BY JOE KERN
(I wrote this in the fall of 2002 for the Ibaraki JET magazine-like substance called Ibaraki Vogue. It’s really stupid. I’m warning you.)
BY JOE KERN. DID I MENTION THAT ALREADY?
It was one day while I was assisting the teaching of “this” and “that” to some Junior High School first graders that I realized the true extent of my brilliance. I had set up a game involving two chairs at the front of the classroom, a ‘true’ chair and a ‘false’ chair. I would say a sentence, such as “This is a cloud”, while pointing to the sky outside. The students would have to decide whether that was a correct sentence or not and sit in the appropriate chair. Being an improper use of the word ‘this’, the correct response was to sit in the false chair.
The game was formulated on the premise that “this” and “that” are markers of proximity and that, therefore, it was simply a straightforward exercise of marking things closer to me than the respondent as “this” and things closer to the respondent as “that”. The game sailed smoothly until I pointed at the teacher who was sitting on the other side of the student and said “This is Kikuchi-sensei”, intending for it to be a wrong sentence and for the students to therefore race toward the false chair. In the end “false” was the only answer I accepted, but even as I said it I realized that “true” was an equally correct answer. The next thing I did was pick up a picture of a bike and say “That is a bike”, again intending for it to be “false” but then realizing that it was also “true”. So I realized that I was on to something and that I would have to figure out what these extenuating circumstances were that were allowing me to use “this” and “that” irrespective of proximity.
Luckily, though I wasn’t fully aware of it at the time, it turns out that I have a brilliant mind. And it was short work for that mind to discover the secrets behind this phenomenon.
First, the picture, since it’s the easiest. In no time at all my brilliance realized that a picture, no matter where the actual piece of paper containing the image is in relation to the speaker, depicts a space that is away from all parties involved in the discourse and can therefore be indicated using “that”.
Now, the person across the room addressed as “this”. My solution was that “this” and “that” weren’t only indicators of physical proximity, but of relational proximity as well. Thus, if you know someone and someone else doesn’t, it is acceptable to refer to them as “this” no matter where they stand, because you are closer to them in personal relation than the other person.
It also can indicate subtle shadings of emotional closeness to a person, as well, as in the case of showing a picture of someone you know. The difference between “This is Jim” and “That is Jim” in a photo is entirely one of attempting to establish a bond or to distance yourself from someone. Unless you say “This is Hitler” when you hold up a textbook, in which case it might just be physical proximity.
I realized that numerous times every day speakers of the English language make these subtle distinctions without ever consciously thinking why they do it. That’s what led me to the knowledge of my brilliance. That I possessed the formula for deciding between “this” or “that” and that I had derived that formula independently made the evidence of my brilliance irrefutable.
As if that weren’t enough, right before I shut off my brain to this particular topic, I also came up with a perfect illustration should I ever wish to write an article about this, which seemed likely to me as I was guessing that my newfound brilliance would demand a profusion of written material detailing the contents of my amazing mind. And as you have no doubt already noticed, my writing is in keeping with the other facets of my brilliance, being interesting, concise and easy to understand, yet demonstrating a firm grasp of broad levels of vocabulary, thus avoiding redundancy in word choice. Such as using ‘being’ and ‘demonstrating’ in the last sentence. And in the next sentence I shall choose the word ‘shows’ in a place where either of the previous two terms would have sufficed, but would have been derivative of those passages. This therefore shows not only analytical brilliance, but also creative and synthetic brilliance in my ability to express and bring disparate elements into the service of one topic.
In the film Forrest Gump, there is the scene when Forrest is sailing his giant shrimping boat into the harbor and he sees Lieutenant Dan walk up to the dock. Forrest is so excited that he jumps into the water and swims to the dock to greet him. Meanwhile, as Forrest is greeting Dan, his boat sails across the back of the scene and crashes into the dock. Forrest looks back with scarcely a glance and says “That’s mah boat.” As I was thinking of this scene in relation to “this” and “that”, I formulated the reason for everyone’s subconscious knowledge that “that~” was much funnier than “this~” even though by the laws of proximity it was incorrect. And the reason goes back to the idea of emotional proximity and identification, or, in this case, what happens to have priority in the mind of the speaker. It’s funny because even though the boat has just had a major disaster, Forrest, by introducing its presence with “that” is subtly shading his sentence so that we know in his mind its insignificant compared to the matter at hand, which also happens to be of significance to the character of Forrest putting people above things or ideas and therefore a major theme of the movie.
This amazing insight into the nature of my own brilliant mind opened up other vistas of my own brilliance that I hadn’t considered before. For example, since April it has been the policy of my school to completely open and flatten the milk cartons from school lunch for recycling. In the beginning everyone was completely mauling their cartons in the attempt to flatten these folded and glued pieces paper. However, realizing that there must be one quick and easy way to unfold the paper in the same way that it was folded, I resolved to discover it. And discover it I did, a few short days later. It wasn’t until after the “this” and “that” formulation that I was able to retroactively pinpoint my own specially brilliant mind as the impetus to this discovery. It demonstrates three levels of brilliance in one. That of seeing possibility in chaos, of having a firm mind to see the solution through, and the mastery of spatial relations required to obtain the answer to this particular problem. And I might add that still no one else to my knowledge, in two different Junior High Schools, has figured out this method of opening a milk carton, and it has proven itself superior in economy of motion and the grace of the results to all other methods I’ve seen.
Another thing I’m brilliant at is what the students here call “boi pa” but what we in English would call “Voice Percussion” or “Beat Boxing”. The students just love it. While this might not technically be called brilliance per se, it is “talent”, which is a close cousin to brilliance.
So this is an exciting time to be me, with such a vast horizon of things to be discovered with my newfound brilliant mind. Since I do possess this gift, I recommend asking me if any questions come your way that you can’t seem to solve.