I’ve created this blog for myself. Some stuff might not make sense to anyone but me. I intend to use it as a log, journal, and as a place to write when I feel like writing. I don’t know yet how motivated I will be to keep it going, but my posts will likely be sporadic at best. Should you care to read it, feel free to comment.
I’m 16 years old. My world is crumbling. The cosy safety of middle school is gone. I feel alone, and sad, and haven’t slept for days. My mom’s asleep; I want to hug her and for her to tell me everything is ok, but I was fighting with her before bed, and she’d be angry if I woke her up. I get up and walk down a flight of stairs. I open the refrigerator for the 20th time. I walk down a filight of stairs. Misty is sitting on the couch, and he looks up curiously. I should be asleep. I sit down next to him and put my hand on his back. I pick him up and lie down. His tail tickles on my leg as he turns over on my stomach, pushing his head into my neck. I tell him I hate school, and he listens. I tell him I wish I was dead. He listens. Misty never got mad at me, and he never told me I was just a dumb kid.
When I was 17 or 18 Misty died. He had cancer, and we had to put him down. I didn’t go to the vet. I remember curling up and feeling more alone than I ever had. I felt worse than I had when my grandfather died. And I felt guilty for it. But more than feeling the loss of Misty, I felt like I had lost my childhood. All the memories I had with him, and things I had confided in him were gone. All the nights in elementary school that I’d stayed up late because he was out, worrying about coyotes were wasted. He was the first person I came out to. And he still loved me. I remembered holding him when I was too small, and feeling him overflowing my arms. He was always so careful then. Never using his claws when he thought I would drop him. Gentle when he climbed down.
The trip this summer is exciting, and I’m so excited to be free like this. But part of it is very sad for me. This is probably one of the last summers I’ll spend living with my parents. In a few months I’ll be moving away. And for the first time, I’m buying my own things. I mean, I’ve been buying little things for a while, but now I own things I need to take care of. And my mom doesn’t watch over me the way she used to. It’s funny how we miss the things we try and run away from. I’m excited to grow up, but part of me feels a bit like I did that day when Misty was gone. Or the first time I had a bad day and he wasn’t there to tell about it.
A few months after we put Misty down, I drove West in the rain with my Mother and Brother. We picked two kittens. At 11pm I was sitting in the back of the car, with the kittens. The rain outside was playing drums on the roof, and drawing shapes on the inside of the car with the streetlights. My mom and brother were outside, replacing the car’s windshield wipers. The cats looked up at me, learning my face. Probably wondering who I was. 40 miles to the East, a red Dodge Caravan was wrapped around a tree. I woke up the next morning to see my Mom in my room. Crying. All she said was “Chris.”
For the second time, I felt alone. I held my new cat, but he didn’t know me yet. I was comforting him as much as he was comforting me. I had come out to Chris just a few weeks ago. He treated me the same as he always had. Chris was probably my first real friend. He was goofy and funny and awkward and outgoing and playful and dark and angry and he was my friend, always. We slipped apart at the beginning of highschool, but when we reconnected not a minute was lost. And when things were awkward or people were mean he was always very careful and gentle.
With every new thing in life comes the end of another. Even though I never thought I would say it, I miss highschool. I miss its blind innocence and its harsh growing pains. I miss my friends and childhood, but I love my freedom. I miss being babied, and coming home from school to feel safe with my mom. I can’t wait to get away, but I don’t want to leave.
People talk a lot about changing the world before they die. It’s a concept I’ve never really understood. I guess to me it’s just an odd facet of humanity to want to make a difference. I can force myself to understand the concept, I guess, but it just seems dillusinal to think you’ll have any sort of lasting impact. Just by being here we all change the world, sure. But people who talk about leaving a legacy aren’t talking about their contribution to the carbon cycle.
Imagine a small dot. It’s about the size of the head of a pin. It’s on a piece of paper that stretches from here to the moon. Now double the size of the dot. From the dot’s point of view, its size has increased dramatically. But from the paper’s perception, the dot is still insignificant.
We all change the world. Just by living, eating, breathing, walking, we change the course of history. Some of us do more, change more, or act 2, 4, a hundred times more broadly than others. But over the course of time, humanity itself is just a tiny dot on that huge sheet of paper, and one person is nothing.
When people live with the hope to change things, I think they forget what they should be living for. The people I know that are living to change the world, or for God, or for their friends, family, job, wife, husband, or child; they aren’t living for themselves. And while they might leave a bigger mark on that paper, it’s never going to be significant, so why don’t they just enjoy it while it lasts and stop caring about the future? Time is indefinite. For our purposes, the universe is infinite. But within ourselves we can be kings.
Today I came upon a passage by Robert Pirsig that explains my experience with school and my hopes for my return thereto better than I ever could.
[His] argument for the abolition of the degree and grading system produced a nonplussed or negative reaction in all but a few students at first, since it seemed, on first judgment, to destroy the whole University system. One student laid it wide open when she said with complete candor, “Of course you can’t eliminate the degree and grading system. After all, that’s what we’re here for.”
She spoke the complete truth. The idea that the majority of students attend a university for an education independent of the degree and grades is a little hypocrisy everyone is happier not to expose. Occasionally some students do arrive for an education but rote and the mechanical nature of the institution soon converts them to a less idealistic attitude.
The demonstrator was an argument that elimination of grades and degrees would destroy this hypocrisy. Rather than deal with generalities it dealt with the specific career of an imaginary student who more or less typified what was found in the classroom, a student completely conditioned to work for a grade rather than for the knowledge the grade was supposed to represent.
