Did Harry Ever Really Meet Sally?

when harry met sally

My husband and I have had a long standing argument about When Harry Met Sally… that 1989 romantic comedy with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. In it Harry Burns, Billy Crystal’s character continues to maintain that men and women can’t be friends because the sex always gets in the way, and the movie goes on to show sex getting in the way of Harry’s and Sally’s friendship. My husband maintains that this argument is correct. I have always contended that, while this is amusing, it is not honest, that men and women can and should be friends. In my own life I have many male friends with whom there is no sexual tension or even a hint of sexual interest. I also think that this idea is deeply dangerous to marriage. If men and women cannot be friends because the sex always gets in the way, then what does that say about marriage? What does that say about a relationship that is supposed to based on mutual respect, love and companionship? Sex is, of course, part of marriage, but it’s not everything, and if there’s no room for friendship, then what?

But the problem that I see in adhering so strongly to this belief is that it cuts off the possibility of friendship between half the human race. It segregates and ghettoizes the sexes, for a really antiquated reason. Given today’s work places, and fluid child care arrangements, men and women must work together in ways that they would not have during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Think about TV’s Mad Men, the roles of men and women that show are very clearly proscribed and even the professional women are not accorded the same status as the men. However, much, tho’ not all of that has changed in the last 60 or so years, and while, not perfect, there is more equality in the work place, and more parents are sharing child care responsibility. Labor is less divided along gender roles. If men and women cannot be friend in the work place, what does that do to working together on joint projects, working cooperatively, working as a team. To assume that men and women cannot be friends because sex always gets in the way is to assume that men are always sexual predators.

Harry and Sally spend a lot of time walking around New York, being friends, but when Harry wants to talk about something serious he has to resort to silly voices. He can’t take an emotional risks without slipping into “character.”  It is difficult to have a real friendship with someone whose does this, who takes on a “persona” when he wants to reach into emotional territory.

At the end of the movie, Harry runs across New York (and the movie is an homage to Manhattan) to find Sally at a New Year’s Eve dance because at one time, earlier in the movie they had promised each other that neither of them would let the other be alone on New Year’s Eve. He tells he loves her.. in words like “When you realize that you want to be with someone the rest of your life, then you have to start now” Sally’s response is, “I hate you, Harry Burns, I hate you.”

Her response has always chilled me on several levels. First of all, it’s not true and she could say “I love you,” back to him. She does love him in some weird way. But it also feels to me like a capitulation to a kind of 1950’s relationship. It seems to me that Sally sees that the only way for her to have a relationship with Harry is totally on his terms. We know that they will settle into a traditional marriage, as the little interviews with the older couples in the movie attest, and on some level, will never know each other.

After Harry and Sally have sex in the movie, and it messes up their friendship, they each call their best friends to talk about the situation. I wonder what would have happened if Harry had called Sally’s friend, Marie, and Sally had called Harry’s friend, Jess. They might have had a chance to learn something about each other and about the opposite sex instead of simply slipping into the old clichés about relationships.

The difficulty is that the old clichés about relationships don’t work. They leave partners wondering about how to talk to each other. They let partners turn to their same sex friends to reinforce the clichés. Opening up friendship to include friends of both sexes might actually provide a refreshing and less stale perspective on the world.

Jane

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A New Semester

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It’s August once again, and inevitably we begin thinking about the beginning of school. While many students in this country do not start until after Labor Day, most of us in the Rocky Mountain West start in late August. Our community college classes start on August 24, with faculty returning the week before. What spread out before me in May as a long and restful summer is coming to a crashing and busy end. But what I didn’t know when school ended in May was how my plans for the fall would change.

About a week ago, a friend of mine called and asked me if I would be interested in using her extensive research and material about American prisoners of war in WWII for a writing class, designing some way to help her begin to create curriculum to use the material she has collected over that last 20 years. All it took was one meeting with her to make me realize that I had just been given an incredible gift, a chance for students to work with primary source material, for them to learn history from letters, to learn about real people experiencing real hardship.

I have now rewritten the course outline for my English 1010 (college comp ) classes, designed a final project and decided on readings and on writing assignments. Luckily, I can do this easily, but what is important here, is not that I can do this, but that I should do this. As teachers, it is too easy to rely on the “same-old, same –old,” the tried and probably not so true material and techniques.   Writing texts are generally boring, generally not exciting, but going straight to a primary source, (in this case, letters from POWs) is fresh, is new and will fire the imaginations of students who are, for the most part, expecting school to be a not very exciting necessity.

