I sat down [facing a sleeping] couple. Between the man and the woman a child had hollowed himself out a place and fallen asleep. He turned in his slumber, and in the dim lamplight I saw his face. What an adorable face! A golden fruit had been born of these two peasants….. This is a musician’s face, I told myself. This is the child Mozart. This is a life full of beautiful promise. Little princes in legends are not different from this. Protected, sheltered, cultivated, what could not this child become? When by mutation a new rose is born in a garden, all gardeners rejoice. They isolate the rose, tend it, foster it. But there is no gardener for men. This little Mozart will be shaped like the rest by the common stamping machine…. This little Mozart is condemned.
—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry “A Sense of Life: En Route to the U.S.S.R. “
That quote pretty much sums up my motivation for being alive. I’ve fought that stamping machine my whole life. Rebelliousness has never been a phase for me, but my definition of self. I still have all of my school report cards, and they are all a sad chorus of the same comments from each teacher. First quarter: “No effort.”, “Not paying attention.” Second to third quarter: “Work not completed.”, “Needs help but will not ask.” Final report: “Top mark on final exam.” I would play out each year the same, in an angry spite of my teachers.
When we were assigned general english ability exams, I would always rate five or six grades ahead in reading and comprehension. When we had IQ tests in one grade, I was pulled out of normal classes and put into the special smart kid program…only to be kicked out a few weeks later for consistently arguing with the teachers that they were misunderstanding the puzzles and games we were given. I was told that my answers were wrong, and I would argue that I was right, I was just working from a different scope than they were. I would try to extrapolate from a given set in an innovative way, but the teachers only knew the answer on the back of the card. Right or wrong was the only answer. Black or white. Understanding counted for nothing…only obedience mattered. Je refuse.
I already knew I wasn’t going to fit in. I knew in the first few years of school that I couldn’t look forward to a life like everyone else’s. It was not in me to fit into the system, so I was going to be cut out from higher education, cut out from all careers. I experimented with the more obvious forms of rebellion, but they all turned out to be pithy…hollow affectations. I felt trapped. No way out other than endurance, and nothing at the end of that but uncertainty. Which just made me angrier and more determined to never give in. I found my solution eventually in writing…success be damned. The act itself is my home, the one I always sought.
I often felt alone, but as I came more to a real understanding of myself, I started to feel more and more that I wasn’t alone or different at all. I was maybe just a little more stubborn, perhaps stupid, than others. Everyone rebels against the stamping machine, but most people are stamped regardless. As A.S-E. says above, without a gardener, how can we not be? I was lucky in my way, that I was stunted and hidden low amongst the tangles, and able to mature in obscurity when I should have been pruned.
When my fencing partner passed away, one of her life-long friends wrote something perfect in her obituary. She wrote that Yvonne was often clumsy in life, and awkward…But when she had a blade in her hand, she was transformed into poetry in motion. This was deeply true. She came into the blade late in life, and took it up as a lark–an offshoot of online MUD sessions–just a thing to do that was more interesting than aerobics classes. She was never meant for the stamping machine, but it had shaped her somewhat anyway. She found a way to make her magic work regardless, but the machine had left it’s mark on her, and it showed in her “real life” clumsiness. But with a blade in hand, she was able to show what she would have been with a gardener to foster her.
The world is full of bitter people. Their mouths are thick with the acrid taste of machine oil, their eyes are filmed with a coat of it. The stamping has not shaped them, but broken them. They are filled with anger at the breaking, but despair of every fighting back against the machine…instead they look to stamp all around them, to break as they have been broken.
Opposed to them are those who have found a way to become gardeners. We have felt the stamp of the machine but resisted somehow, even if only in a small part. We find a way to heal from the searing wounds of the stamp…and by nature we look outwards, to find those who should be saved from the machine. We want to find those we can foster, to bloom in a way we may not have been able to. For some of us, the sword is our weapon and our tool. We wield it to save the fresh blossom from the stamp, and we teach the roses to wield it for themselves.
It’s a secret, magic art. It’s known only to the rarest of the would-be gardeners. The art of the sword can be a stamping machine all its own, and teachers just another tool of crushing and shaping. The real art of the sword is the art of teaching a longing…a desire for more. The slaves of bitterness make schools that stamp and stamp and stamp. The gardeners nurture a hunger.
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry