Grades vs. Education

I’m quitting a class that I think I would really like and one that I would probably learn a lot in. I’m not doing it because I don’t like the professor. I’m not doing it because I want an easier course. I am quitting this class because I worry about my grade.

You see, I’m here at Liberty on an academic scholarship, full-tuition actually. To continue to receive the financial aid that I need (because Lord knows I couldn’t even begin to afford this school otherwise), I have to stay in the honors program. To stay in the honors program, I have to keep up a GPA of 3.5. Which is fine. I don’t normally mind having to keep my grades up. I’m kind of a perfectionist anyway. The issue is that I am beginning to feel like I am actually sacrificing my education for sake of my grade point average.

I started out this semester in Theology 201 Honors. I like the professor, and I think the discussion-based aspect of the class would make it instructive and fun. But unfortunately, the professor has a liking for pop quizzes of the essay variety (why I hate essay exams and quizzes is a whole other post). If you’ve ever had to do something like this, then you’ll understand that it’s really hard. When the reading is 40+ pages, it’s even harder.

I realized after taking the first quiz that I probably won’t get an A in the class. Now I could keep going and accept whatever grade I get, but I feel it isn’t worth the risk to my GPA. I want an education. I want to learn, but to keep attending Liberty, I need to keep up my scores. There are certain things that I can’t take the risk on if I want to keep going, including overly-difficult honors courses.

But at the same time, I probably won’t learn as much in a normal theology class as I would in my honors one. So I wonder if it is worth it to me in the long run. I wonder if I’m handicapping myself later by choosing to be more careful now.

I’ve long said that if I was rich I wouldn’t go to school full-time. I would take one or two classes a semester just for the sake of learning, and spend the rest of my time applying my knowledge. I want to learn but when it comes to grades, well, I would really rather not care.

If I wasn’t being graded, I could delve more deeply into subjects that interested me, that really allowed me to grow. It’s one of the things that I loved about homeschooling, that amazing freedom to do as I liked. But as things stand now, I am so focused on grades that I wonder if I am really learning or if I am instead just performing.

My education is more than just my grades.

It’s a nasty dichotomy. I must get good grades to keep up my educations, but my education feels shallower because I must focus too heavily on my grades.

I also wonder if this feeling of wariness will continue with me when I leave school. Will I be trained to avoid risks that might further my career or personal development? Will I become so careful that I do not progress, that I become stagnant?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, and I don’t know if I ever will. In the meantime, I’m left wondering and frustrated, praying that I will learn enough in the honors class, PSYCH 101, to make up for what I will miss in the theology class.

P.S. On an unrelated note, you should check out one of my other blogs on Medium. I had to make this one for a Journalism class. My handle is @RatherBeWriting, and I recently wrote a post about what makes good writing that is worth a look.

Silence – A Flash Fiction

namib_desert_dunes

I drop to my knees in the dust. It had been days since I’d had a proper drink. More than a week since I’d found something to eat. The heat is horrible, and it’s been getting worse since I stopped sweating. But that isn’t what’s getting to me.

It’s the silence.

I’d wondered what the end of the world would look like, but I never even thought about what it would sound like. But this silence is… it’s awful. Oppressive.

All around me nothing moves. Not even the wind dares to rustle the dust. I hardly want to breathe, because the sound of my ragged breath comes out like machine gun fire. When I walk, each shuffling step sounds like a bomb exploding.

I fall forward, my face in the sand. I stare out at the dusty wasteland that used to be green and lush. I wonder if green even exists anymore. If there’s no one else out there to remember it, and I can’t even fathom the concept of green in this desert, can it still be real? Was it ever real? All I see is shades of brown. And red, where my skin has been torn open.

I blink. It’s hard to open my eyes again. It’s been getting harder every day. I wonder what the point is. Why do I keep going? What am I looking for? I think—no, I know—that there’s nothing else out there.

Just the silence. The never-ending desert. The brown. The red.

But that’s it, isn’t it? It’s the red. It’s my own blood that tells me I’m still alive. I keep moving because I don’t want to die. I don’t know why I still live, but I don’t want to die. I know this.

