Photo by Brooke Estis Bleyl

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sunday Sundries, 58

1. AOTW: Okay, we've all been there--waiting for a left-turn arrow, sometimes, maybe, gunning it through the light as it goes amber, then red. Right? Okay. We all understand this. We keep alert if we're waiting at the light. But on Wednesday evening past, on our way over to Kent through Stow, we were waiting for our left-turn arrow. It came. But as I started nudging out into the intersection, here came a Guy in a Truck--a Guy in a Truck running a full red light the other way--a Guy in a Truck Using His Cell Phone. Had I not been watching for a Guy in a Truck/Car/SUV, there would have been a collision, right there in the intersection of Ohio 91 and Ohio 59 between the Innocent Dyers and the AOTW, who rolled on, smiling and oblivious.

2. This week I finished a couple of books. (Yesterday, I blogged about Peter Ackroyd's recent biography of Charlie Chaplin.) Joyce Carol Oates' Jack of Spades--one of her genre "thrillers"--was a lot of fun to read, a novel that paid direct and explicit homage to Stephen King (whose name and even behavior appear throughout), especially to his novel The Dark Half, 1989, which, coincidentally, was the first King novel I ever read. Summer 1990. Rohnert Park, Calif. Sonoma State University. I was taking a summer seminar for teachers on Jack London (sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities) with Prof. Earle Labor--the Jack London authority (his biography, a work of a lifetime, came out last year). I was living in a little dorm room, by myself, reading King at night. Trembling.

Oates picks up on King's idea--a writer who has a "dark half"--another writer inside (outside?) him who is (see term dark half) ... darker, evil, etc. Oates has a lot of fun with this notion, drawing King into her plot involving a writer of somewhat popular thrillers who--in the dead of night--writes other novels under the name of Jack of Spades, other novels that disgust (and therefore delight) many readers. Even his own suburban family doesn't know who he is after midnight.

Lots of naughtiness ensues. An ax. Not a major novel--but a major pleasure to read.

3. Poor Willy Wonka (portrayed here by Gene Wilder, now 82). I've seen this picture used as the background for all sorts of memes on Facebook--snarky memes that range politically from Far Left to Far Right. (Oddly, the photo is sometimes flipped so that Wonka/Wilder is leaning on his right hand and facing the right. Hmmmm ... is there a political connection? Right? Left?) Wonka's/Wilder's expression is perfect, though  (isn't it?), for all sorts of sarcasm.

4. So at the Shell station, why do I have to see a little commercial on the pump display before I can fill my tank?

5. This week I could not for the life of me remember the name of Pancho Gonzalez (1928-1995), the tennis great who dominated the pro circuit during my boyhood. In those days, by the way, there were two circuits--pro and amateur. The major tournaments (Wimbledon, etc.) were all for amateurs only; the pros had to go on tour to try to make a living that way. As this New York Times obituary indicates, Gonzales turned pro early, before he'd won Wimbledon (link to obit). On YouTube you can see a film about him (about an hour long). (Link to film.)
Anyway, this week I thought about him (I'd once thought, daffy with self-delusion, that I would be the next Pancho!) but could not come up with his name. Took some Googling.  Sic transit gloria mundi.

6. Joyce and I saw a fine film last night (Saturday)--Me and Earl and the Dying Girl--a film that won some Sundance awards this year--and I see why. It tells the story of two high school boys in Pittsburgh, friends since kindergarten (one is black, one white), who like to make film parodies--both stupid and funny. They get involved with a classmate, Rachel, who has leukemia, and the story proceeds from there. Terrific performances from everyone.

Only three things bothered me a little: (1) one boy's (Greg's) father (played wonderfully by Nick Offerman) was a tenured university professor, and we always see him unshaven, in a bathrobe, eating odd snack food and making wry remarks (okay, I get it--tenure is bad, right? make you lazy, right?); (2) the story deals heavily with Greg's (the white boy's) getting into college (it's their senior year--what about Earl?); (3) Earl virtually disappears near the end of the film ... why?

Other than that--we loved it.

Link to trailer for the film.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Another Visit with Charlie Chaplin

This morning (Saturday), I finished reading Peter Ackroyd's 2014 biography--Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life. (Ackroyd, by the way, is an astonishingly productive writer--novels, nonfiction, poetry, biographies, criticism; I still think his bio of Dickens is about the best biography I've ever read.)

