Siege Diaries 3/9/2021

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Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt:  Who is my role model?  Why?

This is a difficult one for me to answer.  The associated meditation makes it clear that by “role model”, they mean someone I know personally, not a famous person or other more typical “hero.”  Fair enough–as much as I may admire an Eleanor Roosevelt or an Elizabeth Warren, I have no idea of what they are or were like beyond their public personas.  And when I think about friends and associates, I can’t say that any one or two of them are so heads and shoulders above the others that I would elevate them to the status of “role model.”  I like to think that the people I am closest to are not only talented or fun to be around, but also exemplify one or more of my own core values.  But to put them on a pedestal does them an injustice, turns them into a two-dimensional caricature to be worshipped rather than a flesh-and-blood person.

But there are a couple of people who might actually claim that title of “role model”–I’m thinking of three particular teachers.  Mrs. McCullough was my 9th grade General Science teacher, and was responsible for stoking an interest in science into something I planned to make my career.  I remember how strict we thought she was the first day of class, when actually what she did was to challenge you to be your best.  Combine that with passion for her subject and genuine caring, and it’s clear her fame was well-deserved.  I got to work with her with a group of fellow students sitting the annual Ohio Tests of Scholastic Achievement exams, and, as I found out was typical, her ability to prepare us was so outstanding that our team won first place in the State (I finished fourth in the state individually).  And she did this year after year.

The second teacher was Mr. Wagner, my senior year British Literature teacher.  He was THE English teacher you wanted to have during my high school years.  Studying various British authors and poets was not simply a matter of reading and analyzing their works;  we learned about their lives and the eras they lived in.  When we studied Beowulf, he rearranged the desks into longships while he intoned the Old English words to give the class a feel for saga literature.  We learned all about Chaucer’s life–his ups and downs.  When we studied Wordsworth, there were photos of the real Tintern Abbey that inspired the famous poem.  Shelley and Byron’s circle came to life as well.  Thirty-five years later, I’m amazed how much I retained.  And all it took was a teacher who went above and beyond to bring these works to life.

Finally, there was Prof. Balcer.  He was probably somewhat responsible for turning me away from the sciences trajectory that I had been on at Ohio State.  Like Mrs. McCullough, he demanded much of his students.  If there weren’t two spaces after a period in the papers you wrote for him, or if you somehow deviated from Chicago style, your paper would become a sea of red.  The first paper I wrote from him received an A- mostly for these reasons–but it was the last to be dinged for easily-correctible errors.  (He’s essentially the teacher who taught me to edit).  But none of this wouldn’t have meant a thing had he not been such an amazing scholar and teacher.  History 600 (Ancient Near East) became perhaps my favourite undergrad course.  It was packed full of info drawn from archaeological expeditions (from Schliemann on down), tons of slides of artifacts, and examination of historical texts.  He was a renowned scholar himself, speaking or reading 12 languages, and he was a tremendous mentor to his students.  I still remember his end of class charge, “Don’t get run over!”

I think it’s because of these three teachers, and others like them, that I have always tried to find a way to teach, to try my best to pass on knowledge and to inspire others to be curious.  All three of them mixed intellectual rigor with passion and a real sense of fun.  They made a difference in my life.

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I was reminded about the fast-approaching one-year anniversary today of the Great Change when I got out for a walk for the first time in weeks.  It was an unusually warm and sunny day, and the trails behind my house were fairly well-traveled.  In the area close to home, you could hear the songs of cardinals, but further along, in the woods themselves, there was silence.  Even the squirrels were largely quiet (you can one void rat in the photo above).  I have photos from the early days of lockdown last year that echo what I saw today–melting snow, the rush of a waterfall still partially frozen, patches of mud, the leafless trees creating jagged shadows on the ground or against the clear blue sky.  We have come this way before.

Today I spent some time with the light table and my finished embroidery, cleaning up the spots where the stitches were a bit thin, before doing the final mount on the stretcher bars. What I like best about this one is that seen at thumbnail size or from a distance, it looks more or less like the photograph it is based on–you can’t tell it’s embroidered.   Total time for this one was about 40 hours.

I reordered some of my silk threads today.  I was playing a bit of thread chicken towards the end of this one, and although I made it through with some to spare, I know there will be more of these.  I am enjoying this process of turning black-and-white photos into embroidery too much, and learning more each time I do one.

And I made a start on the little embroidery kit I got from Zulily. Of course, I couldn’t do a cross stitch project without having gotten the count wrong and needing to take some out.  Hopefully that’ll be the last time.  Pics once it starts to look like something.

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