Final Exams are a First World Problem

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Pictured: a diagram helpfully illustrating what kinds of ions do and do not go together.

Pictured: a diagram helpfully illustrating what kinds of ions do and do not go together.

This semester’s finals are more stressful for me than usual. That’s mainly because I’m performing in The Nutcracker this weekend, and, as anyone with much of any experience in the performing arts knows, theater week and free time go together like two ions with the same charge, (that is, not at all) even without finals. Even so, I’m inclined to think that final exams aren’t quite as horrendous as most students think. I can’t help being a little annoyed at my classmates’ facebook statuses about the horrors of final exams. Admittedly, I have been known to post facebook statuses calculating my chances of survival or making hyperbolic jokes about the evils of finals, but a lot of people say those kinds of things a lot more frequently and a lot more seriously.

first world problemIt reminds me of the “first world problem” internet meme. They show a picture of a crying face (most of the ones I’ve seen use the same woman’s face) with a caption expressing a laughably petty complaint, often having to do with slow wifi or having an excessive amount of food. I would consider the stress of finals to be a somewhat more serious complaint than those types of things, but it still is pretty petty in the grand scheme of things. There are an awful lot of people in the world who don’t have access to education, and who would much rather worry about finishing a final paper on time or getting a good grade on a really difficult exam than about how they will keep their family fed.

In fact, I find it a little surprising that, even in the relative ease of this affluent culture, so many college students don’t seem to have bigger concerns than final exams. Again, I’m being somewhat hypocritical by saying that because I admit I obsess over grades to the extent of losing sight of things in the world outside of the narrow realm of undergraduate-level academia. At the moment, though, final exams are only one of several things I have to worry about, and not even the most stressful. It’s a little hard for me to devote all of my mental energy to school when I’m also worried about money, about the ever-present possibility that my car will suddenly blow up or burst into flames while I’m driving, and about what the camaduka my life is going to do, because it sure doesn’t seem to currently be in the process of doing anything that actually matters.

But really, those are all “first world problems”, too. Especially the one about the car. As scary as it is to drive a car that is less safe than a higher-quality car would be, it’s pretty awesome that I have a car at all. Sometimes, after I park and start to walk away, I turn around and look at the car and think about how many important things that machine gives me the ability to do, and how nice it is to have it. And then I go back to worrying about what might happen next time I drive it. But the freedom that my car gives me outweighs the risk, even if it doesn’t always seem that way. And I don’t have to worry about certain other dangers like the possibility of starving to death, and I live in a college dorm room instead of on the street, and I live in a society where I am relatively safe from violence, at least in comparison to countries with ongoing wars on their own land.

So, even though I’m going to be complaining about finals throughout the next several days, and even though I’m surely going to whine about how tired I am, and even though I’m going to continue being extremely worried about all of the various aspects of life that are going wrong or that could go wrong, I think it’s worth pointing out that those are all fairly petty complaints. I mean, at least my wifi is working just fine at the moment.

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Logic is a Little Tweeting Bird

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Ah, the beauty of logical stuff written out on nice, neat lines

Ah, the beauty of logical stuff written out on nice, neat lines

Maybe it’s just because I’m kind of a nerd, but I really love my logic class. In fact, when I do my logic homework, I almost think of it as taking a break from homework. I’m actually really looking forward to the exam because it’s going to be fun, and I don’t mean that sarcastically at all. I wish I was studying for my logic exam tonight, but I have two other exams before that one and two papers to work on, so I doubt I’ll get around to doing any logic for a couple days.  (You may be wondering how I can find time to blog about how I don’t have any time. That’s a good question. Now please stop questioning my time management.)

The cool thing about logic is that it makes sense. It’s not like math because it doesn’t have all those confusing numbers and equations. It’s not like writing an English paper because, once you’ve found the right answer, you know you’re right and you don’t have to go back and question the degree of intelligence and aesthetic style of everything you’ve already  accomplished. It’s not like real life because you can be absolutely certain that there’s a correct answer to every problem, and that once you find it, you’re free to devote all of your attention to the next one.

