Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book Review: A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius

Generally when I become clued in about a new author I try to read their work in the order in which they published it. I guess there is no real reason other than I like to see the evolution of the writer as it occurred, their interests, style etc. I do not always succeed at doing this, as is the case with Dave Eggers. The first book of his that I read was Zeitoun, followed a few months later by What is the What? I recently got a copy of his memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I was going to read it in Germany, but then I didn't. I had good intentions. Anyway, I just got around to reading it and now I feel conflicted.

Conflicted because I'm somewhat in awe of Eggers' ability to put his subject's voice at the front of his other books, when the memoir shows that his own voice is so strong. The author's voice in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is nothing like the voices you get in Zeitoun and What is the What? I think I'm just having a hard time reconciling the fact that all of these books were written by the same person. I'm also not sure which voice it is that I find the most appealing. Eggers as he presents himself in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is simultaneously appealing, astounding, and revolting and you know he did that on purpose.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a memoir, so as such it chronicles the period in Eggers' life right before the deaths of his parents and the years following in which he takes over the responsibility of raising his younger brother. Eggers has a lot of self loathing going on, and while I love his honesty his feelings about writing about himself hit a little too close to home for me. They made me uncomfortable because I had to think about things I didn't want to think about. Writing about yourself is weird. Writing about the people you know is even weirder, especially if they are going to find out you've been writing about them. I joke all the time with my parents that I'm going to turn their lives in a book and that is what is going to win me my first Pulitzer and launch my career. Eggers didn't win the Pulitzer for this one, but it was a finalist. He did something I've always jokingly yet seriously considered doing and it freaked me out.

The only piece of writing I've ever done about myself and my family was to write down my September 11th story. We all have one and with 10 years separating me from those events I felt the need to have it written down somewhere. I pitched it, felt guilty about possibly benefiting from a story about a tragedy and about my family, and was more than a little relieved about the rejections that came back to me. Then I also felt rejected by the rejection and was sad that a story that meant so much to me wasn't going to be heard. I think you can see the same mixture of emotions taking place in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Although Eggers' story ended up quite successful.

My perception was that he desperately wanted the story to matter to someone other than himself. I feel like that is perhaps a characteristic of all writers, we want what matters to us to matter to you. More so when we are talking about ourselves. My story of September 11th and of my relationship with my parents feels like the most important story I have to tell. But the idea that what is so important to me wouldn't matter to anyone else, and is not even comparable to the tragic tales of the rest of the 6 billion people in the world makes my feelings about the story fall flat. Then again, despite all of Eggers self-flagellation about everything his book was really well received. Perhaps because we all enjoy watching a car crash. All of us are voyeurs, we cannot help but be curious to peer inside the tragedies of others. But that still doesn't make my story matter.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius left me feeling unsettled. It is brilliantly brutal. It reads the way I'd like to someday be able to write. It also reads like the diary of someone with more than a few screws loose. I find this impossible to reconcile with the pitch perfect precision of Zeitoun. I now feel like I need to go read everything else by Eggers in an attempt to understand someone I will never actually know. He is not just the author, he is his own character, and I cannot help but be compelled to continue as a voyeur. I want the author's voices to make sense, but perhaps there is no way for it to make sense. Perhaps the beauty of the whole experience is in seeing the author's ability to unleash himself with such incredible force in one book, and disappear completely into the background in another. Regardless, I'm impressed and I recommend his work highly.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Final Countdown: Closing Time

Tonight is my last night in Madison. I've said a lot of goodbyes in the last week, but none that felt particularly adequate. Most people just got a half hearted wave before I ran away, if you were very lucky you got a hug before I ran away. I'm not very good at goodbye indefinitely. It might actually be worse than goodbye forever. So, I've decided to take to the blog once more to try to say goodbye.

I vividly remember walking through the security line at Newark airport sobbing because I didn't want to leave New Jersey. My friends were there. My family was there. All I knew was life on the East Coast. That first time that I had to get on the plane alone and fly to Wisconsin was the hardest. Every flight after got a little bit easier, to the point where I was happy to head back to Wisconsin. That change happened due to the people I now count among my friends. It happened because of the places here that I came to love. That change happened because I changed.

