Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Lazy Runs Deep

A weird thing happened.  At the end of the semester, on the day grades were due, we finally got an email from the data structures professor letting us know that the grades for the final exam and project were online, and that we could now view our final grades.  This semester was really rough for me (see the previous post) but I’d really thought I could pull a B out of this class.  But when I checked it, I saw that the online gradebook had other ideas.

Now I know what I expected to happen.  I would usually handle a disappointment like the C staring back at me with a heavy sigh and a bitter remark and a dismissive wave of my hand.  Life isn’t fair.  I learned that a long time ago when my mother explained to me that I had to be the older and therefore the more mature one when my sister and I would get into skirmishes when we were little.  But that wasn’t what happened.  It wasn’t what happened at all.

I became possessed by some person I haven’t seen since the ninth grade.  I became angry.  I became motivated.  I ranted for a while, to anyone within reach—my classmates, my mother.  Then it hit me that I had less than 24 hours to dispute this grade and I absolutely nothing to lose by trying.  Maybe it was futile.  The grade was mostly my fault anyway—I didn’t study well enough for the final exam, and I studied the wrong things, and my grade reflected that.  But there were at least two grade points that I could attribute to the teaching assistants’ inconsistent and lazy grading.  Those were the points I needed to squeeze a B out of this course, and I was clinging to them like the handlebar on an old roller coaster. 

Amazingly, given the height of my emotional distress at this point (as well as a mild identity crisis I decided to put a pin in), I composed a 450-word email to the professor that opened:

I'm sure you're getting a lot of emails from students who are panicked about their grades here at the last minute.  This is one of those emails.
Then I made my case.  I wasn’t fighting for truth or justice, because I probably deserved the grade I’d been given.  I was a lawyer on my own case, and I was not about to take “C” for an answer (there’s a “sí” joke in there somewhere, but I won’t make it so as to preserve the seriousness of this story). 

This professor, in stark contrast to my other programming professor this semester, had always been great about responding to student needs, pushing back project deadlines when they lined up with projects and exams in other classes.  I appealed to this tendency now.  Much to my surprise, he gave me a shot.  He had the TA send me the file they’d used to test our programs, and allowed me to correct the issue that had cost me the points I needed.  In a kind of daze, unable to fully believe, first, that I had initiated this at all, and second, that it was actually happening, I dismissed myself and left work.  I raced home, dug out my old program, and started coding furiously.  In two and a half hours of harried coding and frantically reading posts, I had solved the problem.  It wasn’t easy.
"I can scare the stupid out of you,
but the lazy runs deep."

My fingers shook as I hit the button to send the program back to the teacher.  I don’t know why they were shaking now; maybe it had only just occurred to me to be freaked out about all of this.  Who was this person who cared deeply enough and contained enough fire to fight so hard for a couple of points? 

Oh, me.  Right.

The professor emailed me and told me he’d adjusted my grade.  When I looked at the gradebook again, I saw that he’d given me exactly the number of points I’d needed to reach a B.  My grade is now an 80.01.  I’d done it.  I hadn’t rolled over and taken a C.  I had drawn my sword and fought.  There is no reason I should have been allowed to actually make changes and resubmit a project from weeks earlier and receive additional credit.  But I’d channeled my inner Paris Geller (Gilmore Girls?  Anyone?), I’d taken a shot and I’d made it.

I’m a little scared of what this means going forward, but I’m more excited about the B.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

I'm a Mess

You would not believe the week month I’m having.

My first year of college was easy.  It’s easy to ignore homework.  It’s easy to avoid studying and pretend like you’ll do fine on the test anyway because you’re smart.  It’s easy to curl into a ball and/or crawl into a hole and hide from your problems when you realize that’s not actually how things work.  It’s easy to stare at your failing grades and pretend that as long as no one knows, they don’t exist.

It’s easy to say you’ll do better next time.

Then, sophomore year, I failed a class in my major because it was harder than I expected it to be.  It was as simple as that.  The second time around I passed it with an A because I knew what I was going into.  But I’m out of grade exclusions—I can’t fail any more classes because I disagree with the workload.

This semester, I’m trying.  I’m really trying.  I’ve spent hours upon hours at various libraries writing code in two different languages.  I met with my advisor and determined that I’m about a whole semester behind where I need to be, and I don’t know how it happened. 

I wrote a genre fiction story for a literary fiction class.  I learned the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction.  I have two projects due on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving break, and two presentations to give the next day.  I’m currently in Ohio, stealing away time from visiting my family to work on said projects (my cousins have faster internet then we do, so that’s a plus).

I had two tests last week that I did not study for (because I forgot, or didn't have time, or both) and probably did very poorly on, which is extra irritating because those classes are stupid easy and I should have A's in both of them.

