Sunday, 27 January 2013

On getting one’s wishes enforced

Today on the bus a young, apparently healthy student got on at the university bus loop, waited for the bus to fill, then as soon as it took off, rang the bell and promptly got off at the next stop, a mere five minutes walk away.

I sat there shaking my head (well, not literally), thinking why couldn’t he just walk?  I was ready to grumble and mutter about the laziness of today’s youth  --why, in my day we didn’t have any universal bus passes and we walked two blocks when we had to.

I was ready to grumble, but I held back.  And why after all was I grumbling?  The young man’s departure didn’t hurt me; we were stopping anyway to pick up more people before the bus began the express part of its route.  Is there an urge to grumble and criticize others?  I know Confucius would disapprove: When someone does something you think is wrong, he says, think, Do I ever do something like that?  And then work to improve yourself.

So Confucius wouldn’t hold with this grumbling, and I did stop myself mid-grumble, but not because of him.  I was remembering a similar incident from a week before.

That time a whole pile of young students did the same thing, and not only that, pushed their way out the front door, disrupting passengers who were trying to get on.  The bus driver seemed annoyed, but said nothing … then.  However, right after that a girl got off, still at one of the preliminary stops before the express route started, and he lit into her.

“Next time don’t use an express bus as local drop-off,” he said.  The girl said nothing, just meekly departed.

That time I’d also been grumbling internally about the pack of guys who found it necessary to ride for one stop and then got off at the wrong door.  I was ready to grumble about the girl too; this time there was no one getting on at her stop; we wouldn’t have stopped, except for her.  We could have been getting going into express mode.

I was perhaps thinking that sort of thing, and that’s what the bus driver basically said aloud.  But as soon as he did, I recoiled.  I thought, There’s no rule saying how long you have to stay on an express bus.  She rang the bell for an actual stop.  Where did the bus driver get off telling her that?

And yet I felt like telling her myself – except I wouldn’t have.  Not out loud.  I might have thought it, grumbled to myself, but never have spoken up.  And if someone else had spoken up, not just the driver but any passenger, I would have cringed.  I’m not entirely sure why.  Perhaps it would seem like bullying.  From the bus driver it seemed like abuse of authority.  I suppose my dislike of those two things outweighs my displeasure over laziness or misuse of the express service.  Perhaps there are things I want to grumble about but not have anything done about.  People are strange.

Monday, 21 January 2013

On having one’s past leap up in one’s face

On the weekend I had a bizarre experience.  Imagine a world where all your experiences, and everyone else’s, can be broadcast worldwide for all to see, where things that happened decades ago can be brought back to life as if they were happening all over again.

Oh, wait, we live in that world.  There’s video and the Internet and …

As I’ve mentioned, I’m studying The Tale of Genji this term, partly because of a developing interest in Asian studies and perhaps because years ago I once attended a public lecture on it.  A Vancouver Institute lecture, offered by that very interesting Vancouver institution which offers free public lectures, sometimes by quite eminent authorities.

It occurred to me to look up that lecture now that I’m taking the Genji course, by which I meant checking to see if the Vancouver Institute had listed it in its history of past lectures – and it certainly had.  There it was, in November 1987.  But more than that, much more than that.  This was a list with links.

I clicked on the link, and suddenly I was back attending the very lecture on the Genji that I’d been at so many years ago.  It turned out that the guest lecturer was a leading figure in the field, someone mentioned on our course syllabus.  I gaped at my computer screen.

And more than that even, there were shots of the crowd, the audience who had come to hear.  I was in that audience.  Never mind the guest lecturer, I thought: show me me.  Where am I in the crowd?

But I didn’t see me.  If only I’d asked a question or something.  Caused a disturbance.   Perhaps that’s what we need to do to be noticed.  But I hadn’t.  Not that I can recall.

And if I had seen myself, what then?  Could I have reached out and spoken to that younger me and said, This is what will happen to you …

How odd.  Who knew that there was a recording that would be made available in another century, a recording that would almost show me myself?  I see a science fiction film in this somehow, but perhaps that’s just because I’ve seen too many movies.

That expert lecturer is dead now.  Perhaps a lot of the audience members too.  And it’s not exactly the same experience, watching it on video.  I wasn’t sitting where the camera was.  I couldn’t zoom in and see the speaker’s face so clearly.  And most of all I am not now what I was then.  You cannot step twice in the same river.

But you can watch the video.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Sheldon goes back to school (again)

The air was crisp with early January hints of snow, and expectant with the hopes and anxieties of the first day of classes.  It was almost like being 19 again.  Almost.

Off I went to Buchanan D, fearing I’d left it too late, and I’d be the one stumbling into the classroom after the prof had begun to speak, interrupting everything.  Or worse find myself in the wrong classroom: Isn’t this Asian Studies?  No, Physics 360.  Oh.

But I was on time and in the right place, though perhaps too far away.  Others had filled in the choicer spots up close, and I was up and to the right, at a bad angle and, most worrying, not entirely sure I could hear everything that was being said.

I was certainly not the last to arrive, however.  Someone slid in ten minutes late and sat beside me; I let her look at the printed syllabus that had already been distributed, and she smiled, but she seemed to lose interest and played with her iPhone and then was gone quickly before the class had quite adjourned.  I somehow doubt she’ll be back.

It should have been obvious, I suppose, since this is a class on a Japanese novel written by a woman (no more philosophy courses for me), but I was surprised to realize that the vast majority of the students were young Asian women.  Oh, well, I will be the token old white guy.

But whatever such minor issues, the thought of engaging with a new field of learning (for I know virtually nothing about ancient Japanese literature) makes me feel good, intrigued.  It is the excitement of the beginning, the start of the journey.  Some like to finish, to make an end, but I like beginnings best, when the world is all before you and you don’t know where exactly you’ll end up.

You may be ill or lonely, or bored with other aspects of your life, but let a new intellectual adventure beckon, and then all else (well, almost all else) can be forgotten.  I look forward to the voyage into 11th-century Japan.