Dreams from Twelfth Grade: Lessons from a letter I wrote to myself in high school

October 29, 2009

During senior year of high school, my environmental science teacher asked all of us, his students, to write a letter to our future selves. He promised that when five years passed, he would mail our own letters to us.

Well, Mr. B lived up to his word. Last year, I received the letter I had written to myself five years prior on May 29, 2003. I had composed it on the second-to-last day of my high school career, only a few days shy of prom (which we will not get into now, at least not in this entry). Aside from the curious fact that my handwriting then was so much neater than it is today, the most shocking thing was that everything I predicted for my “future” career came true.

As I stated in my letter verbatim, I became an Economics and Communications double major in college. I went into the advertising/marketing industry as I prophesied. Although I didn’t state it in my letter, I now even work at the exact company I wished to in high school. If I didn’t know better, I would think I had everything I ever hoped for. Big surprise – although I got what I wanted, things did not pan out the way I anticipated. I appreciate everything I’ve learned in the past few years on the job, but the truth is: the career my twelfth grade self dreamed of is no longer my present day dream. The scariest part? I’m not sure what my dreams are anymore. I’m not even sure I’m capable of dreaming properly. Dreams are without limits or bounds; they are infinite and daring. I’m not sure that’s how my mind works anymore. I think I’ve been adult-ified.

Curiously, my past self has this great advice: “I hope I find more things to be passionate about, and to only work toward passions. If this is not the feeling upon reading this letter…then something has to change…I just want happiness…Keep dreaming.”

So, exactly what secret did I know then that I clearly no longer can crack? What part of “I just want happiness” do I no longer understand? I guess what’s difficult for all of us is finding a path that leads to career satisfaction and still leaves enough time for personal happiness. With this economy, it isn’t so easy to chase passions when people are just happy to get paid. What right do I have to complain when unemployment is brimming near 10% ? It was easy to dream when the future was far away and ambiguous. In reality, we all struggle between money vs. passion. Only a lucky few amongst us are able to attain both, even though our entire generation is programmed to expect both.

In the end, I do believe I can figure this out. I have no doubt I can get where I want to go (apparently, as long as I write a letter to myself about it and then find someone to mail it to me in the future). It may not always be as expected, but I have to be willing to try and stay open-minded. The hard part is finding a sustainable passion that translates into a real occupation, or a job that will allow enough time to pursue other things. Ultimately, maybe it comes down to finding the courage to dream again.

Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

October 27, 2009

I just finished Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and let me tell you…needs more zombies. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, let me first say that I am not a fan of Jane Austen in any regard. I tolerated Sense and Sensibility for its comic elements but if I’m reading about women and their victorian relationship problems I’d far rather read Madame Bovary. Flaubert’s obsession with “le mot juste” made him far more interesting to read.

With that, I was looking forward to P&P&Z with the same regard that I was looking forward to Snakes on a Plane. The concept sounds awesome, right? Let’s take something classic and add zombies. Zombies are a little like bacon- everything is better with them. But for me, there weren’t enough zombies to counteract the antiquated story of girls looking for love despite their social position.

It’s not for me to critique Pride and Prejudice. The masses have spoken and it is one of the best loved books of all time. What I do know is zombies. I love the social commentary that is inherent in a good zombie story. These aren’t people who chose to be brain hungry monsters. They are people who, perhaps only moments before, were the parents and children and spouses of our lives now trying to get to our squishy grey parts.

Seth Grahame-Smith doesn’t quite understand this goldmine of emotional turmoil and conflict that he has at his disposal. For the most part, the zombies are an afterthought. Instead of Miss Elizabeth Bennet being a classic wit, she has incredible zombie killing skills learned in China from a Shaolin master. This means that occasionally as the undesirables attack she and her sisters are able to perform some fancy shows of ninja skills and behead a slew of dead. These zombies might as well be wearing red shirts and landing on an alien planet. In the movie version, they will be referred to as “Zombie number 2” or “Zombie in ball gown”.

He does make an impression with the reworking of one story arc. *Spoiler Alert* Elizabeth’s close friend Charlotte Lucas marries Mr. Collins in the original version to avoid being a spinster, despite her lack of love for the man. In the zombified version, Charlotte has been bitten by the undead and will slowly fall victim to the plague. She decides that a few happy months of a loveless marriage and a husband who will properly behead her at her demise is better than no husband at all. Here, we see the true struggle of the zombie plague. Elizabeth is forced to watch her friend slowly grow paler and more bloodthirsty, unable to do anything to stop her inevitable end. Here we see the true pain of the plague. Here we know what it is to live day to day in a world overrun with the brainthirsty.

