A Conversation from 1975

Jonathan Bellman

Spring 1975.

Dramatis personæ:

  1. SANDRA EAGLETON, my Advanced Placement English Teacher, my senior year at Claremont High School, who had also taught English part time at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, in my father’s department.

JON, a long-haired, mouthy legend in his own mind.


SE:  Jon, would you like to be an English professor like your Dad?

JB:  God, no.  Anything but.

SE [consternation]:  Why not?

JB: I know what it’s like when I write papers for you—beating my brains out the night before it’s due.  I do NOT want to spend college like that, trying to think of something to say.

SE [smiling knowingly]:  You’d be surprised how many English majors are like that.

JB:  I know, but…

*            *            *            *            *            *            *            *

Dear Dr. Eagleton,

I know you’re no longer among us, having lost a long battle to cancer some years ago, and I regret that we never reconnected after I found my way to a somewhat different career choice, but an academic one that involved writing papers.  Perhaps you saw something I didn’t yet know was there.  What I can say is that in most cases I’m done with my papers much further in advance than I seem to be right now.  OK, so it’s two nights before, not the night before, but still.  I do find myself smiling and thinking of you tonight, though, and of our conversation so many years ago.  Thanks for everything you provided us, not least the challenge and attention and modeling of what teaching really could and should be.

And yeah, I’d better get back to my impending local AMS paper now.  Wishing you and all with you in the Empyrean every eternal Joy.

All Best,

Jon (Bellman; Sam’s son)

About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
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4 Responses to A Conversation from 1975

  1. Bob says:

    Hi Jonathan,
    Did you see the tirade against Strunk & White in the Chronicle? Quite amusing, a propos of Writing Advice I Got In High School!

  2. jonathan says:

    No subscription, Bob, so I couldn’t get beyond the first few words. I always liked S & W, though–the penultimate edition, though. This last (Roger Angell, if I’m not mistaken?) is too wordy.

  3. Greg says:

    Here’s the subscription-free link to the piece on S&W if you want it, Jonathan…
    Probably won’t change anyone’s mind, but it’s a fun read, nonetheless.

  4. jonathan says:

    Favorite phrase: “toxic mix of purism, atavism, and personal eccentricity.” Prof. Pullum describes Strunk and White this way, and I find it an apt description of his own piece. I don’t think he gives sufficient consideration to the idea that their usage is basically U.S. usage, and most of his counterexamples were born and raised in…you know, the pink bits–the British Empire. It’s also kind of funny the way he fulminates about their grammar while his own writing illustrates some of the stylistic tics they warn against. But never mind; he’s a prof at a lovely (if frigid) place, one of the great universities, and I suppose that people who go volcanic at perceived grammatical inconsistencies are part of the reason there’ll always be an England. Or Scotland. Or Imperial midset!

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