East Campus brings to mind rollercoasters and huge construction projects. Fanciful monsters built up from wood and screws. Less so the things that are built, but more the ambition behind it, more the fact that it’s possible, that you didn’t need a company and dozens of weeks, that a couple of undergrads working together could cobble one up.
This year, for REX, one of the things being built was a fort. No experience required, was the advertisement. Come and help out. The night I moved in there was only a hexagonal frame in the courtyard, and by the next afternoon they’ve put pillars and more stuff in the hexagonal frame and they looked ready to start the next layer. The plans say it would be three storeys high. Imagine that: three storeys. And the deadline was in a couple days.
Part of me wanted to help, but part of me was scared. Sure, they said no experience required, but I still couldn’t bring myself to ask. The whole project just felt like something so huge and so untouchable, something so carefully and meticulously thought out, something for actual engineers, and not the unexperienced prefrosh I was. It felt like a ridiculously complicated task.And maybe another reason was just that power tools are scary, that drills and saws are grown-up tools, a thought drilled into my head when I was twelve, that it wasn’t safe, that it was scary. And maybe another reason is that trying new things out, in general, is just scary, because how do you talk to people? How do you ask for help? What if I make a mistake?
I don’t know why I tried doing it anyway. But there were five of us prefrosh who all wanted to try it and didn’t know how to help, and there was an upperclassman who was willing to teach us.
It was far less scary and far less complicated than it was in my head.
I mean, you put on a hard hat and wear glasses. To use a power saw, you align the wood, press a button, push it down, and it chops off the wood you need. To use a drill, you grab a screw, align it, press a button, push it down, and it drills the screw in. Do these a couple times and you have a railing. After a little training, it really wasn’t that hard.
It’s meditative, even. The actions are repetitive, but fun. I came back the next day to help out, and the next day to help out some more. Despite using drills and screws and saws, despite loud noises and sawdust flying in the air and getting all over your shirt, I found it oddly relaxing.
Live action role-playing
I’ve always wanted to try out live action role-playing. Sure, there’s this stereotype that it’s a bunch of nerds who dress up and fight each other with foam swords. But it sounded like a lot of fun, like being the actor in a movie you don’t know the plot of.
I was pretty excited to find out about the Assassin’s Guild, a live action role-playing group here, and I signed up for their first game, which was held last weekend. It’s set in the universe of Isaac Asimov’s robot novels. Some people’s roles were humans, and others were robots, and the robots generally followed the Three Laws of Robotics.
The game space was pretty big, spanning three floors of buildings 24, 26, 34, 36, 38 . Part of my role involved confronting people, terse negotiation, and making compromises in order to achieve my character’s goals. There’s something about asking to talk with someone privately, making wild accusations, and getting information, which is pretty fun.
Another part of my role was looking for items I wanted, which were in packets taped to the walls of the game space. Which meant that I searched all three floors of all five buildings. This was time-consuming. In order to actually acquire items, you’d have to do this “hacking” mechanic, which involved shuffling a deck of cards seven times and then laying them out. This was also pretty time-consuming.
Towards the end, people got suspicious of me and decided to restrain me. The whole interaction looked something like this:
a group of five people approach me.
guy: Knock Out 2.
other guy: Assist 2.
guy: Knock Out 4.
other other guy: Assis—
me: okay okay i get knocked out
i sit on the floor.
It was so fast I didn’t even see who they were. They then decided to search all of my items, which consisted of me handing them the slips of paper that were in my pockets. They also took my energy blaster, which consisted of me handing them my Nerf gun and my foam bullets.
It was pretty fun. I still don’t understand everything that happened, but it was surprisingly fun, and I’d love to do more in the future.
A misleading name, because it’s less like dancing and more like trying to remember what a Star Thru is after doing a California Twirl and having to remember that you and your partner are called centers, and after changing location you guys are now called heads and then a Four Ladies Chain is called and you’re moving to another spot, and then the caller asks for the sides to promenade, but even if you and your partner are heads you have to move forward in order to make way for them, and then you’re asked to partner trade and you have to remember to pass right-to-right shoulder, and suddenly everyone’s clapping because an Allemande Left was called and you quickly go to position.
If you don’t understand anything written above, that’s okay. It would still be representative of what it feels like.
I got dragged into square dancing when one of the upperclassmen living on our floor invited me to go to the MIT’s square dancing club intro night. I had a vague idea of what square dancing was. The caller gives commands, and people move around according to these commands, but I didn’t really know anything else.
Again, no experience required, and it really was no experience required. By the end of the night I could follow along to a handful of basic calls, and I enjoyed it enough to sign up for square dancing as my PE class this quarter.
That is the class number for Writing and Experience: Reading and Writing Autobiography. It’s a CI-HW, which means that it’s a class that involves a lot of writing.
The discussions we have in class are surprisingly lively. It’s completely unlike any of the humanities classes I had back in high school. Everyone’s contributing their ideas about the text, and it feels more like a discussion between us students, rather than a question-and-answer session led by the professor.
I also find the topics interesting in a personal sense, since writing about myself through blogging has been an important part of my life, and the class has gotten me thinking about these things.
And that is the class number for Explorations in Management. It’s a class that meets from 7 to 9 on Monday nights. It’s a discovery class, so it only carries three units, and there’s not a lot of work. In our first meeting, Professor Andrew Lo gave a talk about how financial engineering can help fund biomedical research. And there were several literally hair-raising moments during the talk.
It was mind-blowing. I enjoyed that first meeting more than any of my other, more technical classes, which is really surprising to me, because I don’t know anything about Course 15, and only signed up for the class on a whim. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the class.
And I could go on.
I could tell you about how I went to a estimathon hosted by Traders at MIT, and had fun arguing with some people I just met about how many bus stops the MBTA has, or how much volume the Antarctic Ice Sheet had, and how the time went by surprisingly quickly. Or about the ESP worksession I went to on Wednesday night, where I helped diagnose some email problems, which was surprisingly fun.
If I were to distill this whole blog post into a single line of advice, it would be this: try new things. The last few weeks have been a constant string of surprises, of things I never thought I would like, but enjoy a lot.
It’s not the case that I enjoyed every new thing I tried. Auditioning for the Asian Dance Team made me realize that I didn’t enjoy learning dance routines. Going to some more Traders at MIT events made me realize that I didn’t really want to join their group, or at least, not now. Playing some games with the MIT Poker Club made me realize that I didn’t enjoy poker that much.
Why try new things if there’s a chance you won’t enjoy them? I guess it’s because of the small chance that you will enjoy them. If you try ten things, end up disliking nine of them, but liked the last one enough that you do it a hundred times, then it would have been worth it, wouldn’t it?
There’s so many new experiences that MIT is offering, and I love how I can use this first semester to explore them.