Category: art history & general school

Mourning my minor

My husband and I are back contingency planning. We might have an opportunity to return to Japan for a few years, or we might stay in San Diego until I graduate… or neither of those might work out, of course.

Regardless, now that I’ve finally matriculated and gotten a degree audit, I have a good idea for the first time of when I’ll be able to graduate. If I work more diligently than usual, have no medical emergencies, etc., March 2017 could happen, but June is more reasonable.

Of course, that’s assuming I take the straightest route, and abandon my mathematics minor dreams. I won’t take upper division linear algebra. I won’t take classes about cryptography, mathematical reasoning, abstract algebra, or even teaching high school geometry.

To many students–students who are just starting to drink legally, who live in a dorm room, who are not married, and have never had a career–a few months is nothing. In the grand scheme of things, I suppose that’s true anyway. But graduating a few months later, for me, would mean postponing other things that are more important to me than another handful of really interesting math classes.

So I’m spending more of my free time studying math on my own, and I’m planning on building up a better library of math books at home. When K. and I have settled more permanently, and if we are not too broke or overworked, maybe I’ll take more math classes at a local college after work. Maybe I’ll be that older woman who has a family and a degree and a job already, who can take the classes she wants, for herself, with zero pressure to even do well. I don’t know.

Anyway, I learned a linear algebra application problem today; you can balance a chemical equation using matrices instead of that weird, hard-to-explain-you-just-have-to-try-it method that people are taught in general chemistry classes.

Here is one I did earlier, just for fun:

001I discovered this because I started going through my old linear algebra textbook, which just makes the statement, “Chemists can use linear algebra to balance chemical equations.” I had to use the Interwebs to find an example of the process, and jog my memory a bit to realize why this works (which is too abstract for me to attempt to explain at this time).

So no math minor for me, but at least I can glean my old books, and eventually buy new ones. And in fall I’ve got one last math course to take for my major–which I guess I’ll just do my best to savor.

Observations about great teachers

Mr. S.

  • he put things into context
  • he wasn’t afraid of religion or politics, but he was never insulting or condescending
  • even though he talked about art, religion, and politics… I think it speaks to his objectivity that I never did quite figure out what his personal views were
  • he cared about us–when I was withdrawing from everyone and in fact feeling suicidal, he was the one person in my life who took me aside and asked about my well-being
  • he was funny, and he incorporated humor into class all the time

Ms. H.

  • she obviously had a passion for her subject, describing mathematics with words like rich, pretty, awesome, beautiful, and magnificent
  • she paid attention to student feedback, and seemed to actually notice her students getting tired by the end of the day
  • she had high standards… it’s really encouraging when someone sets out high standards for you because it means they think you’re capable of reaching it

Ms. S.

  • she was honest with me about my weaknesses and my strengths
  • she played Scrabble with me one day when I had to visit the school on one of those ‘staff only’ days
  • she treated students like real people, and understood that many of us have other things going on in life besides school

Some teachers are no good, and I wonder if they know it. I wonder why they’re teaching if they don’t seem excited while they’re doing it. My heart goes out to them because sometimes it looks like they’re having as hard a time with us students as we’re having with them…. and for some, I’m sure they’ve found themselves feeling a bit stuck in a profession they’re not too crazy about. I sympathize.

But for those Mr. S.’s out there… I hope they know how awesome they are, what a difference they make even years after their students graduate. Why am I thinking about this? I don’t know. I do know that when I think of the great teachers I’ve had, I want to make them proud maybe even more than I want to make my parents proud or my husband happy (he thinks I’m going to get a high-paying job after I finish learning all this physics and math, and be his ‘sugar mama’ haha); I want to make them proud because they did so much for me and I’m not even their kid. I’m going to write them all letters someday if I ever do anything noteworthy!

Does something a teacher did for you or said to you stick in your mind? What makes a great teacher?


I was trying to think of how to title this post, and it’s just a pain. I’ve always been bad at writing titles for the purpose of getting attention (my English and journalism teachers knew this). I like titling things descriptively (my science teachers know this). I don’t know why. Anyway, I’m thinking about destiny. Fate. Predestination. Darma. “Meant to be.” I still don’t know how much I believe in it.

Destiny can be somewhat of a comforting idea, and I think it’s really powerful in movies and books. Frodo was destined to be the ring bearer, for example. It wouldn’t be as interesting if Frodo just sort of happened to end up taking the ring to Mordor. It’s not just a matter of interest though, but also a matter of making things believable. How did Frodo overcome all the odds to get that damned ring to Mt. Doom? Destiny. Because we hate to believe in chance, don’t we?

