June 9, 2017 (Friday)

by Yule Heibel on June 8, 2018

It’s strange to think of life winding down, but one does, off and on.

I had to think of someone with whom I’m not in regular contact, who was my “colleague” in the graduate program at Harvard, both of us the bastard children of the same Doktorvater. But, differences. Age, for one (I’m older). Trajectory, too. She was able to take a conventional route; therefore: high school, college, grad school. Straight shot. Me, not so much: all over the place, probably still am. She, proper jobs, not merely adjunct positions, although it started out that way. She had mobility, though, and wasn’t tied to Boston, and could move to where the job was. Also, similarities. Marriage, and eventually children, but only once the career was on a firm footing – and the husband was at the time able to be the stay-at-home dad (as well as relocate to wherever her jobs took her), so her career didn’t take a hit.

The jobs were at “B-list” institutions as defined according to the standards set forth in the American pantheon of Ivy League worship, and it just occurred to me that her college was “B-list” as well, which makes Harvard the indubitable highlight of the career. Does it make her heart swell with nostalgia to think of past glory days at the Ivies? Another key difference between her and me, then, for mine doesn’t. Somehow Harvard never seemed like a sacred object, something cultic or fetishistic, to me. It was just another place I did my work, and I suppose this (my attitude) speaks volumes about my basic ignorance (of the sacred and profane in establishment American life) and also about my possible ingratitude. I’m too much of a working class yobbo to be “awed” by Harvard. And I guess I got what I deserved, i.e., not much.

Anyway. My colleague from back in those days is younger than I, in her fifties now. She doesn’t have to retire any time soon, but does she think about it ever, from time to time? Probably not yet – one’s fifties are prime time – but how odd to realize that former colleagues, collaborators, co-conspirators are coming to the far end of that middle age road, too.

It’s cloudy today, still cool (yesterday sunny and quite warm without the cloud cover), but by Sunday the prediction is for 94ºF. Too hot. I’ll never reconcile to this weather here.

Yesterday, #comeyday, apparently quite the dud for the smoking gun conspiracy theory crowd. Meanwhile, that idiot Theresa May has lost big in the UK election. Hung parliament possible, Corbyn on the rise, Brexit in peril. I’m quite unhappy about that last point. Remain is exactly what our bureaucratic overlords want.

Last night W. and I went to Le Laboratoire in Cambridge for “It’s Alive!”, a panel discussion about Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, and science today. Quite interesting, I made an Evernote, brief, re. the biographies of the presenters. Don Ingber was fascinating, the human-body-on-a-chip breakthrough stunning. Charlotte Gordon talked about the importance of Frankenstein‘s message: that you have to nurture – not abandon – your creations, shepherd them, introduce them to the world, and, I guess, “popularize” them lest they go rogue, feral, and scare people. The scientists (including Steve Gullans, another participant) liked this humanist angle, but what Ingber and especially Gullans, who talked about gene splicing and editing, and also about GMOs, failed to consider, it seemed to me, were long tail risks (in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s sense). The creature created by Frankenstein was (self)-contained, a one-off. The body-on-a-chip is also (self)-contained. GMOs might not be, and can modify generations to come.

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