Thursday, June 28, 2012

30th Year Reflections/4: Carpe diem

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” — Dante Alighieri, Inferno, Divine Comedy
Entering library school was not as grim as Dante’s passage through the gate of Hell. But it had its moments. Even before I made my first foray into Walter Library (home of the University of Minnesota library school) challenges came my way. The closest place to take the admission examination (in this case the Miller Analogies Test) was at Northern Michigan University, near the shores of Lake Superior in Marquette. The exam was scheduled for a Wednesday morning, three days before my wedding in the suburbs of Chicago. This meant packing for a week and an early morning drive of a couple hours in order to get to the campus in time for the test. Exuberant after the ordeal—I did very well and became an instant fan of the MAT—I headed south towards the Windy City.
My car, however, had other ideas and broke down in the parking lot of the Frozen Tundra, aka Lambeau Field in Green Bay. A fan hub was cracked, there was no hope of immediate repair, but the car was still drivable, albeit at a slower speed. Absent engine cooling from the fan I jammed a can of car wax between the hood and latch, tied down the hood, and created a primitive air scoop that I hoped would keep the engine cool enough and running into Illinois. I crawled south at forty miles an hour, my eye on the temperature gauge. But the fan hub (and its attendant belt) did more than cool the engine; it also recharged the battery. My battery was dying. By 10:30 that night, nearly invisible to others and with dimming lights, honked at by annoyed motorists, I gave up the fight and eased onto the shoulder of an exit ramp in Milwaukee. A call from a phone booth at a nearby fast food restaurant to my fiancée and future father-in-law brought rescue a few hours later. By 3am my car was towed and parked in front of the home of family friends in a Milwaukee suburb (we woke them up in the process). A few hours later, by dawn’s early light, we arrived at my future in-laws and settled down for a few hours sleep before wedding preparations and its inviolate schedule dictated otherwise.
Two other events from early in my graduate studies are useful to recall here. One was a meeting with the general advisor for incoming students to the library school. Standing before her desk I handed over the required paperwork for review. After a short inspection of the various forms she looked at me, looked back at the papers, and back to me saying in her wonderfully evocative English accent: “You shouldn’t have any problems here. You’re the first one in forty to get everything correct.” I left her office grinning ear to ear thankful for my upbringing, good genes, and strong undergraduate education. I would do well here; of that I was certain. (I was less certain, given my advisor’s comments, how my classmates would fare.)
The second episode occurred before my first class, one of the core courses required of all new students. On entering the building in which my class was scheduled, and descending a flight of stairs, I was confronted by a large sign on the wall that read “Mortuary Science.” Surely I was in the right place. But I was momentarily confused. What was I getting into: something along the lines of a “dead poets society?” Or something more? Dante’s verse, following the one quoted above, (and discovered long after the event) provided meaning to the mortuary sign in the context of my pursuit of a library degree: “These words in sombre colour I beheld | Written upon the summit of a gate; | Whence I: "Their sense is, Master, hard to me!" | And he to me, as one experienced: | "Here all suspicion needs must be abandoned, | All cowardice must needs be here extinct.” Abandon suspicion, extinguish cowardice, persevere, take risks, explore unknowns, be true to yourself. Surely these are good words and even better thoughts to consider when starting on a pilgrimage.

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