Updating a bit – MA

13502102_10154222873603150_8200564622458086649_nA notice of a new post went out, but clicking on it led to a “dead page.” The post was a mistake, obviously. I have been updating and rearranging this blog today (mostly moving a lot of my creative writing over to its own “page.”

However, if I’m already updating (which I haven’t done in way too long!), I am happy to announce that I received my MA in English Literature and Literary Translation from Bar Ilan University (magna cum laude).

The program (Literary Translation, under the direction of Evan Fallenberg) was a “first” and I was one of eight students in the first class. I believe only 4 graduated that particular program.

I actually finished the degree at the end of the 2014-2015 academic year, but the ceremony was just this July.


Blurry pic of me in my robe. There were no mortarboards for the graduates.

A Scary Bathroom.

Another piece from my creative writing class. We had to choose three pieces to revise and I thought that my original bathroom piece wasn’t scary enough.  Read it (and the original) here. Note I’ve used 2nd-person point of view.


The Sweater. A-scent memory piece from my Creative Writing 450 class.

A SCENT MEMORY: The Blue Sweater

I stood before the mirror and studied my reflection. God I hated having to …  read it all here.

sweater 001

Creative Writing 450: Sounds Exercise

 Our instructor played a long recording (about 7 minutes) of a chain of different sounds. We were to listen to them and compose a story using them in the order given. The sounds began and ended with a heartbeat. This is the narrative I came up with.

Sounds .. Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub …


Some More Creative Writing – Poems

I had to write an 8,000-word paper on William Blake by Jan 5.  On the evening of Dec. 29, one week before due-date, our professor sent out an email postponing the due date by a week.



          The Postponement


I should be jumping joy with glee

But feel the air’s knocked out of me;

My heart’s a flutter, knees are weak,

I don’t know where the peace to seek.


What pressure kept me on the straight,

Is gone for he has said ‘Oh wait—

You have one extra week to stew

Before that thing on Blake is due.’




* * * * * * * *




          The Postponed Deadline


The research was done, I was all set to write

And I knew I’d be doing this all through the night.

I’d told all the kids to make do on their own,

From me they’d not get even one chicken bone.


Then I heard a ding!

How that ding made me sing!


I looked and I saw: ‘Roston’s sent you a note.’

That ominous deadline is now more remote.

He’s relented a bit and the weeks now are two

Until that ol’ paper on Blake will be due.


(With apologies to Dr. Seuss)

Milton’s Paper

Well, actually MY paper on Milton. I’ve decided to write on “Milton’s Influence on Popular Culture” and this has led me to some interesting stuff.

Did you know that Mary Shelley was very inspired by Milton and used him in Frankenstein? And ditto Phillip Pullman in His Dark Materials? I’ve read them both (working on my 2nd book in the Pullman trilogy at the moment). I’ve also watched The Devil’s Advocate (great movie) and Deconstructing Harry (Woody Allen…need I say more?). Animal House has a great scene that mentions Milton.

In case you are not aware, if you can memorize Milton’s most famous line: “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven,” and use it somewhere, you, too, can claim to be “highly” influenced by Milton!

As usual, I have accumulated a lot of info which I now have to “trim” (read “slash like crazy”) into a succinct 10 pages. It was due Sept. 1, but I asked (and got) an extension (no new deadline specified), and now it turns out that Bar Ilan, due to summer war, has extended the deadline for all take-home exams and papers to Jan. 1 2015. Which I WON’T take advantage of. This paper gets submitted SOON.

Meanwhile, I’ve been inspired (again) a bit my Milton (note iambic pentameter… sort of.)


Oh! This final paper, its rampant thoughts
On Milton’s influence on works and films
Continues into far eternity
That stretches far. When will my paper see
Its end? Finalized with MLA style.
But seeming now too many pages that
I must make more concise – or fear the rage
Of prof who must read  much more than he wants,
And tearing hair will fling my work away
“An F for you,” he’ll cry. It stinks! So there.

And Milton said: “Please pass the butter”

It’s been a while. I have since read Paradise Lost in its entirety, fulfilling my quest of completing it once through before the end of the Pesach break.

