On Learning and Other Games of Chance

Dandelion River Run
Mimi and Richard Farina

On Learning and Other Games of Chance

Ad in the Boston Globe to Promote Reading

The dulcimer when played by Richard Farina is such an exuberant instrument. Art of all sorts for me is characterized by exuberance. Whether it be the exuberance the gentleman in the photograph brings to his reading or the exuberance dancers on prom night bring to the dance art is always an intense enterprise that demands a great deal of energy from those that would enjoy and understand it. Some think exuberance must always be cheerful, but I think it must always be energetic and enthusiastic and energy and enthusiasm are not always cheerful. The gentleman reading his book is absorbed, he is investing a great deal of mental energy in what he is doing and because he is doing what he is doing of his own free will there is, I like to believe, a great deal of enthusiasm involved in the process as well. An old philosopher said that art delights and instructs. This is probably true. But art also stimulates the mind and the emotions in ways that are not always instructive and perhaps not always delightful. The end of Twelfth Night, for example, is delightful, but I am not so certain that delight is what I feel at the end of King Lear or if it is, it is a very melancholy species of delight.

There is an autistic student I talk to with some regularity and she often asks me if there are any versions of Hamlet, or other tragedies, that have happy endings. I tell her that for Hamlet the ending is far from happy but for Elsinore and the state of Denmark things have been set right and for them the ending is happy and this is part of the point of tragedy. In the end good people suffer harm, but also a community has been redeemed and order has been restored. Scotland can be a just nation once again, Salem can recapture a truer righteousness. So in this sense all tragedy ends happily and perhaps it is here that the delight lives, though, it remains a delight wanting cheerfulness.

The Card Players
Paul Cezanne

There was an article in last weeks New York Times on taking chances. The article was actually an interview of sorts with the writer Leonard Mlodinow. It was called “What Are the Odds” and it was about speculating on the future. His basic point was that the farther we get from the present the less clear and the harder to predict the future becomes. This seems in some ways to be self-evident, but I wonder if we live our lives this way. We look at the present moment and make decisions about what will be important in the future. Some things we say are irrelevant and others we say are very relevant. But who can know the twists and turns the future will take. Mark Twain invested in a printing press that failed miserably because he did not believe anyone beside himself and his lawyer perhaps would buy a telephone.

The article suggests that what is important is preparation and gives examples of people with mediocre abilities who did extraordinary things because they were ready when opportunity presented itself. But what I found to be the most meaningful part of the article came at the end. He talks about learning to be comfortable with failure. He quotes Thomas Watson, the founder of I. B. M. “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.” In our schools it seems that our preoccupation with grades discourages this. Failure is not seen as the first step on the road to success but the end of all hope. I believe that if I am not failing at things that I am not challenging myself, I am pursuing only those things I know I have the skills to accomplish. But to grow at anything I must attempt things that are beyond my grasp. And this means I must willingly flirt with failure and that as a teacher I must encourage my students to do likewise.

Students often do not like the books I teach in my classes. They do not believe they are relevant, but they say this without really having read the books. The problem often is that they are difficult and that students do not wish to wrestle with something so difficult. This may be because they have no interest in books or the stories of those books that I teach, or that they see no value in developing the skills that would enable them to understand these books. Who’s to say they are wrong? I think these books have given comfort, joy, and wisdom to many people over many centuries and that they can continue to give comfort, joy, and wisdom. A book that has spoken to people over centuries has already demonstrated an ability to speak to times very different from those that gave it birth. This would suggest that it speaks to something that is not constrained by time but adapts with some ease to changing circumstances.

The Chess Players
Thomas Eakins

Perhaps education is less a game of chance and more a game of chess, a game in which luck plays a part but is not entirely a roll of the dice, there is skill and preparation involved as well. Chess is a game that, like many of the books we read in school, has survived many centuries, and if Star Trek is to be believed, will survive many more. It is a game that requires the beginning player to enjoy a bit of failure while learning to master the board. It often rewards thought and careful planning, but just as often it does not. In fact a good player must be able at each stage of the game to adapt and rework whatever plan or strategy guided the game’s beginning. As the paintings above and below suggest, the game can be played by anyone, anywhere, any time; by the rich and by the poor, in a great house or in a public house, by sunlight or by moonlight.

