Phil Collins, the Religion

I crossed paths with several nutty professors during my undergrad years.

There was the French teacher who always called me Clarence even though my name is most definitely not Clarence and I’m most definitely not a dude. He was also a big fan of the Captain Morgan pose, hiking his tight-pantsed leg up on the desk right in front of the student closest to him so that they’d get a good view of his ample junk. (Intentional? We all swore it was.) He wore a lot of black, including a leather jacket I believe he never removed even in the heat of Texas summers. Even in the college classroom setting he found a way to exude the stereotypical Frenchman’s overt sexuality, so I’m gonna say he was passionate about lovemaking and calling people by the wrong names even though I never actually witnessed the former.

Then there was the Environmental Psychology professor who invited our class on a tour of his house to perform an efficiency inspection and critique him on what he was doing wrong in terms of energy conservation. His home had a labyrinth of plastic vinyl pathways spread throughout it so that he’d never have to waste electricity or water cleaning the carpets. He recycled his shower water. And he didn’t realize that before inviting a large group of goofy college undergrads into one’s home one should probably hide one’s high school yearbook. We’d often spot him on weekends, out on a street corner protesting in favor of some Save The Earth initiative or another. He was definitely passionate about the Earth and about the bad influence greed has on our lives.

The most notable of my nutty professors was my Wisdom Traditions (African religion) professor who was passionate about everything! He had an energy about him that was limitless, no matter that sometimes through his thick accent we had difficulty understanding what he was being energetic about. He kicked off our first or second class by bringing out a CD player and blasting the Phil Collins song “In The Air Tonight,” then he told us our assignment for that class was to write an essay in response to the song. That was it.

And you guys, I rocked that essay.

See, I have a dirty little secret: I totally dig that song. I was born only a few years after it was and my parents had a thing for Phil Collins, so it was kind of inevitable I guess.

This was completely uncool, as my classmates indicated with their snickers as my professor openly praised me and chose to read my essay aloud during the next class session. It also made me have flashbacks to grade school when I’d been mocked as the teacher’s pet and I wanted to shrink into a corner and disappear, but there was no stopping my professor’s enthusiasm about my enthusiasm.

I don’t have a copy of that paper and his comments, but I recently rediscovered copies of some of my other papers from that class. Many of them feature comments in red ink addressed to “Wisdom Princess” (guess who!) and they reference my “gems of thought” and “masterpieces.” One of my favorite comments reads, “I understand the glow of wisdom that radiates from your eyes. When you are ‘chosen to know’ it is all or nothing. May your soul guide you to have it all.” And aside from the obvious fact that compliments such as these are delightfully ego boosting, there’s something to this guy’s energy that’s really pretty great. (To be fair, I do have a couple of papers which feature points being docked for the fact that my “genius” was not apparent in them. Bah humbug.) I may not consider myself a Wisdom Princess–I’m already chuckling about slipping that reference in the next time Husband and I disagree about something–but that professor’s unabashed fervor about something as simple as Phil Collins song, and his desire to inspire that fervor in others, is pretty inspiring.

I’ve long since lost that Phil Collins cassette tape I used to play on repeat when I was a kid, but every once in a while I still hear that song (usually blasting from the stereo at a warehouse brewery + tasting room while the bearded beer guys rock out to it behind the counter.) And any time I do hear the song I kinda really get into it, partly because it just needs to happen and partly because of that “nutty” professor’s influence. Turns out, the things that made him seem nutty, like the fact that he doesn’t give a flying flip if someone thinks his excitement about a Phil Collins song, or his penchant for calling people Wisdom Princes and Princesses, aren’t cool; he owns it completely and with fervor as he works to inspire that same energy in those around him.

These people are good for us. “Nutty” folks like this serve as a good reminder to all of us, to be passionate, live life with fervor, and, of course, to occasionally rock out to the magic that starts here at 3:16.

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