Lessons from Walt Whitman, Tall Croatians and South Park

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Susan Dromey Heeter is loving Walt Whitman as she enjoys New York City.

Susan Dromey Heeter recites a favorite poem.


In  Walt Whitman’s poem, “When I heard the learn’d astronomer, Walt listens to a lecture about astronomy and then decides to go outside and look at the stars.

Susan Dromey Heeter

 Walt is bored, tired and sick; he walks out into the dark night, looks up and realizes the reality of the night sky is much more interesting than the charts and diagrams of the speaker.  

I muse joyfully on this poem not only because I love Walt Whitman but simply because I totally get from where Walt comes. I just spent two days at the Northeast Conference of the Teaching of Foreign Languages in Manhattan and muse joyfully about lecturers and language.

 I spent hours listening to lectures about improving teaching methods for the acquisition of fluency in languages ranging from Spanish to French to German to Chinese to Latin.  

And, don’t get me wrong, I listened, I participated, I learned.  I hope on Monday my students will benefit from my attendance; there are wonderful methods I’ve learned, ideas I’ll share, strategies I will try.

But, like Walt, my takeaway was not from the lecturers, rather, from stepping outside into the night, looking up at three very tall guys from Croatia. I met these three friendly young men while we stood in line for standing room only tickets to the Book of Mormon.

I asked them from where they were visiting, we chatted about Croatia’s impressive World Cup showing; I joked that if they stood in front of me and blocked my view I’d tell them I was glad France won. Later I stood next to them as we watched the show while leaning up against the railing.

For $27 bucks we decided the view was stellar and while I’d been sitting all day at a conference, I welcomed the chance to stretch my legs and stand while witnessing incredible talent of Broadway actors and dancers.

I heard my new Croatian friends laugh at all of the parts, including the subtle innuendo and jokes that even I had to think about for a bit.  I asked them, “How is it you can get all of the subtext and humor of this show in your second language?” And they said, “We’ve been watching South Park all our lives, no subtitles, no dubbing, we grew up on Cartoon Network.”

And like, Walt, I thought – well, here you go. I looked up at these Croatians in perfect silence.   The simplicity of the stars, the simplicity of language acquisition, the simplicity of stepping out of a conference and really witnessing “authentic language.”

Cartoon Network. South Park. Fluency. I muse joyfully  today on both stepping in and out of a lecture, taking what I’ve learned and bringing it to life.

And I muse joyfully on my new Croatian friends who allowed me to step outside, look up and celebrate the myriad of ways we can appreciate language, from lecturers, from travel and especially from the writers of South Park.

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer


When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Susan Dromey Heeter, a writer from Dover who recently let her hair go au natural white, debuts her new column “Joyful Musings” at InDepthNH.org. Dromey Heeter is a secondary Spanish Teacher at Spaulding High School in Rochester and the mother of two teenage daughters.  Writing has been her passion since her English majoring days at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  Dromey Heeter has lived in The Netherlands, Alaska and currently basks in all things New England, including the frigid winters. An avid swimmer, Dromey Heeter’s great passion is to bring back body surfing as most children have no idea how to ride waves without ridiculous boogie boards. She also writes about thrift shopping and all things frugal  in a column called “Budget Vogue” for the New Hampshire Union Leader.

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