William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

Confessions of a Short-Distance Student-Commuter

I didn’t do any schoolwork yesterday (although that was largely due to our drive up to Mount Uniacke for Thanksgiving dinner) and I’ve so far spent much of today rereading a book written by a computer programmer who bought a boat and sailed it around the world. I guess you have to pay your dues before being able to set off on that kind of adventure.

I’ve lost my interest in chemistry – most non-trivial stoichiometic equations I’ve been seeing are pretty much meaningless. Conservation of mass and balancing equations are all well and good, but determining the specific concentrations required to produce certain results is every bit as boring as it sounds (and then some). The labs are OK – the assistants are pleasant and helpful, and the professor emeritus is a kind, gentle fellow. I also have an affable and competent lab partner, and being fresh out of high school he knows his way around the lab much better than I do – for my part, I take charge of the computer side of things, calibrate the sensors, and prepare the graphs.

Physics is OK, and I got through the second lab with far less stress than the first – my partner from the first session was absent, so I sat alone – then one fellow sat next to me for a few minutes – we were civil, but I guess we didn’t like the look of each other – within a minute he got up and moved to the front end of the room. Then the fellow from the table behind was encouraged to join me. We did alright. Best of all, there are three glorious weeks of no-physics-lab thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday and the alternating schedule.

Pre-cal review is a joke. The homework is boring and tedious, and although a few questions are mildly thought-provoking, it’s not really enough. I am not kidding when I say that we spent half an hour on y=2x. Yeah, I get it. I can’t believe not being “permitted” (an odious word) to study calculus means experiencing the mathematics equivalent of being relegated from the major juniors to junior C.

But I did have one interesting experience: While waiting for the class to commence one day, I looked for a seat in the hall. I asked a fellow if I could sit kitty-corner from him: “Can I sit here?” and he replied, “Sure. Of course, my friend.” He went on to say where he was from (Sudan), it would be automatic – even to sit next to him, there’d have been no need to ask. It’s a public place, is their logic. He told me how he experienced sitting on a bus here – how he’d take an empty seat next to someone when other empty seats were available and how that person would roll their eyes, and he’d wonder why. It was thought-provoking to hear this, and I found myself thankful – not for the first time, and certainly not the last – that Saint Mary’s is such a cosmopolitan school. It’s like a terrestrial Babylon 5.

That leaves astronomy. I wish the professor hadn’t suggested that the sunset observations required for one of the labs make an excellent excuse for a date – I’ve been putting it off until I can find a way and an eligible and willing partner with which to make it into a date or date-ette, and I’ll probably feel a bit chagrined and ashamed when I, in all likelihood, end up doing it by myself. The end of next week is my drop-dead date: if I don’t find someone by Thursday, that’ll be that, and I’ll do it myself.

The class itself is frustrating because while I don’t have much observational or mathematic experience, qualitatively speaking I know about as much about astronomy as anyone, as I’ve devoured and re-read many books on the subject, and themed as many of my science classes at Seiko on it as I could get away with. I can see what’s coming at any given time, and the professor is one of those guys who doesn’t want to get too far ahead. I sympathize with that, but it just emphasizes the inherent absurdity of the lecture-based instructional format. Some days I feel like all that’s being accomplished in all of these courses is getting everyone onto the same page, and I’m being pulled back as much or more than I am being pushed forward. I’m not satisfied with this at all and I don’t believe that I am getting value for my money.

To top it all off, I am ineligible for the achievement-based scholarships that my peers are. Reading the fine print, you have to have taken the full 30 credits (I’m in 27, or nine courses out of ten – the reason being that I don’t have to (re)take Intro Lit), and you also have to be in your first undergraduate program. So I’m pretty much out in the cold, even if I get straight-A-plusses. I think this is unfair, and I’ve already written a letter to student services about this. They seemed willing to hear me out, but at the same time I doubt that any change will come about anytime soon. I’m still eligible for the needs-based bursaries, but as you might imagine I have some distaste for perennially approaching them with my hat in hand. I’m a man, and I must have my pride, or I am nothing.

All of this taken together makes me want to get into my car and drive somewhere – well, anywhere I can go on 7/16 of a tank of gas. But my feeling now is nothing compared to how I was closer to the beginning of the term – I was profoundly depressed, saddened both by the new superficial dynamic my classes had taken and by the conformist attitudes of my new peers. I cried in my beer to my friend Sarah at Chuck’s concert, and she had some sage words that straightened me out a bit. She’d been in the same boat before. I’m also coming to realize that I care too much about what other people think.

That realization takes care of any laments I have about conformist attitudes. Besides that, I’m making a few friends anyway. No, what disturbs me is how much expensive, creativity-stifling drudgery I have to go through to get to a place I would otherwise want to be. It’s not like people are out to make things difficult for me, but I’m different enough that I have a hard time fitting into things that are made for the mainstream.

Anyway, enough with the excuses – it’s time to get back to work, even if I hate it.
Tags: saint mary's, schoolwork, science

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