I struggle to stand, my limbs shaking. I take one step, and then another, and then still another. I’ll keep moving. Keep pushing forward, going God knows where. I know what I want.

I’m seeking sanctuary.

Communion.

Sound.

Things I’ve Learned Playing Skyrim

I know you guys know by this point, or at least you should have guessed, that I am a colossal nerd. I love all things Doctor Who, Marvel, Firefly, or otherwise sci-fi/fantasy/super hero related.

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My “Wall of TARDIS” that sits behind my bed.

What you may not have guessed, because I don’t talk about it much, is that I am also a pretty avid gamer. I’m also an incredibly cheap one, and won’t buy anything that’s not on sale or costs more than $10, but that’s another story.

So when I came home for Thanksgiving break, I knew the gaming sites would be having their Black Friday sales soon. I did not realize that they would start a few days before Thanksgiving, or that my number one most wanted game would be on sale. But there it was when I opened up Steam. Their sale had begun and Skyrim was on sale for less than $5. How could I possibly say no?

Actually, it turns out that, given a really good sale, it is fairly impossible for me to say no anyway. I bought a total of 7 games over break, which are as follows in order of how much I think I’m going to enjoy them: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Portal 2, Terraria, Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider, and Portal. I very narrowly passed up the opportunity to buy Goat Simulator, because I really want to play it, but cannot justify spending any amount of money on it. Now I have no idea if this list is accurate or not (other than the first position), but I guess the only way to find out is to actually play them.

He he he.

Getting back to Skyrim now. If you don’t know what the game is, I’ll explain. Basically, it’s an open world, over-the-top, do-whatever-you-want, fantasy adventure with dragons sprinkled on the top. In a word: awesome. I highly recommend it. It’s worth every penny of the $20 it usually costs, and at less than $5, it’s a downright steal.

But be warned, if you do buy this game, expect every minute of your free time to be spent down the newly formed inescapably pit that is Skyrim. I feel I may have made an awful mistake in beginning to play this game before final were over.

That said, after plunging headlong into the game and spending what Steam tells me is 42 hours playing it, I have learned a few things both about the game and about myself.

1. Don’t kill the chickens

Most of the game is spent fending off bandits, hacking undead zombies apart, and shooting every furry bunny that runs across your path just so that you can increase your archery skill. Which is all well and good, or course, but all that slashing and shooting can make you forget that some animals belong to the NPCs (non-playable characters, for the video game illiterate), and you can incur a penalty for killing them. I did not know this. Or rather, I suspected it, but kinda wanted to test it out. I also wasn’t entirely sure you could kill the farm animals.

So one day, after figuring out how to use my shiny new flames power, I walked out of a tavern (because that’s how all good stories begin), and I saw a chicken sitting on the ground in front of me.

I looked at the chicken.

I looked at my flaming hand.

I looked back at the chicken.

And then I set its feathery little behind on fire. Turns out you can kill chickens. I saw a little notification pop up that my bounty had increased to $40.

And then EVERYONE IN THE FREAKING TOWN came after me with everything they had. I tried to defend myself, but I was so surprised that I ended up pausing the game and just staring at the screen. Finally, I reloaded the game to the point before I had killed the chicken. This time, I walked up to the chicken, stared at it angrily, and then moved on.

I learned later that if you put down your weapons, the people should stop attacking. That’s good to know, but it doesn’t explain why they took a mere chicken killing as a declaration of war on their entire town.

So don’t toast the chickens. It’s not worth it.

2. I’m a jerk to followers

In Skyrim, you occasionally have an opportunity to choose to have a particular NPC follow you around and help you in battle. Now, that sounds awesome. Who wouldn’t want to have a friend to take on your bandit-camp-pillaging and zombie-slaying adventures. However, the reality is a little more inconvenient. Followers aren’t much for conversation, they don’t follow orders very well, and they get in the way all the time. That said, they are useful in other ways.

I will admit that I mainly use my followers as human shields and pack mules. Which is kind of awful. The first time I watched one of my followers rush into battle ahead of me only to end up on beaten into the ground, I feel I should have felt pity or concern. Instead, I sensed an opportunity. I realized I could use them as a human (or elf, as the case may be) shield, while I increased my archery skill from a safe distance.