I’m not really trying to talk about Lord of the Rings though, and I’m not sure if Tolkien really thought of Frodo as being fated to carry the ring or not. It’s beside the point, but maybe I will return to it after I’ve graduated college and finally had time to reread the LOTR.

I’ve been thinking about destiny, fate, etc., and also the Christian idea of a calling. I think there are certainly general callings. For instance, if you’ve come to believe in Christ, you’ve been called to do certain things: love your neighbor, seek peace, praise God, look forward to the world to come. But people talk a lot about specific callings, most often having to do with occupations and/or ministries. They feel called to become a doctor or a priest or a teacher. They feel called to move somewhere to start a new church group. Sometimes the conversation then turns fuzzy. If God calls me to be a teacher, say, does that mean I was destined to be a teacher all along? If God says today that I am to be a teacher, does that mean he had always planned on saying that?

Partly this goes back to the clockmaker God debate, in my mind. Is God intimately, unceasingly involved in everything that’s going on in the world? Is he always putting just the right person in just the right spot and just the right time for infinitely many specific purposes? Or did he set it in motion, this gloriously intricate universe, already knowing everything that would happen? Either of these seem to suggest fate–but now I am being sloppy. Can the universe have a fate, but each individual planet not? Can the human race have a fate, but each individual human not? Can the Jewish people have a fate, but not each Jewish person?

I believe God has a plan, although I can’t honestly say from the top of my head what I base this belief on. I can’t think of any words from the bible that told me this, although maybe there are some, and they got the idea across without me remembering how. It’s not necessarily a logical conclusion either. I believe it though, at the moment. What I am unsure of is whether God has a plan for me. Did he really make me to do some specific thing? Or did he make me just because, and it doesn’t matter what I do, but rather how I do it?

Years ago, I read the Bhagavad Gita, an Indian scripture I am not qualified to analyze too deeply. Anyway, it partly deals with duty, and something called dharma, which has to do with what I’m talking about. One of the things I recall from the reading was the idea that a person can have a duty that he must perform, and that he must perform it, even if he had a greater talent for something else. I don’t remember if the person’s own desire was discussed. While I know there are many interpretations of this Indian work, and while it is not something I believe was inspired by God (like the Gospels, for example), I have always been open to different ways of thinking… and really, to different ways of asking. Many people I have talked to seem to think that a person’s “natural aptitude” or simply their interest in something is a good clue for that person toward what he or she should pursue seriously. But when I think of Arjuna’s story (the Gita), I’m not so sure this is a logical approach.

Firstly, say I have an aptitude for catching fish. I’m good at it. Am I good at it because God made me to be good at it? Or am I simply good at it because I grew up a poor fisherman’s daughter? Perhaps I would be just as apt at anything if I were experienced with it.

Next, say I am interested in journalism (which I actually was at one point). I’m so interested in it. I’ve studied it. I’ve practiced it. This seems problematic too because there are at least three things that are likely to happen: a) I get burnt out, b) I simply change over time and fall in love with something else (especially possible with something like journalism in which your job is really to learn about other things), or c) I always love it, but never am especially good at it.

None of these thoughts are getting me any closer to an answer though. Am I meant to do something?

I don’t know. It doesn’t bother me much, really, for all the writing I do on it. I just wish I had an opinion, but I really don’t. I could argue yea or nay. Watching Interstellar twice made me think of it. Studying physics makes me think of it. Being a Christian makes me think of it. I’m convinced that God created, made, and formed us. I’m even convinced of salvation through Christ, and the resurrection. But what about in between?

The other day I was thinking about where I might be someday. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a professional equestrienne for a while. Of course. Then, for a long time, I was really interested in genetics, and I was sure that’s what I’d get into. I remember reading about the Human Genome Project, back when it was still years from completion. Other things caught my interest. I pursued one of them, the Navy, and even today, I’m not sure I was right to end that pursuit. One of the possibilities I still seriously consider is going back on active duty (though hopefully as an officer). Now I study physics. I’ve always been interested in it. I’ve loved math ever since I took my first trigonometry class. Did I ever see myself in this position though? Did I ever see myself as a physicist? Do I now? Well, I can.

The other day when I was thinking of this, I got a slight sense that I’m not sure I’ve felt before… if I have, it was a long time ago. I got this slight sense that, “I was doing this before.”

As I said before, destiny is sort of a comforting idea, but I’m still not sure I buy it. I’m not having an identity crisis or anything. I don’t think I tie too much of my identity into what I do, but maybe it would be easier if I did. If you’d asked me a couple of years ago what I wanted to do, I’d say I wanted to make films. You know, I still do, too. But I want to do a lot of things, and I want to study a lot of things. I already discussed how it can be problematic to just do things you like to do.

For now I am following curiosity and a little practicality. I am curious about many things, but I am studying in school the subject I think I have the least ability to learn by myself. I mean, I am curious about art history, but it is relatively easy to research it without a lot of help. Physics on the other hand?

