Friday, January 25, 2008

Killerzyph interviewed me for an article in the next NYconnex, something about featuring various staff members to show we have lives beyond hectoring students all day. Trade secret: Actually, we just return to our closets in a hidden underground facility in the campus basement where we get deactivated, then brought out again to walk among the living when the sun rises the next morning. Heh, if only.

We talked about mime and busking, which I don't do anymore, and about my goals for drama now that I've moved back to the only place where I really know what I'm doing. Except this year I've been so out of touch, I am freaking out at the edges wondering how to bring a Eunuch Admiral back to life again by Drama Night.

I owe a lot to my training in mime, and not just for my appreciation in the aesthetics of the theatre. Being primarily a kinesthetic learner, I discovered through mime a movement-based language that I could use to understand abstract concepts better. The movement doesn't have to be physical, it can take place in my imagination, though occasionally my hands or fingers may twitch, echoing the thought I'm processing at the time.

It's hard to explain how a "movement-based language" works. However, I assure you that there there is no white-face painted street performer that's producing the movement in my imagination. The movement sort of exists on its own. There. Now I sound like a raving lunatic.

The point I was hoping to get at in killerzyph's interview was that all of us need to train in some form of discipline and get real good at it. I'm talking about non-academic disciplines that involve making things (like an art, craft or music) or doing things (like a sport or dance or theatre). The discipline has to be non-academic in nature because it is physical, tangible and direct, and therefore easier and clearer to obtain good results in. We get praise, applause and appreciation for our masterpiece, encouragement if the product is so-so, or by audience critique or defeat we know we sucked and therefore need to work harder at it.

Training in a non-academic discipline gives us the confidence to take on academic disciplines which, being more abstract, operate at a higher level. Academics are text-language based, so there is a step of having to learn the language first, even before apprehending the concepts themselves. People deficient in the language of instruction are screwed. Unlike non-academic disciplines, there is nothing in an academic discipline for monkey to see, and therefore monkey cannot do if the student and the instructor do not speak the same language. Gibberish text input results in gibberish text output. Garbage in, garbage out. And that's just the first level of difficulty.

If and when we do master the language of an academic discipline, we realize that the results of academic study are often judged arbitrarily, often subjectively. As academic concepts are text-based in construction, a lot depends on the interpretation of the text, and there are often too many variables to pin down. Academics themselves seldom agree with each other, in fact, they thrive in their fields by proving one another wrong. Success in the academic world is either a paper qualification (how satisfying), or a paper published challenging others to attack the ideas presented therein. That takes a pretty hardy, highly confident individual to live like that.

Success in the academic field is easier to strive for if we know we are already doing well in our non-academic pursuits. Well, at least this approach has worked for me so far. I am a degree-holding pedant by profession, but by trade, I am a mime. Most people find this combination to be the most irritating by far.

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