|Here are some nice people inside my thesis installation work.|
This is very sad. People slack at every college in the country. Not everybody who goes to Harvard is a genius, gives a shit about their studies, or goes on to become an interesting person. Plenty do - but then, so do plenty of people at Hampshire, which has excellent graduate school acceptance rates and sends hundreds of kids out into the world every year who have managed to create a completely self-determined thesis work usually before the age of 23. The system at Hampshire simply amplifies the tendencies of its students more than most schools - you can slack harder and you can work harder. Whatever. I'm over it. If it works for you (and it did for me), Hampshire is an awesome and extraordinary place. And part of that comes from the fact that it forces you to question. What's so groovy about that? More after the jump.
See, a Division III project, the year-long thesis every student has to complete, is entirely self-created. No professor is going to tell you what to do. It is absolutely your responsibility to invent it. There's help and guidance along the way, of course, but no one will decide it for you. That means you have to ask the big, hard, scary, grownup questions a whole lot earlier than most people: what do I want to do? What do I care about? What's important to me? What is interesting? What hasn't been done before? What has been done before that is like what I want to do? Who can help me? Look, in a conventional major, you just don't have to face this stuff. Your requirements are predetermined. Maybe you have some flexibility, maybe not. But nobody is giving you the big shrug and saying huh, well, I guess you'd better figure this one out, buddy.
|Here's a picture of an equation she collaborated|
upon, illustrating my father's demise. It involves
forcible ukelele removal and the integration of a
a calculus function of the area of God.Yes,
Virginia, this is more interesting than high school.
Who is going to do more interesting things, the kid who listened to the counselor and went back to class to sleep through seven periods, or the kid who goes off and starts her own school dedicated to the Muses? (That's the Nine Sisters, if you missed it.) We know perfectly well that asking questions and refusing to sit like slugs passively accepting an education that feeds our souls with all the wither of a bucket of salt water is what leads to innovation, magic, beauty, invention, art, and all the breakthroughs that mark the best of the human spirit. We know that our inventors and our quantum physicists and our artists make the incredible things that they do because they are curious and have pursued their curiosity. We know that never asking questions leads us to become certified public accountants who wonder on their deathbed why everyone made such a fuss about existence. (Okay, that's harsh, but you know what I mean.) And yet, somehow, we still feed ourselves day after day into channels that suppress our right and our need to wonder about other ways of doing things. From early childhood education onwards, we're taught not to ask questions, or at the very least, what questions we are allowed to ask. How many of you have never once seen a teacher get mad because someone asked a question they weren't "supposed" to ask? The suppression of curiosity leads exactly nowhere for the human race, and yet it's all around us.
The hardest question, always, is why? Anyone who's ever spent time with a four-year-old can attest to this. You know how maddening it gets when every answer is met with another and another and another "yeah, but why?" until, exhausted, you throw up your hands and you say "I don't know." Ask until you get there. It's in that moment that magical things happen. That's the place that the teachers and politicians and corporations and parents and everyone else who squashes our curiosity is frightened of: the unknowing, and the admission of unknowing, and the possibility of being wrong. But it's in that gap that newness comes into the world, that invention is born, that beauty springs out. Listen, here's the question that leaves me with my faith in the soul.
I'd like to leave you with a story I heard somewhere, probably from my dad, that exists in different version all over the place but is apparently a traditional tidbit of Rabbinical folklore. Okay, so when you're in the womb, an angel comes along and teaches you all the secrets - of the Torah and the Talmud, I guess, but I would suspect everything else also. All the wisdom, you've got it. But when you're born, you open your mouth to speak, to say everything you know. And the angel comes and puts its finger to your lips, and says Shhhh! and bam, you forget everything. So those first words turn into a wail, because you have forgotten something important and you don't remember what, and you must spend your whole life relearning. (Along the lines of a Just So story, this is why we've got the philtrum - the little channel between nose and lip. The angel's finger fucking burns, man. No wonder we yell.) So why the angel would bother teaching you in the first place if you're just gonna have to forget, I don't know. Maybe it's so that you won't take wisdom for granted, or so that learning becomes beautiful to us in life because it echoes something forgotten. Maybe the faint remembrance of having lost it is what leads us to seek it out in life, what gives rise to curiosity at all - this quiet, distant echo of having known everything, of almost seeing it all. That's what drives us, after all - the longing to know. Questions make us human. Ask them and ask them, and don't trust anyone who tells you not to.