I have to admit that Milton’s efforts are much appreciated. His epic is full of picturesque description just aching (in my opinion) to be translated into a graphic novel (i.e. comic book). William Blake, I’m sorry to say, doesn’t do it justice.

Note: Evoking my artistic side, I’ve scribbled a number of vignettes on the self-made cover  of my book. (For the record, I ripped up my huge volume of “Milton’s Works” into a number of smaller, easily transported portions; to keep the pages from scattering, I bound it with bristol and white glue.) If I ever finish it, I will post photos.

Of course, Milton being Milton, he has succeeded in stretching out the story of the Original Sin — about 23 lines in Genesis — into 10, 557 lines. He has added in lots of good stuff and  I quite love his descriptions of  Paradise, which, as I said cry out for illustration.

However, I have some profound thoughts about the religious aspect of all this, but can’t seem to get them organized enough in my brain to put them into English. It involves the idea that the story of the original sin is MAN’S attempt to explain man’s inherent quest to know (I don’t believe that the Bible is a “true” story dictated by an All-Being God), and thus Man’s inherent evil and despicable nature (which it is, despite many ‘good’ people, Human’s overall tendency is to be vile, ambitious and greedy). The story of the “Original sin” is just that, a STORY. That is, it is an allegory to describe Man’s inherent nature. This nature came FIRST, before the  idea of an “original sin.”

Somehow, in discussing Paradise Lost, the whole idea that Milton is simply a flesh-and-blood person aiming to retell a cool story gets lost and we seems to discuss him as if he is relating, with some God-given spirit, an event that really happened.

I know, I am not at all being clear. No matter. Maybe one day I will be able to sort out my thoughts more coherently.

In the meantime, because I “complained” elsewhere that Milton, being Milton, would probably say “please pass the butter” in 100 words or more, and since it’s time for more “Linda a la Milton” (or is this “Milton a la Linda”? I am confused), behold the following.

And in pentameter no less (pretty close to iambic, I think)… and free verse (i.e. no rhyme).


Please pass the butter a la Milton (i.e. in 100 words or more)

Now as I sit here and of pleasant bread
Do eat, but wish that lovely slice be now
slathered by some del’cate,  tasty spread,
do thus entreat my lady fair at right,
to reach her lithesome arm to yonder place,
and pass that bowl. What talent,  farmers bold,
to make so flavorsome this bovine stuff,
from udders full. From highland Ayrshires  red,
or auburn Guernseys mottled bright, pi-ed 
Holstein, or buff colored Jersey, that chews
her cud in placid stance in pasture yon.
Praise the dairyman: who take’th liquid white
and bland and churn’th well, and maketh thus
this creamy joy my naked bread adorn.




Moving from the 17th century to the 21st.

Last semester there were two courses where the instructors, on the very first day of class, told us in no uncertain terms, “NO COMPUTER/TELEPHONE USE IN CLASS.”

We were NOT supposed to hide behind our laptop, not even to look up a word (you were supposed to ask the professor if you didn’t understand something on the grounds that if you didn’t know, there was probably someone else that didn’t either). One even said that if caught, the student would be excused from the class for the day.

No  emailing or texting, Tweeting , Facebook, surfing, or answering phones during class. You will   be asked to leave the class that day  if engaging in those activities.

To my knowledge, students respected this (as much as I could tell: I usually sat in the front of the class, so I didn’t see what was going on. But ALL the students were pretty much involved in these classes.) Laptops were only used to bring up the readings required, and on a few occasions to consult Wikipedia (which would be shared with the class). Anyone forgetting to set their phone to silent was supposed to bring a cake the next week (although this was never actually enforced the two times a phone DID go off).

