Longer and still incomplete


Think I mentioned at the beginning of the year that I dreaded going back to school. Not sure how much I posted of at the time. Ultimately I did withdraw from my units that semester, having decided my overall plan to get my bachelor's in astronomy and follow that up with a shorter librarianship qualification that depended on my having a bachelor's degree would take longer than I was willing to wait. I didn't and don't want to wait 4+ years to move and be with my loves. They've had to wait so long for me already.

So I decided to abandon my goal of finishing my astronomy degree - probably permanently since I wouldn't be able to afford school in the USA - and enrol in a bachelor's program that would get me a librarian qualification. That's still a gamble, as the American Library Association (ALA) makes no guarantee about accepting foreign qualifications as valid, but that would apply even if I attained a local master's.

Being my usual near-useless self I did not realise or decide this until past time for enrolling at the beginning of the school year, in summer. I then procrastinated in enrolling for the mid-year intake until late June, near when the session was due to start and technically after enrolments are cut off for anything with a mandatory residential unit. Which of course the course had. For some reason they took me anyway.

But that meant I had less than a week to secure accommodation in a strange city far from the coast of the state, as that aforementioned mandatory residential school occupied the first few days of July. Good thing all the course options were otherwise distance education - I don't know what I would have done if my only options for getting further qualified required moving and quitting my job.

At first I wanted to take the train there and back and enjoy the scenery until I found myself unable to book accommodation on campus. Having to get a room in town meant I would need to get around, to get to classes for the three day residential school if nothing else, so I decided to drive down instead despite that being a 4.5 hour sort of adventure for someone whose longest previous drive was up into the mountains.

I ended up at the urging of my loved ones contacting the school to ask if they could make arrangements for me on campus anyway, on the day before I'd have to set out (the school had taken its time getting back to me with my acceptance, so this delay was not all my own fault [except in the sense that I had caused it by being so late to apply]). When I didn't get a response in an hour, I booked a hotel room. Then they did get back to me and say they could indeed have made arrangements for me. I ended up getting the hotel booking cancelled and refunded - despite their stated policy of not doing that - and then getting in touch with the university again and asking them to make those arrangements they'd said they could make for me. This took up the bulk of the remainder of the day. Very stressful.

Here, have a post-fragment I wrote shortly after getting back:

I wanted to post updates from the residential school at the end of each day, but of course by the time evening came I felt more tired than willing to bestir myself. Now that I am back, I had better get something down while I still remember any of it... hopefully I do. Probably more of a trivial listing than anything else.

I drove down the day before classes were due to start (Tuesday), since that seemed a better choice than setting out at or after midnight and I'd only had arrangements secured the evening before.

First thing, learned how to check out various aspects of the car (oil, water) prior to a long drive. Second thing, got the tank filled with petrol and bought a packet of sweets and a couple of chocolate bars since in my experience that is what people do to aid alertness on long drives. I ended up eating the chocolate bars for lunch at a rest stop stocked with explicitly non-potable water and signs warning people to watch out for snakes, while finishing off a chapter of Michael J. Fox's autobiography Lucky Man.

Since the drive was so long I made sure to load my phone up with more than the usual number of podcasts to keep me entertained... fortunately the vast majority of the trip was on a single multi-hundred kilometre road, so I did not have to worry about it being interrupted by the navigator (except one opportune moment at the end). On the trip down I went through Part 1 of The Atlanta Radio Theatre Company's adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth; Episode 116 of The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe; Episode 58: Inflation of Astronomy Cast; Point of Inquiry's interview with Barbara Oakley on Evil Genes; Episode 63 of Skepticality "Where Do We Go From Here?"; More Wacky Bible Stories from Logically Critical and finally The Shadow Over Innsmouth, Part 2.

That was perhaps an ominous soundscape to be arriving in town to, but somewhat satisfying for being a complete cycle of the list - not every podcast I'm subscribed to by a long shot, but all those that were active with subscription archives extending back to October 2007.

What I find especially interesting about compiling that list is that for writing or thinking of each item on the list a memory is triggered with, yes, traces of the content from that episode but more strongly a sense of the environment I was driving through at the time. Have found it often to be the case when I have cause to re-listen to something first heard while driving, that it strongly evokes that particular driving experience. Is fascinating.

But I arrived at the campus, found a car park, and stopped. The next thing I needed to do was locate the campus accommodation so I would have somewhere to sleep that night.

Sunset had begun when I pulled up. The nearby map did not actually show the residences so far as I could tell, although for a brief period I thought it might show where to check in (it did not). I pulled out the map I had brought with me, supplied in email alongside course-relevant material. That one was difficult to relate to the campus map on the sign but I set out optimistically with it.

So I'd parked on campus, got my bearings, and set out for the accommodation office. But I couldn't quite match the map to my surroundings. It was much farther than I thought. Got turned around and looped several times the same patch of ground. Didn't help that there was some large construction of student residences which it turned out were obstructing the ordinary path marked on the map. I ended up taking a long way round. I think it was an hour later and night falling when I stumbled on the residences. I was not sure, thanks to the path I had taken, that I hadn't wandered off the campus grounds and into a suburb.

Feeling a bit weak I scrounged some water and a pear (or maybe an apple) from my backpack. Found the office where I could sign in and find out where I would be staying, get keys etc. not much later. They didn't have my name in their register, I think, but found me a place to stay anyway and gave me the key along with another map.

So now I had to make my way back to my car, since all my clothes and etc. were in there. Tricky since it was dark out, there were no lights, and I didn't even know precisely how I'd managed to get where I was. Another long walk, essentially a circuit of the outer perimeter of the campus and I finally got there. I was really, really appreciating having all those podcasts loaded on my phone to listen to by then. Listening to an interview on epidemiology from six years previous makes tedious stumbling in the dark on strange roads a whole lot more bearable.