Sometimes it is hard to explain what I gained in Wisconsin without making my life in New Jersey seem lacking. That certainly isn't the case. The bulk of my support system is in New Jersey, my family and the good friends who came along on this ride with daily gchats, emails, texts, and phone calls. They are the people who matter most to me, and I couldn't have done any of this without their support, advice, and encouragement. But that being said, my time in Wisconsin was truly everything I never knew I needed.

I didn't realize how close I was to giving up on journalism and science writing. It has been my dream to write about science since I was a kid, but in 2010 I was ready to give up. After the graduate school rejections, a full year of fruitless job searching, and working my ass off for free I came to Wisconsin on my last legs hoping dearly that journalism school would save the dream I saw imploding. It didn't, particularly. Don't get me wrong, I learned a lot. But classes themselves are not the stuff that dreams are made of. People make dreams. What saved mine was the professors who told me that my voice matters and is strong, the classmates who pushed me forward sharing my frustrations and successes, the wonderful journalists and speakers who gave me their attention and shared advice, and all the other people who remind me everyday on Twitter and on this blog and theirs why I love doing what I do. All of you contributed to bringing my dream back from the brink.

When people ask what comes next for me and I tell them I'm job hunting the answer I almost always get is "good luck, it's tough out there." Yes, it is. But I'm tough too. I'm more determined than ever to break into this field. Sometimes there are no open doors or windows, sometimes you have to burrow under a wall or scale the roof to get in. Sometimes you have to wait, or go back and draw up a new plan. I will not stop writing. I will not stop meeting people, or chasing the stories that interest me. I hope someone will pay me to do so, but if that doesn't happen for a while I'll just keep doing it on the side. I'll keep trying. That is what I promise all of the people who have supported me and who believe that I can do this. I'll keep trying. Wisconsin, the people I met, and the experiences I had living out here gave me the strength to try and to keep trying. I feel like I've gotten a part of myself, the feisty determined and confident part, back.

It is easier to leave a place, a time, a chapter in your life that you love and want to hold onto, when you know what comes next. I have no idea what comes next. Immediately I know that I'm moving back to New Jersey to stay with my parents until I find the kind of employment that comes with health benefits. But what that job will be, where it will be, and what I'm heading into, I don't have a clue. That sort of seems fitting though. I had no clue what I was getting into when I decided to move to Madison, picked an apartment site unseen and agreed to live with a total stranger. That stranger ended up being the single most encouraging and sympathetic person in my life here and I will miss my roommate immensely. She made me laugh more than any other person whether it was at her, with her or at myself.

There is something I love about the unknown. If life was always tied up nicely in little packages, all planned out according to what everyone expects you to do it would be insufferably boring. The unknown holds the promise of an adventure the details of which you can't see or understand. It is hard to say goodbye when you don't know what comes next, but not knowing is life's way of keeping things entertaining. You know I like to be entertained. So, it makes sense to me that I don't have it all planned and figured out. I think that the most interesting lives are the ones that meander, the ones that don't take a linear path. I want tremendously to succeed, but if I end up taking the long way to get there it will be okay. It might even be better than okay.

So tonight, as I look around my empty apartment, I propose a toast to dreams rekindled. To irreplaceable friendships forged over coffee and those Wisconsin beers. To going home again, better than when you left. To people who never let you forget that you matter. To getting what you need instead of what you want. To making your own opportunities. To the unknown. Cheers.

I'm so fortunate to have spent this part of my life in this place with these people. I wouldn't trade the depression and tears or the joy and laughter for anything. As much as we might want to slow time down and hold onto a moment, we have to let moments pass. My moment in Wisconsin has passed, and it's time to move on. On to the next adventure. There is a lot about Wisconsin that I'm going to miss dearly, but I'm ready to meet whatever comes next. So goodbye, and thank you.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Lessons From Neil deGrasse Tyson

On the day I attended the last college class of my higher education experience, I also attended a talk given by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. For me, it was my commencement. I've made the decision not to walk at graduation for a number of reasons chief among them that none of my colleagues are walking and it didn't make sense to me to do it alone. So I won't be getting the cap, gown, prominent speaker send off typical for most people who complete a Master's degree. Still, the University of Wisconsin-Madison gave me a great parting gift. The opportunity to sit at my favorite place on campus surrounded by other students on a gorgeous day and listen to a person whom I have admired for years talk about the future is the best goodbye I could have asked for.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist (please don't ask me to explain astrophysics further than saying it is physics in space) at the American Museum of Natural History but he is also an author, speaker, host, and even a meme. You might have seen him on the Colbert Report or the Daily Show throwing down some truth and clarity. He is eloquent, funny and honestly one of the people I admire most in the field of science communication. He pulls no punches, while still being extremely passionate about space and all the other STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.

