Verse Exercises

A portfolio for her verses

Takeoffs From the Faces of Blankness

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Archiving this creative writing assignment:

Consider this vantage. You stand inside a dimly-lit room, scribbling your name in large print letters on a blackboard. You turn, clear your throat and face twenty-five empty seats arranged neatly into rows. One by one the seats fill, each occupant materializing out of nowhere until all the seats are filled. You look at them and they look back at you, or at least you think they would if only they all had faces, but instead of pairs of eyes and noses there are only blank slates of flesh facing you whose mouths utter in piping unison

Good morning, Teacher!

This is my nightmare. These are the nameless faces of my future. These are faces that in their blankness have the capacity of doppelgangers to take on many forms, to carry different connotations and associations.

The Unknown

Consider this side of the coin. These faces are divination’s mockery, the empty answer to a scrying that delivers one message alone: the future is inaccessible to man’s foretelling. To escape this nightmare I obsess over one thing and another, filling my days with incessant activity mostly spent in the service of others because it is infinitely easier to solve their problems than my own. But take away from me something that must be done, a series or book to consume and I grow listless wringing my hands, pacing, tearing paper to shreds, peeling the empty mineral water bottle in my hand. Then when there is nothing left to buffer me from the silence and the rumination that accompanies it, the worries will wash over me like a surging wave, and I am suddenly crippled by my fear of the future, unable to move forward, to accomplish tasks and goals, bogged down by despair and the possibility of undesirable outcomes.Look to the Margin

Uncertainty is a question of knowledge. What do you know for certain and what don’t you know? The less one knows the greater is one’s uncertainty, the more the future looks like a black hole that will bend, contort, and finally dismantle everything that you are into nothingness. Thus out of the uncertainty, arises the questions whose answers I believe are fundamental to building a meaningful future. What is it that I think is of utmost value that only I (or perhaps a certain few) can impart by virtue of my personal history and sensibility, where I am coming from? There is arrogance in the belief that there is some truth or reality in the world that only I can see, and you can only begin to imagine the extent of my conceit to have taken up the cause of enlightening the future generations by becoming a teacher. This conceit tells me that there is value in the reality I see, and this is where the answer to what I can impart lies, but can I name it? In teaching, knowing is in the naming. What you cannot name will remain a wraith-like uncontrollable, inconsistent entity in the subconscious that is the root of all fear. What you cannot name can kill you because it is a tiny seed of doubt from where incoherence or insanity germinates. It takes articulation to bring a concept or fact into the schema of consciousness, and it takes consciousness to generate a synthesis that which we call a generalization or a hypothesis, that which in an extended use of terms is what we call reality.

It’s funny really why a cynic would choose to become a teacher. Why should I take part in building a society that if allowed to persist in its current state is bound for doom? Why become the agent and instrument of the state who ensures the survival and maintenance of the status quo elegantly dressed up as democracy and free market liberalism which are really just nice-sounding words for hegemony, exploitation of the unskilled poor, the anxious middle class, and especially the “third world” that lies in the periphery of the seats of power, the United States, Britain and the rest of the colonial land lords that the “third worlds” have had the ill fortune to “accommodate”? Why be a teacher when I have not, cannot accept this world as it is, failing at a thousand attempts to make peace, to be Zen and detach myself from the mire of the pond, losing any sense of self respect after sitting there passively, leaving the lies and double talk unquestioned? Why become a teacher when I do not believe in society? When I do not trust its institutions? When I barely believe in this horde they call “humanity”? When I question culture itself and reject most of its rituals, beliefs and truths? The answers, Plato will say, are within; they only appear lost because they have been forgotten. It takes only a question to begin digging and hauling it out from the infinite bowels of the self, but in this day and age when one is knocked senseless by the rapidity that life must be led, the questions often only generate greater, vaster silences. The uncertainty is always there, from the limitation of foresight and from the inarticulate subconscious within ourselves. One begins to question then one’s capacity to answer, if they can be found, and if found, can they be made intelligible? And if, in the event that the answers have never been within us, can they be invented, and do we have the power to invent them? After following the narrative, and attempting to subvert the initial hypothesis, Plato still wins, because discovery and invention require an agent, and that is to say that the answers do lie within us.

