Thursday, January 1, 2009

The New Year's bandwagon

New Year's thoughts

Aaaah, New Year's... a time for introspection, self-evaluation, a putting to rest of things in the past, and of hopeful glances towards the future. And, in my family, usually falling asleep well before midnight. Last night was no exception - the rest of the family was in bed by a bit after 10, and I was more or less out by 10:30, drifting in and out of sleep until I knew Eugenie had arrived safe and sound at home around 11:30. She then proceeded to write an awesome post with her goals for the new year, while I acquiesced to the demands of my pillow.

Spent most of my time today cleaning in preparation for her arrival tomorrow (!), working on a surprise (working outside with metal tools in a shop is rough this time of year - last night it was -4 here!), and drinking copious amounts of tea to fight a cold. Peppermint, Spearmint, Echinacea, Rosehip/Lemon, Lapsang, Orange Pekoe, Chai, beef broth, hot chocolate, I've had it all at least once today. My bladder is filling a demand for overtime/holiday pay.

This evening, after dinner, my family prevailed upon me to join them in a game called 'Chronology' - the gist of it is that you have to successively place cards with historical events in order by the year they occurred in. History, and in particular dates, may well be my Achilles heal... I'm terrible! Although I don't feel bad about not knowing things like "What year Ed. Lowes invented cat litter in" or the comparative ages of slinkies and lincoln logs. Maybe in another 20-30 years I'll at least be good at the history that happened during my lifetime! Strange to think that history really is occurring in our lifetimes, every year, even every day. I guess that's one of the things that celebrating the beginning of a new year is good for - stepping back a bit from the day to day, and realizing even briefly what the big things in your life and world are.

2008 -

A pretty big year, all in all. I guess one of the more significant events was finishing my bachelor's in biology and mathematics in May. Since then, I've held two research positions, one in mathematical research at a biological station in the Midwest, and the other doing hands-on ecology fieldwork at a site in the Southeast. These experiences have been a good chance to check myself, reassuring me that I'm probably heading in the right career direction. I know for sure that I need the stimulation that comes from constantly having things to think about, problems to solve, and mental challenges. As much as I love being outdoors and seeing cool plants and animals, it's not enough to overcome the boredom of repetitive fieldwork for me. Ideas are what keep me going. So maybe I'm a little closer to finding the right balance of field and office for me. At the very least, having experienced this boredom/frustration as a field technician, I feel more confident that graduate school is the right place for me - a place to drown myself in ideas.

Graduating has brought along other new things too; trappings of an independent life. I own my own car, no longer pay school bills, or have help from my parents in paying for food and rent. Starting this new year, I'll be paying all my own health insurance, car insurance, phone bills, the whole kit and caboodle. I decide now where I'll live, my schedule, and what I do, more than ever before. It's exciting, but scary too - no more buffers. I'm still followed by the persistent feeling that I'm the same person I used to be, but trapped in an older exterior of whom more grown-up things are expected. Maybe that's a universal feeling, I don't know.

Another major major thing that made this past year different from any other before it, has been dating Eugenie. The five wonderful months we spent together and school have now been joined by a harder, but still amazing seven plus months of this long distance business. Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, we manage to talk a lot, and she's become an integral part of my life, even from far away. The biggest lesson I take from all of this, is a sense of humility. I never thought such a thing could be possible, not for me. It's scary now to think how very close that certainty came towards making this relationship impossible by denying it a chance to begin. So, people, be humble - we can't know or see all of the wonderful things that are possible for us in life. Say that something is impossible for you, and you make it so. Humbly deny your ability to judge what might be, and if you're really really lucky, you might get a blessing like Eugenie.

