Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid.
Pre-Final Exam: the butterflies in my stomach flutter only a little; I have netted them myself. Tomorrow if they have not died of containment I will chloroform them with fingernail polish remover dropped into their jar. But for now, if you listen closely, you can hear their wings flap-flapping in a futility of desperation. I have rescued the butterflies from death at the beak of a bird and will immortalize them in clear, diamond-like words. I feel their wings beat, churning my stomach’s juices, strengthening its bile.
The week’s reprieve between classes and exams has become an endless, age-long tenure in Auschwitz. Too much time between classes and exams, watching the joyful WPI students stretching their arms in newly-regained freedom. I see them testing their reach, showing off their dead butterflies pinned eternally under glass. Mine still fly freely, beautiful little spots of color flashing—lightly alighting, yet so many together cause me pain. I begin fearing my location and date: what if, somehow, my exam is elsewhere? Or a different day, time? Now the wings beat strongly to propel bullet-bodies into my stomach wall. They want company, and so do I, some reassurance that I have not carried us astray.
I sold back my books this morning and bought an over-priced muffin with the proceeds. Books, pages flapping in time with my butterflies’ wings. They gave me one and two dollars in return for material which I gave them fifteen and twenty dollars. Sometimes more, sometimes fifty or sixty returned as ten. Thus I see that English books mean little monetarily, deriving their value instead from the necessity of their content. From necessity I paid $60 for the 2,963-page Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume Two, though we only touched ever so briefly on its contents. At least it had great value per page—about two cents per page, where I paid $14 for 209 pages. That’s six cents per page; or $13 for 174, seven cents per page. College teaches us to bag our butterflies and squash any creeping, eight-legged doubts that might arise regarding cost of living and learning. Not long ago people paid a few thousand for a solid education, while now we pay $30,000 for a shaky one. In 25 or 50 years, perhaps, youths will bemoan the cost of their $100,000 educations and long for the days when college cost less than half that much.
Suddenly the butterflies stopped flapping: two classmates of mine appeared, soon to be joined by others, and all the nervous flutters within us cancelled each other out. Suddenly, too, a burst of confidence—probably unfounded—zapped the butterflies and they rose in swirling glories of flashing, twinkling colors. I wish that they could go, migrate from me forever, leave off inhabiting me for all eternity; but I know they will leave caterpillars behind, dormant in their cocoons, ready to break free and joy in my times of trial.
Post-Final Exam: Half the butterflies died. They fell lifeless to the ground, dimmed and flutterless, for the burst of confidence proved to have a base of granite. Two questions, thirty minutes each, referring to the text and notes I’d carefully prepared and pored over for days: butterfly-wing guided my fingers knew the tabs I needed. Before my eyes saw the words, my mind formed them. Freshly filled, fountain-pen tip swooped across the bluebook’s pages with confidence—more confidence than a hundred spoken words. At 11:25 exactly I wrote “modernism.”, closed the bluebook, gathered my belongings without any flutterings and turned the exam in to the TA with a smile. She wore a green spaghetti-strap shirt on this warming spring day, a promise of a hot sultry summer to come.
Light like the now-vanishing antagonizers of my gastric juices my feet skimmed across Jonas Clark’s long stairs in a moment, out the door and into the cool breeze and sweet sunshine. Fast, hurry, and the blue-decaled white shuttle bus pulled up as my feet skidded to a halt. The small maple I planted in a stick-dug hole had grown two big leaves; perhaps a lawn mower’s malicious blades will miss them. That is my hope, at least, in planting it in the hole. Survive and thrive, little one, replace your lost majestic ancestors, now two hundred years gone. Gregariousness overcame cringing concern so that I and the other occupant of the shuttle, a Worcester State first-year could bemoan together the pain of a cramped desk and pouring out knowledge onto paper like water.
Knowledge is made of ink, printer-ink and pen-ink and toner. Once it splashed onto cave walls and onto papyrus, but now we lay it down line by careful line and teach children the proper way to share it. Curl your l’s just so, cross your t’s, write your cursive Q’s like a plump 2, else the knowledge will seep away into the ground and never return. In old East Coast graveyards you can sometimes find the life’s story of a man carved ornately into his slate headstone; today’s headstones fade in a hundred years and leave rolling hills and valleys for ants to crawl up.
My companions the butterflies are flitting from flower to flower, delicately extending a proboscis to remove nectar. Bright colors attract them so they wear their love on their wings, a dual purpose in beauty and natural defense. Our bright colors defend too, drawing attention from ourselves and to our clothes so that the personality’s true image never emerges from behind the confusing flicker of false eyes and distracting hues.
And thus I complete one of my two finals, remaining convinced that English majors’ work means nothing more than the negative space between dark letter-shapes.
– KF –
One thought on “Philosophy of Exam Taking”
One down, one to go! Can’t wait to see you!