At work I actually felt like working for once, which was wonderful until Katie and I decided to ditch for sushi. Afterward, we just sort of lounged around, watching last night's Daily Show (So You Think You Can Douche = hilarious), drinking some delicious anonymous root beer that some guy in the office was passing around, and eating cake courtesy of Kirk turning nineteen.
Then my parents showed up with a bottle of cognac they'd brought for me from France. And now we're going to eat, drink, and be merry.
--Michael Pollan, Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch“Here’s an analogy,” Balzer said. “A hundred years ago, chicken for dinner meant going out and catching, killing, plucking and gutting a chicken. Do you know anybody who still does that? It would be considered crazy! Well, that’s exactly how cooking will seem to your grandchildren: something people used to do when they had no other choice. Get over it.”
It’s no accident that Julia Child appeared on public television — or educational television, as it used to be called. On a commercial network, a program that actually inspired viewers to get off the couch and spend an hour cooking a meal would be a commercial disaster, for it would mean they were turning off the television to do something else. The ads on the Food Network, at least in prime time, strongly suggest its viewers do no such thing: the food-related ads hardly ever hawk kitchen appliances or ingredients (unless you count A.1. steak sauce) but rather push the usual supermarket cart of edible foodlike substances, including Manwich sloppy joe in a can, Special K protein shakes and Ore-Ida frozen French fries, along with fast-casual eateries like Olive Garden and Red Lobster.
The Food Network has helped to transform cooking from something you do into something you watch — into yet another confection of spectacle and celebrity that keeps us pinned to the couch. The formula is as circular and self-reinforcing as a TV dinner: a simulacrum of home cooking that is sold on TV and designed to be eaten in front of the TV. True, in the case of the Swanson rendition, at least you get something that will fill you up; by comparison, the Food Network leaves you hungry, a condition its advertisers must love. But in neither case is there much risk that you will get off the couch and actually cook a meal. Both kinds of TV dinner plant us exactly where television always wants us: in front of the set, watching.
Most scientists who study the human mind are convinced that minds are the products of brains, and brains are the products of evolution. Dr. Collins takes a different approach: he insists that at some moment in the development of our species God inserted crucial components — including an immortal soul, free will, the moral law, spiritual hunger, genuine altruism, etc.
As someone who believes that our understanding of human nature can be derived from neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science and behavioral economics, among others, I am troubled by Dr. Collins’s line of thinking. I also believe it would seriously undercut fields like neuroscience and our growing understanding of the human mind....Dr. Collins has written that “science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence”...
--Sam Harris, Science is in the Details
We [atheists] should go under the radar—for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them.
--Sam Harris, The Problem With Atheism
...I cannot think of a happier time in my life than when my family lived in apartment 1626, the one with the shaggy forest green carpet and the playground behind the building. Yes, we were poor, but so was the Latvian family next door, the Korean family downstairs, and the Iranian and Indonesian families in the next building whose daughters roller-skated with my sister. There was never a desire for things when I was that age. Who needed things when your dad would take breaks from writing his dissertation to play Digger tournaments on the ancient IBM, or your mom would let you insert the quarters at the laundromat down the street?
I am Sri Lankan, albeit a Sri Lankan born in East Lansing, Michigan. My island is something I crave daily, so when I have the chance to visit, I gorge myself on all that is uniquely Sri Lankan: three-wheelers maneuvering around buses and cows, card games until dawn with my cousins, the smell. Words do not do the aroma of Sri Lanka justice; it is a mixture of jasmine, overripe mangoes, curry powder, the ocean, diesel fumes, and a few unknown elements. Sometimes during the summer when the evenings are still humid, I can smell Sri Lanka, so I stay in one spot and inhale deeply and it smells like love.
And I love! I love the anticipation of snow days. I love the sky in Montana, the color orange, and the feeling of completion that comes with finding the precise word to describe an emotion. I love oddly shaped animals, like giraffes and jellyfish. I love when people tell me I look like my mom, the sound of a cello, and the sighs my cat emits when he is sleeping in the sunlight. I love magic tricks even more after the trick is revealed...
Searching for another file led me to the essay I wrote for my application to the University of Chicago four years ago. I chose to respond to the prompt inspired by Langston Hughes, probably because it was the most self-involved of them all. In retrospect, I have no clue how this got me in. The rest of the essay is similarly irritating and poorly-written.
--Fionnuala Butler and Cynthia Pickett, Imaginary Friends, [via sexy sexy Jonah]The authors theorized that loneliness motivates individuals to seek out relationships, even if those relationships are not real. In a series of experiments, the authors demonstrated that participants were more likely to report watching a favorite TV show when they were feeling lonely and reported being less likely to feel lonely while watching. This preliminary evidence suggests that people spontaneously seek out social surrogates when real interactions are unavailable.