Such a student, the demonstrator hypothesized, would go to his first class, get his first assignment and probably do it out of habit. He might go to his second and third as well. But eventually the novelty of the course would wear off and, because his academic life was not his only life, the pressure of other obligations or events would create circumstances where he just would not be able to get an assignment completed adequately.
Since there was no degree or grading system he would incur no penalty for this. Subsequent lectures which presumed he’d completed the assignment might be a little more difficult to understand, however, and this difficulty, in turn, might weaken his interest to a point where the next assignment, which he would find quite hard, would also be dropped. Again no penalty.
In time his weaker and weaker understanding of what the lectures were about would make it more and more difficult for him to pay attention in class. Eventually he would see he wasn’t learning much; and facing the continual pressure of outside obligations, he would stop studying, feel guilty about this and stop attending class. Again, no penalty would be attached.
But what had happened? The student, with no hard feelings on anybody’s part, would have flunked himself out. Good! This is what should have happened. A large amount of money and effort had been saved and there would be no stigma of failure and ruin to haunt him the rest of his life. No bridges had been burned.
The student’s biggest problem was a slave mentality which had been built into him by years of carrot-and -whip grading, a mule mentality which said, “If you don’t whip me, I won’t work.” He didn’t get whipped. He didn’t work. And the cart of civilization, which he supposedly was being trained to pull, was just going to have to creak along a little slower without him.
This is a tragedy, however, only if you presume that the cart of civilization, “the system”, is pulled by mules. This is a common, vocational, “location” point of view, but it’s not the [true learning]’s attitude. [True learning]’s attitude is that civilization, or ” the system “, or “society”, or whatever you want to call it, is best served not by mules but by free men. The purpose of abolishing grades and degrees is not to punish mules or to get rid of them but to provide an environment in which that mule can turn into a free man.
The hypothetical student, still a mule, would drift around for a while. He would get another kind of education quite as valuable as the one he’d abandoned, in what used to be called the “school of hard knocks.” Instead of wasting money and time as a high-status mule, he would now have to get a job as a low-status mule, maybe as a mechanic. Actually his real status would go up. He would be making a contribution for a change. Maybe that’s what he would do for the rest of his life. Maybe he’d found his level. But don’t count on it.
In time six months; five years, perhaps a change could easily begin to take place. He would become less and less satisfied with a kind of dumb, day-to-day shopwork. His creative intelligence, stifled by too much theory and too many grades in college, would now become re-awakened by the boredom of the shop. Thousands of hours of frustrating mechanical problems would have made him more interested in machine design. He would like to design machinery himself. He’d think he could do a better job. He would try modifying a few engines, meet with success, look for more success, but feel blocked because he didn’t have the theoretical information, he’d now find a brand of theoretical information which he’d have a lot of respect for, namely, mechanical engineering.
So he would come back to our degreeless and gradeless school, but with a difference. He’d no longer be a grade-motivated person. He’d be a knowledge-motivated person. He would need no external pushing to learn. His push would come from inside. He’d be a free man. He wouldn’t need a lot of discipline to shape him up. In fact, if the instructors were slacking on the job he would be likely to shape them up by asking rude questions. He’d be there to learn something, would be paying to learn something and they’d better come up with it.
Motivation of this sort, once it catches hold, is a ferocious force, and in the gradeless, degreeless institution where our student would find himself, he wouldn’t stop with rote engineering information. Physics and mathematics were going to come within his sphere of interest because he’d see he needed them. Metallurgy and electrical engineering would come up for attention. And, in the process of intellectual maturing that these abstract studies gave him, he would be likely to branch out into other theoretical areas that weren’t directly related to machines but had become a part of a newer larger goal. This larger goal wouldn’t be the imitation of education in Universities today, glossed over and concealed by grades and degrees that give the appearance of something happening when, in fact, almost nothing is going on. It would be the real thing.
“Sometimes things look a bit crooked.” That’s what Mikey used to say. He’d tilt his head to the side and smile a little, and the words would slide out. Sometimes I wish I could see that smile again. Watch him tangle his fingers while he worked out what to say next.It’s on nights like these, nights when the wind blows warm heavy air just fast enough to defy the word muggy, and the moon battles the clouds and streetlamps for darkness; that’s when I miss him. I wish I could curl up in a ball and be a million places at once. Running through a field, laughing by a fire on a beach, cozy huddled up in a tent. Alone and with everyone all at once. I smile as the wind shifts or dies, not caring which.
Without thinking about it, I find myself standing on a roof, looking out over an empty parking lot. I’m swinging my feet over the edge. Wiggling my bare toes in the deep night air. Breathing the warmth of tar and night swirling together.
I look out over the rows of lights stretching out below, and count the empty spots. Something seems right about tonight.
I wonder if you ever stop feeling empty, like you’re missing something. I wonder what time it is. I wonder if I care.
The worn-smooth patch of roofing is a reminder of the days when I’d dare myself to jump the 3 stories I was looking over. To tempt the black of the pavement below to catch me. It’s funny how you can be nostalgic for the things you hoped to forget. As I sit with my feet grasping at the darkness, I flex my hands against the roof and lift one last time. The rush of excitement comes again; I remember its draw.
I’m walking along one of the spines of the building now. As I pass, I stop and give a nod to the skateboard wheel left here by a friend who knew too well the rush of death. I raise my middle finger in a crude salute, at a shrine known only to me. He would have smiled, thinking how others had left him flowers. As I take a step forward, the wind whispers “peace.”
I don’t think the summer night’s wind lets you forget.
This trip isn’t about seeing the country so much as it is about having time to reflect. When you know nothing around you it becomes much easier to see yourself. The past few years have taught me a lot, but I imagine I will learn much more this month. I have a lot of theories and very little proof. I have few attachments, but many dreams. I have a lot of hope.