April 26, 2007
Nitrogen derivatives and index cards
Because Boy in Black had an organic chemistry test this afternoon, he came home last night after his drum lesson, stayed overnight, and skipped his morning class. This morning, he and I both worked in the quiet living room. He claimed the couch – by sleeping there. And I got the comfy chair next to the fireplace.
It's inspiring to work in the presence of someone as intense and focused as Boy in Black. Watching him prepare for an organic chemistry test is a bit like watching an athlete about to run an Olympic trial. It's the third test he's had this semester so by now I knew what to expect.
He wakes up at about 10 am, grabs a cup of cocoa, and then pulls out his laptop and his chemistry notebook. For an hour or two, he concentrates intensely, covering both sides of a sheet of paper with notes and formulas written in tiny handwriting. By the time he's done, the paper is so filled with symbols and words that looking at it makes me dizzy.
When he is ready for a break, he'll sit at the drums for half an hour, pounding out some kind of rhythm. Or he'll sit on the floor with his electric guitar, practicing songs. He might sit down at the piano and play song after song, or sometimes the same song over and over again. Or he'll pick up his acoustic guitar, put on the harmonica necklace, and stroll about the house doing his best Bob Dylan impression. Even when he's playing music, he is so focused that he notices nothing around him.
After half an hour of music, he returns to the sheet of paper that is filled on both sides, every inch of it. He begins pacing with the sheet, memorizing everything on it. "I know all the concepts," he explains to me, "But before a test, I have to memorize the details."
We both interrupt our work to get food every once in a while, and that's when we might exchange a few words.
"Hey, you aren't wearing black today," I said this morning. He shrugged. "This is my Bob Dylan shirt. Besides ... I need to do some laundry."
"Have you actually done any laundry at school?"
"No. But I know where the laundry room is."
He's been bringing his laundry home all year, and my husband has been doing it for him. Yes, he's a spoiled brat.
"I haven't seen you bring home any sheets or pillowcases, " I said, "Have you changed them? Ever?"
"Sure. You bought me two sets, remember? I changed them at Christmas."
"What did you do with the dirty sheets?"
"They're in my room somewhere. I'm good until May."
During an earlier break, I showed him the project I am working on. I've got hundreds of pieces of creative non-fiction, and I am trying to put them all together into a book. So what I've done is write an index card for each piece of writing, and now I am organizing the hundreds of index cards into a structure that makes sense to me. Once I have the index cards in order, I'll be able to work on the manuscript one chapter at a time. I've already agreed to present one chapter of the manuscript at a conference in June, so I am hurrying to get the cards in order so that I can start writing as soon as the semester ends.
I thought Boy in Black would be impressed with how organized I was, but he gave the careful stacks of index cards an incredulous look.
"You mean all this writing is already on the computer, and now you are making index cards for each piece?"
"So like ... this is what people did before computers were invented?"
He grinned. Then he returned to his pacing, his eyes focused on the sheet of chemistry. I returned to the index cards, feeling somewhat like a medieval scribe.
Posted by jo(e)