...until this weekend, when he finally had reason to come to California.
He's a PhD in Biophysics now, and he works for NASA on various things, and they had arranged time for him and three of his co-workers to come to the Stanford Linear Accelerator to do some X-Ray spectometry on some proteins they're trying to understand. His particular protein is involved in making (extra) muscle, and it seems to get switched off in null gravity (and apparently that explains part of the muscle atrophy they see in astronauts). He didn't get as much data as he would have liked in the three days he was at SLAC, but he got about what he expected, and he's hopeful there'll be reason to come back again later.
I'm hopeful, too, because it was fun and interesting to get back in touch with him. He's a cool guy. We had a great time catching up, talking about our families, our jobs, and our experiences and acquaintances in the Army (including his time in Kuwait, which I was lucky enough to just miss by getting out earlier). He met and played with Tommy (and actually taught me some stuff about how to handle a baby boy in a fun manner), and he also got to meet Mary. I do hope that some time I get to meet his wife Angie and their three kids. We also spent a little bit of time pretending to jam on guitar and keyboard (with both Mary and friend R, who lives nearby and also was friends with Dan in the Army). Dan has clearly continued to get better at music, and of course that makes me kind of envious.
Actually, it's interesting. Dan brings up quite a mix of thoughts and emotions in me... issues and ideas that don't get nearly as much time in the forefront of my mind as they did when I was younger.
For one thing, it's awesome but also a little bit envy-inducing that he's a credentialed scientist working on interesting research. In the Army, it was clear to me that Dan was bright. But he also (in my mind) had this sort of party-boy/surfer-dude aloofness to him that made you think, "slacker". Of course, he was way cool... the kind of guy that nerdy-boys boy like me always wanted to get noticed and liked by. He played guitar, and he got women, and he had groupies. :-) But by this time I had already realized that kind of success wasn't the most important thing to me. At that time, especially, I felt that success for people with talent generally meant finding a way to make a difference in the world... advances in science, for example, being one of the most obvious possibilities.
R and I were both pretty rabid at that time about becoming "scientists" and making a mark. Doing something significant. Maybe contributing directly to the science of Life Extension. We talked about it a lot with our small group of friends in that band, including Dan. As it turned out, R and I (and our other friend T, whom we'd also met in Germany) did spend some time later working for a non-profit whose sole aim was life extension... but in retrospect it's kind of difficult to tell whether what we did made any difference. And we certainly didn't take a path involving acquisition of significant amounts of education which we could then turn into research and scientific advances. We contributed in other ways, certainly, but not as scientists.
So how ironic and cool that Dan would end up living our dreams.
I guess I still haven't fully reconciled myself to my current "station" in life. I've always known that I had above average intelligence, and many talents that other people yearn to have. Many things that are difficult for others come easily to me, and there doesn't really seem to be any kind of skill or knowledge that doesn't yield to me when I get interested and apply myself to trying to acquire it.
On the other hand, I have this issue: I've never really found a way to stay interested in one thing long enough to keep applying myself and become an expert in truly hard things... expert enough to make a difference... leave a legacy... make a mark... whatever. I have become better than average at many things in my life, but I can think of nothing I've ever become excellent at beyond being a happy and loving person. I'm not a scientist. I'm not an accomplished musician. I hold no college degree. I don't really love the work I do for profit, and I'm not really that excellent at what I do even though I've been doing it for several years now.
This is not to say that I'm unhappy or full of regret. I have a good understanding and acceptance of why my life is turning out the way it is, and mostly I'm a really happy guy. I do many things well, including things that are very important to me. It seems cliche to talk about being a good person... a good mate, father, son, brother, friend, etc., but really I know it's not. I know that a lot of my best efforts in life have gone into excelling at exactly those things, and I am glad, and it is good.
My life is good. I am a success.
But sometimes I do feel a small twinge of nostalgia for the past, the yesterday that was still filled with open-ended possibility about who I would be at the age of 35, about how important my contributions to mankind might be if only I worked hard enough. I'm glad I have these feelings, because if I didn't, it would mean I had stopped expecting anything out of myself beyond going through the motions.
Maybe some time soon I can get back to work on some of the things that fall into this category nebulously labelled as "accomplishment" in my mind. Maybe I'll get back to pursuing my degree. Maybe I'll continue moving towards true expertise in the field I'm actually working in. Maybe I'll get back to trying to develop myself as a musician.
Maybe? Probably. I hope so, anyway.
It certainly did feel good to sit and talk to Dan about what he's doing. It was exciting and -- momentarily at least -- motivating. I'll have to thank him later just for being himself, and having that effect on me.
I'm certain I'm not done becoming who I'm going to be... contribution or no. So at least there's that. :-)
NOTE: This entry was originally posted to my zderek journal.
2004-05-27 01:05 pm
hear hear! It's really good to see someone indulge in a little critical self evaluation, identify their strengths and weakenesses, and then come to the realization that they totally rock in their wholeness as a person.
I too view my life as a success when measured from a happiness and goodness as a person perspective. But when I start to compare where I'm at with the other people I know, the person I most admire and want to emulate is you.
2004-05-27 09:22 pm
That's one of the sweetest things anyone has ever said to me. Thanks!