Submitted by Ken Karch
We gathered after class to learn something we would never learn in the classroom. The name of the downtown bar in Ann Arbor is long forgotten, but the lessons learned there stay forever.
For it was here that ideas flowed even more readily than beer.
We were graduate students, mostly with small stipends, some single, other married, some with children already. All thirsty for learning and life’s potential that learning brings.
The average American knows about 25,000 words. Put five average Americans together and the total number of known words among the group may be 35,000.
Of course, by the third beer, the number drops to half that, along with the ability to utter most of them.
We had learned to greet each other with a single word, different for each of us and each time we got together, each word unique, never to be repeated. A couple of us had taken to bringing a little pocket-sized dictionary to pick our word for the day.
Then the real learning took place. We would place the five words on the table (on a suitable-sized napkin, by this time damp with condensation from the cold beer, or spills thereof).
One of us would begin talking about the relationship between any two of the words (an example of the five words might be andiron, chichory, Freud, marshmallow, and zebra). A little thought and one can readily see that there are millions of possible combinations. At least enough to last us through several refills from the keg behind the bar.
Try this a few times and you will notice that virtually all the discussions involve ideas that don’t appear in any book, magazine, or newspaper, in any classroom or library.
They are ideas that are at once common, because the words are common, insightful because of the connections between them, and creative, because they are not found anywhere else. A near-perfect creative lab.
I guess he never visited the bar in Ann Arbor.