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Weekly Wrap: Our Favorite Teachers

by Susan Henderson on December 21, 2007

My greatest teachers were not the ones in my classrooms. I had every intention of coming here today and talking about two people who shaped me at very critical times in my life – one was a little girl with a brain tumor, who I babysat for a decade; and the other was my high school janitor, who was a poetry lover, an opera fanatic, and my confidante. (That’s him on the far right.)

I was sitting in bed, starting to write about these two really amazing and influential people in my life, when I got an email. The title said, from the guy on your right. And it occurred to me that my favorite person (other than my kids) also happens to be a teacher. So, today, I thought I’d introduce you to Mr. Henderson.

This is Mr. H playing flamenco guitar. But he is no music snob because, if you request Mika, he’ll play that, too.

*

Mr. H and I met when we were both 19 and sophomores at Carnegie Mellon. (Back then, it was Carnegie-Mellon with a dash in between.)

Me! Mr. H! (Also, Jon Walker, the drummer in his college band, The Turgid.)

When we first met, Mr. H was a set design major and into math, physics, Roman history, Einstein, Hegel, D&D, Bouguereau, The Stranglers and the Tom Robinson band. He wore fake, leopard spotted shoes, suspenders, and a derby hat. He dreamed of being a freelance designer, which we later discovered is like dreaming of being unemployed. Or worse, being employed but not paid.

Now, Mr. H is a kick-ass tenured professor (and freelance designer). To get a flavor of his teaching style, I’ll tell you one of his class rules. If you are his student and your cell phone goes off in class, you are counted as absent. If you answer the phone, you fail the course.

What skills does he bring to his students? Well, he paints…

He’ll even paint elaborate floors…

And he draws…

And he makes movies…

And sews…

He teaches all of these things – and, of course, design, and how to interpret a script.

He also teaches a props class. For the final, his students have to create a meal from a different time period. These are baby mice (known as “pinkies”) dipped in honey and poppy seeds. Mr. Henderson always eats a sample of each person’s project because that’s part of the grade.

And he teaches stage make-up. For this class assignment, his students had to create their own prosthetic make-up. This one made herself into a swan.

This is all fine and good. But if you ask our kids, the coolest thing he does is make scars and wounds.

These are more class projects. His students had to come up with a specific disease or injury and do their own make-up to show it. I am not posting the photo of the student who made small pox out of Rice Krispies because I know some of you read my blog while you’re eating…

Once, when it was career day at the elementary school, Mr. H and I were invited in to talk about our jobs. I went first and talked about my love of reading and the process of writing and editing. And then I asked the children if they had questions.

“Did you write Harry Potter?”

“No.”

“Did you write The Cat in the Hat?”

“No.” This was only funny maybe the first or second time and then it wore off.

Finally the teacher stepped in to help – “Mrs. Henderson, tell us what books you did write.”

Too embarrassed to tell the truth, that there was no book to buy, I answered cryptically, “They’re not really for children.” This forever after branded me as an assumed writer of erotica.

Then Mr. Henderson entered the classroom to discuss costuming actors for plays. He used Green-Hand as an example of an actor – creating fake bruises and scars on him to look like he’d been in a fight.

He was supposed to wash off the bruises but he went home on the bus all beat up. I asked him, “So, how do you think it went today?”

“Great,” he said, “Everyone in my class wants to be a costume designer.”

*

*

I’ll end with one my favorite stories concerning Mr. H. It was when his band was playing at a little tavern, and a whole bunch of his students showed up. And when they started to remove their coats, we saw that several of the girls were wearing little crop-tops that had I love [Mr. H] written on them.

I wish I had a camera that day because you should have seen his smile. And I just know when he’s a very old man with no teeth and he tells the same story over and over again, that’s going to be one of them.

*

Thank you to the super-lovely Paul Green for visiting this week. Thank you to everyone who played and commented. And thank you to everyone who linked to LitPark the past couple of weeks: Media Bistro, Comedy Central, Roy Kesey, Oronte Churm’s Inside Higher Education, Kimberly Wetherell’s She Shoots to Conquer (*new blog alert*), and Robin Slick. I appreciate those links!

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Kimberly December 20, 2007 at 11:11 pm

You know I could never say enough about your favorite teacher… (and how touched I was when you said “She’s mine, now” last Monday…)

xoxo :-)

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lance_reynald December 21, 2007 at 12:18 am

nice.
happy holidays Hendersons.

xo.