The world is too rich a place for school to be dull, but school is dull if teachers are not excited about what they are doing. I am thrilled to have access to some new material even if it means a little extra work. I am lucky to have had this opportunity dumped in my lap. It is often too easy to say no, to come up with an excuse about not having time or not feeling comfortable trying something new at the last minute, but we miss out on so much unless we are willing to jump in, to take a chance, experiment. Writing can be taught in almost any context, and I, for one, do not want to read essays about what someone did on their summer vacation. I would rather read essays in which students struggle with new ideas that have been generated by reading things these students have never read before, generated by students grappling how others have coped with terrible experiences.

Besides the primary sources of the letters themselves, we will be reading two books, The Railway Man by Erik Lomax and Escape from Davao by John D. Lucas. The Lomax book is a first hand account of his imprisonment and torture by the Japanese during the war. Lomax ultimately, many years later, meets one of the men who tortured him. He comes to understand that the experience of torture is as damaging to the torturer as it is to the tortured. In this times when the United States has clearly engaged in torture of many people, this book will, I hope, provoke many conversations about the futility of war and of torture.

I cannot think of a more exciting way to begin my last year of teaching before I retire.

Jane

Summer Reading List

lawnchairThis month on Write Some Whatnot, we ask the question “what are you reading?” This would seem to be an easy question, but I struggle to know what to write.

Many people picture teachers, instructors, and professors spending summers reading on the beach or on a lawn chair. My lawn chair remains empty, however, as I spend time teaching summer classes, writing grants for a non-profit organization, and writing technical documentation.

A few weeks ago, I attended a writing conference in Cheyenne, and there I gathered another stack of books and added to my reading list. So, I share with you this list and hope that we will all find some time to read peacefully.

  • By Tina Ann Forkner, Rose House, Ruby Among Us, and Waking Up Joy.
  • By Laura Pritchett, Red Lightning and Stars Go Blue. She has written several other novels, but these are the two that intrigue me the most.
  • By Craig Johnson, Dry Bones, the latest installment of the Longmire Mysteries
  • By Alexandra Fuller, Leaving Before the Rains Come
  • And finally, Talk like TED by Carmine Gallo. This book will be required in my Spring 2016 Composition II courses.

Someday, I’ll ask you to read my own books, too.

Until I have time to dive into those books, for now, I’m reading grant application requirements, technical manuals, student essays, and from time-to-time, my own and friends’ writing. In the midst of this busy time, however, I do find time to do some fishing and bike riding. I only wish the summer would slow down a bit. It’s moving much too fast.

Happy Reading!
~ Keri

” I Believe in Books”

 

PeopleReading[1]

My granddaughter, who is in year six, at the primary school in her English village, participates in a Philosophy class in which the students, ten and eleven year-olds, engage in complex and difficult discussions. Recently her class was invited to hold their discussion on the stage in an auditorium filled with attendees at a Religious Education Conference held in a nearby town. (This being England and not the United States, there is no separation of church and state. Queen Elizabeth is, after all, called, among other things, “Defender of the Faith,” just as Henry the XIII was.)  These students decided on the question that they would be discussing, “Do people choose religion or does religion choose people?”  At the beginning of the discussion, the children introduced themselves and gave a small description of their own religious experiences.  My granddaughter was the first to introduce herself. She gave her name and then she said, “I have my own religion.” She stopped there and did not elucidate further.  Later in the car on the way home, her father asked her what her religion was. She answered that she believed in books, and then she went on to say that sometimes she asked characters in books to help her if she had questions about something.

Aside from the fact that she is my granddaughter, and I might be prejudiced, I actually think that this is quite profound on a number of levels. First, when children read books that have characters who get themselves out of difficult situations, or solve interesting problems, they see  examples of admirable behavior. I remember reading Little Women and thinking about a passage in which Jo asks her mother if she has ever been angry. Her mother answers that she is often angry but she has learned how to (and I am paraphrasing here) temper that anger, she has learned how to say nothing when what she has to say would be said in anger. This passage has stayed with me much of my adult life.  But we don’t need to read work as didactic as Little Women in order to learn something.  Many children have learned to be resourceful by reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and certainly Harry Potter shows us ways to grow up, even without magic wands.

