Once upon a time...
By ana (Wed Feb 03, 2010 at 05:01:13 PM EST) Won suppona time (all tags)

I hardly recognize him. This is a small snippet from his story.

Every graduate student is depressed. It's axiomatic. The cover page of a PhD thesis has a nice title, the author's name, and the phrase "A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy".

One of those other requirements is surviving depression, at least for a while.

I moved to the frozen midwest from Florida, after spending four years teaching school. Grad school was a lot of fun at first. I enjoy teaching, and I got to do that. The coursework was challenging and involved learning the Secrets Of The Universe, and how to calculate things.

Then came winter. One day I was walking to work, came around the corner of the library wearing damn near everything I owned, hat pulled down, face wrapped in a scarf, double mittens, longjohns, etc. The only thing exposed was my eyes, which damn near froze shut in the wind off the lake.

Then came the second year and Statistical Mechanics. It's one of those subjects where it always seems like there's one more unknown than you have equations to solve for; where there are magical properties like entropy which seem to mean something to the professor, but damn if I could figure out how to calculate it. Until much later, analyzing a gas dynamics code, which instead of solving for the energy solved for an odd combination of temperature and density. Turns out it's the log of the entropy of an ideal gas. Huh.

Anyway. I was the single person's single person. There had been the occasional flame, but it was difficult for me to see what to do about them, and the reticence, born, as I can see easily in hindsight, of doubts about my identity, effectively poisoned whatever relationships I had. It's easy enough to pretend you're doing okay; in fact I've heard it claimed that a university student may be defined as someone who will maintain that everything is fine in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

In Madison, there was a very funky local weekly newspaper, known as The Isthmus. They're still publishing; you can find them online. But the present tale is set in a time in the early 1980s, before Everything Changed.

You see, The Isthmus had personals, the likes of which nobody I'd ever met had ever seen anywhere else. There were the usual things, of course: SWM seeks SWF for long walks on the lakefront, ice fishing, philosophy bullsessions, and brats at the Rathskeller. You know the type.

There were others, and as the couple years in question went by, it seems to me they got wilder and wilder. Perhaps I just started paying more attention. They eventually split them into 5 sections: Men seeking Women; Women seeking Men; Men seeking Men; Women seeking Women; and Other. The "Other" category was most eye-opening. I wasn't sure I approved, but I kinda sorta wanted to. Maybe.

About this time I was working off my indenture to the Book of the Month Club that came about because I wanted their incentive for joining: the 2-volume version of the OED. I still use it frequently. Their blurb included some book about the French Resistance, which I allowed them to ship me, because, as a conservative who believed the Cold War was worth fighting, and who had made some small contributions by teaching folks some of what they needed to know to run reactors in submarines out there on the front lines, I felt like I was living behind enemy lines, in Madison. Did I mention I was a subscriber to the National Review? Not the poor excuse for the Faux News that it is today, but the voice of reasoned conservatism that it was when William F. Buckley was the editor and prime mover.

Hope springs eternal, even in the bleak midwinter. I figured maybe I would write a personals ad which might just turn up someone like-minded enough to get along with, and would have the advantage that all my warts and disadvantages as a potential partner would be right there in the ad. Truth in advertising, so I wouldn't have to fret about when to tell the person this thing or that thing about Who I Am and what kinds of things I found Non-Negotiable.

Not, looking back, that I had much idea about those things, but I thought I did.

It popped into my head that, even in an edumicated town like Madison, I wanted someone who took scholarship seriously, and so I determined to weed out the riff-raff by writing the ad in Latin.

I sat down to compose the ad, starting with a draft too long for a personals column that described who I thought I was, politically, morally, religiously.

I fell into an interesting trap, which I'd seen before. When I was an undergrad, a friend of mine was taking a Spanish class, and she had to write an essay, in Spanish, on some topic more or less of her choosing. She started by writing in English, something she might have turned in to a freshman lit class. It included a sentence claiming some idea had "gained currency." She then sat down to translate it, looked up words she didn't know in the dictionary, just picked one when there were several choices, and ended up with dinero for currency, In short, her idea got money.

Lesson: if you're writing for translation, keep it simple, stupid. Stay with the eternal verities.

In particular, I found that there are no ready translations for the buzzwords and cliches that we used to categorize people, and thought so important, back then. Or, I submit, nowadays. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.

So it was a useful lesson to me in tolerance: if you can't express the idea in more than one language, it's probably not all that valid to begin with.

I never sent in any personals ad, and not long after that, the publisher clamped down on the graphic nature of the personals, and the institution died.

Here endeth the lesson.

Once upon a time... | 10 comments (10 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
I didn't know this story by toxicfur (4.00 / 2) #1 Wed Feb 03, 2010 at 05:20:33 PM EST
However, for the sake of the story(ies), I kind of wish you'd submitted an ad in Latin. I want to know what sort of people would've contacted you, and what sorts of experiences you would've had as a result. Of course, then you may not have found me, but it would've been a worthwhile risk, just for the stories. :)
--
The amount of suck that you can put up with can be mind-boggling, but it only really hits you when it then ceases to suck. -- Kellnerin
there are times when i realise... by clock (4.00 / 2) #2 Wed Feb 03, 2010 at 07:36:20 PM EST
...that even the dumbest of the dumb shit i did was worth it for the stories.  and something like this ain't dumb.  might have been interesting.