As many of my former Harmon Middle School students could tell you, I was--once upon a time--a full-blown Chaplin freak. It began in the early 1970s when I taught a little elective course at the middle school on film history--and then filmmaking (oh, the joys of chasing youngsters around the building (and town) while they shot their 8mm and Super 8 films!). I would show some Chaplin shorts, and the kids were surprisingly entertained--despite the silence, the scratchy film, the black-and-white, etc.

Later, in the 1980s and 1990s when I was teaching Jack London's The Call of the Wild, I would spend some time with Chaplin before showing his classic The Gold Rush (1925), a film that takes place in some of the very sites Jack London records in Wild. I actually showed the later release of the film (1942), which features Chaplin's narration and original music. (If you've got Hulu, you can watch it online: link to Hulu site.)

My fan-atacism extended to books, of course. I read Chaplin's autobiography and all the other major biographies of him. I saw all of his films--some up at the New Mayfield Cinema on Mayfield Road in Cleveland, a venue that specialized in old films--now, sadly, gone. It's quite an experience, seeing Chaplin move on a large screen.

Once, at a music festival in the summer of 1989 in Purchase, New York, with Joyce and my older brother, Richard, I saw that David Robinson--a major Chaplin biographer--was there signing copies of his book. (Yes, I have one now.)

Gradually, my passion faded after I retired from middle school teaching (January 1997), and I moved on to other things (Mary Shelley, Edgar Poe, etc.). Still, I now own the films on DVD, and I still have a shelf stocked with Chaplinalia.

Anyway ... Ackroyd. I'd seen the book in shops (remember those?) quite a few times before I actually bought it. Since we're in the process of "downsizing," I didn't see any reason to have yet another Chaplin book in the house. But still ...

I bought it.

Put it aside.

Then read it.

I can't say I learned a lot--after all, I'd read pretty much all the things that Ackroyd had read. But it was fun to remember so many of those wonderful films. And Ackroyd is a pleasant tour guide (and a Chaplin fan).

Of course, Chaplin's personal life was a mess. Four marriages (all to women much younger than he). Much infidelity. Temper. Ego. Etc. The press was unforgiving, and when the House Un-American Activities Committee (yes, with Sen. J. McCarthy) started pursuing him, he left the country and did not return until the 1970s when he received an honorary Oscar in 1972. You can see the emotional moment on YouTube (link).

He died in 1977, and I still remember how I used to be able to tell my students, back when, that they and that little dancing figure on the screen had been alive at the same time. But then the years went on, and I could no longer say it.

Ackroyd left out one of the truly bizarre events in Chaplin's story: the theft of his body in March 1978. Somebody dug up his coffin, took it away.  (Here's a link to the whole story.) He wasn't recovered for over eleven weeks, and the perps, two Belgian auto mechanics, seem to have stumbled out of the cast from an early Keystone film (Chaplin worked for Keystone at the dawn of his career). Perhaps the Keystone Cops would have had better luck finding him.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 138

Visiting the spot where the body of poor Harriet Shelley was found ...

The river was the Serpentine, and it’s not really a river. In 1730, workers dammed the Westbourne River (now much diverted underground) to create the Serpentine, a snaking lake that flows through Hyde Park, just west of central London. It became a popular venue for leisure-seekers for boating, winter skating, celebrations—outings of all sorts.

Hyde Park (web image)
Harriet Shelley, pregnant, had been in the water for a while when they found her body. No one knows how she got there. The coroner’s jury said, “Found drowned,” although, as Richard Holmes reports in his biography of Bysshe, the Times declared she was a suicide.[1]
On April 13, 1999, an appropriately gloomy day (lowering clouds, intermittent rain), I went to the Serpentine on the first day I was in Europe, the commencement of my long journey trying to see all the Shelley sites I could. My journal saddens me as I look at it now—not because of the suicide in the Serpentine (sad enough, surely) but because I recorded so little of what I did that day in Hyde Park. And so I must rely on Memory, that most disreputable and unreliable of servants.
I remember going to the Park. Walking along the Serpentine. Taking some photographs. I just looked in the loose-leaf notebook where I keep those slides that I took on that journey; there are only about ten pictures from my Park visit—and, oh, do I wish that digital photography had existed then. With the old-fashioned 35mm SLR camera I had, I was forced to buy film, load, shoot, send off for developing, not knowing how the pictures would turn out.
Still … I do have a few pictures; I do have memories of standing by the Serpentine, thinking about poor Harriet Westbrook Shelley, who’d fallen in love, only to discover that her lover—her husband—was a fierce flame that not only illuminated but destroyed.