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Heather_Fowler December 21, 2007 at 8:01 am

Susan, you are like fun times 10. Oops, did I sound too Californian. 21 stories in on this flash a day for my myspace blog in December may be polluting my daily dialogue with idiocy. Forgive me, kay? Just know I adore you. You are way cute, like the BFF I looked for but didn’t find in 10th grade when all life went to hell in a handbasket as dreams were generated, listened to, then discarded just as quickly. P.S. Just finished that book of form poetry–egads! 70 form poems written in 6 months. Yes, you can say it, I was smoking crack. Not literally, of course. Literarily though, for sure. And now, I quite while I’m behind. Just see me grinning at you going, “She is so cute. I love her blogs. I’m so lucky she’s my friend.”

xoxo,
H

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Aurelio December 21, 2007 at 11:01 am

Holy Cow! I’ve just become a big Mr. H fan. Love the cell phone rule.

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Gail Siegel December 21, 2007 at 11:23 am

Mr. H’s artwork is even more luscious in person. The pouty girl in the luxurious textiles? She’s amazing. The man is a walking bundle of talent. And really charming, to boot.

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SusanHenderson December 21, 2007 at 12:08 pm

Awww.

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SusanHenderson December 21, 2007 at 12:08 pm

We are both having awesome holidays, eh?

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SusanHenderson December 21, 2007 at 12:09 pm

That is the sweetest thing. Thank you.

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SusanHenderson December 21, 2007 at 12:09 pm

Isn’t that a great rule?

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SusanHenderson December 21, 2007 at 12:10 pm

Mr. H is equally charmed by you.

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Malcolm Campbell December 21, 2007 at 3:56 pm

What a wonderful person, the perfect “type” for teaching, inspiring, and goading–as needed–others. A perfect tribute.

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Aurelio December 21, 2007 at 4:14 pm

Yeah, I wish I could apply it everywhere, though I wouldn’t be as nice as Mr. H. Like, if your cell phone rings in public while you’re within arm’s reach of me: I get to slug you, if you start yakking on it: I get to strangle the life out of you. And if you use it in while driving your car: I get to torture you… and then kill you.

I saw a guy on the freeway just yesterday who had a cigarette in one hand and a cell phone in the other while he exited an offramp using a knee to steer. It was almost enough to make me change my view on the death penalty.

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lance_reynald December 21, 2007 at 7:27 pm
RobinGrantham December 21, 2007 at 9:14 pm

I still love that painting of the girl with her violin. And that picture of you behind the stairs. I scrolled back and forth between the two and, you know, there’s a resemblance there. Is it just me?…Mentioning that you learned from the girl you babysat reminded me that I learned from a child once, too. A blind, autistic boy I helped take care of while I was in college. I wrote about it a while back. I often wonder how he’s doing now.

In other news, I can’t believe Mr. H ate a baby mouse! Aaaaack! I’m imagining Tom Hanks in Big, gnawing at the baby corn. Since I can’t get that image out of my head, I think you owe me. ;~)

Also, the scars and wounds are awesome.

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Kimberly December 21, 2007 at 10:12 pm

Did you see today’s video? Special cameo by Mr. H at the end…

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Laura Wellner December 22, 2007 at 12:15 pm

I really love Mr. H’s work! What a nifty guy! I especially enjoyed the Bouguereau connection, at the art collection where I work as the Registrar, I have care of two of them, Les Petites Mendicants and Meditation, they’re lovely ladies and practically breathe on their own they’re so real…they amaze me every time, and I will never lose the sense of awe when I see them. Happy Holidays!

Laura

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robinslick December 23, 2007 at 7:21 am

I dunno, if I were Mr. H, I’d say “You don’t have to give me anything as pedestrian as a store bought gift for Christmas – this post was the best present I’ve ever received” but I bet you can think of something else, especially if it involves whipped cream and/or guacamole. Kidding, kidding, and Mr. H’s students cover your eyes…

Isn’t it great being married to someone so artistic? Even when they aggravate you (though in my mind you two have the perfect marriage and he never aggravates you) you can look or listen to something wonderful they’ve created and you realize you can’t stay pissed at them…

Anyway, it is 7:15 a.m. and I’m rambling because my significant other and I are headed out Christmas shopping – last minute, as usual, and I just turned on the news and even non-mall stores in Center City, Philadelphia are packed with herds of people…I was kind of hoping if we left now at dawn in the rain we’d avoid that but nooo….so if I don’t make it back here and am hospitalized for anxiety, have a wonderful, wonderful Christmas and thank you for a most excellent year at Lit Park.

