Monday, January 11, 2010

The Second Semester: And so it begins...

     It's here. It's time. It's now. It's today. 
     The second semester has officially started. We arrived on campus on a very cold, very frosty, not-what-you'd-expect-in-South-Carolina-kind-of-January morning. I thought we had left frosty windshields and black ice behind in Richmond, but old man winter seemed to blow right on down I-85 straight into the Carolina's, and it was just flat out freeze-your-you-know-what off cold when we cranked up the car for our morning commute to the Lancaster campus.  Thanks to Sissey's new thirty-second Keurig coffee pot, we could load up on hot caffeinated drinks before heading out the door, giving us a little fiery ammunition before meeting that first blast of frigid air.
      We started the day with Sociology. The study of human societies, social groups and social interactions is just my cup of tea.  Being a professional voyeur will definitely come in handy in this class, especially now that I know "people watching" is actually a recognized method of experimentation and a highly-valued research strategy in the field of sociology.  It just has a fancier name..."participant observation," which means that the researcher (me) observes people (everybody else in the world) in normal settings and then tries to figure out what it all means. Turns out that most voyeurs are actually sociologists with fancy titles and good-paying, tenured positions in the world of academia. They are doing what I've been doing  all my life: observing people and writing about it, but  somewhere along the line, I missed the memo that said my obnoxious habit of voyeurism could actually be turned into a lucrative career. I'm just waiting for some  sociologist to do a little structural-functional analysis mingled with some underlying conflict theory and a hearty dose of symbolic interaction in order to come up with a current perspective on why this middle-aged white woman is living back at home, attending college with her daughter, and writing about the experience on the world wide web while earning no salary, no benefits, no tenure.  That'll keep'em busy for a while.
     After an hour and fifteen minutes of going over the syllabus, rules, attendance policy, class requirements, and assignments, we packed up our books and headed to History of Western Art. As we left the class at 12:15, a bewildered young man was wandering down the hallway, a slip of paper clutched in his hand and a confused expression on his face.
      "Could you tell me where Room 101 is located?" he asked as I passed by him (for some odd reason, the students seem to think I should know where they need to go and how they should get there; I am not offended in the slightest by the fact that they do not mistake me for one of their own.)
      "There isn't a Room 101 on this floor," I replied. " What class are you looking for?"
       "Is that your schedule?" I asked.
        He handed me the crumpled paper that listed all of his classes, the times and locations of each one clearly listed beside each course. As I glanced down the list, I realized the source of his confusion.  His schedule read "Sociology. 101. M/W. 11:00-12:15. Medf.221."
       "I think you just missed class," I began. "101 is the level of the course you are taking, not the room number. The class just met in Medford Room 221 and it's over now."
       "Oh," he mumbled, shaking his head as he retrieved his schedule.  I watched him as he ambled on down the hall and entered the classroom, either oblivious to what I had just told him or refusing to believe that he had managed to miss the entire class.  I would have loved to have stayed and done a little "participant observation" of the conversation that ensued when he entered the professor's empty classroom, but we had to hustle across campus to our next class and had no time for research.
      The rest of the day was rather uneventful, save for one minor melt-down when a certain young scholar became a little overwhelmed by the reality of her fully-loaded spring semester schedule and wailed, "What have I gotten myself into?"  After a good cry, some Psychology 101 therapeutic analysis, a little TLC,  and a great steak dinner, harmony and balance were restored to the household. I reminded her of her 4.0 President's List status from Semester One, assured her that the weight of the world and the future of mankind did not rest on her shoulders alone, and told her that even if she flunked out of college she would still be dearly loved and would continue to be a respected member of the family. She called her brother and father for some confirmation and inspiration, and with a relieved sigh headed off to bed.
     I, too, sighed a huge sigh of relief, rejoicing in the fact that I could simply be a "participant observer" in this journey back through the maze of academia, and that I never, ever, ever  had to be a nineteen year old college student again.

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