Caring

writer-605764_640-2I am beginning to put more emphasis in my teaching on caring.

First of all, I want to care more, about how I teach, what I teach, yes, but what I really want to care more about is each and every student–not just the ones who need me most, either. I want to care about them all–the gifted student, the one who seems to have it all together as well as the one who has dissolved into tears in my office. All my students need earnest praise, constructive criticism, encouragement–attention. They deserve it.

I want to care enough to take the time to let the struggling student know what he or she is doing right as well as what needs improvement. It is so tempting to only mark what needs to be improved. I want to care enough to take the time let them know how much I like that creative spark or this interesting fact they found through careful research.

I want to care enough to put away my petty concerns, there are so many, to concentrate on one of the two things I know in my heart I was born to do–teach writing.

Secondly, I want my students to learn to care. When they start caring about their work, amazing things can happen. The process begins when picking a topic. I spend much more time with this part of the process than I ever have before, and I am seeing results.

It isn’t easy for my students to care about writing for a myriad of reasons:

  • They don’t like writing. Many meaningless “busy work” assignments over the years have soured a large number of my students to writing.
  • They don’t think writing is important. Even though my students write all the time in their daily lives, they often don’t see the relevance of learning to communicate well in the written word. Somehow they seem to think they write well enough to be understood and that’s good enough, so why spend time on it, especially if they are going into a STEM career
  • They don’t make time for revision and editing. I am convinced that if students would leave themselves enough time to revise and edit, they would have time to develop, if not a passion for writing, at least a more thoughtful attitude towards it because they would see how caring improves the writing, which begets pride in one’s work, which begets a desire to leave more time for revision and editing. It’s hard to care about something if rushing to keep a deadline.

One tactic I use to instill a little more thoughtful attitude towards writing is to require my freshman composition students to pick a research topic with a local focus. We spend time exploring topics that concern their everyday lives on and off campus. We brainstorm about the issues they care about, which often leads to a willingness to search even harder for solutions to the not so hypothetical questions they are asking.

Doesn’t always work, of course, but for some of my students, learning to care has not only helped them write better papers, but it also has helped them become advocates for change in their communities, making their lives better, too.

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The spring/summer 2018 edition of Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal is open for submissions until March 1. See submission guidelines for more information

 

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Anti-Higher Education Sentiments Run High These Days

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Iconic Photo from the Cover of Ken Burns’ Civil War Series

“Why do you have to keep paying different lecturers to teach the same course? You get one solid lecturer and put it up online,” Johnson said. “If you want to teach the Civil War across the country, are you better off having, I don’t know, tens of thousands of history teachers, who, you know, kind of know the subject? Or would you be better off popping in 14 hours of Ken Burns’ Civil War tape and having those teachers proctor based on that excellent video production already done? You keep duplicating that over all these different subject areas” (The Denver Channel).

These are the words of U.S. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin (R), who is running for re-election this year, spoken at a Q&A session in Milwaukee last Thursday. He was discussing, not K-12 education as you would think by the comments, but rather ways that we could decrease the costs of a college education.

I hope I don’t insult anyone’s intelligence by pointing out what is wrong with this statement, but I would like to highlight a few words as examples of the continuing anti-intellectual, anti-higher education sentiment that is running rampant in our utilitarian-minded culture.

