Orienting Yourself

Welcome to the University of Washington

Congratulations: You have elected to attend a freaking huge university that has pretty much everything you need within a 15-minute walk—concerts, theaters, cheap restaurants, record shops, bookstores, an enormous and creepily gothic library, lots of pretty young things in that library, and dozens of bars (that you can't go to yet, just as well). The most pleasurable way to get to know it, and your fellow students, is aimless wandering. Some advice: Don't swim in Drumheller Fountain. The cops bust a few of you idiots every year. Plus, it's full of duck shit. Join a club or start a club or something—you haven't been liberated from your folks' totalitarian dictatorship just to sit in your dorm room every night. Do not refer to yourself or others by the name of your school mascot unless you want anybody with a trace amount of taste to know what a jackass you are. And call home once in a while. Someday your parents will be dead and you'll wish you'd talked to them more.

Welcome to Seattle University

Because SU is small, you're going to spend a lot of time off campus. Despite what your new roommate says, stepping out of your inner-city dorm will not get you shot. This is a safe city. Start by taking a walk south down 12th Avenue. Right at Jackson Street will take you to dim sum at House of Hong, then to the Wing Luke Asian Museum a block further: both major culture points. Left at Yesler Way (from 12th Avenue) will take you to the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, where you can sit in on a panel discussion about 1850s slave rebellions or see a documentary about the birth of hiphop in Seattle. While everyone else is playing Yahtzee in their dorm rooms or losing their virginities, you'll be getting cultured—and isn't that what you came here for after all? On weekends, SU's periphery is scattered with tepid off-campus parties. These are not exciting UW-style parties, but they will still invariably end with you puking at 3:00 a.m. into your dorm-room sink. SU's campus is also well kept and full of plant life. Women outnumber men seven to three. The chapel is very pretty. Bring your own condoms.

Welcome to Cornish College of the Arts

Cornish is like Los Angeles: It sprawls. The campus comprises buildings in various places connected by shuttle. In order to arrive on time anywhere when moving between these locations, for safety's sake leave two hours ahead. Two hours are also needed when one is waiting for an elevator in Cornish's headquarters building in South Lake Union, where the "lobby" is on the third floor, the cafe is on the floor beneath that (but also at ground level, because the building sits on a hill), and the college's art gallery is one level beneath that, a white box buried in packed earth. The halls are unruly, like streets: You will find students talking to themselves (practicing lines for theater), throwing their voices (warming up their operatic pipes), and sometimes trying on unfamiliar clothing (costumes). This is a creative place. For heaven's sake, wear something weird.

Welcome to Seattle Central Community College

Starting at SCCC and transferring to a four-year school saves money, gives you humility cred, and provides for a more urban social experience than white, well-off Jesus freaks playing drinking games (which is what you'll encounter once you get to UW). The brick-box main building is an object lesson in brutalism; try never to look at it. Keep your gaze trained on Broadway Performance Hall, left over from when Broadway High School was here (from 1902 to the 1940s, whereupon the campus became a place exclusively for adults to finish high school until the 1970s, whereupon it became a college). The grassy, tree-y area between Broadway Performance Hall and the bus stop on Pine Street is a secret in plain sight, the perfect place to let someone cute rest his or her head on your lap between classes. Don't assume it's going to be easy. Befriend your teachers. Take the stairs. Go to the bathroom at home. Be careful walking on the bricks in the rain or you will eat shit. Don't let anyone get you with that "You know what's really good? Pita Pit" joke. There are far better nearby food options: Baguette Box just down Pine Street, Cafe Presse up on 12th Avenue, a certain nearby pizza place/bar where they don't always card.

Welcome to North Seattle Community College

North Seattle Community College is the Attica of community colleges: The concrete building—tucked behind the freeway—bears an uncanny resemblance to a prison. As far as the classes go, it's a community college, so you'll be surrounded by mouth breathers, and not even the cosmopolitan ones that SCCC attracts. But you can bang out a bunch of your math and English credits on the cheap.

Welcome to Seattle Pacific University

The only things you need to know are that Jesus Christ died for your sins and that you can get your new copy of The Stranger every Thursday at the corner of Third Avenue North and Nickerson Street.

