This month, I’ve been participating in a thirty day writing challenge with a friend of mine. The rules, for anyone who wants to take the challenge for any other time, are here. The first day’s challenge was: “Select a book at random in the room. Find a novel or short story, copy down the last sentence and use this line as the first line of your new story.” I had one of my housemates pick a book for me, believing I’d be biased if I picked on my own. She picked The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The yield is below.
As a twenty-one-year old college student, I’m well aware that I’m still living in a bubble of parental care and structured life, even though I’m encouraged to act independently and take on responsibilities of my own. Still, once I graduate (in two and a half years) I will need to deal with a monster scarier than in any horror story you can imagine: the infamous Real World. I sometimes wonder if I’ll be able to handle it. I’ve decided that there should be a specific school that teaches how to be an adult. Here are the courses I imagine:
-How to Manage Your Money 101 (a required course for the following electives: How to Be Frugal Without Being Stingy; The Bare Essentials: What Are They?; How to Take a Vacation Without Regretting it Forever; and the ever-popular How to Pay Off Your Student Loans.)
-Being Single (a required course for the following electives: How to Know When It’s Time to Break Up; How to Dump Your Partner with Kindness, Courtesy, and Minimal Ego-Damage; How to Survive Rejection; Bars, Beaches and Bowling Alleys: Meeting People; The Online Dating Scene: Going Digital)
-Tax Returns and Living Alone: Life Skills (a required course for the following electives: Leaving Home: Tragedy or Jubilation?; A Corner of One’s Own: Living with Roommates; How to Pay Taxes Without Tears; I Rented an Apartment: Now What?; Health Insurance: Step by Step; Robbers and Rapists and Muggers, Oh My – Getting Past First-Time-Out-of-the-Nest-Paranoia)
Today has been a reading day. This semester it seems that reading is overtaking writing in my daily activities, and while that’s okay, I’m still glad that I have my post-a-day challenge to keep me writing, as well as my writing class. But today is just one of those strange days where I feel like my eyes have been zooming back and forth continuously, reading one thing or another. One day, I’m going to want to remember the kind of Sundays I had at college, so here is what I read today:
1) David Copperfield while eating my breakfast in my pajamas.
2) The workshop submissions for my writing class. It was my second read, and I had a pen in hand to make notes and marks, but there weren’t many to make on the two stories I read today, since they were excellent.
3) Crime and Punishment, with many post-it notes and a pencil. I’m reading it very closely, for the second time (only read up to page 450 the first time, though, and am reading it again because after conversing with my professor, I decided that it required the kind of reading where I pay attention to little details and make a ton of notes. Which is what I’ve been doing.)
4) David Copperfield again while eating lunch.
5) I was in a writing workshop last year as well, and I’m working for the teacher who presided over that class. He trusts my judgement, which is incredibly flattering, and part of my work for him is reading stories by these two authors he hadn’t heard of till recently and deciding whether any of their stories are good enough to pass on to him and his current (or future) writing class. So I spent an hour reading a couple stories by A. E. Coppard in the one book of his that’s free on Google Books: Adam & Eve & Pinch Me: Tales.
6) Finished reading a play by a guy who was, funnily enough, in the same writing workshop with me last year. I’m going to be directing a reading of this play – an entirely new and foreign experience for me, but one I’m quite looking forward to, especially since the play is beautiful and moving.
Now I’m off to the library to read some more Crime and Punishment.
All of the reading. All. Of. It.
At 1:30PM, fifteen students and one teacher gathered around a table. It was on the top floor of a building that was normally inhabited by much younger children who knew it as their nursery school, but at 1:30PM all the children had gone home, as had their teachers.
The group of students in the white-washed, fluorescent-lit, mildly air-conditioned room were definitely not children, although their parents might have had a different perspective on that. They were all young adults, college-aged, facing the world on their own to some extent.
No two of them looked alike. Each had his or her own unique style of dress, whether it was blue hair, a classic polo shirt, or a t-shirt bearing an illustration of the Peanuts cast of characters on it.
The one thing they all had in common was their fear. It was palpable; they themselves could almost taste it in the air of the stuffy room, the sickly smell of fear with some odd sweetness in it that might have been just the hint of excitement. They knew that in the coming months they’d be baring some part of their soul to these strangers.
Two hours isn’t a lot, but sometimes it’s enough. At 3:25PM, the fear smell was a little less dominant. Laughter had relaxed the students, as had the teacher’s laid-back manner, the way he literally leaned far back in his chair and lounged like a teenager. There was comfort in his ease, and it spread to the others by osmosis.
