentation was made to Catlin Gabel Upper School students in the spring of ‘08.
The Upper School's Catlin Gabel Players presented two evening performances of Shakespeare's great romance. Each night offered a different interpretation. All 30 cast members played two roles: one on Friday and one on Saturday. (Apologies from the photographer who was unable to attend the Friday show.)
|Paul Dickinson and students in science class|
Everyone knows that Catlin Gabel students do a lot of writing in English, history, and foreign language classes, but a considerable amount of writing is required in science classes, too. Just as there are different expectations and writing forms in English and history, we teach a particular form—the formal lab report—in science.
While intuition is a nice faculty to possess, it is not a basis on which to draw dependable conclusions. One of the primary goals of teaching the formal lab report is to help students who have relied heavily on intuition to develop a more logical, provable way of reasoning and to present that in writing.
We may ask students to carry out an experiment that already has a procedure to follow. We assign such experiments to make important concepts more understandable to students who would otherwise just read it in a text. Another kind of experiment is one that students design themselves. Both kinds of experiments require a clear, concise statement of purpose to show that they know exactly what they are looking for.
This purpose statement needs careful attention. Often we ask students to go back and reword the statement so that it is concise and accurate. Once the purpose is clearly worded, a student may come up with a hypothesis in which he or she will try to predict the outcome, backed always by logical reasons. Writing a purpose and hypothesis for a science experiment is similar to writing a thesis statement for a history paper. It must be accurately worded because the writer is about to gather together facts that will support a thesis or discredit it.
Another important part of experimentation is the background section of the report. Students bring in ideas, concepts, and equations learned in previous labs, class discussions, experiments, or life experiences that they will use in the current experiment. This section is, perhaps, the most difficult for freshmen. They are not yet used to the cumulative nature of their science work and are often used to studying for the test and then forgetting much of what they have learned. Time for reflection is not a common occurrence in our busy society, but this forced reflection reinforces the ideas they have learned. The more ideas they remember, the easier it is to write about the connections in their next background section.
Just as students might hear, “What is the evidence?” in a history class, they must report supporting evidence in science. We teach them to organize their data in a table to make it easier—for both writer and reader—to better comprehend and recognize patterns. Here students learn to decide if they have gathered data that answers their purpose and supports their hypothesis, or if significant errors make it impossible to draw conclusions, with a clear explanation of their calculations and reasoning.
At first these explanations must be good enough to satisfy their reader, the teacher, but eventually students internalize this process, and they can realize for themselves if they have made their point and supported it. This process often takes more than a year, especially if it is the teacher making the student work on it, and not just the student wanting to improve.
Finally, in a discussion we ask the students to look back at their purpose and think again about what they set out to prove. Then they summarize what they really found, after all the little glitches and errors, and conclude whether they accomplished their purpose, and whether their hypotheses were correct. We feel that students really learn to carry an orderly approach and thought process into all of their work in science because of the orderly and thoughtful way they are asked to write about it.
Upper School science teacher Paul Dickinson (“Mr. D”) has been a faculty member since 1969.
By Jens Tamang '07
|Jens Tamang '07|
As editor in chief of Pegasus, the Upper School’s literary magazine, it wasn’t my wrenchingly awkward adoration of literary minutiae, nor my manic demand for creative control, that endangered it. Rather, it was the combination of my die-hard desire to Do Well and the fact that I did not know what was expected of me. Like a cow that only knows it ought to make a sound, I spent the first months on staff barking when I should have been mooing. Aimee Bender, the first 2006–07 Jean Vollum Distinguished Writer, taught me how to moo.
Bender is a magical realist who presents supernatural occurrences in a nonchalant fashion. Angels, in her work, are just as unremarkable as cabbages. One story, “The Healer,” concerned two girls, one with the hand of ice who possessed the ability to heal ailments upon contact, while the other with her hand of fire could only cause harm. After her reading in the Cabell Center, Bender led a workshop in our creative writing class. “A hand of fire, a hand of ice. What did you mean by that?” asked one student.
