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LJ Idol - DW - 10: Nadir (~600 words)

Nadir in astronomy is the point directly below the observer with respect to the local center of gravity. Nadir is also the lowest point of a person's sprits, or the lowest point of an activity or profession.

Note: the subject of this entry, "nadir" is different from the one I cited in my previous "Join Idol" entry ("First Impressions") because I am still in the main competition, and was inviting you to join its offshoot, the so-called Second Chance Idol, which allows those who were voted out, left themselves or missed the start of the "season" to join mid-contest.

They tell you to be careful with what you wish for. Here is what may happen if you are not.

Through my parents' efforts, I studied in one of the better schools of our district. Still, everything on the high-school curriculum was so easy for me, I breathed through it. I did so well that nobody, neither my teachers, my parents nor I realized that I was, in fact, very bored and that I needed challenge to really improve myself.

And so I made a wish. I dreamed of changing schools and my new school being so much more "difficult" than the one in which I was studying, that I'd go from my A's and B's to, at first, barely scraping C's, then slowly make my way back to the almost top of the class. I made that wish, I forgot about it, and only years later did I realize that I had it granted immediately after leaving high school.

You see, I am a graduate of one of the best engineering colleges in Moscow, and in the entire country, the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute. Yet my previous schooling did not prepare me for the amount and intensity of work it required.

For the first year, for example, I was almost incapable of reading my textbooks, because the complexity of the maths and to a lesser degree, physics expressed there went right over my head. Luckily, almost all our professors were very good, and I was able to pass by on the material explained in detail in class, my lecture notes becoming my lifeline.

Still, the first term I got C's on all my exams except Programming, where I scraped a B. The lowest point of that year was the General Physics oral, where (as I only realized years later) I was doing so badly that I put my favourite professor Valerian Ivanovich Gervids in a quandary. I had been trying hard in class that term, and he knew it, but my performance on the exam was abysmal. So he left for a smoke while I was struggling with the extra question he asked me, and while he was gone, I had an epiphany and answered correctly, giving him the relief of being able to grant me a C, instead of failing me like he very nearly had to (poor naive me, and poorer well-intentioned but honest him!)

After the first term, however, I grew used to the study load and the way the material was presented. During the second term, I only had a single C in a subject I used every opportunity to miss, and then slowly but steadily, like I'dreamed all those years earlier, I made my way almost to the top, becoming a straight-A student for a term or two.

This tale sounds fantastical in the light of the wish, and yet it is completely true. Be careful with your wishes lest they come true in a grotesque way when you least expect or need them to do so.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 2nd, 2019 04:35 pm (UTC)
ConCrit is welcome.
Jan. 3rd, 2019 06:01 pm (UTC)
My story is different from yours, but I'm sure we suffered through similar angst. I had majored in Bacteriology at UCLA in the early '70s. The requirements included a year of calculus, a year of physics and three years of various aspects of chemistry. Finally, we were in various bacteriology classes. In my expected last term, I took the last required molecular immunology class for my major. As is typical, there were two midterms and then a final exam. I got a poor grade on the first midterm. Oh well, there was still time to improve. Unfortunately, the subsequent tests didn't turn out any better. I learned my final grade in the class by postcard during the summer break. With almost complete shock, I learned I had failed. This meant that I had just one chance to redeem all of my previous work. I had to retake the class and get a B. The problem was, the class wasn't offered again for a full year, which happened to be one more term past the point at which I had planned to graduate!

While my true talents lay more in the literary fields, I had worked my butt off in the sciences. I knew there was no guarantee that I would suddenly become that much more capable in the molecular immunology.

In the end, I was able to have at least one term with totally fun classes. I got As for all of them: Art History, Children’s literature, additional Norwegian language, and the History of Jazz. Another of those extra terms allowed me to take Bacteriology of Nutrition and Natural History of California. All of them enriched me in ways struggling through another chemistry-like class would not have.

But still, the lingering concern about passing that failed class haunted me throughout the year.

Finally, thank goodness, I did get the required B for the repeated failed class and thus was not forced to toss the whole degree.
Jan. 3rd, 2019 06:10 pm (UTC)
I would say your story is worse in some ways, because I was shielded from realizing just how badly I was doing by having never failed an exam before (and I still have not failed a single one in my life, thank goodness!) Also, as my worst term was my first, I had all the time in the program to improve, so long as I did not fail completely.

