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Spring '99 Semester, January 17, 1999 :: Ben Turner's Soapbox

 

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archived soapbox: January 17, 1999
"Spring '99 Semester" [permalink]
    keywords: education, school
    soapbox #: 170
    written: January 17, 1999
    words: 2303

"Spring '99 Semester", an Essay

College has very much been a solitary experience for me. Maybe less solitary than I think it to be, but it still seems like I've gone this road alone. Those who know me, for the most part, either think I'm wasting my time at college, or am not taking full advantage of it. Those who I meet for the first time question majoring in Latin, for who studies that, besides clergymen and academics. Where's the money in it? Where's the sense? Those who are close to me don't ask me that, since they're usually not the med/law/business types, but what they do tell me is that I'm not meeting enough new people and contacts. This is perfectly understandable, of course, since a lot of success is dependent upon who you know. A lot of your personality and diversity is dependent upon that too.

It's just not me. The people I am interested in, the people I respect, those who share a vision that I have, are those who I keep tabs on. I let them know what I think of them, I suppose, but nothing more. At this point, I am too wrapped up in myself (a big surprise) to be responsible and warm towards good friends. I know what you're thinking. Don't.

So I don't talk to many people, I don't really contribute in class, I don't engage in philosophic dialogue with others, all as I probably should. With that in mind, I wanted to describe my first impressions of the classes I'm taking this semester, because this is the first semester I've really been able to find the topics I'm really interested in and fit them into one semester.

There are three semesters left for me, including this one, before I graduate in spring, 2000. Personally, I think being a year 2000 graduate is fitting for what I plan to do with my life, being fully wired, but I don't think others believe in me anywhere nearly as strongly as I do. My efforts are cute, and noble, and naive. Naturally.

After this year, I will be a senior. It hasn't even hit me yet. Considering what I've learned, and how many things have happened since I graduated from the now heroin-infested Plano high school district, you'd think I would be more psyched about graduating. Maybe I don't feel like I'll have mentally graduated by then. Or maybe it's that I've already started working in what is essentially a professional capacity, that it won't be a big deal to move into the business world.

I registered for this semester's classes in about two minutes online, a few months ago. The good thing about being an upper-classman is that you're almost guaranteed to get the courses you want at the times you want, on the first try. When I was a freshman, taking upper division Latin, I hardly got into any courses I wanted. And the business foundations courses? Forget about it.


PARAGEOGRAPHY

The times of my classes look good -- I only have one class before 10AM, at 9:30, but it's okay since it's parageography, a classics writing component class. What parageography basically is is a term made up by my professor, who insists that he created the study himself a number of years ago. Whether or not this is true, I do not know. Parageography is the study of made-up fantasy worlds, like Homer's Odyssey, Appollonius's The Voyage of Argo, and Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel, among others.

By analyzing the reasons and ideas behind each author's made-up world, we learn more about what makes our own world interesting. We also learn how to write fiction, and what components make a fantastic world dynamic and interesting.

I needed to take my second and last writing component class, and this one was highly recommended. What I like about the course is that the professor is very involved in the meat of the syllabus, since he himself purportedly created the whole field. He's made up his own slang and terminology, which he says is necessary for any field. The reading selection, which blew me away when I went to go buy books, is quite long, but diverse. Many of these books I've never read before, and I know I'll benefit much from studying them this semester.

The teacher has his quirks, being a grey-haired, heavy-set man who I had often seen in earlier seasons smoking his pipe outside the classics building, talking to students eager to talk to him about random things. The man lives in a world of his own, and trying to figure out what made him be the way he is now is fascinating. I don't know what university he attended. Professors usually don't mention that, for some reason. This professor is an expert in comedy, translation, mannerism, and parageography. I wonder if, even though he's a professor, he watches Baywatch religiously or has six ex-wives and ten children. You don't learn these things about professors. You wonder if they're left in the department closets at night or something.

There are many papers that will be assigned, all given odd names like "Catabatic Ecphrasis" and such. Although I've resisted the notion for many years, I do think that having to write in certain styles and with certain restrictions makes one's writing better as a whole. It gives focus and maturity to one's fingers, two things I could use a lot more of.

INTRO. ANCIENT GREEK, SEMESTER 2

I was surprised when a lot of the students who showed up for the first day of class in the fall semester weren't the typical classics "What's wrong with wearing skimpy running shorts to class, and did you see that exciting documentary about Thelusilus, the slave of Ionian on the Discovery Channel?" types. Not that there's anything wrong with them -- they're just, well, weird. I don't know -- I guess I've just been in too many classes with graduate students who know everything about Mediterranean civilization from 1000BCE to 600AD. These were regular folks. This semester, a lot of the original students have either dropped or gone to the other class (which I doubt, since it's at 9 instead of 11).

