Saturday, August 18, 2018

Information Gap


For all of my whining about it, teaching is for me the best anecdote to living on the cusp of dystopia. I make two visits to the Redwoods and have time with both of my kids individually and the whole family together during the summer. Perhaps I'm deluding myself but it seems the children look forward to their time with me. Maybe if they both lived here in L.A., as I often wish, they'd get sick of me so maybe I should wish more carefully.

When not in a pretty place or with the kids, it is the summer of my moroseness. A legal matter that should have been resolved quickly and inexpensively enters the ninth month. White House antics make every week seem like a year. Asbestos is back. Without the travails of my classroom, while still committed to writing every week, I find nothing much worth writing about. For my own comfort, for years, I've fantasized about a better world so I start to jot things down. I am fully aware that this has been of little interest to my usual readership.

I spend weeks on end on the couch, re-activating the TV every three hours when it goes into power saving mode. In June I check off the days until the end of the semester but by the last week of vacation, even after a four hour meetings with objectives that certainly would be easily accomplished in a five sentence e-mail, I am looking forward. And poof, I teach three nights and come home in a good mood.

I return to the trenches full throttle, with 47 students crammed into to my tiny (and thank God air-conditioned) classroom. Students from previous classes come by to say hi and hug me. I am ashamed that, while I remember details about each of them, I mostly forget their names. For the current class, I will probably have most of their names down by the last week of class and then forget them in a nanosec.

We are reviewing clothing vocabulary and the present tense. Using ridiculously broad pantomime I explain that Dave really likes Susan. She has long hair and a great figure. He loves her smile. But he is shy. Embarrassed. “Embarrassed,” I explain “is not a cognate for the Spanish 'embarazda,' which means 'pregnant.' I mime “pregnant,” and say, “Well, maybe embarrassed.” So this wacky Dave guy, finally, musters the nerve to shyly ask Susan on a date. “What does she say?” The boys think that she'll blow him off, but the girls are correct. She does indeed accept.

We give them a few days to spring for the textbook so during the first week, I often rely on pre-made worksheets. A very common ESL exercise is an “information gap.” It seems that Dave goes on, what seems to me, a classically manic, spending spree, in advance of the big night. The lesson, I'm afraid is a little dated. Dave buys two CDs (Romance and the Music of Love. $19.00. Plus tax. Paid by check.).He visits the Jeans Shop (Size 34. $70. Paid by credit card.) The Perfumery (Men's cologne. $26. Paid Cash. $4.00 change.) and half a dozen other vendors. I pair the students and pass out sheets A and B. Each has receipts from Dave's wild jag but there is information missing. A has to ask B what Dave bought at Candy World. B has to ask A how much the sales tax is at Downtown Jewelry. They agree that it is beyond absurd for Dave to spend $1200 (plus 5% sales tax--$60) for a diamond ring before even the first date. They help their partners fill in their gaps.


I chew around all week the 2084 story I'm writing. While politics looms largely in my vision of the opus, the genre is trumped (I looked at the thesaurus. There is no good synonym) by speculative fiction. And, yes it is hubris to mull the categorization of something that, but for a couple thousand words, hasn't been written yet. But, I'm working from a pretty common trope. Bad things happen that change the world. Most of the world gets it together and fixes stuff up a lot but there's a renegade retro part of the world that poses a threat.


There will be a series of catastrophes caused by human sin. Because I, for the most part, do not read and my usual day is an olio of CNN, true crime and crossword puzzles, I struggle to tap into what's happening now in the world at large that would precipitate a series of disasters of such magnitude that survivors would have a come to Jesus moment. I'm not having trouble envisioning the resulting worldwide (except for that one bad place) utopia. For one thing there will be no organized religion (so “Come to Jesus.” isn't exactly apt). I'm really good at imagining utopia but I lack the knowledge of worldwide threats needed to create a credible scenario.

I complain to Himself that I am woefully uneducated as to what might bring the planet to the edge of Armageddon. He tells me about China's incursion into Africa and Black Mirror-ish use of artificial intelligence. The components of a better future world come easily but I tell Himself that I can't quite visualize where sex and gender will fit into my idealized world. Himself rattles off six works of fiction that have addressed this and could provide inspiration.

He explains how deep and potentially humanity changing is Google's data mining, which aims to know us all far better than we know ourselves. Himself has his finger on the pulse of every terrible calamity that could happen in the world. I comfort myself with fantasies of possibility. We're A and B. So we're going to write this thing together. I'm going to let him do his China paranoia stuff and he's indulging my current animus for organized religion. And I'll go back to blathering about by day to day when I write here every week while together we collaborate on 2084. We fill each other's gaps.