take your medicine.

While Josh and I were preparing for our trip to Kansas, I tried to convince him that Dorothy's home state could actually be quite beautiful, rather than the vast, flat wasteland he was imagining. I lamented that we would not be going in the summertime, right before harvest, when the amber waves of grain would be in bloom. What I hated most was that he would miss seeing the fields of sunflowers, tall and beautiful like an antihistamine commercial where no one ever has to sneeze.

But no, we went in October, when the predominant color was brown.

We were driving past a field one evening when the crops changed from harvested wheat to something else. "Wait, what are - oh NOOOOOOOO!"

And of course, this was beautiful, too. Just in a tragic and heartbreaking sort of way, like an antihistamine commercial where someone dies young from not taking their medicine.


science-based magic shows.

I've had three physics classes over the years. Despite that, I know very little about the topic. The subject bears the distinction of being the only one that I never really got a handle on. In fact, it reduced me to tears on at least one occasion. I can't blame my lack of knowledge on my teachers. I had one teacher who was a good educator but knew nothing about physics, one teacher who knew about physics but wasn't a good educator, and one who luckily had both physics knowledge and the skills to communicate it. Even she was unable to break the tough membrane around my skull that will not allow physics in. Of course, by that time, I was so wary of physics that I avoided it, and as a result, did not study very hard.

But I'm only here to talk about the first teacher today, the one who had previously successfully made the transfer of chemistry from her brain to mine, but was unable to reproduce the process with physics. You can't teach physics if you don't understand it, and Mrs. Buchman didn't.

My high school honors physics class consisted of six students, smart kids from the junior and senior classes. I'm not sure why it was an honors class, because I don't think there was a regular physics class at the time. My high school had an extensive horticulture program, but we weren't much in the way of the high sciences. I only took the class because, being an honors course, it would have a bigger impact on my GPA, and that was the kind of thing that was important to me at the time. GPAs were important to all the members of that class, because GPAs were important to college admissions and scholarship committees.

The class in itself was a lot of fun. We did some physics, sure. Mrs. Buchman would sorta explain stuff and we wouldn't get it, or maybe we would kinda get it when she explained it, but not enough to be able to reproduce it. Then we'd get distracted and talk about something else. In terms of physics, we were all very easily distracted.

I have a lot of faith in Mrs. Buchman, and I feel strongly that she is a good person who actually cares about her students learning. That semester was not one of her shining moments. I know she was feeling some guilt at the fact that she was not teaching us material we came to learn, guilt that was only made worse by the fact that we were top students.

For being a terrible class, it was a lot of fun. I've had terrible classes which were boring, and they pale in comparison to this one. To feel like we were doing something, anything physics-related, we came up with a science-based magic show. We toured elementary school classes, showing off goofy tricks you can do with inertia and polarity. I remember in particular demonstrating the former while balancing a coat hanger and some clay balls on my head. The kids seemed to like it and we all had a great time doing it.

The semester passed quickly, and why wouldn't it? It was my senior year of high school, and I was in the fun science class where I got to be goofy instead of learn. But there was a dark shadow looming at the edge of the semester's horizon in the form of a state end-of-grade test. At the end of all this not learning, I was expected to show the state of North Carolina how much I had not learned. As the time rolled on, the dread of this test filled our little teenaged hearts and added to our already-high stress levels.

By the last week, we were all capital-F Freaking out. We didn't know anything about physics. We had spent the semester gallivanting. We were students who cared about test scores, because they went on our transcripts, and transcripts were sent to colleges. We weren't going to get to go to college. We were going to have to stay in Lenoir and work in the furniture factory. Life was truly over.

Taking the test went about as expected. I honestly had no idea at all on about a third of it. I had vague ideas on the rest, mostly because I had at least heard of the words used. That only meant that I could eliminate one choice, meaning I only had 2/3 chance of missing it instead of 3/4. It was a glass-half-empty kind of test. It was a miserable experience, but we all knew it was the equal and opposite reaction of goofing off all year long.

The nice thing about standardized tests nowadays is that they are graded so quickly, and so we trudged back to Mrs. Buchman's classroom later in the day to hear our results. They were stupefying. We had all miraculously scored in the high 80s and above; I personally landed an 88. One girl had scored a low 90. Though we were kids who usually scowled at a 'B' test result, we rejoiced. We weren't going to have to go to our second-choice colleges after all. Mrs. Buchman beamed at us all.

Months later, I happened to get ahold of a copy of my high school transcript. I glanced through it, just to see what was there, to see what I'd been obsessed with improving for the past four years. I saw my test score from the physics state test. It was not an 88, nor was it even in the 80s range. It was more than fifty points south of what I'd been told.

Panic. Sets. In.

Holy crap, this score has been here all this time, tainting my entire transcript with it's pathetic lowness. College admissions offices saw it. Scholarship committees saw it. How in the world had I ever been granted anything?

Panic subsides.

I realized that I already was accepted to college, and that I wasn't paying for it. It was almost like that one little grade hadn't been there or even that it hadn't mattered.

I was immediately irritated at Mrs. Buchman for lying to us. I don't like being protected from the truth. I like to think that I'm a strong enough person to handle the world as it is, no sugar-coating please. Even if it turned out that the grade didn't matter, did Mrs. Buchman necessarily know that?

Then I thought about my classmates and realized that she might have been right. Type A doesn't even begin to describe us, and we were already high-strung with the competition for class rank between us. Maybe I could've handled the truth and maybe not. A couple of my classmates definitely could not have. This conclusion is the one that I've come to after six years, because I still have faith in Mrs. Buchman. I don't think she did it to keep us from hating her or being mad at her (which we would have had a right to be). She just didn't want us to kill ourselves over it.

Now that I've got three whole semesters of physics under my belt, I wonder how I'd do on that same test that gave me fits years ago. I don't want to brag, but I bet I could get a 45 now.