If you really want a post-apocalyptic view of a zombie world I recommend the trilogy Monster Island, Monster Nation, and Monster Planet by David Wellington. You can also pick up The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks and his followup World War Z. All of these are better than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and all will give you a deeper understanding of the complex politics involved in zombie revolutions and perhaps help you to prepare for the day when the undead walk amongst us. When that day comes, don’t turn to Jane Austen for advice.

Take a break

October 26, 2009

What’s your stupid internet find of the day? Mine is the artist collective Cube Works. They create works of art using only Rubik’s Cubes. Recently making the news is the Last Supper:


That was way better than playing a game of Snood.

Be a part of some really cool science!

October 23, 2009

No one gets polio anymore. That’s because we developed a vaccination that virtually eliminated the disease. A few years ago Merck developed its vaccination against HPV, Gardasil. It was developed for use in women and approved by the FDA for women only. Last week, Gardasil was approved for use in men. The problem? The CDC doesn’t recommend that men get vaccinated.

The major reasoning behind the CDCs ruling is that Gardasil only seems to prevent genital warts in men, while in women it can prevent some strains of cervical cancer. The extension of this is that vaccinating men, or specifically young boys, is a green light for promiscuity. We’ve seen this before and we’ll see it again.

So what can you do as a twenty-something? Go get vaccinated. The focus for the shot is middle school girls. However, the shot is approved for you…you at whatever age you are reading this. As long as you don’t already have HPV (something they test for before giving you the shot) you can get vaccinated. I did it and it was a piece of cake. While you’re checking your healthcare provider to see if they have the H1N1 shot in, just go ahead and schedule your HPV vaccine.

You can help eradicate a disease. Just go get the shot.

Going to Peaces

October 13, 2009

Just some thoughts…

I do think Obama has changed the paradigm of the country…at least how we are viewed across the globe – aggressive, “kick butt” tactics and name calling (“Axis of Evil” is really conducive to peaceful negotiations, dontcha’ think?!) don’t always go so well for promoting a sense of world community, which was severely lacking during the last administration (this may be an understatement, considering the US was viewed as something of a tyrant). I am not promoting complete unresponsiveness in the face of hostile action, but unchecked aggression and hostility only exacerbates the problem until you’re left in a mire of hate, racial tension, and total chaos. I certainly would not want to be in charge of remedying the gigantic mess so thoughtfully left behind. So many people seem willing to attack at the drop of a hat….solid relations with other nations start with positive interactions, even with the sting of hostility in our recent past. Obama is attempting to get these positive interactions underway. World peace might be an unattainable Utopian ideal, but getting nations to communicate with each other in a peaceful way is a hell of a lot better than bombing the shit out of each other.

Was the prize premature? Perhaps – I suppose it was awarded as a promise of things to come. However, bringing nations like Iran, North Korea, and Israel to the negotiating table is a pretty big accomplishment.

If I could patiently wait through eight years of a huge mistake, I can patiently wait for change…rebuilding is MUCH harder work than tearing down.

Written by guest blogger Sarah Sebastian

Bombs Away!

October 7, 2009

Written by: Homer Wolfe

Maybe you left.
Maybe you got left.
Maybe both of you left. Diverged.
Point is: the damage is mutual.
But you can minimize it through insipidity;
I’m going to tell you how.

I moved across town in 1998.
I moved across state in 2000.
I moved across the country in 2003.
I moved across the ocean in 2005.
I moved back* in 2008.

People I once deeply connected with still call.
We talk. About important things.
Ever hear a recording of Edison from the late 1800s?
It’s like that, emotion-wise.

The times I felt connected mostly involve really vapid conversation.
I don’t really remember what the conversations were about.
And it really doesn’t matter.
It’s all just gestures.
Infants handing each other a toy.  Or anything, really.
Back and forth.

To make a long story short**:
Mari and I play board games through the mail.
Really mindless ones.
Play them really slowly.
We’ve been playing one game of Battleship for three years, come February.
Twenty-two moves so far.

The postcards never say much, other than the move.
And maybe a curse word or two.
Nothing important.
Back and forth.
This feels good, and it helps.

*You can never go back.
**We played Clue for a year.  I forgot who won

Homer Wolfe currently maintains a blog on Quantum Diaries; a
collection of personal blogs written by scientists from around the
world who work at the energy, intensity and cosmic frontiers of
particle physics.