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Monday, February 01, 2010

Life writing

My review of Louis Menand’s The Marketplace of Ideas appeared in yesterday’s NYT Book Review, and offers solid proof that the 650-word review is not my strongest genre.  Because of my unfortunate habit of summarizing and even quoting from the books I review (as Jerry Graff asked me, “how come you do that instead of just offering your own account of American higher education and then mentioning the author’s name in your review’s final sentence”?), I had to devote 642 of my words to Menand’s argument, leaving only eight for myself.  See if you can figure out which eight!  Hint:  they’re not consecutive.

Shorter me: what’s a shorter?

So I may have a bit more to say about Menand’s book here or at CT (or at both places!) in the next few days—specifically, about his proposals to shorten the average time-to-degree in the humanities.  Yes, I know he’s been shopping these around for a while, and I know that Marc Bousquet remains (almost) as skeptical as ever.  But I’ve changed my mind on the subject over the past 15 years, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll try to explain why.

In the meantime, more Jamie news!  He began his second stint at the LifeLink apartment yesterday, and he’s staying for a full week.  This time he has two roommates (as well as the apartment coach), friends from Special Olympics basketball and golf.  (However, moving in on Sunday afternoon and doing the meal planning and shopping for the week on Sunday evening, Jamie had to miss his 6-7:30 Special Olympics swimming practice.) And we have a very empty house.  I think I’ll stop by his place of work tomorrow and check in on him.

The other day, I was going through his school backpack and came upon his Health folder.  For the most part it’s the standard high school fare, stuff about making healthy choices and having self-esteem, and so on.  But one page caught my attention: under the heading “Autobiography,” students were asked what they would write about themselves and how they would title their work.  Here’s Jamie’s response:

Lifes We Know It

My parents say that all the time.  I am a child in my lifelyhood.  I am to be going up kid.  I like to play Uno.  And I also like animals a lot in my life.  And I like my cd rum game a lot of times.  I am be adult.

Jamie Berube

My first thought upon reading this was, “that’s so sweet—he opens by talking about the fact that there already is a book about him, written when he was a child (in his lifelyhood).” My second thought was a memory of when he first started taking French in seventh grade, and his teacher, who had never had a student with Down syndrome, informed us that he probably shouldn’t be taking the class, since he wasn’t capable of producing proper sentences in French.  “He isn’t capable of producing proper sentences in English, either,” we replied.  “But he understands far more than he can say.” (Or, in developmentese, his receptive language skills are much stronger than his expressive language skills.) Seventh grade didn’t go so well, partly because Jamie’s para that year was kind of depressed and didn’t like helping him with French, but his high school teacher and his para have been amazing.  He still has trouble writing sentences in French, but his grasp of tenses is getting stronger, and his vocabulary is expanding steadily: I can tell him, “tu dois ranger ta chambre avant de sortir,” and he gets it (not that he proceeds to clean his room right away—he is a teenager, after all), and the other day I couldn’t remember the French for coat, and Jamie said, “manteau.”

Anyway, as you can tell, Jamie has a habit of dropping words from his written sentences, so that “I am going to be an adult” becomes “I am be adult.” The first three sentences, as I read them, are about Life As We Know It: “my parents say that all the time” means that he is well acquainted with the fact that there is a book about him and that many people have “met” him through the book, and the next two sentences are Jamie’s version of my explanation, “the book is about when you were a kid just growing up.” As for Uno: that’s a weird one!  Of all the things he could have mentioned ... well, he did play some Uno in the LifeLink apartment last month, and more recently he hung out with one of his afterschool companions playing Uno in a local coffeehouse/bookstore.  So I suppose it’s fresh in memory, even if it isn’t really one of the salient features of his life.  His love for animals and his facility with Harry Potter CD-ROM games, sure, but Uno?  Go figure.

When I asked him about his autobiography, Jamie seemed pleased with his work but (of course) did not want to discuss it in front of Janet, so I simply asked him if he could write things like this to help me with the yet-to-be-written book about how he grew up and became an adult.  I’ve asked him this question a couple of times in recent years, and Jamie says he’s ready and willing.  But we’re going to wait until after he graduates from high school, at least.  “You know what will happen when you graduate,” I say.  “What?” Jamie always asks.  “I will cry,” I say.  “Michael,” he replies, with mild-to-moderate exasperation.

I hope Jamie has a great week.

Posted by Michael on 02/01 at 10:45 AM
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