sordid family history!

er. i realized after posting this that i didn't give any sort of lead-in at all.

so, yeah. i've been meaning to write down my family history -- AS I HEARD IT, i stress, from a multitude of different relatives -- for a while now. this is by no means the complete, detailed account, but it's a beginning. there are tons of stories still left to be told, but... well, another time.

anyway. best place to start is with my maternal grandmother, because that's the story i know best. my grandmother's full german -- it's where i get my quarter from. her family was aristocracy by blood. my grandmother's father's father (my ... great great grandfather) was a penniless younger son of a destitute noble family, and he married a very, very resourceful woman, also a destitute noble. with her business instinct and his family connections, the young couple struck out in trade&industry and ended up making it big in the industrial boom. their son was my grandmother's father, who was technically merchant class considering how his parents made his money, but noble by blood. nouveau riche, old blood. his family was filthy rich at that point, so he had the assets to bag a noblewoman as his wife -- my greatgrandmother, from whom the good looks of the family come from.

i didn't say that, my mother did. and actually that's not true, because my destitute-younger-son greatgreatgrandfather was also rumored to have been a good looking lad. anyway, who knows where the family "look" comes from, but if you look back through the pictures, we all resemble each other to some degree. well, by the time you get down to me, we've been corrupted by my dad's family's big bones and gruff tanned-farmboy-sitting-on-the-tractor looks, but if you look at my mom's side of the family, everyone tends to be thin and tall and narrow-framed. the girls tend to be elegant and slender with graceful shoulders, and the men are whip-lean. shirtless, they're almost all racks of bones (though one of my more distant uncles is a notable, broadshouldered exception), for which my dad never stops teasing my mom, but put them in a suit and they look pretty damn good. and if you go up to my grandmother's generation, everyone also tends to have an aquiline nose (my maternal grandfather spoiled that for my mom) and a lean angular jaw, deepset eyes.

anyway. so, greatgrandpa and greatgrandma (both on my maternal grandmother's side) had ten (i think) kids, of which my grandmother was #3. i think a few of them died in childhood, but most survived. the ones i know semi-well are my grandmother (of course), her youngest sister, her oldest brother (though i think he was actually #2, but #1 died young), and the #4 greataunt in the family, her immediate-younger sister.

moving on. the family took a hit in the first world war, but through their industrial connections (and this is why it's better to be in industry than simply relying on inheritance and title), managed to get back on their feet admirably in the '20s. so my grandmother had a very privileged childhood at the family manor. i think i visited once when i was little -- all i remember are the hexagonal tiles on the great balcony. but my mom, who visited for months at a time in her girlhood, says it was a grouping of four manors around a central courtyard. eventually when my greatgrandmother died, her kids sold the estate and split the money up between themselves. a pity.

back on track. so my grandmother's father was very liberal, probably cuz he was the son of an aristocrat who had fallen from grace and then climbed back to the top tooth and nail. he didn't see his kids much (they were left in the care of a nanny or a governess or whatever you call it), but he always made sure they had a good education, the boys and the girls. as a result my grandmother was very well educated, etc etc, spoke a lot of foreign languages and played the piano. my mom always says that's where i get my musical talent from.

my grandmother actually majored in English in college. so when, in the 30s, the family fortune went down the drain (partly b/c of great depression, partly b/c of generally shit state germany was in, partly b/c they had to split the money amongst 10 offspring, not all of which made wise decisions), she ended up marrying an american intellectual studying in germany, and followed him back to america.

there she settled into a middle-classed life, to which she adapted admirably. i mean, not many people can grow up with private tutors, nannies and chauffeurs, and end up happy to raise two kids and pack them school lunches and teach at the local college. or university, or something. you know, i actually don't even know where they lived at first, i just know it was east coast. and they moved a few times while my mom was growing up.