                [1] Shelley: The Pursuit, 352.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Emotional Bakery

maple-pecan scones
July 2, 2015

I've been baking bread since early in our marriage (which occurred on Dec. 20, 1969). Initially, I baked for financial reasons: We were fairly impecunious people then: As a full-time middle school teacher in Aurora, Ohio, I was making $7506--that's gross annual salary. Take-home (twice monthly), as you can imagine, was somewhat less than the $312.75 you get when you divide my salary by twenty-four. Joyce was a grad assistant and made $2500 a year at Kent State.

Anyway, I figured baking bread was cheaper than buying those grocery-store spongy loaves that I didn't really like anyway. And baking our own bread was cheaper--and inconceivably better-tasting--and I've been doing it ever since--as my Facebook friends know only too well from the annoying loaf-photographs I post each Sunday.

Soon, I branched out--baking other things. Rolls, pizza dough, cornbread, and so on. And--as I've posted here before--in August 1986, on a trip to Alaska and the Yukon with my fourteen-year-old son (doing some family history and Jack London research), I bought some sourdough starter that I've been using ever since. It will turn twenty-nine this August and seems to like its routines here in Hudson.

So ... about the emotional part. Over the years I've fed my sourdough starter with flour that means something to me. I added some from the old mill in Garrettsville, Ohio (where my mom taught high school English for ten years); I added some from Lanterman's Mill in Youngstown (my great-grandfather, Warren A. Lanterman, who had a farm on Four Mile Run Road in Austintown (near Youngstown), was a relative of the mill owner); I even bought some flour (via the Internet) from a mill in West Virginia, not far from the mill my Dyer ancestors owned there in the 19th century. So, every bite of my sourdough bread contains a nip of family history.

Oh, and it's not just the dough. I use honey from the Guyette family over in Mantua, just five miles from Hiram, where I lived from ages 11-21. Mrs. Guyette was one of my high school teachers. I played basketball and baseball against Guyette boys.

I don't use the sourdough for all the baking I do. At Christmas, I follow my grandmother's recipe for white fruitcake (it's a baking-powder dough). When I make cornbread, I like to use the recipe my mother used, right from the old Better Homes & Garden cookbook--the one with the pink plaid cover.

A few years ago I used to start my day (Monday through Saturday) at the local Caribou Coffee here in Hudson. I would get a multi-grain bagel, then toast it, add some honey. But they began phasing out some of their pastry choices--and then they phased themselves out and closed their doors forever. I started going to another place--Hattie's here in Hudson--but it also soon closed (see a pattern here?).

And by then I decided I wanted to bake my own breakfast pastry. And so I started messing around with scones. I tried various kinds (blueberry, cherry-walnut), but the one I like the best is maple-pecan (at the top of the page, see photo from today's baking). I bought a scone baking pan from King Arthur Flour (see above picture) and soon had memorized the recipe (modifying it, too) and was baking them every week.

So what's so emotional about this? We bought maple syrup out on Pioneer Trail (see below) throughout my boyhood. When I was a smaller boy--out in Enid, Oklahoma--we had a pecan tree in our back yard at 1709 East Broadway. My mom would bake pies with them--as would my grandmother, who lived only a block away at 1609. The nuts they didn't shell and use I would pick up from the ground and whip at my brothers. They hurt (as I discovered when some return fire came my way.) Pecan pie is still my favorite--though I can't eat it often. And don't. Really ...

