TGIF: A Missive from Highsmith

It’s about 4PM and I’m in Highsmith, my college’s student union building.

A huge thunderstorm has just blown in, and as I was here buying books, I’m waiting the storm out here. I can hardly imagine a better place in town to take in a rainstorm — the walls are clear glass, and I’m typing this from a third-floor mezzanine with a balcony that offers a fabulous view of the rain that lashes the campus buildings.

I brought my cam with me today, but it ran out of juice just as I raised it to snap an image of two wet-haired students wearing backpacks, standing on the balcony and silently taking in the wonderful fury of the storm. They smiled at me when I walked up behind them.

I guess I’ll be here for awhile, waiting out the storm and rush-hour traffic both. Time to sort out my week as lightning flashes and rain falls and tall trees sway, and I am safe and dry at the computer.

I picked all my Fall ’07 classes out months ago, in May. Handpicked profs, the schedule I wanted, the number of credit hours I wanted, the works. I’m incredibly picky about my professors and always look them up on rate-my-professor websites and even go talk to them with the sole goal of pre-screening them and checking them out. You see, I’m not going through the hassle of five+ years of student loans and 10- to 12-hour workdays to take some jackass’ class and sit there bored, ticking off classes in a graduation checklist. Shitty classes and shitty teachers at a shitty high school all but turned me against education forever, and set me back a good 15 years in my career, my intellectual identity, my life. Now I go way, way out of my way to get the best instructors whenever possible. It’s an utter and total pain the ass, but it’s worth it.

And I thought I had this semester all lined up.

But three hours with the screenwriting prof convinced me that I was not the right student for his rambling, roundabout, self-indulgent, name-dropping style. I dropped the class the next day. And my Humanities prof, while well-meaning and kind, was too plodding for my tastes. Every day this week I spent hours reinventing my schedule, chasing down professors, hiking back and forth across the campus in baking 90-degree heat, sweaty and bearing a backpack stuffed with books. I probably spent a good 3 hours a day , every day, changing my schedule over and over again, getting special permission to be added to a full class only to find that I hadn’t taken the prereq and couldn’t get in anyway.

A total and utter pain in the ass, one that I freely admit I brought on myself. But I am not here to partake of the good and the passable and the acceptable any more than absolutely necessary. I am here for the interesting and the provoking and transformative. It’s here, I know this because I’ve already found it here. I’ll settle for less when I must — but the race for quality isn’t over until drop-add ends today and the late-add period ends next week.

Drop screenwriting; drop humanities. Keep French, keep Newswriting. Try and fail to add Media Ethics, then Layout and Design. Drop French only because you have to to get a class you want. Add college newspaper. Add International Relations. SHIT I need a humanities class… Today just after lunch, somebody dropped their spot in a full class and the Humanities section I wanted opened up with one spot available. What a stroke of luck! I grabbed it in 15 seconds flat.

And that was that — five days of unrelenting hassle to get a schedule that satisfies me. Two trips to the registrar. Three to see the head of the Mass Comm department. Multiple emails to my Humanities prof of choice. A last-minute visit to my new poli sci prof for a syllabus. Buy books. Drop the class and return the books. Realize that you should be doing homework, but you can’t because you don’t yet know what your classes will end up being.

For five days I’ve been so busy that I’ve barely had an hour to myself all day from the moment I woke to the moment I collapsed into bed, still behind but too exhausted to work any more.

And getting the classes I want hasn’t been the only thing on my mind. I’ve also started to wonder how interesting I’ll ultimately find my new major. Oh, I still think Mass Comm’s right for me, but I am happiest in the world of questions, of complexity, of pattern, of change. And while I think Mass Comm offers all these things, I don’t think it offers them in all that many classes. I am already enjoying Newswriting, but it’ll never be a class that has my heart the way Subramaniam’s Globalization class did, or math prof’s Calc II class, so full of his enchanting side trips into the history of math and the beauty of topology.

So I decided that when the going gets tough, the tough declare a minor. And for me, it’s political science. I did the paperwork today!


I decided that I need a guarantee of future happiness, an agreement with myself that I have a permanent license to take a class every semester that challenges me in ways that don’t directly involve my profession, that asks the open-ended questions I love and doesn’t just teach me how to crop a photo or write a lead. Again I suppose I am coming at writing from strange angles, informing my writing by informing my intellect. A richer Jen is a richer writer. I still want to be a science/nature documentary screenwriter, but I know myself too well. Any learning I ever earn in science will be completely second-rate. I’d prefer to be more deeply informed in a tangential field, and hope for surprising ways that knowledge comes into play.

And today I found a real dreamboat — Dr. Cornett of the poli sci department and her delicious International Relations class (go look her up on if you want to see some raves). Today we discussed Hobbes’ Leviathan, and (in the first week of class!) it was one of the best college discussions I’ve yet been part of. On day three she knew everyone’s names and immediately knew I was new. I loved how she corrected her students. There’s a certain forceful manner of correction that implies respect, as in I respect you enough to show you why you are wrong, so that we can continue the conversation without misunderstandings and misinformation getting our our way. It wasn’t me she was correcting, but I noticed her doing it because I take a certain almost kinky pleasure in being corrected. Not because I like being wrong, but because I love being right about more than I was right about before, because of my long romance with information, because of my lifelong infatuation with the ideal of perfection.

So. Here’s my new and vastly improved (and so far, pretty dang tasty) fall semester. I’m sure it will be a hard and demanding load, but in a different way this time (no more nights of despair in the math lab). If today’s humanities lecture and poli sci class are any indication, I am going to be having a ball.

There’s a party in my mind, and you’re all invited.

International Relations


Humanities 324: The Modern World

Newspaper Workshop/Campus Newspaper

The storm’s over. Time to head home. Shiny roads and cool air and satisfaction in my heart.


9 responses to “TGIF: A Missive from Highsmith

  1. good luck at the Blue Banner…they really really really need a proofreader.

  2. Sad to hear it. I’ll see what help I can offer. How do you know the current state of the UNCA paper?

  3. I graduated this past May…you should try and get a column, because those were pretty awful too, well, more like pointless and idiotic, especially the one “written” by the dude (can’t remember his name).

  4. Ah. Were you a Mass Comm major? (And could you spare a moment to tell me what profs to take, and to avoid, in the classes you think I might encounter?)

  5. I was a Creative Writing Major, so I couldn’t tell you which Mass Comm profs to avoid, if you want to know which Lit and Lang profs to avoid I can give you a list.

  6. I won’t be taking any Lit and Lang — and it looks like this semester’s HUM 324 class is the last of my general req’s except for the foreign language requirement. But thanks anyway!

  7. Sorry I couldn’t be of assistance…If you want a recommendation for a language take Latin with Dr. Lora Holland, she was great.

  8. Excellent — I actually do plan to take a Latin class!

  9. Shad, did you ever have any classes with Cynn Chadwick?

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