“Finally the moment has come,” I thought to myself. My parents just finished helping me move into my dormitory room at the University of Texas, and I began thinking about what I would do the moment they left: “I shall eat sweets whenever I like and sleep as late as I want. Of course, I shall give myself a scolding if I eat so much as to get sick.”
All at once my parents drove away as I stood on the sidewalk and waved to them. Soon, images of chocolate truffles danced in my head, and while considering where I could find the best box of truffles, I was suddenly distracted by the students walking past me on the pavement. At first I was distracted because each student resembled a different animal, and it seemed more like a barnyard procession. For example, I was passed by a studious-looking octopus, a chatty giraffe, and an athletic mustang. I then noticed that all the animal students seemed to be in a hurry to arrive somewhere, but I had no clue where. I decided to ask one of the animals, a genial-appearing kangaroo. “Excuse me, I would like to know where you are going in such a rush.”
The kangaroo blinked up at me, then stated nervously, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” 1 He did not answer my question so I decided it would be best to observe the procession. As I stood there and watched, I began to feel as though I lacked the sense of purpose that these other students seemed to have; I felt lost and alone. In my loneliness I hurried up to my room, sat down on my bed, and began to cry. “How can I become a part of their world?” I sobbingly questioned. “I wish to have a destination and a purpose like they do. Oh, but ‘you ought to be ashamed of yourself; […] a great girl like you […] to go on crying this way! Stop this moment, I tell you!’”2 Looking down, however, I saw that my blue blanket was already soaked with tears. At this moment an idea occurred to me: I would seek counsel from my advisor, who could help me find my purpose at the University of Texas.
I wiped my eyes and ran down the hill to the W.C. Hogg Building for natural sciences advising. Looking into my advisor’s office from outside the door, I saw an irritable-looking hen seated before her computer. I quietly tapped the door and waited patiently at the entrance until she acknowledged my presence. With the eraser end of her pencil in her beak, she stared at her computer screen and seemed to be ignoring me until finally she asked, “Who are you?”3
“Err – I am Rania Hanna.”
“I do not believe you have an appointment. You should have scheduled a year ago for today. We are so busy,” she said, as she closed a window of Solitaire on her computer screen.
“In all due respect, I believe I was still in high school a year ago today, and it would have been even more difficult to schedule an appointment.” She grunted at my response and asked, “Well, what do you want?”
“If you please, ma’am,” I responded, “I am here for advising concerning my four-year plan and major; I feel a bit lost and confused.”
“Well, it’s not confusing. What’s your major?”
“Plan II and biology,” I answered.
“I see,” commented the advisor, “then you have many hours to take. Good luck.” This was not quite the response I was looking for. I sought guidance, not well-wishing.
I continued, “In addition, ma’am, I am considering switching from biology to biochemistry. Do you have any suggestions or guidelines as to why I might choose one over the other?”
“Well, Rania, it looks as though you are the student. Perhaps one of these majors is the better choice. I can’t tell you, though.”
“But you are my advisor – could you guide me in one direction or another? Which major is it?”
At my question she glanced at the clock on the wall and said as she stood up, “I have a board meeting. When you decide, fill out a major change form online, and we might process it.” I was beside myself with frustration, feeling more confused after the advising session than before it.
To assuage my disconcertedness, I decided to make a trip to the dining hall nearest my dormitory, Kinsickening4, where I hoped that fine cuisine would relieve my stresses. Upon entry to the hall, I was overwhelmed by a vast array of food platters, including salads, soups, main courses, and deserts. I surveyed the room and noticed that each platter had a label above it and a name on the label that implied culinary superiority, such as “Bouchées à la Reine” and “Belgian Chocolate Delight.” After a brief moment of deliberation, I settled on getting these two items and approached the counter to receive a serving of each. However, as I neared the counter, the words on the platter labels all began to blur until the original names were unreadable. Soon, the letters began rearranging, and I could make out another phrase on all the labels: “DO NOT EAT ME.”5 I found this very peculiar, but was so hungry that I ignored the warning and requested servings of both the “Bouchées à la Reine” and the “Belgian Chocolate Delight.”
Being handed back my plates with the requested items, I glanced at each item, the appearance of which gave me doubt concerning the quality of the cuisine. The “Bouchées à la Reine” appeared to be a wilted green pepper stuffed with ground beef which oozed dark, red grease, and the “Belgian Chocolate Delight” seemed to be simply chocolate pudding taken from a can. “Well,” I thought to myself, “perhaps the food will be tasty at least.” When I sat down to eat, though, I was proven wrong and the earlier warning, correct. The soggy pepper tasted of rubber, and the bland chocolate dish lacked any particular flavor at all. I had not in my life eaten anything so badly imitational and artificial, but, realizing that I had no other options for food, I ate until I felt full. It was strange, however, because even though I felt full, my stomach and taste buds were unsatisfied. This incident of disappointment and dissatisfaction at Kinsickening left me desiring truffles more than ever before.
