Because I am an alumnus of the Biloxi School of Bartending (“Roll on, Green Olives! Roll on!”) I receive the quarterly alumni magazine, Apéritif.
The current issue contains a number of letters to the editor reacting to the publication of an article last issue that raised the question of the value of a BSB degree. The pendulum of opinion among the correspondents swings between umbrage and pique at the mere thought of questioning the value of a college degree from our beloved Biloxi.
I had read the offending piece, but I found nothing in it so vexing as to cause me to write a sternly worded dissent. I am slow to anger, more from sloth than equanimity.
Yet, the question did give me cause to consider my own college education and whether it was worth the time and expense.
Yes, and yes, and yes again, but when I strip away the obvious inculcation of the liberal arts, which have benefitted me in countless ways, one word expresses the essence of what my six years at the Biloxi School of Bartending gave me: Zen.
I was reared in a small, remote desert town. I received a public-school education from good teachers. I was on the college-prep track in high school and that track created a transcript that opened the door to college. But that was it. Very little outside culture seeped into my world. Zen was the last syllable of a word in civics class. Of Zen, and most of the real world, I hadn’t a clue.
I arrived a BSB and got a job as a student worker in the college library. My work shifts consisted of sorting books and shelving books. I don’t recall where I came across Zen the first time—was it Alan Watts’s essay, “Murder in the Kitchen”? Was it Eugen Herrigel’s "Zen in the Art of Archery," or one of the books by D.T. Suzuki? Or was it the Beats, Ginsberg, Kerouac?
I don’t know, but I remember the top of my head coming off as I explored this new concept. It was like paddling a canoe into a beautiful cove and feeling like I was the first person to discover it even as the litter along the shore said otherwise.
How much is it worth to discover something that will be with you and inform your worldview for the rest of your life? For me, it was like the first stanza of a poem by Mark Strand: “Ink runs from the corners of my mouth./There is no happiness like mine./I have been eating poetry.”
While I did attempt a zen approach to beer pong, I never took a course in Zen. It wasn’t a chapter in Intermediate Mixology 272. All I knew is what I read.
So, the concept of Zen was something I found by happenstance along the boustrophedon of the bookstacks in the Jack Daniels Memorial Library at the Biloxi School of Bartending.
I learned a great many other things in college. Much of what I learned is with me still. For me, college was worth every penny.
Roll on, Green Olives! Roll On!