  1. “Why do you have to keep paying different lecturers…”  Once again, money is at the heart of most conservative moves to re-define higher education. “Education is a privilege, not a right–a privilege that few can afford. Keeping cost down is the primary goal.” Keep in mind that Johnson was not being questioned about K-12 or even community colleges. His suggestion is for keeping costs down at four-year colleges and institutions.
  2. “You get one solid lecturer and put it up online,” Johnson said–Oh, what I, with almost 30 years experience teaching composition, could do with just a few minutes alone with this guy. One thing for sure, he wouldn’t leave my office with this major pronoun problem he’s rocking. I might have a thing or two to teach him about rhetoric, too
  3. “If you want to teach the Civil War across the country, are you better off having, I don’t know, tens of thousands of history teachers, who, you know, kind of know the subject? Or would you be better off popping in 14 hours of Ken Burns’ Civil War tape and having those teachers proctor based on that excellent video production already done?”  Oh my, where to begin?
    • “Tens of thousands of history teachers, who, you know, kind of know the subject?” Did you know, Senator, that only about 1.68% of Americans have PhDs at all and only a little over 2% of those people have Phds in history? (Reference.com). To put that in perspective, consider that a person’s chances are better in landing a position as a professional football player (about 1.9% of football players go pro) than in being granted a doctorate at all much less than in being awarded the highest possible academic credential in the discipline of history (NCAA). These scholars, Senator, deserve better than your flippant derision. They deserve your respect and admiration for contributing to the liberal arts educational tradition that has for so long has kept our country great until it began to be gutted by those searching for the quickest and cheapest way to get the largest of number of people into jobs that pay well enough to keep them quiet but don’t offer much room for advancement–the utilitarian mindset of short-term training programs offering limited choices, rather than robust liberal arts programs offering  opportunities for students to advance in their careers through the stimulation of critical and creative thought–the very life blood of innovation that has heretofore kept our country competitive with the rest of the developed world.
    • Ken Burns, while a brilliant documentary film maker, is not a teacher nor a scholar. He turned down decreased tuition at the University of Michigan to attend Hampshire College, an alternative school, where students are assessed through writing personal narratives and working on a “self-directed” course of study instead of majoring in a subject, like, I don’t know, something that would prepare a person for making historical documentaries, like history, let’s say.
    • Ken Burns’ primary source, cited numerous times in the course of the series, is Shelby Foote. Now I love me some Shelby–that accent is great, and he’s so Southern, but Foote, by his own admission was a novelist first and historian second (“Shelby Foote: The Art of Fiction, No. 158”) When some scholars criticized Foote for leaving out footnotes and other forms of documentation in his work, he said: “I have left out footnotes, believing that they would detract from the book’s narrative quality by intermittently shattering the illusion that the observer is not so much reading a book as sharing an experience” (qtd. in Reddit Ask Historians).
    • But, really, Ronnie, are you serious? “Popping in” a 14-hour video “tape”? To educate millennials, digital natives who live in an educational world filled with  instructional techniques such as gamification, Learning Management Systems like Moodle and Blackboard, math manipulatives, open source software, project based learning and personal learning networks, you need to stay current with technology and contemporary instructional methods–oh, wait, that’s part of a professor’s job. Even in online classes, educators are beginning to recommend only short videos because today’s student, indeed students have always needed, interaction with each other and with their professor in order to truly learn. We have always learned by doing and today’s innovative colleges and universities are moving further and further away from static, passive lectures and long videos to more interaction through the methods mentioned above, along with a myriad of other ever-changing techniques that require ongoing professional development.
  4. “and having those teachers proctor based on that excellent video production already done.”
    • Yes, already done–25 YEARS AGO! Lovingly restored but not otherwise altered, with some questionable and controversial material debated hotly by scholars, especially concerning interviews with novelist and historian Shelby Foote, who died over ten years ago. Where have you been, Ronnie? Certainly not in any college level classroom.
    • Now concerning teachers proctoring “based on that excellent video production.”  Senator, this word proctor, I do not think it means what you think it means. In North America proctor means to monitor students during an examination. What exactly does one do if one proctors based on a video? I think that maybe, just maybe, you mean teach based on the video. Oh, teach what? I thought the old video, shown in high school history classes all over the United States for decades, is the only thing college students needed to further their education about the Civil War. No expert in the Civil War whose job it is to update students on the latest scholarship is needed to bring in other views or expand on important issues or correct mistakes that appear in the film. Of course not.

I’m not bashing the use of film and video in the classroom, not at all.  I use these mediums frequently myself, but not without discussion and critique, not separate from analysis, because documentaries can be biased just like any other literary work, and to think students can learn everything there is to know from one historical viewpoint of any one film, especially one that was first aired in 1990, no matter how popular that film may be, is a very poor way to educate anyone. (BTW, Ronnie, we don’t use tapes anymore–most of us don’t even use DVDs. Where ya been?) Ken Burns himself implies in an interview coinciding with the recent restoration and updating of his classic documentary, that history, like any discipline, progresses and morphs as time goes on–our vision of it changes: “ The Civil War made us what we became, that is true. But we are in the process of becoming always” Burns said. “The Civil War …is not only still going on, it still can be lost, which is a hugely important thing” (qtd in Rosenberg).

