art & fluffybunny cosmic lightballs

If you do not like the swears, you may prefer to skip this post.

Fuckin' hell. I read the professor reviews for Spirituality & Art, but no one mentioned that this teacher is OFF HER ROCKER. (Okay, one said she was "cuckoo." I thought that meant "mildly absentminded in an endearing way," not "why is this woman allowed out unsupervised?")

I signed up for the class thinking it was going to be a class on how artists' spirituality and religious beliefs influenced their work and certain movements. I didn't expect to have to give the teacher an account of my own "spiritual journey" for a journal grade and spend an entire first class not even MENTIONING religion until one student asked if we were allowed to talk about God. Most of what she was talking about was Happy Shiny New-Agey "feeling your connection with the cosmos" crap. This is the ultimate "I'm spiritual but not religious" class, and it's beginning to annoy me after one session.

I have to admit that a major part of my annoyance right now is the journal assignment. I generally find class journals not just useless, but distracting, because while I'm spending time "reflecting on lessons," which means coming up with a page or so of bullshit about how Russian Suprematism touches my soul, or addressing journal topics like "who are my hero/ines?" and "where am I on my spiritual journey?", neither of which I feel like talking about to a TOTAL STRANGER, I could be doing something productive like, you know, working on the research paper she also assigned us.

This journal isn't just that, but it's almost like an entire class notebook. Except it's not, because our class notes (which, well, note-taking isn't my strength or my style) are supposed to be kept separate from them. The contents of this journal are to include:

Title page, contents page, syllabus, glossary, index, and that sort of thing1
Homework assignments
Study skills tips 2
Reading Notes 3
Research notes 4
Class notes, numbered and dated.5
Special things that you copy from your class notes, like inspirational words, new and useful concepts, creative developments on topics handled in the class 6
Journal topics 7

1. This is supposed to be an actual book-type journal. The last time I had to do this was back in Fiction Writing, where it actually made a lick of sense. In an art history course this is pointless. Not to mention the fact that I usually cut up my syllabus to post the class schedule on my wall.

2. Like what?

"Don't fall asleep during the class meditations. This is considered Bad Form."

"Listen in class. If you're lucky, she'll say something that's objectively provable, like 'Kandinsky was raised Russian Orthodox.' Chances are slim that she'll actually discuss how this impacted his art, or that he was also interested in Theosophy, or, you know, what Theosophy was at the time and ths symbology and methods it uses, or basically any of the things I took the class expecting to learn about. No, this is all about YOUR Spiritual Development as an Artist."

3. Which I don't take, because I have this thing called reading comprehension where I actually remember what I read.

4. Dude, I don't think she really wants me to cram my illegible scribbled outlines and random phrases, scraps of paper with noted-down call numbers, and highlighted photocopies in my Happy Shiny Spiritual Travel Diary.

5. Let's talk about the last time a teacher wanted to see my nice, organized class notes. No, really. Let's.

I took Bible class in high school, and Mr. Trunk did notebook checks where he expected to see all of our class notes. Our notes were graded according to neatness and content, and if we didn't write down every golden word he put on the overhead, we were penalized. We were also supposed to collect all our old quizzes and tests to use as study guides. All this was to make sure we had something to study for the tests and final exam.

I did none of this. And I did it blatantly. When Mr. Trunk asked why I wasn't taking notes in class, I would tell him quite clearly it was because I never used them. My notes consisted of noted-down dates and names with very little else. Whatever quizzes survived to the end of the class were the ones I happened to find folded in my textbook. Naturally my notebook grade was something like a D, and yet I still made a decent B in the class-- because I scored well on all the tests, even without obsessively taking notes and hoarding quizzes.

The lesson I learned from this is to do what works for me, not what I'm told should work for me. Which is why I hate Notebook Checks, which is essentially what this assignment is.

