At 17, I encountered the poetry of Robert Burns for the first time. I was hooked. At home each night, with my English textbook, I’d curl up with his poems and read them over and over with the best Scottish lilt I could muster. The fact that Burns’ poems carried me away was perhaps more of a testament to their magic than you might think. My English textbook, which sported close to a decade’s worth of wear, also managed to smell like some unholy combination of cafeteria frying oil and whatever commercial cleaning agent the custodian used to mop the floors. But when I was with Robbie, I never seemed to notice.
Perhaps that’s why, years later, snippets of his poems continue to come back to me, often with unexpected relevance. Walking in my urban neighborhood the other day, I came face to face with a wild turkey. This isn’t the first spotting in Boston–by me or by others. But it’s the first time I’ve encountered one of these war-mongering birds when my presence actually caused it to turn tail and flee. (Maybe this was the universe’s way of readjusting the balance after last November, when I was actually chased by a giant wild turkey and had to take refuge in a Starbucks. But that’s another story.)
It was a funny sight, that waddling, flapping, gawky bird. But, off it went–stumbling across the street on its strange, spindly legs, narrowly missing being hit by a cyclist before ducking behind a parked Honda. I laughed, then walked on. But these words from Burns rose, unbidden, in my thoughts:
I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
Perhaps a more tender response to the turkey than I expected from my subconscious, though I appreciated the sentiment. (Also a good argument for why literature remains relevant, even as we move into a world in which STEM majors stand poised for greater success. More on that later.)
The point is, Burns’ words have become a sort of soundtrack to my life–especially since September of 2009, when we launched 60secondrecap.com. In the intervening years, the verses I’ve had stuck on replay are these:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley
Or, to translate: The best-laid plans often go awry. Oh, and they do.
I’ll spare you the fraught history of our little-company-that-could and stick with the present. Suffice it to say that after three and a half years of scraping by (not even), we’re positioning ourselves for a quiet rebirth. The website, which has been in need of a serious upgrade since 2011, is finally undergoing a dramatic redesign. We’ll be able to add content again–like new classics albums, which have been languishing on our hard drive. We’ll be able to communicate better with you, our long-suffering audience. And we’ll have a gradually-expanding library of new print content, focused on reaching more teens more effectively in more areas of interest to them.
This hasn’t all happened in the time frame we’d planned. (Cue: Robbie.) About a month ago, we trumpeted a “surprise” on our Facebook fan page–coming, we said, in a few weeks. (Cue: Laughter.) Well, more than a few weeks have passed, and our dutiful web developers are still moving our 500+ videos (plus text, graphics, etc.) onto the new platform. Cue: Stanza 7 of “To a Mouse” in its entirety:
But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
“Grief an’ pain” may be a bit strong, but we’d have loved to have the new website up in time for the end of the school year. We’d love to have been rid of the advertisement for our defunct iPhone app (which, sadly, does not function on the newer versions of the iPhone operating system). And we’d love to already be sharing some of our new features with you.
As we watch the new website slowly take shape, what we can do is tell you that we value you, we appreciate your patience, and that we couldn’t have made it through the last few years without you. Sure, we do this for the authors and their books–and their continued relevance to our culture–but we also do this for you.
The 2013/2014 school year looks to be the most promising one yet for 60second Recap. We look forward to supporting you in your teaching, reading, and writing–as well as in other (yet-to-be-unveiled) aspects of high school life. Hopefully, by this time next year, we’ll be able to toast 60secondrecap.com together, and say, in the immortal words of Robbie Burns:
Here’s to thy health, my bonie lass,
Gude nicht and joy be wi’ thee.