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Friday, October 26, 2012

The Table-Barrier

Today I saw a tutor do the unthinkable.  When hope was in short supply and the writer's overwhelming shyness seemed reared back and ready to destroy all chances of his benefitting from the session, a tactic which I had not yet witnessed lunged forth in a shower of gallant splendor to save the day.  This tactic:  Breaching the table-barrier.

The second the session begins, every session, is when the writer sits down in that chair across from the tutor, am I mistaken?  There is occasionally some informal introduction occurring at times when eye contact is made before a seat has been taken, but the business at hand is never referred to before this crucial "sitting-down step."  Now, as the student is seated, he or she is immediately, often subliminally, made aware of the division between him or herself and the tutor due to multiple physical cues.  The first of these is the physical space created by the table that (seemingly) cannot be breached by either participant, not to mention the awkward situation of wondering whether or not you'll accidentally engage yourself in a game of Footsie, and the consequential possibility of the other person thinking you did it on purpose.  Another observation; the tutor is almost always seated before the writer, a subtle cue that this space is the tutors home, or their territory.  While it may seem obvious, it is important to point out that the writer is always the outsider.  They have to go out of their homes and come into ours for help because they are not confident in their abilities or they are overwhelmed, and this makes many feel vulnerable.  They may also feel isolated being a guest in a home that they do not really know the owner of.  However, they do tend to trust this mysterious owner to some extent- it is usually assumed that the tutor is an adequate writer, person, etc., or else why would they come and seek our help in the first place?

This sense of comfortable adequacy, territorial dominance surrounding the tutor... in nature it could almost be considered an expression of supremacy, and that can be enough to take any unprepared writer out of his or her comfort zone.  That's why what this tutor, whose name I learned out of respect (I'm terrible with names) but will leave anonymous regardless (also out of respect), was wiser than any I have observed thus far in that she elegantly and smoothly switched to the other side of the table to sit by the side of the reader.  Her excuse was "to read the paper better" but I think we all know she's smarter than that.  In sitting much closer to the writer, she's increasing their familiarity with one another by literally shrinking the physical space between them.  She took his personal bubble and suavely hopped right up inside it.  Think of the phrase "get on my level."  If you've ever had this expression said to you in context, you know what it means.  Now change "level" to "side of the table" whilst keeping the same connotation in my mind, and we're probably on the same page here.  I do not think this method is necessary in every session, rather used as a last resort, an ace in the hole, or as a second of time to spare if you need a moment to think.

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