A few evenings ago, I hosted a discussion of Winter Poetry at my local library. While I was selecting the poems to include, my wife said I had to pick Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snow Evening,” because… well, it’s THE winter poem. But that was why I didn’t want to include it; I dismissed as too over-exposed, too well-traveled (like the path in that other over-exposed Frost poem).

I compromised by pairing “Stopping by Woods” with a lesser-known Frost poem, “Dust of Snow.” At the time, my motivation for linking the two began and ended with the fact that they both had “snow” in the title.

In the end, I’m glad I listened to my wife, because it turns out I didn’t know “Stopping by Woods” as well as I thought.  And I’m glad I juxtaposed it with “Dust of Snow,” because both poems seem to share a similar theme.  One illuminates the other.

Let’s tackle “Stopping by Woods” first.  And even though even my dad could probably recite twenty percent of it, here it is anyway,,,

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer  
To stop without a farmhouse near  
Between the woods and frozen lake  
The darkest evening of the year.  

He gives his harness bells a shake  
To ask if there is some mistake.  
The only other sound’s the sweep  
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

I’ve always believed that the poem is about a man contemplating suicide.  (That said, in the past, I’ve asked my students to convince me the poem is about Santa Claus,  I swear, if you consider the “darkest evening of the year” and the “harness bells” and the “promises to keep”… well, a pretty convincing case can be made.)

Now, if you look at the poem as a man contemplating suicide, the “darkest evening of the year” is not literal but figurative. He’s gone to a dark place. (As an aside: as an astute reader from my discussion group pointed out, the “darkest evening of the year” does not have to be the Winter Solstice. That would be the longest evening of the year, but not necessarily the darkest. Never considered that before…)

The “suicide” reading becomes more clear when you consider the geography of the poem. So, our narrator is stopping “by” the woods.  Now, he’s not IN the woods; he’s on the outskirts.  But the woods are definitely calling to him; he thinks they’re “lovely.”  In this interpretation, the woods– which are empty, frozen, dark, deep– represent death.

Somewhere else, maybe behind the narrator, is the “village.”  To me, that represents his life, with all of its problems, responsibilities, obligations– his “promises to keep,” in other words, whatever has made him so depressed. If he goes into the woods, he’ll never have to return to the village. Or, to put another way: if he chooses death, he’ll never have to face those “promises” again.

Suddenly, something snaps him out of this trance: the harness bells.  He realizes he has “miles to go” before he sleeps– and in this case, the “sleep” is the permanent kind. At the end of the poem, he is leaning toward life; he’s choosing the “miles” before the “sleep.”  For the moment, at least.

Now, keep all that in mind as you consider the one-sentence poem “Dust of Snow”…

The way a crow
Shook down on meCrow
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Pretty simple: a bird in a tree shakes snow down on some unsuspecting dude. But naturally it’s a “more than meets the eye” thing. (Who would have guessed, right?)  

The first stanza paints a pretty grim picture: crows always have bad connotations, as does hemlock.  (Socrates, for example, was executed via a cup of poison hemlock.)  And let’s face it: getting snow knocked down on you is rarely thrilling..  

But these three negatives somehow add up to a positive in the second stanza. The “dust of snow” is akin to a baptism; it cleanses him.  We don’t know what was going on before, what he regretted or “rued,” but for some reason, this event ironically gave him a “change of mood.”

And that, right there, is what links the two poems.  Both poems have to do with a small, seemingly insignificant event that triggers a serendipitous “change of mood.”  So, in “Dust of Snow,” this brief cascade of snow “saved” his day.  And in “Stopping by Woods,” the horse shaking his harness bells may have actually “saved” the narrator’s life, in that it broke him out of his depressive spell. 

If you think about, small things do have the power to change our moods.  One day, you might be feeling great, until a parking ticket brings you down. Or you may be bummed out, and then a co-worker says something that strikes you funny, or you hear a song on the radio that speaks to you. or maybe someone offers you a Twizzler– and that simple event turns things around. 

Only I’m not sure the “Stopping by Woods” guy is completely turned around. :Yes, he’s turning away from the dark woods in the final stanza… but I don’t really get the sense he’s giddy about it. The woods are still “lovely” to him, after all.  And then there’s the final “miles to go before I sleep” business.  I never understood why Frost repeats himself, but I wonder if the repetition could suggest a sense of resignation, a sense of “oh, well.”   After all, the “promises to keep” haven’t gone away; he still has to face them.

So, yes, with the help of the folks who shows up for the poetry reading, I gained some new insights about these two poems.  But perhaps more importantly I learned/ re-learned a few other things as well…

  1. Just because you think you know something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it another look.“(And I do know that I am paraphrasing John Keating from Dead Poets Society:  “Just when you think you know something, you have to look at in another way.”)
  2. Juxtaposing two texts often helps to illuminate both.
  3. Art is meant to be shared. Something great usually happens when you interesting and interested people start sharing ideas.