* * * *
After a month of school passed, I had finally begun to understand how things worked in longhorn land, though I had still not yet found the long-desired box of chocolate truffles. (I decided to stick with my major for the time being). One morning, I woke up to the rustling of blankets across the room. Looking toward the direction of the rustling, I saw my roommate getting up. Wondering what time it was, I looked at my watch and saw, to my dismay, that it was 9:22am. “Oh, no!” I thought to myself. “How did this happen? I do not even recall turning off my alarm. If I am late to world literature, I will get points deducted! Plus, today we are having our debate. Well, I have several minutes; I can make it.” I threw on what clothing I could find and quickly bounded out the door of my dormitory. I began to sprint across the west mall, but before I could reach the other side, I was cornered by a shaggy, grey muskrat who began yelling in my ear, “SAVE THE EARTH! SAVE THE EARTH! Do you want to improve our environment?”
“Yes,” I answered skeptically.
“Ah! Just sign here and you can become a member of Greener America. All it takes is a monthly don –“
“I’m sorry sir; I will be late to my next class.” Finally, I arrived at world literature, where I saw assembled before me an array of creatures. These creatures were seated around a rounded table with a hollow center, and on the ground in the center was a large can of green beans6 that looked to me extremely appetizing. Also, in the center was a knave7 with the word ‘dysfunctional’ printed across his cloak, and he was kneeling beside the green beans. The debate facilitator, Bumpty Dumpty, sat near the door armed with pencil and grade book.
“Herald, read the debate prompt!” said the facilitator. At this, a soft-spoken cub to his right8 read from the sheet before her:
“The knave kneeling here
Is accused, I fear,
Of eating a can full of beans.
You must decide
Should innocence be denied?
(And of course use a quote in reply).”
“’Now,” said Bumpty Dumpty, “Choose your sides. Of course, extra points will be awarded to those who can recite the alphabet backwards while standing on their head.” All the creatures’ hands shot up eagerly in the air. “Ah, well, if we have time at the end of the proceedings, you can all perform for us. We will start with the side advocating the knave’s guiltiness. Why should the knave be indicted for theft?”
“Well,” began an excited, chattering penguin9, “the evid –“
“Very good point indeed!” applauded Bumpty Dumpty. “What do you think, creatures, 100 points? Okay, 5 points to the penguin!”
“But, Professor Bumpty, I wasn’t done. I have a really good quotation from the Obscure Jude, I mean Jude the Obscure.”
“You illustrate my point very well!” said Bumpty Dumpty. “Your natural science classes don’t what? They don’t LISTEN. Now, do we have a rebuttal from the opposing side?”
“Professor Bumpty,” spoke an owl10, “I have evidence that proves the knave’s innocence: he dislikes green beans and does not eat them.”
“No points for you!” responded the facilitator. “In fact, negative points for using such a logical argument. Ah, and you demonstrate another point…you should learn these two words: b.s.-ism and non-b.s.-ism. Alright, lion, write those on the board.” The lion11 muttered something in Spanish under his breath, then sauntered up to the board and wrote in huge letters ‘B.S.-ISM’ and ‘NON-B.S.-ISM.’
“What do these words mean?” I questioned.
“They mean, of course, that logic is a bologna sandwich or a banana split,” replied the professor.
“But how can this be the definition? It does not even make sense.”
“Well,” he responded, “’When I use a word […] it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’12 At any rate, it does not matter because no one really knows what either ‘b.s.-ism’ or ‘non-b.s.-ism’ means. You see, that is the problem with abstraction.” The creatures groaned in frustration.
“How then can we make our arguments at all concerning the knave’s guiltiness if nothing is for certain?” I asked.
“No need for arguments. I’ve already selected a winning side. The side of the dodo bird wins. Fifty-five points for the dodo.”
“But the dodo bird13 is not even present today,” complained the penguin, “how could he win? On whose side would he be anyway?”
Bumpty Dumpty responded, “The absent dodo wins, of course, because the knave neither ate the beans nor did not eat them.”
“I must say,” I thought to myself, “that this is absolute madness.”
“Okay, creatures,” announced the professor, “looks like we’re out of time. I’ll see you next week when you will be performing “Gawain and the Green Giant.” As class ended that day, I began feeling once again that school was useless and that I was not “being taught what [I] ought to be taught...”14 However, right as I left the building, a golden shimmer caught my eye. Driven by my curiosity, I followed the shimmer and found a golden package lying in the bushes near the building Parlin, where I attended world literature class. I peeled the golden wrapping and was delighted to find inside a small box of chocolate truffles, which I then proceeded to eat and enjoy.
