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"De Familiaritate Scientiaque", an Essay
What could be more valuable to a man than his own well-roundedness?
In what I have written in the past, I have attempted not to convey any notion that I am without fault and that I know everything. If I were to say otherwise, I would be lying to you, the reader, and myself. Regularly do I find the limits of my knowledge, and until I expand those borders, I find myself embarrassed among the older, more experienced players of the game.
Every day for me is a lesson in humility. It's crucial that that point is understood. I spend my days with people who have been studying in areas for half my life, or with others whose talents in a subject, such as translating from other languages, far overwhelm mine. To the classics department's credit at UT Austin, they teach them extremely well. After spending a few semesters with the upper-division Latin students, you learn to get your act in gear quite quickly. You better be up on all the jargon, all the well-known Roman stories and ruling families. You better know your vocabulary and grammar down cold. This is what my main concentration is in college. Latin grammar, prose, poetry, and so on and so forth.
It's tough. Saps all your confidence at times. I'm sure to others it would be a walk in the park, but I've pretty much played catch-up with the others since I came into the Latin program with inferior Latin skills.
Okay, so the question naturally follows: why aren't I majoring in computer science? I've heard it before. Is it not obvious?
I need a lot of work at Latin in order to get it down. Computer science comes easily to me. What do they both have in common? I enjoy them both. You see, what drives me to study in these areas is curiosity and intellectual stimulation. This same passion also creeps into other areas I'm not very knowledgeable in, like cognitive science and linguistics, and so on. I'd love to gather more than just a cursory knowledge in these fields of study, and I'll look forward to taking the classes for them. But, again, why am I majoring in Latin and not computer science or business?
I see it this way. I've learned just about everything I know about computers by myself. I had some instruction to learn some older programming languages and lesser used languages like machine and assembly, but most everything I know about the Internet, I learned just by playing with it while the Internet turned from the special child to the young adult it is now. I am at one of the best universities in the world and so what I want to pull from it is what I could not otherwise easily learn. I can teach myself computer technologies and theories, but learning Latin or studying the rules in the development of languages are not quite as accessible outside of an academic environment. Being taught by very learned, charismatic professors who reveal the ins and outs of Roman life to us is an experience I will never forget. I don't regret the insight into humanity and history I've been exposed to in my studies. I lust to spend a day in ancient Rome, to see what it truly was like.
As I said before, computers come easier to me than Latin. Perhaps it's because I use computers for a practical purpose every single day, able to test and verify certain questions I have using examples that actually address me. At any rate, I have acquired the highly-sought, but rarely-identified intimacy of computers.
Don't lose me now. There is a peculiar relationship between a craftsman and his trade. When the craftsman first came upon the art, he was quite clumsy, and the craftsman knew little about what he was doing. But in time, as the craftsman worked more and more with his tools and adjusted his technique to better the results, the craftsman became an expert in his trade. Instead of picking up his tools gingerly and carefully, not sure what to do with them (like me in a kitchen, yes Anna?), he, with a sure hand, grasps the instruments and puts them to work to create his work of art. Every move is careful and precise and the craftsman begins to feel his project as he works on it. He can sense whether something has been molded right or wrong, whether this or that is solid or potentially brittle. The craftsman becomes one with his trade. Instead of following guidelines in order to create something that perhaps barely meets the standards for the result, he experiments with his creative process, in order to create a higher quality of product.
There is absolutely no substitute for experience in life. There is only so much you can learn and hear and read about until you have to start experiencing it in order to go further.
I have achieved this level of intimacy with my computing skills, among other things. In running my system, like my brother said this evening, I can sense if anything's not working correctly. A tiny glitch in the system immediately catches my attention: what caused it? How can I fix this problem? How dangerous is it?
I have achieved this level of intimacy with the game of baseball. I used to play baseball quite seriously, with the boyish dream to grow up and become a baseball player (although, unfortunately, "player" takes a more pimpish type of definition with today's ballplayers). In watching the game, as I no longer play it, I still know the feeling of cleats against cut grass in the outfield. I know the inner workings of the game well enough that I can sense the rhythm of the play, something others would miss completely. Some see baseball, I see a sport I devoted many hours into improving at. My senses all remember the sport with vividness.
I am intimate with the English language. No, I have not tackled the difficult art of meter and syllabic feet, but perhaps one day I will, so that I might attempt a play on the Juvenalian satire or a Frederick Turner epic poem. I do, however, feel comfortable in working with the English language. It is not a chore for me to write, as it is for countless others. I write at least one essay every week, for my readers' benefits (what sad souls they are, patiently waiting for Mr. Turner to show some responsibility and update his Soapbox) as well as for mine own. Somewhere along the line, I picked up the exact meanings of words, and how they should be used and in what syntax and grammatical structure. Granted, I am by no means unique on this count, but I do find it important that I recognize that the power I wield with my knowledge of words and style with the English language.