You see, the baddies in the game seem to be programmed to attack the closest thing to them. So I’ll run in, shoot someone, and then back out while my companion rushes in and takes the brunt of the damage, and I reap all the benefits.

I also dump all of my junk on them until I can’t dump anymore. I also accidentally shoot them. A lot.

Which makes me kind of a jerk to my followers. Turns out that this can backfire after a while, especially the turning a follower into a pack mule part. I finally had one of my followers get killed in the middle of a battle. I didn’t realize how much I was depending on my follower until she dropped dead of an arrow wound (which might have been from me, but I’m assuming it wasn’t so I won’t have that on my conscience) in the middle of battle, and I was forced to deal with a horde of angry mages all on my own. I ended up not being able to get through the cave by myself, AND I had to leave behind all the cool weaponry and artifacts that my follower had been carrying in that cave because I couldn’t carry all of it myself. I had my best stuff on me, but I’m still mad about losing all the other stuff.

3. This game forces me to make moral choices, and I don’t like it

Most games I’ve played in the past have given me a very clear cut good guy/bad guy dynamic. It’s not like I’ve never played the bad guy before. I have, but I’m used to at least knowing it and knowing who to fight. I’ve played games like Assassin’s Creed where the main character’s virtues were questionable, but I knew who the bad guys were. But in Skyrim, you can’t know.

Both sides in the major plot line have their good sides and bad sides. The Empire is made up of a bunch of spineless wimps who won’t stand up for their own people. But they do seem to genuinely want to help, and their peace treaty seems to be the only thing holding Skyrim together. The rebel Stormcloaks on the other hand are for the people and self-government to an extent. But most of them are really racist…

To continue the main plot line, I will have to join one side or the other. But it’s hard to make a clear choice on who is the best. Neither seems to be really bad, but neither is really good. There’s no black and white to this war. It’s kind of like reality.

Grrr.

The only people that I can say are legit bad guys would be the evil elven group called the Thalmor, the bandits or dark mages that attack me for no reason, and the dragons that keep attacking random towns. It’s nice to have these, but I’m still annoyed that I have to choose a side in the main conflict.

The main story isn’t the only place you have to choose. There are numerous other side quests that force you to make a moral choices. Often, it’s a matter of choosing between what seems to be the right thing and what will give you the best payout. I know it’s just a video game, but I have to wonder what it says about me if I decide to kill some random innocent guy just because I want a cool staff.

******

There’s a lot more to the game, and I think I’ve got a few hundred more hours of gaming in the Skyrim world ahead of me, but this post is long enough. If you guys like it, I might do other gaming posts in the future. I can think of quite a few things to say about The Sims 3, for instance.

P.S. Sorry for not posting in a while. School’s been taking up all of my time, but another break is right around the corner. Hopefully, I remember to post this time.

P.P.S. If you are interested in more funny and philosophical content about video games, I highly recommend checking out the videos of Goldvision on YouTube.

Be Careful What You Read

I think we, as a society, need to learn to be careful what we read, see, and hear. It’s odd advice, I know, from a writer, but I think it’s something that needs to be said to a lot of people. We’ve probably all heard that old rhyme “be careful little eyes what you see.” I wonder how many of us take its advice seriously.

I’ll admit, it’s hard to do it today. Our society bombards us daily with sex and violence and the darkest parts of the human experience. I was writing a paper for school a few days ago that was on the subject of the entertainment industry. One of the points that I made was that I can’t name off the top of my head a single adult character on television that is celibate. The highlight of most “love” stories these days is when the main characters have sex for the first time. When I was talking about the paper with my mom later, she pointed out that often, it’s not just in the shows themselves, but actually in commercials for TV shows.

Some shows seem to run off of it. I hate to name one that is super popular, but Game of Thrones is a good example. I’ve personally never seen the show, but I’ve seen enough commercials for it and read enough reviews to know that it’s not something I want to watch. The show makes bank on subjecting viewers to graphic sex scenes and horrifying violence in nearly every episode. Maybe it has a decent plot, but to me it’s not worth it.

