Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dead Poets' Society Blues

Not my English class

by Brendan Cavanagh

Well I'm in college now. Free to choose my own classes, and those that I have a particular interest in, mind you. I'm about to cast off the constricting shackles of an "Exploratory" major in favor of that of "English Education." This semester I've chosen to sign up for more classes that revolve around literature, language and teaching and fewer "core," or general, classes. For the first time since I've come to Butler, I'm genuinely excited to go to my classes because I take personal stock in most of them, and I rather enjoy the material, which consists of much lengthier reading assignments (Hot dog!). Finally I can stop slacking and instead heighten my attention and focus in class! Right?

Oh noes. I can't help but transfer my focus on the novel and discussion at hand to the multitudes of characters in my classes. Don't get me wrong- I'm still attentive of the discussed themes and of my homework, but today for instance, in my Introduction to English class, I set aside Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis and the class notes it had once inspired and instead began jotting down into my planner notes about the numerous eccentricities of people in my class.

As I walk into the classroom at 9:30 every Tuesday and Thursday, I engage in a well-rehearsed pastime of finding the prettiest, albeit approachable girl in the class and positioning myself beside her. Unfortunately, it appears that other English majors are more anxious than I am to arrive early to class, so my options for seating are limited. Both times I arrived this week, there remained a solitary seat in the front of the room, beside the Know-It-All of course. O, but how I yearn to someday get to class early enough to find an empty seat next to Cute Indie Girl. She always seems to be obscured at first or else out-of-reach, on a far side of the classroom with a barrier of boys and girls surrounding her. I met her during the first group activity of Welcome Week last semester. She seemed shy and exhibited sure traits of a hipster, so I casually (but entirely randomly) proclaimed that I would guess her musical tastes based on the shoes she wore at the time, a pair of small white Vans. And how about this? She liked all the same "indie" or "contemporary" or "alternative" or "hipster" music I like: MGMT, Phoenix, Black Keys, basically anyone who played at Lollapalooza 2010, which we both happened to attend. Today in class I made a sort of joke, thought it wasn't intended to be one, and she gave me a fleeting look and a smile, which I think either meant she thought I was funny (like a clown) or pathetic. Either way, my five-month goal of someday getting to know her again has not been discarded. Ooh, how I'd like to sit down and have a discussion about Faulkner with her sometime.

Yet I'm afraid my identity will only be melted and consolidated into the entity I can only describe as the Three-Headed Brendan. You see, in case I'm absent from class some day in the future, there are two other Brendans to fill in for me. It was bad enough in preschool when I was so callously referred to by my teachers and peers as Brendan C. (as opposed to Brendan P.), or in high school when there were two other Brendans in my grade, and a few others scattered about the grades above and below me. Thanks God one of the Brendans in my English class goes by Alex, but that leaves the goofy one in my three-person discussion group. He's cool, but I'm pretty sure he, like me, is unwilling to give himself a nickname and be relegated to an identity that is not distinctly his, which is going to cause some serious knee-slappers during roll call.

The three-person group today was made even more incredibly awkward because the girl of the group (the inevitable secretary) just so happens to look exactly like one of my friends from home. I'm not kidding. It's uncanny. I honestly think the only thing that distinguishes this girl from my friend is that she has slightly more pronounced incisors, and she favors Uggs over boots from, like, T.J. Maxx or something. All during the discussion I kept losing my train of thought and ending my points prematurely because I couldn't get past her appearance. I'm not one of those guys who will immediately tell someone that they look like some one else ("Dude! Dude! Has anyone ever told you you look exactly like Cormac McClaggen from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? The resemblance is riddikulus!"), but finally, I had to explain to her why I might suddenly or subconsciously throw her glowing looks of endearment. Fortunately, she was understanding and thought the whole thing was rather amusing, but I couldn't help but wear a pained smile every time we conversed thereafter, for fear that I might laugh more than I should or hug her when it came time to leave class.

