Rebirth announcement

Today just after lunchtime I filed the paperwork to change my major here at the college.

I am not a Physics major. I have left Isaac Newton’s posse, probably for good. My three-year journey into a science degree is over.

I am now a Mass Communication major and I am seriously considering a Creative Writing minor. Next semester my classes will not be Organic Chemistry and Gen Physics II, but Screenwriting I and Newswriting. My God.

Today is the day that I decided, for what feels like good and all, that I have been stupid to study for so long from my places of weakness and not from my place of strength. As I wrote to myself in the little box on my desk that holds all my good ideas, “You are a writer. Who are you kidding?”

My advisor is now an 84-year-old former television professional who has written for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and who still has contacts in the television industry. And as I met with the head of the MCOM department, strange words left my mouth:

After a long period of reflection, I have decided that I no longer want to be a science writer and that I no longer want to be a science major.

I think about writing for television. I think about writing for cable. I think about writing television fiction, a series. I also think about writing television documentaries.

Writing’s a great job for someone like me, who’s always changing her spots. Being a writer is a sort of insurance that I can reinvent myself by doing very different kinds of writing, yet have the stability of sticking to my field. I may have left Isaac’s posse, but I hope to visit them to write about the worlds I still and will always love, math and science. If anything, really, I am not so much changing my focus as widening it to hold possibilities of so much more than science writing.

God, would I EVER love to have been part of the writing team of the Walking With... series! Ooh, I can see myself happily writing BBC documentaries. (I really am obsessed with BBC programming recently.) I feel excited about my future and my studies in a way that I have not felt in a very long and very unhappy time. The thrill died over winter break but I kept slogging on, miserably and in one of the most dreadful ruts of my entire life.

There were many signs it was time to change. My mental mailbox was stuffed with unopened letters from the universe. I wrote a research expectations paper for my chemistry prof that was little more than a list of my weaknesses as a scientist, clearly the work of a person in a crisis of confidence. I went to a friend’s ping-pong party that I’d been excited about for a week and sat at the table in a heap, too tired to play.

And I went to the Physics Lab, a place of physics homework help, and it was there I realized I was doomed to fail and doing the wrong thing. I asked for help from the young tutor, and she explained the problem, and her explanation dripped onto me and not into me, an alien substance my body could never absorb. And I had done everything right. I’d tried to work my homework problems, read my textbook, watched the little java physics movies, never missed class, listened, taken notes, studied hard… All for failure. All for failure.

I began to wonder what on Earth was so wrong with formally studying writing. Why had I turned from it with such condescension? I had said I’d study science to see where it could take me, to see how far I could go. Could I not do the same thing with something that I was actually good at?

Today I feel very writerly in a way I never have before in six years of writing professionally. I feel like I am coming out of the closet somehow. I suppose it’s a classic case of coming back to where you started from and knowing the place for the first time. I don’t know why I have always felt vaguely fraudulent and unworthy at calling myself a writer, as if it was an honor that I never quite deserved, despite the fact that I have been one for years and plan to keep on being one. I finished a new knitted scarf last night and wore it today, thinking of it as The Scarf I First Wore the Day That I Decided to Quit Fucking Around and Actually Accept That I Am a Writer .

Because I think that’s what I am.

13 responses to “Rebirth announcement

  1. *g* Congratulations and the very best of luck!

  2. You are fabulous!And so brave. I want so badly to abandon the world of chemistry that loves to hate me. However, I am not ready. I am still stuck on the imaginary defeat I envision I will feel when I leave, and not the removal of responsibility for which I have no passion, when I finally admit the truth. And so very inspiring.

  3. I SO cannot speak for you, and I know that our situations are different.

    But I find I don’t feel like a failure at all! I feel SO relieved, and so much more sure that I am doing the right thing. I feel GOOD, not bad. When I met with the MCOM department head, I told him that after talking to him and learning about these new possibilities, I felt even more certain that I was doing the right thing.

    Heather, I have suspicions that you and Britty both may join me here on the other side, the non-science side of life. All I can say is that it is great over here! And science still lets me visit! I think I may actually still be a nerd.

  4. Congratulations from abroad

  5. Congratulations on your new path (well, not so new, perhaps). And, honey, don’t fret. You’ll never lose your nerd status!

    I recall sitting next to this guy at an airport maybe five years ago. He told me that he worked for an engineering firm writing the press releases and stockholders reports. His two or three advanced degrees in the sciences had him in an inviable position to act as liaison between the company’s brainiacs and the unnerdly laity. After he explained his job — mainly explicating all the international travel he managed — I asked if he was going to San Francisco the following week. He blinked at me, uncomprehending. “You know,” I said. “For the annual AAAS meeting.” I held up the current issue of Science magazine. I certainly did not look like a scientist. But he asked, cautiously, “Are you a member?” Actually I was. As a subscriber to the journal Science, I was a paid-up member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (that was back when I was still a student, and could take advantage of those sweet educational discounts). For some reason, I was losing interest in the exchange. “Naw,” I said, with a shrug. “I’m just a science fan boy.” Which, of course, was true. And I turned away from him and began reading about carbon nanotubes or a review of the latest Daniel Dennett book. The sad fact was, the guy didn’t really want to talk about science. But that was okay. I had an engaging fallback waiting on the seat beside me.

    So, yeah, you’re right, science always lets you visit. It’s the sweetest open access there is. And it’s there waiting for you whenever you want to turn for that warm embrace.

    But I digress. The bottom line is: Damn, Jennifer, you can write!

  6. Yay, you!

    You sound so happy, so free. I am so pleased for you. We don’t know where we’re going, we don’t know how we’ll get there, we just have to take every next step. I can’t remember who said it, and I’m going to mangle the quote, but someone said something about how the headlights only show us so much of the road ahead, but that’s okay, we can get the whole way that way.

    Jeez. I have to go find that and get it right.

  7. Erik,

    Thank you so much for all the kind words. Good luck with your new apartment, and happy late birthday!


  8. It’s always dangerous to put your blog in your email signature, you never know who might be reading. Very very very best of luck in the new endeavour, and don’t be a stranger.

  9. Shelley from Asheville

    Hurrah and best of luck,

    You are a great writer.

    As a scientist, I am a little sad to lose someone from our ranks with so much obvious talent, particularly talent in communication, a skill sometimes lacking in the science field but as a regular reader of your blog I am very happy for you.
    The one thing I would say and something I learned late in life from my husband is finish the degree, get it done whatever field it ends up being in. Unfortunately but true, much of the world uses things like initials after our names as a metric of accomplishment. In a way they are right, what a bachelor’s degree really shows the world is that your can finish a big long term project, you have the ability to learn new things and finally gives an indication of something, but not everything, you are interested in via your major.
    I look forward to hearing more about your venture into communiations


  10. Hey Shelley,

    It is so nice to hear from you again!

    Oh, thank you for the compliments.

    Finish the degree, yes. I owe it to myself to get a Bachelor’s, and it’s a good 15 years overdue. Absolutely, it matters in the business world. And it matters to ME because I want to expand my skillset, make contacts, and buld writing clips in an environment that I hope will be both safe and provide me with honest editorial feedback.

    You know I’ll tell you more about my new adventures than you ever wanted to know. :0)

    What kind of science do you do?


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