To my co-editor and me this is the most powerful story I tell in all the nine hours of footage. In seven minutes it encapsulates everything I am working against in terms of the accepted ideas and mores of our culture. I was going to use it as the very first scene but realized I needed something more hopeful and positive to begin. Still, it is the first main chunk of real matter: that encapsulation and me telling some of my story to get at truth grounds the whole film thematically and stylistically. From the expectation that I go to university to be “successful” to the heartlessness of ego-driven work environments and resulting adult ennui to “harmless” sexual advances in the workplace to idiotic either-or debates designed to entrench the status quo (e.g. the “debate” about whether Marc Lepine was a madman vs. men committing violence against women is socially sanctioned, as if both aren’t substantially true and there isn’t more to say).
University/Academia: I say: “I had no idea why I was there,” i.e. at university. I graduated in 1983 and couldn’t wait to get out. I didn’t have many words for my revulsion, just a marked lack of connection with the work I was expected to do and distaste for the machinations of the Philosophy Department where my then-boyfriend was a favored Ph. D. candidate much envied by his peers. I had the naïve idea that people in philosophy should have learned to be nice to each other!
Almost 30 years later I am in a similar situation. This time I am enrolled in university to get a credential so that I can continue to teach at the college level, rather than to please my parents and follow my socio-economic tribe. I am vastly more distressed by my current experience because I am now 48 years old, a woman of experience, consciousness, depth, and intelligence—a teaching award-winner even—and what is meaningful to me is dismissed by simple virtue of the parameters of the institution. A grown-up has almost no agency in the Education faculty, yet we think we are educating children to function in an extremely complex world. I wonder if the philosophers are being nice to each other yet.
Recently in a class I took for my M.Ed. the professor sent out a questionnaire. One of the lines was: “Education is…” We were meant to fill in the blank. I wrote “Education is: fucked. I do understand how history has shaped it and how much education has given to the world. But earthly events are moving at an exponential pace and educational institutions are locked in the past. Where we are today in terms of the urgency of our very survival is not reflected in what I see happening in any education system. I find this extremely frustrating.”
She indicated that she was rather shocked by my answer. I’m not completely sure why. But I find it interesting that a very liberal and open-minded professor was surprised by this answer. What is obvious to me seems hidden from most. Can I really be the only one saying this stuff? I am in the classes I’ve been in, but watch Sir Ken Robinson saying it more charmingly and knightedly on TED.com in 2006 and 2010. (An examination of why Ken is a knight and I am someone the U of L Faculty of Education presumably can’t wait to get rid of could be an interesting tangent. Is it Britain? Is it Lethbridge? Maybe Ken enjoyed writing scholarly articles before he became a speaker on the Chardonnay circuit whereas I can’t think of a better way to waste my time, energy, and skills.)
I realize I may seem to be on a bit of a digression here but it relates, on an essential level, to my work in the Human Body Project and the exact textual artifact we are discussing, my film. I may also not be practicing what I preach as an award-winning teacher, i.e. tailor your discussion to your audience, the audience in this case perhaps not amenable to my dissing of their chosen profession. (Reminder: I do not have tenure. I do not even have a job.) So I will emphasize that, for me, personally, the M.Ed. program has done one thing: I have reached a point where I feel completely strong and validated in my own process and choices, which, without a lot of inauthentic contortions, do not fit into the way academia is run. Those processes and choices are very much in evidence in this film. They are powerful, necessary, educational, and original. They are also inherently, and in the case of this digression, explicitly, critical of academia.
There is a fairly dramatic tension between my work then and my two intended audiences. One audience is the people of the world who are open to exploring how to move things forward, which very certainly includes our students. One is academia. Isn’t it sad that that Venn diagram has almost no intersection? God help them, where does that leave our students?
