List: Heartwarming Quotes for October about Moss

All of the quotes below are from a botanist I just heard about named Robin Wall Kimmerer. She studies mosses, a group that I am lucky enough to also worship and find so much magic within.

This inspiration brought to me and you by this Brain Pickings article (BP IS THE BEST.)

I want to live for a thousand years studying mosses and biology and concurrently dissolve within the magic of it all. I’m bursting.

“Life [exists] only because of a myriad of synchronicities that bring us to this particular place at this particular moment. In return for such a gift, the only sane response is to glitter in reply.”

“We poor myopic humans, with neither the raptor’s gift of long-distance acuity, nor the talents of a housefly for panoramic vision. However, with our big brains, we are at least aware of the limits of our vision. With a degree of humility rare in our species, we acknowledge there is much we can’t see, and so contrive remarkable ways to observe the world. Infrared satellite imagery, optical telescopes, and the Hubble space telescope bring vastness within our visual sphere. Electron microscopes let us wander the remote universe of our own cells. But at the middle scale, that of the unaided eye, our senses seem to be strangely dulled. With sophisticated technology, we strive to see what is beyond us, but are often blind to the myriad sparkling facets that lie so close at hand. We think we’re seeing when we’ve only scratched the surface. Our acuity at this middle scale seems diminished, not by any failing of the eyes, but by the willingness of the mind. Has the power of our devices led us to distrust our unaided eyes? Or have we become dismissive of what takes no technology but only time and patience to perceive? Attentiveness alone can rival the most powerful magnifying lens.”

“Learning to see mosses is more like listening than looking. A cursory glance will not do it. Starting to hear a faraway voice or catch a nuance in the quiet subtext of a conversation requires attentiveness, a filtering of all the noise, to catch the music. Mosses are not elevator music; they are the intertwined threads of a Beethoven quartet.”

List: I’m becoming nostalgic for college in the present moment

Luxuries I’m actively enjoying and reminiscing about while presently engaging with them:

  1. A meal plan. If I choose, I can spend about 16 points per day on pre-made food. That’s usually pretty good. And somewhat healthy. And readily available. All day. The next time this happens may be if I ever enter a nursing home… or camp (let’s hope for the latter.)
  2. A house with heat that I can crank up without worrying about expense (room and board covers it.) This is not to say that I don’t wear copious layers or go to sleep bundled up like an infant, but compared to my experiences in other places (e.g. home), the ability to saunter over to the thermosdat and effortlessly raise the heat above hibernation-inducing is absolutely divine!
  3. A residence that’s four minutes from my science classes, three from the grocery store, three from the gym, four from many other classes.
  4. A campus whose grocery store is a yuppie’s dream: practically all organic or local or cruelty-free or vegan or gluten-free or without preservatives or a big mix of those factors. Of course, that means that natural peanut butter is eleven dollars, but the fact that I’m practically required to indulge myself in these culinary treats is quite a luxury. How can I complain?
  5. Professors who are practically celebrities. My friend’s advisor is a climate change econ advisor to the president. A professor for whom I’m devising a project and was a former lab assistant was the advisee of Richard Lewontin and TA’d for E.O. Wilson. Two other evolutionary bio profs were at Harvard getting their grad degrees at that time as well.
  6. A student body that struggles to contain their exuberance for life by constantly breaking the Rule of 7 and using their non-existent free time to manage musicals, clubs, movements, volunteering, bands, projects, companies, you name it… I know that each person I pass while walking from my house to Usdan has a fascinating story and set of passions that led them here. I wish I could get to know them all. But because that’s not really within my time limit, I’m satisfied with knowing the stories of a portion of them and dreaming about those of they who remain.

A confession of aspirations

Is it my duty, as a Wesleyan-educated alum, who has been the recipient of countless privileges and good fortune, to pursue academia and high-level knowledge? There’s so much stress and comparison and elitism that comes along with that. It’s also obvious that having a minimum-wage or middle-class job has its own stressors.

