A Philosophical Life

Dedication: Mr. James, 1964 -1967, Teacher Trinidad W.I

This dedication is being written as my way of thanking a teacher whom I have not seen or heard of since the last day of Primary/Elementary school – many years ago. A dedicated teacher who has made a difference in my life.

Civil formality of the times dictated that all us young masters and mistresses must refer to those who were our elders – at all times as Mister, Mistress or Miss. As such, Mr. James has no first name – other than, perhaps, Sir. Whether he was married or had children of his own are unknown to me.

Throughout all the years since that teacher/student relationship he has often crossed my mind where I recall him as being the first (and, perhaps?) and only teacher who fired and fed my youthful thirst for the realm of escapism – comic books mostly. I recall, as well, that my mother would often and harshly chastise me for ‘wasting my time and money on such trash’ (comic books). Mr. James introduced me to literature (hard and softcover) books – the first of which was Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.

From then on, there was no longer any need to sneak and hide – in search of moments for escapism in comic books – and risk chastisement if caught. I could now openly do my reading without parental oversight. Reading had assumed an aura respectability in the household since Mr. James made it a class requirement that we spend several hours a day (at school or at ‘play’) reading ‘fine literature’. I became the leading charge for this at home!.

What my Dear Mom had not recongised in my earlier years of over-indulgence in comics was that I read them, not because I needed to fantasise or escape, because I  enjoyed reading anything I could get my hands on – newspapers, magazines, brochures, etc. Textbooks were the exception since they didn’t quite fire the imagination as much. Schoolbooks equaled work. When not at school, which child (really and truly) wants and/or enjoys doing ‘schoolwork’ (such people end up with social names and labels  like, Geeks).

Often, in order for me to satisfy my thirst for comic books, I’d pester mom for the ‘few pennies’ needed to acquire the latest edition or new series; and me being a ‘mere child’, I had no other source of income – other than if I resorted to selling or trading my beloved collection of comics to feed that hunger. At some point I must have pestered enough ‘cause newspapers with comics began appearing on a regular basis. Which, of course, fed the hunger – More! More! More!

The shift away from comics ‘as a cheap source of writing for the masses’ started for me as the world of newspapers began to unfold – a world in which two local radio and one television station provided the definition of the extent of the then ‘Mass Media’. Most of which was mostly BBC World or Voice of America competing with radio stations from places in South America, Belize in Central America, for example and other Caribbean countries. Interesting languages, music, news and views filled the airwaves all around – local and foreign.

His task, as I recall, was to prep the pupils for final exams  – which were at least three years away. How hard a job could that be?

Back then I knew that I hated (or did not have an affinity for) math and poetry. I enjoyed history classes, once you get past the ‘names, dates and places’ aspect of it. But, in a narrative sense, ‘ if no in-depth or background to an analysis is given’ historical accounts devolve into meaningless streams of information. Like who reads an encyclopedia for fun?

Mr. James made history lessons interesting by assigning groups within the class to various areas around the world (‘Learn to explore the globe of the world at your finger-tips. There’s more to the world than what’s portrayed by colour coding and apparent relative mass or size of land mass. It’s about people and their individual cultures.) The objective of each was to learn as much as we could about each (team work) and then present to the class as a group, each taking turns answering questions. Of course, the group that was perceived as providing the most info on the assigned area got a rating that was reflective of that perception.

He was a teacher who spoke my own language (in a manner that made me pay particular attention to the effect and importance of juxtaposing linguistic symbols in a skillful manner that provided the means to express innermost thoughts during times of communication. There’s a lot to be said for being fluent in any language. But the key, to me, lies in being fluent in the mother-tongue …. Whatever that may be!

Christopher Columbus may have been a hero to his sponsors, his crew and country, historically speaking. To some people, revisionists, in my opinion, the historical recording of life is not so clear-cut or black/white. It’s suffused with varying shades of grey and hues of colour. So, I was not taken by surprise when Marshall McLuhan, in what must have been a moment of lucidity, stated the obvious: The Medium Is The Message. Of course, it is!

But the meaning of the message itself still lends itself to interpretation; and interpretation requires that there be symbols … which then infer meaning and/or definition is external to the symbols themselves. So, whose language shall be chosen as the common ‘mother tongue’? Who, exactly, assigns meaning to the symbols that will be used in ‘communicating’?

Of course, that’s not exactly what I was thinking at that age. It would have been more along the lines of … Wow! Just my luck, my group was assigned the Middle-East, Arabian areas and I had just finished reading Sewell’s book, Black Beauty – about an Arabian horse.

The internet was not even a gleam in some mad scientist’s eye even in the comic books I read back then. Computers were only some vague notions about machines that could, possibly, perform tasks beneficial or detrimental to humans, in some future time. So while the future entices, the past has always held sway over the imagination and resultant actions and behaviour of all humanity – since time immemorial.

Tangential

I often ask myself why I enjoy what I currently do for a living. Broadly speaking, I’m a Technical Analyst in the field of Information Technology. That is, I’m expected to provide answers to questions which (often) appear, to me, as being obvious. In other words, you separate the thinkers from the non (or lazy) thinkers. History is replete with examples of those who were willing and able to go beyond the ‘conventional thinking of the day’. From one perspective, they are non-conformers, non-status-quo individuals.

To my mind, Mr. James brought to life the realisation that History (names, dates, places and events) and Geography as academic subjects can be rather dry and boring to enquiring minds when taught or studied in isolation of each other. Poetry may be the sign of a ‘cultured’ mind – but if you don’t know of or understand the nature of that culture or the basis from which it is derived then cultural meanings become dependent upon interpretations.

Prophets and Visionaries

There are also Dreamers; as much as there are fools and geniuses. Madness is but a degree of perception.