Hermits Rock

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Don’t we feel an inner protest when a student interrupts our reading… What if our interruptions are in fact our opportunities… Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

Albrecht Dürer, Engraving Adam and Eve, 1504 The first fall I taught classes I had only been out of HU for 8 months. I walked into that room with all the inocence of Adam before Eve offered him the fruit.

I lie. I lost my innocence the summer before when a student turned in his final exam to me with three Cuban cigars. I should’ve failed him and not accepted his gift. Instead, I accepted the cigars and gave him the D- he was going to get anyway.

Memphis… those were the days when T would take reporters on trips to London, Paris, Belfast, Lima, Cuzco. She was traipsing over the ruins of Machu Picchu, as I was studying for my MA exams. On those days of second bachelorhood, I would wander over to the Christian Student Center.

Graduate-Undergraduate Student relationships on any given campus are strange:
“Dude, Jmy, I just sooo want to go out and hit a bar or two with you and watch you pick up chicks… You’d be such the ladies man… That’d be so much fun, dude… We’d get totally wasted!” Said a Frat-President student of mine once.
In the interest of being honest with my readers, my idea of Hell is a self-important frat-boy serving as my Virgil as he stumbles me through a binger studying my moves as I try to score.

The rhythm of Graduate students is rather different than the rest of academia. They no longer worry about Calculus or Intro to Poli Sci or O-Chem; instead, they worry about giving and grading Calculus, Poli Sci or O-Chem tests and whether or not the other schmoes in the program are going to “steal” their brilliant study session insight to impress the prof. They haven’t yet mastered the vocabulary of their intended profession, but like an infant fascinated by a new word jostling its way in between their palate and tongue they pepper their conversation with half-grasped sesquipedalias. There is no place for Graduate students except the coffee shop (gearing up for class), the classroom (talking trash), or the bar (decompressing and finally correctly pronouncing deterritorialization).

Graduate students are even less at home in a Christian Student Center. The Graduate student who has already professed before God, family and country his love to a woman and sealed this betrothal with a band of gold (purity, eternity, malleability) is simply anathema. Not only is there the obligatory faith crisis, or at least, the haughty presumption that others don’t live an examined faith… if you’ve never read Foucault, how could your life be examined? But also, by having a mate these Graduate students find themselves on the other side of the neurotic courtship rituals of the histrionically repressed 21 year-olds who haunt the halls of Christian Student Centers.

With the hindsight of time… and several good evangelism seminars later, I now realize I should’ve told him to go to the Christian Student Center. But, I didn’t. I only listened… and counseled him to apologize to his girlfriend.

That fall I had a really nice heritage speaker in my class. He was a clean-cut, eager-beaver Cuban who could remember his Grandma speaking Spanish to him growing up, but he’d lost his mother tongue in the vagaries of elementary school. Few persons are as eager to learn as those who’ve had a few years of college and didn’t finish because the exigencies of life called them away to menial jobs. He had just left the military; done his duty in Iraq, and a few more years for good measure. A business degree was his ticket out, and Spanish the keys to the kingdom. He was gonna make something of his life; forget the painful divorce from his military wife; and make a safe-place for his beautiful five year-old boy.
I’ve never been one to keep kids out of my classroom. Teaching at urban, commuter campuses, where a good 30-50% of your student body is non-traditional and well over 50% of the entire student body works 3/4 to full time jobs, the ocassional child-care snafu is to be expected. And, if the child is well-behaved and doesn’t interrupt, I have no problem with them coloring in the corner. His kid had come once or twice.