However, the use of video in the classroom, no matter what the form, is not really Ronnie’s point is it? Perhaps he isn’t even too concerned about paying for education, since it is more of a function of the states rather than the federal government and is a relatively small expense compared to Social Security, Medicare and military spending (National Priorities Project). What he is truly expressing is his contempt for higher education–his belief that intellectuals are somehow suspect because they tend to disagree with his political opinions and are known for seeking and demanding their personal, intellectual and academic freedom.

Oh, one last thing, Senator, it’s a bit ironic that you champion Ken Burns’ work–a liberal who has donated thousands of dollars to the democratic party and has broken his n0n-partisan public persona to denounce republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Huh, funny what a few research skills learned in college can do for a person.

Teach. Write.

Queens Univ_CharlotteA couple of weeks ago, I attended a wonderful four-day writing workshop at Queens University in Charlotte, sponsored by the North Carolina Writers Network (NCWN), of which I am a member. I came away humbled but also encouraged, with new confidence in my work and with my writing spirit renewed. This long weekend convinced me that teachers of writing need to not only practice their own writing, but also put it out there! Go to workshops and critique groups, present at readings and literary open mic events. Teachers who write and open that writing up to criticism can come back into the classroom with a renewed sense of what it’s like to be a student. At least, that’s what happened to me.

Dinner at Fenwicks

Shrimp and Grits at Fenwick’s

The workshop began on Thursday afternoon. I arrived and was the first one to sign up for the open mic night. After I got settled, I had time to explore that area of Charlotte,  with many stately old homes and the impressive Queens University campus. Then, I found a nice little restaurant called Fenwick’s and had some scrumptious shrimp and grits with a nice chardonnay to start things off right. That evening Ed Southern, director of NCWN led us in a fun exercise to help us get to know one another followed by  a fascinating presentation on The Wall Poems of Charlotte, a grass roots public art project, which highlights the work of North Carolina poets. I think our college should consider a similar public art project at our college or in our town. Perhaps I will propose it.

One of the best things about the trip was that I was able to remember what it is like to be a student again–always good for a teacher to experience, especially if she’s been at it as long as I have.

At my age, I never thought to again be sharing the bathroom and showers in the dorm, seeking  out a friend in the dining hall at lunch or walking with some fellow students down to one of the local hangouts, but that’s what I did! The closeness and camaraderie I developed with the eight other fiction writers in the workshop as well as the other writers in the poetry and non-fiction workshops, helped take away the initial uncomfortable feelings I had at moving out of my middle-aged comfort zone and made it easier to accept the constructive criticism offered by the instructor and my fellow students.

Our marvelous instructor Sarah Creech, who teaches at Queens University, also helped us feel more comfortable by  doing some simple exercises that encouraged us to get to know one another better, but it wasn’t long before we were seriously critiquing the work that we had shared with each other in the weeks before the workshop began.

For some ungodly reason, I signed up to be the first person (again) to be critiqued, but Sarah facilitated the group with such finesse and my fellow writers were so kind and supportive, that it wasn’t hard to accept the criticism. In fact, I found it affirming and encouraging because most of the areas that needed improvement were areas that I myself targeted for revision. It sure didn’t hurt to hear the positive comments either.

In front of Chapel

It was pretty hot, but in the morning and evening, I enjoyed walking around the beautiful campus or writing in one of the common areas.

We repeated the process of critiquing, beginning with what is working and what could use revision, for the other eight attendees. What I found especially interesting was the better I got to know the other people in my group, the more I wanted to offer truly helpful words of advice and not just give some throw away comments. I also found myself going back and re-reading their work, so I could give more in depth comments. In addition, my confidence grew in my own work. Here were other serious writers, good writers, but my work was on a par with theirs.

After the first day of critiquing each others’ work, Sarah concentrated on lecture and exercises to help bolster the class’s weaker areas that had been revealed from the critiques the day before. We emphasized character development and motivation, sensory details and setting, among other issues. The lectures were always targeted and blessedly short, followed by periods of writing. That evening we enjoyed our literary open mic event, which was a wonderful time to hear the work of writers in my own group as well as poets and non-fiction writers from the other group. a pizza party in the commons area of Sykes Learning Center ended the official events of the evening, but a few of us continued our discussion of the weekend at a local pub, just like in the old college days.

