fake it until you make it (or break it)

We’re into the third week of the fall semester, when everything is starting to feel more permanent. At the beginning of the academic year, it’s all imaginary—a prank that goes on too long. But now the gauntlet has been thrown, and we’re slowly settling into our lives of expanding file folders, three-ring binders, and moldy critical theory.

When I was about 14, I got drafted into serving at a coffee shop. My friend worked there, and I wanted to help. I wanted to be useful. The problem, of course, was that I didn’t even drink coffee. It was a whole new language to me: cappuccin-who? I didn’t know how to ask about whole milk or almond or skim, and the idea of adding foam to just about anything was confusing on an existential level.

When I was 17, I went to Paris. I was stopped on the street by a woman whose scarf I still remember in vivid detail (green lace with silver tassels). She started asking me something—in French, of course—and she continued to ask more and more things as I shook my head or nodded at what seemed like appropriate moments, but probably weren’t.

At 20, I was in college. I somehow ended up running an online community for journalists, and then in an even more radical twist of fate, became responsible for planning a conference to bring them all to our sleepy little college town to meet with our sleepy little college students. I distinctly remember breaking down while I was on the phone line with the receptionist at the local hotel where we were putting up our attendees. She was pretty nice about it (#southerncharm).

All of that to say that when I walk into a college classroom at the beginning of every semester and somehow end up at the front teaching actual people, I feel like I’m continuing a long, personal tradition of pretending to be able to do things that, in all actuality, I can’t do. I can’t even almost do them. It honestly doesn’t seem that different from six-year-old me playing teacher in her bedroom, except I’m not rocking the same bangs as I did in the 90s.

I expect this trend to continue for quite some time—good thing I’ve had a lot of practice.





The return of the renaissance woman

Once upon a time, when I was maybe five, I wanted to be archeologist. I hadn’t seen Indiana Jones, but who needs a movie to convince them to play around in the dirt and dig up old stuff?

That was followed by my wish to be a paleontologist (dinosaurs!), then a neuroscientist, then a geneticist, then a journalist. I’ve been all over the map—even as an undergraduate, I studied a rainbow of things like languages, political science, chemistry, and literature, and I’ve worked with code, consulted, edited, and taught.

My story isn’t unique. I know a lot of people around my age whose interests and careers look more like a kaleidoscope than a straight line. It’s made me think—hundreds of years after the fact, are we seeing the returning of the Renaissance Wo(man)?

Leonardo da Vinci, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and Thomas Jefferson could have designed you a plane, taught you Nahautl, or built you a house, respectively. They were also artists, scientists, poets, and politicians (Sor Juana corresponded with Isaac Newton, which is pretty cool).

Industrial capitalism tends to broadly reward narrow specialization, however, so as factories started to emerge I think a lot of the innate curiosity of the human spirit became unequally distributed. I mean sure, once he became rich Andrew Carnegie had a lot of interests, but did his factory workers?

I wonder if that’s changing. I, and so many of the people I know, understand a little bit about a lot of things. Technology allows us to work more flexibly and also requires a broad, nimble skill set that doesn’t necessarily fit into the clock-in and clock-out mentality of my grandparents and their grandparents.

I believe in continuing to democratize discovery beyond the Andrew Carnegies of the world.

Travel Bucket List

I do things out of order. I Christmas shop in February, I like dessert before my meal, and I do my homework and lesson planning in the mornings.

That probably explains why I’ve started deeply rethinking my personal resolutions and life goals in May instead of January. I’ve been actively working with ideas of who I am and who I want to be over the past few weeks. In addition to things like family and work, or, more importantly, as a part of these things, I know that traveling is very important to me. It enriches me and makes me feel full.

As I’ve built on these ideas, I’ve come up with a “travel bucket list,” or a number of countries that I want to experience but I haven’t yet. I’m going to lay some of them out here, in no particular order:

1. Cuba
2. Thailand
3. Paraguay
4. Brazil
5. Colombia
6. Morocco
7. Singapore
8. Turkey
9. Mexico
10. Tanzania
11. Iceland
12. Taiwan
13. Japan
14. Estonia
15. Poland
16. Cambodia

Thoughts? Have you ever been to any of these countries? Am I missing some real gems?

What countries do you have on your travel bucket list?