Here we are at "It's a Grind," our favorite local cafe. I'd like to pretend it's a dive, but it's really not and, right now, the only "divey" thing about it is the sea of coffee filtering around at my feet, remnants of what once inhabited this bright, beautiful, huge red mug Dustin was drinking coffee out of. That, too, is smashed. Ladies and gentlemen, let me re-introduce myself as one of the world's biggest klutzes. In all fairness, the catastrophic blow to the mug was not entirely my fault, since Dustin placed it directly behind my laptop, out of my line of sight. How could he know I'd turn my computer and send the mug flying? How could I know the mug was even there? Que sera sera.
We've come to this cafe in an attempt to refocus our attentions on schoolwork. For Dustin's part, he has been diligently reading books as if his brain has an unappeasable, ravenous appetite for them. I have been alternating between reading for my first week of teaching next week and revising my memoir. While we've both been rather dedicated, the semester will, no doubt, be hectic and even us studious, academic-types need a break from the same old setting; our home office filled with so many books it makes me dizzy just thinking about them. In fact, just before we left the house, we were fitting a place for a suspended bookshelf to reside in the office since we need space for, you know, more books!
Yesterday I began reading Beowulf which I am teaching the first and second week of the semester for my Intro to Brit Lit class. It was originally written in Old English and when I read the introduction, I found myself trying to memorize the symbols of Old English and what they sounded like so I could teach myself to read in Old English (my bf Megan can do this and I'm totally envious...literary nerds!). In my mind, it should work like those decoder rings from Cracker Jax boxes or those scrambled coded clues they provide on the Geocaching page that look like this. If I keep the symbols and their meanings beside the text, I should be able to translate no problem, right? But this is crazy talk and more introductory reading proves my theory to be impossible. It's a good thing the text I'm teaching has been translated. The big confession here is this (lean in closely because it's a secret)...I've never read Beowulf.
Has the initial shock worn off? I think everyone and their mother has read this text but me. Somehow, in the advanced lit class I took in high school, we skipped this stuff and worked with modern authors and poetry instead. In college, my creative writing major called for craft, workshop and critical courses rather than literature courses and I think my final lit course tally by the end of four years came in at four (two required, two for my film minor). When I divulged this to my husband, his brother admitted that he, too, had never read it. (It can slide with him, though, since he's not an English Lit. professor.) So D launched into a basic summary using the following words, phrases and definitions:
mead hall: place where men drink honey wine (aka-mead) and where they pass out; created by the king for the people (there was a lot more to this, but I'm going for "short" here)
Grendel: some sort of fucked up monster whose arms is ripped off by our hero, leading to his eventual death
tears limbs off drunk people: what Grendel does at night by sneaking into the hall when the people are passed out
Grendel's Mom: even more fucked up than Grendel who resides in a cozy cave and is really pissed off when her son dies (bitch should've headed Beowulf's threats...this is my additional commentary, not the husband's)
Beowulf: an arrogant warrior type who eventually becomes king; when he first busts on the scene he brags about swimming for hella long time, like twenty days, and to put his money where his mouth is, he brings down both Grendel and his mom (almost single-handedly). However, he later becomes king, but is more of a fighter than a thinker, the kingdom's not at its peak, a dragon is threatening the well-being of the land and Beowulf takes some guys, fights the dragon, becomes mortally wounded and dies. Oh, and only one guy stays with him to finish off the dragon, but the kingdom benefits from this dragon's death.
I considered whipping out our mini voice recorder and getting this all on tape to play to my class next week, but thought better of it, not wanting them to think this summary would suffice and they'd no longer have to do the work of reading. Sigh. One thing his summary did accomplish, though, is getting me stoked to read Beowulf. I haven't gotten past the introduction quite yet, but will let you know how it goes. Plus, we have a bottle of mead wine at home that I'm now dying to try out (I've been eyeing it between revisions and home-upkeep).
Have any of you read Beowulf? What'd you think?