Honestly, all of this is dangerous. I don’t think people realize how much of a show they internalize every episode. When you’re laughing along to a romantic comedy, it’s easy to cheer for the likable protagonist when he finally gets the girl and they sleep together. When you’re glued to your seat during the heart-pounding action scenes in a movie like Jurassic World, you probably won’t notice all of the references to evolution and naturalistic thought.

We need to be careful. And some people need to be more careful than others. Personally, I can’t stand most pop or hip-hop. The genres are becoming increasingly filled with references I don’t want to hear. Even old favorites like country music is going down that path. For a long time, I’ve listened almost exclusively to Christian rock and rap. I pick my secular music very carefully. It’s not because I think I’m better than someone else who doesn’t, but it’s because I can’t handle a lot of today’s music. It gets in my head and in my heart in a way that is not glorifying to God. I’m not saying everyone, or even every Christian, should listen to only Christian music. I’m only saying that that’s what I’m doing because it helps me personally.

Sometimes, silence can drown out the bad in ways that sound never could. Sometimes, we just need to stay away from the bad. Christians in particular need to learn this. We are called to be in the world, but not of it (a la Romans 12:2). We have to guard our hearts against what the world will throw at us, and sometimes that means looking away. If you’re vulnerable to something, then get away from it. That’s not to say that we turn a blind eye to the problems of the world. But there’s a difference between knowing that something exists and participating in it, no matter how peripherally.

So please, friends, be careful what you see. Be careful what you read. Be careful of letting what you consume, consume you.

Guard your hearts.

Honors Student Translations

Most of my friends at Liberty University are honors students, and one thing that I’ve noticed among my friends is a certain difference in the way we talk about things compared to the main student body. By that, I don’t mean that we use bigger words, although sometimes we do, but that some of the words we use actually have different meanings.
I’ve decided to put together a little list of translations to help the parents or loved ones of honors students. Some of these may be slightly exaggerated, but most are, at the very least, spot on as far as how it feels.

1. “Pass”
What it usually means: To not receive a failing grade on an assignment or in a course.
What it means to an honors student: Get an A.

2. “A”
What it usually means: The highest grade one can get.
What it means to an honors student: The only acceptable grade one can get.

3. “B”
What it usually means: The second best grade one can get. Pretty good.
What it means to an honors student: Abject failure.

4. “C”
What it usually means: A passing grade. Nothing to strive for, but not horrible either.
What it means to an honors student: Evidence that you are a totally hopeless individual.

5. “D-F”
What it usually means: Not a good grade; failing.
What it means to an honors student: Terror and damnation. The end is nigh! Your personal apocalypse has come! You may as well hide under a rock and never show your face again.

6. “Studying”
What it usually means: Spending a few minutes every day glancing over the textbook.
What it means to an honors student: Spending hours poring over the textbook, the extra assigned reading, and every extensive page of notes you’ve written, doing every extra-credit assignment possible, and forming study groups.

7. “Free Time”
What it usually means: Time used to hang with friends, relaxing or adventuring.
What it means to an honors student: See “Studying.” Or sleep.

8. “I’m fine.”
What it usually means: Everything is alright.
What is means to an honors student: Everything is not alright, and I’m drowning in school-induced worry.

9. “I slept in and missed (insert school-related thing here)”
What it usually means: Oops, I accidentally missed something. Oh well.
What it means to an honors student: See “D-F.”

10. GPA
What it usually means: Grade point average.
What it means to an honors student: A paper boat carrying precious cargo adrift in a raging sea that threatens to sink it at any moment.

What’s in a Name?

You may or may not have noticed, but my blog has recently changed names. I’ve actually never liked what it originally was: just my full name, Susannah Ailene Martin. Initially, I named it after myself for marketing purposes. I was creating a brand (or something like that). But then, I read all these wonderful blogs with inventive, funny, or creative name. Then there was mine. Just my name. Yay.

So I changed it. Now it is “Susannah Contra Mundum.” If you haven’t gone to google it yet, that means simply “Susannah Against the World” in Latin. The story of the name actually tracks back to a man from early Christian history named Athanasius*. He was a staunch opponent of a rather nasty, and unfortunately popular, heresy called Arianism, which essentially said that Jesus was just a creation, the best one mind you, but not one with God. When asked why he wouldn’t give in when it seemed like the whole world opposed him, Athanasius famously replied, “Then it is Athanasius against the world.”

