Remember we are all into reflective self evaluation and that now with the Curriculum for Excellence as our ultimate goal. So let’s take a moment to reflect. Okay, so this is the point we’ve got to today. I handed in the first draft of my essay and Mr Em said it’s shit. Nick the school bully said it’s shit. Which is a bit more of a problem. Mr EM just ridicules my incompetence but Nick puts my head down the school toilet. I’ll take ridicule any day. But that aside, I spent a lot of time on it actually so it pissed me off a bit.
Mum says I’ve got to stop moping around and use it as an opportunity for ‘personal growth.’ I never saw that coming. I don’t know what’s happened to my mum since my dad bought her a Kindle for her Christmas. She’s become this totally different person.
I ask my dad what he thinks of my essay.
‘They say it’s shit. Does that make it shit?’ I ask him
My dad’s a farmer. He calls shit shit. He uses a shovel to shovel it. Well, he uses his tractor usually. He’s a professional man. Cultured? I don’t think so. But his response strikes me as more sensible than anything I’ve ever heard Mr EM say.
He says, ‘If they say it’s shit does that make it shit? No. It’s only shit if it IS shit. Talk’s cheap. Shit’s shit.’
And he calls John. His big plans for John who will not (whatever my mum thinks) be ‘re-engaging with the educational process in a formalised context’ after the holidays, does however include shovelling shit. By hand if necessary, until he’s old enough to get his tractor licence. Apparently it will teach him the value of a good education. Or something. I’ve got years and years to go before I can even think of the freedom of shit shovelling. It might not sound like the best job in the world but it’s got to be better than another year at TattyBogle Primary – especially if I’ve lost us the competition. But John’s exams have finished and lest he think he’s up for a life of freedom, my dad is kicking him out from under my mum’s wing from the off.
Me. I’m still at school for another couple of weeks. And I just have to redouble my efforts. Write something that will make everyone proud and win us the competition. Which it now turns out isn’t an actual visit to an actual festival but the chance to have my writing read by virtual people at a virtual ebook festival. My mum’s stoked by that. To hear her speak you’d think ebooks are the second coming. She’s even threatened to buy me a Kindle if we win the competition. In lieu of the ‘real’ prize of a trip to the Capital. I’m doomed either way it seems. I mean, a Kindle’s not really the same as a trip to Edinburgh Castle is it? However hard you squint up your eyes and try to make them the same. I know that a trip to the Castle is kind of a dream because they never even said that we could go to the Castle, but if I got to Edinburgh, no one’s not going to let me go to the Castle are they? The Castle is my dream. A Kindle is fast becoming a nightmare. And none of this thinking is getting any writing done.
So here I am scratching my head with my pencil. ‘Is literature political?’ What does it mean? I suck on my pencil. Because it’s not got a rubber on the end you can do that. If you have a rubber on the end you can’t. And anyway, even if you’d think that having a rubber on the end of your pencil is a good thing, the rubbers are always rubbish and don’t work. And I need a good rubber because I have to do a lot of rubbing out these days. I’m glad I’m still at TattyBogle Primary because my brother John tells me that when you go up to the Academy you can’t use pencils all the time and you have to use pens and you can’t rub out your mistakes. So I’m going to have to make a lot less mistakes, which means I’ll have to know a lot more and… but I don’t know anything about literature or politics. Help.
I’m a lucky boy, as my mum keeps telling me. Because whatever else I have a ‘close and loving family.’ They are certainly close, my dad’s always saying he couldn’t see my auntie Pat far enough. But that doesn’t seem to ‘loving’ to me. Anyway, because I’m a lucky boy with a close and loving family I can usually get some form of help if I ask for it. Not always the help I want right enough, but then I’m still learning who can help me with what. This time I hit upon a winner. I’ll get my uncle Tam to help me. He know about politics because he’s not a farmer, he’s been a union rep in a haulage firm since Jesus was a boy. And he knows all about the ‘masses’ and ‘the proletariat’ and the ‘capitalist oppressors.’ He forsaw the demise of global capitalism and not just when it arrived at TattyBogle High Street. Oh no. He saw it coming from as far away as DrumTumshie. As he’s more than happy to tell me. When I appeal to him in the name of research. He loves to talk politics does my Uncle Tam. And he can’t understand why no one wants to listen. So when I tell him I want to listen, he’s going to love it and he may never stop talking all day.
