The English Learners' Blog

A blog for English learners and their teachers everywhere, initiated in 2010 with the contribution of students from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. More about me on the On-line Profile below. Welcome!

Week of Mourning: Day 1

For the next 7 days I chose to publish some of my Polish students’ essays that were the result of a written assignment on the topic of problem solving in the case of systemic breakdowns, in an attempt to spread their light of wisdom and compassion in the current context of commiseration.

You can read more about this assignment at this link.

The Author’s Foreword

Before reading this essay I feel I should explain a couple of things that occurred during the process of writing it. First of all, I usually write as if I was involved in a conversation during which I answer questions and ask new ones while simultaneously writing down the whole process. I tend to use backslashes quite often, which should be treated as good old plain brackets. I guess that’s enough of blabbering, so, as it was sung in that lovely old musical, we’re off to see the wizard…

Aleksander Piszcz

The gray-tape theory


Any one who has had something to do with repairing things like pipes, cars and so on, is aware of the hammer and the gray-tape /also known as the duct-tape/ theory, which states that whenever a particular object has suffered a malfunction or was damaged in any way, repairing it is possible as long as you have enough hammers and gray-tape in stock. /Usually this is just a temporary measure, to prevent an item from getting more damaged, but, still, it is quite often used./ Certainly, this method or theory is mostly used for material things like pipes, sofas, shoes and so on. However, I would like to apply this theory to a field such as sociology, and to other everyday “things” that aren’t really things in the “itemish” way of looking at the world.  /”Itemish” is a new word that I really needed and, therefore, created/. Nevertheless, I’m quite sure that it is even possible to apply this theory to human behaviour and relationships.

The whole thought process on this topic began after watching a film at an English lesson /which the reader is probably aware of already/, but still I felt that it was a thing of honour to write it on a piece of virtual paper. Now, leaving all digressions behind, and going back to the main subject, this film, which in some way inspired me, was directed by Radu Jude. It is entitled “Alexandra.” The plot could be considered an excellent starting point for a discussion about damaged “things.”

As you probably know, my dear reader, objects such as bikes, lifts, refrigerators etc., can be repaired if one has developed certain skills allowing that process. However, if your bike is beyond your repairing abilities, thou should not despair, because if you take an ordinary telephone book /such a handy thing which unfortunately is pushed back by the Internet nowadays/, you can find a whole plethora of numbers directing you to various repair experts.

Unfortunately, a great percent of these repair shops are part of the great conspiracy of the major companies whose evil plan is to make humble and ordinary people either buy new products or give authorisation to change certain parts on items that they already own. In each and every device that surrounds us there is a hidden little “time bomb” that ticks and tacks as we speak, in order to attack in the moment you need that device the most. I guess I demonised the problem a little bit, because if you were in those companies and their associates’ boots, you would see that strategies like these are the only way o increase the longevity of those companies. The perfect product with no possibility of malfunctioning could mean that after producing a certain amount of items, the manufacturer could be shut down. That, of course, means reducing employment in the factories and so on. Nevertheless, I’m still not quite sure that I should pay to keep this great merchant machine working, but I can’t think of anything that could be done in this matter.

I’m not the gadget-type of person. I live by the motto that “the old times were good times,” meaning I don’t buy all the new fancy, “must-have” items. Well, to be frank, I hate buying things, especially new ones. I have found it quite interesting that older things could be divided into two general categories: first, the things that will last, /and by that I mean a really long time; for example, a hundred-year-old pocket watch I got from my grandfather, which still works perfectly fine, and which, if I should trust my granddad’s memory, it was so from the day it was bought/, and second, the things you know will most certainly not last. With this in mind, you should easily cope with anything. Going back to the repairing stuff , I learned from my father /and this is now my curse, actually/ that calling the repairman should always be considered the last thing that could help you.