This isn’t just some melodramatic question; this is crucial. “What is curriculum theory?” asks eminent theorist William Pinar. This film is in that no-man’s-land: it is that “complicated conversation with oneself (as a ‘private’ intellectual), an ongoing project of self-understanding in which one becomes mobilized for engaged pedagogical action—as a private-and-public intellectual—with others in the social reconstruction of the public sphere “ (Pinar, 2004, p. 37). Pinar adds: “Curriculum theory asks you as a prospective or practicing teacher, to consider your position as engaged with yourself and your students and colleagues in the construction of a public sphere, a public sphere not yet born, a future that cannot be discerned in, or even thought from, the present” (Pinar, 2004, 37-38). I would suggest that the teaching, curricular, and research methods of the Human Body Project “cannot be discerned from the present” of institutional realities.
For me, my hidden work gets me a teaching award. My explicit work can literally only be held on the fringes (I talk a bit about this later in the film) with me fighting tooth and nail to keep it in the dialogue of the academy. It is impossible for me to write and talk about the Human Body Project and this film without “going there,” i.e. to those places where it rubs up against orthodoxies. This piece of footage under discussion is critical of institutional culture and the above is a deeper explanation (there you go, folks!) of how that relates to my experience.
Maclean’s/Ethics/Litigation/Being Liked: This kind of work is ethically challenging. I’m not making a piece of fiction. I’m talking about my own experiences and opinions; these are my stories (or, when they tell them, Megan’s or the audience members’). It’s possible I may hurt the feelings or pride of university professors in what I’ve written above. It’s possible that I may hurt the feelings or pride of people, some of whom I once worked with and am on friendly terms with, who work or worked at Maclean’s. I have come to realize that I can’t predict when, how, or whom I’m going to offend; there is pretty much a guarantee that offense will be taken, though. I’ll talk about that first.
Contrary to appearances, I’m a person who actually does not enjoy confrontation or conflict. I am very much someone who would like to be liked. I am thin-skinned and utterly pervious to criticism. Needless to say, it sucks to be as determined as I am on a course that, while I do also have supporters, guarantees criticism, misunderstanding, conflict, ostracism, judgment, weird sexual attention, dismissing, rejection (all of which are on the go), and, quite possibly, aggression or even violence (so far, so good, but I’m still a relative nobody). I can get very lost in anxieties about these consequences.
Guess what? I made an intention to allow myself to be vulnerable and it can’t be compartmentalized. It isn’t just part of my project, it is part of my life. I can choose when I write or show up naked but I can’t and won’t choose to go back on this path. Every day my conviction that this work is necessary grows stronger both because of what I see in the world and because of the growth that takes place in myself. I feel strong.
This piece of footage really brought out some of my fears of rejection and creating conflict. I was in Toronto recently re-editing and trying to lobby to get the film picked up by the Toronto International Film Festival (jury is still out) and was watching the film again with my co-producer who mused that the editor, who is still alive but difficult to find so I will not give away his name—if you want to know, you’re going to have to dig deeper than Google—might have reason to sue me.
But everything I say in the film is true. He was an introvert. He was, in my opinion, as I say, a damaged guy. He did drunkenly grab me from behind at a Christmas party in a way that can only be interpreted as old boss guy (younger than me now!) makes entitled advances on cute young hireling. (If you think this sort of thing doesn’t go on anymore, read “Drinking With Men Who Are Not Russell Smith,” by Stacey Fowles, June 28, 2010, on The Walrus blog, about gross male behavior in Canada’s publishing industry.)
I should add that he sent out a webmail memo the following week apologizing for his behavior at the party (no specifics mentioned, no apology directed to me personally), which he said was caused by mixing alcohol and prescription drugs. My young colleagues and I enjoyed great ironic amusement from this less than adequate admission. (Irony for me then was the great leveler. I now find irony less than adequate and really fucking irritating actually; hence the seriousness and conflict-prone nature of my current assignment.)
It all happened more than 20 years ago and could he possibly care and would he even ever find out? Hard to say. It did send me on a major freak-out spiral, though. I realized in a deeper way that huge conflict of interest I have doing this work. On the one hand, I want the work to get out. On the other, the more it’s out there the more I could be a target. What a vulnerable feeling and I’m only just beginning. As I said, I’m strong and determined to do it anyway but it makes me have some empathy for George Bush.