Found my car. Drove across campus to where I was staying, basically the exact far side, and parked a much more convenient distance away. Identified the correct place, hauled my stuff in and unpacked. Let my family know I'd arrived safely.

Next thing I needed was food. Think I'd packed a sandwich, which I ate then, but the last proper meal I'd had was breakfast and now it was after 18:00. Identified some food type places on one of the campus maps I had and set out for them. Took a bit of looking but I found them and they were closed. Walked back to my car and asked my phone to find me a grocery store in town, along with directions to same.

Bought myself a bowl, some spoons, a box of cereal, lactose free milk, a loaf of bread, some meat and cheese from their deli, mustard, and a bottle of cranberry juice because I like the taste. That is almost all of what I ate for the following three days.

Set up my connection with the campus internet, and sleep. Felt lonely.

Can't go into too much detail of the content of the classes because memory and distance and so forth. Lot of people from within the state, unsurprising. Lot of people from regional towns and cities, bit more surprising. They did that annoying thing for intros in which everyone is supposed to find a partner, talk to em for a bit, then do some public speaking to the group introducing one's conversational partner. Don't like it, believe acquitted self well however.

Met good people. Whether it is the class overall or just the set I ended up near, had good lunch break conversation touching on stuff like secularism, education, queer rights and other such stuff. It was reassuring.

The usual thing happened, where people seemed to swiftly form social groups and networking over those days and although some talked to me I just didn't know how to turn that into an ongoing connection. As usual I felt frustrated by this and blamed myself.

Various sessions, describing the structure and content of the course. I don't think I'd ever properly attended an orientation thing before. Usually I'm disorganised and fail at getting clued in right from the beginning. Still managed to get lost between sessions, almost lost my scarf at one point but backtracking saved the day.

Second evening had a social event after the classes (that's second evening of the actual residential school, so my third and I believe final evening there). That was where I had felt most isolated. Arrived there relatively early, got myself a table. Watching everyone in the room fit together in groups, seeming to know each other, and me not knowing how to say hello or if I would be welcome to. One woman from the class - from this semester's intake - did sit at the table with me, and with her family. We talked a bit, but not much. I didn't want to intrude on her or her family, nor know how to keep the conversation going. Probably I should have asked more questions; I tend to feel that if I ask questions I will be intrusive, but also suspect asking people about themselves is a relatively reliable strategy for getting to know them, and for propelling conversation.

Toward the end of the social / dinner, one of the most-local member of the intake group approached to talk to me along with his girlfriend. Found that conversation much easier, being both poly and having other interest spectra in common, and they liked when I put on the cat ears I keep in my backpack (they were a gift). I felt much more comfortable and reassured by having some people I could get along relatively easily with, although still a bit guarded (did not ultimately come out as trans when referred to as a guy by one of them, despite almost doing so, frex). Main purpose of coming over to talk was to invite me to their LARP group, I think, which I accepted and gave my email for contact.

Felt pretty happy for the end of the evening.

The final day I scrambled. A couple of minutes late turning in my keys for check-out, I think that ultimately saw me charged for an additional day's stay when it came time to reckon with the university. This I believe was the day when I did all that getting lost and confused between classes and nearly losing my scarf. Might have been the day before, not sure.

My boss called me after check-out while walking to the first session of that day, asking if I could come in for a shift, had to remind her I was still in another city. Gratifying to be reminded I was still in demand back home as a book-shuffler.

By the by, as determined on the first day, almost everyone in the intake group had a library technician qualification equivalent to mine, and thus the same credit points skipping the first year or two of the official programme. Almost all working in libraries too, and many in more senior and / or more responsible positions than I hold. Rather intimidating.

The last day was not a bad day, and somewhat light-hearted toward the end. I am a bit panicked, as I genuinely do not know which specialisation I ought or want to pursue. Fortunately have since worked out I do not necessarily have to choose right away, and can focus on pursuing the common element units of the course for the next year, before chasing and choosing a specialisation (or choosing not to specialise).

When we were released I set almost immediately to getting myself home. No reason to stick around, right? And it would be late evening when I got back.

First the car inspection checks I'd learned before heading there. Then, getting a petrol station located and the car filled up. And finally the actual heading home. Just because I did it for the outward bound segment, here's what I listened to for the homeward journey:

That was a bit sad for me, as Logically Critical had been one of the most entertaining podcasts to listen to and that was indeed its final episode, all the way back in 2007. Shall miss getting to hear new episodes of that one.

On the drive down, in daylight, I had periodically seen signs of roadkill. Perhaps a half-dozen corpses by the side of the road, but despite my alertness no sign of any creatures leaping into my path. On the drive back up, in the dark of night, I saw no such roadside remains. I assumed they were there but hidden in the dark and tried to remain especially alert in case I had to suddenly break for a wombat or wallaby. Fortunately again I did not.

My attempt on the drive down to stop at a rest stop had gone poorly. Misunderstanding the signs and ending up on the wrong track, with the trucks rather than the restaurant I'd ended up not stopping at all until I reached the other one where I had my lunch, the one that was just a rest stop and not a small roadside complex with petrol station and fast food restaurant. So I was pretty antsy on the drive back about where to attempt stopping, especially as I had no food left - I wanted to make sure to stop at a place that sold food so I could have dinner on my way up. I think I only saw one such on my journey after the first hour or so. Not sure now why I didn't stop there, think maybe I was uncertain of where exactly was the turn-off, not confident enough to make the attempt. So I ended up driving the four and a half hours back continuous.

Awkwardly there wasn't so much food available when I finally got back home either, though I managed to scrounge something together. Did continue what has seemingly become a tradition, contributing to the household stock of cutlery and crockery whenever I am away from home for a few days.