As much as I love to be given a chance to contribute my humble opinions about the themes of Kafka's Metamorphosis to the class, thereby making a good impression upon my teacher and sounding somewhat intelligent in front of my peers, I would much rather be interrupted by the officious, self-indulgent, brown-nosing know-it-all in the center of the front row (incidentally right next to me). Clearly, whenever everyone in your vicinity smirks or chuckles after you nervously but loudly interject in the middle of a discussion to regurgitate what you read on Sparknotes last night, your frequent opinions are well-received. You're providing a double service- not only do you save the blow-offs in the back row from the pressure of answering a question they don't know how to answer because they didn't read the text, but also you save people like me, who really only want to prove they did their homework and contain a genuine passion for literature and novel-based discussion, from wasting precious breath which we could thankfully! instead use in order to exhale loudly so as to display discontent with your offerings. We all really believe you're smart because you spit out information faster than it probably took you to skim Google for .org- domain websites featuring study guides on the Metamorphosis. And I can't say I didn't breathe a sigh of relief when you jaunted into Spanish class late, telling the teacher, "Lo siento, Senora, pero..." That sigh of relief soon turned into an impressed exhalation at your Spanish-speaking skills. You are what aggravates me beyond belief in class, but if it wasn't for you I would never get heated enough to spark a much-needed, in-depth discussion about major themes of a story. Thanks?

And then there are those students that are apparently English majors, but don't seem to be book-readers at all. I admit, this is entirely a shallow judgment on my part, but I'm learning that there are different types of people in this world (who knew?) and that more specifically, there are different types of English majors at Butler. But this one guy in my class, who I know as "Jalapeño" Jack from Orientation last semester (he knows me as "Beatbox" Brendan, another blog post entirely), just doesn't immediately strike me as an English major right away, for no reason at all. It's probably because he's one of those guys that seems real shifty and nervous, but every once in a while makes a loud, awkward joke in class in order to be the intelligent, intuitive class clown who can humorously tie literature to pop culture, but mostly to keep people from thinking he's an introverted spaz. For example, today as we discussed Gregor Samsa's relationship with his father, Jalapeño explained to us that Herr Samsa, in a fit of fury, started "whipping apples at his son ... [wait an untimed beat-and-a-half] ... like Nolan Ryan."


This, the class found funny, only ensuring that my double and triple entendres during Shakespeare's Tempest will be met with silent pity.

On the topic of my infrequent contributions in class, I just want to point out how much I hate being cut off while I explain my interpretation of various themes in English class. This is a travesty that I have been a part of since early high school, when I discovered that it requires much explanation for me to accurately get my point across. Today our teacher asked us to point out and explain symbols in Gregor's bedroom. I had been itching for three days to offer my interpretation of the handmade, gilded frame containing a picture of a woman in furs on Gregor's wall, but I only got as far as, "The gilded frame-" before my teacher thanked me, agreed, and asked for more symbols. At this point, Miss Know-It-All chimed in with her fast-paced, extraordinarily vivid animalistic viewpoint of the fur-clad woman, which brought our discussion to industrialist and dehumanizing themes in the Metamophosis. All I wanted to say was that anytime something in literature is gilded, it usually represents something ugly being obscured by a superficial shine! Agghhhh. But I'm not mad at my teacher. I quite like her. She's chic and intelligent and funny and reminds me a lot of Helena Bonham-Carter (the last few Harry Potters, Sweeny Todd, Fight Club, etc.). I feel like we have this attachment because I visited her once last semester in order to inquire about the operations of the English department and its according majors. She had plenty of posters up in her office, one in particular featuring Bob Dylan, circa 1965 during the Highway 61 Revisited recordings. Despite this unspoken bond I feel is present, I get the feeling she doesn't remember me, so now I have to once again prove my worth by performing well on various essays throughout the semester, as there's no way she's going to extract much value from my classroom contributions.

It's amazing how pretentious some of these students are. All these students throwing out interpretations faster than I can come up with one. I know I frequently fall short of staying modest, and I'm sure this post was like a bad acid trip in a public library, but I feel slightly overwhelmed in class. I'm simultaneously thrilled to be in such a literature-based course and disgusted by my peers who all seem to be scrambling for attention and competing for appreciation, like pups vying for a first taste test of Mom's teats. How about that analogy? But maybe I'm learning that there are other people like me. Maybe there are (gasp!) smarter students than I in my English class who legitimately like literature like I do. Maybe- just maybe- I'm slowly sliding off my pedestal in the clouds, falling down to earth so that I don't hold myself in higher esteem than my classmates. I take this ominous threat only as a challenge. I'm stepping up my game this semester. Sure, I had fun last semester, taking core classes in order to get my most basic college credits, goofing off and doing the little homework assigned, knowing I could still pull off a good grade. But now I'm (almost) an English/Education major. The time has come to focus on my studies and excel, so that when I'm teaching English one day in the future, I can successfully tell the pretentious Know-It-All in my class to shut the hell up and get out.

1 comment:

  1. I've told one of those people to get the fuck out and shut the hell up before.
    Needless to say I got in twuble =(