I just finished Ruth Reichl’s utterly consuming memoir, “Tender at the Bone”. When I was younger, I flirted with the idea of becoming a chef. I adored cooking, and still do. Now I realize that I don’t have the passion to relentlessly refine a tart recipe nor have the emotional tenacity to produce multiple recipes every day, as so many foodies do. However, I would just love to explore the field of terroir, because it is so intimately linked with my passion for evolutionary biology and nature/nurture, aka how the environment affects one’s genetics and phenotype (very much a run-on sentence… Just trying to get these ideas out). Terroir: “the conditions in which a food is grown or produced and that give the food its unique characteristics.

Ruth’s book recounted her adventures around America and the world on her journey from a child to celebrated restaurant critic. I greedily swam in the words that structured the retelling of her colorful, character-laden path full of loneliness, talent, luck, and bravery. Such is the luxury of reading.

It also reminds of of last week’s psychology class, where we divulged our secret desires that we’d act on if not for fear of arrest, guilt, or other societally-influenced constraints. Some were to-be-expected: walk around naked, cheat on tests. But one that drew much interest and confusion was along the lines of, “I’d be a high school math teacher.”

My immediate reaction was of shock: Of course they can do that! Why is it such an issue? But after a few days’ activities including reading, altering mental states, giving blood, and subsistence upon mostly carbs (molasses-oatmeal bread, two homemade types of granola bars, beer pancakes…) new perspectives emerged.

Whose judgment matters to us? I’m fortunate that, at this moment, I know of no one who has objected to my dream career path. But I’m worried that those I haven’t met yet, who will be implicated in this career path, will care and will negatively view my choices.

I want to go to grad school for biology, get a PhD, and do research. But before I do that, I feel the urge to capitalize on my tender, sweet, twenty-something years and travel, have experiences, and enrich the rest of my life. How can people just go from school to school to school to job without travelling or exploring? Leaving their bubble? Comfort zone/zone of familiarity?

Fortunately, biologists tend to be pretty open-minded. They might understand why I took off a year or two or five to create myself. But will the admissions counselor? Will my PI? Will future employers?

After writing down these three gatekeepers and noting their possible influence in my entire life, I feel a little better.

I’ve been told that, if I want to take time off in between college and grad school, it’d be logical to get a science job. But I want to travel, volunteer, and do somewhat non-sciencey things. Will I be condemned for this? It’s not to say that I don’t have a passion for science (what an utterly silly thought!) But does it implicate that I don’t have passion for academic science and therefore enough motivation to attain a doctorate?

I’ve been neck-deep in biology-based learning for over over six years. I’ve loved it since I was young. I’ll keep loving it forever. But will it reflect harshly on me if I take a hiatus of biological learning? And at this relatively young age of 21/22?

Maybe I’m just tired of the system through which I’m learning. Indeed, one of my volunteer ideas is to work on a farm. That’s an extremely biological activity. It’s just not through the traditional ideas of experimenting and publishing results. This would be about engaging with biology in a more spiritual, wholesome, blue-collar way.

Sidenote: Recently, two friends and I were talking about our dreams and one who I won’t name mentioned that all she really wants is to find a husband and have kids and be a mother. As reproduction is our ultimate goal in this life, what she wants makes total sense. But I’m judging her. Doesn’t she want more out of life? It’s brave of her to say that (at least, putting myself in her shoes.)

By forging an alternative, volunteer-laden path now, will I be able to avoid a mid-life crisis? If I embrace the difficulties of having to stray from society’s principles and regularly remind myself of my true autonomy, will I be better off in the long run? It’d be so easy to just siphon into the system after college: get a job or go to grad school and assimilate into a typical American lifestyle. To passively jump into the forceful and alluringly predictable economic system. But I don’t want that. I want to move around too often and meet people and struggle to communicate in different countries. It’s tough because people don’t understand the pull of wanderlust. One cannot conceptualize/understand its colossal personal impacts. It’s an addiction most people just can’t fathom, like imagining a novel color or feeling a type of prejudice that’s foreign to you.

And now, an excerpt from a blog post written at the tender age of sixteen, which strikingly resonates even five years later.

