Author: Allison

My Current Headspace

Allison, your local list-maker extraordinaire.

Recently, I’ve been making lists of the things that I spend time thinking about, just to have a log of my daily experiences. Here’s an abbreviated list of my current headspace.

  1. Will I ever get over the fact that I am currently living the very life that I dreamed about when I was in high school? Will any of this ever feel real?
  2. There should probably be more dogs in my life.
  3. Happy crying scares people just as much as normal crying; I should probably stop doing that.
  4. That guy I saw on the ferry three years ago who had on a business suit but when he sat down his bright blue polka dot socks stuck out from under his pants. Does he wear zany socks on a regular basis or was he just running low on clean laundry that morning? Does he even still have the same job that makes him commute into Manhattan?
  5. I’m starting to like chocolate ice cream and this isn’t a character development I’m open to at this point in my life.
  6. How can I possibly ever learn all of the chemistry that the grad students I’m working with seem to know?
  7. I should probably go to a doctor.
  8. Yikes.
  9. How many dogs is too many dogs? (Probably about a hundred.)
  10. I never drink enough water.
  11. I could shave my head and get five tattoos, like, today.
  12. I know I’m the same person as when I was 14, so why is it so disorienting to see a photo of myself from that age and realize that the girl in the pictures looks just like me?
  13. When did I become the type of person who puts on pants when I check the high for the day and see that its “only 87”?
  14. How many times can I say “y’all” before it stops being ironic?
  15. I need to stop spending money.
  16. I’m bad at maintaining old friendships.
  17. I should probably read more books but also I just want to sleep constantly.

Coming Home.

By Allison, your local frequent flyer.

So, back to Texas again.

I am beginning to measure my life in airports and delayed flights and taxiing on a tarmac. There is energy in the crowds of people passing through an airport, all traveling somewhere new or returning somewhere familiar, moving with purpose yet dragging with a familiar weariness. I have flown a lot in the past year, between New York and Texas; I have learned the inside of the Dallas-Forth Worth airport, I know where to find the Starbucks with the shortest line in Newark.

The greatest moments of reflection in my life seem to find me precisely when an airplane picks up speed and its wheels leave the runway, pulling me away from a city that I love. At that very movement, in waves of excitement and fear, I realize how much I am always leaving behind, how much I am always coming home to. Because Texas has become home now, in a way. It houses eighteen year old me, and my nineteen year old self, containing all of the memories that I have formed in this past year, cradling my growth and maturity. It doesn’t know my childhood, it doesn’t store the endless memories that Staten Island always will. It is not New York, it is not the fullness of eighteen years of identity, but still, my life has taken root here and I have given away parts of me that New York can never claim as its own.

So, I fly between New York and Texas, Texas and New York, traveling ceaselessly and dividing my existence between such different places. Weeks and months pass but I find myself seated on another plane, spanning the two thousand miles in a few hours, and, yet no matter what direction I find myself traveling, I am always coming home, I am always leaving home.

How to Cry Gracefully in Public and Other Useful Tips

By Allison.

Sometimes it’s a Wednesday morning amidst a very difficult week and you wake up with bad hair and you can’t find clean socks and you have three exams before 1 pm. You are awake at 7 am to study for these exams and you open your backpack to discover that there is a smashed banana at the bottom of your bag, effectively coating every single one of your books in banana guts.

This is a reasonable time to cry in public. Perhaps it’s even the proper time to cry in public.

However, there are certain aspects of this experience which ought to be handled with proper conduct so as to make your public and inevitably embarrassing emotional breakdown less unpleasant, both for you and the innocent bystander.

  1. Do not wear liquid eyeliner if there is more than a 0.5% chance that you will cry that day. The Laws of Nature and Black Eyeliner ensure that you will cry should there be even the slightest opportunity for tear shed. Do not test this law, it will win.
  2. If you must cry in a public and humiliating fashion, bring a friend. The general public will feel less inclined to make awkward gestures of comfort if they believe you are already being aided by someone with more personal experience helping you cope with your emotions. If a friend is unavailable, do not seek a classmate whom you do not know well and may have to maintain contact with in the future; this interaction will scare them and make sitting together in CHE 3332 weird. Try to find a stranger, preferably one who is transferring to a different university next semester. Allow them to offer you uncomfortable words of solace; they may try to pat you on your back, be prepared.
  3. Under no circumstances should you wail. Cry silently.
  4. If a professor should approach you to ask what is wrong, do not tell them about the smashed banana incident. It will seem like a normal story in your mind; it will not seem like a normal story when you begin to share the experience aloud. Well adjusted people do not wind up with smashed bananas in their backpacks. Be a well adjusted person.
  5. If you can manage to make it appear as though your tears are caused by allergies, or perhaps overwhelming joy, do this. Be prepared to tell someone you have the flu or are sensitive to sunlight.
  6. Call someone on the phone. Strangers will be less inclined to become involved in your personal disaster if you are occupied by a phone call. If you do not have a reliable friend who will pick up the phone, pretend to be speaking to your mother.
  7. Seek a private area immediately. Avoid bathroom stalls, as your cries will echo.