anyway, they had two kids, my mom and my uncle. then when my mom was a teenager (and i'm not clear on the dates or the reasons, because no one in the family ever talks about this -- but i know it was in the 50's, and i suspect some connection to the Red Scare, seeing as how my grandfather was an intellectual who studied in EVIL germany, and had a german wife, and -- yeah.) my grandfather fell into a deep depression. from what i've heard, he seems like one of those guys who spent their whole lives writing poetry and philosophizing, and as soon as things got tough he caved in like a house of cards.

so he committed suicide, and that was that.

of course, this traumatized my mom deeply. i mean, she seems a very balanced, well-adjusted, bright, friendly woman, but if you knew her the way me and my sister do, you can still sense the scars. or well, i could after i got a little older. she has a bit of an instinctive distrust of the dependability of men, i think, and tends to doubt that the men in her life will always be there -- because her father literally jumped out the window when the going got rough. anyway, i just remember there was a period, around when i was about to leave for college and my dad was on a bunch of business trips and also thinking of going overseas on some venture capital shit, during which my mom seemed really convinced he was going to cheat on her. i remember my sister mandy enduring all these conversations disguised as "advice talks", during which my mom was really just railing against my dad and men in general, and how they only want the young and the beautiful and what they can't have, etc etc. she got over it, but that was the first (maybe only?) time i realized my grandfather's suicide probably left some serious emotional scars there.

anyway, back to the story. after my grandfather took a flying leap, my grandmother, a single woman in her early 40s, an immigrant, a post-WW2 german in america and the daughter of aristocrats at that, proceeded to work her hands to the bone to raise her two kids herself. she never remarried (and, btw, my grandmother was, like her mother, stunningly beautiful in her youth. it's where i get my good looks from. heh! though, alas, every generation seems to be a little uglier/less classy than the last. i don't remember my greatgrandmother well, but my grandmother's a real lady. it's in everything she does. it's not arrogance, either. quite the opposite. it's more this grace and dignity with which she holds herself, and also -- more importantly -- with which she treats other people. i've never seen my grandmother rude, ever. on the other hand, my mom's classy for her upbringing, always still a cut above -- but by the time you get to mandy? heh. my sister's a fucking hoyden.), never asked for help, and never gave up.

it was a tough time, y'know? but she pulled through all on her own. she's hands-down the most resourceful, intelligent and diligent woman i know. and SO talented. i mean, you think i'm multitalented? she can cook, sew, embroider, play piano, draw, paint, garden, write prose & poetry, and raise her kids right. and when push comes to shove she'll do whatever it takes to get through it.

so my mom got her selflessness from my grandmother. my mom's devastatingly intelligent. i mean, she's really, really smart. and she has charisma and people skills out the wazoo. but she never went to college because she got a job instead, and saved up money so my uncle, her younger brother, could go. then the wastrel went and blew his opportunity on girlfriends and drugs in the '60s, and ended up going to trade school. but then by some stroke of sheer luck he ended up making a living off his innate artistic nature (which he got off my grandma, i think), and became an architect, and then started up his own company (or jumped aboard a start-up and rode it for all it was worth, whatever). he married his teenage girlfriend, too, when he was a little older -- that's the stunningly sexy aunt i talk about. they got married the year i was born, i think. i can't remember.

anyway, not the point. so my mom got a job. and eventually, she met my dad, who was going to university at the time. and the way my mom tells it (my dad's mum on the subject), she despised my dad at first glance, and almost stood him up at their first date. in fact, she was lazing about moaning she didn't wanna see him until my grandma dragged her up and gave her a tonguelashing (something about keeping promises), and then she went, 30 minutes late and surly. and she made herself a promise that if my dad said ONE word about it, she'd dump him then and there. miraculously, my dad, usually hot-tempered, held his tongue that time, and the rest is history.

so that's my mom's side of the family. after my mom got married and moved to seattle where i was born, my grandmother moved back to germany to be with her siblings. so, that's where she is today.


