A Shimerian Summation

Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I am free at last.

I don’t mean to abuse a quote packed with meaningful  goodness and whatnot, but HOLY GOODNESS I am so glad that the semester is officially, finally, blessedly over.

Shimer stresses me out out for the very reason that I thought I would love it.  We are graded on class participation and papers instead of tests and quizzes and I don’t. understand. it.  Even a little bit.

I think I understood Shimer at the beginning and I tried to do be that kind of student.  Because of this the first week or so was great and explorative and probably my most participative.

I read consistently and thoroughly.  In class I tried to pose questions rather than answering them, although when I felt especially strong about something or if our discussion was lagging I would address questions as well.  Outside of class I blogged about things that stuck out to me in the reading, had regular conversations about the material with peers (and one of my employers) and even applied bits and pieces of some of the texts to my life.  At the end of a day of classes I went home exhausted but invigorated.

And then I lost it because I couldn’t find the conversation in our classes.  There was plenty of talking, but one thread was rarely linked to the last and I couldn’t figure out where we were.  This was most true in my humanities class where a couple students would openly laugh at others and most of the class simply ignored what everyone else said and blindly explained their thoughts and feelings about the material.

Class felt felt like reading comments on a popular youtube video.  There were a lot of one-liners (often echoing, without being responsive to each other) and every once in a while there would be something especially meaningful or idiotic said.

It was hard to comment on what anyone else had to say because before you had a chance to think about the last comment someone was already talking about something new.  Every day I left that class wanting to cry (if I had tried to participate) or bored out of my skull (if I was having a day where I decided to cut my losses and just listen) and always, always, always wondering why I had come to such a terrible school.

Or wondering if I straight up didn’t understand how to be a Shimerian.  Maybe I’d been wrong in the beginning.  Maybe the excitement, the hard work and inspired conversations had been misplaced.

I should say two things here.  1.  My Nat Sci and Soc Sci facilitators were extraordinary.  2.  I continued to sporadically enjoy my Soc Sci class and I liked Nat Sci whenever I understood what we were talking about, although my attention span in that class could rival a goldfish’s for brevity.

The only critique I can offer for Nat Sci was that there was one student in particular (who is very intelligent, no question about it), who was so busy peacocking her comprehension of the material that some of us fell to the wayside.  It was like being lectured by a peer at a table instead of by a professor in a lecture hall.

Social Science was perfection in a Shimerian classroom, but I would go there after a brain pummeling in Natural Science and would mindlessly gape at everyone, not feeling capable of connecting the thoughts in my brain to what was happening in the discussion.

I’m exaggerating a bit on all of the above, of course, because I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t turning my life into a fish story, but the sentiment remains valid.  Shimer started off a dream and then the realized dream wasn’t perfect, so I thought I misunderstood what it was supposed to be and the replacement of the ideal was less appealing than the original.  Surprise.

Class ended a couple weeks ago with “hell week”, when everyone crammed to finish papers and prepare for tests.  I didn’t think tests existed at Shimer, but I Shimer tests are pretty alright.  There were no bubbles involved.  Hell week wasn’t bad.

And then there was writing week.

During writing week every student picks a project that matters to them and they devote 40 hours to it.

I was initially going to write a pilot for a television show that would encourage positive gender roles, inspired by our readings of Ornter, Gilligan and Chodorow.  Then I decided that the project as I envisioned it was way too big to conquer in 40 hours.  I wanted to watch several television shows and examine how women and men are represented now.

Is it ok for Phil Dunphy to be a loveable idiot?

Can ditzy be a positive thing?

Would heartbreak make a male evil, too?

Then I would try to figure out how best to reach people through their television programs and make them want to be like (or opposite to) the characters they see on the screen.  Subliminally.  It would have required a lot of research and I wanted to write an academic paper and a script, which, of course, I also wanted to cast, shoot and edit.  Not gonna happen in one week.

My second idea was to make a pocket size espresso machine that I found through lifehacker.  I spent the first half of my week doing this. I spent a lot of money on copper parts, read the instructions over and over again, learned how to solder (and how to say solder), squashed copper with a hammer, cut copper with a hacksaw, redrew his blueprint because I didn’t understand most of it, did more math than I have in years, tried to find a store to sell me a syringe for the alcohol stove and then…gave up.  There were too many details that I didn’t think I would be able to iron out in a week, there were a few parts my local hardware store did not have (not counting the syringe…I checked four or five pharmacies for that with no luck) and then, the nail in the coffin was the power drill I borrowed with a battery life of approximately half a second.  Eventually I got it charged enough that it would spin at a rate of about once every half second.  Nope.

Regardless, I am making this little mudder when I am home for Christmas porque QUIERO.

So then it was Thursday and I had to fall back on my third idea with two days to go.

My third idea was to write one haiku for every element on the periodic table.  Fortunately, I had initially planned on doing both projects and giving up on one halfway through the week.  Unfortunately, everyone who I had talked to had talked me out of this plan by Tuesday morning, so I only had my haiku research and four complete haiku written.  Doubly unfortunately there are 118 haiku on the table.  Triply unfortunately they are all outrageously similar to each other.  Because I started so late (damn you, slow motion drill!) I wasn’t able to bring the project to full fruition on time.  I turned in a paper about writing the poems and included a few of my favorites.  Then I kept working on it after the deadline and made THIS:

I love it. My facilitators seemed nonplussed. Although there was talk of turning it into MURAL on the Shimer floor...

Yesterday I had my end of the semester conference, wherein I was told that my contributions are great, but I need to “participate more”.   This means that I should invite other people into the discussion more than I do now.  Stuart said he thinks that I am usually several steps ahead of the rest of the class, but instead of waiting for them to get where I am I should bring other people to where I am.  Theoretically:  awesome.  But how do you do that without having people skip over really important stuff? He also said I seem to have a good grasp of knowing what other people are trying to say and that I should invite their insights into the futureplace that I evidently exist in.  That all made me feel real good about myself.  And then he suggested saying things like “I hear you saying this…” to clarify what I’m hearing from others, which I do all the time, and I started to wondered how much they really remember about all of us.  Hm.

 Bev said that I sometimes seem like more of an observer than a participant, which was fair since I often felt like I was sitting in on a Crick lecture.  Barb’s comments were a pretty solid in-between of the other two.  The conference was really frustrating and I left feeling awful, because my general impression was that I’m average and the way to become better is to do exactly what I’m doing now, but more of it.  So many of my classes were filled with people who talked too much and I don’t want to do that, so I was left not knowing AT ALL what a Shimer student is supposed to be.

The last few months have been good and bad.  Ugly and beautiful.  They’ve made me love Chicago more than I did in 2008 and Minnesota more than I have since childhood.

Ah.  It’s going to be over for a month now.  I mean I still have to read Hamlet and write a paper about that and then write a paper about a yet to be decided poem so I can hopefully test out of Humanities 2, but…