The talk, which took place 5/10/12 on the Terrace here at UW-Madison, started with Tyson talking about the role science plays (or lack thereof) in our culture. He used the example of money, by asking us which scientists appear on U.S. currency. The answer is none. You can make the argument that Benjamin Franklin was a scientist, but his experiments are not what is highlighted on the $100 bill. He is there for his political achievements. This is just an example of the way as a culture we have not placed a strong emphasis on science.

Tyson then went into talking about the history of the U.S. interest in space exploration. He said that historically there are three reasons why people invest a lot of money in a risky exploration: fear of death, promise of economic return, and praise for royalty and deities. If you look at the U.S. push to get to the moon we were acting under #1 fear of death. Our investment in NASA and the space program had everything to do with the Russians and the Cold War. When the communist threat was gone, the space program started to decline. I think Tyson really drove home this point when he said that if the Chinese decided to declare that they were building military bases on Mars the U.S. would get ourselves on Mars within 10 months. We could if we wanted to, we just don't invest in the necessary programs. We need to feel threatened before we actually do anything, how very American of us.

After going through the history of the space program, Tyson started talking about the economy and why investment in space and science overall can help. People in general seem to have this impression that NASA gets a big chunk of the federal budget, but Tyson pointed out that if NASA actually got what people think it gets NASA would be rolling in it. The perception of the budget is pretty skewed. What I love most about Tyson is that he says things that just make sense. When talking about innovation he said that the way you keep jobs in the U.S. is by making things that no one else can. Well, duh. But then where is the big push to invest in innovation? We aren't doing ourselves any favors by not trying to invent. Perhaps my favorite line from his talk (which was full of quotable one-liners) was "If the dinosaurs had had a space program, you can bet they would have used it" basically about how to save us from ourselves.

Seeing a speaker like Neil deGrasse Tyson meant a lot to me. He lived up to the hype. I was impressed with the caliber of his ideas in addition to his stage presence and the great dynamic he developed with the audience. All of us sitting there, the sea of students strewn on the concrete in front of the stage, get to walk away from this year at UW-Madison having heard from a man who is without a doubt one of the biggest bad asses in science communication. I mean he paused at one point to tweet his own talk (@neiltyson) that takes some cojones and an awesome sense of humor. It was a great experience, and I can't wait to read Tyson's new book!

Also you should watch this because well, it is astounding:

Monday, May 14, 2012

The SA Incubator: Helping Hatch Science Writers Since July 2011

I am a baby chicken. Not literally of course, but figuratively speaking I am a little chick of a science writer. Fledgling, if you will. Continuing with this analogy, I recently left my incubator in the journalism school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and am now out in the world looking for work as a journalist. It is tough out here for a baby chicken, and any clips and exposure you can get have tremendous value. This is why I think it is downright wonderful that Scientific American has a blog in their network dedicated to new and young science writers.

Borrowing from the blog’s about description, the SA Incubator is, “a place where we explore and highlight the work of new and young science writers and journalists, especially those who are current or recent students in specialized science, health, and environmental reporting programs in schools of journalism.”

USAGOV-USDA-ARS via Wikimedia Commons
On the SA Incubator you can find profiles of new and young science writers, links to interesting work from these science writers (and others) chosen by the blog’s editors, profiles of student run science publications, and other assorted posts on topics of interest to writers who are just getting started.

I think you would be hard pressed to find a science writer who doesn’t aspire to see their name in Scientific American. Speaking from personal experience, having a profile dedicated to you and your work on a Scientific American blog is a thrill. It was an experience that I enjoyed so much that I wanted to learn more about why a publication like Scientific American would set aside such a great space on their network for someone like me. What is in it for them?

To answer that question, I turned to the Blogfather himself, Bora Zivkovic. The SA Incubator is written by Zivkovic, who is the Blogs Editor at Scientific American, and Khalil Cassimally, community manager of Nature Education’s Scitable blog network.

