This may shock some of you, but there was a time, not too long ago, when I didn’t read many books at all. I just wasn’t interested. I would pick up a novel every now and then (usually something by Peter Benchley) to read for fun, but filling my head with facts and figures wasn’t exactly my favored pastime for a bit. Within the last year that has drastically changed, and I spend most of my nights and weekends reading, usually at least 4 hours a day during the week and 8 hours on a weekend-day. My compulsive reading habit, however, has somewhat put me at odds with other people and makes it very difficult to make new friends at times.
Talking to a new acquaintance last night, I was run through the usual gamut of questions (“Where are you from? What’s your job? etc.), and the person who I was talking to was a bit shocked that I didn’t “go out” more. I like to take in a movie now and then, go for a drive, have dinner when it’s financially possible, but heading out to the bar and having a few drinks isn’t exactly my idea of a good time, especially when I’d have to do it alone (most of my friends live far away or are busy). Rather than blow $20 or so on drinks that I don’t really care for the taste of anyway, I’d rather sit at home, pour myself a glass of iced tea, and read until I start to go cross-eyed from fatigue. Thus, it’s hard to make new friends, or even to make “small talk.” Indeed, it’s hard to talk about the “big game” when I don’t care a whit for sports, nor do I feel that discussing what happened on last night’s episode of Lost at length is especially productive. While everyone else was doing that, I was reading about whether three-wattled bellbirds learn or inherit their impressive songs, or what E.D. Cope thought about evolution at the turn of the last century. Such topics are not easily injected into everyday conversation, and even when I do, I get tagged as a know-it-all or egghead.
All this isn’t to say I don’t enjoy a good time out with friends, or even just ordering some pizza and playing XBOX until 2 AM, but it’s definitely hard to connect with people who have no real interest in nature or science in general. When I learn something new, I find it exciting and want to share that with everyone, but to most people it’s equivalent to useless trivia that only ivory-tower academic types care about. I seriously am grateful that I have the wife that I do, a wife that I can argue about the mating/nesting/display habits of bowerbirds with over dinner and actually takes an interest when I try to convey a new idea, as I have no idea who else on this earth would take me (not to mention that my wife is a gorgeous, kind, and has just about every other type of virtue you’d care to name).
This may seem like an odd time to broach such a topic, but I guess I worry sometimes that I am a bit of a social shut-in. Rather than being anti-social, it’s just hard to connect with others my own age who don’t share the same interests, especially when I’m headed back for another semester of college and I’m 6 years older than the incoming class. Speaking of school, I’ve been playing around with my class schedule and I finally was able to fit in a “fun” course I wanted on living primates. Looking at the anthropology course listing, I actually have been starting to contemplate switching majors (yet again) as ecology & evolution has been a struggle and a disappointment, and there appears to be no room in it for a vertebrate zoologist. After looking through the whole course catalog I was able to find no course on vertebrate zoology, evolution, or even basic skeletal anatomy, the anthropology department being that only one (as far as I could tell) that connects different sciences in the way I’m interested in. The only problem is I have no idea what I’d do with a B.S. in human evolutionary science, but I have to say that at this point it holds much more appeal for me than “fundamentals of ecological/environmental modeling.” Don’t get me wrong, I still love ecology and would love to be a conservation biologist, but the Rutgers department doesn’t seem the place to go if you’re interested in vertebrates.
Anyway, I have also received some “good” news about an idea that I had involving hadrosaur crests. The only problem is that I’ll probably have to learn German and/or Russian to understand the best work done on the subject, but I have received a fair amount of encouragement on the subject, and if things work out I think I could definitely get a PhD trying to combine paleontology with physiology. We’ll have to see. In any case, this is incredibly sappy, but I do want to thank all my readers here for assuring me that I am not (as yet) entirely mad and for sharing ideas and helping me learn. Without this blog as an outlet, all my thoughts would be rattling around in my head and no one would really care what I had to say on the topic. Even though I’m writing this blog for myself primarily (it’s sort of a journal of my intellectual journey), without the constant kind comments and corrections I wouldn’t get as much out of it as I have, and I certainly appreciate all the discussions and help other more-experienced bloggers and scientists have offered me since I started writing here.