101 Goals, R2

The time has come. (Round 1 is here, don’t laugh.)

I’m a little bit older; not fragile, but not sure-footed either.

Part of that entails feeling aimless. Not for lack of aims, but more of the sense that a huge swath of them might eventually prove frutiful and a paranoia about opting to pursue the wrong ones. That only lasts for so long before you start to feel really useless and guilty about it, and so I guess the big aim of Goals.R2 is to strategically narrow the scope of the adjacent possible: to compress the world of possibility from something rampant and unwieldy to something concrete and manageable and worthwhile, burrowing through the muck toward a clairvoyant surface and engendering habits within myself to keep that burrowing steady and multifaceted.

Career-wise, I’ve got a North Star; I’ve had it, in fact, for a few years – as is perhaps the nature of an aim worthy of the title – and am finally certain enough to be grounded in it though there are like fifty billion paths that might lead that way and it is really anyone’s guess as to which will prove fruitful. So most of these items focus on other things.

Also worth a separate prelude: I would like to include more goals on being kinder, more empathetic, more graceful, a reliable friend in times of crisis – but I can never quite figure out how to phrase them as tangible, checkable goals. And I don’t think I ever ought to, for that matter, so I will be keeping those things in mind as an ever-present thrum that enhances all else.
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101 Goals, R2

On Leaving, Pt. 1

When I was 17 I went to one of those info sessions on Rice that I’ve since helped host as an alumna, in a hotel ballroom and on a dreary day. I don’t remember much (re: anything) from the actual talk. But I remember two of them women who had signed up to speak running up to each other and reacting in precisely the way women react whenever they come across a good friend who they haven’t seen for a while in public and at random, and I remember that one of them was married to the third presenter. And I remember the man sitting next to me, San Antonio-southern, drawling “Goddamn those Rice people just stick together, don’t they, and don’t shut up about it.”

I had driven over the summer prior, wandering campus for 3 or 4 hours unattached to a tour, and summarily dismissed the school as “too rich” for me (again, teenage impressions are ridiculous). My mother had to drag me to the info session and I had planned to spend it texting. But that comment piqued my interest, lodging itself inside my brain, and in the year that’s passed since I graduated – since walking across campus twice at 3 a.m. the night before in a cataclysmic downpour, since lining up in a 6 a.m. haze of coffee and champagne, since absolutely not tearing up nope I wouldn’t do that during the Martel de-matriculation – I’ve found it to be absolutely true.

Some examples: I wind up in fragmented versions of different college friend groups weekly. I wound up in Durham for 48 hours, posted a picture on Facebook, and had a fellow ’12 grad message me within 15 minutes offering to show me around during his finals period. In keeping with our normally steady stream of communication, I texted a grand and hazy total of 32 pictures from the morning of Beer Bike to my former co-coordinator, who was stranded in Japan. I’ve had lunch more times than I can count with people I knew-of-but-didn’t-actually-know while a student and they’ve all been great. I wound up working somewhere where my boss, our president, and four other colleagues all went to Rice and where our board is on the Rice board. Six months after graduating I formed a company with a fellow Martelian I somehow wasn’t friends with until my senior year, prompting every unsuspecting acquaintance we’ve had from college (a Martelian in Amman, a fellow Global Health minor at Baylor, a guy I talked to for 30 minutes once my freshman year) to come out of the woodwork with a new way to support us. I flew halfway across the globe and ran in a Hanszenite from my advising coalition.

Anyway, maybe it’s me – my career path and those of my closest friends are related or overlapping to a degree that treating graduation with any sense of finality last year seemed frankly ridiculous. But for whatever reassurance it provides the 2013 set of grads, I’m happy to anecdotally attest that the see-you-later cliché rings true, and graduating from Rice should lack a since of finality. Something in our weirdness forces us to coalesce.

On Leaving, Pt. 1

101 Goals in (Slightly More Than) 1001 Days

My engineering education imbued me with nothing if not an appreciation for concrete and quantifiable goals. I’ve done a tremendous number of new and ridiculous things over the past year in particular (toured the southwest, left the country for the first time x3, wrote for a national audience, won a business competition, created a (semi)functional medical device, graduated, formed a startup…etc) and after this blur of mostly structured activity, I’ve begun to fear complacency in my murky gap year after undergrad.

While “101 things in 1001 days” lists were a pinteresty craze for a bit, my goal is constructing this one is to provide myself with a more focused narrative for progress over the transition years from undergrad to graduate school and through the early stages of gainful employment. I’ve also extended the time period to three years just for kicks, and hidden just a few for specificity.