How Big Can It Be?
According to Zivkovic, there are a lot of reasons why the Scientific American network includes a blog about new and young science writers. One reason is the network’s size. When it launched in the summer of 2011, I remember being struck by the sheer volume of awesome that is included in Scientific American’s blog network. While it is a large network, there are still limits on how many blogs can be included. The cost, time and effort it takes to manage the network are obvious reasons why there would be a limit, but Zivkovic also pointed out that some of the value of having a network in the first place comes from it being of a limited size.

One of the coolest things about the Scientific American network is the diversity of writers and topics. If the network got any bigger, it would be difficult for the average person to read all of the posts. If the number of posts becomes daunting, the reader’s habits will change from browsing to more targeted reading. “Instead of at least occasionally checking out all of the bloggers they only focus on their favorites (some readers always will, but at least some don't) - thus the 'network effect' for bloggers is diminished,” said Zivkovic.

What does that mean for the SA Incubator? There simply isn’t space for everyone to have their own blog on the network. Therefore, creating a blog that includes a lot of work by a lot of people is a way to increase the number of voices in the network without it becoming completely overwhelming. It also gives Scientific American a chance to bring new members into the family of bloggers without diluting the existing community too much. According to Zivkovic, this helps maintain a balance between keeping the network fresh and diverse while still keeping it coherent and friendly. For the new and young science writers it is difficult to compete with more seasoned bloggers for a space in the regular network. The SA Incubator gives new and young writers a space where they can participate and be seen and heard without taxing the network.

For new and young science writers, the SA Incubator is also a way to have a presence in the network without having to take on the full responsibility of having your own blog. Zivkovic explained the juggling act new and young writers perform: “Many of the youngest writers are still in school, too busy with class assignments, or are in internships, or are too busy breaking into freelancing to be able to blog with regular frequency.” The SA Incubator gives these writers the opportunity to get noticed without adding to the stress and demands of finding your way as a journalist.

Getting Over The Wall, and Getting A Job
Another reason to include a blog for new and young science writers is because the job we do is so important, but so competitive and difficult to break into. There is a big difference between a general reporter and a science writer; the more skilled science writers we have out there, the better. When I think of science writers I admire and the good work that they do; good to me meaning factual, nuanced, interesting and true; I’m inspired and intimidated. Inspired because I really believe science writers can make a huge difference in helping people understand and appreciate science, and intimidated because the bar has been set very high. The more people we have out there combating the bad science coverage by debunking, clarifying, and explaining, the better. 

When journalists talk about this we tend to refer to it as the Push vs. Pull strategy. Essentially, it is the idea that if the general public isn't drawn to science stories on their own (pull) perhaps we can bring the science stories to them wherever they are (push). To be able to be able to pull people into places where they can access science content and also push out science content everywhere we can, we need a large well trained work force. Increasing the profile of new and young science writers and helping them get the opportunity to do this job is the value of the SA Incubator.

According to Zivkovic, helping get new and young science writers hired is part of the joy of running a blog like the SA Incubator. If you are looking to hire a science writer, you can find them at Scientific American on the blogs homepage, in the weekly linkfests, in the ScienceOnline interviews, on the Guest Blog and on the Incubator. As Zivkovic said, “Hire away! Let the good young writers infiltrate the media giants and transform them from within.”

For Zivkovic, giving new and young science writers a hand really is about community. To understand why, he recommended reading and watching Robert Krulwich’s commencement speech to the Berkeley Journalism School’s Class of 2011, which I too recommend. Krulwich talks about how to get over the wall that new writers face. The wall is what separates you from the journalists who actually get to do what you want to do.

Zivkovic isn’t a trained writer, but he started blogging about science back in 2004 anyway. He was invited to a blogging network in 2006. His job as Blogs Editor at Scientific American? Yeah, safe to say his blogging had something to do with that. This success story is something he attributes to the science blogging community. Blogging is what got Zivkovic over the wall, and now he is running the SA Incubator to help people like me figure out a way to pull themselves up over that same wall.