Now I’m going to warp this up, as I have “miles to go before I sleep” as well. (Actually, I’m just going to watch re-runs of The Office with my family.  Don’t suppose there’s a Frost poem about that…)

Author’s Note: six years ago now, I posted an article on my old site (teachertrenches.blogspot.com) about the connections between the film Field of Dreams and the J. D. Salinger novel Catcher in the Rye.  And since the movie came out twenty-five years ago this summer, I thought I would re-post it.  Hey, who’s not a fan of re-cycling, right?

By the way, my wife Sheri now has a sister blog, Hearing God’s Whisper.  She just started it, but she already has some really great content. I’m really proud of her. You can access it here.   

Finally, just today, I have a piece running on an awesome site called LikeTotally80s. The article celebrates the song “The End of the Innocence,” which– like Field of Dreams– came out in the summer 1989.   You can check out the piece here

* Whew *… OK, enjoy…

* * * * * * * * * * * * * 

So what does Field of Dreams, a 1989 film about spectral baseball players in an Iowa cornfield have to do with The Catcher in the Rye, a classic novel about a depressed 1950s teenager wandering through New York? I’m glad you asked!

First off, the most obvious connection: for the three of you out there in Internet-land who may not know this,…

  • Field of Dreams, the film, is based on the novel Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella.
  • In the film Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella goes to Boston to find a reclusive novelist named Terrence Mann.
  • In the novel Shoeless Joe, Ray Kinsella goes to New Hampshire to find a reclusive novelist named J. D. Salinger.

That’s right: Terrence Mann is loosely-based on J. D. Salinger. And I say “loosely-based,” because Salinger is not a large, black man with a voice that sounds suspiciously like Mufasa. But like Terrence Mann, both the real-life J. D. Salinger and the character J. D. Salinger from the novel Shoeless Joe are hermits who stopped writing (or at least, stopped publishing their writing) at the peaks of their careers.

Incidentally, you really can’t teach Catcher without talking about Salinger’s biography; over the years, it seems more people are more interested in what Salinger hasn’t written in the past forty years than anything he’s ever has actually written. (You can find out more on Salinger’s perculiar reclusiveness in the documentary, J. D. Salinger Does Not Want to Talk.) And the Terrence Mann character provides a way to segue into Salinger’s infamous reclusiveness.

Beyond the Mann-Salinger connection, the film shares some thematic connections withCatcher. You can find the real biggie in Terrence Mann’s famous climactic speech. (Come on: You know the words– say it along with us!)

“People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.

People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

The whole speech, and especially the parts I italicized, is about the biggest dream of them all: regaining childhood innocence. And Ray’s field makes that impossibility possible. That’s why those thousands of cars show up at the end: to get back to a time when there were no mortgages, no gambling scandals, no fallen heroes. That’s childhood, essentially.

Holden desperately wants a place like Ray’s field. He wants to be the “catcher in the rye,” the guardian who keeps kids from losing their innocence, from falling from grace. He knows it can’t happen in real life, but he wants it anyway. (Of course, a place like Ray’s field can happen in the movies– an artform which Holden claims to hate. If Holden actually saw Field of Dreams, he’d probably dismiss it as being “corny” or “phony.” Or at least, he’d say those things, but who knows what he’d really feel deep down? )

Holden’s desire to be a “catcher in the rye” relates to his fundamental fear of change. This seems odd to say, since he has been to four different high schools, but Holden can’t deal with change and flux. This relates to one of the most important and most overlooked symbol in the book, for my money– just as significant as the “catcher in the rye” symbol: the “big glass cases,” which Holden talks about at the end of Chapter 16.

Holden marvels at how the “big glass cases” you find at museums preserve things: they keep objects and moments frozen in time. “Certain things they should stay the way they are,” Holden says. “You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.”

Holden could probably really use a place like Ray’s ballfield, a place where time stands still, where the flux of life is held in stasis. Basically, the Iowa ballfield is the equivalent of Holden’s “big glass case.”

Of course, if Holden heard a voice telling him to build a baseball field, he would never do it. For one thing, building the field takes work; Holden won’t even pick up the phone to call Jane Gallagher. In addition, Holden, despite all his posturing, is too concerned with what everyone else thinks about him. (Remember, in the movie, all the locals think Ray Kinsella’s crazy, the “biggest horse’s ass in three counties.”)

Finally, Holden is too self-absorbed to do something to help someone else. And that’s really what the building of the field was for Ray. Just like he said to Shoeless Joe near the end of the film, “I never once asked what’s in it for me.” And his selflessness allowed Ray to realize his dream of playing catch with his dad. Holden’s a lot of things, but you’d never really call him selfless.

