Speaking of classes, I've spent much of today going over the websites for my grad school courses, downloading files. I had a practical reason for doing this, but the computer files activated files of another, more personal sort, the old syllabi, assignments, and notes evoking the thoughts and feelings of what seems like long ago. I grew nostalgic. I remembered things I did not want to forget.
It's not that I grew melancholy over people lost to me in the mists of the past. On the contrary, the people whom I really connected with back then are, in one way or another, more connected to me now. Friendships have happened, not disintegrated. Mistakes have happened, too, and I might regret them if I'd combed through these files in another sort of mood, but what good would that do? One form of insanity is wishing for a better past. Actually, it was the long-lost stranger-ness that struck me, reading these files that are so distinctively the work of familiar people that I cannot help but hear the author's voices in my mind's ear, yet I can also remember that when I read these first they were the words of strangers. It is almost eerie.
But I was struck more poignantly by reminders of long-lost information, things I learned briefly, or started to learn, but then could not retain. The issue is that I will not have access to all of these files forever, and it would be silly to rely on the class websites forever even if I could. It's time to move out, as it were, get my own intellectual place, and so I decided to download everything I was not prepared to lose. And there I ran into a problem.
I've told you before that there are classes I wish I'd done better at. It's not a matter of academic pride over my grades (they were ok), it's that these were opportunities to learn important things from brilliant people, and I couldn't absorb all of it. I didn't expect myself to absorb all of it, and there are thing I learned that I don't think I'll really need. I don't need to know how to use a certain computer program to do a certain statistical procedure, for example. As a writer I won't need to do the procedure, and I don't have access to that computer program, anyway. All I really need is to understand why that test might be done, and what the results mean, so I can understand science well enough to write intelligently about it. I mostly do understand, but downloading the lecture outlines will help me decipher my notes, should I wish to refresh my memory. That's all I need.
Right there, saved on the website, were all of the old assignments, complete with the data sets. If I could get access to the software packages (and if I tried hard enough I could arrange it), I could re-do the assignments. I could take myself through the course again, and this time I could do better, I could make myself retain more, I could really take full advantage of the opportunity...am I really going to do that? No, of course not. I have better and more interesting things to do that struggling to repeat a course (sans teacher, this time) that I actually passed to begin with. What I have forgotten, I forgot because I did not need to know it. I still don't. I need to know other things, and these take up my time.
Committing myself, giving up the illusion that I will someday do better that this....I did not download the data sets. I'm trained as a scientist. Scientists do not indulge in illusions.
I wish we human beings could grow our souls and our intellects in expanding spheres, learning more about everything in every direction, taking advantage of all possibilities fully. Somewhere, I still think we should be able to do it. I know we can't. We pucker, we buckle, we focus, and we choose. As a child, I took German. I hardly know any German now. I don't particularly need or want to know German, which is why I don't keep up with it, but it bothers me nevertheless that I abandoned that road. As a child I was also friends with a girl named Janna. I really, really liked her, but we lost touch for no good reason at all, and children grow so fast...they start to look different. The last time I saw Janna, she was just this strange girl who kept looking at me, as if she knew me, but wasn't sure. As if she was hoping it was me, but wanted me to recognize her, so she could be sure, before she said anything. I didn't recognize her. She didn't say anything. It was only later that I realized who she must be. We choose, we are chosen, and we leave things behind for sometimes no good reason at all.
I'm visiting my mother--using her computer, actually, as mine is in the shop. Being back in my home town always puts me in this kind of mood. Every street-corner, every building is another hint at almost. I am comfortable with most of the choices I've made; I'd do most things over again the same way, if I had the choice. Even most of the stupid decisions lead somewhere interesting and so have meaning to me now. And if I did make different decisions--if I had learned German, if I had stayed in touch with Janna, if I had stayed involved with this or that organization--something else would surely have been lost, simply for want of space. I accept this. It's just that at 35 years old I am aware, and not for the first time, how unavoidably messy being a grown-up is.