Wednesday, December 31, 2008


And you ask me what I want this year
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days
Cause I don't need boxes wrapped in strings
And designer love and empty things
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cause everyone is forgiven now
Cause tonight's the night the world begins again
--Better Days, by a band whose name I am too embarrassed to mention.

After 2008, arguably one of the worst years of my life (at least the first half).
For 2009. Happy New Year. Here's hoping.
Geographic preferences

The state of the world leaves a lot to be desired as we look into 2009. Yet let's look at the things that are good, the gems that each country has to a slightly less dirge-y and dignified way. The economy's going to hell and we may be running out of oil, but let's have a little fun. Here are my two cents, anyway.

Country: Germany.
Pros: Beer, Angela Merkel, green technology, exacting standards, the poetry of Goethe and Schiller.
Cons: Neo-Nazis, exacting standards, people from former East Germany who are still economically depressed and pissed off, a resume that would be red-flagged in an instant ("You were doing what from 1939 to 1945?") PS. Sorry resume is spelled with a regular "e" but I can't be bothered to add the accent right now, 'k?

Country: France
Pros: Wine, several of my favorite actresses (Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Juliette Binoche), 'progressive' sexual mores (see also STDs, under 'cons'...)
Cons: General demeanor, second-hand smoke

Country: Italy
Pros: Cuisine (especially angel-hair pasta, limoncello and tiramisu), long leisurely lunches, fashion, olive oil, Isabella Rossellini (twenty years ago...not that I still wouldn't, but, you know...), Roman ruins and generally an assload of historically interesting sites
Cons: Riding scooters without helmets=brain injury, the Vatican (which is really a separate country, I know), Mafia wars

Country: Sweden
Pros: Democratic socialism, the occasional reindeer, same-sex unions, a profusion of 6'6'' blondes
Cons: It's always cold as balls, and the seasonal affective disorder is so rampant that Sweden (or is it Norway? You can see this has been exhaustively researched) has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

Country: UK
Pros: History, and did I mention history? Also more minsters and cathedrals than you can shake a stick at. A fantastic literary tradition. Pubs. British humor.
Cons: A less-fantastic history of colonization and forced conquest. British food.

Country: Iceland
Pros: Bjork (Sorry for the lack of umlaut; see note on accent grave, above). Wealth and peace and happiness. Geothermal energy and hot springs.
Cons: Bjork. Long, unpronounceable and constantly-morphing last names.

Country: Canada
Pros: Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morrissette, the health-care system, and the fact that with one very notable exception, every Canadian I've ever known has been a great human being--real mensches. Ever since I saw the segment on Canada in "Bowling for Columbine," I've thought it must be a stand-up kind of place...just nifty, y'know?
Cons: Proximity to Sarah Palin, marauding moose, marauding Quebecois.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Finals are over. I realize I haven't written here in a long time, nor on my sister blog, but here I am, returning, always returning. I haven't written much this semester, online or off, and that bothers me, because it is always returning to the steady stream of words, the artesian well of verbiage, that makes me feel refreshed and alive. Not that there's no life in science; there is, of course, but it's a different brand of magic, cold and polished, where words are organic and rowdy and allow for the holding of multiple truths at once; language never moves beyond hypothesis into certainty, and of course I (indecisive as I am) find this a great comfort. Today I told a story at a party and mentioned Judith Butler (I'm sure those of you with liberal arts backgrounds know her) and no one knew who I was talking about--biochem and biology majors all, of course--and I felt a pang of longing for those days in gender studies classes and German literature courses when spending an hour arguing Schiller's turn of phrase or Spivak's elucidation of the hegemonic discourse was a noble and worthwhile pursuit. It still is, of course, it's just not what I'm doing now.

And now the semester is over, and I realize I've really committed myself to this path of servant leadership--to doctoring, in other words--and I am at once gratified, terrified, euphoric and nonplussed. What have I accomplished, really? I've learned a great deal, of course; I can tell you the three different types of intercranial hematomas, I know the difference between a macrophage and a lymphocyte on visual inspection, I can do a basic musculoskeletal exam. But what life have I changed? Whose heart have I touched? Of course we all do those things all the time, without knowing; silly ambitious me, even in altruism I want to be the best. So in a museful and (slightly inebriated, I will readily admit) state, I looked through the books on my shelf--the ones I haven't had time to read in four months because I've been staring at pictures of dissected pelvises and physiology diagrams--and took down W. H. Auden, and turned to a rather melancholy poem I've loved since I first read it: "September 1, 1939," written of course in response to Germany's invasion of Poland, but also an uncovering of basic human truths and desires. Two of the last stanzas have really become manifestos of mine:

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-on-the-street,
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or police:
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the light
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.