Outside a bustling coffee shop sits a balding man in a pair of blue short-shorts, sporting a St. Thomas University T-shirt, staring at the passing traffic and sipping a sweet, cold beverage. His legs are crossed and one arm is slung over the chair while the other rests on the table. A ladybug crawls up his foot, a sign of luck, according to the Irish. He looks calm and contemplative, yet also like he could pounce into a story at any second.
“It all started with flunking out of university three times — of course that’s not something I’d recommend.”
Besides flunking out of university three times, he rides a bike to work and when the weather is nice he teaches class outside. No tweedy jackets with elbow patches for him. He wears shorts. And if he seems unconventional, maybe that’s because of the winding route he took to get to St. Thomas.
In high school, Muise received the highest mark in English in grades 10, 11, and 12, which inspired him to proceed with a career in English.
He was eager to start university, but it was difficult because of his working-class upbringing. In fact, he grew up with no books in his childhood home “There were no shelves in my house, so I didn’t read anything — I mean I didn’t really read anything until I was about 23 or 22.”
He lived in houses with no furnaces or indoor toilets growing up and didn’t have time to read.
“It was really blue collar,” he said. As a result, when he got to university, he had a lot to catch up on and felt alienated for not having the traditional academic upbringing of many university scholars at the time.
“It was like I had just gotten off the truck carrying bales of hay. You know, like I had hay stickin’ in between my teeth and I think they saw that.”
Along his bumpy road to becoming a lecturer at St. Thomas University, he lost a job, lost a girlfriend, and failed to obtain his Ph.D., but he received a degree in journalism at Holland College and then his bachelor of arts with a major in English and a minor in history and philosophy at Acadia. He worked tirelessly to obtain his B.A. in two years, taking courses all year round and studying hard.
“I took as many courses as I legally could…and that was like digesting your food too quickly.”
Finally, pursued his masters in English. He wrote his honours degree on Woody Allen’s influence on literature and attempted to pursue a Ph.D. in film adaptation, although he didn’t finish. Despite that, he became a teacher.
“I don’t imagine that they [his professors] had any idea that I’d be teaching.”
Many consider his teaching methods unconventional; although, he admits, “I just don’t know any other way [to teach].”
In his classes you study music albums for poetry (this year he plans on having his students examine Alanis Morissette). As far as curriculum is concerned, he believes that you can put stuff in there that brings joy, that makes the class more exciting and enticing for students. He also likes relating class material to things that are going on in the world — good or bad.
Plus he always aims to treat students with the utmost respect and dignity.
“No matter how bad a paper is, you just don’t humiliate a student.”
He rides his bike 365 days a year, rain or shine, even through the snow. In fact, he doesn’t even have a driver’s license. It’s not an environmental choice, however, it’s just something that he started doing and hasn’t stopped. Although, he does admit there is a sense of pride and accomplishment when you bike up hill that you don’t get when you’re driving a car. Plus, he attributes knowing a variety to people to biking.
“You do that, you’re going to meet a lot of local people and they’re going to know you.”
Muise is the kind of professor you can have a cup of coffee with and discuss anything from Hamlet to the weather to philosophy. Seemingly, he’s an open book. His journey is a tale of luck and success that can provide encouragement to students who feel confused about their future career path or worried about failure.
“We spend so much time trying to control things we can’t control… I’m eternally grateful and I don’t know if I could be where I am without all those things happening.”