When My Education And Real Life Collide

Last semester I took a course called “Environmental Preservation and Improvement”, an upper-level seminar where every week students gave presentations on current environmental topics. It was an awesome class, and it excited me so much that I got a little over-ambitious and said that I would provide a brief recap of the presentations given every week. Unfortunately, real life interfered and I only managed to summarize the first presentation about geoengineering and then one of my own presentations on colony collapse disorder.

In the course of that research, I basically came to the conclusion that the culprit at the bottom of all these interacting factors is the use of systemic pesticides, specifically neonicotinoids, on the crops honeybees pollinate (refer to the older post for details).

That was back in October. Almost six months later and the New York Times recently came out with this article and corresponding video (below), which says, in so many words, that growing evidence is pointing to systemic pesticides as the primary cause in colony collapse disorder.

Was I the first person to make this connection? Of course not. Nor has it been determined what exactly is causing CCD. But it’s always rewarding and exciting to see work that I’ve done in class being discussed out in the real world, and it only gets me more psyched to continue learning.

Experiencing a Local Tragedy From 8000 Miles Away

I’m not sure if any of this comes to a “point”, but I’m not getting any other work done and I don’t know how else to deal with the anger, confusion, depression, and anxiety that continue to flood my mind.

My roommate in Hong Kong woke me up at 7:28 Tuesday morning: “Will. Will! There was a bombing at the Boston Marathon.” My slumbering brain struggled to comprehend what he had said. Bombing? Just the night before I had wished good luck to my friends running the marathon (Jessie & Sarah you guys are badass), and expressed to my housemates just how much I wanted to join them on the sidelines to have a few beers and cheer on the runners. Less than 12 hours later I was frantically checking Facebook to see if they were alright.

A quick search assured me that Jessie and Sarah were safe and sound. They were both less than half a mile from the finish when the explosions went off. At first I was angry that they were robbed of the absolutely amazing experience of crossing the finish line after all their hard work. But my anger quickly faded to quiet and profound relief. But Jessie and Sarah were only 2 of over 50 runners that proudly wore the Tufts jersey on Monday, and my newsfeed was struggling to keep up as friends and peers looked for each other in real time. I watched in relief as my fellow Jumbos confirmed their safety and reached out to each other in support.

A message from my roommate/housemate of three years and best friend was a little more unnerving. He and his girlfriend had been at the finish line, standing next to the flags of the participating nations that were later pulled down in a frantic effort to get to the wounded. They had moved only “two minutes before” because it was too crowded and they could no longer see.

Another message from my close friend at Boston College was waiting on my phone. It read, “I’m ok along with everyone else I know.” The last two years I have gone to BC on Marathon Monday to cheer on the runners coming over heartbreak hill at mile 21. It has become a tradition and a highlight of my springs in Boston, despite my absence this year. The next message from Connor simply said “bombs dude.” I re-read that over and over (I still am). Bombs dude. Bombs. 

I was shaking, my stomach twisted into such tight knots that they are still unwinding. Here I was halfway around the world, waking up to messages from my best friends who had just narrowly escaped a terrible fate. More than that, it was a fate that just as easily could’ve belonged to me, or a fellow Tufts student, or to a loving parent. It is a fate that tragically caught up with over 100 people and their families on Boylston street on Monday afternoon.

Within 20 minutes of my rude awakening I had absorbed every piece of news and Facebook update I could find. But I kept re-reading and re-watching, transfixed by the utter unfathomable nature of what had happened. I still don’t think I will ever have a firm grasp on what occurred on Boylston Street that day. As I sat in class later that morning with Alvaro, another Tufts exchange student, I could see him doing the same: going back in time on Facebook, trying to keep track of all the people and the stories that were spilling off of his screen and occupying our thoughts.

Thank God for social media. This is not something I ever thought I would say. In general I feel that Facebook and Twitter distract and remove us from the real world. But that morning I could not be more grateful for Facebook. Grateful that in less then 10 minutes I could account for all the people who are near and dear to me and let out a giant sigh of relief, even as the uncertainties continued. It is inconceivable that I might have gone the whole day (and maybe more) without knowing that my friends were safe and unharmed. More than that, social media provided a way for me to essentially re-live the explosions as they happend. It made me feel as if I was there.

Yet as grateful as I am for the peace of mind that Facebook was able to bring me, it did not  substitute for truly being there. And at the end of the day, it is this disconnect that makes this event so difficult to comprehend, beyond its obvious tragic and unexpected nature. Boston has become my city. These were my friends, my peers, my role models out there running 26.2 miles in an event that has come to define springtime in Boston for me. The explosions on Boylston Street created a terrible scene of senseless destruction in my city and shook members of my community to the very core. And I am 8000 miles away.

One of my greatest fears of going abroad was that I would miss out on exciting weekends, inside jokes, and drunk escapades. But for the most part during my time here I have not really been homesick for Tufts. That all changed Tuesday morning. More than anything right now I want to be surrounded by my fellow Jumbos, to sit down and talk with them about what just happened, what it all means, and how we are involved. This event will leave a lasting mark on our college career and I am not sure yet what that mark is or how it will affect us. Despite the presence of other Tufts students here, I have never felt so alone, so far away, and so homesick during my time in Hong Kong as I do now.

