Irritability and cantankerous one experiences while talking to the academically disinclined.
I had a professor back in college who absolutely despised his students. You could just tell. There he was, a man who had spent decades of his life dedicated to study and scholarship, forced to share his painstakingly hoarded minutiae with a room full of yawning, boozy teenagers day after day after day…
Every class would begin the same – with him as fresh and buoyant as warm laundry. “This time will be different,” his posture seemed to say. “This time they’ll see why this stuff is so important.”
And, of course, each time we’d shrug and drowse and stare back at him with wide, bovine eyes. By the end of class, he’d be stalking around in front of the room, red-faced and burbling with a tepid, cerebral rage like a leopard in a sport coat. And still we’d just sit there and watch him rant.
In the next year or so, I’d wake up. I’d start to give a shit. I’d come to class ready to discuss. But I wouldn’t fully understand the extent of his frustration until ten years later… when I’d be the one pacing in front of a room like that (in some cases, the same exact room… as I taught classes at the same college I’d myself attended)… flailing my arms around, trying to summon even a flicker of excitement in my students.
“Here, look at this,” I’d say to my kids, “some writer made this… he wrote it hundreds of years ago. And it’s still just as true now as it was then. Do you see how magical that is? That there are experiences that transcend culture, time, language, oceans… that there’s some seething undercurrent to existence that touches every human life? See how some play from the Renaissance, or some poem from the 1950s can both be about the same thing, and yet be totally different? That our heart and our mind are a set of rubix cubes that we jumble and solve, jumble and solve over and over and over again? See how everything matters? Even thought it doesn’t? Surely you can see how this could move someone. Surely you can understand why I’m up here talking about this to you, despite the fact that I can barely afford my rent while doing it. Because this language has affected me so profoundly that I want to be close to it. Share it with you. Because it matters. (and also, I’m allowed to wear slippers to work)”
Sometimes they’d get it. I was a decent teacher… hardly a scholar (I find pushing commas around a thesis to be soul-crushingly dull)… but I was good at infecting others with my enthusiasm. I was good at making people care. Even if it was just for 50 minutes.
But boy howdy… there were times. Students – usually boys, because boys are without question not less-intelligent, but better at stupid than girls could ever hope to be – who wore their apathy like a badge. Who’d roll their eyes and smirk and stretch their limbs disdainfully, “See that buddy? This is how bored I am. This is how few fucks I give.” These are the kids you hate. I mean hate-hate. That black, tarry muck hate that you can’t hide, no matter how hard you try. Some over-valued, under-challenged, mean, suburban puke of a kid who looked at college as a beer pong tournament rather than a place to learn… whose dad – totally – owns this dealership.
You look at that kid and think… someone isn’t in college because of you. Someone’s raking leaves, or salting french fries… and there you are, sprawled in a ballcap and sweatpants, checking your Facebook on your iPhone for $22,000 a year.
And then you remember that you were probably more like that kid than you’d ever want to admit. And you remember that poor, wan professor from ten years before… that poor schmucky guy with the widening belly and dwindling hairline who capered around the room at the start of every class trying desperately to show you why it all mattered… all while you doodled in your notebook, and tried to catch the eye of the girl you liked.
And you realize that you’ve been both those people. That they’re both so different, and they’re both the same… because they’re both you. And you wonder if anyone would want to sit and talk about that, and how much it reminds you of so many books you read with passion when you were young.