Daily Prompt Futures Past As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? How close or far are you from that vision?
“When I grow up I want to be Willie Mays.”
“Oh no you don’t.”
“I do. I want to play centerfield for the New York Giants.”
“Oh honey. Girls don’t play baseball.”
“I play baseball.”
Third, fourth, fifth, sixth grade. I did train, but I didn’t end up a pro baseball player.
“When I grow up I want to be an archeologist.”
“Here’s a book about archeology. It’s called Rivers in the Desert. It was written by an archeologist. You can see what archeologists do.”
“Do you think I can read this, dad?”
“I think so. Anyway, you can try.”
I couldn’t. I was only in second grade. A guy on Goodreads (the book is out of print) wrote, “This is basically a scholarly book about the Negev desert.” Well the Negev Desert appeared again in my life and maybe someday I’ll see it. What I read of this book — more than you might imagine — fascinated me. Not only about people living long ago, but about the place. I also learned about the work of archeologists, that it isn’t just travel and discovery. It’s pretty damned tedious.
“When I grow up, I want to be Lawrence of Arabia.” Sixth grade. I’m wearing a sheet on my head. I look in our family bookshelf — a kind of built-in my dad and I put together in the basement and hung on the living room wall. Mom picked out paint for it, paint that to my dad looked pink.
“Goddammit, Helen, I’m not hanging a big pink bookcase on the living room wall.”
“Well I don’t want that dark mahogany stain.”
Dad and I varnished it and it was hung, natural pine. There in the bookshelf is Seven Pillars of Wisdom. I pull it down and start reading it. I’d already read the entry on Lawrence in The World Book Encyclopedia and I knew he had been an archeologist. In the beginning, Lawrence writes an iconoclast’s rant on spelling and editors. Apparently it’s OK in Arabic not to spell the name of one’s camel precisely the same way twice, “Jedha, the she-camel, was Jedhah on Slip 40,” complains an editor. “She was a splendid beast,” replies Lawrence. I laugh out loud at that. I like him AS A PERSON then and there. He is my first “dead friend” that is a friend whose written words inform my life and whose personality offers a kind of companionship, just as a living friend might. He seems to know what is important and what is not. That, of course, I am also learning from my dad who is beginning his downhill toward his death from MS, still some eight years away.
Looking at that very volume today I take a little heart seeing Lawrence had printed it privately some time before it saw the “light of day” in the general market place. My mom’s book was a deluxe edition for a book club she belonged to. My sixth grade pencil underlined these words:
“Pray God that men reading the story will not, for love of the glamour of strangeness go out to prostitute themselves and their talents in serving another race. A man who gives himself to be a possession of aliens leads a Yahoo life, having bartered his soul to a brute-master. He is not of them. He may stand against them, persuade himself of a mission, batter and twist them into something which they, of their own accord, would not have been. Then he is exploiting his old environment to press them out of theirs. Or, after my model, he may imitate them so well that they spuriously imitate him back. Then he is giving away his own environment: pretending to theirs; and pretences are hollow, worthless things. In neither case does he do a thing of himself, nor a thing so clean as to be his own (without thought of conversion), letting them take what action or reaction they please from his silent example.”
Reading those words this morning I was stunned.
First, I absolutely do not believe in converting anyone to anything. In my profession of teaching there are many missionaries and many systems and beliefs, many strident voices attempting to persuade other teachers and I think on that often. Not every student learns well from the same teacher, so there cannot be “one right way” to teach. I worked in a semi-team situation this past semester with another instructor who scares the shit out of me with her rigid little black-clad immaculately groomed self dragging her wheeled briefcase around the campus, her little lips forming fake smiles, her glasses, her tight little perfectionism. A long ago friend of mine would have said, “Broomstick, hell. That one can hold a needle…” But, it was the best thing for my students to have her for one class (reading) and me for the other (writing).
My strategy as a writing teacher is what Lawrence recommends. I write. I just write and my students follow my example and they write. Should everyone do this? No. But I am a writer (yes I am) and so what else would I do?
Second, Lawrence was right in that which makes us us comes from something deep and old and immutable. We can look on; we can be involved in the world of others only from a certain distance whether those others are people living in a different culture or our own brothers or sisters. We can only be ourselves and we must do that as well as we can.
The paragraph has an element of prophecy to it as I look at it today. I guess, in becoming myself, I succeeded in becoming Lawrence of Arabia.
- Daily Prompt: Futures Past, A Bird, Orchids and a few childish Dreams – and my Dad