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Lydia K. '14, MEng '16

Dec 27, 2014

Mondays and Tuesdays and the Spaces Between

Posted in: Miscellaneous, Academics & Research, Life & Culture

Right now I am in Florida, at a campground just outside Miami, where my family has migrated every winter for more than a decade. It’s raining gently, so I am marooned on a bench under the roof of the laundry building. There are palm trees, and though it is overcast and colder than it has been most mornings, it is very different from Boston. With this (totally intentional) distance, I want to tell you about four days this past semester: a Monday, a Tuesday, and another Monday and Tuesday.

Monday, December 1

12:01 am: The plane shakes, service carts squeaking behind us. Cory is reading a book (I think it was One Hundred Years of Solitude). I am working on my novel, or making a sad attempt to work on my novel, inspired by Cory’s amazing NaNoWriMo progress (he wrote a novel). The city gets larger in the window, nighttime Boston like a wet spiderweb beneath us. We are flying back from Thanksgiving break with my family in Myrtle Beach (another migration—my family lives in Pennsylvania).

“Happy Monday,” I say.

9:15 am: I wake up, 20 minutes before lecture.

9:45-ish am: 7.06 (cell bio) lecture. I’m going to flatter myself by saying that I am 10 minutes late, but I am probably not 10 minutes late. I call my mom on the way there, then stop by a QuickPrint station in the Infinite for paper to take notes on and Café 4 for coffee. I find a seat in the back row next to Ceri, spill my coffee on my notes and myself, and copy over the notes that are still on the board from the part of lecture I missed. I try to multitask, which is almost never a good idea, and check my email, which I’m going to pretend is okay because I am in the back row. I feel very bad about this because part of my job as a 6.005 TA is to make sure that people are paying attention in class. I look around to make sure I don’t see any students I recognize, and sink a little lower in my seat thinking of the decent proportion of the 200-something 6.005 students I probably wouldn’t recognize and who might be in 7.06 lecture with me.

There are something between 20 and 30 emails specifically addressed to me, besides those that are addressed to my dorm or another social mailing list, which Gmail filters out for me. Most of them aren’t actionable and I punt them. Exam grading, which I couldn’t make it to because of lecture, is done, and that is wonderful.

10:50-11:00-ish am: Lecture is over. I walk through the Infinite with Ceri. We stop by Café 4 again and I copy Ceri and buy juice (the one flavor I’m not allergic to). We split up somewhere in building 56, she to lecture, me to Stata, my home base for the semester. I sit down at a table on the first floor with my juice, turn on Taylor Swift’s new album, and start digging myself out of my inbox.

11:11 am: I get an email from the MFA (Museum of Fine Arts, which MIT students get free admission to), forward it to Cory, and think about how we should go to the MFA.

11:25 am: I get bored of Stata and decide to move to Hayden to grade problem sets. On the way there I run into Geronimo M. ‘16, who is one my best friend’s boyfriends, my own close friend, and a current 6.005 student. This is a theme in college: as you get older, your mentors and mentees start to be your friends and your peers and stop being much separated in age from you, if at all. He says something that I don’t remember and I mumble something nonsensical about having 9:30 am lecture and then we part ways. As I enter the library I have a sudden, urgent realization that I’m not wearing closed-toed shoes, and then I remember that I’m in a library. I find a seat on the second floor overlooking the Charles and Boston and lower the shades so the sun isn’t on the desk. I email my 6.005 groups from phase II (networking the pingball game students created in phase I) of the project to set up today’s feedback meetings and my new 6.005 groups for phase III of the project (a pretty user interface for the pingball game) to set up Wednesday’s check-off meetings. There is some back and forth about grades that just got released. There are also some emails about weird hissing sounds outside my dorm. Apparently there is a dragon.

I don’t remember what I was grading but I must have been grading, because my notes on the rest of the hour are the following:

“I’m dancing on my own. I make the moves up as I go.”
I dislike grading.


Grading is probably the only part of being a TA that I don’t like, though I’ve gotten more used to it. Problem sets in 6.005 happen in two phases: after the first, I get to give students feedback that they then use to revise their code for the second phase; after the second phase, I grade, and there are no more revisions. I very much like giving feedback that students can immediately use. I don’t like taking away points and making people sad. Hopefully the feedback is still useful.

