March 8, 2012

Freedom Creates Its Own Degrees

There seems to be no relief from feeling vulnerable when one is in graduate school. Classroom performance, conferences, presentations, face-to-face field work -- all opportunities to be confronted with your own ignorance. Or maybe that's just me.
Ten years of studio work did not prepare me well for the relentless (and yes, sometimes joyful) social engagement that is grad school -- or at least, for grad school with a social research bent.
This kind of vulnerability feels different than "studio raw." In the studio, you can get naked, you can revisit every place you've been, roam and find connection, or find fear, or find grief. Or find love. In class, and in academic writing, there are the expected constraints (which many find comforting) but there is also this different raw, the raw of competition, of the pressure to encapsulate ideas and theories with coherence, of conveying what you consider knowledge in both a persuasive and an acceptable manner.
And because of the interdisciplinary nature of my graduate program, I am having a schizophrenic experience in school. Half my time is spent with people who are committed to exploring urban education  and the attendant (and rancorous) issues of social justice, economic disparity, and racism. Half my time is spent with art students who are becoming art educators and who seem primarily committed to exploring themselves, their field, their craft.
Urban educators seem, at least at this point in my endeavor, to be intensely, relentlessly other-focused, to the point of almost being entrapped by the need to explain subjective human interactions using social theory terms. Art-educators-in-training strike me, in contrast, as self-reflective and expressive. But they are also less directly engaged in thinking about how, say, poverty may grind students relentlessly down. They tend to think they have a different purpose; they are teaching, in part, to uplift.
As usual, I feel I am not fully a member of either tribe. Not that that is required. But it does seem to make life easier for them. Thus the different kind of raw. Its been a peripatetic life so far (though both Mark and I feel we'll be in Philly for a long time to come) and my skills are lacking. I'm rusty on what it means to situate, to become a member, to settle in. Or perhaps, in truth, I have never had those skills. But at the same time, as one of my urban ed classmates says, we all are working to avoid becoming like those who teach us. We don't want to become accustomed to settled thoughts and comforting ways of being, since education is in constant turmoil, and constant flux. And we want to be in the game.
Now, when I have a chance to spend time in my studio, I find I am thinking about my field work, or a paper I have to write, or a research project. I am thinking about thinking, in the place where I most want to feel unbounded. Its a strange feeling, but not a loss. We all transform, sometimes in very conscious ways, sometimes while we're sleeping. I think everyone has had that moment of realization at some point, that life has altered you, and not vice versa. Here is different, and very intense. I feel buffeted and I feel changeable. But I am wide awake.