Eternal Return

I fell into a wikipedia black hole today and stumbled upon Nietzsche’s idea of eternal return– basically, that time is cyclical (non-linear) and everything that is happening now has happened before and will happen again.  

One of my close friends who I’ve known since I was thirteen took his own life last week.  Grief is described as a linear journey, a march through Kubler-Ross’s five stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance).  Denial carried me through until I landed in Philadelphia and Sting’s ‘Fields of Gold’ came up on shuffle.  Anger surprised me because I’ve always felt that individuals have the right to choose to die in the face of intractable illness, believing that the people close to me were exempt.

I’m finding that grief, like time, isn’t linear.  I feel normal one moment and the next I’m thinking about something funny he said to me or the way he laughed.  I’m just starting to believe that he’s truly gone forever, although I feel like I lost him a few months ago when he stopped responding to my text messages and attempts to stay in touch.  It’s impossible to shake the feeling of guilt, of responsibility, though I’ve tried to take that negativity and apply it to talking to my friends about how I’m always there for them.

If time is cyclical then maybe it’s not so romantic to think that I will see some part of him again.  If the universe is host to such infinite possibilities, I’d selfishly pick the one that kept him here with us.

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Final Office Hours Reflection

It’s the end of RRR (“Reading, Recitation, Review”?) week here at Berkeley.  I’ve spent the past 48 hours parked in front of my computer screens, finishing up my science and technology paper and generally feeling pretty drained of all coherent thought.  End of the semester brain, am I right?

I finished grading my student’s final papers before turning my attention to my own, so I decided to hold one last office hours session so they could come pick their papers up.  So far, most of the students who have showed up for their papers have also wanted to discuss the course, their feelings towards the study of history and also (and most flattering!) ask me for advice.

Teaching has been everything I expected and simultaneously entirely different from what I thought it would be.  I went into teaching having been told that architecture students don’t care about history, don’t care about this course, and will do anything they can to avoid doing the work.  I think that assumption is the result of our brain’s ability to hold onto negative events and impressions more so than positive ones.  Or, perhaps I just had a great bunch of students who did want to be there and did care about improving their work over the semester.

The second expectation that this semester shattered was the view of teaching as a secondary, lesser obligation that comes behind research.  This is a strongly held doctrine in academia: you can teach anyone to teach, but you can’t teach anyone to do original, compelling research.  Even if this is true (I’m not sure if I believe that anyone can teach) it teaches graduate students and young professors to devalue experiences in the classroom and ignore the positive benefits of becoming invested in the education of their students.

It’s true that some students don’t care, but you don’t teach for those students.  You teach for the ones who are interested and engaged, the ones who want to learn something and broaden their minds.

Gosh, that’s a little cheesy.  But I’m sticking by it!

I’m excited to teach the second half of the survey next semester.  It’ll be wonderful if I have some of the same students in my section, especially if I can snag the ones who like to talk during discussion.   Till then, I’m excited to spend a few weeks not having to learn and teach something new every week. Winter break, here I come.