When I was four, I told my mother that I wanted to grow up to be a cocktail waitress. “I never want to leave home,” I said, “I want to stay here with you forever.” Whenever I remember this, I laugh, until I realize that seventeen years later, my desires aren’t so different.
My vision of the perfect life does not include living with my parents and funding a Netflix account with tips, but lately I’ve been thinking that I wouldn’t mind living the simple life. I have been wound so tightly for the past three years that all I want to do is throw away my telephone and live in a city where I know just enough of the language to get by.
I spent the winter living in a seventh story walk-up in Tianjin, China without Internet, and it was wonderful. I had a buckwheat pillow and a blanket and a toilet that barely flushed, and the most stressful part of my day was worrying about whether the gate to my alley would be locked when I came home late. It was nothing like this place.
One night, when the other MIT students and I were sitting on the floor drinking forty-ounce bottles of cheap Chinese beer and talking about what we wanted to do with our lives, I revealed my secret desire to do nothing. I told them about how I pictured my two kids running around in natural cotton and creating art out of things we found together in the woods or on the banks of the nearby creek and how I wished I had a trust fund so that we could just hang out and eat fresh food and never have to work.
It felt odd sharing this with two other MIT students. I have always felt like there was an expectation that students who come here have plans to do great things. People don’t usually attend MIT and work for thousands of hours on differential equations so that they can spend their lives collecting hubcaps and concocting new recipes for cranberry jam. I had a feeling I was about to be ripped to shreds by two chemical engineers and a mathematician.
But I wasn’t. Two of them felt much the same way.
I think science is fascinating. I really do. The problem is that I have spent almost every waking hour of the last three years reading and calculating and pipetting and right now all I want is a break.
What sparked this recent freak-out was a night out in Beijing near the end of my trip. In search of the cheapest beer, we ended up at a second-floor bar with a Latin band and a young American bartender. I remember looking at her and feeling so envious because she just looked sublimely blithe. And as my friend and I were salsa dancing our little hearts out, I looked over at this bartender and wished that we could trade places so that I could stay there forever to serve people in Yanjing and watch fools like me dance.
But the reality is that fools like me just got dealt different cards. She ended up in a bar in Beijing. I ended up at the Institute. And now, without a trust fund or a man willing to sire two creative and free-spirited children at this point in his life, I’m going to have to try science.
Farewell, childhood dream.