Bird Droppings February 2, 2023
For some, creating writing seems so difficult in a digital world, and thinking about Tom Petty
“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” Aldus Huxley
In 1965 I was introduced to this author in a tenth-grade English Class. The book was Brave New World, written in 1932, and you would think that a book thirty years old at that time would not have been that controversial. However, an English teacher was let go for our class and the reading list. What amuses me is how these books we read in 1965 impart more than simply the words contained between the covers; it was a developed catalyst for thinking. This is what education and learning should be about. Challenging students to look further than that day’s lesson.
Today, in many schools, literature teachers use the books my tenth-grade teacher was fired for as part of their reading list, as do many high schools across the country. Such books as 1984, Anthem, and Brave New World, which were so controversial in their time fifty to seventy years ago, still today can inspire students and adults to think and ponder beyond the moment. Sadly some would ban books in schools, and I wonder if the parents and adults questioning various titles and texts even read the books. Better yet, did they understand anything they read?
“To write is to make oneself the echo of what cannot cease speaking — and since it cannot, in order to become its echo, I have, in a way, to silence it. I bring to this incessant speech the decisiveness, the authority of my own silence.” Maurice Blanchot
In a crazy writing world of words, and I include music lyrics, interpretation becomes a part of the art. The response from the person receiving the words or lyrics is an essential piece of the reality of the work. I seldom, in my writing, throughout symbolism and or metaphor. I rely on others to provide differing opinions and facts through various quotes and feedback. My oldest son and my wife have Sirius XM radio, and both, by chance, are listening to Tom Petty radio currently. For forty years, Tom Petty blessed us with words and lyrics. In all that time, until recently, even though Petty was one of my top twenty all-time rock songs, I did not consider him for my playlist. I watched a documentary on his life put out in 2007. Tom was the narrator throughout the film clips. As I watched, I realized how excellent this songwriter was. Great musicians and songwriters sought him out as a peer. Hence the group, The Traveling Wilburys. A compilation of some of rock’s most remarkable songwriters. So as the day unfolded, I looked back on a few moon images of a waning moon as I walked out this morning before I got too cold. I took a quick drive to the corner store, and a song flew by, and words caught my attention at 4:45 AM this morning.
“Well I started out down a dirty road. Started out all alone, and the sun went down as I crossed the hill, and the town lit up, and the world stood still. Well, the good ol’ days may not return, and the rocks might melt, and the sea may burn. Well, some say life will beat you down, break your heart, steal your crown. So, I’ve started out for God-knows-where. I guess I’ll know when I get there. I’m learning to fly; I ain’t got wings coming down is the hardest thing.” Second chorus: “I’m learning to fly, around the clouds, but what goes up must come down” Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty
I asked my son and wife how they took the song. I found several differing views as I searched; others differed in their song’s interpretation. I went to Tom’s own words for how he described the song.
“I think I was coming to grips with the view that you can be optimistic, hopeful, and as good a person as you want to be, but it’s not going to make life simple for you. Nothing will. You can have all the success you want, and it is not going to make your life-really your personal life-much easier than anyone else’s. The song was also influenced by the Gulf War. It was written during the time the war was breaking out, everything was very grey, and there were burning oceans and oil fires. I was disappointed by the war and the attitude of the American people. I certainly did not blame the soldiers for going there, but I felt that few people wanted to challenge the Bush administration on its lies. It was a bad time, and I really think it influenced the tone of the album (Into the Great Wide Open).” As per Tom Petty
Words on paper are seemingly simple language, and yet such differing ideas. Drugs were a leading rationale for many. But Petty was writing about life and politics of the time. I think back to a great Dylan tune and words; Petty was a fan of Bob Dylan. “The times they are a-changing.” I wish I had paid more attention to Tom Petty while he was around. He was a great writer; he will be missed.
“Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress; then it becomes a master; then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.” Sir Winston Churchill
Each morning, I sit down and wonder about the direction the ideas may or may not flow. I try and find a spark, a starting point for the day. Sort of my kickstart of the day to revitalize my cerebral cortex. I was thinking of experience as a start earlier, but within the semantics of the word, so many limits the concept of experience. As I read, I saw a teacher, and most saw the experience as a limit, returning to a note the other day. I used yesterday talking with future teachers about the idea of a container as per students. That was until I read this line from Huxley and heard a tune from Tom Petty.
Over the past few days, numerous emails from former classmates in high school, perhaps prompted by nostalgia and finding a few on Facebook, remembering fondly a nearly forgotten class of tenth grade yet one that truly started a process of thinking that has continued for me about forty-five years later. But the direction changes as I look; we convey so much through writers and writing.
“To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it, are the three great difficulties in being an author.” Charles Caleb Colton
“I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it.” William Faulkner
Each day I walk outside and look at the sky. On an almost clear morning today with no clouds to be found as the front passed through earlier, I can see stars spreading through the sky. Constellations, for some, are beacons of direction and purpose. If it is clear tomorrow, I may follow the waning moon for a bit in the morning when I get up and check on the sunrise. As the seasons pass, the constellations change as the time of day and position in the sky, and often as I go out, I am greeted by a new or slightly different sky appearing before my front door. If I am writing at home, as I have for a few years now by chance, I can go out into the backyard surrounded by pine, pecan, black walnut, persimmon, and oak trees. Much will be obscured depending on where I stand, and I see only a shrouded sky laced with branches.
As I read Faulkner’s note, this is often true; we do not think about something till we read what we have written. Often, I will return to a piece a week or months later and find a new meaning or understanding of what I was thinking at that time. I wrote a philosophy of teaching paper some time ago, and until it was returned with comments, I wasn’t sure what my philosophy was. It is a journey that begins in reading, then inexperience, and moves through writing, for it does take the written word to be read.
“You must often make erasures if you mean to write what is worthy of being read a second time, and don’t labor for the admiration of the crowd but be content with a few choice readers.” Horace
Working on my dissertation and reviewing previous thoughts from even seven years ago, I find that my interpretations of others’ writing differ. What is art, for example? I start each day reading and then reading more.
“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” Samuel Johnson
It is true as I write each morning, glancing through previous writings and reviewing articles, emails, and any books handy at that moment, looking for and pondering where and how I will direct my thoughts. My morning often consists of more reading than putting words to paper or a computer screen, and it is usually a search for an idea or thought that has eluded me.
“If written directions alone would suffice, libraries wouldn’t need to have the rest of the universities attached.” Judith Martin
“Although most of us know Vincent van Gogh in Arles and Paul Gauguin in Tahiti as if they were neighbors — somewhat disreputable but endlessly fascinating — none of us can name two French generals or department store owners of that period. I take enormous pride in considering myself an artist, one of the necessaries.” James A. Michener
It has been said that what comes so quickly for some may not be for others. I sit each morning writing two or three pages reading numerous articles and emails, and then as a teacher, I go into a class and ask students to write 500 words about what they learned this year in school. Most will say nothing since that makes it so much easier to write. As I think about where that student comes from, maybe they never read Brave New World. It could be because, somewhere, somehow, someone did not give them the opportunity.
I have found both in the past and currently, it is because somewhere and someone did not teach them to read effectively or to think beyond just surviving day to day. It might have been that was the only alternative.
I was reminded in an email of Dr. Laura Nolte’s famous poster, “Children learn what they live” as I spelled checked, I made an error; I had typed, “Children learn what they love.” As I thought a bit, you know what? That is just as true, too, especially in education. So how do we help children love learning and love reading? I wish it could be an easy answer. Perhaps we can start with ourselves. Maybe the teacher, content with only a bachelor’s degree or basic certification, insists they know all. Maybe the teacher stops reading and insists they do not have time or interest. Today I am searching, reading, wondering, and still trying to teach as I go. Let us set an example today and keep all in harm’s way on our minds and our hearts and always give thanks namaste.
My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)