May 09

The Lit Test

When I was in college, I had an English Literature Professor, who I really loved.  His name was Dr. Shaughnessey.  He smoked like crazy.  You weren’t allowed to smoke inside the Education Buildings on campus.  He did it anyway.  He’d stand right outside our classroom door and hit a cigarette really hard from time to time.

This guy oozed character though.  I’ll tell you that.  He always wore a white wrinkled shirt with some sort of tie.  He rolled his sleeves up above his elbows.  He looked about a hundred years old… but he probably wasn’t very old at all.  He rarely smiled… but when he did… you knew he meant it.

I learned a lot in College Lit.  In high school, we had to read all sorts of novels, and poems and such.  And then we would write reports about them, and answer a question or two on a test.  But Shaughnessey….. he made us think critically about literature.  He would bring those pages alive.

He was famous for the good old “Compare and Contrast Essays.”  “Bring plenty of blue books to the exam,” he’d say. On midterms and finals he would smack us with some doozies.

Compare and Contrast the two following works.  Moby Dick and The Great Gatsby.  I’d always start my essay with some wise-cracker intro… like….

The Great Gatsby and Moby Dick are very much alike, and at the same time, very different.  Both happen in or around water.  Both stories contain some real Dicks.

Shaughnessey didn’t think this was very funny.  Ever.  He would red line me… and write… please stick to the topic at hand Miss Kronenberger.

Yep.  My first real exposure to Compare and Contrast.

But it runs through all facets of our lives.  When ever you line up  two items, side by side, you can find likes and difference.

Cats and Dogs.  Both mammals.  Four-legged.  Covered in fur.  Teeth.  Whiskers.  And on, and on.  Yet, with all the similarities, they can be very different.  Canine.  Feline.  Happy.  Mad at the world.  It goes on for days.

Venus and Mars.  Both Planets.  Very different in their composition,  orbits, temperature.  You get it.
Oreos.  Nutter Butter Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies.

But with all of these examples, while each one is alike, and each one is unique…. neither one is particularly better than the other.  Oh sure, we may have opinions about which one we like more.  But side by side, the comparisons do not impede, nor supersede the dissimilarities.

Second verse, same as the first… only this time… apply it to humans.

We are all very much the same.  And all very unique.  Thank goodness.   Not one is better than the next.  We are simply…. different from one another.  Otherwise, we would be nothing more than robots, moving down the conveyor belt.

I, for one, am glad for this diversity.  I’m glad there is you.  And equally glad there is me.  Thanks Dr. S.

(If you read nothing else today… please read this quote….)

“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are?  We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel.  And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.” – Pablo Picasso