“These people became my community, my second family. It is that community that helped me every step of the way. They cheered me on. They hit my PayPal button when I was jobless. They pushed for me to get hired. They keep coming to ScienceOnline, they hug me at tweetups, they submit posts to Open Laboratory, they say Yes when I invite them to join the SciAm blog network, they were there for me all along and helped me climb over the wall. It's payback time. It is now my turn to help others climb that wall, too.” 

That is why he gets to be the Blogfather.

We’re In This Together
As if that isn’t enough, Zivkovic mentioned one other reason why he thinks the SA Incubator has value for the Scientific American blogs network, the concept of horizontal loyalty. Horizontal loyalty is a phrase borrowed from the Krulwich talk I mentioned earlier (seriously, go read it…after you finish this.) It is making something of yourself alongside people who are also trying to make something of themselves. Do it together. Make something. Be something. For Zivkovic, this is very much a part of why the SA Incubator exists.

“It is not so much about helping new writers get jobs in old media companies (though that helps pay bills for a little while). It is about helping them find each other, build relationships, build friendships, build start-ups, build a whole new science writing ecosystem that will automatically do both 'push' and 'pull' and reach everyone and displace bad science reporting from the most visible areas of the media, while providing them with a living,” says Zivkovic. “This requires a lot of them, but they need to know each other and work together toward that goal.”

So there you have it. The SA Incubator: Helping Hatch Science Writers Since July 2011. Creating a community for those of us who so badly want to be out there working alongside the more established writers to tell what I think are some of the most important stories there are. I was truly humbled to be counted among so many great science writers and be given a space on the SA Incubator. I wrote this post because I’m grateful for the chance to be included, but also because I really believe having a space for new and young science writers to connect and promote themselves is important. Baby chickens (and baby science writers too) all have to start somewhere.

Now, if you are a fellow fledgling science writer I know what you are thinking. You are thinking how can I get in on this? You can start by following, subscribing, etc. on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. You can start commenting on the blogs in the Scientific American network (Zivkovic reads all the comments.) You can also go the direct route and just introduce yourself. Send an email, pitch to the Guest Blog, or send Zivkovic a link to some of your work. A direct message on Twitter would work too; you can find him @BoraZ.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Social Media Tips from the Software Side of Things

This semester I've been taking a class in social media. For some people it might seem like a silly concept to sit for a few hours every week and talk about tweeting, but there is a lot that goes into being strategic online. By implementing some of the ideas I've been exposed to this semester I've definitely seen my social media presence grow. People actually say things to me on Twitter these days (@erinpodolak) and I'm starting to network, which is important since I'm currently in the market for a job. I've been doing a lot of listening on Twitter lately about how to use social media effectively, and how it can help you professionally. There are several schools of thought about these things, so to learn more I decided to ask someone who already has the job they want.

Kevin Newton is an eBusiness Software Architect for Serigraph, here in Wisconsin. He writes blog posts for his company to help maintain their social media presence, in addition to using social media as an individual for both personal and professional purposes. I'm constantly hearing people say that they have a Google+ and then don't use it (which would be my answer) but Newton says he uses Google+ almost exclusively for personal purposes, which is something I honestly haven't really considered doing. Newton has found value in LinkedIn for business, which I've heard some very mixed reviews on, and then uses Facebook as a mixture of the personal and professional.

Professionally, Newton has noticed that when blog posts go out on his company's Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ accounts there is a flurry of activity. They have gained new clients from this, which is a direct return on investment for the time they put into social media. How much time is that exactly? Newton says that for a few hours of effort each month, they see direct value coming from social media.

I recently posted about Facebook and asked whether or not it was a good idea to transition from a personal page to a professional page, or whether I should try to have both. For Newton Facebook became a hybrid because contacts from his personal life and his professional life both wanted to connect using the platform. However, he stressed the importance of watching what you do online particularly when you have contacts from different parts of your life all coming together.
"Where it has a bit of both I try to be very direct in my posts and my responses," says Newton "There are too many risks with things you cannot control when you have a mix. A friend that I have not spoken with for 20 years posts a rude picture or comment and it reflects poorly on me, so I try to distance myself from those risks." 
I think this is a good point, and not only if you are connecting with people from long ago. Even people who are currently a part of your life can post something inappropriate (or at least with the people that I know) so it is best to always be monitoring what appears on your profile. From my semester's worth of studying social media, the answer I have heard consistently regarding appropriate Facebook content is that you'd rather be safe than sorry. You don't want to lose job opportunities for a friend's comment.