Welcome to Not Going to Any of These Damn Schools Because You Learn Better on Your Own
(i.e., How to Drop Out and Still Have a Successful Life)

Look, why not just drop out? Most college graduates wind up stuck in careers they hate anyway. Still, if you want to be a successful dropout, you've got to be smart about it. You need to get a job. You need to save, save, save. You need to read everything and anything; you need to read all the time. Don't waste your life fucking around with video games and drugs and TV. Those are diversions for bored people, and you don't have time to be bored. Get an internship in a field you're interested in—writing, politics, music—and make yourself indispensable: If you're the most useful human being they've ever seen, and you know a lot of stuff because you spend your free time reading, nobody is going to care where you went to school. They're going to hire you because you're not some spoon-fed college-boy milquetoast.

Everything There Is to Know About Your Major

(Or, Who Needs Classes?)

Everything There Is to Know About Physics

If stuff is still, it doesn't like to move; if stuff is moving, it doesn't like to stop. The more stuff you're trying to move, the more you need to push it to speed it up. When you push on stuff, stuff pushes back on you. Stuff likes other stuff, from a distance at least. Stuff likes becoming more chaotic, but cannot be created or destroyed; stuff can be rearranged. (All that is Isaac Newton.) Energy, like stuff, cannot be created or destroyed, only changed from one kind to another. Energy can be stored in movement, bonds between stuff, and many other places. Changes in how energy is stored allow us do things—like bake, drive, get up tall buildings, and kill each other. (That's Sadi Carnot.) Also, stuff is energy. Stuff is a lot of energy. (That's Albert Einstein.) Compress plutonium with explosives and the atoms fission, releasing the energy stored in stuff. When the energy is released in downtown Nagasaki, you kill about 40,000 people right away and another 40,000 over time. (Thanks, Enrico Fermi!)

Everything There Is to Know About Art

For cave painters, what you need to know is bison. That's the subject. Next came angels with big foreheads: the Middle Ages. Then Italian Renaissance, which means that objects in the distance are painted smaller—exactly as much smaller as your eye sees them. (This fetish for verisimilitudinousness was the real birth of photography, even though photography wouldn't be invented for another 400 years.) Things begin to fuzz out with impressionism (the greatest glorification of poor eyesight in history), speed up with futurism (don't side with them, the fascists did), and Dada (avoid this word, because its meaning is complicated and contradictory, and it will only embarrass you). Salvador Dalí was a surrealist. Surrealists are Freudians. This means a bunch of guys with perverse fixations on women's parts. Whatever you do, never say "modern art" when you mean new art. Modern art ended in 1959. Andy Warhol: still cool.

Everything There Is to Know About Psychology

In 1856, two Europeans cursed their newly born child with the name Sigismund Shlomo Freud, a nomenclatural brutality that would have condemned the young lad to a life of psychotherapy... had psychotherapy existed. Little Shlomo went on to invent it, discovering his affinity for cocaine and young Viennese women in the process. A couple of decades later, some guy made a bunch of dogs slobber when they heard a bell, which proved something important. Since then, psychology has offered self-obsessed losers new reasons to whine about how miserable they are and spawned a bad pair of Robert De Niro movies, as well as Woody Allen's entire glorious oeuvre.

Everything There Is to Know About Computer Science

In the olden days (the 1980s), computers were for green-on-black word processing and Zork. Then someone plugged some computers into each other and there was the internet and Zork Online. Now we have fast internet, but very little Zork at all. Things change. This is known as Moore's law—the internet is twice as fast and has half as much Zork every 18 months. At some point, you will have to decide if you want to be a computer geek or just a regular computer user. There is no third option. It's no longer cool or acceptable to not know how to use computers. This is like bragging that you can't read, or walk, or see. You don't have to know anything about how computers work, but you do have to know about the internet. Learn some basic HTML. Get a Mac. If you can't or won't get a Mac, for the love of god don't use Internet Explorer. If you're paying to look at porn, you're doing it wrong.

