Christmas in July might have been the brainchild of a mind trapped in the December holiday rush. Some rugged calendar pioneer sensed the invisible energy of fellow shoppers, buzzing thick like mountain electrical lines receiving snowflake shocks during a winter blizzard, and thought, why me, why now! Or maybe they gazed upon row upon row of traffic-jammed autos on an icy freeway and longed to just melt and drain the frozen swamp and get down to that elusive Holiday Spirit itself. Seasons greetings, rat race!
This vanguard thinker must have said wouldn’t it be nice to just displace and postpone Christmas to a later date? Summer would have seemed a prime temporal location, sufficiently distant and knowingly open to the possibility of abstention in the face of woos from the likes of fishing, camping and hiking. As it turns out, Christmas in July was just another marketing scheme, but it may nevertheless tantalize we hard-nosed AU pupils who find our meticulous schedules and meritorious routines interrupted and trampled by seasonal expectations (Westover, online). Happily, December upheaval also may draw us closer, as it were, to our chosen discipline of study. After all, those we love most are at the core of the seasonal affect of this month of bonding: our course material need not be an exception.
As distance students treading a fine snail trail between multiple life realities and doing so, in great part, as masters of our own timetable, it’d be great to displace a drastic shift from the routine onto the universal future and just keep plugging away on life. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? But we can’t. And maybe, just maybe, like the Grinch who saw the light, we too can experience the joy of the season while still getting our schoolwork done.
The prospect of keeping our study regimes intact and continuing our noble toil through the holiday season may seem well-nigh impossible. Unlike students at brick and mortar universities, rosy faced and joyous with post-exam delirium as they ride a snowboard halfpipe through a two-week winter break, our six-month contract dates loom apace. But wait! The spirit of the season can help rather than hinder our studies: just as December can mean anything from winter solstice to Hanukkah candles to a solemn appreciation of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (pasta Christmas dishes are woefully under-represented this month but try snail shell pasta with taco-seasoned ground beef!), it’s possible to pause, take stock, and gain a greater sense of where we’re at in our AU journey. It all starts with appreciating how our sense of place has been affected academically by our studies. Do we now feel more at home with ourselves and in our world?
If we truly enjoy our major, we’re apt to find out this time of year; studying will beckon us amidst the chaos of the season because we enjoy our work. Likewise, December’s apt to provide the answer to how married—committed, as it were—we are to our major. This is because our circular ripples of procrastination here expand to include gift shopping, house decorating, cookie baking, and event planning. If we’ve picked prudently, studying starts to seem a pleasant pause and peaceful repose on a wintry afternoon. Like chestnuts roasting on an open fire or Brazil nuts cracked with a pair of shed pliers, coursework can lift our spirits and embody a rock of stability amidst the frenetic December pace.
Memorizing brain structures out of our PSYCH 290 textbook, for instance, may suddenly seem a welcome reprieve. On the other hand, December can honestly make coursework seem like a nuisance better chucked to the side until the New Year where it can be re-addressed along with other resolutions. Hey, a union without some tumult would be closer to a traditional south-Asian marriage to a tree than a real engagement, and the initial excitement that shoved us off on this academic adventure is bound to lose some sheen in the face of a time of jolliness and merrymaking (Sharma, online). Heck, we don’t want to make things miserable for ourselves, right?
Yet, if we enjoy our coursework, as most students I’ve spoken with in grouped MAIS studies do, ambivalence is bound to grow into a return of our academic glow even as the season of distractions arrives. If we’ve picked our major from our hearts as well as our pocketbooks, then our passion will be there for us when we need a break from the festivities. Instead of just one more item on a list of chores, it might pop to the top like a walnut escaping a nutcracker in an undersea showing of The Nutcracker’s Suite meets SpongeBob Squarepants. We may not all pick our family or jobs but at some level our AU major is something that beckoned us to future prosperity, both economic and personal. And during the Holiday season it may find a treasured place in our days busy though they be.
We’re in good company when we consider the personal nature of our relationship with our studies: it’s a love of learning itself that drives us onward and, perhaps, also what draws us close to loved ones in general. The spirit of the season may impart community and connection because we have a connection with one another at a higher plane than that of mundane survival and adaptation. Plato (423-348 B.C.E), in a riotous and seminal philosophical tract titled Symposium, compares the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge with the attainment of true love and completion. While a selfie between us and our diploma (captioned with a meme-friendly “you complete me”) might seem a bit much, give the ol’ broad (“Plato” means “broad”) fellow’s work a gander:Yet, if we enjoy our coursework, as most students I’ve spoken with in grouped MAIS studies do, ambivalence is bound to grow into a return of our academic glow even as the season of distractions arrives. If we’ve picked our major from our hearts as well as our pocketbooks, then our passion will be there for us when we need a break from the festivities. Instead of just one more item on a list of chores, it might pop to the top like a walnut escaping a nutcracker in an undersea showing of The Nutcracker’s Suite meets SpongeBob Squarepants. We may not all pick our family or jobs but at some level our AU major is something that beckoned us to future prosperity, both economic and personal. And during the Holiday season it may find a treasured place in our days busy though they be.
