Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin
cswallow

Searching for authenticity

I forget how to talk, some days. I mean, that I talk a lot, but it is unconsciously done. Management communications is perhaps the exception, but in those moments, the words are so practiced that even saying them is no longer a conscious effort of sustained contemplation - it is simply a regurgitation of past thought. And so, our professor Jeremiah tells us that we "shine" during Q&A, when we are suddenly called upon to give smart, unrehearsed responses, when we must draw on our knowledge and experience to say something valuable. 

I forget how to listen, too. Yes, we listen in class, and we talk back too. But there is little sustained conversation.

Today at lunch, I sit with some of my sectionmates and for the first time in weeks, have a real, thoughtful conversation. And just when we are warming up to it - when I think I will see something gorgeously vulnerable and opinionated and stood by - it is time for our next class. I wanted more.

Our communities are so fragmented, I thought to myself last night, while listening to artist Sarah Anne Johnson's talk on her work in an environmental context. But it wasn't really about the environment at all. Although she wouldn't have said this, I believe her talk was about her struggle as a photographer, painter, sculptor and a person, to expose her own memory and emotion in its most raw form.

Johnson's "Tree Planting" series includes photos of real scenes in the forests of Canada, alongside photos of figurines breaking down in the forest. Where lumber companies have clear cut forests, armies of young men and women descend in the summer. They battle nature's bugs, backbreaking, finger-bloodying work and deep isolation to make money off of every tree that they jam into the ground.

It was so good the first time, she said. She didn't have a camera then, nor was she there to make art. The second and third summers, her camera was a steady companion. And she realized, as she made her art, that she kept trying to recreate the adventure from that first summer. But, she said, when you see everything with an artist's eye, you begin to miss the poetry that comes from deep living. You cannot be both participant and observer.

Fuqua is so much about polishing, about making us sharp and refined - both intellectually and socially. But Johnson espoused exactly the opposite. She stood for authenticity, for the honesty that comes with naivete.  "When you start to get too good, it just looks like you're showing off," she said, "and that's the last thing I want for my art." 
I believe that in our management communications courses, the professors are also pushing us for honesty. Yes, we should be technically good, just as Johnson was a technically very talented artist, but the goal is ultimately to connect with an audience, or a company, from a place of truth. Recruiters want this. Our classmates want to hear this - in our professors and in each other. We are not artists, we business school students, but I believe we too search for authenticity in the structure, the models and the tools.

On this day, the last of classes for Fall Term 2, I think about how quickly the past four months have swung through me. Today I wished for two more weeks of classes; as usual I am only just now on the edge of understanding the content.  There was so much failure and self-disappointment in this term, so much frustration, and ire. And yet at the end of it, I gaze forward toward the unknown landscape of my future, and all I feel is deep anticipation, rich with possibility.  
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