It turns out that while he knows a lot about politics, my Uncle Tam doesn’t know a lot about literature. But that’s not going to stop him giving me his critical opinion now is it? That’s the thing about literature it seems. Everyone’s opinion is as valid as everyone else’s. And yet no one agrees with each other. I can’t understand that. I think it’s one of those things that only becomes blindingly obvious to you once you stop being a child and start being an adult. Maybe. Like what’s the point of brushing your hair before you go to bed or cleaning your shoes when you’re about to go out in the mud. Well, my dad and mum don’t agree on that one either actually. Or eating your pudding after your dinner. Or… well, you know. If you’re reading this you are probably an adult after all and you probably know more about the answer to this question than I do, so my question is –why aren’t you writing it and me reading it? It seems the wrong way round. Shouldn’t Mr EM be doing the writing and us doing the reading? Shouldn’t the adults be teaching the children? I know that Curriculum for Excellence means we have to do it ourselves and take responsibility for our own learning and all that but my question is: Why do I have to tell everyone the answer they already know when I don’t have a Scooby what the answer is?
This is getting me nowhere. Apparently it’s ‘an attitude’ and I need to ‘lose it,’ my mum says.
My mum, who has always thought me a bit ‘backward’ is now all hot and bothered about the fact that I’m becoming ‘precocious’ in so far as I’m about to become a ‘teenager’ a good two years before my time.
‘It’s that Tam,’ she says. ‘Turning the boy Bolshie.’
I don’t know. You can’t win in this life. That’s one thing I’ve learned. But then again, I need to win. The competition at least. To have a life. A life worth living at least.
And somewhere, I can’t rightly remember where in all this mass of information overload, it turns out the general point I’ve been missing all along is that it’s all down to that ‘digital masses’ stuff that Mr EM spouts about.
See there’s the digital masses (that’s me, and maybe you) and the Cultural Elite (that’s Mr EM and ‘them’ who decide what is ‘good’ and what you get to read. You get to read what they tell you is good and that makes it good. That’s the crux of it.
Mum disagrees. She thinks with all her new found Kindle revolution that she can choose what to read and if she thinks it’s good it’s good enough for her.
‘But that’s just showing that you’re one of the digital masses,’ I cry to her.
Uncle Tam says that’s what’s known as a tautological argument. Goes round in circles and doesn’t mean anything other than what’s blindingly obvious, he says. None of which is blindingly obvious to me.
Back at school, Mr EM says that pursuit of excellence is the goal. In Writing as in Life. How do we know if we’ve achieved this excellence? We’ll win the competition. The world’s nice and simple for Mr EM. But then he’s pretty much in the driving seat. Me, I’m not even strapped into the bogey.
Mr EM’s argument, roughly translated for the digital masses is that if enough people say you’re good, you’re good. In a political environment (or writing competition) this means enough people voting for you, and in any other environment (like the ‘real’ world) it’s about how many people BUY your product. Mr EM believes that if you produce something then if enough people buy your product it’s a good product. And it’s like that with books. Except. Only if they are the books they’ve been told to buy by the right people. Like if my mum buys an ebook that’s recommended by Mr EM or the Amazon reviews then it’s a good book. If she buys it because she likes the look of it, that’s not the case. She might enjoy it of course, but she’s enjoying it as one of the ‘digital masses’ not as one of the ‘cultural elite.’ And if she picks up a free ebook (cause you can do that) Mr EM would probably drown her Kindle if he knew. Because that’s just ‘amateurish.’ He would say. I’m not sure what’s amateurish. Is it the ebook, or my mum? Can you be a ‘professional’ mum?
All I’ve got to hold onto is what my dad said about shit. (Not real shit you understand, I’m not holding that even if they do pull all my fingers out. Imaginary shit. The idea.) Which I loosely translate into the world of books to be that: it’s the thing that makes the quality not the number of people buying the thing. So in some way it’s the book itself that has the quality inside it. Even an ebook which doesn’t really have an inside. I’m just getting myself confused again here.