“When a person meets the half that is his very own…the two are struck from their sense by love, by a sense of belonging to one another. No one would think it was the intimacy of sex-that mere sex is the reason each lover takes so great and deep a joy in being with the other. It’s obvious that the soul of every lover longs for something else; his soul cannot say what it is, but like an oracle it has a sense of what it wants” (Plato, 28).
Beyond economic, in a crass sense prurient, interests remains our deep desire to learn about our world and ourselves and come to place our life’s essence in a better relation to both. Plato then has Socrates question why we desire learning or love; do we only seek what we already lack?
“So love needs beauty, then, and does not have it?”
“Necessary”, the character Agathon answers” to which Socrates implies tritely “It was a beautiful speech anyway, Agathon”. The suggestion here is that our longing to better ourselves through our love of learning means that we are missing something crucial in our lives; this may be true in one sense but also leaves out the accumulating excellence we attain as we proceed through our relationship with the academic process. Our cuppeth filleth uppeth, as it were.
Plato expounds his view that the act of learning, making oneself more verb than noun, is a form of enlightenment. We reach for the purity of all that is true and Good; wisdom itself is thus a form of love for knowledge of the kind that transcends immediate corporeal concerns. The spirit of the season, beyond physical gifts, parallels the meaning of academic learning in terms of its tangible impact on our identity. In this sense when we continue our studies through the Christmas season we actually, even when begging off certain familial and peer engagements to write assignments in our Monk’s cell study space, are participating in spirit by engaging in that which transcends the material realm and enters the mental terrain of love.
Be it Charles Dickens’ classic Scrooge or any number of modern plays upon the stock character of the Grinchy charlatan of consumerist snake-oil, those unaware of the authentic meaning of the season become caught up in the morass of activity without gleaning the glow of the purpose. There’s a meaning in all this. By making our coursework part of the Holidays, rather than a nuisance to be avoided, we give ourselves one of the best gifts of all: an authentic, enlightened mental experience.
If we abide with our studies and have evolved a positive relationship with them as a vital and nurturing part of our life, then December can provide opportunities for joyful labour rather than reticent annoyance. Responsibility can mean joyful fulfillment. Even if our studies can’t exactly constitute a form of merrymaking (although an Eggnog might go fine with essay revisions) we can at least know we’re fighting the good fight to better ourselves. We’ve done well to arrive here, after all.
Humility also comes with the season; it doesn’t take an upset apple cart of one’s meticulous study routine to realize how challenging our process is and lucky we are to undertake it. Plato summarized: “What’s especially difficult about being ignorant is that you are content with yourself, even though you’re neither beautiful and good, nor intelligent. If you don’t think you need anything, of course you won’t want what you think you don’t need.” (Plato, 49). Surely none of us re-entered schooling as adults because we were willing to rest on our laurels. Athabasca is about taking the long-view of enlightenment and developing the ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel while still appreciating the moment and those with whom we share it. Our chosen area of study is a constant partner through the rest of our year so there’s no abandoning it now.
The inevitable passing of the seasons, as with the temporal passing of our courses, is something we can take comfort in when the inevitable hullaballoo of the Holidays approaches crescendo. We aren’t the same students, parents, siblings, or friends as when we began our time at AU. Studying has become part of who we are, like caring for a pet or bringing in firewood or taking the trash out. We’re making compost of the spirit, as it were. Further to this, Plato has a lady character named Diotima chastise Socrates for misunderstanding love, “It’s no surprise that you were led into thinking of love as you did…I conclude that you thought love was being loved rather than being a lover” (Plato, 49).
Yet far from supine recipients of education, we are actual participants in our betterment; it’s an active process. AU is a largely private, individual endeavour that births new versions of ourselves as academic osmosis works its magic. We open our minds to change; our learning leads us to interact anew with our material and the world around us. Plato describes we learners as follows:
“He is always being renewed and in other respects passing away, in his hair and flesh and bones and blood and his entire body. And it’s not just in his body, but in his soul too, for none of his manners, customs, opinions, desires, pleasures, pains, or fears ever remains the same, but some are coming to be in him while others are passing away. And what is stranger that that is that not only does one branch of knowledge come to be in us while another passes away and that we are never the same even in respect of our knowledge, but that each single piece of knowledge has the same fate. For what we call studying exists because knowledge is leaving us, because forgetting is the departure of knowledge, while studying puts back a fresh memory in place of what went away, thereby preserving a piece of knowledge, so that it seems to be the same.” (Plato, 55)
When a family member asks us what we’re taking in school it’s the ultimate chance to summarize in sparkling festive detail our academic evolution and to ourselves recall just how far we’ve come over the past months and years. Our education is almost a member of the family if we choose to think of it that way. Celebrating the season should include celebrating all that we’ve learned in the past year. Particularly from a MAIS interdisciplinary point of view, all of life is gleeful grist for the mill, whether it’s applying trigonometry to a Christmas tree or interview skills to a sibling’s new boyfriend. December almost begs to be a pleasurable part of our studies rather than a stressful intrusion or distraction.
December allows us to assess ourselves as wisdom-gatherers. In a sense the holidays are an elective we never knew we had; we can open ourselves to the experience and maybe bring back some intellectual goodies to our core studies. We’re always learning now that we’ve acquired the acquisitive itch of inquiry. When the Holiday going gets tough and grows into stress, perhaps our studies can be just the thing to keep us sane.