(cos sometimes the ground is a bit too dirty, or the sun might feel just that bit too hot!...)
"What I want to know, Tani, is why you feel like you have to rebel against everything?"
"What do you mean?" I ask my supervisor, slightly taken aback that this is how he interprets my "Essay about Structure" I have just handed in. I guess I expected more from him, but maybe my hunch was right.
He was a brilliant, wise, gentle academic, we'll call him Mr M and he had been at Murdoch University since its beginning.....years ago.
He'd been there a long time.....maybe too long(?)....confined within the walls of his office, the lecture rooms and the minds of other students that he carefully guided through the world of their theses and essays and PhDs.
I had faith in him, though, because we had some amazing conversations about freedom and walking and the importance of connecting our selves to the earth in order to make the earth better.
He supported all of my stories and ideas and thoughts about creating new pathways in academic writing that broke through old structures of 'beginning middle and end...'
His eyes would light up as he complemented my thoughts with post modern writers and philosophers and academics who had written about such things and I loved him in those moments. Loved his white bearded face and light bright eyes!
However when it came down to the crunch and he'd marked my 'Essay About Structure'....he just couldn't handle it.
I think because I'd taken things to the next step.....embodying what the theorists had said, in my writing as well as my life.
There were no strict beginnings, middles or ends.
Rather pathways and journeys and detours and explorations....where my feelings took me, we'd go.
There were quotes (of course!) from the writers my supervisor had told me about and discussed. Cut (literally with scissors) and pasted ( literally with glue) in the appropriate places to provide the 'validation' for these journeys when needed. I even included in an essay my friend had written, as it complimented so beautifully a point I was trying to make.....
Much of it was hand written.
Lots of it was personal, rather than assuming the 'objective' stance so accepted (and enforced) at university.
I left blank pages for my supervisor to write on if he wanted to, inviting the reader to be part of the creation of the essay.
And then, after handing it in, I invited him for a walk with me, especially if he found my essay hard to understand. That way, I figured, he could 'experience' the kind of structure I was writing about....so he'd be able to relate to it better in my essay.....
That may have been the part that was a bit too much for him.
Taking academia into the big, wide world of down to earth, physical reality.
Feet, roads, lawns, bush, bituman, pathways, unknown directions....and no walls, no barriers.
Yeah, I think that freaked him out a bit and that's when our relationship started to change..... from a thriving, equal inspiring one into something quite different.
I suddenly became "a rebel trying to prove something to the world...probably due to un-met needs as a kid......father complex...abandonment issues...etc...etc ... "
I think Mr M coped with me and my essay by trying to psychoanalyse me and fit me into a category of some sort...
Whatever he could fit me into....as long as I'd fit into something!
He went back to where he felt safe... the familiar territory of trying to 'understand' the subject instead of just accepting it for what it is.
So he asks, after handing back my 'essay'
'Why do you feel you have to rebel, Tani?'
And I say back, almost with tears in my eyes as I suddenly see his situation clearly.
'I'm not rebelling, I 'm just writing what I feel and what I experience and then I back it up with the words of others who have felt and thought the same..."
And then I'm kind of done cos there's not much else I can say..
My supervisor had nothing left to say either.
It's hard to argue against experience and feelings as the reason for doing things in the world....and it was the end of the term anyway so this 'difficult' subject would no longer be his concern...
The essay had been marked. It got a 'distinction.' My supervisor accepted it, despite his reservations.
I walked back home from university that day feeling anything but a rebel.
In fact I just felt a little bit sad.
It was about a 15km walk through the suburbs and as I was walking I had one last conversation with my supervisor running through my head.
I remember the time he told me about the day he locked his keys in his car and couldn't get in touch with his wife for the spare set. It was the end of the day, he was tired, sick of lecturing and just wanted to get back home.
I remember him describing this sudden feeling coming over him....one of almost 'naughtiness' as he decided rather than call the RAC or wait for his wife to contact him, or ask someone else for a lift...he was going to walk back home.
He didn't have the best shoes for walking and wasn't really sure of the 'walking' route, but just started going anyway...towards where the sun was setting...he knew that was the right direction.
He started along the main road first...the one he would usually drive along in the car..safe, known and in a straight line.
But after a while he couldn't stand the car fumes anymore and began taking a few backstreets.
He began describing to me what he found in these backstreets...
The gardens, the parklands, the different kinds of houses, the birds, little alleyways he never knew existed. He described how different and almost exciting it was to be able to choose which path he wanted to walk down...always in the general direction of home, of course....but not necessarily the most direct route.
He told me how time seemed to disappear and space seemed to open up in ways he'd never felt before.....
For a few hours, he said, he felt like a kid again....a tiny bit naughty cos he wasn't going straight home..... but also enlivened as he let curiosity be his guide...
He said it was the first time he actually felt the land between his home and the university, despite having lived in the area and driven the route for such a long time.
It was the first time he had a sense of his place amongst that particular landscape.....just a footprint on the sand amongst all the roads and parks and trees and houses and gardens and universes people in suburbia inhabit.
The best part of all this was watching how animated his face was in describing this little journey. His eyes were twinkling madly and his spirit seemed to be soaring...
He'd had an adventure in the 'real world'...without having to buy plane tickets and go to a different country...or drive anywhere to 'see' a mountain or a beautiful ocean.
He'd connected with his own land a bit...and saw it from a different perspective....a walking perspective....I guess we could call it, if it needs to be called something...
He never said if he took his uncomfortable shoes off or not and felt everything from a barefoot perspective. That would be a whole different experience...and maybe a bit too much all at once!
But as I walked home that day after my last interaction with him...wondering if I was a 'rebel' or not, I wished that he'd shared that experience with others.
Mr M's 'Lived Experience' of walking home from uni that day was 'proof' to me and could have been 'proof 'to others.....if proof was ever needed..... that connecting to the earth through the soles of our feet (or shoes!) takes us into a world we often forget about....
that world of the living planet...
the world that is our home....
the world that we, as Sustainable Development students, were supposed to be learning about....so we could save it, of course!
I wished he'd used that story in a lecture, or set it as as assignment:
Walk outside ( preferably barefoot!) ....take a different path to the one you'd normally take..see what happens....and then share your story.
No justifications or academic debates or articles to read or 'positions' to take.
Just a story...a lived experience ...
As real as real can be....based on the feeling of foot upon earth....and all that evolves from that moment...