After graduation, after a divorce, after an election
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The mind is at birth a clean sheet, a tabula rasa, wrote John Locke. This column is yours. Sincerity, rather than writing skill, is the only requirement.
You get to have a feeling about a place as you’ve been there for a while. Like whether to lock your car doors or not, or leave the windows up or down, or your purse on the seat or not; or what to wear when you pop out to the 7-11 , shoes, shirt, tie? But this feeling, rather than an abstract attunement with the night sounds, the temperature of the air, or the personality of the people, is a probabilistic estimation of losses and gains. That is, you don’t want to be ripped off your only night in town, for example, but after you’ve been there for a while, one out of 5, say, or 9, or 59, isn’t so bad that you won’t risk it, locking the car being a hassle, especially in the summer. Many other considerations enter in, of course.
This book-keeping view of feelings about places is less pronounced in the second example, that of going to the 7-11, because the gains and losses are less material and more social. It may interest the reader, so I will mention that tonight I am in a strange town and I locked my car and went to the 7-11 barefoot and with my shirt-tail out.
On my way I noticed six things of interest. First, I spent the early part of the evening reading alone in a very cozy study, and from time to time I considered my isolation from the flow of social life which I imagined as being just out the front door, and along the street, and in fact all around.
Actually, first, as I left the front porch I tripped over a black cat.
Second, two young people, almost invisible but clearly audible in the warm dark, sat in the front door of the next parked car up the street from mine, talking.
Third, from the house on the corner of the block, “Little Darlin’ ” was playing.
Fourth, in a house on the next block people were seriously discussing plumbers in slightly raised but relaxed voices.
Fifth, the last car at the top of the hill was a Country Squire station wagon, identical to that belonging to my father-in-law which I had borrowed that day and which was the car in question that I had left locked lower down the hill.
The sixth item would take us too far afield, so I will return to the study. The book I had been reading was Borges on Writing which concerns writing and includes the words of a man famous for his short stories. I couldn’t write a short story in the study, but a walk to the 7-11 should provide enough material for one. As I walked, I considered Borges’ simple gauchos who lived their lives without reflection and I wondered about the distribution of reflection through time and space. But as things happened to me, I tried to remember them for my story and I had less and less room for wondering. Finally, I reduced all the memories to five, then the six, things but all I was doing was inwardly repeating “Six Things, Six Things, Six Things.” Borges walks the streets letting his lines arrange themselves, only dictating when remembering them begins to encroach. I, however, was unable to keep the facts straight, much less form lines, and here we have a major technical difference between Borges and me. To complete this methodological sketch, the second Country Squire had a window down and was presumably unlocked. Mine, or my father-in-law’s, as I have said, was locked. The reason for this, I decided, was that you get to have a feeling about a place as you’ve been there for awhile, and this feeling is founded on petty calculations of loss-and-gain. And so forth. This insight seems more worth committing to paper than either this short story or this essay on the writer’s craft.
What would be even more worthwhile, perhaps, would be an insightful discussion of the distribution of reflection in time and space.
Here is an experiment parents might try with their children’s science and social studies tests. Quiz your children yourself, three or nine months after the school test. Using the results, estimate how much total knowledge was retained. Compare the sum to the total amount of time your children spent studying the information. Was it worth it? Negative answers sometimes lead people to alternative schools.
I’ve known the schools of America for many years, from both sides of the desk, from kindergarten to graduate school, as an educator and as a publicist and all I can say now, whenever I pass a school of any kind, is that I’m thankful I never have to go in there again.
It doesn’t say much for any experience which leaves you with nightmares and headaches and sore throats and sweaty palms. When I look back on those nineteen years involved with the educational process, I’m amazed at the surge of negative emotions that overwhelms me. And I vow never to subject any of my children to such a useless, meaningless, spiritless experience.
To think of the wonders of existence, the beauty of the world, the intricacies and potential of the human mind, the possibilities for physical and spiritual development, and then, to think of SCHOOL — it simply shatters my nervous system. No, there must be a better way.
Paul Goodman once said that if we taught children how to walk the way we teach them to read, we’d be a nation of crawlers. Having witnessed, and yes, I confess, having contributed to the pedagogical nonsense, the power politics, the endless arguments about the “right” way to teach reading, etc., I can only wonder that anything gets taught at all.
I’ve learned a lot in the years away from the educational establishment, about children and adults, and now I think I might be able to be a real teacher for my children: one who guides the natural growth processes, one who loves to see the uniqueness of each individual unfold. I suppose that all sounds as vague as a curriculum guide, but it is just the beginning. My children still have a lot to teach me.
What they have taught me is that I do love to learn and to teach and I hope that someday I’ll make up for those many years of madness in a small school of my own. In the meantime, whenever I pass the local high school, I pity the poor sufferers within.
Completing my first year in the village of Chapel Hill I have had to look for “politics.” In my search I would often get two reactions. The first was, “I am not going to be on a picket line.” The second was, “Politics is ‘maya,’ an illusion. We must withdraw into ourselves to find our Godhead.”
I have considered it important and often primary to realize how I create and foster my own mistakes, reality, and lifescript. Along with that I can see a social-political system that is oppressive and numbing to me and others.
I was told by many on my arrival here that the village and its environs is bringing a lot of good people to it. There’s a lot of good vibes, opportunities for growth centers, psychic rejuvenation, etc. And I think this is all true.
There are other kinds of energy here too — federal and corporate power and money which will use Research Triangle Park to make this area a high-powered metropolitan region. The cute village is seen by them as the “Triangle.” And the “cuteness” is how four-lane highways will connect Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill with each other and Research Triangle Park.
I don’t buy that politics is being on a picket line or maya. I think it has something to do with feeling your strength around other people — believing in yourself enough to act or speak in front of and directly to others. It has to do with getting outside of yourself, merging individual growth with social-political growth. I think it also has to do with no longer needing to define “politics” in the shadows and spotlights of the 60’s. The time has come for the detachment of the 50’s and the involvement of the 60’s to synthesize into something new and productive for the 70’s and 80’s.
Panel Discussion: Education
“If you want to teach, you have to be willing to walk out of class exhausted.”
—John Rassias, quoted in Time 180, 7.56
A. I’m often exhausted when I walk into class.
B. The hard part is staying in class exhausted.
C. If you want to teach, you have to be willing to crawl three miles of broken glass on your knees just to kiss yourself on the twat.
D. In fact, as Abbott has said (1972:30), “there are many dozens of kinds of capsules laid by marine univalves.” 1
A takes his work seriously without giving any evidence of it. If I has anything to say then, A’s retirement watch will be inscribed, “For 25 years of loyal self-service.”
C (not his/her real name) is bent and appreciated in system circles.
D smokes for effect but tries to hide it from the kids.
B jokes with A, is embarrassed by C, and likes to listen to D.
In some cases, the eggs hatch and immediately escape as free-swimming veligers. However, in many kinds the veligers remain inside the capsule until they have metamorphosed into miniature shails. The young may eat their way out, or as in the case of some whelks they eat their young brothers and sisters until only one large individual is left.
Abbott, R. Tucker. 1972. Kingdom of the Seashell New York: Crown Publishers.
Anonymous. 1976. “Dynamiting Language,” Time. 108, 7.56.