They say you can never go Home...

Soldiers of Sparta were allowed to return home after lost battles, only if carried dead upon their shields. I'm convinced this is a more practical and time-saving way to go about it.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Career Day

Several mornings ago, I awoke to the insistent klaxon of my alarm clock. This is normally my cue to slap it around for at least one additional half hour, to the end of gaining several, five-minute intervals of peace. Instead, I immediately crawled out of the warm envelope of my bed, showered, and dressed as if I were heading into the laboratory. It was Career Day at the middle school where my sister teaches, and I was to report early morning and talk about my extant career in cancer-related Biotechnology.

I wasn’t looking forward to the whole experience, chiefly because she teaches 5th graders, and I remember being in 5th grade altogether too well. At that age, you seem somehow less obligated to abide by certain social conventions. Which means, if your speaker happens to be obviously a little out of touch with his audience, and looks somewhat unconventional, they are free to yawn with supreme boredom and tell the speaker he looks like a giant penis head.

But I had promised my sister. So I grabbed my lab coat (still spotted with nasty stains from Freshman year in Organic Chemistry), a laboratory notebook, finished up a Powerpoint presentation, and drove in.

Now, you might be thinking at this point: “Em, Powerpoint, dude? That is exactly the sort of asinine miscalculation that guarantees you, an average, out-of-touch penis head, certain death at the hands of 5th graders. Do you really want your fragile Ego’s last gasp of air to be in a classroom smelling suspiciously of bologna? (To which, my responses would be You Might Be Right, and No, Not Really.)

But in this case, I was asked to make one. Did you know that Powerpoint has come to the young? Because I didn’t, and I’m kind-of surprised. Even though my sister’s school is in an economically-disadvantaged part of greater Tampa Bay, the classrooms are equipped with what is called a SmartBoard: a computer projects the image of its desktop upon the board, and the teacher can open, close, drag and click, simply by touching the board. Pretty cool stuff. (Fortunately for me, however, the thing was not functioning. This spared me the embarrassment of acting out my latent fantasies of serving aboard the Starship Enterprise, in the few minutes before the classroom flooded itself with the Impressionable Future of our Country.)

But I’m getting way off track here.

I arrived at school, where I was kindly ushered to the office to sign in, and when I arrived at the office, the Extremely Gorgeous Yet Unavailable Guidance Counselor (who was my age) guided me into an adjacent room, where she offered me OJ, coffee, and a Danish. I felt myself unclench a little bit, having decided that ANY school going to all this trouble to be hospitable certainly would not tow a certain fellow who had mistakenly parked his car in the Faculty Lot.

But, the long and the short of it, is that I stood up in front of 30 odd fifth graders and told them how much fun Science was. And the whole experience was really, really fun. I couldn’t believe how many questions they asked. (Did I do that as a kid?) I mean, they wanted to talk about everything. Cancer, DNA, AIDS. And what would happen if a dog and a cat tried to reproduce. I told them about ligers and they looked at me with such amazement. I showed them cross-sections of tissue stained with various cancerous-elucidating agents, and they were simultaneously grossed-out and fascinated.

One of the little girls raised her hand and asked me “Did you know you wanted to be a scientist when you were little?”

It was one of those moments where a couple items popped into head at the same time.

I thought first of my 6th grade friend Justin (who had the modest beginnings of Tourettes, I think), who, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, looked specifically around for his mother, and having located her, screamed “I WANT TO BE A PIMP!” I still remember the way his mom’s head whipped around to face him, the Scowl of Death etched across her face.

I also remembered wanting to be a veterinarian.

But I answered the question, employing the use of several platitudes that do not belie the frequent reality of life—that reality being, that the vast majority of us do things that we either 1) don’t want to do, in pursuit of other things we do want to do someday or 2) do things because it was easy at the time and it was just easier to stick with it or 3) become slaves to the idea of living a comfortable material life and live with jobs we hate, stomachs that digest themselves under stress, and livers that swell under the influences of alcohol or antidepressants.

I believe the platitude I employed was “You should follow your heart and do what you feel excited about, understanding that it can change.”

I don’t really know if they got it.

But I did. I heard myself saying the words and wondered why it was that I wasn’t, at this very moment, following my own advice.

I briefly paralled this experience with kids to the same kind of growth that occurs in psychologists’ offices. That is, how the right line of questioning can jar one to a better understanding of something, and through it, hopefully, a sort of self-realization.

Which ultimately made me realize, having avoided it so judiciously, I must actually make a few decisions very, very soon.