For the first month that I was here, the TV was on a lot. It was a little unusual for me, as I never really got used to watching television while growing up and have never lived in a house with cable. However, I'm happy to report that I'm back to my regular schedule of watching Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert online and haven't turned the TV on in quite some time.
Today we took the kids to NYC for the Museum of Natural History and it was sooooo coooooool. Everyone wished we'd had more time there but I think the kids still got a lot out of it (I overheard Sambriya whispering to her friends, "did you know we used to be monkeys?! Isn't that weird??" and when they were quizzed about climate change on the bus ride home it seemed they'd retained a surprising amount of information). Jared, one of the kids they've been having "attitude" problems with, is for some inexplicable reason a big fan of me so we spent most of the day walking through the exhibits together. Witnessing how the camp is run has been in turns frustrating and rewarding; there are some moments where it seems like the kids really get it, and others where it just seems like we're doing everything wrong.
Since we got back from NYC a little late, I decided to walk from the train station to my aunt and uncle's. Over five miles of walking today means I've had lots of time to think about where I am in my life and where I'd like to be in the near future. I am very aware of the things in my life that make me happy and the things that don't, and for once I seem to be able to prioritize those things accordingly.
--Judy Blume, Just As Long As We're Together"Stephanie is into hunks," my mother said to my aunt on Sunday afternoon. They were in the kitchen making potato salad and I was stretched out on the grass in our yard, reading. But the kitchen window was wide open so I could hear every word my mother and aunt were saying. I wasn't paying much attention though, until I heard my name.
At first I wasn't sure what my mother meant by Stephanie is into hunks, but I got the message when she added, "She's taped a poster of Richard Gere on the ceiling above her bed. She says she likes to look up at him while she's trying to fall asleep at night."
"Oh-oh," Aunt Denise said. "You'd better have a talk with her."
"She already knows about the birds and the bees," Mom said.
"Yes, but what does she know about boys?" Aunt Denise asked.
I probably read this book more than any other and have Judy Blume to thank for getting through adolescence.
--AG, circa September 2007I have been having the most incredible indescribable time, but it gets tiring after a while, and it will be beautiful to be surrounded by familiar faces. I actually thought about Ohio for a long time the other night before I went to sleep and it's such a strange period for me, it was home for a short time but I feel in that time I made connections with people that I would very much so wish to remain in close contact with for a while. After all this wandering and such, I would like to settle in a place that feels like home, and for whatever reason I think that Ohio may be that place.
Today I booked my flight home. This year is going to be so good, I can feel it in my bones.
--Roberto Bolano, The Savage Detectives"I want to be like your mother,” she said, “but don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not a slut like that Brigida, I want to help you, be good to you, I want to be with you when you become famous, darling.”
--Carl Sagan, Pale Blue DotLook again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe:, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
Also, my six-year-old chucks have been in a sorry state for a while now, but this weekend they ripped so far up that walking became pretty difficult. So. Maite came through with hot pink duct tape:
I think I broke these chucks in at Warped Tour in high school, so their death at Pitchfork seems fitting. RIP.
The next month will go by really quickly.
There are so many things to look forward to--taking advantage of my last days in a great city, visits, going home, moving into an apartment with Kt, living in the same neighborhood as a lot of my friends, autumn weather (sooo good!), a fairly interesting class schedule, and figuring out what to do with the rest of my life.
But then I saw Maite's sweet, smiling face!
But then Lauren and I skipped through the gates of Union Park just as Yo La Tengo started playing Autumn Sweater!
But then Adam was tackling me!
But then there was Alex right behind him!
But then I was able to hang out with guys I hadn't seen since Pitchfork two years ago!
But then it was Saturday and the lead screamer for Fucked Up tore beach balls and dolls apart with his teeth, then landed in front of me and spared a moment for a big, fat, sweaty, hairy hug!
But then I got tossed into Casey in the middle Fucked Up and attacked him with hugs--probably the last thing he was expecting in the most fun/insane pit of the weekend!
But then I was able to experience Beirut as a tall person would, thanks to Grant's willingness to carry me through most of the set!
But then we were somehow, surprisingly, able to charm our way up to The National stage!
But then, on Adam's and Grant's shoulders and with the help of a huge group of strangers shouting her name, I was able to find Lauren and direct her toward us!
But then The National was so beautiful on a beautiful night with beautiful friends!
But then there was discussion of moving to Chicago next year...and living with Adam and Andrea?!
But then Maite and I came close to dying several times during The Thermals, saved only by holding onto each other for dear life and Alex not letting go!