The Chess Players
Honoré Daumier

This is also true of the development of the mind. All the money in the world cannot buy intelligence, though it can help those with modest intelligence develop their limited abilities to a far greater extent than those with greater intellectual gifts but fewer financial resources. It is important to wrestle with difficult things, whether it is becoming an accomplished chess player, an accomplished athlete, or an accomplished thinker. We wrestle with a difficult book for the same reason we wrestle with a difficult chess problem or a difficult equation, the wrestling grows the mind and the imagination, it reveals to us our capabilities. It is at the edge of failure that we truly learn our abilities and our limitations. The teacher must set the example. How do we teach students to test their limits if we will not find ways to reward failure? How can we understand what we are asking our students to do if we are unwilling to risk failure in our own practice?

Jacque Brel

The song is about a man and a woman, one French and one Flemish. The French and the Flemish, at least at the time the song was written, did not get along. The love pursued by the two people in the song has to overcome cultural prejudices. This prejudice may not rise to the level of the Capulet’s and the Montague’s but it may feel that way to those involved. Love is one of those things that defies reason. It demands a long term commitment from people who often have not thought much or at all about the future and the nature of the commitment they are making. This is true not just of the love a person has for another person but it is also true of the love a person has for ideas, principles, and occupations. We choose our careers, for example, before we fully understand what it will be like to pursue those careers on a daily basis over many years. We embrace a faith before we fully understand how the pressures of daily living will challenge that faith and sow seeds of doubt.

As an educator I must care about those who care very little for that which nurtures me and is the focus of my work. And there is little comfort looking backwards. In the 16th century Robert Burton wrote of schoolteachers, “For what course shall he take (the learned man), being now capable and ready? The most parable and easy, and about which many are employed, is to teach a school, turn lecturer or curate, and for that he shall have falconer’s wages, ten pounds per annum, and his diet, or some small stipend, so long as he can please his patron or the parish; if they approve him not (for usually they do but a year or two), as inconstant as they that cried “Hosanna” one day and “Crucify him” the other; serving-man like, he must go look a new master; if they do what is his reward? At last thy snow-white age in suburb schools / Shall toil in teaching boys their grammar rules.” Things have improved, I suppose, tenure means a bit more job security, though there are those that would seek to take tenure away. But at the end of the day there is the belief, against all odds, that most will learn, and that some will find a similar vocation, or if not a vocation, will find a similar ardor for a beautiful thing and a the subtleties of language.

According to the article the one aspect of success that is under our control is the number of chances we take. I think that many things that we think of as being difficult are only unfamiliar. That means the more chances we take the sooner the unfamiliar will become familiar and with familiarity comes a degree of success. For a teacher last year’s success will not always guarantee success in the new year. Like the chess player the strategy and the plan must adapt to a different combination of moves and counter moves. Every year is new and unfamiliar. Each year must find its own road from failure to success or something resembling success. This process is difficult and it can be disheartening. But as Tom Hanks said in a movie about young women playing baseball “there is no crying in baseball” and “if it was easy, everyone would do it.” The classroom is an exuberant place and it is a thing of beauty.

Between the Mountains and the Deep Blue Sea

From “Mohini (Enchantment)”
Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble

Between the Mountains and the Deep Blue Sea


15th century map
Inverted map of Fra Mauro (1460). Source “The Fra Mauro World map” Piero Falchetta.

The music comes from an album by Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, The Silk Road Journeys: Beyond the Horizon. It captures the essence of the exotic and the unknown. To those with an adventurous spirit there is something in the music that calls the listener to places where the music was born. Perhaps to others it just sounds foreign and unfamiliar and even, perhaps, uninteresting. There is a short story by Lord Dunsany (“Poltarnees, Beholder of Ocean”) that begin:

Toldees, Mondath, Arizim, these are the Inner Lands, the lands whose sentinels upon their borders do not behold the sea. Beyond them to the east there lies a desert, forever untroubled by man: all yellow it is, and spotted with shadows of stones, and Death is in it, like a leopard lying in the sun. To the south they are bounded by magic, to the west by a mountain, and to the north by the voice and anger of the Polar wind. Like a great wall is the mountain to the west. It comes up out of the distance and goes down into the distance again, and it is named Poltarnees, Beholder of Ocean.


