Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Summer Lovin' in the Grace Order of Dadaists
Years ago, I took an Introduction to Art class with an incredibly unusual professor. For the class, which was supposed to be an intro to art history, instead of watching endless slide shows or reading dry art history books, our professor regularly had us do bizarre word association exercises (lasting the entire class period) and consisted of him asking questions like, “What does the color red taste like? What sound does it make?” He’d then piggyback on the responses (“So you think red tastes like pepper? And what does pepper sound like?”), until finally zeroing in on one person and using that student’s responses to psychoanalyze him or her - “because you think red tastes like pepper and that pepper sounds like a freight train, you’ve recently done something of which you are incredibly ashamed, and now you’re searching for ways to soothe your guilt.” Then, of course, we’d all crane our necks to stare at the embarassed student, which is exactly why I never raised my hand.
This professor also had us do less bizarre things, like keeping journals in which we were required to write every day. The intent was to explore our feelings, about art and our every day lives, and through that process, any problems we were facing (like those facing the "pepper is a freight train" student) would resolve themselves. Now, while I have always wanted to be a habitual journal-writer, I’m forgetful. However, this class happened to coincide with some of the more melodramatically dark days in my past: the months after my longtime boyfriend broke up with me <<sniff>>. So, unlike any time before (and after – I can’t remember the last time I wrote in that thing), I was writing down my thoughts every day, and oh, how very sad and bitter those thoughts often were! But nowadays, when I reread those entries, I notice a gradual change in attitude – the more I wrote, the less angry and sad I seemed to be. That strange professor was right: exploring your feelings, whether through humiliating class discussions or through journal writing, can be cathartic!
I was reminded of this professor recently while reading Rob Thomas’ Rats Saw God. In it, Steve is in San Diego, stumbling through his senior year. He‘s failing classes and is one English credit short of graduating, so, when his guidance counselor offers a 100-page paper assignment in exchange for that one credit, Steve accepts, and begins writing about how he went from the ‘top of the world’: Texas, sophomore year, where he had a job, good grades, a spot in an outlawed school club (the Grace Order of Dadaists – GOD for short), and a girlfriend with whom he was in love; to the bottom: present day, where he spends most of his time getting stoned outta his mind.
Rats Saw God is a fantastic read – Steve is interesting and funny, and the antics he and his fellow GOD members get up to make me wish I had founded a club with like-minded friends while in high school. It also felt authentic to what I remember of my high school experiences (…as a nerd. Yeah, I know. A librarian was a nerd in high school? No WAY!), and, like I once was, Steve is broken-hearted, but still manages to find his way back by writing about it.
Now, maybe you’re one of those who’s never had difficulty writing down your thoughts, or, maybe, you’re never tried it. Either way, read Rats Saw God, then start writing down your own stories. It’s gotta be better than what I wrote for that art professor…