Friday, December 29, 2006

Apply Yourself

I give you the first paragraph of my admissions essay, what has been stealing my writing energy away from my dear petri dish for the past few weeks. Also, what is really nice is that this is how I really feel, its not just fluff.

The PCR* worked. The band is the size that we expected and it is clear and bright. I have learned that even if you are weary from unexplainable failure, or bored by repetition, it is critical to maintain an optimistic mindset when setting up a PCR. Always expect it to work. Of course, there may be times when certain factors heighten your expectations, for example: this specific collection of variables has worked before, or it has worked in a very closely related species, or these primers are excellent matches to the known sequence. But even in the absence of such favorable conditions, you must operate on the energizing assumption that your reaction will succeed and that it may ultimately contribute to something far vaster than the small .2-milliliter tubes before you. Connecting the minute actions of setting up a PCR with the larger research goal is what keeps me pipetting again and again and again. Each time with the patience and precision (and hope) needed for it to work and to leave my hands and it take its place as part of the collective advancement of understanding in biological anthropology.

*PCR stands for Polymerase Chain Reaction, something we set up in the lab a few times a day, aimed at gathering genetic sequence information.

More Bangs for No Buck

Its that time of year again. The time that I decide that I need a hair cut but dont have the patience or money to have it done professionally.

So I cut it myself. It never looks particularly good or particularly bad, usually no one notices, and it doesnt really improve the original situation much. But at the very least my impatient fingers are put to work.

The other day I watched the movie The Devil Wears Prada and since I am not used to seeing images of pop culture popping up on screen, I was instantly inspired by Anne Hathaway’s style to cut bangs. Also someone told me I looked like her the other day, so that didnt hurt either.

They are the kind of 60s style straight bangs that almost hide your eyes. They look pretty bad actually and I already have a bobby pin in them holding them back. But they didnt cost a dime, or a buck.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Silly String Theory

This evening I walked along 14th street with my ipod on playing songs of quiet desperation that echoed my mood almost perfectly. Strangers were bumping into me all around with their shopping bags and post Christmas return to insensitivity. It was cold, I had a hat on and my hair was blowing all over the place.

I walked by a bunch of punk runt kids leaning on some scafolding. I looked back at them after I heard something hit me. They were all looking at me and laughing, they sprayed pink puffy cold silly string all over the back of my hair.

I laugh/cried the whole way to my destination as I fished it out of my hair hoping no one was looking at me. Then Joe called and told me that the destination had changed and I had to walk another 8 blocks in another direction. I was hungry and tired and when I got to where I was going, no one needed my help like I thought that they would.

Another reason to never leave the apartment.

My Own Everything

Last night I returned to my apartment.

I was away in a land overflowing with an embarrasing amount of sweets and filet mignon and big opulent pink houses with overstuffed chairs and egos. This land was far far away from my life here in my small salty apartment with walls damaged by the incompetent electrician and drafty old windows and creaky wooden floors with spaces between them where dust collects, with no toaster or tv or this or that.

Last night I lit a candle and put it in the middle of my uncluttered living room floor and I shut the lights off. I breathed a sigh of relief to be home in my apartment where people care about what I do for a living and what I think about things. Where there are no older brothers to tell me my feet look big and where I am not forever metaphorically at the kids table. Where I can blog in confidence that my thoughts are valid just because they are my thoughts.

I am whole again now that I am home and alone. I am an adult here and the pots need cleaning and I have to make my own everything.

Thank you for the lovely gifts family, but I hope you never find me here.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Good Egg

Yesterday Joe turned 30 years old. So I thought it was the perfect day to try to poach some eggs.

So I did.

I read the recipe on how to poach an egg and I asked around and was surprisingly encouraged not to try it, that it was indeed an insurmountable task and that it simply would not work. But it has been done, I thought, many many many times. Why would it not work for me? A scientist in training, whose strength is patience and a gentle approach.

I would not let an egg make a fool out of me.

