A R T S Back, back, back, way back, in my high school freshman honors English Lit class, our teacher (who’d just arrived from pre-Summer of Love San Francisco) swathed our 15 year-old brains with classical music from then underground FM radio as a backdrop to the classical titles we were expected to read in class. These included Homer’s Odyssey, a small selection of the Poems of Ovid, Volume I of Plutarch’s Lives, and a poet of our own choosing. I chose the decidedly unclassical Jack Kerouac. It was 1965, after all, and I’d been drawn to the Beat authors, painters, and musicians since I was about 12.
Plutarch was difficult for me, but I got through it with Mrs. Ware’s accompanying mini-history lessons to explain who these people were. I think it was her class that sparked my interest in history, and I chose to read Plutarch’s second volume over the following summer vacation. Imagine that. Mod little me sunbathing in our back yard in my Hawaiian two-piece bathing suit and my perfect Pattie Boyd flip, listening to the Beatles and the Beach Boys on KRLA while reading Plutarch. Or trying to. Fortunately, my mother had raised me not to give up on a book however difficult, but to keep a notebook and a dictionary at hand, and to boldly annotate the margins. Predictably, I never checked Volume III out of our library, and soon, 1967 happened and I turned my attention to reading the popular books of the era: Brave New World, Siddhartha, and literally everything by Richard Brautigan.
It has been 51 years since Mrs. Ware prised my eyes, ears, and mind open so I recently decided to give Plutarch another go. A free eBook is a free eBook, after all, and I decided, with both anticipation and trepidation, to flog through Volume III. I have to say Plutarch was much easier reading for me than he was in 1965. The vocabulary wasn’t an issue and the names were much easier to pronounce. Still, sitting down to read it felt like a chore compared to my accompanying reads, The Letters of Pliny the Younger and Stephen Fry’s Moab is My Washpot. Unexpectedly, I found the lessons in each of these books to be basically the same. Biographies, memoirs, and letters are interesting enough, but these books explore the moral and ethical characters of the authors and the people around them. What helped me most was my love of ancient and classical history. When I was younger I couldn’t put faces to Plutarch’s strange names. They weren’t people. Now, after a lifetime of autodidactic education, assigning humanity to these names was automatic.
So thank you, Mrs. Ware, for giving me the time machine that continues to take me places where I meet people I wouldn’t have otherwise ever known existed. Would that there were more teachers like you!
SK Waller is an author and composer. Books One and Two (With A Dream and With A Bullet) of her rock and roll series, Beyond The Bridge, takes places in late 70s London. Read more at SK Waller Blog and SKWaller.com.