This mountain separates the inner lands from the sea. The inner lands are a land at peace protected by natural boundaries of desert and mountain and by enchantments. It is a land at peace, it is a prosperous land, it is a land whose citizens want for nothing. Yet there is this mountain and on the other side it is rumored there is the sea. But no one in the inner lands have seen the sea and those that have crossed the mountain have never returned.

It is the best and the brightest that are the most tempted by this mountain and are most likely to make the journey over it. Even the royal family and the heir apparent have been seduced by the mountain. Because the desire to cross the mountain and see the ocean has attracted so many, the people of the inner lands resent it. They go so far as to build a temple devoted to cursing this mountain.

I think this story is a fable of sorts about living in a world of change and the unknown. We can live in the relative peace and comfort of the familiar or accept the challenges and opportunities that come with accepting change and embracing the unknown. The phrase “accept change” and others like it are overused to the extent that it is no longer clear what it means. These phrases are often employed to entice people to accept things solely because they are new and different, which can create another set of problems.

The character of that which is new must be assessed, as must that of the familiar. I think that often accepting change, any change, can be a good thing because it forces us to reassess what we think and the way we do things. Elaine May once said “The only safe thing is to take a chance” and that is what those that climbed Poltarnees to get to the other side did. They took a chance. Those that made the journey safely were so entranced by what they found they had no desire to return. Or perhaps they perished. It is something that cannot be known with certainty.

In the classroom it seems that students struggle with new ideas and concepts. They often resist the stories from other times and places and are unwilling to invest the kind of time it takes to get inside the skin of those that made these stories. I think that it is interesting that elements of the Arabian Knights have found their way into European stories like Gulliver’s Travels. Odysseus’ struggles with the Cyclops are not that different from those of Sinbad with similar kind of creature. Critics, the last time I checked, were not certain which story came first or if they both weren’t influenced by some other story that has long since perished. The point is that what interests people of all cultures in story telling is remarkably similar. The places and names are different and perhaps a bit unpronounceable to those outside the culture that tells the story, but the events and challenges are very similar.

Stories shanghai us to places we may at first be unwilling to go (the term “shanghaied” itself is taken from the practice of kidnapping sailors to places they did not want to go). And the reading of stories, especially when read with an open mind, will change the way we think and the way we look at the world around us. Story telling is at its rhetorical, it makes an argument for a different way of viewing things. We may be attracted by something in the characters and the conflicts they must resolve but we often end by assuming the point of view and attitudes of characters in the story. Our minds change and we are often unsure what has changed them.

The classical teachers of rhetoric argued that the emotional argument, not the logical or the ethical argument, was the most effective and therefore ought to be the argument of choice for orators. I read somewhere that St Augustine preferred rhetoric to logic (and by rhetoric he meant the emotional argument) because he could achieve his desired result more easily. If we can be made to feel a certain way about a thing our thoughts and opinions will often follow our feelings. When it comes to stories it seems we start by feeling a certain way about characters and what they encounter and often end up thinking the way the authors want us to about the issues and ideas the characters in the stories must confront.

This is why it is so important to read with our minds engaged and to consider what we think and feel and why we think and feel as we do after we finish reading. The same could be said of the movies we watch and the music we listen to. There is a rhetorical quality to these as well. It seems that as a culture we are becoming increasingly more passive, but perhaps it is just human nature to gravitate towards ease and it is easier to go where the story takes us than it is to consider the journey and whether we want to take it.

One purpose of education is to challenge students to question; to question the world around them, their attitudes toward the world around them, the source of their resistance to the content of the classes they take, whether they be English classes or Science classes, whether they are studying stories or the theory of evolution. The purpose of the classroom is not to produce students that think as they have been taught but students who consider and evaluate effectively what they are being encouraged to think and believe. Totalitarianism thrives more easily when the governed are a non-reflective people that prefer to accept without question what they are invited to believe.


From The Great Dictator

In this scene Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator dances with a globe of the earth as though it were his personal plaything until the bubble bursts. The film is polemical in nature in that it is a passionate argument against war and dictatorship. In the film the Great Dictator is ultimately defeated. Whether his downfall is the result of a triumph of reason or of one emotion prevailing over another, you will have to watch the film to discover. The image of the dictator and the globe though is emotionally powerful and perhaps captures more effectively the dangers of dictatorship than a well-reasoned argument.

