Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hello Operator

I would say that a bottle of wine will convince you to love Quantum physics, but the truth is, it will convince you all by itself. We love things that we can understand; but more importantly, we love things that we cannot understand. Quantum mechanics is both, neither, and some star-crossed state in between. It's everything.

It's literally the reason I crawl out of bed every other day after sleeping far, far too little. It's captivating. It's my one saving grace in graduate school; the passion for the fundamentals, the moment when I realize that I'm ready to go back to basics in order to understand the basis. Genuinely, this time, and with great relish.

And now, for Quantum and everything else:

"The work will teach you how to do it."
-Estonian Proverb

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Conservation of Energy

"So, if you don't mind...what grade did you get in your undergraduate classical mechanics class?"

My, what a loaded question. I assume, professor, that you're asking me this so that you can understand how I weaseled my way into graduate school after handing in such a preposterous first homework set, furthermore seeming almost smug and extremely aware of how much sense my answers didn't make. I assume you believe me to be some sort of system-playing fraud; a woman about whom people should be advised and warned. Someone who does not put in the required effort; someone who might not survive this school.

But, let's go back to undergraduate classical mechanics. Let's see if we can dissect what really happened that year. Never mind the fact that I think that most of us were rather bored and confused in that class, or that it was three years ago, or that I hadn't written a Lagrangian since I had last been asked...never mind all that. There's quite a deeper story.

You see, I lost months of my life that year. Honestly, I can't even construct a decent continuum of memories; only bits here, bits there, bits that may come back someday...but I hope not. I do remember a few things, though; unfortunately, none of them involving how to define forces of constraint. Instead, I remember laying on the ground, unable to move, bright fluorescent lights above. I remember the never-ending days of self-imposed routine, the work, the not sleeping.

Because I knew that I had to sleep quickly and wake up early before the sun would rise. I would trudge in the dark through piles of snow on bitter cold mornings, and when I arrived at the pool all bundled up, I'd strip down to barely anything and swim as if my life depended on it, because it did. I knew that my morning swim would be the only thing to sustain my energy, my life, that day. 

The day I found out, part of me died. And everything is jumbled up after that. The phrase "sexual abuse scandal" barely begins to scratch the surface of the horrible things that were being unveiled in front of my family's eyes, but any other phrase cuts too deeply. And then, the bad press. Every inaccurate news article about our private lives was taken and laid  bare for the internet, at the mercy of any bored, ignorant passerby. And oh, how they relish in the opportunity to volunteer a digital opinion! Some expressed keystrokes of sympathy and disgust, others essentially called us liars, and probably everything in between. And we hid. We pretended it wasn't about us. We tried to protect ourselves.

I lost my mind that year. I became severely unwell. I was exhausted, unreliable, ridden with anxiety, useless, helpless, defenseless, and depressed. I was a little more than a high-functioning corpse. Even now, just the memory of it...it is by grace that I do not remember most of this, but, oh! I'm being rude. You asked me a question!

See, I'm caught in a nuance of the memory now, scrambling so that I don't drown in it. It is several years later, and I have certainly healed considerably. But the mention of that year, of anything during that time, has the potential to send me reeling backwards. Because sadly, I lost everything I once knew about classical mechanics. I lost almost everything that year.

But you didn't ask for that. You didn't ask for details, or context. You asked for a number.

"I received a 2.5 in classical mechanics."