I agree with clock entirely --Kellnerin

[ Parent ]
At Purdue in late 70's by johnny (4.00 / 3) #3 Wed Feb 03, 2010 at 08:18:19 PM EST
(warning: I'm pretty sure I told this story on K5. Stop me if you've heard it before.)

I was a grad student in agricultural economics and many nights my grad student friends & I (from several departments) used to hang out at a bar/jazz/rock club called The Stabilizer (which I consider the best name evar for a bar, by the way). At the time I was a pipe smoker, an affectation I took up in Africa. Smoking was allowed indoors in those days, and I used to sometime smoke a pipe there & sometimes clean it with a pipe cleaner.

So one night my friends & I are hanging out at the Stabilizer drinking lots of beer and we meet some women and we're just bullshitting and stuff, and, after cleaning my pipe I take out some clean pipe cleaners & start playing with them, making stick figures out of them and putting on a little Punch and Judy show. Just bullshitting, as one does at a bar when drinking and in possession of nifty props like pipe cleaners.

So the next week for some reason I'm reading the personal ads in the Exponent, the student newspaper. And I see an ad for "Ag Econ grad student with pipe cleaner man at Stabilizer" and a meeting time and place. Clearly, the ad is addressed to me.

So I go there at the time and place. What the hell, I figure, somebody took all that much interest in me, I might as well show up. I couldn't even figure out who it might be. Turns out it was one of the women we had met that night. I remembered talking with her, but only vaguely. She had been amused by me, which was fine, I thought, and flattering.

But then, within a few minutes I discovered that she was in love with me and we were destined for each other and I was her eternal soul mate and so forth. My spidey senses started tingling so bad I nearly fried on the spot. Every cell in my body was telling my brain, get the fuck out of here!!!

I did feel bad for her, because she was mentally ill and suffering. But it was also pretty apparent that the best way for me to help both of us was to chat as politely as I could for as short a while as possible before making a hasty retreat in a direction I chose to give a wrong impression about where I might actually live.  Talk about awkward. Oy.

(I did have that personal advert in mind when I wrote the scene in my novella The Pains in which one party contacts another through a university student newspaper personal advert. . )

She has effectively checked out. She's an un-person of her own making. So it falls to me.--ad hoc (in the hole)

[ Parent ]
I don't have spidey senses by wiredog (2.00 / 0) #9 Thu Feb 04, 2010 at 11:49:08 AM EST
Except this one time, about 8 years ago. There was this girl, new to our AA group. We were hanging out at the local Starbucks before the meeting. As we talked, two things became obvious: One was that she really wanted me to go home with her, or her with me, right then. The other was that the little voice in my head, the one I never hear, was screaming "Run! Away! Fast!"

I listened to that voice. A couple days later I met her husband. Thorazine Mark. She was later to become known as Crazy Sandra.

BTW, in my AA group, you have to be really whack to get tagged with either of those nicknames. I mean: We see our share of lunatics. Most of us are not, strictly speaking, anywhere near "normal".

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

[ Parent ]
This summer, bro by johnny (4.00 / 1) #10 Thu Feb 04, 2010 at 11:32:49 PM EST
you and I are going to go surfing together, and we are going to post pics to HuSi.

Whether or not you start training is up to you.

She has effectively checked out. She's an un-person of her own making. So it falls to me.--ad hoc (in the hole)

[ Parent ]
And the corollary by notafurry (4.00 / 1) #7 Thu Feb 04, 2010 at 11:09:12 AM EST
The dumb shit you wanted to do but didn't for whatever reason leaves no interesting stories.

Only regrets.

[ Parent ]
Regrets... by ana (4.00 / 1) #8 Thu Feb 04, 2010 at 11:10:08 AM EST
can be interesting.

"And this ... is a piece of Synergy." --Kellnerin

[ Parent ]
alternatively, by Kellnerin (4.00 / 1) #4 Wed Feb 03, 2010 at 08:58:18 PM EST
when writing in another language, don't write in English first. This is, of course, harder.

At my alma mater (as at other pretentious institutions of higher learning, no doubt), the salutatory address at Commencement is always in Latin. (This means that the salutatorian must, regardless of absolute academic standing, be a Classics major.) The graduating class is given a crib sheet with the speech, annotated with instructions like "hic ridete" and "hic plaudite." When the crowd follows the script, I'm told, it gives the impression to the larger audience of family and friends that we're all very erudite and following along with a rousing speech in a long-dead language.

The speech, of course, is written in translatese. Cicero it ain't.

I'm not sure about the "expressing an idea in two languages" test, but it's an intriguing thought.

--
"Plans aren't check lists, they are loose frameworks for what's going to go wrong." -- technician

My brother... by ana (4.00 / 1) #5 Wed Feb 03, 2010 at 09:10:05 PM EST
got his advanced degree from the institution which now rents my office to my employer. At commencement, there was a speech in Latin, complete with, as you say, a claque forearmed with the information about when to laugh, when to hoot, and when to applaud.

Alas, the great Land Grant institutions where I was educated have no such tradition.

"And this ... is a piece of Synergy." --Kellnerin

[ Parent ]
but land grants by johnny (4.00 / 1) #6 Thu Feb 04, 2010 at 08:44:32 AM EST
have better ag schools and football teams. I rest my case.

She has effectively checked out. She's an un-person of her own making. So it falls to me.--ad hoc (in the hole)
[ Parent ]
Once upon a time... | 10 comments (10 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback