Toad in the Hole

December 07, 2006

Another Odd Feeling

I got my college alumni magazine in the mail today. Sometimes it's hard to take all the godding, the faithy buzzwords of the month, the build-build-build enthusiasm in a place where the natural world they're paving over had saved my life so often. This time there was a sidebar column from one of my favorite highschool English-lit teachers, one of my mentors, speaking of saving my life. (She's an alum too, was a member of the order that runs the place.)

My mental red pencil came out immediately. (Why did that sound so much like "Red Rocket"? Never mind; I know editing is a low instinct. I pride myself on good practice of low instincts.) "Passive voice, to no good effect!" "Don't start with a disclaimer or an apology!" "Abstractions abstractions abstractions! Let's see something concrete here!" "Where's your voice? This is boilerplate!"

Oh dear. I would've loved to hear her voice in that, really. What bugged me was that anyone could have written the thing; it looked like a press release. I'd known her as quite a vivid, tangy, and to-the-point teacher. We played with words in her class, rolled in them like happy dogs, savored the best of our language. Reaching for the excitement of that and a few other such experiences is part of what fuels my writing. If I were blaming about that piece, I'd blame the (patriarchal) religion that muffles voices, shunts lively currents of thought into shallow prefab channels, dishes out mushy abstractions to smother the tang of the real world. Add a dose of academia and you get pabulum, even from great ingredients.

Someone once told me about a guy he knew who had a subscription to one of the local organic farms' box programs: every week he'd get a carton of whatever was ripest, best, most in-season of their vegetables and fruit. Every week on delivery day he'd take it all and throw it into a big pot, make soup of it, run it through the blender, and eat that the rest of the week. Same soup/puree, all week. I don't think soup was always the best and highest use of those ingredients, somehow, never mind making it all into mush, never mind eating the same thing all week.

For some reason, that came to mind when I read that piece. Damn, though.

Posted at December 7, 2006 05:04 AM


Have you ever written to her? You could tell her you still hear her saying these things. I'll bet it would mean a lot to her. It's an important gift to have given someone, even if she's not in a position to exercise it fully herself.

Posted by: Sara at December 7, 2006 10:41 PM

maybe she got leaned on, and didn't have all you little toads to keep her on her toes anymore. sara is right about telling her what she means to you, though.

Posted by: kathy a at December 8, 2006 12:27 AM

i got nothing on the soup of the week story, though. and pureed? ick.

Posted by: kathy a at December 8, 2006 12:28 AM

Oh you are not going to believe this. (It has nothing to do with this post BTW.) You may remember last year I had a post about a strange bulls-eye looking fungus. ( ) You made a comment and mentioned Bob Raabe.

Well tonight I was watching a tv show of master gardener programs from California, about plant diseases. Ta-dah! There's my fungus. Guess who the man on the show was? Bob Raabe! And he did call every other fungus "beautiful". :)

Posted by: Rurality at December 8, 2006 02:26 AM

Sara, Kathy, I was in touch with her after highschool, and briefly after I moved out here and after she'd left the order. She knows what she and her class meant to me. (It's a fact that all the Mercy nuns* I knew well through highschool and college left the order, except one, and I didn't know her all that well, just admired her.) I'm thinking about emailing her if I can pry her address off the college website. I put mine on the contact board but so far it's resulted in just a few notices of get-togethers in Pennsylvania.

There's a big can o' worms I rarely feel like opening here; my college days were both formative -- clarified a lot of things for me and for the first time ever gave me a sense that being a smart women was a good thing -- and deformative: I'm still ducking remembered psychological blows sometimes. Affects my posture.

Ru' -- Hey, there is a connection. Bob Raabe was a teacher of mine, too, here at Merritt College.

(To recap: He taught the only course I ever flunked in my life, and that was an oddly liberating experience. The course was Wednesday mornings, the same year my ((short-lived)) book came out, and everything connected with the book -- proofs, meetings, what-have-you -- seemed to happen on Wednesday mornings. After I'd missed two classes I knew I'd never catch up with the wealth of material he crammed in, so I took the F. Less hassle than withdrawing, and I didn't have an academic record to care about anymore.)

And yeah, that's him all over --. "beautiful" fungi, and every other kind of disease too. He said he keeps a tibouchina in his backyard because it's so beautiful when some disease I've forgotten the name of makes its leaves turn red. Ain't he a kick?

*Sisters, technically. Yeah, there's a difference. The RCC is a serious contender in the International Hairsplitting Olympics.

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