(That’s oppOrtunities for you Northies in the audience. Sorry, just HAD to throw that in there.)
Something has happened to my computer. It has, for a while now, been surprisingly smooth, slick, responsive and just a joy to work with. Also, recently, I’ve somehow magically gained the ability to “just touch type”. As in, there is no real delay between thinking of something and it showing up on my screen. As a result of this, it will take a while before I return to carefully worded, checked, rechecked and refined posts. This is just a stream of consciousness that follows. It will be raw, there will be redundancy, and parts of it won’t make too much sense as they weren’t dreamt up for public consumption.
I was at this workshop yesterday, and as usual, they had a sign-up sheet to keep tabs on how many people showed up. One of the columns on this sheet was which year of grad school I was in. Without really thinking, I was about to jot down 2, when it hit me really hard, I wasn’t in my first or second year anymore, I was in my FOURTH.
Or, in more dramatic terms, NEARING HALF A DECADE.
If you really keep track of these things, by the time I am done here, this would probably be the most time I have spent at a given educational institution. Over 20% of my life up to this point. 100% of my adult life.
Now, if you’re going to spend an awful lot of time in school, you probably should learn a lot that translates into making you a better person in real life. There was never really a concern as to whether I was book smart. Really, I can tell you right now as I could when I was old enough to speak, “there are numerous branches of knowledge where I will know more than you with very little effort, and that’s just the way it will be”. But you know what that translates to in reality?… that I can be playing Viewtiful Joe 2 through the night up to a couple of hours before a test, not really prep, and still get a better score. That’s about it. Sure, that looks good on paper, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t mean much. All years of school has given me is the notion that I am not stupid, and that I am smart enough to pull off whatever I need to get by in an academic setting within any time frame, however impossible the odds might seem to you.
Again, none of this translates in the real world to anything. During the time I’ve spent from pre-kindergarten through getting a PhD (again, quantitatively, that’s over 90% of my entire life, and all my adult life), I probably should have been through numerous non-intellectual-life situations and been trained to handle them. Handling interpersonal relationships of various sorts, teamwork, members of the opposite sex, stress, the ability to deal gracefully with defeat, to be a gracious winner, to not be a social outcaste, to realize that I am not just a lone speck but one in a continuum and that the entire neighbourhood about a point is what matters.
I’ve learnt none of this, nor picked up any of these skills in the number of years I’ve been in school. I’ve squandered numerous chances and continue to do so. I’m still remarkably emotionally stunted, socially stunted, physically stunted, and continue to ride through my life only on the belief that I am intelligent enough to make it (read, con my way) through. I don’t deal with loss (for obvious reasons), I don’t know how to deal with groups of people, I don’t even know how to deal with A person. I’ve resorted to doing things a certain way—initially because I felt I needed no one else to get anywhere, and later because I had no one else.
My skill-set (gained?) after all this time is the ability to bear insane levels of stress (yes, more than you) and not-work-toward and ace tests.
But life isn’t a test. At least not of this kind. No one really cares if you can see relations and deduce laws governing the functioning of the universe. It doesn’t mean squat when you can’t be a caring, communicative, compassionate, empathising… human being. I often harp on sciences being hard. I only do this to con the lay person into believing I’m so much smarter than them because I do this and they don’t. They’re really not that bad. At least here, once you’ve crossed the initial hurdles involving figuring out the language of the field and agreeing with the basic principles, you can build with surprising ease and precision. There are many bigger things. Things which “just are”, and can’t be articulated easily. They’re concepts which can’t even be comprehended easily. Now those are genuinely hard. And it’s there that I need but haven’t a clue.
I hate to admit I think it’s all been a waste, and that my narrow skill set isn’t nearly enough. Sure, my most important critic might say (about some recent written words of mine): “You’re such a marvellous writer. You manage to sneak in every little ingredient—poignancy and humor, insight and cogency”, but that doesn’t translate into her ending up with me in life—nor in my arms, even for an evening.
Of course, it doesn’t help to be insanely (nit)pickey. And have the potential to scale the smallest nearly imperceptible imperfection in someone to gargantuan proportions when that’s all that you can see. (As in, OH MY GOD, the angle between her feet when she walks, she’s a living Charlie Chaplin I tell you!)