Paths of Desire (part 17)

I continued to be in contact with my friend north of Tokyo as he worked on the score for my play. I sent him new scenes as I completed them, and he sent recordings as we worked out the details. I had moved out of the dorm. In fact, I had moved out of the college entirely after I returned from Taiwan, and I began attending a state college a little closer to home, and a lot less expensive than the private college I had been attending.

I was extremely fortunate to have a friend, a benefactor in many respects, who had purchased land near the university and wanted someone to care take it for her while she waited to build. I often think she made up this need as an excuse to be kind to me but I’ll never know for sure. In any case, this was the reason I moved onto her land. She even went to the amazingly generous trouble of purchasing a used camping trailer for me to live in, and a new gas generator to power it. It was a Spartan arrangement which suited me perfectly. The old trailer needed quite a bit of cleaning but once this was done and it was leveled on site, it was the perfect place to live.

We situated the trailer just under the dripline of several beautiful and enormous old Oak trees on the edge of an open grassy hillside overlooking a tranquil valley connecting Santa Rosa to Rohnert Park, California. The trailer was oriented for full enjoyment of sunsets across the valley in the evenings, and sunrises which peaked over the crest of the hills just upslope, and flooded my living space with rich golden light each morning.  I covered the floor with a variety of carpet samples I had found behind a local flooring company and slept on these in my panoramic ‘living room’.

One of the great natural wonders of Northern California is the earthy and stimulating smell of the grasses, the bay trees and the eucalyptus. My new home was immersed in the midst of this wonderful bouquet and I often reflected how truly lucky I was to be alive in such a place as that. Even the dirt and the dust smelled good here. There was no road up the hill to my new abode, just a rutted dirt path that became a driveway of sorts after many trips up and down in my indefatigable Toyota pickup. Further up the hill I never wanted to drive, rather preferring to keep the land as pristine as possible. But it was an excellent place to hike and enjoy my neighbors; deer, possum, raccoon, owl, hawks and a variety of other little critters.

One early morning before the sun had risen I walked far up the hill into a meadow beyond the oaks. There was still a light mist in the air and the distance was partially shrouded in fog. The meadow was thick with flaxen grass, waving gently in the early morning breeze. Dew glistened on each stalk of grass, and as the sun’s first light broke over the hills above, each drop of dew awoke; and in the midst of this golden flowing sea of grasses were hundreds, if not thousands of little sparkling diamond sails riding upon the waves. I stepped closer to grasp the nature of this grassland armada, and discovered in the midst of the rigging, in the very middle of each rounded, glistening, diamond speckled sail was a tiny sailor plying his boat in the breeze. They were spiders, riding upon their glistening webs, built within the framework of the surrounding grasses; and there were more than could be counted, filling this meadow, sailing into the distant fog, reflecting the sun’s light in a myriad of directions. It was a humble and a spectacular sight, and it did take my breath away for a moment. Hidden here amidst the clouds was a naval exercise like none I had ever heard of before, and one I’ve never seen again since.  I stood for a while and watched the breezes move these tiny sailors gently back and forth among the grassy waves while the sun rose in the sky and the fog melted away. In time, as the sun’s rays began to fall from a steeper angle, as the sun climbed higher into the sky, the glistening rigging of each sail faded and the sails disappeared from my view. The morning exercises came to an end and I turned and headed back down the hill to my trailer.