But then we didn't move more than a few feet for eight straight hours, which could have been awful but instead was made spectacular by having badass neighbors!
But then, OH MY GOD M83 WAS PROBABLY THE DANCIEST, HAPPIEST, MOST HEART-BURSTING-WITH-LOVE LIVE PERFORMANCE I'VE EVER BEEN INVOLVED WITH! The degree of camaraderie with the friends we had just made was incredible! Now I like Couleurs even more!
But then there was Gobstoppers coated in Junior Mints, water appearing miraculously from kind strangers the second people start to feel the effects of the heat and crowd, and kisses all around!
But THEN, of course, there was fucking Wayne Coyne in his bubble, masses and masses of confetti, fist-pumping, sing-alongs, dance-alongs, and me crowd-surfing, HA!
But then we went out dancing and I got to meet up with the one and only love of my life and really, the weekend couldn't have had a better conclusion!
I woke up this morning without a voice and barely able to move; muscles I didn't even know existed hurt like hell but in the most satisfying way imaginable.
--J.D. Salinger, A Perfect Day for BananafishShe was a girl who for a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing. She looked as if her phone had been ringing continually ever since she had reached puberty.
--Atul Gawande, The ItchItching is a most peculiar and diabolical sensation. The definition offered by the German physician Samuel Hafenreffer in 1660 has yet to be improved upon: An unpleasant sensation that provokes the desire to scratch. Itch has been ranked, by scientific and artistic observers alike, among the most distressing physical sensations one can experience.
Though scratching can provide momentary relief, it often makes the itching worse....You can spend all day without noticing the feel of your shirt collar on your neck, and yet a single stray thread poking out, or a louse’s fine legs brushing by, can set you scratching furiously.
This article contains one of the creepiest case studies I've ever read (oh hey, let me spoil it for you. This chick falls asleep and scratches through her skull into her brain). It's also a prime example of superb science writing; after reading it a year ago, I still think of it every time I scratch a mosquito bite. Like now. Because I'm absolutely covered in mosquito bites.
Remember when I wanted to be a science writer? That was cute.
Recently I've been listening to The Thermals on my morning walk from the train station to coffee, which also makes me want to punch everybody I see but in the most excited, friendly way possible. On a related note, seeing The Thermals live might make my head explode.
--David Foster Wallace, Infinite JestYou will find out that....sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, hurt. That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do....That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable.
And, from several years ago:
Jinwei: it's ok
Jinwei: believe me as a person who feels like right now they haven't been happy in 3 years that you will oscillate back and forth until you stop feeling bad randomly and you feel good again
Jinwei: believe me that when you see the sunlight and drink some tea and smoke a cigarette and put on Band of Horses and play guitar
Jinwei: you feel better
Jinwei: and then you play chess with your bro and you know that you do know somebody
Jinwei: and everything in your head might be far away, distant and perhaps less important
Jinwei: then you feel like you can take on the goddamn world again
--Tim Adams, "What's exciting is that writing has become a weapon""The [Booker] prize," she says now, "was actually responsible in many ways for my political activism. I won this thing and I was suddenly the darling of the new emerging Indian middle class - they needed a princess. They had the wrong woman. I had this light shining on me at the time, and I knew that I had the stage to say something about what was happening in my country.
When I ask her where she places her hope, Roy shrugs. She is tiny in stature, but her disillusion can fill a room. She has no faith in conventional politics to change anything. Obama "might be a symbol," she concedes, but nothing "about the relation of American capitalism with the rest of the world will alter ... To answer your question, it's not about my hope, it's about my DNA. There are people who are comfortable with power and people who are distinctly uncomfortable and made to question it."
--As told to Serge Debrebant, First Person: Frank Ahearn [via Kottke]There are three key steps to disappearing. First, destroy old information about yourself. Call your video store or electricity company and replace your old, correct phone number with a new, invented one. Introduce spelling mistakes into your utility bills. Create a PO Box for your mail. Don’t use your credit cards and the like.
Then, create bogus information to fool private investigators who might be looking for you. Go to one city and apply for an apartment. Rent a car in another one.
The next, final step is the most important one. Move from point A to point B. Create a dummy company to pay your bills. Only use prepaid mobile phones and change them every month. It is nearly impossible to find out where you are unless you make a mistake.
Even if I hadn't been in Alaska during Pitchfork last year, I never would have even entertained the idea of going. I actively disliked just about everyone I knew who would be there. Besides, there were other things to worry about--mostly a boy and making a huge, difficult confession and a best friend who lived in a time zone that made advice-getting troublesome.
