"I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment... and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn." -Thoreau

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Life at Carleton: The Maelstrom

When I told you I would write again soon... I lied.*
Granted, it wasn't a case of intentional deceit. It wasn't so much a hollow promise as it was a beautiful, ungraspable dream. Nevertheless, it was a false statement.

Why did I lie? That is, how did it come to be that life wrested control from my hands, such that I failed in this commitment?
I deluded myself into believing that a break meant time to engage in leisurely activities. Foolish.

See, life at Carleton is akin to getting sucked into some sort of whirlpool.
You begin the term with this visualization of a wonderful voyage through the profound waters of intellectualism and idealism. You imagine warm sunlight, the smell of the ocean spray, the rush of cold air filling your lungs to their very depth, the graceful arc of birds in flight, the lush greenery of uncharted lands... everything is vivid, robust... you feel alive and ready for adventure.
Classes? Challenging and exciting!
Volunteer work? Yes! Time to save the world!
Clubs? Join them all!
Friends? Party all day, everyday- or at least when not too busy saving the world.
I will go on strolls through the arb, I will read books in my spare time, I will write thoughtful life-reflections, I will meet new people and develop wonderful new relationships, I will exercise and stay in shape... I can and will do anything and everything! Just try and stop me, life!
This is the state of being one is in when stepping back onto Carletonian grounds- gazing at Willis Hall and the chapel with a smile of appreciation, confidently trekking the road back to "home," which, ironically, will serve as a barge carrying one into new and exciting lands.

Then you set sail.

It begins beautifully. There is the swell of pride and excitement as you embark, filled with hopes and dreams of all the wonderful things to be accomplished, all the adventures to be had, all of the new things to be seen and done. Perhaps there are a few rough patches in the initial sailing adventure- some rough waves that throw you off-balance, but you quickly catch yourself, reassure yourself, and sail on.

Before long though, something strange begins to happen... some force begins to divert the course of your ship... not much... but enough that it strikes you as strange.... Is something awry? But you do your best to suppress the concerns slowly rising to the surface of your mind.

But already, it is too late.
Your ship has chosen dangerous waters for its voyage... Forces far more powerful than you are in control. You find yourself at the edges of a whirlpool; a full-blown, mythical maelstrom.

It begins slowly at first. You stand at the rudder, concentrated on escaping the force drawing your vessel into its orbit.You try to save yourself. You think of the magical lands you were to explore, the exotic creatures you were to encounter, the many dreams which propelled your ship away from land. You try to wrest yourself away from this current, to escape, to sail off and find new lands, but your small ship is too weak, and it falls prey to the force of the vortex.
So there you are, swirling in circles ever-smaller, ever-faster, unyielding, and unstoppable, spinning away into the very heart of an ocean all too eager to claim you as its own...

As the end of term approaches, I find myself getting sucked deeper and deeper into that terrifying vortex. Midterm break was the hope of an escape, a hope that a relent in the current would allow me to escape, or to  at least swing into a wider orbit and gain a bit more of time and life. But I was grossly mistaken.

At present, my vessel is whirling away at impossible speeds. It will not be long before the ocean claims me as its own.

That's another way of saying I should really be studying for my linear algebra midterm, or working on my organic chemistry quiz,  or working on my ethics paper on the compatibility between utilitarianism and justice, or preparing for my orgo midterm, or working on my linear algebra or organic chemistry problem sets, or figuring out my classes for the next two terms...
Seventh and eighth week are truly akin to finding oneself in the midst of a maelstrom.

And now I must return to my sinking ship.

*Surely it is a worthy philosophical tidbit to ponder: Did I lie? Does lying require the intention of deceit? (I think that seems right.) But what if I was uncertain as to the veracity of the statement, decided to pass it off as a truth claim, and it proved false? Then should it be considered a lie?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

How Reflection Is Like (Organic) Chemistry

This here, my writing, right now- it can only be considered miraculous.
It is 8pm, 5th week, on a Thursday night, and all of the necessary schoolwork is complete. I repeat, miraculous.