11:50 am: 6.005 is in 15 minutes. I go to the basement to get Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett, the third book in a trilogy that Cory and I started over the summer upon the recommendation of my 6.005 professor and now TA boss. There aren’t a lot of Terry Pratchett books in the usual place, and there is no Raising Steam, but I do notice a book with a title I’d fantasized about using for a novel I outlined but probably won’t write, Small Gods. I decide to read that instead. I check it out and go back to Stata for 6.005.

12:05-3:25 pm is class, and then helping students after class. 6.005 class is Mondays and Wednesdays 12 to 1:30 and Fridays 12 to 1. Usually there is a combination of lecture and group exercises but right now there are feedback meetings and worktime for projects. I call my mom again on the way home and don’t notice until it’s almost too late to wave that I walked past my boss on the bike path down Vassar (sorry).

3:25-4:05 pm: I go to Shaw’s, the grocery store a block from Random, and then I eat soup.

4:05-6:00 pm: I sit at desk, where I get paid by the hour to guard packages and, formerly, let people into the building. There’s a new security system so I no longer let people into the building, but I am still very good at guarding packages. Kevin M. ‘18 stops by to pick up a package, I deliver to him his package and no one else’s, and then I guard from him the packages that are not his, not that he would try to take them and not that he would succeed if he did, because I am very good at guarding packages, and we chat about our Thanksgiving breaks. He leaves and I go back to grading.

6:00-7:52 pm: More grading, now somewhere else because my desk shift is over.

7:52-11:53 pm: Cory and I watch two episodes of Breaking Bad. I clean the room and put away clean laundry while listening to Writing Excuses, a podcast that Cory found sometime this past year. Each episode is 15 minutes long and focuses on some aspect of making up stories.

A week later, the following Monday, it snowed. It was dry snow, and only a small amount, and it blew into the sidewalk cracks like dust. Probably sometime before midnight it turned into real snow, big snowflakes, covering the city in a thin layer. I stayed up til 5 am working on a personal coding project and then decided to be less irresponsible and went to sleep. In the week since the previous Monday I

  • got sick,
  • bought fuzzy socks and leg warmers and warm slippers,
  • got a Broad email address, waited for and then completed my online orientation (online because the in-person orientation conflicted with 7.06 lecture),
  • graded 6.005 problem set 4, and
  • started mentoring my 6.005 groups for phase III of the project.

Here is a picture of Massachusetts Avenue between Random and campus (campus ahead, Random behind us) and the small dome, the most memorable part of MIT that faces into Massachusetts Avenue, on the way home from meeting with students in the Student Center one evening (campus and Mass. Ave. ahead, Student Center behind us):

 

And here are pictures of my new fuzzy socks and leg warmers:

 

The next day, Tuesday, December 9

10:30 am: I wake up, probably pretty unhappy since I’d gone to sleep five hours ago, or maybe pretty happy since sleep deprivation is a good (temporary) mood booster. I drink coffee and I breakfast on leftover ricotta cheesecake from Shaw’s. It’s raining hard and it is slightly windy. Together the rain and wind have taken out the snow, which was much more pleasant than the rain. I wonder at Cambridge’s ability to rain even when it’s below freezing. Living in Cambridge, you learn quickly which shoes are merely waterproof and which shoes are both waterproof and warm.


My new ID, and a draft of this blog post (so meta!).

11:50 am: I arrive at the Broad. The Broad is next door to the Whitehead Institute, where I used to work a few years ago, and across the street from Stata. I get my new ID card and my new mentor shows me my new office, which is breathtaking. I have an entire third of an office, another third of which is unoccupied and the final third of which is occupied by my 6.047 (computational biology, which used to be an extra recitation of 6.046, algorithms, but which is now its own class) TA from a few years ago, whom I haven’t yet seen since then but am really excited to run into. Many of the walls at the Broad are clear glass, and I worry that someday after hours I will injure myself walking into one of them, like a large bird. I don’t yet have a project, so I send my parents an email about my beautiful new office and then I have to go.

12:51 pm: I head to my office hours, across the street in Stata. This is only my second time inside the Broad so I get down to the wrong exit, then go back up and back down again rather than spend an extra few minutes in the rain. Somehow I still make it to the seventh floor of Stata on time. (Do you know what is terrible? Being late to your own office hours is terrible.)

