On a day where I have the fortune of being released from school early for the incoming snowstorm, I sit back and have some hot chocolate like the five year old version of myself.  I would sit each day before kindergarten, watch the Oxford Comma-less “Sharon Lois and Bram“, and drink my hot chocolate.  It was routine, no different than the coffee I make for myself each morning, still claiming that I am not addicted but rather enjoy the comfort of the routine.

It is drinking my hot chocolate that I am reminded of routine.  I think of my seat at the lunch table, unofficially mine, but mine nonetheless because the afternoon would not feel right without routine.  I think the students I teach at Johnson and Wales, sitting in the same seat each class for the entirety of the trimester, making the weekly attendance that much more noticeable when a seat is vacated.  I think of the same quip I tell on “Back to School” night that worked on the first class of parents, so it surely will work on the last class.

What is it about routine that we find so comforting?  Maybe a better question to ask: what is it about change that is so disconcerting?  Such trite questions for such a trite day.  But as I sit here with my hot chocolate lingering next to my feet, the steam slowly ceasing, the chocolate gathering and cementing at the bottom of the mug, I can only help but be trite.  Today is simply another day of routine.  There is nothing wrong with that.  It is a fact.  Routines are the heartbeat of society.  Routine enables great art, Literature, music, and life to be produced.  It is overwritten or at least over-glorified, that great art can only be created on a whim of inspiration.  Many if not most artists were slaves to their own routines.  There is something to envy about routine.  Perhaps greater disappointment is found when one is caught in limbo, without the certainty of routine, but with the certain inescapable subtlety of routine.  Is this not a greater danger?  Does this not create a purgatory of indolence?

I feel that it is easy to have such, to let the routine of life detract from the routine of art.  I tell my students to avoid such aspects of the mundane,  but as I finish my hot chocolate, the better question to ask is, am I?  Are you?  What are your routines, either healthy or not?  It is surely bane of me to ask you to break them, destroy them, even if just for a day, but it was upon my reading of the oft quoted and often misrepresented  Thoreau that I am reminded.  He writes in “Civil Disobedience”: “There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.”  His principles were certainly not original, and his insufferable night of jail could be mocked on a 19th century bit of Saturday Night Live, but I think of this man on a day like today.

He was unafraid, at least on a cursory level, to challenge himself to get the most out of himself.  He had his predecessors and people to imitate (for a man like Emerson to write “Self Reliance”, Thoreau certainly seemed to rely on him a great deal, didn’t he?), but he also has gotten a few things right along the way.  It has been several years since I have read Walden in its entirety, but a colleague of mine took a course on Thoreau this past summer, claiming it to be one of the best courses he had ever taken.  He spent a week’s worth of time and energy reflecting on Henry David, his importance, his works, his philosophies, but more importantly, on his break of routine.

Thoreau was a man who preached individuality, civil disobedience, and nonconformity.  He was unafraid to get lost in his mind for an hour, even if it were to break routine.  He must have gotten something correct because he is still being taught in school systems nationwide that require students to read, reflect, write, and understand a subject not all buy into, but do it because they want to fit into the “routine” of high school existence.  Robin Williams might have made Thoreau’s message a bit of a cliché for any English teacher, but by letting my hot chocolate cool too much as I write this, I can find solace in the fact that I just broke a bit of my own routine, even if only for half an hour.

With the passing of J.D. Salinger a few days ago, there will be much written about the Literary world’s most renowned recluse.  If we think of the man and judge him by his works, for what else is there to judge him by, we are given images angst, depression, undeniable rebellion, and most of all, enigma.  We are likely, and in most cases, rightly wont to think of our pal Holden Caufield, the preeminent voice of a passive-resistant rebellion, when we hear the initials J.D. or think of nonconformity.  However, I am reminded more of a clairvoyant child on this day, one who in a sense has everything figured out that Holden naively attempts to unlock during his escape to New York.     