I went three days with crippling stomach pain which made it difficult to do much of anything let alone finish the programming project I was working on.  And because that's not something you talk about to the guy you just met who wants to get this thing done as badly as you do, my partner probably thinks my face just exists in that contortion of pain.  Then I did a bad thing and googled my symptoms.  WebMD told me I had gastrointestinal bleeding.

One night last week I left my phone on a university bus and spent an hour chasing it around.  I did manage to recover my phone.  I survive on coffee and Chipotle’s steak burritos and guacamole (it’s good guacamole).

Sometimes I even sleep.

But I’m not failing anything.  I’m working really hard to pull a C out of my C (the programming language) class, but I’m not going to fail it.  I had a conversation with my fiction writing teacher about my passion for writing and she mentioned that perhaps I was in the wrong major, and for the first time I didn’t feel the urge to question the course I’ve chosen. 

I like computer science.  Through the downpour of awful C projects and deadlines sneaking up on me, there are still bright moments of exuberance when an algorithm I’ve been working on for hours begins to work correctly.  But I’ve accepted that I don’t have to love it all the time for it to be the right major.  I know that even if I chose to major in creative writing, there would be times when it would become laborious and dull and I would long for the cool logic of computer science.

So it’s not easier now.  It’s much, much harder.  But it’s better, I guess.  I am physically exhausted, and so sleep-deprived that I actually stepped into the sunlight one chilly afternoon and became genuinely concerned that my shadow extended far enough into the street to be hit by a car.  My shadow, you guys. 

But I no longer carry the debilitating guilt of knowing that I’m failing classes.  I am not plagued by the helplessness that comes from feeling like you can’t ask for help, and the dread that settles it when you know it’s too late.

I’ve traded one form of exhaustion for another, but at least this way I’ll graduate.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Williamsburg and Watson

Since I started this blog I've been consistent about posting at least once a month.  October sort of snuck away from me, but it had an easy time of it because I was very distracted with two programming classes, a short story I'm working on for my Fiction Writing class, a fledging portrait photography business, and being a bridesmaid.  Most of which I love (lookin' at you, programming classes).

So I've started a post about creativity and originality, but in the interest of time, I'm going to cheat a little bit, and post a couple of photos I took when my family went to Williamsburg recently, and an excerpt from said short story, in an effort to prove that even though I've been neglecting to write bloggy things, I have been writing.

Ok here we go:
It's a little known fact that the early colonists were very into energy conservation
It's a cherry. On the ground.  Move along.
I chased this dude around for a while.
Parking spot

A fence and some stuff

Aaaand story:

The story is titled "It Doesn't Know How," which I decided on after no small about of deliberation.  It's about half-written, and I have the rest of the plot laid out in my head, but the rest needs to get written fast (by me) because I have to turn in a first draft on Wednesday. So, without further ado:

I pressed my shoulder against the heavy door and leaned into it.  It gave a bit too easily, like it hadn’t gone quite long enough without someone forcing it to turn on its rusty hinges.  Beside me, Watson bobbed up and down anxiously.  I looked at him.  Nervous, he said. 
“Worry-wart,” I teased.  But when I turned around I saw that Watson’s instincts were dead-on, as usual.  The room had been torn apart.  The computers were utterly destroyed.  Bits and pieces of memory and processors were strewn across the room.  One of the old towers had been gutted; red and blue wires stuck morbidly from its corpse.  The entrails of the largest monitor had been strung from the knobs of the kitchen cabinets like party decorations. 
The dirty refrigerator leaned to one side.  Its door hung open, which didn’t actually matter because its contents had been picked clean.  I sighed heavily and shrugged off my bag.  It hit the floor with a soft thud, sending up a cloud of dust that caught the light of the old florescent beam outside the door.  I closed the fridge.  I methodically removed the wires from the cabinets, discovering with a modicum of relief that they were mostly intact.  The Luddites were a destructive bunch, but you wouldn’t catch me complaining about their lack of technical know-how.  I’d reassembled the computers a dozen times, and I was prepared to do it a dozen more.  It was a labor of love. 
I was more upset about the food.  I couldn’t program another fresh ham into existence, and the next food shipment wouldn’t come through here for a week.Watson pipped three times, the tone he made when he was digesting new data.  He was probably trying to figure out why I wasn’t more bothered by the mess.  I patted him absentmindedly as I crossed the room and dropped the wires on the shell of the old computer, wincing as I saw the inside.  The memory chips were smashed.  I’d lost everything.   
I looked back at the hovering metal sphere with renewed fondness and amended my observation.  I’d lost everything except Watson.