College is an exercise in getting the shit kicked out of you. That’s a pretty eloquent way for someone claiming to be an English major to put it, right? I claim to be many things: an atheist, an author, a gamer, a dreamer. A lover of all things Doctor Who, of British accents and Japanese women. All those are true, they are my truths, and you can’t prove otherwise. I’m eloquent, damn it, because I say so. I’ve just started my second year of college and I am fully convinced that I spent my first year filling out a survey on how to fail during my second year. As though my teachers stood back, took notes of my physical, mental and emotional weaknesses and put them in a file for Fall semester. They wanted to make it literal. “We’re going to push her so hard she falls, and doesn’t get back up.”
I tried Math 025 over the summer. I withdrew, after a 21% on my second test and Math so confusing it made my eyes cross. I tried to take a beginning Physics class and was forced to flee the online classroom, screaming with tears in my eyes. I ended up taking, of all things, a Stress Management class over the summer that was quite possibly the best class I’ve taken. But even it did not prepare me for the horrible things that a science class would do to my self-esteem.
Science is like the bastard child of Math and bullshit. I hate both. I took a Geography class because it felt like the lesser of all my evil options—and one of the few that didn’t require I already passed Math 025. It’s taking college to point out how wrong I’ve been about my life for so long. I went into Geography thinking, “Hey, lines on a map and weather and stuff. I can do this.” Geography quirked a smile and said: “I’d like to see you fucking try.”
Turns out, there’s quite a bit of mathematics in Geography—there are degrees in Latitude and Longitude, there are time zones, there are ratios and graphs. Fuck graphs, I hate graphs.
I was in my 8:00am Geography Lab this morning and my teacher was talking—I heard him, I watched his mouth move and something displayed on the overhead projector—but I didn’t understand a word of it. He continued on, asking multiple times, “Is everyone following this?” I shook my head “no” internally, screaming at him to stop, to slow down, to go back, wait, what? The boy sitting next to me—I can call him that, he’s at least 10-12 years younger than me—showed up late to class. I figured since the way we didn’t work so well during the first lab, that he had just sat somewhere else for the day. No, he sat next to me, but when we started in on the lab, we did not collaborate like last time. No, I spent the entire hour and 50 minutes staring at a single sheet of paper that defeated me. At some point toward the end of class, I was crying and whispering to myself “Stop.” I was the last person remaining in the class room, and when the teacher finally approached me and I showed that I had not, in fact, managed to complete any of the work for the day—he gently reminded me that there are Geography tutors available and that he has another lab today at 3pm with hardly any students. I was welcome to work on my lab and come back and do it again.
When he spoke—pointing with his pencil, “What’s 15 times 5?” or “If you’re traveling East, what happens to time?” All I could hear was the frustrated, exhausted voice of my father who couldn’t understand how I couldn’t do basic mathematics no matter how many times he asked me. My throat closed up, tears in my eyes, I couldn’t breathe. Surely, this isn’t a sign of how my entire second year is going to be? Staring at words and numbers and information that just won’t sink in?
My GPA has been stellar so far, somewhere above a 3.75 which is better than I ever did in High School. But then I had to look at the classes I took: English, Mythology, Yoga, how could I possibly have failed those? But what if, after all that time, I got an A in my Introduction to Anthropology but didn’t manage to retain any of it? I’m taking a second Anthropology class and I seem to have forgotten everything from the semester before.
I don’t want to sit here and complain—I want this information to start making sense. I want these hours I am sitting reading text books, taking notes, writing down vocabulary words and degrees—to be worth something more than scrambling to make sense of everything when I’m in class. We’re three weeks into the semester and I just feel like I keep getting pummeled in the stomach by the stock of a rifle.
Truly, I find it fascinating that:
24 hours = 360 degrees of longitude (180 degrees East and West)
1 hour = 15 degrees of longitude (360 divided by 24)
4 minutes = 1 degree of longitude (60 minutes = 1 hour, 60 divided by 15 = 4 minutes)
1 minute of time = 15’ of longitude
“If a shipboard chronometer reads 6:10 AM when the navigator observes the sun at noon, what is the longitude of the ship?”
So you start by calculating the time distance between 6:10 AM and 12:00 Noon, that leaves you with 5 hours and 50 minutes.
5 hours x 15 degrees of longitude = 75 degrees with 50 minutes remaining
Take 50 degrees and divide that by 4 (4 minutes in 1 degree of longitude) to figure out how many degrees are left over: 50/4 = 12.5
The answer is 87.5 degrees and because it is in the morning, it is East. (AM = East, PM = West).
The truth is, I’ve always had a really bad sense of direction. It’s really funny to think that I’d take a Geography class when I get lost in Minecraft and my home neighborhood. I know why I took it, aside from the technical reasons that I couldn’t take the other options because of the mathematical perquisites—I took it so that I might learn more about the Earth, in order to get really involved in my own world building.
I think, perhaps, that I feel so very inadequate compared to those around me. I have plenty to be embarrassed about: 32 years old, just starting—and subsequently failing—college, working a very part time and soon to be “no” time job, a very sporadic and unskilled job history with nothing to show for it. I see other authors online who are highly educated, who speak of things like planets and grammar and are unafraid to be challenged by that knowledge. You ask me to times 15 by 5 and I’ll start crying in about 30 seconds if you keep staring at me. I am good at some things—and until I went to college, I thought writing was one of them. I feel like every time I learn something new, some new piece of literary knowledge, all that is revealed is how little I knew to begin with. How can I all myself an author when I still don’t know the difference between its and it’s? I can do “there, their, they’re,” and “to and too” just fine, but don’t look at me and tell me about prepositions or—you know what, just don’t tell me.