There are other smaller connections too (Allie’s baseball mitt with the poems on it, the name “Richard Kinsella” appears in Catcher), but the connections I detailed above get to the heart of both texts. Showing the movie in conjunction with the novel highlights the themes in both texts; plus, it’s an excuse to show a timeless classic in class. And maybe, if you get “meta” with me for a moment, that timelessness can be a connection in itself.

Serendipity time: this past weekend, I was watching the Red Sox-Orioles game, and Kevin Costner was in the booth with Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy. (Some of Field of Dreams, remember, was shot at Fenway.) And Costner was saying that, while making millions at the box office is nice, he’s more interested in making movies that stand tghe test of time. (I’m paraphrasing, but that was the general gist of it.)

Well, he may not have passed the “test of time” with Dragonfly, but he definitely did with Field of Dreams. The film has aged well– so well, in fact, that it doesn’t age. And in that sense, the film Field of Dreams is like the “field of dreams” it showcases. Maybe Holden’s idea of the “big glass case” is not so impossible after all.

So, last week, I went out for a short jog, and I had an idea. (Yeah, I had the idea a week ago… it just took a while for me to write the darn thing…) Anyway, the idea Running Musicwas this: why not write a blog entry on the songs randomly playing on my iPod during my run? Hey, it’s just as inane as 91% of all the other stuff on the Web, right? So, in a very much particular order:

“Runaway,” Bon Jovi: Even though this song is their first hit (in fact, it essentially pre-dates the band, in that Bon Jovi the guy was performing it before he assembled Bon Jovi the band), I just figured out the lyrics recently– as in, like, today.

To me, the song was always about a girl who turned to prostitution because her daddy never showed her love when she was a kid. The lyric at the beginning about the gaudily made-up women lays the groundwork for this interpretation, and the “Now she works the night away” line at the end cliches it.  But then there’s that part in the second verse, that begins “Now you sit home alone ’cause there’s nothing left for you to do.”  What’s that all about?

Then I realized I was falling victim to that ol’ poetic pitfall: ambiguous pronouns.  See, the song makes reference to a “you,” only sometimes the “you” is the girl, and sometimes, the “you” is the dad.  So in the second verse, the “you” is the dad sitting home, looking at pictures of his daughter, beating himself up for not being there for her when she was younger and thus sending her down this path of self-destruction. So, really, this song is about the importance of paternal love in shaping a child’s fate.

And thus, I have spent more time thinking about this song than perhaps anyone else in the world (with the possible exception of Bon Jovi himself).

“You Give Love a Bad Name,” Bon Jovi: Hey, whaddaya know?  Two Bon Jovi songs in a row, even though I had the iPod on shuffle!  What are the odds?  (Actually, I guess I could figure out the odds quite easily: 529 songs on the iPod, 10 of which are Bon Jovi. Of course, the same song is not going to play twice in a row, so that means… Ahh, screw it.  I lost interest.)

When I was out running, I almost skipped this one, not only because it came on the heels of another JBJ song, but because, after nearly twenty-eight years, I have perhaps grown a little weary of it. Heck, after twenty-eight years, even Bon Jovi himself is probably sick of it.

This got me thinking: Is “You Give Love a Bad Name” Bon Jovi’s “signature song”?  I mean, it’s one of his signature songs… but is it THE signature song? I’d probably give the honors to “Livin’ on a Prayer”… but it’s close. (And where does “Wanted Dead or Alive” fit in?  Is it a dark horse?)

“Doctor My Eyes,” Jackson Browne:  Juxtaposin’ Jackson gives us a great contrast here, with the upbeat piano coupled with sort of depressing lyrics.  And apparently, the first incarnation of the song was even grimmer. The central metaphor of the song has always been the same: a guy goes to see a doctor because he believes he’s having problems with his eyes– particularly, his tear ducts don’t seem to be working.  But the doctor can’t help him because the guy’s problem is not physical but metaphysical: the guy has soured on everything he’s seen in life and has “learned how not to cry.”

At the urging of some record company folks, Jackson removed some of the more pessimistic lyrics (e.g. a reference to an “Angel of Darkness”), sped up the piano, and added bongos. The result is Jackson Browne’s first big hit and a surprisingly great running song– yes, even better than “Running on Empty.”

“Bad,” U2: Another surprisingly great running song– and I say “surprising,” because it’s allegedly about heroin abuse. Even though never released as a single, this is the song that made U2 the Best! Band! in the World! back in 1985, thanks to Bono’s antics at Live Aid.  If you haven’t seen the Live Aid performance, check it out, especially the part where Bono jumps into the crowd and embraces two female fans, after the security plucks them out of the packed-like-sardines crowd.

