August 2008

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Here I stand, being, explaining who and that I am, and pleading my case: I am, I need, I want, I will, I will-not, I must; I seek.

The who I talk to, the you, the them…here we all are pleading, each his own case, each her own way, to the judges of days and times. The who I talk to, you, you hear me, hoping I will hear you; and I do, or I do not.

How much do I hear if my own ground is infirm, if I cannot find my judges’ vision? How much – if I need and want, need and want, need and want? Pleading my own case, now shouting, now whining and wheedling, I am homo politicus, and I am nothing beyond what I want and need, want and need.

How much can I hear if my own case, neither firm nor infirm, sits upon a bargain of my being with yours? Gathered together in some small plot of mutual existence, we are tied in some awesomely complicated fashion, into haggling, bargaining for…for myself, for your self; barely separable with boundaries of cottonwool and diffuse airs. Do I plead better when I state your case; or my own?

How to become the judges of our own vision’s progress, the upward looking critic of my judging, a judging of myself that you may judge yourself well, that you can judge me well, that we can be better and stronger in tomorrow’s resolve…and today’s doing.

I hate being taken: being taken for the jerk I occasionally am; taken for a dope, a dupe. I used to get angry, try to wreak revenge, seek retribution, until I heard my beloved say so clearly that I couldn’t avoid hearing: that the only blame that hurts, that really smarts, is the aura of self-destruct and her-destruct; that vengeance hits the air and gets reflected back into one’s self as if the world were a deliberate mirror. I could lie, rant and rave, and threaten, and curse curses, but I would do nothing!
The other day, I read a review written by a dupe. For twenty years or more he had been taken, willingly, I’ll bet. And the winds of time blew time’s ghost from pillar to the post of…a new crowd; a new insight, a next in-crowd, this cynic’s pleasure-displeasure at watching last year’s stars trying to maintain their arc in public view, when the winds change. Now, duped; now, a confessional; now, a new theory from his new camp. What’s new? A new metaphor. You don’t like the old one – try a new one! Before it was the computer as a metaphor for the brain; now it’s the brain as a metaphor for the mind: next it’ll be…
Dupe! Dope! “Should I write a letter? I wrote a letter.” Do I criticize him, his conversion, his recanting, his re-telling his re-thinking? No. I use his plight to attempt to understand my own. I used to be too young, too eager, too much in a hurry. Now, my own dupe, I have too much to confess to my self’s hearing, to worry him about his…

“Let’s define this clearly,” rings and rings in my inner senses as a teacher…but it seems all…wrong.

Say what “it” is: its parts, the whole, relationships; beginnings and the end!

Some sense, resonating still from Plato and ancient times, that clarity in definition is clarity in thinking is clarity into the truth of the world.

I, always a pedant assigning grades to everyone, want to forestall the definitions that seem to set every problem; clearly, certainly – as if we can always state what “it” is.

The world seems more complicated than mere naming or saying or thinking this is always so very clear. My students tempt me, dare me perhaps to say what “it” is. So I ask them broader questions like where we are, who are they, what time in history is this: questions which become unclear the moment they try to define them; defy more than define.

Background, context, is it even clear who their teacher is? Name, yes! Professor, the (as)signer of their syllabus. But, I as their teacher? A study in being…together. Any sense of towardness; toward their futures? Don’t definitions tend to enhance the past at the cost of the importance of the future (and the present)?

So much early effort, arriving at some apparent consensus, too early: before they know one another, too early in thinking, too gullible, too easily attached to remembering the premature definitions. Then…proceeding to bypass understanding through the filter of that definition. Or reject the definition, and adopt what seems to be its opposite. No more talk; except to talk. No more discussion; only mere discussion; surface. No depth, nor any sense that there is much deeper to go, or what paths we might embark on, or the various contexts in which any thing or idea arises.

“But, but,” I sputtered, still sputtering in its rethinking like Jacque Tati’s auto, foundering upon a chosen road, until it sputters off upon some other map of its own resolve. “But, we already agree on a host of things: we are here together, we all got here, we are here sitting with some rules of conduct and mutual treatment of where we are and how we got here and the why’s of our lives. Let’s find out who we are before we

cut life out of our definitions!”

Too easy, too liable to cut-off the paths of thinking which open minds to opening ideas to other minds, to…No, no definitions. Wonder, awe, surprise – out of these we will talk together. Teacher, students, who are we? Argue, debate, scream if we must. Clarity not in definitions, but a pursuit, a striving to be distilled from all the resonances of all the talk; near the end, upon rethinking, toward knowing, toward resolving, toward tomorrow, toward more meaning in our lives.

Definitions: more an end than a beginning.

…he asked me, that you don’t find the kinds of teacher you espouse, for which you are looking?” I looked up at him; quizzically, I thought.

Beyond disappointment, I thought there were some around, of those who taught well and inspired. By now, I understood and understand that teaching is too difficult for very long, except for the strongest to bear. Where, then, to look, to search? How much of my own time to devote to these explorations in the realities of every day? How to deal with the experiences of isolation which the teacher-I-am has to endure?

I found them many of those for whom I was searching in the texts and ideas of all of time: in the books, in the writings, in the history of how we got here. Augustine trained teachers and created the church which has endured for almost two millennia; and I have him, his thoughts and writings, in my house and in my office, and in my mind, and in my being. He is very present in my thoughts, so alive that I can talk and walk with him. And Plato, who thought and talked sitting down, and his student, Aristotle, who talked and thought while walking around; I have them, as well. Confucius, Aesop, the ancients. The seers and oracles and shamans of other cultures, they, too, are now available; at least in books, and in my active thoughts.

And the moderns who have shaped our thinking…? Maybe it is that I have already swallowed whatever the tears of my disappointments, thinking that tears should not be shed upon the ground of life. I wish to meet all the teachers of the world who live still, now that I can attempt to grapple with their concepts and histories, now that I am thoughtful and full of sufficient knowledge. Disappointed?

Disappointment: a concept that middle age cannot sustain and reach its own beyond.