dreams intact


Álvaro Mutis
that death receives you
with all your dreams intact.
At the return of a raging youth,
at the beginning of vacations never given,
death will distinguish you with its first call.
Your eyes will be opened to its big waters, you will be
initiated into its constant wind of another world.
Death will melt with your dreams
and there recognize the signs
left so long ago
as a hunter coming back
recognizes its own prints along the gap.


Que te acoja la muerte
con todos tus sueños intactos.
Al retorno de una furiosa adolescencia,
al comienzo de las vacaciones que nunca te dieron,
te distinguirá la muerte con su primer aviso.
Te abrirá los ojos a sus grandes aguas,
te iniciará en su constante brisa de otro mundo.
La muerte se confundirá con tus sueños
y en ellos reconocerá los signos
que antaño fuera dejando,
como un cazador que a su regreso
reconoce sus marcas en la brecha.

Photo by Paul Green on Unsplash

As inconsequential as a fruit fly


In trying to describe to someone how pesky another person was – not annoying enough to think about, but still there when you didn’t care for her to be, inserting herself into situations in which she had no business, I realized she had become like a fruit fly. Nothing you really notice at all unless you’re close to them (or unless they exist in a giant swarm), mostly harmless but nothing you want around either. To cap off my discussion on how I thought of her, I declared, “If I were to say another word to her, it would be: ‘Get the fuck away from me, annoying fruit fly’.”

This seemed appropriate because she wanted to be so much more consequential than that, to occupy space, time, thought. But do fruit flies occupy that much space, time, thought for most of us? No, not for most of us.

But, for science, yes. As soon as I had made this analogy of woman as fruit fly, every other story I saw on my science and tech blogs seemed to be fruit-fly related. Do I notice them now because I evoked the fruit fly in my mind’s eye? Or is there really such a sudden glut of fruit fly stories?

Everything from “Fruit fly mutation foretells 40 million years of evolution” to, perhaps appropriately in this case, “Family break-ups lead to domestic violence in fruit fly relationships”. Perhaps most relevant of all: “Too near, or too far? What fruit flies teach us about personal space”.

Yes – personal space. My human fruit fly has no concept of boundaries or personal space (so perhaps would not even be good at being a fruit fly, really). Ignoring her or trying to create some distance ignited the kind of drama that I don’t permit in my life. She could never understand that I, like most people, appreciate personal space, and she was constantly invading it. And she knew it but had no self-control. It was not that I hated her (I barely knew her), was angry at her, or never wanted to talk to her again. It was simply that with her pushing and constant presence, she was an uninvited annoyance (exactly like fruit flies), not irritating like house flies, not predatory like spiders.

Simply… innocuous and ever-present, but unwelcome.

Photo (c) 2014 ZEISS Microscopy used under Creative Commons license.

Impressing professors: Take your moment


When I was in college I made a lot of weird blunders, especially for being the academic nerd that I am. I was not judicious in the words I chose, occasionally speaking out when I should not have, while failing to speak out when I should have, not taking advantage of many opportunities to broaden my horizons, so to speak. I never really tried that hard. Something I have written about before. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter, but when it comes to learning, it does. To say I was “lazy” does not mean I did not learn or that I did nothing. It just means that I could have learned and done and achieved so much more, had I not been in such a hurry, had I not let myself be influenced by others, had I known myself better, had I applied the full measure of intellect and drive I had to something. But I didn’t.

Still I had my own moments, few and far between, when I would stand out. I never wanted to stand out, certainly not verbally or visually, where people might let their eyes rest on me for more than a moment or two. Professors noticed me more when it counted (in writing). But still, yes, there were those moments, when a question was posed, and it seemed mind-numbingly simple what we were being asked, and yet the classroom sat in dumb silence.

A professor in my master’s degree program posed the question: “What was the main priority of American foreign policy in post-war America?” No one. Silence. “Come on, people.” More silence.

I raised my hand, wondering whether it could be as simple as I was thinking, “Containing Communism?”

“YES!” The professor looked at me gratefully, and with a respect he’d never once afforded me before. In fact, I am entirely sure I had been both nameless and invisible to him up until that moment. He favored me in a new way thereafter. It was strange: my comparative youth and silence in that course (everyone else was wading into their 50s, and I was barely in my 20s) had made me both stand out and be invisible at the same time, and he, perhaps relating better to the majority of students, closer to his age than mine, never glanced my way once before I uttered this stunningly basic reply to a basic question. Suddenly I had a voice when all my duck-and-cover-generation classmates, who should have eagerly yelled out the answer to that question, being Boomers, so close to it and the “Communism containment” directive, sat, mute, probably expecting that the answer had been something deeper or more complex than that.

I learned then that it’s not the quantity of what you say – it’s the quality. And, perhaps most of all, the timing – taking your moment.

Photo (c) 2010 EdTech Stanford University School of Medicine used under Creative Commons license.