The name “Bad” is actually fitting, since the Live Aid performance has a “Bad” news/ “Good” news thing going on:

“Bad” News:  the crowd interaction (plus some snippets from Lou Reed and the Rolling Stones, which Bono threw in) stretched “Bad” out to twelve minutes, which meant they didn’t have time for their third song (“Pride”).  As a result, the band was initially disappointed with their set; in a 1987 interview, guitarist Edge admitted, “We came offstage after Live Aid, and we thought we had really blown it.”

“Good” News: fans really appreciated Bono’s spontaneous persistence in getting to those fans, the song sounded great, and the whole thing put U2 on the mainstream map.

“Boy in the Bubble,” Paul Simon Not necessarily a great running song (with that funky, South African piano accordion), but a fascinating song nonetheless.   To me, the song is about advances in technology, both good and bad:  the “boy in the bubble and the baby with the baboon heart” (good) juxtaposed with the “lasers in the jungle somewhere” (bad).  Allegedly, Paul Simon once said the song is about “hope and dread… but coming down on the side of hope,” and I guess the repetition of “these are the days of miracle and wonder” in the chorus underscores that sense of hope. (For a way more advanced analysis of this and apparently every other Paul Simon song, click here.)

By the way, is  “boy in the bubble and the baby with the baboon heart” just about the best alliteration in pop music? At the very least, it’s tied with Warren Zevon’s “little old lady got mutilated late last night” from “Werewolves of London”…

“Here’s Where the Story Ends,” The SundaysAnd here is where the run ends, as it turns out. Great song, and I love the poetry of the line “a little souvenir of a terrible year.”  As for the rest of the lyrics?  In truth, I couldn’t understand all of them; even when I went back and finally read the lyrics, I didn’t understand them. (Who knew she was talking about a “shed” in the chorus?  What happened there?)  But I love the sound nonetheless, and I always thought it should have been more popular.

And there it is– the musical score for that day’s run.  I’ve heard some folks say that they don’t like to listen to music as they jog, but personally, I don’t know how you could run without music.  A good song can get your feet moving as well as your mind– and even give you the material for a blog post.

promposals“So, you’re saying skywriting’s out, then?”

“I’d say so.”

Scotty knew whom he wanted to ask to the junior prom: Jill, from AP Biology.  He just didn’t know how to ask her.  And as any sixteen-year-old Romeo-in-training can attest, the “how” is infinitely more important than the “whom.”

His peers—guys not just at school but across America, for the past five or six years—have set the bar almost impossibly high as far as promposals are concerned.  You have the Showstoppers, who make the whole school their stage, by asking their potential dates over the intercom or at an assembly.  Or the It-Takes-a-Villagers, who enlist the aid of friends, teachers, principals, even custodians in their quest for a dance partner.   (Example: teacher hands out a pop quiz, except one girl gets a special quiz with a single question: “Will you go to the prom with Joe?”)

And let’s not forget the Spellers, who inscribe “P-R-O-M?” on every imaginable surface:  on ceilings, in glow-in-the-dark stars; on car windshields, with a thousand sticky-notes; and, of course, on food items—donuts, cupcakes, and pizza (delivered to the date’s front door by an unsuspecting pizza-guy).

Scotty didn’t know how he could possibly top these Promposal Wizards.  He only knew that his attempt had to pass the C.U.B. Test: it had to be Creative, Unique, and Bold.

“Here’s a thought,” Scotty’s mother said one afternoon. “Why not just ask her—you know, with words?”

“Are you kidding?” Scotty scoffed. “No one does that anymore.”

“I don’t know. It seems like it’s all getting a little out of control…”

A little? Scotty thought to himself.  A little out of control?  It’s  ridiculously, outrageously, obscenely out of control.  All of it. He knew senior girls who spent over $700 on their proms.  If everything else about the night is over-the-top, why should the asking be any different?

“Maybe you should try something simple,” Mom continued. “Buy a single rose, go to where she works, and just ask her. Girls love that kind of stuff.”

“No, it has to be a Grand Gesture,” Scotty said. “Remember the three criteria: Creative, Unique, and Bold.”

“Wow. You’ve given this a lot of thought.  I didn’t think guys even cared about proms.”

“We don’t,” Scotty assured her. “But when one guy comes up with a clever idea, we all have to scramble to think of something better.”

“So, all this madness is the result of an over-developed, hyper-masculine sense of competition then?”

“Well, that… but it’s also about hedging our bets,” Scotty explained.  “It’s harder for a girl to turn you down when you make such a public display of the whole thing.”

“Or you can look at it another way,” Mom countered.  “You’re afraid that she might say no, so you want to make the whole asking process as impersonal as possible.”