3:01 pm: I leave office hours, go home, put away my floorcloset, and hang out with Cory. At this point the streets are shallow lakes, and you can see the wind in them before it hits you.

4:06 pm: I have desk, which I am late to. I don’t remember and didn’t write down what I did for the rest of the day, but I imagine it was some mix of sleeping and Internet and grading and that’s why I didn’t write it down. I think I might have intended to go to yoga but fell asleep instead.

In the following week, phase III of the 6.005 project got finished by the students and then graded by the TAs. I hung out with some of the bloggers at Chris P.’s house, where we watched horrible things on the Internet and everyone got really acquainted with my love for Taylor Swift. Half or so of the new freshmen got in and I got to hang out with them on the Internet.

Next Monday, December 15

4:30 am: I wake up. I was sick the previous day (Cory got sick and then I got sick, probably with something entirely unrelated) and I am relieved to find that so far I seem to not be sick anymore. I read the textbook to study for the 7.06 exam, which is Tuesday at 9 am, which is even earlier than the usual 9:30 am lecture.

6:15-7:30 am: I get tired of reading and go to yoga at Prana Power Yoga, which is a six-minute walk from Random, and then I get home and crash.

2:00 pm: I wake up again and read some more from the textbook. Cory brings me tea a few times. At some point I take a break to go to Shaw’s with Cory and we buy cookies and tea biscuits. The sun sets. I stay up all night reading and doing practice problems and putting together my cheat sheets for the exam. I use both colored penciles and glitter glue, and I am thrilled to finally have a use for glitter glue.

 

Here is my favorite textbook passage from that evening, about shmooing:

 

Then it is Tuesday and I have eaten almost the entire 1800-Calorie tin of cookies.

9-10:30 am: The exam. I take with me in the tin, along with the remaining few cookies, some pancakes that our Housemaster, GRTs, and RLAD have cooked for us who have finals, and, in a travel mug that GRT Shaiyan lends me, some coffee. It is not a cumulative exam, which is a lot better than it being a cumulative exam. It is also my only final, which is a lot better than it being followed by more exams. When it is done my semester is also done. On the way home I go to MITFCU to apply for a credit card, because somehow I have become a financially independent adult. Then I go home.

Cory is gone at this point. He left for California for winter break while I was at my final. I hang out with Arianna M., who is at desk, and we talk about money and bills. I buy bus tickets and crash again. I wake up at 4:15 pm.

4:30-6:something pm: The final grades meeting for 6.005, on the seventh floor of Stata. I don’t cry, not that I expected to (cough). There is only one argument. The final parting of the course staff is bittersweet and not as spectacular as I would have liked. We’ve been through a lot together. I feel a strange emptiness that might be emotions but might be hunger and sleep deprivation.

I get home, call home (my other home), and eat that evening’s finals dinner (Mediterranean), organized for us by our wonderful Housemaster, GRTs, and RLAD. I fill the fish bowl with the water Cory had treated and left out, clean my room, and leave a quick note for Snake Eyes, who is feeding our fish at least once over break.

9:53 pm: I am on a bus in South Station (five stops away from Central, which is where Random is, or four stops away from Kendall (East Campus and most of MIT)), seven minutes early. I call my parents to brag about my surprising punctuality and then I read Pride and Prejudice on my Kindle, which is a second-generation Kindle from a very long time ago and therefore awesome. Cory took Small Gods with him to California. I am going through a Jane Austen phase since we watched Sense and Sensibility with my family over Thanksgiving break. I play “Welcome to New York” as the bus pulls into New York City, which is an extra-happy three and a half minutes.


A pigeon I saw at Port Authority.

2:30 am: A layover in NYC in Port Authority. I buy some orange juice and regretful Fritos, claim my own patch of floor where the line for my next bus will form in three and a half hours, and read Pride and Prejudice some more.

6:15 am: I get on a bus out of NYC. It’s heading to Baltimore and stopping in Harrisburg, State College, and Altoona. The bus is almost empty: there are six, maybe seven people, and half of them get off at Penn Station. I get an entire two seats to myself, which is wonderful. I read more Pride and Prejudice while listening to Belle and Sebastian and Taylor Swift. I break 100 listens of 1989.

