Reprising the italics…
I stand by the harbor, scanning the horizon.
Nothing. Nothing. And nothing again.
I am reminded of the literary classic Teeth, Teeth, Teeth, penned by my late dentist, Sydney Garfield, who evocatively wrote,
“Teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth, teeth. The bottom of the sea is covered with teeth.”
Call it an “homage.” Inserting “nothing” where Syd put in “teeth.”
Yesterday, in a darker revisiting of The Oxford Experience, which I famously attended last summer, I considered the possibility that, although from my imagined perspective, I was a “visiting student”, from The University of Oxford’s perspective I was a gullible “customer.”
“I say. Have you noticed how frightfully empty the place is during the summer? Why not create a program called, let’s see now… The Oxford Experience, inviting starry-eyed foreigners to take week-long classes, under the illusion that they are enrolled here full-time?”
“A capital idea!’’
“Well I am from Oxford.”
Let me be clear here. Nothing can erase the exhilaration of waking up each morning, heading out to the “quad” before breakfast in “The Great Hall”, wondrously jabbering, “Look where I am!”
That one’s a keeper.
But was this actually a serious exercise?
Or was it meaningless “filler” in a really old school?
What placed this cynical filter on what I only slightly exaggeratedly called, “The greatest experience of my life”?
I had a teacher at Oxford. “Teacher Jim”, I called him. Not a begowned venerable professor. An itinerant “Philosophy Man”, cobbling a living through cumulative employment.
“Teacher Jim” was sharp, and savvy and funny and smart, offering insights on issues I had never considered, selected data nullifying my biases, reasoned arguments forcing me to think.
In short, he was just what I’d hoped for when I signed up.
During mid-class “breaks” on our way to coffee and “McVitie’s Digestives”, I badgered “Teacher Jim” with troubling questions and concerns, and he would generously respond. I was enchanted.
I had a smart friend, with an overseas accent.
A while after I got home, I emailed “Teacher Jim”, recommending a book I had read called American Revolutions, whose challenging thesis was that the American Revolution was less about “rights” than it was about real estate. (In the 1760’s, Benjamin Franklin himself was in England, seeking a large land grant, which he could then subdivide, sell off in “parcels”, and get incredibly rich, offering no mention whatever of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”)
I was thrilled when “Teacher Jim” wrote back. We had made a “connection.” We would be “Thinking Buddies” forever.
I immediately replied, asking for reading direction concerning the vexing question of “the Truth.” Did the truth actually exist? Or was what we call the truth merely the collective agreement of the majority? (More accurately, people with power who considered themselves the majority, although, numerically, they weren’t.)
I did not hear back from “Teacher Jim.” About that question. Or anything else.
Recently, after an extended interim, I sent him a post I wrote entitled, “Truth Versus Fiction – The Winner And Still Champion: Fiction” (6/17/19.) I thought it would be right up his alley. Plus, an ice-breaking opportunity to re-bond.
I sit by my desktop. Scanning my emails.
Nothing. Nothing. And nothing again.
That’s when memories of The Oxford Oxford started to curdle.
I wasn’t a “visiting student” at Oxford. I was a mesmerized hayseed caught in a profitable stunt. That one e-mail exchange? That’s like buying the “miracle” no-stick frying pan, and getting an accompanying spatula along with my order.
“The Oxford Experience includes one ‘return email’ from your teacher.”
At which point, the contractual agreement has been faithfully fulfilled.
Maybe I expected too much of the program, and the teacher. For them, it was “business.” For me, it was a fantasized dream come to life.
Still, like an undaunted wife going down to the sea, shading her eyes looking for hope, I daily scroll through my emails,
Searching for a sail.
Hold on. I’ll check today.
I don’t understand it.
The man signed my diploma.