Nkosi Sikelel i’Afrika

Zain Bhikha

Philip Sidney in his essay “In Defense of Posey” argues that lyric poetry is a powerful tool for motivating people to act. When the African National Congress was trying to overthrow the apartheid government of South Africa they would rally their supporters by singing “Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika.” The song so effectively provoked a spirit of solidarity among those resisting the government that its singing was banned. Both the song and the film quickly and effectively produce a result that most would find desirable. But this result is produced by a manipulation of the emotions. The ends produced make the means acceptable but the danger is of course that the emotions could as easily have been manipulated in a different direction as might be suggested by the films of Leni Riefenstahl that documented Hitler’s rise to power.

Poltarnees is perhaps the mountain that stands between what our feelings invite us to believe that our minds might question.  Because emotions can easily be manipulated for the good or the bad care should be taken not to believe too quickly what our passions would endorse. Optimism and pessimism both have their place. We need a spirit of enthusiasm to make the journey and a spirit of caution not to journey too precipitously. The mountain must be climbed if we are to advance but it is the nature of a mountain to retard progress, to require a slow and deliberate assent.

The story “Poltarnees, Beholder of Ocean” ends, “Once every year, with solemn rite and ceremony, they curse the tides of the Sea; and the moon looks in and hates them.” It is in our nature as human beings to quest and to explore and the moon that guides us through the darkness of our uncertainty looks with disfavor on our unwillingness to make the journey.

Tone Deaf or Just Atonal – Sensing Change

From Rites of Spring, ” Part 1_ Adoration Of The Earth_ Dance Of The Young Girls”
Igor Stravinsky
Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic

Tone Deaf or Just Atonal – Sensing Change

When Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rites of Spring was first performed the audience rioted. The ballet evoked a pagan ritual celebrating the coming of spring with a heavy emphasis on percussion instruments and using conventional instruments almost as though they were percussive instruments at times. Needless to say the change was greater than most in the audience were prepared to accept.

Part of the problem is that we have to retrain the way we absorb a thing when something about it changes. Part of the problem with Stravinsky’s music was, I think, that people did not know how to listen to it. Their reaction certainly suggests they did not get it. With time, though, the music has become a part of the mainstream and is appreciated and enjoyed by many who enjoy and appreciate classical music.

Arnold Schoenberg’s music also provoked profound disinterest when his music was first performed, though there were no riots that I am aware of. He developed a twelve-tone compositional system that many found intriguing and many others to this day find almost unlistenable. His composition courses, though, were very popular. It is said that many hoping to write music for the movies, especially for horror movies found his twelve-tone system (a form of atonality) well suited to film where music is used not so much as a stand alone item but as something to underscore or add emphasis to what is happening on screen.

Schoenberg’s method could be used effectively for creating mood and atmosphere, though I am told that those composers that employed this technique in the movies lacked Schoenberg’s skill and artistry. I think that hints of Schoenberg’s atonality can be heard in the work of some jazz composers, especially those, like John Coltrane, whose compositions are often dissonant and not always overtly melodic. Listening to John Coltrane and other jazz composers like him also requires a bit of retraining for the ear.

Abstract painting by Jackson Pollock,
No. 5, 1948
An abstract painting by Jackson Pollock, taken from Art Market Watch.com

The painting by Jackson Pollack does not look like much of a painting to many and it too requires the viewer to learn a new way of looking if the work is to be appreciated. There is depth and texture to the painting but identifying what its about may suggest more of Rorschach and his inkblots than art. Art is supposed to move the viewer at some level and many find themselves responding emotionally to the painting. Because it is not representational it can suggest many things, but it is the viewer’s job to establish this meaningful connection. I think it is worth the effort to seek the artistry in this and other paintings like it (like it in the sense that they defy traditional forms of observation).

These thoughts about music and art and the difficulty with which a culture often reacts to change were provoked by attitudes toward change in schools. It seems at times that the reaction to some of the new technologies and less traditional classroom strategies are met with a reaction not unlike that which confronted Stravinsky and Schoenberg. I teach in a school that is a bit standoffish to some of the newer technologies, especially some of the more social technologies, like YouTube. There have been plenty of examples of the misuse of this technology in the media, but does that justify closing the door on it. We do not deny our students access to libraries because they may contain books that we would rather they did not read.

