Dazed & Confused; the crackpot college tour.

Steam train

Steam train (Photo credit: eckenheimer)

My only defense is that I dipped into my ‘sanity jar’ one too many times, came up empty and proceeded to agree to something everyone is still shaking their heads at. Yes, I jumped onto the caboose of the crazy train.

Borrowing the oft spoken words from my fourteen-year old son, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Selecting the phrase I should tattoo on my forehead: “Beware. Thick-witted woman.”

English: Hester Prynne & Pearl before the stocks

English: Hester Prynne & Pearl before the stocks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay, perhaps my deeds do not deserve a Hester Prynne blood-red letter on my chest, but maybe I should be forced to wear silver “I” for idiot earrings over the next couple of months for believing that my husband, my daughter and I could shove twelve university visits into five and a half days.

The COLLEGE ROAD TRIP became a blasphemous phrase, uttered in pure frustration on a regular basis. It’s now moving up the ladder for hashtag trends on Twitter.

Where did I go wrong? Somehow I convinced myself that both my seventeen-year old and I could muster up the ungodly amount of energy Sir Sackier generates for an hour’s worth of work and spread it out evenly in one day. Times six.

And we would have succeeded had neither one of us needed to eat, sleep or pee. I’ve discovered a strain of camel in my husband’s genetic makeup.

He diligently put together our itinerary. It began at MIT in Boston and finished at King’s College in London. In between, we squished Edinburgh, Saint Andrews, Strathclyde, Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cambridge, Oxford, University College London and Imperial College. The UK looks so much smaller on MapQuest.

Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries, South West ...

Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries, South West Scotland (Photo credit: iknow-uk)

I would love to say I perched forward excitedly in my seat as our car sleekly swept past rolling green hills, lush with heather, sheep and historically preserved castles. In truth, I was drunk with exhaustion, alarm and angst as we either barreled down the motorway, unable to see anything but the hazy red glow of the tail lights two feet in front of us—momentarily visible between swooshes of overwhelmed windscreen blades—or idled on the same road, waiting for yet another accident to be cleared, so we could all carry on barreling until the next snarl brought us to a screeching halt.

I now know the precise shape of my heart and what it tastes like as well, for it spent a goodly amount of time residing in my mouth.

It didn’t matter how hard we tried, we were an hour late to everything. It became surreal. No matter when we left, we ended up cursing the weather, the road, the GPS, the parking, the underground or just people we randomly bumped into as we dashed passed them on our way to an office that was numerically ordered by folks who surely thought they were picking lotto numbers.

Sorted White Paper Pile

Sorted White Paper Pile (Photo credit: Walter Parenteau)

Once locating an office, one thing became crystal clear to both my husband and me. Every one of these professor’s tiny lairs looked EXACTLY like our daughter’s bedroom. How could this be true? Does everyone who studies physics have the same ability to compute the science of matter and motion, but find themselves puzzled by the form and usage of drawers? Papers, folders, letters and documents were everywhere: covering every surface, propped against the walls, stacked up on the floors. And if there was an area that had any white space showing, it was heavily scrawled upon, revealing either the country’s launch codes or the cipher to Cypro-Minoan syllabary. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that some of these folks have decoded all sorts of Bronze Age scripts, but simply can’t remember where they put them.

My daughter is looking forward to fitting in with her people because brain function lost on laundry is brain function lost forever.

Math Wall

Math Wall (Photo credit: trindade.joao)

Meeting after meeting, I found myself sitting in a chair, desperately trying to follow the conversation and line of questioning. Symbols were used in place of words and squiggly lines formed a foreign alphabet. I felt my eyes glaze over repeatedly, only briefly registering when I recognized some part of speech. Sadly, it was usually an article like and, the or at. It was humiliating.

Occasionally, I ventured to open my mouth and realized I shouldn’t have. More often than not, my seventeen-year old gave me the wide-eyed glare that silently shouted, “KEEP SHTUM!” And after a while I could see that same face on many of the faculty. Okay, maybe they were all getting tired of my questions about time travel, but it wasn’t like I was announcing that I believed in unicorns.

I’d definitely save that declaration for a follow up meeting … should there be one.

Regardless, I did try to participate. I echoed back many of their statements by simply shifting their words into a slightly different order, but after a while, I realized I’d taken a peek into the other hemisphere of my brain and found it cold, dark and nearly empty. I quickly slammed that door shut and hustled back into more familiar territory.

The highlight for me was taking the laboratory tours. I saw folks doing research on optics, gravitational waves and solar wind using Star Wars lasers and vacuums that could suck the dirt off anything down to an atomic level of clean.

