The great eventful Present hides the Past, but through its loud din, hints and echoes from the life behind steal in — John Greenleaf Whittier
Author: Mary Knapp
After a few years in advertising, writing reams of persuasive prose, I finally realized my true calling, went back to graduate school, and became a teacher, first in a public high school, then as a docent at the Merchant’s House Museum in New York City. Now, retired from teaching out loud, I silently share my thoughts with anyone who wants to listen.
Herb’s easel calls; he’ll be spending most of his time painting and also posting in a separate blog titled “Paintings and Poems.” The first post is up. Go here if you’d like read it.
As for me: this blog made its debut on May 3, 2012. One of our colleagues at the Merchant’s House Museum had died prematurely and I wanted to publicly acknowledge the contribution she had made to the Museum. It occurred to me that I could do that if I had a blog . . . .
Since then there have been 242 posts, about any number of topics, some of them contributed by Herb who joined me two years ago. They’re all still here—tucked away in the archives, retrievable by category in the right sidebar. Almost all of the posts have had to do with the way the past affects our present lives as well as what’s coming in the future. And that’s why the blog is called “Hints and Echoes.”
When you reach a certain age (and by 2012 I had certainly reached it) you begin to see the truth of Shakespeare’s observation “What’s past is prologue,” as you look back and see how the events of your own life fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s remarkable, really.
Tomorrow begins the new chapter of observations. I hope you’ll join me. Sign up above if you want to receive the posts in your email. And join the conversation. Just click “leave a comment,” and we’ll talk.
Somehow the digits discovered that I am an interloper from another age, trespassing on their territory where I have absolutely no business being.
This morning they took away my wi-fi network. What do you mean “You’re not connected to the internet”? Why not! And my in box! What happened to my in box?? How can I check my email without my in box? Maybe the exercise guy has a special offer on How to Strengthen My Core. What if Dr whatshisname is trying to alert me to the vegetable I must never eat!
With no internet and no in box, what’s a girl to do for distraction? Well, here’s what you do if you’re me. You CALL STEVEN!!
Some women think they are lucky because their daughter married a doctor, or an attorney. There’s probably some fortunate soul somewhere who has a geriatrician for a son-in-law. Well eat your heart out, ladies. My daughter had the intelligence to marry a friend of the digits! They’re very close.
Steven Alper is a fixer, so of course he fixed it. And here I am back, serving as your favorite distractor.
I have no doubt, however, that the digits will be back, exercising their intolerant authority over their domain. You know they have their sneaky ways of learning what you’re up to—algorithims and all that.
A middle-aged man strolling by, fringe surrounding his bald head and a little pot belly—shorts, flowered sports shirt—led by one of those darling fluffy lap dogs. Coming from the opposite direction another man exactly like the first: fringe surrounding his bald head, a little pot belly—shorts, flowered sports shirt—led by the same breed of little dog.
The men wave; they stop on my corner to chat, and the dogs go wild! They climb all over each other, exchange licks, run around in circles tangling the leashes. After a few minutes the men untangle the leashes with difficulty and move on. What’s the explanation? Twin men with dogs from the same litter? Very strange.
What in the hell are we teaching to our children? How is it that a young woman can reach the threshold of adulthood, be enrolled in an institution of higher learning and be so ignorant—so innocent—that she has no concept at all of our American heritage, of our judicial system, or for that matter of the ten commandments.
At first, because I am pro-life, my reaction was anger—at her. But when I saw her face, I realized that it is she who has suffered a great wrong and it is we who have failed her. How on earth did this happen? And what can we do about it? We had better figure this out, and quick, because she is our future.
She believes (she knows) she is right and that’s what matters to her. If you have the courage of your convictions, apparently, anything goes. Reason, argument, debate, abiding by the law—none of that matters.
The entire educational system needs to be revamped—from top to bottom. And maybe what we need is another Great Awakening!
You’ve got to hand it to this cop. He tried to explain. Treated her with respect. He probably feels the same way I do.
I have looked at this painting by Herb for hours. In our apartment in New York it was hanging in a spot opposite the couch where I tended to recline with some frequency. Over time, I grew to love it, not only because I just like the way it looks, but for what it says about children’s play.
The figures in Herb’s painting are not real life children. Their bloodless limbs, their simple monochromatic dress and the dark moonlit setting suggest to me that these figures and what they are doing transcend time and place. They are playing a circle game in which children reach out to one another, join hands and move in an unbroken circle, learning the rhythms of human interaction. No doubt you remember some of these games from your own childhood.
Or maybe not. It may depend on how old you are, for these and other folk games that are passed on by children themselves without mediation (or sometimes even the knowledge) of adults no longer have a fertile ground in which to thrive.
Pete Gray, professor at Boston College, who is an evolutionary psychologist, contends that the need and impulse for play is biologically embedded in our nature as human beings. In his book Free to Learn, and in his blog for Psychology Today, he explains that it is through play that children learn the skills and behaviors that they need to thrive.
In our incessant drive to encroach further and further on playtime that is free from adult authority, we are making a tragic mistake. If you are a parent, grandparent, or just care about the consequences of our education system, I strongly suggest that you check out this very readable blog post by Gray.
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In 1976 Herb and I were studying at Indiana University, on leave from our teaching positions in the Panama Canal Zone.
Our study of children’s traditiional games and practices of children that have been passed down by children for generations began as a paper written for a folklore course we were enrolled in. Since we were English teachers, we were focused on the verbal accompaniments to these games and practices— something that most people dismiss as trivial childish rhymes and formulaic sayings that are of no particular significance. I mean who can take “I’m rubber; you’re glue” or “I see London, I see France; I see someone’s underpants” seriously?
However as we watched children at unsupervised play we realized that what they were doing was anything but trivial. We saw that unsupervised children playing together on their own learn how to govern themselves, according to a system of rules.
They learn how to deal with cheaters and crybabies and how to make sophisticated juridical decisions. They learn the joy of team spirit and group solidarity without suffering from the depersonalization and bitterness that characterize competitive supervised sports.
They let off steam, releasing tensions created by the repressive atmosphere of the classroom. They play with the emotion of fear, thus becoming less fearful.
And we decided that the subject deserved more thorough study and exposition. Thus the idea for our book, One Potato, Two Potato, was born. It was eventually published by W.W. Norton and is still in print after 43 years! Some twenty years after our book was published, Herb painted the picture.
Like most artists, he is reluctant to discuss the “meaning” of his work or the creative process that results in a painting. However, he assures me that he did not have the study of children’s folklore in mind when he set about to paint this picture, What eventually appeared on the canvas simply “emerged” as he painted.
Herb seems to have dimly and unconsciously recognized what Gray is telling us: Play is part of our human nature; we are sorely in error when we impose our ideas of how our children should structure their time and activities, thus denying them opportunities for unsupervised play and the development of their humanity.