Sunday, April 19, 2015

When you first knew what you really wanted to do in life

It's taken me a while to get this typed up and posted but I want to capture these bits and pieces of my family history. Mom went to her 60 high school reunion last fall (!!!) and her class started a Facebook group to keep and touch and continue sharing. The group was asked to share what they remembered about when they first knew what they wanted to do in life. When my mom and I went to lunch downtown at Elmer LoveJoy's and she shared with me some of her thoughts on this that she'll be sharing with her class too.

When she was in 7th grade she knew she wanted to become a college professor after listening to the Quiz Kids radio show. She thought up a question about Cardinal Richelieu to try to to stump the Quiz Kids, and she figured it was a pretty hard question since her 7th grade history teacher didn't know it, but it didn't get used in the show.

The next year she sent away for college catalogs for the Big 10 colleges and Vassar (because he'd heard that Chiang Kai-shek's wife went to Vassar) but got a big shock when she discovered how much Vassar cost! Still, she had a plan: she bought a pedigreed West Highland White Terrier, Heather, with the plan of breeding her and selling pups to save up money. Heather's first litter had three puppies, but just shortly after they were weaned Heather died from an infection. Mom sold two of the puppies (and didn't even break even, after Heather's vet bill) and kept one of them, Pinky, but Heather's death made her lose heart in her plan.

My mom with her Westie, her mother and siblings Tom, David, and Connie
She ended up getting a scholarship at Kent State, and later a very nice fellowship in German and Russian for her Master's at Indiana University - she ended up going to a Big 10. The fellowship also allowed her to travel to Europe. After her Masters, she taught German and Russian at the University at Buffalo (where she met my dad) and later switched to a PhD program in International Economics. I remember her working on her dissertation, I think I was about 10 when she got her doctorate. She has taught International Economics and related course for over 30 years now.

This got me thinking about when I first knew what I wanted to do. I started journaling when I was 10 and that quickly expanded into writing stories about horses. I fell in love with the Lord of the Rings when I was 14 (I think I re-read it three times in one year!) and I knew I wanted to write epic stories like that. But then when I was 15, my godmother Barbara took me along with her kids to Disney World, and I fell in love with the Living Seas exhibit, and asked one of the people working at this giant aquarium what kind of training I would need to get a job like this. "Marine biologist" they told me.

My journals during junior and senior year were full of my being torn between my love of science and my love of writing. One of my mother's friends taught Biology 101 at the University at Buffalo, and she got me into his class my senior year (which had the nice side benefit of giving me a lot of freedom from the regular high school schedule). I loved it! Even the labs. I took copious notes and when studying for my tests, I recopied my notes into a fresh notebook so that they were neat and organized (one night I stayed up all night doing this). But still, the love of the writing was right there along with the love of science.

My first semester at Oswego State I took the prerequisite classes for a Biology major (Chemistry, Calculus, I forgot the third); and two required humanities courses, one of which was a writing course. I didn't like Chemistry and Calculus at all, but I loved the writing class. So I began to have doubts about my major. But then an environmental group (Greenpeace maybe?) gave a talk on campus and I was so inspired by it, I became determined again to push myself through all the tough science and math classes and continue the biologist track.

After getting the pre reqs out of the way, I got to take specialized biology classes my other three years in college. I remember specifically Biochemistry, Ecology, Animal Behavior, Limnology, Oceanography, Stream Ecology, Forestry, and Plant Biology. None of them excited me like General Biology had, I couldn't see a career in any of them, and I wasn't excited enough about Marine Biology anymore to continue to the master's level. But my senior year I took a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) class because I had heard it had a lot applications in Forestry and other natural resources management areas - and I had finally found my niche! I got my Master's in Geography and loved all my classes, and I have been working in the GIS field now for 21 years.

But I've never stopped writing, either, and I view it as more than a hobby. These stories in my head keep begging to be written, but over the years I've discovered it's not just about getting them down onto paper, it's also about seeing them change as I change... and finding the heart of the story.

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