Today I feel.

If there’s one thing everyone knows, everyone understands, it’s that emotions are both powerful and changeable. In these months of mental and physical isolation, of fear and fear-mongering, and of facing a future that seems more opaque than ever before, emotion can be a crutch or an avenue of healing. We are each trying to process our emotional state on a daily basis.

I’ve found that some days I am driven by anger, others by sadness, and more and more I just feel exhausted. But on rare days when a gentle breeze pulls me into the present or a wave of clarity washes through my brain, I feel fortified and ready again to be an active agent in my own story. I won’t lie and say I feel hope, or that I even believe hope is a very useful feeling (to me, hope is more about passive wishing, while having faith – in the world, in oneself, in a higher power, whatever it is – pushes me to purpose). But I do circle back to feeling inspired or in awe every now and then, and it is those moments I try to string together into a reality driven by compassion instead of more basal emotions.

I wish I had the capacity to express my current state of mind as beautifully as writers like Sarah Orah Marks in this piece for the Paris Review.

‘I consider how much we depend on useless, arbitrary tasks to prove ourselves,” she writes. “I consider how much we depend on these tasks so we can say, at the very end, we succeeded…In fairy tales, the king is the king. If he dethrones, his bones clatter into a heap and vanish. Loosen the seams of the stepmother, and reach in. Nothing but stepmother inside. Even when the princess is cinders and ash, she is still entirely princess. If I had a machete I would use it to cut the mice, and the princess, and the king, and the stepmother, and the castle, and the wolf, and the mother, and the sons, free from their function so they could disappear into their own form.”

She so aptly captures the anxiety of working for an external goal for so long that you don’t even remember why you wanted it in the first place, and of the relief from letting that goal go so you can fall into your true self. As I continue on that journey for myself, of recognizing my own hands and learning what they really want to do, all I can offer is a stream of consciousness that logs my daily emotional journey.

Maybe you’ll relate, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll nod your head in agreement, or shake your head in horror at my internal monologue. If this is useful for you, great, and if not, may you find your own path through emotional growth. For what it’s worth, I’ve documented my emotional state over the course of several days, each day dominated either by anger, sadness, exhaustion, or resolve, as a reminder that emotions are capricious and beneath their tumultuous surface we will always have to deal with our true selves lying in the deep, still waters beneath.

Anger

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Today I am angry. I am angry at a world full of meaningless noise that clogs my ears and my mind and threatens to drive me crazy. I’m angry at the leaf blowers outside my home three times a week, and the weed whackers, water pressure hoses, and lawn mowers. I’m mad at the companies that hire the people to use these loud pieces of equipment to blow things around and chop things up ceaselessly so that there is never a moment of quiet peace. I’m angry that we care so much about cleaning streets and sidewalks and using leftover crude oil to pour them into existence over once beautiful natural land. I’m angry that trash collection begins at 6am, and that we even need trash collection at all. I’m angry at myself for producing trash, for giving into a society that normalizes the use of plastic-wrapped everything, convenience everything, mass produced everything, injecting us with the desire and need for variety and flavor and exoticness and excess and ultimately waste. I’m angry that a pandemic has made us even bigger plastic polluters. I’m angry that the only ones to ever benefit from a disaster are the rich and power hungry, and that everyone knows it but no one dares to try and change it. I’m angry that people aren’t taking to the streets every day to demand our leadership and our entire governance structure be dismantled. I’m mad at myself that I am not in the streets, that I don’t know how to be a charismatic leader for change. I’m angry that I don’t know WHAT we should be doing – should we be protesting in the streets, striking big businesses, demanding change by removing ourselves from the system? I’m angry that I still spend much of my day sitting in front of a screen typing meaningless words about topics that don’t matter if people want to be stupid and ignorant and greedy. I’m angry that so many people can so readily take advantage of their fellow humans because they know they are desperate, ill-educated, and want to believe in miracles and conspiracies because it’s so much easier to see in black in white instead of grey. I’m angry at the people who are smart but choose not to use their critical thinking because they are angry too, and their urge to proselytize overtakes their ability of self-enquiry. I’m angry at myself for taking so long to figure out what I should be doing in this life to be a positive force, not just a resource drag. I’m angry that I was born into a world overflowing with consumerism, with companies telling us we have to buy things to define ourselves, and for believing that for so long. I’m angry that corporations like plastic industries, cruise lines, airlines, and big oil get bailouts and subsidies while sustainable farming, healthcare, and education don’t. I’m angry that our world is so clearly a dystopia but few people seem to feel the need to break out of the mold or demand better. I’m angry at all of the disgusting, mindless television, the exploitation of people for entertainment, the sensationalized news media on all sides and the people whose brains get molded by them, and how stupid it makes people. I’m angry that so many people perpetuate violence and completely ignore it, based on the hundreds of choices they make each year about what to eat and what to buy. I’m angry that I don’t have more of a platform to invoke change, to help people, to push out injustice, to spread compassion, to contribute positive things to the world. I’m angry at so many people, and human systems, and the messes we’ve created, that sometimes I don’t feel it’s even worth it to want to help. Today I’m angry at the world, and I’m angry at myself for being so angry.

