As temperature depends on our local micro-climate, so too do the feelings of our personal life remain irreducible to a series of facts. Nowhere is this clearer than our lives as AU students, which, for the most part, appears to others in the abstract. We might be feeling the heat of a deadline, or the chill of a disappointing grade, but to outward appearances we’re the same friend or family member that we were all along.
Social theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak suggests that we tend to misplace our location within lived reality by forgetting that it’s our personal dilemmas and experiences that forge our sense of presence in the world. She wrote that “before one can even say there is being, there must be a decision that being can be proper to itself to the extent of being part of that proposition” (Spivak, 141). Thus, being cold or warm is a matter of perspective and comes down to our own point of view. After a vigorous trek through deep snow we’ll all be warm and maybe right through to our metaphysical bones!
Yet, there’s more to saying how we feel than drawing a line between ourselves and our feelings; invariably, to take a perspective is to splinter, like an icicle, ourselves into a self doing the feeling and a self commenting upon it. And our being is not the same as being in itself, if such a thing as equality among consciousness exists and we share a collective sense of our world.
To share a human world and understand one another feels natural because we seem to have more in common, both language and emotions, than in difference. Or so the story goes. Likewise, to the extent that we see ourselves as active and powerful in the face of whatever elements we encounter, be they social or meteorological, invokes seeing beyond simple categories of what is and choosing to prescribe for ourselves what ought to be. At AU we know that the tough toil of scholastic success is no mere metaphor, no TED talks lecture to pacify some childlike curiosity.
Temperature, then, would seem to be something we experience with our whole being and with the reflexive nature of our consciousness. To separate our being cold from the social circumstances and conscious/unconscious tangle of choices that got us there suggests that we are never a holistic self so much as a pastiche of versions and interpretations. In fact, if therapists (whose job, as such, is to therapize) could teach only one thing to their clients it would be just how labile our state of being truly is. Kids learn this in a jiffy: “if you’re cold, put your darn socks back on!”
The Tightly Wound Illusion of a Self
Winter is what it is, and that tautology illustrates both our agency and our potential. In distance education we’re not constrained by anyone more than ourselves if we choose to look at our study opportunities that way. At AU we have little to fear, procrastination-wise, but that we will forget to take charge of ourself and our studies. And if we get snowed under there’s no stormy skies to blame; it’s on us.
Drifting intuitively down daydreamy study streams, untrammeled by ice, is to this Fly on the Wall, a portage to disaster. The cold of winter can teach us something: the best excuses, such as not studying because it’s a sunny day outside, founder when we realize that motivation is about placing our future selves, all of them and all of their goals, squarely into our present being. And from there, it’s merely a matter of realizing that we’ll be happier later and now if we do what has to be done first. Our studies, forsooth!
Whether we’re whining about being cold or the cold is affecting our being at an unconscious level, the key to remember is that we make of temperature what we make of all our life: a mission, a misery, or a triumph depending upon our perspective. Objective measurements provide a baseline for creative action in the world; as Jacques Derrida put it, “objectivity takes the form of representation, of the idea as the modification of a self-present substance, conscious and certain of itself at the moment of its relationship to itself” (Derrida, 106).
We make of the temperature what we will as soon as we refuse to allow the temperature to have its way with us. So too with academic adversity, tendencies for procrastination are an opportunity to feel a greater sense of success in each moment that we overcome them. After all, accomplishment is about realizing that when our studies leave us cold that’s when the fire of our ambition has to get going. So next time winter temperatures get us down, let’s remember that we’re among the lucky few who have something intellectually productive to do on an intemperate winters’ afternoon!