Are you ever called upon to speak publicly and your mind is blank? That happened to me last night. I should have been prepared—it’s not as if the event was a surprise—but I wasn’t. I had nothing prepared so I needed to adlib.
On the spot, I rehashed a speech I made about five years ago (yes, I remembered the salient points), with a few comments to give a ‘this is where we’re at now’ vibe, but I don’t think it was successful. There are now thirty-odd people out there who looked in turns confused and horrifically amazed, and walked away with a I-don’t-know-what kind of impression.
When that sort of thing happens, it’s only afterwards while I’m thinking about what a shit job I did that I work out what I really should have said. In the shower this morning—where most of my reflective thinking occurs—I wrote in my head the speech I should have given. I’ll share the contents of that speech with the intended recipient gradually over the next week or so.
At least the person it was intended for will hear my true thoughts.
I went to a funeral yesterday. There were a lot of people there; the church was full, the back room was full, there were people out the front spilling onto the footpath and into the road.
For an hour, I sat and listened to reminiscences of a person’s life. At the end of the funeral we watched as the SES escorted the hearse away. It was poignant and a little spectacular.
During the two hours following the funeral I drank tea and chatted with people.
Every person had a different story to tell and it struck me that you can never really know a person. I knew him as part of my family. I had a personal vision of the man he was. Because I didn’t live in the town, and only socialised at family functions, I didn’t see any other aspect of him.
It struck me as I listened to the eulogy, the songs written for him, the pictures displayed, and watched the tears stream down the faces of burly emergency services workers, I realised there was a whole side I’d never seen or imagined. I’d been on the periphery. I’d known of his involvement in various organisations, but hadn’t translated that knowledge into the way his life impacted on other people in town.
It wasn’t just me who was missing pieces of his life. Everyone I spoke to shared one observation of his life. Each person’s story showed they knew a slightly different person. It wasn’t until I walked away hours later that all those stories coalesced in my head and I realised the person I knew wasn’t a lot like the person other people knew, and they didn’t know the person I knew.
Intellectually, I’ve known this characteristic of human nature existed for most of my adult life, but I’ve never before seen such stark contrasts between stories of someone’s life. It’s not as if he presented totally different personalities wherever he went. It was more like the different things he did in different situations required different aspects of his personality to come to the fore.
I’ve begun thinking about how other people are viewed by the various people in their lives. I’m going to sit for a while now and allow all these epiphanies from yesterday percolate in my brain.
I have an office at home. To me, it's an important space but it's been getting progressively more difficult to work in. I'm not a tidy person. My desk is not tidy. My office is more like a storeroom. The most common response from anyone who sees my office and desk is to ask for a garbage bin. The second most common response is for them to immediately turn around and leave the room.
I spent most of today cleaning my office. I've tried before, with various levels of success, to make my office a comfortable, efficient workspace. Today I was ruthless. I threw things out, I put things in a pile for charity. When that made very little difference, I began moving things out.
I don't live in a large house, but I do have a lot of hobbies that all need homes. Today, I moved out of my office:
Still left in the room: four bookcases, one small sewing cabinet with vintage sewing machine, two four-drawer filing cabinets, large desk with hutch and return.
I haven't touched my desk yet so it's still piled with books and papers, a few skeins of wool, a set of charcoal pencils, a set of watercolour pencils, a carpenter's rule, several different screwdrivers, a stapler and a glue gun. Those are the basics. There are tubs and containers for pens, highlighters, notepads, blank paper, graph paper, etc.
Three essential things on my desk are:
I’ve been reading a fair bit this week, mostly because I’ve put my back out, but also because I like reading. Two books I’ve read have made me seriously concerned for the US Education system. Both books had heroes who were teachers in US schools. Both schools had serious problems with bullying, idiots running the school board and bigoted parents demanding blood.
In one of the books, a student was harassed and bullied and all the hero teacher did, even after witnessing incidents was help the kid pick his books up and, later, talk the kid down off the roof. There was no attempt to address the bullies or their behaviour. He just told the victim to harden up (not in those words, but that sentiment).
In the other book, the hero teacher at least addressed the problem but, at every turn, he was thwarted by the school board which was full of bigots. I quite liked this book because the teacher at least did something about the problem.
The thing that raised my concerns was the way the American schooling system was portrayed in both these books. The teachers generally worked hard and the kids were mostly good, but there was absolutely no policy against bullying and harassment, particularly where LGBT+ kids were concerned.
These aren’t the only two books I’ve read set in a US school, but the situation is always the same as far as bigotry is concerned.
I’m left with the serious concern that all those books are a reflection of the real situation. Sure, I understand it’s fiction and things are exaggerated, but if there’s a basis of truth to make the fiction believable it’s really worrying that the school system is set up to bow to power rather than right.
I don’t know the reality, of course, as I don’t live in the US. I live in Australia and I know there are numerous policies designed to protect students from every perceived threat. Staff are extensively trained and parents informed and regularly reminded of policy. There are hierarchies of behaviours and consequences. And while every case is individual, there are no surprises. Everyone knows what happens if they bully someone, for whatever reason.
I’ve read Australian books set in schools that show a situation at least forty years old, even though they are contemporary. That’s the author writing from their experience and transposing that into a contemporary setting. Those books annoy me too.
My question is: are these books writing a historical situation into a contemporary setting, or is this really the way US schools operate now?
E E Montgomery
About writing, life, and random thoughts.
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