Both professors (they are in cahoots, I’m sure) gave us the following in their first-day handout:

 As  Cara A. Finnegan, Associate Professor of Communications at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign writes:

 In recent years the saturation of cell phones, text messaging, and laptops has produced something I call the problem of divided attention. A March 25, 2008 article in the New York Times summarized recent studies of productivity in business settings. Researchers found that after responding to email or text messages, it took people more than 15 minutes to refocus on the “serious mental tasks” they had been performing before the interruption. Other research has shown that when people attempt to perform two tasks at once (e.g., following what’s happening in class while checking text messages), the brain literally cannot do it. The brain has got to abandon one of the tasks in order effectively to accomplish the other. Hidden behind all the hype about multi-tasking, then, is this sad truth: it can actually make you slower and dumber. For this reason alone you should seek to avoid the problem of divided attention when you are in class.

But there’s another, equally important reason: we technology-users often lose our senses when it comes to norms of polite behavior, and the result is that perfectly lovely people become unbelievably rude. …  Recent studies also  suggest that students who bring laptops to class  perform worse (on average) than their non-laptop using peers, and are much less likely to pay attention in class. Laptops can also be a distraction for other students and the professor.”

This semester I am taking a seminar course with approximately 22 students, most of whom sit at around a large U-shaped table formation. I have noticed that there are a number of students who spend a good portion of the 4-lesson period behind an open laptop. The student who sat on my left this week, for example, seemed to be working on some letter writing. Because it was in a language I can’t read, it COULD have been notes, but the format suggested otherwise: there were also various non-class-issue windows open on the screen. This student did participate in some discussion, though, so I’ll give the benefit of the doubt.

Across the room, two other students had their screens up and were VERY quiet in class. What were they doing?  I have noticed another student who has been continuously engaged in her computer screen: the first class, she was doing some kind of architectural stuff (designing her apartment?), another time I sat near her, it seemed she was working on a paper. Anytime I looked toward her, I could see she was deeply involved in whatever was going on on her screen.

The last lesson, I sat next to a student who spent the entire time checking out stuff on Facebook, registering for some flying lessons (or flying experience thing), checking out a wedding venue, and I don’t know what else. I am so well-informed on her goings-on because she sat on my right, the direction I had to turn to look at the front, so I couldn’t avoid seeing her computer pages flying. I found it VERY distracting, and I know it threw me off the discussion once or twice. It seemed that part of the time she was in some teacher’s forum! She’s a teacher and this is what she does in class? Does she let her students do the same thing? I’d wager not! There were a few times when she actually had her eyes directed at the instructor. That was when she was crocheting a kippah.

Of the 22 students, I would say that about 10 are very active participants (I include myself), and another 3-4 are paying attention but are quiet souls. Frankly, I don’t care if someone takes up class space and gets nothing out of the course. There ARE those who come for the piece of paper and don’t care about the education. However, when I sit next to Facebook and party invitation designs flashing on the screen next to me, I am distracted and lose my train of thought.

What should I do? Any ideas?


Aeropagatica–Rhymes with…

Continuing on with Milton, I have to say that the class last Wednesday on Lycidas did end off on a nice note, our professor demonstrating the wonderful way that various themes were woven into the poem. I’d have to check my notes to actually remember how and what, but it was a fairly interesting class.

This week’s reading is Aeropagatica: For the Liberty of unlicenc’d Printing. This is Milton’s 17,950-word plea to the parlament [sic] against book pre-publication censorship (which was effected in 1643).

Now, I respect Milton’s purpose, and agree with him that such censorship is uncalled for. I believe he made good points in trying to show how the ancient Greeks renounced censorship and how the Catholics installed it, and that it is virtually impossible and unfeasible to try to stifle the flow of ideas. I imagine that the government would have taken his ideas to heart. However,  I read the short (2-page) introduction in the Dartmouth Milton Room, which noted that “Milton’s Areopagitica had virtually no political impact in its day: Parliament ignored it.”

Then I got down to reading it. Did I mention that this is 17,950 words long? I read and read and read and read and it went on and on and on and on. There never seems to be a place to come up for air. I didn’t note any elegant transitions. After a while, I lost track of what I was reading as the words just seemed to register on my retina and dissolve somewhere between there and  the thought centers in my brain. About half-way through I gave up (I’ll get back to it later on, but at this point, my head is popping and it’s time to feed the dogs.)

