Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Essay a Day #14: Harmonize, Entropy, Light

Drafter's Note: I accepted Essay a Day as a challenge, and that is certainly what it's been. A far cry from the official plan, but if I can squeeze one more essays out after this, that'll be an Essay Every Other Day, which I'm pretty darn proud of.
Today found me without much in the What to Write About Ball Pit, so I lifted a page from a college professor: randomly select three words (thanks, random word generator--less romantic and relational than Fuller's jar of words, but it got the job done) and write until you've used them up.

It's that word that catches me, that confirms this is what we're doing tonight, letting the fingers fall and the characters stamp until everything is used up, an erroneous but alluring image of me panting, hands cramping, semi-collapsing across the table. My need to make writing a sport.

I remember the first time I found this word--how many of its brothers do I remember so clearly? But I remember this one: Mr. Stil's biology class, and one of my early tastes of Holy shit I don't understand this in the least. I was that kid, for all of elementary and middle school--with the exception of math, which I had learned to carve out a hole of energy for, all other learning just found a place in my head and rested peaceably. But now, freshman year, with this oddly funny, oddly attractive man at the blackboard, I have been hoodwinked, and this test has snagged me with hooks of unpreparedness and fear. Stil hands the tests back days later, and I am appalled at the number at the top. I skim through, eager to prove another handful of points should rightfully be mine. And there, maybe halfway down the page, is my chance. I had circled something else--a familiar, friendly word--but his red pen has flagged c) entropy. "I've never even seen that word before," I say, all intellectual fifteen-year-old bravado. And I can see Stil's face, more puzzled than annoyed, as he clarifies that it was in the book, so he certainly hopes I have.

I think this is why I have fond memories of Stil--he was funny and charming, and he understood and accepted that biology wasn't going to be the subject that drove me wild--but still expected me to bring every ounce of intelligence I had to it. Other teachers, surely, had done this, but he did it well. I rose to the challenge with him, and I don't remember what my final score in the class was but I could still sketch you a reasonably passable cell, can vaguely picture the four building blocks floating in a double-helix--the fractures of light that spill across textbook pages and chalkboards ten million minutes ago.

He knew I was a humanities girl, and didn't try to change that--but didn't let me slump in the back row, either. I was allowed to learn like I needed to, to dwell on the things that caught my attention, but I had to learn entropy, too. He expected me to apply this brain to things that made it wince, to what didn't come naturally. He made me work, and called me out when I didn't, when I started to slide. He taught me to educate myself, to harmonize what I knew with what I didn't, to marvel at the way a word nerd's brain will latch on to the tongue twister of deoxyribonucleic acid, never fooled by impostor answer options again.

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