But let us turn aside from this strange, beautiful occurrence and do a bit of reflecting and whatnot.

Lately I have been contemplating all sorts of interesting questions. Unfortunately, schoolwork and contemplative behavior seem to go less well together than I would like. Perhaps we could make the comparison to trying to dissolve an alcohol in water... The OH group's polarity could represent my drive to dive into the waters of reflection while the mounting pile of schoolwork is analogous to extending the size of the hydrocarbon chain, thereby pulling me out of the refreshing waters I so long for.... But this week I seem to have thrown in some alkane branching and decreased the hydrophobic character of my life. It has been quite splendid.

Today I finished writing a paper for my ethics class on the subject of whether morality and self-interest are reconcilable. For reasons I cannot entirely fathom, I seem to have dropped out of the wrong century, because I align myself pretty nicely with those good old Ancient Greeks in characteristic Annette-idealism. I highly encourage you to read a bit about virtue ethics and the concept of eudaimonia. While I delight in the contemplation of this subject- and would gladly enter into conversation with you, dear reader, on the topic if you so desire, I would rather not dwell into specifics at this point in time. (I am being totally serious. Leave a comment, or email me (martina@carleton.edu), and you can even request to read my paper! Ohh the fun we may have engaged in philosophical discussion! ....Anddd *quenches nerd-outpour*)
 Instead, I will leave you with a few quotes that relate to my ideas rather nicely, and which I quite delight in. (Let's play a game! The guess-who-is-going-to-be-quoted game!)

First up, Thoreau. Oh, Thoreau! Aurora!
"It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour."
Next, dear old Anne (credit to L.M. Montgomery), on being a teacher:
"Perhaps she had not succeeded in 'inspiring' any wonderful ambitions in her pupils, but she had taught them, more by her own sweet personality than by all her careful precepts, that it was good and necessary in the years that were before them to live their lives finely and graciously, holding fast to truth and courtesy and kindness, keeping aloof from all that savoured of falsehood and meanness and vulgarity. They were, perhaps, all unconscious of having learned such lessons; but they would remember and practice them long after they had forgotten the capital of Afghanistan and the dates of the Wars of the Roses." 
 (Yet another reason why I wish to be Anne-like. Who wouldn't want to inspire young souls by virtue of being happy and awesome?)

And, finally, Ayn Rand:
“The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.”

“Why do they always teach us that it's easy and evil to do what we want and that we need discipline to restrain ourselves? It's the hardest thing in the world--to do what we want. I mean, what we really want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage."
Ahh, I do love thought-provoking, insightful quotes!

And I am afraid that this is where I will leave you all for now. Hopefully the next time I write (which should be soon) I will tackle some of those to-ponder questions, such as, where would Annette like to study abroad? Or does Annette want to go to medical school, or does she want a life of relative simplicity as a philosopher-teacher?  Or, wait, does she want to become some sort of counselor or therapist... or a biochemical engineer... or what about some sort of poet/writer? (Okay, abandoning third-person now...)
What skills do I have? What do I enjoy? What do I find fulfilling? How can I live in consistency with my ideals?

That actually reminds me of the other night... I had just started thinking about my philosophy paper and thinking about what it means to be moral, virtuous, and live a fulfilling life. As seems to be the trend, this contemplative behavior occurred fairly late at night, and eventually I decided it was more than time for me to go to sleep. As I crawled (or climbed, rather- my bed is lofted ridiculously high for a not-ridiculously-tall person) into bed my mind threw a startling question at me- Do you, Annette, contribute to the goodness of the world?
I was taken aback. Pesky, pesky brain! There I was, in bed, thinking over the last hour or so's worth of idealistic ethical outpouring, and I suddenly questioned whether I lived in such a manner as to increase the happiness of the world... and I didn't know what to say to myself.
So it's been tacked onto that to-ponder list.

And now I shall go do some glorious ballroom dancing.