Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Tue, 19 Jun 2001 08:25:48 -0400 (EDT)
Random Thought: Journey

Sunday. 5:something or other pm EST. Why aren't I asleep? We, I and Susan, got up at 2:30 am EST to head home. Now, here we are, four planes, three very long lay overs in very unaccommodating airports, a few restless naps in seats designed for misshapened aliens, two life-threatening airports meals, three challenging airline culinary delights, and sixteen hours later bumping somewhere over North or South Carolina, an hour from landing and a two hour drive from the house. What a journey! Even though even my adrenalin is tired, I am still on a high from the annual STLHE conference in St. John's, Newfoundland. It must be a new-found land; the airlines still haven't figured out a civilized way of getting there and back. Nevertheless, the conference was well-worth the convoluted journey. It itself was a rewarding, exciting, enlightening, exhilarating, and very profound journey. I only regret that I didn't get to kiss the cod. Don't ask.

Speaking of journey, there in Newfoundland I made two new-found friends from total strangers. It was totally unexpected. When isn't it. We connected, each in the strangest place and in the strangest way. Strange, and maybe not. Sometimes I don't ask questions. Anyway, they sent me deeper on the journey into my self and sent themselves deeper into their own selfs. No, I didn't just meet them; I was graced by them.

I once told someone about Joseph Campbell who wrote that he most demanding journey of the hero, the greatest abyss the hero has to cross, the biggest challenge the hero faces is to going face to face with his self. How right he was. How easy it is to talk of that which is easy and successful; how hard it is to talk of that which is hard and unsuccessful. How easy it is to focus our attention outside of us; how hard it can be to turn our attention within.

I had once been a card carrying member of that academic pundit class, like a zealous policeman hellbent on making an early arrest or a prosecutor determined to quickly try and convict in a high profile case, that is often obsessed with quickly finding the immediate cause. But, what if we search our own souls for culpability? Doing that may not make for a tidy sound bite or a convenient target or a simple antidote, but the simple--and unimaginably complicated--truth is that if anyone says they don't have a subjective bone in their body, please don't laugh or snarl. Cry. We all have one little bitty subjective bone, one little biased bone, maybe one tiny hateful bone in our bodies that bends our posture. It's not the bone that's the problem so much as it is our denial of its very existence. It is the utmost of absurdities to ignore the fact that "the system" is each of us, to ignore that "them" or "it" is each of us, to ignore how each and every one of us, each and every day, have had and still have an impact at least by acquiesence on the cultures of our classroom and campus as a whole.

It seems to be a vicious circle. When problems seem overwhelming, we either back away and acquiesence thereby buying into the system, or we grasp for sound-bite solutions as a way of convincing ourselves that the problems are not insoluble and the alienation is not that deep, or we point our minds and fingers in order to convince ourselves that the problems are not of our making. Of course, the hollowness of these three approaches just increases the feelings of futility and alienation, but for a moment we feel better. We pull out a plum and get elevated; the villan, the student, gets vanquished; a sinner gets stoned; the victims, us, are avenged.

Campbell is also right when he infers that only by accepting personal responsibility, by replacing the blame game with the responsibility game, can each of us possibly break this deadlock. The bottom line is that we each have control over what we do, and say and feel, and act.

We all want inward peace, but so many of us won't look inside. The idea that we might be at fault isn't easy to accept. We each find it difficult to think what we do and what we think isn't all that it should be. We so often find it easy to define ourselves by the letters before and after our name or the number of lines on our resume, and let them say who we are. So often it is easy to think that the value is tied to the price ticket.

If I have learned anything about teaching, it is that the extrinsic "stuff" is so often a fashion accessory. I have learned that so much of what there is to learn about teaching has to do with discovering myself. To think that teaching is all about technique, technology, theory, assessment, evaluation, tenure, salary, and so on and on and on is akin to chugging snakeoil expecting a miracle cure.

Ten years ago, I started taking the lid off my life. Until then, I really couldn't take the lids off students' lives though I deluded myself into thinking I was. I mean, how could I set anyone on a journey that I had not mapped out, explored, traveled and am traveling. I have discovered that looking inside myself will uncover many potentials. From experience, I can tell you that it was and still is tough. It's tough because I was afraid I wouldn't like what I would find. It's tough because I am afraid of what I would find. It's tough because I was afraid I wouldn't find what I wanted to find. It's tough because I had convinced myself that I couldn't and didn't have to change.