In order to qualify, an item must be: 1) concrete or quantifiable 2) not directly dependent on the decision of anyone else 3) reasonable, but require concrete time or effort and 4) make me a better or more interesting person in either a major or minor respect (none of this “withdraw from caffeine for a week” bullshit). Without further ado:

Continue reading “101 Goals in (Slightly More Than) 1001 Days”

101 Goals in (Slightly More Than) 1001 Days

Boquillas and Big Bend

Here’s a thing I have feelings about!: the opening of a border crossing in Big Bend National Park.

Last time I was in the area, my boyfriend and I were driven from camping in the highlands by terror (harmless mountain lion encounter – but still! Not 20 feet away!). At some absurd hour of barely-morning, we set up in the nearly abandoned Cottonwood campground – and woke up not an hour later to footsteps outside our tent.

One swinging MagLite later, whoever had been around was running into the brush and we were piled into the car, headlights blazing, back to the mountains to sleep crushed vertically onto car seats. The decision to camp by the Rio Grande may, of course, have been a skosh bit of idiocy (albeit as a side effect of sheer exhaustion) – but I had camped on the border before, and felt a perhaps false sense of reassurance. Truth is, there’s not much to it:

And I’d be a liar if I said my only venture outside of these United States didn’t involve some wading.

In any case, there’s no doubt that the residents of Boquillas – a town just across the border that, from what I could tell, survived on tourism and providing beer to the 18-to-21 crowd – has suffered tremendously since the existing crossing closed after 9/11.  Trinkets appear by landmarks overnight, with requests for compensation.

Some of the comments on the article I linked to (and in other places, though generally not on sites frequented by BBNP visitors) are vicious: allegations that the potential border opening will do nothing but expand drug trade, criticism of the Mexican government for “relying on tourism” and the United States for reviving a scant population, and cries that opening the town to park visitors would destroy the sense of wilderness.

As someone who never ceases singing the praises of Big Bend, who would rather be nowhere but the middle of nowhere  – and as a potential crime victim with an interest in national security – here are my counterarguments:

1) Information is better than no information, and open communication with Boquillas residents helps Border Patrol to do the job effectively. There’s no cell service in that region of the park, and with the border closed residents can’t alert patrol members of strangers, crime, unusual activity – anything they would do and have ordinarily done in order to maintain stable relations and protect their economy.

2) Anyone who thinks the growth of a 19-family town across the river will be enough to tame or temper 800,000 acres of desert is insane.

3) The town isn’t a drain on the region – it enhances it. You can’t spend a day hiking and not want to drive down to the river, enter a makeshift gondola run by Singing Victor, and re-hydrate with cervezas. Impossible.

4) Victor himself: “I don’t think the terrorists want to cross here on a burro.”

Boquillas and Big Bend

Conundrums.

(What follows is a lot of uncertain gallivanting about the post-grad life.)

I want to work in international development because I enjoy doing impossibly challenging things and dislike the fact that the world is not an even playing field. I’ve had the itch to go into public/foreign service for a few years now for a) absurd love of DC b) a firm belief that engineers who can talk and write like real people have an obligation to exercise both of those capabilities and c) outrageous frustration with the status quo of top-down technology implementation.

Here’s the crux of the problem: I like making things.

I like making things a lot – mentally juggling parts of a prototype until they click, outlining program structures to process changes in respiratory wall resistance and log that data in a google doc, transforming complex instrumentation into something elegant and sparsely functional.

I’m not sure if I’m done with that quite yet. I’m terrified that if I jump the gun – take a fellowship abroad for six months or a year or more, to get the basic field experience basic jobs and grad schools require – that I’ll not only miss out on a critically exciting period in the field, but also put my absurd set of technical tools to waste. I drunkenly told someone a few weeks ago that I wanted to be the Steve Jobs of accessible health technologies; that is, to take something bogglingly unwieldy and transform it into a functional market. (But so does everyone. Who’s lived the dream? Design professors with infinite creative labor, obvs.)

In any case, it comes down to this: there is not a paved career path in which I could accomplish those things, nor a relevant industry that hires for my skill set. Not right out of college, certainly. In an ideal world, I think I’d start with senior design: get that up and running, and expand to what comes fluidly – diagnostics are what I’m good at, and what I’ve been best trained in. Work on lots of short-term projects within a grander vision. Add in adventure/shenanigans (low expectations work here – I’m the girl who thinks flying in planes is crazy and I swam across the border for my one trip out of the states, remember). Not picky on location, though the intersection of health and regional stability ignites all the on switches (I swear I’d head to backcountry Afghanistan if I could). Maybe grad school after a break, if it’s useful and helps me do more useful and exciting things.

Anyway, suggestions welcome. I filled out the bioengineering curriculum checklist not terribly long ago, purple pen and all:

 

Rice has given me lots of weapons but not yet taught me how to aim them. Scared I’ll miss.

Conundrums.

Travelogue

I remember, as most people probably do, the instant I realized the world was bigger than my hometown.

