When the life of this private English tutor becomes a little lumpy, bumpy and gritty I have a calming tactic. I turn to Kahlil Gibran. This amazing Lebanese poet/philosopher/human being has been a constant, a humbling presence and my ballast on a sometimes turbulent ocean of life.
Although I first came across his book The Prophet several decades ago, it is a quote from Sand and Foam that I would like us to cogitate upon for a few lines.
Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky,
We fell them down and turn them into paper
As someone who has used (and abused?) several trees in his academic career, the words had a profound effect on me when I happened upon them, again, a few days ago. I am as guilty as many of wasting paper. There are times when I hear my over-worked printer grumbling and groaning about being at my beck and call twenty four hours per day and me not even bothering to clean away the dust from its inner workings.
‘Come on private tutor, give me a break’, I hear him squeak from the dim and dusty corner.
Pondering the remarkable words in my slim volume, I wonder how Mr Gibran always was able to place the right words in the correct order. How is it some people are able to do that? One of life’s great mysteries I guess.
What immediately struck me were the the first three words. ‘Trees are poems. . . ‘ What an incredible metaphor. Logically, I know that a tree is a tree – how could it be a poem? Then, in Mr Gibran’s silky presence, I slid effortlessly to another place.
I was alone, apart from the birds, river and mountains. The oak towered above me as I made a slight adjustment of the tripod legs. My point of focus became the leaf further away than that of the original one. Yes, I wanted it there as foreground interest but only in order to lead the eye onwards to the blemish-free leaf. Just like a poem, everything is part of the whole and one thing leads seamlessly on to another.
Adding ‘. . . the earth writes upon the sky’, to the first three words, ‘Trees are poems’, just sent my head spinning. What kind of an image do we have now? I picture myself lying under a tree, looking up as the light filters through the leaves. The trees are indeed poems writing on the sky. Try it – you will feel yourself transported into another place.
‘We fell them down and turn them into paper’ feels like a sledgehammer blow. ‘We’ involves us all, we do indeed ‘fell them down and turn them into paper’.
Do this private tutor feel guilty – yes!
As the Cree Indian saying says:
Only when the last tree has died
and the last river been poisoned
and the last fish been caught
Will we realise we cannot eat money.
George Macaulay Trevelyn, in his English Social History said:
‘Education has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.’
At the risk of being called ‘snobbish’ this private tutor agree with him.
Part of my problem, as I see it, is that I have received an education in English Literature that exceeds that received by the majority. Having been corralled, pushed, shoved, directed and tugged between certain literary parameters, I was Educated into what is considered ‘Good Literature’ by an Ivory Tower Elite. The considered classics of the likes of Tolstoy, Dickens and Twain I devoured with aplomb. I was taught to dissect and ravage to within an inch of their broken spines, classic after classic after classic.
In the eyes of society, I guess I am what is termed ‘Educated’. Therein lies the rub – I totally agree with Mr Trevelyn but feel that, perhaps, I shouldn’t.
Following his argument through, the novels that immediately spring to mind are E. L. James’ ‘Shades of. . . ‘ trilogy. Joining many of those who have decried their literary quality, I also put my hand in the air and readily admit to not having read them. I have, however, stood in second hand/thrift shops and devoured several pages of the juicier bits. Despite becoming hot under the collar, I am willing to pronounce that I found the quality of writing to be poor. In Mr T’s words, I consider them to be not ‘worth reading’.
Having said that I do wonder why they sold by the pallet load. What is it about them that caught the imagination of the masses? At certain times, there are certain things lacking quality that create a stir. They have a certain something that causes them to go viral. I think the same can be said of films, film stars, songs and pop stars. It is as if society needs something to latch on to. There has to be a latest craze, a buzz that creates a talking point. Don’t look at me – I don’t know what it is.
When I go to my local market I see box upon box of used books. ‘Wonderful!’ thinks I. Then when I’m close enough to read their spines (after having put on my goggles) I remember why I didn’t purchase any last time I browsed. Trashy romances fit only for the skip/dumpster. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Why bother teaching people (predominantly females in this case – why is that?) to read but not teach them to distinguish between what is and what isn’t worth reading?
Then something inside me rails against this opinion when I see half a dozen [a gaggle :-)] of ladies enthusiastically searching through the aforementioned boxes. They like them, they love them, they talk to their friends about them and pass them on to be read by others. Is there anything wrong with that asks this private tutor?
I hear the role of Christian Grey is up for grabs – should I apply?
I love it, I love it; and who shall dare
To chide me for loving that old armchair?
