Survival Instincts

Today officially began my semester. I woke up before the sun (but not as early as yesterday) and trudged out to my first course. I left earlier than I actually had to and therefore was almost an hour early.

I took my seat casually, somewhat thankful I wasn’t the first one there. I withdrew my iPad to fiddle with for a bit, eager to distract myself, yet still eager for classes to begin.

Had I known what the day would bring, I’d have felt differently.

That is, far more excited than I was.

My first class is Conservation of Natural Resources, to fill one of my science electives. Even before the fall began, I had set aside this class as one to take. I care a lot about the environment, as we’ll soon see when I return to talking about Belize, and sustainability is something I strive for. It wasn’t until a happy accident last semester that I met someone in the class who told me the teacher makes an 8:30 course a lot of fun. It wasn’t until yesterday I was told by a classmate I ran into at the gym this class has a reputation for being easy.

In his introduction, my professor said that’s probably why many of the 225 students enrolled in the class were there–for an easy time. I grinned–if only he knew! But hearing him speak of his grading policies, it certainly should be an easy class–but that doesn’t mean I won’t study or be any less passionate about it. And as I was told, he’s a fantastic professor. I really think his class will excite me more than enough to get up early.

My second class is Combinatorics. I’ve been introduced to some combinatorics in the past and it has always interested me, and I’m glad our professor is starting at the beginning–that’ll make building an understanding of the material more possible, and that means performing better. Combinatorics, commonly called counting theory, is the mathematics of discrete objects, and that means it’s very applicable in our daily lives since we live and function in a world full of discrete (that is, discontinuous) objects (as a matter of point, combinatorics was first developed as a means of estimating probabilities while gambling–and they say math is pure!).

After combinatorics I headed across the Court of North Carolina to my creative writing class, an intermediate fiction workshop. When I got there, the other students had taken seats in a circle–I’ve discovered, on this side of campus, a number of classes rearrange the seats without returning them to their proper places. In any event, our teacher arrived, stopped in the doorway, and there said, “No.” After going on briefly about not being hippies, singing songs, or holding hands, he commanded us to arrange ourselves in rows–and in what could be called nothing less than a brilliant show of synchronized desk locomotion, we actually did so.

The course seems fairly straightforward, although I have no doubt it will be incredibly reading intensive. We’ll spend some weeks reading and discussing contemporary fiction and then we’ll move into workshop mode with three projects: two short stories and then either a revision of one of our first two stories or a third story. What I love most is that we’re not told to write in pages, we’re told to write in wordcounts–because, as I’ve probably enumerated a number of times, it’s how I measure my own stories. I looked on the syllabus and saw the required wordcount of each story is 2500 words–and let me tell you, when he said that’s the minimum size, I was practically overjoyed! It takes an experienced writer to know there’s almost no such thing as a fleshed-out short story only a thousand words long. However, stories can also be as long as an author wants, and that may make matters–especially printing costs–more demanding than necessary.

We got let out ridiculously early, so I had some lunch before I went to my next class–Modern Algebra. But it’s not modern, our professor said, it’s ancient; in fact, it’s abstract, but that word tends to terrify, so they changed it to something else (because, OBVIOUSLY, a false sense of safety is much better than a genuine sense of terror that just might compel someone to study harder and learn more deeply).

My professor is, speaking lightly, one of the oddest professors I’ve ever had. His mannerisms and tonal shifts remind me very much of the Chairman of Iron Chef fame. He also has a terrific sense of humor, but it’s such a sense of humor that I can’t always tell if he’s joking or threatening. That could be dangerous. At the end of class (which he refers to as slowly torturing us, with the warning that today was easy and he’ll begin killing us next time), I asked a friend from last semester about him, since she’s had him before, saying simply, “I’m not sure if I should be amused, excited, intimidated, or all of the above.” She paused for a moment before saying, “You should be excited.”

So excited I shall be.

His quirkiness doesn’t just stop there. He also periodically has us repeat entire sentences, since he says that saying it aloud actively engages us in the learning process–and that makes brilliant sense! He also told us, since he’s very bad to us during the semester, he’ll be nice at the end by not giving us a final–but instead we’ll have a quiz every class starting now. I’m not sure if I’ll like the algebra yet, but I’m almost certain I’ll like the class.

Anyways, sometime during this class, it occurred to me suddenly that at Guilford Tech there were a few bright gems among my professors that truly, unquestionably loved their subjects and the profession of teaching with a passion. Yes, nearly all of my professors were amazing, but only a few were memorably so to the point of making an unending impression on my life, both as a student and as a person. Here, at N.C. State, it seems as if all of my teachers share this same passion–and that makes the learning environment so much stronger and deeper than I’ve ever experienced before. That’s incredible. That’s beyond incredible. It’s mind-numbing.

Then I had a break because tutoring didn’t meet today.

In this time, I went past the Crafts Center to see if I could register for some classes–I was almost certain that all of the ones I wanted would be closed by now. But I was mistaken! All except one of them were open! So in addition to my academic classes, I’ll be taking a weekend boot camp and a Friday afternoon class in woodturning and, this is what I’m most excited about, a six-week portrait drawing class. If I get really good, I want to spend some time drawing pictures of my characters. I’ve always wanted to do that, but I just don’t have the skill yet to give my characters the kind of attention they truly deserve.

At this point, my survival instincts began to kick in: With all this good fortune, surely my last class of the day would be a killer and I’d absolutely hate it.

Instead I really loved it.

It’s a sideways follow-up to last semester’s political theory course called American Political Thought, and after tomorrow, I can assure you I’ll have read Locke’s Second Treatise twice. Anyways, my teacher’s pretty cool, and definitely likeable. I can’t say his outline of the course focuses on the areas that I would choose if it were up to me, but I’m sure I’ll love the course just the same–if not more–than if it were my choice anyways.

Today I also ran into seven friends from last semester. It made me feel really good to see them all, and it made me wonder if I’m really as silent and withdrawn as I sometimes feel. Meh. I might be an introvert, but I suppose I’m still rather personable!

My Wednesdays are going to be ultra-busy to keep up with the assignments and readings due on Thursdays, but otherwise, I think this could be a brilliant semester and I’m really very excited for it.

But! But I haven’t even told you the most exciting news that just made the whole day shine!

Today Nintendo announced the sixth generation of Pokemon. And not only is it fully 3D, the games will be called Pokemon X and Y–names I thought of years ago! So naturally I should get royalties. But regardless, the series has been a part of my life more than any of my other loves–longer than creative writing and politics and math, intricately tied in with my earliest memories of Jewish education, forever the product of dreams and imaginings. Even before I heard the news, I saw a squirrel run across the path in front of me and thought, “I forget how small Pachirisu would be in real life; the anime makes it seem so much bigger,” or when I was walking to creative writing and passed a bed of thick, thin-leaved green plants, I said, “Pokemon would be in that kind of grass.”

It might just be a video game, and to some it might seem childish or juvenile, but to me it represents so much more. It is, in a manner of speaking, the generalization of the essence of all those things–and as my algebra professor taught us today, it’s something we do all day without ever realizing it–and that’s abstraction.

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