Tuesday, May 28, 2013

On What Makes Me Feel Alive

You've seen this quote by now, right? On Pinterest or Facebook or Instagram? I encourage you to read the whole post, but the gist is this:
Being a geek is all about your own personal level of enthusiasm, not how your level of enthusiasm measures up to others. If you like something so much that a casual mention of it makes your whole being light up like a halogen lamp, if hearing a stranger fondly mention your favorite book or game is instant grounds for friendship, if you have ever found yourself bouncing out of your chair because something you learned blew your mind so hard that you physically could not contain yourself — you are a geek.

As I sit on the brink of a time of beautiful, blissful unknown, I'm thinking about these things: What makes me tick? What makes me come alive? What am I really passionate about, as cliche as that sounds?

The answer, it turns out, is starting to take vague form as I spend my Memorial Day afternoon with my nose buried in a book: one of my first loves. In fact, if I had to sum up my favorite childhood memories in one sentence, I would say that I was happiest playing outside at twilight, reading a book, or helping in the kitchen. Is this accurate, Mom? Oh, and if family home videos are any indication, I also spent the majority of the summer of 1992 "helping" my mom take care of my baby brother.

Can that much change? I love exerting myself to the extent that I feel heart-thumpingly alive, gulping fresh air and becoming acutely aware of my own pulse. Twilight leaves me simultaneous happy and nostalgic and makes me long for a backyard to play in. The alchemy and art of baking is my go-to stress relief. Babies never fail to make my very heart feel a little lighter and more hopeful.

The only love I didn't really discover until later was the ocean. My first experience was with the brown shores of the Gulf near Houston and tears, screams, and heart palpitations ensued until my dad picked me up and held me safe in his arms above the dirty water which was surely, in my solidly Midwestern mindset, teeming with creatures who wanted to eat me. The only name I could give them at the time was sharks, which I had little knowledge but great fear of, probably thanks to the fact that The Little Mermaid was my favorite Disney movie. (I even had the accompanying book memorized and I remember telling my friend's big sister that I could read it to her, when really I was just reciting it by heart.)

Then for some unknown reason, I signed up to go to Seacamp in the Florida Keys in high school, saved up my paper route money, and found myself facing the very thing I used to be terrified of. There I found that the more I knew about the sea, the less scary it became. Indeed, I find that an ocean fix every few years reinvigorates me. Few things make me happier than salty air and the sound of waves lapping the shore.

So. Babies + ocean = working as a travel NICU nurse in Hawaii, right? Obviously my dream job. (I wish!)

But really, my interests allow for a lot of interesting combinations.

Biology is beautiful. Few things compare to the lightbulb moment that occurs when you finally glimpse the breadth and depth of the pathophysiologic symphony explaining the signs and symptoms you see in a textbook case living and breathing before you in the exam room.

Literature is beautiful. I recently re-read The Great Gatsby and the great American novelists remind my just how far I have to go to call myself a writer in any true sense. Words on a page hold great power and the true masters have harnessed great joy and grief in black and white type over they centuries.

Life is beautiful. It's no less stunning in the miracle of sprouting seeds able to produce a veritable cornucopia of culinary variety when exposed to sunlight and water, than it is in the first human heartbeat, visible on ultrasound at six weeks. I'm in awe every day that anything ever goes right in nature when growth of any kind requires millions of small and large interactions and reactions and offers thousands of chances for error along the way.

History is beautiful. Anthropology was an unanticipated and enjoyable discovery, threaded throughout my honors courses in college and opening my eyes to just how big this world is. Yet, even a thorough evaluation of your own personal history gives pause and takes the pressure off of every moment of this present life. From learning about your grandma's childhood to tracing your own genealogy to the point at which you can identify yourself with a particular region of the world and a particular combination of genetics and a particular culmination of world events that all contributed to making you uniquely who and where you are today, there's always more to learn.

Finally, I'm happy to digest all things pregnancy and childbirth related. And those NICU babies... the moment I can get a parent to understand the what's and whys of their baby's condition and help them bond in a way they hadn't before... those are the moments that job was worth it.

I'm so far from a personal expert, but these things really fascinate me. Honestly, a lot of the lines between travel, food (from planting to harvesting to rendering edible), writing, giving life, saving lives, and living my own life don't feel all that distinct to me.

My go-to books for leisure reading and re-reading often fall between fact and fiction: Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan, and Bill Bryson take up their fair share of valuable bookshelf space in our one-bedroom apartment. I feel alive, albeit a bit vicariously, when I read their words and feel like I'm a part of their experience. Or when the potential to be a part of a similar experience is re-discovered within me.

How is it that Michael Pollan can make gastronomic anthropology so easily digestible, as it were, for the general consumer? And how, exactly, can Bill Bryson cover the vast domain between a Midwestern childhood, travel writing, Shakespeare, and, in fact, a Short History of Nearly Everything (quantum physics and all) and manage to make me laugh out loud while reading? These are people who truly love what they do and do what they love.

I don't know if these passions can culminate into one amazingly fortuitous and prosperous career. I don't know that they should, really. It's just good to remember sometimes. (And if I could just manage to find some sandy shoreline near all the people I love, everything would be even sweeter.)

1 comment:

  1. Were those not the best of times ! Some point of each day was enjoyable.
    Playing outside, reading books and baking/cooking together. And you did love to dance or do gymnastics often : )
    Oh I miss those days !
    Thanks for reminding me, Therese !