9.12.2010

I change shapes just to hide in this place but I’m still, I’m still an animal.

The other day at services I was watching the all the Rabbis on the stage dance, sing, and play instruments to celebrate the Jewish new year. As if I adjusted my eyes, I suddenly saw them as what they are- apes. I noticed the primitive way they moved their body in dance. I saw one of them banging a tambourine on their hand to make sound. I saw their mouths open, forcefully expelling air through their throats to make different pitched sounds. Then, everyone else who gathered that day voiced back lines written down to the rabbis. They did this because this is the “proper” thing to do- go to services. Sing songs that have been in existence for centuries seems right. But half-mindlessly repeat back sentences that are typed up? I feel like when I read those words, I’m half worried about staying in time with the congregation, the other half I’m trying to understand what I’m saying.
I think I’d rather pray on my own, with words that aren’t so rigid and are more understandable than the ones written in the prayer books. If there even is a god, I have a feeling that it wouldn’t matter if the words we spoke regarding this god were outrageously eloquent or broken english. Maybe it makes people feel better/like they’re fulfilling their obligation as a Jew if they just read these dry words and are attentive for those few hours at services. I don’t know.
I read the Alchemist. It’s really a masterpiece of a book. Not in the way where it’s really complex and everything connects (like Harry Potter), but the dialogue and events that occur are just spectacular. I don’t feel like explaining it besides commanding, yes that’s right, COMMANDING that you read it yourself. It’s excellent brain food for teenagers pondering life. It’s affected me really deeply and I look forward to reading it again at a different stage in my life. I think the contrast of how I interpret it then vs. now will illuminate many things I can’t see or understand right now.
Going back to the rabbi part though, I find I’m periodically entering and departing from two mindsets: one where I’m a citizen of America, a student, an aspiring scientist, a subject of immense high school pressure, a driver of a car. On the other hand, I live as an animal: a humble member of Homo sapiens, a monkey, an equal to all the other creatures in the forest and even the smallest of beings. Plants too. However, I’m “higher” on the food chain, so I eat them, although I still respect them for having that miraculous breath of life circulating their body and existing in a realm of unfathomable magic.
Here’s where my astrological sign comes in (yes, I believe that stuff to a reasonable degree, just not the newspaper columns [all they talk about is work anyway, which makes them seem really stupid.] I simply like to look at it for a possible fortelling of what could happen soon/advice of how I could react to things differently.):
My Aquarius sign stresses that I’m deeply intellectual, methodical, idealistic, etc. My opposite would be emotional, people-person, needy individual (nothing wrong with those people, btw.) It admits that I have an issue viewing things as they are in a combination of those two mindsets. I can clearly see pros/cons from each perspective, but it’s hard to decide what to do if I try to exist in both those mindsets at once. When I’m thinking about my future, I long to take the alternative path: to explore the world, to detach myself from communications, really discover who I am, realize the meaning of love. The rational/reality side of me defaults to thinking about college. I want to travel a path that includes both of these options. There’s so much that can happen. In ten years, I can’t give you an answer of where I’ll be, in some parts because I don’t want to imagine myself somewhere that I can name right now as a 16 year old. I want to be in a place I didn’t expect, with fascinating outcomes. I want to become a shepherd like the boy in The Alchemist and discover my Personal Legend; to establish a relationship with a God/spirit I truly believe in; to travel; to love; to complete my mission on earth. I also want to become a scientist and make my impact on the world. I suppose a mid-life crisis could really trigger a realization of my Personal Legend, but I don’t want to wait till I’m 50 and ailing from various things. I want to start now, when I’m aware of how naive I am, and I want to learn now.
But the world we live in now doesn’t support that. It supports suburbanization, “settling down” with 3 kids and a husband you met at a bar, working just to make money.
I have time, I’m only 16. But in two years I’ll be heading off to college (most likely) and choosing a path. I appreciate the conflict I have now because it means I have options. And I know that at college I’ll have options. But it’s not the same.
Or is it?
For the first time, after college, I’ll actually be the CEO of my own life. Not to imply that college was a forced decision- I embraced it and wanted it very much. But it was always expected. Now, no one, including myself, will be able to predict what I’ll do next. S C A R Y, yet oh so exciting.

