Brander Matthews was one of the purist theatrical geniuses we’ve had in, and around, the intellectual American Stage. Brander rightly believed a play only existed in performance and that the performance and the text must be evaluated separately. He was also one of the first professors at an American University — Columbia University in the City of New York starting in 1892 — to promote, and foster, the idea that Dramatic Literature was just as important a field of study as any historic cave wall painting or artistic sculpture or aesthetic structure. He believed in the power of the Playwright to form the world.
Technology is amazing when it can bring back the best of the past and press it forward with new life into the future. Now that SoundCloud is here — and is a reliable and robust service — I have finally been able to bring together a series of 12 voicemails Dr. Howard Stein left for me in 2011 — he died a year later at 90 — and, with his expressed permission then, as now, I am able to share them with you to help create an arc of a man and his mind in collaboration.
Yesterday, I received the one phone call I’d been dreading for over 30 years: “Howard Stein is dead.” It turns out Howard died back on October 14, 2012 after an eight-day hospitalization, but I didn’t learn of his death until yesterday. I knew he was deathly ill the last year, and when his surgeon recently refused to do a final operation, Howard told me his heart had finally turned against him and become a “ticking time bomb.”
As I paged back through my calendar for the last six weeks to memorialize the final events of my life with Howard, I reflected back on our final telephone conversation on October 1, 2012. He told me how much he appreciated the letter I wrote celebrating his 90th birthday. He said he read the letter every day. That meant a lot to me. He was my master.
One the first day of October, Howard and I left it that Janna and I would visit him in Stamford, and that he would check his doctor schedule and call me back to let us know what day would work best.
I never heard from him again.
A week later he was in the hospital — never to see the sky again.
As you can see in the graphic below, I tried to call him on October 5th and 11th to check on our visit date. There was nobody home when I called. On October 22 and November 13 I wrote him letters — our one, ancient, guaranteed way of always getting in touch when time and tide and humanity and the phones failed us — to inquire about the visit.
I had no idea was writing to a dead man.
Now I know how Bartleby really felt working in the Dead Letter Office.
Matt Damon recently stood up for teachers and the teaching profession. He crushes the Peter Thiel method of thinking about education, as I described, on April 26, 2011:
Society is materialistic. The university used to be a safe haven where ideas mattered and thoughts were given greater standing than finding ways to make more money. Peter Thiel believes higher education is a bubble ready for the bursting — but you can only agree with Thiel’s thesis if you also believe students attend university to get a job. I don’t happen to purchase his premise. I believe students should attend university in order to learn what they do not know.
In our day, it is often a necessity for teachers to get second jobs just to make ends meet. There are teachers that pull pints for tips in the evening and those who work retail jobs in addition to their teaching duties. I know someone who is a tutor outside of the school for the children of wealthy New Yorkers and makes a tidy second income from that. Is there a line that must be drawn that distinguishes what is acceptable as a secondary source of income — and what is not? For critics of teacher Judy Buranich, the line is drawn at the writing of literary erotica — regardless of the fact that Ms. Buranich writes under a pen name.
Deanna Stepp, mother of a district student, said: “We are not questioning Mrs. Buranich’s teaching credentials. We are not even questioning her ability as a writer … . What we’re questioning is that the two jobs are not compatible with one another.”
I remember a time when, as a kid, getting candy OUT of your hair was a major, momentary, catastrophe that was only resolvable with a pair of scissors. The resultant bald patch was your mark of dishonor for playing so poorly with such sticky candy. I was, of course, curious to read about the recent Jolly Rancher in Your Hair Affair where a mother purposefully put Jolly Rancher candy in her child’s hair and then sent said child off to school for photo day. Here’s a random image of what “Your Hair in Jolly Ranchers” looks like:
When I was, perhaps, nine-years-old or so, I was required to sculpt an art project out of clay. Others in my class created the clay expected: Animals, their Initials, flowers, and cars. I, for some reason, decided to create a life-sized Winston cigarette pack — flush with a few cigs sticking up out of the top.