Wisdom and enlightenment require a sense of humour; if you don’t believe me, think of how dour and miserable activists often seem! Happily, rural life as an AU student is often devoid of such sandwich board simplifications of us versus them and good versus evil. The further from a college campus the less strident and asinine are the political rigidities; after all, brick and mortar means walls and borders!
For those of us old enough to remember, George W. Bush kind of laid down the law with silly string with his preposterous axis of evil speeches where he claimed that: “you’re either with us or you’re against us” (Bush, online).
Labile approaches to life help ease the transformation of our new learning into our social spheres. I’m reminded of a classic redneck phrase in my town that goes:
Q: “You Know Martin?”
A: “Martin the fuck up!”
It’s a means to tell off someone who’s veering into asshat terrain, discursively speaking, while also inciting a chortle or two on the part of the audience. We at AU aren’t going to use our education socially if we start to spout statements that our interlocutors can’t possibly relate to; it helps to have some humor or some familiar references. Because we’re all in this life-learning story together, and we’re not superior because we’re chasing a diploma along with a few bass or bucks. Perhaps a return to simpler fare is in order.
From Beyond Hallowed Walls, Ineffable Mysteries Remain
Haters are going to hate, however, and especially when university by mail (like a spouse or a robot dog?) is involved. It’s been that way since at least the time of Anne of Green Gables, I’d wager. The philosopher-cum-Trappist monk Thomas Merton adds a rejoinder to those who believe that their common-sense amounts to the same thing as a good education (or vice versa), “There, there is the crooked tree, the moss with my secrets, those pines upon that cliff of shake, the valley living with the tunes of diesel trains. Nobody knows the exact place I speak of, and why should I tell them?” (Merton, 117).
Secret gardens of the mind, nature reserves where we pine away solitary hours, shared alcoves of discursive mystery and joy, these all dovetail nicely with distance education that occurs far away from bustling paved metropolises. We do want to be able to translate our learnings, however. There’s little more joyful than being able to spread the mystery of our delights in a way that at least yields an “aha” moment or two. But academia is about far more than reaching out to our humble fellow plebeians who have yet to enter university halls.
Better be it that we focus on creating something new for ourselves, a sort of scholastic sidepiece to the rigours of our coursework toils. You never know, a little extra grist for the mill may come in handy one day. Plus, some extraneous writing and research provides a ready-made Warholian answer to that stump query: what are we going to do with our degree? If you’re reading or skimming this I’d suggest to try writing for The Voice Magazine yourself; it’s very exciting, and it can be a great sideline to your ordinary study regime! There’s nothing boring about imagining an audience of fellow students and then trying to address them the best way we know how. You might learn a lot about yourself, I know I have.
First: Stick a Pencil Behind Your Ear and Imagine Yourself as a Journalist
Learning how to express our self, our real self, with greater clarity and precision can come along with extra-curricular writing. The juiciest moments arise when we’re least expecting them. And writing, like learning, allows us to thrive in new expressive ways. Remember: we don’t have to say it like Hallmark, or even like our favourite social theorists. To write an idea down in our way is already more than many others attempt, in or outside of that invisible classroom of life.
Personalizing our learning really means being aware of life itself; we’re all in the classroom of life every day just by being alive. Merton points out that the more we remember the beautiful moments the more balanced our existence will be. He recalls bounding from hill to hill singing an old-fashioned song: “At once I remember all the afternoons I had been out in the woods, the dark afternoons in the gullies along the creeks and the rainy afternoons on top of the knobs and the day I sang the Pater Noster on one knob and then on another; the day I found the daffodils in an unexpected place, and the other day when I picked them in a place where I knew they would be…I knew (as I always guessed) that I had every time come home with something tremendous, although my hands were always empty” (Merton, 135).
In this way, AU studies add ineffable aspects to our being. We don’t just get out what we put in in some dull calculus of the mind; what we glean is often intangible by the standards of ordinary life and even our previous selves. As new tides of ideas arrive in our minds there’s no telling what will turn up on shore; to quantify the growth of our intellect would be like measuring the beauty of a beach by weighing the sand. Learning how to learn is surely the most transferable skill of all, and dovetails with learning how to inquisitively enjoy life itself.