But it is so strange that you failed that subject! Did you ever learn what the problem was?
Jan. 3rd, 2019 06:34 pm (UTC)
To some degree, I think I was getting burned out. I think there are (at least) two kinds of learning. One is numerical/equation(al), the other is more memory based. One would be math and the other would be memorizing words. My grandfather, a physicist, used to say that there were two kinds of people, those who were algebra talented and those who were geometry talented. I was always more the geometry type. Though I can hardly remember the topic of the infamous class at this point, I can say that it wasn't strictly math based, at all. It was more theoretical. I think my tired brain must have been overloaded to the point of having too much to take in and also having too little to put a framework around it for organizing the information.

Ironically, about twelve years later, I had an eight-year-old son who came home from school with a worksheet covering one of the topics we had studied. It definitively said where the immunological cells called T-cells originated in the body. I looked at it and declared, "That's not right." But then I realized that a good ten years had passed and these topics were no longer very theoretical. Maybe his homework was the new and agreed upon knowledge!

Edited at 2019-01-03 06:36 pm (UTC)
Jan. 3rd, 2019 06:48 pm (UTC)
'Algebra' is abstract logic and 'geometry' I would say is visualization. Yes, I can understand where that might have been a problem. (I read a book about ancient Greece last year, where it was said the Greeks were very 'geometrical' in their logic, and it absolutely blew my mind when I read how the infamous trigonometrical theorems they teach at school can be proved by drawing geometrical shapes. If I had a subject like that I would also struggle a lot.)

I understand your burn out as well. I, too, was very very tired after getting my degree (it was a 'specialist' program that kind of combines Bachelor's and Master's degrees and lasted 5.5 years). So tired I refused to enter a PhD program right after, although I was offered to, because the thought of more studying was viscerally repulsive back then :)
Jan. 3rd, 2019 06:37 pm (UTC)
I will add that was the first and last class I ever failed also!

Edited at 2019-01-03 06:41 pm (UTC)
Jan. 3rd, 2019 06:41 pm (UTC)
Well then. I am doubly sorry it happened and that it cost you an entire extra year at college!
Jan. 4th, 2019 08:58 am (UTC)
Ah! It reminded me of my dentistry days and also true about what you wish for because I always wanted to be a doctor since childhood and couldn't get into an MBBS (Medical) course but dentistry itself was difficult for me in the first year..I wonder if I would have coped with Medicine studies.

Interesting take on the prompt and I found it relate-able too :)
Jan. 10th, 2019 05:29 am (UTC)
Thank you.

Dentistry has a lot of challenges as well. Are you happy with the profession you have? :)
Jan. 14th, 2019 08:10 am (UTC)
Oh! Yes..I enjoy working with patients and 'smile designing ' is what I enjoy the most...This I came to realize when I couldn't get into the masters course by merits and didn't want to take a payment seat but had an option of choosing to do a MBA in healthcare where I guess the patient interaction would have been minimal. I choose to practice instead :)
Jan. 5th, 2019 10:49 pm (UTC)
I wonder if the earlier schools were easier than they should have been? You would have gotten the same grades with more challenge, but perhaps have been better prepared for college?

But when everything IS so easy, how can you tell the difference between 'fairly easy' and 'ridiculously easy?' You don't have a frame of reference for it.

Regardless, I'm glad that when the challenge came, you got through it with hard work, because it's clearly an area you enjoy. :)
Jan. 5th, 2019 11:12 pm (UTC)
I agree that I certainly couldn't understand that I was not challenged enough at that point but its level at college was exactly what I needed. :)
Jan. 6th, 2019 12:17 am (UTC)
That had to be entirely stressful. It's great that you rose to the occasion though, and changed your fortunes. Well done.
Jan. 10th, 2019 05:30 am (UTC)
Thank you.

You know, it was strange and surprising almost to the same level as stressful, because the change in difficulty was so abrupt.
Jan. 6th, 2019 12:28 am (UTC)
Ah, isn’t that the way it goes! I feel like as a kid, I would read history and wish that I lived in more interesting times. Now, I feel like we do, and I bet my girls don’t have that wish. But yours was a very perfect example.
Jan. 10th, 2019 05:34 am (UTC)
Oh yes, I also wished it, and of course I would stand out and be a hero. (And then I grew up and realized I was one of the grey 'average' mass those stories decried,and some of the retiring hesitant not very pleasant characters could've been modelled after me :D)

I think that your girls will wish it too, if only when they are young - because our current difficulties are their normal.

Thank you!
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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