Of Talent and Passion

June 08, 2016:

After an academic panel a prof and would-be student meet.



NPCs: Heckler



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

It's a warm summer afternoon at Columbia University, and the summer seminar series has kicked off. It's a public affair: anyone who wants to can show up at the auditoriums and pick up a program detailing all the festivities. Science and engineering are in a building with wide open halls lined with tables displaying a lot of hands-on technology and family-friendly displays.

Some of the seminars are a lot more bombastic than others—Dr. Henshaw is in a large auditorium inflating balloons with various gases and explaining why some go *pop* and some go *BOOM*. It's a popular talk for most people, but a lot of the more serious-minded people are a couple of doors down. A technology panel was set up with a couple of engineers and proper scientists, but there's also a professor from the architecture school and another from the archaeology department. Dr. du Vernet, a dark-skinned Frenchwoman, was there to discuss how technologies developed for other, more well-funded pursuits have been adapted over time to suit the needs of other disciplines. It included some remarkable fiberoptic camera technology, ground-penetrating radar, and the use of satellite imagery to find likely troves of ancient settlements.

The panel is breaking up now, though, and more of the participants are heading over to the buffet tables for fruit and punch and crackers. Violette is packing her laptop in her suitcase and looking over the few remaining audience members. With so many more glamorous exhibits nearby, it's a bit of a surprise to see anyone in the room under forty.

Unquestionably, most in the room are well over forty, and most have seasoned interest in the subject matter, save one exception. A young man, of no more than twenty five, sits in one of the writing desks, scribbling a few stray notes in, what appears to be an extremely well-loved, coil notebook.

Tim Drake's dark hair peeks out from under the beanie cap he's wearing (which remains completely inappropriate summer wear). In dark wash jeans and a red collared t-shirt, Tim is relatively nondescript today. In fact, the only thing that appears bookish about him is his pale skin: clearly this is someone who doesn't get much sunlight.

He scribbles a few more notes in tight, meticulous cursive before, rather unceremoniously, clapping his notebook shut. The universal sign that he's packing up, is abruptly stopped when one of his fellow spectators snarks at one of the panelists, "Clearly you haven't read Dubois's conclusions about dust methodology. If you had you would know your thoughts are erroneous."

This prompts a nose wrinkle from Tim, and a modicum of irritation seen through a tensing of his shoulders and jaw. He clears his throat and suggests, "I feel like that was addressed early on," and, with that same level of conscientiousness, he flips through the notebook, "yeah, it was in the introduction about how it adds to the knowledge base — "

The first spectator scoffs in the back of their throat.

Tim shrugs.

Ah, the tan of the computer science major. By contrast, Dr. du Vernet looks like she catches a great deal of sunlight for a professor; then again, that's true of most archaeologists. They tend to be out and about in daylight. Compared to the science and engineering professors, she looks like a parrot in a room of sparrows: she wears bright colors in garments a few steps away from the quietly patterned dress shirts and jeans of the rest of the faculty. She and the architecture professor are the clear exceptions; the birdlike elderly woman she speaks to is dressed entirely in black with a lime green scarf around her neck.

As they pass the snarkier spectators, the Frenchwoman pauses. The fact that she's listening isn't painfully obvious, but her eyes slant toward the architecture professor and they share a small smile. Tim's response is the one that surprises her, though, and her smile broadens.

"Not jumping to the rescue of the student who was paying attention?" the older woman inquires with an amused lilt to her voice.

"It sounds like he can defend himself," Violette replies, leveling her calm gaze on Tim. "There's a difference between being cocksure and confident. I noticed you paying attention. Did you have a professor on the panel?" That's usually the only reason anyone without grey in their hair comes to these talks. Her accent is softly accented French with an Oxford lilt—all over the place, in other words.

There's a moment where some might see Tim as pitiable; a true fish out of water as someone young, and presumably, uninformed. His appearance definitely doesn't situate him here — more computer nerd than much else. The snarky patron has taken to ignoring Drake, prompting yet another shrug and another slap-close of the notebook.

The question directed towards him merits a small, and somewhat self-deprecating smile, "Nah." He could leave it at that, but instead offers, "Just like to learn, I guess." The smile extends and he steps towards the pair of panelists, "And it was rather… enlightening."

"I'm pleased to hear you think so." Violette eyes the snarkier patron and gives him not another glance: he can leave for all she cares. She just got tenure; her days of kissing up to people are more or less at an end.

"You just love learning," she echoes. "So you are not a student? I rarely hear that from students. They like learning, but they like good grades and completing classes even more. Most people who truly love learning learn for leisure."