To Become A Scientist

By Allison.

This is monumental, sacred almost, a holy moment of convergence. Years of waiting, years of believing that I would one day become a scientist merge into this moment. I stand before an NMR machine. This is a thing that has been relegated to textbooks, to exams, to hypothetical situations of scientists and lab coats and latex gloves that were so unlike my experiences up until this moment. The machine is some seven feet tall, a massive metallic cylinder, crisp and new like it had landed in this room mere moments ago.

NMR is a qualitative assessment used to determine the identity of an unknown compound; its incredibly common in organic chemistry research. The machine takes a minuscule amount of compound and spits out a squiggly readout, not unlike an EKG of an erratic heartbeat. Each spike in the readout correlates to protons in the compound; a skilled reader can determine what compound they’re working with from the NMR test. I knew of NMR from textbooks, I had answered questions correctly on exams about these spectra, clinging to the hope that one day my life would be filled with organic chemistry, real organic chemistry in a laboratory filled with beakers and acids and whirring machines. My hope to be a chemist has long inspired me to take science classes, but my love for science was always a distant thing, like a language I was in love with but couldn’t speak. I read about chemistry but I never touched the compounds I spent so long learning about; I knew the six strong acids and I memorized mechanisms for countless reactions, but everything remained distant, theoretical.

I spent my junior year of high school studying the basics of organic chemistry and my love for the subject carried me to this very moment, where this tenacious love transformed into something real. My professor and I are running NMR on a compound we made together from hours of reactions and planning. It is a trivial thing in research to run this spectra, a pitstop to make sure a reaction has progressed well. But still, something like relief washes over me as we wait for the readout to show up on my professor’s computer. I am just as in love with this as I always thought I would be; I am just as obsessed with this science when it correlates to a day spent in a laboratory instead of hours pouring over a textbook.

At the beginning of this semester I approached an organic chemistry professor at Baylor and practically begged to be let into his lab. I didn’t have any laboratory experience, I hadn’t yet taken organic chemistry in college, and I was barely clinging onto an A in my general chemistry course. But still I asked. And after a moment of hesitation and a skeptical glance at my nose ring and messy ponytail, he agreed to work with me. And so, twice a week, chemistry became real. My love for science blossomed into beakers and pipettes and acetone. It is a difficult transition to have only known organic molecules as geometric drawings on a piece of paper. In real life they are mostly orange and yellow liquids, sometimes they are white powders. Hexane is no longer only a string of six squiggled lines in my notebook; it is a clear liquid that cleans beakers incredibly well. Yet, I love hexane all the same.

And so, standing before the NMR machine washes me with excitement for my future. This is it. This is what I’ve always wanted. For me, science has finally become more than theoretical knowledge, as the NMR machine seems to lift it from the pages of the textbook, transform it into a tangible and practical thing.

The semester is almost over now and I have spent many hours in the lab with my professor. We’ve completed frustrating experiments and failed experiments, but I have learned much and I have fallen in love with the quiet moments in a lab, the distinct smell of organic compounds, and the promise of a future in a white coat. What I have always wanted to love has become what I truly do love: the laboratory, protective glasses, and the orange tint of organic molecules swirling in a beaker.

On I-35, Again.

By Allison.

It takes an even ninety minutes to reach Austin from Baylor’s campus. The trip is spent almost entirely on I-35, the highway practically slicing off the edge of my campus and continuing south, tracing a nearly straight line to Austin. There is little between the two cities, there are cows and trees and gas stations, little towns cropping up and disappearing almost as quickly as they formed. Fast food signs light up the highway more than lampposts in some areas. Traffic cones periodically slow the cars to a slow, steady rhythm, eighteen wheelers and pick up trucks crowd the lanes; otherwise the traffic hurtles past at 75 miles per hour.