Sadness

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Today I am sad. Sad for the millions of animals crammed together in dirty pens that never had a chance. They didn’t have a chance at life before the pandemic because they were in line to be murdered for steaks, wings, and bacon. No chance at life now because with supply chains broken, businesses are murdering them immediately just so they won’t have to spend money feeding them until supply chains are mended. I’m sad for all the people that never had a chance. The generations of abused and victimized that may have very well changed the world for the better and helped us evolve past our current brutality, if they had ever been given on small leg up and out of oppression. I’m sad for all the people that are so desperate for someone or something tangible to blame external to themselves that they will swallow the most outlandish lies that will only be a slow poison that leads to pain and death. Death of bodies, death of minds, death of potential. I’m sad that even in the midst of a global pause of the biggest machine on our planet – the economy – we can’t conceive of more creative and compassionate futures instead of just ‘getting back to business as usual’. I’m sad that we’ve failed ourselves. That we let our creativity and potential ooze out of us like sweat as we lounge on our couches watching celebrities watch TV. I’m sad that I don’t want children because I don’t want them to grow up feeling guilt, anger, loss, and suffering that, while it has existed through all time, is particularly gut-wrenching in this era. I’m sad that people still believe in ‘progress’ like it is a ladder to material heaven, where you can buy anything you want and everything grows bigger and bigger forever and you stretch so wide you don’t know where your mind ends and the lavish clothes and jewelry and cars and yard décor begins. I’m sad because all I want is to live in a tiny cabin on a few acres of land with woods and water, but this too is materialistic. I’m sad because it takes so much money to live so simply if you want to do it away from other people and noise and business. I’m sad because someone sprayed pesticides outside my apartment and now there are dozens of bees dead or dying on the sidewalk, writhing in confusion as their tongues splay out and they crawl in circles until they lose all hope and energy and give up. I’m sad because I feel isolated from everyone; I don’t want to watch TV, I don’t want to buy things, I don’t want to be happy and optimistic, and I don’t want to go back to normal. I’m sad that I can never choose a side, because I see all the grey and nuance in every situation and therefore ostracize myself from all factions. I’m sad because all of the best things about life – the magic of nature, the spiritual essence of ourselves, the beauty of our universe – is all trivialized by the pettiness of the small amount of our brains that we actually cultivate. I’m sad because I may never know the full capability of my brain. I may never discover whether I have a soul and how to free myself from bodily form. I’m sad that suffering is inevitable. I’m sad that the few in power can harm so many not in power, and that if we could all just band together we could create revolution, but people don’t tend to want revolution. They want to go back to normal. To go back. To revert. To recede. To hide in shells and hope that the waves of war, or disease, or disaster will wash over them and move on so that they can meekly pull their heads out again and continue crawling in circles in the sand. Today, I am filled with sadness.