I read the story of Athanasius in one of the essays in the giant C.S. Lewis book I finished over the summer, and it struck me: I can relate to him. Maybe I’m wrong, but it certainly feels like the world is against me and anyone who commits to the traditional morals of Christianity. It’s not popular to oppose gay marriage or abortion. Most people will look at you funny these days if you’re almost 20 years old like me and still a virgin. But I want to follow Christ and his teachings. I believe Jesus Christ is my eternal savior, that he bore my sins (along with the rest of the world’s) and died for me. The least I can do is follow the simple commands he left us in the Bible.

It’s never easy going against the world, but I’m willing to do it. And I hope there are a few of you out there who are willing to go along with me. I’ll mess up, sure. But I’m leaving this name on this site as a sort of promise. Feel free to call me out on it if you ever sense me wavering. I’ll count it as a favor.

* Other than the Athanasius connection, I also like the symmetry of giving this blog a similar name to my other one, Me Against the Page, which is my sorely neglected writing blog. It has it’s own What’s in a Name post which you can read.

My Biggest Flaw

Those of you who have been around my blog long enough already know what my biggest flaw is. You know how annoying it is that every once in a while, I’ll do a post every day, and then you won’t see me again for a month. That’s because my biggest vice is my lack of consistency.

There are so many things I want to do, but hesitate to begin because I will be required to be consistent about something. Personally, I would like to blog every day. I’m sure there are those of you who remember my ill-fated attempt to do NaBloPoMo, so you know how that turned out. It’s not even lack of ideas that stops me from blogging a lot. Lord knows my brain wouldn’t keep me up until three in the morning if that were the case. I just… get distracted and forget about it. Honestly, how I have over 400 followers on this blog I have no idea.

I would also like to keep up with my literary magazine, Estuary. But I’ve been neglecting that for far too long. I’m not sure why I thought it would be a good idea to give myself a weekly schedule on that thing. That worked for about a week and a half. At this point, I think it would be better to shut it down than to keep it open, but not deliver on the promise of getting back to people.

I want to finish working on the novel projects I’m doing. I want to finish the three books that I’m in the middle of. I need to finish rewriting the first one, so I can get the dang thing published already. Writer’s block is something of an excuse for the first few, but I can’t even use that for the rewrite, because it’s not a matter of coming up with the story from scratch; I just have to write it better (which, now that I think about it, is just as nerve-wracking). In the same vein, I know that if I want to be a successful author, I’m going to need to use my author page on Facebook more often, or my fans (when I have them) will forget me. Right now, Facebook is screaming at me that I haven’t used that page in 6 days.

I would like to use the excuse “I don’t have time,” but as most people who use that excuse frequently know (at least on the inside), that it’s a lie. I do have time, but I fill it with other things. I read, I binge-watch my favorite shows, I write other stuff.

I think my main problem is that I’m too easily distracted. I’m easily entertained, which is why I can just stare at the ceiling for hours while thinking through a new idea. But I’m also easily bored. Or rather, I get bored fast. I find the idea of sitting anywhere doing the same thing for days or weeks on end is horrifying. It’s part of the reason that I like writing and coming up with stories so much. Although the physical action of me curled up on the couch with my laptop is essentially the same, it’s never the same place in my own mind.

Now it’s all well and good to realize the problem, but what am I supposed to do with the knowledge. Honestly, I have no flipping idea. It feels like I have a diagnosis, but no cure. It’s simple enough to say “Well, you just have to apply yourself more,” but if it was that easy, I wouldn’t be in this situation. And applying myself more won’t fix the boredom issue. Even college, which I greatly enjoy, gets boring after a while of doing the same thing every day.

I feel like I need more motivation than I currently have. The only thing I’ve noticed that’s helped (at least so far) is putting what I’m doing out there for the world to see. It’s the reason I’ve kept working on the story I’ve been writing the last few weeks, and it’s also the reason I keep coming back to this blog. But I don’t want to do that with everything I work on, because then it would feel like I’m doing it at the point of spear. And that will suck the fun right out of it, I’m sure.

Is this what adulthood is like? If so, I think I want a refund.