We were reviewing the subjunctive for the test and he was clearly not in the same room as the rest of us. At the end of class, he fumbled with his bookbag as I gathered my material and we entered the hallway together. I forget how we ended up on the floor, but there we were on the floor, in the hall, as the entire city walked by and stared at this 35 year-old man sobbing on the shoulder of his 23 year-old T.A. He’d pissed pus the day before and was freaked out. He’d gone over to his girlfriend’s that night and cussed her out. And now he was spent. The bitch of it all, he said, was that she was a great girl, great with his boy, and that he really liked her. But he was now convinced that she must be a ho who had been cheating on him. She had, he belived, marked him with this thing that even during his most hedonistic days of military service had never touched him. As we talked, I found out that they’d been seeing each other for a while, but only sleeping together for about 2 weeks. I also learned that between his divorce and the new Ms. Right, turned über-hussy, he’d been no second virgin… which is to say, things had only been exclusive once she’d turned down the sheets.

At that time, I don’t think I knew the full etiology of the disease… that is, the time between contact and symptom. But I told him that he shouldn’t jump to conclusions… and that, in fact, if he was as active as he proclaimed, he could’ve gotten it from someone else. That what he needed to do was see a doctor to figure out what it was and to apologize to her for the way he treated her.

I don’t know if he indeed got slapped with the clamp, he never told me. He did, however, tell me that the doctor said that he could’ve gotten it from someone else and that she and he had both been to the doctor and even been to some counseling and that things were better than ever.

He knew I was a Christian… and I may have said that I would pray for him; I really don’t remember. But that was the extent of my “witnessing” to him.
Today, Campus Crusade for Professors came knocking at my door and we chatted for a little while. He came by to make the hard sell… and was glad that I was a believer. He would’ve been disappointed in me had I told him this story.

These opportunities don’t come up as often and as obvious as this one. Maybe it’s cuz I haven’t been looking… maybe it’s because I’ve had, since then, one too many crazy students stalk me and ply me with gifts I don’t want. And it’s not that life doesn’t happen and hit the fan and come out the other side splattered against the wall in Christian schools… but here in this concrete jungle, in the fascist architecture of my building, constructed in the 1960s to be a fortress and keep the Civil Rioting of this chocolate city out in the streets, the students who interrupt my day are Christian and non-Christian alike; they are black, brown, yellow, white, and red; Subcontinental Indians, Pakistani, Eastern European, Chinese, Korean, and from almost every State in the Union. Some are Christian and have had encounters with vitriolic atheists, others deal with Christian students informing them that they are numbered among the damned for questioning gender.

They pass through my classroom… both of us busy with school and work and family. And sometimes we sit on floor in the hall and talk about life.



so, how come the pull quotes don’t work anymore?

There’s a bug in the version of Textile we’re using, also reported here.

I tried to fix it once, but the fix broke the site, so I decided to wait until someone else fixes it. Note that this bug only occurs with SPAN elements. Applying a class to an image still works, though.

(I’ve been meaning to comment on this all morning, but it took me forever to figure out how to get that star next to the sticky to appear.)

Approaching from another direction: a friend of ours, we’ll call her OMM, not really a believer at all, this year had a Christian student in a class on medieval sexuality. They were talking about nuns and whether medieval nun behavior was lesbian or not. The student had been gearing up for outbursts for several weeks already, but at this juncture, she broke out with a huge diatribe against gays and said that homosexuality was demonic. She had completely abandoned all pretense at studying the question and was inflating her pastor’s ego. OMM was mad, but OMM didn’t know what to do. Afterwards, OMM asked the student to please stick to the subject of the class, which was medieval sexuality—the student had begged to be let in, after all!—but the student accused OMM of usurping her First Amendment rights. That student probably spent a lot of time in the Christian student center—but how was she being at all just to her education?

campus crusade for profs told me a story about this lady who is a dean of education at some school or another and is highly involved with campus crusade for profs who converted when a girl in her women’s study class convinced her that there is such a thing as evil, thus such a thing as absolutes, thus that the bible was right and that her women’s study class was teaching error because women’s studies doesn’t jive with the bible. (i’d like to hear her tell her story… i suspect, or i hope it would be slightly more radically more nuanced than his recounting)

i didn’t tell him that my class on sor juana is a defense of feminism and feminist critiques of patriarchy.

in other news, to get to my classroom, i must cross three city blocks and cross a park where a multitude of indigents sit around and smoke weed and play chess. today, there was a man with a cross/staff, reading from the book of revelation to passer-bys

Does CC4P (oh, so close!) always recruit on hearsay, or is that just your school’s version?