As the creamy dark chocolate and caramel melted in my mouth, I pondered over the events that occurred at the University of Texas and decided that I could let go of assigning myself a label; I did not need to find a major and career immediately just for the sake of having an identification. In a sense I found the “liberation that comes from loosening [my] identification with self-image altogether.”15 I derived my greatest sense of purpose, I decided, from lessons learned from my own, personal experiences, where I “do [my] own learning.”16 The sweetness of the truffle was, for me, the reward for understanding that my identification and my purpose are from within, rather than from the world.
Word count = 2122
 Carroll, Lewis. The Annotated Alice. 1960. Page 11. This kangaroo speaks the words of the White Rabbit, who is also in a hurry in “Down the Rabbit-Hole.” The kangaroo represents the rush of college life and the necessity of purpose, both of which overwhelmed me when I arrived at the University of Texas.
2 Carroll, Lewis. The Annotated Alice. 1960. Page 21. I am repeating the words of Alice here, who also cries in “The Pool of Tears.” I, like Alice, cry out in a moment of desperation, except my tears are caused by the loneliness and feeling overwhelmed at exclusion from college life rather than exclusion from the garden.
3 Carroll, Lewis. The Annotated Alice. 1960. Page 47. My advisor here speaks like the caterpillar when she asks who I am and when she does not answer my question. Though this situation is exaggerated, I have experienced this form of rudeness when I go for natural sciences advising. The embodiment of my advisor as a hen also represents her haughtiness and aloofness.
4 “Kinsickening” represents the campus cafeteria Kinsolving, which has a less-than-stellar reputation. The cafeteria is known for serving bland food and leftovers, and ironically, these dishes are often assigned misleading names of delicacies.
5 Carroll, Lewis. The Annotated Alice. 1960. Page 18. This phrase “DO NOT EAT ME” alludes to the phrase “EAT ME” written on the cake that causes Alice to grow in “Down the Rabbit Hole.” In my adventures at Kinsickening, the phrase serves as a warning of the food’s quality.
6 Carroll, Lewis. The Annotated Alice. 1960. Page 110. Of course, these green beans take the place of the tarts described in “Who Stole the Tarts?” The beans were used as we studied Gawain and the Green Knight. It often seems as though our class proceeds as the nonsensical trial in “Who Stole the Tarts?” where conclusions are not always justified. The debate facilitator or judge Bumpty Dumpty is Professor Bump (modeled slightly after Humpty Dumpty) and the students are jury members.
7 Carroll, Lewis. The Annotated Alice. 1960. Page 110. The knave, like the one described in “Who Stole the Tarts?” is accused of theft. However, this knave represents a student in our E603 class, Meredith Eve Gardner, who, due to her middle name Eve, is often teased for having caused the fall of mankind into sin. Meredith wears a “dysfunctional” T-shirt to class occasionally, and we jest that it describes our class.
8 The soft-spoken cub to Professor Bump’s right is Ada, a member of the E 603 World Literature Class. Ada is quiet in class but is always aware of assignments and willing to participate.
9 The chattering penguin also represents another member of the E 603 World Literature Class, Jessica. Jessica always wants to participate and voice her opinions. When she feels something is unjust, if she did not get points or did not get to speak, she speaks out.
10The owl character here represents Nick, who is also in E603. He is shown as an owl because he is very intelligent and is an engineer. As an engineer, he must often use logic, which, as Professor Bump would say, is taught excessively.
11 The lion who mutters in Spanish and writes on the board is Austin, an E603 student. Austin is a Spanish and Portuguese major, and he often corrects the pronunciation of Spanish words brought up in class. He uses Spanish to express himself in class as well.
12 Carroll, Lewis. The Annotated Alice. 1960. Page 213. Professor Bump, as Bumpty Dumpty, uses the words of Humpty Dumpty from Through the Looking Glass to express that words often have multiple meanings. In class, through an actual debate about modernism versus medievalism, Professor Bump showed how especially abstract words like ‘modernism’ are ambiguous.
13 The dodo bird represents Eric in world literature class. He has lately not been present in class, but is still often able to earn points. In addition, in the modernism debate, Eric took a central position all by himself and earned the victory.
14 Varnum, Robin. Fencing with words. 1996. Printout page 1. According to this work, which promotes discovery learning, the frustration that “you are not being taught what you ought to be taught…” is natural. This excerpt was read aloud in class one day to illustrate the importance of learning through personal experiences.
15 Dass, Ram and Paul Gorman. How Can I Help? 1987. Page 35. This work is used in E603 for self-observations, and it brings up the good idea that I face: I must loosen myself from a label as my only identification. In the story, this comes from finding purpose in my learning, not in my major or career choice.
16Varnum, Robin. Fencing with words. 1996. Printout page 4. This work illustrates, as I learn in the story, that the most effective learning comes from personal experience and through discovery learning. This is the mode of learning advocated by Professor Bump in E603.