Winter Wizardry

I used to work as a scientist, did you know that?  Arguably I still am.  A few years ago – or so it feels – my life revolved around biochemistry specifically the structure of proteins.  There are details, but I doubt anyone would care to hear much about the science.  My explanations probably would only add to the confusion anyway.  Needless to say, the work was good and interesting, but fraught with politics.  Progressing projects halted half-way to fruition, shifting to the latest or newest research and then changing again within months.  Structural biology experiments under ideal conditions take months to complete; some researchers never got around to finishing or publishing any research.   

Choosing an appropriate journal was also a touchy subject.  While some researchers would seek publication from any respectable journal; others usually lab heads would only be satisfied with high-ranking journals.  An article chosen in Nature or Science certainly would be a feather in your cap, but the time needed to perform the necessary experiments required for acceptance was often underrated.  Thus, your work would sit gathering dust until your boss condescended to a more “mediocre” journal (which was not likely) or these publishing titans felt that you had jumped through enough hoops to garner their pages (which again took many months).  

In the end, drawn by my bibliophilia, the advice of my co-workers (“When you win the lotto, then and only then come back to science.  This is a rich man’s game.”), and a mounting indifference, I left.  Like the portrayal of war in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, I had grown tired of the business and institute of science than the craft itself.  

“History did not demand Yossarian’s premature demise, justice could be satisfied without it, progress did not hinge upon it, victory did not depend on it. That men would die was a matter of necessity; which men would die, though, was a matter of circumstance, and Yossarian was willing to be the victim of anything but circumstance. But that was war.” (Catch-22. chap 8, pg 78) 

“. . . that’s the way things go when you elevate mediocre people to positions of authority.” (chap 29, p 335)

Thus, my path to the Nobel Prize was sundered (ha!), and as Robert Frost said “it has made all the difference.”  Yet both writing and science share a mutual respect for the world and its numerous observations.  After all you do not always need a microscope or a beaker full of bacteria, to uncover wonders and make discoveries.  The world brims with secrets that lie undiscovered the more we ignore them, bypassing the unusual or wonderful in favor of the marketable.   

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The world truly is an extraordinary place.  Walking through the parking lot at Walmart earlier today, I spied shards of ice forming in a muddy sunken puddle.  The tire of a parked Forerunner rose from the center like black obelisk, unaware of the harmless miniature knives weaving frozen nets around it.  Above the tattered clouds strove with glittering spears of light, while torrents of red and violet shone on the horizon like great bonfires.  Still the gluttonous clouds marched forward swallowing the calm of blue and gold in its wake.  Sun-spears break, retreating to the upper stratosphere; sun fades and blue sky blanches.  We wait for the white curtain to peel and flake to earth.  I walk to my car, fumbling with my keys, which of course are in the other pocket.  My car engine roars, and my packages and I drive home.   

Winter mornings always welcome the scientist or artist with something extraordinary.  Perhaps amidst all the cold weather, dying leaves, and skeletal fingers of tree limbs, my eyes dilate like a cat’s at midnight, sensitive to the unnoticed yet luminous morsels of life in the world.  The flicker of a small candle stretches far in a dark world, they say.  Evidence of life in the barren winter has that same effect, like the tangible air of magic in the throes of a cynical world. 

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Digital soul mates

My sister-in-law suggests that I write up a personal description on this blog for dating purposes, to which I am thoroughly opposed. Personally, I never saw much dignity in such stratagems. Personal ads to me are like pinning “For Sale” signs on your forehead for buyers who are given free reign to criticize the peeling paint and giggle at the shoddy workmanship. No, methinks to continue posting random thoughts and stories, topics important to me. However, if you find that sexy, are female, and were born between1980 and 1985, then feel free to drop me an email.

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Katie on a whim just recently signed onto an online dating service for young people with faith; Catholicpeople.com, I believe is the name. Usually I avoid online dating sites, preferring my love life to reside in the 3-D realm: face to face and with as few masks as possible. Being quite foolish and odd by nature, I feel obliged to provide my date some level of honesty, which online sites always mar in some way, being easier to remain forthright with a live person than a computer screen.

Yet religious sites frighten me all the more, though not for any intrinsic conflict with my faith. To me any dating or matchmaking service centered on any religion, philosophy, club, or cult make me uncomfortable, as if haunted by some ghostly spoken mantra: “Come join us. Be with us. Breed with us.” Of course, one might simply argue that possessing similar values and beliefs is the foundation to any successful relationship, to which I would grudgingly agree, though I’m still not drinking the Kool-aid.

Anyway Katie signed onto a free account, whose main objective was to wet the appetite with a few stud-ly Catholic guys so that you fork over money to activate a real account and thus obtain addresses and phone numbers to these religiously-minded and hopefully lonely hunks. Jokingly she filled out the questionnaire with such entries as “. . . and I love drinking Pina Coladas, walking on the beach, and getting caught in the rain.” Overnight my lil’ sister found three guys who took an interest in her (or her memory for song lyrics): a father of three in Michigan, a 40-year-old guy in Ohio, and Jose who lives in Ecuador.

“What’s with all the old guys?” Katie shouted, after the third guy, Jose, asked if she liked to travel.

“I wish you’d stop visiting that site,” our Mom would call from the kitchen, “What kind of late 30-yr-old guy would hit on a 22 year-old girl? That Catholic site is full of dirty old perverts.” I’ll be sure to mention that to our pastor this Sunday.

Not wishing to be left out on this considerably robust dating market, I repented of my former provincial opinions and signed up for my own dating account. The opening screen showed a few pictures of beautiful young Catholics, smiling like sharks to a young guppy. A few more clicks later and I found myself stumbling over an appropriate opening line. Sheesh, what do you say to a bunch of sex-deprived Catholic singles? “Hello” came to mind, as did several other witty bits of blasphemy, but I decided with “Hey everybody, how are you doing?” until I could test out the humor-levels of my fellow singles.

Scanning through the other intros, I saw that most of the female members possessed about as much imagination as I did, “Hi” being the most numerous. Only one honestly answered that conjuring up an opening line for a Catholic singles site seemed pretty ridiculous. Personally I would agree. After years of extensive corporal Catholic schooling, I am pretty sure that flirting constitutes as a sin somewhere in the Bible – a fact often lost amongst all the begot-ings in Deuteronomy. Nonetheless, I recall the sharp thwack of ruler on bare skin and the reprimands of Sister Dorthy during our school mixers.

“Too close! Too close! Young men and women should keep a Bible’s distance from one another while dancing!” Her voice resounded off the gym walls like the edicts of the Metronome. Her Bible was the size of the Guttenberg. “Kevin Coolin, if you move another centimeter closer to Ms. O’Bryan I will duct-tape a ruler to your forehead!”

Earlier tonight Katie was surprised to receive among several emails from 50 and 40-yr-olds, an email from someone in DC. Someone young. And single. “Probably, another pervert,” Mom murmured. After several excitable screams, I realized that the site somehow emailed her my stats. We laughed at the absurdity and turned off our computers. So far, I have received no emails myself, which is fine. As I said before, if any of these posts excite you, drop me a line – but for my Mom’s sake no 50-yr-old perverts please.

A winter poem

Blankets form of powder down
Tuffs of cloud swirl and shake
Coating limb, air and ground
Silent army of hueless flake.

Boots scrunch with ev’ry pass
My arms aloft to embrace
Darkness blott’d with chilling ash
Ice drops nuzzle ‘gainst my face.

Fire crackles somewhere near
Blankets smolder tempest cries
Yet snow and wind bring cheer
Storms swell, to break is to rise.