Like learning our course material and then applying it to our lives, to understand something is to become part of the process of its existence. The answers may be in the back of a math textbook, but, in the broader plains of AU life, the answers are to some extent within us as we learn and grow. Each new truth blooms as part of our experience and adds to our splendour; we’re almost like plants in that way, but certainly not vegetables in the pejorative sense. We embody spring by being right there in spring, or in the idea of it if we still await its appearance in the month of March. And spring, like distance education, is nothing if not a process of growing.
As a tree falling alone in the forest, the crashing sound makes the experience wholly real as something we are a part of. Likewise, be they digital or paper, cracking the books symbolizes the fissure of our old self and the birth a new, updated, version. Our AU textbooks are like trees awaiting warmth—with buds about to open; the intrigue of our interaction with course content is like walking through an awakening grove where new growth emerges each day. Likewise, being open to details both obtuse and inscrutable makes us better scholars. We have to check our preconceptions and core beliefs at the door, especially when taking courses we think we already know a lot about. Here again the inchoate potential for the unknown abounds in spring. By contrast, winter can often seem like more of the same.
Spring: A Panoply of Potential
Like the multifarious nooks and crannies of an academic subject, our schooling inhabits not one but many stories just as the outdoors blooms in new ways as ecosystems change over time. Spring opens new possibilities for us to interpret course material in the bright light of day; we are always on the cutting edge as we take the most up to date version of a given course. Being aware of the seasons gives a backdrop to our studies too. I’ve always noticed that courses with a January start date culminate with a great sense of success that parallels the shift of the changing seasons. However, with spring comes more distractions as the outdoors beckons and here we must apply a greater flexibility. No one wants to be a party-pooper on a sunny day if they can avoid it! Flexibility is a great skill to have and applies to how we interpret the learning process itself.
Desire for Knowledge as the Essence of Spring
We may desire knowledge, but we also might question this desire at its root. To desire the finality of a last and final explanation is to wish it removed from the unfolding, seasonal reality of existence. Derrida concludes that “we must recognize in truth ‘the normal prototype of the fetish’ (Derrida, 105). Truth is a stand-in for the desire to learn; as adult learners we know that we’re never done learning and growing. Likewise, not one topic, not even the maths (to plant a faux-Brit seed), has failed to undergo radical change over time. Like the lovely concept of two becoming one in a marital union, the peaceful transgression by which truth ties loose ends together remains a dream of longing rather than a reality of being. Remembering that can also curtail our perfectionist study tendencies.
Truth, like spring, is always there as a possibility in the future. But there’s never a moment where spring is literally just around the corner; Spring is a state of mind and so is the insatiable desire to learn. Knowing we cannot know all makes the process more enjoyable; it’s like making the transition from a neurotic gardener who weeds obsessively to one who tolerates a few plants out of place here and there.
Once we realize that, despite recurrent snowfalls or stubbornly depressed temperatures, spring is imminent in the month of March, we also may grasp the reality that truth is that which is thought into reality. “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” wrote W.I. Thomas (Thomas, online). With the onset of new coursework, new vistas may seem to rise out of nowhere as we encounter new course material. Similarly, spring becomes real as we imagine its inevitable appearance. Anticipation is half the fun; in the case of spring just the idea of it is enough to make us apply ourselves greater to our present studies. The potential contained in spring is what makes all the difference. Whether it’s believing in our ability to write that stellar essay or our skills to memorize those complex brain organs, the impending onset of the season of love can bring out the best in our academic minds.
The Mad Brilliance of Passion: AU Studies as Joyous Delirium
Being passionate about our studies may seem odd to others in our life. Our studiousness might even appear as weird as the mating displays of some birds. Michel Foucault, expert on the mental world, noted: “Sauvages sketched out the fundamental role played by passion, transforming it into a more obstinate, invariant cause of madness, the form that somehow seemed most deserved: ‘The wandering of our spirit is the result of giving in blindly to our desires, and of not knowing how to refrain from giving free reign to our passions or moderate them’” (Foucault 225). What seems to us like pleasurable studies can to others appear a bit obsessive; who chooses to study on a sunny spring day!? However, we do have to find good school-work-life balance.
Such are the pitfalls of AU distance education. We inhabit a unique, but splendid, isolation. We aren’t at AU to be understood by others so much as to learn and grow ourselves. We are the garden we make of our life and AU provides the fertilizer. With regard to being misunderstood about our passionate desire for our coursework, Foucault concludes that “what is really targeted through that denunciation is the radical line between the phenomena of madness and the very possibility of passion” (Foucault, 225). We might seem a bit crazy to be writing essays all the time but to each their own. As AU students we’re fortunate to find something we enjoy learning about; if everyone understood our studies the same as us maybe they’d cast aside their own hobbies and projects and sign up for distance education. In any case, where creativity lives so does a certain madness; the colourful desire to create is as boundless as Spring blooms.
Growing New Tendrils of Our AU Story
Spring, inchoate with unlimited potential especially in these weeks where it hasn’t fully appeared, is a reminder of fresh starts. We can rewrite our academic narrative just as the natural world is re-growing itself. The psychoanalytic figure Jacques Lacan, famous for noting that a certain lack underpins our consciousness, thus urging us to discover means of expressing our creative power, described how we function well when we identify our own personal story as a story as of discovering personal truths. Lacan wrote of the psychoanalytic process of self-expression known as anamnesis: “Let us be categorical, in psychoanalytic anamnesis it is not a question of reality, but of truth, because the effect of full speech is to reorder past contingencies by giving them the meaning of necessities to come, such as they are constituted by the small amount of liberty in which the subject makes them present” (Lacan in Derrida, 108, Ecrits, 1966, p. 256). Spring abounds with potential for us to reinvent our academic journey; it’s our story to write, after all.
Peter Singer, a noted animal rights philosopher, stated likewise in this vein that “to desire something is to wish to possess it and thus not to destroy it—but also transform it into something that is yours, and thus strip it of its foreignness” (Singer in Christensen, online). Learning embodies this desire for unity with the object of our knowledge. We spring forth in our development as we take in new knowledge and we rewrite our story in a way that makes our course material personal.
Spring, then, is an idea containing the seed of our growth. As Athabasca students, we lead ourselves down a delightful path of passionate explanation along with fellow students in grouped study courses and helpful tutors in each AU offering. If we are fortunate, we find others of our ilk along the way with whom to share the blossoming of our mental realms then all the better. We might even meet new aspects of our self in others! With spring, the history of our studies begins anew; I clean off my desk and symbolic start a new version of academic self. Spring is an opportunity for growth so let’s dive right in with open eyes.