Sykes Learning Center

Sykes Learning Center

The last day we did more writing but also had time to share our work with the group, no critiquing this time–just enjoying each other as writers. As much as I missed my family and was glad to be going home, I truly was sad to say goodbye to my new writer friends but glad that I had a chance to meet them. I hope to continue sharing my work with them. It is amazing how quickly people can bond when they share a passion for storytelling.

It may be obvious what I learned and had affirmed about teaching composition during the workshop, but here is a list of a few things that come to mind:

  • spend time letting students get to know each other as people
  • build in time to socialize
  • celebrate your students’ writing
  • provide opportunities to share writing
  • keep any lecture relevant to the particular group of students you are teaching
  • keep lecture to a minimum
  • target areas that need work and tailor-make exercises to help improve weak areas
  • make exercises creative and fun
  • allow students to critique each other’s writing in small groups
  • begin with positive feedback but move on to areas that need improvement

Stay tuned for my next blog post when I present the details of my new project–an online literary magazine designed to showcase the work of those who teach writing.

The Art of Collaboration

Cast Meets with Susan Burk

Cast meets via Skype with Susan Burk from the Matthew Shepard Foundation during rehearsals for The Laramie Project – photo by Vince LaMonica

Not soon after I started working at the community college where I teach, I was thrilled that a new degree was added–an Associates of Fine Arts in Drama. The young woman who led the program brought back to life my love of all aspects of theater production. I had dabbled in community theater as a publicist, properties manager, stage director and actor in several places where I lived, but raising a small child and teaching a heavy adjunct load meant little time for this passion.

 

The drama department at the college brought it all back to me. Furthermore, it offered me opportunities to get back onto the stage through small roles that didn’t require a great deal of rehearsal time. Jennifer, the director, always made it doable, and the more I became involved the more I wanted to do. Because her department is small, and she is the only full-time instructor, Jennifer and I, an English teacher, started finding more and more opportunities to work together, forming a cross-curriculum relationship that has, I think, greatly enhanced both departments for the advancement of our students and has sustained us both by allowing us the creative outlets that we crave.

It all started one day, long ago, over lunch at a Chinese buffet restaurant, when we were discussing the upcoming production. Jennifer had decided she wanted to do two one-act plays with her directing one and me the other as I had expressed the desire of getting my feet wet as a director. She had already decided on one of the plays–Blue Window by Craig Lucas, but she hadn’t been able to find a suitable play for me to direct.

Almost as a joke, I said, “Hey, guess what?”

“What?” she said.

“I wrote a play long years ago. It’s called Green Room. How about that, Blue Window, Green Room.” I was almost laughing. I really wasn’t serious at all or suggesting anything, I swear.

Then, she said, “Let’s do that one.”

“What?” I said.

“Let’s do your play.”

“But you haven’t even read it. You don’t know anything about it. It might suck. I mean, as far as I remember it does suck.”

“Here’s the beauty of it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter. Whatever we don’t like, we change.”

Thus began a truly productive collaboration between two instructors. I can’t tell you what it means as a writer and an educator to have this kind of partnership, which protects Jennifer and her department from isolation and offers me opportunities to stretch the creative side in me–the writer, the actor.

We did produce Blue Window and Green Room. I ended up handing the directing baton over to Jennifer when, two weeks before opening night, one of the leads quit, and I had to step in to act. In addition, Curtis, a student who played a lead role in the play, also composed original music for Green Room and has gone on to collaborate with me, and Jennifer,  on many projects even after he left school.

The next semester I directed my first full length play, Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children. Was I crazy? Of course, I was, but of course, Jennifer was there to help me through the process, and without her expertise the show would have been a disaster. On the other hand, because of my knowledge of German (I double majored in English and German in undergraduate school), I was able to contribute direct translations from the original text when the British translations we were using didn’t work. Also, I have a particular interest in musicals, which Jennifer doesn’t share, so working again with Curtis, we composed original music for the play.

