This morning, I’d like to tell you all a story. It’s a story about the single most inspirational man I’ve ever met. Despite the length of time since I last saw him, which is probably close to 4 years, and the fact that I’ll probably never see him again, doesn’t change the fact that he often comes up in my thoughts as a vague guideline to attitudes and life in general. I’ve probably mentioned him in passing to a number of you in the past, mostly regarding his unorthodox teaching methods.
You see, he was a lecturer at SIBT, a bridging institution with delusions of grandeur, that I attended for a year. His name is Aaron. I somehow never discovered his last name, perhaps he did that deliberately, most lecturers are all about the simple firstname.lastname@example.org email addresses and things, but in any case, I never knew it.
Of the three trimesters SIBT was divided into, I was lucky enough to have three units, over two trimesters with Aaron as a lecturer. I’d heard of him from friends who had previously taken the units I was, and also been lucky enough to have him as a lecturer, but I’d always assumed what people had said about him was exaggerated. I mean, how good can this one guy BE, right?
The thing that probably needs to be mentioned somewhere, so here seems like a good place, was that SIBT is like baby-uni. The tutorials were about the same size, but instead of lectures with literally hundreds of people, you were reduced to classes of say, 20? Maybe less if it wasn’t a popular class. So when I say he interacted with you personally, he really did. He knew most every student by name, greeted them in corridors, and really made you feel like you meant something to him.
I realise, reading back, that a lot of the words I’m using and will continue to use might make it sound like a schoolgirl crush was going down. But I gotta tell ya, that simply wasn’t the case. I’ll be using a lot of these emotional words, because that’s what he did to you, he made you feel like an individual, not a faceless student, or a number. But I had nothing but the greatest respect for this guy.
I’m sort of all over the place with this. It sounded more structured in my head. But I haven’t even really started yet. This is kind of just backstory. I’ll understand if you wanna stop reading now.
Anyway, from day one, you knew this guy was going to be good. He was a veteran. He has a particular way of talking that engages you, he gets sidetracked on tangents, basically always wore the same shirt, and had a long ponytail, but always managed to communicate everything you needed to know, in a way that you could understand, and frequently told you about his own history or experiences, if he thought it would illustrate a point to you better.
And what a history. Some of things he told us, you can’t help but wonder how such an amazing man, if not balanced then certainly well adjusted, could come from all that. Time has eroded the specific details, so forgive me if I get some wrong, but I believe his mother was a prostitute, while his father owned the brothel. So since before he can remember, he had always seen and known about these men who were essentially, in his words “there to fuck my mother”. He wasn’t treated badly, from memory, just neglectfully. Once, when we were discussing psychological conditioning, he gave the example of his addiction to Coke. The drink, not the drug. He said, as a child of 3 or 4, when his parents wanted to keep him distracted, or generally get him to shut up, they would give him a bottle of coke. So he gradually came to associate Coke with his parents attention, and then finally, just the good feelings that that brought. Even up to that day, he still drank at least one bottle per lecture, and y’know, sometimes I saw him a couple times a day.
But it wasn’t even his stories, or his teaching methods that make me remember him. It was his attitude. His general outlook on life. I still occasionally find myself asking What Would Aaron Do? though perhaps less often than its religious associate is meant to be considered. He opened up ways of thinking to me that I had just never thought of. Essentially, over those two trimesters, he made me the person that you know and love today. He made me realise so many things, and just taught me that to be who you are, or who you want to be is just a question of attitude, and getting over whatever hang ups you have, and that life is so short, and sometimes so meaningless, that to be anyone other than exactly who you want to be is the greatest sin. I see so many people in my day to day life that I just can’t help but wish a force like Aaron on. I used to be so shy. SO SHY. Painfully shy. Some of you can probably still see that, and it’s not gone away completely. But y’know, I used to not be able to buy things from a counter, I would have to get other people to do it, ’cause I didn’t want the social interaction. Now, I can strike up conversations with strangers! And what’s more, people see that easy going-ness coming out. The number of people who will just talk to me in the street, out of nowhere, is sometimes staggering. I even had the guts to come to the other side of the country, on my own, and met the man I’ll grow old with.
His were mostly media and culture classes, so a few videos and things are to be expected. But he’d present you with things that you don’t necessarily want to see. He pushed you beyond the boundaries of what you thought you knew. He showed you wartime violence. Honest to God dead people. He made us listen to the tape of 9/11 victims jumping from double or triple digit storeys and splatting to the ground wetly. It honestly terrified me. One memorable lecture he brought in some bizarre tentacle hentai, just to present you with a different idea of sex, one that perhaps you hadn’t considered. He’d warn you, of course. He’d give you the chance to escape. But I never did, because I trusted that what he wanted to show us was worth watching, for one reason or another. Except the three-thousand times he busted out Happy Tree Friends and South Park. But even then, he enjoyed them so much because they were such subversions.
He gave us breaks in exams. He actually announced that he was turning a blind eye to anyone that wanted to take notes out in these breaks. He put a Nightwish filmclip in the final exam. And when we talked about it? The next lesson, he had burned copies of Nightwish CDs and DVDs that I didn’t have.
I know this probably doesn’t mean a much to a lot of you. But I bring him up because I often think of him, sometimes when I can’t sleep, and I wonder where he is and what he’s doing, and what I would say to him if I had the chance. “Dear Aaron, you pretty much changed my life for the better, and I can’t thank you enough for the person I am today”? Doesn’t even come close. But the point is moot. I can’t see myself ever getting that chance. The last day before graduation, he told us he was getting fired from SIBT, and was using it as a means of just getting out for a while. He hated SIBT, and constantly berated them, both to their, uh, “face” and to us. But despite this dislike, and the fact that he had a real lecturing job over at Macquarie, he stayed at SIBT for as long as he could, so he could help out people like me, who just sucked at learning the traditional way.
The last I heard, he was taking his yacht out to the Heads with food supplies and, I imagine, a hefty supply of coke, and flipping a coin to see whether he would sail South or North. I don’t know how long that voyage was meant to be. I have no means of knowing whether he got, I dunno, boarded by pirates or swept away in a heavy storm, or hell, sailed right around Australia and is living a few doors down from me.
But wherever he is, I hope he’s still out there, inspiring people like me. I hate to think of the people that he could influence into being something more, that would miss out on that kind of opportunity if he stopped teaching. I wish I could tell you how much, retrospectively, he means to me. I can honestly say that I don’t think I would be where I am, without him. And I like where I am. And I disliked where I was. So this is an infinitely good thing.
… Sorry for wanking on a bit. I haven’t had a lot of sleep.