That terminology is less than particular; I had been out of San Antonio before, exclusively to the Rio Grande Valley (a biannual trip to visit relatives) and South Padre Island (where – laughably, when viewed through the eyes of a current college student – we took yearly summer trips until I was around 14). I had also taken to making excursions to areas nearby but still in the Hill Country (Austin, or Canyon Lake) on days when I had to “work,” or so I’m sure I would have told my parents if they asked, which of course they never did.

In any case: It’s all Matt McDaniel’s fault. Driving in a ridiculous 9-passenger van rented for a trip to a UIL Science trip – yes, Rice, you read that correctly! – to Midland, I continually re-processed my location as though panning horizontally from an aerial vantage point. This is the furthest West I have ever been – no, this – no, again! – chatting half with the collection of friends along for the ride, half with the type of favorite high school teacher everyone has about college and travel. “I know you want to get out as quickly as you can,” he said, referring to Texas. “But out here is where things get magnificent.” And duly, my eyes did not leave the window as gnarled mesquites grew first into the sides of cliffs and then gave way to rock, as speed limit signs ticked upward from 65 to 80 and as oil pumps bent cyclically towards the earth, positioned against the sunset like black cranes dipping in and out of water.

And I got back home and I missed things like long roads and deserts and accompanying panoramas, achingly. My senior year of high school I had the misfortune of dating someone with equally absent supervision, which led to things like “oh let’s plan a roadtrip to California” or “oh let’s go climb this mountain in Colorado”, with extensive google-mapping and legitimate planning. I was the only one who took those things seriously, as fact would have it. A few months after we broke up, barely-eighteen-year-old Jordan decided, at five o’clock one summer morning, that it would be a good idea – or, at the very least, a good story – to take a day and visit Big Bend. Those not so well acquainted with the geography of Texas may not fully appreciate the absolute absurdity of that timescale, so I will state very embarrassingly for the record that I set out to drive 7 hours both there and back on no sleep, without telling anyone, without ever having driven more than two hours at once, feeling adequately prepared with a few cans of redbull, a backpack, and a breakfast taco. Needless to say, this was not the case.*

This led to several very important discoveries. In chronological order:

  1. Winding down the windows on highway 385, in just the right part of August, is intoxicating. Juniper floods the air. Nothing afterwards will ever smell so good, and you will be tricked into constantly believing you enjoy gin even if you do not.
  2. “Speed limit: 80” is secret code for “Set your cruise control to 95, and don’t look back.”
  3. Robert Earl Keen made his music to be played on IH-10. It’s okay to listen to “Sonora’s Death Row” as you pass through the wrong Sonora.
  4. Mountains! Mountains are ridiculous! They are so tall! Soooo tall, and you have to drive slowly, and they make you dizzy, and I had never spent so much time looking up and had never before had a landscape so abruptly, wonderfully interrupted.
  5. They are sooooooooo tall. Especially if you decide to climb them…in August…alone. Also, they hide behind other mountains, so you think you’re done and then you’re not.
  6. Spending 14 of 23 hours driving is tremendously fun until it is very suddenly not.
  7. Sleeping in your car in Kerrville is also not fun, but it is kind of hilarious.

And since then I’ve been rapidly captivated by countryside, by views from car and plane windows, by the mentally staggering absurdity of being tossed across various points that had existed on nothing other than a globe for the vast majority of my life. It’s fitting, I guess, that I started writing this on my first train – DC to New York. I remember telling Amy (who met up with me in Baltimore) that I was so excited I felt like it was going to Hogwarts. This was probably not an exaggeration. Subsequent adventures, in brief:

  1. New Year’s 2009, Guadalupe Mountains NP: there is not a single better place on earth to wake at dawn than in the middle of the desert.
  2. 05/09: Tall trees exist in real life, and they are all in Seattle. Also, May here = Texas in January, and that is the worst.
  3. 05/10: Venturing north to realize that Dallas and Fort Worth were, in fact, exactly as I expected
  4. 01/11: Attempting to discern the subtle differences between Southern New Mexico and West Texas; succeeding.
  5. 06/11: Bafflement at the dense, marshy forests lining the road on the first bus I took from Baltimore to DC.
  6. 08/11: Flying back to SA from DC at night, alarmingly discovering the feeling of being homesick and immediately recovering , knowing which cities are which by the layout of the freeways.

Here’s the confession: at twenty-one, I still have not been out of the country. I realize this is likely the standard for an average U.S. citizen, but it feels like a handicap at a top-twenty private university where most of my friends, if they don’t travel annually, have lived abroad for an extended period of time. Certainly, it seems almost woefully inept for someone intending to pursue work in international health. But that’s what fellowships are for.

* Although, on my most recent BBNP trip, we left at 3 a.m. from Houston after throwing a party. But that’s another (and much, much better) story. Idiotic spontaneity becomes me?

Travelogue