Just for fun. I timed myself reading a bit out loud: It took me about 7 minutes to read 1,000 words, meaning that reading 18,000 words (without pause) would come to just a bit over two hours. Non-stop. Might I venture that the reason it had no impact is because by about the 30th minute of his speech his listeners had tuned out and were dreaming about their dinner? Or having a short snooze? Or perhaps they had (like what seems to go on in Knesset) left the hall? Dunno.

My professor is an esteemed Milton expert. In fact, he wrote an introduction to the Hebrew translation of Aeropagatica. I imagine if anyone can help me “appreciate” this long, drawn-out diatribe, it will be him. So, while I consider reading it (at this point) to be somewhat tortuous, I am looking forward (sort of) to class tomorrow to see what will come out of it.

Comments welcome!


If Milton wrote nursery rhymes

Continuing with my (doubts about taking this) course on Milton:

I did email the professor, who answered that I shouldn’t feel so inferior, and probably lots of others in the class also feel as I do (lacking proper background) and not be afraid to ask questions and that perhaps he was not doing enough to give background info.

Which was nice, in itself, but didn’t help much to improve my knowledge. I did continue with my “Basic English Lit” book. Which, if not helping to understand Milton, has added somewhat to missing background info.

However, can’t say I’m getting more optimistic about the course. If anything, I’m feeling more panic.

Last week we were discussing Milton’s “Masque.” I read it and all the accompanying pieces the prof had recommended. Sitting in class I realized I  should have read it at least once more (probably 2-3 times more). My memory sucks. However, I think I did make a “profound” comment by noting that today’s weddings and bar mitzvahs are the 17th century’s masques. Well, aren’t they? Conspicuous consumption at their best!

Now I am reading Lycidas — 165 lines that really could have been expressed in, say, 40.  I hope Milton’s followers won’t organize a lynch party, but … jeez  this guy is very HEAVY. And such a show-off: “Hey guys! Look at all my knowledge about the Greek and Roman myths and stuff.” And VERBOSE!  “Hey man! Look how I can say ‘pass the butter’ in one hundred words or more!”  Heavy, heavy, heavy.

Take an example:

And purple all the ground with vernal flowres.
Bring the rathe Primrose that forsaken dies.
The tufted Crow-toe, and pale Jasmine,
The white Pink, and the Pansie freakt with jeat,
The glowing Violet. [ 145 ]
The Musk-rose, and the well attir’d Woodbine,
With Cowslips wan that hang the pensive hed,
And every flower that sad embroidery wears:
Bid Amaranthus all his beauty shed,
And Daffadillies fill their cups with tears, [ 150 ]
To strew the Laureat Herse where Lycid lies.
For so to interpose a little ease,

It’s like: “Well… if I’m already talking about a flower, let me put in every type of flower I can think of. ” (Here’s another person’s opinion of the flowers in Lycidas. Basically, he’s saying that Milton just stuck in any ol’ flowers.)

Now, I’ll talk about another passage: Lines  64-84.

Alas! What boots it with uncessant care
To tend the homely slighted Shepherds trade, [ 65 ]
And strictly meditate the thankles Muse,
Were it not better don as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
Or with the tangles of Neæra’s hair?
Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise [ 70 ]
(That last infirmity of Noble mind)
To scorn delights, and live laborious dayes;
But the fair Guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with th’ abhorred shears, [ 75 ]
And slits the thin spun life. But not the praise,
Phœbus repli’d, and touch’d my trembling ears;
Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Nor in the glistering foil
Set off to th’ world, nor in broad rumour lies, [ 80 ]
But lives and spreds aloft by those pure eyes,
And perfet witnes of all judging Jove;
As he pronounces lastly on each deed,
Of so much fame in Heav’n expect thy meed.

I’ve read it at least five times and still can’t fathom what it means (and that’s reading with annotations and OUT LOUD). (Update, March 26: For a complete analysis of the above lines, go to the Shmoop site.)

It’s like taking some perfectly sensible, simple stuff, and adding in as many words as possible (some of which make no sense?) that need a degree (make that a doctorate) in ancient literature to decipher.

So, continuing with the dog theme of my previous posts, I will do some Milton “magic”  …   catch it here.