What happened to that teenaged kid who was sure he was going to go into astrophysics? He bought all the books, watched all the PBS shows, even met Carl Sagan. He had a plan to do his undergrad work at George Mason, then transfer to Carnegie Melon, UH, or ASU. He was going to study the stars, try and prove that FTL was possible, and study the nature of time itself. In his basic astrophysics course, he wrote an essay on tachyon particles. Well, his life took a serious turn in another direction, that's what. It was never meant to be.
I really don't have many regrets. Now and again, I have a pang of loss. I was watching "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," and they were in some pub-like setting, where a wizard was reading, "A Brief History of Time." I recall buying that book the moment it hit the shelves, and reading it, cover to cover. I understood it then; I couldn't even begin to tell you what it said now. Turns out he was wrong anyway, but I have deep respect for a man who not only admits it, but paid his bets. I have grown to disagree with some of what Carl Sagan said, too, but I think I still agree with him on most points.
When I look back at the semi-goth kid who came from the wasteland that was the McLean suburbs, I can't say that his plan for his life was very realistic. I would say the most likely scenario, supposing his mother didn't commit suicide and he did go through with college, that he would burn out or end his own life after a series of immature decisions that ricocheted into a chain reaction of that ended in eventual self-implosion. He was attracted to the wrong type of girl, had a few bad apples for friends, virtually no parental support or approval, and if he didn't mange to end his own life, he'd still be living at home, taking care of a drunken mother slowly being driven insane by her constant drinking, creeping memory loss, and desperate denial. His mathematical desire for control would curdle into a mental psychosis with no spiritual guidance, and all the scenarios I play just doesn't end well.
Someone had to die, apparently.
But late at night, after reading some manual or web page about some technical gobbledegook, my mind tends to wonder "what if" with the past. It's a dangerous and useless endeavor, but a familiar place. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with all the technical knowledge I have to contain in this mass of nerves in my skull, and I wonder if I have "strayed to far for The Plan," fully realizing that "The Plan" is not something I fully understand, and I am definitely not in control of. Some of the spiritual advice I have gotten over the years speaks of a sort of path we are sent along to learn something. I also realize that "my" soul is not really "mine" in the same sense that, say, personal property is. One of the best lessons I have learned is that my brain is a tool. My life on this planet is finite; it has a beginning and an end. This mass of carbon atoms that contains my soul is merely a vehicle, like of like a tour bus. I am supposed to learn from everything I see. Instead of fighting for control of the tour bus, I watch as things go by, and become delighted by the things I am learning. I think every experience, every person I meet, and everything I read or watch on TV has some significance in some lesson. Most of the time, I am not paying attention to the lesson, I am obsessed with the hair of the passenger in front of me, or how uncomfortable the seat is. But then I think, should I surrender all control and merely take life passively? That seems wrong. There has to be a balance somewhere.
When I was a young teen, I studied Buddhism. I learned from the lessons of Sidharta, learned about "the middle way," balance, life force, and all that stuff now slapped around the New Age Crystal Business as merely keywords to hook the eyes of people who link money to answers. It influenced me greatly. Part of why I turned to science was it was full of balance; nature's accounting spreadsheets. Every action has an opposite and equal reaction, mass cannot be created or destroyed, it comes from or turns to energy and vice versa. The zen of computers can all be reduced to a balance of ones and zeros. All logical switches of on or off. And when you combine millions of ons and offs, you can create wonder like this web page. And that was what I was searching for in astrophysics; the basic components that make the universe. I wanted to get to the core of things. I wanted to break down the cosmic clock to its individual gears, then sort them, label them, group them, and reassemble them back into a working system. Perhaps even a different one.
So, really, I kind of ended up doing something similar. I may not be working on the cosmic secrets of the universe, but why you can't reach a certain network, why your printer doesn't work, or how to make your text all kinds of funky colors!
That's what happened.
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