If you were to teach in kindergarten how would you introduce society to children? What sort of color will you paint the world in? Will you make sure to leave out the dark and bloody periods that dot our history and the entire heritage of human kind? Or if you decide to keep it real, how will you break it to a child that the world is a cruel place where a person gets knifed in the gut, raped, abused or shot almost every day? That while by all overt means school is fostering their uniqueness, the underground curriculum, that part of schooling that is not vicariously taught but is nevertheless learned, will teach them how to conform, how to transact in a world with codes and mores, where those who do not know how to fall into line will be ostracized effectively by otherness?

If you were to teach adolescents how can you explain to them, warn them, that good intentions are not enough to create change just as love is not enough to keep two people happy ever after? How can you tell them the facts without breaking their spirit? That college nor the life after will be as excruciating as growing up? That things may not get better simply because one is older? That they will instead, keep missing their childhood because what lies ahead will never be as dandy again?

It is precisely because I’m a cynic that I am interested in the future. While an optimist is busy looking forward to the good tomorrow that may never come, I who cannot foresee rainbows but only bleakness have to busy myself with factors and controllable variables. I am out to build, not to hope.

            Tabula Rasa

Flip the coin. It swivels and turns on itself but the classroom is unchanged and the faceless children remain seated, breathing and very much alive, squirming in their seats without an i.

Your Atlas
While the symbol is the same, perception has skipped frames. This nightmare has become a manifestation of my disinterest towards the sea of strangers that surround me every day. It is my inability to consider people with interest, to recognize and affirm them for their significance. Did you miss me? No I didn’t miss you. You like me, don’t you? You’re okay. It is disinterest that erases anyone’s individuality. Who are you? I do not care whoever you are. While far from dislike or hate, disinterest is the basis for noninvolvement. It is the best defense mechanism—shield from noise, petty quarrels, nasty skirmishes, and most of all awkward first encounters: being nice but wanting really to be alone, hating small talk, hating having to present one’s best foot forward, fishing for tangents between a person and another. Oh your favorite color’s blue? Mine, too! I am glad for those genuinely interested in people, they are people with strength. But for me who struggles to make not only my message understood, but also to convey the intention behind the gesture, thinking so hard about what to say and how to say it, communication is often burdensome, and not rarely unrewarding especially with unimaginative set-in-their-ways people. They make you angry, they frustrate you and waste so much of your energy. I’ve had the luck of growing up in a small town where most people, for example, cannot even begin to fathom the Bible as fallible, cannot think of religion as merely narrative, as this well-crafted mythology. And if people are like that about their spiritual beliefs, often they are like that as well in many other areas, this vantage creeping into other aspects of their seeing. My default stance is indifference, to withhold comment, to be silent. Let them be. I do not care who you are. Let us remain insignificant to each other.

Most of the human interaction one experiences in a single day are not even conversations but mere transactions. 


Excuse me. Ano ang sa’yo?

House water, please. Eto po. Eto? Toxic. Hindi po. See you.

Yung ano po, yan, tsaka isa rin po nun, nung ano. Kumusta ka?  Magkano po ba lahat?

Okey lang.

            …

Oh hi. Hello. Goodbye.

But people are not tabula rasa—empty slates even though we may mistake them to be, even though most of the time it is better to think of them as boring empty human beings. That way I do not have to understand them. I simply have to exclude them from the equation (it is to this extent that I am not a kind person, although I might be a good person).

When the children file into the classroom, they will have baggage. They come from specific contexts and bear individual family histories. They are a unique set of accumulated memories. The classmate beside me, the person behind me, the person who comes in late, the person who is always too early, everyone has a face, and a scribbled slate, but the difficulty lies in acknowledging that.

How does one begin treating people as fellows (and thereby, to treat them with kindness) and not as transaction partners in the communicative act? They are, of course, transaction partners, but to go beyond that and take part in the struggle to transform communication beyond the necessary and infuse meaningfulness and significance to the communicative act, one has to begin to see people as persons with faces.

Moving about in the city, one will inadvertently meet the face of destitution sleeping by a stairwell, sitting by the sidewalk with outstretched begging hands. Perhaps what disturbs me most are street children. With the sense of a street veteran, a child will block your way with his body, thrust his hand in your face and look at you with the biggest malnourished doe eyes you’ve ever seen. I ask myself whether this child is my responsibility, and the honest answer is NO. I am not this child’s keeper. And because I know he is a person, I will leave him without a coin in his palm, and he is now my baggage, and I will carry him around through the pockets of life full of sadnesses.

