Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Days of Our Work Lives: Part III: Adam's Saga. Episode 8: The Benefits of Membership

Part III: Adam's Saga

Episode 8
The Benefits of Membership

In the previous episode, Adam went off to college, having broken up a perfect relationship. His intuition was that he was meant to devote himself single-mindedly to career.

When he arrived at college and saw everyone hooking up, platonically and otherwise, part of him felt should join in. But most of him wanted to resist his parents' and society's urgings to be more social. 

On the other hand, he was aware his lack of social skills had already hurt him. Although he was the better musician, a more social person was chosen to be the Skit! musical director. Although his platform was far wiser, a more social person with a silly platform was elected treasurer.

He decided he needed to make friends and thought the easiest way would be to get built-in ones. So he rushed six fraternities--and was rejected by all six.

He figured that was another sign he should just throw himself into his schoolwork. He did so and did fine except, ironically, in science courses, where he struggled just to get B's. That resurrected his old self-doubts that came from his having gotten a D in Algebra I in the 8th grade.

That also tempted him to find an easier major than biology, which as Ben had told him, was no longer about fuzzy animals. It mainly was math, hard math. And those mathy science courses were made especially hard because they were often taught by foreign professors who spoke poor English and who somehow assumed his students were natural whizzes like they were. 

Adam was additionally tempted to change majors when he took a history course. He found it far more fascinating than stochastic processes or topological algebra. He loved stories like the one about Pope Pius XI who, failing, had taken to bed. But he wanted to make one last speech--denouncing Mussolini's aligning with Hitler, but in case he was too weak to, he ordered 350 copies of the speech printed. Indeed, he died before he could make the speech. Mussolini, afraid the printed speech would get distributed, went to a cardinal he knew in the Vatican who had been a close friend of the Pope and convinced him to burn the 350 copies. When the next Pope was named, the one selected was none other than that cardinal. And in a feeble attempt to hide his betrayal of his friend, the cardinal took his name: Pope Pius XII. 
That was a lesson Adam wanted to never forget: Question authority, no matter how high the office.

Before deciding to change majors, he figured he'd go to one meeting of the Future Optometrist Club to see what they thought. And lo, there he found some kindred spirits. Sure, some were socially savvy but more were awkward like him. And when he asked the guest speaker, the head of a large optometry practice, if Adam's having struggled in the science courses meant he'd be a bad optometrist, the speaker laughed and said, "Sometimes it's the opposite: the worst students academically can often be the best with patients." Adam decided to not change majors.

In a subsequent Future Optometrist Club meeting, the guest speaker was one of the professors, Harry Van Doren. He was introduced as one of the world's leading experts on penetrating eye injuries
--an injury common in war. Van Doren may have been an expert on eye injuries but he made no eye contact with his audience, and his voice was unclear and barely audible. When Adam whispered to another student, "What's with him?" He replied, "He has Asperger's, on the autism spectrum. He's brilliant and kind but can't communicate worth shit."

And that made Adam stay after his talk to ask him a few questions and decide to visit him during his next office hour.

The next episode is HERE.

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