My granddaughter is also participating in a far larger community than she realizes, since the Abrahamic religions that predate Islam, that is Judaism and Christianity, have both been called “People of the Book.”  Not only does this tell us that these religions have sacred texts, the Torah, the Bible, but also that participants in these religions understand that there is something important to be gained from reading, thinking about, and analyzing texts. Hermeneutics, or the analysis of text for meaning, was originally applied to sacred texts, the Bible in particular, and so what my granddaughter was saying about her religion being books really connects her to a far older tradition.  When we think about the stories in the ancient text, we think about what they teach us. What many ideas can we take away from the story of Ruth, for example, or the story of the Good Samaritan?

My granddaughter’s response reminds me again, as if I needed reminding again, that reading is critical, not only to developing analytical skill and understanding what stories have to teach us, but reading is critical  to developing empathy.  Several semesters ago, I taught three books as part of a second level writing course, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and Winter in the Blood  by James Welch. I wanted to teach the two novels by Native  American writers, but I wanted my students to have some background in Native American History before they read the novels, and therefore, I assigned the Dee Brown book. At the end of the course, I asked students to describe what they had learned in the course of the semester. One student wrote that he had learned to think about his own opinions and to decide whether or not those opinions were based on fact or prejudice. I cannot think of a more important thing for a student to learn. While it is possible that this student would have learned that elsewhere, reading books that took him out of his own experience and showed him the experiences of other people, helped him become a more empathetic person.

So, I, too, believe in books.

 

Wild Friendship

The Peace of Wild Things
By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Last week I taped this short Wendell Berry poem to my desk. I remembered the poem in time to send it to a friend for her birthday – words are our best gifts to each other nearly ten years into a friendship marked mainly by raising children and growing up ourselves. We talk daily, cutting the distance between her California exile and my mountain home with text messages and harried phone conversations. We have some standing rules: hanging-up in mid-sentence without explanation is acceptable, often necessary; whining about husbands is allowable, but both men are saints for putting up with us and should be defended; our children are beautiful, nearly perfect, and will grow up just fine despite our neuroses and constant need to analyze their lives. We have a well-honed pattern for hashing out ideas – we talk it over and over and over; throw words at the problem – circle round it and rehash; think it to death.Mari and Sj
 
I’ve read that Wendel Berry and Pulitzer prizing winning poet Gary Snyder traded more than 240 letters over 40 years. Chad Wriglesworth compiled decades of this correspondence in his book Distant Neighbors The poets write about the big issues they are famous for tackling in their work: environment and place, community, religion and economics. But they also write about family and home. They share details about their marriages and their children. They hash it out. Arguments about ethics and faith thread through the narrative. They even edit each other’s poetry. Berry says their friendship and their letters are an attempt to make “as much sense of the world as possible.” He talks about carrying Snyder around in his head as he writes and farms in Kentucky; Snyder became his “binocular vision.” Snyder says the letters were a kind of conversation about learning “how to live in a place” and defining an “ethical life.” It seems clear that the California Buddhist and the Kentucky “forest” Christian hashed it all out in their letters.
 
Our phone calls between Wyoming and California will never be literary fodder, but they could serve as a sort of scrapbook of parenting and thinking in a modern era. We share the mundane: school lunches and soccer mom commutes, but we also chew on politics and faith. I would love to have my dear friend closer – I have made shameless pitches for a Wyoming move, but I do wonder how our friendship would change if we were no longer forced to talk our way through each other’s lives. She has become my binocular vision, my secondary perspective in so many ways. I notice this most in the quiet spaces between our phone calls. I find myself thinking about how I might explain something so that she can see it. Our physical distance creates a sort of distinct thinking space.
 
I ordered two leather bracelets on my friend’s 40th birthday. Berry’s words are hammered into a small metal loop on the leather: a reminder of our attachment to reason, our attempts to find all the right words, and of how often we fall short. It will remind me to appreciate the space in our longtime friendship, to appreciate the quiet “wild peace” between the conversations. We are not Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder – I will never be a poetic genius– but their enduring friendship is inspiring and seems to make our phone calls a little more legit.
 
– Sarah