Everything There Is to Know About Theater

Oedipus accidentally fucked his mom and Sophocles got famous writing about it. Aeschylus was killed by a large bird that mistook his bald head for a stone and dropped a turtle on him from a great height. William Shakespeare was the passionate, poetic one; Ben Jonson was the cerebral, cranky one. Samuel Beckett is their poetic, cerebral, cranky heir. Bertolt Brecht was a Marxist and the exception to the following rule: Political theater is bad. Everyone talks about Antonin Artaud but nobody reads him. (Read Susan Sontag's essay on him instead.) Constantin Stanislavsky thought actors had to "live the part," so Dustin Hoffman stayed up for two nights so he could look exhausted for Marathon Man. (Laurence Olivier, his costar, suggested: "Try acting—it's much easier.") David Mamet wrote about men, Caryl Churchill wrote about women, and Sarah Kane wrote about herself—in a poetic, cerebral, cranky way. (She is Beckett's heir.) Then she committed suicide. Don't ever, ever disparage new work by saying it's "derivative." Fucking everything is derivative. That's a cowardly criticism created for people who don't have anything intelligent to say.

Everything There Is to Know About Biology

Evolution is everything. Don't worry about RNA, DNA, cells, phylogenies, and the rest; Mendelian genetics and evolution, combined together, are the essence of biology. Briefly: New ways of doing things (Mendel's alleles) are constantly being invented by accident—when mistakes are made during the copying of the instructions. Living things with better versions of these instructions tend to overwhelm those with poorer versions. Mendel figured out anything with more than one cell working together gets two copies of instructions for any given task. One copy can be a total loss—a scratch pad where crappy instructions can reside and not harm chances of success. Sex is about sharing alleles; if two organisms can have sex and have kids that can have sex and have kids of their own, they're a species. Species evolve, not individuals. Combine these ideas together and you have the beauty of the living world in your hands.

Everything There Is to Know About Chemistry

Stuff is made up of different arrangements of atoms; atoms are made up of a nucleus surrounded by buzzing electrons. The outer shell always wants to be filled with eight electrons. So, any arrangement that gets you there—sodium with chloride, oxygen with two hydrogens, carbon with four chlorides—will work. This is why the periodic table has eight columns and helium (with eight outer electrons of its own) doesn't explode. Some arrangements adding up to eight shared electrons are happier than others. Chemical reactions rearrange from less stable to more stable arrangements on their own, giving off energy in the process. To make a less stable arrangement, you have to put in energy as payment. Chemistry is simply accounting: You must not gain or lose atoms at any point. Ignore the nuclear physicists on this point.

Everything There Is to Know About Classical Music

Think of it as one note that breaks into two, and then multiplies into a universe of sound and possible instruments. Start with the monks. Their chants. Very monotone. Bach is the baroque: He turns music into an argument, lines fighting with lines. Mozart is next, using a strict form that has roots in world exploration—introduce a theme in one key, wander it around and develop it in other keys for a while, and then return home with the musical spoils of all that wandering. Then comes Beethoven and Wagner: everything bigger, louder, and longer. In the 20th and 21st centuries, starting with Stravinsky, all rules are suspended. Even the do-re-mi scale that's the basis of Western music is broken into microtones, and the system of keys gives way to other equations and algorithms (even though 12-tone music sounds impossible, it's simple: All 12 tones of an octave must be used before any can be repeated). Mozart's period is the classical period, and thus the correct meaning of the term "classical music" is music made from about 1750 to 1820 (Mozart lived from 1756 to 1791). Therefore, saying "classical music" when you simply mean nonpopular music is the equivalent of saying "modern art" when you mean new art.

Everything There Is to Know About Literature

English literature as it is taught in college is the story of power and class struggle. Keep that in mind and your grades will never sink below a B+. The oldest known poem in English is "Caedmon's Hyme." It's about the rise of Christianity (power) and its domination/extermination of pagan beliefs (the poor). Moving on. William Shakespeare's best play is The Tempest because it's about the birth of the colonial era and of great importance to postcolonial theory. (Who is Caliban? The colonial subject. Who is Prospero? The colonial master. Memorize that.) The metaphysical poets—what were their poems about? An obsession with Platonic beauty? No. The birth of existentialism in an increasingly skeptical world? No. The decline of the court as the center of political and economic power and the transition to bourgeois cosmopolitanism? That's it. See how this works? We're already at John Milton. Good guy or bad guy? Good guy—opposed censorship and absolutism. Charles Dickens wrote about the oppression of the emerging industrial proletariat. And fog. Lots of fog. The boat in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is a symbol for the madness of colonial greed. Then we're in the 20th century, when realism falls out of vogue because Virginia Woolf wanted to write about her feelings. High modernism has two camps: one led by Gertrude Stein (progressive) and the other led by T. S. Eliot (reactionary). The former is bad because it leads to Ezra Pound—meaning, it leads to fascism. Postmodernism is good because it marks the death of master narratives.

