Saturday, June 26, 2010

Be Fudd Led

My introduction to Shakespeare and grand opera came when I was nearly five years old, in 1966. My brothers, sister and I were watching Gilligan's Island. The castaways wanted to produce a musical version of Shakespeare's Hamlet, which they did to the music from Bizet's Carmen, and Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman. Of course, I wouldn't have known this without my mother running in from the kitchen and exclaiming rather peevishly, "Good Heavens! WHAT are they doing to Bizet?! That's the opera Carmen!? ... but... and those are Shakespeare's words! Tch! I can't watch this." Mom's disgruntled scrutiny made it important to pay attention to what I was hearing. Besides, it was a damned funny episode!

To this day, whenever I hear the Toréador song from Carmen, I also hear the bastardized version of Shakespeare's words:
Neither a borrower nor a lender be.
Do not forget: stay out of debt.
Think twice, and take this good advice from me:
Guard that old solvency!
There's just one other thing you ought to do.
To thine own self be true.

In What's Opera Doc?, Elmer Fudd taught me Wagner, specifically The Ride of the Valkyrie, as he, in horned helmet, chased Bugs Bunny and sang, "Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!!!" Ah, I love the smell of Hassenpfeffer in the morning (oops... sorry, that was my obscure mind jump from The Ride of the Valkyrie to Apocalypse Now... has nothing to do with this blog).

I read a lot, and you know I'm a big proponent of reading. Reading has given me most of my vocabulary (which in turn amazes, vexes, perplexes and befuddles my friends). However, some of my favorite words were learned from unconventional sources. Bugs Bunny taught me the words pulchritude and indubitably. Daffy Duck taught me the word droll. From the Wizard of Oz, I learned the words caliginous and pusillanimous. I learned the word lascivious from Steve Martin in All of Me.

I don't suggest we attempt to learn from a TV set. Fie upon that idea! However, as a self-ascribed autodidact, I will admit that much of my knowledge comes from some rather dubious and obscure places. This is how I've always learned, and learned best. Even when formally taught something, I can only absorb so much before my brain goes into saturated sponge mode. I have to stop, run it all through my internal juicer, and extract the essence before I can move on. I think there is a lot to be said for this method. Although book learning is useful, it is also easily forgettable. For me, hands on learning has always worked best. Learning while I'm amused with the subject is even better. For example, in school I was never good at learning history. All of those dry facts and dates left me in a stupor. The exception to that was my English history class. The teacher I had would come to class in costume (robe, crown, scepter) and do the most horrendous British voices while reciting events. It was hilarious. And it stuck. Over thirty years later, I still get all of the English history questions right on Jeopardy.

We can learn a lot simply by observing nature. I once had a deep philosophical revelation while watching ants - plain old garden variety black ants. Go figure. The revelation? Carry the load, follow the path - the universe depends on you doing just that. It's as basic as life gets. When the chips are down, I remember the ants.

Learning should be fun. Learning should be interesting. Learning should not be a rote memorization thing that we're forced into. Knowledge and insight will come from the most unlikely sources, but you must pay attention.

Back where I come from there are men who do nothing all day but good deeds. They are called phila... er, phila... er, yes, er, Good Deed Doers.
~The Wizard of Oz

I am the Wizard of Ooohs and Ahhs and Fa La Las
~Wordplay, Jason Mraz

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