i know a lot less about my dad's side of the family because my dad's a lot less interested in family history and stories. but i know my family's doctors and soldiers. from like, heartland america, i think. i think there might've been a few accomplished doctors somewhere back there, but most were country doctors.

both my grandparents were in the military (and before you start thinking i think all my ancestors were handsome, i'll say right now that my paternal grandmother is and was not a beautiful woman. she's squat, dumpy, loud, and coarse. my grandfather isn't ugly, but he isn't handsome either. he was passable when he was younger, but love's blind, and he wooed and won my grandmother, from which the loudness of the family thereafter stems. my god, when my dad and i get in a shouting match, the walls shake. my paternal grandmother's also the reason the ladylike-ness of the women of my mother's line stopped short at mandy, and she ended up a goddamn shrieking banshee.), and my grandfather's father was definitely a country doctor. i think his father was a soldier, but the one before that was another doctor, etc. so since it was skipping generations, i think i was supposed to be a soldier. but my dad wasn't a doctor (he's a PhD, not an MD), so i guess i had to take over.

there's a coupla cool stories in my dad's side too. i think one of my ancestors was caught in the civil war (i'm not even sure which side, but i'm inclined to guess the south because of the nature of the story -- fleeing and refugees, and whatnot). he wasn't actually a soldier, but he lived in the path of an army. so when they burned the plantation or whatever down he carried his stepmother, who'd always treated him like shit, on his back for three days on foot while he fled the soldiers. or so the legend goes.

oh, and on my mom's side, there's the story about how my grandmother's father's father, when he got married, had to borrow the sheets he slept on for his wedding night because he was too poor to afford nice sheets.

and also, the great stories of bloody jealousy in my family. they're all on my mother's side, ironically -- or maybe my dad doesn't talk about it. but this is where i get my jealous/violent streak from, obviously.


so, one of my german great-great uncles (i.e. my greatgrandparents' generation) was a notorious womanizer. supposedly he was a very dashing guy, a strapping 6'5" and coal black hair.

i think he was the spoiled youngest son of the family, and this was back when the family had money. so in the roarin' 20s he was all over the gambling scene, wine women and song and all. and his wife had to stay home with the kids, over in their wing of the manor, and she had a bit of a wild streak of her own before she got married. so one day she decided fuck this married shit -- and started having parties of her own. so my great great uncle would be out running about cheating on her with a parade of women, and meanwhile she was at home cheating on him with a parade of men. so for a while the ancestral manor was quite the bawdhouse.

then finally my great-grandfather, the head of the household, put his foot down, marched into his little brother's clubs, and said 'control your woman or i'll throw her out myself.' so my greatgreatuncle came home to control his woman, but of course, he barged in on his wife shagging another man (...or two or three, depending who you hear the story from) and flew into a jealous rage.

details get all blurry here, but he either knifed her, or else pushed her down the stairs. either way, she ended up dead, and then he hacked her body up and stuffed it in a trunk. obviously, then the trunk started to stink, and he was caught. this is actually another reason the family fortune went down the drain -- his big brother spent INORDINATE amounts of money hiring lawyers and bribing people to try to get him out. but it didn't work, and he ended up facing the firing squad anyway.

so that was my notorious, violent, womanizing great great uncle. like a fucking movie char. in fact i think there was a made-for-TV miniseries in germany about him, or something -- or that's what my mom says. but then when you have a family as huge as mine, and with stories passed back and forth across the generations, they always get so embellished they end up indistinguishable from fiction.


actually, my grandmother's big brother (this is one generation down from the notorious womanizer/murderer) ended up in a similar situation.

my greatuncle, my grandmother's eldest brother, stayed in europe after my grandmother moved to america. he went abroad -- either france or switzerland, i can't remember which -- and fell in love with a frenchwoman (this, obviously, is where i get my genetic disposition for frenchwomen from). so he had a torrid affair with her for like a year... and then she got sick of him. my mother, who's a romantic at heart and a storyteller, always says it's because she was a wild soul and my greatuncle was very dour (which he is), and she got bored. anyway, he went mad with jealousy, hurt and rage, and went out and bought a knife to kill her with.

