this is water.
December 1, 2013
There is something magical about someone believing in you. Right? There really is. That crazy feeling that creeps up in your stomach and makes your skin flush and your feet and hands restless and your head dizzy because at that moment, the only thing you can think is, but why would they?
In some way I always thought I would, someday, find that person. Or more precisely, because I am a deeply disturbed but mostly delusional person, that they would find me. Perhaps it is not as much a sign of disturbance as I (or the tiny part of my brain that's convinced I'm somehow special, thereby revelling in the idea of a scientific confirmation of my being different comforting my desperate need for being different) would like to think — human beings do believe, for some insane reason, against all logic and rationality, in fate. We believe that things happen for a reason. We believe that some greater authority, whether religious or not, has laid out some predetermined plan for us, that if we follow the little signs pointing towards the Great Future, if we connect all the little dots together, we'll eventually reach that great future. For my part, my stubborn belief in fate has always gravitated, in one way or another, toward academia. Again, why. My issues with academia and my sick love of it, a paradoxical relationship I continually wrestle with, are however another subject for (let's hope not, though, because who wants to hear someone who thinks they're special whine about elitism in the Western educational system? hint: NO ONE) another day. Here's how I thought my journey through the grand scholarly land of classrooms and libraries and auditoriums would go: make it through high school, this the lowest of the lowest, it cannot, and won't, get any worst than this, but perhaps in junior year, the Teacher will come and save you! (For the sake of clarity, I will from now on refer to the Great Savior Who Believes In You For Some Insane And Yet Undetermined Reason, as the Teacher. Let's remember that teacher is a gender-neutral word. This is important.) They'll find you special and you will feel special and chosen and have actual external proof of that feeling, not just a dysfunctional ego to show for it. They'll take you under their wing, help you, guide you, set you off on the first steps towards The Path. No? Well, we're only two years in. Remember that life is hard and that the worthwhile things have to season and be delivered at the appropriate time. Be patient. Senior year? Still nothing? Well, this is slightly aggravating, seeing as you are now to make The Most Important Decision Of Your Fifteen-Year-Old Life and would have liked (hint: euphemism. How do I slow life down? Where's the SOS button???) some sort of guidance. A little help? NO. You Have To Decide Now. Now. Do It Now. NOW. HELLO??? Oh, sorry. Well, I heard that those classes préparatoires have mandatory oral exams every week and just the thought of having to speak in public on a weekly basis makes my heart literally pound with panic and anxiety, so that's a no. I guess? Hm. One option gone. Let's proceed via elimination, because what better way to gamble with your future is there? Remember The Dream. It's too late to fill documents to study abroad, right? Oh, you need a visa? What? Immigration? Heightened security since 9/11? (euphemism: inches-away-from-closing-the-border-entirely, you-look-"very foreign"-what's-your-religion, "ma'am we're going to need you to come with us," kind of heightened security). OKAY, well, hang on, there's still l'université, right? Good. That's good. I want to study English, talk about book and learn about American history. So. There you go. An alarm goes off in my brain (remember I'm special and exceptional and all that crap). You can't just go to university! You have to do more! You have to be more! Let's just go with a double-degree program, that'll do. That'll do, pig. That'll do. You'll feel miserable for three years, that I can tell you, me-from-the-past, but at least you'll feel, maybe, 10 percent accomplished. Cut to: first year of college — nothing? Oh, well, I guess this is never going to happen. You're on your own. Let's just wallow some more in our misery, shall we? And refer to myself as "we," because I'm Louis The Fourteenth like that. Second year? Har, har. Think again. Third year? Oh? What do I hear? The- The T-- Could it be...? The Teach---- YES! YES! I-- I hear--- I see-- Just.... the.... slightest.... YES!!!!
