April 26, 2007

Nitrogen derivatives and index cards

Guitar practice

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?"

"Uh, yeah."

"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.


listmaker said...

I always feel like a relic. Yesterday I said something to a student about going to school before the days of copiers (remember mimeograph machines)and she looked at me like no one so old could possibly still be around.

YourFireAnt said...

Plucking stringed instruments was also done in the time before computers.



BeachMama said...

I feel that way too. I was trying to explain to my 15 yr old stepson what a phone with a dial was as my Dad has one in the garage. He also doesn't understand what we did before computers, vcr's and video games.

I just love that your kids are so musical and have so much talent. It must be so wonderful to have music around you all the time.

Songbird said...

When I was in college, my dad was the Dean of the Law School. I used to take my laundry to his office on Friday, and he would bring it back on Monday. Of course my mother did the washing...

jo(e) said...

FA: Ha! You are right. Of course, I did point out to Boy in Black that his method of studying -- taking stuff from his notebook and writing it on a piece of paper -- is also the way people studied before computers. The only thing he seems to use his laptop for is listening to music.

Yankee T said...

Can I just tell you that I love Boy In Black?

Wendy said...

I've heard that aircraft controllers use little slips of paper to track which planes they're responsible for. If a plane leaves their area and moves to someone else's, they can just slide the slip of paper over to the next person.

There's something about bits of paper when you're trying to organize a project. Or just reading a book, I like that my fingers can tell me how far I've read.

Busymomma66 said...

It's amazing how the world has changed in 5 years, never mind in 20. I remember sitting in college on a Apple IIe, editing copy and hand coding all the bolds, italics, etc. (well I guess I still do that, except it's in html)--but it looks much prettier on my Mac now (instead of the orange type on the black monitor then.)
I tried a Palm Pilot for years, last year I just gave up and went back to the calendar on the fridge. lol

jo(e) said...

I went through college and grad school using a typewriter. My students always look at me like I'm a million years old when I tell them that.

Mona Buonanotte said...

Manuscript?! Oooohhh...! Can't wait to read that!

Ditto the typewriter. A crappy piece of metallic junk that sucked ink off the ribbon like a thirsty, tantrumy child.

Rana said...

Hee. Even though I do most of my initial composing on the computer (now on the Neo) because then my words have a chance of keeping up with my thoughts, I still have to print things out, draw all over them, move them about... I think it has to do with being a person who likes messing around with actual objects - they're more real to me.

(There's a writer's software called Scrivener that tries to duplicate the whole note-cards, bulletin board, etc. etc. approach in virtual space, but I can't help but feel that dealing with actual cards is simpler and more straightforward.)

You'll have a manuscript with you? *bounces excitedly*


Ampersand said...

Ahh, I remember power studying...and index cards :).

All the best on your manuscript. That's exciting!

Lydia said...

my dad had a typewriter. i can remember him sitting at the kitchen table typing after dinner--it made such a delicious sound.

good luck with the book!!

Kyla said...

Boy in Black is funny.
You used a typewriter in school? Seriously? That seems so strange to me. I'm such a youngin'.

jo(e) said...

Kyla: I'm 46, which makes me old enough, I think, to be your mother. Every time I read your blog, I look at those cute kids and think to myself -- oh, it's going to be cool to have grandchildren.

my15minutes said...

Jo(e), At 45, I have those same memories. They don't seem old to me, but everytime I get one of those looks -- the kind that remind you that you are a relic from the Jurassic -- I'm taken aback at how much the world's changed, and yet stayed the same. (I sometimes get the same feeling when I look at my wedding portrait!)

Typewriters, note cards, board games, TV with 4 channels and a dial, rotary phones (with 'exchanges' like CE3-2385), AM radio & 8 track tapes, mimeograph machines ... I guess I'm a medieval scribe too.

My dad's 83 and to imagine all the changes in his life is astounding. Now he calls me on his cell and emails me photos from his Apple laptop...

elswhere said...

I am 40 (almost 41) and saw the change happen before my eyes. I went off to college with an electric typewriter, and remember walking along the hallway my freshman year the week before finals, hearing the clackety-clack from behind each door.

By my senior year, the sound from the hallway was the zzzzip of dot-matrix printers. At least, for those of us who weren't in the computer center, word-processing convivially and running to pick up our stuff from the communal printer.

Liesl said...

I hadn't thought about typewriters in years until I saw a robin building a nest in our cherry tree last month. He was lining it with a typewriter ribbon he found somewhere - I hadn't seen one in years. I'd imagine the eggs have ink all over them by now.

Anonymous said...

I am 60, and used a typewriter all through college too, usually a manual one. Anyone you know who is 60 did this too. They also might have streaked their graduation.