I attended a small, Jesuit, liberal arts college. They had a fantastic Biology department, which is why I chose them. That, and they freaking loved me. I mean, “they mailed me blank applications weekly until I finally turned one in,” loved me. The interview was amazing, I fell in love with the campus at first sight, and although I am not technically using my degree, I have never regretted my decision to attend. The fact that I had nearly a free ride helped a lot, too; my family had very little money by then so the financial aid package rocking harder than the state schools was a huge plus.
One thing I adored was that I didn’t have to take a math class. I enjoyed math in high school, until 11th grade when I bumped up to honors just when we were getting into Trig. Ugh. Still hate Trig. But Geometry was fun and Algebra (O Algebra!) was magical.
However, Trigonometry and I did not get along, so when, as a Biology major, I found out I could earn a degree without a math class, I was all over that. What I hadn’t counted on, however, was my college doing away with the “Physics for Biology majors” class that wasn’t Calculus-based. The only Physics left: the one requiring Calculus first. But they didn’t tell you that; it wasn’t technically a prerequisite listed in the catalog. I didn’t find out until midway through, and by then, well… I was struggling. Eventually I prevailed, and passed the course (it was a close thing).
But this one little choice–to not take a math class in college–resulted in my having to choose a minor in my junior year. I’d also been in the honors program and had the opportunity to take quite a few unique seminar classes that satisfied various core curriculum requirements outside of my science background. They left me in the position of being only two classes short of a minor in a variety of fields: Chemistry, Psychology, and foreign language (Spanish), and three classes short of a minor in Philosophy. Why did I choose Philosophy? No idea, even after all these years.
However, I’m still glad I did. One reason: I made one of my best friends; one of the few with whom I’ve kept in touch since college. I figured out immediately that she knew her stuff in those classes and I made it a point to befriend her for that alone, but then we wound up really getting along as more than study partners.
The other reason is that writing a Philosophy paper was a far different cry from writing a technical paper. We laughed at those in our class who used “references” beyond the text about which we were writing. Write a paper on Leibniz? You cite Leibniz. The text you’re reading, and if you want to create extra work for yourself, you can refer to his other works. If you’re writing about “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” by John Locke, you don’t need to refer to anything else (though I wrote a fascinating comparison of the two men for a mid term paper. “Fascinating” in that I wonder just what I was on at the time, and how I managed to pass).
This allowed me to explore my own feelings when it came to writing. I’d read, imbibe some kind of mood-altering substance (caffeine or alcohol, depending on when the paper was due) then write in a stream of consciousness and explore depths I didn’t know I had. Such a far cry from the science papers necessitating multiple trips to the library, Internet searches (such as they were in the mid-90’s), and endless nights in my study carrel perusing my notebooks.
At some point, probably when I was earning a living as a medical/technical writer under the stringent requirements of pharmaceutical companies and FDA-mandated wording, I lost that ability. I began to rely again on supporting texts, on the how-to, endlessly researching the “why” and “how” and specifically, “which.” I lost that ability to let go and drift, and see where the current of my mind took me.
I’m still trying to get it back. But I think the realization this weekend that that’s how I used to do it may have helped me in some small way.
Philosophy…is a walk on the slippery rocks.