Post-College Primer

It’s hard to overstate the anticipation felt by college seniors. Just like the weather, it’s basically been dubbed a universally acceptable topic to broach whenever, whereever, as long as the conversation partner has experienced three years of meal point budgeting and acronyming ≥ fifteen campus buildings.

Before you know it, you’re flinging your cap and posing for photos with your friends. But after the crowd disseminates, your family leaves, and you turn in your key, it’s like POOF. WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD, TAKE A NUMBER.

Image result for take a number

It felt a little bit like free fall when Mitch and I drove in our furniture-filled cars to my new apartment just a few hours after feeling the most collegiate I ever had. The lack of oversight was so sudden. This is hard to overstate. The lack of oversight was so sudden.

No more departments with well-paid employees whose livelihood was about making sure I was taken care of. No more instant access to thousands of journals, resources, media of all kinds, paid for with the intent to broaden my little scholarshipped mind. Now, my next stage of education was entirely up to me. (Well… and my parents. Because they were still aiding me financially with a car, a Y membership, health insurance. And because I am conditioned to value their opinion, whether I like that or not.)

How many college prep handbooks exist? Is there a limit to the number of sympathetic ears that will indulge a stressed college kid dealing with the classic problems everyone goes through during that life stage? That’s the thing about college: If you’re having a problem, someone else has already had it and written anywhere from a one-threaded to viral article/post/poem/expression about it, and has probably made it accessible to anyone with a knowledge of how keywords work. Post-college life? Not so much. Because it’s harder to succinctly package and none of us have the time (or monetary incentive) to express such things and there’s a much wider variety of experiences to be had with one’s first job or period of unemployment or however you use that time, there’s a deficit of self-help resources of recent college grads.

Looking back, I want to record the resources I found to guide me through one of the most grueling, growth-centered, uncomfortable, empowering years of my life.

  1. Friends. One of the most potent tools I use to center myself is empathizing with people going through similar experiences. Just last week, I was convinced that my life was crumbling before my eyes until my best friend described her bleak recent experiences: a boyfriend unable to buy her a slice of pizza, a night not without a helping of “cheese soup”, and the regrettable decision to watch Thirteen Reasons Why. On the other hand, it’s also uplifting to hear of strides my friends are making out there in the real world, landing jobs with benefits, not giving up when schools aren’t accepting them, and generally keeping themselves sane. This is not a low bar. This is ADMIRABLE! (…mostly for the first few years post-college, but, you know, always.)
  2. Letting it out. AKA crying. A LOT. Learning to live with it, accept who I am, how I emote. Taking steps to deal with stress better. Seeing a therapist. Fighting my inner middle school cynic and trying meditation (and it working!) Taking time to realize who I am or am becoming, and not pushing that away. Maybe not accepting it quite yet, but learning to parallel play with it.
  3. Similar to #1, relating to strangers with different life paths than me. The Millennial podcast has been absolutely paramount to thriving post-college. I encourage everyone to listen!
  4. Mark Manson’s blog. This guy reads like a down-to-earth philosophergeniuscomic. Like existential crisis medicine. Try one article and if you’re not impressed, either you didn’t get it or you are Mark Manson.
  5. These freaking parrots.
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Environmentalism for Goonies

…don’t know where the title came from but I like it!

  1. Is environmentalism a privileged person’s cause? Isn’t it more pressing to be assisting hungry children or the homeless? Partly yes, partly no; climate change is causing untold numbers of humans to go hungry because of failing crops or become homeless as catastrophic weather events intensify and increase in frequency.
  2. How do we educate about climate change without making people so scared or angry or frustrated or bored that they turn off their emotions and go back to buying their daily Double Ristretto Venti Half-Soy Nonfat Decaf Organic Chocolate Brownie Iced Vanilla Double-Shot Gingerbread Frappuccino Extra Hot With Foam Whipped Cream Upside Down Double Blended, One Sweet’N Low and One Nutrasweet, and Ice in a non-recyclable coffee cup and using hundreds of plastic bags annually to encapsulate their grocery store vegetables?
    • Speaking of the latter clause: Buy reusable grocery and vegetable bags!!! Extra plus: THEY DON’T SQUEAKImage result for YAY gif 

      Short break for feminism:

    • How much could we learn if we removed the shopping-related portions of magazines and replaced them with information? I believe in style and fun ways to express yourself through clothing and, albeit not personally, makeup. I am just interested in pursuing this thought.
    • How much more could I learn or even earn if I traded time spent applying makeup doing something else? How about curating outfits (starkly posited: think of the typical men’s costume of a suit while women spend literally hours decking themselves in the perfect blend of color, texture, baubles, scent, etc.)