In order to find this intimacy with your studies, it's imperative that you be allowed full access to use all of your senses and whet your mental appetite in order to soak it all in. That's mainly what there is to it. True knowledge comes through thorough exploration -- reading a book does not make you learned. Reading a book about something, working with it or translating it, editing and improving it to make it better, doing everything you can to make it as perfect as possible...that's what changes you.
That's what makes you regard your affinity with a dead language with the closeness you have with your human body. As you quickly notice the small twinge in your shoulder that wasn't there before, so do you notice when a Latin word could be translated differently for a more exact meaning. A broken arm is as wounding as a large chunk of a topic you had no idea existed.
How can you feel if you do not care? Does true knowledge come without passion? Can you learn the ways of something if you do not find interest in it? I don't think it's possible.
Is it easier to understand why not being able to physically touch sweet Anna is so debilitating to me? How can I feel that exact notion of intimacy with the woman I love the most, if I cannot touch her and smell her and taste her and hear her, as well as spend time with her? The ephemeral feelings I experienced with Anna have worn away as our time apart has grown, and I've forgotten temporarily what it all feels like. I know how I react to it, but I cannot duplicate the exact sensations in my imagination if the memory is not fresh. Love that is treated justly by those who control such matters is love that allows a couple to freely experience each other. Feelings in love are not just of one or two separate things -- they are of the whole package, and are inseparable. The five senses accompany each other. Nevertheless, I am not trying to say I regret loving Anna -- there is no greater thing than this, methinks, and the time in our lives when we are apart will further sensitize us so that when we'll finally be allowed to be together always, we'll enjoy our physical presence even more than what is normal.
So...in Latin, what I am trying to achieve is the intimacy. Roman political and social history, Latin rules, Greek historical roots, Roman artwork, and so on excite me beyond all belief. But I am still a fledgling in the study of the whole topic. I don't feel close to Latin yet. My care in learning it has yet to reap the rewards of reciprocated affection. By majoring in something I am so keenly interested in, it will present to me the opportunities I need in order to become familiar with the language so that I can simply read a line of Latin and feel what it is trying to convey and how I should put those feelings into English.
I am no stellar Latin student. But I am improving rapidly. And it will be such a grand validating experience to me when I start feeling the words instead of merely translating them. This is the way I want it to be. I'm not in it for the money, or for the job offers. But I couldn't bring myself to study law or business without learning about the many areas I'm interested in. I think if I did that, not only would I loathe myself, but I'd feel claustrophobic. Making money is a secondary thing to me, you see, and there can be little happiness for someone like me if I do not create or envision ideas, instead of implementing them by another's command. Although doing work for someone else can pay well, creating your own work from idea to product pays well too. I think my engineering/pre-med friends lose sight of this. They are hardly the creative types.
I need to be this way because I intend to bring my ideas to life. I won't be the sort who just puts together what someone else envisioned. I will be the sort of person who has the technical skills to back up his dreams and personal goals.
You have to do what you feel most strongly about. For some, it's just doing one task well, usually the trade historically passed down through a family. For me, what I feel I have to do is study quite a bit in all sorts of areas so I am comfortable with them, and I can incorporate them into my ideas and thoughts. There is no one thing that is so important that it must consume all of my studies. I can't simply pick up the ropes of how to work in a large business -- I need to throw in a strong linguistic and rhetoric background in order to communicate, as do I need technical knowledge of programming languages and protocols in order to make my ideas into actual objects. I think this is the way it has to be. I cannot fathom living the way many do -- those who are truly great extend their powerful hands into all areas.
So where am I going with this? I suppose it serves as a kick in the shin to all those people who think my methodology is fucked up, who constantly question where I'm going and what I hope to become. Don't hold me down to your narrow-minded product-of-the-times mentality, which has been spoonfed that there are only two or three suitable areas of study for anyone who wants to be successful. I also strived to scratch the surface of explaining this odd relationship I have with the areas of study I have learned. Sure, it's strange to admit such feelings towards simply one's work, but look at it this way: you know as well as I do that we all desire that innate knowledge, that insight which surpasses bodily expression or emoting of expression, in everything we have, whether it be a sweet Swedish girlfriend or a main concentration of study like Latin.
This essay is hardly no work of eloquence like Lucretius's, as most of it was written while I was exhausted, and the end was written the day after I fell asleep thinking about what to write next. It's difficult to express appropriately what I've been trying to write about -- perhaps I can do it justice at a later point in my life when my understanding of all this is more than just a realization discovered in the five minutes it took to write the introduction.
At any rate, I'm further on my way to success, now that I've identified even more of what I excel at. In being well-rounded shall I find my strength.
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