Monday, 26 October 2009


I'd forgotten that exams can actually be enjoyable.

The last few weeks have been the run up to my final exams. I've been stressing myself a little silly. Today I wrote the first -- and probably easiest -- of them: General Astronomy. I was ridiculously nervous, right up until I was sitting at my desk, waiting for the exam to begin. Suddenly things clicked and my apprehension became anticipation.

Black print crept along the pages of my answer book. I reached back and pulled things out of my memory to answer questions. I was a little disappointed that the Density Wave theory wasn't examined, and I made some semi-educated guesses about the four key observations made by Galileo.

After two hours, I had completed the paper and checked it. It was satisfying. I'm looking forward to the next one!

Thursday, 15 October 2009


A couple of days ago, I was struck by a thought that seems fairly obvious, but somehow isn't. I have been debating the worth of actually sharing it. I decided that if it makes a difference to me, it must be worth blogging.

A minister is not a better Christian than an engineer. A missionary is not a more useful Christian than an accountant. The presiding bishop is not a better Christian than the courtesy clerk at Pick'n'Pay.

Intellectually, I've known this for a very long time. Practical belief has been longer in coming. It is coming together in my head and my heart now, though. I am beginning to see that any aspect of Christian life (and by extension, all life) is only right if God calls you to it. When it is right, it is as absolutely right as right can be.

I think God gives us each a different set of tools and that no tool is better than another. A front-end-loader moves a lot of earth, but a trowel is considerably more useful for planting seedlings. People might even notice the hole in the ground more than the seedling, but it isn't intrinsically better or more righteous.

The best we can be is to be what God asks us to be. As John Milton put it, 'They also serve who only stand and wait'.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

'Like this, but not really'

The calculus I'm supposed to be studying right now reminds me of how small the human mind really is. There seems to be a repeated theme through my textbook of 'It's like this, but not exactly.' I shouldn't be able to subtract infinity from infinity because it just doesn't make sense. I still end up doing it indirectly. This confuses me.

Because I am confused, I end up wondering how I can be studying infinity anyway. I struggle to grasp twenty years or ten thousand Rand properly. Numbers like a billion or a trillion are really sort of beyond me, but here I am trying to grasp infinity. That's probably why I keep on facing half-answers. There are analogies that explain it if you don't stretch them too far and explanations that make sense if you aren't too rigourous. At the end of the day, though, I think there are some things that are beyond human understanding.

Those things are not only studied in Philosophy and Theology degrees. Anything that is part of God's creation - our entire universe - fits into something bigger than we can understand. So the Maths books say 'Like this, but not really' and 'Infinity isn't a number, but if we treat it like one here it works out'. I guess I just have to accept that God has given some people the insight to find those things and to counter my confusion with a wonder at what He's created.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Emotional Low

I don't like being unhappy, so I try to avoid it. This strategy is a lot more successful than I once thought. Some problems don't need solutions, they just need a good night's sleep. Some things aren't worth stressing over.

The potential downside to this system is that not stressing over things that don't matter that much can turn into denial of things that do matter. Sometimes things need to be put on hold and then picked up again. To some degree, I've done that with my studies and it's worked well enough for me. I have about four days more than I need to revise everything at a reasonable pace, which is plenty (I hope). Other things, like getting a hold on where my life is going, don't take well to that approach. I can only face so much of the stress at a time, but it needs to be faced.

When I try to bury it, it comes back out in the form of grumpiness, unfounded guilt, and arbitrary accusations. By God's grace, I've yet to be so irrational that I can't patch things up, but I'm sure that if I ignore the warnings I'll eventually take myself out of that grace, which is not a place I want to go. I need to do some self inspection and figure out where to put some of the pieces.

Part of that means that Shakespeare can have this Saturday off. Regular programming might resume next week. I think.

Wednesday, 07 October 2009

Threads of Thought

One of the ideas in Orson Scott Card's novel Children of the Mind is that people can think multiple things at the same time. To a certain degree, that's certainly true of all of us. I think the subconscious gets up to a lot of things without our attention. I don't think I can simultaneously and consciously follow two trains of thought, like Peter Wiggin, though.

Occasionally I catch myself trying, anyway. Generally, I don't think this is a good thing. Maybe if I practise I'll get better a it, but right now, I end up following two halves of thoughts.

For instance, the Maths I was studying this morning was a fairly straightforward section. I was almost tempted to skip it, but there are always a couple of things I need to read up on, so I didn't. The problem was that I began plotting my Nano novel at the same time. I didn't get very far with my novel, because part of my mind was on my Maths. I didn't get very far with the maths, because the part of my brain that is supposed to make sure I copy down the question properly was debating the pros and cons of writing about the Holy Grail.