Since I am currently among the hoards of people out there looking for a job, I asked Newton what kind of value social media has for those of us actively engaged in job searching. Newton advocated LinkedIn to help get yourself in front of employers, but he warned that you need to have the content to back up whatever skills you are offering potential employers or clients.
"You have to have something credible to speak about and you have to post often for it to be effective," says Newton. 
Newton also noted that in addition to having something of value to say, it is also important to be helpful. Answering questions is a way to establish yourself as an authority on a topic (so long as you have the right answers) and get noticed for what you know. One way you can accomplish this (which I've said before is currently the bane of my existence) is by commenting on other blogs to help people out. Although, Newton did caution that if you are currently employed you might want to check with your employer before jumping into the social media scene to offer advice and tips about what you do.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Farting Dinosaur Debacle

While I know everyone in the science writing community is tuned into this story, I can bet that among my personal friends and family I am the only one who has "farting dinosaurs" as an item on their to-do list. While the science media machine has given us plenty of "say what now?" moments I found this story and how it has been handled and covered in the media face palm worthy enough to warrant a closer look.

Did Dinosaurs fart themselves to death?
Apatosaurus louisae at the Carnegie Museum
via Wikimedia Commons
The quick answer is no. Was a paper released regarding dinosaur farts? You bet (In the journal Cell Biology.) Did it conclude that farting led to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs? No. Of course with the headline potential a story like this poses how could some in the media resist, truly? To draw conclusions about extinction and death when the topic of the paper is actually the amount of methane dinosaurs may have contributed to the atmosphere and thus climate change is misleading. In the media there has been the Fox News of it all whose headline "Dinosaurs 'gassed' themselves into extinction, British scientists say" goes right for the good stuff regardless of the paper's conclusions. There has also been the necessary debunking on blogs like PZ Myers' Pharyngula with "the reports of dinosaurs dying of farts are greatly exaggerated."

What the paper concludes is that the amount of methane released would have impacted climate. From the press release on this story: "Sauropod dinosaurs could in principle have produced enough of the greenhouse gas methane to warm the climate many millions of years ago, at a time when the Earth was warm and wet." What about that says dinosaurs died from farting? There has been plenty of media attention for this story, and certainly some more even keeled coverage that actually bases the headline on the climate conclusions. Some examples include Never Stand Behind a Dinosaur on Climate Central, Dinosaur Farts May Have Caused Prehistoric Warming on RedOrbit or It's A Gas: Dinosaur Flatulence May Have Warmed Earth on Yahoo/Reuters.

Another interesting aspect of this story is the fact that is was subject to an embargo break. For the non-journalists among us an embargo is when journalists are informed about a story but asked to hold it for one reason or another. This is a common practice and in general journalists tend to abide by it, but not always. Often in science journalism the story is embargoed until the release of the paper in whatever journal it is being published. For more on this embargo break, check out the blog EmbargoWatch which does a consistently good job of keeping track of such story breaks.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Final Countdown (Part IV): Time To Panic?

Dear readers, please excuse me while I have a quarter life crisis. We'll get back to your regularly scheduled science writing posts momentarily. The last few weeks have seen such a mix of emotions, that it seems necessary to collect them in a blog post as an update for my semester long series about graduation and saying goodbye to Madison. So here is a self indulgent list of all the thoughts ricocheting in my brain. My hope is that a post like this chronicling the weird, pathetic, and hopeful thoughts of a graduate, a graduate school graduate mind you, about to be turned loose in the world will be one that others can commiserate with. I'm taking this to a blog post just to tell you that you don't have to worry, there are other people out there freaking out. I am one of them.

