Literature made me do it #SOL23 9/31

Look. I’ve slept through my alarm, so my husband has to wake me up, and this morning’s shower is non-negotiable, so in I go even though I am already running late. As I wash my hair I mentally review my closet and select the navy and white sundress even though it is March and still cold because I know I can layer the light gray cardigan over top and no one will be any the wiser. 

I am out of the shower, face cream on, hair combed, mascara on and down the stairs for breakfast in under five minutes. Andre has made me a smoothie – he really is the best – but I have to wait for the water to heat for tea. Breathe. Crossword. The water boils and I pour it over the tea, gulp a little more smoothie, run up the stairs to wake the boys then back down the stairs to stop the tea steeping then back up the stairs to finish getting ready.

Black leggings are obviously a no – the dress is navy. I dig for gray leggings. Nope. The only available tights are also black. I search again for the gray leggings while my brain again mentally scans my closet. Ah, there are the leggings! I dry my hair then brush my teeth, wishing – not for the first time – that I were ambidextrous, a skill I imagine using mostly to do things like dry my hair and brush my teeth at the same time. Superpowers, I think, would be wasted on me.

Ok. Ready. Just socks.


What the heck kind of socks am I going to wear with gray leggings and a navy dress? Gray. I need gray. There are no gray socks in the drawer. I have white – that’s a no – brown, black. I stare at the socks. In the caverns of my mind I hear my stepsister, Jamie, saying, “I’d go with the _______ pair. ______ goes with everything.” I have no idea whether she said “brown” or “black.” ARGH.

Um… Ok, focus on shoes instead. Which shoes will I wear? I slip on a brown pair, then catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror- nope. I grab a navy pair – but with which socks? Precious seconds slip by. Andre walks into the bedroom and stares at me, barefoot, with multiple pairs of socks on the bed and several pair of shoes on the floor. He looks perplexed. “What are you doing?” I explain my conundrum and he suggests solving it with brown boots. Perfect! I zip them up. Not perfect. They look…wrong.

My carpool buddy will be here any minute. I have not had any tea. I need to be ready about three minutes ago. I still haven’t made my lunch. I stare at the sock drawer as if gray socks might magically appear. I remember that I threw out my last pair a few weeks ago – holes. My carpool buddy arrives downstairs. Suddenly, the solution is obvious: Shakespeare socks. I’m an English teacher! Sure, they don’t match, but they say “To be or not to be” so I can claim literature and no one will be the wiser. Precisely no shoes (probably in the world) go with a navy dress, dark gray leggings and blue-ish Hamlet socks with white skulls and green crowns, so I throw on some navy slides, rush down the stairs, toss a bit of tea down my throat, grab my lunch and run out the door.

No one commented all day long, but I’m pretty sure it was one of the more unusual outfits I have worn in a while. Whatever. March Break starts in under 24 hours. And tomorrow I’m wearing jeans.

Breaking up is hard to do

I have broken up with Hamlet on more than one occasion. The first time was in the Spring. It’s so lovely out, I thought, and this play is so tragic. Let’s read something more cheerful. We did. But the breakup didn’t take – Hamlet and I tried again a semester later. It didn’t last. It’s winter, I thought, and everyone dies in this play. Let’s read something more current. So I left him again. This time I was sure we were over. We stayed apart for a couple of years.

Times changed. In the English office, we teachers discussed whether or not we should teach Shakespeare every year of high school. I maintained that, while I love Shakespeare, he is over-represented in our curriculum. Some of us argued that great literature continues to expand and wondered about the place of a long-dead English guy in our students’ world. Others insisted that Shakespeare is the pinnacle of literature. We didn’t reach a conclusion – how could we? – but Hamlet and I stayed broken up. Each semester I asked students if they thought we should get back together; every time the nos far outweighed the yesses.

Then, during the pandemic online learning, a few students picked Hamlet for their choice unit, so I got to spend some time with him again. I was… intrigued both by the on-line options and by the students’ reactions to the play. They loved it – and Hamlet was on my mind again. Last semester we were in a weird pandemic limbo so I didn’t even think about Hamlet, but this semester… well, we had enough time for one more unit before the end of the year and I offered options. Hamlet was one of them – but I also offered a focus on social media, a “banned book” book club, a non-fiction children’s book study. They chose Hamlet.

I was wary – our class includes students from all over the world, some of whom are still learning English. (Honestly, in many ways we are *all* still learning English – but that’s another post.) They have plans to study computer science, engineering, medicine, economics, political science and more. I don’t think any of them plan to study Literature. And look, I know why I find Hamlet attractive, but I was unsure that he was the right fit for them. Still, it’s what they chose.

So, cautiously, I introduced them. We got our bearings and set some goals for our time together – boundaries, if you will: no, we will not read every word; yes, we will actually say the words on the page; yes, we can use No Fear Shakespeare and the internet; no, we will not stay in our seats. Then, tentatively, I invited Hamlet back into the classroom.

Look, I said, the play starts with a question – but the wrong person is asking it. Soon, students were patrolling the ramparts and trying to decide if they believed in ghosts. By Tuesday, someone gave a low whistle when Claudius taunted Hamlet, “’tis unmanly grief”. That’s HARSH, Miss. Another student replied, Well, he is behaving like a jerk. A student who has a spare during our period has started attending the class, just to read along. Today, Hamlet compared his dead father to a sun god and thought about killing himself because it was, frankly, all too much. He’s so *dramatic* sighed one student. I mean, it is kind of a terrible situation, but still. A lively discussion broke out about Hamlet’s response to all this – which made it that much worse when Horatio showed up and said, um, so, about your dad… “methinks I saw him yesternight.” One student shook her head gravely and said, Oh, this is NOT going to go well.

Tomorrow we will meet Ophelia. And I probably shouldn’t tell her, but I think I just got back together with Hamlet. Again.

Many thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for hosting this weekly space for blogging.