Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gods of the Curriculae II: Fall of 2012

This has been one hell of a semester.

Greetings, all.  Yes, this post is a day late.  My apologies.  I had been going to post yesterday as is my custom, but when I finally made my way home . . .

Lo, the wages of finals week.

So instead it will be today, Tuesday December 11, that I reveal at long last the secret identities of my various professors, this twisted pantheon at which I have been studying on bended knee, for lo these many months.  And as this identification is so late, I will also give my customary summary of the shrines they haunt as I go.

Jazz Ballet (or: "Keeping up With the Birds")

In retrospect, I should have called this one “Keeping up With the Seelie.”  Gad.  Not that my dance instructor is flighty, exactly.  But I asked her once if there were sites or dancers on YouTube I might examine, to help with my dancing.  Alas, no.

“I make up a lot of this as I go,” she explained.  “You’ll just need to practice.”  And then we would flit on to another move, this one having been covered twice – which should be enough for anyone to master, it seems.  For me, trying to “practice” under these conditions was an exercise in frustration.  Her advice was to take notes, but as aforementioned, I don’t have a background in dance.  

Just the same, I did take her advice once, or at least I tried: I sat out of class and watched, notebook in hand.  What I learned that day was that taking notes on individual moves in an ongoing dance is like watching a Black Ops tournament and trying to jot down weapon serial numbers.

Below is an excerpt from such an attempt:

Mincing about to the right
Something tribal
Lop sau from the hip 8 count or so
Then a miracle happens
On to floor work
Spin somehow
More miracles
Kick like a ballet mule
Groucho Marx with steps

. . . and so on.  Mercifully, two of my class mates saw my distress and were willing to help.  Otherwise, the final performance would have been an even darker comedy than it was.

Happy only when dancing, she has been dancing so long I think she has forgotten what it was like to do anything else.  In class, I was surrounded by Seelie revelers, dancing their dreams made flesh.  And in giving birth to such dreams, she is the fairies' midwife, and she comes in shape no bigger than an agate stone on the forefinger of an alderman, drawn with a team of little atomies over men's noses as they lie asleep.

Her wagon spokes made of long spinners' legs, the cover, of the wings of grasshoppers; her traces, of the smallest spider web; her collars, of the moonshine's wat'ry beams; her whip, of cricket's bone; the lash, of film . . . her chariot is an empty hazelnut, made by the joiner squirrel . . .

Yes, she is Professor Mab, Goddess of the Demi-Fey and the Mistress of Dreams.  And for all that her class was an experience of frustration, so too was it one of learning, and I tip my hat to her in salute.

Karate for Grownups (or: "Conan, What is Best in Life?")

Right after Jazz Ballet was Karate for Grownups.  Fortunately, both were in the same room.  Gad, I am such a genius.  But perhaps I should have noted the room number more closely.  When your classes are held in Room 007, it can be either very good or very bad . . .

Lauren once had a classmate in Composition ask her something along the lines of: “Don’t you love coming back to class?  It’s so hard to write without someone giving you an assignment, isn’t it?” 

And then I imagine Lauren looking at them as though they had just grown a second head, carefully not saying something along the lines of, “No.  Actually, these classes get in the way of the real writing.  I write on my own, constantly, thank you.”  I found myself in the same position regarding the workouts in this class. 

Sensei loves his physical drills.  I mean he loooooooooooves his physical drills.  Pain is good.  Yes, Sensei.  Pain is your friend.  Yes, Sensei.  Very good, I am proud of you.  And now, your reward: more push-ups!  Yes, Sensei.  Thank you, Sensei.  And then, at the end of class, he strikes you with his lightning.

Thank you for your grandmotherly kindness, Sensei. 

We would eventually get to stance and style, at least a little.  But for the most part each class focused on working out.  I am told that Professor Thor customarily uses the workouts to weed the class down to a manageable size, and then focuses on the style itself.

