Newtonian mechanics, and the LITA election

I’m bad at physics.

I went to an engineering school and I majored in math and I almost majored in chemistry so people thought I was supposed to be good at physics but, no. Put me in front of a free-body diagram and I react with this sort of blind scared incomprehension, forces are supposed to act on this? What could they possibly be? How on earth would I know? There’s this cargo-cult algebra of gravity and normal forces I could try to do but I never had any sense of what I should or shouldn’t write, or why. Arrows, at random.

My school required three semesters of physics so, well, that didn’t work out awesomely for me. Thursdays, the night before physics and chemistry (also required) were due, I’d get together with two friends who were good at physics but struggling in chemistry and we’d trade off strengths, dragging each other bodily through the hardest classes we’d taken to date.

A week before the final I showed up at last, embarrassed, in the professor’s office to throw myself on her mercy. (Yes, I should have done this a lot earlier, but what do you expect of a 17-year-old without a trace of study skills.) And I’m not clear what I hoped for, exactly, some kind of guidance or clarity, the guru on the mountain making the entirety of mechanics clear to me, magic, but I definitely did not expect what I got from her, which was her saying: you’re a smart student and I believe in you.

I had, let’s be clear, done nothing that semester to justify her belief. But I was seized with a guilty fire of needing to live up to it. For the next week, I took my physics textbook with me absolutely everywhere I went. I read it through meals. I reworked every single homework problem we’d done all term. I didn’t study for any of the rest of my finals (I was doing better in those classes and had some wiggle room…) I took a few hours off to go see a Shakespeare class put on a play, but I had the book with me and I read it during intermission.

And then I sat down for that final, and the first hour was okay, actually, things looked familiar, I wouldn’t say I understood them but I’d seen the problems or something very like them and I can pattern-match, and then the second hour was this awful dawning horror of meaninglessness opening up underneath and I could feel this test physically assaulting me, I was in actual bodily pain, and hour three dawned and I thought, to hell with this, I didn’t study for a solid week to be defeated by some test, and I wrote blindly and damn-the-torpedoes handcrampingly fast nonstop until the second they made me put the pencil down, and then I staggered out with the rest of my freshman class into the California May sunlight and we blinked at each other in zombielike weariness and defeat.

The class average ended up around 50%. I got about a 75. So. I killed it. Brought my average all the way up to a B-, which I assure you was not where that average had been a week before, and I cherish that B- more than anything else on my transcript.

This is a roundabout way of saying, yesterday I was notified that I won the LITA election — that you, my friends, think that I’m someone who ought to represent you on the Board for the next three years. You believe in me. And for the girl who spent her introverted depressed math-nerd high school years not having a whole lot of friends, and who graduated from library school what feels like yesterday, this is a mind-boggling statement of faith.

Like walking into that office, being told point-blank I’m more than I believe myself to be. So. Time to study. Because it matters, that I justify your belief.

I made a LITA page to make it easy for you to contact me and keep up with what I’m thinking about the association. I hope you’ll use it. It turns out I do have study skills, when I have to, but I’ll learn a lot more if you’re on the journey with me.

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