10 Year Challenge

The summer after freshman year in college was a summer of transition: moving into my first apartment, declaring a major in chemistry, and switching personal email addresses to one that had my full name. Any monicker with “tgn” was extinguished. Also, that summer I deactivated my Facebook account because it was distracting and intended to reactivate it a few months later. I was practicing a social media cleanse before there was even a term for it. For a reason that I don’t remember, though, I couldn’t reactivate my profile.

I was reminded of this event during the flurry of “10 year challenge” posts that flooded the social media channels that I have since cleansed and restored many times over. Wanting to participate and looking for the perfect 2009 photo, I scrolled through my Facebook albums only to find that the earliest pictures of me on there are from 2010. I eventually created a new Facebook profile after discovering that I couldn’t simply restore my old one. I suppose the latter part of that year was dedicated to rebuilding a network of online friends, and I had never gotten into a habit of uploading photos of myself in any consistent manner. I was at a school where I only really knew one other person before starting there, and I maintained contact with my hometown friends online. Ten years ago, I often felt disconnected from the world.


This year I set my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge to 50 books, and on Christmas Eve I finished the 50th book! I didn’t read all of them exactly because I’m modern and also listened to a number of audio books, but still this is a year-end goal that I’m proud of.

Although, 2018 wasn’t successes all around. My only expressed New Year’s resolution was to learn how to shuck oysters. I bought the knife and the cut-resistant gloves, but when I found out that buying raw oysters from the fish market in Upper East Side was more expensive than happy hour at my favorite oyster bar in Greenwich Village including the train fare, motivation levels went down. Does watching oyster shucking YouTube videos count as learning?

Book 46 was Storyworthy by Matthew Dicks. I had read all of his novels since I first heard about him in college, and I guess at some point during that time I signed up for his email list. When I was notified that he was coming out with a nonfiction book about storytelling, I was curious and preordered it. This year I became a podcaster, and I thought that learning how to tell stories better would help me. I don’t craft stories to tell in front of live audiences in the way the author does at The Moth events, but I can say that I learned a lot reading Storyworthy.

In his book, he advises budding storytellers not to tell vacation stories. “No one wants to hear about your vacation.” Last year I wrote about my trip to South Africa, and well, looking back at 2018, I realized that my highlights were reflections while I was on vacation. Sorry, Matthew.

Deep Valleys Make High Mountains

What about suki kirai? Is there a word for that in English? It literally means “like dislike”—or maybe “love hate.” The phrase refers to someone who has a lot of preferences, and I usually ascribe this trait to food. People who have suki kirai are picky eaters.

I shouldn’t have suki kirai, my mom taught me that.

It usually happened like this. I would be sitting on the floor of our study, probably playing Diablo II, and my mom would call out from the kitchen that dinner was ready. I was sitting on the floor because I moved my desktop computer to a low table. Not Indian style, but I was into seiza, which literally means “proper sitting,” or kneeling butt-to-heels like they do in tea ceremonies. I had this setup throughout middle school, and it may or may not be the reason that in my adulthood my knees don’t touch and I feel the need to get cupping therapy to fix my back. If I didn’t instinctively yell back “Chotto matte!” (“Wait a little!”), I would hop downstairs to the dinner table.

The Man Who Holds Trash

“I follow Bernese mountain dogs on Instagram!” I approached a man and tugged on Jayden’s leash gesturing, Is your dog friendly? My black lab made his usual nose-to-butt introduction.

The owner smiled and responded, “My dog is on Instagram.”

I smiled back.

A beat.

“Do you post things in the first person as if your dog is talking?”

He laughed embarrassingly and also realized that I was being serious. “Well, my girlfriend does, yes.”

Jayden nudged to explore a nearby tree, and I could tell the man was eyeing the countdown timer for the crosswalk. Furthermore, I didn’t know what else to say after that. “OK, well, have a nice day!”

My Side Hustle

Being an idealistic, left-leaning 27-year-old working in scientific research can be frustrating. From a young age, my parents and teachers pushed me to study math and science, assuring me of a well-respected and lucrative future. Despite having earned degrees in science from two of the world’s top academic institutions, I seldom feel that my dedication to chemistry and biology has helped me garner the social or financial capital that appeared self-evident 10 years ago.

I want to say that I wasn’t disillusioned by some pretense that pursuing science would guarantee social status and financial security and that I do what do because I enjoy it and feel that I’m contributing to the advancement of humanity. But it’s difficult to be optimistic when scientists’ collective hard work is challenged and often misrepresented by people who don’t understand how science works. Denial of climate change, the fear of genetically modified organisms, the anti-vaccination movement, the improper use of antibiotics, and an altogether indifference to the facts of the natural world are pervasive. As a chemical biologist who has perched his pipets and beakers in the fortresses of the ivory tower, I question how what I do helps society.