(In which everyone descends once more upon the paradise-world-turned-frozen-wasteland of Carleton. Carleton is kind of like Narnia in that respect, isn't it? I mean in the paradise-world-turned-frozen-wasteland respect. Also, time moves differently in Narnia relative to Earth, and I swear it moves differently at Carleton, too. Events happen much faster and the weeks pass much more slowly here. So far I haven't met any talking animals, though. But we DO live side-by-side with Toff and other cats who have become adopted by the student body in general, and we DO have a penguin in our library, so it's ALMOST the same thing as Narnia.)
Before I go further, let me make you aware of the fact that I am writing these words as my FINAL ACT OF TEENAGERHOOD. Today is January 10, the day before my birthday, and in two short hours, I will be twenty years old.
Apparently this is something that happens to you at college. It's definitely a strange, strange feeling knowing that that old, familiar "1" I've had at the front of my age for a whole decade will soon be replaced by a shiny new, formidable and exciting "2." I won't get to see that leading "1" again for another eighty years...
So goodbye, dear 1. We've had some good times together. You saw me through the golden years of upper elementary school, the excitements and horrors of middle school, and the stress and sheer wonderfulness of high school, and here, at Carleton, we part.
It's kind of a momentous occasion- the sort that requires epic, bittersweet chamber music.
Fortunately, my second-to-last act as a teenager was to go listen to a concert given in the Concert Hall by the Takács quartet, a very professional traveling string quartet, which was full of exactly the kind of epic, bittersweet chamber music one needs to properly say farewell to a decade of childhood and look the coming decade of adulthood square in the face.
But I should start back at the beginning of this first week of term, and work my way back up to the present decade-ending moment.
My break was restful, if not particularly eventful. I caught up on some much-needed and much-enjoyed reading, sleep, and time with my high school friends, and, after a long and pleasant six weeks, found myself returning by plane to the now-familiar snowy roofs, friendly faces, and academic craziness of Carleton.
The craziness is familiar, but the classes are new: this term I am taking
(1) Methods of Interpretation, an English class about different ways of reading literature and different ways of understanding what goes on in that mystical and complicated transfer of words and meanings among the author, the page, the readers, and the language. Right now we're reading articles by the "New Critics" of the last century who took it upon themselves to teach the next generation how to become "right readers"- people who know how to read a text the way it is intended to be read- not by hurriedly tearing it up to find the perfect one-sentence summary of its meaning, but rather by looking at the way in which every detail of its structure pertains to its content. But instead of gratefully accepting the wisdom of their New Critic forefathers and growing up to be "right readers," the next generation instead grew up to become "deconstructionists"- people who get an illicit sort of thrill from using the text to support contradictory readings. Actually, this is not a very good history of modern literary criticism, but it's what I've got from the class so far. I will definitely have a better understanding of it by the end.
Oh! Also! This weekend I read "The Dead" by James Joyce for English. My only experience with James Joyce before this was in high school, reading the first page of Ulysses, from which I recoiled in shock and confusion and promptly stopped reading. So I had low expectations for "The Dead," but I read it and it is now pretty high on my list of all-time favorites. It's far, far more readable than the first page of Ulysses, and its ratio of charming, pleasant social situations to tense, awkward social situations seems really, really close to the actual balance that exists in real life. And the end is a real thinker. I won't give anything away, though. It's only 40 pages long, and you can read all of it on Google Books if you don't want to get a hard copy, so if you feel like reading it there's nothing that can stand in your way.
(2) Abstract Algebra, a math class which, so far, has been about a special kind of set called a "group" which contains some elements and which has an operation called *, which takes in two elements of the group and spits out a third, like this: a * b = c. If it looks like multiplication, that's no coincidence: the set of real numbers except 0, under the operation of multiplication, is one example of a group. (At risk of boring the uninterested reader, I'll be thorough and tell you about the other requirements that a set must fulfill to be a group: the operation has to be associative, meaning a*(b*c) = (a*b)*c, and there must be an identity element e such that a*e = e*a = a, and each element must have an inverse, meaning that if x is in the group, then there needs to be an element y with x*y = e, the identity element. This looks like a lot of rules to fulfill, but really there are a TON of things in real life that are groups- not just groups of numbers, but groups of matrices, or groups of "symmetries" of shapes, or groups representing the social structure of certain tribes. So studying groups reveals general principles that are helpful in everything from particle physics to art to ethnography. It's some really cool stuff, and this is just what we've been learning about this week.)
(3) Functional Analysis. This is some crazy stuff. It's more math, but a totally different kind from Abstract Algebra. An amazing, mind-blowing kind. Actually, I don't think we've really reached the "Functional Analysis" part yet. We're learning a little about "topological spaces" and "metric spaces" before we focus on spaces of functions. But I'm pretty sure that this will be the class that finally satisfies my curiosity about what happens if you take the derivative of... the derivative itself. I mean, d/dx is a function, right? It's just a different kind of function from the functions that operate on numbers. It's a function that operates on functions. But it should still have a derivative. I've been wondering about this since Calc I, and I think this is the term when I finally will find out what that is. Plus, I am one of four students in the class. That's right, four.
(One funny moment from Functional Analysis: we learned how to take a topological vector space, raise it to the power of another vector space, and figure out a new topology for the new space based on the old one's topology. This is called "toplogizing" a vector space. After our professor wrote "topologize" on the board, one of the three other students, Danny, turned and said "It's too late topologize." Danny, I myself must apologize for quoting you without asking permission, but it was a great moment in the history of mathematical jokes and it must be preserved. Later I listened to that song while actually topologizing a product space.)
So those are my classes.
I'm sorry for filling up so much space with class descriptions. But I love my classes this term.
Okay, change of subject.
When I got back to my room in Faculty Club last Saturday, the first thing I noticed (besides the fact that the window was still cracked, but that's a long story) was this icicle, hanging outside my window.
It is the most ominous-looking icicle I've ever seen. Look at it.
There's only a thin little thread of ice holding up that big scimitar-shaped monstrosity. It could fall and impale whatever is beneath it at any time.
But aside from the impending danger of icicles, Carleton is pretty beautiful in the winter, if I haven't already mentioned that. There is a lot of snow, and people in hats and scarves, and that sort of thing.
One of my friends from high school said that at his college (farther south in the Midwest) there's a kind of stigma against wearing a real, effective winter coat, and that people try to make do with thick jackets in order to avoid being unfashionable. Let me assure you, that stigma does not exist here. If big, fluffy winter coats were stigmatized at Carleton, we'd all be either unfashionable or frozen solid.
So now it is winter. Winter: the season of broomball and cross-country skiing, the season of Late Night Trivia and Winter Ball, the season of hot chocolate machines and Bald Spot igloos.
And speaking of Winter Ball, I've started going to practices for the Competitive Ballroom Team. But my adventures therein will have to wait for our next episode.
In the meantime, I have turned 20 years old. This is far more mind-blowing than functional analysis, far more intimidating than scary icicles, and far more exhilarating than broomball.
And as my first act as a 20-year-old...
I will go to bed.