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Random Thoughts for (Almost) May. . .

Another vintage illustration by Laurence Fellows.  My maternal uncle's May 1982 wedding was not dissimilar.  It was held in an Epsicopal church in a Philadelphia suburb with the following reception on the lawn of my new aunt's parents' house nearby.  The attire of the men was very much like that pictured above although we didn't look quite as grand since our gear was rented.  We too wore gray spats.

The Spring semester is over, and now it is time to begin tallying up course points for about 150 students spread across the three courses just concluded.  This is a largely thankless task although it is helped by the fact that much of it is calculated thanks to an online database.  Unfortunately, said database suffers from a couple of problems in my view.  

For one, it rounds things up, which means that there are students who finish with a course grade in the A-range when, if we go strictly by the numbers, they should finish somewhere in the B-range.  Decent enough students and work, but hardly stellar.  All part of the current and highly popular idea that personal success in any endeavor, academic or otherwise, depends on other people rather then one's own blood, sweat, and (sometimes) tears.  Nothing I can do about it, however, and the database does save me from having to do it the old fashioned way with calculator and pencil where there was more margin for error.

Secondly, once all of the totals have been added and saved, you have to go into a second database through the Registrar's Office to enter final course grades.  This introduces another layer of complication and another possibility for errors.  Luckily, I have not made too many of those, which require actual paperwork to correct mid-summer.  Still, most of my students from the semester-just-ended should be very happy with their final grades (many actually DID develop and produce solid work). 

Let's get folkloric for a moment.  The number three figures prominently in a lot of world folklore.  Three brothers or sisters, the youngest of whom, typically, heads off into the world to find his or her fortune.  He or she then faces three opponents, curses, or tests.  Three magical helpers invariably assist during the quest.  And perhaps a final reward, of sorts, comes in three related parts at the end of the story.  You'll instantly recognize how, for example, Disney has borrowed from and adapted folklore to fit its own ideas of popular children's entertainment for decades now.  Good things come in threes as the saying goes.  

For all of my good to excellent students this semester, there are, oddly, three this time around in each course who will be somewhat disappointed when their final grades have been posted.  The problem comes, as it always does, from poor attendance.  However, since there is a clear attendance policy in the various syllabi concerned, and the 20 days during the 15-week term when attendance is taken are marked clearly in the syllabi with rather large asterisks, I have no sympathy.  

Yes, I have an attendance policy.  Boo!  Hiss!  Tyrant!  Off with his head!  Now, claaaa-aass.  Claaaa-aaaass.  Come to order, and let me explain.  If I did not have an attendance policy, very few bodies would bother showing up for class after the first few days of any given semester.  My courses are discussion-based, however, which means that, to participate fully and get the most from the course, students need to keep up with the reading and, in the case of a few film courses, also viewing, and they need to be present to demonstrate their learning through discussion of what they have read and seen at a deeper, more critical level than "Did you like it?"  

While I provide some structure and guidance, students are largely responsible for developing their own thinking (constructivist pedagogy at its finest) about whatever is under examination on a given day in my courses.  Much of that comes through proposing, expanding upon, and teasing out various ideas, in the company of others about issues of gender, sexuality, race, class, and ethnicity and how these are reflected in the things we read and see, which, in turn, reflect the real world in some way, shape, or form.  You can't do this when you blow off class routinely, in other words, to hang with your homies or BFF's.

This returns us to the 20 attendance, participation, and preparation points in addition to the four team projects for which the poor students are responsible during any given semester.  The interesting thing in all of this is. . .  There is some flexibility here.  Typically, we meet twice a week for 15 weeks, that's 30 meetings.  I take attendance by the collection of critical thinking "tickets out" at the end of 20 meetings.   Typically, students are asked to reflect on and respond briefly in writing two questions, part of the Integrative Learning approach.  It runs like this: 

1) What was your biggest a-ha moment during today's discussion?  and 

2) How does that same a-ha moment relate to something you have learned in another course?  

The point is, that students, if they are careful, can dance around and miss up to a third of the course meetings (roughly 10) without any penalty at all to their final course grade.  Expecting the little darlings to be semi-awake and in the room with me for, approximately two thirds of the semester, for what is, after all, NOT an online course, does not therefore seem unreasonable.  

Here is yet another example of attendance flexibility on my part as the instructor charged with helping these young adults to achieve the proverbial "student success."  In a few instances each semester, non-Christian religious festivals, family emergencies and prolonged illness arise.  Most of those students affected, to their credit, almost always contact me ahead of time and keep me in the loop.  A few even provide actual documentation.  Well and good.  Not so for the nine yahoos who couldn't be bothered this particular semester.  Three is indeed a magic number. 

Parenthetically, it seems odd that observances like Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, or Passover, not to mention Ramadan , for example, are valid reasons to miss class time, yet Good Friday and Easter Monday are not.  And then there is the nomenclature surrounding what is now referred to as 'Winter Break' in many circles.  We should either observe everyone's holidays, or none at all in my view.  Something seems a little out of kilter here, but there we are.  Political correctness in the name of multiculturalism gone awry maybe?  That might go some way to explain why we have the political mess in this country that we do now.  But I digress.  I'm sure lots of people will read those related observations as a display of ignorance or intolerance on my part, but these points bear thinking about and examination in any case.

On a completely different note. . .  Wedding season is almost upon us.  Luckily, my immediate family has not been not involved in this particular sort of social tar baby for 2018.  Sorry for not being sorry about that, but there you are.  And you'll forgive the Uncle Remus reference (speaking of political correctness), I trust, but it makes the point clear about weddings and the whirlpool effect they tend to have on people even when they are not the couple tying the knot, the parents, the maid of honor, or the best man but simply an invited guest.  'Simply' doesn't figure into it.

My attitude toward weddings and the accompanying hoopla goes back to my maternal uncle's affair in May 1982.  That was a huge, overblown event on the Main Line outside of Philadelphia, something from which, in many ways, I have never recovered.  Perhaps I need some serious therapy to help me move on?  

Kidding aside, the best thing I can say about the comedy of errors that ensued -- keep in mind this was well before wedding planners were, somehow, deemed an essential part of the process -- is that the male side of the wedding party wore morning dress for the late afternoon ceremony.  Even the teen-aged me -- in the throes of Van Halen, Iron Maiden, album oriented rock FM radio stations, plus denim and leather -- thought that aspect of it was pretty cool (although I was made, by Ogre Mom, to cut my hair in advance). 

Now, we did not look quite as good as the illustrations accompanying this post since our gear was rented.  I do recall, though, that my arms and inseam were measured at the formal shop in the weeks leading up to the actual ceremony, and my 38R (at that time) attire actually fit my rather gangly 15-year old self.  We did not look too bad the last time I came across the few faded photographs that I have courtesy of good ol' Mom.  Nevertheless, I took away three key points from this experience that have stayed with me ever since. 

One, it might seem like a sweet idea, but avoid involving small children in the ceremony.  To those with a rosy, more saccharine world view, it might seem cute, but tiny flower girls and ring bearers do not work in practice.  I've observed this in several ceremonies in the years since, and tearful meltdowns on the part of tired or scared children before, during, or post-ceremony are things that only parents should have to endure.  In private.  Kind assurances to contrary after the fact, no one wants to witness three-year old Baby Hoobie's full-on tantrum in the aisle as the bridal party processes, or attempts to, to the front of the church or temple.  Believe me. 

Two, large, floppy, oversized hats for the women in the party, besides looking silly in a Pythonesque way, act like spinnaker sails in even the slightest breeze and will result in shrill upset, discord, and circus-like acrobatics when they invariably lift off.  The closing sequence in the church during the final episode of Jeeves and Wooster (when Tuppy Glossop's Plumbo Jumbo contraption goes haywire), has nothing on a sudden breeze catching hold of eight or ten peach-colored, 24-inch circumference hats as the wedding party exits the church to the tune of Debussy's Golliwog's Cakewalk played on a pipe organ (I kid you not).

Three, we really need to move away from the rather adolescent fairy tale idea of the overly large, obscenely expensive, and ostentatious wedding months in the planning.  At least in so far as weddings are commonly practiced here in the United States.  I suggest, instead, small, understated, and staid affairs with only the closest family and friends in attendance.  This idea will probably be lost on many in an age dominated by things like the industry that has grown up around weddings, the rather loopy notion of "her special day" that we have been force-fed as a result, and which seems to encourage a certain kind of already entitled young woman to become even more insufferably self-centered, to say nothing of social media where people claim hundreds of so called "friends."  

Yet understated, moderate, and tasteful calm is possible when it comes to weddings.  It simply requires some honest contemplation and discussion on the part of the pair being married, some collective backbone once the bride's mother becomes involved, and clear communication throughout to the tune of scaling back and footing the bill yourselves if the bride's parents are not on board with your own wishes for restraint.  The Grand Duchess and I managed to achieve a reasonably calm, reasonably tasteful, affordable ceremony and reception while preserving everyone's feelings and sanity, including our own, during 2005-2006.  At the same time, we managed to entertain 60+ friends, family members, and colleagues.  While far from easy, it can be done.

As I say, three is a magic number.

One more piece of related advice to the, as yet, unhitched out there who might be reading this.  Think long and hard about the points above, because it will set the tone for more than you anticipate in your marriage as well as any interactions you have with the in-laws for years to come.  By all means, infer away.  Please.

Last of all, our weather here in Mid-Michigan has finally started to warm up a bit.  No dustings of snow in the night for a week or more now, and I can just about get by on warmer afternoons with a a pair of khaki chino shorts, old, worn dock-siders, and a rugby top for a while.  Evenings are still too chilly for uncovered legs though, so I'll keep the corduroy jeans handy in a bottom dresser drawer for a few more weeks by which time our newly finished screen room, off the rear of the house, should be ready to go.  Bug-free, al fresco evening meals without the glare of rather brutal (in June and July especially) late afternoon and early evening sun will be a distinct possibility.  The Grand Duchess will also have a comfortable place to work on her laptop after dinner during the warmer months following a fall, winter, and spring (so far) of confinement indoors.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Would that we had more occasion, any occasion, to dress like this in 2018.


  1. I wore (rental) morning dress for my own wedding in 1994, which is (and was) almost unheard of in Brisbane. I had a lot of fun on the day, and it was a somewhat large (in terms of numbers of guess) affair, but was relatively modest in terms of catering, and other accoutrements. My biggest (only) regret is the use of rental suits. I will not make that mistake with my own daughters in the years to come, though I doubt they’ll let me walk them down in their aisle in a morning suit. I’ll see if I can slip a stroller suit under the radar!

  2. The Grand Duchess was lovely in an understated ivory wedding dress. One of the nicest such dresses I've ever seen. I was more plain and wore a two-button charcoal stroller suit (my own) with a navy and white paisley necktie for our wedding day at the end of June '06. A rather warm day by all accounts.

    Best Regards,



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All opinions are welcome here. Even those that differ from mine. But let's keep it clean and civil, please.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

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