In one massive lab, I swear I was on a revealing backstage tour of a David Copperfield magic show.


space (Photo credit: Sweetie187)

One person made a whiteboard diagram of outer space and told us how he was involved in mapping newly discovered stars, planets and solar systems. I asked if I could snap a quick photo to send to my eighth grade science teacher. Finally I had proof that my leaving a giant question mark in the space provided for the question asking ‘how large the universe was’ should not have been checked wrong.

Yes, it was a crazy week. No, I’ll never agree to do anything like it again. But in the end, we all lost a little weight, met some amazing scientists and discovered the true limitations of our individual bladders. My daughter came back home more confused than clear about what she’s searching for in a university, but I’m fairly certain I unintentionally lessened the number of offers coming from across the pond, so ultimately that might help narrow down the choices.

Finding the right school can be a heart-palpitating hunt, but honestly, finding the right vacuum is more of a true achievement.

At least everyone knows what I want for Christmas.


Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!

12 thoughts on “Dazed & Confused; the crackpot college tour.

  1. Love it, completely. If only I could have experienced the trip with you in the trunk, however ill I may have become due to Sir Sackier’s driving (no disrespect intended sir).

    Your exhaustion may have been due to the all the tours, confusion of locating professors rooms or perhaps, as you mentioned the continual group discussion of quantum electrodynamics or chromodynamics. Either way, if it were me, I would have been stuck still on some port way, and most likely arrested due to driving on the wrong side of the road.

    (Again, why do they drive on the other side of the road and still do not use “the” in front of “woods” or “hospital” leaves me completely confused.

    Comfortably, I feel your pain from a far, with the reasoning that I needn’t yet go through this. I, only need worry about feeding the masses, cleaning up again, and again, and yet again throughout the day (which leaves no time to actually leave the house for any travel), and then once everyone is snuggled in bed, I can dive into the comfortable depths of Escoffier, one of many Walt Whitman’s poems or pretend to be a part of the wrote history of battle with Hector and Argives (The Trojans and Achaeans).

    Do you think life would have been different if only I would have read Homer as a child? Perhaps instead of playing cowboys and Indians, I too could have named Oxford as my alma mater. I guess the CIA will have to suffice, eh?

    S 🙂

    • Many thanks, Steve. I fairly sure my exhaustion was nature’s way of preserving all our lives, because had I been able to keep my eyes open for much of the trip, I surely would have grabbed the wheel on numerous occasions in a panicked attempt to “save us all.”
      As far as the lane choice – let’s not go there, shall we? That’s a big can o’ worms–as is language. Nuff said. 😉
      Lastly, with all you have to offer, I vote you start some writing of your own. You’ve got the cooking thing down pat — I’m pretty sure I’ve tasted enough of your food to believe you know what you’re doing — and I can only imagine the world would have truly missed your talents had you decided to compete with long dead scholars and writers. Our bellies are grateful you chose the path you did.

  2. You did stumble upon time travel… it just went a bit wrong hence being an hour late to everything! Next time put your particulate accelerator into warp drive and you’ll always be ahead of yourself and know what to say 😉

    • Gardener, philosopher and a woman Dr. Who could confidently place at the helm of his TARDIS. Consulting you before the trip for valuable advice would have made things a heck of a lot easier. But then again, a well-oiled life leaves me in want of words. Then there’s nothing left to do, but prune dead bushes in the garden. Nobody out there wants to see me coming at them with a pair of shears.

  3. Peter was relegated to the college tour last Spring as my reputation as a crabby traveler has kept me safely in the Los Angeles area. Across the Pond was out of the question for us, but I can see the allure for the Sackiers. Good luck. Keep us posted.

    • Aha! So this is the key! I need to develop a new persona that will direct folks to make a wide berth around me before sending out an invite to step aboard another moving craft. I like the title ” the crabby traveler.” That would be a great blog, Saryl. Ha!
      I’m hoping that by making places far reaching and foreign as frightening as possible, Chloe may change her mind about university all together and take a couple courses at the local community college. They offer some great pottery classes and a few courses on learning how to make a good curry. 🙂

  4. Academia… good luck! After working in it for two decades now I still feel a “visitor”, though I will say most engineers tend to keep slightly neater offices than what you experienced … LOL… I feel for you and find the need to toss in a “bless her heart” for good southern measure. Gary

    • Thank you. This is exactly what I needed. Most folks have been telling me we had it easy and it only gets worse from here. So I appreciate your kind words of sympathy, and respect you even more for keeping a tidy office. It’s all about precision, right? Okay, and maybe sanity …

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