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1) I am a college English professor and my students are driving me mad. Not in the romanticized way of Brontë but in the ‘brick someone up in a wall’ way of Poe. They know they have signed up for an online course (pandemic, you know) and as many times as I reiterate it, “READ EVERYTHING I POST,” they still can’t seem to get that through their heads. I am bombarded with dumb questions that they could answer themselves if they just READ the instructions closely. It is causing a great deal of rage to build up inside me. I am literally at my wit’s end. Your sage-like words of advice are what I need right now.
Nicole from Earth
Students, am I right? Sometimes don’t you just want to carve the entire syllabus into a series of sharpened wooden stakes, order the class to line up, and then one by one pound the stakes into their eyes with a mallet while shouting “LEARN, DAMN YOU! LEEAARRNNNNN!”
But of course you can’t do that.
It’s an online course.
I’m glad you brought up the romanticized way of Brontë, because I am reminded of an excellent essay I read in which the author rages against “Wuthering Heights” being pigeonholed as a gothic romance when it is in every way a ghost story, which should by all rights plant its creator squarely beside Mary Shelley on the black velvet and obsidian throne occupied by the Mothers of the Horror Genre.
I mean sure, Poe has given us some beautiful portrayals of his haunted, trapped and taunted mind flying into tatters in a swirling vortex of swinging blades, tattletale cats, falling houses, bricked up tombs, berserk orangutans and marriages to ghostly 13 year old cousins, all to the tune of a raven’s insistent adverb. But Brontë gave us one soul divided into two bodies and tormenting itself for a lifetime, beyond two deaths and into eternity, still divided, walking as shades, together but apart, across the moors forever with no hope of rest, reunion or oblivion. One has to imagine that ten thousand years from now, whatever creatures walk the land once known as Brontë ‘s heather-purpled Yorkshire moors will share it still with the unquiet spirits of Cathy and Heathcliff, likely still moaning about their mutually inflicted torments, his cruelty, her vanity, his dirty hands, her fickle heart, and on and on beyond language and memory, outlasting the planet itself until they one day wander the cosmos, stepping from grazing sheep to blazing comets, from Penistone Crags to the Galilean Moons, never ever to sleep.
Your students, however, are not so committed. Not so enduring. They need a little bit of encouragement.
I think the best way to get them on track is to take a page from Brontë and haunt them. Just as Heathcliff cursed Cathy on her deathbed, you will deprive them of fun, of diversion, of the very release of death itself. Every time they are at their studies and their attention wavers, perhaps to checking their social media or playing a game, you must suddenly appear on the other side of the screen, beating at the glass with your icy hands and howling, “BACK to WOORRKKKKK! REEAADDDD everything I POSSSSST! FOLLLLOW my goddamned INSTRUUCTIONNNNNS! Let me INNNNN, I want to TEEACCHHHH you about EENNGLISSHHHHHH!!”
That ought to get them on track. If not, there’s always the pendulum.Yours,
2) Our neighbors like to sunbathe nude, they are both attractive to the opposite sex ( and perhaps others). We obviously find this very embarrassing, our problem is that we can only be shocked and embarrassed by standing on a box in our bathroom to see over their hedge. Advice please; should we cut down the hedge under cover of darkness, should we rig up a video camera, or should we buy periscopes? A drone is not feasible due to the noise level, and we can’t afford a satellite. Please advise
RIchard U.K. St Helens
Dear St. Richard,
This is a fascinating dilemma. I am reminded of a friend of mine who once pointed out that if she were ever to be surprised while undressed—by someone walking in without knocking for example—she wouldn’t attempt to cover her exposed body with her hands, but her face. That way, the startled intruder would come away from the experience saying, “I walked in on somebody in a state of undress, but I’m damned if I know who the hell it was.” The real problem in the scenario, my friend reasoned, was not the nudity itself but the embarrassment and the shame of being identified.
Therefore, I think the best thing to do is to offer your disrobed neighbors the courtesy of ensuring they won’t have to endure the shame of being recognized in their au naturel state while you ogle their unclothed forms.
Step one: while they are indoors sleeping, slip over, under, around or through the hedge and paint their sunbathing chaises with a thin coating of glue.
Step two: purchase a pair of amusing Halloween masks which completely cover the face, making recognition of the wearer impossible. You’ll want to choose masks they are likely to enjoy wearing, so why not go with one of the top selling masks of a previous year, like 2004’s Spongebob? Or you can always go retro with a 1986 Care Bear. Everyone loves Care Bears. Coat the insides of the masks with the same thin coating of glue you gave the chaises. Try to avoid the eyes, noses and mouths, or you might end up with a situation, and we don’t want that.
Step three: when your neighbors come outside for their daily sun worshiping session, wait by the hedge until you hear the sounds of their goodnatured confusion when they discover themselves to be stuck fast to their seats. Now comes the bit that requires some skill: using only your keen sense of hearing and your finely developed hand-eye coordination, launch the glue-coated masks from your side of the hedge skyward, perfectly aimed so that they land on the faces of the unsuspecting sunbathers. This may take some practice.
Step four: walk around, over, under or through the hedges, bold as brass, and greet your neighbors, being sure to point out that you have absolutely no idea who they are. If my friend’s theory is correct, as I’m sure it is, your neighbors will be calm and carefree in the knowledge that their identities are concealed, and you can all enjoy a day in the sun without anyone feeling unnecessarily embarrassed. Isn’t that lovely?
I’m just kidding. What’s the matter with you, St. Richard? You should probably move.
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