A while back an author on social media did the usual complaining about a negative Amazon review. The writer in question got the desired responses: The reviewer is an asshole, the writer is awesome. One commentator made a statement saying that the reviewer obviously did not understand the concept of "artistic positivity". I had a good laugh about it.

I can be kind of a hardass. The vogue approach today is to shower everything with praise. Otherwise you might get labeled as a gatekeeper.

I learned about the importance of critical thinking at an early age. It was around forty-five years ago.

I was not a good student and I did not have many good teachers. Most of them were burned out, irritable, and eager to get through the day as effortlessly as possible. I had one teacher, one, who meant a lot to me. Who pointed the way to the person I became later in life.

I was a high school freshman. Shy, awkward, with birth control glasses, terrible haircuts, and unfortunate clothes. I loved books more than anything. Certainly more than the people in my life.

There was an elective class in our high school called World Literature. I signed up for it and got a place in the room. The rest of the class were all seniors. Most were interested in an easy way to get a credit. A few, like me, wanted to learn about literature.

The teacher was a man I will call Mr. G. I was warned by some other kids that he was gay. That didn't daunt me. I was a whitebread suburban boy who never met a gay person in my young life. Well, of course I had, but I didn't know it.

Luckily I was a reader who read great books by forward-thinking writers. Homosexuality was a foreign concept to me, but I was open to see what the man was like.

We never had conclusive proof M. G was gay, but it was fairly obvious from some of the things he said. I quickly learned that he was not a person to merely accept or tolerate. Mr. G was exactly the kind of person I wanted to be.

G was intelligent, savagely funny, and completely devoted to the arts. I'd never seen such passion from an individual. We read some international fiction, but Mr. G was interested in teaching us about all forms of artistic expression.

Some days he would simply put on a record. Mr. G would sit at his desk, eyes closed, enraptured by the sounds. It was like witnessing religious ecstasy.

He encouraged us to bring in music. Once I brought in the Yes album, Going For the One. I played Side 2 and Mr. G said he enjoyed it. One guy brought in some rock album. Aerosmith or Foghat or something. Mr. G referred to the music as "a piece of afterbirth". I loved that.

Mr. G taught us to express what we loved, or hated, about a work of art. That if we couldn't do so with intelligence and solid reasoning, either by voice or by pen, we were no better than the animals.

He read everything. Mr. G was a member, like me, of the Science Fiction Book Club. My parents and most of the other teachers who saw me with SF books called it trash.

He liked opera, classical, world folk, and yes, rock. But he was discriminate. Mr. G was generous with praise, but he was merciless with criticism. You think I'm bad?

Mr. G took us to symphonies, plays, to restaurants. He wanted us to know the difference between something great and something terrible. He brought some of us to his secluded home. It was filled to the brim with antiques, books, records, and all kinds of wonderful things. A fellow student smiled and pointed to a corner of a shelf, and a few pot seeds were there. Our opinion of Mr. G grew even higher.

There were some ugly whispers about what might have gone on. The deviant teacher and a group of boys hanging out after hours. For some reason none of the girls came on the after hours excursions. I hope I don't have to tell you that absolutely nothing inappropriate happened.

One day we were listening to some music, and suddenly there was a loud boom at the window. Someone had thrown a firecracker. Mr. G looked disgusted and he muttered that he couldn't take much more. I think there was a tear in his eye.

I get it. It's like when some cretin runs its mouth in a theater, or some idiot feels the need to show off and sing along with every song at a concert. Beautiful works despoiled by moronic clods.

It was the only class I've ever truly liked. I wanted to do well at school, and I wanted to be in the academic world. I had problems, and I knew I had them. I didn't know who to ask for help, or even how to ask. I thought about talking to Mr. G, but I never did.

He and I weren't exactly close. I'm sure he liked me, and he respected my love of books. I didn't talk a lot, choosing to mostly listen instead.

I made it through the year and I got a good grade from Mr. G. I passed tenth grade by the skin of my teeth and I went on to my Summer.

I signed up for World Literature again for my eleventh grade schedule. I already passed it the previous year, and I wouldn't get a credit. I didn't care. I wanted more beautiful music. To taste great food. To get Mr. G's recommendations and to hear his scathing criticism of things that didn't meet his high standards.

On the first day of the next year, I was walking down the hall. I slightly knew another English teacher, because I was friends with her sons. She knew I liked Mr. G a lot. She saw me and sadly said, "I'm so sorry!" I thought she was talking about something inconsequential that happened that morning. "Oh, it's all right!", I replied.

Mr G didn't come to school that day, and we never saw him again.

Rumors flew and they were as nasty and erroneous as most of them you'll hear about any subject. The same teacher who spoke to me earlier told me what happened.

Over the summer a disgruntled student broke into Mr. G's home and trashed it.

I didn't know how extensive the damage was, but I gather it was pretty bad. I thought of all the art. The music, the literature. The culture between those walls. I was shocked and sickened. I briefly felt abandoned.

I got over that pretty quickly. When you've had enough, you've had enough. A Virginia high school in 1977 was not the place for a man like Mr. G.

He wasn't the only teacher who flunked kids. His home was attacked for other reasons. I thought of the firecracker and I wondered how many things happened that I did not witness. It was my first experience with that kind of prejudice and I was disgusted.

I heard the culprit was caught. Being a minor, I guess he got slapped on the hand. Maybe the parents had to pay for damages but how can you replace works of art? Monetary value is often nothing compared to the love we feel for our books, our music, our movie collections. And how do you repay someone who was a victim of such hatred?

They hired a replacement. A poet who had a pamphlet published by a tiny company that was half a step above a vanity press. He had a doctorate degree. The guy was all right, but he was no Mr. G. I don't believe the good Doctor would have deigned to be in the Science Fiction Book Club, if you know what I mean.

Things went downhill for me after that. My home life became even worse. They treated me like I was some kind of a freak. The only adult I trusted and admired was gone.

I found my own way in the world, but I never forgot the lessons of Mr. G. He showed me that the arts are what make life worth living. He expected reason, taste, and ruthless intelligence from his students. He demonstrated to us that despite all the ugly things in the world, there was breathtaking beauty.

The slasher movie phase came around a couple of years later. I have little doubt Mr. G would despise the whole thing. Of course I loved it. He would have demanded to know what value I saw in the movies. I can see his face now, fully attentive, eager to hear how someone could enjoy the organ playing of Virgil Fox, admire the plays of Henrik Ibsen, and also extol the virtues of a film called My Bloody Valentine. I don't think for a second I could have swayed his opinion, but if I presented my case with clarity, intelligence, passion, and emotion, he would have respected it.

I wish I could find Mr. G today so I could tell him how I felt about knowing him. I'd love to spend time with him as equals, rather than as teacher and student. He liked science fiction, so I bet he'd be open-minded about writers like Robert McCammon and Joe R. Lansdale.

I'd give him copies of my books. I know he would read something by a former student. He certainly wouldn't agree with all my sentiments, but I believe he would smile, pat me on the back, and tell me he was proud of me.

Written by Mark Sieber

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