Today I’m taking the GRE, or Graduate Record Exam, and let me tell you, I’m not excited about it. I don’t mind taking a test for four hours – my time spent writing often runs longer than that – but the idea of this exam just pisses me off. I don’t do well with standardized anything, but the idea of standardized intelligence is so unbelievably counter-intuitive, especially for us humanities types.
I’ve always been good at math; I just didn’t like it. My sister, who always scored higher on verbal than math, went into banking. I always scored higher on math than verbal and I’m the writer. Maybe it’s just inborn perversity, or maybe this whole idea of a “right” answer offends me. Math encouraged the wrong bits of me entirely.
I’ve spent most of my intellectual career teaching myself not to look for a right answer, but to look instead at things in a way they’re not usually seen, to ask questions that expose more of the riddle of the thing in question. I love the idea of imbuing the subjective narrative with authority; of defining the universe in a kind of Buddhist solipsism. You know, in a healthy sort of way, that maximizes the importance of our humanity and decreases our judgment of what’s right or wrong.
Call me a recovering Catholic, but I had a literature professor in my first year at Fordham – I started out a theology major, no kidding – who called me The Church Lady because I found Kate Chopin’s “The Storm” a moral outrage. I was The Church Lady with a mohawk, but judgmental nonetheless. I think that tendency is sometimes referred to as liberal fascism, or for you D&D types, Lawful Evil. I recognized the streak and since then have learned to tame it.
And then this test comes along, a test I avoided taking the first time around by getting my MA in Writing, of all things, but now, considering doing a Ph.D., I can’t avoid any longer. And they want to know the best opposite of restive is, and I have to spend the first seconds while reading the question turning off the part of my brain that wants to know the context, and whether restive is being used sarcastically, who’s using it and what they’re describing. The next seconds I convince myself to just answer the damn question the way I expect they want it answered, and the next seconds after that I have to convince myself to stop thinking about it because my first “this is the answer they want” impulse is usually the one that gets me the check mark of correctness. It’s exhausting.
I don’t believe in check marks of correctness, and the idea – at this age! – of having to take a test to give someone a numerical way of understanding how smart I am, or am not, is pretty damned frustrating.
Either way, I’m taking the GRE today.
Please wish me luck in not sticking the pencil in my own eye out of frustration.