Today started out pretty good. I got up and ready early, I didn’t look too terribly homeless (actually, that’s debatable), I didn’t have train delays, I got a good breakfast, and I felt prepared for class.
This is where ominous music starts playing.
On Fridays I have Ancient Greek and my core seminar course. As our assignment for Greek, we needed to know the alphabet and have looked over a paragraph at the start of the next lesson. Just read the paragraph to ourselves, the teacher said. That’s all. Luckily, I was weirdly paranoid and decided to try and transliterate the whole thing. I mentioned this in my last post. I didn’t translate every single word, and I certainly didn’t go through and make it make sense. It was translated in what would be read as broken English. Since I didn’t think we really needed to do this, though, I felt like it would be okay.
Heighten the ominous music now.
After we went one by one and said the letters of the Greek alphabet (which I learned by look/pronunciation, but did not learn actual position in the alphabet), Dr. Soothingvoice wanted us to look over the paragraph from Monday. Only we weren’t just looking it over. We were reading aloud and translating. One person would read, the next person would translate, and it would change off like that. I am damn lucky, because I somehow got to be the person reading every time. Abby was unlucky, she was stuck translating every time. It wasn’t so bad at first, since I had already gone through the first paragraph. I even reasoned that other people were able to make sense of it because they had maybe done what I did the previous night. Except everyone seemed to be doing perfect translation, “Diacaeopolis is a farmer who toils each night.” Where as I had written, “Dikaiopolis he/she/it is labors nighttime field.” or something along those lines. THEN Dr. Soothingvoice went through some vocabulary on the next section. She read through the list of vocab words, asked if we had questions. “No? Okay, then let’s read this next paragraph.”
Hold up. What? Turn that ominous music up louder.
I was desperately trying to plug in new vocab words with the new paragraph, but I hadn’t memorized the old vocab words to use either. I didn’t understand the grammar at all so my plugging in wherever I was able was still broken English. I also don’t write fast enough so it was soon my turn. I am glad I can at least pronounce most of the words now, even if I don’t know what the heck they mean. Abby did well at translating, and poor Yan next to me (who is Chinese and taking this course) was forced to try to translate all the parts I read. At one point Dr. Soothingvoice looked over at me and said, “Meghann, can you help her?” and I just stared open-mouthed and said, “uh…uh…uhhhh.” Ominous music has reached peak “DUN DUN DUUUUNNNNN” point.
Needless to say, I am studying Chapter 1 AND Chapter 2 vocab, and I am getting a Greek grammar for dummies book. Because wtf is a present participle? I DON’T KNOW! I just speak English. I don’t know how any of it actually works.
After class, Abby and I commiserated together on how we were both sweating after the rush translation frustration. I told her I felt lucky I wasn’t in her shoes. THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN A SIGN. THIS IS DEFINITELY FORESHADOWING.
We had about an hour and some change to kill before our core seminar course, so we walked to where it was, and then walked to get me a snack/something warm to drink. Ended up in this coffee shop attached to a Waterstones (like Britain’s Barnes and Noble) and saw they had a carafe labeled “Filter Coffee” behind the counter. When it was my turn I asked the barista, “Is there any filter coffee left?” To which he said, “If there is, would you like some?” …no, mate. I just wanted to check and see. Make sure you weren’t getting anyone’s hopes up by having it sit there if it is empty. I don’t actually want any. This was only a test.
Rather than saying this obvious inner monologue aloud, I said yes and also asked for a piece of bread/cake. I picked one I wasn’t sure of the flavor and the guy told me, “It’s banana peanut butter bread.” Well HOT DOG! Banana bread already = delicious. Banana PEANUT BUTTER bread? Off da charts, SON!
I’m using a lot of capitals today and I have no regrets.
As a spoiler, the banana peanut butter bread was actually a disappointment. I didn’t think that bananas and peanut butter could ever not work out, but I thought wrong. The bread wasn’t sweet or moist enough. I was definitely judging whoever the maker was.
Moving on… this is like three weeks after the event and I am only able to go back and write now because I am over it (sort of) and procrastinating my homework that is due tomorrow (because I like to screw myself over)…
This day in our core seminar course we were going to the Petrie Museum. The Petrie Museum is a little Egyptian museum on the UCL campus. I was excited because we were going to get a tour and to see things other people may not always be able to see. I was off the charts excited. The first part of the class was okay. We split off into groups and one half did a mini tour of the museum while the other sat with a specialist and looked at items. I couldn’t wait to switch places with the second group and look at the old stuff instead. Bring back in that ominous music.
