Monday, October 1, 2007

Brilliance, femininity, and “the proverbial free pizza”

I stayed as busy as ever last week. I went to the usual physics homework session last Monday evening for the usual reason. After that, I went out to eat with Allison (I don’t think I mentioned it before, but that’s her name) and Lauren, another girl from the homework session that we discussed a few problems with. This must seem like a really weird way to meet people, going to physics homework sessions, but keep in mind that I am a physics major. If I can’t meet people at physics events, life will get pretty hopeless pretty quick. Anyway, dinner was interesting. Actually, the walk out to “the strip” (Guadalupe street west of campus has lots of businesses, mostly restaurants, collectively known as “the strip”) was interesting by itself. I led the girls along my favorite shortcut route from the physics building to my dorm, since the strip is directly beyond that. It leads through several obscure buildings and a courtyard area that for some reason feels like an abandoned city lot or something. Once we got to Guadalupe, we discovered that none of us really felt like choosing where we would eat. As the guy of the group, Allison informed me that I should be the one to choose. I didn’t and pointed out that I was perfectly content to just continue wandering. We eventually ended up in Moe’s Southwest Grill, which serves not-particularly-good Tex-Mex food. As we were on our way in, Allison made a comment about Comedy Central, to which I replied that I don’t watch it. This, combined with my lack of decisiveness earlier, led her to conclude that I was “a terrible boy”, since apparently all guys are supposed to watch Comedy Central and make decisions. We laughed at this for a while. As we were walking back to toward campus later, it was decided that I was “the most feminine member of the group”, which we all laughed at even more. Good times.

That was as much random fun as I had for a while, as I had a chemistry midterm the next day and one for physics on Wednesday. I actually felt fairly good about both of them after I was done with them. The chemistry one was very unconventional; it was mostly essay type questions in which we had to discuss the history of some important experiment or explain in detail how we would figure out some new problem. Only about three problems out of seven required significant calculations. The physics was the usual algebra and number crunching. A little more algebra than most high school physics, maybe, but not too bad. I ended up getting a 92 on that one; I’m still waiting on chemistry.

The evening before the chemistry exam I went to a marginally interesting lecture by a biophysics professor who studies protein motors. Apparently, our cells have these long, thin proteins with foot-like structures that basically walk along fiber-type things carrying stuff. That sounds like it could be really interesting, but the guy was not a particularly motivating lecturer. At least there was the proverbial free pizza, and it was even actually good. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned “the proverbial free pizza” before, so maybe I should explain: College students like free food. Organizations like to attract college students. Therefore, they seem to always have some kind of free food at their events to ensure that people will actually come. They don’t mind that people are only coming for the food and don’t care about the event. And, of course, the free food of choice is pizza, generally cheap, bad thin crust pizza. So, there you have it, “the proverbial free pizza”.

Thursday I had my second DS seminar with Prof. Martinez. We discussed two papers about different types of evolution (it turns out there’s more than one kind; who knew?) and a common mathematical relationship between metabolism and mass that some scientist figured out is similar for basically all mammals and that he hypothesizes is similar for most organisms. I ended up being a bit of a leader in the discussion, which felt kind of ironic, seeing that I definitely glossed over parts of the second paper. I got Martinez’s attention, though, so she, I, and another guy that had a lot to say but also had a tendency to talk over people and a slightly annoying manner in general had a long, walking discussion between the room we had class in and Martinez’s office. It started with both of them wondering if I was really 18, as I seemed much older in my tone and manner. I never know quite what to think of that: a big part of me enjoys such recognition, but another part wonders if this might be why I have so much trouble feeling comfortable with social stuff like acting (which I’m terrible at), dancing, (more on that later…) and generally being loud and flamboyant (I don’t think I’m usually like that, at least). Anyway, it was a far more interesting class than I expected.

Friday afternoon I went about my usual routine of doing laundry and starting homework. In doing that I met the official “physics assignment from hell”. Ironically, it was only 7 questions, but I could only answer 2 of them on the first try. The rest were absolutely maddening because I was sure I knew how to do all but one (which seemed to contradict everything we had been told about circular motion), but I never got the answers right. I didn’t finish it and get everything right until this evening.

