Monday, February 12, 2007
I've been thinking a lot about thinking. When I was a kid, I loved learning. I went to a number of small, rural schools and they all encouraged me to read a lot. I was even allowed to read during class as long as I followd the lesson at the same time. When we moved to the city, I skipped a year and started high school early. Although I did well, with little effort, I soon realised that being interested in learning and getting 'straight As' was a disadvantage.The school's faculty seemed irritated by anyone actually wanting an education.I left after a couple of years, and went to a few more high schools before graduating. The last was for students in Years 11 and 12 only, and included a technical college syllabus. The school had a university-style timetable, no uniform (uniforms are compulsory in most Australian schools), and you could smoke. Teachers were addressed by their first names. It was full of either kids who didn't fit in with the conventional education system or 'mature-age' students completing their education. I liked it no more nor less than the other schools I'd been to but many of the teachers were apathetic. My art teacher couldn't be bothered writing a recommendation for me to study art at university.When I entered universiy, I had a naive ideal, probably from reading too many books written in the '60s and '70s, that it would be full of people who wanted to be there. The campus would a place of lively discussion and debate, where independent thinking and autonomous learning were taught and encouraged.Nothing could be further from the truth. I went to two different institutions, both with relatively good reputations. Nevertheless, I was consistently marked lowest for essays that pursued independent thought – the more effort I put into researching them, the lower I scored – and marked highest for locating the most obvious, generally accepted references and regurgitating them. After a while, I lost interest and dropped out.Even as a teenager, my peers – hell, my own family! – took me to task me for thinking too much. So I started to talk less. After a period of talking less, I avoided thinking as much too. I felt that if I couldn't make myself understood,I must be wrong. Anyway, life worked better when I dumbed myself down. I got along better with people even if I lost something that was integral to my happiness.It wasn't until I met my boyfriend that I was again forced to think – in various, original ways. He encouraged me to say what I thought. An eccentric, nomadic, gifted and solitary man, he has an exceptional IQ and an urbane if disconcertingly offhand conversational manner. For nearly three years, we have talked for hours, every day, on topics that might range from the inversion of traditional means of valuing art to the navigational techniques of desert-roaming Touaregs, or from the archaeology of mediaeval, Muslim Southern Spain to the novels of Delacorta. He has no respect for conventional learning. He forces me to tease out my own original ideas, to test them, and to question the ideas of others. He also questions me, stimulating my own analytic and investigative processes. I've never felt more alive but more, I've come to realise that without a vibrant interior life, it's too easy merely to go through the motions of living.