Friday, 28 February 2014

On Not Being the Vice-President

Long ago, in Grade 9 English, a district superintendent or some such official came to look in on us and help with a story we were studying.  I can’t remember what story it was, but there was a scene in a park with picnickers carrying their grandfathers.  And there were samovars.  Maybe it was a Russian story. 

The superintendent asked us if anything struck us as odd in the scene.  Someone ventured, “The samovars?”  “No, no,” said the superintendent, or maybe our regular English teacher, who was also there.  “That’s just a Russian teapot.”  It was the people carrying their grandfathers, which I think had struck me as odd, but too odd even to ask about.  It’s hard to raise a question when you hardly even understand something – except that’s the very thing to ask about, I learned that day.

And maybe I also learned to enjoy analyzing stories from that and also to think that it’s better to do something hands-on like analyzing a story than to be some distant superintendent, a manager supervising others who get to do the hands-on work.  I felt sorry for the District Superintendent, if not then, at least in retrospect: he was someone who knew how to get to the root of a story, making it come alive for students, but mostly his job must have been just overseeing others.

In some fields, of course, management is the prize people aim for, and some people must like managing others, but to me it’s a bit like being the coach instead of Wayne Gretzky.  You could say, of course, that an athlete, even a star athlete, or a creative writer or a comedian is doing mere grunt work.  Better to be the Vice-President in charge of whatever instead of some lowly pencil-pusher, but if pencil-pushing is somehow creative, if the work is something like Gretzky behind the net or Graham Greene producing a new novel, who wouldn’t rather be that than mired in management?

The Talent, not the manager, the literary critic, not the district superintendent.  But everyone is different, I suppose, and I suppose we need those Vice-Presidents.

When I read the first part of this blog to my girl-friend, she paused and said, “I’m a Vice-President.”

Uh oh, I said.

So let me say that I have nothing against vice-presidents, and as my girl-friend went on to tell me, sometimes she likes to do the hands-on work, but not always.  Maybe the District Superintendent was happy not to have to teach an English class every day; maybe it was nice just to do it once in a while.  I published a novel once, but haven’t since, and when I think of someone like Agatha Christie or even, yes, Graham Greene, maybe even creative work could seem tedious if you had to keep churning it out year after year.  So there you go …

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