I boiled a flat pan of water and then cracked a very fresh brown egg into a separate bowl (that I usually use for cereal). Then put the cereal bowl down into the boiling water and let the egg slip into the pan, without much fanfare or agitation, although I was quite stressed at this point, guests were coming in a matter of minutes and this was my first time doing it.

Almost immediately after the egg touched the water, its transformation started. And in moments I knew that I was no longer a cook, or a scientist, but a magician. The egg white turned opaque and it swayed in the water like a diaphanous ghost, or a beautiful gossamer jellyfish, defying the laws of what we usually know to be real. Feeling confident in my new powers, I put in several eggs and they all danced in unison, bubbling and waving in celebration of the Birthday of Joe. We watched in amazement.

Then we took them all out and placed them on the smoked salmon covered toasted english muffins that sat and waited for their eggy miracle. I poured a little dill hollandaise sauce over all of them. The entire time I was on edge of sanity. But the eggs knew better.

The guests arrived in moments and cleaned their plates faster than the eggs took to poach. It was a celebration of all things that began as an egg, be it fertilized and born human 30 years ago, or layed from a chicken and poached with poise and hope.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I Am on the Countertop of the World

Joe built a countertop. It is made out of a thick piece of rock hard maple and he sanded and laquered it until it became silk. It is in the kitchen. He also installed three small lights under the cabinets that shine down reverently on his masterpiece of the moment.

Now some of you may already know that he put this in over a year ago, but what is significant about mentioning it now is that I am still in love with its presence and am reminded each day that it has changed my life. The efficiency and beauty of this object did not fade with its newness.

Every time I turn on those little pin lights in the kitchen and they illuminate the sweet orange wall behind and the countertop I feel like, even though this place is small and I am paying too much and people are screaming outside about who knows what, everything is going to be okay.

Sometimes we turn the lights on and just stand next to it and talk, like we are out at a bar, but we are not.

It feels like I became an adult when that counter was installed. It can hold groceries filled with potential meals or it can display a beautiful tray of shrimp, lemons and cocktail sauce for a party. It can hold flowers or glasses or the coffeemaker but whatever it holds, it pays homage to and makes it inviting and warm.

An Avalanche of Advice

Advice. So little of it is really usable. Why do people even bother?

Everyone just waits around for advice that fits in with what they were already thinking anyway, and then they take that.

If only the voices inside of our head were louder sometimes, then we would not have to ask any one else their opinion.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Sentence in the Soil

Editing your own writing is hard. When I am writing I often become attached to sentences, even if there are too many commas or too few periods.

And I have learned that good writing comes from wanting to say something, not just from wanting to write anything.

But I find that one often knows when things are not quite right yet in writing, that more adjustments have to be made, even if it is a difficult truth to face.

It is easy to think that the soil of words is tilled perfectly and you are ready to plant your seed which will grow roots in this very spot. But sometimes you have to go and get a sturdy shovel and be honest with yourself and plunge it into the ground and turn the soil over a few more times until you see the nutrient rich sentences rise to the top.

And sometimes it will turn up. The sentence to end all sentences. The one that can only exist after several failed attempts have gone, the one that splits your heart into two with its razorlike clarity and then melts the two halves with the warm hearth of humility.

The kind of sentence that when someone else reads it they will think to themselves, “Wow, that is really great I wish I had written that.” And you will know that they could not have and not only because they didnt, but because you did.

Friday, December 15, 2006

My New Morning

I am up early this morning. This is rare and getting rarer as the winter progresses. I almost never regret waking up early, but I pretty much never do it.

There are many nice things about the very early morning that seem new to me today:

The cozy reassuring smell of the heat rising, the blue light outside that grows brighter in the most gradual progression that there ever was, silence, time to drink one more cup of coffee, anticipation, time to consider your clothing for more than 5 minutes, birds harmonzing, having my alarm go off after I am already awake so it does not annoy me and I patronizingly silence it and I forget about all the times that it saved me and I think, you foolish thing you, I dont need you today.

