Monday, March 29, 2010

All Woo-Woo Aside, She Went in and Got it Done

When I was taking my class in Kant, I was completely overwhelmed. You could not get behind. You had to read every day. I could not take in a single word. Kant is completely covered in the 1800's version of GoreTex.

Our teacher knew it was difficult. Apparently Kant spent No Time polishing his magnum opus. It was an 1800's version of cut-and-paste. It jumped around, following an outline, but without good transitions or the intermediary reviews that help the reader assimilate. Just the facts, ma'am. If you can call it facts.

In this class of twelve, ten were guys. The other woman in the room was a dancer, beer-brewer, model and free spirit. I kept thinking we females made a poor showing in the room. Gradually though, I learned this was wrong. The guys were following the ancient model of 'silence will not reveal ignorance'.

We asked questions. The crazy woman asked a lot of questions. Truthfully? If it hadn't been for her, none of the other eleven would have learned a damned thing. She was carrying us all because she was not ashamed to ask. The class time, especially in the first weeks, was a dialogue between one abstract philosophy and an airhead.

Some of her questions were beside the point. But even realizing that was a victory. It meant I was 'getting it' after all. I was so enormously grateful to her that we became friendly.

Gradually I trained into the reading. I would go to a coffee house bringing: one pencil, one pen. A five-dollar bill. The book. If I brought anything else, it was a distraction. I would buy a cup of coffee and sit at the empty table in the corner. I ruined that book by underlining everything significant in pencil (the whole thing had pencil in it). I would write my questions on a cocktail napkin with the pen. Stoke on the coffee. I went from a half-a-page at one sitting before meltdown to eighty pages at a clip. The napkin became my bookmark.

But it was still like flying over a strange terrain. The points of understanding were like landing at a bush airfield. Gradually, my intellectual airplane made more stops, more points of contact. But I still needed the crazy woman. Not quite as much, but still a lot.

The class opened up a little. Some of the guys asked questions. I felt more confident about asking mine.

So one day we ladies were walking out of class together. She was comparing Kant to the study of some aspect of astrology. Something about Aquarian impulses, I think. I have studied astrology, and I didn't know what she was talking about.

"I just don't believe astrology any more," I told her. "Philosophy has knocked all the woo-woo right out of me."

Behind us on the stairs, our quiet, always-brownly dressed professor started to laugh out loud. We continued into the sunshine. I took his next class next semester on Hegel. Learning Kant was like taking some kind of super brain-vitamin.  Hegel was a snap.

I owe so much of this to a dancer, model, beer-brewer, woo-woo woman who was completely unafraid of engagement.


Bob G. said...

Sometimes, all it take is the voice of one (crying in the wilderness)...

And then, we ALL learn.

Good post.

The Observer said...

Ann T:

I actually enjoyed studying Kant, but I don't remember much of anything about him any more. I ended up pushing into bioethics as I continued my BA, back in the dark ages of large black plastic discs for music and CB radios.

I am not afraid to ask questions. I sometimes hear people sigh. Why, just last night, I was at a choir rehearsal, and asked for my line to be played again. I can't read music; I learn by ear,and I needed to hear it again to start memorizing what was a new piece for us. No such thing as stupid questions, except for those that are not asked.

The Observer

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
We were crying, too!

Thanks for commenting,
Ann T.

Dear The Observer,
I don't remember him either. I mostly remember that I could think like lightning after that course was done. So it's in there somewhere.

That's why school is better than self-learning. Somebody's got to hold you to the book.

And I love to ask questions, too! I always have so dang many, though.

Ann T.