Monday, September 22, 2008

It's time to storm the castle...and toss the bodies in the moat.

As some of you know, I’ve gone back to school. I’ve gone back to school in order to jumpstart my stalled attempts at becoming rich and famous. When I realized that “Woodsman” and not “Archaeologist” was included on the drop-down list of occupations, I knew it was time for a change. So I hitched up my tights, quit my job at the church, and sold my soul to the devil. I am now an official student of the University of Utah.

I was admittedly nervous to start taking classes, tough classes; subjects like…calculus and…chemistry. In the following weeks, however, as quizzes and homework assignments continually broke across the bulwark of my formidable aptitude I began to secretly imagine stunning everyone by my success over all things academic. You see, despite my expanded experiences and matured outlook I find that, for me, grades are still self-defining. So when scores from my mechanical engineering class began to come back as somewhat less than stunning I was somewhat less than happy.

I think this is as good a place as any to describe the ridiculousness of what is required of me by this class—this “gotta prove I’m not just any other 1000 level class.” First, there are Excel assignments due every week. These take on average a minimum of 5 hours. We also have to, in groups of 4, design 4 robots that will execute separate robotic mandates—one has to launch itself off a ramp, one has to drive along the edge of a 2x4 (35 mm) and complete a flip, one has to do a 180 degree rotation in a 3 m square box (all while holding a raw egg), and the last has to launch that egg over two parallel bars and catch it on the other side. Homework assignments related to this design project are due weekly. Then there’s a weekly 3-hour lab with, you guessed it, weekly assignments. Finally, there are in-class pop quizzes on reading we’re supposed to, somewhere in our “free” time, complete on our own.

All of that I can handle. I’ve been busy before. I’ve been so stressed out that I’ve started breaking out before. The difference in my experiences does not lie in the supposed intellectual superiority of the hard sciences over the social sciences. It even has less to do with the fact that I also have to work and keep up with a failing social life. No, I’m being deducted for missing answers that are less than explicit in the directions. For example—from a problem with directions to prepare a table—the phrase “estimate the point where x first crosses the t-axis (i.e., estimate the value of t corresponding to x=0) supposedly means “insert a graph or we’ll dock you 4 points.” Another example involves vague instructions on how to write a technical memo and team working agreement and then 20% off for not meeting their blurred expectations.

My vanity is being robbed. Illegitimately.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

As a song.

Warmed by the breath of one soloist a song of faltering notes and humble eyes filled the space below the vaulted ceiling. Its nervous tempo struggled to keep up with a methodically strong piano as it descended amid a half-aware congregation. Brief moments of quiet artistry were swept away by missteps on a threaded melody and so it threatened to fade into the background of pressing thoughtlessness. The masses did not nod their heads in unanimous appreciation; the crowd did not ignorantly offer a standing ovation. Still, I listened. I listened to a song that was not a magnificent aria. I listened to a song that was a personal echo of a life of fumbling steps and looks of uncertainty, of imperfect efforts and missed opportunities. I listened to a song that was a reminder of the inevitable shortcomings of routine living. I listened to a song that did not deserve pity but an acknowledgment of the beauty in the effort and the honesty. My soul cried out with the strains of a song unabashedly human in its presentation, "Be still...the Lord is on thy side; with patience bear thy cross of grief or pain...Be still...thy God doth undertake to guide the future as he has the past...Be still, my soul."