Mr. Spock’s Strange Path—And Mine

 

When I woke up to Leonard Nimoy, Spock, Vulcan, Wrath of Khan, and #StarTrek trending on Twitter, I knew what had happened. Now there is a sentence that would have made no sense in those years when Spock was so important to me. Leonard Nimoy was, of course, so much more than the man who brought Spock to life, but it was that character who mattered most to me.

 

You hear a lot of people my age and older say that. When Dax talked about Spock looking so much more attractive, she spoke for many of us nerdy young women:

 

Dax: I had no idea.
Sisko: What?
Dax: He’s so much more handsome in person. Those eyes!
Sisko: Kirk had quite the reputation as a ladies’ man.
Dax: Not him. Spock.

 

We loved Spock because we identified with him—we understood him, sort of—and also for the same reason so many of us would develop crushes on our professors: we wanted to be him.

 

Spock was part of two, conflicting worlds—human and Vulcan, emotional and logical—but belonged to neither. He was, also, an alien among aliens. These aspects of Spock’s character mattered to me, as they mattered to many of us. I grew up attending an all-day gifted program that kept me apart from the kids in my neighborhood (except at recess and on the bus), and I never quite belonged with either set of kids. I acted weird, even by our geeky standards, and most of my classmates belonged to a much higher socioeconomic class. But I don’t want to rehearse my history of misfithood in great detail here.

 

Strangeness and intelligence helped me identify with Spock, but they were not the reasons I wanted to be him. Spock, again and again, chose an unusual path. He honed his sense of logic and justice, and he trusted that sense enough to follow its dictates even when it led to choices those around him saw as flawed—overly logical, or else illogical. He joined Starfleet instead of attending the Vulcan Science Academy. He saved the Enterprise at the cost of his own life:

 

 

He stood with his accused shipmates at the end of Star Trek IV. In later years he worked, mostly in secret, for Romulan-Vulcan reunification.

 

At least in part because of Spock, I grew up believing in the value of following an unusual path. I may not have all of space to play that out on, but I do have this globe. I had grades that could have gotten me into just about any university, and I chose to do my undergraduate work at The Evergreen State College because I saw it as a place where learning for learning’s sake was valued. I went to another hippie school for my MFA and did my PhD in another country. I have taught and explored, and written and read, without anything resembling a normal career trajectory. As for normal relationships? My boyfriend is three cats. (Maybe I’m closer to Data, in that respect.)

 

It would be illogical to pretend that I can predict where I will be in five or ten years, and it would be equally illogical to listen to those who would tell me that I am doing my life wrong. I have lived up to my love for Spock and will continue to do so, even though the actor who gave him body and breath is gone.

 

 

 

 

 

What Wearing a Fitbit Taught Me about Teaching

steps taken during ENG 102

My activity levels while teaching ENG 102: Composition II from 8:00-9:15 this morning.

I started wearing a Fitbit fitness tracker so I could log my running progress more easily, but wearing it all day, I started to notice a pattern: on days when I teach, I walk miles further than on days when I don’t. Digging deeper into the data, I found that I am never sedentary during my classes: my activity level always registers as light or moderate, even if I am facilitating a (mostly) seated discussion. How does that work? I suppose running up to the white board to illustrate a point or spell out a word explains a good deal of it.

For a while now, my efforts to engage students as whole people have included awareness of the body, thanks in part to the influence of bell hooks. I teach my writing classes (both composition and creative–yes, labeling the distinction that way is problematic) hand yoga; when students start drifting off when they should  be writing or reading, I encourage them to move—however they can and wish to (barring ways that impinge on other students’ rights)—instead of falling asleep. Moving into different groups, or into different classroom arrangements for different classroom arrangements also helps keep the energy levels up. These kinds of activities, however, are a little different from what my fitness tracker is recording.

I don’t move because an activity requires it or because I have been given explicit permission to do so. I move because I am intellectually engaged in the classroom: thinking and speaking leads me naturally to move. As the instructor, I have that liberty.

How can I give my students the same freedom? If I keep reminding them that they can move if they feel uncomfortable or wiped out, maybe eventually they will break out of the sit-still-in-school programming so many of them have been subjected to. I can also lead small-group or individual projects that involve the creation of visual, physical products (such as posters) that might draw students to move around the room even without being explicitly told to move around. (I’ve seen this happen with cut-and-paste poems and vampire folklore posters.) During discussions, I can place white board markers on desks to encourage students to go to the board and draw or write like I do. The more students move without being directed to, the more they will come to see the classroom space as one they have the authority to choose to move in.

In truth, only when they see the classroom that way can they take full ownership of their learning. Freedom to move, in whatever way one can and wishes to, is freedom to think.