I'm also very grateful for my companions and friends in 2008 - they stand out as one of the best parts of the year. Many new friends come with working new jobs in new places, and I have made some good ones indeed; friends who have shared good food, humor, different perspectives on life, and interesting ideas. I'm glad that our stories could come together. It's a delightful thing to meet someone and feel that you've made a friend that you get to keep for life! I also had the good fortune to visit many old friends on my travels. I realize more and more that these friends, these people, old and new, are at the core of my joy in life, deeper down even than all the equations and ecology and plant names and facts that swirl around me and identify me.

2009 -

I'm tempting fate, and lucky already if I've escaped without being too sappy in the above. So I'll move on to looking forward with a hodge podge of thoughts for the coming year.

A bit more than a year ago now, I decided not to apply to graduate school, opting to take a year off. I had some good reasons for this (having spent 6 years doing the college deal, I wanted to try a different kind of life, distance myself from academia a bit, travel, challenge myself in different ways and broaden my perspectives), and some not-so-good reasons (procrastinating about applying, a ridiculously busy fall semester - five 300 level biology/math courses, among other things, and being scared of future commitment). At this point I've got about 8 months left before I'll be in graduate school, starting a PhD. And I feel like i've only partially lived up to my goals for this time. I've traveled a little, but by and large I haven't come close to stepping outside my comfort zone. Life is definitely different from being a student, but even in my employment, the work I've done is quite similar to what grad school and an academic future will bring me. I've been sticking to things that are safe, known, and predictable. So, a big goal for 2009 is to take advantage of the time that is left to me, and really try to push myself in new ways. Maybe find a job thoroughly outside of academia and maybe outside of this country, working for an environmental movement, or some kind of social justice initiative. Something to shake me up, and help me see the world from new angles.

Of course, there's the excitement of deciding on a graduate school, settling my future to some extent for five or six years to come. Adjusting to living in a new place, and to new academic challenges. I hope I choose well, and am happy in the place I go, and what it brings me, academically and personally. In particular, the choice that I make will unavoidably have consequences for Eugenie and I. It's pretty much impossible to predict and plan for a future right now, as there are many, many unknowns. But I dearly hope that things work out such that we can be near to each other, one way or another. We're tougher than I imagined, but time and distance are weary weights to carry, especially as life stresses rise. One way or another, I wish, too, to keep growing and learning, and becoming a better boyfriend and supporter for her in achieving her hopes for 09.

Another goal I have for myself is to keep up the tightrope acts of balancing theory and reality, mathematics and ecology, the academic and the applied. I'd really like to reconnect to my early roots in ecology, when I was much better informed of current events, environmental and social issues and movements. I don't want to end up as a disconnected and irrelevant academic, studying fascinating questions that do squat to address real problems in the real world. While I'm looing forward to a graduate experience where I can steep myself in my subject, I don't want to do this at the expense of maintaining the diverse interests that make me who I am.

Finally, as I move on to new places, new people, new challenges, I don't want to walk away from the old. That's a big one. I've moved on before, not looking back, and in retrospect, it gets lonely without connections to your past, things that ground you. I'm looking forward to having friends from college that remain friends from life - but like any relationship, that means keeping up on things.


Wow, that's rather a lot of text. If you made it through all of that, probably either:

1) You skimmed it, didn't you? thought so...
2) Winter break has bored you significantly
3) You're procrastinating
4) Wow, you really are stalking me aren't you? ;-)

Whatever the case, best wishes for a peaceful, productive 2009.



sarcozona said...

Yep, skimmed it :p

Happy New Year!

Karina said...

I read the whole thing. Any leads on how you might stretch yourself other than by playing with a boomerang?

Transient Theorist said...

Karina -

Predictably, I'm not sure yet. But I have in mind a list of qualities that such an opportunity might have. High on the list is that they have little to do with ecology/mathematics/academics, and get me outside of my comfort zone. If it's not traveling, then at least I'd like it to be as not-selfish as possible (ie, doing something for other people, instead of doing something for myself/my career).

Just picked up a lovely little book at a book store on "Vagabonding", traveling independently and cheaply for good sized chunks of time. So it's inspiring some dreams right now.