Thursday, June 23, 2011

er. .

Ok, so I've decided I feel silly re-posting old posts. Actually, I feel silly posting this too, but less-silly enough to let it slide. Here's the first of my entrance essays. :)

Education and wanting:

Why St. John's

I know how heavy my engine block is—I couldn't give you a number of kilos, but I remember the textures and the heft of it in my hands. I know its color when it's all cleaned up. I know how it smells fresh from the machine shop, what parts it is connected to, and how they move. I may never reference this information again, but I will not likely forget it. Until my brain deteriorates, it will color my respect for the human beings who test your car for emissions standards and change its oil. I think this example demonstrates the virtues of my formal education: experiential richness, intellectual depth, unusual persistence, and unconventional breadth.

That shop experience was valuable to me because I was the kid who asked too many questions, and for whom the answers were not quite good enough. I've been fortunate by way of libraries, and one way or another—by sitting in on classes, asking questions, watching documentaries, picking fights, or reading books—I've found many layers in each subject.

This has not always come easily. My family is very math intensive; my mother once threw my sister's boyfriend out of the house over a disagreement about the limit definition of a derivative. Their enthusiasm hasn't always translated into an ability to teach. It took me several fails, but I eventually learned calculus and rejoined the dinner-table conversations. I am grateful, because calculus is where math starts to get too beautiful to ignore.

The greatest strength of my education is that it has made my life today better than ever before. In auto shop, my first professor flattered me by saying I was a natural emissions tech. To be a good emissions tech, you have to know how everything works, and why—often, it is about fine-tuning. This is how I am built; emissions-style work makes me happy. When I make time to learn ballet and philosophy and auto repair, it is because I aspire to join the emissions techs of the world: I want to fine tune life.

I was under-taught, isolated, and often motivated by all the wrong things. Though I'm proud of what I've accomplished and I'd hate to look at life as having some sort of a set destination, the formal education I've had so far has not taken me everywhere I want to go.

My parents “home-schooled” me for middle school but taught little. I spend most of my time reading, alone. I remember the frustration of my one attempt to learn math in home-school; I was twelve. My mother—a wonderful person in other ways—handed me paper and, without explaining, told me to prove the additive properties of integers between 0 and 100. I was in tears almost immediately, and the lessons didn't continue. My science and math suffered, and (as transcripts show) as an adult I've struggled to recover that. I love science; it seems worth recovering.

Other activities were also limited by my parents' unusual choices. In high school they complained when I did anything “worldly” or “dark,” like participate in drama, and they drove me nowhere but church. This contributed to my already substantial isolation—we moved a lot—but in the long run, both of these experiences have only fueled my desire to experience the richness of life and people.

The greatest weakness of my formal education has been that I have often been motivationally—and thus directionally—distracted. I wasn't great at reading cues or getting attention as a kid, but I could tell that I was supposed to be curious, hardworking, and smart. I exceeded expectations, but the deep acceptance I was chasing never materialized. I tried to study physics because I thought it would please my family; I obsessed over philosophy papers because I wanted the good opinion of my professors.

I've been elated to find that on letting this expectation go, my curiosity remains whole. I want to read deeper and row harder. Now that I find myself acceptable without a report card to convince me of it, I am still driven by a hunger for shared excellence. And for the damage this has done in the past? Perhaps the fragments have failed to cohere, but dogged persistence and interdisciplinary insight have made my education greater than the sum of its parts. Whatever I have studied, I will find a use for it.

(1) I am dying to get under the hood of western thought. It seems like it would be so much fun! Plus, I think I could really do some good down there. I want to go to St. John's because I think I can get a deeper reading there than I can studying the books on my own.

(2) My idea of heaven is like your campus life advertisements, but with more travel, dance studios, and music. I want to find an intellectual community where I can be at home, and a clearer direction for my life. St. John's seems like a good place for it.

(3) I was a chubby, hunched latecomer to dance. Dancer craziness is no secret, but I think it puzzled people to see it in me because no matter how hard I worked, I was already too old, clumsy, and fat for a career. When I started I was trying hard to destroy part of myself, but hacking away at my gracelessness was constructive. You can't learn ballet just by taking away, and it is impossible to become a dancer by believing you can not dance.

Breath is the music that connects what we can choose to what we can't. It is steady, involuntary. Ballet class is also structured and repetitive, and many dancers hate it. I found that in long hours at the barre, there was eventually nothing but to take my fragile, inevitable, broken body and try to merge it into something more whole. And for moments, rarely, I succeeded; all the despair and restraint I was capable of were poured into this fondu ronde-du-jambe en l'aire, and I was only feeling—dynamic alignment of bones, carefully drilled release and contraction of muscles, inescapable rushing breath causing me to collapse and expand, and sadness so intense I would have wept were I not dancing.

Dance is temporary. No one would study it if these moments weren't their own reward, but something spectacularly unsatisfying that happens when your professor, whose dancing you respect, is walking by in one of those moments and says “Yes! Yes, Day, That's it.” And you're so startled that you loose your balance and fall off of demi-pointe, but it's the most wonderful thing in the world because someone has understood what you were doing here, awkward and broken and ugly, every day for years. And someone has witnessed that, which has made everything worth it. The dancing lasted seconds, but the dancer escaped the boundaries of herself. It's a kind of horizontal immortality, addictive and intoxicating.

I want that. I want it all the time, more than I can say. This is why I am applying to St. John's.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

like that

“touch my back,” he said again.

He was holding two large loads of garbage, swinging each from a fully extended arm. The weight was wearing, obviously, as his muscles shook though they held steady in the exertion. I was hesitant, but reached out gingerly and made soft contact with the his trembling back.

“It's like that.”- and he meant the force of holding nothing, of holding the world on one's shoulders, the force of Atlas or Jesus or Hercules.

Instead it reminded me of the little birds I used to pick up out of my yard in Alabama, fragile. Small. They always died. In hopes of saving them from the cats I would hide them in converted shoe-boxes down by the dryer, where it was warm, and feed them crushed worms, but they always died. Always.

I used to carry nothing. It does grow so tiring.