(The Old Armchair – Eliza Cook – 1881-1889)
Never was a quote more apt for this stuck-in-the-mud private English tutor. It’s not necessarily for the old armchair in the corner that I have a soft spot for, although it has witnessed many a tumbler of single malt, but there are many things that I surround myself with that I have a fondness for.
Surely I’m not alone in being reticent to jettison familiar objects.
As a student in London several decades ago, I used to carry a little book with me everywhere I went. It was called: Dictionary of Quotations (Collins Gem, First published in 1961). It alleviated the tedium on many a tedious journey about the capital by bus, train and underground. It is from that very same book today that the quote above hails (p.139). To quote Ms. Cook: ‘I love it, I love it;. . . ‘ I cannot ever see myself parting with it.
Looking about me at my dust-covered ‘things’, there are some that will remain in place until I curl my toes. Above my desk I have a print of a scene from The Merchant of Venice; It shows Shylock being hounded by a group of children. Purchased in Covent Garden several decades ago [yes, everything in my life happened several decades ago :-)] it has a label on the rear proclaiming it to be more than 100 years old; so today it is can’t far off 150 years old. Many’s the time that I have sat looking at it, willing the muse to descend, willing Shakespeare’s genius to approach – alas, this post testifies the muse remains as illusive as ever! Would I ever part with the print? No, I will take it with me when I shuffle off my mortal coil. Ha Ha! That’s a good line, ‘Shuffle off my mortal coil’. Has the muse visited?
Staying with our Shakespearean theme, I have a battered collected works. Purchased (yes, several decades ago!) probably in the mid 1970′s, from a wonderful antiquarian book shop in my town – sadly, long since closed. It has a damaged dark blue, hard back cover. Then, I could read the small print, now I need my goggles to read it! I stuck a beautiful picture of Greta Garbo inside the cover; we share the same birthday, so why not? I took that book with me on a year’s travel to the Middle East and Europe several decades ago. It was a little heavy for a backpacking trip but I was young, impetuous and idealistic :-). Ah ‘Bill’, as I used to fondly refer to the bard, how you have enriched my life. Would I part with that battered treasure that now lies untouched, for many years, in the attic? Impossible. It will journey with me to where ever I pass on to once I have popped my clogs.
This private tutor has long had a love affair with English Literature, so hardly surprising that I hoard around me things such as those mentioned above.
What treasures are you hanging on to and can’t you let go of?
Be afraid not of growing slowly, only of standing still
When I came across the above proverb I couldn’t resist a bit of naval-contemplating, brain-cell crunching, head-scratching time to wonder at its wisdom.
Immediately it struck a chord (well, two actually) with both my professional and my personal life.
Professionally, as a private English tutor, I wonder about and spout words of wisdom [as I see it :-)] that push examination candidates along a track to enlightenment – more accurately, I help them to obtain a piece of paper.
I see my job as a series of meetings where one person has a little more knowledge than another, on a particular subject, and attempts to pass on some of that stored-up knowledge. It takes time. An end result cannot happen in one meeting. Education is a drip-drip process. Slowly but surely, with application, a person can gain that precious ‘knowledge’ to fulfill the requirements of the powers-that-be and obtain that precious piece of paper.
Education, however, doesn’t necessarily have to have a piece of paper as an end result. The wonder that is education presents itself in a myriad of forms. It may be from a new born baby learning to crawl and then onto walking and then onto feeding itself and then all the way to that baby growing up and passing on knowledge as a private tutor!
It really does take time; one needs to grow slowly. The option of standing still is not an option. The problem is patience. Oh, how I wish students had more of that!
Intermittently I have mentioned my scribblings, as an attempt to unleash on the unsuspecting world a novel. ‘Nothing novel in that’, you are probably thinking. Every man and his dog is writing one. That may be so but all writers are alone (apart from their dog) in the slow and patient quest to reach ‘The End’.
Six weeks ago I finished the first draft of my first novel. Perceived wisdom dictates that a break follows to ‘clear one’s head’ before embarking on that dreaded first edit.
So, here I am straining at the bit, ready to start chopping, chewing and mangling my future best seller [only kidding about that bit ;-)]. The problem is that one thing leads onto another and here I still am, still having to do a multitude of tasks that life seems to throw at us and unable to let loose my puppy from ‘standing still’ to allowing it to grow – albeit slowly.
Am I afraid of my novel standing still? Of course I am.
Oh how this private tutor wishes he had some of that patience he sees his students exhibit.
