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Day One: Very Mixed Feelings

Well.  Um.  That was Day One, then.

Academically, nothing much happens on the first day of the semester.  Syllabuses (the built-in WordPress type-as-you-go spell checker insists that this is correct and syllabi isn’t, though, oddly, it doesn’t recognize “WordPress” either) are handed out, instructors make their preferences known as regards classroom conduct and the like, and… that’s basically all they have time for.  As a student, you get lost a lot, particularly if it’s the beginning of your freshman year.  You bumble around looking for rooms, building entrances, in my case elevators.

In those respects, then, today was entirely typical (with one exception to the bumbling-around which I’ll get to in a moment).  In others, not so much.

For starters, the temperature here in northern Maine today was somewhere just shy of 100° F, with a humidity that (for whatever reason) felt a lot higher than the indicated 31%.  For those of you who are not materials scientists, 100° F is just barely not hot enough to melt lead.* This meant that I arrived at each and every one of my several destinations on campus today in a full comedy flop sweat, which only abated 10 or 15 minutes after entering the building – except in my first class, where the lecture hall was not air conditioned and the flop sweat abatement never happened at all.

OTOH, parking was not as horrible as I was afraid it would be.  There’s a lot with a nice row of handicapped spaces right near the building where my last class of the morning is, meaning that I can park up there and make a nice big triangle, with the least distance to cover at the end.  Not as good on lab day, I admit, but I can always go to lunch and then snout around for a better parking space when I get back for the afternoon stuff.  On Friday, when I have only morning classes, this will do nicely.

I’ve met all but two of my instructors, and one of them is teaching an online class, so I’m probably not actually expected to meet him in person.  I obtained permission from my chemistry instructor to use my smartpen in the lectures despite the syllabus-specified ban on recording devices, with the understanding that I will not use the recordings for evil.  (She doesn’t want to end up being mocked on YouTube, which I can fully understand.)  I had a quick meeting with my advisor, to let him know that I was in fact in a math class after all and that all appeared to be well.  (WP’s spell checker doesn’t know advisor either.  It thinks I should use adviser.  That is, to use a technical term, wack.)

So I’ve accomplished a few things today.  I made the interesting discovery that the Memorial Union has a food court in it these days.  Last time I was there, there was one of those Taco Bell Express carts and… that was about it.  There’s a smaller one over in the Wells Center, at the other end of the Mall, which is nice because that’s much closer to where I’ll be at the beginning of lunchtime on days when I don’t need to go to the bookstore (which is also in the Union) and get a book that I missed the first time.  And I learned a few important lessons, such as:

1) I don’t care what Mom says, I do too need a canteen.

2) And I probably ought to carry a towel as well, because, damn.

All in all, then, not a bad day.  And yet, in any quiet moment, and on most of the drive home, and since I’ve arrived, my emotions have been very mixed and variable.  I had a massive mood crash an hour or so ago in which I came to the conclusion that this whole thing is an enormous mistake.  There were many points during the day today at which I felt a greater sense of not belonging than I have in a good long time.  And why did I choose a technical discipline again?  I’m like a dog running into a screen door.

I’m really not sure what I feel right now.  A lot of it is just that I spent the day hot and sweaty and arrived home feeling grubby and miserable and tired.  And that I had many moments in which I felt (and probably was) conspicuous and absurd, imagined the people around me wondering what the hell I was doing there, and not having any clear idea myself of the answer.  And I haven’t even done any actual coursework yet.

Maybe that’s the problem.  Maybe it’ll all make more sense when I’m actually working, as opposed to slumping around a roasting-hot campus figuring out where rooms are and wondering every few minutes why the publishers of Burge’s Chemistry, Second Edition felt compelled to make the covers out of (based on the volume’s weight and price) gold.

The high point of the day came when I ran into a group of students looking bewildered in the hall on the third floor of Boardman Hall and realized that they were in my ECE seminar.  The reason I knew that was because I had scouted the room for said seminar the previous week and knew it was in a strange place.  My classmates were standing in the hall between rooms 309 and 311 looking puzzled and bereft.

“You guys are looking for 310, aren’t you?” I asked.

“Yeah, do you know where it is?” asked one of my classmates, who bore a startling resemblance to my friend Eric Reuss.

“Go down to – … follow me, it’s easier,” I said, and led the way down the hall, around a corner that, from the hallway, looks like it just leads to the stairwell, down a semi-hidden side hall, past several rooms not anywhere near 310 in the sequence, and to a pair of double doors marked “310”.

Where we found a sign that said, “ECE 100 MOVED TO ESRB (BARROWS 165)”.

So much for my moment of glory.  It’s a long slog to Barrows 165 (which is also nowhere near where you think it should be based on the numbers you see when you first enter the building) from the third floor of Boardman.  By the time we got there, my younger, fitter classmates had left me far behind (Not Eric Reuss paused at the top of the stairs leading down to the ESRB wing to give me a jaunty “this way, in your own time!” sort of wave) and I was in such an advanced state of sweatiness that Prof. Musavi asked concernedly if I was all right when I flopped into the lecture hall and dragged myself to a seat.  (The seats in Barrows 165 are armless desk chairs of the sort office supply catalogs call “task chairs”.  I think the one I sat in has a permanent sweaty assprint on its cheap fabric upholstery now.)

Tomorrow’s not going to be much better on the not-much-work-to-do front or the alienation one; I have only one class, but it’s the chemistry lab, and we’re going to spend the semester’s first lab period taking something called the Toledo Chemistry Placement Exam.  I would have thought that after the class begins was the wrong time to be giving placement exams, but that’s why I don’t run a university, I suppose.  Either way, it’s another opportunity to feel utterly unprepared and out of my depth, and I’m not looking forward to it.

On the plus side, I did get to read through the lab manual this evening, and it had many satisfying references to the safety showers and what to do if you set yourself on fire.  Nothing like a whiff of potential disaster to spice up an academic experience, I always say!

(* For values of “just barely” that include “531.43° F”.)

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  1. mechamanx
    August 30, 2010 at 22:19

    Today’s temps (which were milder here) just sucked in the general case. On the other hand, winter’s not looking like it’ll be much more fun, so I guess it’ll be more the joy of the time between.

  2. August 31, 2010 at 08:28

    Everybody needs a water bottle/canteen. We don’t hydrate enough. Your Mom’s wrong on this one.

  3. Firehawke
    August 31, 2010 at 09:27

    Okay, I apologize for what will likely come across as a very bad tone of voice.

    I live in Arizona. Yeah, that state with all the desert. We have two halves of summer– the former is the hot and dry summer. 90F-110F, very low humidity. The latter? 100-120F, with minimum 30% humidity. That’s our “monsoon season”, and the most dangerous time of year. We’ll skip the points on floods and the like– that’s not really applicable to your situation. What IS, however, is the handling of heat.

    Every year we get newcomers out here who end up in the hospital or dead because of mismanagement of heat. When your body is telling you that you’re thirsty, you’re already on your way to dehydration: the level of dehydration is ALWAYS worse than you think it is.

    As someone who deals with this every year and has for over twenty five years now, I’m going to tell you that you are ABSOLUTELY correct about needing a canteen. Your mother is smoking a very dangerous blend of crack on this particular topic. Don’t take unnecessary risks. People in your neck of the woods aren’t particularly acclimated to this kind of heat, and even if you were, it’d just mean that you’d know exactly how dangerous this is.

    If there’s any risk of the heat staying at this level for prolonged periods of time (or coming back next year) you’ll be very glad to have that canteen.

    Now, in less doomsayer fashion, I’d like to add that a towel would be an excellent addition. If nothing else, it’ll remind you not to panic.

    Lastly, I apologize for the tone of above. People DIE from this sort of thing all the time where I live, and I see this sort of thing on the news from back east, too. Heat wave hits New York, people die for not knowing how to handle the situation.

    • sofaspud
      August 31, 2010 at 12:21

      Seconding Firehawke here. I grew up in Arizona and migrated north. Even up here in Washington state, it gets hot enough to be dangerous (and humidity doesn’t help any), and I see people who seem to think that because we get loads of snow in the winter that summer is just a warm fun happy time, no need to worry.

      Canteen, water bottle, CamelPak, whatever it takes, but drink water. Fruit juice and sodas are not a substitute. Feel free to drink them, but you need to be drinking water as well.

    • Ben
      August 31, 2010 at 13:54

      Okay, whoa, just to clarify the misconception I’ve apparently caused, Mom isn’t saying I shouldn’t bother drinking water during the day. She merely disputes that I need to be carrying it around with me when all the buildings on campus are equipped with drinking fountains. My own conclusion after Day 1 was that those would be fine as filling stations for Mr. Canteen, but I don’t have the time during my three-classes-in-a-row block to stop and tank up, so being able to hit the one outside my chem classroom first thing in the morning and carry a supply with me until lunchtime would be more efficient and/or effective.

      (Mom also figures that if I do insist on carrying water around with me, I have a perfectly good bottle for that. Which is probably true, but it’d be another thing to clutter up/dig out of my manpurse, as opposed to a canteen with its own strap and all.)

      • sofaspud
        August 31, 2010 at 14:57

        Ohh. I’d gotten the impression she was hinting you didn’t need water.

        Anyway, if you’re going the canteen route (as opposed to something you have to dig for), I’d recommend something along these lines (I had an older off-brand model and was quite happy with it): http://www.camelbak.com/sports-recreation/spring-summer-hydration-packs/2010-montara.aspx

        YMMV and all that, but I myself am in the Economy Jumbo Package category and I’ve found that things dangling from straps just make everything more annoying, whereas if I can just clip it to my belt all is good.

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