A couple of weeks ago I started writing about a high school English teacher of mine and ended up writing about how I got into theatre (pretty much accidentally). That post turned into the story of finding a completely new direction I never knew existed. In one way or another, that new direction has been part of my compass ever since. At first it was an intended career, but it turned out my career followed a direction discovered much later.
In that post, I mentioned that I would write about the intended subject another time.
It is now another time.
Before I start, an update. The first high school English teacher I wrote about was Mr. Wilson. A friend from high school recently let me know that he died earlier this year. So the memory post is now a memorial post. RIP, sir! You touched many lives.
As I mentioned in the post about Mr. Wilson, he was my English teacher in both sophomore and senior years.
For freshman year, I had a teacher named Mrs. McGee. That was the name we called her, but her original name was Phyllis Love, and she was an actress before she was an English teacher. [Here’s her IMDB bio.] She had success on the Broadway stage, appeared in television shows from 1950-1970, and she was in two movies. Her biggest movie role was as Mattie Birdwell in Friendly Persuasion.
Unfortunately, this post is also a memorial post. That makes two more people who were important in my past that have washed off the sandbar.
If you read her bio, you’ll see that she went to high school in Des Moines, Iowa, with Cloris Leachman. They remained good friends from then on, and that’s why she was able to get the cast of the Mary Tyler Moore show to come present at our high school theatre awards show. (Except for Mary herself, of course.)
[Wow! That just hit me. My first high school English teacher has a Wiki page and an IMDB page. Whatever else, I have managed to have an interesting life!]
Freshman English with Mrs. McGee was about what you would expect for first year high school students. Her acting background didn’t come up often then. Two years later, she took over the role of drama teacher; that was during my last two years. (The teacher I mentioned, our director “Jack,” had left to pursue Hollywood dreams.)
I’ve already told you about the drama awards show. I wanted to write about Mrs. McGee because—as with Mr. Wilson—I wanted to commemorate these people who helped shape my life. And in this case—also as with Mr. Wilson— I have a very small, very old bone to pick.
In the Brain Bubble posted recently, I mentioned I was digging through old boxes looking for a science fiction short story I wrote in high school. Specifically, I was looking for the one I wrote in Mrs. McGee’s class during my freshman year. She gave me a poor grade for it.
Even at the time I knew I didn’t deserve the low mark. A classmate, another science fiction fan, supported my contention to no avail. The grade stood. And the thing is, the element for which she down-graded me was an element I’d adapted from existing science fiction . (Adapted, borrowed, emulated, played homage to, stolen… it’s all a matter of degree.)
Thing is, Mr. Wilson was arguably right about “nearly unique,” but I know I was right about my story. I’d written a hugely long-range tale about civilization advancing to the point of travel between galaxies. And war between galaxies.
My story ended far into the future when the universe got so old and tired that, “one by one the galaxies simply faded and went out.” (I’m quoting from memory, so the wording might not be exactly right.)
Mrs. McGee objected on the grounds that galaxies don’t just go out.
Apparently she’d never read Arthur Clarke‘s Nine Billion Names of God. In that short story (one of my all-time favorites), monks with computers are attempting to calculate the nine-billion names of God. Two computer techs who helped set this up are leaving, and as they do they wonder what will happen when the computer run completes. They look up, and “Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.”
What’s even funnier is that we now think the eventual fate of the universe is something somewhat along those lines.
Until almost 100 years ago, we thought the universe just was; it existed in a steady state. Then a guy, named Edwin Hubble, figured out that all the galaxies we can see are receding from us. That means they all started in one place and exploded outwards. We call that the Big Bang. One question we’ve had since then is whether there was enough mass in the universe to eventually cause it to collapse into the Big Crunch. If not, then the universe would keep expanding.
We’ve discovered recently that not only will the universe keep expanding, but a thing we call dark energy is pushing the expansion faster and faster. (When you hear the term dark energy you should substitute in your mind: not a clue, so we made up the name dark energy.)
So the ultimate fate of the universe (we now think) is not the Big Crunch, but the Big Rip. Eventually galaxies will be torn apart, then solar systems, then planets and stars, and eventually all matter will be ripped into its basic components (leptons and bosons and quarks, oh my).
So… I was right in the metaphorical poetic sense.
I was right in the narrative precedent sense.
And I was right in the literal, actual, physics-based, factual sense!
So booya onya, Mrs. McGee! We loved ya dearly, but ya got this one wrong.
I want my grade upgraded! 🙂