Saturday, January 24, 2009

Not Giving a Fuck

My French teacher at St. Ambrose, Mr.Toal once accused me of not caring. I denied it instinctively.

On one of his seemingly spontaneous, but actually very loaded mid-lesson musings, he reflected that part of the shape of life was to start work, realise how tough the real world is, and think "St Ambrose isn't so bad."

Since leaving St Ambrose at the earliest legal opportunity in 2000:

I had a part-time job during my A-Levels working in a noisy, sweaty hotel kitchen as the lowest member of the staff food-chain but I have never thought "St Ambrose isn't so bad."

I have had a summer job working in a bleach factory where health and safety standards were Dickensian, and one had to slide along the floor instead of walk for fear of slipping but I have never thought "St Ambrose isn't so bad."

I have been riding a scooter on a rainy afternoon and been tossed onto the roof of a car whose driver pulled out in front simply because he was bigger than me but I have never thought "St Ambrose isn't so bad."

I have worked as a door-to-door salesman and been turned away at first glance from homes where I could here the laughter coming from the paddling pool, and smell the freshly barbecued meat, but I have never thought "St Ambrose isn't so bad."

I have come to China and lived as the ultimate ethnic minority. I have learnt Chinese and heard first hand accounts of life during the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward but I have never thought "St Ambrose isn't so bad"

I could go on, with a student-house that was the ultimate cultural wasteland, being out of love by text-message, staying in a bullet-proof windowed motel in Chicago, spending the night in Hong Kong without a hotel room, losing over a thousand pounds on an e-bay fraud, but I have never thought "St Ambrose isn't so bad."

During my last two months at the school, one Student stuck his head out of the upstairs window of the bus and yelled "Mr Haworth's gay." Mr Haworth gave a fuck. This was during the last stretch of preparation for our GCSEs, which we all gave a fuck about. The importance of our final lessons did not stop the Headmaster of the school from pulling boys out of their lessons to fill out incident forms, face interrogation, and help discover the identity of the boy who had shouted "Mr Haworth's gay."

As an aside, Mr Haworth had recently established himself as an adulterer and a homewrecker. But still, we were expected to give a fuck about finding the culprit.

I believe that people who tell children that school days are the best days of their lives are bullies.

I believe that schools redirect kids' talent and enthusiasm towards things that very few will find worth giving a fuck about.

I believe that its lack of 'real world'ness was the very thing that made St Ambrose a miserable place for many Students who went there in my time.

I believe that there are imposters, bullies, and incompetents in every profession, but school is the only time when we're required to respect them.

The reason I am not a forceful teacher is not because I like the Students. They, and I, are just pawns in a vast, indifferent system. But because I explain to them that ultimately, this is their deal. I can help them to memorise pieces of literature, but only when they've experienced the emotions involved will they understand them. I can give them topics to discuss in class but only when those issues have touched their lives will they know what they think of them. No Student should ever thank me for how much they have learnt, they should thank themselves.

Since leaving St Ambrose, I have found things that I do give a fuck about: Mandarin, creative writing, classical guitar, and (most recently) karaoke. But I can only reach my full potential at those things when I shed inhibitions, realise and accept limitations, and cease to give a fuck about those things.


Nick Herman said...

Man--that was beautiful. Very well said. You summarized 16 years worth of frustration and angst. Not that there weren't good times, too, but damn--what a price. I'm such a healthier and happier individual since I finished with it, and, after working in the field in various positions over the past few years, have been increasingly finding that there is simply too much unacceptable garbage to contend with, too far removed from the real meaning of "education." Fuck school.

By the way, if you've never heard this, good stuff:

I've been thinking about how to take my guitar playing to the next level. I think I need to play in front of others more frequently and actively. I'm considering going down to the subway to busk tomorrow, which I feel rather excited about.

I also have a page for my music now:

though it's quite different from what I play when it's just me and my guitar without any recording or electronic methods. But, every bit of experience shapes one's art into what it becomes, so it isn't as if they're not all related.

Ah, and happy new year! The temple down the street from me (Daoist, possibly) has a line of Cantonese grannies and their cell-phone brethren out the door, the ringing of a bell. Rains have just washed the sky clean such that I can see many stars (30+) considering I live in a dense city. You can get a sense of the pitch-blackness swallowing the universe, which is one of the things I love most about camping.

I think I'm going to finally convert my other guitar to a fretless.

I was thumbing through some old handwritten journals today and chanced upon a passage about the common teacher's room at the school where I taught which I wrote up on my LJ. It's pretty small, but it brought back vivid memories for me.

Kevin said...

That 在北京 song is definitely worth learning.

It certainly puts 北京欢迎你 in its place.

I've just had a listen to your Myspace page. Very smooth.

My next colection of Internety videos will be of the Chinese songs I've written. First I need more experience of performing them, then I need to decide where on earth I'm going to record them.