Of my classes this year, two were of note for the ways in which they informed my understanding of the inner man, and the human spiritual dimension; Jungian Psychology and Critical Thinking. Carl Jung was noteworthy in his development of the concepts of the collective unconscious, and archetypes, or shared collective myths held by all of humanity, which inform the way each of us act and live out our lives. Additionally he developed the theory of individuation, the idea that our primary goal and purpose as humans is to become truly ourselves, uniquely developed over a lifetime, made up of elements from the collective unconscious and elements of our particular personalities. In this I found a working theory that could give some meaning to my life, and purpose to my existence. Critical Thinking on the other hand, gave me tools to decode my thought processes, to allow me to lay bare the way I think, why I think the way I do, and how to change the way I think if I desire that. My professor liked to say that critical thinking was, “thinking about our thinking in order to improve our thinking”. I saw in this process, the building blocks for mental freedom, which could lead to emotional freedom as well. By bringing our thought processes into the light and analyzing them, rather than just taking our thoughts for granted, we can discover our underlying assumptions and the chain of inferences that we make as we reason, and we can discover faulty reasoning, erroneous conclusions, and thereby give ourselves hope of change, and freedom from the bad thinking which leads us to make bad choices which yield bad results in our lives.

I continued to take advanced classes in critical thinking from this professor and began working at The Center for Critical Thinking, which he founded as an international think-tank for the advancement of the field. We hosted visiting scholars from around the world for our annual conference discussing critical thinking and how to better teach the principles of good, sound reasoning to students through the development of better critical thinking curriculum from elementary grades, through middle school and on up into college. I also became one of his teacher’s assistants, and taught the introductory course for him when he was away at various speaking engagements around the country.

My final year of undergraduate studies, I finally settled on a major through the interdisciplinary studies department. This program enabled students to create their own major if they were able to convince the board of its validity, and if they could present a successful case for its acceptance. Most of my credits to this point were in philosophy, of which critical thinking courses were a subset, and in theater arts, excluding the mandatory general education requirements which I had completed years ago. I presented a case to the board to create a special major that I called, Hermeneutic Studies, which was basically a blending of philosophy and theater, and would include, as my senior project, the production of the play I had begun writing while in Taiwan. The board approved my petition, so the trajectory for completing my degree was finally determined. In the end however, my college transcripts just stated that my major was Critical Thinking, which I found a little amusing, given all of the work and effort involved in applying and gaining acceptance for my special major.

Against the backdrop of my coursework and theater productions I was offered a generous opportunity to go through the Montessori teacher training program. The friend who had let me stay in the trailer on her land was a Montessori teacher, owned a local Montessori school and also ran a program for training new teachers in the Montessori method. She had befriended Dr. Elizabeth Caspari, who had worked with Maria Montessori for many years, helped develop the music curriculum for the Montessori method, and was a lifelong proponent and master teacher in this method.  Madame Caspari had bought a home in town and over the course of time I had met and helped her with various tasks around her house; putting up shelves, moving furniture and things of that sort since she was in her mid-nineties and unable to do many of these things herself. Madame Caspari and my friend offered a full scholarship so I could attend the training program and eventually become a Montessori teacher if I wanted. It was a rigorous program, but it only met on Saturdays for fourteen weeks, so it was possible to include this on top of my other responsibilities. There was a lot of reading and many papers to write, but it was a pleasure to learn about Maria Montessori, her keen observation of children and her insights into the natural stages of child development, and the scientific process she employed in developing her methods of teaching based on her detailed observations of how children play, and learn most naturally and effortlessly through their play. Madame Caspari was very encouraging and often commented that the reason she felt I would be a good teacher was because I was willing to get on the floor and meet the children on their level. She was a radiant personality and filled the room with her love, but she was also very tough and wouldn’t accept anything but discipline and hard work. She had very high standards but enforced them with love. Having been born and raised in Switzerland and then spending many years in India, where she met and began working with Montessori, Madame Caspari had a thick accent. Prior to moving to Santa Rosa she had lived at a Unity Village in Missouri. In her lectures she would often comment on her time in Missouri, but with her accent it sounded like ‘Misery’. I didn’t know at the time she had lived in Missouri, so when she would talk about her time in ‘Misery’ I thought it was metaphorical and I felt an up-surging of empathy for her past. I wondered to myself for many weeks what the source of her misery was and why she had lived in it for so long. At long last I came to understand it wasn’t a state of being she had occupied but rather a state of the union.

(to be continued)


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