Summer semester, I barely knew ya

July 7, 2006

When is a semester not a semester? When it’s a summer semester! And right now I am in the process of learning the difference. The material is assigned in larger chunks, the projects are more likely to be groupy, and the work hits you like two freight trains instead of one. My saving grace is that this particular summer semester only involves three library science classes, which, although I am not saying this is a good thing, generally amount to Advanced Cutting and Pasting 101 and Google 202. Not rocket or any other kind of science, despite its name. Still, it does majorly cut into my valuable daydreaming time when I have to pump out 5 page papers every other day for a week, followed by creating a realia catalog (that’s a fancy word for real stuff that isn’t books), followed by creating a mock-up of digital library interface using software that isn’t designed to work on my choice of computer.

Acutally, said software has actually been an interesting topic in my life during the past two weeks. I have easily spent 20+ hours trying to get it work, alternating between messing with the software itself and doing research to try and learn enough to be able to safely mess with my computer enough to set it up right. I entered into all of this with my brave new “I’m not really stupid or technologically challenged by golly” attitude that I’ve been trying to cultivate because at the age of 24 I am really, really tired of pre-imposing inadequacy upon myself. This attitude was usually defeated within 2 hours of helpless googling and keyword searching Mac help. I rapidly devolved into a cranky, cursing, junk food gobbling wretch, sinking every wasted moment further into the effort to stave off my alas, at least momentary, technological ignorance. There are a lot of basics of coding and setting up web pages that I have just never been exposed to. Naturally I do not want this to deter me, I want to be the kind of crazy smart person who can just sit down with a book and learn it and I am sad when I am forced to confront that when it comes to learning how to actually do something, I am just not that kind of person. Written instructions have ALWAYS made me cry. I just can’t make them into motions. I read them over and over and I don’t understand them. (Hmmm, maybe this is why I can’t cook from recipes?) The only way I learn how to do something is when somebody is standing in front of me and shows me how. In that situation, I catch on pretty quick and don’t have much trouble extrapolating. But having someone there to explain the basics is crucial. This is exactly what is lacking in an online class that expects me to develop an actual skill rather than just digesting numerous journal articles.

So, just like that silly moth, I have burned myself on the flame of open source software again and again this week, with just one sure conclusion: me need skills. How to get them? Haven’t gotten that far, but admitting you have a problem is half the battle, right?

As a side note, I’m kind of wondering if all of this focus on techno-stuff is going to screw up my more literary side, which is also going to be front and center this fall when I start MFA classes. Since digging into all this software stuff I have written zero lines of poetry, zero sentences of prose. I feel like the ideas are still there but if I don’t have the couple of hours to just sit around and stare out the window they aren’t going to get anywhere, and I don’t have a couple of hours for that plus a couple of hours for software plus all the hours I need to feed my new television habit. It’s quite an intellectual balancing act. (Blogging counts toward writing totals, but it’s different. I want my blog to be an enticing blend of off the cuff and deep consideration. So lately it’s been more toward the off the cuff side, although bless blogging, it is as forgiving as fat jeans.) Then look at it from this angle: maybe I am inventing the possibility that technology could ruin my writing brain to try to convince myself not to change, not to push myself, and not to risk failing. In all likelihood, I know I’m never going to be a software whiz. My strength is going to have to be in thinking about all of this from a library perspective and applying it to library projects. This does not change the fact that I want to have enough chops to run a web page, configure a server, and compile my own open source software. Is that too much to ask for?

I wonder if all of this relates to the weird but exhilarating dream I had yesterday morning, between the am hours when the cat woke me up to get fed and the real deal alarm went off. I dreamed that I had won some kind of lottery to become an astronaut, but I was so scared I tried to turn it down. But the NASA people told me it was too late, they didn’t have time to run the security checks on anyone else, so if I didn’t go it would be a wasted spot on the shuttle. I talked to all my friends, and a middle-aged Japanese gentleman who I somehow got the idea was Haruki Murakami. Mr. Dream Murakami told me that if I didn’t do it, I would regret it when I was old. So I decided to do it, but then almost got left behind because I forgot to pack. During lift-off I was petrified, but all we did on the moon was shop at the Gap.

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