12:50 pm: The bus finally pulls into State College, a block away from the IST/Computer Science building where I took what I think is the Penn State version of 6.005 five years ago, and stayed up all night battling segfaults in the winter with my nerdy friend who could drive stick shift (so could I, but he actually had a license).

My dad picks me up and drives me home. I hang out with my dad, then my dad goes to work and my brother Max comes home and I hang out with Max until I awkwardly fall asleep on the couch. I have vague memories of him making and offering me cookies but I am rude and I slept through that. I dropped and broke our Salvador Dalí mug when it was full of tea, dropped another mug full of tea, and finally decided it was time to go to bed.

 
The Dalí mug, which now looks like a Dalí painting, and an ornament my mom and my brother made.

A day later my mom, my dad, Max, and I roadtripped our yearly migration to Florida. Another semester is over, another year is ending, and we have come full circle to where I am now.

I have been wanting to do this kind of time accounting for a while (though nowadays it is less relevant to you, since I am no longer a full-time undergrad and am instead a master’s student and a TA, and since I just got a thesis I don’t think I’m even a typical master’s student). It’s probably the most important thing to consider when you consider a college, but it is also not what defines my MIT life. There’s so much variety in my day-to-day from week to week. I thought when I came to MIT that my strongest memories of college would be up late studying, but instead I live in the moments between, and that’s where my memories form.

That Monday night when I was studying (“studying”) for my 7.06 final I stumbled on a tumblr post by Selam G. ‘18, who just finished her first semester. I think she does a wonderful job of capturing the feeling of the moments that really stay:

Those of you who’ve been with me longest know of these posts. Occasionally, when I go outside and see something cool, I’ll make a “today I went adventuring” post. Sometimes I go outside explicitly for the sake of seeing cool things, and in part to make such a post.

But since I’ve been so busy lately, today just happened by chance.

I took my first MIT final this morning, Physics Mechanics. It went ok, I think. Right outside the testing centers there were people stationed to give us high fives, encouraging notes, and hot chocolate. That was nice; I wish we had that in high school.

Afterward I wanted to sleep but I also needed to exercise. Since the weather was nice outside and more finals were being held in the gym, I decided to run outside today.

Everyone says the run along the charles river is “so nice”, but I haven’t yet thought that. If it is, then it’s not on whatever part of the river I’m running along. I’ve been so spoiled by the abundant parks and trails and public spaces connecting every neighborhood of Colorado that I can’t stand running next to cars, roads, or highways, and the section of the Charles right in front of MIT has all of those. So today, I just ran into the bit of Cambridge behind my dorm.

It’s so nice out there. There are neighborhoods and parks, and it all has a very homey feel to it. I ended up running to Whole Foods without realizing it. There were fallen leaves all along the sidewalk and the sun was shining and the weather was crisp. It’s like today was a re-do of fall, which I quite liked. I came upon this park and playground that had this really fun-looking play structure on it, which was designed to seem carved from wood into a big birds nest. It was a nice, peaceful day that I took for myself. Sometimes it’s nice to just explore on your own and think for a bit.

Sometimes, it’s nice to just breathe a little slower.

  
  
  

(P.S. the cat is actually from a few days ago, when I went with some Chocolate City friends (pictured in the background) to Boston. There was a cozy bookstore we went into, and it had its very own cat.)

This year I’ll be coming back to start work on my thesis, but last year I stayed home for IAP. At the start of January I went to a New Year’s yoga class with my mom, which set my pace and resolutions for this past year. We learned pranayama breathing: inhale, pause, exhale, pause, inhale, pause, and so on. There are the active inhales and exhales, but the peaceful seconds between—stolen breaks between p-sets, long walks alone or with friends, watching the snow fall onto the rooftop below my window—are the ones I remember and live in.

One of my most vivid memories is likely closer to your life right now, from my senior year of high school. My MIT interview was on campus (Penn State’s, not MIT’s), on the same street my classes were on, so I was early. I went across the street to that same IST/Computer Science building and paced through the rose bushes outside. Moreso than the interview itself or the rest of that busy year, more than five years later I can still feel that walk. There was snow on the roses and cold air in my lungs. My breath came out in thick white gusts. The snow crunched under my boots, bright in the sun.

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