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In the cloisters with Eli Clare

marian.bechtel's picture

I had a lot of thoughts post-class today about being outside in the cloisters for class today. First of all, unrelated to the setting, it was incredible having Eli Clare in class with us. Everything he said was so thought-provoking and beautiful, and I definitely bragged to my sister afterwards that I had had class with Eli Clare and she was insanely jealous. Now in terms of the setting, I have so many thoughts, and following our discussion of wild writing, I'm not going to give this post much structure - I'm just going to let it take a sort of stream-of-concious form, so here we go.

First, the wind. I kept coming back to thinking about the wind throughout class and afterwards. It kept blowing around papers, causing distraction and loss of thoughts. But is this a bad thing? Makes me think again of our discussion of "divergent thinking" and whether to embrace it or shut it out. It also felt like we were shouting into the wind sometimes, competing with it - sometimes the wind seemed to howl at crucial moments in the conversation, which was frustrating. We can't control the wind or when it decides to howl - maybe that's one reason we feel more at ease inside? Because we have more control over the environment? I definitely felt like people were not at ease necessarily in the cloisters, especially when it got chillier. Is it good to have control over our environment in a classroom setting, or should we be letting go of that control? Also thinking about the wind, in terms of competing with it: we were often trying to out-shout the wind when it got loudest, but is that ecological? In some ways, that seems like us dominating the environment around us - we want it to be warm and beautiful and silent, catered to us. But if we are truly going to be an ecological class and sit outside for the environment, shouldn't we be embracing the environment and giving the elements a voice? Hypothetically, what if anytime the wind howled like that, we stopped and were silent, and just listened to the wind? Gave the wind a voice for a minute, a chance to be heard. When we have conversation, we don't talk over each other, we take turns speaking. What if we took turns speaking with the wind? Of course, the argument is we have an agenda and important things to get through in a limited time, but again, that's taking control. Could there be benefits, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, whatever, to being silent at moments and listening to the wind instead of fighting it? Probably not feasible, but an interesting thought sounds very ecological.

Another thing about the wind - in some ways, yes it was harder to hear above the wind when people were speaking, but in some ways, it made me listen harder. I had to really focus in and try and grasp every word of what people were saying, whereas in the classroom, admittedly I half-listen sometimes when people are speaking because I'm also preoccupied with my own thoughts on the matter, and I'm bad at multitasking.

Seeing people shake in the wind as it got chilly raised some thoughts - how do our physical bodily reactions to the environment affect our mental engagement with each other? Around the circle people were bundled and hugging themselves, closed-off. Does this kind of physical closing off make us less willing to take risks in what we are saying? Also then thinking about functions of discomfort in a learning space - we talk about discomfort as being a zone for learning, pushing our boundaries. But what about physical discomfort, like being cold? Does that encourage or simply distract from learning?

Amala found a ladybug! She tapped me and showed me the ladybug, and it didn't feel like an unwelcome distraction. It was nice to see some of the life around us. I ended up then watching the ladybug crawl around the tip of a blade of grass for a while, and for the following half hour, kept checking by my feet to make sure I didn't step on it. I felt very aware of my surroundings, but it wasn't a bad thing. I never check my feet in a classroom to see if I'm stepping on any bugs. In fact I never do that when I'm walking around. So in a way, in a class setting, seeing this ladybug moving around at my feet, it was a learning moment because it reminded me to be aware of where I step and what I affect, and what space is mine to take, even just sitting in the cloisters.

I guess where I land with all this, it was too windy and chilly today and I was not at ease. That being said, maybe it was good to be uncomfortable? Certainly these thoughts that came out of it are deeper than thoughts that I have thinking about the environment in an indoor classroom. So even though it was uncomfortable, maybe that discomfort was good. I don't know, just interesting thoughts.