School sucks sometimes

Just finished physics exam three, and it was worse than the nightmare I had the other night about being assimilated by the Borg on a giant apartment-building-cube. I guess I prefer running in terror to digging in my brain and finding nothing that I need. Have you ever waited in a long line for some important thing (I don’t know an example off the top of my head, but I remember it seemed to happen all the time in the Navy), and the clerk or service person or whomever informs you that you’re missing the simplest little piece of paperwork or something, but that you CANNOT proceed without it? You’ve got to go get whatever it is, and get right back in line.

Some things are just aggravating. Feeling prepared and finding out that you were utterly unprepared is one of those things. And that’s my life in this physics class. I read, study, review my notes, complete all of my assignments, and work through problems. I even spend some of my “free” time (which consists of the few hours I spend either driving or hanging out with my husband in the evenings) just thinking about how I could apply the laws and theorems and mathematical relationships to stuff. I really do. And I’m interested in physics. I don’t neglect school in my sleep either. I dream about things I’m working hard on.

For the first time in my life, I’m really trying, but I’m not getting the results I want. Truthfully, I tried very hard in calc. I over the summer, too, and the results were not what I wanted either, but they were acceptable (a B instead of an A). But I’m getting wicked pissed with my physics class. I know it’s not a good idea to teach that sort of class in a “monkey see monkey do” way, just showing students problems, then testing them on basically the same problems with different values. I don’t want a half-assed education because I really do hope to one day be competent at some sort of good job. But back to the wicked pissed part: I read, study, etc., and then when the test comes, I just want to go to my professor and ask, “Where did you get this?” because it really seems like the only things I see on the test are things that were only mentioned in passing during lectures or in the book.

Then when lecture comes around, starting some new material, I’m just thinking, “Why are you showing me this awesome, easy problem? Can’t we go over, I dunno, one or two problems that are on the same difficulty level that we’ll see on the test?” Just thinking about it pisses me off when I’m in class. I don’t even want to see the examples because I know they will not help me. It’s like getting a lesson on adding and subtracting, but then a quiz on long division.

In conclusion, I hate school.

Counselors make a difference

Rather than finish up “The Wisdom of This World Pt. 3,” which I will finish next time I am feeling philosophical, have time, and can even begin to articulate what I’m getting at, I’m going to write something else. Oh, and the stuff about wisdom, I think I will take the time to write out actual quotes from the Bible. I know approximately where most of them are that are guiding my thought. Anyway…

Yesterday wasn’t that great. I woke up cranky and tired; the air conditioner stopped working properly; my awesome Casio watch that I’ve had since 2007 broke; I scratched my car parking in my own garage (and I’m not even joking when I say I am normally great at parking); I dealt with jerks at school; and there was a substitute teacher in my calculus class! Also, not pertaining as much to my day, but kind of does, my husband got stuck forever in traffic, and got home after dinner was cold… not normally a big deal, but I had made pesto from scratch for the first time, and I was excited! I’m convinced it would’ve been better had we eaten it when it was ready, not after it had gotten cold and been reheated. Whatever. I should be happy that the pesto actually turned out delicious.

So today has really only begun, but it’s already going better. Better parking and driving experiences, there’s a maintenance request in on the air conditioner, and I’ve mourned my watch. But I also went to an appointment I had with a counselor. I knew it would go well because I’d met this particular counselor before, and he’s just a really nice, helpful, interesting guy (I mean, that’s what I’ve gotten out of spending two hours of my life with him anyway). So I went, and there were far fewer people at school than I’d expected, which is always cool. The counselor, I’ll call him “John” for the sake of anonymity, actually remembered me, despite our last meeting being a year ago! Maybe that’s stupid to some people, but to me it was meaningful. He didn’t remember me because I’m really beautiful or because I have an unforgettable body odor or something. I don’t think my name is even that unusual. But regardless, despite all the students this man has dealt with over this year, he actually remembered me. I wish more teachers and counselors and people in general understood what a positive, if immeasurable, impact is has on others, when you regard them as an individual person — you don’t even have to remember their name — instead of “just another face in the crowd.” To me, it makes a crappy impression when a professor’s introductory statement includes something like, “I’m not even going to try to remember your names.” I mean, I get that they have a lot of students — but is it necessary to make me feel so unimportant right off the bat, just in order to explain why they want your course number written on assignments?

