Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My throat hurts.

I'm probably coming down with something. Woke up this morning and my throat was in serious pain - it was hurting yesterday, but I sang Buttercup anyway. That, combined with the postnasal drip and swollen lymph nodes, made me go on my first trip to Health Services. Now I'm feeling the other symptoms kick in - runny nose, burning eyes, tiredness, slightly tight lungs. Wonderful, considering that I'm supposed to be singing this weekend.

I'm breaking my 2am rule today to blog this reflection, since I think it's important (if I don't look back, I get very confused). It's costing me $2. The kitty is filling with money (nearly $3 now). I'm much more conscious of when I cuss and when I don't sleep. This is interesting. I hate to have finances control me - but this is something more than the monetary value compelling me. At the same time, if I was penalized jelly beans or something, it wouldn't have the same effect.

Er, that was a bad explanation. What happens, I believe, is that the money stands for something in my mind - like a math book I really want to get, or a package of new post-its (so I have strange gift requests, okay?) and putting in the money is a reminder that I'm counteracting my wishes to get such things. Not because I put the money I would have used to get it into the kitty, but because I waste the time I could be working towards Better Things to do... something else. So when I consciously decide that what I'm doing instead is better than whatever (sleep, work, not swearing) I'd planned to get otherwise, then that's okay. Like tonight. Giving myself a chance to reflect is worth more than $2 progress towards a decent computer keyboard. It makes me weigh the value of things I'm doing.

What they say is true, then. Time is money. Money symbolizes (supposedly) the value of what you do with your time - if you think about it, everything's free; you just need to put in the time to do it. For instance, my flashlight cost $20. I could have gone and mined the metal, built the equipment to make the LEDs, made the LEDs, molded the metal.... it would have taken forever, though. But the $20 I paid for it symbolizes the value of the time that all the people down the line took to make it.

Corollary to this: Why do we pay athletes/actors/musicians/really-good-people so much? Because we want them to do what they do, and we cannot - no matter how much time we put in - do what they do. I will never sing like Rockapella, so I am happy to shell out $30 to hear them. (Some might argue that time, not talent, is what makes genius-level skill - Perlman isn't necessarily more talented at the violin, he just spends his entire life playing it. There's truth to that. However, there's also the fact that if I spend my entire life singing, I will still never be a bass.)

End sidetrack. What happened today? Ah, yes. Health Services. After which I held practice-orals for half of my ECS crew. They did really well - I'm proud of them. It's not so much that a higher percentage of their answers is right (heck, I don't think I get a higher percentage of answers right now as opposed to what I did first year), but that they're learning how to move through things more rapidly, not be afraid of asking questions, how to make educated guesses, how to communicate their thoughts clearly, how to... learn. Without being afraid. Without a rubric or a textbook or a handy checklist or someone else telling them what they should put into their brains.

Sure, there are the rough parts and the times where I feel completely incompetent to teach things, times when they probably feel really confused, or bored, or that I'm an idiot, or they are, and times when we all really ought to work harder. It's one of those things that happens when you put a bunch of humans in a classroom. But despite all that, I'm very proud. And my hope in the future of humanity is renewed, in a really weird way, when I see that people can learn to learn like that.

Actually, one of the larger realizations I've come to make through teaching is that I am really not a good student. Most Olin kids come into Olin as folks who are used to being at the top and completely not confused, but they learn very quickly how to deal with not being that. I never really have. I feel an obligation to be - and a pride at being - SuperMel, she who can read textbooks in classes she's never taken and solve other people's homework problems, she who never listens to lecture but can still explain the topics to other people with silly stories later on, she who can... I hate being smart, but I like being smart. I hate that other people think that I'm smart (I'm not). At the same time, I like that they do. (I'm not.) I like looking smart. (I'm not.) I want to think that I'm smart, and sometimes I do. (I'm not.) And I hate that I like to look smart (because I'm not).

Hubris, anyone?