Over and over again, Jennifer and I, along with students like Curtis, as well as colleagues, have collaborated on productions. So many times our ideas came from just seeing plays together in the community or at conferences. Other times they simply sprang from casual conversation or out of a desire to find a special project for a special actor. Here are just a few examples of our working together (in no particular order):

  • A production of Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Project’s Laramie Project with student-led talk back facilitated by the public speaking instructor at the college. In addition, Jennifer had frequent discussions with Susan Burk from the Matthew Shepard Foundation and cast members had a teleconference with Burk to prepare for their roles. I acted in the show and wrote two features about the production for the local newspaper. Follow these links to read the features: 1)  Pre-Production 2)  Production
  • BRCC’s participation in the 48 Hour Film Project, winning Asheville’s contest in 2008. See the film at this link: Serial Love
  • Tennessee Williams’ One-Act Play Festival–we had two separate stages, a southern-style picnic and a lecture on Williams by one of our English faculty
  • Pre-show lecture about Lord Byron and the Shelleys before the production of Howard Brenton’s Bloody Poetry
  • Pre-show lecture, scenes and short film (produced by drama department) before production of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.
  • Pre-show lecture by me and an adjunct English instructor before Shakespeare’s Macbeth (we both acted in the production as well)
  • World premiere of A Carolina Story, a musical based on the Book
    Carolina Story 029

    A Carolina Story, April 2012

    of Job, by me with music by Curtis (We produced it a second time as a fund-raiser for the student emergency grant and loan fund)

There have been so many other examples of how our collaboration has enhanced our teaching. Currently, we are collaborating on perhaps our most ambitious project yet, an original stage adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We are attempting to preserve the plot and style of the original while adding exciting multi-media effects to enhance the production.

Most theaters cannot sustain this kind of freedom and collaboration between writer and producer/director. It is educational theater, especially in higher education, that allows for this kind of risk-taking to take place. It is also this kind of educational theater that should be supported with proper funding and promotion because in the end, collaboration between faculty, staff, students, administration and community is what it takes for the arts in education to flourish, teaching us to work together for the betterment of all.

And hey, if you’re near Asheville the weekend before Halloween, come see Frankenstein!!

 

 

 

Chicago Follow Up

cloud-gate_c

The Bean–Chicago (chicagotraveler.com)

Finally getting back to my blog after a busy, busy spring break and catching up with my classes. I wanted to take some time to talk about some of the great books, monographs, white papers and other materials I collected while I was in Chicago. Here’s just a few of the things I brought back for my colleagues and me:

  • Understanding Cultural Diversity in a Complex World by Dr. Leo Parvis. I went to Dr. Parvis’s session on cultural diversity and it was quite inspiring. Dr. Parvis shows what dedication and enthusiasm can do. He has built up the cultural diversity at his college–Dunwoody Community College in Minnesota–from practically nothing to its current healthy mix of cultures. His book examines some of his most successful ideas.
  • Toward a New Ecology of Student Success: Expanding and Transforming Learning Opportunities Throughout the Community College by Dr. Jim Rigg. I went to Dr. Rigg’s session mainly out of curiosity since I entered the monograph competition that I had applied for and he won. He sure deserved to! His monograph is a well-researched and persuasive argument for “The Emerging/Transformative Cognitive Frame” (9) approach to student learning that he claims will lead students “toward becoming life long learners” (10). On improving retention, Riggs says, “Numerous studies on improving persistence rates and increasing student success point out the importance of having a rigorous academic curriculum and an engaging and nurturing campus environment” (7). So much of what he says in the books echoes my own views and the views of many of my colleagues. It’s nice to have validation as well as numerous great ideas I hope to share with our president before too long.
  • Bread and Roses: Helping Students Make a Good Living and Live a Good Life by Dr. Terry O’Banion, President Emeritus of the League for Innovation in Community Colleges. This excellent monograph makes the case for what the author calls “Essential Education,” one that combines the best of Liberal Arts education (the rose) with Workforce education (the bread). He says, “We need a practical liberal arts and a liberal career education” (25). One of my favorite quotes in the book comes from Tyton Partners, an educational advisory firm in Boston, “Foundational, lifelong skills, such as critical thinking, teamwork and collaboration, and problem solving are climbing to the top of employers wish lists [….] Ultimately, integration in this area should bridge academic and applied education and skills expectations across institutions” (24). Excellent and informative reading with practical steps for implementing an Essential Education.
  • Numerous white papers, briefs and monographs from the Community College Research Center at Cornell University. A few of the titles are
    • “Using Technology to Reform Advising: Insights from Colleges” I met and talked to the young man who wrote this white paper, Jeffrey Fletcher.
    • Track Transfer: New Measures of Institutional and State Effectiveness in Helping Community College Students Attain Bachelor’s Degrees by Davis Jenkins and John Fink
    • “Improving Assessment and Placement at Your College: A Tool for Institutional Researchers” by Clive R. Belfield
    • “What We Know about Online Course Outcomes” by Shannon Smith Jaggers, et, al.
    • “Increasing Access to College-Level Math: Early Outcomes Using the Virginia Placement Test” by Olga Rodriguez
    • “What We Know About Guided Pathways” by Thomas Bailey, et al.