List: I do like some material things. I admit it.

I feel very self-conscious publishing a list of material items I’d be happy to receive. However, as is the purpose of this blog, this post is also acting as a repository so that I may document ideas and find them at a future time. I’m not asking for any of these things right now. However, you might find this useful on my birthday or another similar time.

  • A Rumi book of poetry
  • Map-covered anything, especially pillows or blankets
  • A subscription to Bust magazine.
  • A ticket somewhere! Or a night at a hotel! Or a concert ticket!
    • All I want to do is travel. True story.

List: Minuscule Volcanoes Erupting all over my Heart

  • When you share a piece of music and the recipient struggles to reply out of sheer stupefaction
  • Getting a second wind
  • When the state of your cappuccino’s foam is both plentiful and high-quality
  • When you develop a positive habit and it becomes second-nature
  • When you and someone else simultaneously feel something so deeply that it incapacitates your speech but you just know that the other person is experiencing the same phenomenon
  • Experiencing a paradigm shift (of neutral or positive nature, hopefully!)
  • Finding out you were wrong about something negative you unconsciously accepted as truth
  • Noticing something you didn’t realize before: an instrument in a song, the facade of a building above the first storey, a new tasting note in a drink or food, etc.
  • The instant you finally feel sufficiently warm or cooled down in the case of inclement weather.
  • That moment of understanding when that string of unintelligible words suddenly looks like poetry. Or, when your perspective changes and everything that was old now looks new.
  • When all the thoughts that use your head like an airport, landing and taking off ceaselessly, pause for a moment and leave you with a nearly empty and totally peaceful mindset.
  • Being able to think back to a years-ago memory and compare it to current circumstances. For instance, the other day at klezmer rehearsal, as my three zany senior music-major fellow bandmates and I danced around in a circle, I was reminded of our very first rehearsal as freshmen in a subterranean practice room. Matt had a man-bun (before it was in vogue), I thought Angus was super cool (still do), and Matthew was doing his best to get us through pieces (still does, but he’s a lot more confident now.) I was much more timid, too. Blast from the past!
  • Finding a nugget of joy that comes out of nowhere and pushes all of your humor buttons at once, like this:
I crack up EVERY TIME.

I crack up EVERY TIME.

And now I’m just gonna pop some hilarious pictures here because laughing is good.

   

 

List: Remnants of London

  1. Strawberry black tea from Fortnum and Mason, a bag of cumin, bay leaves, green tea, top-notch quality vanilla
  2. Clothes, tea towels (one is hanging on the wall), jewelry
  3. Abel & Cole calendar with achingly wonderful British recipes on each month’s page
  4. My study abroad blog
  5. Delayed adoption of “s” in place of “z”. The words look softer and more intelligible.
  6. Lack of patience for obnoxious Americans
  7. Contentedness with having a few but trusted and loved circle of friends
  8. Deep-seated yearning to walk the Earth and meet people and bring my eyes to unseen corners and continue to add to my emotional catalogue.

This particular poem, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation

Poem of the Day: The Truth the Dead Know

BY ANNE SEXTON

Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.
It is June. I am tired of being brave.

We drive to the Cape. I cultivate
myself where the sun gutters from the sky,
where the sea swings in like an iron gate
and we touch. In another country people die.

My darling, the wind falls in like stones
from the whitehearted water and when we touch
we enter touch entirely. No one’s alone.
Men kill for this, or for as much.

And what of the dead? They lie without shoes
in their stone boats. They are more like stone
than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse
to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.


In the second stanza, “I cultivate/ myself” declares a mastery of language. I can only hope that I’ll be able to speak that clearly in my life, being able to attend to situations with words that fit like a glove and offer aid in times that leave us speechless.

“They lie without shoes/ in their stone boats.” What is it about the lack of shoes that so firmly grasped my attention?