Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What has made you?

Think about it. . . most of the people who read my blog (I know you're out there) and the blogs I read are somewhat educated folks with a curiosity about life. Many of us have developed our humanity and and our ability to be empathetic as we've grown. We got that way because certain events occured and certain people influenced our thinking. For me, there were "ah ha!" moments and influences that persuaded me over time.
I'm going to tell you some of the influences that made me who I am. . . maybe I'll even throw in some of the evil influences.

I grew up in a low brow working class uneducated family. Life was serious and life was fucking us over. That was the general mood. . . except for Uncle Eddie! Uncle Eddie was always happy and always coming up with ways to have fun. When us kids got into a fight or disagreement Uncle Eddie solved the matter and didn't just beat all our asses. Uncle Eddie taught me to have fun, get past the bullshit and laugh. He was also my god father. I still visit him whenever I'm in Florida and he and Aunt Eddie are still a fun loving happy people. I'm really lucky to have had them in my life.

About the time I got into Jr Hi, a HS French teacher named Joe McMurphy moved in next door to us. Joe kinda took me under his arm, or maybe I put myself under his arm, but strategy aside, he taught me a lot. Joe was a well rounded guy who had a lot of life experience. He took me to the big city to hear symphony orchestras. He told me stories of what is was like being a foot soldier in WWII and Korea. He took me to the horse races. We'd spend hours listening to classical music at his place where he'd describe the nuances of the musical piece and the way the individual conductors presented it. Whenever I had a problem and told Joe about it he'd purse his lips, rub his chin and in an empathetic manner apply the hard clear logic of an Army officer and very wise man to the situation. Joe taught me to clear away the haze and the clouds and take positive action.

Bill Nutley and Tim Meadows were professors I had in college. After being taught be them for a couple years I had an "ah ha" moment. I'm not sure when it occurred, but it was sudden. It was the moment that I profoundly realized and had the capability of taking it all apart and discussing it, that every living thing in the world was connected in some manner. They taught me enough good natural biology to realize this fact. Had others taught me that information, perhaps they wouldn't have done it with the love and passion they had for the subjects. Maybe I wouldn't have had that moment and only had cold information and data as a result of my studies in biology. If I'd been taught by others could I have put it all together and come up with that point in time when the biosphere really became the biosphere for me? Don't know, don't care. Those guys taught me what I went to college to learn.

After having a decade or so to contemplate all this, I had a yearning to understand where and if humanity had any positive role to play on this Earth so I went about pursuing graduate studies in humanities. I had two professors there who taught me a couple things that made me realize some fairly profound ideas and put me on a track to further explore those topics. One gentleman, who taught a world religions class, despite my aversion to religious dogma, taught me about the spiritual interconnectedness of all living things. Call it spirit, call it energy or collective conscious, through his ability to ask me questions and demand answers, I was able to grasp this concept that has been most useful in my life. Another professor, despite the fact that she thought she was teaching me English literature, taught me about the possible genius and beauty of the human mind outside the realms of science. These two concepts propelled me into much deeper studies and were the foundation of my scholarship and general hopes for mankind.

Now, how about an evil experience. For 27 years I worked for a corporation that was truly evil. They killed people, they polluted the Earth and the people who worked there were a bunch of pricks for the most part. I made excuses, I tried to change people, I tried to influence things, but mostly, I made excuses for the pay check. Now that's some fucked up shit and it's true. Are there positive aspects of that experience? Oh, I can come up with a few. . . nothing the corporation did, but experiences I took from my tenure at the corporation. Overall it was bad work done around people who had bad ways of acting and I tolerated it for 27 years. How evil is that?

Those are a few of my influential experiences. I'd like to hear other people's experiences in growing.


Stimpson said...

Interesting. For me, the first person to come to mind is my father, who might be described as a humanist, for the most part let me make my own mistakes growing up. The freedom felt great, though perhaps I could have used a little more guidance now and then. I also grew to love newspapers because of him, as I noticed the first thing he did when he came home from work was read the paper. Seeing that made me consider journalism as a career. He's the kindest, most generous person I know, and I can only try to be as kind as he is. But, unlike either parent, I'm a misanthrope at my core. I guess I'll never quite live up to his example, but I'll keep trying. I'll keep trying.

MacDaddy said...

I grew up in housing projects in big cities: Atlanta and Chicago, mostly. When my dad was alive, he would take me around with him as he visited neighbors. My dad was a Teamster organizer, and a very good one. He dropped by to see how people were doing, listened to them and remembered everything. He was always helping people without trying to show how smart he was. Unlike so- called leaders today, there wasn't a hint of arrogance in him. As a musician and natural leader, he reminded of Willie King, the bluesman out of W. Alabama that could play some serious juke joint blues. My dad was the best organizer I knew; and i've met quite a few. I'm still trying to half the man he was.

I joined the Nation of Islam, when I was about 11. They killed Malcolm X, but, truthfully, through the I learned an awful lot about world history and the role that Africans played in it. Many whites in Alabama and Georgia said "Negroes" had no history.

Later, I attended a lot of white colleges and, i'm sorry to say, learned very little inside the classroom. I learned by starting Black student unions, attending workshops, marching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a radical school at the time.

When I came to school at the U of Minnesota, I decided that I wasn't going to let some white school keep me isolated from my community. So I've been working in black communities either a s a job or volunteer.

I love it.

Anonymous said...

My first boyfriend in high school was a Sikh. While his parents didn't care much for his very American cheerleader girlfriend, they tolerated me as a means of allowing him to adapt to our culture.

While I was informed that the relationship was a dead end (the kids would have their marriages arranged) it gave me first hand experience from the inside of a culture vastly different form anything I had ever known.

I knew after highschool that I would never be satisfied with white bread America and went on a quest to learn as much about the cultures and religions of our world. College helped with that, but my personal relationships have been the biggest payoff.

I could go on and on. I'll leave it at that.

MountainLaurel said...

I have always been curious, and this curiosity has been nurtured. When I was in 6th grade I asked my Sunday School teacher if Allah was God. She said, and I will love her forever for this, "Why don't you find out what you can about it and tell us next week?" I did my research, as much as I could, and it sure sounded like the same deity to me! I reported back and was complimented on my initiative and independent thinking.

I'm fluent in Spanish. My dad always credits an experience that I don't recall. We were in California visiting my aunt, and I heard people on the street talking. They could understand each other, they could understand me, but I couldn't understand them. Dad told me that they were speaking Spanish, a different language. Ever since then (and again, I don't recall this so it seems like forever to me), I have wanted to learn Spanish. I begged my Grandma for a book called "Say it In Spanish," which she bought me. (That's the only thing that I can remember that she bought me.) Mother would take me to the library to get Spanish records to listen to. When I stayed with my grandma, we would each get a book, read it and take breaks to discuss it. Sounds isolating, but quietly reading with another person in the room and discussing it still seems to me the most intimate act.

With this kind of a background, is it any wonder I ended up in academe?

And, yes, even though Grandma has been gone 15 years, I still miss her desperately.