Thursday, April 30, 2015

Chemistry and Poetry

I remember at my job interview for my library assistant position I was asked, "What brings you joy?" It was probably just a throw away question, one meant to be easy. The interviewer, an HR assistant, said it's fine to answer with money, that's what some people answer. Oh, if money was all I needed for joy- at least it is tangible. A lot of things make me happy- cats, the scent of jasmine in the air, the people I love...But this happiness is a fleeting feeling, not a sustained feeling of contentedness.

I answered that finishing something brings me joy. Like putting the finishing touches on something I created, or getting to the end of a difficult book. I do read plenty of books more for knowledge than entertainment, so sometimes just getting through them feels like an accomplishment.

I think I did horribly with that job interview, even ignoring that question, but I got the job anyway. I guess there weren't many other people interested in it, plus I was able to temp while they were deciding. I'm more impressive working than interviewing. During my time there, I learned that there is never an end to anything- assignments from years ago would rise from the dead. Never knowing if something was truly over, I couldn't enjoy anything. I worked there for over eight years, and by the time I quit I was bored and frustrated at the lack of opportunity to advance. The only interesting work left was for me to head down to our "technical books" section and find specifics on semiconductors, 802.11, programming, etc. (By the way, isn't OOPSLA the most fun name for a conference? I just love it.)

I love learning. I've been studying cosmetic chemistry kind of casually since I started the business, but I've been delving deeper into it lately. I listen to chemistry lectures instead of music while working. I read books with funny squiggly carbon chains. Those carbon diagrams used to confuse me, but now I enjoy them. And so I start wondering if I should go back to school and get my master's in cosmetic chemistry.

Oh, but how I hate formal education! I feel like I've learned so much more on my own than I did in school. I did well in school, but it all just felt like part of what I had to do. Go to school, get good grades, go to college, and then join the workforce. Back in high school I assumed after getting my bachelor's, I'd go on to graduate school, but I was disenchanted after four years of college. Screw the talk about college being the best years of your life- it was four years of misery for me. Just thinking about it makes me melodramatic. I worry going back to school would hurt me more than help me.

How much would I never learn if I do go back to school? Would I have time to study art, poetry, literature? After all, I seek poetry for comfort, not skeletal formulas (yes, skeletal formulas are a real term, I'm not just trying to make them sound cold and lifeless). I want to capture the art and beauty in scent. A fragrance is more than just the sum of its molecules- for me it's capturing an idea in a bottle. The thought of translating the abstract into a scent fascinates me. Stretching the imagination this way and that leaves me restless, wondering how far it can go before it snaps.

I wish I had time to study everything that interests me- all of the above, plus so much more. I would take this knowledge and blow it up like a giant balloon so close to popping. And then I would ever so gently paint a flower on that balloon.

"Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question...
Oh, do not ask, 'What is it?'
Let us go and make our visit."

-T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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