Freshman (Part 6, End): Epilogoliloquy

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.
- Buddha

I had a student ask me once, “Why do you write?” At the time I found it to be an unusual question; and not one that I had ever given much thought.

“I don’t know,” I said, “why do you breathe?”

She just looked at me and laughed, like she knew exactly what I was talking about; but she didn’t. And we both knew it.

I wasn’t trying to be mean; and I certainly wasn’t looking for an argument. But those words just came out because that’s what made sense. Sure, I know it’s not the same (for most people, anyway) to compare something you do as a matter of choice to something that’s done involuntarily as a matter of reflex. But for me, creative expression, in any form, is not something I choose to do; it’s how I survive. It is my air. And without it I would surely suffocate, or implode.

Of course, I am also aware that, while quaint, such a claim is also rather nebulous for the person that does not live life as a “maker of things.” And not everyone does; certainly, the kid that asked the question, while bright, was not exceptionally creative. She was, by no fault of her own, more analytical than artistic, and her ability to craft a sentence fell somewhere between remedial and non-existent (right alongside her ability to craft a decent photograph.) And because I knew this, I spent some time thinking about her question. It is legitimate, after all. Why do I write? (And, for that matter, why did I teach? Because, as it turns out, the two are not entirely unrelated.)

Like I said, I thought about her question for a while; quite a long while, in fact and after a great deal of introspection, I have come to a few conclusions, not the least of which is this: there is nothing more important—and, ironically, more rare—than effective communication. It sounds simple enough, I suppose. And in a way I guess it is. But, as with any statement of value, the truth is not in how good it sounds, but in how useful it is. And communication is important because without it, we would, eventually, cease to exist. Sure, you could spend a great deal of time trying to trump that claim, but in the end, I’m afraid, you would fail. And if you don’t believe me, spend a few minutes trying to devise a way to clothe, feed, and shelter yourself without communicating. It’s amusing, but it doesn’t work.

In my life I have learned that communication comes in many flavors; teaching and writing are only two. Over time I have done my best to engage as many as I can. I have been, in no particular order: a painter, a musician, an illustrator, an animator, a web-developer, a designer, a philosopher, a theologian, a speaker, a photographer and, yes, a teacher. But—more importantly—alongside all of those “things” that I have been or become, I have also been a human. And in coming to understand that, I have also come to conclusion number two: it is my humanity that compels me to write (and, as one might presume, to teach).

Of course, I have also come to understand that I do not write (or speak) for the sake of words alone. Sure, I love the language and the words that make it up, but only insomuch as I am able to use them to achieve some greater goal. (Not that I will deny the fact that when I was younger, I spoke mostly to hear my own voice.) In the end, however, I write because I feel—for reasons not always clear—the urgency in so much that needs to be said; and I write because I feel there are not nearly enough voices compelled to say it. And while I do not presume to be more adequately prepared to speak than the next guy, I must admit, I have met the next guy, and he doesn’t seem to have much to say; or at the very least, not much interest in speaking up.

And so, for lack of a better term, I am a writer. And I write for the truth every bit as much as I do for the story. It may not be glamorous, but it’s what I have. And, for as qualified as I am to tell it, the truth today is that we are wrecking our world, destroying our environment and, perhaps most importantly, abandoning our children. And while I wish I could say it is getting better, it’s not my job to lie.

Growing up as a part of the infamous—though perhaps now, defunct—generation X, I have heard my fair share of social commentary on how kids are messed up, society is destined to suffer for it and the need to act has never been greater. And to that I have only this to say: “Blah, blah, blah.” And while it may not have always been that way, it has become “Blah” because those words, the same words that I have been hearing since I was a child, are now, more than ever, empty; they’re devoid of any real meaning because we, as a society, refuse to demand any true substance. They are simply a bunch of words that continue to rest on arguments always seeming to fall to something other than “you” and “me”. Things like “the current global disposition” and “the (opposition) media” or, worse, “the children” themselves.

Rarely as a kid did I see anyone step up on the global stage and point the finger at themselves and their hordes of “parental” counterparts in reference to all of the “shit” that’s gone down. Tipper Gore did not say “pay attention to what your children listen to so we don’t have talk about censoring music;” George Bush didn’t say “parents, read to your children every night so teachers don’t need to be punished for your failures;” and no one, to the best of my knowledge, has ever uttered the phrase “parents, stay home a little more often, work a little less, so you’ll know when your children are hoarding weapons and building bombs in the garage.” Sure they’ll argue that as much had been implied, but implication never stopped a bullet; only responsibility can do that. And the responsibility always seems to rest on somebody else’s shoulders. It’s a shame, really, because, while you may not like this, if you think there’s a problem with your kids, it’s not simply because there’s a problem with the kids—or the teachers, or the musicians, or the grocery store that sells homemade bomb ingredients and crystal methamphetamine supplies; it’s because there is a problem with their parents which, by the way, is you. Of course, it’s also me and the guy next to you and anyone else who has lived enough of a life to be held accountable for the effects their actions have on the children of our society because, in the end, it most certainly does take a village; and we’re all responsible for this one, whether we like it or not.

