On and off, or maybe a little more than that, I have questioned my youthful decision to study Comparative Literature for my doctorate rather than sticking with the discipline I am most at home with, Classics. I do kind of seem to have a yen for thinking comparatively and in terms of what appear to be hugely opposite entities with nothing to do with each other and to get myself into overcomplicated scenarios explaining the connection. How else did I choose to write my dissertation on a Roman didactic poem on agriculture (Virgil's Georgics), a philosophic dialogue on rhetoric and writing (Plato's Phaedrus), and an avant-garde multimedia prose and poetry text by a Korean-American artist and filmmaker (Theresa Has Kyung Cha's Dictee)?
Now, it's remote teaching of classical Greek and Latin and ancient Greek and Roman literature and history, and of adults with developmental disabled adults. My own classes and supporting Charlie using WhatsApp and Zoom — for around 5 hours some days — to participate in the adult day program he has been in since June of 2019, after he received his certificate of completion from his oh so wonderful autism school.
It’s been a transformative time, these past several months during the coronavirus pandemic. Charlie does 1:1 daily sessions with his job coach — we do math problems (he is pretty good with a calculator), a bit of arts and crafts (drawing), listening to books, exercise with music, watching movies on topics like nutrition and good habits — and group sessions with the clients and staff.
Once upon a time, I named his iPad “Malum,” Latin for “apple” and “bad thing” — because that iPad, while giving him the chance to practice the alphabet doing “type B ocean” for YouTube videos of the Teletubbies, the Wiggles and Barney, and choose music on iTunes, was also the font of trouble, encapsulated the night I asked him to turn off Sugarcane Harris playing “Song For My Father” and Charlie bolted (we were in the car which wasn’t, at the moment, moving; we were also across the street from an on-ramp to the Garden State Parkway).
That wasn’t Charlie’s first iPad, the original not exactly working after water or other fluidic exposure. In those days, he couldn’t let go and still carried around one ever more vestigial iPad beneath the one that became, increasingly, stim-device.
Many minus-iPad minus-tech-in-Charlie’s-life years, and quite fine ones with lots and lots of bike riding and lots of horses, have followed. Charlie remains (as I once shocked my videographer cousin regarding) totally immune to advertising and the most million-dollar-marketing strategy. After watching a couple of laptops be cancelled (thrown, tossed, buried under a bookshelf and its contents, keyboard ripped all gone), I clung to the little one with the broken A key and full-up hard drive (because I couldn’t bear to remove photos and photos and consign Charlie’s disaster-provoking Disney mp3 files to deletion) that I’d purchased from a major New Jersey mall until, on the eve of the implementation of shelter-in-place orders in mid-March, and knowing there’d likely be months, months, months of online teaching ahead, I got a new one because you can only have so many technical difficulties when class after class after class after this after that is online and remote; when students refer to sitting in a room together with wistful nostalgia. And because around here electronics no longer go flying.
Charlie likes to watch the Beatles on YouTube sitting in the big blue chair with Jim and grins to see his peers on his multifarious Zooms, and the staff and the program director and behaviorist and his job coach and her grandson, while I grade and teach that new machine.
As things out there go pessime, Charlie’s life says something good and fine, to kalon (τὸ κάλον), can come back.