Saturday, May 17, 2008

I Am In The Staff Room

How difficult it is to withstand the truth of any real thing. I sit here at dinner, waiting to go back to my room. I arrive here from my room, reluctant to leave it, forced to sit at another table where the other occupants are altogether morose. They are teachers. They are older, have seen more years at school and find anything suspicious. I can't discuss this with them. They are already discussing other things amongst themselves. I don't want to get a word in edgeways; I don't want to talk to them because talking to them is so difficult. Talking to anyone can be particularly difficult these days, and I cannot be sure why. Here, the discussion is veered to subjects that only they know about - things of which they are the sole proprietors. Discipline, indiscipline, emotions, attitudes, bad attitudes, the quality of food, the coming in late of boarders, the arrogance, indolence, overexcitement, rudeness, impropriety, the absence of good teachers. I cannot talk about the latter, it's nearly too early/silly to do so. I cannot risk appearing too judgmental. Not at the beginning. They look to me for responses but those responses they will not get. There are things I know I am sure about. About the zealousness of wanting school contraband, the eagerness for food, the craving for media, the bellicose class-hours spent in unmanned recess, all of these things. The impassioned need for some self-affirmation. The need to know that you know some things, are definitely sure of what you think about them, and the possibility, in all humility, of not knowing many others. The need to know that you are real and that there are real creative possibilities open to you. To know that there are things you can read and understand, and not just pretend to browse. To know that the print on that page can make a difference to you. To know that there is someone else around you who is exactly, or nearly exactly, like you. To know that the new teacher, so surreptitiously a part of the woodwork, cares about you and wants to know you better, without making you feel obliged to force your weight about, or to ingratiate yourself, and prostrate yourself, before any conversation you may have with him. There are these things that you get to learn over past incidents and past, prolonged encounters. There are some things you preserve and re-use from the Days Of Yore to make sense of things as they occur presently.

I can't tell them that they are wrong - that the food is, in fact, brilliant; that the air-conditioning is necessary but makes them complacent; that the teachers are emotionally inadequate - that now I am a comparatively better-matured person to know the difference between genuine assertion and ersatz advertised, tele-prompted lectures. That teachers and human beings are not indifferentiable and mutually exclusive. Being one does not exempt an obligation to the other.

I am in the staff common-rooms, and am now privy to their world. How different it was back then. It had seemed so cozy, so comforting, so esoteric. There were cups of coffee and interminable sandwiches, conversations about impressive things ricocheting off the walls and hinges of the room. Now, in the inside, I hear nothing, but the empty talk of bored dissension. There is nothing left to discuss, the room is awkward and silent in snatches. And then someone resumes. Someone else starts off on a harangue - the administration is lousy, the food is lousy, the students are lousy - also bratty and incorrigible - the buses are lousy, the food, oh, the all-so-important food is offensive, again, and the house-staff are witless, self-contented sretins who don't know what's good for their thick, offensive hide. That is all I hear. Suddenly, the effect this has on me is so strange. It's inexplicable and I cannot tell 'real' effect from imagined. It's so creepy but I cannot remember even my rosy, romanticized version of school staff-rooms, I cannot remember the picture of that cushioned interior, I cannot remember the sound of that esoteric talking and discussing and arguing. I am already senile from the onslaught of reality-checks. This is unhealthy.

I cannot tell them at the dinner table, at yet another dinner, on yet another evening, that I do not think that these children are hopeless and unimaginative. Sometimes, the accusers, we, may appear that, but no, not them, not the children. They seem quite capable. Oh, quite. But the next morning I walk around and I feel the penetrating eyes of desperate curiosity. I feel like I'm walking around expectantly in a slow-moving porn movie, though not naked yet. I feel the watching multiply manifold. Sometimes, it feels confrontational, but I cannot flinch, because I feel so overpowered by a sense of self-manufactured adulthood that I cannot but deign to not respond. I remember being them, being rude and confrontational with new people, new teachers I could not figure out or mentally label (as a certain 'kind of person'), gap-students I thought who over-reached their assigned lines. I don't know, being feckless is part of it. Being feckless is also part of college life for so many people, but now in college it just feels looks when I see it.

I am sitting on a bus, driving with them to the city, for a promenade in the shopping places. I sit and respond to the garrulous teacher beside me. I know that my father's purported atheism has nothing to do with my teaching. I'm just being figured-out, that's all.

I walk by the 'administrators' and I cannot but shrink back from their self-conscious incuriosity. I am told occasionally that he is fixated on my hair, but I cannot cut it. I cannot pander now, not now, when I know practically nothing about them. I sit at lunch and I hear the petite, sex-charged matron discuss my whereabouts. I want to tell her to fuck off and mind her own business, but I can't, because propriety hasn't deserted me. And I fear it won't. Leaving all of these feelings unsatisfactorily on the verge of my lips, unwillingly forced back into the recesses of my reluctant throat.

I cannot be a sentinel of our common inadequacy.

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