At 1:30PM a group of fearful strangers entered the room. At 3:30PM, a group of curious, uplifted, excited acquaintances left it.
An abundance of light brown hair, creamy skin and freckles made people stare whenever she told them she was born in Africa. It always amused her, seeing this prejudiced reaction in the people who ate at the restaurant where she worked. She sounded French, you see, and so they all assumed that she was a young photography student, maybe a dancer, who worked during the mornings.
She was a student, this was true, but not of what people always assumed. Her large eyes and pink lips seemed to give most people the impression that she was a dreamer, when, in fact, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. She hadn’t remembered a single dream she’d had at night for over ten years. This isn’t to say that she was without imagination – theoretical mathematics required more of the stuff than anyone who wasn’t studying it could believe, and Marianne possessed it in abundance. The simple logic of numbers, a universal language, was beautiful to her, and the deeper mysteries of unreal numbers and the roots of negatives fascinated her and raised a song in her heart.
It was hard for her to find a date – there wasn’t time between night classes, homework and her job at the cafe to go out anywhere. She got countless phone numbers from customers leaving a fat tip on their credit cards, smiling at her with cheeky grins, but she never copied them from the receipts, simply leaving them in the cash register where they belonged. She wasn’t interested in random men who saw her wrapped in an apron and looking like the picture of womanly virtue. Neither did she want the fawning boys in her class who drooled at the thought of a female mathematician. No, she was looking for something else, and she would recognize it when it came. She hoped.
Amanda sat in the back of the auditorium, ready to spring up the moment the last speaker was finished. She was wearing a dark red t-shirt two sizes too big for her, bearing the legend “Valley Camp Leader” in bright pink letters. Once again, she felt that although she loved her college, their sense of humor was often a bit stilted. Not many of the first years liked the joke of being at camp – they, like Amanda had felt just a year before, wanted to be reassured that they were free from their families and from their old towns and homes and were embarking on some sort of independent life.
As the lights came on, Amanda got up with the other three orientation-leaders, and they all blew their whistles half-heatedly – more for the benefit of the overenthusiastic Office of Admissions employees then for the new students. Leaving off the piercing sounds, they just yelled instead for their respective groups.
She was leading the new Oakwood students to the day’s activities that were supposed to acquaint them with the campus and the school. Her group was rather feeble, stretching and yawning and rubbing their eyes. She gave them what she hoped was a sly smile, and told them that before they were going to go on their in-depth tour of the campus, they’d go back to Oakwood and bang on the doors and wake all the lazy butts who hadn’t shown up for the morning talk.
This won her a few smiles, and she led them down to Oakwood. A gangly boy, with a mop of blond curls adorning his head, came up to her.
“Your name’s Amanda, right?”
“Mhmm, it’s right on my sticker,” she pointed at the big tag on her t-shirt with her name on it.
“I know this is like, totally weird and all, but are you by any chance Jake’s twin?” the boy’s face was open and honest, and Amanda stared at him for a moment, wondering how on earth he knew her brother. Then the pieces clicked into place.
He grinned at her and ran his fingers through his hair, making them unrulier than ever.
“Yeah, I work with Jake at Lila’s. I was working full time over the summer, but I’m thinking that at twenty-three, I’d better finally use that fund my grandparents left me for college. Plus, this way, I get to stay in a dorm instead of with my Aunt Tanya.”
Amanda couldn’t help but smile. She could see what Jake saw in this boy’s – young man’s, she corrected herself – guiless face and long limbs flying every which way as he walked.
“Well, I’m glad you came here. It’s kind of weird for me to be your-” she made air-quotes with her fingers, “Camp Leader and all. I’m only nineteen, you know.”
“Yeah, I know I’m starting college late, but heck, I figure I’ll be really popular what with having a real ID stating I’m over twenty-one and all,” he grinned at her as she waved a finger at him and walked back to join the group trailing after her like tired little ducklings.
Amanda’s mood took a definite upward swing. Jake had mentioned in his rambling and confused way that Bo was coming to Valley U, but Amanda hadn’t realized he’d be living on campus. She hoped this would mean she’d get to see Jake more often, as well as in a better mood. Good start to the year, she thought.
While Mr. Adams was reacquainting himself with his old office, Mrs. Adams, who was the less nostalgic and whimsical of the pair, decided to skip going to her office and walk straight to Bloom Hall, the large auditorium where the first years would be gathering.