We settled around the table and all took some gloves for handling (OH EM GEE I GET TO TOUCH STUFF?! ALL THE EXCITEMENT!), while the woman in charge of these different items set pieces in front of us. Each person had a different kind of object. Broken pieces of sculptures, or small oil lamps. The lady said we were going to pretend like we are archaeologists and just dug these things out of the ground (OH EM GEE I LOVE PRETENDING). The lady said there are no wrong answers (OH EM GEE I LOVE WHEN THERE ARE NOT WRONG ANSWERS). More ominous music plays. And then she proceeded to go around and ask people about their items. She started with the guy who did a thesis in undergrad despite being in a US school; the one on Minoans and cannibalism. Remember him? Anyway, she talked to him about his object.
Lady: What do you think it is made out of? Minoan Guy: It is made from terracotta.
Lady: What does it look like? Minoan Guy: It looks like an oil lamp
Lady: How do you know? Minoan Guy: Well, it has a burn mark.
Lady: What little details can you see? Minoan Guy: There is what looks like a gladiatorial scene on top.
Lady: What does that make you think about it? Minoan Guy: I’d assume it was Roman.
It seemed really fun, and he was REALLY good at the answers. I thought, heck, why not? My object was a hand holding a ball, broken off at the wrist. It was made of a heavy, hard, red rock material. I was positive it was red granite. I felt so confident, I was ready to go next. Crank up that music again.
I raised my hand to go next. With all the confidence in the world, I said, “Well it’s a hand holding a ball, and it’s made of red granite.” The woman’s reply, “Mmm, no, it’s not red granite. So what else could it be?” Ominous music has some killer violin stuff happening now.
At this point I didn’t have an answer. I don’t know stone. My best guess was that. I thought I had just learned about it in another course, and I had felt so sure I was right. In my mind, it was red granite and it came from the middle east mainly. It was very rare and expensive and not used much. That’s what I had learned. At least I thought I had.
Minoan guy threw out that maybe it was marble. Lady said, “No, there isn’t really a red marble. Marbles are usually white in color.” Which, by the way, I looked it up later and there totally is red marble. Maybe she meant there isn’t red marble sculpture made in Classical/Egyptian times, I don’t know. So then she wanted to know what else.
Finally, another girl (the one I talked with all summer who went to Cambridge and has worked on many archaeological digs and is a genius) said she thought it could be porphyry. She went on to describe what she knew about porphyry, and it was everything I thought about the red granite. I was thinking in my head, “I wanted to say all this” so I didn’t listen 100% to what she said. The lady turned back to me and asked me more about my object. I was feeling pretty flat at this point, and I didn’t know what to say about a broken hand holding a ball.
Lady: Do you think it looks Egyptian? Me: Uh… what? Er… I mean… I don’t know.
(In my head I’m trying to recall any damn Egyptian sculpture I’ve ever learned about in my life. But I learned about them AGES AGO and remember NOTHING. Then I’m thinking, well, no? It doesn’t look super stiff – wouldn’t Egyptian statues all look super stiff? But it’s only a hand, how can I tell? This is an Egyptian museum, though… so maybe it is.) The lady starts trying to lead me with her questions. I know she’s doing it, and she’s trying to help me come up with an answer. But at this point, I am feeling like an utter idiot and getting progressively more flustered.
Lady: Does it look Egyptian? Or could it look like it was made somewhere else?
Me: Ummm…I don’t know. <I guess, no, Egyptian stuff is pretty stiff and this doesn’t seem as much.>
Please note: the part in “<>” is where I started to mumble and probably wasn’t heard. Other people were also talking and trying to give answers, so I’m sure she didn’t even hear me mumble an answer that ended up being right.
Lady: Well, what time period does it look like it is from?
Me (thinking): Panic mode. Dear god, full panic mode. Time period? Like Archaic or Hellenistic? Freaking A, what did Archaic stuff look like? What years did it exist? Oh my gosh, what if I say 300 BCE and everyone laughs because that’s not right? I don’t know what’s right. I don’t know the answer. Oh, okay. I’ll just say I don’t know. I’m pretty good at admitting I don’t know something. Then I get an answer and learn.
Me (out loud): I don’t know.
Lady: Well, guess! There’s no wrong answer.
Me (thinking): Guess? No wrong answer? I WOULD ANSWER IF I HAD ONE! Maybe I can shout a random period. Gah, all I keep thinking of is Assyrian. This isn’t freaking Assyrian. I don’t know what it is. Tell her again you don’t know.
Me (out loud): I really don’t know. I don’t have a guess.
Lady: Well, I’m a Graeco-Roman specialist and your teacher is a Roman specialist.
Me (thinking): Who freaking cares?! Are you trying to make me more nervous that I don’t know the damn answer? I KNOW you guys are specialists. It’s part of why I have no freaking answer and you do and I want you to tell me so I can know from now on.