"Logic is a little tweeting bird chirping in a meadow. Logic is a wreath of pretty flowers which smell bad." -Spock

“Logic is a little tweeting bird chirping in a meadow. Logic is a wreath of pretty flowers which smell bad.” -Spock

It occurred to me in class a few days ago that most logical proofs are irrelevant to real life. It’s highly unlikely that I will ever have to prove the validity of a convoluted argument where each premise has several terms. If such a situation ever does occur, it’s even more unlikely that the other people involved will be willing to wait for me to write out the premises, the conclusion, and a proof that might be twenty or thirty steps long. In short, everything I know about symbolic logic is fairly useless in real life.

But if I had a choice between symbolic logic and real life, I think I’d choose symbolic logic. ‘Cause I like things that make sense.

‘Twas the Middle of Finals

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paper snowflakes

From last December: Paper snowflakes made from class notes

‘Twas the middle of finals and I was concerned
about all the stuff I still hadn’t learned.
Books were piled all over the floor,
the desk, the bed, and blocking the door.
Ten pages of notes I held in my hand
but at least nine pages, I didn’t understand.
“Just wait till you see,” my brain said with a sneer,
“How your GPA will diminish this year.”
“Quiet, brain,” said I, “I’m trying to study
and you’re not making it easy here, buddy.”
But my brain didn’t think that plan sounded fun
so it came up with a totally different one.
“Here’s a thought,” said my mind in a tone of persuasion,
“I know what we can do until Christmas vacation!
Let’s watch stuff online, let’s make paper snowflakes,
let’s listen to music for our sanities’ sakes.
Let’s play scrabble and chess for hours on end
and do logic puzzles so we can pretend
that the things we are doing have intellectual value.
Doesn’t that sound like a good thing to do?”
Said I to my brain, “That would be a mistake.
Besides, I’ll have time for that stuff over the break.
But preparing for finals is what matters today.
If you’re not going to help me, then please go away.”
I shouldn’t have said it because my brain did agree
and went to play games all day without me,
while I kept on studying and then I did find
that it’s hard to do finals when I’ve lost my mind.

 

writing hand(This poem was written approximatly a year ago. I put it on youtube, but youtube isn’t the best medium for stuff without audio, so I’m bringing this poem back as a blog post. Sorry about the flawed meter. I didn’t put much effort into this; I made it up in my head while I was busy doing other stuff.)

 

How I’m Celebrating New Year’s Eve

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Advent wreathNo, I’m not kidding; it really is New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent, which is the beginning of the church year. Advent is an awesome season. I’ve always thought of it basically as a countdown to Christmas, which kind of sounds like an oversimplification. It works, though, if you remember that Christmas isn’t just a day for gift-giving and singing songs about Baby Jesus; it’s about the incarnation and the amazing extent of God’s grace, that he would send his own Son to exist as a regular person in this sinful world, to live and die just to pay for our sins. Actually, that’s not only the point of Christmas, it’s kind of the point of every day, and people should ideally hear it all the time. (‘Tis good to be Lutheran.) But Christmas is the time of year when it’s emphasized by focusing on the birth of Jesus, and Advent is the time of year when it’s emphasized by focusing on the coming of Christmas. (And also Christ’s second coming) It’s a cool way to start the year.

On the other hand, yes, I am kidding; I’m not really doing anything to celebrate New Year’s Eve tonight. But that’s not because I don’t see it as a holiday worth celebrating. It’s just that I’m really, really busy right now. Not only do I have a lot of schoolwork to do, (because finals start on Thursday and my senior seminar presentation is on Wednesday) but I’m also spending a lot of time at dance class because The Nutcracker is next weekend. Today, I was at the studio for six and a half hours, and when you count the driving time and the time it takes to get ready, it adds up to a pretty significant portion of the day. I’m not complaining about that; I’m excited to get to perform The Nutcracker this year, and ballet is a much more interesting way to spend a Saturday than secluding myself in my dorm to do homework all day. Still, the fact remains that having finals and a major performance in the same week does not allow one to have much free time.

You may perhaps notice that my tumblr username is visible in this screenshot. Feel free to stalk me on tumblr.

You may perhaps notice that my tumblr username is visible in this screenshot. Feel free to stalk me on tumblr.

