Thursday, March 14, 2013

COMMENTARY: Arachno-Funk, Part 1

Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone.....

You've all probably heard the old folk song, but it's true.  I never really appreciated the education I got from Oklahoma City's inner-city schools until Barack Obama ran for President the second term.

An article I read described President Obama as being able to understand world problems better because he grew up as an "international kid."  He learned from living in Hawaii and visiting various countries how other cultures work and how to get along.

I got some of that coming up at Central Junior High and Classen High.  Unlike my Wonder-bread elementary school, we had Black, Native American from half a dozen or more different tribes, Hispanic, and in my last years, Vietnamese students all mingling in the melting pot of public education.

Yeah, it was stressful, but it was good. I learned about fry bread and kitchens (not the kind you cook in), appreciated the accordion in conjunta music, learned to sing gospel well enough to be asked to join the Gospel Choir, and appreciate bun. (Vietnamese dish) And that's just for starters.

I wish I could say my school experience was like that. I'm one of those old hippie types who really does want everyone to live together in peace. Sadly, no. We had our share of racial tension. Even had a special pep assembly to try and get us to come together. The Student Council Vice President who suggested we should get along got a brick thrown through his windshield.

On the other hand, two years after I graduated, Classen High School kicked the KKK off the campus. This was a united force representing all the races of the student population. I was never so proud of my old school.

Now, Classen is an advanced studies magnet school, in 2009, one of the top in the nation. Do they always clean up the place after I'm gone? Perhaps it's karma from the Class of 1978!

I really did learn a lot about different cultures from Classen, but what I'm talking about today is learning how cultures share an iconic image in their mythology.

In this case, it's this guy and his kin:

It's Mythology class right after lunch and we're discussing Greek, Roman and Norse myths.

"Why are we learning this?"  I hear from one of my fellow students. "Do you see any Greeks, Romans or Norse folk in here?"

A show of hands revealed none of us believed we were such. Only our teacher had any Norse connection and that was on her husband's side of the family. We had some pretty diverse culture represented:  American Indian, Black, and I spoke up for Scotland.

"What do you suggest?" Mrs. Adams asked. "This is the textbook we've got. What are we going to do about it?"

Can you hear the pin drop in our classroom? 

"Those of you who want can do special reports on myths from your culture," Mrs. Ericson said. "It's extra credit and will help you with your final."

My hand shot up first. Yeah, I'm that kind of student--in English class--plus, I had a bad case of Senioritis and that whole idea sounded a lot better than studying hard for a final when I had invitations and Baccalaureate and all that graduating stuff to do.

This was easier said that one; however. Our small school library had tons of books on mythology. Unfortunately, they were all pretty much related to Zeus/Jupiter and Odin.  Lucky for us, OCU was close and if you looked really sad and promised not to mess up anything, they'd let you in their library.

I picked the kelpie or Ech Uisque--the waterhorse of Celtic myth which often lured humans to their death in the rivers and lochs. The ech uiqque plays a part in one of my short stories which has yet to see the light of day. For more on that legend, click here: 

Kelpie Legend

But Crystal picked the mythical character who had me entranced:  Anansi. I hope Crystal decided to be a Griot. She rocked that report.

Of course, I was prejudiced.  I still had my Creepy Crawlers set from when I was a kid and I "cooked bugs" every Halloween from a carefully-cadged supply of "goop."  I cooked the spiders. The rest of the molds bored me.

One of our Native American students added that Vehoo was a Cheyenne legend and a trickster like Anansi.

"Spiders were considered beneficial in Celtic myth," I added. "There's even a story where a spider helped Robert the Bruce kick the English out of Scotland."

Robert the Bruce and the Spider

You ever have a moment where you sit and look at your friends and classmates and realize yeah, we're different, but we're also alike.  We write stories about the things and creatures that are important to us and we pass them along to future generations, first beside campfires and on into the classroom. 

I was a fan of mythology since fifth grade when my teacher handed me a copy of Bullfinch's Mythology, but they were just tales until then....

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, March 2013

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