i think they were actually married, now that i think about it. yeah, that was his first wife.

so as story has THIS one, he went and hid in the shadows at her doorstep for hours and hours, waiting for her to come home so he could kill her. but, by some stroke of luck (or probably just cuz she was out getting schtupped by her new bf), she never came home. so eventually he got miserably cold, and he left. the next morning he threw the knife into a suitcase, locked it, and never looked at it again, and ended up divorcing her. a few years later he married an opera singer.

oh. interesting appendix on this one. my mother actually keeps in touch with my first great-aunt, oddly enough. she likes my mother and i think my mother likes her, too. she lives in switzerland these days with her second husband, who owns vineyards. every christmas me, my sister and my parents would get swiss chocolates from her. when i was applying for college, she had apparently made some generous, though vague, offer to put me through one of those combined BA/MD programs in germany -- which my mother turned down, because 1) i don't speak a word of german and 2) who knows when my eccentric greataunt would lose interest in being a fairy godmother and leave me penniless?


and finally, one generation down from that, my uncle -- mentioned earlier -- had his wild days in the late '60s, when he met a stunningly beautiful young girl. they got married the year i was born (i think), and i think they were both in their early/mid 20's. they had a kid when i was 5, my cousin, and soon after that my uncle, who had always lived by the seat of his pants, somehow hit it pretty big in architecture.

see, it's kinda weird -- my mom's side of the family is marked by either total destitution or filthy rich-ness, and it's always in things that seem to hinge halfway on luck. they swoop from one end of the spectrum to the other in a single generation, and even when they work for something, it's still got elements of luck in it. like entrepreneurial...ism, which is what took the family through its renaissance after the (way way way) ancestral funds dried up. on the other hand, my dad's family is slow and steady, hard work and brains over luck and wits, and while they're strictly middle class with every generation a bit better off than the last, they won't ever be filthy rich, and they probably won't ever be totally penniless either (barring major disasters like civil wars).

anyway, digression.

point is: my uncle hit it big, either started his own company or joined a startup that boomed suddenly, vaulting him up in the saddle. so he started livin' the good life, which meant, of course, he went out and started wining and dining and womanizing. and his wife, who was a celebrated beauty of her time (i.e., had quite a few men chasing after her before she picked my uncle), started renewing old acquaintances.

i don't know when it started, but i do remember when we had a family reunion back east, my uncle and aunt were barely EVER home. and they kept being away until like 2am, and when they'd come home, they give the usual excuses of working late. so i was amazed at how hardworking my relatives were! and of course, the rest of the family hemmed and hawed when i expressed amazement, and quickly changed the subject. YEARS later, i looked back and realized it was cuz they were running off having assignations all-but-publically, and everyone knew about it, and no one said anything. god, my family is so full of skeletons in closets.

i should probably add my own little bit of sordidity to the tale. my aunt was, as mentioned several times now, STUNNINGLY beautiful. i mean, i had the first real crush of my life on her, i think.


...just to make that clear. anyway: she had long dark hair, very sleek, and high cheekbones, the arched and graceful face of a dancer. at least that's the way i remember her. she had these incredible eyes, too, hazel-brown, but when the light hit them right they'd glow a resonant amber-gold. i remember being UTTERLY smitten with her, to the point of having a bizarre dream where i was being executed, and she and some other family members were standing there bearing solemn witness. i was marched past them and i pulled away from the guard to kiss her passionately (i had also grown like a foot in my dream, so i was bending down to kiss her, my hands shackled so i couldn't put my arms around her), and i didn't care who saw. then at the moment of my death (which was amazingly painless and beautiful -- i was dying on the electric chair for some crime and all i saw was bluewhite electricity expanding across my vision until the world was FULL of it), i declared my everlasting love to her. heh. oh man, freud, eat your heart out. even i can see so many damn symbols in there.