6. WTF does this even mean?

7. The journal topics are pretty boilerplate things, like "who are your heroes/heroines?" "what are your current spiritual practices?" "what's your spiritual background?" We also have daily class "meditations" we're supposed to reflect on.

This bothers me a lot, partly because it's so New Agey in tone (the first class' meditation was all about feeling the earth rotating under your feet and whirling through the universe, which, frankly, if gravity and your inner ear are doing their job right, you shouldn't feel this in any physical sense) and partly because my extreme distaste for the Church right now is spilling over into any kind of organized group spiritual activity. I don't think she'd like it if my reflections on the class meditations consisted of what a nice nap I had that day.

I knew from reading class reviews that the meditation thing was a regular feature, and as long as it stayed nonsectarian I was fairly game, but I reacted with a distrust that was surprising even to me the moment she told us to close our eyes. To me, removing my sight is removing the main way I relate to the world, and it puts me in a very psychologically vulnerable position. When someone tells me to close my eyes, my first reaction is to think that they're trying to put something over on me. It's not something I'll do for someone I don't already know and trust.

I don't think I'd really realized how much I distrusted organized worship until I was put in that situation. The idea of being graded on how open I was willing to be about my spirituality recalled way too strongly the idea of "brokenness" I grew up with, where the more "spiritually helpless" you were, the more you boasted of your (nonspecific, normally) weakness and pathetic humanity, the more virtuous you seemed. Here are these people demanding that I make myself vulnerable before them and trust them when I have no assurance that they're not going to hurt me if I do, when I have been hurt before by those I did trust that manipulated my emotions and beliefs to their predetermined purposes? Man, I don't think so.

I'm honestly afraid that this class is going to put a really bad connotation to any kind of spiritual activity to me, and it's going to exacerbate my natural skepticism and distrust of group worship/meditation and turn me into a raging atheist, or at least a fairly pissed-off agnostic. It bothers me that my initial reaction to anything spiritual is so violently allergic, but I don't feel like there's much I can do about it where I am at the moment.

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thus saith Liadan at 6:06 PM


Anonymous jen saith at 1/09/2007 8:31 PM...  

you can always do what i did and try to write something completely subversive but couch it in the terms that she wants.

(i still don't know if my worship professor ever caught on to the fact that i ripped him apart in both my worship papers, considering that he used them as teaching examples of good writing. i had basically called him an idiot and accused him of ruining my worship life and he never caught on.)

Anonymous Anonymous saith at 1/09/2007 10:33 PM...  

Is it too late to drop the class and sign up for something else?

Alternately, along the lines of what Jen suggests, is there any way to...erm...subvert the meditation a bit? See how far over the top you can push it, perhaps for example screaming that you've had a spiritual epiphany and breaking into an interpretive dance? Or, well, perhaps not that extreme, but you get my drift. It's like you've got Professor Trelawny!

- Bridget

Blogger Liadan saith at 1/09/2007 11:26 PM...  

Jen: I'm going to have to do either that, or be brutally honest (in the name of spiritual truth, of course) about how stupid I think the New Ageyness of it is. Hell, I'll do both.

Bridget: I looked for other classes, but the only ones I actually wanted to take were already closed or at bad times. I'm still considering seeing if I can swing an overfill waiver for Egyptian Art & Archaeology.

I totally want to do my research paper in interpretive dance now, BTW.

Blogger Jay saith at 1/10/2007 11:29 AM...  

Next time she closes her eyes in group meditation, hit her with something heavy. Then see how vulnerable she enjoys being.

And you never know, you might get lucky and give her lasting brain damage and improve the class.

Anonymous BLB saith at 1/15/2007 12:37 AM...  

Wow -- that is a pretty awesome story. Too bad it's not a story but your actual class. You have my undying sympathy, although I wish I could be a fly on the wall.

I vote for interpretive dance.

I had no idea you were updating here, BTW -- I just got caught up. Are you going to fill us in more on Iris (love that name, BTW)?

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