My professor is the same professor I had for my Latin reading course covering Juvenal's Satires. I know more about this professor since he invited us students to his house last semester to read the last few books of the Satires. He lives alone and collects rare and interesting valuables. I think he graduated from Princeton at some point, but I'm not sure. He's extremely knowledgeable, but I think he's only teaching our Greek course because all the professors are required to teach a semester of introductory Greek or Latin every once in awhile. He doesn't like it. He wants to hurry through the grammar so we can get to reading actual Greek text. I think we're getting close to being able to successfully break the bindings of Herodotus and Homer.

The UT classics department's site is made by this cool Asian guy who was my T.A. in a Roman civ course. If you look at the specialties of all the faculty, I think you'll be surprised by the diversity of knowledge they have. I'm reminded that they just found a professor to teach Linear B, and they'll begin teaching ancient Greek again next semester (the old professor died, apparently). The University of Texas at Austin is an excellent place to go for a classics degree, I'll give you that.

PHILOSOPHY - HUMAN NATURE

This philosophy course will give me the survey of knowledge I was hoping to find in the psychology class I took last semester. Simply, what we're going to learn about is what makes up man, what makes man good (is man good?), and what constitutes human nature.

What I'm looking forward to most is the opportunity to formally study Plato, Hobbes, Sartre, Lorenz, Aquinas, Skinner, et al. My brother told me to get into philosophy as soon as I could, and I'm just now taking a course in it. I kind of regret that. But it's okay -- you kind of have to struggle with questions about life and nature before you're ready to accept what other people say about it. That's what I think, at least. Education, in America, consists of packing children full of knowledge they aren't ready to retain yet. By the time you've lived a good life, and know what problems and strengths you have, you're no longer in school, and you don't have the free time that school gives you to study up on the great philosophers.

I'm glad I named this year's Soapboxes the Re-Evaluation. I think I will find some answers to the conflicts and questions I've been asking myself for the last three years (I was barely sentient before that). Philosophy is a good thing.

The students so far have been getting extremely drowsy during class, and then have asked each other after class if they were as confused as everyone else. All comments I've heard so far are of the nature, "What the heck is he talking about?" All we've done so far is survey Plato. Heh.

The professor seems not to be of this earth at all, whereas the professor for parageography at least seems to exist on Earth, even if only in a scholar's office.

He has a gut, with greying hair and a mustache. He has fierce eyes, and reminds me of a warrior or something. Yet he'll stop in class and look out the window at things, as if reminded of something. It's that introspective quality that only introspective types recognize and appreciate, not dismissing it as an oddity. It's unfortunate that he's teaching a class full of students who aren't readily willing to participate with him, to open up full dialogue the way philosophy probably should be learned.

MARKETING

As part of my business minor, I'm taking a marketing class, the only non-liberal arts course this semester. There are about 300 other students in the class, all non-business majors. Marketing is interesting to me, and as a side note, print design and television design is becoming more and more interesting to me, since low-end browsers, poor dithering, web-safe colors, and gracefully degrading HTML can be a little boring when all you want to do is produce something that looks free and relaxed, not strict and stuffy.

I definitely have an entrepreneurial streak in me. I'd love to try to come up with a successful marketing strategy to sell a product to consumers. I'm not interested so much in selling to other companies. End-users are my thing. I'm looking forward to running my own business at some point. I wish to make plenty of money. Who doesn't, right? Well, I want to do it through doing something honest and right. And I don't think I'm the type who could just wait and advance slowly through the chain of command, under dozens of middle-managers...

The professor is a strange man who kind of reminds me of Kenneth Starr, except more pale, in all seriousness. He comes from a business/banking background, and seems well-versed in the marketing strategies of companies past. So far, his lectures have consisted of cute little vignettes about success stories and glorification of college dropouts. The concepts for the course are sound, and it helps to apply fixed definitions and techniques to something I've grown up with my whole life (advertising). I want to thank Anna for giving me the book, Perfume. In it, Grenouille (have I referred to him enough?) has been born with an amazing talent for smell, but in order to achieve his masterpiece, he has to spend many years distilling and extracting fragrances from organic materials. Let the spirit be raw, and the technique be precise, no?


So there it is. It should be a fun year. I also got some good books from my family, Anna included, to read. It's nice having a family that looks out for you and that looks to give more depth to your perspective on life.

I like watching students decide how much they'll express themselves in classes that are open to it. I like trying to figure people out and see how far inside their spirit really goes into their hearts. I like trying to find the scars from sadnesses long gone. I like seeing humans being humans, and watching them learn how to live, the same thing I'm doing.

Meanwhile, no one really seems to know what I have planned for my future. It puzzles me why the sentiment seems to be more about "available options" than "numerous opportunities" when people think of me. It worries me sometimes, and makes me doubt myself, at its worst.

I guess that could be the effect I subconsciously wanted to draw from people, but it just feels weird. Sometimes it makes me feel like I'm looking into another world from the outside, and wondering if I actually have what it takes to succeed there.

There comes a time when reality sets in, when the cotton clouds and dulcet sounds dissipate, leaving naive arrogance struggling to find a foothold for the first time in its existence.


 
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