But that didn’t happen this time.  How could it?  Who can afford to drop a class in these times?  Drop a class and you could lose your funding – and then you’re out, with a fat, hungry college debt drooling at the door and no way to pay it.

So on we went, stamina drills and working out taking anywhere from half to four-fifths of the class, until only a few weeks were left.  Then we finally focused on moves.

The staff work was good, and so was the self-defense.  I did learn, never doubt.  He helped me find a hole in my punch, and a few other things, and told me how to fill it.  I am walking away richer for having taken his class.

But while the style of Karate that Professor Thor teaches is a good one, and while he is a fine and honourable fellow, his teaching style is very much the No Pain No Gain approach.  His hammer is mighty and his lightning always strikes true.  But while this is treasured by some martial artists, it is not for me. 

Study Smart Not Hard (or: "How to Take All Your Other Classes")

Study Smart Not Hard is taught by Professor Clockwork, from whom I had taken Dignified Gibberish before.  Everything online, pre-recorded, and at your own pace.  The angels were on hand to give guidance as always, the Prof himself could be reached via email as needed.

I sought out his class on purpose, and I was not disappointed.  I still believe in a clockwork god.

Still, it was a sobering experience.  For one thing, the text books assured me that memory was impossible without writing.  Wow.  Really?  I mean, really really?  What of the bards of old, what of the oral traditions of countless cultures, passed on generation after generation through the ages?  Apparently that never happened. 

Disappointing.  I liked Homer, too.  Oh, well.

Another point: while the class was brilliant for learning short term and test taking strategies, anything I wanted to apply to long term memory I had to figure out on my own.  Apparently, while going through the motions of learning is a carefully treasured art, long-term comprehension is simply not considered important.  This was a familiar realization, but no less chilling for that.

About half way through the class, I attended a seminar Professor Clockwork was holding.  After not twenty minutes, there was a kind of moaning that rose up around me.  Strangely discoloured, my fellow colligates were looking around, blank-eyed, mouths open.  Flesh peeled down, soft, revealing muscle and in some places even bone.

A few had just started reaching towards me in a half-remembered hunger when Prof. Clockwork said, “I know, it’s okay.  Thinking hurts.  We’ll take a break and then come back to it.”  And then they were all nodding and slowly rising from their seats, some clutching their smoking cerebrums, others shambling blindly away for water, brains, or cable TV, just to take the edge off.

The angels were brilliant as always, and Professor Clockwork’s curriculum was excellent as I expected.  But looking about me, zombies of the Illiterati pressing in on all sides, I felt very much a stranger in a very strange land.  This was not the first time I had felt so.  I am sure it will not be the last.

Memory Tactics (or, “It Worked For the Romans.”)

A fitting companion to Prof. Clockwork’s class, Memory Tactics started almost the day that Study Smart Not Hard ended.  Sometimes my brilliance almost astounds even me. 

The class went in depth regarding techniques for memorizing data for tests.  It was small class, four people in all.  But the Professor used the small size of her class to all our advantages, going into depth regarding different things that the mind might seize upon – colours, images, and so forth – and how to use them in our studies.  Note cards, mnemonics, loci, interlocking visuals, all of these and more were covered on an individual level.

It was a short class, and the assignments were, quite simply, to use whatever she was teaching in studying for other classes.

The Professor is a bit ADHD, by her own admission, and she uses this as an asset in her teachings, weaving a loose-seeming tapestry of ideas and then drawing the net in tightly to show how everything truly does fit together, and her high energy was a driving force that was wonderful to see.

She is Professor Luna, for she is the moon.  Ever changing, always in motion, yet she is always herself.  And her light is a guide through the dark and tangled wood.

Body Parts and Functions (or: "Thank the Gods for Dignified Gibberish")

I have spoken of this class before, an online class with lab.  It was this class to which I dedicated some thirty hours a week alone.  And were it not for my Dignified Gibberish class, times would have been much harder yet.

