I’m two years into a graduate degree. Two years with one year and 10 weeks to go. Yes, exactly. Yes, I’m counting. I’m studying for a Master’s of Science in Geographic Information Systems, or making maps on the computer. Overall, I’m loving the coursework and learning new things. I’m hating that it gives me very little time to write. My family hates that it makes me an unholy grouch to live with. Balancing 32 hours a week of work, school work, and volunteer opportunities, while trying not to be a terrible mom, wife, sister, and child make my temperament less than jolly.
Imagine my thrill when the final project for my last class was posted. A class I hated. A class on which I spent over 20 hours a week. A class I struggled to understand with a professor who I just didn’t gel with. A class in which the technical text book used! lots! of! exclamation! points! incorrectly! The final project announcement said, “I need to see some layout & design, professionalism, communication of ‘a story’, creativity…” The project assignment said, “Tell a story about what is spatially living in this location. Keep it short, straight to the point, and fictional if you want.” The professor wanted a story? A story that could be fictional? Suddenly, my least favorite class had a silver lining. I could write a story as my final project.
I dug in, I got creative. I researched mythical creatures. I thought about fonts and colors. I agonized over the compass rose. I came up with conflict and history and theme. I made a map-story of which I was proud. Right click on the below and open it in a new tab or a new window if you want to see how awesome it is.
As a kid, you have plenty of measurable opportunities to fail. You can fail tests, fail homework, lose at soccer games. Success or failure is quantifiable: less than 60% = failure; less goals than the other team = fail. As an adult, failure feels more nebulous. Plenty of times I feel like I’m failing as a friend, a parent, a wife, a child, a sister, an employee, or a writer, but it’s just a feeling. This class gave me a chance to experience quantifiable failure as an adult. My final grade on the above project? 50%. A big fat honking F.
How did I get an F on such a masterpiece? Oh, let me tell you. He said that the map I created looked too much like the sample map he used as his example. We used the same layout, map on the left, and color scheme – blue for water; shades of green, brown, and yellow for land. So minus 25% for using his map as a guide and using appropriate cartographic colors for the land areas. (The map had to be this size, so where in the heck else was I going to put it?) Anyway, in his mind, 25% off for being a copycat. Then, he said my final work product was just a map, and it would be enhanced by “some ‘pictures’ of the the pixies working at night or graphics showing how the brownies export the farm products.” Really? Maybe I could just throw on some 1990s clip art? Great idea prof! Minus 25% for wanting to create a tasteful uncluttered communication piece. Got it.
Here my friends is the glory of doing graduate school in your 40s. Did I like this class? No. Do I like the professor? No. Did my family have to listen to me rant endlessly for the two assignments I got bad grades on – this one and the other 50% I got because I’m unable to present information to decision makers in the correct manner. (I’ll have you know, my real job involves near constant communication with decision makers and I AM VERY GOOD AT MY JOB. But I digress.) Yes, my family had to listen to me say bad words. However, as someone in her 40s, I know that this guy is just not a great teacher for me. I know that this class is not a subject in which I excel. But do you know what? I’m still proud of my map story. I like the idea of dryads and gnomes emigrating from the Mt. Adams fires and the Fairy Council trying to find homes for them. I mean, they could be building walls to keep them away, but they are not. Good for them. Good for me. I give myself an A+ for taking a crappy class and a crappy assignment and doing a little something with it that feeds my soul. Actually I get an A++ and a gold star.
And you know what? I still got an A in his damn class by 0.15%. Not such a failure after all.