This can be told, now that the first week of summer school is safely past, and I can even laugh about it, a little.
Flash back with me if you will to March of this year, when full-timers at my college were asked if and what we wanted to teach summer school. I said yes and signed up for two classes at another branch of my college. I remember, NOW, when I signed for them, that these classes would be meeting on Mondays and Wednesdays. But at some point in the days that follow, it got stuck in my head that these classes would be meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Uh-oh, those of you who care might be thinking. Yeah: uh-oh.
After the end of the spring semester, I was, to put it elegantly, a gentleman of leisure, so it was not until Friday of last week that I prepared my syllabi for the summer classes. There was no reason to confirm the days the classes would be meeting because, you see, I knew, beyond any doubt, when they would be meeting.
Monday morning. 10 till 8. I'm sitting in the study whence emanates the profundities, the wisdom of the ages, that is good old Blog Meridian, reading blogs in my pajamas and drinking coffee, when I think, I haven't checked my college e-mail in a couple of days . . . what the heck. I don't have anything better to do; still, since my classes start tomorrow, I suppose I should check it now.
I read an e-mail from a student saying he'd be missing "today's" comp class but would be in attendance "Wednesday."
Poor soul: school hasn't even started, and already he's confused.
But something about the certainty with which he wrote "today's (as opposed to, say, "the first day of") class" made me think, Hmmm. Well, just to humor this guy, I'll check the live schedule and read what I know to be there and then write him back and set him straight.
I check the live schedule and what I read there chills my bones: my first class would be meeting in 35 minutes at a campus that usually takes me about half an hour to get to.
I'm in my pajamas, recall. Those syllabi I had oh-so-lovingly prepared with such confidence were at my usual office, a 20-minute drive from home . . . and were wrong in any case.
I had no choice but to show up late and empty-handed (and feel like I was showing up empty-headed as well). But I did have time after that class to go to my office, make the needed changes to the syllabi, e-mail the corrected syllabus to the morning class, AND print off more corrected copies for the afternoon class. That class went okay, and yesterday's classes felt just fine.
But still. I've been teaching for 13 years and, sure, I've forgotten to bring things to/say things that needed saying in class. But never before had I been mistaken about something as fundamental as the days a class would be meeting.
We don't think about it much, because it would drive most of us nuts if we dwelled on it too much, but our mind is far from a neutral or transparent perceiver of the world outside us. It shapes, colors (literally as well as more figuratively)--translates--that world, and most of the time what is lost or garbled in that translation gets straightened out quickly enough, via our interaction with others or the gathering of more/new evidence, so that we can either smile about it later or, even at worst, come to no great harm as a result. But for me the great (and frightening) lesson of A Beautiful Mind, as I've written about before, is that, no matter how brilliant and/or thoughtful we are, it's not until or unless that interaction occurs that we can ever get a sense of how accurate our mind's particular translation of the world is--and even then it's not a sure bet. Granted: John Nash's life is an extreme instance, but except for the fact of that extremity we are no different from him.
Indeed: now that I think about this little tale, I think I might have benefited from being a little MORE attentive to texts and codes and calendars and such. Pajamas optional, of course.