I’m at an age where I pay more attention than formerly to texts on health and Thanatos. Among the authors I seem to be engaged with are Atul Gawande, Sherwin Nuland, Jerome Groopman, Jenny Diski, and most recently Colm Tóibín. I’m especially interested in the grace and wit these writers apply to the direst of subject matter. Thus Tóibín in a recent article in London Review of Books:
A week later the phone rang and I was told that I had a cancer of the testicles that had spread to a lymph node and to one lung. Instead of seeing the urologist, I would now need to see an oncologist. For a few days I comforted myself by pretending that, because of my abiding interest in the mysteries and niceties of Being, I had to see an ontologist… (18 April 2019, page 3)
The art of the grim jest, the sardonic and the mordant, is not to everyone’s taste. Once again, Amazon seems to be reading my mind: as I wrote the last sentence, email binged a come-on for Tony Moyle’s The End of the World is Nigh (“If you love books about con-men, conspiracies, Renaissance history, massive agitated boar, exploding beds, marmalade and historical satire then this is the book for you…”). Did I succumb? Of course.
During a visit to Vashon Island, a series of unplanned conjunctions took me to the Vashon Bookshop for a half hour of browsing before our reservation at the marvelous May Kitchen and Bar. This book leapt into my arms:
Stephen De Staebler was my 9th grade history teacher (1957-58), and offered a high-energy version of World History to a class of 15 or so engaged and eager students. He also taught a class in stained glass for 5 of us, with lead and solder and glass cutters, the real deal. He was only at the school for a year, but was unforgettable for his contagious enthusiasm. He went on to become a well-known sculptor and teacher at San Francisco State, and died in 2011. His website (stephendestaebler.com
) represents his work quite well. I was something between delighted and gobsmacked to discover a gallery of masks
that presage my recent work with lithic personalities
. At the very least, we draw upon the same mysterious vein of mimetic imagery (“a term used in literary criticism and philosophy that carries a wide range of meanings which include imitatio, imitation, nonsensuous similarity, receptivity, representation, mimicry, the act of expression, the act of resembling, and the presentation of the self” in its Wikipedia rendering). There’s also this quote to consider:
Much of art is play in the serious sense,
like magic, trying to restructure reality
so that we can live with the suffering.
-Stephen De Staebler, 1984
I’m not quite sure what to do with “the suffering” but I’m pleased to consider what he might mean. It’s the sort of responsibility one has toward one’s well-remembered teachers. Alas, there are only a couple of 9th grade classmates left who remember Steve De Staebler, and I wish I’d been able to convey my thanks to him for what he taught and what he Taught.