The first class was last week Saturday. My students are attentive and hypersensitive to speaking English. Their English is better than the Spanish, Italian and French studies I’ve done in all my years put together. One student asked, “How do you master a language?” I thought, “Is that what you think I’ve done?” Distinction, I’ve studied, not mastered. And I barely speak these languages. My friend V speaks 4 languages. When he is talking to a native speaker in a specific language he still says he doesn’t identify as being fluent, although he has been actively studying and speaking for 30+ years. What I call fluent he calls proficient [at best]. My response to the student: I haven’t mastered anything, but if I want to get better I have to push through and talk, read, absorb, risk-take and talk some more.
Confucius: “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”
Higher Learning has a way of playing mind-tricks. We use terms like “Expert, Scholar, Genius” after one has amassed a certain amount of degrees and a bit of experimental research. I believe there are some experts, scholars and geniuses but those words play games of worthiness in and out of the academy. And for those who are self-taught, for those who were not allowed to attend school for lawful/lawless reasons, for those who do not have access, for those who do not participate in the privilege circle, for those and them and that kind, this type, thereof/therefore, there and their beyond…to whom do they belong?
My students belong to each other. They belong to a culture. They belong to a country. They belong to their phones, their families, their tests and scores. They belong to themselves...in ownership, possession and mental/physical confinement...sometimes they belong to Liberation.
I visited a small Confucius Temple the other day in Harbin. I watched people light very tall thick incense sticks, then kneel on a square wooden bench, nod a specific amount of times in front of the Confucius statue and then walk forward and place the incense sticks in a big pot filled with earth (dirt/sand). Honor. I believe they belonged both to the moment and to Confucius, who seemed to be present every time someone lit an incense stick and bowed.
I met another foreign teacher named Di. Di looks Chinese, speaks Chinese, is Chinese…but not. He is from the United States and China, but not. He belongs to the Midwest...yet and still, he does not.
He belongs to politics and trump dialogues that combat erasure and mass gatherings of people identified as illegal or alien or unlawful.
He belongs to learning like learning belongs to baby birds taking their first flight.
He belongs to prestige and un-conformist ways of thinking and conforming ways of being.
He belongs to electrical skateboards on massive campus grounds that make you do your 500 steps daily, if you want a campus meal.
He belongs to Atari and Star Wars (80’s style).
He definitely belongs to WeChat-it-up and pay-by-phone and online purchasing.
He belongs to philosophizing about why men don’t get therapy…why Asians don’t get therapy…why Black folk don’t get therapy…what in the hell is therapy?
He belongs to relationships and relational dialogues that end in a cognac nightcap and heavy bantering.
He belongs in spaces that feed him well…a preponderance of the truth…push the envelope…that sweetened pot of gold…happiness and joy…lovemaking to procreating.
He belongs to careful conversations…critical thinking…pontificating over class divisions.
He belongs to swirling synergies…no time for complaining…stop complaining…stop bitching for one solid moment.
He belongs to the greatest of possibilities.
There is a belonging we seek as humans. My twin asked me the other day, “What and where is home for you?” Often my answer has been connected to wherever my parents are, but is that true? My parents often say, “Take flight.” If that is the case, then home may be the idea of carrying people wherever I go. Yesterday, when we had dinner in Di’s apartment, it was home for a moment. I had watched this scene before but I hadn’t been in the scene until yesterday. I had watched people of a particular age and of a particular persuasion, in a particular field, spend their late evenings clinking glasses with a fingerful of brandy and 2 ice cubes, jargoning over politics and purpose. I watched them on tv and they all looked like professors who professed a whole bunch of…
And last night I became the television show (slight variations, of course). It was gooood. It was homey. It was comfortable. It is what we do when we risk-take, talk and let go.