Friday, 24 December 2010

I have to be who I am

Photo credit: mconnors from

I had bronchitis last week. It was annoying, of course - the illness, going to the doctor's, having to stay at home... But once I realised there was nothing I could do except take my medications and wait until I was better, I settled down. I got myself a couple of books (I always read two or three books at the same time, maybe that's why I am such a slow reader) and a nice cup of herbal tea ( my secret recipe: equal quantities of peppermint, chamomile and thyme with just a pinch of licorice). I sat there, read my books and then I remembered something I had read in a magazine. Apparently, in the future everyone will be healthy because people will learn how to heal themselves through the power of positive thought and visualisation.

I imagined this world of perfectly healthy people and shuddered. Count me out. Of course I don't like being ill, but illness, like sleep, serves its purpose - it makes you pause and reflect. We live too fast these days. We constantly expose our minds to lots of new stimuli, but we rarely stop to process them. Staying in bed for a day or two, reading, watching TV, listening to music... It is not something I would willingly choose, but once we are forced to do it, why not make the best possible use of the time.

There is another reason why I shudder at the image of the brave new world where people who get ill from time to time should be ashamed of themselves for being such negative thinkers and such lousy visualisers. It's just that the whole thing sounds really cruel and there seems to be no room for people like me. I was often ill as a child, my throat caused me a lot of trouble. Later in life I started suffering from kidney problems and hypertention. It sounds as if I am complaining, but I am not. I have been happy every day of my life. Perfect health is never on my New Year's wishlist because there is no such thing as perfect health.

I have recently subscribed to the Photojojo newsletter. Last week they sent me a tutorial about how to create a Facebook profile picture using Pic Scatter. The result looks like this. Amazing, isn't it. Don't ask me why, but I was fascinated by the idea of creating something similar. The result was interesting, though strangely unsettling. I decided not to post this onto my Facebook profile. I wasn't sure that people visiting my profile would like me looming over them like that. Two more hours of tinkering with the photos (I downloaded them, then used BigHugeLabs to connect them to each other, finally uploaded them to Flickr) and the result is here:


Strangely unsettling. Scary even.

During my sick leave I finished Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book. Not an easy read, but worth every minute. The title I chose for this post comes from the book. Pamuk's characters keep repeating "I have to be who I am" and they keep trying to find out who they are. At one point Galip, the main character, stares at the mirror trying to read his face the way we read books... and he is horrified by what he sees. We never find out what he managed to read from his face, but that's how I feel staring at my own eyes. Seeing myself the way other people see me.

When I walk into class, the first thing I do is scatter books and papers all over my desk. When I monitor my students during pairwork, I tend to scatter my books and papers over their desks as well. I leave things all over the classroom. I simply cannot work if things are too tidy.

Recently there has been this problem with my frowning. A student asked why I frowned every time she spoke to me. Was her English that awful? I concentrated on my facial expressions for the next few classes and found out that I frown when I am concentrating. One of my Christmas resolutions is to stop doing that. It confuses people and I will end up with frown lines on my face.

And I am clumsy. I drop things all the time. And I always mislay my whiteboard marker, which is great because the students get to practise their prepositions ("It is under the book.", "It is on the floor", etc.).

There is this poem by Desanka Maksimovic which I feel is about me. It is called For Those who Stumble over the Threshold. I tried to find a good translation of the poem for last year's BaW graduation party, but failed.

Oh, in case you have read this post so far and are beginning to wonder what it is all about, I have to disappoint you. This post lacks focus, it lacks usefulness, I am just rambling. Well, I did define my blog as "TEFL, Technology and The Meaning of Life", didn't I? Well, this is The Meaning of Life. The New Year's Eve is in two days, I haven't written my resolutions yet, so, with your permission (or without it) I am going to keep on rambling.

Where was I? Oh, yes, I couldn't find the translation of that poem last year. But I have it now. The way I got it is a little strange.

Every time I have a temperature I read Wuthering Heights. I guess that's because the first time I read Wuthering Heights I had a really high temperature. I think the fever and the book go nicely together. I usually go for the English original, but this time (I don't know why), I went for the Serbian translation. I found a wad of papers inside, written in a schoolgirl's handwriting that I had a difficult time recognising as my own. It read:

Socrates dicebat : "Scio me nihil scire."
Socrates dicebat se nihil scire.

Underneath was a translation of a poem bu Desanka Maksimovic. Then another one. And finally "my" poem. I don't know who translated it and I am really sorry that I can't give credits to this person. Anyway, here it is:


I seek mercy
for the simple and guileless
for their endless wondering,
for the people who never mature,
for the utopians,
for those who were led thirsty across water,
for those who were led clean across mud,
for the perpetual daydreamers,
for the quiet, for the cheerless,
for those quite unlike myself
and for those quite the same as me.
I seek mercy
for the clumsy and the unlearned,
for those who stumble over the threshold,
who drop the glass from their hands
for those who always stand aside
who are delighted by any trifle,
and whom everybody meets gladly,
for those who walk absorbed in thought,
as if carrying a droplet in their palms,
for those quite unlike myself,
and for those quite the same as me.
Desanka Maksimovic

To my PLN: Thank you for all your kind support during 2010. Thank you for your comments and suggestions. Thank you for inspiring me and teaching me.

It was a good year. Next one will be even better.

Happy New Year!



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