Wednesday, March 11, 2009

`A Latent Double'

In the staff room, scene of my piddling failure and triumph, I ate my apple and chicken sandwich and read Kay Ryan’s “Why We Must Struggle”:

“If we have not struggled
as hard as we can
at our strongest
how will we sense
the shape of our losses
or know what sustains
us longest or name
what change costs us,
saying how strange
it is that one sector
of the self can step in
for another in trouble,
how loss activates
a latent double, how
we can feed
as upon nectar
upon need?”

To feed upon need is a pragmatic, often tardy expression of maturity. Earlier in the morning a teacher had given me 20 three-page handouts – inspirational stuff, including a potted biography of Mother Teresa, “The Greatest Humanitarian of the 20th Century.” I was to make eight copies of each sheet, collate and staple them, making certain each handout was printed on a different color of paper. My pride was bruised by such a menial job (“I’m a para-educator!”), though she couldn’t have known I’m unable to play a DVD without assistance. The digital control panel on the copier was written in the cryptic language of machines that only other machines can decipher. With the assistance of a forgiving teacher and the passage of one hour and 12 minutes, I finished the job, though the little-kid part of me, the anti-“latent double,” wanted to chuck it all and tell off the teacher. Ryan, the most mature and sensible of poets, reminded me of who I am and what I’m not.

Back in the classroom, a 16-year-old was hollering, swearing, stomping and kicking chairs. He was supposed to have been my charge for the day but didn’t show up until lunch. Three male instructors, all looking nervous, were talking to the kid who wouldn’t go to chemistry class and wanted to play computer games. A teacher turned off his computer, the kid turned it back on and the instructor knelt down to unplug the entire bank of machines. The kid was poised to kick him in the crotch or jump on his back. He looked at me, sitting 10 feet away. I looked back impassively, ready to jump, when he suddenly slumped in his chair, deflated. He walked out of class and someone called security. It was the first tickle of fear I’ve felt since reentering the classroom a month ago. Ryan’s “The Job” is also in Say Uncle:

“Imagine that
the job were
so delicate
that you could
seldom – almost
never – remember
it. Impossible
work, really.
Like placing
pebbles exactly
where they were
already. The
steadiness it
takes…and
to what end?
It’s so easy
to forget again.”

Ryan has taught remedial English part time at the College of Marin in Kentfield, Ca., for almost 40 years. It’s no surprise she would excel in a job “so delicate,” as she also does in poetry: “The/steadiness it/takes.”

1 comment:

elberry said...

Strange that just as i quit office hell yours is beginning. The shame, the sense of being a lackey, bullied, ordered about by cretins who - if they know you write - despise you for it, is grim stuff; especially if you're used to freedom, as i was when they slapped the temp-cuffs on me in 2004.

i managed to survive by thinking of it as an ordeal that would temper me, burn away all that was extraneous. 'Eat bitter' as the kung fu saying goes. It has certainly made me much harder, grimmer, my humour much darker. i don't really smile much now, but when i do i really mean it - because it had to fight its way through all the misery and pain and exhaustion.

It also helps to abuse your laminating powers and start laminating badges for yourself, giving yourself special powers and titles.