god, digressions. point is, i was so smitten with her. but that's not even the main point. the main point is: she was cheating on my uncle who was cheating on her (and this sucked for my cousin, obviously, who was totally neglected in his parents' cheatwar), and then suddenly one day someone snapped -- again, details grow vague -- and either my uncle or my uncle's girlfriend, or the wife of one of the men my aunt was seeing, grew insanely jealous and attacked my aunt with a razor. she ended up with a scar on her face which she covered with makeup, but she, always having been beautiful, was very sensitive about her face thereafter.

so i remember, in my bumbling adolescent attempts to woo her, telling her as earnestly as i could that i thought she was beautiful without or without the scar, which you could barely see anyway, and oh by the way, she had the eyes of a tiger.

(OH GOD. the SHAME.)

i think i had vague concepts of stealing her from my uncle, who obviously didn't deserve her (even though i was unaware of their mutual infidelity at the time), and protecting her from the world. etc etc. but, as these things go, the reunion ended, i went home, my uncle and aunt divorced, and she barely ever comes around anymore. she still keeps in touch with her son, i hear, but she just comes by to pick him up and she doesn't ever go into the house. i haven't seen her since i was fourteen. i heard after she got divorced she didn't do very well, though. she was beautiful, but didn't have many talents of her own, so when that began to fade, it was pretty rough on her.

anyway. heh. so that's the latest generation in my mother's line. i guess now it's my generation, so we'll see which one of us -- me or my cousin -- turns out to be the unfaithful, violently jealous womanizer of the family. i think it'll be him, though. i'm pretty damn faithful, and i'm more focused on career, stable life, yadda. he's about to graduate college now, i think, and he's a goodlooking kid. kinda the lanky, supercool kind with a burgeoning rep as a ladykiller. parties all the time, doesn't work hard. like father like son, though these days his dad is wigging out because he's such a slacker.

hmm. okay. out of stories for now. more later, maybe.

chess and the summer of stress.

ok. finally getting around to setting this down: the saga of the SUMMER OF STRESS.

so. basic background story you need to know: i work as a resident doctor with UCSF. now, i've always been happy with the prospect of practicing for the rest of my working life, but lately i thought that might just grow a little bit repetitive - patient after patient, case after case.

thus, i decided to look for some research opportunities. a lot of MDs do research, particularly at reputable university hospitals, and really, it's kind of ideal: science that has a real-life (clinical) application.

summer rolls around, and that's when my schedule frees up a tad bit. i start looking for a lab to join as a fellow. i home in on a lab in UCSF, which does stroke research. awesome doctor, very famous, one of the leading neurosurgeons of the world. so i'm thinking, how awesome would it be to work for him? he's got clout, he's got money, he's got great research going.

so, i approach him. ask him if he would like to take me on, and he says he'll have to test me out first for a month or two. i'm thinking, well, that's one or two months i'll have to essentially work overtime to cover for the time i spend in his lab, since he's not funding me yet, but i figure i have a pretty good shot at getting in.

i say yes. i join the lab on a temporary basis, and start cranking away. and i work HARD. i'm putting in like 10 hours a day at his lab, and that's on top of my other duties. i more or less LIVED at work for two months.

about a month into it, i talk to him about joining the lab permanently. he hems and haws and says, i can't make a decision yet. so i figure, all right. i gotta work harder. so i work HARDER. and now i'm churning out the data of three people, and he needs this data, btw, for a grant proposal.

fast forward a month. now he's got all the data he needs for his grant proposal. he's still not saying anything one way or another, and i'm starting to get antsy -- because if i don't find one this summer, i'll be too busy til next summer, and i only have so many years left in residency. after that, it might get a bit tougher to find a research fellowship at a place as good as UCSF.

so i finally ask him straight-out. he's like, let's talk next week. so i give him ANOTHER week of hard work --

-- and then his ass is like, i'm too busy for an MD research fellow. i'd have to mentor you from scratch, and it wouldn't be fair to you.


