“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” – Confucius.
I’ve had hives for 22 days. I finally went to the doctor this afternoon and promptly filled my prescription for Avo, an antihistamine a good step above Benadryl. I took two, not having read the ‘drowsiness’ warnings beforehand, and went to my first Philosophy class.
The next three hours were a special kind of hell. My professor was pacing erratically in front of me, talking about things like words and abortion and Brad Pitt. I tried to smile when appropriate, shake my head thoughtfully when he did, and do everything in my power to just keep my eyes open.
He sounds the same as Jerry Seinfeld. His pitch, the way he puts emphasis on his words, the pacing of his speech. He moves his hands the same way, he goes on tangents about minor details and repeats the idea to himself after it’s already been voiced. His build and size are the same. In some alternate universe, Jerry became a tired university teacher and is now standing in front of my classroom.
He wears a grey, wool sweater with one sleeve pushed up to his elbow and the other loose around his veiny wrist. Wiry white hairs twist away from his balding scalp and continue down his neck to blur in with a tuft of back hair. The class starts with a monologue about the word ‘picture.’ Many people mispronounce it. ‘Pitcher.’ Funny, isn’t it? I guess we don’t call it that anymore. ‘Image.’ I don’t like that one. His watery eyes dance with amusement as he takes off his smudged glasses and rubs the bridge of his nose.
By this time, I know. I don’t need to go back into my car to read the little prescription pamphlet. These pills are knocking me out. He stares intently at each student before telling everyone to move up a row. Small class tonight. Move one seat ahead. We shuffle forward awkwardly, rustling old notebooks and dropping the occasional pen. I’m now front, middle. Directly in front of a man who is saying something about a tribe of people called the ‘pics’ because the druids made drawings on them.
I do the ‘head stretch/clock glance’ maneuver that every student has mastered. 15 minutes. We’ve been talking about the word ‘picture’ for 15 minutes. He is making eye contact with me, laughing about nails falling out of horse shoes. I don’t know what is happening with this conversation. There are 2 hours and 45 minutes more of this. I smile back at him and nod encouragingly in a ‘please don’t notice that my eyes are literally rolling back into my head’ way.
The topic switched abruptly from the chemical compound of salt (Sulpher…right? What does it stand for? The NaCI? Sulpher? No. Sodium, sodium! Yes. Did you know chlorine was used to kill people?) to Pluto. “What would you think if you woke up and saw the headline ‘Pluto is no longer a planet?'”
Perfect. An easy question. I took astronomy last semester. I could do this one and get my participation marks. I raised my hand. “I’d think that the definition of a planet would have been redefined or new information about Pluto had been discovered which conflicted with the current definition of a planet.” His head jerked back and forth quickly. “No!” He shrieked in delight, hands extended to the ceiling. Full ‘irritated Seinfeld’ embodied. “Of course not! What if you read that Mars was no longer a planet?” My response was simple. “Same thing, that some data or some definition had been redefined or discovered.”
We then proceeded to argue that a natural response would be to assume that the planet had gone missing. He used an analogy: “If it was in the paper that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were no longer a couple, would you think that they had redefined what a couple was?” I sighed. All I wanted to do was sleep.
“That’s not comparable; the definition of ‘couple’ remains and their actions removed them from that category. When I hear that something is no longer a planet, it hasn’t changed from the category. That leaves the assumption that either the category itself has changed or that we have new information that shows us it never really was a planet after all.”
“No, you’re really not getting what I’m saying. You wouldn’t think the term had been redefined.” He chuckled at the absurdity of the idea. “Most people would think that Mars had been dragged off somewhere or had exploded into a million pieces. We wouldn’t think that the definition of a couple had changed if someone broke up, so why would we think that the definition of a planet had changed?”
By the time that I was inside my cold car, fighting the desire to spend the night sleeping in the parking lot, I settled on the one thing I learned from the class: I don’t like Philosophy as a subject. Premature of me to make such a sweeping judgement after 3 hours of an introductory course? Sure. That’s fair, and I will accept that argument.
Maybe I should be philosophizing about the things on the homework sheet he gave me: Pluto, Canada’s legal system, Descarte’s Meditations. Instead, I’m wondering why we hole up in safe little classrooms to go in pedantic circles about the semantics of whether hyphenated words are one word or two words, when nothing we agree on will change the reality of it. Every conversation will end with ‘well, there are multiple options and it depends on who you ask and how you look at it.’
I don’t mind multiple options. I love a good debate and a good theoretical conversation. Let me be clear though: when I talk, I want to go places. My mind is a car and I am not interested in driving through a roundabout looking at different exits and never taking any since they are all equally viable possibilities.
Race me down a two way street. Find a dead end with me and reverse like hell. Let’s take some roads and cross them off the map to never go back to. Let’s drive through a field and leave tire marks where a new road was burned together.
We have one tank of gas. If we are going to drive, let’s drive already.
“Well, it’s really no use our talking in the way we have been doing if the words we use mean something different to each of us…and nothing.” – Malcolm Bradbury.