Well, anyway, John helped me write my latest and hopefully, final education plan at this college. He really encouraged me in my field of study. He asked me engaging questions, naturally one of them being why I’m majoring in physics. In so many words, I said I was following my heart. I have a strong interest in physics topics just based on my really, really basic knowledge, and my love of “popular science” books and articles (and, even though I didn’t say this, science fiction, too). Having experience in a natural science himself, John talked to me about different things I could do with the degree, different directions I could go, etc. I guess that should be pretty standard from a counselor, but it’s actually not. It’s actually pretty awesome. We basically ended up kind of chatting about science, which was pretty damn cool, even if I am an ignorant wannabe. We talked about the intersection of astronomy and geophysics, and how incredibly far human understanding and technology has come just in our lifetimes.

Finally, John offered me encouragement about getting into the university of my choice. He said I had a really good shot of getting in where I’m applying. I love encouragement. I understand I shouldn’t need it. But I’m not Spock or Tupac*; I’m an emotional human, and irrational at times. I am definitely affected by the attitudes of people around me. So the cherry on top of my appointment with John was when he asked me to keep in touch and email him when I’m going to school at U— next year. He said he’d probably be retiring soon, etc., but the email address he was giving me he would always have. It’s just so cool to make a real connection, not some, “Let’s exchange LinkedIn contacts or something in case one of us could somehow miraculously get the other one a job someday” type of connection. It’s tiring and usually obvious when people want to “keep in touch” because they’re trying to network like they’ll burn in hell if they don’t.

So anyway, now I’m home. It’s hot. My tendonitis is still keeping me from running, but maybe I’ll go for a bike ride later. Even though I was considering not even applying this fall, I think after my counseling appointment, I’ll work a little more on my university applications after all. Oh, and not to forget all that calculus homework.


*I see that I wrote “Tupac,” when I meant “Tuvok.” Just noting it because seriously, was that a joke? Hm, Star Trek Voyager was made in the 90’s, when TUPAC was super famous. I find it pretty suspicious that the black Vulcan gets a name that’s so similar! I’m telling you: that was somebody’s joke. I’m telling you! Ha ha ha!

Thinking about the function of math

So what I’m thinking about is math. Nothing too deep here. When I was in middle school, I was enrolled in this program in Florida called MEGSSS. I don’t remember what that stood for, and I don’t know if the program still exists. What I remember is that it was a way for so-called gifted students (gifted at kicking myself in the ass) to finish high school pre-algebra, algebra 1, and geometry. I don’t know how standard it is, but when I was going through school, the sequence was:

  1. pre-algebra
  2. algebra 1 (or this could be broken into algebra 1a and algebra 1b)
  3. geometry
  4. algebra 2
  5. trigonometry/analytic geometry (or you could take pre-calculus at this point)
  6. calculus (I think they only offered AP at my high school)

Anyway, yeah it would’ve been advantageous for me to have stuck with MEGSSS back in middle school, but… I don’t remember why I didn’t. I not only dropped back a year (which was still considered a great thing, and would’ve allowed me to start geometry in high school), but I dropped back all the way to the regular-kids track. I remember that it was mildly embarrassing and ego-squeezing because most of my friends were smart kids whose affluent parents made sure their offspring had their shit together (and are probably all engineers or something right now). But why did it happen? I honestly do not remember having any difficulty with a concept. I know I was absent from school a lot, and careless about homework. I don’t remember studying at all until college.

But I had to apply to even get into that program, so what was I doing? It’s all foggy, but I know I must’ve had an interest and/or aptitude in the first place, back in elementary school. Gosh, now that I think of it, I even took Algebra 2 twice. Who does that? Okay. Fast forward a little — when I finally made it to trig & analytic geometry in senior year. I loved it. Was it the teacher? The triangles? The abstractness? Something to do with my age? I have no idea, but it was great!

Then I saw Good Will Hunting and A Beautiful Mind, movies that at the time were old to everybody else. Growing up, my family didn’t watch many movies. We only saw what was on broadcast TV, which, to me, seemed to always be Batman or something equally uninteresting. But at the end of high school, when I was studying trig, is when my now step-father entered the picture. What the hell has that got to do with anything? Well, he’s a movie guy, so living with him meant I ended up seeing tons of movies I’d never seen before. Being a naive ass teenager, man, I was so crazy about those two movies. I’m not sure if I was infatuated with John Nash, or if I wanted to be him. And Good Will Hunting? Don’t get me started.

So my interest in math was growing. I had been introduced to a couple of philosophical concepts from my personal reading, and also from humanities classes, and this contributed to the math fascination. What is infinity? What is time? What is change? Is there one answer to all of our questions, or multiple? I mean, if philosophy can fuck you with definitions and endless questioning, math can do that too. What, I ask, is a number? I don’t know if many people ask that sort of thing, because numbers are part of an idea we work with constantly — but even in the fairly low-level math I deal with now, we still specify among types of numbers: real, imaginary, natural, etc. Oh, it’s awesome.

