Wednesday, May 11, 2011

when it's good, don't say it's good — secrets of msr —

I do an awful lot of complaining, I admit, about student papers, grammar, exams, apathy, critical thinking skills, motivation, writing, attention span, due diligence, and well, writing. And that's a lot of complaining. So. I think it only fair that when it's good, I say it's good.

Tonight, it was good.

Tonight it was transcendent. I'm not even sure they know how good it was. It was that good.

Tonight we had our last regularly scheduled class meeting of MSR (Magic, Science and Religion) and we used it for the oral portion of the class's final exam. This portion of the exam is voluntary. It can either be done written or oral. All but two students stayed for the oral group exam. It's a big risk: they have to trust each other. I only grade this thing collectively. They have to help each other — not compete with each other. It makes them very very very nervous. One grade for all of them. Rise or fall with the collective.

They don't know I give bravery points. They don't know that the collectivity always outperforms individual work on these exams. It's downright un-American how well collective oral exams work.

Tonight, it was not just that they hit (with help from each other) key or nuanced points — it's that they began opening doors. One right after another.

They opened the Michael Murphy door, and found Castaneda and Fritz Perls waiting.

They opened the PARDES door, and found the Tetragrammaton and Orisha waiting — and even Thomas Kuhn.

And they kept going!

They were seeing the connections. No class had ever opened so many doors in one night before. Or come even close.

They saw Cavafy's poem Ithaka had the structure of PARDES, which is hard enough to get to. Which means, essentially, that they could see how it built from the concrete to the sublime in the same four stages. And the doors still kept opening. By the end of the night, they were almost in freefall. At one point, to be sure, the rush of ideas and emotions that swirled throughout that crowded classroom was downright entheogenic.

Relevant tales emerged, of relatives now departed. Tears. And not just in the telling. It wasn't just collective doors that were opening. Some folks had private doors they needed to encounter. They needed to walk on through.

And so, for the first time, because they stood right on the threshold, I told them MSR secrets.

I told them what you can really do with all those theoretical constructs. What you can do with all the unfamiliar models I'd made them learn.

Something very very special.

You can try them on, and you can live them. And when you do that — models come to life.

I've written examples of that here, in fact. You can be Chango or Oya and live that way. You can be El or Ba'al, alchemical fire or air. Anat, or the Shekhinah. You can embody them, and then look at the world through eyes. You can see what they see.

And everything changes.

So. Most folks study for their exams. They memorize as best they can, and spit it all out on their exams. Very boring. I know, because I'm the one who has to read all that stuff. But this way is different. They can try on the models and watch what happens. And something always happens.

They can be. And the world shifts entirely.

So. This is me — happy. But only for a fleeting moment. We all know how dangerous too much happiness can be. It trips us up if ever we acknowledge it. We pay for boasting of our pleasure — for falling in love, good fortune, or beauty. It's all too threatening, I guess, to those who say they know us. It's a whole lot safer complaining grumpily. People love you when they see you suffer. Happiness just brings on their envy.


I had a really shitty night in MSR tonight.

Let me tell you about it...


  1. From Facebook:

    Howard Buzick, Gina Burns and Tobaron Waxman like this.

    Tobaron Waxman fortunate students
    9 hours ago · Like

    Mira Z. Amiras Fortunate prof!!
    2 hours ago · Like

    Howard Buzick ‎:)
    2 hours ago · Like

    Howard Buzick In case it's not obvious, by ":)" I mean to say "It feels good when you spend years and years of effort to create an environment for people to open doors and see possibilities, and in the end, it pays off."
    about an hour ago · Like

    Mira Z. Amiras Well, we know it's happened before — but my god, it's rare to come with such collective force!
    10 minutes ago · Like

    J. Todd Ormsbee So awesome. SPeaking of MSR, have your read any of Hugh B. Urban's work? I'm thinking of reading one of his books over the summer. Probably this one:
    6 minutes ago · Like

    Gina Burns I wish I was there. :)
    3 minutes ago · Unlike · 1 person

    Mira Z. Amiras Hugh Urban sounds really really familiar. I wonder if he's presented at SAC. At any rate, looks like I've got more books to buy, don't I? Thanks Todd.
    2 seconds ago · Like

  2. Hey, not everyone who knows you loves you more when you suffer. We weren't all raised Jewish. You are a magnificent teacher, and it's about time you got to enjoy it! So there.

    Keep it up - I dare you. Shine on. End that preemptive self-strike on the evil eye. How long can you be brave enough to celebrate joy?

  3. Good question. I wouldn't mind extending this moment for about 90 years. I think after that, I'd be getting greedy.

    And I think the evil eye is more a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern thing that a Jewish thing. 'Those Ashkenazi people' (as my grandmother would say) are more conspicuous consumption than evil eye folk. So maybe this is a Sephardi thing?