These are just a few of the materials I gathered on my recent trip to the League for Innovation in Community College’s Conference in Chicago. It was a great conference. I look forward to sharing this material with my colleagues when we all get a breather. Might not be until after grades are turned in.

Again, No Time But Must Post Something

Prop poster

Mock Propaganda Poster Inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (Pinterest)

I’m in the midst of grading my brains out here at the end of the semester, but I don’t want to let any more time go by without posting something because the current state of liberal arts education, especially at the community college level in my state, demands it. Thank goodness there are others who feel the way I do. So until I’m able to do some more research, I’m posting this great article by Gary Saul Morson, professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at Northwestern University.

As a literature instructor I was a bit taken aback at first, and a little insulted, but then I read on, and he has some great things about the importance of college level literature studies as well as sensible ways to engage students in literature classes.

Article by Gary Saul Morson from Commentary Magazine

England–Days Seven and Eight

Large Day of the Dead Statue--British Museum-October 2015

Large Day of the Dead Statue British Museum-October 2015

Happy Halloween, Everybody!

It’s Halloween, and I made it back late last night. I was hoping to work on my blog while I was waiting in the airport, but I couldn’t connect to the Heathrow WiFi. I’m one of those throwbacks who doesn’t have a smart phone. And that’s my first word of advice for my literary travelers is GET A SMART PHONE and pay for short term international use if you are going to be out of the country. What few problems I had during the trip would have been helped if I had been able to communicate better. I have some serious jet lag today, but I have the weekend to recuperate and have time to catch up with my classes.

The Morton Hotel on Russell Square October 2015

The Morton Hotel from Russell Square
October 2015

My last full day in London was simply marvelous. I had a grand continental breakfast at the hotel–quite a spread. There were all kinds of pastries, including real English muffins, not the kind we eat–they are more of a spongy type of bread– and all kinds of fresh fruit, plus a variety of cold meats and cheeses. I lingered over my coffee and got caught up on some correspondence with family, students and colleagues.

The hotel has a pleasant sitting room, which serves several purposes–reception, general seating, bar and breakfast room, all decorated for Halloween, which originated as the Celtic festival of Samhain. As with Christmas, eventually the pagan traditions blended with the Christian All Hallow’s Eve, the day before All Saints Day. Both pagan and Christian traditions commemorate the changing of seasons and passage from life to death, to be renewed again in the spring, with Easter, another holiday with combined Christian and pagan elements.

The Brits seem to love to celebrate Halloween just as much as we do, and like in the States, Halloween seems to be becoming increasingly popular with adults, with all sorts of announcements about parties at different restaurants, hotels and pubs. In fact, the Morton Hotel is slated to have a Halloween High Tea today.

After breakfast I started off towards the first stop on my agenda–The Sir John Soane Museum. When I wrote my first sample travel project a few years ago on Georgette Heyer and her Regency novel “The Foundling,” I discovered a little gem of a museum in the house of the eccentric Sir John Soane, best known as the architect of the Bank of England, who adored his wife Eliza and was heart-broken after her death, which fits in so well with the spirit of the Regency romances written by Georgette Heyer and, of course, Heyer’s inspiration, Jane Austen.

I was going to take the Underground to the Soane, but once again, the line was shut down temporarily where I needed to go, so I  hoofed it, but it felt good to walk and soak in yet another area of London I had not yet explored, so I didn’t mind. I got there early and enjoyed strolling around Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London’s largest public square, across from the museum.

Lincoln's Inn Fields October 2015

Lincoln’s Inn Fields looking toward the Soane Museum–October 2015
October 2015

Lincoln's Inn October 2015

Lincoln’s Inn
October 2015

I took pictures there and then walked around some more and found Lincoln’s Inn itself. This incredible building is not what you think of when you hear the word inn. Lincoln’s Inn is the name and location of one of four legal associations that developed in the 13th and 14th Centuries, making this a good place to visit for anyone basing their literary tour on Chaucer. I could imagine the Man of Law from the Canterbury Tales being a member of this association even if the actual Lincoln’s Inn buildings weren’t built until later. Because the buildings were built in the 16th and 17th Centuries, this would also make a great place to visit if studying Shakespeare or Marlowe. The architecture is marvelous.