Dear Blog Peeps,
I am so sorry I haven't posted in ages. My little Blue Mountains town of Winmalee has come under siege from bushfires. Almost 200 homes have been burnt to rubble and more than 100 are damaged. In a small community that is a huge hit. Hopefully we will rebuild. The disaster really has brought out the best in people.
As a private English tutor [and would-be author :-)] I spend countless hours tinkering with words and those squiggly bits that brings sense and understanding to them – commas, semi-colons, apostrophes and the like.
I came across this recently:
‘Ye can call it influenza if ye like,’ said Mrs Machin. ‘There was no influenza in my young days. We called it a cold’. (Arnold Bennett – The Card).
Arnold Bennett (1867 – 1931) was born less than three miles from my old stomping ground (see later in post). A wonderful wordsmith who painted a crystal-clear picture of my area. The Clayhanger trilogy are probably his most famous works, although The Card (quoted from above) was made into a film staring Alec Guinness.
Reading the quote set off a train of thoughts that sent me down the path of words and their meanings. I’d like to share a few of those with you. I mentioned ‘stomping ground’ above. It’s a slang term for an area where we were brought up in our youth. I would be interested to know if this term is used in your neck of the woods.
Recently I heard of a 92 year old lady being described as ‘non-complient’ by the care firm that was sent into her house to take care of her needs. It seems she had taken umbridge at the two young carers that were helping her. ‘Non-complient’ seems such a cold term to apply to a human being. I think there must be a little government office somewhere, with a little man behind a big desk, close to retirement age biding his time until his pension, who makes up these terms.
Another favourite of mine is ‘Human Resources’. If ever human beings are thought of as pawns on this giant chess board of corporations, to be pushed about and pigeon-holed at some CEO’s behest, then the acronym HR fulfills the need of corporate greed to a tee.
I was talking to my neighbour last week about his neck and shoulder muscle spasms that saw him rushed to hospital because of the pain. He informed me it was because of his ‘life style’ – another wonderful modern-day term. He sits most of the day commuting to and from work and at his desk pounding a computer keyboard. He told me he was going to have a ‘desk assessment’. . . I nearly fell off my perch! That little chap in the office must be working overtime.
For those of you across the pond I’d like to throw in a few phrases which you have thrust upon a normally conservative Britain. Some have become embedded (now where have I heard that before?) in our day to day language, while some we have obstinately refused to take on board. Words and phrases such as: 24/7, 9/11, movies, sun block, guy/dude/kid seem to have arrived with a one-way ticket and refuse to leave. Although I do, of course, ban them from my classes.
Ah, the beauty of the English Language. As a Private English Tutor it puts food on my table, so no complaints.
Before the subject of dreams, I would like to thank celticillumination and Billie for gracefully accepting the Liebster Award that I offered in my last post. Two bloggers who deserve a closer look if you have the time to take on more followers.
As a one to one English tutor I can safely say that exam success is a dream of all my students. The academic level is irrelevant, the dream is always there.
This time last year, I was fortunate enough to be on a cruise around the Mediterranean. Being on such a cruise had never been a part of my dreams. By a quirk of fate the opportunity came along, so I grasped it with two grateful hands. On the other hand, not so long ago, I had taken part in a photography expedition to Antarctica – now that was a dream come true! A dream that I had plotted, hatched, nurtured and fulfilled over several years. A peep into that dream can be seen here Both of the above trips were on ships but the experiences were two totally different beasts.
Whilst being served lunch on the Med. cruise I was talking to our waiter, Ron. Ron and all the dining room staff were from the Philippines. Suddenly, without prompting and almost ‘outside’ our subject of conversation, Ron said, ‘I am always dreaming. I always dream’. He looked at me, smiled and then moved on to the next table.
I began to think of Ron. To be more precise, to think of our relative positions. Me, the privileged cruise passenger from the West and Ron, the waiter from the East. When I awoke in the morning I had to decide whether to go to the dining room for breakfast or to order cabin service. Then I had to decide whether to attend a lecture on our next port of call. Then, do I play deck quoits, join a Bridge session or perhaps just lie on a deck lounger taking in the Mediterranean sun. And so the days passed. . .
Ron, on the other hand, had all his decisions made for him. He was told which tables he would be waiting on for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He would be told if he was on duty for Afternoon Tea or the late night snacks after the evening cabaret had finished. He would be told. . . He would be told. . . He would be told. . .
I thought of Ron recently when I giving GCSE English lessons to a recently arrived gentleman from the Philippines. He told me his dream was to be a Maitre d’ on a cruise liner.
Ron never did say what his dream was?
What are yours?