Saturday, August 24, 2013

Take note, there's still a hole in your heart

When I was little – and I mean really little, round 5 – I was obsessed with space. It was basically my first fandom. I kept a scrapbook filled with articles and fact sheets about the moon landing and satellite launches, the planets and constellations. My parents took me to the planetarium, a lot, and it always thrilled me to bits.

I wanted to be an astronomer.

It’s an interest that stayed with me throughout the years. We have a variety of telescopes, and we use them fairly regularly. I’ve stayed up late and woken up early for eclipses, meteor showers, comets and planetary alignments in their various forms. I can tell direction based on the position of constellations (in the southern hemisphere at least) and I can always spot Orion or Scoprio with no difficulty (the latter mainly thanks to Antares.) Back in the days of Windows 95, I had a computer program that charted star positions based on the co-ordinates you gave it - it seemed pretty high tech back then. Ah, life before GPS.

It sounds faintly ridiculous, but I love the night sky. One of my favourite things used to be lying in our driveway, listening to my ipod and just staring at the stars…while my dog ran around the garden like a mad thing. I never see the stars where I live now – it’s my only complaint about my living situation. London is much too big and bright for any decent stargazing. It’s quite sad, really. Particularly because these are entirely foreign stars to me, I don’t know them at all.

Being an astronomer never really felt like a real job, somehow, so I toyed with the idea of being a marine biologist for a bit – like a lot of girls seem to do. But if I’m honest, I didn’t really have that much interest in marine life. I just liked the mammals and the beach. Anyway, I get so seasick, it would never have been a viable option.

Then, of course, I wanted to be a pilot. This was the only concrete “career” goal I ever had. It made sense because I’d spent so much time around planes and airports. I love everything about those things – not the commercial, passenger side of it, but the behind the scenes stuff that goes into making the propulsion of a huge, heavy object into the air a viable transport option. I think planes are beautiful things, the engineering that goes into it is magnificent. But actually flying a plane? Well, it didn’t really seem like something I’d enjoy. And besides, it’s stupidly expensive and requires a level of math skill that moving across continents had left me incapable of achieving.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – having reached that part of the year where I have to evaluate all my life choices – and it’s interesting that I ended up studying what I did. All of these interests, they’re all scientific. And physics was one of the subjects I found most interesting in high school, though I couldn’t really grasp the math side of it that well.

I think people often neglect how closely tied science and philosophy actually is. Physics, in particular, is strewn throughout humanities theory and I found having an understanding of it to be more beneficial during my undergrad studies than anything else I did at school. Because of course I went on to do a humanities degree – what else? Flying was out of the question and the thing I was best at was writing. That was effortless and easy, it made sense to study that. Misguidedly dreaming of being a music journalist or a travel writer, always on the move and indulging in the things I love most.

Sometimes I can’t understand why I did it. Why not history, which I also loved and kicked ass at? Why not archaeology or something like that? Somehow writing seemed like the sensible choice back then, the failsafe option that would definitely have a job waiting at the other side of it. Which, granted, it did but…well, it’s not like I’m doing that now, is it? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret it. I often say how useless my degree is but I don’t think it was a waste of time. I’m one of those people who think learning is never a waste of time, even if it is very obscure things you’re learning (that said, some of my subjects were profoundly useless – the weird fashion one where we were applying cultural theory to clothes and shopping malls comes to mind.) But in terms of actually helping me find a job that I enjoy, the degree doesn’t do much. Publishing is really not for me, the idealistic journalism that I believed in before I started uni doesn’t exist. And it bores me to tears. That is the biggest problem. Writing for other people is a chore I do not enjoy and I am not particularly good at doing things I’m told to do. Yes, my degree is broader than straight journalism, but I’m so jaded when it comes to media, I can’t really face anything in that field and that's really what my degree is set up for.