P.S. Is Lit Park open for Christmas and New Years or on another dreaded sabbatical?

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Nathalie December 23, 2007 at 12:39 pm

A great teacher, indeed, no competition!
Lucky you to have him.

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SusanHenderson December 24, 2007 at 4:11 pm

Thanks, Malcolm. It’s great to see you here.

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SusanHenderson December 24, 2007 at 4:16 pm

His big fear about the mouse was that it would POP when he bit it, but it didn’t, so he ended up eating two.

Love the story you wrote.

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SusanHenderson December 24, 2007 at 4:18 pm

Laura, great to see you here! How neat to know you care for two Bouguereau paintings! I’ll look those two up right now!

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SusanHenderson December 24, 2007 at 4:25 pm

It’s a great help being married to another artist because he understands so much.

If I hear from my scheduled guest, I’ll be up on New Year’s. If not, I may be up again, anyway. I get itchy when the site is quiet.

Hope your shopping is done!

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SusanHenderson December 24, 2007 at 4:27 pm

I’m very aware who the lucky one is and who has his hands full.

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SusanHenderson December 24, 2007 at 4:30 pm

Hmmm. I’m locked out of my login thingy, so unless that’s fixed, I can’t post new stuff. And worse, drafts of things may automatically load. But I’m not going to bug Terry over something like this during the holidays.

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SusanHenderson December 24, 2007 at 4:32 pm

It’s a great, crazy video. I love the light-up dolphins.

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Heather_Fowler December 24, 2007 at 10:58 pm

You are welcome and Mr. Henderson is way cool. A fabulous artist. Warmest, H

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lance_reynald December 25, 2007 at 2:22 pm
SusanHenderson December 26, 2007 at 11:55 am

Absolutely beautiful breakdown, Lance.

The kids are playing some Pink Floyd songs tonight to open the All-Stars show. Tomorrow we’re all seeing Cyrano on Broadway (my Christmas present). If enough folks are around, I’ll post a Question of the Week on Monday. Any good ideas for questions??

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SusanHenderson December 28, 2007 at 11:26 am

Kevin Kline was amazing. I cried like a baby. Hey, Lance (and Robin), I’m going to have LitPark open next week, though I’ll be in Philly and computerless much of the time. Go ahead and act like you own the place while I’m gone.

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Kimberly December 28, 2007 at 4:31 pm

I’m very possibly going to be interviewing him & Jennifer Garner for an upcoming websode project for a friend of mine… I’ll keep you posted as to the outcome! Going to Philly? How exciting! Have Robin take you to the infamous bar: Dirty Franks at 13th and Pine if you have time. I used to live in that building right after it was converted from a crack house. Good times!

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SusanHenderson December 28, 2007 at 6:12 pm

Maybe “Philly” was not quite as accurate as saying “Line Lexington, PA.” Alas, no bar-hopping. No converted crack houses. And no Robin.

Would you feel too weird telling Kevin Kline your friend loves him and would like to count his chest hairs?

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lance_reynald December 28, 2007 at 6:52 pm

like I own the place you say…?
hmm….
should I measure for the hot tub and fire pit now, or should I wait til you get on the train??

and, I have no idea how that disco ball got under the monkey bars… but doesn’t it look great there?

travel safe!

and if you do make it into town, there are some great tattoo artists in Philly… maybe even a few places for piercings…

xoxo. LR

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Kimberly December 28, 2007 at 9:37 pm

Would be permissible to count them for you and then report back??? purrrrrrrrrrr……..

p.s. I’m assuming you haven’t seen the Peter Frampton/Geico commercial… so Susan, this link is for you!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiA-_p5QRJM

Doesn’t look like there’s much hair ANYWHERE any more…

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SusanHenderson December 29, 2007 at 8:49 am

Sigh. I still love him.

This one’s always been my favorite song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MGXNb27QeA&feature=related

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SusanHenderson December 29, 2007 at 8:49 am

Definitely need a disco ball and fire pit!

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SusanHenderson December 29, 2007 at 4:41 pm

I’ll be in Philly till Wednesday.

(Go Giants!)

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Betsy December 31, 2007 at 9:18 am

Holy cow, Susan, that is one talented dude! Right on!

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Jessica Keener December 31, 2007 at 10:25 am

What an amazing man. You are lucky to know your luck, Susan.

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jessica December 31, 2007 at 10:29 am

Lucky you, Susan, for knowing your luck and what an amazing man!

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