Also that evening, the former drunk guy from across the hall invited me to go out salsa dancing with him an two girls he’d met recently. Yes, double check to make sure I really said it: salsa dancing. And I actually went! But before you get too shocked to go on, something you would expect: it completely sucked. It goes without saying that I’m a horrible dancer. I have to think about my movements too much to relax enough to enjoy dancing, and naturally someone who is not enjoying it cannot dance well. With the right girl, (one who is fun, funny, actually good at dancing, and who likes me enough to be incredibly patient) I might eventually get over this, but, again predictably, this guy had not picked such a girl for me. To be fair, this girl was very nice and tried to enjoy the evening, but she was almost as uncomfortable as I was and not much better. Baaaaad combination. So, since I really hadn’t had any dinner before the dancing and was getting extremely hungry and was not enjoying it at all, I left at the first opportunity. Despite my best attempts to tell the girl I was hungry and needed to go eat and to get the guy’s attention and show him I was leaving, they thought I ditched them and griped me out for it when they found me later. (Sigh.) Oh, well. It really was an interesting experience, if only to confirm what I’ve known all along.

Saturday and Sunday I passed alternating between doing homework, reading, and playing video games. I still had two exams to go this week, Java and calculus, and I actually had a significant amount of reading to do to feel ready for the calculus exam. Java’s no problem at all; my most recent program did exactly what was asked for in 8 less lines and 5 less methods than the professor recommended, which means my code was more efficient. And of course you don’t understand why that matters; you’re not nerds, so just nod and go with it. The official calculus review on Sunday afternoon was full, which I guess shouldn’t have surprised me. I took the calc. test this morning at 7:45. Awesomeness. And consciousness, there was a lot of that, too (not really). I still felt good about the test when I finished it, though, and I think I was even the first person to hand in a test and leave the room. I was kind of amused by the professor’s subtle pushing to get me to be the proud first person to hand in a test; he walked by, looked over my shoulder, and asked me if I was done right as I was turning back to the first page to check back through everything. I was happy to oblige him, so I wrapped this checking up quickly. I’ll hopefully get that score back in the next week or so.

And we’ve come full circle, as I finished this evening with another physics homework session and another dinner, this time just with Allison. It really is kind of interesting that I’ve found one of my best friends here in physics class. That’s basically the only place (outside of calc. exams) where my old aura of intellectuality still shines. In most things, I’m either just kind of average or sufficiently lost in the crowd that no one could tell the difference. This is definitely different for me. So I was really surprised when, in our third physics class or so, after asking one of my dumb questions and missing a problem about acceleration, she explained to me in a completely serious and even slightly profound tone that I was “a brilliant physicist”. I was then surprised at being surprised by this. Really, it’s an extremely interesting kind of thing that Tom Bean got so used to me being the best academic around. By now, no one would ever think twice about me being a leader in BEST or band, or winning basically all the local UIL academic contests I cared to compete in, or being the first choice for the Ramsey family’s private tutor. Everyone really expected all of this and more. To be clear, this makes a lot of sense. In a small, close community like that, everyone has their role. I was the inevitable, quietly respected academic. I had never really thought much about how new people would react to me and my abilities. Seeing someone recognize those abilities for the first time, and seeing them feel like this recognition was really important, was not something I expected at all.

As I wrote all that, a bunch of new, formerly subconscious thoughts entered my conscious mind (remember my description of how that works?) and left me with lots of unresolved, incommunicable thoughts to process. So, I’ll leave you all with another question: do average people (I’ll leave “average” for you to interpret) feel social pressure to not seem smart? One thing I have figured out about my position in Tom Bean is that, while by last year everyone was perfectly OK with me being smart and maybe even appreciated that quality a little, they didn’t think that “being smart” was for them. It was fine for someone else, but it was too much of an unpopular quality for them. Am I interpreting that correctly? If so, why do people feel like that? Why do they feel like “being smart”, or at least seeming smart outwardly, is a bad thing? I look forward to your thoughts.

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