In part, I know the issue will be solved when I start working on Maths that really holds my attention. Mostly, that's good, because it means I won't have too do the same sum three times before realising that if I wrote 1 instead of -1 I'd get the right answer. Partly, I'm a little wistful, because it would be interesting to see how well my brain can do at multithreading.

I guess that's life: there's always something more to explore, but I can't go in every direction at the same time.

Monday, 05 October 2009

The Left Brain - Right Brain Study Game

I think I was in Grade Ten when I first took one of those tests that told me to incorporate more right-brain techniques into my study scheme. I was half convinced that I would fail if I didn't use mindmaps to study, although I have subsequently discovered that I can pass quite fine without them.

I'm not sorry, though, that I was inspired to read one of Tony Buzan's books. I don't follow his techniques exactly as he lays them out, but reading about them opened my eyes to the multitude of possible study methods. Some things I still learn by making lists. I quite often use my rather unique variation on a mindmap. Occasionally, I use kinetic study techniques.

The AIDS virus becomes many times more interesting when you cast your siblings as unsuspecting white blood cells. Flemings Left Hand Law makes a wonderful base for a magic spell. The Permian extinction may have been caused by a volcano with bright red artificial curls instead of lava. All it takes is a little imagination.

Most people seem to think the way I study is a little crazy, but I'm quite pleased that I study at all. Mixing things up breaks through the boredom. It's probably neurologically useful too; at any rate, it gives me a quasi-scientific justification for making pretty pictures:
See my study plan? There's a b aig-picture mindmap for the right brain and detail-oriented calendar for the left brain. I wouldn't use either on its own (I have tried and failed), but, so far, they're working pretty well in combination!

Sunday, 04 October 2009

The Kid Who Grew up in the Back of a Church

I went to church by myself this morning, because my dad was preaching somewhere else. That's not particularly unusual in itself, but it's the first time that I haven't chickened out in this situation. It's easy to say 'Well, I'll go in the evening anyway, so what does it matter if I skip the morning service?' and avoid having to sit by myself. I feel better today, knowing that I went to both services than I did last time I skipped a service, though.

The funny thing is that lots of people I know will skip church altogether for reasons that seem smaller (at least to me). I don't want to judge what's right or wrong for them - I certainly wouldn't expect everyone to go to two services a Sunday - but it does highlight that my situation is a little unusual. Most kids didn't grow up in the back of a church.

Apparently, my mother played the organ at church in 18 August 1991 on 25 August 1991, she also played the organ, with the addition of a baby in a carry-cot (me!). I still remember being part of the row of four duvets at the back of the church. Going to church is what we do. I never particularly minded, and I was going to church because I wanted to long before my confirmation.

Sometimes I need to remember that it's not like that for everyone. Sometimes I need to remember that even though it's not like that for everyone, it is like that for me. I've tried going to church infrequently (once a week is infrequently, okay?) and also more frequently. I connect better with God when I'm in His big house often, so that's where I'll put myself. Even if people think it's strange that I dislike going to church less than three times a week.

Saturday, 03 October 2009

Shakespeare Saturday: LibriVox

During the car trip down to Pietermaritzburg, we listened to part of King Lear. It was fun to understand the play from a different angle, and the best part was that the recording was free! It had its flaws, but it was good enough to make me want to check out more of

LibriVox has thousands of recordings of public domain writings, from Aesop to Zola. Everything is put together by volunteers and released into the public domain. It sounds too idealistic to be true, but it seems to work just fine.

It isn't perfect, but is a great resource, especially in deep dark Africa where libraries don't stock audiobooks!

Three in the Morning

It's been a while since I stayed up working this late - now I'm not sleepy, but I've finally finished all my assignment. Now the studying for exams commences. I'm hovering somewhere between joy at the former and terror at the latter.

In the meantime, we went down to Pietermaritzburg and learned more about the city than I thought one could in thirty-six hours. We saw the three-bedroom flat we'll be moving into at the end of the year, visited various schools, went to dinner with some of my dad's potential colleagues (totally out of the blue: only a couple of hours after we'd met J. she sent a message inviting us for dinner!) and discovered that the best place to find a map of the city was not, as one might expect, the stationers, the newsagents or the tourist information centre. No, we stopped to ask for directions at an advertising agency and were given a map they had lying around. All I can say is that God must know what he's doing, because the weirdest things have worked out.

When we got home, I found a letter in the post from Kate P. I won a very pretty bookmark and a card (if it wasn't three in the morning, I might be inspired to take photos. It is three in the morning, though, so you'll just have to take my word for it that it's very pretty.) Yay! Thanks, Kate.

Oh, and just in case I didn't have enough on my plate, I'm signing up for NaNoWriMo. I don't know if it's wise and I'm not entirely commited, but it sounds like fun. Academics do have to come first, but I'm hoping I'll find enough time around and after them.

You can tell I wrote this at three in the morning, can't you? I promise not to do it too often!