Tuesday, April 29, 2014

down, for now.

more than eight years ago in a cold, snowy december I sat alone in a cafe, trying to make sense of what had happened.

a little later, a fellow grad student stopped by, looked at me, and remembering, asked me how it went.

"well," i said, "i didn't fail, but .." [1]

i doubt i finished the sentence. we went back and forth in polarised roles, he attempting to be cheerful, me still down.

i wouldn't feel "up" for a while.

it would take a while of forgetting, earning small separate achievements, before i could look back at it without pain and malaise.

that scene from my life came to mind because right now, i have a similar mood .. only less severe.

today was my last day of class .. until August, anyway.

i don't feel like celebrating, though much of me feels so glad ..

i don't feel mournful, but it feels like I lost something .. maybe a chance to have made a great beginning. instead at best i managed a mediocre but trouble-prone one.

all I feel are regrets .. that i could have done better or more, that I put to much effort in pointless things, that i never really understood or appreciated what was really going on, under my own nose and in my own classroom ..

.. that i just had no real sense of "how it all works."

i feel wrong about many things that don't matter, and i don't know how I feel about the things that do.

all this past academic year had taught me is doubt and stress and futility.

on the other hand, those were the same lessons i learned after my first year in graduate school. knowing that i'd be there a while, i worked at it and eventually it all made more sense .. not quite everything, but it got better.

part of me suspects that there is no purpose in life .. in that there is no one canonical purpose. to quote the existentialists, everyone must choose for himself.

i have not determined my purpose yet, but i believe there is one that suits me, in this academic life. it will take time .. but trusting on the pseudo-repetitiveness of life, it gives me a certain illusion of faith.

so i'm down right now. it won't be forever.

[1] it was right after my comprehensive exam, which was an oral, 1 1/2 hour friendly firing squad of questions. i distinctly remember feeling awful that i couldn't prove certain facts on the fly .. and advantageously yet unfairly, the committee never asked for them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

another brick in the wall.

the more I teach liberal arts students, the more convinced I am that my own history is .. slightly out of the ordinary.

simply put.. mathematicians, let alone academic scholars, are a significant minority of the population .. even when one restricts to the college-attending sub-population of the western world only. we aren't ordinary in the sense that we are probabilistically rare. [1]

i guess that's just one way of saying (read: justifying) that i'm weird and i shouldn't be surprised that my students and i don't understand one another.

today i taught two lectures and it felt like i was instructing two confused yet brick-made walls.

it's a very isolating, unnerving experience. maybe i take too much pride in delivering clear, motivating lectures .. where "clear" means clear to me, but apparently not to anyone else.

i'm not being fair, though. it's not equal footing between them and i, because i'm the one setting the agenda and I know what's coming next; to them, though, i'm speaking a foreign language and during class, it's all they can do to copy what's on the blackboard.

isn't it fair, though, that after most of the semester, that they keep up with me?

put otherwise, if i'm going to interact with a brick wall, why should i leave my office to do so? why should I talk about things i know well when i can explore this i don't know but that i want to?

what's the damned point?!?

[1] the more i think about it, the more irrationally obsessive of a student i must have been. i remember studying with friends for exams by quizzing each other, asking each other how to prove this or that statement on the spot. i remember checking out maths books from the library, reading what seemed fascinating at the time. i remember being incredibly upset that, after two years and then graduating, i couldn't solve one particular open problem that my mentor suggested to me. (as far as I know, though, even now nobody's solved it either.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

i've been feeling unproductive lately; may as well make it certain.

i don't regret traveling and writing through spring break. it was a pleasure to see colleagues that are soon becoming old friends, in a city becoming more familiar and pleasantly so. this isn't too say that i could live there .. odds are that I'd bend back to my hard-to-get-a-hold-of, anti-social self.

put more simply, it's better that those colleagues of mine know me as a guest, not a neighbor.

those things said, Easter is coming and the university will be closed for chose to a week.

there are so many things to do .. but i'm getting out of practice and growing soft. i get tired more readily.

so i think i'm going to take a vacation, go up north for a day out two and go hiking as i fancied once. maybe i'll watch the latest superhero movie at the cinema. maybe I'll finally meet friends for lunch as i promised, long ago.

more likely, though, i'll spend two days on a research bender, writing up a quick-&-dirty draft of a note.. /-:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

an unhappy compromise.

i think it accurate to say that I spent the whole day trying not to think too hard about one problem.

in retrospect, i should either have worked as hard as I could have, made some small progress .. even a wrong turn would have been one more lesson in which way not go turn again ..

.. or not worked at all on it;

i guess I never learn.

Monday, April 07, 2014

the body wanders, followed by the mind.

my memory of Spain it's behind fainter and fainter.

being my Nth trip there (with N > 2) i've stopped picking up souvenirs .. so the only memento i have from the trip is a LaTeX draft in dire need of revision.

i haven't started counting the days until the end of the semester, but i'm getting there. the thing about having had a week off from teaching is that it skews my expectations: lately i've tried (unsuccessfully) to convince myself that a weekend is two days long and plenty of time to accomplish something small.

[ to be cont'd ]