Erica and I know distance well. We have waited months to see one another, we have spent hours on Skype, planning our next adventure in lieu of actually spending time together. Late night conversations were almost entirely restricted to text messages; we rarely got to stay up late together while in the same state, let alone room. We know distance because distance has formed our friendship. We have found frustration in the 2,000 miles that divide California and New York, we have felt impatience in the months that have created discontinuity in our interactions.

So it felt upsettingly familiar that college, too, meant different campuses and different experiences, bound together by the tenacious determination to keep our lives intertwined. Erica has established friends in Austin, she has made memories that I will never experience, she has a life carved out for herself 100 miles south of me. I, too, have my own life; professors she will never meet and friendships and laughter that she does not partake in, moments that occur without her.

But we have meet at this intersection of a Texan experience, unsure why so many people wear cowboy boots and love Whataburger. We eat In-n-Out when we are together; we are unable to cope with the stifling heat. We take buses to visit each other and beg friends to let us hitch rides so that we can see each other, just for a weekend, just for a short moment. Our friendship has grown to include Texas, though we are often foreigners in an unfamiliar place; our existence has been colored by this vast state, this new culture.

A hundred miles can sometimes feel like an eternity, but telephone wires and car engines seem to press the distance inwards, collapsing mile after mile until it takes nothing more than a few seconds, nothing more than ninety minutes, to travel the distance, there and back, there and back, and though we find ourselves apart, forever separate, dropped in the cities of Waco and Austin, we are never truly separated.

Headlights

By Allison.

It was two a.m., and I was sitting in my car outside Ben’s house, the headlights providing just enough light for us to see the silhouettes of each other’s faces. The ten minute car ride between our homes always seemed to provide enough time to delve into a deep conversation and we had spent countless summer nights stalling in front of his house and talking. We talked about college and our goals and the people we wanted to become. We talked about our messy families and our confusing friendships and our need to move somewhere new. We talked until the summer dusk turned to a dark night, fighting over who had better taste in music and who should control the radio, laughing over our endless inside jokes, praying that the moments we shared together wouldn’t end.

This had become a summer ritual, sitting in the car at some ungodly hour, Ben silencing calls from his mother so that we could talk for just a few more minutes. We shared things that we had never told anyone else, we talked about things we didn’t dare discuss with our other friends. It became a sanctuary, the car, the stillness of night, the knowledge that our lives were deeply, deeply similar and that whatever was said would somehow make our friendship more dynamic, more fluid. We weren’t afraid to share what was going on because the other person always understood, always accepted even when they could not empathize.

But then college rolled around, and Ben headed up to Boston while I flew to Texas. Our night time talks became relegated to Skype calls and long texts, but the endless demand of exams and papers threatened even that precious time. Ben ran from meeting to meeting every day and was caught in a cappella rehearsal while I slaved over chemistry problems and calculus. Our schedules turned our friendship into brief texts and intermittent phone calls. Thanksgiving break was a much needed relief from the strain of a long distance friendship. We quickly fell into our usual patterns; hanging out all day and testing the limits of how late we could talk before one of our parents would demand we return home.

We turned to talking about school, about the semester, how much we had accomplished, how much we still wanted to accomplish. Lofty words dripped from our lips, the names of prestigious fellowships and graduate programs floated around the in the darkness of car. Law school and medical school danced around us and PhDs seemed to wrap themselves around our laughter, the promise of growth and development both terrifying and invigorating.

And so we sat in the car, talking about grand futures, yet I felt discouraged, so far from the things that I wanted. I was dragging through a chemistry class that was a far cry from organic chemistry research. Ben, filled with hopes to pursue entirely different goals, couldn’t understand why I would so badly want to spend my life in a laboratory, but he encouraged me as if chemistry were his own passion. He told me to boldly pursue what I wanted; he told me doors weren’t opening simply because I wasn’t trying to find out if they were locked before I walked away. I wasn’t doing research, he reminded me because I had never asked anyone to let me work in their lab. He talked for almost an hour, reminding me how far I had come from my days of being at Tech, and how far I could still go, if only I started to take hold of the things in front of me.

The ringing of his phone and his mother’s pleas for him to come inside interrupted our talk and he slipped into his house; I turned on the car engine and pulled away from the curb, the sudden silence giving me room to digest everything he had said. The red glow of a streetlight flooded my car as I idled at an intersection, my thoughts suddenly filled with hope about how much I could accomplish in the short time left in my first semester, how I could set up my second semester of college to be what I really wanted. Inspired and encouraged, filled with the confidence that has always come from this friendship, my fears about the future seemed to fall out of my car, left scattered across the road under the blinking streetlight.