Tuesday, October 13, 2009


So let us revisit the subject of Fear, and the paths of consequence and regret. The nature of things has changed, but in reading through my previous entry I realize that I never got to the point at which the dispute actually means something, so lets start with that.

This discussion started to matter about a month ago, which was the first time I began to consider if UW was a good fit for me. I was questioning it then because I was talking to a friend about a somatic psychology program in San Francisco. It interested me because it was a chance to get in early on this developing field, and because over time I've felt myself less and less connected to UW. When classes started this quarter the gradual progression of less and less, became a sharp plummet off a cliff.

The culture there, and this may be true of all large state schools, is one of inexperienced youth. There are times I want to turn to my classmates and tell them all to stand up, walk out, and take a damn gap year. Or tell them to live off campus for once, or do something, which isn't a highly socio-normative activity on the path towards being a 25 year old who is, for the first time in their life, wondering what they really want to do and who they really are.

On my more cynical days I look forward to these people as my future patients.

The disconnect from the culture I could accept. I don't spend a lot of time on campus, and of my friends who are college students none of them are UW students. However, last week I noticed something and began questioning the workings of the institution itself, and yesterday (Monday, in case this doesn't get posted today) everything kind of came into focus as I thought about my first class that day, PSYCH 403, and my last class that day, PSYCH 333.

403 is a class I took in part because it was open, but it's also a class that is being taught Seminar style. This means that it's smaller, it's more intensive, and it has a lot of reading to do, because the focus of the class is on the discussion of the articles and theories. I'm enjoying this class a lot, except for the fact that it's earlier then the rest, and the reason I'm enjoying it so much is because this is the only psych class I've had that really respected me as an intellectual. It's about discussion, it's about real learning. Interest in the subject, enthusiasm and the other traits that derive from my extroverted nature and learning style are rewarded.

333 is a standard UW class. Now it's a 300 level class, so the lecture hall only has 70-80 people in it, but it's still got all of the problems that the others did. This is a class following the lectures, assigned readings, and tests formula. It's a stock standard college formula, and I think I hate it. I hate it because it's not an environment where I will do well. There is a simple truth about myself that I've known for a long time, but have only started putting to good use recently. When I care about something, when I'm invested and interested in it, I'm a phenomenally adept performer. When I don't care about something, I'm barely competent.

Now if it was simply a matter of "I don't care about the subject matter being taught in Psych 333" that would be one thing. It's not that though. The problem is that the structure of these classes is actively antagonistic towards my enthusiasm. On more then five occasions during this class, which I've only been going to for a week now, when raising a hand to answer a question or address a point being discussed I've been actively told "Not you, someone who hasn't spoken yet." Don't think that I don't understand why the professor says that. I'm aware that she wants to be egalitarian, she wants the other students to get involved. I get that, but I still hate it. I'm of the opinion that if they wanted to be involved they would involve themselves. I may be a bit biased, but my past experiences support me on this. For example the times in other classes where there have been long enough pauses of nobody in the two hundred person class even trying to answer that the lecturer has turned to me and said "Okay Max, go ahead." I'd also like to point out that in that two hundred person class the professor knew my name, and when I missed class would ask how I was doing, and comment that the lecture of two hundred people was different without me.

Okay I may have descended a bit into arrogance there, but I think I'm making my point. Ya'know the other thing. In that class, where the oppression of my involvement was actually quite rare, I got the best grade I've gotten in a year. When I care about something I involve myself in it, and that relationship is reciprocal as well. If I care about something, but then can't get involved with it, I stop caring.

This is why I began to question whether UW was a good fit for me as a school. It wasn't this ethereal quandary about not fitting the culture any more. Now it was business, and as the previous paragraphs illustrate the last few days have done nothing but support me in this line of questioning. That is only the push though, there is also a pull.

I've forgotten who first told me about Evergreen, the odd school in Olympia which functions in ways different from the norm. I know that Kevin has considered it at various times. Calinda, who shares my same nature as someone who is highly intelligent and not a very successful student, once pined after the place as her ideal college to attend. Recently though I've heard most about it through Jamie, a close friend of mine who actually attends Evergreen.