So, then, here we are. Plotting the next step in my life. I actually enjoy my current job, surprisingly. It involves a lot more html code than I’d ever have thought I’d deal with on a daily basis. But it’s not a job that really exists back in Australia. I’m applying for a PhD because it’s something I’ve wanted since I was 6 and my mum first took me to her old university (I have always been a nerdy child, what can I say). Academia feels natural, easy, it’s something I can do pretty confidently. Whether I actually want to do it…I don’t know. Everything gets very tricky and bogged down in semantics if you think about it too long. Somewhere in the background processes of my mind, I’ve also idly thought about doing another bachelor’s degree. Something more like history or archaeology or linguistics. But do I really need another degree I’ll likely not use? Or more student debt? I think not.

It would be fun though.

Maybe I should do a science degree. One of my friends from undergrad has gone on to do biology after realising that marketing just wasn’t cutting it for her, so I know it’s not unusual. It’s the math element that worries me – it’s been 7 years since I studied math in any capacity and even back then I wasn’t great at it. I can’t imagine being any good at it now and I’ll probably have to pass some sort of entry exam to get into a degree like that. But then my perception of being good at something is completely effed up – I say I suck at math but my results were in the 70% range. I think I could probably do a physics degree, I’d have to put in a lot of work, a lot more than I’ve ever had to in my academic life, and then I think my results would probably come in around the credit region, 2:2, that kind of thing. I don’t know if I can face being that mediocre at something. It’s not in my nature to accept it.

See, this is when my perfectionism raises its ugly head. I’ve never persisted in anything I wasn’t immediately good at because I cannot bear the thought of failure. And nothing I do is ever really good enough on a personal level so when I’m actually not great at something, it’s like it physically hurts me. That’s why I never stuck with learning a musical instrument or drawing. And how’s this for warped, I don’t like taking lessons in something I’m not already fairly confident at doing because I don’t like people supervising me. So basically, I’ll try to teach myself but I’m not naturally inclined to the task at hand, so I struggle and then I give up. Because giving up is better than sucking, even if my idea of sucking is way different to a normal persons’ idea of sucking, right? Right. I can’t play Tchaikovsky's piano concerto no 1 the first time I sit down at a piano? This is an outrage! I’ll never be any good at this, why bother! *kicks over piano* I know it’s not healthy or useful, and I try really hard to not be like that. But it’s part of who I am, I can’t control it. I’m way better than I used to be, mind, waaaaay better, yet I can’t seem to get over it completely.

I just don’t see the point in doing something if you’re not going to excel at it – what are you trying to achieve? And I know if I worked hard, I could probably learn to be good at some things, but I’m lazy. Being clever makes you laaaaazy. I cruised through my academic career, like I said before I found it pretty easy. And I’d always feel guilty listening to other people talk about how much they’ve studied or worked throughout the year, and still not doing that well. If I do a science degree, I fear that will be me. I have very little faith in my ability to bear that.

This makes me sound horrible and vain and conceited – I don’t think I am. I hope I'm not. It's just that there are certain things I’m used to, around which my identity is constructed, and it gets problematic when that frame of reference is removed.

So, yeah. I don’t know. This ramble hasn’t really helped me clear anything up. But I don’t blog nearly as much as I used to so I guess I can allow myself the odd pointless, meandering, TL;DR outburst. Woo.

Music: Dancepack - Volcano Choir


  1. Dude, I totally feel you on this! Minus out astronomer, pilot and marine biologist and stick in zoologist and bam! same thing.

    I've also been contemplating a second undergrad degree of a more sciencey nature. I want to do wildlife conservation. But everything you have said, your doubts and concerns, are identical to mine.

    I never thought I'd end up in PR. I don't like journalists and the way I have to guard every tiny thing I say. I like the writing and the animals. The conservation and feeling like I'm making a difference. I think you could give me just about any job within the organisation and I would enjoy it.

    Anyway, point is I think this is normal. Rach did marketing then when she was about 27 or 28 realised she wanted to go into naturopathy. She's studied part time since around 30 and is just about qualified now. Life is so short but so long too. We can do what we want, Thor!

  2. "And I know if I worked hard, I could probably learn to be good at some things, but I’m lazy. Being clever makes you laaaaazy."

    Mm I see a lot of truth in this. Thanks for expressing it so well.

    And the lack of stars in London is one of the few downsides to the city I am prepared to admit. It's sad.

    1. I find it really hard to admit but laziness is the only way I can explain it!