Monday, October 25, 2010

that 20-years-ago thing

I was just thinking about certain experiences and teachers from gradeschool for some reason. If I had a different family, and if I were in second grade now rather than twenty years ago, I would have been one of those unfortunate kids to have been thrust into taking Ritalin (and then, in my case, because of my then-undetected congenital heart valve disease, I suspect I would have pretty shortly been dead). Ms. Summers used to always bust my balls about "staring off in to space"; I guess I just wasn't interested. And more than one teacher complained that, while they wish they had a classroom full of me's, I just talked too much; i.e., I rarely did anything that required being disciplined, except for talking during class. I was serious ADD-meds material.

I also remember well the difficulty I had in the notion of "rounding up from 5"; I thought she was trying to say, in a sequence of numbers, written on a sheet of paper, one would need to begin writing the numbers vertically (i.e., "up"), rather than horizontally, if one happened to land on a 5.

Two years later, nonetheless, at another school, another lifetime, I had the highest math average in my class, and went downhill arithmetically from there. The one exception was my senior year. (In college, of course, I did much better, but here we're dealing with before that.) I had a pretty good teacher for a semester, but then she left. Then we had an African guy who was almost incomprehensible. Then we had Mrs. Spatorno who was -- as I told her husband when I met him, totally by chance, years later -- simply the best math teacher I've ever had in my life. Naturally many students called her a bitch; she was, as Mr. Spatorno accurately said of his wife, very "matter of fact." To me she was simply brilliant. Neither was she unattractive in any sense of the word; her looks were as sharp as her mind. And indeed her pedagogical wit was as refined as any good college professor's. I especially remember one junior reciting that oft-repeated mantra, "But when am I ever going to use this in life?" to which Madame replied, "Well, you have an exam to use it on next week."

I don't really have a point other than that you can't learn something that you don't find interesting (I've used math because, historically, it's been one of the most uninteresting things to me). If you find something truly interesting, you'll never even need a real "live" teacher for it; most of my principal teachers have been dead for decades, a few for centuries. But a good teacher can do the impossible: a good teacher can make interesting the uninteresting. Or rather, a good teacher brings to light that this particular lesson is simply part of, as Chesterton would say, the only "subject" there is in the whole universe.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


One of the things I really love about Hammett's The Thin Man (which, if you were thinking of the movies, I am not referring to at all -- the novel is completely different) is that it is almost an entire novel's worth of the kind of mise-en-scene and general atmosphere one gets in the chapter "The Hat Trick" in The Glass Key -- when Ned Beaumont goes to New York -- or even (in a different way) in Salinger's Franny and Zooey. It's funny, because I used to not even like The Thin Man; then again, I used to not like The Glass Key either. I'm always surprised by Hammett, no matter how much I read him; it always seems like the things I think I have to look outside of his works to find are already in his works, or rather in the works I haven't read as many times.

Friday, October 15, 2010

another recent thought...

I am often horrified by the fact that people change, and, consequently, think people who love change so much ought not to be as terrified about death as they are. For most people change so much in a decade that the person they were the previous decade is already dead. What is the difference between a corpse and an unrecognizable soul?


Some do not perceive the order underlying the chaos. Their belief that the world, the universe, is chaotic is founded on the mere surface of things. "But," you will say, "quantum mechanics..." -- and I shall preempt you: "In quantum theory, we still are only dealing with the surface."

Friday, October 1, 2010

finding the unreal city

What is the Waste Land? Where and what is the Unreal City?

I think I may have an answer within my own experience. Perhaps my greatest alienations occur when, against all odds, I discover some truth which rocks the foundations of my preconceptions on its corresponding object or event. Something which has always been, seems new to me; and it now appears so obvious, so native to the intellect, that one remains awestruck that he had never seen it before.

But then come the Men of Experience. The Men of Experience explain how this does not fit in with The Model, what they've always known, always been told, and always told everyone else. Don't think I'm discussing anything political here (though this does happen in political philosophy as well, abundantly so); I am merely talking about truths related to activities of everyday life.

To emerge from the shadows and return to the world of light -- or, more likely, vice versa -- is to find the Unreal City. Everyone is doing it all wrong. There are a few kindred souls like us, "We Few," but by and large one finds oneself in a land which engorges itself on pleasures wholly illusory. One realizes, "I, too, was once one of Them." In a zeal for the propagation of this transcendental nugget, one tells everyone he can think of. But ultimately no one really listens. Never mind that your new insight is based on rather inescapable laws of chemistry or biology, ontology or calology. No, you're just... in your own little world.

To you Few to whom I'm making sense, I bid thee well, and welcome. For you, too, live here, in Unreal City. We natives, though, in our affectionate way, we call it the Waste Land.