College professors are one weird breed, I’ll tell you. A guy will write a book, get acclaimed by his peers, who didn’t really read his book, but heard it was really good — which means he must be really good also. Because of this book he wrote, he’ll get a job at some college, where he’ll teach some class, just like any other, except the content of his class will be his book — what an honour, really. Then his students, who also won’t read his book, will all copy some essential parts of his book to the exam sheet, to answer questions he made about it. He’ll read his own book to himself over and over again in these exam papers, and grade how well his book was copied. That’s his life. Funny thing is, some years ago he was the one copying his teachers books to the exam papers. Now he is copying his old teachers, not their books. And that’s his life.
Since he was a student, copying his teacher’s books, he realized that that was what he was good at — copying. In fact, he thought, that’s what everyone seemed to try to do and be good at. You copy your parents, you copy your friends, you copy the films you watch, you copy how people had acted or how you seen them act in some situation, because without someone to copy you wouldn’t really know what to do. He was really good at copying though, Robert. The college professor, that is. Let’s just say his name was Robert.
So Robert was good at copying, we have that clear. At least he thought he was, and that’s what he attributed all of his success to— and trust me, he had lots of it. Success, I mean. The one actually important thing he learned though, was not copied. As a youngster, while rewriting his teacher’s books during an exam, he had one of those moments of mental clarity that you could only achieve when you are doing something without really doing it — when it’s not really you doing it. He was entertaining himself with the fact that he was rewriting his teacher’s book for him to read when it occurred to him — or, even better, it struck him, that it was not his teacher’s book he was copying. He was copying “some essential parts of his book” (here I take the liberty to quote myself), as I said in the first paragraph. So he copied this reasoning, and applied it to everything else, since he was not only really good at copying, but also at applying — and I’d say that’s what actually made him so good. There is no copy without paste. No paste without copy. He didn’t copy his parents, but only some essential parts of them. He didn’t copy the books, films, friends — just the essential parts. He realized people go through life in narratives, models of the essential parts of everything they had ever seen of other people that show them how to act. And that’s their life.
So he finishes copying his exam and leaves — only after pretending to be kind and polite to his teacher, whose essential parts he will one day copy as well. Robert was rattled, confused. He didn’t know what to do next. He felt like running, as if something was waiting for him and he had no time to lose. So he decided to wait instead: he just sat at a bench in the small park he had next to his College, watching everyone that passed. And there he waited. He waited for so long he even forgot what he was waiting for — or he thought he did.
“This isn’t an essential part of my life”, he thought, and got up and out of there. Now aware of his role in life, in his life, he couldn’t help but feel dazed and confused by the thoughts of what was or not essential to his life. Which moments would be just words in a book and which ones would be copied to exam sheets? He didn’t know. That’s the thing, he just didn’t know. He was, from that point on, in a constant hurry to get to the important parts, but they only seemed important after the fact, if at all. Some years pass, now Robert is a professor, his book being copied by his students and read by him — just the essential parts. Robert, tired of running and waiting at the same time for some moment to make his life matter, watches his students copy while giving the exam. This is it. This is the essential part.