As I stated in the beginning, there is another category of “things” that can be fixed which includes human interactions. Here you will find “things” that are the easiest to destroy by the smallest mistakes and those that are sometimes beyond any hope of repair. I can bet that anyone who would be asked about their relationships, friendships etc. could think of a moment when the smallest detail has ended an eight-month-long relationship, for example. Probably the saddest of such cases are those connected to family matters,  where, for example, a son does not talk to his father for thirty years, and when asked about the reason for this situation he cannot remember either how or why it all started. Such events are most often irreparable due to the human stubbornness factor. When a quarrel takes place, the usual aftermath of it is “I won’t talk to him/ her unless he/ she apologises first,” and since both sides of the conflict have the same attitude, there is no way this situation can end in a good way. Another thing is that after those more severe arguments, even if the truce is finally signed, there are always some scars left which are a real obstacle on the road to making things work as they did before the war. Apart from the long-term relationships, there are other, less important, everyday interactions or relationships such as meeting people on the bus, in a queue inside a shop, in the streets, etc, that can be damaged or mended in a matter of seconds. Have you ever considered that simple things such as a smile could make a day for someone? It costs nothing when someone smiles to you, but I guess you always feel a little bit happier, and since every little bit of happiness helps, this could have enormous effects.

To summarize, it is a well-known fact that breaking a thing is much easier than repairing it, but, still, even after succeeding in repairing it, despite the tremendous amount of effort you have put into the process, I really believe that you would feel happy. After all, there are things in life that cannot be replaced with new ones.

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Filed under: ■ Poland, ■ Week of Mourning 2010, ■ Writing Samples

11 Responses

  1. Aga P. says:

    Great essay, I really liked it. And I also think that “there are things in life that cannot be replaced with new ones”.
    I would like to add one more thing about “fixing”: of course it is easier to end a relationship when it is on the breaking point because of some problems, and start a new relationship instead of trying to fix the old one. But to create a real, deep relationship sometimes you need to fix it, to give it your time and quite a lot of effort.
    Old things are very often better and more valuable than the new ones, because you have created a unique connection to them.
    From this point of view the “consumerism” approach of contemporary societies is not as good as people call it nowadays.

  2. Tomek B says:

    “In each and every device that surrounds us there is a hidden little “time bomb” that ticks and tacks as we speak.”
    Quite funny, but we must remember that things are now a few times cheaper than they were before.
    The clock the author of the essay mentioned must have been really expensive when his grandfather bought it. It is because of this gradual decrease in price that the quality of some products has been affected in a negative way nowadays.

    • Alina Alens says:

      Another name for this “little time bomb” that ticks and tacks in all the things we buy is also known as “planned obsolescence.”
      We discussed about it at the class that included the reference to The Story of Stuff. I think your observations belong to the category we may call “Stories of Stuff”.

      When he mentions the clock, the author of the essay means, in my opinion, something that goes beyond quantity and quality, beyond today’s or yesterday’s economy. I believe he means something in the realm of the invaluable and un-datable.

      Let’s see what the author has to say about our ideas 🙂

      • Mr A says:

        Well, yes, the clock or rather the pocket watch is a metaphor for the things that are invaluable and un-datable.
        But on the other hand this is actually a real watch 🙂

  3. Tomek B says:

    I agree with that about clock, but in my opinion paragraph about “planned obsolescence” is quite separate. For me, it is difficult to connect it with the idea of the text.

  4. Agnieszka Kow. says:

    I agree that we should sometimes try to fix the relations between people and be less stubborn, but there are some relationships that can’t be fixed. I’m the type of person that cares too much, tries to solve problems, gives more than the partner and that’s why I often feel used by others, or hurt.
    On the other hand I learn a lot from such relationships – it’s like with a bone, if it broke once, it won’t break again in the same place. 😉

  5. Łukasz G. says:

    Your essay made me realise how many things I damaged and did not repair… now that they are irreplaceable.
    Thank you. Cheers mate!

  6. Justyna French Accent says:

    Very good essay Aleksander! You should think about writing to be published and read, you are gifted!

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