i’m determined to lay in lakes and see my sisters

Who knew a memoir about a physicist could make me so damn lonely? I finished Feynman’s Rainbow the other night and I think I really enjoyed it. It was short, quick, and pretty easy to get through, if a little bogged down by scientific mumbo-jumbo. But the feel of it really got me.

I don’t know why science makes me so sad. Maybe because it’s so enormous or because it’s so detailed. I’ve never understood chemistry. Biology was okay, but give me atoms and protons and neutrons and electrons and you might as well ask me to read Hebrew. I understand physics and chemistry in a very abstract way, like of course gravity exists, because my feet stay rooted to the ground, but I can’t see it kind of way. Feynman’s Rainbow was written about the time when String Theory was just developing; when most physicists thought Schwartz was a quack, but Murray Gell-Mann let him stay on the faculty at Caltech to work it out. Now, String Theory to physicists is almost akin to evolution for biologists. It may as well be fact.

Maybe the reason I was never able to completely understand chemistry or physics is because it just seems too similar to understanding God. How do you accept something that you can’t see, you can’t feel? Atoms and elements are like that to me. As someone who has never once in my cognizant years felt that epiphany of faith, it’s very difficult for me to make sense of the atomic world.

After Feynman’s Rainbow, I thought I’d keep up the trend by starting Pandora’s Keepers, which is a series of portraits on the nine more-famous physicists who worked on the Manhattan Project. But I got through the introduction and realized I just don’t have the heart right now. So I was at Borders yesterday with a 20% off coupon and happened to pick up Wuthering Heights. I felt oddly ashamed that I had never read it – a former English Major of the Year, and I didn’t even really know what it was about.

So I’ve departed the world of physics for the nineteenth century, for the moment.

Science just makes me feel so lonely. So singular in such an enormous and sprawling universe.

And I think that’s why, for the past few days, I’ve had this incredible need, almost, to see my sister. Maybe it’s that I just saw her a couple weeks ago for the first time in months, I’m not sure. I’m very much looking forward to this weekend, to seeing her again.

It’s funny though, because sometimes it seems like we have a better relationship when it’s only conducted via email, lolcats, and facebook. When we’re together, sometimes it’s like I’m just her weird, awkward little sister who reads books about physics and philosophy.

But like it or not, we’re stuck with each other, tattooed to the underside of both of our wrists.

I’ve been starting to think about another one, lately. And I have to admit that Lis’s brand new addition is making my skin really squirm with jealousy. It’s only been six months since my last one, but I really, really want to start working on a new one.

I just can’t ever settle on something that really has meaning. Which somehow seems strangely appropriate.


4 Responses to “i’m determined to lay in lakes and see my sisters”

  1. It worries me that one of the automatically generated “related posts” at the bottom is titled “physics is sex”. Did the ‘bots not read your beautiful post?!

    The other night, my mother asked me why I never considered science as a career as I got top marks all the way through school… I wonder sometimes if I have a dual personality, one that sometimes seeks comfort from rows of neat equations and exact answers that science provides and who is occasionally too scared to be creative.


  2. 2 Roberto

    @ last year’s girl:
    I also dislike wordpress bots and their “related posts”. But in this case they were maybe more clever than what you think. “Physics is like sex” is indeed the beginning of a quote attributed to Feynman, and the post itself, though somewhat jokingly, deals mainly with serious stuff. At least it looked this way to me when I wrote it.

  3. 3 Mom

    You know…..as a parent, one of the most satisfying and worthwhile things in life is to know that your children grow up to be friends and not just siblings. I am so happy that you and Katie are friends and that you communicate often….even if it is only through email, lolcats or facebook. Your sibling(s) will be your friend(s) longer in your life than your parents or your own children. Enjoy each and every minute of your time together.

    I love you,


  4. 4 Katie

    Ok, I just cried. Thanks.
    You haz teh suck.

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