Wednesday, March 21, 2007


(I have received over a dozen letters from students in the last two days--hopeful, questioning, troubled, etc... they have all moved me and continue pushing me to ask more questions and rethink my own stances/understandings--thus, I have collected some of my reflections and I'm thinking of changing the name of this site as I have a new perspective... I still value the power of dialogic exchanges, but I'm moving in a new direction... thanks to all of the students that have sent me letters! This started out as a letter to a student who wanted to know how i came to believe and think the way I do...)

I know you have "way to much" to read but I can supply some background for where I am coming from--why I feel and think the way I do... I was radicalized on the streets long before I ever came to college (my education just supplied me with fancy theories and words to express it--I'm not dismissing the power of that education--it was a necessary step, but not the only one):

Biographical Statement

I wasn't what anyone would call a "normal" kid:

What was up with that kid

I was a high school drop out (10th grade), lived on the streets from the age of 15, survived in gangs and underground lifestyles, built a close-knit communal tribe that lasted for years and dissolved in a flash, worked as a roofer for 8 years, ended up working 22 jobs before I became a professor--I never had much tolerance for work that didn't provide me with some sense of doing something of value (as in making the world better somehow).

I developed a wicked and destructive hard drug addiction in my mid 20s that I feared would destroy me or put me permanently in a restrictive institution (prison, mental hospital, etc...). Left my home of California and headed for the Midwest to kick my addiction and entered communtiy college, got the A.A. in accounting, decided I wanted more and pursued the B.A. in English/History, then an M.A. in Cultural Studies because I wanted to study contemporary culture ... while I was liberal, this is when I became radicalized because my thesis involved how contemporary activist/alternative/radical subcultures were incorporating the theories of early 20th Century European Avant-Garde groups (Dada; Surrealists; Situationism, COBRA; Lettrist; etc...). Later I would pursue a PhD in interdisciplinary English Studies... with a specialty in pedagogical theories.

Unfortunately my early radicalism (during the M.A. years) was built on an arrogance about my experiences and where I came from and a fuck-all atitude of lets storm the gates and kick some ass. It verged on nihilism (Tim and JZ would understand where I was at). I had an awakening while teaching at that time that pushed me to reconsider how far I was from being enlightenend and how my very extreme and take no prisoners radicalism actually alienated most people (including my students):

Learning from El Mexterminator and Cyber Vato

I spiraled off from that pedagogical awakening and devoted every bit of energy for the next five years to learning how to be a better teacher. I was fanatical about it, to the point of denying every other need in my life. I didn't want to be a teacher who would climb up on a pedestal and preach down to his students (like that thread of Christainity that made me lose my religion at a young age), but instead I wanted to cultivate the courage/creativity to be an educator-learner who looked to his students as co-educator/learners.

I learn as much from my students as they do from me... some might be shocked by that (I have had people get angry when I say that), but that is the power of a cooperative and communal pedagogy. We are all citizens of this community/society/world and we should learn to cooperate and share in order to build a better world. Here is some specialized knowledge I know about, what do you care about?, let me show you how you can find more about that subject, all of us will go research our subjects and we will return to the group and present our findings--debate their meanings--then revisit and revise.

I had become a communal/cooperative/nurturing scholar/teacher/learner in the classroom, but I was a very hard person outside of work. Rejected notions of love, of cooperation, of possibilities for happiness. It was very contradictory, I would walk onto the campus and become an open-healing person, I would walk off the campus and it was as if I was at war (and I don't use that word lightly--that was my perspective) with the world.

Still I was learning and trying to change, hoping for something different... but then we never really come to a resting point in life (unless it is six feet under--that is when we can sleep soundly and dammit hopefully then we can get some answers from someone who claims to be in charge of the universe--someone cue XTC's "Dear God").

So I continued to seek and question, I continue to this day, because I feel there is so much that I don't know. I went through some particularly devastating personal tragedies in the past few years (the big 3D... death, divorce, depression...) in response I have returned to a broader pantheist exploration of spirituality to soften the sharp corners of my (ir)rationality:

In Rejecting Theism I Learn Finally to Develop My Spirituality

Most recently I have been trying to cultivate a sense of politics that develops out of a radical understanding of "love/friendship":


but, just like in my angrier phases, there is a danger in extremism of any sort... even, to my surprise, in a complete devotion to acts of "loving-kindness" (no matter what Chema Podron says)... the danger is when we suppress/ignore the shadow we all have. I had tried to be really nice/supportive/nurturing all the time--sublimating my needs for others--but like any volatile brew, if you bottle it in, there will be powerful fissures that eventual erupt and spew the potent (toxic) mixture all over the place. This actually led to some of the darkest depressions I have ever experienced. I had to face this directly recently when the long repressed dark side exploded out of me because I wasn't paying attention to it... I ended up disappointing and angering some very close and dear friends. Just another lesson about balance... now I'm searching again as always. Can't ignore disappointment/anger/pain, they are a part of us and must be fully incorporated...

I'm trying to conceive of an animalogos


logos = Etymology: Greek, speech, word, reason
reason that in ancient Greek philosophy is the controlling principle in the universe

and incorporate as a radical politics that is holistic in that I conceive of all beings as equal and deserving of the same dignity of life--that environments should be thought of as large interacting ecospheres that depend on the welfare of all beings (mineral/plant/animal)--that humans are arrogant in thinking they are the only higher evolved creatures on this planet and that they are the only living beings that have achieved higher-functioning consciousness--that love/loving is necessary for good personal health, caring/nurturing realationships are necessary for healthy communities, but that we cannot ignore/suppress our shadow (one of the benefits of creativity for me is channeling that shadow and light into my art in order to create a perspective that accepts them both)--that a pantheist/interdisciplinary perspective works best for me in that I develop the strongest under-standing (foundation) and response-ability (critical voice) from engaging the most possible ways of looking/seeing.

Can there be a meeting of the spirit and rationality = animalogos? Can I create/conceive a positive reality without burying other equally important conceptions of the world?

I look forward to asking more questions and learning from others.

Peace my friends


Anonymous said...

hey michael,
thanks for letting me in on some background... you certainly touch quite alot of people. i hope to move from the student category to friend category sometime very soon.

Thivai Abhor said...

You are a friend Liz, I've been jamming to the music you dropped off at my office, sure makes the work day a lot more pleasant--nothing California Uber Allies by the Dead Kennedys blasting out of a professor's office to set the tone for student conferences!

Anonymous said...

hahaha. now *that* just made my day!

Scruggs said...

Damn, I'd like to be you when I grow up! Thanks so much for this post, Thivai. It makes the thinking about getting over my own hurdles much easier.

Anonymous said...

surprising how much we can relate to 'a strangers' story... ; )

perhaps it is of sheer will, perhaps a mechanism of survival; but i carry the optimism that merely being one whom is self motivated to learn, grow, be better for themselves and others - will provide that which is needed to propel oneself to 'better days'.

u evidently have these qualities, as u have propelled yourself toward better and better (for u and others) situations and environments.

along with a self-critical awareness, don't forget to appreciate the courage, determination, and *real* strength u also have for qualities.

: )