Guess what? You are now a scientist. People will tell you that you have to know math to be a scientist, or physics or chemistry. They’re wrong […] What comes first is a question, and you’re already there. It’s not nearly as involved as people make it out to be.
As much as I desperately wanted to be like my father, I knew that I was meant to be an extension of my indestructible mother: a do-over to make real the life that she deserved and should have had. I left high school a year early to take a scholarship at the University of Minnesota—the same school that my mother, father, and all of my brothers had attended.
Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life. It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something important that once was and is no more […].
Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.
I started working in a research laboratory in order to save my own life. To save myself form the fear of having to drop out and from then being bodily foreclosed upon by some boy back home. From the small-town wedding and the children who would follow, who would have grown to hate me as I vented my frustrated ambitions on them.
“Hey, you guys! Want a cold one?”
“No, I don’t. That stuff you are drinking tastes like piss.”
“Well, I don’t really like beer, but that stuff does seem pretty awful.”
“Jean Genet wouldn’t have even stolen that shit.”
I was convinced that the trees were giving me a sign and that my future career was unraveling. I was panicking, picturing myself on the assembly line, trimming the jowls off of dismembered hog heads, one after the other, for six hours a day, just as the mother of my childhood friend had done for nearly twenty years.
For all the time that we spent together, Bill had mostly remained a mystery to me. I had been around him enough to know that he didn’t do drugs, skip class, or litter on the street—incongruously enough, considering his disaffected comportment—but I didn’t know anything beyond that.
Why are they together, the tree and the fungus? We don’t know. The fungus could certainly live very well alone almost anywhere, but it chooses to entwine itself with the tree over an easier and more independent life […] perhaps the fungus can somehow sense that when it is part of a symbiosis, it is also not alone.
Thus splitters and lumpers are both productive only when forced into bickering collaboration, and though together they produce great maps, they rarely return from field trips on speaking terms.
America may say that it values science, but it sure as hell doesn’t want to pay for it.
I learned that female professors and departmental secretaries are the natural enemies of the academic world, as I was privileged to overhear discussions of my sexual orientation and probable childhood traumas from ten to ten-thirty each morning through the paper-thin walls of the break room located adjacent to my office.
While this great cosmic fire hose bathes you in epiphanies, you are overtaken by your urgent need to document them and thus are an inspired manual for all perfect tomorrows. Unfortunately, this is when reality closes ranks and conspires to thwart you in earnest. Your hands shake such that you can’t hold a pen. You pull out a tape recorder and push “record” and fill cassette after cassette.
The discovery of trees that could live in the dark is akin to a discovery of humans that could live underwater.
Look at those guys. I’m going to do this job for thirty more years, work as hard as any of them, accomplish just as much or more, and not one of them will ever look me straight in the eye like I belong here.
I discover within a second context that when something just won’t work, moving heaven and earth often won’t make it work—and similarly, there are some things that you just can’t screw up.
“C’mon, Bill, you’re with us now. Why don’t you drive?”
A manic-depressive pregnant woman cannot take Depakote or Tegretol or Seroquel or lithium or Rsiperdal or any of the other things that she’s been taking on a daily basis for years in order to keep herself from hearing voices and banging her head against the wall. Once her pregnancy is confirmed she must cease all medications quickly (another known trigger) and stand on the train tracks just waiting for the locomotive to hit.
I know that I am supposed to be happy and excited. I am supposed to be shopping and painting and talking lovingly to the baby inside me. I am supposed to celebrate the ripening fruit of love and luxuriate in the fullness of my womb. But I won’t do any of this.
When I wake, I hold my baby and I think about how he is my second opal that I can forever draw a circle around and point to as mine.
While I am too impulsive and aggressive to think of myself as a proper woman, I will also never fully shake this dull, false belief that I am something less than a man.
I got out my bike and looked up through the warm, tropical sky, into the terminal coldness of space, and saw light that had been emitted years ago from unimaginably hot fires that were still burning on the other side of the galaxy. I put on my helmet and rode to the lab, ready to spend the rest of the night using the other half of my heart.