Exhaustion

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Today I am exhausted. Everything in the world makes me tired. My brain hurts from the millions of repeated messages and useless soundbites perpetuated across every media platform. I’m exhausted by people who’ve lost all sense of empathy for their fellow humans – or anyone else for that matter – and who for some reason want to slave away for an inanimate ‘economy’ instead of figuring out what a system would like that could support peoples’ livelihoods AND their wellbeing. I’m so tired. Tired of seeing the same tone-deaf stories over and over that never broach the root causes of all our problems. I’m tired of fighting for the narratives that have been buried, I’m tired of being angry about all the misrepresentation, misleading, misquoting, misogynism. I’m tired of people. I’m tired of everyone complaining about not being able to go to concerts or Disneyland. I’m tired of people in power telling us that workers want to go back to work and we should let them – they don’t WANT to go back to work, they just need to be able to survive. I’m tired of a lying government, and of an entire country and world that for some reason is afraid to hold that government accountable, so afraid of one insane man that they let him destroy people’s lives, destroy the environment, lie to the public, and get away with anything. It’s absolutely exhausting. I’m tired from trying to stick by my ideals while I watch the majority of people revert to tribalism, violence, prejudice, laziness. I’m tired of the memes, of the ‘let’s use this pause to expand our consciousness’ tropes, of the people who say they appreciate this pause but aren’t planning to do anything different when life starts speeding up again. I’m tired of living in my brain that won’t stop churning with anger, sadness, and disappointment. I’m tired from reading about all the productive things everyone else is doing while I lay in bed wrestling with mental darkness. I’m tired of people wanting a cure but not once thinking about how they could have helped prevent a pandemic in the first place by choosing to support fair, compassionate, sustainable entities that don’t destroy or exploit animals, wildlife or the environment; but instead they buy everything on Amazon, from China, on sale, in bulk, never considering that the better the deal, the greater the behind-the-scenes suffering may be. I’m tired of trying to explain that disease is not something that just appears, it’s a direct result of our interactions with the world and our choices. No one wants to listen, so why put the energy into it? I’m exhausted from spending the better part of my life fighting to get people to care about how they treat our world, only to see that world continue to disintegrate under the weight of willful ignorance. I’m exhausted from trying to avoid all the news that’s pure vitriol, all the entertainment that’s nauseous distraction, and all the opinions that want to be heard regardless of whether they need to be. I want to be far, far away from it all, alone, in solitude, where I can rest, where my body can rest, where I can learn to move with the currents and cycles that we evolved with, not the ones forced upon us by corporations. Today I’m completely exhausted.

Resolve

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Today I am resolved. I’m resolved to feel the emotions that rise and fall within me and acknowledge from whence they came, and resolved to let them subside so that I can begin to learn what equanimity is, what a baseline of peace is, what it means to not be ruled by emotion but by one’s inner voice, one’s intuition. I am resolved to find little (and maybe big) ways to feel like I am contributing something of value to the world around me, whether it’s through an attitude, a behavior, a creation, or a conversation. I resolve to not berate myself too much on those days where I lay in bed for hours bemoaning existence and suffering, and resolve to have days where I do get out of bed and practice gratitude for the ability to recognize beauty and compassion. I am resolved to not let the narrow-mindedness, prejudice, fear, or anger of others be my own downfall. I’m resolved to learn how to not rely on my outward mask (not my physical mask of course, but the mask that holds in my true self) for protection, and to instead worry less about how people perceive me and focus more on how to be true and strong. I’m resolved to live by my own ideals even if the ideals of those around me continue to deteriorate. I’m resolved to search for the essence of my creativity so that I never succumb to the greed or anger that so many others are buried in right now, that is so easy to sink into. I am resolved to give myself time and space to breathe, to look inwards, and to practice letting my intuition guide me. I’m resolved to express gratitude to those who help me thrive, or help me see beauty, or love. But I am also resolved to not be lulled into false contentment by an overflowing stack of gratitude journals, 30-day yoga challenges, and mindfulness podcasts that end up as temporary distractions. I am resolved to find the real source of equanimity and peace, which is found by nothing else other than looking within, without distraction, without external noise, without checklists or stickers or material rewards. I am resolved – no matter what emotions may well up within me – to always enjoy the wonder of a blooming flower, the bright whiteness of floating clouds against a blue sky, the flutter of a surprise butterfly, the superb jaggedness of mountain peaks, or the reflected light of sunset on the ocean water as it creeps up the beach. I am resolved to nurture compassion and positivity in my interactions with others, even when I am internally outraged or saddened. I am resolved to continue advocating that animals deserve their lives, that the planet deserves our respect, and that our actions always affect those around us, even when I temporarily feel that advocacy is futile. I’m resolved to confront my ego on a regular basis and adopt a lifelong practice of recognizing its limitations and never considering myself better than anyone else. I am resolved to go on, even when I may not want to, and to speak my mind when I need to. I am resolved to listen to my heart, to be kind to myself, and to do the best I can to live a life that is light, that transmits beauty and love, and that transcends the pitfalls of egotistical drives. I am resolved to be who I need to be in this world.

How Can We Overcome SciComm Misconceptions?

What makes someone a science communicator? A science degree? Journalism credentials? A lab coat and penchant for cheesy science humor?

How can we make room for diverse voices and backgrounds to participate in scicomm and feel a part of the scicomm community?

This community has grown exponentially over the last several years, helping reinforce the importance of good scicomm for engaging non-scientists, increasing interest and trust in science, and applying science to societal issues. However, with the rise in scicomm, a number of concerns have popped up (particularly by scientists) about who has a “right” to communicate science, how they should communicate it, and whether science communication is having a positive or negative impact on public perception of science.

