Aaron’s honest question

Today, in a little time-gap between a three-hour physics lab and the one-hour physics lecture, I was sitting with my lab partner, Aaron, and we were fussing over our calculations for kinetic energy for our lab report.

Well, I thought I was merely fussing. But then Aaron looked me in the eye and asked, “Why do you do physics? You don’t seem to like it very much.”

I was startled. Well, of course I like physics! I thought. (But do I? After all, we only met last month. How well do I really know physics?)

My first answer was that, well, I was having a hard time with it. I wasn’t getting enough sleep, I was racing to keep up, this was new to me. But then I realized I was covering for physics. I didn’t want to blame physics.

Yes, this is all new to me. I didn’t take physics in high school, so the last time I had a physical science course (besides a high school chemistry class that reflected the eternal teachings of Rutherford rather than anything learned since 1920, but I digress) was in 8th grade, in 1980 or thereabouts. And a couple of geology classes at Miami in the later 80s. I’m a fan and all, but as far as Actual Education™ goes, this is the first step onto a long path.

Yes, I’m tired. I am old and my brain is fuzzy and I have four kids and a lot of other crap to do besides be in school.

But…that isn’t an answer to an honest question. Once I had time to think about it, my better answer is, or should be, “I do like physics. What I don’t like is feeling confused, feeling left behind when others understand. I don’t like NOT being smart at something. Right now I don’t feel very smart, and it makes me uncomfortable.”

It’s mostly math and chemistry in her world, but yes, it’s confusing!

I’m looking forward to the breakthrough moment when I finally feel able to take on these problems without having my hand held. I sincerely hope that moment comes soon. I have four online homework sets, six written problems, and a lab report due before the first physics exam on Monday afternoon. (That’s just physics; I have a calculus quiz tomorrow and two homework sets for that due over the weekend. But that’s not important right now.) The ground has been broken for the construction of the Horribly Difficult First Physics Exam since, literally, the first day of class. We all understand that the class average will likely be 60 percent. We know it will be challenging, and we may have to make a hard decision about whether to swing away and hope to jack one out of the park, to trade points for hints, or just try to grind out a high-enough pile of partial credit to make it worth our while.

We know, we know, we know. We can’t wait for it to be over, yet we need another couple of months to get ourselves ready. We’re just dreading the Sorting.

When I was little (as in single-digits little), I dreaded meeting new adults because they would always want to know what I wanted to be when I grew up. (I didn’t know yet that they didn’t know anything else to ask a child.) I soon found out that my honest answers (a professional baseball player!) were unacceptable, and from then on all I wanted to have was a safe answer, something I could say to make them smile and move along. A teacher. A vet. Whatever, please leave me alone.

Fast-forward to college, when I was a Creative Writing major. I already knew I didn’t want to teach or work for a newspaper. That’s why I wasn’t in Education or Journalism. So, what are you going to do with that degree? I didn’t have a good answer until I got engaged. What are you doing to do with that degree? Well, my boyfriend is a Decision Sciences major. Oh, well, that’s OK then.

WRONG lesson learned. That was when I should have made a plan of action, learned to rely on myself and figure out my plan for supporting myself with my word skills. I didn’t need to get engaged in order to duck the question of what I wanted to do with my life. I needed to answer the question.

I’m planning to be a technical editor who understands the subject matter, the unusual woman who is an obvious choice to edit Physics Journal or Materials Evaluation or Quality or Scientific American. I can already edit blind; I want to learn to edit with my eyes open and my brain fully engaged, to be able to help chart the editorial course of a journal because I know what’s going on.

That’s why I’m taking physics and calculus, and that’s why I’m going to succeed. And I’ll start by giving Aaron an honest answer.

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