Everything There Is to Know About Economics

Economics is a social science based on the way humans behave given limited resources. There are some simple rules: A recession is fairly bad but a depression is very bad; inflation is like cholesterol, there's normal and there's bad. Economics is a very soft science. Nobody, for instance, is sure when a recession becomes a depression. It may have happened while you were reading that sentence. Also, economists issue strong statements, but those strong statements are often followed shortly by statements of surprise. There is one thing you must know: If you want to be an economist, you must be able to read and draw graphs. You should, in fact, be graphilic. Any shortcomings having to do with graphs will disqualify you from the profession, which is based entirely on graphs.

Everything There Is to Know About Journalism

Gatekeepers have tried to erect all kinds of academic barriers to entry into the journalism world. They say you need undergraduate journalism training, that you need graduate journalism schooling, that you need to have been editor of your school newspaper. But really, the job is not a whole lot more complicated than being able to think, write, and ask pointed questions.

If you can do all of that already, and if you have something better to do than enroll in Journalism 101 or communications or whatever your school calls it, do it. Spend your college years immersing yourself in something that could actually help inform your perspective as a journalist later on. Take a couple languages. Read the great American writers—Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway began their careers as journalists. Drink with the campus politicos. Learn about economics and statistics (the realms in which journalists are constantly being bamboozled). Learn about history.

And while you're at it, start a blog and do some good writing for a school publication, preferably the campus newspaper. That way you'll be able to convince the gatekeepers that you know what you're doing when you apply for your first summer internship.

Everything There Is to Know About History

History is a very tricky matter these days. In the olden days, you began history with ancient Egypt and ended with post–World War II America. Not anymore. History is now fluid and complex. It's not about one group/society/state and one development, but many movements over many periods of time. There is a history for women, a people's history, a history for Asians, Africans, South Americans, Europeans, Indians, and so on. And one history is not better than the others. Even Western history has become a complicated matter. For example, we no longer think about ancient Greeks and their highest achievement, democracy, without thinking about the huge slave population that supported that society. As for the Dark Ages, whose Dark Ages do you mean? It certainly was not the Dark Ages for the Arabs, whose civilization was thriving at the time—from Baghdad to Spain. So, when you study history at the college level, expect lots of diversity and no teleology. The history taught in the 21st century has no goal or meaning. Keep that in your head, and your grades will not sink.

Everything There Is to Know About Philosophy

Western philosophy begins around 500 B.C. with Thales, who believed water was everything; Heraclitus, who believed change was everything; and Parmenides, who believed nothing changed. Athens's golden age came around 400 B.C., with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle as its primary figures. What you need to know: Socrates was killed by the city of Athens because he asked too many bothersome questions and seduced too many young men; Plato, Socrates's student, hated Athens for killing his teacher (his philosophy is nothing but an expression of this hate); and Aristotle, a student of Plato, was almost killed by Athens but got out of town just in time ("I will not give Athens a second opportunity to commit a crime against philosophy," Aristotle said as he ran from the city with his belongings). As for the Romans, they did not philosophize. The next important period for philosophy is the 13th century with the Scholastics—all they could think about was Aristotle. After the Scholastics, we leap to the end of the 18th century and enter what we now call German Idealism (from Kant to Marx). After German Idealism, there's Heidegger—he became a Nazi. After Heidegger, there are the French Nietzschians. After their work (mostly produced around 1968), the story of speculative philosophy comes to an end. That's all, folks.


How to Sleep with Your Professor

You must make the move. And the place to make the move is in your professor's office during office hours. The strategy: Make an appointment at the end of the signup sheet. Come to the appointment armed with lots of things for the professor to read and correct. When you enter the office, close the door (this is a must—completely shut the professor's door), be friendly in appearance (not sexy or slutty), pull your seat close to the desk, lean toward the professor, and show that you're really interested in whatever he/she is saying about your writing, your questions, your concerns about the class and its difficulties. Only make the move when the professor is in the middle of explaining something—kiss him or her at that moment and, shazam, the affair has began. (Warning: Breaking up with a professor is rarely easy. After a couple of sessions of sex, they tend to become obsessive and oppressive.)