Scotty considered what she said for a moment.  But only a moment. “This is how it’s done now, Mom,” he insisted. “So you want to help me or not?”

His mother shook her head.  “I just wonder what you guys plan on doing when you get older, and you want to ask someone to marry you.  If you’re going to such lengths for prom, what will you do for an actual marriage proposal?  Pay NASA to write ‘Marry Me?’ on the moon?”

“Now you’re being absurd. Focus.  I’ll throw some ideas out, and you tell me what you think. How about I’ll make an elaborate YouTube video, involving all of her friends and family, like that guy did to the Bruno Mars song a few years ago?”

“Sounds like a lot of work.”

“How organizing a flash mob?”

“Even more work.”

“How about a Flamingo Flocking kind of thing, where I go to her house in the middle of the night and spell out the word ‘PROM’ in pink flamingos on her front lawn?”

“Too… weird.”

“How about I buy her a kitten, and I attach a fake prom ticket to its collar?  And then afterwards she gets to keep the kitten!”

“No, no, no!  Scotty, you can’t involve a living creature in your crazy scheme– especially since the odds are pretty good you might not ever talk to this girl again after this one night!”

Scotty gave up. His mother clearly didn’t understand. But her words must have seeped through because later that night, Scotty thought of a brilliant promposal.

Was it Creative?  Well, not necessarily.  But it was definitely Unique, something no one at school would even consider.  And was it ever Bold.  In fact, it might be the boldest thing he had ever done.

The next morning, he was going to walk over to Jill while she was at her locker and say, “Would you like to go to the prom with me?”  In a million years, she’d never expect it.

He toyed around with his mom’s idea of buying her a single rose.  But then he thought, “Naahh.”  Just seemed too much.

Note from Mark:  Please keep the family and friends of Maren Sanchez– the young woman from Milford, CT who was fatally stabbed on  the day of her prom just over a week ago.   

Ultimate Ending

“Well, Vince asked me a couple years ago (to go into the WWE Hall of Fame)… and I said no.  I said they had to tell the right story. So we negotiated for two years to get to the place where I knew they’re going to tell the right story.”

Ultimate Warrior (during an exclusive interview on WWE.com, posted April 5, 2014)

Ultimate WarriorFor almost two decades, Ultimate Warrior’s story was one without an ending.  It had colorful, larger-than-life characters. It had stirring (albeit somewhat indecipherable) speeches.  Most of all, it had conflict– and not just the “between the ropes” kinds of conflicts, but the “multiple-terminations/ protracted lawsuits/disparaging DVDs” kinds of conflicts.   Yes, The Ultimate Warrior’s story had it all… just not an ending.

And honestly, it didn’t seem an ultimate ending was coming anytime soon, at least as far as Warrior’s relationship with World Wrestling Entertainment, the company that made him a star, was concerned.  There was just too much bad blood between the two.

And just how bad was the blood? Well, in 2005, the WWE released a DVD entitled The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior, which alleged (among other things) that Warrior (a) couldn’t wrestle and was reckless with his opponents; (b) refused to go out for his SummerSlam 1991 match unless he got a raise; and (c) was a stand-offish jerk that none of the other wrestlers could stand.

Now, I admit: I bought the DVD and found it entertaining.  But I also acknowledge it was completely one-sided and pretty mean-spirited.  At the very least, it didn’t help mend any fences between Warrior and his former employer.

Then, several months ago, came the announcement wrestling fans thought they’d never hear: the Ultimate Warrior was being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.  Upon hearing the news, all members of the WWE Universe seemingly had the same reactions: (1) How cool is that? and (2) What is his acceptance speech going to be like?

Will he give a signature “speaking-in-tongues” promo, complete with a lot of snorts and bizarre imagery? Will he go off on an ultra-conservative political rant (as he was known to do in his “real” life)?  Will he tee off on everyone involved in the Self-Destruction DVD?  WWE promised they were going to give Warrior a live mic, so it was anyone’s guess.

As it turns out, on the night of the Hall of Fame, Warrior didn’t do any of those things.  Yeah, he addressed the DVD, said that it angered him and made him sad (without ever really conceding that he may have played a part in the contentious relationship he had with WWE).  But mostly he remained upbeat: he congratulated superstar John Cena for all the work he does with the Make-A-Wish Foundation; he suggested that the WWE use the Hall of Fame to honor not only the superstars on camera but the unsung heroes who work behind the scenes; he said he was excited to serve as an “ambassador” for the WWE; and most of all, he expressed his love for his wife and two daughters. (“The most awesome thing I will ever do,” he told his daughters from the podium, “is be your father.”)

