I stepped out of the college library tonight at 8PM to a radiant world. You know how sometimes the quality of light outdoors is remarkable? When everything looks like artwork, like it has been manipulated for maximum beauty and impact?
As I walked to the parking lot, I glanced absently down at the ground. And even the rough cement median held a glow, a sort of hazy gold. The sky was an inverted bowl of mixed cloud, a high golden strata with a belt of blue, purple. and gray cloud below. It was as if the gold of the sky bounced between heaven and earth, making everything golden between.
The play of light on the deep green late-summer leaves was lovely and dramatic. Every leaf on every thatch of thriving summer foliage stood out in relief, not so much limned in gold but reflecting the gold of the sky back sunward. Painted in gold.
The sun set quickly, making the the sky turn a light shade of purple/slate blue that contrasted with the stoplights — both red and green — for a show of intense and remarkable color.
All this just coming home from school and work in the college computer lab, my “office” where I sit in the evenings and write.
This week was better than last week. I dropped my Cal II class a year ago, overwhelmed by work and two hopelessly failed tests. This semester I have at last learned a few important things, like how much work my mind and body can handle, and how the goal of learning is understanding rather than memorization.
I have a mighty memory, a photographic memory, and am easily able to store the tiniest of minutiae. For a long time I memorized formulas and processes, rather than the real workings of things. I didn’t always know what I was doing, but I almost always got the right answer. I saw nothing wrong with the learning method of “ingest; barf.”
Over several years and much suffering, I learned that you do not want to memorize a process but to understand it. You want many tools that work many ways, not one tool that if it fails leaves you utterly bereft of a way forward.
So now I know these things. At 37, which is hardly too late.
I adore my math prof, a very young, Teutonically competent man with an encyclopedic knowledge of tested learning methods. We break into groups because “studies show” that group learning is more effective. We cut up oranges and shortcakes in class, no doubt because hands-on learning is more memorable. He lectures in hyperactive 15-minute bursts because “studies show” that 15 minutes of lecture is the maximum some can handle.
But he’s not a teaching android. There is a method to his method, and while my dignity was duly impaired I nonetheless truly learned something from performing a Riemann sum on a juicy clementine a classmate sliced on his desk with a kitchen knife.
Things that flummoxed me last year, when I was exhausted an overwhelmed, make much more sense this year. A huge load seemed lifted from my heart today when I at last understood, semi-completely, how to take the correct radii in a hollow solid of revolution not bisected by the x- or y-axis.
So perhaps there is hope for me getting through Cal II without a killing load of homework, while still making a living, resting, eating right, exercising and relaxing every
few months now and then.
Here is an image of my class!
(I don’t see myself here — probably having car problems.)
The kid in gray with this hand on his neck is Nerd Prime for the class. The quiet, competent smart one. Math-smart. Our first assignment was to estimate the number of Skittles in a candy machine. His description of the process of his estimate was several pages long and contained photoshopped cross-sections of the machine as well as an equation for the curve of its side. I believe he also put the assignment in a plastic binder to turn in. AWESOME.
My kind of person, really.
His was the second-best guess in the class; he later redid his estimate and was off by only three Skittles.
My estimate was 1 page long and I was off by 411 Skittles.
Then there is the pink-cheeked, fluffy-haired young man who has announced that he is going to make major new discoveries in one of the lesser-explored, sexy new areas of math. There are arrogant nerds, and there are amiably overconfident nerds. Harmless and smiling. I personally think the world needs far more bright-eyed, brown-haired, pink-cheeked and chatty young mathematicians who look like Buster Brown. Far more.
I’ll be offering more science stuff later — I’ve repeatedly revamped my What the Bleep page, and am working on a list of books, websites, and DVDs that can serve as an intro to quantum physics concepts (an “antidote” to What the Bleep).
And heavens, at some point I may have more to say about “Don’t Marry Career Women,” the bizarre article that my take on still drives dozens of visitors to my site daily.
I am a feminist and I am active in women’s causes. But given the choice between voicing opinions about women’s rights and voicing explanations about the natural world, I choose the latter. It matters more to me. I just want to do and learn science, really. And to speak up when I feel I must.