Like a friend

Yesterday I finished watching David Sedaris’ MasterClass. Bestselling American author David Sedaris teaches humour, where to find meaning, the art of personal storytelling, openings and endings. In fact, of the 14 video lessons spanning 3 hours and 23 minutes he spent a good full hour on re-writing openings and endings. David recommends to learn a few endings by heart. I did my rolls and twists and side-bends, and then he sent me off with a memorable and encouraging ending that he himself had learned by heart. David Walks-His-Talk Sedaris won my heart all over again.

Back to the topic of forced schooling: A lot of bad things can be said about schooling. The deeper I get into John Taylor Gatto’s „The Underground History of American Education”, the more I become aware of the world that has been pulled over our eyes, to blind us from the truth. Neo: What truth? Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo.

I must object. The image painted in the movie The Matrix is simply not true, we are not slaves. Neither are we unenlightened beings living behind a veil, as depicted in some New Age books. Far from it. As I understand it the classical dichotomy between liberty and subordination was our own choosing, and has been written into our collective imagination by Locke and Hobbes. Forced schooling creates standardized thinking and standardized behaviour, which in turn creates a predictable society with a predictable future. The downside is that not every heart can bear it.

John Taylor Gatto writes: „Barbara Whiteside showed me a poem written by a high school senior in Alton, Illinois, two weeks before he committed suicide.” His poem touched me dearly, and since it is otherwise hard to find, I will quote it in its entirety:

He drew… the things inside that needed saying.
Beautiful pictures he kept under his pillow.
When he started school he brought them…
To have along like a friend.
It was funny about school, he sat at a square brown desk
Like all the other square brown desks… and his room
Was a square brown room like all the other rooms, tight
And close and stiff.
He hated to hold the pencil and chalk, his arms stiff
His feet flat on the floor, stiff, the teacher watching
And watching. She told him to wear a tie like
All the other boys, he said he didn’t like them.
She said it didn’t matter what he liked.
After that the class drew.
He drew all yellow.
It was the way he felt about
Morning. The Teacher came and smiled, “What’s this?
Why don’t you draw something like Ken’s drawing?”
After that his mother bought him a tie, and he always
Drew airplanes and rocketships like everyone else.
He was square inside and brown and his hands were stiff.
The things inside that needed saying didn’t need it
Anymore, they had stopped pushing… crushed, stiff
Like everything else.

I set the book aside. This poem speaks of profound clarity at heart. Why did he – or she – commit suicide? Why didn’t he sit through the minimum term, aiming for an early release? Mark Twain, Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman, Steve Jobs, Charles Dickens, Jay Z, Alicia Keys, Tiger Woods and Magic Johnson, Jackie Collins, Brad Pitt, H.G. Wells, Thomas Edison, William Faulkner, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and many others took an early exit on schooling, not on life itself, and lived quite well.

Moreover, this high school senior not only took his own life, but had us all come up short. As great and insightful his poem is, there will be no more from him.

Today is the beginning of the 5th week of the 4th lockdown here in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. All shops are closed, all parks are closed, all big supermarkets are closed. The few coffee shops, small restaurants and grocery stores that are still open are only available for takeaways. There’s rumours that starting this Wednesday there will be a total lockdown of everything, the whole city under quarantine for an additional four weeks.

I found a small pond that has not yet been locked away. I took a picture. Then I set my smartphone aside and watched the wind play with the water lilies.