It is little Teddy, the eponymous character in the short story  ” Teddy,” who predicts his untimely demise at the hands of his unbeknownst little sister into an empty swimming pool.   The reader is left to ponder much, as the story exemplifies many of the Buddhist principles that Salinger adopted in his life.  The ninth story in Salinger’s Nine Stories, originally published in The New Yorker  in 1951, the story leaves a lasting impression for the reader and sends a final message for the previous eight. 

Like Nicholson in the story, the adult who is berrating Teddy with  his own philosophical questions and quandaries, it is human nature to continually try to find a need to explain  motives and rationalize  reasons for the occurrences in our lives.  One could certainly turn to “Teddy” for some answers about Salinger’s infamous reclusiveness,  but then again we would be, as Teddy puts it, “all apple-eaters,”  holding logic and reason at the forefront of our lives rather than existence. 

Being an apple-eater myself, it is hard to distance myself from this innate ability to find and seek reason instead of letting things just simply “be”.  There are a select few whose passivity is a good thing.  It is with this active passivity, to speak oxymoronically, that some achieve a means to an end ; they find a world of content acceptance that many spend years and lifetimes trying to achieve.  Teddy is able to simply just be and provides profound wisdom to us all. 

But if we read “Teddy” in search of reason for Salinger’s reclusiveness, as it is again, human nature for must of us to do, I can only feel we are seeing the arm for an arm rather than the fact that it is an arm because we accept it as such as Teddy aptly puts it.   We are looking at the world through pictures and images that make sense to us because they have to make sense to us.  We have to do this; it is what makes us human.  We continually find the need to explain, decipher, and rationalize for the occurrences in our day to day lives, adding an incessant rigor to our already consumed lives.  But wouldn’t life be easier if we didn’t, or even couldn’t?

I can only I admire Teddy for his wisdom. He is an almagamation of Buddhist, existentialist, and monotheist.  He sees his end as not being an end, nothing more than an empty pool and the giddy revenge of a six year old.  He is keen to a level that  Nicholson and myself could only hope to achieve.  With trepidation I approach looking for the sometimes unnerving  and ever debatable authorial intent.  It is difficult not to try and  find reason in Salinger’s own hermitage with this story.  But I am going to resist my own carnal desire and instead turn to Archibald Macleish.  He addresses this concept in the venerable Ars Poetica”    when he writes, “A poem should not mean/but be.”   The words could not have been better written, and it as if they have dripped from the syntax of Teddy’s tongue.  

I can only assume that Salinger was content with being rather than meaning, and I will look at his death with the childlike acceptance of Teddy.  Salinger will always be, and the many unpublished works that await debate with reaffirm this notion.   But instead of wondering what the world will be treated to in the future, or debate the merit of what Salinger “would have truly wanted, I can find solace in another man who seemed to have it figured out, this balance of art and life.  As Wallace Stevens writes, we should all “Let be be finale of seem.”  I know this blog is already contradicting this notion, but I’ll try my best tomorrow.

It seems the push for a new, digital way of learning is the latest trend of educational philosophy.  It is getting harder to argue that this trend will end like many of the past educational trends: Corporal Punishment

We have been immersed in a “culture of now” for sometime, and immediacy has been at the forefront of not only education, but culture in general.

From iPhones to Blackberrys, we have access to more instantaneous information than one could have dreamed, (it wasn’t that long ago that calling cards were the modus operandi of a college student calling home, memorizing seemingly 50 numbers just in time for the card to expire) but with such a plethora information, one must wonder whether or not we are as critical of said information.

We have adopted a philosophy that truth is quickness, where the concept that first could be worst hasn’t registered with the multitude.Thought takes intuition, revision, and the clarity of time. Learners need to adhere to these skills as much as they need to be prepared for what this 21st century might throw at them. I

It is hypocritical to be typing such thoughts on my newly created blog, but I encourage every learner to challenge what is being asked of them with earnest thought and criticism. It is the aim of this community to use technology as an enhancement to learning, not in place of learning. With that said, I will leave with the words of someone much wiser than me, dating back to circa 370 B.C. In Plato’s words: “Never discourage anyone… who continually makes progress, no matter how slow”