I fear that because of my own social ineptness, my resistance to investing my feelings and being involved with people (and thereby, entangling myself in their problems and heartaches) I will be unable to recognize my future students for persons and not strangers, for individuals and not the empty shells of human beings. I am very well aware that the cause that I have chosen will remain meaningless and insignificant if I fail to see others as interesting individuals, but a mechanism served to defend the self is a difficult mechanism to dismantle. The question then becomes a question of strength, and this is a question that for once, I have an answer to. I am weak. Very weak, otherwise there would be no need for this distance. A smile is a very powerful weapon, don’t you think? It says try me, I can take it. Hurl all the hate and anger at me, I will not break. I can survive you. But I am a person who wears a perpetual serious expression on her face.

The Faceless Many

Flip the coin once more.

The faces devoid of eyes have turned into a mindless horde of automatons brainwashed into conformity, having lost and sacrificed their faces for the security of the nameless crowd on the march.

Teacher, decide, then, what you think of education? In whose service is education for? Is education a social instrument used to forward the beliefs and attitudes that will ensure the survival of society, in other words, the status quo? Or is education in the service of the individual, the pursuit of holistic development, the pursuit of self actualization, of becoming one’s highest potentials? In whose service is public education? Is the teacher who is being paid by the government in service of government’s set goals for education, in other words, citizenship education, maintaining the current paradigm for democracy, free market capitalism, graft and corruption? But if government is for the people, by the people, of the people, isn’t the teacher then employed by the people, employed by the child she faces in the classroom who only wants to explore and celebrate his creativity? But is the teacher then just a mere agent, in the service of clients—her government, her students, her students’ parents? Where is her choice? Where does her individuality come in? How do you negotiate humanity as the humanists defined it? Where does it come in? Is it noted there, perhaps, in a section two or five in the curriculum where and how to teach with humanity?

I am an individual. This is my face: perhaps a little misanthropic, but I like myself best when I am alone. When I am alone I am not ugly. When I am alone I am compassionate and kind. When I am alone I am honest. When I am alone I am loving. When I am alone I laugh easily. When I am alone I am clumsy. When I am alone I am an idiot, but it’s okay. When I am alone I am earnest, straightforward, and serious, but it’s also okay. When I am alone I am whole.

This is all I know: it is alright to be alone, and it is wonderful not to be afraid to be alone.

This is what I want to teach because when people are no longer afraid of solace, of aloneness, then they will not be afraid to go against the grain and think and speak their thoughts. This is the point of recognizing people, of being able to see a person’s face, because the teacher that I want to be is a teacher who can return the face to the faceless, the teacher who can affirm individuality and make her students believe in the capacity of their own thinking.

One seeks something more than just the approved learning competencies. There has to be something more of us, in us. There has to be something more than just the teacher depositing knowledge into her student’s heads so she can claim her month’s pay. There has to be something more than just an agent and client connection in learning. If we simply allow ourselves to lose connections, we will. I have. It is easy to numb one’s feelings. I know this so well. The leap to alienation is but a skip. But we have to demand of reality meaning, demand of ourselves meaning-making. Otherwise what on earth are we here for? What is there to endure? Why am I in a classroom with twenty-five faceless, uninteresting, even horrifying people?

But questions are for the future. Right now, where I am there is a constant struggle between myself and the society that I do not trust. I have to keep up a resistance against this social force that I perceive to be stifling me, judging the very person that I am. Why are you different? Come into the fold. Come and rest into the comfortable fold of conformity. Be one of us. Belong. Some days it feels like I’m an asthmatic again gasping for the very breath to live, choked by situations that insist on one’s acquiescence like the professor insisting on the right belief in Jesus Christ the Savior; the friends who want you to get a boyfriend and maybe you’ll be less of a disgruntled teenager; the elite circles and interest groups with their registers, jargons and dress codes; the stereotypical teacher who has to be funny, hyperactive, overly sociable, and SUPER friendly; and finally society’s predetermined life plan. Get a prestigious course, or at least be a nurse. Graduate with honors. Get a high-paying job. Get a boyfriend. Get married. Have babies. Get old. Die. Get buried in a box, in a hole six feet from the surface of the earth. No thank you.

I keep telling myself don’t let anyone tell you any different. But the struggle continues and I will have to fight for the very space in which I exist, where I can truthfully exist. I will set my foot down and resist the undercurrent of conformity—this tireless enemy that threatens to take away from any one and all of us the right to be ourselves. To be who I am, to allow myself to acknowledge and exist in multiplicity is my entitlement. I was born without my consent; I have to have this at least. The ultimate nightmare is when the teacher who turns to look at her students also has been robbed of a face. Let me be who I am.

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Written by thedoe

February 7, 2009 at 12:38 am

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