Back to environmentalism (last thought for now):

3. Yes, it costs more to buy organic and biodynamic and pasture-raised and cage-free and cruelty-free and not-tested-on-animals and biodegradable. However, if you can afford it (which you probably can… at least some products, which also probably taste better or are better for your bod), think of it as both voting and making an impact. Each product purchased acts as one vote towards the values associated with the product and/or the company itself. In regards to making an impact, your organic cotton rounds are polluting the world less than cotton balls, and that extra money spent is going to help someone affected by climate change by lessening its impact, even by a teensy tiny bit. This is not to say that I personally believe that buying organic = donating to climate refugees. However, it’s certainly not a terrible habit to get into.

bath bomb

A soft buttery light casts my still-being-furnished bedroom in a calming tone. It’s not as chilly as it usually is, thanks to my landlord offering a space heater in the interim before she can hire an electrician. I clutch my newly purchased bath towel and let it lick up the remaining water droplets while it leaves a snuggly after(taste?)

Then I realize: I am so proud that I own this lovely, lovely towel that I bought for not quite an hour’s labor, which functions as a drying device and mobile nest, whose shade is easy on the eyes yet stylish… this towel that I received in an exchange with the fruits of my first post-college job, which I actually like and is showering me with many lessons both cushy and spiky!

I love my towel! And this milestone towards independence!

Puppy staying cozy in a towel

Did I mention… IT’S ALSO ORGANIC?! 😉

You Know You’re a Feminist When…

You let yourself sneeze (into your elbow!) in public. Isn’t that almost the stupidest thing you’ve heard today? Hear me out: This is something that most men take for granted- that they’re allowed to make noise and exhibit a slightly grotesque bodily function in the presence of strangers. I know that, for years, I made sure to stifle my sneezes in school out of a misguided respect for others. Now I know that that way of thinking is totally ridiculous. We already have to put up with physical manifestation of societally-expected restriction like bras, high heels, and Spanx– Free the sneeze!

Thoughts in the 300’s of the library nonfiction section

It’s really scary to look at a mental floss magazine and feel no interest- a small repulsion, to be honest- in reading it. Years ago, in middle and high schools, I’d have snapped up that periodical and devoured it from cover to cover, delighting in all the exciting facts smeared throughout eighty pages. It was a gift to data-hungry nerds like me. Now, just like how depression renders you indifferent to things you used to enjoy, I move past the book with a heavy heart that remembers when the magazine was a friend. (This is not to say I’m depressed- I think I’m just growing up and my interests are changing.)
This happens frequently in the library now. Nearly the entire science section glares at me with its noble books urging me to memorize their insides so as to make myself into a more formidable scientist. Instead, I chalk it up to years of grueling studying for a biology degree and again move on. I rationalize that I’m allowed to want to indulge in the flowery language of cookbooks and feminist publications in my free time. However, this can’t be a good sign, to not want to savor more biology in my free time. That scares me.
The new and popular nonfiction has a little more intrigue, but mostly from the food books. Even these are decreasing in fun because food is so overrated. That seems to be a lesson in my slightly depressing postgrad life: multitudes of things once glittering with excitement are overrated. In many lights, the things I love are included in this sad idea: plants, evolution, cooking. However, in the right classes, articles, and parks, they shine with eons of mystery and relentless inspiration. I must cling to the moments that expose this fragile wonder.
How am I going to live a life that optimizes this inspiration while keeping a minimum to the BS, busy work, stress, competition, and other superficial systematics that uphold the science world?

In high school, I lost interest in reading. I think it was because I’d had to read intensely in order to finish the assignment without losing sleep (already going to bed at 10:30/11 was really hard on my sleep) and it made me bitter. Just like how deciding to pursue a past hobby and change it into a job can make one bitter, reading transformed from an enjoyable pastime into a chore. I also developed a habit of perpetually skimming everything I read. It’s a habit that frustrates me to no end when I try to soak up a Sunday NYT session and end up having read an article’s final sentence with half the emotion and knowledge I would’ve extracted before all this nonsense began. I totally blame school for these impediments. I know I can break them but, like any habit, it will be a challenge. Decreasing attention span thank to social media should also be mentioned here.

