Monday, October 04, 2004
5:44 PM |
Nothing works. Not the telephone, especially in rainy weather. The dial tone goes at the slightest threat of rain, as if the gray clouds slowly gathering are portents to something more than what they really are - vehicles for sly amounts of waterdrops to cool the Monday that looms. In the middle of the day, while you are singing to some old 80's tune, the lights go out as well. It has been like that for the past two years, perhaps more. Sudden blackouts without reason. You have learned not to sigh too much, and you have learned to take things with patience bordering on apathy. But then again, you have just paid an exorbitant bill to the electric company, and for a moment there, you want to bark angrily at everything that moves. Yesterday, you barked at the teeny mouse that got caught in your snare of a flypaper. The frightened mouse squeaked and batted its dark little buttony eyes at you, but you were not moved by its display of cutesy. You instead wrapped the yellow flypaper around its tiny body, and you could imagine the sticky gel slowly suffocating it. You think, life is like flypaper. It's bright yellow, and it sticks to our skin. The mouse squeaks some more, and you bark some more. Later, Ginny texts from Manila about looking out the window and seeing the sky as being urine yellow. You sigh, and texts back: "God has hepatitis B." You want to talk to someone all of a sudden. But you can't call anyone, either. Your cellphone is acting up lately; its generic battery, newly bought, shrinks to one bar with any two-second incoming call. And people keep sending you "inspirational" gibberish, so you send back something dark and stark by W.H. Auden: "I am the solitude that asks and promises nothing; that is how I shall set you free. There is no love; there are only the various envies, all of them sad." They never send you chirpy bright stuff again. You don't wonder anymore why people think you're deliciously dark. You try the landline phone again, hoping for some miracle. Still nothing, only a glimpse into the void, if the void could ever be empty, resounding soundlessness. You know, of course, how the most extreme silence can be so noisy. That is how it is, looking for a dial tone in a telephone that doesn't work. So you think, "Modern times can be so medieval." Soon, by the end of a dizzy day, you are on your third cup of coffee. You need your artificial boosters to carry you through this week. You have already banished away most of the giant pile of student papers, most of them horrid attempts to psychoanalyze their angst. They invariably talk about how "I hate my father," or "My mother has never cared for me." You are tired of writing in red ink, so you have decided to shift to green. It's more cheerful and positive, you think, and less teacherly: with your red pen, it was all too easy to mark down a string of F's. But how many times have you written down, "I have no patience for gnarled grammar" and sighed dramatically over another murderous prose? Perhaps more than you should hope for. You have learned not to expect too much. "These are still students, after all," you convince yourself -- but you are also too aware that a diary entry is not an essay. So you still put down a few F's, and an occasional low grade, still passable, but hurting. You carry on. It's amazing how you can check 194 essays in less than two days, and still come out of the daze feeling just a tiny bit human. Maybe it is because, despite the lethal syntax and the reach for composition's bottomless pit, these essays by your students are symbolic of their first attempts to articulate what they must have always felt about everything. You can read that between the painful lines. This generation is so repressed, you think, so eager to stay true to their conservative paths, but subconsciously knowing nonetheless that there is really no hope, only small, timid ones. You almost want to shout to them, Why don't you just break free from your fetters? Why do you always have to conform?
But you don't shout, because you know that can never get anywhere anyway. You can only provide them a crack in the closed door. It is up to them to really open the door and break free. Most often, they just die and become boring adults. But you are amazed, still, at all these bottled emotions: You can see their bleeding hearts on these very pages, their blood and tears have mixed with the ink. So you tell them, "I find this essay brave and courageous, and I commend you for your honesty, but..." and then you tell them, in a nice way, soft as mittens, how their essays suck, structure-wise. What fine lines we teachers tread
, you think. And somehow you still feel guilty. Because you know all you can do is straighten out grammar and sentence structures, when all you really have around you -- disguised as essays printed on rims of bondpapers -- is an ocean of pleas, for help, perhaps, or for attention. But what can I do
, you think, what can I do...
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
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