Monday, February 05, 2018

Vardaman's Stamp of Approval, and a Sad Farewell to the Man

Some six or seven years ago, I sent the Vardamans a poem and an article. The poem was titled "Final Exam," and it was inspired by words of wisdom from Louis-Hector Berlioz that Vardaman loved to quote: "Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils." My poem reads as follows:
Final Exam
If time be better teacher than the rest,
I need an explanation to explain
Precisely why that final taxing test
Should have to cause such overtaxing pain.

That final is a killer, so I'm told --
No student ever makes it out alive.
I'd rather take the test when I get old,
But don't know when my test-date will arrive.

Yet if I only knew the testing place,
I'd try to stay so very far away
So as to never ever show my face
For testing on that very fateful day.

And once that final test date were surpassed,
I'd live because that final test were passed.
So much for my poem, which now appears in my book of collected poems, Radiant Snow. As for the article, it was one I'd composed for the 2011 Global Forum on Civilization and Peace, a yearly forum for which about eleven other articles had likewise been written. All articles were published together under the title Resolution of Conflict in Korea, East Asia and Beyond: Humanistic Approach. My own paper was titled "Points Toward a Culture of Discussion."

Professor Vardaman read the article, and Betsy read the poem. Here is his response to my article - and note his dark allusion to the NoZe Brotherhood, Baylor's satirical social club (to which I might or might not have belonged):
Dear Jeff,

I sit here on a Thursday evening approaching 8 p.m. and hearken back over the years, remembering such warm and fine things about you.

I take pride in you though perhaps I have no right to do so. I'm sure that all of the things that impel you to greatness took place in Salem, Arkansas, long before you appeared on Baylor's campus and in my life.

I'll always recall your intelligence, your wry humor, your hard work, and your sensitivity - despite your allegiance to a dark organization [called the NoZe Brotherhood] which made its home in Elm Mott . . . .

I recall, incidentally, some of the very, very bright people who were your fellow members in that organization. It seems to me it is now in a bit of decline. I hope that is incorrect. Baylor always needed the sharp [intellectual] knife which your group [metaphorically] thrust into the belly of our beloved Baylor. It was always done with love, not malice - I think and hope.

It is hard to believe that you have indeed become a successful Gypsy [Scholar] with your keen mind still intact.

I thank you for your warm words [about my teaching and my character]. I hope I deserve some of them.

I read your article and found it deeply interesting, indeed, in places quite fascinating. It seems to me you have asked the good questions, and you certainly have picked a judicious topic!

And it goes without saying that I agree with your basic thesis. What educated person could disagree with your opinion!

I trust you will be convincing when you deliver your paper at your conference.

It's good that you related Sam Huntington's clash of civilizations - rarely do people talk about his view of culture in a positive way as you do.

I appreciate your allowing me to read your work. It is quite stimulating.

Let me quarrel with one word you use twice in your essay. The word "probing." I think you should look it up. "Probing" is often mistaken for something more than it is. Probing means to explore a bit, not to really come to grips with the issue. The term is often misused. I will expect that you will not misuse it again.

I was very happy to find at least one thing a bit fuzzy in your thinking.

You've done it well. You've paid the price. I know it has not been easy. There's the loneliness, sometimes the rejection, sometimes the longing for rich understanding from others that just won't appear when we need it most. It pleases Betsy and me that you have been selected to discourse at this global forum. Hopefully it is more than a stewpot. With you there, I think it will be.

We wish you were at Baylor. Since you are not, it is most rewarding to hear from you.

We care about you and what happens to you and your family always.


And Betsy wrote:
Jim is very proud of you, and your sending him a copy of your paper meant a lot to him. When he put it down, the first thing he said was, "Impressive." I think that means you have taken all the final exams you need to take and have passed with flying colors.
As you see, Betsy has responded to my 'Final Exam' poem, wittily connecting its theme to the first word uttered by Professor Vardaman upon reaching the end of my paper: "Impressive."

I could ask no higher evaluation from such an elevated source, and I hope I deserved the praise. I know I'll never hear its like again, leastways not in his voice.

Now, he belongs to the ages . . .

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At 4:16 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

No disrespect to the departed professor, but "to probe" has, as one of its meanings, "to examine thoroughly" (emphasis added).

The online Merriam Webster says: "to search into and explore very thoroughly : subject to a penetrating investigation."

So there we are: probing is not exploring "a bit." Far from connoting something tentative and/or superficial, it connotes profundity, meticulousness, and thoroughness.

I don't know how the term was used in your paper, but I suspect you used it correctly. For what it's worth.

At 4:37 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I know what you mean, but I also know where Vardaman was coming from. For example, I still don't like the word "impact" used as a verb, and I avoid using it that way. Dictionaries, however, allow for that. It's like semantic shift, and one can't stop it from happening, though I do try.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:30 AM, Blogger Marianne said...

I found your blog this morning as I was seeking more information about Dr. Vardaman. I appreciate your sharing his letter and Betsy's comments. One of the last times I saw him in the past year or so, he mentioned you with great pride and warmth. You always were one of his stars. Your accomplishments are great and it is fitting you are the Gypsy Scholar. I enjoyed his correction of your word choice, as I could hear almost him saying it. Clearly, he had to dig pretty deep to find something resembling a flaw in your paper. All the best to you.

Marianne Sawyer Stambaugh

At 6:41 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I heard his voice as I was reading the made me laugh it was so completely "him." And now my eyes are welling over...

At 6:42 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

sorry -- I didn't do what ever I was supposed to do to leave my name...Ashley Bean Thornton

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Marianne, good to hear from you! I'm glad to know that you had seen Vardaman in the past year or so, and that you both remembered me. I've always wondered why Vardaman regarded me so highly. I'm just another wretch - to borrow one of his favorite words.

Anyway, how are you doing? What are you doing? Are you writing fiction? Poetry? Other? You might have noticed that I've published a book of poems and a novella. Perhaps you will be intrigued enough to purchase them . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:43 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ashley Bean Thornton, thanks for the comment!

Jeffery Hodges

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