I got interested in math partly because it seemed like a language. (Now that I know just a little baby bit about programming, the language thing seems even more apparent to me.) I thought maybe I’d like to get into math in college, and I got a book called, “Letters to a Young Mathematician.” I don’t remember who wrote it, and I actually didn’t finish it. I’m sure it’s somewhere in my mom’s house still. I was really into that book because the author would talk about the beauty and elegance and fascination that I was just beginning to perceive.

Aaaannnnd… six years later, I went back to college, started my first semester with a trigonometry class. Awesome. The unit circle. Pre-calculus I didn’t like because it was taught mostly as a long review, because I didn’t learn how I’d be applying anything to calculus, and also because my professor assigned an ONLINE TEXT BOOK, which just doesn’t work for me. Whatever.

But over this previous summer, which is kind of when I started writing, calculus was just… tickling something in my brain. If I’d had more time, I would’ve read some philosophy books and the Bible, and pondered some questions for fun. The class was by no means easy — I worked at it every single day, including weekends, and only got a B — but it was fun. It was just cool. It really intimidates me to think someone made this up (or discovered it, if you think of it a different way), but it’s just so, so cool. I loved the analytic geometry side of it, and even the Riemann sum. It’s just conceptually so interesting. Don’t ask me why I like to envision 3-dimensional shapes, break them apart, and ask questions, but I do. And the practical arm of it doesn’t even appeal to me that much.

In humanities classes, especially the modern art class I took, we’d talk about art’s function or lack thereof. Does art have a social function necessarily? Does it communicate? Should art be created for its own sake?

Well, I don’t care much about that. Art history is an extremely interesting subject, but it’s subjective, and therefore, never ending. But I apply the question to mathematics: Should we do math for its own sake, or only for practical purposes?

I can’t remember my view on this as a kid, but nowadays, you’d never hear me ask, “When will I ever use this?” I’m only interesting in using math in the sense that using it is necessary to remembering it and getting better at it. Unlike my physics professor, for whom mathematics is “just a tool,” I kind of just like the idea of it. I honestly doubt my ability to ever do anything with math in real life. I don’t know if I am that good a problem solver or creative thinker. I still want to learn as much as I can. It feels like something worth doing. It makes me feel good somehow. It intrigues me. That’s why we date people and sometimes even marry them, isn’t it? They just make us feel a certain way. They intrigue us. It isn’t simply about sex, and it’s not about practical matters like his income or her social connections (at least not for normal people). I didn’t have a reason to follow my then-boyfriend to the other side of the globe to pursue our relationship. I didn’t have a reason four years later when I married him. He made (makes) me feel a certain way.

So while I don’t care about math being practical or not, and I didn’t have a practical reason (motive) for marrying my dearest, there’s another way studying math is like marrying the one you love:

Just because you weren’t setting out for some practical benefit, doesn’t mean you won’t get one!

I don’t know a lot about mathematical history, but I’ve read that many branches of mathematics were only found to have practical applications decades later. Even without a time delay, obviously, math does have applications in everything! It does help us with commerce, every branch of scientific investigation, building things, destroying things, and even healing people (you need math to administer the right amount of medicine to someone, for example; and math was also necessary in the development of tons of diagnostic tools and machines). So marriage yields un-looked for benefits as well — financial, legal, emotional, social, and other benefits.

I’m not going anywhere with this, just writing my feelings and observations. Now I’m taking calculus 2, and the first day was pretty tough. Sometimes I “go with” something for a while before I ever figure out why it is that way. I don’t know…. but I really, really like it. I’m trying hard to have a Christian attitude free from worry, fear, ambition, and impatience, too. A couple of weeks ago at Mass, the priest said something… something that made me realize I don’t want to have the wrong attitude about my education. I am intimidated and afraid, and I do feel inadequate and stupid, if I allow myself. But worrying won’t increase my height! Sufficient to the day is the evil (or, as I fondly remember reading from a very old German Bible, “die Plage”) thereof. Since I’ve started working on this sort of spiritual aspect of being a student, I’ve felt better. I’ve liked the math more. Where is it going? Where am I going? I don’t know.

I shall now conclude, however, as the album I was listening to has. I have work to do.

Calculus 1 Day X, or Teachers make a difference

There are only six or so more meetings of my calculus class, and one of those is for the final exam. So… long story short, I’m PROBABLY getting a B. Unless I ace the final AND my professor loads on ridiculous amounts of extra credit opportunities that I’d also have to ace, an A is impossible this semester. I’m pretty sure to get a B though, unless I just stop working, or if in the next week, ol’ Prof serves up some wicked hard crazy impossible-to-remember shit.

