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.

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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.