That was Saturday night, April 5th.  On Sunday night, April 6th, Warrior made an appearance at WrestleMania XXX, in front of 75,000 fans in the New Orleans Superdome chanting his name.  And on Monday night, April 7th, for the first time in eighteen years, Warrior appeared on Monday Night Raw and delivered an old-school Ultimate Warrior promo– complete with rope-shaking.

And on Tuesday, April 7th, while walking to his car with his wife, Warrior died of a massive heart attack.

This isn’t the first time wrestling fans had to hear that one of their favorites dropped dead.  (Warrior was 54, which sadly is a little on the old side as far as wrestling deaths are concerned.)  But Warrior’s death is unusual for two main reasons.

First, his death comes right on the heels of his homecoming.  Many wrestlers have been on the outs with the WWE at the time of their death.  But Warrior came back– to the company, to the fans, to the limelight.  That makes a big difference.  Compare the attention Warrior’s death is getting to the meager testimonies given to Randy “Macho Man” Savage, who died back in May 2011 (also of a heart attack).  Back in the 80s and early 90s, Savage had been just as big a star as the Warrior (if not a bigger star), but when he died, he had been gone from the WWE for seventeen years.  Warrior came back, if for only a few days.  But he came back.

The second thing that makes Warrior’s death so unusual  is that we essentially got to hear his “last words”– not his actual last words, of course, but his character’s last words.  And man, are those words bizarrely fitting. Here’s what he said in his eerily prescient final promo on Raw, April 7th:

 No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe a final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others, and makes them believe deeper in something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized– by the storytellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him and make the running the man did live forever.

You, you, you, you, you, you are the legend-makers of Ultimate Warrior. In the back, I see many potential legends, some of them with warrior spirits. And you will do the same for them. You will decide if they lived with the passion and intensity. So much so that you will tell your stories and you will make them legends, as well. I am Ultimate Warrior. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans. And the spirit of Ultimate Warrior will run forever!

When I think about that speech, that de facto eulogy, I keep returning to that line from Twelfth Night: “If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn in as an improbable fiction.” (Yep, I just quoted Shakespeare in an  Ultimate Warrior tribute.)  Truly, if this happened in a movie– the prodigal son returning home and then suddenly dying, not twenty-four hours after delivering a speech about beating hearts and eternal spirits– I’d dismiss it as hopelessly corny. But it actually happened.  In real life.

In terms of years, Ultimate Warrior’s career in the WWE was relatively short.  But he definitely made an impact.  You can say the same thing about his death.  It’s sort of like a pay-per-view event:  if your last match is memorable, you can sort of forgive some of the less impressive stuff on the undercard.  You need that great ending. And Warrior got that.  It’s a tragic ending, certainly, but it’s a great one.

In an online interview that aired just three days before his death, Warrior said he wanted to make sure that the WWE told the right “story” as far as the Ultimate Warrior’s character is concerned. As it turns out, they didn’t need to.  The Ultimate Warrior’s story– complete with its ultimate ending– tells itself.




It’s time, once again, to GO GREEN or Go Home.  It’s our 2nd annual, 17-question St. Patrick Literary Quiz. (To see last year’s quiz, click here.)  All questions have to do with Irish stuff– Irish writers, Irish-American writers, Irish characters, or even just random Irish literary references.  Answers follow. We wish you all the luck o’ the Irish!

1. For James Joyce aficionados, what is the significance of June 16,1904?

a. the birthday of Joyce’s daughter Lucia
b. the day Ulysses is set
c. the day that Michael Furey (from “The Dead”) died after waiting in the rain outside Gretta’s window

2. In the Harry Potter series, what is the name of the Irish-born Gryffindor student and best friend of Dean Thomas?Seamus_FinnigansG

a. Bartemius Crouch Jr.
b. Colin Creevey
c. Seamus Finnigan

3.  In The Secret of Roan Inish (based on the the book The Secret of Ron Mor Skerry, by Rosalie K. Fry) is inspired by Irish legend of skin-shedding seals who become human. What are these seals called?

a. corkles
b. cormorants
c. selkies

4. What is the full name of Oscar Wilde?

a.  Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde
b.  Oscar Felix O’Connor Wilde
c.  Oscar Sullivan McConville Stuart Wilde

5. In Yeats’ poem “The Wild Swans at Coole,” how many swans does the narrator see during his earlier visit to Coole Park?

a.  46
b.  59
c.  99

6. Irish author Eoin Colfer is best known for penning which book series?

a. Artemis Fowl
b. Warriors
c. Cirque du Freak

Gulliver's challenge

7. In Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the Lilliputians are at war with a race of people over how to open eggs.  The Lilliputians prefer to open the little end.  Which race of people are also known as “Big-Enders”?

a.  Brobdignagians
b.  Blefescudians
c.  Laputans

8.  Why get off the topic of Gulliver so swiftly?  (Pun, pun…)  What is the name of the race of intelligent horses in the last part of GT?

a.  Houyhnhnms
b. Struyldbrugs
c. Yahoos

9. Which of the following is the name of a Marian Keyes novel?

a. Mango
b. Strawberry
c. Watermelon

10. Seamus Heaney died last year, on August 30, 2013. According to his son Michael, minutes before he died, he sent his last words to his wife via text message.  The message?  The Latin words “Noli timere.”  What does that mean in English?

a. “It’s time.”
b. “Don’t be afraid.”
c. “This is not the end.”