But now, here I am, feeling like much of the past two years has been wiped away and I'm back where I started. No net gain, no net loss, just non-existent.
Of course, a conversation with Boyland makes the above seem pretty ludicrous.
--Chris Bucci, Alain de Botton with Chris Bucci (& very sharp look at the workday world)Chris Bucci: What should we seek from our work?
Alain de Botton: A feeling of meaning: One of the great sources of satisfaction in work is the feeling that we are making a difference to people's lives, that we have - at the end of the working day - somehow left the planet slightly healthier, tidier, saner than it was at the beginning. I'm not necessarily talking of huge changes; the difference might merely involving sanding a stair banister, removing the squeak on a door or reuniting someone with their lost luggage. Industrialisation has made some of these feelings of helping others far less accessible, simply because of scale. Take biscuit manufacture. I spent time looking at the U.K.'s largest biscuit manufacturer, which employs 15,000 people across twelve sites in the land. Making biscuits used to be an artisan's task: it would be done in a small workshop, and those making the biscuits would see and perhaps even know those who bought their products. This is hardly the case now at United Biscuits, and it helps to explain the feelings of lassitude and occasional despair I picked up on, especially in departments like those dealing with accounts or transport where a worker is very far indeed from sensing the ultimate 'meaning' of their activity.
Then again, a lot of your satisfaction at work is dependent on your expectation.
Things have changed on Grubbs Mill Road. Robert died in 2002, leaving Mayrose to mourn him in their massive home. She also stopped smoking recently, which means that the image I have of her perched on a stool in the kitchen, blowing smoke rings and looking glamorous while telling me about the dresses she wore to White House balls is slowly fading. The stories she tells now underscore the deep sadness she feels with Robert gone. M. Night Shyamalan has bought up all the surrounding property (lulz). Cynthia, the younger of the daughters, no longer owns huge Great Danes but instead has been raising about a dozen alpacas that occupy the barn that was built in the late 1600s.
Then again, some things are the same. Robert's library is still to die for. Mayrose, Ingrid, and Cynthia still lead the most drama-filled lives of anyone I know, in spite of being fairly reclusive. They will still heap praise on my "fair" skin while bemoaning the fact that I grow darker by the day (a sad fate for all non-Caucasians; every Sri Lankan woman I know who is not my mother scolds me for "squandering" my "good looks" by not protecting my skin from the sun). The garden smells the same way it did a decade ago.
Nothing feels more familiar than curling up in Robert's leather armchair with a dusty copy of some conservative treatise on the rise of Trotskyism in Sri Lanka in the 1950s while pappadum is being fried downstairs--though now I'm allowed to my own bottle of wine.
Although an estimated 80 percent of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented by a change of diet and exercise, it looks like the smart money is instead on the creation of a vast new diabetes industry. The mainstream media is full of advertisements for new gadgets and drugs for diabetics, and the health care industry is gearing up to meet the surging demand for heart bypass operations (80 percent of diabetics will suffer from heart disease), dialysis, and kidney transplantation. At the supermarket checkout you can thumb copies of a new lifestyle magazine, Diabetic Living. Diabetes is well on its way to becoming normalized in the West--recognized as a whole new demographic and so a major marketing opportunity. Apparently it is easier, or at least a lot more profitable, to change a disease of civilization into a lifestyle than it is to change the way that civilization eats.
--Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food
This means that:
01. I get to see my FRIENDS, holy YES!
1.5. I also get to see friends that I've lost contact with over the years--for various reasons. This is probably a good thing.
02. Several "must see before I die/they break up" dreams are going to be fulfilled.
03. I've made a friend in Philadelphia. We are going on a trip together.
04. I have little to no money.
Killing four birds with one spectacular stone. I've been in the best mood today.
As college has progressed, I appear to have become more and more practical (except for that pesky CompStudies major, what the hell does that even mean?) but I also love what I study now (science! humanities! science and humanities!) so my, what a happy accident.
Samantha: was it exit 365?
Samantha: we have to remember so we never make the mistake of going back
Martin: and here's why
Martin: I remember because Hell 365 is actually what a certain period/location during WWII or Vietnam was called
--Todd S. Purdam, It Came From Wasilla (via Ian)More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without prompting, the question of Palin’s extravagant self-regard. Several told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of “narcissistic personality disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—“a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy”—and thought it fit her perfectly. When Trig was born, Palin wrote an e-mail letter to friends and relatives, describing the belated news of her pregnancy and detailing Trig’s condition; she wrote the e-mail not in her own name but in God’s, and signed it “Trig’s Creator, Your Heavenly Father.”
