Trendysomething in SoMo
Jung & the restless
Houston is a city of cults. From the monumental temple of La Luz Del Mundo organization, always a halfway marker on the ride to IAH, to the stadium-turned-televangelist-temple that is Lakewood Church, Houston has multiple options for a sense of community in this sprawling town. My tiny neighborhood of SoMo even boasts a few: the hallowed Art Deco walls of the Freemasons, for example, or Sedition Books, offering lectures on shoplifting and how to campaign for veganism in Central America.
The quality of this sense of community is questionable, so I recently decided to test the waters and enroll in a class at the nearby Jung Center. It is important not to confuse the Jung Center with the nearby Yeung Institute on Banks Street, “a temple of cosmetic surgery.” You can differentiate the two sites because there is an imprint of my body in the shrubbery at the Yeung Institute—a casualty of a stroll back from Mixers & Elixirs last summer.
The Jung Center is actually not so unfamiliar to me. Interestingly enough, the former dean at the U of H Honors College was on the board, so students received a heavily reduced price on courses there. My classmate Eva and I signed up for a yoga class because her mom had a coupon for yoga mats at Pottery Barn and insisted we cash in. The course’s length unfortunately corresponded with the time around my 21st birthday, so I was too shaky to really accomplish any of the poses. Eva usually arrived about 15 minutes before the class was over. Afterwards we’d raid Whole Foods in our pseudo-stoned nirvana state.
I assumed I’d been blacklisted, but apparently Jungian thought does not promote maintaining spiteful databases. Several weeks ago, I logged on to the Jung Center’s Web site to find a slew of inspiring courses. I wondered, would The Human as Two confront transgender issues? I love drag shows! Could I finally get closure on dropping out of art school by attending Felt Explorations: Art for Reflection?
Ultimately, I enrolled in The Aroused Heart: Exploring the Stories We Call Our Lives. I based this decision on intuition. First, I noticed it was taught by a woman named Louise "Wheezy" Plaster, which made me think “plastered,” which made me giggle. I also assumed the class would be a logical place to meet potential One-True-Loves, since the word “aroused” was in the title. More than anything, I loved the “Exploring the Stories We Call Our Lives” aspect, which I read as, “Talking About Myself Endlessly”—a very appealing course indeed. I checked off “Honors Student” while paying online, hoping the discount might somehow still apply to a loyal alum, and knowing that the organization would never do the background research anyway.
The day before the first night class, I received a phone call from the receptionist at the Center. Was the game up? Had I been caught in the bizarre, vile act of swindling a non-profit? Would I be double-blacklisted? Before I could say, “Two wrongs make a right,” I was informed that I was really guilty of nothing, but the discount was no longer on offer to any students (result of the recesh). Instead they wanted to offer me a scholarship because of my apparent commitment. In the past, I’d associated scholarships with that kid who mysteriously never got braces in middle school and awards granted to students working towards tedious practical degrees. However, I was determined to find my aroused self, with or without shame.
A single candle at the center of a folding table lit our classroom on the night of the first class. Sitting among my six classmates, the location of our instructor was unclear until I heard the sudden strike of a gong, and a voice near the door proclaiming, “Open your eyes.” The harsh fluorescent lights came on, revealing Wheezy Plaster in all her sequined glory. My jaw dropped as I took in her flip-flops with big plastic daisies, white leopard-print leggings, a sweater with crocheted sunflowers, and a baseball hat featuring a bedazzled red, silver and gold interpretation of the American flag. She launched with some cliché opener, like “Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” or “Has everyone here paid?”
We went around the room introducing ourselves. Everyone involved was either a depressed attorney, burnt-out engineer or idle West U. mom. An attractive Shell employee with a British accent introduced himself as Ian. “Could this expat be the OTL this class has to offer?” I asked myself.
“I enrolled in this class while working through substance issues with my therapist,” he confided. Foreign accent! Party loving! Medical coverage! I was sold.
The remainder of the first class was spent “mapping our past selves.” We each pinned strips of butcher paper to the wall and made graphs of the highs and lows of our lives and then paired up to compare notes. My “lows,” like finding the perfect pair of jeans at Club Monaco and then forgetting the shopping bag in the Galleria parking lot, did not compare to those of Jelena, the forlorn intellectual property lawyer. Perhaps being evicted from four different apartments in Barcelona for throwing parties did not compare to Jelena’s unhappy marriage or realization that she chose the wrong career. For some reason, while enrolling in the course, it never occurred to me that I’d involve myself in others’ mixed up lives. Having fully delved into our pasts, we were assigned to compile a list of present challenges as homework.
“I hope we come away from this first class with an understanding that none of us stand alone at this baggage carousel of life,” announced Wheezy.
On the afternoon of what was meant to be that second class meeting, I received another phone call from the Jung Center. I was sure they had finally caught on, but as it turned out, my roommate Liz had broken her wrist while teaching a tantric pilates class. I missed yet another meeting due to a convenient Jewish holiday, so for the fourth of six class meetings, I made a point of arriving on time. Realizing that I had actually arrived an hour early, I wandered across the street to the Cullen Sculpture Garden. I wearily leaned back on my favorite perch on the rolling lawn that crawls up the garden’s western wall and took in the sunset.
I was awoken two hours later by a security guard tapping on my head, holding out a brochure for a homeless shelter. Had I really just slept through the class? I glanced at my phone and noticed I still had a bit of time, so I stumbled into the classroom, acting as if I had just come back from a refill of maté. I began to notice my classmates all staring at me and speaking inaudibly. Finally, it occurred to me that I was still listening to Ratatat remixes on my iPod from my sculpture garden siesta. I removed the earbuds. Meredith, the Shadyside empty-nester who chewed on codeine tablets as if they were Trident questioned, “What is that you’re wearing, Steven?”
I blushed and, dusting off my blazer, replied, “Oh, just Kenneth Cole. I find the best things at Buffalo—I swear, it’s a gift. Like Jung and making up all those symbols.”
I finally noticed that my classmates had in actuality been staring at something just above my head. Reaching up, I found a giant nest of Spanish moss from the garden entangled in my hair.
I heard the plastic crunch of Wheezy's Mardi Gras beads as she cocked her head and asked, “Now Steven, is that what looks like the remains of a marijuana cigarette dangling in your little moss hat?”
At this point, nobody seemed entertained that I’d titled my list of current life challenges, “People I Hate”. How could they not appreciate how I brilliantly wove together Suze Orman, that rude bouncer at Boondocks and choice members of the Palin family? I wiled away the rest of the meeting reading a copy of Us Weekly disguised inside a Moleskine notebook. Ambling back to the toho, I spotted Ian and Jelena kissing in the Jung Center parking lot.
I didn’t need an analyst to comprehend that I had failed at my second stab at Jungian enlightenment. Ian was clearly involved, Wheezy thought I was wrapped up in reefer madness, and Meredith showed no willingness to share her prescriptions. In a stroke of good luck, I was excused from the next week’s meeting due to a swine flu scare, and I incidentally booked a flight to New York on the evening of the final class.
I came away from The Aroused Heart with mixed feelings. Had I taken advantage of a benevolent sanctuary of introspection? Perhaps. Did I interfere with the learning objectives of my classmates? A little bit. But will I always think of Wheezy when I stumble through SoMo plastered? Oh, indeed.