11. Which Irish-born author wrote The Country Girls Trilogy?

a. Edna O’Brien
b. Maeve Binchy
c. Emily Lawless

12. How does the ending to George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion differ from that of the musical/ film My Fair Lady?

a. Pygmalion: Professor Henry Higgins gets into a boating accident and dies; My Fair Lady, he survives the accident.
b. Pygmalion: Eliza Doolittle rejects Higgins; My Fair Lady: Higgins realizes he misses her, and she comes back to him.
c. Pygmalion: Eliza married Colonel Pickering; My Fair Lady: Eliza marries Freddy Eynsford-Hill

13.  In his song “Rave On,” Van Morrison alludes to which of the following poets?

a. John Donne
b. Walt Whitman
c. William Butler Yeats
d. All of the above

14. Which Irish-born mutant superhero had a brief tenure with the X-Men?

a. Banshee
b. Gambit
c. Havoc

15. In Oscar Wilde’s novel, who is the painter of the titular picture of Dorian Gray?

a. Alan Campbell
b. Lord Henry Wolton
c. Basil Hallward

16.  In Hamlet, which character swears “by Saint Patrick”?

a. Ophelia
b. Hamlet
c. Polonius

17. Complete this James Joyce quotation: “The demand I make of my reader is that he should devote ______________ to reading my books.”

a. “one hour a day”
b. “three days a week”
c. “his whole life”


  1.  b. the day Ulysses is set
  2. c. Seamus Finnigan
  3. c. selkies
  4. a.  Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde
  5. b. 59
  6. a. Artemis Fowl
  7. b.  Blefescudians
  8. a.  Houyhnhnms
  9. c. Watermelon
  10. b. Don’t be afraid
  11. a. Edna O’Brien
  12. b. In My Fair Lady, Eliza returns to Higgins, but in Shaw’s original version, she leaves him
  13. d. All of the above
  14. a. Banshee
  15. c. Basil Hallward
  16. b. Hamlet (Act I, sc. 5, while talking to Horatio)
  17. c. “his whole life”

How’d You Do?

15-17 Correct: Pot o’ Gold!

11-14 Correct: Shamrock-star!

6-10 Correct: Lucky Guesser

2-5 Correct: Green around the Gills

0-1 Correct: Potato Famine

the_lego_movie_2014-wideNote from Mark: The Oscars are this Sunday, and I probably won’t be watching– solely because I haven’t seen any of the movies up for any of the major awards.  But in honor of the Oscars, I thought I would re-post an article related to a movie I did see–
The Lego Movie (still #1 at the box office, by my last count).

This piece, whcih originally appeared in an online newspaper called The Faster Times way back in August 2011, is about the  “new” way of playing with Lego’s.  And what is the new way?  Basically, it involves following the instructions, building something cool… and never taking it apart again.

This bothered me on two levels. As a former Lego aficionado myself, this “one and done” seemed completely foreign and not particularly fun.  And as a parent, it seemed a huge waste of money.

Apparently, I am not the only one who wonders about this.  When I recently saw The Lego Movie with my son, I was intrigued to see that the filmmakers brilliantly worked the “following the instructions vs. following your imagination” debate INTO the film.    

Anyway, here’s the original post, from August 2011…

My 11-year-old son and I had reached an ideological impasse. Naturally, it involved Legos.

From the moment he wrapped his tiny, toddler fingers around a big red Duplo, Charlie has had a love affair with Legos—one that my wife and I wholeheartedly endorsed. Granted, i

t’s not the cheapest hobby out there. (I’m looking at you, $1800Ultimate Collector’s Millennium Falcon!) Nor is it the neatest; thanks to the crunch-coating of little bricks scattered all over the place, I haven’t seen our playroom carpet for seven years. But we can overlook the downsides of Lego-collecting, because the mini-figures are cute, and because playing with Legos fires the imagination and sparks creativity.

I mean… they do, right? At least, they did back in the 1970s, when I was first introduced to the infectious little bricks. Oh, sure, the Lego-folks would provide simple instructions, and I’d follow them—once. But I always found more satisfaction in creating something on my own—a boxy spaceship, say, or an asymmetrical, multicolored house. I didn’t always have the exact

right piece I needed, but I improvised. And finally, after hours of painstaking, hunched-over work, I beheld my completed masterpiece… for about three minutes, at which point I took the thing apart and started building something else.

