Thursday, November 07, 2013

international susan youens day


i know, i know, you've had your decorations up for weeks in anticipation of the most awesome holiday on the calendar: INTERNATIONAL SUSAN YOUENS DAY!

it's here, it's here, everybody, so let the festivities begin! you may now put on small impromptu performances of music of any era or instrumentation. you may now go out and explain something about which you are passionate to people you barely know. most importantly, you should drink several cups of very fine coffee, light and sweet. eat some chocolate. read some books.

ok, ok. let's get serious for a moment. you want to know who susan youens is? she's a lot of things, but the things she is best known for is that she is one of the world's foremost schubert scholars, and she is a professor of music.

if you've been paying attention to my story and you care to scrutinize susan's resume, you will be able to guess fairly easily that i crossed paths with her during the time she was teaching at ithaca college.

it's hard to speak of her talents as a group because aside from the way that undergrads can be star-struck, susan is the kind of person who, if she had been shortlisted for nomination to the supreme court, if you met her at a party and you asked what she did for a living, she might vaguely refer to "working in the courts" and change the subject.

you know that before my retirement i was a teacher. what is invisible to you is how much of my teaching was influenced by susan's example.

she wasn't the one who taught me that any one particular discipline is just another lens through which we can look at and gain understanding of our world and the events that shape it and the patterns that govern ALL OF CREATION.

no, i sort of figured that out by myself.

but until i fell into susan's classroom, i had not realized that you could teach history without being overly concerned about memorizing strings of dates and be instead more concerned with learning the organization of the trends and relations of the people and their stories and sequences of events.

she was teaching the BIG PICTURE by connecting the dots and also by coloring it in a little and then handing us the crayons. i had never seen a teacher so in love with why a thing was so awesomely cool, which ostensibly is why teachers go into the business anyway: to light that same fire under students, to get them to look at historical events or molecules or mathematical progressions and realize it is amazing and worth knowing about.

her example to me  had another aspect: we wanted to do well for her. we wanted to do well for her because she showed us that she believed we would do well. if she gave a review session, she stayed for as many hours as we had questions. she was demanding in her expectations of us, but at the same time flexible in her requirements, as if treating us each like whole people trying our best might actually draw our best work out of us.

i know it worked for me.

so that's worth celebrating. it's worth celebrating susan's work and it's worth celebrating susan herself and it's worth celebrating the work of transformative teachers.

on a smaller level, it is worth celebrating the small delights susan and her work brought into my life both directly and indirectly.

and it makes be giggle to think of the bemused expression that probably plays on susan's face when she reads, every year, the words "international susan youens day" because it is as full of silliness and light as it is of honor and gratitude.

so this is what i'm going to recommend to you, dear reader: find in your memory one of those important people who caused your life to be better. declare it to be the international holiday in celebration of them and send them a card for it, even though you maybe haven't seen them in thirty years.

i never cared for coffee until i found myself in susan's first class of the day one semester and sat in the front row, watching her drink cup after cup of it. i could smell her thermos from where i was sitting, and to this day i cannot smell coffee without being reminded of it.

there is a strand of culture that tells you if you are a real coffee drinker you must take your coffee black and strong. susan drinks very fine coffee, light and sweet.

there's a metaphor in there.

go get yourself a cup of coffee. really good coffee.

drink it however you like it best.

happy international susan youens day.


Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

I am sipping my coffee and catching up on my favorite blogs. I will celebrate Susan Youens Day with you.

flask said...

update: it is nne-twenty in the morning and already today i have been outside hiking in the rain, done, my grocery shopping, bought a fine cup of coffee in a shop where they asked me what i was thinking and i told them about international susan youens day, found a stash of illegal drug supply, returned home and now i have showered and changed into fleece pants because that hiking in the rain first thing left me soaked to the skin and covered with mud.

now i'm going to rest a little and call the police about that drug stuff and bake some bread pudding and a really excellent mac and cheese because it's THAT kind of day.

peg, thank you for celebrating along with us.


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