Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dr. Douglas Brooks 1956-2009

Dr. Brooks came to the University the same semester that I did. He moved from Harlem to teach Early Modern Studies to the young Texas public university kids. Looking back now, I can't help but think he was crazy. Then again, those are hard spots to get. Either way, I was a math major, so what did I care? After my first semester and what was to be the last English class of my life, I discovered that I never wanted to stop. Maybe it was Keats, maybe it was the girl with the ivy tattoo, but somehow I ended up in Brooks' office to chat about my conversion. I hadn't taken his classes yet, though I would; we just became friends. During lectures, he would race around the room and say almost anything. Whenever he burst forth a joke about the Brits, he would apologize to me with a "british" gesture aimed at my seat. During a particularly spirited sprint in celebration of Swift's "excremental vision," Brooks lost his footing and tumbled down the stairs in the center aisle of the lecture theater. He sprang up and continued, despite having broken his foot. He showed up two days later with crutches and a cast! I recorded his more amusing outbursts in the margins of my notebook, and I wasn't the only one. Every semester the kids would compare notes and print off a one-sheet of the best tangents, malapropisms etc. from the course and post it on his office door. He was a marvelous teacher, a crazy bass player (though hard to play with), and a huge fan of music, namely Early-Modern period music, Yes, and The Residents, who I saw the very night I decided to start this blog.

I last saw him at the University in 2008. I was there to see a show, and to offer the use of my apartment for him to visit his son. I believe his ex-wife had moved with the boy back to The City. Anyway. I found out he was ill through a friend a short while later. I tried to see him, but I couldn't get in touch. I guess he didn't want to say goodbye to everyone. I understand that. Goodbye can only mean death in today's culture, with phones and internet to keep people connected - and to know that you have a limited time left is the worst thing for a formidable mind to endure. I knew this day was coming, and that is precisely why it is so sad. Brooks would take on this discussion with me, I know, but he also said once during a lecture, "Beautiful writing gets me every time. Beauty in general gets me every time. If people want to live in a world of ugliness, that's their problem. But not me." This is from Lycidas. I know Brooks loved Milton, and this poem definitely got me.

Weep no more, woful Shepherds weep no more,
For Lycidas your sorrow is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the watry floar,
So sinks the day-star in the Ocean bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled Ore,
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky:
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high,
Through the dear might of him that walk'd the waves;
Where other groves, and other streams along,
With Nectar pure his oozy Lock's he laves,
And hears the unexpressive nuptiall Song,
In the blest Kingdoms meek of joy and love.
There entertain him all the Saints above,
In solemn troops, and sweet Societies
That sing, and singing in their glory move,
And wipe the tears for ever from his eyes.
Now Lycidas the Shepherds weep no more;
Hence forth thou art the Genius of the shore,
In thy large recompense, and shalt be good
To all that wander in that perilous flood.

Thus sang the uncouth Swain to th' Okes and rills,
While the still morn went out with Sandals gray,
He touch'd the tender stops of various Quills,
With eager thought warbling his Dorick lay:
And now the Sun had stretch'd out all the hills,
And now was dropt into the Western bay;
At last he rose, and twitch'd his Mantle blew:
To morrow to fresh Woods, and Pastures new.

His memorial service at the University is Feb 20th. I wish I could go. Instead, I scoured my closet and found my notes from ENGL 390: The English Bible. I went through the whole thing so that some of you ex-students could enjoy some vintage Brooks one last time:

"Moses had the equivalent of a tupperware crisis."

"I don't use the black marker because it makes me look like a street urchin in France."

"Now that Kmart's gone bankrupt, I feel compelled to offer cheap discount notes on knowledge."

"When Christians try to be the people of the book they feel the need to kick the Jews in their scrotes."

"God's like Santa Claus times five - he's REALLY been watching you."

"So, the nice guy in the Pope-Mobile, does he hold the keys of life and death?"

"Sounds like one of those crazy books you'd read in California."

"He couldn't believe I recognized him! When in doubt, stalk!"

"We are two geeks with text. We're pigs in shit here."

"I'm not gonna take on the world today. I'm gonna take on two ways of writing an essay."

"This guy says, "Off with your head." This guy says, "But there's something in my head."

"Any new brushes with fame? My dog sniffed Billy Joel's dog last summer. It was all very exciting."

"Keep in mind the 'obedience' stuff. I've erased it in a moment of blackboard wizardry."

"Humor me for an hour. Act like I know what I'm doing."

"None of these numbers are correct, but I'm doing them to make a pattern."

"The king has two bodies, you have one. Michael Jackson has at least two bodies - he's the king of pop (followed by a slightly insane laugh)."

"You've read the Faerie Queen! I knew there was a reason I liked you. I mean, other than that you're really nice."


Vanessa said...

Thanks for posting this; it's good to see that other people loved him enough to hang on to old undergrad notes, too. I try to model my teaching after his, to some extent, so I think about him quite a bit during the semester, but these quotes still brought up new memories that made me laugh. I'll miss him.

Camille said...

Ugh. My heart breaks,...Sorry I don't have more poetic words now. I'm still mad. Thank you for writing this. said...

I miss you Dougie. You will always be such an important person in my life. I owe so much to you. I can only hope to use the tools you gave me to help others. Your legacy will live forever.