Here's the scone recipe I use, if you're interested.
  • spray a little oil on the baking dish
  • pre-heat oven to 400F
  • in a mixing bowl ...
    • 1 egg (cholesterol conscious, I use 1/4 cup Egg Beaters instead)
    • 1/3 cup Ohio maple syrup (from Pioneer Trail in Hiram, if possible)
    • 1 tsp pure maple extract
    • 1 small package (6 oz) of Chobani plain yogurt
    • 1/2 tsp sea salt
    • whisk ingredients until uniform and smooth
    • add almost a cup of pecans, stir and mix lightly
  • in Cuisinart
    • 1/2 cup oat flour (this and other flours are Bob's Red Mill)
    • 1 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1/2 cup white flour
    • 1 tsp  baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp baking soda
    • 1/4 lb butter (I use soy butter), frozen, cut into 8 equal pieces
    • zap it until it's uniform
  • stir dry ingredients into the wet, adding a tiny bit of white flour until you have a nice ball of dough that sticks well to itself
  • put some flour on your hands, form the dough into a nice tight grapefruit-sized ball
  • place ball on lightly floured board; flatten it with the heel of your hand into a circle about the circumference of your pan
  • cut into eight equal wedges
  • place wedges in pan
  • place pan in oven for about 25 min--or until nice and brown
  • remove pan, let cool a few minutes, remove scones and put them on cooling rack (don't do this too soon: when they're hot, they're fragile--just like the rest of us)
  • EAT--just one

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Of Trains and Newspapers and Cancer

This morning I did something I've not done in a long time--I took the Rapid from Green Road down to Tower City, where the Cleveland Plain Dealer now has (the remains of) its editorial offices.

I'm pretty sure the Rapid was the first train I ever rode on, back in the late 1950s, not long after we'd moved to (Hiram) Ohio. My dad took my brother Dave and me down to the old Cleveland Stadium to see the Tribe play the Tigers. My first Major League (live) game. I was in junior high. And that ride--from Green Road in Shaker Heights through Cleveland's impoverished East Side and on into the Terminal Tower (no Tower City development yet) was a graduate course in urban economy and sociology.

When the train glides down that hill on the west side of Shaker Square, living accommodations along the tracks change quickly--and dramatically. I was entering a cityscape I knew nothing about.

Later, I rode the train a lot to go to ball games (Browns and Indians), and in the early 1990s, on a sabbatical leave from the Aurora City Schools, I rode that train every day for a while, one leg in my journey from Aurora to the wonderful Cleveland Public Library downtown, where I was doing some of my research on Jack London, the Klondike Gold Rush, the geography of the North--all in preparation for the publication of my annotated editions of  London's The Call of the Wild (Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1995, 1997). I was, for a time, a commuter. And many of the passengers on that train--especially heading west toward Cleveland--were reading the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "Ohio's Largest Newspaper," standard reading for anyone in the area, really. Everyone read newspapers.

Today, I didn't see a single soul with a paper. Lots of smart phones and staring. Though, waiting at Green Road, I did overhear a great bit of "news." There was an RTA worker there, doing something near the tracks, and I heard his intercom crackle--and a voice saying something like this: "There's a wolf on the tracks down here at Tower City."

I looked at the guy: "If there's a wolf down there, I'm going home right now." And sort of laughed.

"Hey," he replied, "there are lots of weird animals down there. And he knows the difference between a wolf and a German shepherd."

I heard the call of the wild.

But--intrepid, resolute--I headed into the West.

Where I saw no wolves but did see the decline of Tower City--the food court, the businesses (restaurants, shops) down there; nothing looks as healthy as it did back in the 1990s. But then again, neither do I.

With a little bit of a problem, I found the Plain Dealer offices and located the book assignment editor, Joanna Connors, who was expecting me. I routinely go to the PD to pick out books to review for the paper. But I'd not been down in quite a while--only once since their move from their former vast facility over on Superior Ave. Their quarters are tiny now. So much has changed ... All quiet on the journalism front ...

We chatted a bit, and I picked out a few titles for the upcoming months before heading back down to the RTA to catch my noon train back to Green Road. I noticed that the trains coming through the station now are all color-coded--color-coded only, I should say. No words. So the Green Line train I was looking for had only green lights across the front. I saw a Red Line come through, as well--a Blue, too.

On the way back, I continued memorizing Robert Frost's "Provide, Provide," and by the time I got to my car, I had it pretty well caged in my head, though every now and then a word or phrase winged away. (Link to poem.)

I had only a short drive now, from the Green Road parking lot to the parking lot at the Seidman Cancer Center, where I was going because I'd made a decision--and had to act on it.

Last week I wrote about my regular quarterly visit to Seidman, where they are monitoring my prostate cancer (which has come and gone and come and gone and come again) in various years. Last Monday, my oncologist offered me the option of going off Lupron, the drug that has kept me in remission for two years. (Link to earlier post.)

