Friday, August 27, 2010

Aimless Reading: The J's, Part 6 (George Jean)

Jean, Georges
Writing: The Story of
Alphabets and Scripts

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books for a course with Charles Bernstein called, "Textual Conditions," my first class in graduate school. This might be the first book I read in graduate school. A pretty good place to start on a master's in English, I suppose.

Ok, where were we...

I lived in the sixth floor walk-up on 4th and B from 1992-1994, during which time I taught English at a Catholic High School for boys on the corner of 2nd and 2nd. I knew pretty early on that I was going to have to make a choice between teaching high school and writing. There was no way, emotionally or physically, that I could handle both. Teaching is way too stressful and leaves very little room for anything else. I also managed to get involved with trying to start a union, which eventually lost me my job. There came a moment when I realized this was going to happen, accepted it, and pushed a lot harder than I might have had I wanted to keep the job.

I spent the better part of my second year teaching trying to figure out what to do next. I wanted to learn another language, a skill I thought would help me become a better writer, so the idea took that I should go abroad. I started thinking about France. I took a French class at the New School. I also applied to graduate schools as a sort of fall back position. I got accepted to the University of Arizona for a PhD in English, and I got wait-listed at SUNY Buffalo. That seemed to be the range of my choices.

I had a friend, actually a torturously unrequited love is a more accurate description, who was that year teaching in Ecuador. Our relationship, which had now been going on for about five years, was such that we were often separated by great distances. After my first attempt to get the relationship going in college, I stopped talking to her. Then we began writing letters, then the flame was rekindled, then, once again, it was doused, and I cut off all contact. This cycle had repeated itself twice already by now and at this time we were in a rekindling phase of a third cycle (the third time being the charm, this kindling eventually lead to a conflagration, which eventually burned down the house once and for all -- but that's another story, which has been partially told elsewhere in this saga).

We began corresponding while she was in Ecuador. The flame was rekindled, I went to visit her, and suddenly I had another choice. I chose to become a volunteer teacher at a Catholic mission in South America. Naturally.

1994: I lived for the first three months in a large apartment with five or six other volunteers in a part of Quito called Cotocollao. I remember it had a heavy metal door that opened into a large living room/dining room area. It was big enough to seat twelve or so people at a long folding table. To the right a long buffet, on which the cook (yes, we had a cook) spread our dinner at the end of each twelve hour day of teaching, stood on a sort of dais against a picture window partially concealed, as were all the windows, by long, beige curtains.

Beyond the buffet was the kitchen and a large, well-stocked pantry pantry. I don't remember the details except that there were hundreds of boxes of milk and even more jars of peanut butter and jelly.

I remember the rooms all had dark floors. I can't recall if they were wood or tile or something else.

Next to the dining area, in the same room, was a living room area with an an old couch, several chairs, a television, a vcr and several bookcases filled with books and a small library of VHS tapes left behind by previous volunteers.

I was the first and only volunteer to live there for almost a month -- I arrived in Ecuador early in order to practice my Spanish a bit before being thrust into a classroom where I had to teach in that language. I used to hang out and smoke cigarettes in the evening with the cook, Norma. We'd talk about her family and my family in Spanish until it was time for her to leave, and then I'd usually watch a video or read or do grammar exercises late into the night.

I remember watching "Educating Rita" several times and getting all weepy when I watched it.

I think there may have been one bedroom directly off the living room area, then opposite that part of the room there was a step up to a kind landing around which the rest of the bedrooms were arrayed. I think there was only one bathroom for all of us, but I might be wrong.

Since I arrived first, I got to choose my room. I took the corner that looked out on a spectacular mountain peak in the distance. I was really sad to leave that room when we moved into the newly built volunteer center over the winter break.

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