It's been eight months since the 2008 presidential campaign ended and elements of it still blow my mind. If you find yourself nostalgic for last year's madness (remember when McCain decided to suspend his campaign until the economy was fixed?), read this article and get scurred for 2012.
So many college students and recent graduates are heading to where they least expected: back home, and facing an unfamiliar prospect: downtime, maybe too much of it. To a high-achieving generation whose schedules were once crammed with extracurricular activities meant to propel them into college, it feels like an empty summer — eerie, and a bit scary.
Numbers provide the backdrop to the story — not just the grimly familiar national unemployment rate, 9.5 percent in June, but the even scarier, less publicized unemployment figure for 16- to 19-year-olds, which has hit 24 percent, up from 16.1 percent two years ago. Internships available to college students have fallen 21 percent since last year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Across the country, there are countless tales like that of Morgan Henderson, a student at the University of San Francisco, who, along with friends, planned a big road trip to Las Vegas this summer. With so few of the friends finding jobs, they downgraded plans to a road trip to Reno, then to no road trip at all. They’re spending time watching DVDs at one another’s houses.
Or Kathryn Estrada, a high school senior in Hialeah, Fla., who has no summer job after Circuit City, which employed her during the school year, went out of business. She is finding that even this early in the summer, attempts to while away the hours playing Scrabble and Cranium have grown stale. “We all just wish school would start so we would have something to do,” she said.
Or Will Ehrenfeld, a political science major at Tufts, who worked at a think tank last year and this summer was aiming higher: a White House internship. When the White House didn’t come through, and neither did the State Department or dozens of companies he applied to, Mr. Ehrenfeld, 20, moved back home to Vernon, Conn. Even the local Boston Market had no work.
Mr. Ehrenfeld, a top student who has always held leadership positions in clubs and academic groups, loafs through days, rolling out of bed around 11 and reading or playing trumpet or guitar. Nights, he sometimes meets up with friends who also have nowhere that they have to be in the morning, and they share a few cheap beers. “At worst, misery continues to have company,” he said.
While young people in earlier decades might have cherished the chance to goof off and sleep in for a few months, the current generation, experts like Mr. Alsop are apt to point out, “have always been told they can achieve anything they can put their mind to.”
“They were always given trophies just for showing up,” he said. “Now, they’re being told ‘no’ when they really want a job or an internship.”
To them, a staycation at Mom and Dad’s can feel more like house arrest.
If the only problem were tedium, students might find a recessionary summer unpleasant but endurable. But some expressed concern that the economic gloom might be a preview of harsh career realities that await.“The worst thing about this summer is the lack of hope felt by so many kids,” Lydia Wiledon, a Barnard undergraduate, wrote in an e-mail message. “College students ready to thrust themselves into work find nothing, and those most in need are edged out by older, more skilled individuals who are overqualified for such foot-in-the-door opportunities. I worry about how this employment drought will affect my generation in the future.”
--Alex Williams, Say Hello to Underachieving
Alex Williams, let me tell you about Scrabble, tedium, and house arrest.
A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here's one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it's so socially repulsive, but it's pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: There is no experience you've had that you were not at the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real -- you get the idea. But please don't worry that I'm getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called "virtues." This is not a matter of virtue -- it's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.
The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the "rat race" -- the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.
--David Foster Wallace, Kenyon College's 2005 commencement speech. Originally found here.
Please, please, read the whole thing.
I’m serious. Is there anything more glorious than a professor? Forget about his molding the minds, the future of a nation — a dubious assertion; there’s little you can do when they tend to emerge from the womb predestined for Grand Theft Auto Vice City. No. What I mean is, a professor is the only person on earth with the power to put a veritable frame around life — not the whole thing, God no — simply a fragment of it, a small wedge. He organizes the unorganizable. Nimbly partitions it into modern and postmodern, renaissance, baroque, primitivism, imperialism and so on. Splice that up with Research Papers, Vacation, Midterms. All that order — simply divine. The symmetry of a semester course. Consider the word themselves: the seminar, the tutorial, the advanced whatever workshop accessible only to seniors, to graduate fellows, to doctoral candidates, the practicum — what a marvelous word: practicum! You think me crazy. Consider a Kandinsky. Utterly muddled, put a frame around it, voila — looks rather quaint above the fireplace. And so it is with the curriculum. That celestial, sweet set of instructions, culminating in the scary wonder of the Final Exam. And what is the Final Exam? A test of one’s deepest understanding of giant concepts. No wonder so many adults long to return to university, to all those deadlines — aahh, that’s structure! Scaffolding to which we may cling! Even if it is arbitrary, without it, we’re lost, wholly incapable of separating the Romantic from the Victorian and our sad, bewildering lives.
--Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics