Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Toughest Econ Lecture Ever

Tonight I sat through the worst econ class. It’s not that the material was uninteresting-quite the opposite. But the professor crammed so much stuff in that my brain hurt before he stopped for break and he didn’t let up after break.

He was talking about Keynesian Economics, which is a subject I have long wanted to know more about. My favorite economist (Paul Krugman) tends to be a Keynesian, so I want to know more about how that system of thought works. The professor warned us that tonight’s talk was going to be even dryer than usual, which earned him a laugh, because, well at least he was honest about it.

I suppose, that compared to the Supply Side talk he gave Tuesday this was a much better lecture. The lecture on Supply Side Economics was kind of muddy and it was very clear that even though he had to present the material to us even the professor thought it was “Voodoo Economics.” (I tried to explain this gently to my study group, I am not sure I was successful. “The lecture doesn’t make any sense because the theory doesn’t make sense”)

Tonight’s lecture was thorough-a bit too thorough. And the professor got his notes messed up, and wrote down the wrong number for one of the complicated equations we were working our way through. He apologized. “I don’t know why my notes don’t make sense tonight-I have been using the same notes for 20 years.” I can forgive him for that because he’s very good in general. He generally presents things sensibly and because he’s teaching a lecture course on material that is slightly dryer than the Sahara he’s good at using humor to keep us awake. He’s also figured out our names, for which I applaud him. However, tonight he was merciless.

He kept throwing information at us at an appalling rate. When at 8:45 he said “I think we’ve covered a decent amount of material tonight” I started putting my notebook away. Dear Reader, I was not the only one doing so-I could hear the rustling. But then he proceeded to throw another two equations at us. I was almost in tears by the time he was done. I hated everyone that asked him a question that night (including me.) The one small consolation for my ego was while I was sitting there gibbering and trying to keep up and not feel Math-Deficient, the guy sitting in front of me (who was on top of all of the math) lost his place and asked me a question, which I answered easily and correctly. This gave me enough grounding to be able to listen to the rest of the lecture, but still it was brutal.

As I said above, I was not uninterested in the material. Even the math wasn’t outside of my capabilities. In fact, since it was mostly about slopes of lines (and whether or not they were lines or curves) it was all within the realm of stuff I can actually do. But there was just too much to absorb in an evening. When I got on the shuttle bus I noted that there was no one I knew, which was good-in case I actually started crying.

I’m not a slacker. This is not Carleton College in 1996. I am doing the coursework and I am interested in the subject. But my brain was full at 8 PM, and although I took good notes after that I have no idea what was in them. After 8 the brain bucket was full and anything the professor said fell out over the edge.

On the other hand, life could be a lot worse. For example, a year ago I was in a relationship that was falling apart, I had a friend dying at MGH and I was about to take the GMAT.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Yesterday in Salem I saw two tourists huddled over a map. Without thinking (or perhaps thinking it would be nice to be helpful) I walked up to them and asked them if I could find what they were looking for. This is the second or third time I have done something similar this year and it is a reversal of lifelong policy of hostility to tourists and people in general. As such it’s kind of scary.

I grew up in New York City. In high school we felt the contempt of the recently initiated and the impatient towards tourists. “Why don’t they understand which trains are express and which are locals?” “Did you hear what she said-it’s ChAmbers Street- not Chambres Street.” “He said he was looking for Hyusoton Street-not Houston.” Really, I thought to myself, why couldn’t these people learn to read a subway map, or just stay in St Louis or at the very least Get Out of My Way!

After high school and college, I lived in New York and Paris and Cambridge and my opinion of tourists did not change. I admitted to myself that these people were good for the local economy, but they were such a pain. In Paris, sitting by Notre Dame I saw an American teenage boy complaining that there were all these French people around. Really? In Paris? Oh my God who could have imagined this? Clearly he and his family should have come back in August. (In August on the Metro, I noted to myself, looking up and down the train car that I was in fact, the only person in the car who was Parisienne.)

Hating tourists is as natural to me as having freckles or voting democratic. So I am very surprised that I have, apparently, without letting myself know, changed my mind on the “tourist” question.

In April I was in town on a Saturday on my way to UMB to meet up with my team and there was a man who was trying to take a picture of his daughter. Without thinking, I offered to take a picture of both of them and then, when he couldn’t delete enough pictures off of his camera I offered to take a picture on my phone and e-mail it to him. Which I did. It took five minutes of my time. And I was already early for my meeting, but offering unsolicited help to strangers is unusual to me. And yet I did it, without thinking.

So what does one do, when one’s lifelong policy towards tourists has changed (without the “gut feeling” part of one’s personality bothering to inform the upper management?)

I have had several answers from friends. One says that I am more friendly to other humans because I no longer live in Cambridge, where we were packed in like sardines in a can. Another suggests that it’s empathy that works in me-I have been and will be again a lost tourist.

But I think it’s something else. I hate talking to people. But if the conversation falls within the realm of things I can do or things I understand then I want to talk. I want to be helpful. For example, yesterday I was in a book shop in Gloucester and a woman came in looking for a book for her niece as a graduation gift. I listened to her talking to the bookseller and saying that her niece and all the other girls were crazy about this book series-she couldn’t remember what it was called, but it was one word..” Twilight.” I suggested. Yes, that was it. I recommended Jane Austen (which the bookseller found for her).

It doesn’t matter if I’m among complete strangers-there are certain things that I feel competent to state my opinion about (even though I am generally afraid of people.) Bookselling has always fallen into that category. PC maintenance falls into that category.

Apparently finding your way around Salem also falls in that category. But I wouldn’t be interested in approaching any of these people 12 months ago. Since then I’ve found friends. I’ve learned to be confident. I’ve learned that I do know a few things. And this has changed my relationship with humanity.

It’s scary. But that does not mean it’s bad.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Here's how it Works

I had class tonight. I'm still nervous enough in my new class environment that I don't feel comfortable around my new classmates-I don't know what to say or how to say it, yet.

For example, if I say that I've taken both Micro and Macro Econ before, does it sound like I'm boasting? If I mention that I've gotten through MGT 650 (the gate through which all College of Management students must pass) does *that* sound like I'm boasting? (I hope not-I'm rather proud of myself for surviving that experience. And having done so, even a double time summer session looks like a doable amount of work.)

So because I'm nervous about how to interact with people, and because I have an extra ten minutes before class I sit for a few minutes in the courtyard outside of McCormack building. I remark to myself that this courtyard is a good deal more hospitable than it was when I first encountered it in February. I remind myself that that I belong here while I watch important looking people rush around in preparation for tomorrow's commencement. I reinforce my psyche with some nice loud music.

I don't tell myself to stop worrying about how I'm interacting with people-that would be pointless. I merely point out to myself, that I will, at some point get over this nervousness. I've done it before. I may not get over it tonight, but it will go away.

This is where the loud music helps. It feels like home and, as such, allows me to calm down enough to the point where I can think these things.

And then I go into the building, climb three flights of stairs and deal with it.

Apologies for spelling errors- I typed this up on my phone on the commuter whale.