Notes From Lawndale
Summary: ‘Is It Fall Yet?’ as written by Fyodor Dostoevsky. [Written 3/10/05]
I am a sarcastic woman . . . I am a sardonic woman. I am unattractive. I think my self-esteem is non-existent. Then again, I only know what they have told me about my condition. It is meant to hurt, yet only rarely do I feel any pain. Instead, the feeling is almost freeing. It is nice to be free from society. My experiences in self-esteem class were only brief. I was not treated then and perhaps never will be. (I’m sufficiently educated to be cynical.) Out of a desire to avoid Self-Esteem class, I escaped. Life was decent then, as it has not been since. Then, I had a companion in misery in Jane Lane. She too left, leaving me to dwell with my thoughts.
I’ve been living this way for some time--- Ever since the incident. One night, I made the mistake of being open, of being compelled by another’s demands, to ignore my own inner signals, a language understandable only to few. The door was open, and I climbed in. An exercise I almost regret.
In the act I already anticipated the consequences. Yet I carried on nevertheless. There were chances to retreat, and they were not followed. The action continued to its logical conclusion… A hastily delivered kiss. There was no real romance in it. If there was (And this I doubt) it was all Tom’s. He believed in the redemption of humanity, of acting in a manner that would allow the elevation of the innermost thoughts and emotions of the human soul.
After the kiss, we soon argued, he trying to convert me to hope, me urging him to join me in the depths. He believed in freedom;
“You cannot tell me that human beings always desire to be dominated. Masochism would be much more widespread if that were so. We must make the best of our opportunities in this world and in the next.”
“What opportunities?” I asked with derision.
“The chances we have to make a real difference. All us humans are linked in a great web of relationships. The choice is simply to hate or love. To live a life of scorn is to refrain from even making the choice. Our influence can be positive. At the same time however, we must not resort to absolute rule. Help others make their own choice and in turn influence many millions.”
His sea of faith has not yet ebbed. Sighing, I agree to relate my philosophy through a painstakingly composed tale. It is founded upon my own experiences.
“It is ‘The Legend of the Grand Principal’.
Tom nodded, willing me to continue;
“The setting of my poem will be most familiar to you. It is the town we now inhabit. The time is the present. A real display of imagination, but yes. One day Jesus Christ appeared in the guise of a teenaged resident of Lawndale. His destination was Lawndale High School, then (as now as it is now) the center of controversy over the teaching techniques of the Grand Principal, Angela Li. A tall, straight woman of almost fifty, she rules over the school with an iron fist. Her word is law. With but a single announcement she may instantly change the actions of hundreds of students and teachers, as she is at the apex of the entire structure. Few have attempted to act against her.
Some say this is the result of an elaborate apparatus of punishments and other such devices. The pain acts as a deterrent, they believe. Yet the truth is something much more disturbing. It echoes out to the heart of this sick, sad world. Almost no students have fallen victim to her regime. The instruments lie unused. Strictly speaking, violence is not necessary. Even without it, the students would continue to follow orders, barely making the pretence of revolt, a pretence that is itself only for show, a posture to hide their own submission…
To continue the tale, the Principal is one day sitting contentedly in her office when what appears to be a student arrives. Beneath the teenaged body lies Jesus himself. From his position, he has seen the smooth operation of Lawndale High School.
He begins the interview with a simple question;
“Why has no-one revolted?”
It is a question that the Principal has rarely heard before, yet one that she loves to hear. The question provides an opportunity for her to digress at length upon her beliefs. I have edited her answer for length. Perhaps the full version will appear in the paperback;
“I’m glad you asked that question, for the answer is very simple. It is a fundamental aspect of the human condition, the wish to be ruled. Freedom is something that appears very frightening to the average person. They do not wish to go about their lives without the constant, affirming presence of a firm ruler, providing guidance in every action. Indeed, the guidance soon becomes thought, seemingly objective, yet coursed with my will. The same principle applies in the classroom. Most people do not want to judge their own work. They prefer to accept the judgment of another and accept it as absolute truth. Yes, some try to alter their marks, but the changes are only minor. In the grand course of things, they make very little difference. You may say the teachers are acting independently, but this is not so. I have told them how to mark, in exchange for their positions and a slight increase in pay. They had the chance to keep to their own programme, yet all refused. The choice was theirs and they made it. Chasing salary, they threw away freedom.”
Briefly, she ceases to speak. The room is befallen by a tense silence.
“Do you understand?”
Tom takes several moments to realise the question is directed at him. My ending may be abrupt, but it can be rewritten. Either way, the meaning is ultimately artificial. There is no means of reaching toward objective truth. Truth is the product of innumerable power relations each acting to ensure ‘truth’ is merely the sum statement of the powerful. The Grand Principal was just one of them.
“My God, you really believe this, don’t you?” Tom asks, shocked. Despite the relationship, he barely knows me at all. He naively believed that knowledge lay like a sinking star to be followed and attained. The truth is too dark for him, too dark altogether.
Tom asks a final question;
“Have you lost your faith in man?”
Tom appears relieved.
“I never had it at all.”
That was the last time I saw him. Ever since he has studiously avoided all contact with me. I believe he viewed me as a cynic to redeem. His attempts with Jane had already failed (That at least I can thank her for), and I was the last target. Yet surely he has not lost his faith in the perfectibility of mankind. Somewhere he and others continue to spout their slogans of redemption and an utopia that will never be…
We live in the present. It is a dark, dingy place, full of memories whimpering in the background. Or is that merely Quinn crying in the adjacent room? An opportunity. Perhaps I can cheer her up. Perhaps.