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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Column: Time changes all things


This is supposed to be a farewell column, but it’s hard to shake the science-writing habit after it’s been nurtured for so long. So, forgive the ramblings of a science writer desperately trying to write a newspaper-safe personal letter. Time changes all things. It changes people, it changes memories, it changes the very nature of everything. Time even changes itself, or at least it changes how it is perceived. Each year seems to move a little bit faster, and we want each of those years to last just a little bit longer. It’s funny how often it happens that as soon as we are comfortably settled into something, it’s already time to move on again. Be it a particularly memorable year of your life, a great job, a fascinating class, your first car — even a college fling or a pair of jeans — they all have to be put away eventually.

As strange as it may sound, college might actually be the least complicated time of our lives. For four years, everything is laid out in front of us. It is one big long checklist that takes forever to complete, but at least we always usually know what the next step is. Take the BIS series, check. Some UWP classes, check. Get an internship, check. Make friends, check. Take a philosophy class and think you know everything, check. Take an ecology class and realize you know nothing, check. Go to a CALPIRG meeting because an attractive girl mind-controlled you into filling out the email form … check. Go to a frat party and do your first keg-stand … I guess that one is optional. But hey, even if you tried it and hated it, as least you can say you tried it.

That attitude doesn’t work for all things. Meth, for example. But it does work in cases of attempted self-improvement. And only time will tell if those attempts were worthwhile. Maybe the high school athlete wanted to try his hand at Magic the Gathering at weekly tournaments. Maybe the Dungeons and Dragons aficionado wanted to try martial arts. Well, this (points two thumbs at self) high school athlete wanted to try science writing, and three years later, only regretted it once. I worked with two editors before I became editor myself, and with each one, it was a struggle to get used to each one. But again, time changed that.

I’m sure everyone has had this feeling — the feeling where you are waiting for the moment that everyone realizes that you actually have no idea what you are doing and that you have been bluffing all along. At some point, time changes that as well. And just when you are getting settled into your new position of power and respect, it’s time to train the person who will be taking your job. Taking is the wrong word … inheriting. I think that the biggest fear of moving on might be that once you are gone, everyone who is still there will realize they don’t need you. For my ego’s sake, I hope that I’ve left big shoes to fill.

This is getting too emotional, so let’s drop some knowledge. We used to think the world was flat, and we were absolutely sure, without a shred of doubt, that we were right. Nope, wrong. We used to think the Earth was the center of the solar system, and we were absolutely sure, without a shred of doubt, that the sun revolved around us. Nope, wrong again. Vikings never wore horned helmets into battle. Cracking knuckles has never been clinically shown to cause arthritis. Napoleon wasn’t actually that short (he was 5-foot-2 in the French units used at the time, which is actually closer to 5’7” in our units). Stretching actually decreases athletic performance by an average of five percent.

And don’t worry, the heartbreak of leaving your comfort zone isn’t actually a bad thing — it’s just your hormones screaming at you for making changes. That crushing feeling in your heart caused by adrenaline and cortisol is actually beneficial in small amounts. It’s hard to find a way to say, “don’t get sad too often.”

This all ties back into the “time changes all things” pattern I have been trying to follow, along with the idea of continual self-betterment. I have met people who are constantly at dizzying highs, people who are always at crushing lows and people who never stray from the middle. I can say, without a doubt in my mind, that I would rather experience the entire range of feelings, even the bad ones, than just feel the good. Without the bad, the good becomes meaningless. There is a scienc-y explanation: you build up a tolerance to the release of hormones that happiness induces.

No matter how sad we might be about leaving something amazing and moving on to something new, be excited about it. The worst that will happen is that you will have learned something new about yourself.

HUDSON LOFCHIE is no longer the boss of the science desk. He can be reached at hudson@lofchie.com.


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