Now, let's back up a little. Obviously, I have had my fair share of Good Teachers over the years, among whom there are probably five or six (Mme S. and Mme G. in elementary school, M. G. in high school, Ms. W. and Ms. U. and M. M. and M. K. in college; none for you, junior high) that I would consider seminal in... what exactly, I don't know. Just seminal. That sounds dirty. Sorry for that, distinguished professors. You know I have the utmost respect for you. But I have never had that one teacher. What I mean by that is probably best summed up in the conceit I often refer to when complaining about the current status of academia (yes, this is something I do very often, too often probably): the Robin-Williams-type teacher. OH SO CLICHE. I know. This romantic ideal I compare most of my teachers to doesn't exist, and yet I hold on to it for dear life, mostly because, and here we are, full circle, because I believe in — wait, actually, I don't believe in fate, or will fight you to death so that I don't have to admit that I do but who cares — I think it is wiser, and, really, truer, to say that I don't believe in fate, but rather, in that crazy, stupid thing called hope. Yes, my skewed view of teachers as unlikely mentors, substitute parental figures, unwavering sources of support and guidance — so, basically, wise cheerleaders — stems from the fact that I've very likely watched Dead Poets Society too many times, and, to a lesser degree, Good Will Hunting (I can't help it, it's that Robin Williams thing), Friday Night Lights, and any thing that has an Inspirational Teacher figure in it (let the record state that I have yet to see To Sir, With Love. See? Everything's not lost! Yet!). Still, every year come September, I've sat in every classroom, waiting anxiously for the teacher to show up, thinking, Yes, maybe this is it. Maybe this is the one. The thing is, if I'm not the most chatty person (ding ding ding ding! this is the euphemism alarm) in life, in a classroom, I literally become mute. That surly kid that never says a word and scowls from the desk in the back, who shuts down before being shut out of the conversation, and who harbors a deep, dark, secret: she cares, cares so much, loves the class and the teacher with such a passion it physically hurts that she's not able to convey it in an outward manner. (Yes, I am now on a determined quest to refer to myself in every existing pronoun there is). The only outlet I ever let myself have to express just how much I care to teachers is the written essays, or research papers, or dissertations, that I have had the opportunity to write, especially and mostly during my college years. This is where I pour my heart, all over the pages. This is where I give you everything, Teacher. So you better read, and re-read, and cherish those words because the only thing I had in mind while writing them was, I hope s/he won't be disappointed. Please, let them not be disappointed. Please. Well, I mean, you can flip through the pages and only read the bulk of-- oh, just the introduc-- well, the conclusion is maybe not the best-- JUST DON'T LEAVE COFFEE MUG STAINS ON THE-- I'm just glad you read it, really.
This is something that I've struggled with, immensely. Showing that I care. And the reality, more than the realization, I think, of my inability to show that I care has, time and time again, had the effect of a slap on my face, whenever Teachers express either shock at my verbose, passionate if not very good, papers, or plain contempt towards me when I don't deliver, because they didn't expect me to, and again, why would they. In those times I just want to cry and say, I LOVE THIS CLASS THIS IS MY FAVORITE CLASS HOW CAN YOU THINK I DON'T CARE! I've read all your books! I look forward to attending your lectures! This class is all I look forward to all week! I love you! I'm in awe of your talent and career! I respect you so much! ... If only Walmart sold disposable translators of awkward excuses and inarticulate babbling. In any case, maybe my therapist would tell me I put teachers on a pedestal and constantly worry about what they think of me when I should do just that with people my age, and people of my "milieu," because I am virtually incapable of connecting with people my age and of my milieu, because I don't know how to engage with people, because I don't know how to endear myself to people so that they'll want to have a conversation that lasts more than five minutes with me. Thus, Teachers have become the one invulnerable category of people I can freely romanticize, idealize, think the world of, without any one or anything stopping me. Teachers have been substitute everything for me, and as problematic as that premise is, the realization that these relationships have always been one-sided has always been a cause for even more problematic disappointments—mostly in myself.
Basically, this is dumb. Believing that teachers are there to save you is dumb, especially when you show absolutely no reason for them to think they should be. Putting your life in the hands (OF A ROCK'N'ROLL BAAAND! Anyone? Anyone?) of teachers who not only have other things to worry about, but mostly don't care about your little insecurities and emotional baggage, because you're the only person on earth who should have to carry the burden of caring about those things, is dumb. Your mental health should not depend on a grade or a comment or an offhand remark made by a tired professor on their fourth round caffeine of the day, a professor who has hundreds of other students who s/he probably sees as more invested and less annoying than you. Repeat after me: you. are. a. dumb. person. for. doing. all. those. things.