My heart goes out to all those who were directly affected by these attacks, and those like myself who are trying to come to grips with what happened in the city we call home.

If Money Was No Object

Although I am only halfway through my third year in college, already the prospect of life after school looms large. Not going to school was never an option for me. It was the “right” thing to do, as dictated by my family and society. Not to say I’m not glad I came; I love it here and I have learned so much. But when people ask what I want to do after school, I never know how to answer.

I know I am not alone in this sentiment – many kids before me have faced the same dilema, and many more will do so. But what really gets me is that I do know what I would like to do after school. I would love to explore the outdoors with my camera. That simple. I want to be the photographer on the expeditions that you read about in Outside Magazine. But then I think about all the things I do that require money, like developing my film. And eating. And the clothes I wear on hikes. And so I push those dreams to the back of my mind, telling myself that I’ll get a normal job first, to get the money, and then I’ll be able to follow my goals. But I don’t quite convince myself.

My dad studied film in college. He wanted to make movies and live in Paris. Then real life intervened. He accepted a job in the jewelry business because it was there. Over 20 years later and he hasn’t left. But he always tells me that the most important thing in life is to do what I love. My dad hates his job.

I’m afraid to go for it. I’m afraid of failing, of risking it all and losing. But more and more I realize that’s what it takes. I’ve included a video below by philosopher Alan Watts. He must love what he does, because he very beautifully grinds down this issue to a very simple idea:

“If you say that getting the money is the important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You will be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living to go on doing things you don’t like doing. Which is stupid.”

Watts asks us what we would do if money was no object, and urges us to follow what we love. Most importantly he points out that if you do what you love, you will become a master, and once you are a master of your craft, whether it is skiing or painting or writing poetry, you will be able to obtain a decent fee for your work. And he’s right. All it takes is the nerve to go for it and not give up when the goal seems impossibly out of reach. Corny, but true. Anyway, he says it much better than me, so check the video below and leave your comments.

Thursday Night Gone Wrong

Been a while seen I’ve been able to post, as I have been totally swamped with work, but expect a lot of new content in the next few days. I’m going to start off with a story that happened several weeks ago.

A couple Thursdays ago, my friends were messing around trying to find something to do, since none of them have class on Friday. When my friends or bored, either they create some awesome, or something goes terribly wrong. We happened to have a wooden stool in our kitchen, and Andrew got the bright idea for us to play stump using this stool. If you don’t know, stump is a drinking game usually played on a tree stump outside. Each player has a nail which they tap lightly into the stump. To make your opponent take a sip of their beer, you need to toss a hammer (yes, a hammer) upwards so that it rotates 1 full rotation. On its way down, you need to catch the hammer (ideally on the handle) and try to hit your opponents nail, all in one fluid motion (I’ve done the work for you and found a video). Now, it might sound dangerous. And frankly, it is, if you’re with a bunch of super drunk idiots. Luckily this was the first beer all of us had, which in the long run didn’t matter since we all sobered up immediately after this event.

So we’re stumping away, but this is a wooden stool, not a giant tree stump, and after a while the poor stool starts to show some cracks. After about 10 more minutes of playing, the stool was in shambles, missing large pieces and making it largely impossible to play on. So, like any ordinary kids, we decide to just beat the crap out of this stool and totally obliterate it! (Think of it as stress relief) So far it’s all fun and games, we’re just joking around and smacking this stool with a hammer. We decided it was time to end this thing and start raising the hammer high above our heads and crashing it down. Once. Twice. Three times. Then Neil grabs the hammer and brings it down on the stool. Instantly he falls to the ground, clutching his face and cries out “Oh God! Shit, I’m not OK!”

When he pulls his hands away from his face there is blood everywhere. His girlfriend starts freaking out. I grab an ice pack. Andrew tries to calm him down as we move towards the bathroom. As we’re walking, Neil cracks a smile and says, “Guess this is the end of my bowling career.” This is why we love Neil.

And then what do I do? I run into my room and grab my camera.  For the next 10 minutes or so, 5 of us are packed in the bathroom as Andrew washes out Neil’s eye and uses a headlamp and a pair of tweezers to try to remove any debris from his eye. As his girlfriend looks on, I begin taking pictures, getting as close as possible without interfering with Andrew. There is no resistance.

Eventually Andrew says there’s nothing left that he can see, but now Neil’s eye is pretty swollen and he’s beginning to get worried. He keeps telling us that everything is blurry and that he cannot see very well. He starts to get dressed to go to the hospital, but eventually we convince him that it’s ok. Coincidentally, Neil’s father is an opthamologist, and so at midnight Thursday evening, Neil calls up his dad and proceeds to tell him what happens. The next day he went to a doctor and got some drops, and weeks later you can barely see the cut below his eye.

So obviously I’ve included some photographs in the gallery below, but what I loved about this whole event was the fact that I could get right in there and not have to think twice about taking pictures. I’ve been making pictures of these friends for over two years now and it’s what I am currently focusing on as a semester project, so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it is I’m doing and what it means, if anything. I like to think it shows the intimacy of the relationships but also the idea that “everyday” moments can be totally crazy. Whether or not I’m making work that others can find merit in is up for debate, but I know that at a personal level, exploring my immediate surroundings in this way is incredibly rewarding.