Her brand of political liberalism may still have some currency in the San Francisco metro, where she lives, but it's not replenishing itself greatly among the American populace in the age of the Tea Party. Some of her allusions to contemporary culture have aged and will have my students scratching their heads, I'm sure. But she still can crack open your attention with a deft description: "A huge man with an ice chest and a radio had arrived, wearing a tank top so that I could see what appeared to be the entire Book of Revelations tattooed on his arms."
Good night, I wish I'd written that.
I don't know if my students will chuckle, like I do, at her own revelations of God either. "Again and again, I tell God I need help, and God says, 'Well, isn't that fabulous? Because I need help too. So you go get that old woman over there some water, and I'll figure out what we're going to do about your stuff.'" There's no accounting for taste, I guess, but a moment like that just makes my day.
That's the morning class. Then, in the afternoon, Hamlet, a handsome young Danish prince who neither me nor an infinite number of monkeys over an infinite number of iPads will ever figure out totally. Last night, I watched Kenneth Branagh and Kate Winslet do the nunnery scene and was, once again, blessedly transfixed. There is so much life in that play that it's no wonder some secular scholars think of the Shakespeare canon as the closest thing to scripture in the English language.
And so scrupulously scripted, too. "The King rises" comes just about exactly halfway through this monster of a play, and halfway through "The Mousetrap," the play within the play. It's the very moment when the whole story tips over like an apple cart because Hamlet now knows for sure that Claudius murdered his father.
But there's more. When the King stands and the court breaks up, Claudius also knows that Hamlet knows he did it, meaning the Prince's days are numbered. What's more, Hamlet knows that Claudius knows that he knows--and on and on and on. The bellowing ghost of Hamlet's father in Act I wasn't wrong, begging his son to revenge his cruel murder, although he may still have led the Prince to madness or hell itself by urging him on the way he did.
Today in my professional life, I'm walking into classrooms carrying Anne Lamott and William Shakespeare. Some fifty students will just be getting back from Thanksgiving break, most of them up to their ears in work that has to be finished soon, just less than two weeks left in the semester, most of them in no shape to be as thrilled to have read Hamlet and Traveling Mercies as their prof, who's read them both before, over and over again. I'm sure a ton of them won't be prepared.
It's going to be tough to make those eyes shine today, very tough. But I'll give it a go because, really, when I think back about what I've been doing for forty years, lugging wonderful writers into classrooms that are often hostile territory, I tell myself this morning that somehow, some way, I made the right choice. Maybe sometime late this afternoon, battered and bruised by inevitable indifference, I'll think differently; but right now, with two books tented up right here on the desk in front of me, I'm thankful that somehow God himself in his mercy and wisdom took the time to point me into a classroom.
I've had forty good years of working with this stuff, this "content" we call literature, and I honestly can't think of anything I'd have rather done.
And for all of that, this morning of "To be or not to be," I'm very thankful.