One of the spires at Lincoln's Inn October 2015

One of the spires at Lincoln’s Inn
October 2015

Today, Lincoln’s Inn houses the offices of many London barristers (lawyers) and includes an extensive law library. I saw one barrister going to work dressed in the traditional legal garb that British men and women of law have been wearing for centuries, although the dress code is now somewhat relaxed. The man I saw was dressed much like David Tennant in the picture below from the movie The Escape Artist.

DavidTennantEscapeArtist

When I made my way back to the Soane Museum, there was already a short queue forming as the hallways in the house are narrow and there are only a few people allowed in at a time. But I didn’t wait long. Entrance to the museum is free, but I bought the more detailed guide book to use as a source for my sample itinerary (I’m going to do an update sometime soon).

Sarcophagus of Seti Sir John Soane Museum London, October 2015

Sarcophagus of Seti
Sir John Soane Museum
London, October 2015

With the book I was able to just roam around and spend as much time as I wanted in this fascinating place. Soane ran his architectural business from his home, so there was a tiny office and rooms full of architectural artifacts for himself, his clients and students to study. He was also quite a collector and one of the most fascinating things at the museum is a sarcophagus, a huge stone coffin, that once housed the remains of Seti, the father of Ramses the Great.

One of my favorite places in the museum was the picture room. It’s a small room, so I had to wait to make my way in there. Each room has a guide who can answer questions about Soane and the house. The guide in the picture room was particularly helpful. He showed us how Soane built the room with pull out panels to hold more of his art collection in a smaller space, very clever.

My favorite pieces were another series by the British painter William Hogarth, called The Election. I had seen a similar series by Hogarth in the National Gallery, and his paintings do a marvelous job satirizing life in England during the 18th Century, with that mixture of humor and pathos that is my very favorite style of writing, seen here in picture form. The guide described the series as one of the first “graphic novels” and pointed out details of the pictures and explained their historical context–really an early form of the political cartoon.

Soane’s house is the perfect place for anyone who is interested in what England was like during the Georgian age–late 18th to early 19th Centuries. I had no idea when I included the museum in my first sample literary tour itinerary several years ago that I would get to visit the museum one day. It is delightful! Here’s a link to the museum’s website: http://www.soane.org/

The British Museum October 2015

The British Museum
October 2015

After leaving the Soane Museum, I made my way to the British Museum, not far at all from my hotel. Although it was not yet noon, I was hungry, so when I passed by The Plough, a typical British pub with a plaque outside remarking how it has been frequented by British writers through the years, I decided to have lunch there. I had another typical British pie, but this one vegetarian–mushroom and onion–washing it down with a lager. It came with chips (French fries) and some tasty veggies. Hit the spot. Now it was on to the museum.

The Plough Restaurant October 2015

The Plough Restaurant
October 2015

I went to the British Museum, also free admission, on my trip in the summer of 2011, but the place is so huge that it would take many visits just to see the permanent collections. I was greeted by huge skeletons like the one above in the courtyard and a big skull along with a skeleton in the atrium area where the Rosetta Stone is displayed, but I passed quickly by them. I wanted to focus my visit this time on the literary and old European collections, and I’m glad I did. Anybody doing any literary tour about a British author should plan to include the British Museum in the itinerary because it covers all aspects of British history and because so many authors have been influenced by items in the museum.

One of the first rooms I went in includes selections of hundreds and hundreds of old books, including the beautiful editions of Shakespeare seen here.

Old Volumes of Shakespeare's Work British Museum, October 2015

Old Volumes of Shakespeare’s Work
British Museum, October 2015

Then, in the old European room, I hit the jackpot, finding and photographing many artifacts from the burial ship found unearthed at Sutton Hoo, believed to date back to the time of Beowulf. Most fascinating to me were the helmets, swords and shields.

Helmet and shield found in the burial ship at Sutton Hoo British Museum, October 2015

Helmet and shield found in the burial ship at Sutton Hoo
British Museum, October 2015

Could Beowulf's Sword looked like this?

Could Beowulf have used a dagger like this?