It can be argued that a school library is different than a public library and that it is prudent to keep some books of school library shelves. Still, no one advocates closing the school library altogether. At worst this is an argument for opening the door to some of the things these technologies offer while putting in place some safeguards to make it difficult to access their less savory side. In this Sunday’s Boston Globe (11/2) there is an article (“U Tube“) about how these new technologies are being used to make lectures, interviews, and other educational materials available for free to any who want to learn from them. Prominent people in various fields of study have developed these materials and they offer much that can be of value in the classroom.

YouTube on Grimm’s and Verner’s Laws

The YouTube video is a discussion of Grimm’s Law and how he codified the transitional steps between the Latin branch of the Indo-European language group and the Germanic Languages that do not resemble, at least not superficially, Latin. As an English teacher I find the evolution of language fascinating and I find this video fascinating for understanding how that branch of the English language that has its origins in the German Languages of the Angles and the Saxons and the Jutes, came to look and act the way it does. Whatever one thinks of this particular YouTube video, the point is still the same; it serves and was designed to serve an educational purpose, a purpose that has a place in the modern classroom.

I think that over time the nature of the book is going to change. There are already technologies available that could make the book of bound paper pages obsolete. It is not unlikely that books of the future may be multi-media in their presentation. Essays and stories that are published online already incorporate images, film clips, and music to add additional dimensions to the writing and to reinforce points in their arguments. The rise of the graphic novel suggests that a visual component is finding its way into the work (though the work of Arthur Rackham and John Tenniel suggest that this is not an entirely new idea).

The culture changes even if we do not and change is not always comfortable, but it is necessary. What more can be done within the traditional art forms. Music, painting, and the written word do not pass away because there does not seem to be much left to do with them. The novel evolved in part because the epic no longer served as an effective way to tell stories, or so it seemed to those that wrote stories.

I think the same is true of the classroom. It, like any other form, must evolve and grow to fit the times in which it lives or it ceases to be effective, it ceases to be alive. I am not sure changing the way the desks are organized is enough, though it may be an effective place to start. Living things change. We can speak with greater certainty about the meaning of a Latin word than an English or German word because no one speaks Latin anymore and therefore its vocabulary is no longer fluid. Living things change, that is in part what it means to be alive.

The best that can be said of a classroom that operates in much the same way classrooms operated a hundred years ago is that it is in a state of suspended animation waiting to be revived. It is also possible, I think, to use twenty-first century tools and techniques within a nineteenth century classroom structure; to use, for example, a web text in the same way we use a traditional textbook. I am not sure this is enough either. The greatest argument in favor of changing the classroom, not just to incorporate the new technologies, though certainly they should do that, is to keep it healthy and alive. It is difficult to excite the mind with an old idea or an old way of looking at the world or even of looking at new ideas. As our world and the arts and ideas that shape that world change so must our ways of looking, listening, and learning change.

Starting Over

From “Wonderful World”
Lou Adler, Herb Alpert, and Sam Cooke
Performed by Sam Cooke

Starting Over

Students in classroom at 
Holton Arms School by Theodor Horydczak,

There is something exciting about the beginning of another school year. There is optimism that the goals of the year will be met and an enthusiasm for the literature that will be covered. I know that as the year progresses students are likely to start complaining that the books we read are boring, the assignments are too hard and too confusing, and that the tools needed to complete the assignments (computers, pencils, paper, etc.) are too hard to come by. But that will all happen later and who knows, this year may not happen at all. There is always the hope that the students will be as excited as I am.

The picture of a classroom from the 1920’s gives rise to the speculation that, aside from dress codes, things have not changed very much; desks in rows with students bent over papers on their desk tops and writing furiously. There are pictures on the walls, though not too many, and some of them are framed. A bit more formal in their arrangement than on my walls, and the wall themselves a bit more sparsely populated. But the classrooms look remarkably alike.

Hopefully, the content of the course and its presentation will be a bit more innovative and 21st century. To what extent does the form the classroom takes dictate the way the class and its content are received. Does a classroom that looks early 20th century invite an early 20th century reaction to the course itself? How does a teacher break out of this pattern when the room is small, the class is somewhat large, and everyone needs to sit somewhere? When I taught in Los Angeles I had a classroom with tables arranged in a rectangle and 30 chairs arranged neatly around the tables. This created a seminar appearance to the class that impacted on the students’ response to the class. But where I teach now there are no tables, at least none that can be spared.