In this vein, I’ll be convening a workshop at this year’s Science Talk in Portland, where I hope to encourage reflection on how we can create a supportive and inclusive community while promoting transparent, trustworthy approaches to science communication.

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Do you need to be a scientist to be a science communicator? Can you be a serious scientist if you spend a lot of time communicating? Believe it or not, these are still ongoing scicomm debates.

As a PhD trained scientist who transitioned to a full-time scicomm career several years ago, I still sometimes struggle with feeling a part of the science communication community, and feeling like I have the “authority” to call myself a science communicator. I see others struggle with these things too–like for example, Allison Gasparini, who writes about the difficulty of having the “right” mix of science background and journalism training to compete for scicomm jobs.

On the other extreme, there are super confident non-scientist communicators out there who have no problem self-identifying as purveyors of science to the masses. Some of these folks are writers or journalists who do a great job of digesting and translating science into engaging and useful pieces of communication. Others (knowingly or unknowingly) misinterpret scientific findings, or worse share unverified or false scientific information that mislead the public–whether it be about nutrition, GMOs, vaccines, or what have you.

While most scicommers would agree that scicomm is a critical component of science, it is important to address the concerns of scientists and others about what makes responsible science communication (e.g., citing reliable/verifiable sources, disclosing any biases), and how we can support scicomm-ers in this endeavor.

In my workshop I plan to facilitate discussions around best practices of responsible and effective science communication–principles that anyone, no matter their background or training, can implement to reinforce a transparent approach to science communication. From there I hope to elicit some concrete recommendations on how the scicomm community can support us as individuals to do effective and engaging science communication. I’m excited to hear what misconceptions have most plagued others, and what strategies scicomm folks have for promoting an inclusive scicomm community that values transparency, accuracy, and respect.

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Pssst! What’s the secret to great science communication?

If you plan to attend Science Talk and want to be part of this conversation, I encourage you to join my workshop at 9am on Friday, April 5th. If you won’t be at the conference but want to participate in this conversation, I welcome your thoughts, feedback, and questions via email or social media!

This workshop will be just the beginning of a broad conversation about how to create a supportive, inclusive, and transparent scicomm community–and all voices are welcome. The objective of my workshop is to produce a working document of best practices that can continue to be honed and expanded upon as the field of scicomm evolves.

Why I write

I write out of quiet desperation. I write out of self-preoccupation. Out of wonder, out of frustration. I write for the same reason that so many of us are compelled to have children, so that some part of my conscious self might live on after my body wastes away. I write secretly to the one I love, hiding the words in the deep depths of my computer’s memory. I write in the hopes that some of my words may impact others, may change minds, change perceptions, change the world—so to speak.

Words are power: the ability to influence, to sway and convince—or to outrage, to intrigue, or to inspire. I use the written word to do these things because I can not do so effectively with my voice, it is not my skill. I write to whine, to complain if only to myself about the intricacies of fate and luck. I write down thoughts to prevent me from jinxing them (I know, how odd of me, with a scientific background, to worry about such nonsense). Writing keeps me sane, keeps an audit trail of my thoughts that otherwise get tangled and fade away. Sometimes I write out of procrastination, to avoid my work, but I always cherish these pieces more than anything. I write because I don’t know what else to do. I should write more; sometimes I wait and wait for inspiration and it doesn’t come—I don’t know where to look. Other times it gushes profusely, raw, and confused, for pages and pages.

Writing is at times a crutch for me, an outlet distinct from social interaction, and yet a sort of interaction in its own sense, more solid and lasting than the ephemeral conversation. It is a record. It is a testament to one particular moment in time that will never be recreated in just the same way, those exact shades of emotion. I write to bleed my pain more often than to express joy. I write so that my abstract thoughts have a place to call home, where they may only be judged through the eyes that understand them, until they have been chiseled and polished. I like to think that writing is my “calling”, but really I don’t know this. There are a million better writers, poets, than I. I write so that I may have a purpose, or create one in the empty space that is each of our lives, and so hope to fill that space with tangible meaning for myself and those who share it with me.

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Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

This was an exercise I took upon myself as a way to document the swirl of thoughts in my brain related to my desire/struggle to write. A number of important people in my life have recently reiterated a similar piece of wisdom that I’m now trying to follow more regularly: Just keep writing! Write a few pages each morning, just to yourself. Get out your thoughts, your emotions, your dreams, your goals. Over time you will start to notice patterns, and maybe, just maybe recognizing this will help you manifest what you really want (or need) out of life. At the very least it will help you cultivate gratitude, mindfulness, and creativity. Happy writing everyone!