Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On the Edge

"To be nobody but yourself in a world that's doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting."
-E. E. Cummings

A couple of years after I finished school I took a year-long secretarial course at a college in the nearby city. It was not a college course in the ordinary sense: I had to attend from 9 AM until 4 PM five days a week and I could not choose my classes. Nevertheless I enjoyed most of my time there while I was struggling to work out what next to do. I was working, at the time, various odd hours in a supermarket and was trying to merge my studies with my job. I took umbrage at only one class in the entire course and that happened to be a typing class. It went on twice a week for two hours at a time with only a half-hearted break in between for breathing.
I did not get along with my typing teacher. I was, even then, a good typist and had taught myself. The problem lay in the fact that she desired for us to type without looking at the screen. How does one unlearn anything? It was already too late for me to adapt to her way although I tried so hard.
She cared not that I typed fast and well; she wanted to see me do it while looking elsewhere and I could not manage it. There were about fifteen students in our class and it seemed as the days went on that they were improving- most had had no experience typing and as such were pure of finger- and I was falling behind. When they practiced at home, I was working; when they demonstrated the next day she clapped her hands and cheered them on.
I vividly recall one incident toward the end of the first half of the two hours when I had enormous trouble. She would, as a rule, stand behind me with her claw-like hands gripped tightly into my shoulders, and sweetly ask me to type for her without looking. That sort of pressure a student can do without. I do not remember the sentence that on this occasion I was supposed to type but let us say, for example, that it was 'BETTY WENT TO THE STORE FOR SOME CABBAGE AND IT RAINED AND A SLY FOX JUMPED OUT AT HER AND SHE JUMPED OVER THE FENCE AND RAN HOME.'
Or else it was something to that effect. Anyhow, I thought I would try it and see what I might produce. I took a deep breath and started typing what I thought was a paragraph about Betty and a fox. I could feel my heart leaping about in my dry throat and I wished fervently for the whole class to end so that the tension would ease and I could go back to being a good typist again. When the hold on my shoulder tightened and I felt cold breath on my neck, a breath that made the hairs rise, I knew something was wrong.
I looked at what I had written. Betty and her story were unrecognisable.
My teacher was about to speak but she, tight-lipped and stone-faced, thought better of it. She found somebody else to frighten and spent some minutes with them while I examined what I had typed with horror. I do not think that I got a single letter correct.
The bell rang, mercifully. The other students began to shift in their seats. A couple of minutes of gathering my thoughts together would do me no harm at all, thought I. I was about to rise from my chair when I heard my teacher say from the other end of the room, "you can take your break now."
She paused.
"And you can, too," she said, looking directly at me. Mayhap she intended for me to feel grateful for the gift of joining my fellow classmates.
Even though the other students were steadily getting better it was not, most of the time, sufficient for her and she usually had a miserly, sour thing to say to each of us.
Had she had only released the pressure; had she just relaxed and taught us with kindness and the gentle approach instead of the Clutch of Death on our shoulders; had she had some decent expectations then we students would have fared so much better. After all, I could type- but not to order, not under duress, and not while being barked at.
Softly, softly: much more productive.

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