Celtic Brooches and Sword British Museum, October 2015

Celtic Brooches and Sword
British Museum, October 2015

In another room were marvelous examples of Celtic art, including crosses and the large ornamental brooches seen to the right. Anyone doing a project on Dream of the Rood, Beowulf, Lanval or any of the early British works would appreciate these rooms.

I could have spent hours and hours at the British Museum, but I was getting a bit weary and had a big night ahead, so I went back to the hotel, caught up on some more work and took a nap. Good move. Naps, if not too long, can really help travellers get the most out of their visits.

I had some tea and a biscuits (shortbread cookies) in the room and headed out early to get to the Savoy Theatre, next to the famous Savoy Hotel on the Strand, another vibrant section of England that was really hopping that night, even though there was a steady drizzling rain. Londoners and tourists alike have learned to adapt to the rain, which comes and goes frequently. As I passed through Covent Garden on my way to The Strand, I noticed people sitting outside under canopies, seated around these little outdoor fire grates, laughing, talking and ignoring the rain.

Covent Garden at Night

Covent Garden at Night

I arrived at my destination early, so I walked up and down the Strand, soaking in the atmosphere (no pun intended, but I did forget my umbrella the one time I needed it). I bought a soda at a little kiosk and headed back to the theater to wait some more, but boy, oh, boy, was it worth the wait.

I’ve seen Gypsy several times, and I was an assistant stage manager for a community theater production of it, so I know the show very well, but this was hands down the best production of it I have ever seen or been a part of, mainly because of Imelda Staunton as Rose, who was simply astounding. Some of the best acting I’ve ever seen and the lady has pipes!

Imelda Staunton as Rose Savoy Theatre, London, October 2015

Imelda Staunton as Rose
Savoy Theatre, London, October 2015

The final scenes between Gypsy and Rose were everything they were meant to be and the final number, Rose’s Turn, was the final release of all the pent up anger and resentment of a woman who has spent too long living her life for and through her children, not realizing the damage she was doing to herself and all the ones she loved. It was heartbreaking and triumphant. It was so real. I don’t know how anyone can act like Imelda did that night. Simply amazing! Then, in the final scene, Gypsy comes on stage and Rose breaks down again–finally humbled and remorseful, a broken woman as she leaves the stage, and her daughter’s last gesture, a simple arm over her mother’s stooped shoulders, just said it all.

I was also thrilled to see Peter Davison, who played the role of Herbie, Rose’s friend and would be husband, who loves Rose despite everything but has to leave her in the end. It was a special treat seeing Davison, whom I had a crush on when I was a teenager and loved to watch him play Tristain in the British TV series All Creatures Great and Small. He also was one of the many actors to play Dr. Who (the 5th doctor).

It was a great way to end my last night in London. I didn’t even mind the walk back in the rain and the crowded subway as I made my way to Russell Square. I stopped one last time at the Tesco’s and bought supplies for a midnight snack and some breakfast before going to my room. They were still showing all the Harry Potter movies, so I watched Imelda Staunton again as Dolores Umbrage in the final Potter movie while I had my snack and checked e-mail.

What a great day!

The final day was all about travel.

I left the hotel pretty early after getting all packed up because I also like to arrive early and wait rather than rush and worry about missing my plane. I discovered that because I had an oyster card and had bought an extension to London when I arrived that I didn’t have to pay any more. I also discovered that I had paid a 5 pound deposit that can be returned with any money you do not spend when traveling, if any. If you prefer, you can keep your Oyster card, and it is still good when you return to London. I definitely recommend an Oyster card if you are going to spend any time in London.

English Breakfast at Heathrow before I Boarded the Plane October 2015

English Breakfast at Heathrow before I Boarded the Plane
October 2015

Once I got to the airport, checked in and got to the correct terminal, I had my last meal in England, a traditional English breakfast washed down with an English lager. This time I had the beans but still didn’t try the black pudding. I’m not that English!

The trip was uneventful from then on out. It was a long trip back, but it was totally worth it, and gave me a better understanding of the country, people, history and literature of England, which is important to all Americans because we share a language and England is our mother country, one of our best friends in the world today.

I hope you have enjoyed my blog posts about my trip to London. I have learned so much and am so looking forward to using what I have learned to improve my instruction of not only my British literature courses, but all of my classes.

Cherrio and Mind the Gap!!!!