Anyway, my chance meeting with these two neat people jolted me as much as those tiny air molecules are doing to this less than massive regional jet contraption by atomic size molecules of air. They startled me enough for me to again start asking myself, "What kind of a job are you doing?" Suddenly, throughout the conference, a bunch of eye-opening, mind-opening, and soul opening questions kept hitting me, and they won't go away. I don't want them to go away: what am I doing with what I've got? Aren't I full of potential improvement that I am not using? Couldn't I change my attitude for being grateful for the small things we take for granted and let go unnoticed? Am I so sure I'm doing everything possible to make my teaching a success. Am I using my capabilities well? Are there capabilities yet undiscovered, untapped, and unused. Do I use "that's not me" or "it's not my style" or a host of other disguised "can'ts" and "won'ts." Do I recognize and appreciate all I have to be grateful for? Do I let my fears dominate in the battle with my faith? Am I in control or have I assigned control over to the actions and opinions of others?

Those are important questions for me. They are the foremost shatterers of mythology in the world, they define the too often blurred line between myth and reality. That's important because if I have any chance of changing the attitude and actions of people around me, however slightly and imperceptively, "all" I have to do is to change myself.

So many of us want students to be perfect so we can practice e-teaching: "easy teaching." Yet, we haven't attained perfection ourselves or striven to improve ourselves. We criticize students, but cannot recognize the faults in ourselves. We don't attend to our own faults. Yet, we so bemoan the imperfections of students. So many of us find it so easy to have a good whine and so hard to have a good celebration. We have such a capacity to remember difficulty and failure and forget success and achievement. So many of us are so much more negative than positive. So many of us cry over what we don't have and wish our teaching was different. We pollute ourselves and poison our souls. We so punish ourselves with dregs of bitterness in our mouths and spirits, that we're on the verge of practicing negative, impossibility thinking. We strip teaching of its excitement and romance, and throw ourselves into the winter of our dreams. We become fire fighters instead of fire lighters. The deepening chill saps our energy; we lose our potency; and we slowly lose consciousness as we get frozen. We don't even think about making changes. We defend and excuse what we already do. It tends to make us lid-closers when we should be lid-lifters; it influences us to subtract value from ourselves when we should be value-adders. We put lids on students, devalue students: students who are trying to grow and stretch and don't know how, because we don't think they're the "right material" with the right stuff and because we aren't growing and stretching and don't know how.

Storing up grievances is such a waste. But we do love our negatives, don't we? If we didn't, why do we clutch those "it's not me" and "that's not my style" and the "they say" so tightly that our knuckles whiten?

It's a waste of time when we could be teaching with greater satisfaction. What's the point of keeping a record of disappointments? When I keep such an accounting, all I am doing is restoring them to a painful present and reality. We so love to make memos of the horror of those moments. I think when we do we are inflicting damage on ourselves and on others. So many of us are trapped in what we feel is an irksome way of life. So what do we do? We put lids on ourselves, let others puts lids on us, hold down our potential, and try to manipulate people around us into being more acceptable to us and more like us rather motivating to strive for the best for them and us.

How easy it is to allow our old habits and set patterns to dominate us! They bring us suffering, we accept them with almost fatalistic resignation, for we are so used to giving in to them. We may idealize freedom, but when it comes to our habits, we are completely enslaved. Still, reflection can slowly bring us wisdom. Wisdom is not just a way of knowing; it is a way of living. We can come to see that we are falling again and again into fixed repetitive patterns, and begin to long to get out of them. We may, of course, fall back into them, again and again, but slowly we can emerge from them and change.

I think some people have the wrong take on change. I did. As I look back on nearly a decade of change, it wasn't the letting go that hurt. It was the holding on that hurt. All of the important battles are waged within ourselves, all of our emotional and physical ammunition is spent in that conflagration. We are our own largest obstacles, fighting our own flaws, fears, and weaknesses. And, we are our own greatest solutions, our greatest victories. Success and failure, victory and defeat, lost opportunities and found opportunities are inside jobs. Pogo figured that out.

Would you look if you you could foresee what a fabulous experience it is to search out the real "me?" I assure you it is. And, if you tough it out and look inside I guarantee--guarantee--you will find vast unused qualities and abilities and strengths tucked away in the attics of your spirit. We each are possessors of unlimited resources. The more we search them out, discover them, and use them, the more we will push back against and cancel out the difficulties that get so much of our attention. And the freer and more authentic we will be.

Enough. I'm going to close my eyes and wish Scotty could beam me and Susan home. And, you know what, when we do get home, for me it won't be the same place and I won't be the same person because of at least those two wonderful people. That is how it should be.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
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                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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