Friday, January 23, 2009

I got back to Blacksburg a bit before Break ended to help out with the Enology/Grape Chemistry Group's "Short Course" for winemakers. It's basically an introduction to laboratory analytical techniques that are useful (and sometimes necessary) for determining wine quality and characteristics. Some of the equipment is beyond the range of a small-scale winery's budget, but I suppose it's a good thing that winemakers and their staffs are being exposed and made aware of such things. With the Enology Service Lab able to run large amounts of samples, it's not really necessary to have an on-site cash still for measuring volatile acidity at your winery anyway. Unless you REALLY REALLY want to, maybe.

Anyway, so classes have started, as they are wont at the beginning of every semester. One of the interesting things about grad school is that your schedule can end up to be quite a bit weirder than it did in college:

Food Microbiology: 9:05 AM - 9:55 AM
Graduate Seminar: 11:15 AM - 12:05 PM
Biometry II: 4:00 PM - 5:15 PM

No classes, but I T.A. the "Wines and Vines" class, which involves variable amounts of prep work.

Food Microbiology: 9:05 AM - 9:55 AM
Flavor Chem: 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM
Biometry II: 4:00 PM - 5:15 PM

Food Microbiology: 9:05 AM - 9:55 AM

It's a bit odd, being a T.A. You're barely any older than your students, and you don't always really have the sense that you know exactly what you're doing or indeed what the hell is going on, and yet they're coming to you with questions. They're not coming to you with big questions, but it's easy to remember what it felt like to be an undergrad. TA's seem more human because they have a first name instead of a "Dr.", and they're less frightening to email. I'm confused. I don't understand. I didn't turn something in--can I turn it in late? Will I get in trouble? I didn't understand this. I'm confused.

And so I cast in my lot with the host of T.A.'s who have gone before me, caring enough to get stuff done but doing my best not to care so much that I get bogged down in the details. It's easy to get snared in the trap of perfectionism but in a class of one hundred forty-two students, there's just no way that's going to happen. I perform triage, sort out what I can, hope the rest sorts itself out, and move on. Not exactly the most original view, but it's what works, or at least gives me some measure of distance and sanity.

I'll probably have more to say as the semester unfolds. Posting on here isn't what it was in college, nor is it what it was when I was living at home. It's not for lack of excitement--swing dancing and the semi-monthly Wine Nights that I hold at my apartment provide that--nor is it because of laziness, although you could argue that I slack off more than I really should, sometimes, as a Master's Student. It's just because, well--I want to disturb the universe a little, I suppose. Based on the fact that blogging about grad school would read like a travelogue of Purgatory, it doesn't seem likely that any novel or profound thoughts would emerge from such an endeavor.

This may not be a novel or profound reflection, but the other night I was getting a CD out of the cases I keep in my car and noticed a set that a girl sent me back in 2004. She was a senior I had a brief fling with when I was finishing up my freshman year. (It ended painfully, although after the things I've been through since then the hurt feelings seem somewhat silly in retrospect.) It made me remember that a year or so later I found a picture of this girl at the Fall 2003 Phi Mu Alpha semi-formal. Among those pictures was also, oddly enough, a picture of Maria--whom I was dating at the time--with some of her NKE/PMA friends.

At the time I just chalked it up to odd coincidence. Now, though, I'm starting to think about it a little more. It led me to the somewhat sophomoric conclusion that my future is all around me all the time, and I'm just as unaware of it now as I was in October of 2003. It makes me think about the people who are on the periphery of my life right now that will enter it in ways that I could not, or would not, imagine.

I guess it's a Malcolm Gladwell train of thought. When you calculate the odds of me dating two girls who were at the same dance on the same night out of the entire female population of William & Mary, yeah, it seems like a statistically significant event. However, thinking about it more closely--those two girls were moving in almost exactly the same circles I was in, making some of the same friends, or friends of friends, their orbits and mine becoming more and more aligned. Therefore, the odds of me meeting, becoming attracted to, and even dating them became more likely when considering the parallel nature of our social interactions.

So I wonder now about the people I am moving towards. It seems like a tangential thought process in grad school, when you're more focussed on the what--the degree--than the whom. Still, they've been telling us in our graduate seminar that professionalism requires a great deal of thought about the initial impressions you make on people, including the friends who will later become your colleagues, your peers in the working world.

I'm not teleologically minded. I don't believe that I am being inexorably drawn towards someone, or something. It's interesting to note, though, that when looking back at our past and the friends we make, the interactions we have, we're more likely to chalk it up to "random" (as if such a thing existed) happenstance. We'd like to think that what happens to us is the result of situations, as though we didn't create our own microenvironments through our actions and words and behaviors. In other words, we look at our own pasts as though they weren't, at one point in our life, an uncertain future. We don't give ourselves enough credit for the often unseen effect that the depths our innate character--our Soul--can have on causing the events we refer to as "lucky" or "chance." We have more power than we realize, or perhaps want to admit.

So here's to, in the words of David Roth, "the miracles that cause us to believe." May we realize that there are those miracles which come from inside the Self, and may they bring us from a lesser perfection to a greater perfection.

(I'm still flying.)