There is extra time for thinking, and blogging, and sitting and staring out the window and waiting for the day.

And I sit here with a handmade crocheted blanket wrapped around me and I think to myself, I should really do this more often, but I know I wont.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Reflection in a Glass Ornament

This is the first year in a long time that I dont have an office Christmas party to attend and I am finding myself missing this slightly awkward ritual and it just got me thinking about Christmas time in general.

“I really can’t stay”, winking white lights, sweaters with cozy collars, “Baby its cold outside”, telling the story of an ornament before you hang it, making exceptions, making the trip, they are going to love it, “well maybe just a half a drink more”, A Charlie Brown Christmas, helping in the kitchen, it was really good to see you.

The smell of evergreen embraces me as I walk down the sidewalk where they sell the cut trees in the city, we know they are dead now but somehow they still hold a little piece of some impossible hope. A hope that is unique in each one of us. A hope that burns out come January and is forgotten entirely by bleak February. Sometimes I think that Christmas in the city is unbearable, people shopping shopping shopping, dropping money all over the place for things that no one really needs.

But it is the mood that people get in to that is really so fantastic. For Christmas this year I want to take a little piece of Christmas spirit, the lightness and sweetness, and capture it in a paper coffee cup and sit it beside my bed and sip it slowly throughout the dry and leafless winter.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Hole in One

My former boss was speaking at a lecture last week, and because of his advanced age and gigantic unruly ego, he made some comments that were, shall we say, not the most sympathetic to women. Although, I must say that even in his social faux pas-ing, he managed to be well spoken and only graze the issue and simply hint at the other completely sexist things that he was actually thinking. So, no one could truly crucify him, also (and I am able to say this because I am the bigger person) what he said did contain a few hard to digest grains of truth.

When I first saw him lecture, I was taken with his ease and articulate confidence. I sat there with Joe beside me and a notebook in my lap and stars overflowing in my naive eyes. He seemed down to earth and yet very very smart and funny and most of all, a true artist. He would give it all up for his craft, spend nights working until it was just right, he poured thoughtfulness and spirit into all of his images and waxed philosophical often and much. I was impressed, although to his credit, Joe was not.

I went to work for him and realized that he was not only not the aging hippie with a heart and pencil of gold that I thought he was, but a serious businessman and a card carrying asshole. It upset me, it still upsets me when I think about it, but I learned several valuable lessons from that man. You dont have to be nice to be respected and above all else, graphic design is a business and not a dreamy rainbow-connection of a creative endeavour.

The other night, I was hanging out with a friend of mine. I was talking to her about how I am afraid that in science there will be assholes there too and how will I handle it blah blah blah. She cut my quivering statement in half with a comment as sharp and visceral as a rapier slashing at dawn. “You can learn a lot from an asshole.”

After it had been said, I paused to let the purity of the words take hold. And even though it felt like it was something that was as true as the rain, I had never thought about it quite that way before.

So here’s to all the assholes I’ve learned from and to all the future assholes who will keep me balanced uncomfortably on my toes with their brilliant bombast.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Admit One

My graduate school admissions essay is off to an overly formal and vague start, which is ironic since my favorite type of writing is so informal and descriptive. The only way for me to loosen up my mind and phalanges is to write it out on the blog. There is something about this warm and welcoming blogger interface that just brings forth a flood of emotions and honesty. So this is the unpolished and bleeding heart version of the truth, of which I will only take parts for the real essay.

The book had a brown cloth binding and gold letters printed on to its spine, it stood with all of the other Time Life books in the series on the bottom shelf behind the bookshelf glass and behind a chair in our living room. As a 12 year old, I remember kneeling down and opening the book titled “The Dawn of Man” and flipping to the page with the picture of the artists reconstruction of an Australopithice and just gawking at it, open mouthed in the sneaky silence of my parents old drafty wooden floor. I repeated this guilty pleasure many many times and after formally learning about the details have still not fully gotten over my awe of human evolution.

I organized digs in my parents backyard, recruiting reluctant and clueless friends to find fossils with me in the disintegrating clay of our run down tennis court. We found rocks that I painstakingly assembled into a creature, that did not really exist unfortunately.

In art class in highschool, we had to come up with a design to paint in bold flat acrylic paints-so I painted the double helix of DNA, so elegant and amazing and an already figured out structure, thank you Watson and Crick. In another class I did a pastel drawing of a monkey leaping straight at you from the page with a glistening realistic stare in his eye.

Then I went to art school. It was a natural decision for me because I am interested in looking at things very closely and drawing or painting them or just thinking about them and gaining understanding. It is this relish of quiet and patient observation that made me a good artist and designer and will also make me a good scientist.

My two final projects at Pratt Institute were exhibit designs intended for A Museum of Natural History, one a 23-station interactive show on the human genome and the other a redesigned hall of human evolution. Both projects were my choice, because I have always been interested in genetics and evolution, the projects did not spark my interest, my interest sparked the projects.

I worked as a graphic designer for five years. But one year after art school ended, I could not lie to myself any more and stifle my interest and respect for biological anthropology in place of nitpicking about fonts and colors. In Fall of 2002 I began taking Anthropology classes at Hunter College. And from that point on until February 2006, when I officially left my design job, my life was a odd dovetailed fusion of design and science. I would rush back and forth from the studio to the lab or from the studio to class desperately trying to hold together my design past and and my scientific future in present harmony.

I talked incessantly to my design interns about what was going on in the genetics lab and about the last common ancestor between humans and chimps and made diagrams to aid their understanding, even though this was not what they had signed up for. I told all of my design friends what I was studying and felt a hollow sorrow that I wasnt happy with the design world that we had all yearned for together with never-ending idealistic hope.

The specifics of the lab slowly but steadily began to steal my attention away from grids and fonts and text that I wouldnt read. Until one day my boss in the lab emailed me and asked me what my protocol was for a certain lab procedure. So I sat in the design studio with the entire history of graphic design at my feet and I wrote the most detailed and loving protocol out in an email to him. It was then that I knew where I wanted to be and I knew it was over for me in design.

I left my design job and went to work in the lab full time. I was so so very sad at the loss of my design friends and ever sadder and more scared at the idea that I was not only leaving the studio at 207 East 302nd street, but I was leaving design altogether for an extremely difficult and uncertain world that I could smell, taste, and see on the horizon, but that I could not yet really touch.

Biological Anthropology attracts me because it helps me understand the complex past of our species and in understanding the past it will shape our future. Ironically, it reminds me that I am just a sliver of a sliver of the life in our world, but I still think that that is all I need to be to make a contribution that is larger and longer than my own short and insignificant time on this great earth. But I suppose that is a part of what makes us human, being irrational and gradiose, you probably wouldnt catch a monkey doing that.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Intelligent Design

The time has come for me to write my Graduate School admissions essay. I have been talking about it, jotting some ideas down and thinking about it incessantly.

Good words have yet to be written though.

I have been trying to figure out the perfect amount of information about my graphic design past to include in the essay to the Biological Anthropologists of my future (hopefully).

I like when essays have an overarching theme and they are not just laundry lists of accomplishments with a flourish on the beginning and end. But for graduate school, are themes appropriate? I was thinking of a large and complex analogy of my life and goals to some statistical analyses that I have learned about, that'll show em!

Although, I was tactlessly warned that I dont want to come off as a “flaky artist” in my essay. But another friend thinks that my design background can be used as a unique quality and a strength, and so did the girl sitting next to me at jury duty. A few people have told me not to bring up anything that will hurt me, which is probably a graceful way of telling me to omit my design life.

I am sure that this essay is not the time to be shamelessly honest, but I think I might have to be, so my pursuit and achievement, or rejection, is something I can call my own and is the closest thing to truth that I know now.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Wisdom on a String

After work yesterday I went to my favorite coffee shop to unwind, but this time I was not having coffee, I was having tea. As I have grown older and more frenzied and dehydrated from my coffee consumption, I have welcomed tea into my life as a soothing savior.