The question earns an arch of Tim's eyebrow. "I was. Took some time off to travel." He issues her a toothy grin and shifts his weight from one foot to the other, "Decided to come back and am debating what's next." He pauses and lifts a hand, "Just to clarify, I will be enrolling again somewhere, but haven't decided on what or where I'd like to study." He clucks his tongue, "Admittedly, Metropolis is starting to have some pull."

He stifles a chuckle, "I'm sure some students love learning. Where else do professors and scholars come from?" And then with a lift of his hand, he concedes, "I get it though. When I was in school I could see the difference. Most of my peers just wanted a good grade with little consideration of the content. Credentialism is a thing, I guess."

"There are some very fine schools in Metropolis. It's a beautiful city," Violette adds. "Prettier than New York, I can't deny it. I like this city, but summertime is not kind to it. Nor winter. Or at least, summertime is not kind to your nose. We have a very fine institution here, or I would not have come. But I have to admit, for science and technology it is hard to beat Metropolis."

Her mouth quirks up at the corner, and she nods at the notion of 'credentialism'. "It does. Some people want to rack up all their gold stars to ensure they have more than anyone else. You have encountered a little of that yourself today."

"Yeaaaaaah," out of habit rather than need, Tim's hand sweeps across the beanie to rake through his hair, but just manages to shift the hat on his head, prompting him to right it a moment later. "Honestly?" his lips twitch to the side. "It's because my girlfriend," wait, can he call her that? "goes to school in Metropolis. But maybe. If I go the science and technology route." He shrugs and then clears his throat, "I find computers easy, which kind of makes me think going to school for it is… redundant(?), I guess." Another shrug. "But that's just me."

The mention of what he's encountered today has Tim's eyes flitting back towards where the other patron had been seated, and while the fellow is long gone, Drake observes, "Some people just like the sound of their own voice. If I felt like he'd been keeping track and paying attention, I wouldn't have said anything. But he was on his phone most of the talk. And not taking notes or something," Tim lifts a hand somewhat defensively. "I could tell. The pattern in his key structure, light coming off the machine, and — " his eyebrows draw together " — I swear I was listening, not just people watching…"

Delight touches Violette's face when she hears this, and she inclines her head. "Ahh, that sounds familiar. A pretty girl. There are worse reasons to go to Metropolis. And why not? It is a good school, and well thought of. Good facilities. Good faculty. As far as computers… you are of the generation to find computers easy. But there will be new things to learn, new ways of looking at what you already know. There will be challenges even for the most brilliant mind. If you impress them, you will have the chance to work on projects you would perhaps not have access to otherwise. But is it what you love? What you want to spend your life doing?"

Violette hesitates, absently twiddling at an earring. "There is a difference between talent and passion. I was talented with physics and chemistry. I chose to study archaeology because I am interested in the question of what people do and have done and how that has changed. I could have made more money, perhaps, as an engineer or a businesswoman. I could have a much prettier apartment and a handsome sweetheart. But I love what I do every day. And when it comes to academics," she adds with a rueful sigh, "you will run into a great deal of gatekeeping. Your professors will put up roadblocks in your way purely because they can, because they want to challenge you but are not clever enough to do so."

The question begs another quirk of Tim's eyebrow. "That's the thing, I'm not sure what I long to do with my time," as Robin, Drake knows what he should do with his time, but then, Tim needs a livelihood, and is well aware of this fact.

The young man cants his head at the difference between talent and passion. "I wish I had your confidence around your life's passion. To be honest, I think there's this strange balance between talent, passion, and responsibility, and it confuses and convolutes the future." With another simple shrug he offers, "But, then I guess that's what it is to be in your twenties. All the possibility, and the illusion that these things are the same." Again his lips twitch to the side, "I do appreciate your thoughts though. I think most of mentors have been responsibility people."

"That is the terrible curse," Violette murmurs in agreement, "of extremely capable people. When you enjoy a hundred things and can excel at any of them but you just aren't sure where your destiny lies… Luckily, my dear, you are young and clever and not without resources. You can read books, travel the world, move to Metropolis for a girl. And attend lectures to see what you will fall in love with next."

She reaches out to give Tim a quick squeeze to the shoulder: "Whatever you do, whether it's to study or build or love someone, do it with all your heart. And maybe," she adds with a self-deprecating laugh, "I will stop listening to myself tell a young man what his life should be. I will leave you with this: duty and responsibility are important, but some people tread lightly upon the world. Some tread not-so-lightly and leave footprints in their wake. It is your choice what form those marks take—and how deep they are. Only you can ever know what will satisfy you."

Withdrawing then, she raises a hand and smiles her farewell. "I expect to see you again!" she calls. "Come audit a class if ever you get terminally bored." She turns then, hustling to catch up to her colleagues.

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