Saturday, October 15, 2011

Conserberalism, Robert Frost and Uteruses (Uteri?)

Undoubtedly many of you have read the poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. If not, go ahead and take a glance here: The Road Not Taken, it's worth it.

     For those of you who have already read the poem, surely there has been a point in you're life where you felt like you were faced with a fork in your path and took the unexpected one. If you happen to live in this great nation, I'm sure you're aware that the road from southern, conservative high school to liberal, northern university has its fair share of weeds sprouting through the most recent footprints. Needless to say, I found myself in rather unfamiliar territory.
   I attended high school at a private, almost exclusively white, Christian, middle/upper class, conservative, Republican male high school. It also happens to be the high school written about in  Dead Poet's Society. If you've seen the movie, you know very well the type of place to which I am referring. Dress code, demerits, topped off with just the right mixture of over-achievement and mild arrogance that left most outsiders and half the insiders hating the place. Don't get me wrong, now that I'm out I am rather grateful to have attended school there, but the sentiment was slow in the making.
  As you would probably expect, this was a pretty 'inside-the-box' institution. Math, science, language...pretty much anything with rules was bound to take hold. Needless to say, there wasn't much wiggle room for an artist.
     One of my favorite stories from high school happened at my senior art show. I had spent many hours compiling a portfolio of slightly edgy portraits, two of which are shown here. Yes, they are rather in-your-face and one is sideways, but I had provided a nice, lengthy explanation explaining the concept (a short version is that it represents the struggles people face on a day to day basis, taking the pain people feel from not living up to society's expectations, not making enough money, not being attractive enough, and making the pain physical instead of mental). The concept is a little abstract, but if you read the explanation and have a remotely open mind you can approach it fairly comfortably.
     My high school community had a lot of gifts, but open-mindedness wouldn't have made the top three. On the day of the show, my art teacher and I had a good laugh or two as we watched people from across the room. Some would walk in and glance around, not quite sure if they should leave. Others would simply ignore my portion of the room. My favorite, however, was the grandmother of one of my classmates, who entered the room with two of her friends. Sensing the possibility of a heart-attack or at the very least a reaction that might have been appropriate fifty years ago, my teacher and I moved forward, only to catch this woman whispering through her fake teeth that whoever did these drawings was surely going to be the next Virginia Tech shooter.
    Now remember, this was my senior art show in 2007. Chronologically speaking we are at most maybe two weeks removed from this event. I found myself caught in between uncontrollable laughter and utter disbelief. Surely this lady wasn't serious.
     As the experience sank in, I began to feel uplifted by the fact that I was traveling up to Providence to attend Brown University, one of the most open-minded and 'road less traveled' schools in the country. No need to tone down metaphor or censor your writing.
     When registration rolled around for the first semester of college classes, I made a conscious decision to spread out the topics of my courses, despite having an open curriculum. I ended up in studio art (which I hated), Spanish (which I dropped), Calculus (which I passed with a grade of 39%), and a course on the beginnings of Christianity, which is by far the most entertaining. Having grown up in the Bible Belt, I arrived with a relatively conservative interpretation of scripture. I won't purge spirits from your chest, but I knew what I believed in and was interested to receive a perspective I assumed to be rather different from my own. I can only begin to tell you how much of an understatement that assumption turned out to be.
     The class was rather enjoyable for the first few weeks. I remained pleased with what I was learning, and the differences I had discovered were surprisingly rather insignificant. The date to drop classes passed and I thought the first semester, all things considered, was off to as smooth of a start as I could have hoped (Spanish aside). I arrived at class one day a little late and took a seat next to the door to cause as little disturbance as possible. I got my notebook out of my bag, was reaching for my book, and suddenly I was able to process what my teacher was exactly saying. She was.....splitting off from her denomination of the church? What had I walked in on? Talk about piquing curiosity.
    "It's just sexist. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." I glanced around the room. Was I the only one incapable of processing this argument? Everyone else was so diligently taking notes. "I've tried to explain it but they won't listen. There's an easy solution. A couple of backstrokes and you could have 'Mother, Child, and Womb' in there instead."
     Now, I should probably begin by telling you that I am a huge proponent of gender equality. Suffrage? Great. Elimination of workplace discrimination? Great. But the Holy Trinity in one fell swoop? ...Bold. Mother....I can live with it. Child....pretty sure Jesus was a dude, but vague isn't a crime. But WOMB? Say what you will, but the last time I read a passage about the Holy Spirit descending from Heaven, I didn't picture an oversized uterus floating down at me from the sky. Understandably, my teacher and I found ourselves slightly at odds.
     In retrospect, maybe Frost had it wrong. After being a liberal in a conservative environment and a conservative in a liberal environment, I'm pleased to announce myself a Conserberalist. The paths are there for a reason, but ultimately humans are individuals. Sooner or later we all have to forge our own path, so lace up your boots, pick up your walking stick and trample through the forest. Here's to being human.

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