True Colors

It seemed magical sometimes:
the way nothing that I said was lost on you.

I struggled through my mind
simply trying to find
words to capture the ideas
splattered across the
cathedral slopes of my skull.

And somehow
You understood.

And somehow
Years after a conversation ended
You could bring it up again,
Quote us perfectly,
And ask what is the same
And ask what has changed.

But now I realize the truth.

But now I realize
the bitterly average,
horribly mundane
truth of it all.

Like everyone, you only listen to the things you want to hear.
How did I miss that for three whole years?

Once,
on a walk that lasted hours,
I told you that I had something to say.
But I couldn’t say it
Because I knew you too well
And I knew you wouldn’t be able to hear what I wanted to tell –

I interrupted myself.
because I needed someone who
could hear “religion” without baggage.

And I didn’t think you could.

Outraged, in your understated way,
you insisted that even without agreeing
you could still understand.

So I explained.

And you plugged your ears and nodded
And said things that made it sound like you could hear me
But you didn’t
But you couldn’t
Or you just forgot.

Because last week I told you my secret.

I explained the puddle that had rocked me.
The evaporating puddle, that clings to the shape of the hole that it lives in
And screams to itself that the hole was made for the puddle
Because how else could the puddle fit so perfectly?

And you smiled.
Satisfied.
You smiled.
And you told me that I was too smart to not come to this conclusion eventually.
You told me that the stories  in the book were too fantastic to be real.
You told me that belief in anicent mythology had no place in a mind like mine.
And you smiled.
Satisfied.
You smiled.

And I reeled.
I recoiled.
My mind stopped its steady churning
And my face started burning.

You had told me that you heard me
All those months before.
You had said you understood me
When I explained the lore
Was not the point.
The stories could be metaphors.
The stories could be fables.
When I told you that we are able
To believe without the lore
You said you understood.

And it wasn’t worth the chore
To explain it all again.
So I let you echo jokes you’d heard
Until you took me home.

My friend.

An Explanation

There are things that I love about Shimer College.  I love the books that we read.  I love the rare discussion in which every student around the table is invested.  I love the papers that I wish I could work on for months and turn into tomes because I am so passionate about the material.  I love the facilitators who ask challenging questions and tease out the intricacies and the beautiful bits of texts that we might very easily miss if we were reading by ourselves.  But there is so much that is missing from the experience as well.

I love the idea of Shimer.  I love what Shimer is once in a blue moon.

A few posts back I wrote about an Aristotle tutorial that one of my facilitators was kind enough to put together for a few students.  None of that excitement was exaggerated.  I loved it so much that I am nursing a desire to get ἐνέργεια, a Greek word that Joe Sachs translated as “being at work”, tattooed on my forearm. It isn’t even that I’m a die-hard Aristotle fan, but I love the idea of an active sense of being.  I love the idea of continuous movement in both stillness and action that forces a person to work continuously for his or her virtue.

The day after I wrote that post I remember walking home, thinking about the tutorial in reference to my Shimer experience.  I thought about that post being put up on the Shimer blog under the label “Best of the Shimer blog” and how I knew it had gotten that because it oozed the exuberance of a Shimer student in love with Shimer.  I thought about how I was genuinely that student when I wrote it.  I thought about how there are bright shining moments when Shimer is exactly what I dreamed it would be.

But more often I don’t get it.  The feeling of fullness that follows a near-perfect discussion or a perfect tutorial the small slice in the pie chart of my Shimer experience.

I should quickly say that this is not a critique of Shimerians.  It is only my experience.

I sit in classes and I want to participate, but half of the conversation is anecdotal or flounderings by people who haven’t done the reading but still want their speaking points.  Questions are asked and either abandoned before they are answered or brought up again and again if the people who asked them first are quiet.  People think out loud in ways that are not helpful to the class discussion.  Students stop participating as some classes progress because the class dynamic is intimidating or overwhelming and never once have I seen a facilitator try to fix that.

Shimer prides itself on being the kind of school that rewards hard work.  Students who are capable of helping themselves are supposed to do well at Shimer, but it is ridiculous to expect students straight out of high school, hell, even students who are in their mid-twenties or thirties, to intuitively know that they are doing poorly if you don’t tell them.  I have talked to student after student after student who feels alone at Shimer.  Students who want to do well, but need a push that their facilitators don’t give them.  I have heard countless people say they feel like their opinions are met with condescension by their peers and no one does anything about it. 

There are reasons that we have high drop out rates.  These are some of them.  We feel abandoned and disdained.

I thought facilitators would be more shepherdly.  I thought they would call attention to how we deal with each other in class or after class, to let us know what we do well and what needs improvement.  They give themselves 15 minutes at the end of the semester to accomplish that and they are always frustratingly vague.  I feel like all I ever hear at the end of the semester is “we love what you do!  do more of the same and then you’ll be exceptional!  your quality is always great but your quantity is lacking!”

I don’t know how to respond to that.

I want to like this school but it is hard to like something that tells you that you’re okay because you’re great but you’re not great often enough.

I wanted Shimer to improve me.  If anything it has done the opposite.

I have less confidence in myself and my ideas.

I don’t discuss as well as I used to.  Something about feeling like no one values your opinion and getting tired of trying to wade through other people’s shit when they won’t return the favor.

I feel uncomfortable around a lot of Shimerians because people are gossipy and I don’t like knowing awful, random, strange things about people I’ve never spoken to and knowing that they have probably heard things just as inaccurate about me.

I have trouble evaluating my performance because I can’t get a read on what acceptable behavior in a class is.  One of my classes was observed by a faculty member who was evaluating my facilitator (because he’s new) and I thought it was an awful class.  No one listened to each other and pretty much two people talked while the rest of us listened.  The observer said it was a great class.  That he was very impressed.

I don’t get it.

I have a year left.  I don’t know if I’ll make it.