March 2011 Archives


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My Advanced Organic Chemistry professor was taking my class to task today because she is (rightfully) disappointed in the average performance and apparent level of commitment we are demonstrating. When she asked who was actually reviewing the material on a daily basis, not cramming in ten hour stretches on the weekends, I don't think anyone could truthfully say that they are focusing on organic chemistry every single day.

"You don't want to be toll collectors, do you?" she asked, annoyed, "I mean, you're taking this class because you want to go on to med school, or grad school, to dentistry school...."

She continued by explaining the need to "get used to this level of work" and learn to manage the volume and complexity of problem sets "if you're ever going to pass the MCATs or become a doctor."

I was kind of nodding and accepting my chiding along with everyone else, when I was kind of stricken. Nowhere along the line was she indicating the necessity of... learning chemistry. The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. I didn't sign up for a crash course in how to overextend myself and scramble around memorizing things. I want to understand carbon-based molecules and their reactions. I want to look at chemicals and be able to predict and explain why they do what they do.

Most of the students in my class are Biology majors, and most of them indicate that yes, they are preparing for med school, to become doctors. I understand that universities need to prepare these students for the types of questions they'll have to excel at for admissions exams, but it truly bothers me that the course, which is a fundamental building block of chemistry, seems to have been altered into an MCAT-preparatory session or some absurd packing-in of chemistry related trivia without the full depth and complexity it deserves.

Just as high schools are becoming increasingly faultier for emphasizing college preparation over actual meaningful learning and development of critical thinking skills and creativity, I fear that undergraduate science programs are falling victim to teaching to tests and sort of glossing over the actual significance of the material at hand.

When I took Organic I, it felt extremely and problematically rushed, but I figured that was because it was over the summer and I wasn't as prepared as I should have been. Even then, though, the professor (who was also the department head at that school) said he felt that Organic Chemistry really deserved three or even four semesters, but universities have to cram it all in since they are already requiring the Bio majors to take Gen Chem I and II before the two semesters of Orgo.

I don't like this idea of stuffing it all in, instead of learning the material for its own sake and getting something meaningful out of it. I think about high school students who don't necessarily go on to college, but who are forced to sacrifice the classroom time that may have been spent developing writing skills, or general knowledge about history and science that would equip them for life, preparing for SATs and practicing college admissions essays. I know I was required to write no less than seven practice admissions essays in various courses, but when I actually applied to college, I used the common app and earned a full-tuition scholarship submitting the first draft of an essay about brushing a Monet with my cheek in the Brooklyn Museum, which, by the way, broke all of my teachers' rules about a "good" admissions essay.

So what will I take away from Advanced Organic Chemistry, if I pass it? The enormous relief I felt when I passed Orgo I, with the private intention to never look at "that nonsense" again? The knowledge that no matter what else I did in life, no one could make me do that again? An experience of not sleeping for weeks or months on end and wearing myself out trying to make sense of the minutiae of hundreds of reactions?

I'm not coming away with an experience of rigor and discipline. It's just extremity and excessive demands, to give the illusion that I've put "enough" effort and time into it and would, I don't know, make a good sleep-deprived doctor? I reckon it's because I'm coming at this material from a different perspective than most science students, but I feel downright resentful that the big experience is in getting through the class, wholly inconsequential to actually understanding chemistry or not.

So like I said, it's distressing. And a little demoralizing. But I don't really have time to think about it, since I've got hundreds of pages of reading to do.


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When things get quiet around here, it's probably easy to assume I'm busy being overwhelmed by life, or suffering some ridiculous illness, the likes of which are occurring with distressingly increasing frequency and intensity. And that's not too far from typical, though lately, I've literally been lost in thought. It's kind of an amazing feeling.

I started this year on the heels of a pretty intense bout of depression, and I resolved (while sick with the flu) that in 2011, I would Have More Fun.

The interpretation of such a sentiment seems fairly straightforward. Go out with friends more, do more interesting things in the city, see my family more, eat cupcakes more often, pause to relax and enjoy the things I love. And basically, focusing on having fun, instead of whatever I had been dwelling on, has been a pretty solid antidepressant. I think I'm even making some in-roads on the pervasive existential crisis that likes to linger menacingly around the fringes of consciousness and strike without warning when I let my guard down. Take that, Angst!

So when I am seeing success in my endeavor, my analytical side scrambles to isolate the mechanism, that I may synthesize it for future needs, and hey, even concentrate its potency for greater efficacy. I started looking, in excessive detail, at the things that make me happy, seeking the commonality as if it were some secret to joy in existence.

I have always loved the arts, so it's a logical place to start when I'm looking for a treat. My mother and I started a ballet subscription earlier this year (of which, much, much more later), and the performances we've attended have been astonishingly fantastic, giving me this electrifying sense of aliveness that's just thrilling.