My son Charlie, however, takes a different approach.

Charlie, you see, was born into the age of “sets”—pre-fab collections such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Atlantis, Power Miners, Ninjago. Of course, growing up, I had sets, too, but they were nowhere near as intricate and sophisticated as these bad boys. In fact, the vehicles and buildings contained in these modern sets are almost too intricate and sophisticated—to the point that you don’t want to take them apart. Ever.

And even if Charlie did feel inspired to take apart one of his creations, he may find himself faced with a curious problem: some of the pieces required to make the original contraption are so specific, so particular to that set, he may have trouble using them for anything else.

So, yes, Lego sets have evolved, but you have to wonder: have they evolved to the point where they actually discourage the imagination and creativity that they’re supposed to instill?

Basically, it comes down to a battle of wills: on one side, you have me, a product of the generation that believes that Lego creations aren’t meant to be models or monoliths, that the new sets tend to straitjacket creativity, and that building something once seems like an incredible waste of money. Then, across the divide, you have my son Charlie, who puts his sets together with an engineer’s precision, who has plenty of imagination, thank you very much, and who considers deliberately dismantling something you labored for hours on a waste of time. Besides, why would you take apart something as freakin’ cool as the Ninjago “Garmadon’s Dark Fortress”?

Hence, the ideological impasse.

And this isn’t just me being a crank—or if it is, at least I have some company. A September 5, 2009 New York Times article quotes child psychologist who has my back on this issue: “When you have a less structured, less themed set, kids have the ability to start from scratch,” says Dr. Jonathan Sinowitz. “When you have kids playing out Indiana Jones, they’re playing o

ut Hollywood’s imagination, not their own.”

And a gentleman known only as Seth who writes for the site MoxieBird puts it this way: “When you buy your kid a Lego set today, you’re buying 300 pieces that have no magic inside. They’re created to be used in very specific, singular ways. And by the time your kid is finished building with them, it’ll be attributed to his or her ability to follow instructions really, really well.”

Flanked by these experts and utterly convinced of my self-righteousness, I decided to give my son a patented “when-I-was-a-lad” lecture about the proper way to play with Legos. Before I did, though, I thought I’d look at things from Charlie’s point of view. And I mean, literally: I crouched down and really examined one of his newer sets, the “Portal of Atlantis.”

I survey the black-and-maroon temple, home to the evil, trident-wielding Portal Emperor and his Squid-Warrior goons, finally fixing my eyes on the ominous shark façade in the center.

I tug on the shark’s head as its jaws yawn open to reveal a set of stairs leading to the Portal, a circular doorway with eight crystal fangs that can only be unlocked by the turn of a special key, one of five keys spread throughout the ocean. Once opened, the intrepid divers can finally gain access to the mythical kingdom for which they’ve long been searching: the lost city of Atlantis.

And as I toured through this rich, textured world (and read up on the back-story provided by Lego.com), a realization washed over me: what a neat place to play.

See, I don’t really remember “playing” a lot with Legos as a kid. The creating was the playing. Not only that, but our end products weren’t necessarily worth playing with. Look at the sets available thirty years ago. A house. A police station. The occasional fire boat. And another house. Quaint and all, sure… but honestly, how far can you go with those?

On the other hand, this new generation of Lego enthusiasts actually plays with their

creations. Just the other day, for example, I overheard Charlie playing with his Lego Slave 1, the infinitely cool spaceship piloted by Boba Fett. When I asked him what he was doing, he explained, “Well, Bossk hijacked the Slave 1, so Boba Fett had to get into a police car to get him.”

The fact is, they do play, these kids. They do play with their Legos. It may be a different kind of play than I’m used to, but who am I to say it’s not

“play”? Who made me the Emperor of the Imagination Portal?

So have I softened on my “Legos Kill Creativity” stance? I was suspecting I might be, but then something happened recently that confirmed it. I was trying to unearth something in our perennially cluttered playroom, when I saw my son’s Slave 1 on the floor. The inner geek in me came to the surface (it didn’t have far to travel), and I picked up the hallowed vehicle to marvel at it. Naturally, in the process of handling it, part of the front hull crumbled apart.

Now, I could have left it partially disassembled, in the hopes that it would force Charlie into building something new, something different. But I didn’t. In truth, it didn’t even occur to me. Instead, I immediately and instinctively picked up the fallen pieces and delicately put the ship back together. After all, this is the Slave 1, for crying out loud: How could I let it fall into disrepair? Besides, Charlie may have some unfinished playing to do.

Lego Slave 1


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