Let me see. A good book is one which the ‘cultural elite’ recognise to be good. They do this by selling it to the digital masses and getting enough of them to read it to prove that it’s better than ‘the competition.’ This in and of itself makes the book good. I know it sounds like one of Tam’s tautology thingy’s but no, actually it’s the way of the world. Mr EM said so. Because when I showed him that sentence he thought I was ‘finally on the right track.’ ‘The cultural elite set the standard,’ he said and gave me that sick like grin which is almost worse to be on the end of than the fierce stare I usually get. I’m not sure Mr EM is in the right career. But I suppose it’s not for me to say.
‘Stick in, boy,’ Mr EM says. ‘Remember the good name of TattyBogle rests in your hands.’
Why? Why me? Why not Callum or Kevin or Nick? Okay, not Kirsty or Sadie because they are girls and twin girls at that so what could they know about anything? But why can’t Nick do it? Why is it me that everyone looks to for Winning us the Competition? I’m the son of a farmer. The son of a farmer’s son. I might even have that dislecksia thingy if I could spell it. I want to be tested. I want a recount. I want a way out. But no, the joy of Curriculum for Excellence is that every dog must have his day and this dog’s dinner is going to be down to me. It’s been decided. We had a peer review of the first draft of the competition essay and they all voted for me. Uncle Tam has always told me that democracy isn’t as good as it looks and I’m beginning to agree with him. I don’t want to be ‘chosen’ even if I do want to go to Edinburgh and see the Castle.
This isn’t getting the work done though is it? See. I’m getting good at reflection. It’s a reaction to desperation I think, but I don’t tell anyone. You can’t, can you? You just have to ‘man up’ and take it. So I’m just going to have to suck my pencil a bit harder (when I can find it again, I used it for something earlier and I can’t remember where I put it. I think I was trying to get that little bit of fluff out of…) sorry, I know I’m just losing the plot here. I don’t think I respond well to a pressured environment. To put not too fine a point on it. I’m crapping it.
But pulling myself together once I’ve found my pencil (and sharpened it) and a REALLY good rubber and I remember that it’s the cultural elite who know what’s good of course and who know that amateur things like mums and Highland Dancing and ebooks which are NOT written and sold by the cultural elite are not GOOD – of course – don’t be stupid – how could they be good if they’re not written and sold by the people who make them good by saying they are good? Well mums might be good and popular but you can’t buy and sell them so they are of limited value except for doing stuff around the house. The cultural elite set the standard. Mr EM’s word ring in my head. They set the standard. And the price. And make the rules. That’s what ‘elite’ means. They are the best because they say they are the best and like Nick the School Bully if you argue with them you’ll end up with your head down the toilet. And You Don’t Win The Competition. And on reflection I think my life will be more better if I do win the competition. I mean I’ll never be one of the cultural elite but I might be the champion of the digital masses. Or at least get a Kindle. Even if I don’t want one. Something is better than nothing right?
My Uncle Tam thinks that the only real winner out of the competition will be Mr EM. Who will Save His Job if he can prove that TattyBogle Primary is a real seat of academic learning not just a wee rural primary school with one teacher and a handful of kids. He’s frightened of a ‘buy out’ like Tesco taking over the town. That’s political isn’t it? But what’s it got to do with literature. Well, it’s my literary writing that will ‘save’ Mr EM’s job. Suddenly I don’t want to win the competition. No win. No school. No Mr EM. But you know, dreams are not reality. You have to play with the hand you are dealt in life, my dad says. And that’s why I’m here, holding imaginary shit and waiting for my fingers to be pulled out.
Jack will be back with Episode Three tomorrow at 12.30. If you like Jack, tell him. Go to his Facebook page and let him know.
And if you want to get more serious about all this – go the the Edinburgh World Writers Conference online from 3-5pm this afternoon where the chat’s about Style vs Content. (Go to the Conference Commentary Main tab for link)