OT: I wonder if chess is more fun when high?

CC4P were the one’s that staged the making tenure talk i went to..which for the record, t believes me to be a heritic beyond hope of redemption because i’m too cynical… because she says had a buddhist spoken about his meditation practices as helping her/him through the day, it wouldn’t’ve bothered me.

in fact, his opening salvo was…what did you think about the conclusion of the talk… the if you make tenure and lose your spouse part of the talk. i said, i couldn’t agree more… i’m a christian

Buddhists make for much more interesting (by which I mean they sound better on the radio) theories of the mind than “Are we gnostic or not?” Christians. But mostly when it comes to Buddha, I defer to K: she’s actually read the lotus sutras.

Still, as I remember, that talk was kinda beside the point, wasn’t it?—precisely because it told you everything you already knew about tenure and gave little good suggestions for how to manage it all.

Beyond that, how many people, really, do you know that would truly sacrifice a marriage for tenure? (I’m oversimplifying, I know: nobody sacrifices, per se, but many, many people succumb to all the pressures, and hence marriages disintegrate…) I know one… but that person’s never married, so the point’s moot.

i know a number who have stellar publishing careers and whose spouses have taken the kids and left them… well, formalized the separation that was already there.

that was a really engaging read. your nouwen quote pretty much sums up my rationalization for why i spend my time doing what i do—not b/c i am out to convert the masses: where i work the masses are generally pre-converted. however, i spend a lot of time (the edges of classtime, office hours) mediating b/w their pasts and their possible futures (choices, careers, all the other ways to look at a blackbird, etc.). our pet subject matters are in so many ways intertwined with extraneous b.s. (e.g., disciplinary politics, fashion, etc.) much of the time anyway.

J, your story (or rather CC4P’s story) about the woman who converted due to her student’s reasoning about evil, etc. is alarming for a variety of reasons, but it’s particularly striking to me because it represents exactly the philosophy of my father (who quit the Episcopal Church when they started ordaining women). Some years after he died, my mother and I started attending church again (a church with a female associate rector, no less), but I sometimes wonder about whether I would have stuck with Christianity in any form had my father lived. He died a few years after the ordination of women, and he never joined another church, though he still very much considered himself a Christian—I think he just hadn’t found a church that conformed well enough to his particularly rigid world view.

I should perhaps take the rest of this over to my own blogging grounds. . . but thank you for the post, which has certainly gotten me thinking.

(This is just to say I look forward to the day you finish that book about your dad, L. I want to read it.)

I second that. And I look forward to the day when G writes his book about his grandfather. :)

(And for the record, let me deny any knowledge of the Lotus Sutra. My husband believes me more well-read than I am, and I suppose I should just accept the flattery, but I would hate for the sutra police to drop a quiz on me or something.)

G, you’re writing a book about your grandfather? Or thinking about it? Do tell! I may or may not ever finish the book. . . it’s very stuck at the moment. . . or possibly I’m just lazy.

(And K, I’m sure the police are reading all of this in order to write quizzes for us all. . . or perhaps there will turn out to be an exit exam to life. Yeesh.)

speaking of sutras… the only one i’ve read… and it’s a fun read is the laughing sutra

since i’m on the author… lying awake is a powerful novel.

an atheist reviews it (if you can call it a book review)

a catholic reviews it (or better, plot summarizes it)

maybe i don’t know what a review is… and i don’t say that facetiously.

A note for discursive conversation: On Tuesday Laura followed through with her promise to finish the thought begun above, and then she took the thought its own way.