Sunday, August 10, 2008

What's in a Lay-bel

I was just re-reading some old entries, deciding on which way to go with the blog, writing down new ideas for entries, when I got to thinking about my own lay-ness.

I am a lay person, it's true. My lack of focus or my lack of ability to adhere to related topics, my typing errors, and my sometimes over-zealous "editorial" style writing on this blog are examples of my lay limitation playing out.

I forgave myself, for I am only a college student, a late starter at that. My sponge brain may not be as spongy as my youthful fellows in the study of English. I also forgave myself because I've been writing more, and sharpening my wits. Even on days when I am sorely disappointed with my unchecked rantings or my disjointed ideas, I find something to laugh at. And the something is usually sharper and harder hitting every time.

So then I got to thinking what exactly is a "lay person," where does laity end? In each industry those who consider themselves professionals will refer to the general public as lay, insomuch as they do not know the jargon to understand something written or spoken in technical terms. But when one's future profession is in education, and one's future is to be spent on the grounds of a university, at what point is one no longer a lay person in that profession -- at what point is one a scholar?

Sure there are professors who call their students scholars. I had one who put little blanks for our names at the top of the paper, and in front of the blank it said "Academecian:" That's very flattering, but given the academic diversity of an undergrad class, some of these students (their official title) are future accountants and nurse practitioners, not scholars or academecians.

The origin of the word "lay" might give us a little insight into whom it should be applied. Back when clergy members were officially the only non-lays, and they coined the term "lay" from the Greek laikos, meaning of the people. This was a good term because clergy effectually were not of the people -- they removed themselves from society.

Perhaps when a student stops coming out of his room to take meals, he is promoted to scholar. As one's research becomes more specialized every semester, as one begins to live and breathe in the terms of one's discipline, one moves away from the people. One cloisters one's self in an office full of books, and one only greets the people to tell what one knows. Often the scholar does not even have to leave the building to do this. Some grad students may even live on campus, and take all their meals in the dining hall. Scholars may not be awakened at dawn for Matins and Lauds, but most of their existence, if it pans out as I've conjectured here, seems fairly "monkish."

Becoming a scholar, a Ph. D. holder, a professor, however you want to put it, seems like it is more life-encompassing committment than taking, say, an MBA. The goal is not to take the education and run, but to live with in and in it for the rest of one's life (or until one retires, or unless one writes spectacular proposals that grant years of Sabbatical here and there).

So will I no longer be a layperson when I am accepted into a research program? Will they send me a letter telling me I can call myself a scholar? I mean, I'll be assistant teaching. Do they want laypeople assistant teaching? Maybe I won't get the honor of that title until I make candidacy -- around the third year when students (?) can begin work on a dissertation. Or perhaps in this profession you are just a trainee until you've defended your work and been given your second or third piece of calligraphy-encrusted paper.

I think I will know when I get there. It might be my third or my fifth year but I'll know. I may not get a letter from the school, but I'll throw myself a party anyway. Instead of kegs and bottled beer I suppose I'll have to have wine or something, and call it a soiree.

Professor Widebottom: This party is off da hook!

Professor Girdlekins: Fo shizzy!

I know I am silly to think about labels so much. But the ambiguity of being a student, an assistant teacher, a research assistant, a researcher, an advisee, and eventually an expert on something, all at once, is so intriguing to me.

For some reason I like thinking about anything that exemplifies any of those names that we give things that defy classification or to systems that pull in different directions: androgeny, ambivalence, ambiguity, dichotomy. I think I am experiencing all of those in some area of my life right now. I like to complicate things.

1 comment:

  1. The second paragraph of your blog made me think of my own inability to stay on one set topic. I know that when I research things, I frequently digress and wind up at some of the oddest sites you could possibly imagine. I was once researching Greek mythology and somehow wound up looking up the side effects of electroshock therapy and lobotomies. I'm still trying to figure that one out.

    If academician is an actual word, then I've expanded my vocabulary (slightly). Not all students are scholars or academicians. Heck, some are barely even students. Myself, I think I'd fall under the "explorer" category. I don't really think I qualify as a student, academician, or scholar. I just enjoy exploring and the learning that it brings.

    I really loved your exploration into the word "lay". I have to be honest. When I started reading this entry, I was a little lost. But that could just be the insomnia. I digress. I love reading about the origins of words. It really helps when you want to use a word such as lay correctly.

    Perhaps I am a scholar. After all, I've fully immersed myself into my field of choice. I rarely come out of my room and basically live and breathe any and all literature. That whole 7th paragraph is me to a "T", save for living in a dorm and the other aspects of traditional college living.

    One thing that confuses me though. Wouldn't teachers be the ultimate laypeople? They dedicate their lives to the betterment of others through learning and education. Perhaps I simply misunderstand the whole meaning of this word. Titles frequently elude me.

    I love the caption (and perfect placement) of that last picture, by the way.

    Labels are quite an intriguing topic. I just wish I could get a handle on them.

    Dichotomy, a word I love and am quite familiar with. I find that I'm frequently described as a kind of dichotomy.

    Without complications, life would run rather smoothly. It sounds nice, but wouldn't it be quite boring after a while? Give me dysfunction and insanity any day. Normality is just plain creepy.

    Another excellent post!



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