The lectures, though pre-recorded, were of another professor teaching to another class.  The study sheets were rather vague, and though the exams did get easier as we went along, that mostly meant that they got easier once our grade was all but set.

The Professor was always available to answer whatever question his students might have had, but, being a mostly online class, you had to know what question to ask.  He seemed to enjoy throwing us curves, actually, and his exams reflected this. 

In short, my experience with this class was the opposite of my other experiences with online classes.  But the Professor is by no means an evil man, and can be very funny and warm in person.

Still, there was a point in class, while taking an exam, I looked up at an inopportune moment and saw something I think I should not have seen.  I had been working on a question on the relationship between muscle neurons and a certain neurotransmitter.  Deep in thought, I raised my eyes, and beheld a sight I will not soon forget.  

As I watched in horror, the Professor’s face grew longer, more skeletal.  His eyes shrank slightly as his features protruded downward, beak-like.  Hunched over, his frame shrank in on itself as his fine shirt lengthened down over him, transforming into the tattered remains of robed finery.  His hands, dark and skeletal, clutched the hem of his garment as he met my gaze with his own, saying,

“You’re very lucky, slave – only the Emperor gets to drink your essence!”

I let loose a small cry - "Ack!" - but by then his glamour was back in place, and my fellow students were frowning at me for disrupting their concentration.  He went on as though nothing had happened, nothing at all.

But he knew that I knew.

I have come to the realization that medical classes are my own Dark Crystal: flawed, powerful, and corrupted by those who rule.  And, like the mirror in the Alchemist’s chamber, Professor Skeksis’ class reflected their light into me.  It was a soul-sucking experience, and only by calling upon my own gifts did I survive.

Head Shrinking 101 (or: "Jung Was a Dirty Old Genius")

This was by far my favorite class.  The quizzes were online, the textbook was fantastic (a rental, alas.  What boob thought up rental textbooks?), the tests were multiple choice.  All so that time could be properly spent on class discussion.

This is a professor who values the human mind and its inquisitive potential.  She reaches out and encourages her students to speak, question, and learn.  Yes, her tests are multiple choice.  But the questions are structured such that you must have comprehension to answer them, not mere memorization.  I treasure that.

She was very encouraging when I contemplated changing my major to Psych, and happy for me when I did.  The book review – the one paper for her class – revolved around thought and understanding of the material, and a willingness to ask questions.  Also a treasure.

All through the semester her class has been a light to look forward to at the end of the week.  I have watched her time and again seek to kindle the fires of imagination and analytic thought, encouraging her students to share those fires with others.  

She is Professor Prometheus, one of the Bringers of Light.  A true teacher, it is my hope she continues as she has for some time to come.  And if the time comes when she is, for her efforts, chained to a mountainside, I trust she will bear it with dignity.

And so my journey ends for the moment, and next month will be taken up again.  There are new shrines waiting, with new Powers within to guide and instruct.  And, no doubt, it will be an exciting time.  But for now, with my finals all but spent, I look forward to a brief respite in my travels.

Sometime again,

(Night on Bald Mountain image is (c) Disney Studios; sleeping coyote photo courtesy of; the faerie ballet photo is courtesy of; Queen Mab illustration is courtesy of, and is credited to Ms. Amy Brown; Ranma ½ was created by Rumiko Takahashi, and you either get the cursed springs reference or you don’t; Thor in this incarnation is (c) Marvel Comics; the clockwork brain photo is from the Clockwork Man, a character from Dr. Who that is run and owned by BBC; Clockwork God is by a person called Romek and can be viewed at; Roman Dinner painting is by Neel Burton, courtesy of; Luna picture courtesy of; the Torture Chamber was painted by an unknown artist around 1736 CE; the Skeksis were created by Jim Henson Muppets, say thank ye; Carl Yung created himself, more power to him; Prometheus picture by Heinrich Friedrich Fuger.  All rights reserved by those who rightfully reserve them.  No intent is made or held to infringe upon those rights whatsoever.)

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