Still, the new year is full of optimism. There are new toys to play with this year in the classroom. There are wikis to be fed, Flikr images to be commented on, VoiceThreads and podcasts that will perhaps provoke some curiosity and enthusiasm. My greatest hope, though, is that curiosity will be provoked, that students will wonder about things.

Educated Fish, 1937
Fleischer Studios

The film clip illustrates one attitude towards education. The troublesome fish in the class cannot be made to take the day’s lesson seriously until he has an encounter with the object of the day’s lesson. I suppose that practicality is always an issue. Some students cannot get excited about learning some things until they understand exactly how the content of the class is going to impact on their future lives. The young fish saw no point to the lesson and his interest could not be captured. Most students will not have their encounter with the worm and the hook until after they leave the classroom.

Some things train the mind to be flexible, to solve problems, even if the problems they are given to solve in school are not the same problems they will encounter in the world. Their purpose is not to replicate “the world as it is,” necessarily, but to teach students to think creatively and abstractly. As a teacher I cannot anticipate every problem my students will encounter, I can only give them the tools they need to confront the difficult problems of every stripe that will eventually arise.

Still, some students are just excited about learning new stuff. Not all that are excited are excited about learning new “English” stuff, but they are excited about learning something. Some are mathematicians, some are scientists, and some are historians. But there are also some aspiring literary critics in the mix. The secret of the art of teaching is, I suppose, figuring out how to tap into that enthusiasm for learning, especially into the enthusiasm of those that are enthusiastic about learning non-academic things.

What about the content of a class? Is it really necessary to cover difficult texts? Is it enough that students read? Many think the reading and interpreting of texts is enough in itself. The issue is not the difficulty of the text but the interpretive skill the student brings to the text. I remember a student in a Literary Theory class I took once commenting on the critic Roland Barthes. He enjoyed Barthes critical approach to a text and the interesting things he did with interpretation. He added, though, that it was perhaps unfortunate that he focused on “second rate” texts like James Bond novels. For Barthes the quality of the text was not of primary importance.

In fact Bathes believed that it was the reader and not the writer that brought a text to life. A writer strings together a series of words and readers create a story from these “raw materials”. Whatever quality or artistry that exists in the text exists because the reader put it there. From this perspective, I suppose, there is no such thing as a “second rate” text. I like this idea to a point, but I also think that Shakespeare has more to do with the artistry found in Hamlet than I do. But if there is artistry in the text, my imagination must also bring that artistry to life, and perhaps this is the problem.

How do we train students to read “artistically”? Can the imagination be trained or is that something that each individual must do for her or himself? I think that guiding students through difficult texts trains the imagination, but of course, only if the mind of the student is willing to be trained. But then, what is the student’s role in this process? What if the student does not want her or his mind “trained” or at least not trained in the manner I am proposing to train it? Is some resistance to this process on the part of the student a good thing that indicates the student’s involvement in the process?

Most students when asked to comment on the situations, actions of characters, and the values the text seems to advocate, among other things, are very creative. They obviously understand the concepts behind great literature and the issues with which the literature grapples. They also seem to enjoy wrestling with the problems the texts raise; they are just a bit standoffish towards the texts themselves.

I think, maybe, this is how it is supposed to be. In high school students are exposed to some of the literature that has stood the “test of time”. Their language skills are often a bit behind their cognitive skills, that is, students often have the ability to understand and effectively debate complex issues and ideas. They are often sensitive to subtlety and nuance. It is the words that get in the way. Still, it is the words they need to learn, if only to give them the tools they need to articulate the true depth of their thought. As a teacher I need to be patient as students wrestle with words and build vocabulary.

On the whole there is good cause to be excited as schools “start over” and once again run their races through the curriculum. The curious and the indifferent will all make their way to class. Though I do not believe in the indifferent student. I think indifference or what is often called “laziness” masks other things, they are symptoms and not a diagnosis. The trick is finding the cause of the symptom and treating that. This is the challenge of teaching and what makes the profession exciting. I suppose if a doctor never saw a patient in need of a challenging diagnosis the practice of medicine would become a bit boring and mundane (isn’t this the premise behind House). The same is probably true for any profession. For those that do what they do because they need a place to hang out until retirement the challenges are a nuisance. For others the new year presents an opportunity to diagnose some interesting cases and to prescribe interesting, if unorthodox, courses of treatment.