Looking around, it occurs to me that we all, for one reason or another, choose to live our lives making excuses. We all want to blame someone or something else so that we don’t have to take responsibility for reality of our own actions. We want to blame the government for the ills of society and then vote the same idiots back into office. We want to blame the schools for illiteracy rates and then refuse to read books with our kids because it’s “much easier to pop in a movie” or “let them play an ‘educational’ video game.” We want to blame our children and their friends for drinking and doing drugs and then leave them alone in the house with unlimited access to money and zero supervision. We continue to blame gun manufacturers for school shootings and then turn around and vote down legislation to make it more difficult to purchase and own a firearm. We want to blame the music, and then reach in our pockets while we talk on our cell phones and give our kids cash to buy whatever they want because we’re just too busy to ask what they’re doing. Well, I’ve got news for you: Judas priest didn’t kill your kid. You did. And no, I am not sorry for saying it, because while the truth sucks—and often hurts—that doesn’t make it any less true.

Adults in the past forty years—an unfortunate demographic of which I am now a part—have refused to take responsibility for … well, everything. Wars, famine, homelessness, genocide, 9/11; we’re all to blame, if not for our activity, then for our complicity. And if we don’t start taking responsibility for our actions, and teaching responsibility to the next generation, the world is going to implode and there will be no fingers left to point; and nothing left to point them at. And I am not being melodramatic; I am being honest. This is, for better or for worse, the way that it is; and if you don’t believe me, do yourself a favor: go teach high school.

It used to be that children were referred to as the future leaders of the world. They aspired to be doctors and lawyers and politicians and engineers and artists and poets … even the anarchists had something to offer. But now it seems we don’t want them as leaders, we don’t want them as revolutionaries or revolutionary thinkers; we want them to be puppets … mass consuming, mass-producing mannequins. Rather than inspiring revolutionary thought, we are breeding (or brainwashing) them to aspire to be the next “Survivor” or “American Idol” or any other flash-in-the-pan, fifteen-minute-famous tabloid statistic, rather than someone who will actually make a real difference in the world. We want them—consciously or otherwise—to be here and then gone, so they will shut up and leave the grownups alone to rape what’s left of civilization. And that, my friend, is criminal. It is also extraordinarily short sighted and visionless, not to mention stupid. Of course the good news is, they are catching on; and they’re getting pissed.

Where my generation felt, to a large degree, abandoned by its mentors, left to defend itself against ravenous social appetites of our parents, this generation feels let down; they feel betrayed. And rightly so, I imagine. After all, we are their parents; the generation that still hasn’t figured out a way to define itself; the generation for whom apathy is a calling card and disillusionment, a rite of passage. We haven’t taught them anything because we still aren’t quite sure what we know. Most of our parents are still the ones in charge, still the ones calling the shots, still refusing to pass the torch for fear of being burned at the stake. And those of us who do have a bit of power or authority likely got it by towing the line, falling in step and oiling the machine. Perhaps I am generalizing; but we’re talking about shifting a paradigm, not forming an inter-net start-up. What we have achieved is not enough for our children because it is not enough for us. It does not speak to the hopes and dreams that fought desperately to define a childhood riddled with misdirection and malcontent. What we have achieved is not good enough for us because it is not honest to who we truly are. It doesn’t even come close.

The fact of the matter is—if it isn’t painfully obvious by now—our children need us; and while they wouldn’t want to admit it, they know it even more than we do. They need us to step up, to be role models, to light fires and burn down broken ideologies and think revolutionary thoughts; and they need us to learn so that we will be better prepare to teach. And we need to teach because they are desperate for a little bit of guidance and direction … the kind many of our generation were not afforded.

There is a saying in academic circle that is as well know known as it is abhorred: Thos who can, do; those who can’t do, teach. First: that’s complete and utter bullshit. Second: the truth—the real truth—reads something a little more like this: those who can, teach; those who can’t teach, perish. Perhaps it seems a little much; but it isn’t, because at the end of the day, the only way to become immortal is to pass who you are on to those who come after you. You either share what you know, or you die; there is no in between. And, sorry to say for our parents’ generation, the only lasting effect they will have had on their children is the global devastation they are leaving in their wake. Because, in my opinion anyway, the only thing of substance they have taught us as a generation, is the nature of that which we must rise up against. The only thing they have shared, without fail, is the face of ignorance and greed. And now that we are becoming the parent’s, it is our responsibility to do better by our children. And to be honest, we’re not doing such a great job at getting that right.

I wrote long before I taught. But I was not a writer until after I became a teacher. And that is a distinction that has taken me a long time to understand. I have always had a certain command of my language and, as I said, an unusual infatuation with words; but it took teaching for me to find my voice. It took interacting with the basest of human emotions—alongside the most complex—on a daily basis for me to understand what it really means to communicate. And, oddly enough, it took the seemingly benign question of a seventeen year-old girl for me to come to terms with why I choose to write. I write to tell the truth. And it took writing this book to come to terms with why I ever continued to teach. I taught to know the truth. And—as I am certain has always been the case—there is quite a bit of truth to be known. Certainly, I don’t know it all; and I hope that has not been the implication. But what I do know, what I have learned, has only served to solidify my decision to write. I write to tell the truth. I write to know the truth. I write because I owe the truth to anyone interested enough to listen, even if only for a moment. And this moment, our children are in dire need of our attention. And that is the truth.

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