“The Cranky Teacher Routine”

“I don’t feel like it.”

[clasps hands behind back, walks slowly around desk]

“I don’t feel like it, says the young man. Mm.”

“Mm, well I quite sympathize. I certainly do.”

“When you’re young, the world lies before you sprawled out like a slovenly woman.”

“All roads lead to greatness, all paths are strewn with garlands of glory, your feet never touch the earth, songbirds flutter about, tweeting of springtime lust, spurring your wretched meander through life to new depths of drunken merriment, is that about right?”

“When you’re young, things that don’t tickle your insipid fancy can be tossed aside, tossed out of your crib like brightly colored baubles that have finally bored you, because that’s the way you treat everything and every one who has the misfortune to cross your careening, self-satisfied, nose-picking path, isn’t that about right?”

[sighs, looks down glasses, taps foot]

“Mm but when you’re old.”

“When your skin is made of paper and the days fly by. When life is like a winter evening you spend huddled around the hearth as the sky presses blacker and blacker against the windowpanes.”

“Maybe you think you’ll never get there, or don’t give a hang if you do. That’s fine. Barring some freakish twist of circumstance, you’ll be here long enough.”

“You’ll be here, with us, oh I’ll still be here, and so -“

[gestures around room]

“So will a good three quarter of these, believe it or not. Quite long enough.”

“Long enough to feel the cold of the world. And if perhaps, and I’m speaking to all of you, if perhaps you’re one of those with enough spending coin to be immune to the more common depredations of the flesh, don’t you worry. Don’t worry one bit. The cold will find you too.”

“You’ll feel it in others, in your various disappointments, and most certainly in your interactions with the bloody gears of the machine, and by the machine I mean not just capitalism, or the West, but humankind. The whole lot of us, lurching toward something, or away from something else, a runaway machine where anyone with enough cunning and evil in them can grab the controls, at least long enough to yank a few levers and pound on a few buttons and make things a lot worse for everyone else. You’ll see, now and again, how the machine is just as glad to take your life for fuel as anyone else’s, and how it can run on nothing but lives devoured, and how it mows across the whole earth, for the benefit of so few. So very few.”

[rubs eyes]

“All that, though, is like so many images in your picture books. Easily shrugged off, hardly an impediment at all to the truly vain. After all, you’re the only real one, isn’t that about right?

[interrupted by a sudden coughing fit]

[slowly regains composure]

“No, none of that will matter until the day your own body, the vehicle through which you travel the world, reveals its true nature as a brilliant flower, a firework, an exotic improbability that crests a tiny wavelet in the sea of time and is gone. A toy of nature, a thing as strange and brief as a rainbow.”

“On that day, on that day you might think back.”

[chuckles]

“Or you might think forward. Age is a terrible thing for a drifter, for someone who has not made their place in the world. The machines of the world care very little for the old, and the point of entry for old age gets younger every year. If you reach a certain age without acquiring certain skills, your outlook may begin to look very dark. Very dark indeed.”

[begins walking back to front of room]

“Certain skills. What am I talking about, what skills? Well, pupils, that’s entirely up to you. There is no magic skill that will ease your way through life. It will be a rough slog regardless, but you have it in your power to make everything immeasurably worse. It’s a power I would beg you not to use.”

“What I’m saying is, as you advance, in this school, in your own studies, as a person, you will find certain things that enchant you, and drive you, and fulfill you. Those things will become the lodestones of your life, even if they are not the things you set out in your schooling or your work to achieve. Those real goals will determine who you, in actuality, are.”

[sits down at desk]

“Those true goals will be your mountains, your jungles and unexplored continents, those crafts and sciences and arts that call you to them and make you their servants, and that rush to fulfill that calling with hard work, let me tell you, is one of the greatest joys one can know in this little life.”

[looks over the room slowly]

“Those goals, those paths, being true, will be hard. There will be times when you are sorely tested. There will be nights exposed on the face of a glacier. Days when the sun is like a hammer, and you crawl along like an ant under glass. Weeks and months of dull white clouds and black lanes and grey grass. You may not seek death, but you’ll sorely consider the idea of never having shown up here in the first place.”

[takes off and polishes glasses]

“When that day comes, when the ultimate failure of your vessel becomes real to you, you might wonder what’s left. Unless you’re one of the elect illuminated and have already made your peace with the divine, you might wonder what’s expected of you. How to live out the remainder of your days. How to leave a mark, to provide for the future, to achieve immortality.”

[puts glasses back on]

“On that fine day, class, God help you if you’re one of the ones who said ‘I don’t feel like it'”.

“Turn to page 53 in your books.”