Of course I wanted to stop the drug (I receive quarterly injections). It saps my energy, makes me highly emotional and depressive, kills my libido (the drug works by zapping my testosterone, the food of prostate cancer), and has some other deleterious effects. And so I'd told him last Monday, "Let's try it."

But then--after some long conversations with Joyce, after some wrenching and emotional wars in my head--I changed my mind. I would take the injection.

And so--today--after a ride on the Rapid, after a visit to what remains of the Plain Dealer's book room, after another ride on the Rapid, after memorizing "Provide, Provide"--I drove to Seidman Cancer Center, dropped trou, waited for that sharp lupine bite that I hope will keep me here a bit longer.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Bathroom Photographs, 3

A little series about the photographs hanging on the walls in the little half-bath that's near my study.

Okay, in earlier posts I've written about the picture of my great-grandfather Dyer and his family (late 1880s),about the 1959 picture of my two brothers and me in Rugby, ND ("the geographical center of North America"). And now this ...

Again, the Three Dyer Boys are together. At the time (left to right) we were Davi, Danny, and Dickie Dyer. (Maturity--or, rather, additional years--converted our names to Dave/Davis, Dan/Daniel, Richard.) I think I was in junior high when I decided "Danny" would be no more. I started insisting on "Dan"--still my name to most--though I've always published as "Daniel" (sounds more ... what? ... respectable? venerable?). My mom and brothers still use "Danny" now and then--as does Joyce, my wife.

The picture dates from around 1950, I guess (Davi was born in September 1948--he looks kind of two-ish or three-ish, doesn't he?). I turned six in 1950 (late in the year). Dickie turned nine late that year--very late (his birthday is in late December).

I actually remember a few things about that day. We were in a photographer's studio in Enid, Oklahoma, all sitting on a little hassock. It was beige leather (or faux leather?). The photographer told me to straddle it as if I were riding a horse. And that endeared him to me forever, for I was already certain that I was going to be a cowboy. I mean, someone had to take over the protection of the West once the Lone Ranger and the Cisco Kid and Hopalong Cassidy retired, right?

We're all wearing somewhat formal clothing--even little Davi, whose suit coat is buttoned to the top. Our collars are all out (very fashionable!)--no neckties. So it must be summer, when even church--normally a fierce formality in our family--relaxed its dress code a bit in the oppressive Oklahoma heat. My coat is fluffed up a little at the bottom. Needs to be smoothed down. I'm guessing that my mom or grandmother made those jackets for Dickie and me. Both were wonderful at the sewing machine, and among the last manual skills my mother lost was her stitching on the quilts she made for all of us. Davi's is certainly homemade.

Another clue that it's summer? I'm smiling. School's out. If you had told me then that I would become a teacher, would spend my entire adult career in schoolrooms, I would have laughed in your stupid fat face. Go willingly to school? No way! Like Shakespeare's "whining schoolboy," I was the kid "creeping like snail unwillingly to school."

We're all smiling, all showing our teeth, though Dickie has recently lost one. My tongue, for some reason, has decided to come out for some air and lies poised beneath my upper teeth and if I'm about to say "lasso." What's odd to me now? I never show my teeth in posed photographs now. Not sure why. Probably some deep psychological trauma, long unresolved.

Our haircuts are virtually the same--as they would be until adolescence when Teen Angst brought to our mouths some different words to tell the barber. I will not--for the sake of Family Harmony--reveal which one of us no longer has much hair. That would be unkind. Davi was the only blond among us--though we all have blue eyes. Dickie and I had darker hair, though when I was a lad and played outdoors in the summer from dawn to dark, I would sometimes get a little sun-bleached streak in front, a faint streak evident in this school photograph (accidentally torn)--look right next to the part--a little wisp of blond. (Now, of course, it's virtually all white.) (No comments on my taste in attire for a school photo.)

Dickie seems to be looking at the camera; Davi and I are looking more to the left. Is that where Mom is? Surely she was--at the moment--urging us to smile? To show our teeth?

My ears seem a little more ... prominent than those of my brothers. Odd, because I did not listen too well as a kid. (Still don't.)

