Tuesday, April 26, 2005
arts & sciences
It’s that time of year again… Academic Advising. It’s the time when everyone chooses classes for next year, everyone wonders if their schedule will work out, everyone figures out if they can graduate in time, etc. etc.
It’s also when I get very excited about being an English major. Leafing through the course catalog, I always take care to crease the binding so it opens easily to the “English” section. Then I spend ages reading all of the course descriptions… History of the English Language… Russian Literature… Craft of Writing…
Okay, maybe I’m not quite that bad. (But I do think that “History of the English Language” is one of the best titles for an English course. And the binding really is creased in my catalogue… think what you will.) But I do really love my major. It just makes me happy. (I guess that makes sense. Don’t ever major in something that bugs you. It makes for a long four years.)
Last Saturday really brought this home for me. (The joy in my major, I mean. Not something bugging me. Right.) My good friend Maria called me up and asked me to come with her to the Science Building. She had to work on a lab for one of her classes—Botany, I think—and would like the company. Ever ready to expand my horizons—and hang out with a pal—I packed my bags and came along.
We first got coffee at the Fish House—of course!! double zebras to go, please—and then headed in to the lab. This is the second or third time I’ve come along with her. The first time she introduced me to the greenhouse. I had always seen it from above or outside, but I’d never been in it. One deep breath convinced me that I just might love gardening. I’ve never been especially great with plants, but being in there made me want to try.
Anyway, once in the lab, Maria started setting up her stuff, and I spread out the homework I had brought along: poetry writing, poetry readings, American Lit readings (The Cask of Amontillado... one of my all-time favorite Poe stories), essays, etc. I also had a stack of CDs, and we put on a salsa CD, which made the test tubes look especially festive.
It turned out that Maria could use my help, so I assisted by pulling on gloves and spraying things with RNase Zap (which kills RNase, whatever that is. All I know is that it seemed to be everywhere), labeling a zillion tiny test tubes, cleaning knives and pots with nanopure water, holding those tiny test tubes in a vortexing machine (which made my arm not-so-steady for a while), going on an ethanol hunt, and providing overall moral support.
I had a blast. Poor Maria had to put up with all my enthusiasm… Look, a rhinoceros skull! Ooh, what’s this? What happens if I push that? Oh, an emergency eye wash fountain! Wow, it smells weird over here. Ooh, a biohazard chart! Hey, these pictures are cool… and on, and on.
But it was so cool to be around things that I normally don’t see or use. And I felt so darn official with those gloves on. Anyway, in between labeling tubes or vortexing things or zapping RNase, I would dash over to the table where my stuff was and write a poem, read a poem, or read “The Cask of Amontillado” (which gives me the chills).
At one point, Maria glanced up from the liquid nitrogen she was pouring and asked me what I was working on. Um. How could I answer that?
In poetry writing class, we had just read Ben Doyle’s “Radio, Radio”: a pretty off-the-wall poem about burying swans and then chopping their heads off. Our prof encouraged us to write a poetic response to this, which I thought was a neat idea. Instead of just analyzing the poem, he said, we should “respond in kind”: by writing another poem. So I was busy writing (with RNase-free gloves still on) my poetic response, which involved a narrator whose mouth was full of seeds, a body that was disintegrating during the course of the poem, and a bunch of swans flying overhead.
Maria gave me a long, strange look. Then we both laughed for ages.
She was doing things that I couldn’t really understand—I mean, what do you really do with liquid nitrogen (other than freeze everything and look cool because of that fog seeping everywhere), and why does RNase matter, and why are you buffering and vortexing plant goo? I don’t get it. But likewise, why was writing a poem about a man whose fingers kept falling off—why was that making me so happy? And who really reads stuff like “The Cask of Amontillado” and gets a kick out of it?
It was a fun lesson. Each of us is well-suited to the field and career we’ve chosen, even though the other ones are interesting. Vortexing was cool, I won’t deny it. And Maria likes Edgar Allan Poe (I think), so it’s not like either of us exclusively likes our major and can’t appreciate any others.
I loved messing around in the botany lab. And I’ve never seen a rhinoceros skull before. But I know that I’m exactly where I should be. Poems are crazy and exciting, and I’m more ready than ever to write this summer. It’s a good time…—jl