Audiobooks have helped put back literature into my life. I have hope that, after enjoying a few more, I’ll have developed the patience and courage necessary to take up a thick hardcover and savor it. Cross your fingers for me and every other milennial who deeply delights in photoshopped images of old books with vintage tea sets and a rainy setting but who can’t muster the patience to enter that world themselves.

Stressing about Potential Stress

Grad school. Two words, so very daunting.

I’m being bombarded with everyone’s opinions about it. Facts about applying, survival, and the very discouraging stats about getting a job afterwards. The long, long haul of poverty while slaving (or near to it) in the lab for 80 hours a week.

I might be able to do it. I’ve decided to do a Master’s before PhD to convince myself that I’ll have some tools before signing myself up for this necessary hell whose gates stand before becoming the PI I dream about, who researches climate change biology, botany, and evolution. In addition to those tools, maybe I can convince myself about having the ability to defeat the impending obstacles I can’t foresee.

Wow, I actually have a headache just thinking about this.

Where do I fit in the fun before this? How do I convince myself that volunteering in Europe and farming for free won’t turn off potential PI’s and facilitate the happy dissipation of college knowledge? It’d be SO different if I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Or if I wanted to pursue something that didn’t indicate grad school as a prerequisite, like writing or cooking. I love science, but I absolutely loathe the jungle gym of stress and competition that governs it like a dictatorship.

Summer 2016: A real handful

I was ecstatic to graduate. It was thrilling and challenging to surpass June. The first full days of work, memorizing commutes, and creating a list of food staples was an uncomfortable yet bearable suite of “real world” changes. July brought more time to practice. Finding a way to the Y every few days was difficult but important to maintaining a clear(ish) head. I saw the reminder telling me that my internship’s official end date was approaching, but disregarded it. After all, my boss had been dropping hints all summer of its likely continuance through multiple seasons.

I was fairly acquainted with the 10+ projects consultants balance at any one time and enjoying the mapping, field work, and statistical analyses. I also did mindless data entry and other rote tasks delegated to “the intern”, but didn’t mind much because the job had brought far more intellectual stimulation than I’d predicted.

August hit. My boss wasn’t so sure of my intended tenure. My mind leapt into a frenzy: what to do next!?

Now, in a parallel universe with an unattached Sophie, the frenzy would have been less frantic. Or at least a different shade of that dusty pink that temporarily blocks your senses and inhibits clear thinking. Single Sophie would have assessed her situation and felt free to apply to jobs all over the country and even the nearer parts of the world in hopes of furthering her dream to step into a biological researcher’s shoes, with notebook and pipette in tow. But in this world, Sophie’s heart is not unilocutory (trying to hold on to my dwindling Latin knowledge; forgive me) and it’s not that easy to book the next train to Winnipeg.

Here are were my options (as of last week):

  1. Apply to jobs all over the country (and world) that light my lil bio-crazed fire
  2. Try to coordinate job applications with my cardiac partner, which means applying to the Northeast area, and mostly to cities
  3. Email professors at cool city universites asking if they have room in their lab for me to work or volunteer. Then I’ll get a part-time job if it’s not full time (the most likely outcome, if I can even pull off the whole lab tech thing)
  4. WWOOF or do Workaway or join a cult.

 

Fast forward to the literal last week in August, when the internship without an end date should have ended. That was before I was asked to help catch some fish in the end of September. So now I’m on until then. My boss said he’d let me know about my future after he crunches numbers around Labor Day. So that’s the latest… how utterly freaked out I am! But also excited that, if I do find myself unemployed come October, I’ll have time to find another job that’s another good step towards grad school!

Whatever happens, there will be bad and there will be good. But, in time, the good will most definitely overshadow the tough stuff.

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Musical Autobiography

This semester I’m taking a MEGA-RAD class called The History of Rock and R&B. It’s everything it sounds like, including weekly viewing sessions, a class Spotify account, and this first assignment! It was painful to realize how much I’d have to leave out if I wanted to write this in two pages or less, and as it’s ungraded, not try that hard so I could siphon my effort into other, more pressing tasks (like a real-life job interview, waddup.) However, I couldn’t help but make it snazzy. Here it is.

