Storytelling

Adventures in Misalignment–Chemistry Class

I did not want to study chemistry in college. I had been accepted to the College of Engineering, and it seemed to make sense (economic sense) to pursue that, but the closest to technical subjects I wanted was computer programming. To stay in Engineering, I had to take one Chemistry class. I didn’t want to do it, but I convinced myself I had to.

My experience at college was no different from high school. I was bored. My mind wandered, and I didn’t put in the effort to understand the formulas that defined the concepts. The laboratory work was the worst. My work was shoddy at best.

I had an “E” during most of the semester. I think my subconscious was against my success because what I truly wanted was to write, or study English, or even write about studying English. What I didn’t want to do was study Engineering. My conscious self was frightened that if I failed Chemistry I’d have to return home a failure, and I’d be nothing but a failure in my father’s eyes. My father was an Electrical Engineer. The closest I came to being an Electrical Engineer was that the first letter of Electrical is “E”, and I was getting an “E” in Chemistry.

Because this was an introductory class, there were hundreds of us in the lecture. The professor had authored the text book, so it was definitely his class. He also had two interesting gimmicks for grading–first of all, only two of the three test grades counted toward your overall grade; secondly, a later test grade could be duplicated for the previous test. Basically, it meant that if you got an “A” on your second or third test, you would get an “A” in the class. I see the wisdom of this approach now that I’m older. For instance, pick-up lines at bars would be less stressful if the second or third one had the power of erasing the previous two if it worked. With those rules, I might have actually had sex at some point; but I digress.

I got a “D” on the first test, and an “E” on the second. For the third and final test, I studied as much as I could. It was to be a test covering the entire course, and I was thoroughly worried and expecting failure. Perhaps I was even secretly hoping for failure. Failure might mean leaving Engineering, probably leaving college, and finding my own way in the world. I might have done exactly what I wanted, then, had I failed.

The test was multiple choice. I know I understood some of it, but I also guessed on one or two of the questions. I got an “A-” on the test, and thus I also got an “A-” for the class. My career in the College of Engineering was extended, and my secret plans to be a writer were forced to wait a while longer.