Me (out loud): Okay… I honestly don’t know.
I’m starting to sweat at this point. I know my face is likely flushed. I am avoiding looking in the eyes of any of my peers because I am incredibly embarrassed. I know my face shows how lost I am whenever the lady asks me a question.
Lady: Okay, well, if you had a test. And this was on your test, and you HAD to write down an answer, what would you write?
Me (thinking): Kill me. Kill me right now. If I passed out would they pity me? Would they let me off the hook? Why is she doing this? Why can’t she move on? I obviously don’t have an answer. If I did, I would have said it. Just because you gave me a hypothetical test doesn’t mean I suddenly have one. God, I’m so embarrassed. Everyone is watching. Pull the trigger. Let me die. What if I tell her I’d leave the test question blank and get an F? Killmekillmekillmekillmedonotcry.
Finally, a girl who is in my Making course said across the table, “Just say Greek or Roman!” So I shouted, “ROMAN!” To which the lady said, “That’s right! It’s a Roman piece. For future reference, since I am a Graeco-Roman specialist, and your teacher is a Roman specialist, we usually like to keep with what we know. So when in doubt, try to play to your teachers.” I had shut down at this point and was no longer listening, though. We still had an hour and six other people with objects to talk through. So I had to sit there trying not to cry, because I am a big baby and not an adult.
Do you remember back in elementary school when the whole class had to read out loud, one by one? And there was that one kid that didn’t read as well (maybe it was you, no shame in that), so they took much longer. Sometimes there would be a teacher that was determined for the kid to finish their paragraph, despite the fact that the kid did not want to finish and was getting flustered. When it happened, the kid was embarrassed and felt awkward, and it filtered to the rest of the class. It was a palpable uncomfortableness that everyone was feeling, and everyone secretly wanted the teacher to just move on and let the kid off the hook.
That was me in this class. And it was terrible.
When class was finally over, I thanked the girl in my Making course for helping me. The Minoan guy had asked me to eat beforehand, and was lingering nearby. I caught him out of the corner of my eye and asked him if we could do another time, since I wasn’t feeling well. I really wasn’t (my voice was nearly gone since I had been sick all week), but I think we all knew it was more than that. They could tell how upset I had been. I made some sort of comment, and he and the girl from my other course tried to make me feel better. He admitted to me that he did well with the project because he had recently been working with stuff like that. And if I hadn’t been in school for awhile and working with archaeological things, then it isn’t surprising that I would get stuck.
I understand the point of the exercise was to make me infer things from what little information I had. I know I’m in grad school now and if I don’t know an answer, I’m meant to “fake it till I make it” and use educated guesses to figure out the right answer. I’m not supposed to say I don’t know and wait for an answer, because that is for undergraduates. This day was a painful reminder of just how not ready I am for an MA program in anything – let alone Classical Art and Archaeology. What do I know about those things anyway? Nothing.
After class I tried to text my family and my friends, hoping for someone to unload on. I knew whoever I spoke with first was going to get my tears. It was going to be Lizz or Momma, I didn’t know which. It ended up being Momma (fortunate for Lizz, probably not for Mom). I was leaving the train station as I was talking to her, and as I told my story, I got embarrassed and upset all over again. I stopped walking at one point because I didn’t want to go home yet and didn’t know where else to go.
So, there I was. A 28 year old “masters student” in London. Crying like a child while in the middle of the road. With people passing on by, averting their eyes. This is not something that people in England do.
I decided to get myself a hot chocolate. A treat. So I went to the Costa nearby to order while still on the phone. I was snuffling when I walked up to the man at the counter and asked for a hot chocolate and a lemon tart. He looked at me and said, “Is this to go?” When I said no, he said, “Okay, well…we close in 30 minutes.” I swear, I almost started crying again. All I wanted was to sit down and enjoy a warm hot chocolate to soothe my poor, little heart. The guy looked really uncomfortable, so I’m pretty sure he could tell I was on the verge of bawling. I finally took my lemon tart and sat down to eat sulkily while finishing my convo with Mom.
I had texted in a group message with Eley and Kim earlier about how upset I was, and asked if they wanted to do a girls night so I could whine more. Pizza? Wine? More of my sob story? Anyone? They agreed and showed up with wine while I ordered pizza. The only problem was it took them ages and I was over it at that point and just wanted to sleep my misery off. We ended up having an okay time anyway, though. I told them about what happened and they had the appropriate friend “What a twat!” kind of responses.
I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the Petrie Museum, and I think I’ll forever be ashamed of that moment. But maybe that’ll be the worst of the year? I just went ahead and got it out of the way (hopefully). And at least my course mates weren’t assholes about it, at least not to my face. If anything, they rallied for me and made me feel better.