(Ok wait, a note: I’m rueful that I didn’t mention my family’s jukebox machine. Among thousands of other anecdotes… oh!)

Much of my confidence can be attributed to early exposure to The Queen of Soul, who encouraged me to demand R-E-S-P-E-C-T around the same time I was learning to write in cursive. Listening to “Pet Sounds” during Sunday morning board game sessions primed me for a deep appreciation for revolutionary harmonies while innumerable listens to The White Album led me to impersonate John Lennon for a sixth grade biography project. Records were constantly spinning in my house growing up, and since coming to college, music has remained a large part of my life. Over time I’ve changed roles from classical clarinetist to a klezmer frelyekh fanatic, exchanged my Coldplay poster for one featuring Simon & Garfunkel, and moved from car radio DJ to avid harmonizer. However, I believe that the reasoning behind my high school superlative of “Most Musical” will be remaining solid for a long time to come.

I began exploring my infantile musical potential through Kindermusik. Learning to clap along with rudimentary rhythms and sway to the beat served me quite well in the decades following that formative experience. After graduating, the piano became my next challenge. Like many kids, I loathed the weekly lessons and oversized musical notation of the Alfred book series. In retrospect, it was valuable for learning the basics of how to read and play music. A brief third grade stint with the recorder led to the adoption of the viola for a year (too much arm strength required) and finally to my current instrumental sweetheart: the clarinet. We’ve been together for about 12 years, participating in everything from school bands to NYSSMA to Area All State festivals to pit orchestras to Veeblefetzer, Wesleyan’s premier klezmer band. I also enjoy eking out songs by ear, my favorites being those by CSNY, Disney, the Beatles, and even top 40 hits.

My ears have heard more than I could ever identify, let alone write about. I feel very fortunate to have grown up with a constant stream of 60’s and 70’s music illuminating the house. When I received my first iPod nano as a gift in sixth grade, Earth, Wind, & Fire’s Greatest Hits were the first to be uploaded. The first song I ever bought on iTunes was Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park”. Middle school brought several sticky-sweet pop artists such as Mariah Carey and Katy Perry but they were tempered with fresh first tastes of David Bowie and Peter Gabriel. Around this time, my interest in Broadway musicals was taking off, with my repertoire including shows such as Wicked, The Lion King, Hairspray, Little Shop of Horrors, and the Fantasticks. Later, Spring Awakening and In the Heights would be the productions that topped Sophie’s top ten albums list before years of post-high school showtune drought set in.

Just as I entered ninth grade, Coldplay became a huge new musical realm to explore. Ingrid Michaelson’s lyrics prevailed over geometry vocabulary in my memory after discovering her flawless catalogue. Although any mention of it now makes me groan, an intense interest in the then-mesmerizing television show “Glee” introduced me to hundreds of classic hits such as “Like a Prayer” and “Losing My Religion” through their a cappella covers. I began attending concerts near (at Saratoga’s wonderful outdoor amphitheater, SPAC) and far (journeying to Boston, New York, and beyond.) Listening to Regina Spektor delicately catapult her balm-like yet piercing songs of Russian childhood and modern love made a formidable impact. Reveling in the deliciously melancholy sounds of Of Monsters and Men in a mediocre Albany bar was also a milestone that capped senior year.

Since coming to Wesleyan, I’ve explored as much music as I had throughout the previous eighteen years of life. Just a few artists I’ve fallen in love with include James Taylor, CSNY, Bon Iver, The Staves, Van Morrison, and Paul Simon, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have attended performances of the latter four in London within the last year. During sophomore year, I began an insurmountable project to listen to Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All Time, which has brought both great joy (finding Albert King, Manu Chao, and finally being able to relate to my parents’ undying devotion for The Boss) and a disappointing lack of understanding about the greatness of others (Steve Earle, Merle Haggard). Meeting a lovable, certified musicophile in September also greatly increased my passion for music. In addition to introducing me to a more holistic way of embracing music, from singers to record labels to producers, he’s helped train my ear to be more patient by experimenting with new genres and sounds. Now, as a student in the History of Rock and R&B, I’m thrilled to see what the next chapter in my musical autobiography will bring!