To anyone who has never undergone four years with the Catlin Gabel English department, this seems like a perfectly legitimate question. However, we were told never to trust what artists say about their art. Why? Because, as Jean Cocteau once said, asking an artist to talk about her work is like asking a plant to discuss horticulture.
A smug grin stretched across Bender’s face. “A symbol is just a provocative image,” she said, running her bony hands through her coarse black hair. “It doesn’t mean anything.”
After the class I approached her. “Okay,” I said. “I know you said that the whole fire-ice thing doesn’t mean anything. But it does, doesn’t it? It must.”
Bender cocked a brow, stood up, put her jacket on. She placed a hand on my shoulder. “I liked your story,” she said, in reference to an exercise we had done. “But if you don’t relax the way you think about writing you are going to wear yourself out.” And on that note she exited.
I stood in the classroom for a moment, stunned. Relax, I thought. I wonder what she means by that.
When I decided that Bender probably meant “relax” in its most literal sense I decided to attempt writing a poem that had no preconceived meaning, symbols, motifs, or themes. One day, riding the bus to school, I watched a girl ogling a young man. She fixated on him and looked so calm and unwavering, like a flame in the dark undisturbed by wind. I couldn’t take my eyes off her, nor could I ignore the placid beauty of the boy sitting near her. She to him, me to her, and he somewhere else entirely, we were a love chain. I was so caught up in the moment that when I bit into my sandwich I neglected to see that I had wrapped it in cellophane.
I documented it and submitted a poem describing the incident to the Pegasus editorial staff, and it was published. Hell, I thought, if this relaxing business works for poetry why shouldn’t it work for everything else?
I began to ease my death grip on Pegasus. English is a language, not a religion, and somewhere along the line I forgot that. Production became much smoother, and Pegasus became a success. I shudder to think what might have happened had Bender not shaken me loose. I still have to remind myself from time to time take it easy, to mellow out, and I don’t always succeed. When I do manage to lighten up, things always seem to work out better for me and those I care about. Go figure.
An American studies major (and diving team member) at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, Jens Tamang writes for various publications and is working on a documentary film.
In and Of It
Jens Tamang's "relaxed" poem from the 2007 Pegasus
A young man, sitting on the bus,
Is reading a book, open in his lap.
She sees him there, she who rides the bus each morning,
And she places his face amongst the infinite faces of boys
That maunder in her head like beads of oil in water.
Which of them does she like the best?
The homeliest of them is beautiful to her.
They needn’t have Adonis lines and beefy shoulders to be beautiful:
This boy has neither; yet, she is entranced by the curves of his chin,
His incarnadine cheeks, his privet face stands out from the rest.
If you had him, Miss, what would you do with him?
For I see you.
To you, you are holding his hand.
To you, you are stroking his hair.
To you and to no one else.
You saw him and loved him:
The light from the window illuminating his skin,
His hair hanging over his eyes like the vines of a willow,
Or moss off an oak.
Her unseen hand passed over his body, obeisantly caressing him.
Please excuse my asking, Miss, but you see:
My mother loathed those certain slants of skin-illuminating light
So excuse me, excuse me, for asking, but
Is he worth these thirty seconds of your morning commute?
And, to you, what is anything worth at all?
And, might thriftiness be your call?
And, are your thoughts just foofaraw?
Her unseen lips touched the back of his neck.
I was there, on that bus when her lips came down.
I was attempting to eat a sandwich.
I was watching her watching him; when,
As I bit down, into my sandwich, I realized,
Amongst the myriad people watching each other,
That my sandwich was still wrapped in fine clear layers of cellophane.
I saw teeth marks in the plastic. Then, looking up, I noticed,
In a moment gone by, they had disappeared (to their stops most likely),
And then, I was alone.
But, luckily for me, loneliness is an art
And I do it very well.