Education feels like a muscle, and I hate exercise. I feel like I’ve stretched all of mine, torn muscles in places I didn’t know I had them, and told that my anatomy is all wrong and I need to go on a diet. In fact, also, I’m male, so I really should reconsider everything I thought I knew because it’s probably wrong. I thought that college might help me—but I just feel so tiny and more of a failure than when I started. I feel like every time I run into a class that is challenging, that I can’t seem to wrap my head around it. I feel unable to be educated, unable to absorb the information, unable to do something—and then, by the grace of my teachers, sometimes I get a good grade. Today, for my lab, I was brought to tears but welcomed back to try again. How often is that going to work? At what point do I realize, “Hey, you know, maybe this just wasn’t meant for me?”
I feel like if I give up or fail college—that it will mark some invisible list of “all the possible things you can fail at in life” and I’ll be complete. Some great achievement for failure will have been met.
Where the hell did all this despair and self-pity come from?
It’s just a fucking map, and numbers, and time zones, and it is tearing me apart.
I just want to write a fucking story and not cry in class. But then, somehow, I can’t get past that first draft, can’t find anyone to mentor me, to help me through the process of writing. I’m lost in a sea of first drafts, of suffocating second drafts, of characters and dreams slipping out of my grip. I need help, and I don’t know where to find it.
I need friends, and I don’t have them.
“To have friends, you must first be one.” Well, I ran them all off or lost them along the way. Now fucking what? “You get what you deserve,” a quiet voice echoed in the back of my mind. “You get what you deserve.” No, this isn’t guilt I’m wrestling with, fuck that. No, this is self-esteem, and a feeling of loneliness and failure.
I just want to write a story that I enjoy, even if it is not successful, even if only my family and best friend and cat read it and one of them pees on it. Hopefully it’s the cat, but I’d forgive any of them if they did. I can’t take criticism, my life is too fragile and yet I chose a professional field as an author where my words are up to anyone’s interpretation and I am my own worst critic—and also my least informed.
I am capable of amazing feats when I am avoiding homework.
I am capable of amazing feats when I am doing homework. I am a good student, sometimes great.
I want to be a good, sometimes great, person and friend. I want to write stories that make you remember me—that open up a conversation between us where I am not afraid. Where I know you’re not going to bring up Geography on purpose. Unless, as it must be, some kind of joke about a blog I wrote. Because, fuck you, Geography, we’re going to get through this and then I’ll discard you. I can make a map without your fucking help. Not a very good one—but that doesn’t mean I can’t make one. Is that a metaphor for my writing?
I need to stand up. First, I need to take an Aleve because I have a pounding headache—and then, I need to brush myself off and stand up. I don’t care if anger and frustration is the only thing that gets me writing these days. At least I’ve written 1900 2500 words that otherwise would have just stayed in my head.
The short version: Geography is hard, and I’m not sure what to do with a “challenging” course when I don’t just automatically understand. I don’t know how to ask for help. I don’t know how to feel confident, I don’t know how to network with writers and ask for help, or how to give help. I want to start a local Writer’s Group, in person, where we can share our work and mull over problems and share stories and be normal people for a period of time.
No, that’s not the short version either because I’m not sure I’m done yet. Few things in life have been as frustrating or as rewarding as my college experience. Yes, I am quite literally banging my head against my desk right now. I don’t know if I’ll really care about latitude or longitude after I finish this class, and I may not actually learn anything useful for making a world of my own—I won’t know what the elevation of my Glass Plains are, or establish time zones or any of that—so where can I find the value in passing the class? In doing my best? What am I hoping to get out of it, exactly? There will be something in this class I can take away for my own benefit, I know. I may not have found it yet, but it will get here. I’ll make a note in a margin somewhere that will springboard me into a story. And that, really, is what it is all about. Never mind the tears, never mind the possible failing grade, never mind that I’m physically frozen in class, unable to ask for help. If I can take one thing, anything away from this experience, if I can learn one new thing (aside from the fact that I knew so very little to begin with), then it will have made it all worth it.
I’m taking a Creative Writing: Non Fiction class which has continued to surprise me and make me see my own flawed author within. I also see sparks of stories and characters within that are worth saving. I still agree that the written language is my best medium to work in, that novels are where I want to spend my time (even if, not unlike college, I’m constantly disheartened and struggling). It’s an abusive kind of relationship with very little praise or acknowledgement. Critics will read and not understand my vision; they will read and understand and still dislike my work. Some will read and enjoy, others will read and love. It is for you, my lovers, the ones that hold me close to your heart—it is for you that I suffer, for you that I unlearn, that I unmake myself, that I am learning and remaking and tearing my life apart. I love you, I want to tell you the best story that I am personally capable of telling, to give you my truth. My fucking eloquent truth that cannot be denied.
For you I suffer; for you, I will learn Time Zones and Elementary Algebra (next fucking semester) and the Scientific Method and words like perihelion and enculturation (I had to check my notes to impress you). It is for you that I’ll scribble in my margins fleeting story ideas like Cultural Resource Management and try to imagine what happens when the “culture resource” you’re tasked with rescuing is a person, not an artifact—and my brain will think of the film Waterworld and The Fifth Element and I will be pleased.
My English teacher may consider the root of this rambling to be an essay—where I started with a concept, trying to “worry” over the details until I found an answer. I haven’t, yet, but I’ve let myself bleed out onto the page a little, to reveal to myself and the world what has been bothering me. It’s 1:00 PM, I have successfully avoided looking at my Geography but now I fear I’ll have to—so that I can return, crestfallen, to my Geography teacher and take the same damn class over again. For. The. Better.