This quarter I am taking a variety of classes.
I’m formally enrolled in an engineering economics class with a focus on the energy sector, a public speaking class – the source of my anxiety and self-conciousness these days – and a grad-level sustainable development class. Informally, I am sitting in (or auditing is the Stanford term) a Korean literature class and an international policy class on the linkages between governance, corruption, and development. When I started off this quarter, I’d asked myself, “What do I want to learn in my last quarter? What do I want to bring with me, outside to the real world?”
I thought that both energy economics and sustainable development classes offer two-for-one win on professional development – they keep me engaged in my professionally trained path with enough duality whether I end up in the energy or water sectors. I thought that public speaking, always a useful tool, would make me an even better speaker (I used to think I’m pretty good at this but since enrolling in this class – I’m not sure). I wanted to understand the politics and brouhaha ongoing in Malaysia, to be informed instead of merely opinionated, and therefore decided to stick with the corruption class. Last but not least, I thought I wanted, in a formal setting for once in my life instead of the four walls of my room and the many mental spaces within my mind, to explore the quintessential question of what does it mean to be a writer of one’s times? I wanted to learn about analytical reading because I figured that would make me a better reader and writer; the fact that the foundation happened to be Korean literature is less significant to be honest, because it’s techniques that I hope to pick up.
Now I’m four weeks into the quarter and I feel everywhere and therefore nowhere.
I feel like when one attempts to be everything, a jack-of-all-trade, one represents nothing. There is nothing I seem to be particularly good and skilled in, enough that I can be called an expert. Not my professional career, because I float in-and-out of concepts with little bearing on technical aspects, nor personal interests like writing and policy-making. I sit in the corruption class quiet and unsuspecting, simply listening and letting others do the discussion. In the literature class it’s worse, there’s only four of us and already I sense that I am the weakest link. Not only am I automatically at a disadvantage because I don’t know the language – although the class does not require knowledge of the language since everything we read is in English – but whenever I give out my opinions, I realize how superficial my observations and reflections are, barely scratching the surface compared to the other girls. I sense this through my professor’s responses to our opinions; she would still ask me, but seldom dwell on my points. I claim to be a writer, an avid reader too, only to find myself reduced among trained writers.
I left the class this morning feeling not exactly disheartened, but insignificant.
Over the past few weeks, when talks of class selections came up, others would often puzzle over my choices. “How is that relevant?” was the common response when it came to the Korean literature or corruption class. I would respond good-naturedly, saying they fulfill my personal interests on writing and Malaysia. Once, I was so frustrated by the frequency of this question that I texted Eldest Sis to rant.
“There is no wasted knowledge, you know?” I wrote to her. “If we believe the road to learning has no end, then no knowledge is wasted knowledge, isn’t it? Why must we be open to learn only about things we deem relevant? How then, do we widen our perspectives on things we don’t know? If we keep thinking this way, wouldn’t that just make our roads narrower? If anything, I figure – at the very least, I’ll find out what I don’t want.”
But now I wonder if I was, as always, just making excuses for myself, unwilling to admit my incompetencies and wandering ways. That I’m not really good in anything, hence my tendency to float in-and-out of wildly different topics. In trying to hide my flaw, I have instead, in my foolishness, exposed itself – myself.
Lately I have to force myself to remember the sentiments I’d shared with a friend some weeks ago, on our drive back from the city. “In my mind, I have these mental gaps. I think and think and think about everything that when I don’t know something, these mental blocks appear – blank spots. And because I grew up the way I did, with academicians as parents, when I don’t know something – I need to read. I can’t just jump into it blankly, that’s just not my style. So I read about the topics, or enroll in classes. Experience them for myself, however little or a lot, to the best of my abilities. I go out of my way to try to fill in these blank spots because it’s frustrating, not knowing. And if, at the end of the process, I realize that I just splendidly wasted my time – well then, that’s knowledge too. What not to pursue.”
The truth? I am an empty can that’s so full of shit.