  • I did not appreciate how amazing and wonderful the city of Madison is nearly enough. Now that I'm leaving it, now that the flight is booked, now is when I start to love it. 
  • Having attended a small private school and now a large state university I can say that they each provide a very different experience. I'm glad to have gotten a taste of both. 
  • The one thing I am dreading most about presenting my final portfolio to my peers is that in our presentation we have to include our "what's next" plans. I do not know what is next, but I take comfort in knowing that I will not be the only person up there who doesn't know what their future holds just yet. 
  • The last two years alleviated the sense of failure I felt at not getting a writing job in New York City. It made everything okay because I was a graduate student. Being a graduate student was not the solution to a problem, it was the postponement of a problem.
  • Everyone keeps telling me that I am young and I have time. I'm 24, and it is young, but its not that young. I was supposed to have traveled the world and written a memoir by now.
  • I am 24 and I have a Master's degree. So I didn't write the memoir, I wrote a lot of other things! That's pretty good right? Right. 
  • It makes me frustrated to see jobs that I really feel like I could be great at require years of experience. You are supposed to do internships to get experience, so why does everyone act like my four internships and two part time writing jobs held while going to school don't add up to three years of experience?
  • I do not know how to become "successful" in terms of finding a job that will pay my bills and make me a grown up and also become "successful" in terms of not abandoning my dreams and being happy. I desperately want them to be the same thing. I do not think I will get so lucky right out of the gate.
  • I do not know if being someone that everyone who has invested in me can be proud of, and being someone that I can be proud of are going to be the same thing.
  • How are you supposed to know the difference between following a dream that is a fool's errand and following a dream that you can really make happen? Perhaps I am just an inspired fool. 
  • The decisions I make now feel like they will impact forever. Everyone, including those older and wiser and those younger and wiser keep having to remind me that you can change your mind, change your job, change where you live, change who you know, and change what you know. 
  • I want to ride an elephant, go to borneo, get a tattoo and jump out of an airplane. The last two are much more likely to happen than the first two.
  • I also want to have a car, pay my rent, buy food, and otherwise be a grown up and stand on my own so my parents can retire in peace.
  • Does going back to a place mean you will go back to who you were when you were last there?
  • Who I am now and who I was when I left New Jersey is not the same person. I feel the most like me that I have in a long time. The only crisis I am not having is a crisis of self. I am confident, relaxed and certain that it will all work out while still being certain that I'm going to stumble along the way as it is inevitable. 
  • There are other people out there who are smarter than I am, who are better writers than I am, and who if I was doing the hiring I would probably hire before myself. These people understand how to properly use commas. I will probably never understand how to properly use commas. 
  • I am still smart, a good writer, and willing to work really hard. I am also still idealistic enough to believe that if you work really hard you can make things happen. 
  • I am one of the luckiest people I know. I have had such amazing opportunities, among them attending two highly respected universities. I am incredibly grateful to my parents for financing six years of education and for telling me to go after science writing with everything I've got.  Without them I would be living in a cardboard box with a sign that says "will write blog post for food." 
  • I am incredibly grateful to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for being everything I never knew I needed. There is really nothing like the insight and knowledge you can gain on a college campus, especially this campus. 
  • I don't know that I could ever get tired of the view from the Terrace. Honestly, I've never been on a more beautiful college campus, and I was very much in love with Lehigh's.
  • The amount of people rooting for me is seriously humbling.
  • Selling oneself in the form of a cover letter is awkward. It never stops being awkward. 
  • If I had my college years to live over again, I would do a lot differently. If I hadn't lived it the way I did, I wouldn't be who I am or where I am. Thus I would not be the person that would live it the way the person I am now would. We do not get do-overs, so must find a way to be content with what was.
  • Regardless, in each case my undergrad and graduate school experiences resulted in wonderful memories, great friendships, and more fun than should be allowed. 
  • The second time around, I actually feel ready to graduate. 
  • The amount of opportunities, of change, and of chances that lay before me is another reminder of how lucky I am. I can go anywhere, and do anything and I will still have a cheering squad behind me. This includes running away to Borneo or getting a full time job with health insurance. 

I can't say that everyone who is graduating will feel the way that I do. I'm quite sure some of my thoughts wouldn't have crossed your mind, but I do hope they show you that being optimistic and confident doesn't have to do with having all the answers. Sometimes it is just as important to have the questions, and to know that you have what it takes to find the answers...eventually. I don't know what I'm going to be, or where I'm going to be but I can't wait to find out. 

Final countdown: T-11 days until my last assignment is due, T-19 days until I move back to NJ. Now, here is some Bon Jovi for you, and while we're at it here is a little Passion Pit and some Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Goo Goo Dolls, Matchbox Twenty, Eli Young Band, Semisonic, the Talking Heads, Lady Gaga and the Killers because every crisis, especially those in your mid twenties should have a soundtrack.