I'm going to stop for a moment and address the obvious concern. No I am not thinking of switching colleges over a girl. As with pretty much everything I do, this is firmly rooted in my own self interest. Okay, moving on.

Evergreen appeals to me for many reasons. I've spent enough time in Olympia recently to know that I like the culture of the place, and of the school. But there's also the much more substantial matter that Evergreen functions entirely on seminar style classes. That grades are done in the form of credits awarded and a performance review, rather then a simple numerical assessment. This seems like the answer to something that has been plaguing me since middle school. I've heard the same thing from teachers time and time again. "Max is clearly very intelligent, he contributes a lot to class, but he's just not doing that well grade wise." I wish it had occurred to me to say this back when this started, but thinking about this now, it makes me want to turn to them and shout "If I'm smart, and I'm contributing, then give me a better grade."

So, this sort of split, UW vs Evergreen, became the solid component of the dispute that manifested itself as the Path of Consequence vs Path of Regret discussion. That discussion was radically changed by around 4 p.m. yesterday (Monday) because of a talk I'd had with my counselor who made some very good points.

The first came up when I was saying off hand that calling my academic failures the result of an inability to engage with the school felt like a cop out, and that the Evergreen thing felt like I was running away from simply confronting the issue. She pointed something out. Some people have alternative learning styles, and that's why we have alternative learning institutions. This simple statement gave me a great deal of clarity, because it was a reasoned alternative perspective that didn't bear with it the self destructive tendencies nature of my own perspective. The next, and these are not in chronological order, was about the idea of stepping back from my social endeavors to make my life more stable. She pointed out that a lot of the stress that's been caused by these things, relationship drama etc. isn't so much a sign that I'm overextending myself, but rather a part of life, and the natural consequence of the novelty of these pursuits. Social coping skills take time to develop, and while I like to say that I've overcome my period of isolation, the ramifications of it will stay with me for a while. More importantly though this idea that I can pick back up some of the old ways in order to make myself safer is flawed, because the simple truth of the matter is that there really isn't any going back. When she commented upon this a lot of things kind of snapped into place in my head, and I had a clear image of the results of following the path of regret. It would last maybe a month. Then I'd either go nuts and get into actually overindulgent social activity (just in time for midterms) or I'd fall back into depression, which would be even worse.

This idea has become central to the argument. "You can't go back." I wish I knew a more famous quote expressing this same sentiment, but the only one that comes to mind is the obscure Futurama reference of "You watched it, you can't unwatch it." As per my role as a pseudo mystic I've taken a liking to the phrase "Fire only burns in one direction," but that gets into the cryptic symbolism gibberish that I use a lot and doesn't necessarily make sense to people who aren't crazy. In case that phrase doesn't make any sense to you, the direction fire always burns is forward. Fire can't burn backwards, because what's behind it is only ash, and doesn't burn any more. So in addition to being true in the sense of the Tarot/Astrology/western mysticism meaning of Fire, with which I identify greatly, it's also true about actual fire.

This is more or less unrelated, but when I told Kevin that phrase his response, after a brief moment of thought, was "Towards." It amuses me because they mean more or less the same thing, and clearly understood what I meant by the phrase, but the wording in my version is from the perspective of the fire, whereas in his it's from the perspective of an observer.

The other thing I'm realizing, upon more clear headed reflection, is that I really never got to the point of social binging. I can look back at Lander, at what normal college students do. Now that is irresponsible. The path of consequence didn't really have all that many consequences, and I'm starting to think that they were derived from inexperience, and will become less and less significant over time.

As for the college transfer issue, that's still being investigated. I'm doing this the smart way, which means talking to a lot of people, making sure things will transfer, and looking to make sure that grad school is still an option. The only big thing I'm doing right now is dropping Psych 333, which I'm doing because I know that if I keep ending every school day with a class that makes me pessimistic about school in general it will start hurting all of my other classes too.