11 January 2012

Well [Spoken] Wednesdays: Dr Somerville edition

Dr Somerville was my academic advisor for the second half of my college career, that is, once I had finally made up my mind about majoring in English. In addition to taking two American literature classes from him-- which convinced me that first, I actually do like American lit, and second, I also like Hemingway-- I spent lots of time in his office. Sometimes it was to go over papers. Sometimes it was to weep and wail over the quandaries of life. (Once I flopped down on a chair and demanded to know why I was an English major, anyway, and did God care about what I was studying, and what was the point of literature in the end when I should be out saving the world?) Either way, he would listen to me, muse for a while, and then produce some miraculously simple yet thoughtful answers.

Alone among my Catholic and Orthodox English profs, Dr Somerville is a Presbyterian, and Reformed to the core. And really, sometimes all I needed was someone to say "Well, Rebekah, I know this is quite overwhelming but you need to remember that God is sovereign even over your career plans and thus perfectly capable of untangling these options in His time. So stop being so darned introspective. God will guide you and all shall be well." He is a consummate Calvinist, who keeps a dried-up daffodil on his desk as a memento mori and delights in pointing out the inevitable depravity of humankind, yet who finds humor (even if it's gallows humor) in nearly everything and can give sincere encouragement to his downcast advisees.

Now that I'm an English teacher myself, I teach more like Dr Somerville than any of my other professors. He was always methodical and organized, yet extremely interesting. I realized that I could follow his model of running a classroom with a lot more success than the model of a Dr Whalen or Dr Smith . . . which is to say, catatonically brilliant. I haven't got the prerequisite brains for that. But I can research and organize; I can tell stories and make helpful observations; I can ask questions. So that's what I do.

Here are, in all their glory, the marginalia of Dr John Somerville.

American Literature 1820-1890

"We'll let you know if you're an idiot."
"It's disturbing, which means entertaining."
"Gothic literature is like literary terrorism."
"He has three names, so he's a nineteenth century poet . . . or an assassin."
"So we can learn to live by nature, which is awfully encouraging. But then, nature does have rattlesnakes and ticks."
"The Appalachians are user friendly."
"I don't want to be a two year old brat. I would rather be a fifty-two year old brat!"
"Marriage is, despite evidence otherwise, a civilizing institution."
"How about when you get married you name your first child Marmaduke?"
"Harvard, the Hillsdale of the East . . ."
"Emerson? Talk about ruining your lunch!"
"I guess if your dad's making pencils you're going to be a writer."
"Have you seen our copy machine? It runs on coal."
"Take every opportunity you can to prove your superiority."
"If I scream and fall to the floor, ignore me."
"Don't be overly harsh on Emerson. I'll do that."
"I'd rather my students not see me drooling."
"Suitemates? A whole group of potential head-hunters!"
"I'm the long-haired missionary kid."
"What are yard sales? People selling what would otherwise be trash to fools who don't realize it's trash."
"I'm always full of good intentions."
"I can't become a hermit so I'll just get sick."
"Can I do the rest of the class in an Irish accent?"
"If I have time on my hands, I make more handouts."
"We are a utopia."
"There is a temptation among certain types of students to spend all their time in the stratosphere."
"Don't worry, I haven't gone liberal on you."
"Maybe I'll meet a man with a low cut blouse and he'll wrestle with me!"
"Never ignore a detail because you don't understand it."
"Don't put it past a writer to want to make a living."
"Oh, missionary kids-- what do you expect?"
"I'm profoundly heterosexual."
"Fortunately, the world is not filled with women stuffed up chimneys."
"When the economy fails-- and it will-- the business majors will be jumping out of windows. But we English majors-- since we never had anything anyway, but beauty and goodness and truth-- can warm ourselves by our books."

Modern American Literature

"I did not want to get into the bathtub with that woman!"
"I can use the pronoun her  in discussing him."
"For your edification, I have brought you some bad poetry."
"I am here in all but spirit."
"Rafts don't go up the river."
"Maybe he's a collateral descendant."
"Deer are known to jump. A little-known fact!"
"She is a proper punching bag."
"Downhill means getting worse."
"Are you hot like I am?"
"They had bad neighbors. It was like living next to a fraternity house."
"This is a digression off of a digression."
"What's in it more me? That's pretty much how I go at life."
"There may be the rare not-student walking around campus."
"Let the drama be in what you say, not in the punctuation you add."
"I hope to infect you."
"I didn't realize I'd actually fallen asleep . . ."
"Let's all room in the same building!"
"Those ice cubes were little lumps of stink."
"I'm in a bad mood today because I can't give a midterm."
"You don't have to go to Harvard to lose your faith."
"For some reason, everyone was actually paying attention that time!"
"Don't worry, you will live on as an anecdote."
"The colon is so essential."
"You look like crayons."
"I'm leaking!"
"I've seen Dr Arnn [the president of Hillsdale College] in spandex. It is quite an impressive sight."
"Well, I think I can outstrip rabid weasels."
"If I did this at the University of Michigan I'd be fired."
"Don't encourage me. This is what happens when I get extra sleep."
"B. Dalton's is the McDonald's of bookstores."
"I'm on my rant again."
"I love the cemetery."
"I'm not a philosopher. I'm just a poor English professor."
"You may feel as if you know nothing. That's because you don't!"

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