The thing is, it’s so much of a bummer. I don’t recall ever having worked so hard on something, and then getting such lackluster results. The curse of being a “gifted child,” I guess? Sure, I’ve failed tests and even courses in my day — but not after trying to pass. I only failed before because I was truant or lazy or just didn’t pay attention…

Now, I’m not FAILING calculus. But I am trying really hard to do well, and I’m not meeting my goal! It’s depressing. Do you know what a 5.0 unit ‘B’ does to a girl’s GPA? 😦

God help me not get a C! I don’t even know what I’d do in that case! Maybe quit college and go back to the Navy.

So I’m bummed, but still trying to at least correct myself enough that I feel semi-prepared for Calculus II next month. And I thought it would be worth talking about speech class today, too:

I only have ten minutes between math and speech classes, so I hustle, use the little girls’ room, and mow down an apple and maybe some nuts on the way to the latter class. Usually I arrive with a couple of minutes to spare, so I stand outside, eating my apple. Why? Because I’m seemingly the only person at my school who a) doesn’t eat in buildings/rooms where you’re not supposed to eat in the first place, and b) realizes that nobody wants to hear me eating! Ugh!

Anyway, so today I was eating my apple outside of class as usual, when the teacher came out (I call her a teacher, not a professor, because that’s what she calls herself).

“To what do I owe the honor of having you in my class?” she asked.


To be honest, yes, her class is annoyingly cake-like sometimes. It’s easy, and frustratingly so at times. Some things I’m just good at, experienced at, or “get.” (Calculus apparently ain’t one of them!) I know this, but I don’t like talking about it. I don’t want to seem arrogant to anybody, but even more so, I don’t want to BE arrogant. That’s not who I want to be. Humility is great, plus, no one knows everything… so even if I were the world’s leading authority on speech, I’m sure I could still learn things from people in this class I’m taking.

So anyway, I felt a little awkward because once people identify/label you as “smart” in some way, they just look at you differently, and sometimes treat you differently. I don’t want that (though yes, I did when I was younger, but that’s another story).

So Ms. R. elaborated on what she was asking, and asked me about my previous courses and things. It made sense to her why I am one of her top students. She asked me my major, and I literally laughed at myself when I answered, “Physics.” I’m sure a lot of people hear that and think, “Whoa, smarty smart smart!” but when I say it (more like confess it), what I’m thinking inside is, “Yeah, that’s what I want to learn about, but am I going to be able to hack it?”

My teacher thanked me for being a model student (her words), and I thanked her for what I took implicitly as a compliment. Now that I’m writing, it makes me think about the different times we thank people. When I was in Japan, it seemed like there was always a contest to see who could be the last person to say “Arigatou gozaimashita!” But that’s another post for… someday when I’m not devoting most of my time to thinking/studying/practicing/lamenting over calculus.

The point is that my calculus grade is bumming me out, but my speech teacher did add just the touch of individual attention and kindness to my day that really makes teachers wonderful. Not all of them of course. But some of them. Yeah. Did Ms. R. know she would at least get me off thinking about my calc grade for a minute? No, but she did, and she’s evening brightening my day a little bit right now, as I think about the fact that she really didn’t need to go out of her way to talk to me. Teachers have no idea sometimes.

A five minute speech about an art/communication topic


Here is the mind map I have. I have no idea what to talk about because I hate to be too generic… “Artists can communicate through painting, sculpture, or even recycled trash!”

But I hate to be too esoteric… “Let’s explore whether art can shape a society’s values, or whether art is simply a reflection of values that are already established.”

But I hate to be random… “Let’s talk about the message being sent by Rococo style art, just because I recently saw a really cool Boucher painting in person. Doesn’t matter that nobody cares! I’m giving the speech!”

See, I don’t want to give a speech no one wants to hear. That’s why I didn’t talk about calculus or running in my first speech — even though I was allowed to pick any topic that I already had some knowledge about. I picked the Navy instead, because everybody in San Diego is in/was in/knows somebody who is in/was in the Navy… or Marines Corps, at least. Close enough. But most people don’t like calculus or running.

Or Rococo art.

School can be such a pain in the ass. I accept that oral communication is important. I accept, and know from experience, that you never know when your employer will want you to talk about some shit in front of a bunch of people. It’s tough to be a shy person out there, kiddies! But, ya know, having to come up with *some* topic will never happen in real life. Even if I were to become an art history professor (I’ll try if the whole physics thing doesn’t work out), I’m pretty sure I’d have a curriculum guiding me.

Not trying to complain, but this speech class I’m taking is the worst. It’s really not that demanding, but it does require me to waste a certain amount of my time that I’d rather waste some other way — or spend productively, on calculus or running. Heck, or sitting in front of that Boucher painting at the Timken Museum.

Not going to be an ornithologist

I was going to–and will still, in a minute–write about not majoring in biology. Then I logged in here, and I saw that I have 43 followers. Probably that is not many, but still… I’m pretty surprised. Seriously.

Well, I’ve adequately expressed my surprise; now back to biology.

When I went to make my first ‘academic plan’ or whatever the tentative schedule is that we GI-billers must keep on file, I said I intended to major in general biology. And I did intend to. It makes sense in many ways. Lots of fields, let alone jobs, are based in biology. Probably a lot of biology knowledge would be useful in case of some sort of apocalyptic situation. I am super interested in health, fitness, preventing illness, animals, gardening, and other stuff involving living things. I think I might even be the youngest bird watcher in the world (I’m 25).

But death makes me sad.  Not all of it, of course, but enough of it that I can’t see myself working with endangered species, giving mice cancer, or collecting specimens.

The whole specimen thing is what got me thinking of this again today (I figured out bio wasn’t for me months ago). NPR has an article up about some folks’ article saying that collecting specimens of wild animals is maybe not always the best thing to do. I’m not writing to weigh in on that debate, although, as a former Girl Scout, I don’t take anything out of its place myself… Except a pretty rock once in a while, for the bird bath. Anyway, the article had a picture with it of some birds pinned down.

Hm. How do I express myself on this? Death for scientific progress, and potentially conservation, is still just… Not my cup of tea. I dunno.  I’m really not that much of a softy or anything, and I do eat meat (though I admit I was a vegetarian for about eight years), but there is something about dead birds in particular that just stirs me terribly. I have several images in my mind of experiences with birds, but the most haunting is the goldfinch memory. Last year, for a few months, my husband and I had a goldfinch feeder hanging from our balcony. We could get about eight or nine lesser goldfinches on there at once, and they became one of my favorite animals in the world. They’re so small, so pretty, and have such a lovely call. Also, I love the way they fly; it’s like they launch themselves like little arrows, and land only wherever they catch a grip. It’s just a plus that feeding them is less messy than feeding, say, house finches.

Anyway, one day, I got home around 4 pm, and I think I was even in a good mood. I’d gotten an A on a math or Japanese exam or something. But my husband had a sad look, and he took me to the glass door to see a goldfinch that was somehow stuck at the bottom of the door. K. said it had just happened, and he was glad I was home because he didn’t know what to do. The bird had flown into the door.

Well, I carefully got outside (because I couldn’t slide the door much, the bird being stuck in the track somewhat). I released the bird from where it was stuck… I think it was just that these birds have hook like feet… and it was just frozen. But it was alive. I could see it looking around as it lay in my hand. Did it move? Was its heart beating hard and fast? I don’t know because my own heartbeat had gotten louder. At first, I put the bird down in a planter, hoping it would fly away on its own. But it was cold and very windy that day, so I picked up the tiny creature again, feeling like a dangerous, giant, unsophisticated thing myself, and I placed it instead on the soil of a potted plant I had nearby. The level of soil was low enough compared to the rim of the pot that I thought this would provide better shelter. Of course I went inside to consult Google, hoping that other people recommended the course of action I had intuitively taken. They did, but I had doubts. I felt extremely sad, and I cried much  harder over this than I had over other things that most people would consider much more significant. I guess, in my Eden, harmless little birds are immortal. I felt bad because it was my door that hurt the bird. It appeared to me one of its feet might be broken. What do I do? I felt bad picking up the creature, looking at it, putting it down, picking it up again. Maybe it was too stunned then to even have been afraid of me. How should I know? The few moments that I had held the bird are like a very long time in my memory, because the feelings were so strong. I felt powerful in a terrible way.

I think I was thinking about my next step, once I paused crying, and looked out the glass door again. I didn’t see the bird in the pot anymore though. I went out to see, and indeed, it must’ve managed to fly away. Of course my dark imagination would speculate that the bird would just starve because its foot was broken, or this or that. I don’t know what happened ultimately. I don’t even know the typical lifespan of a goldfinch anyway. But I knew that even when these sort of stories have happy endings, they are too much for me. I hate pain and death and fear in creatures like this. Of course we must all hate these things in all of creation, mustn’t we? But maybe it’s just more poignant to me with birds because of what they can symbolize. Untainted nature. Innocent existence. Beauty. Freedom. Absence of ego. The marvelous, intricacy of all that God has made: those specially shaped feet, those tiny feathers, the deep black beak, the always moving eyes — not to mention every little bone and organ and cell and organic compound…

Even to help these creatures, I couldn’t hurt one. I couldn’t look at a single dead one without feeling sad. This whatever it is isn’t the only reason, nor, I realize, is it exactly a “reason,” why I don’t want to study biology beyond what I already have.

I have more thoughts and feelings on this sort of thing, you know, involving conservation, creation, and so on. But it’s so complex. I just wanted to take a few minutes to write down what happened with the goldfinch. I think it may even be an insight into love. What is a little bird to me, that I should be so moved thinking of it, many months after I even saw it? What is man, O Lord, that you should look at him? It is something I have been thinking lately, too, about the fundamental goodness of humanity, and about Christ. It is easy enough to say, “I do not deserve this,” or “I am unworthy,” or “I have sinned,” or even, “I cannot stop sinning.” It is easy to feel inadequate, guilty, and other things. It is true that we do not gain redemption ourselves, but only by the grace of God. It is true that Christ died for our sins. But it is also true that God loved us before he saved us; he loved us — loves us — even in our most disgusting, miserable, evil-doing states. It makes no sense, but that is love, I think. And I think the fact that God loves me and provides for my eternal salvation even when I am the worst, confirms that I am “good,” like he said in Genesis. I am not only the sum of my good and bad works. We are all creatures loved by God. Why? Well, why do I love the little goldfinch? I don’t know, but I feel it.


Don’t “no butter” yourself.

Just a minute ago, a friend said some kind things to me about my writing. It made me recall the phrase in the title.

In high school, I took the advanced English classes, a college English class, and the available humanities and creative writing courses. I also helped just a little with the school’s literary magazine. So of course I wrote a lot during high school, both for school and not for school, and I read a lot of other students’ essays, poems, and even songs. Peers and teachers also critiqued my writing.

It’s hard for a person to share his creation, for the most part. It can be hard to receive criticism, and so we have various ways of defending ourselves against it. For a variety of reasons, it can also be hard to receive compliments though, and that’s where the “no butter” story comes in.

In all of those classes with all of those papers, so many people would say things like, “I couldn’t think of the right word,” or “I was so tired when I wrote that,” or simply, “Sorry, it’s not very good.”

One of my teachers, with whom I still occasionally speak because he has had a great impact on my life, told a story that I will now paraphrase:

     A man and his wife prepared dinner for their friends one evening. The meal was delicious, and the company was even better. But when one friend complimented the man on a dish he had made, the man replied: “Oh, it’s not good. I’m sorry. There was no butter, and I didn’t have time to go to the store to buy some. I had to use margarine, but even that margarine has been in the back of the fridge for a long time…”

By the time the man had finished rattling off the circumstances which had prevented him from preparing the dish just perfectly — and responding to his friend’s compliment as though it had been a negative criticism, the genial mood was ruined and the rest of the food had gotten cold.

The story could alternatively go:

     A man and his wife prepared dinner for their friends one evening… When the man brought out the dishes to be served, before anyone had tasted them, he apologized, “I’m sorry this dish won’t be quite right. See, I was caught up at work, and got home late. I got home to see there was no butter, but of course I had no time to go buy some. I had to use margarine instead, but even that tub of margarine has been sitting in the back of the fridge forever…”

By the time the man finished explaining what was wrong with the meal he was serving, his friends were decidedly less interested in tasting it.

So you see that no buttering yourself is taking compliment as criticism, which is rude to your friends. Or it can be preempting criticism by giving it of yourself, which gives your friends a bad impression before they even “taste” what you are serving. It applies to music, art, writing, food, anything. Do you see? I find this story profound.

My parents and my uncle, all of whom play or played musical instruments with exceptional skill, also taught me — a terrible musician — to receive compliments well. My uncle, who played professionally, told me about giving bad performances. He told me that sometimes an audience will applaud, or an individual will give a compliment, not out of flattery or politeness, but from genuinely having enjoyed the show, even when the musician himself knows that this part was off tempo, that chord was struck wrong, or something else hadn’t been played perfectly. The proper response is never to say, “Oh no, the second movement started off wrong,” or anything like that! No. The proper response is always, “Thank you.” And you should mean it when you say it, too, because as a musician, a writer, a cook, whatever, although you may know you are no Johnny Winter, no J.R.R. Tolkien, no Jacques Pépin, to the person complimenting you… maybe you are!

Think about it like this. Would a rich person be happy with a gift of dirty, used sneakers? Probably not, but someone who’s never been able to afford shoes would be. Would Anthony Bourdain be pleased with a breakfast from Denny’s? Maybe not, but someone who hasn’t had a square meal in a couple of days would be thankful. (I would be thankful, too. I love Denny’s.) We all have different standards. Don’t argue with people when they are more generous to you than you are to yourself.

So don’t “no butter” yourself. Say “thank you,” and mean it.

And Thomas, if you read this, you know, I wanted to no butter myself in response to your comment on my last entry. I thought better of it though, and I thought it might be a good time to write down the no butter story. I hope you understand. And thank you again for your kind words.