raison d’etre – 1:11:11
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 26, 2008
Time to ramble again. I have a glass of wine in hand, a white wine from the New Mexican winery San Felipe, that they call Moscato. Sweet, but not as much as a muscat. I sound like such a wine snob. Ha! I just shared my life with a wino for 14 years. After a hundred wine tastings, visits to California wine country, and traveling to every winery in New Mexico, I absorbed some of the lore.
Tonight I’ve been watching the 1979 movie, Being There, with Peters Sellers and Shirley MacLaine, and really enjoying it. I paused the movie to write this. The readout is 1:11:11. As with most movies, I only enjoy them if I put myself into the movie, and, much like a medical or psychology student studying disease, I imagine what I watch to apply to myself. The child-like gardener that Peter Sellers plays is easy to empathize with. He only knows how to do one thing, but somehow people imagine that he knows much more. Because of the way he’s dressed, and misinterpretations of his description of his life, he is taken to be more educated and intelligent than he really is. That’s where my imagination comes in. I am him, and imagine that I’ve always been this way. As far as imitating what I’ve read and watched and people I’ve known, I am. I also question if I am who people think I am. I say I work with DNA, which seems to impress people, but I backed into the position, working my way from lab work on rats and mice, to a research position extracting immunoglobulins from the glands of mice and purifying them, to working with proteins. I learned how to operate simple machines that can uncover the amino acid sequence of proteins, or take amino acids and assemble then into a protein. The machines simply take known science, and using valves and solenoids, deliver reagents in standard formulas with standard protocols. From there I learned to do almost the exact same thing with DNA, using very similar machines. At first I was not paid very well, but these days I make about half of what some of the better-paid professors make. I always live in dread that people will find me out – realize that I don’t really understand much of what I’m doing.
I’ve always wanted to be a scientist, but never could get through all the classes. I understood basic chemistry, physics, and math in high school, but college was another story. Laboratories were always fun, but genetics lectures, calculus, and physical chemistry bewildered me. Oh, I understood the lectures well enough, but I could never remember all the formulas, equations and pathways, and did miserably on tests. I persevered for a long time, finally passing several classes in calculus, basic genetics, basic physics, organic chemistry, and basic biochemistry, but even though I understood the purpose and usefulness of integrals and derivatives, and stoichiometry, the biology of cells, and vector analyses well enough, I can’t remember how to use them anymore. I can balance simple chemical equations, and my high school algebra never leaves me, but my understanding of the science of DNA is so rudimentary.
Just like the gardener, I stumble through life, getting credit for knowing far more than I know. What’s worse, it’s all falling away from me now as I age. I can barely type anymore, as I invert so many letters and words, even adding extra words, or leaving some out. Without editing, I hardly make sense. Without computers, I’d have failed to get through many of my final classes, and it’s much worse now. I just make too many mistakes, and don’t control my fingers all that well. The brain feels tired now. I have been playing chess, and doing OK, but only against a novice player. I don’t know how much longer I can continue to pretend that I have a clue what’s going on, or can concentrate long enough to do a job. I’d like to retire from life now. It’s been fun, but, really, it’s all a bit too much for me. People, and money, and relationships and reading and writing. I want to withdraw. I don’t want to be here anymore. But I stay. I work every day. I talk to people. I go to political rallies. I play chess. I still exist. Existence is not a sufficient raison d’etre. But, then again, why should I care about the reason for my continued being? Why does it matter to me? I think we all need a plan, something to shoot for. What is left me at this stage of life? Yes, yes, whatever I want. But, I seem to want less and less. To be a child again. That would be nice. To play, to move from one thing to the next, to have no place to be, nothing I must do. Being here.
Surely, we all can’t be simply dragging ourselves along this way, simply to drag ourselves along?