Mrs. Adams had long been a part of that faculty that spoke with the new students during orientation and made them feel welcome. Although she was sometimes gruff with her own students, believing usually that they could do better than they were, she firmly believed in keeping the kids’ confidences intact and making them feel as if they could do whatever they wanted if only they applied themselves. It was for this reason that she asked, year after year, to participate in many of the orientation seminars – the staff in the Office of Student Affairs agreed one and all that the students left Mrs. Adams talks with smiles on their faces and a sort of hope in their faces.
Mrs. Adams walked into Bloom Hall through the back entrance so she could walk onto the floor of the sunken stage when called. She greeted the other faculty who were going to speak at the event – entitled “What Valley U can do for U!” – and they all complained together about the involuntary cringe they experienced when they had read that title in the invitation to speak.
Soon enough, Mrs. Adams was sitting comfortably on a chair in the auditorium alongside her fellow professors, waiting for her turn to stand at the microphone. She let her mind wander as the Dean spoke of some of the boring technicalities that she knew backwards and forwards. Instead, she contemplated the students in front of her.
A good many of them seemed to still be half asleep – no doubt there had been numerous late night gatherings the night before, which had been the first night in the dorms. Mrs. Adams could tell that a good many of the new class wasn’t even present, and that those who were both present and alert were few. It was amazing to her just how young they looked each year. Four years changed people at that age, and she knew from experience that when she watched these kids at graduation in four years, they would look more like young men and women than like the kids barely out of puberty that they seemed today.
This made her think of what three years worth of growth had done to Claire. She hoped she hadn’t changed into too much of a woman just yet. She hoped that when she got to lunch and saw Mr. Adams, he’d be able to give her some good news – Marty having called or e-mailed, for instance.
“And now, Professor Adams of the psychology department will speak to you a bit about how you guys can avoid utter insanity during the coming months,” the Dean’s words, followed by tired titters from the students, broke into Mrs. Adams reveries and she got up with a smile and went up to the podium.
The assignment was simple, but we were all much too nervous to appreciate that fact. The classroom was a buzz of talk throughout the hour and a half lesson as we discussed one theory after another, dissecting one paragraph after the next. The discussion was real and intense, ideas tossed back and forth, shouts of “I agree” and “No, I don’t think so” flying around the room as tongues loosened as we all bathed in the liquor that is shared knowledge and differed opinions.
It was an hour and a half that was free of the normal constraints of time and space. The very walls seemed to change dimensions as the air heated or cooled with the passion of the students, and the time zipped past in a fashion most unlike the normal “classroom time.” Shared craving of healthy discussion and conversation made us all comrades, part of an entity – until our opinions differed and we changed sides in an instant, becoming enemies in a war where the sides respect each other but are each completely adamant about triumphing.
We were working with our essays in front of us, and when my turn came to discuss my passages, I felt like the very air I was breathing was heady – I don’t do that normally, I don’t charge into an opinionated speech based on examples and analysis of a situation – but I did it then, my mind being freed from bonds of shyness or intimidation.
At the end of the lesson after I handed my paper to the professor, I lingered, as I do, to write down the assignments for next lesson in my weekly-planner and to pack up my bag just right. As I got up to leave, I found myself the last one in the room besides my professor, who casually turned to me as he packed up his own bag and said to me “That was very good.” I didn’t understand, so I said “What?” and he replied “That was a very good presentation.”
I stammered some sort of thanks and rushed out of the room. My first week of classes officially ended, and I did something right. Good start.
I’d like to be able to say that I posses such a thirst. No, that’s not right. I do thirst for knowledge and I do love to learn new things – but I need to have good teachers in order to be passionate about a new subject or idea that I study. Good teachers are fiercely hard to come by in today’s education system, and so oftentimes in high-school I was either bored out of my mind, or else I was just utterly disinterested even though I knew that I could, theoretically, care about the subject.
I have a good friend who I can’t help but be jealous of – she is one who truly possesses a thirst for knowledge. There was a time when she just read Wikipedia articles every day and jumped from subject to subject, just out of pure curiosity. She teachers herself French, and doggedly studies it, not letting herself get lazy and forget about it. She even managed to memorize an insane amount of information during an army course and somehow find it interesting even though much of it was dull lists of former-generals and ranking systems.
Hopefully, though, once I resume my studies, I’ll have better teacher. Ones who are actually passionate about their subject and about imparting knowledge to their students.