Our hands are weird. Davi seems uncertain what to do with his. My left hand--a little blurred--seems in motion, perhaps to smack away Dickie's hand, which, oddly, seems to be under my leg. My right hand is probably on the six-shooter I didn't have but wished I did.

So ... three smiling hopeful little boys (who can't wait to get home to change out of those hot church clothes). Two of us our in our seventies, making us some ten years older than our Osborn grandparents were on that day. G. Edwin and Alma Lanterman Osborn lived near us in Enid then. In my view they were ancient. Our parents were also very old. In 1950 my mom turned 31, my dad 37.

Monday, June 29, 2015

More Nonfiction in English Classes?

There was a front-page story the other day (June 20, 2015) in the New York Times. Headline: "'Tom Sawyer' and Court Opinions: A New Mix in English Class" (link to the story). The piece was about the effects of the Common Core on the public school English curriculum: "English class looks a little different," noted the reporter, Kate Taylor.

Yes, the Common Core has issued a "call for students to read more nonfiction," Taylor continued.

All right. Let's flash back a little. When I was in high school (1958-1962), we read precious little nonfiction in English class--if, in fact, we read any at all. All year (when we weren't working on grammar and usage and vocabulary and the like) we read poems, stories, plays, novels (not too many of those, however--though I do have sad memories of Great Expectations, for which I--a ninth grader--was profoundly unready, unwilling, unable, un-everything).

When I began teaching English myself in a public middle school (fall, 1966), I continued doing unto others what had been done unto me (see previous paragraph).

But as the years drifted along, I more and more began supplementing our literary studies with underlying nonfictional factors. When we read The Call of the Wild, for example, we learned about the Klondike Gold Rush. The Diary of Anne Frank, of course, requires knowledge of the Holocaust. And so on.

Even later, teaching at a college-prep boarding school (the final ten years of my career), I liked to teach Henry Louis Gates' fine memoir, Colored People, and I routinely explored with my students the nonfictional terrain of the fictional works we were visiting--from The Crucible to Hamlet to The Awakening to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And on and on and on.

I spent my vacations traveling around the country touring and photographing sites related to the literature we were reading (I taught American lit + Hamlet, that great American play about that great American hero)--from hometowns to settings to cemeteries.

As we read novels and plays and poems, I customarily gave my students maps and historical and biographical background to help them unlock the texts. It's only common sense, right? How do you read The Scarlet Letter without knowing about Puritan Boston? Or The Great Gatsby without knowing about the Roaring Twenties? Or "The Road Not Taken" without knowing about the forests of New England?

So ... to the extent that the Common Core is urging (requiring?) teachers to do this sort of thing, I am most definitely On Board. Reading a literary text in isolation from its myriads of sources cuts students off from the very humanity of the works they're reading. And English is one of the humanities.

Of course this can be overdone. Fiction is not merely autobiography, cultural history, etc. But those things inform fiction, and the more informed a reader is about them, the better. Doesn't it add a piquant pinch of pepper to Frankenstein to know that Mary Shelley was so stunned by the Mer de Glace in the French alps--the massive glacier (now not so massive, thanks to you-know-what)--that she later used it as the setting for a key encounter between Victor Frankenstein and his creature?

Does it mean anything to you to know that virtually every place name in The Call of the Wild is a location that Jack London had seen during his year in the Klondike (1897-98)?

And so on.

(By the way, I am well aware of the literary theorists who say we should ignore all of this and focus just on the text itself. Doesn't work for me. Obviously.)

Anyway, what worries me about the Common Core requirements is that they will become perfunctory and routine and rote--especially if we test kids on them. What we've learned by all this testing is a simple principle: Whatever is on a standardized test becomes the curriculum. Everything else is superfluous.

But then there's this: I don't agree at all with the notion that kids read too much fiction in English classes. With some rare exceptions, English class is the only time they read novels, short stories, poems, plays. The other seven or so periods a day, students are reading ... nonfiction. Science, history, etc. So I have no problem with setting aside 1/8 of the day for something more imaginary, creative--especially since much of English class has become, due to all the testing, a place for drill and focus on things that are easy to measure.

So ... yes ... urge English teachers to explore with their students the extra-literary worlds of the literature they're reading. But don't mandate yet another series of dry (easily measurable) activities whose sole purpose is to supply "outcomes" to assess on yet another standardized test.