The point is, I don’t have time to do anything for New Year’s Eve. But that’s okay because I don’t know what I would do anyway. There aren’t many specific holiday traditions associated with the last day before Advent, as there are for holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving or the other New Year’s Eve. So I’m observing this holiday by posting stuff about it online. At midnight, I’m going to post “Happy New Year!” as my facebook status just to see how people respond. I already posted a New Year’s Eve message on tumblr. It immediately got reposted by one person, but nothing further has happened to it. Just for good measure, I also tweeted “Happy New Year’s Eve!”, but I don’t expect to get a reaction from that. I hardly ever use twitter and don’t exactly have a very large following.

Just for the record, I have decided that, at least for the time being, I am somewhat obsessed with the hymn “Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People”. Since it is an Advent hymn, it makes sense to mention that now.

 

Manger and CrossComfort, comfort, ye My people,

speak ye peace, thus saith our God;

Comfort those who sit in darkness,

mourning ‘neath their sorrows’ load.

Speak ye to Jerusalem

Of the peace that waits for them;

Tell her that her sins I cover

and her warfare now is over.

 

Yea, her sins our God will pardon,

Blotting out each dark misdeed;

All that well deserved His anger

He no more will see or heed.

She hath sufered many a day,

Now her griefs have passed away;

God will change her pining sadness

Into ever-springing gladness.

Why I (kind of) love finals

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Today was my last day of classes as a Junior in college. Now I just have a week of finals, and then I’ll be completely done with the school year. Even though I’m obviously really looking forward to next Wednesday at about noon when I’ll be finishing my last exam, today is the day that I’ve been counting down to for the last several weeks. In part, that’s because I believe in counting down to the soonest available landmark because, when you’re counting down to something, little numbers are much more motivating than big numbers. (I’m graduating in 374 days, but somehow, that doesn’t seem like such a big deal at the moment.) Anyway, besides that, I actually do tend to enjoy finals week. It’s not that I like final exams or final papers, it’s just that life in general is better during finals week. For example:

1. Study breaks. When you have classes all day and have to cram all of your homework and studying into just a few hours every evening, you can’t really afford to stop for a while to play some computer games or to watch some science fiction or to wander around aimlessly in circles, pondering the great questions of life, human existence, and what caused that discolored spot on the carpeting. Having the ability to take occasional breaks and to use your brain for something besides school is good for you not only because it’s more fun, but also because it’s a stress reliever and it’s good for your mind. You just want to make sure you’re doing something productive with your study breaks and not wasting your time. In the grand scheme of things, I think it’s more important for me to be good at Scrabble than to solve the mysteries of my dorm room carpeting.

2. Sleeping and eating. Once upon a time, I was a small child and had enough time and a flexible enough schedule that I could count on eating three meals a day and sleeping every single night. This is no longer the case. During finals week, though, I have plenty of time for eating and sleeping. The sleeping part actually isn’t such a big deal to me; I never actually grew out of the stage where I hated going to bed, and even now, I’d much prefer to watch science fiction all night than to sleep all night. But the eating thing is a big deal. Food is awesome stuff.

3. It’s an excuse to do things that count as stress relievers. Last night, for example, I had to stay up all night long, so I got a multi-serving bag of M&Ms and ate them at regular intervals throughout the night. It wouldn’t be a good idea to do that every single night, but last night, I was working on several final projects and the M&Ms were totally necessary. Tonight, I think I’m going to stop studying for a while so that I can watch an episode of Dr. Who. I shouldn’t really take out the time for that, but science fiction is an ideal stress reliever, so it will actually make me do better on my exams. Right?

4. We’re all in this together. I’m not really a very social person, and I definitely prefer to study alone, so I tend to really isolate myself during finals, but at the same time, there’s something reassuring about the knowledge that every single student on campus is experiencing the same things I’m experiencing. While I’m worrying about a difficult exam or a paper that just isn’t getting done very quickly, other people all around me are having the same problems, and when I’ve finished all my exams and turned in all my papers, everyone else around me will be finishing their exams and papers and will share that sense of relief and accomplishment.

5. When it’s all over, it’s all over. It’s not like midterms, when you just get a couple days or a week off (depending upon whether it’s the fall semester or the spring semester) and then have to get right back to work before you’ve even had time to recover from the stress of the beginning of the semester. Once finals are over, you’re completely done with all of those classes. Forever. They’re called finals for a reason.