Anyway, because I'm SuperMel, I can't ask for help. SuperMel doesn't ask for help. SuperMel helps other people. Most idiotic thing in the world right there. When I ask for assistance - assistance, not help - it's got to be because I don't have enough experience, or I'm asking for clarification on stuff I've gone above and beyond on, or... a question that makes me "smart" and not "stupid." It's got to be something that isn't indicative of me having trouble keeping up or being lost with "normal stuff." Because, you know, SuperMel just sort of automatically gets the 'normal stuff.'

I've got to learn to look stupid. Truly stupid. Not just smart-person-taking-risks-that-temporarily-make-them-appear-dumb-but-are-actually-learning-experiences. Is my pride really that high?

If you take the "throw into deep end of ocean" phrase you hear so often at Olin and beat the analogy to death with a large stick, I'm totally cool with asking people "Hey, what happens if I swim there?" or "Can I make this stroke more efficient?" or "Look, which was the fastest way you found back to shore?"

However, I can't be rescued. If I sink, I will sit at the bottom and slowly drown as I stare at the sunlight filtering through the water. I won't ever let anyone save me. Some strange little part of my brain still thinks that if I let myself be saved, then I will not be able to save anybody else, when in fact it should be the other way around.

If I let myself be saved, that makes me fallible. Fallible people can't swoop down all godlike and help others. They might fall apart themselves. There will be that danger of having a limit and hitting it.

But SuperMel doesn't do that.

So SuperMel needs to die. Or change. Or grow up. Whatever.

In slightly better news, I'm doing quite well with Temperance and Silence (the sore throat helped with the latter). It may be time to start thinking of a third - but I'm focusing on the first two still.

Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

This one will take a while. I'm spontaneous, chaotic, and... consequently very inefficient. But I did clean my room. And I am going to sleep soon.

Oh! And I'm quite impressed by Ginneh - she saw the Buttercup arrangement for the first time today, and after three times through she was bolstering up the soprano section very nicely. And she's picked up on more Japanese in half a semester than I did in three years. And she's just a wonderful person to be around. Some people don't know how amazing they are, honestly.

Last thing before I go to sleep. I think I've grown up. Or at least reached a new level of being adult.

Before, even if I did crazy things and acted competent and helpful, I was still a scared little kid inside (because I was a little kid, and I was terrified). I would logicize my way past this, face those fears, and do it anyhow - but inside, there was still a scared little kid that wanted to just hide under a nice warm blanket.

I don't think that kid is there (or scared, at any rate) any more. I think of it - I expect it to be there. I almost want to be afraid, since that would mean I'm still a scared little kid at heart. But I'm not. It's a strange realization. I'm still afraid a lot, but it's in a "I want to run and hide" manner. Instead, it's in a "I wish I wanted to run and hide" manner.

Weird how we want so badly to hang onto old habits.

For me, I was the young'un all the way through high school, everyone's kid sister. I think I was the only one in my physics class without a driver's license. I wasn't even old enough to have a learner's permit. (I had just turned fourteen). I've never taught a classroom full of my peers and had every student there be younger than me. Even when I taught high school kids the summer after my first year at Olin, I was barely 18, and there were some kids there that were nearly a year younger than I was. (I just didn't tell them that. All the other TAs were in their early twenties, so I think they assumed I was 22 or something.) So it's always been "Mel: Young But Competent Anyway." And I'd always think "Yeah, I'm a kid. But I'm competent anyway." And now that becomes just "competent anyway." (When I am competent, that is.)

I'm not sure if this happens to everybody when they turn 19, or if I'm late or early or what.

The other factor in this is slightly more disturbing to me. It would be scary-disturbing not too long ago; now it's just interesting in a mildly unsettling way.

First, background. I don't do the "guys" thing. (Yes, I'm female, and yes, I'm straight.) I still hold vestiges of the "BOYS HAVE COOTIES!" phase. I don't fathom relationships - though I can appreciate the wonderful power of love - because relationships just are Not Logical. (Yeah, I know they're not supposed to be.) I think kissing is gross; I think it's a bad idea to fall for someone, especially if they're your friend, because I've seen friendships get messed up that way. (At the same time, I do think that once you fall for someone, you shouldn't deny that. I'm just not clear on how that boundary, logically, gets crossed. Or at least I never saw - and still do not see - how I would cross that boundary of illogicity myself.)

Basically, I have an intellectual understanding of love, but it makes no logical sense, and therefore I have had no inclinations towards it. It's like a very smart 10 year old's view - everything they say is absolutely correct, and they aren't omitting any facts, but they don't know what they're talking about. And they can't know what they're talking about. They're not emotionally, mentally, spiritually - whatever it is - ready for it. I have expressed this view several times to different people.

End background. Begin disturbance. Today SAC sent out that email saying hey, we're having a Winter Formal, you all should come, there will be food and music and dancing and stuff. Normally I'd go "Yahhh, formal dance. Dresses. Ew." Run away. Or if I went, I'd go because it would be funny to see Mel at the dance, because that's very uncharacteristic of her, right? In a dress and all. (I couldn't pull this off at my high school prom because all my friends had dates, and I would probably have ended up with my sketchbook in the corner, and it was my 17th birthday anyhow, so I didn't go.)

So I read this email. And I go "Ew, formal!" And I go "Ew, dress!" And I go "Ew, having to look nice and behave properly and stuff!" All par for the course. And then the "But it would be fun/funny if I went, so maybe I should go." Still normal. "Because, you know, nobody would ever ask me to the dance." Still normal here too.

"But you know, that might not actually be so bad." (What?) "In fact, it would be nice - sort of weird, but kind of nice - if someone were to ask me." (Are you insane? Stop it. You're saying you want to be interested in the opposite gender. And - evenn worse - VICE VERSA. Stop now. Baaaad idea.)

More disturbing: Brief fleeting moment wasn't entirely fleeting. I can still go *poink!* into my brain and ask myself "Do I still think it would be - if not necessarily nice, not entirely All That Terrible?" And the answer is still yes.

At the same time, I still hold by all my previous ideas about the illogicity and the intellectual understanding only and the It's Just A Bad Idea thing. It's just that those ideas, commonly thought to be set in concrete, are actually not as permanent as they once seemed. (Well shoot.)

And I don't think this scares me nearly as much as it ought to scare me.

And that scares me. (But it also scares me that I'm not as afraid of it not scaring me as I'd like it to be, and... here goes another infinite regression.)

Oh - beautiful thought of the day: Integrators are low-pass filters, differentiators are high-pass. This still makes me very happy.

It sounds dumb, but I appreciate people that can appreciate those things. Some ideas are beautiful to me in the same way that a sunset or the moon shining on a frozen pond are beautiful to most people. They give me that still, quiet feeling of energized, peaceful and calm awe. Like you could just bathe in it forever, and like you want to explode in it, and go inside it, and be very little and just watch it go by.

While I have this feeling in my mind, I'm going to bed.

1 comment:

pdf23ds said...

Hehe. You sound a lot like me. In fact, our blogs both have "meta" in the name (my blog), and I got here by googling "i hate being smart".

"Hubris, anyone?"

No, it's not really. On of the worse experiences I've had is when I graduated early from high school (there being no magnet schools or even good gifted programs or anything in my small town) and went to a second-rate college because of a mix-up in my application in getting into my first choice (I was going to go to the first choice next semester.) I ended up actually having difficulty with the classes there, even though they were stupid and easy. Half the reason was that the profs sucked, but the other half was my ADD. And I realized that because of my ADD, I'm really *not* a good student. (Though I'm smart enough to be one if I didn't have ADD.) But that had just never shown up before in my academic life, for various reasons, so my parents had formed all these high expectations, which I interalized, and when they were dashed (at a second-rate school, no less), I just became sort of lost. Still am, I guess.

"Integrators are low-pass filters, differentiators are high-pass."

Seriously? This is cool. Actually, now that you mention it, I was writing this audio procesing plugin and noticed that for integration. You do have to apply a lot of gain afterwards, but otherwise it's true. I guess I didn't think much of it at the time, and didn't realize that differentiation would do the opposite. Huh.