But something happened a couple of days ago. Something weird and wild and insane and magical. Actually, several things happened that made that day a great day, something that I hadn't experienced for a long time, so much so that I have been floating in a giant cloud of happy, or less sad, since that day. An old friend popped up, I didn't die, and, oh, most importantly: I had a conversation with someone, and that someone was Teacher. A good conversation, I thought: it lasted more than five minutes, check. We talked about things that I'm passionate about, and that Teacher is passionate about, too, check. I didn't pass out, check. There were not too many awkward pauses, check. I felt good at the end, check. (ding ding ding ding). Maybe writing about having a good conversation with someone is not a good way to go about expressing just how much that conversation meant, unless your name starts with Milan and ends with Kundera, so I will spare the interwebs the painful reenactment of the scene. A lot was discussed, and I am probably making more of it than I should, but because it happens so seldom to me, I felt lighter and happier at the end of it. It's crazy how just that one simple human connection can make your day, can be powerful enough to lift you out of depression (even temporarily), can maybe change your life. Because we live for those small moments — or, rather, we live because of them. We thrive and survive on human connections. We survive because we've come to realize just how rare those are. A handful of moments in a man's lifetime. So it was only appropriate that it felt so unexpected to me and I may or may not have experienced an out-of-body moment (or just a plain old black-out), but I think it's safe to say that I probably won't ever forget what Teacher told me. Even though it's probably nothing. Even if Teacher didn't mean it. Even if Teacher meant it but not on that big a scale. Even though it was a routine talk-to-student thing for Teacher. Even if Teacher was just being nice. But here's what happened: Teacher, for some reason, as I was babbling my way through trying to say how much I admire Teacher, believed in me. Teacher lifted me up. Someone I admire lifted me up and said I could do things and be things. Teacher was inquisitive, Teacher was genuinely curious, Teacher was encouraging. Teacher said I was, on a molecular level, similar to Teacher. Teacher said I had potential. DO I HEAR THE VICTORY BELLS OF JERICHO OR WHAT???
So, this is why I still believe. This is why I still have hope in, you know, ... stuff. Because when I'm depressed, down and completely down, six feet under, twenty thousand leagues under the sea, ready to give everything up and abandon The Dream and go back to the reality of life as a supermarket cashier waiting for me after an English/History degree, something like this happens and gives me disproportionate amounts of hope. Well, now the panic is slowly setting back in, because a prerequisite to the first step of The Dream is a looming deadline to be reached in exactly five days and someone should decide for me, please? Please? Even so, Teacher managed to do the impossible. Teacher empowered me, restored my mental health, at least for a little while, revigorated me probably for the rest of the school year and maybe the rest of my life if Encounter With Teacher Or Equally Inspirational Figure: The Sequel Part II never happens. And for that, I'm grateful. Oh, look! Such a nice segue. Happy Thanksgiving to those who choose the historical positive vision of celebrating Thanksgiving. For my part, this year, not only am I grateful to be alive, but I have more to be thankful for: humans, in general, but especially the nice ones, the passionate ones, and the enthusiastic ones. Euphemism alarms, those are always useful, especially for the internet where type fonts do not always convey the right ratio of sarcasm/genuineness intended and the one is often mistaken for the other. The Dream being somewhat still alive. Robin Williams, whatever zany endeavors you've involved yourself in, I'm still thankful for you, O Captain (if I weren't in my bed right now I would stand up on my desk, I promise). Coffee beans, Dave Eggers, the Coen brothers, Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run which I'm listening to right now but is good any day of the year. But mostly, this year, or at least this week, I'm thankful for teachers. Teacher, in particular, I'm thankful for, and eternally indebted to. Thanks, teach'.
P.S. Go make someone's day.
P.P.S. Judging from the ominous title I had chosen to accompany this most brilliant piece of writing that should have won the Nobel Prize of Literature for Most Wonderful Virtual Blog Post Article Slash This Is Really Shitty Writing But Who Cares I Have Lost My Train Of Thought And Like To Overuse and Abuse Capital Letters Because I Am A Self-Important Human Being — who the hell is Alice Munro anyway — I had planned to discuss my boundless love for David Foster Wallace's fish parables and for David Foster Wallace in general, somewhere between whining and endearing self-deprecation (there, that was sarcasm). Well, planned is not really the right word seeing as I've just proceeded to word-vomit without any clear goal other than to reach the conclusion that I LOVE TEACHER(s). But I am tired and David Foster Wallace lives on and certainly does not need to have another word-vomit paean written about him. So. For now, remember that This Is Water, and remember perspective, and remember empathy, and remember that there is good in the world, and remember that sometimes, just sometimes, being that corny, and that cliché, is good for the soul. Thank You.