Last night I watched Bright Star, a newish movie directed by Jane Campion about John Keats by way of his fiancee and muse, Fanny Brawne. It was wonderful. The sense of the seasons, the acting, and my God, the costuming–for me it was pitch-perfect. Even the Husband watched it, when he hadn’t thought he was interested.

And it’s a good thing I did watch it. Otherwise, who knows how long it would have been before I realized that John Keats is my favorite English poet? And that he has been for years, except I didn’t know?

I think about the principles that guide my life. I try really hard to notice when I am acting from my own good thoughts, and when my culture is merely performing me. Batman, the single most determined and mindful superhero in existence, is my patron for many excellent reasons. The search for beauty and truth is one of these principles.

Just today at dinner, my mother-in-law mentioned that due to her school’s new diversity training, she and the other teachers were no longer allowed to have Christmas parties or bulletin boards or celebrate it in any other way–nor any other holidays, to be sure. I was speechless. It’s kind of funny, but it’s the perfect example of how West Virginia is exactly 20 years behind the rest of the nation. Husband says he was not only never taught about religions, he was occasionally lectured that only saved Christians would escape Hell.

But there’s a kind of evenness still between my education and his. He may have never learned about basic cultural ideas as far as religions, but I never learned the name of the man who wrote the line that inspired me as much or more than anything else I ever read:

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

I am entirely certain I never read “Ode on a Grecian Urn” before last night. I picked up the line from culture, as one picks up so many things. I was enchanted by the idea and have thought about it for years. At times I have agreed entirely and other times I have felt that while beautiful, it lacks some dimension of truth–it leaves something out. Currently I am able to wiggle philosophically into agreeing completely again.

Which brings me to this: having an American public school education as I do, and being as determined as I am to be well-educated and well-read, I have so much catching up to do! I finally read Moby-Dick a year or two ago, at least ten years after I should have. I have never read Don Quixote, Milton, Chaucer, all of Beowulf, enough Emerson or Whitman, Thoreau, Yeats, much Shelley, Byron, Joyce, the full Inferno (only an abridged high school version), the Aeneid, the Iliad…so, so many great works that I am quite certain would help me learn how to be a better human being.

Now, on the other hand, I have read some useful and excellent works that no English class ever heard of. Godbody by Theodore Sturgeon. The Callahan Books by Spider Robinson. Illusions and Jonathon Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (OK, a few English classes may, please God, have heard of that one). The Graveyard Book–that one taught me what it means to grow up and to be alive.

So I don’t mean that I am illiterate, except by the Heinlein definition (that is, I cannot read French, Spanish, Greek and Hebrew, and my Latin is very poor). But I do mean this: of all my friends, everyone I’ve spoken to, I received the best education with the most excellent teachers. And there is still all this, that I never received.

Here, for contrast, I present a clip of Mr. Stephen Fry conversing with Mr. Craig Ferguson. I love and admire both of these men and would dearly love to be able to take part in this conversation. But note at the 4:13 mark: how many graduates of American public high schools could join in the quotation, as Craig did?