April 24th, 2002

tell tale heart

Left Blank

I'm not good at inviting people. I'm also not very good at starting conversations.

So what am I doing as an RA?

Insofar as there is a telos to my madness, it is that of a Bodhisattva. I want to help everyone wake up. I seem to have found a wonderful passionate disengagement, and I think others would do well, in that they would be more happy, to adopt something like it. But my performance is seen as humorous, kooky, or interesting, but as something distant, not something challenging.

I'm able to have lots of unstructured fun with other people, but I rarely do. This is because I'm astonishingly lousy at inviting people to do things, so I usually only spend unstructured time with folks when they instigate it. Aside from mostly breif interactions with my residents, the only face to face social interaction I have is with regularly-meeting groups and at long-planned events. I'm very good at showing up, but bad at bringing up. I'm great at responding, but terrible at inspiring.

Tonight was the RA recognition banquet. The room was full of people who had spent the year doing wonderful things with their residents. Getting to know them well. Creating educational opportunities. Forming deep connections. Before any students arrived in The Quad, I had a picture of my floor as full of interesting inspired intellectual inquiries. A group of geeky guys giggling and growing together. But two things went amiss. First, demands on my time (and the way my brain organizes priorities) prevented me from putting a lot of extended time and energy into bringing this vision about. Second, contrary to popular conception, Engineers aren't, in the majority, geeks. In high school, the geeks were the ones that liked math and played with computers. But in college, most of those people fit into the main stream. They're social like the other parts of campus, just more mature and with different interests and priorities. The geeks in college are wider spread -- literature geeks, philosophy geeks, physics geeks, and yes, engineering geeks. The criterea for geekhood aren't good study skills and enjoyment of math -- those are the requirements for a nerd. Geeks take some fairly narrow scope and go into it as deep as possible. The desire to know everything imaginable about a subject, and taking steps toward that. The attraction to something purely because it's strange. Out of 44 residents, I classify fewer than 10 as geeks, and most of them have Counterstrike as their major form of geekery. I have no place criticizing selection of a computer game as a geekery focus, but it's a domain I'm not keen to partake in myself.

I contain a wealth of knowledge and information, and my residents have utilized that base fairly well. But I also have an impressive set of insights and ideals which have gone unimparted. I've had very few deep conversations with my guys, and aside from meals, I haven't clocked many hours of fun. To be fair, from day one they were mostly interested in doing their own thing. I'm big on adapting to the direction the boat's tending toward, and the number of folks from my floor returning to the residence halls next year indicates that they felt the experiences and opportunities of the year were valuable. Almost every time I've gone fishing for things they'd like to do, the waters have been still. But one can't be entirely reactive -- a person may not want to go swimming, but once they get in the pool they have a great time. I wish I'd done an interview with each of my residents at the beginning of the year. To find out what they're passionate about, what they're interested in, what drives them. And so that they can find out as well. "Building communnity" is a big goal of res. life, so I did a lot of floundering around trying to get folks on the floor together. Groups are the form of community with which I have the most experience, but I think I now realize that the strength of community is measured by connection weights, not by the number of nodes. Most of my guys have developed strong bonds with a circle or two of folks on the floor, and this meets some of my purely altruistic goals. But for the most part, what I wanted to have between me and my residents isn't there. There's a "good acquaintance" relationship present, but few real friendships.

My staff of fellow RAs is a different story. I think they're all glad to have worked with me, and I know I've built some good friendships. I have a rapport with leaders that I'm unable to muster with people who don't go half way. I'm already starting to miss being in this kind of group. This kind of relationship is one of the reasons I wanted to be a Hall Director Assistant. Also because I'm good at lots of the safety, confrontation, and paperwork tasks that an HDA faces. But in big part because I'm Merlin, not Arthur (with a nod to The Grail Castle). I'm not good at being a people's hero, but I am built to be a wizard, mentor to the king.

So I didn't get the HDA job, partly because there weren't a lot of spots and there were a lot of great candidates. On the whole, this may be a good thing -- by pursuing a masters, FAFSA doesn't care about my parents' financial situation, so the government will pay for a significant portion of my schooling next year, meaning free housing and a paycheck aren't as crucial as otherwise. If I can swing a summer job that doesn't need me to stick around in the fall, I'll be able to devote a proper amount of time to graduate classes. I'll also have more time to devote to other interests -- I lost the presidency race for our chapter of Tau Beta Pi by two votes (my qualifications and the new president's qualifications are almost identical), but I'll be the vice president next year. I have an August, so I can get a reasonable summer job and I can go to Dragonfest. I'll probably find some other side projects to work on, or maybe I'll have time for romance. Who knows.

From where I stand, I think I've been a good RA in most respects. But in the one that matters most, student development, I feel like I've let my guys down. It's not necessarily my fault -- the goals are fairly vague, we're not really trained how to do this, and I have had a lot of other commitments (I am one of the five children consumed by Cronos). I think there's a lot of potential in teenagers, but I've been unable to tap or direct it very well.

The accomplishments of other RAs, combined with some dairy in desert methinks, sent me into a bit of a depressed inferiority complex. I walked around in the night wind and pondered. I think I show signs of slight autism. When determining actions, I rarely consider how other people think and perceive. I'm fascinated by ideas and the mechanisms of thought, but rarely am I interested in the tie between thought and thinker. My intuitive solipsism allows me to be completely free in action, unfettered by social measures of acceptability. But it also tends to mean that, left to my own devices, I end up alone, pleasently being a member, but not a reciprocal participant, of society.

There are lots of wonderful things in the world and all around us. I'm content to enjoy them on my own, but I think you'd enjoy them too. I'm just not very good at conveying that.
  • Current Music
    R.E.M. - Up