Monday, December 14, 2009

Outside the rotation: sex/love/impermanence edition

Outside the rotation: semester ended for me, officially, at 11:15 this morning, when I posted the last of my grades.

For me, there's a bit of a dichotomy between semesters: Fall, when I'm teaching 2 (or sometimes 3) seminars, is very heavy on the preparation: write the syllabus, assemble the reading list, read (or re-read) all the reading list, create the Discussion Questions which accompany every single reading, prepare the lectures, deliver the lectures and elicit the seminar responses, ride herd on the online discussions at the website, respond to the multiple stages of development in the research project, proctor and write responses to the research presentations, and so on.

But, as is common for me in the seminars-only semesters, that's mostly "front-loading": that is, it's mostly prep that I need to do in advance. By the time the semester begins, and then by the opening of each seminar meeting, I mostly have done the work I need to do, and what remains is to deliver the material. In other words: to foster the process.

In the Spring, it's a quite-different situation: the courses are mostly written, much of the assessment happens online or via scan-tron tests (with 100 in the room for the undergrads, it's the only way), and the only major hands-on grading that has to happen is the paper, about which I've blogged before. We've ramped down the end-loading--that is, the glut of grading effort like a tsunami at the end of the semester--by incrementing the paper into stages, but there is/are usually two long days of reading paper rubrics. But that's it: I know the course like the back of my hand, I don't need to use notes--even though I'll edit, update, and alter every set of Powerpoint slides before a given lecture--and then that course's duties are done.

The annual Ireland seminar, though an overload to our traditional 2+2 course schedule, is also relatively labor-light, because the course self-selects: I can pretty much figure that anybody who's passed the entrance interview and agreed to take on the very heavy reading load is there because s/he wants to be--especially after receiving the Badass Warning Letter that I always send a week in advance of the semester, to help weed out the ambivalent ones. Just a mid-term and final essay exam, and a project which can be either research or creative. The load in that course, as with many seminars, varies widely according to the profile and motivation of a given set of participants. One or two years, when the group was divergent in terms of personalities, expectations, or engagement, it's been like lifting weights. But most years, because the kids who sign up both (a) have self-selected and (b) have been interviewed, it's engaging, engrossing, and rewarding. And sometimes pretty emotional--but not too much mindless busy-work.

Spring 2010 brings one new prep, however, in the third course: an Ives-Ellington-Zappa "American Mavericks" topic I've wanted to teach for at least 10 years. I've taught a semester-long Ives, and one on Ellington, and there's a chapter on FZ in my dissertation, but I've never stuck 'em together all in one semester. If it's to be anything more than a 78-rpm sprint through a huge hunk of chronological repertoire, I have to find legitimate, challenging, imaginative, engaging links between these three--deeper than the mundane and self-evident "boy, didn't they piss off the critical establishment?!?" trope. Am looking forward to blogging that course starting in January.

Winding down here. But before I sign-off for the night, "Imma just say one thing" here, about a syndrome I see entirely too goddamned often in my work:

If you live, and work at a university, in the part of the world that I do, and you deal a lot with young people, and especially monotheistic-religion young people, and especially monotheistic-religion young people who've been raised to believe that the only appropriate category of sexual relations is that which occurs "within the bounds of holy matrimony", then you spend a fair bit of time dealing with people who believe that sex equals love and love equals permanence.

And it's a mistake. It leads to a hell of a lot of pointless fallout that results from would-be moral arbiters trying to make other, usually younger, people believe factors about the human condition that are just flat bloody false.

One of my great teachers, who was both a great Bodhisattva and also a brilliant therapist, used to say "I believe that relationships should last as long as both parties are learning something from the relationship." Which is not in itself contrary to the bullshit hearts & flowers rhetoric that's been sold to young people essentially since Eleanor of Aquitaine

But then she would add, "and when people stop learning from a relationship, then it should end." Which was manifestly not in line with the bullshit cult of courtly love, a debased version of which has been used to try to guard the state's investment in the "sanctity of marriage" for at least a thousand years.

Because what it means is that relationships--like every other being, state, and created or uncreated phenomenon in the Universe--likewise end. Sometimes because somebody dies--and the pastors and preachers and moral arbiters call that "true love."

But sometimes because some thing just dies--or even just stops growing. No being, state, or created or uncreated phenomenon--least of all a bullshit fiction like "One True Love"--will last forever. We are all ultimately--in the sense of the ultimate end of existence--alone. We enter alone, and we'll exit alone, into whatever form the Outer Darkness takes.

What matters is what we do, with a situation or a relationship or an opportunity or a joy or a heartbreak, right here.

Right now.

1 comment:

Mac Tíre said...

I'd love to see the reading list or listening list for the Ives, Ellington, Zappa class!