“A small Earl Grey please”, she handed it to me and before I took my favorite wicker seat, I decided to put milk in it. As I was milking and stirring I forgot what it was that I was just thinking about. The only thing left in my brain was the emotional residue from the lost memory. The only thing left was that I was excited for something in the near future, and yes I was happy for the onset of my tea drinking, but that was not it. I was happy to be sitting down after work in a quiet familiar place, but that was still not it.

Then I remembered. On the tea bag tags that are given out at this particular shop, there is always a quote. The brand of tea is Celestial Seasonings and they have painstakingly picked some wonderful quotes to put on the back of each tag, to encourage reflection, or maybe conversation. I love that idea.

I was anxiously awaiting the sage message on the tea bag last night. As I fussed with the milk and picked the cup up again to move to my seat, I made sure not to glimpse at the tag. Because I know myself and even a glimpse could give it away, if it was one I had seen before I would recognize the length and spacing at first blush.

I took my seat. I tried to drag out this little ceremony of enjoyment as long as I could. Then finally I looked. “Choose well. Your Choice is brief, yet endless.”-Goethe. So I plucked the tag off the string and placed it in my pocket, hoping that some of its wisdom would seep into me as I drank the tea.

On the brink of making so many decisions in my life, marriage, grad school, etc. it was a good quote to read, and the tea was damn good too.

Monday, December 4, 2006

This Rotten Apple Never Tasted So Sweet

New York is really really getting me down lately, but I still cant imagine leaving, maybe I am too rigid and elitist in my ways or maybe I am just stupid.

Three weeks ago my apartment was trashed by an electrician who was doing work, he left my refrigerator off by mistake, broke a vase, dusted all of my earthly belongings with plaster and paint chips and then he left. The following week a car was on fire on my block, which reminded me that pointless vandalisim is still indeed burning and last week my wallet and phone were stolen reminding me that nothing is sacred and that strangers just dont care about me. And as all of this is going on, the days are getting shorter and darker and the deep cold winter looms in the distance.

But the other night we were out getting sushi and a man at the bar, who we have seen around the neighborhood but have never spoken to, bought us two drinks. An old hispanic couple got onto the bus the other day, the man yelling something and waving his hands, the woman walked to the back of the bus and pulled out her purse that she had forgotten under the seat. The whole bus smiled warmly as she desended the stairs in impossible triumph. I ran into a dear old friend on Park Avenue the other morning on my way to work. We discovered a perfect new wine bar the other night. A man played a joyus version of When the Saints Go Marching in on a trombone in the subway yesterday. Do these things happen in other places?

And today I went to my old place of work to ask my former boss for a reccomendation. I dont know of any place where the people are so dependent on the pulse, grit and grandeur of New York. I always feel a little sad when I see them, nothing ever changes and they are sometimes insufferable and stubborn, but they are all disciples of New York and they are smart, charming and interesting. If they stepped foot outside of the city they would fade into oblivion, they are being kept alive on the fumes of our dear city. They are all part of the endless B-list of guests at a New York party, sitting just beside the famous person and offering them a roll and a joke. They are the people that The New Yorker is written for, they have money, education, strong political leanings, good taste and take secret pleasure in name dropping and getting their shoes shined.

So here it is, reasons to leave, reasons to stay. And I am filling out applications for grad school in other cities, and although I really should be dedicated enough to my cause to go anywhere to pursue it, I really dont want to leave.

But I will say this to the city that never sleeps, maybe you should try and get some rest.

Trapped in Time

I was thinking the other day again how people love to categorize others in order to begin to understand them better.

It helps people to have a place for you in their head, next to the others who are similar to you. You are my actor friend, right next to my painter friend but who both sit below my banker friend in this lovely organized head of mine.

But then I thought of how people not only love to categorize across contemporary space, but through time also. No one can evolve after you have already labeled them. That label has the capacity to pin them to the floor and capture them in time.