“We are less when we don’t include everyone” – Stuart Milk
I meant to finish my tale of the Gurski Grad trip in this blog post but something happened in my city a week ago (the day before Ottawa’s official Pride festivities commenced) that fired me up. I feel the need to say something, even if writing on this blog sometimes feels like shouting into a void.
Let me begin, however, by stating that you – dear reader – have every right to disagree with what I am about to type but I will not tolerate any hateful comments on my blog. Please keep those kinds of thoughts to the dark recesses of your mind where they belong, they have no place here.
“For a work of this kind is never a monologue – it is an uninterrupted conversation with those of the past whose thoughts we study, and with those whose task it still is to build the future out of the heritage of the past. And this conversation goes on, after the work has been completed and has become, itself, part of the past.”
– Hans Kohn, The Idea of Nationalism (1943)
As per usual, it has been forever since my last post. I’d like to say it’s because I am a fascinatingly eccentric freelance writer with old money who only deigns to write something down when a strike of brilliance hits.
It’s quite the opposite. While I may be quite eccentric in my own way (is that redundant? I think eccentricity implies uniqueness…) I am also a barely-financially-independent grad student with a penchant to take on way too much and only the best of intentions to recommend myself to those few who spend their hard-earned time to read this blog and… well… humanity at large.
“I’m not trying to tell you,” he said, “that only educated and scholarly men are able to contribute something valuable to the world. It’s not so. But I do say that educated and scholarly men, if they’re brilliant and creative to begin with…tend to leave infinitely more valuable records behind them than me do who are merely brilliant and creative. They tend to express themselves more clearly, and they usually have a passion for following their thoughts through to the end. And – most important – nine times out of ten they have more humility than the unscholarly thinker.”
– J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
Woah, it has been months since I last posted. They weren’t kidding about grad school’s impressive ability to keep one busy – who are they you ask? Everyone. Seriously, it’s the first thing someone (un?)helpfully offers when you announce your intentions to go on to grad school: “you know you’re going to have no life right?” or the infinitely more clever, “so I’ll see you in.. two years then?” At any rate, clever or not, you were all right – I’ve been busy as hell.
That being said, I’ve made a pact to insert some fiction reading into my schedule this summer. Periodically I seem to forget that fiction calms, de-stresses, and just generally makes me happy and I’m going to need all the happiness I can muster as I embark on the madness that is an MA Thesis. This may make me slightly even more busy but I don’t consider reading (or writing for that matter) fiction something that takes up time – rather it enhances time, making life’s simple pleasures all the more enjoyable. I can’t tell you how many times a good book with even a single deliciously crafted sentence has opened my mind to possibilities and thoughts I maybe had access to all along but didn’t know how to reach.
You may notice, if you even care to read these ramblings, that I try to start my blog posts with a quote. It doesn’t necessarily have to come out of fiction, as not every brilliant word-smith writes fiction, but it has to be something that jumps out of the page and insists on arresting my attention for whatever reason.
History, “(must) first ‘die’ in the heads, hearts, and bodies of the affected, before it can rise as knowledge like a phoenix out of the ashes of experience.”
-Aleida Assmann as quoted by Alexander von Plato
This post is about a week and a half in the making and was inspired by those very same academic readings that actually kept me from writing it for so long.
But getting back to this wonderful turn of phrase, the image of history as knowledge rising from the ashes like a phoenix admittedly got my heart racing a little and immediately set me down the never-ending path of the perpetual question from those perplexed people whose pulses do not quicken when they read an historical passage (or, apparently, for super nerds – read a passage about the passage of history…).
“Have the courage to use your own understanding” – Immanuel Kant
Easier said than done sometimes.
It kind of feels like walking out on a ledge – and a flimsy-looking ledge at that. If I screw this up, do I fall to my…doom?
In the past 4 1/2 months of Grad school completed thus far (yes, I did have to count that out on my fingers) there has been one idea brought up over and over again in conversation with colleagues and friends: Do I belong here?
Most people will tell you that going on to university makes you stand out, sets you apart as someone who is sure to go places. Funny thing is, once you get there you feel like just one in thousands…
And not even one of the notable ones.
Think of it a bit like a lake. You have your sunfish and rainbow fish that might catch your eye for a few moments, but who typically keep on swimming and enjoy their quiet lives largely un-remarked.
Lower than them, you have the suckers, or bottom feeders. You know, that dazed-looking kid you noticed on your first day of class who you never saw again – and before you know it a betting pool has formed around whether they’ll show their face on the day the essay is due… or at least at the exam? That’s them. Every university needs them to make the average students feel good about themselves and to even out those dreaded bell-curves, much like the lake needs its suckers to keep the ecosystem running. Did you ever know they were so vital to your university experience? I bet not, as, in the end, most people don’t pay them much attention.
Then you have your trophy predators, the Pike. Not only do these devour the more average students with their superiority and ridiculous GPAs, but they are the pride and joy of the fishermen who cast far and wide for the brightest and best.
These fishermen, er… professors as they are more commonly known, choose their prizes by trolling the classroom until they hone in on the students most likely to succeed. Once these trophy fish, I mean students, have been snared they snap a photo and release them back into the world. They have now earned bragging rights for life, or at least until their colleague snags a bigger star. I do not mean in the slightest to paint these professors as grasping, greedy folk. Have you ever met an unpleasant fisherman? I certainly haven’t. In fact they are some of the most delightful people of my acquaintance, perfectly content with the simple things in life. I would not be where I am today without the few wonderful professors who noted there might actually be more to me than.. well.. me.