We're also having a tremendous season of opera. We've seen what I believe are some of the best performances of opera I'll ever see in my life this year, truly magical moments. I got to meet with Plácido Domingo a second time, after he conducted a heartbreaking, staggeringly wonderful Roméo et Juliette. I also met up with the amazing tenor Joseph Calleja (my absolute favorite) after a powerful performance in Lucia di Lammermoor.

I know, I am spoiled rotten. And yes, there will be a surfeit of writing about opera to come soon.

I've been trying to take advantage of the unique opportunities that living in the greatest city in the world presents on a daily basis. One of the more excellent ways to spend a little window of time on a Sunday afternoon has been the series of organ recitals at Saint Patrick's Cathedral.

Any kind of live music tends to have a terrific curative property for me, and the amplification of the cathedral makes these especially good. Quite literally, pleasure that wakens the soul.

I've gone ice skating in Bryant Park, enjoyed some terrific dinners and drinks with dear friends, wandered at length in art museums and galleries, gone jogging along the harbor on the esplanade at the end of my street (though admittedly, not nearly enough), looked at trees and the sky and the moon, and done all the things I imagined I would do during a winter in the city. It has exceeded even my wildest expectations, and I'm having a blast.

I started volunteering with New York Cares, as part of a civic engagement requirement for one of my classes. I am so happy to have found this organization because I've always harbored a terrible guilt about not giving back, but I've struggled to find volunteering opportunities that fit into my schedule or skill set. I have a lot more to say about these experiences, but they are worth their own entry, so it should suffice to say I am finding volunteering to be intensely rewarding and fascinating, and it's making me love this city even more.

In private moments, I am drawing, all the time. I've been obsessing about Radiohead, as could probably have been expected as a consequence of their new album release. I finally moved a huge amount of my books from my parents' attic in New Jersey (where they've been since 2008) to my apartment, so I've been reading, all the time, on all the subjects that have interested me throughout the years. I've been cooking, knitting, sewing, writing, painting. hula-hooping, Smokey-petting, and doing all the lovely domestic things I enjoy so much at home. And though it doesn't seem like a pro at first, I've reached the point in my degree where it is legitimately intellectually challenging (if not overly so), and I've been working my ass off poring over my organic chemistry text book, wracking my brain to solve problems, think like electrons, write labs, and clamoring about for some grasp on what in hell I'm doing (which I love).

The thread that's run through all of this is almost disappointingly obvious. I've been Present. I'm paying attention to what I'm doing, showing up with my whole self and taking things in.

It sounds so simple, the first time everyone reads Ram Dass and grasps this mantra of Be Here Now, and yet, that's really saying it all, isn't it?

My approach to experience and existence tends to be overly cluttered with analysis and aesthetics, as I am constantly evaluating, judging, considering, comparing, and categorizing. I used to think that was a huge personal limitation of mine, that I was some sort of insipid, shallow person who could only go through life by accumulating experiences like objects and passing proclamations about them. But I've come to accept that this approach is actually kind of great, if I'm trying to be observant and contemplative, so long as I embrace the sense of wonder as a guide. I instinctively grab as much detail as I can fit in my memory, so my remembrances are populated with a symphony of scents, colors, textures, sounds, emotions, and specificity.

At long last, instead of feeling burdened and exhausted by all this information, I'm just letting myself enjoy what my brain does. And breathing. The result has been an acute sense of clarity, precise joys accumulated and multiplied in resonance, and that perfect pitch of beauty combined with freedom.

In this respect, Present is exactly how and where I want to be.

Great Moments in Twitter

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Apropos of basically nothing, here is a list of some of my favorite bits of wisdom and quotes by famous people collected in the past few months via Twitter. I always think a good list comprises seven items, so here we are.

- Being alive is the best thing ever! - David Bazan

- The one thing I'll never understand about calculus is how to do it. - Stephen Colbert


- Music makes our otherwise insignificant moments....epic..!!! - Wayne Coyne (click on that for an awesome video)

- if i ever tell you "you know what i read somewhere?" it really means, "You know what i saw on tv?" or "You know what a stranger told me?" - Chris Pratt

- Chances are slim that you will die by being eaten by something. - Rainn Wilson (This one actually makes me reconsider my fear of the ocean RE sharks.)

- Italian may be the language of love, but English will always be the language of apologizing afterwards. - Stephen Colbert

One of my favorite aspects of Twitter is the unfettered access it gives to spontaneous, impulsive expressions. There is something so unabashedly charming about Mindy Kaling's random musings or Fabio Viviani's unbridled enthusiasm and joie de vivre.

If you know me in person, I've probably already extolled my love of Twitter at great and most likely excessive length. If not, please say hi @vickiboardman and we'll Tweet it up together!

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from March 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

February 2011 is the previous archive.

April 2011 is the next archive.

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