Tiger Time

If you remember anything about primary school (and I do, if little) you hopefully have a few memories of one or more of the fantastic sort of teachers who were the virtual equivalent of extra aunties and uncles and grandparents, but neatly spun into the form of educators whose wise teaching made you learn things without even knowing you’d worked at it, and want to learn things you hadn’t even known you wanted to know just because they were such fine pedagogues that they made it seem possible, if not easy.

You undoubtedly also have a memory or two of teachers who were quite the opposite. My personal least-fave was the third grade teacher who had no compunction about excoriating and humiliating a student in front of the rest of the class regardless of the infraction or any of their previous achievements or behavior, even cracking a yardstick onto desktops to make a point when she was het up, regardless of whether there might be some small knuckles in the way of the stick. At the very same time, she apparently thought it perfectly logical and beneficial to ‘level the playing field‘ and make all students feel they could accomplish something in her class, lest the PTA or school board think her not supportive and informative enough, and this she would do by sitting and doing the weakest students’ homework for them.

I knew nothing of this until one time when I was the unlucky receptacle for her ire, having failed a penmanship test in the first weeks of school because that school required students to learn cursive writing in the end of the second grade and the one in another state where I had spent my second grade did not. Had she asked us all to sing a song in Spanish, I might have been the star of the class, because my second grade teacher Mrs. Mosqueta let us learn a little elementary Spanish from one Señor Ybarra, who taught by the ultra-newfangled medium of televised classes, and I don’t think my new classmates in Illinois had yet had access to such magicks themselves. But there I was, little miss Goody Two-Shoes, who had never gotten anything but perfect scores because I was too prim and much too afraid to not do my homework to the nth degree—if I had any actual training or homework to prepare in the event—flunking my attempt to make Pretend Cursive when that mean lady in her sausage-casing dress didn’t even ask whether I’d ever been trained to write that way. If you think I still sound remarkably bitter about such a small thing from so long ago, well, I probably ought to let it go but I tend to enjoy my little revenge fantasies more than is entirely good for me.Digital illustrations + text: Tiger TimeThis is all in jest, of course. I wouldn’t be so cruel as to want to give any poor innocent tigers indigestion.

 

Fixity

“Why?” is a beautiful question, even though it terrifies most of us. A wise soul once said that the opposite of faith is not doubt but certitude. When we grow too attached to a belief and its perfect correctness, we disallow not only our own reexamination of that belief, which if it’s so perfectly correct should pose no threat to us and if it’s not, should allow us to become wiser and more faithful to our convictions; we also fail to show respect for the belief itself, if we are so fearful of its being exposed as wrong.

Standing fixed in a position of faith is only impressive if that belief can be defended in a calm, intelligent, reasonable conversation with someone who doesn’t yet share the same convictions. A shouting match or the refusal to discuss respectfully is as likely to convince and convert an unbeliever as punching someone in the nose is to prove that you’re smarter than she is if anyone’s questioned it. It’s more useful to ask, whenever any disagreement arises, whether one is genuinely defending one’s belief or just feels personally threatened. Egos so often get in the way of rational, logical conversation when we reflexively mistake the call for proof or persuasion of our beliefs for personal insults. It might be useful to remember that when someone asks for evidence of something we cherish as fact, we could give them the benefit of believing that they really want to know why we accept it as truth. A genuine discussion might actually lead to common ground.

It might also, if we let it, lead to greater insight on our own part. The dispassionate process of a logician is aimed not at debunking everything in sight but stripping away falsehoods and irrelevancies and fallacies to expose the facts in the matter. Truth can withstand all questioning. It trumps politics, rants, bullying, diversionary tactics, disinformation and pure human foolishness, if we dare to examine all of the input carefully and patiently and with respect for those who may have so far missed the mark. A reasoned and quietly stated truth will finally have more power than all of the smoke and mirrors that deniers propagate and cling to, or we will have to admit we’ve lost more than our own convictions.Digital illustration from photos + text: Zoanthrope

I’m So Worth It

I’ve never understood the horror some people have of others knowing their age. Among other things, it requires endless forms of subterfuge and denial, from falsifying mere statements of age to all of that domino-like cascade of phony documentation and historical records that must be juggled over time–though, according to those claims, that will have stood quite still. In more extreme cases, it leads to a compulsion to alter oneself to fit the imagined character of the mythical preferred age. I find lots of highly stylized and generalized and ‘flawless’ dolls unappealing, weird and creepy, and ever so much more so, living beings who have had themselves altered by cosmetic means (temporary or, in extremis, surgical) to be less age-appropriate or individual.

Yes, I do understand the urge to fit in, to be accepted. But perhaps my having felt, most of my life, that I look pretty average and ordinary–none of me either bad- nor good-looking to any extreme–makes me inured to the pain of those who think themselves terribly, awfully out of sync with others in appearance. Certainly I know that there are many who have had external reinforcement from thoughtless or cruel others that they are unattractive or unfit or otherwise unacceptable. That is one true form of ugliness: bullying. Demeaning and hate-fostering and belittling are as terrible in their way as any forms of torture, because they scar the soul just as effectively as physical abuse scars the body and spirit. And that can make anyone feel old ahead of time.

But when it comes to the simple and petty desire to deny the years spent on earth or the effects of living a full life on one’s body, skin and hair, I still don’t quite get it. I watch those hair-coloring commercials where fabulously primped and preened models assure us that those smart enough, like them, to use X brand are obviously grand and wonderful enough to warrant the expense of that harmless form of self-adornment “because I’m worth it.” Well, good on you! But it so happens that I think I’m worth just as much with my own dull dishwater brown hair sprinkled with hard-earned threads of white. Plastic surgeons are always eager to inform me that I could be smooth, cellulite-free, and have perfectly formed chin, nose, breasts and cheekbones if I’d only let them perform their magic upon me. In addition to my having seen a long parade of walking evidences to the extreme contrary, or at least extremely contrary to my own tastes, I am shockingly content to have a mole practically right in the middle of my face, one ear far lower than the other, shoulders of quite different sizes, stubby hands, remarkably pasty and slightly sallow skin, a couple of scars from clumsiness and carelessness, and–oh yeah–quite the growing collection of wrinkles here and there upon my entire personage.

Get used to it. I’m a used vehicle. I’ve driven this body through a lot of history, which, if not remarkably rough or exotic, takes its toll in bits and pieces, softening up that muscle tissue which once was a tad more taut, stiffening the formerly flexible joints, adding a few pounds here and a lot of freckles and spots there, and all of the other signs of ordinary aging. Beyond beating, as it’s said, the alternative, growing older has some distinctly positive aspects to it in my view, not least of them that I know, like and respect myself and my finer features far more than I appreciated such things in younger years. I am finite, yea, even slithering down the slope of the latter part of my life, and I will die. Before then, I plan to live it up.

And if that shows in my greying, thinning hair, my spotty memory (which was always a hair more colorful than reality anyway) and my thickening waist and glasses, my slowing reflexes and my ever speedier increase of dithering and forgetfulness, so be it. If it shows in my increasingly complex network of wrinkles, why then Good on Me. Literally. I earned all of these insignia of my fine, me-sized-adventure filled life, and if they make me look less than smooth and perfect and doll-like and youthful and conventionally beautiful, I don’t mind one tiny bit. I certainly never liked ironing anyway, and I earned the right to savor my wrinkles just as they are.graphite drawingP. S. I was born in 1960, and I still have hopes of getting a whole bunch older than I already am, if all goes well.