Intoned as a mocking phrase, maybe when an adult has quietly confiscated a teenager’s car keys only to dangle them perspicaciously at a crucial moment, or when a friend appraises the sudden donning of hat and jacket by an erstwhile interlocutor after an especially barbed rejoinder, the notion of going somewhere carries a sense of physical travel. The evacuation of place A necessarily followed by a summary arrival at place B implies a spatial shift. Yet physical motion occurs even as our brains remain firmly ensconced in our craniums. In a way, no one ever goes anywhere. But while our brains don’t go out of their liquid nest in a bone egg, they certainly grow metaphysically. Our minds are the ultimate perpetual motion machines.
Past and Future: A Rambling Flow
Education is no exception to the paradox that motion happens mentally while our brains remain in place. At AU, our spatial stability is especially real: we literally attend school while never leaving our homes. We might travel vast distances in our mind without ever leaving our study nook.
To know where we’re going it helps to check up on where we’ve been. To that end, I recently pored over my transcript of grades from past classes, AU and otherwise, and was momentarily overtaken by a wave of poignant emotion. Where had I gone over these countless hours poring over textbooks and hunched over a keyboard; was it all worth it, and had I really achieved anything and really gotten somewhere? Considering this big picture perspective gave me a sense of having temporarily attained a great height over a vast jungle like the Amazon where, far below, I could hear a distant, lush, rushing sound of water tilting its world over the edge of an endless precipice. Sort of an Angel Falls, Venezuela, of the mind.
Yet even as I surveyed my past, I knew that all these courses were still with me in my mind though they were distant in time from my present self. At AU, the experience of our education transcends our literal location; we are not impelled by an intellectual gravity or scholastic gravitas so much as by a whippoorwill-like flitting about as life’s tendrils intertwine within our academic minds. There are no throngs of students surrounding us on a campus; the twists and turns are all in our mind. The famous poem by Dr. Seuss titled ‘Oh The Places You’ll Go’ is apt, in that our travels are of an inner and personal, rather than superficial and cultural, nature:
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose (Seuss, online).
We are the Meander, a Becoming-Flow of Academic Excellence
Stylistically we’re in good company as we lurch and traverse intellectual terrain while we trickle our way through the days of our study lives. The art design known as the meander, also called Greek Key, is one of the oldest and most universal archetypes in architectural and sartorial decoration. A meander is a series of right angles that border or transect a wall or article of clothing. Anywhere a right angle abides, a meander is a possibility. It’s like waking up next to our textbook; morning studying is made more likely by mere proximity. Historically speaking, the meander is “made up of a long, continuous line that repeatedly folds back on itself, mimicking the ancient Maeander River of Asia Minor with its many twists and turns. Homer mentions the river in The Iliad, and it is believed that the meander motif symbolizes infinity or the eternal flow of things” (Mayhew, online).
Symbolically zigzagging through time and space, meanders accompany many a culture and belief system. Like learning, a meander implies motion and fluidity. After all, if we already knew everything, we’d be a boring straight line of certainty! Anne Baring and Jules Cashford in The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image suggest that the meander is part of a larger “constellation of images” that unite to “symbolize the intricate pathway that connects the visible world to the invisible” (Baring & Cashford, 25). Whatever else the trials and triumphs of AU student life entail, much of our battle is invisible to others. It’s meaning is at once buried and contained by the term: adult student. To be open to the to and fro of new info is what learning how to learn is all about.
A River University and We Are The River Too
Our studies are like a meander’s eternal flow, like a great river that rises and falls as we drift ever onward to our destiny. It’s fitting, then, that the Athabasca River is such a powerful force in the landscape of our university’s namesake town. The brain, that one key organ without which no learning is possible, also embodies a meandering physiology.
Our minds are folded up like a jack-in-the-box or an accordion, waiting to stretch out when something turns our crank. Indeed, all creatures in nature may be seen as a “series of rhythmically ordered folds”; from the “invagination of the Juglans nigra fruit, to the phases of the invagination of the gastrula, or those of the intestines or the human embryo” can be seen as a “running flow” (Kelemen, online). But what do the earliest cell divisions of an embryo and the flesh of a black walnut (Juglans nigra) have in common, other than that they both look a bit like brains? And where does it all end? Like our studies, motifs found over and over provide a backdrop to our personal evolution. All of life is a flow and that may be the common denominator of existence. One might think of the children’s ditty “where do you come from, where do you go, where do you come from Cotton-Eyed Joe?” (Boboltz, online). Anything beats the song that never ends, that only squares the circle of pointlessness; interminable meandering queries at least suggest forward progress.
Education Pacing Our Discovery of Place
In the end, just as we are masters of our academic destiny, maybe our AU studies allow us to tap into something universal about being alive. The vastness of the universe comes home to roost, as it were, in the tiny grain of sand that is our unique academic journey. We might amble and meander but we’re always progressing. Even mistakes are chances to learn. Education, the discovery of new mental places where we may feel more at home and at ease in our skin, allows us to really feel the flow of life wherever it goes. And if our transcript looks a bit disjointed that’s reality! In my case, my original second undergrad major was History, and I can mark clearly where I meandered off from that direction only to perhaps return at some future juncture. Unlike the rushed pace of going straight to university after high school and then onto the humdrum rat race of adulting, only to arrive burnt out and lost before one’s twenties have reached their apex, AU allows us to pause and taste the learning while we proceed with the rest of our lives. When we look back one day, old and grizzled perhaps, I suspect that we’ll all see the meander in our journey even if it didn’t feel that way at the time.