what's not fair to me is keeping me on the line for 2 months, getting me to do all his crap work for free, and then telling me no at the end. oh man, i was FURIOUS. i think about it now and i'm steaming out my ears. i've worked with a LOT of famous doctors and professors, and some have been a little more -- er, brusque than others. but this takes the cake, man. i've never worked with anyone who was so utterly disrespectful of his underlings. i just hope i don't end up like him in 20 years.

so anyway. at this point, i'm in a mild panic, because it's now like mid-July and i'm starting from scratch. so i start looking into labs again, and this time i cast a wider net and look at labs down in Stanford too.

i get two possibilities: one very well-funded, youngish lab in UCSF, and another very established lab down at stanford. i weigh my options and i decide the latter lab's the one i wanna go to. better research going on, more interesting to me, more medically relevant, and the people seemed friendlier.

problem was, it's down in stanford. and money's the big problem. if it's in UCSF, i can talk to my program director, wheedle my way into some funding. if it's down in Stanford, there's all sortsa issues with funding and grants and applicable/nonapplicable yaddayadda... bottom line is, funding was VERY much in question.

so at this point, my life became a fucking chess game.

the pieces were:

1) Young PI (principle investigator, i.e. research professor) at UCSF, my backup plan.

2) Program Director, who's not at all obligated to pay for me to run off to Stanford and do research there -- however, he wrote an email in the course of the summer saying he'd be willing to offer a year's funding under the PI of the lab took over.

3) PI at Stanford, the one I wanna get in with.

4) Me.

So what I basically had to do was ascertain that that year's funding was still coming from the PD until the PI at Stanford can take over. Meanwhile, I had to avoid blowing my chances with the backup plan, and thus had to avoid showing him i was essentially looking for another lab. And at the same time, I couldn't make it look like I was going behind his back when all was said and done.

ERGO. Balancing act. Had to maintain enough interesting with #1 to avoid his backing out, while not locking in with him -- which would cause bad feelings if i then backed out. At the same time, had to remind #2 gently of the 1 year of funding WITHOUT asking him (because if I ask, it'd be much easier to say no), while making it clear to #3 that funding was the ONLY thing keeping me from going there so he didn't think I was waffling.

For about a week, it was the most delicate game of emails, phone calls and office visits I have EVER played. In the end, I visited #1 several times with made-up questions to make it seem like I was still trying to decide. Then, fortunately, he took a vacation, and I made my move! (hah)

I wanted to do it in person, because I'm pretty good in person -- but #2's busy as hell, and I figured if I interrupted something important, he'd be annoyed. And if I went away and let him contact me, he might ask about funding first, thus forcing me into a backhanded position where I'd have to admit that the professor didn't have funding -- which then gives him the opening to say "well sorry, we can't fund you either."


So, in the end, I dropped #2 an email essentially telling him I've settled on the Stanford lab, and *thanking* him for the funding. At the same time, I made it clear that without funding, I'd be unable to join that lab, thus backing him into a corner of guilt. Finally, to polish it off, I expressed my extreme gratitude at all his support, yadda, to top the guilt-cake with gratitude-icing.

Then I waited.


Oh no! Oh man! I almost LOST MY MIND when the autoresponder bounced back. I went to his old buddy, this lady who's very senior and powerful in the department, and basically pleaded my case there. With #2, I couldn't really give the full story -- or rather, couldn't play up the "if I don't get money I don't go" angle, because my angle there was "thanks for giving me the money". But with #2's buddy, I was completely hamming up the pity schtick, while simultaneously giving my best impression of bushy-tailed bright-eyed eager young doctor. The old and embittered docs love that.

So #2's friend sounded pretty positive about the whole thing, and said she'd make sure #2 got back to me soon. Annnnd then I went home, fretful but hopeful.

Not four hours later, I get an email back. Two lines.

"We will fund you for another year. Congratulations on finding a good fit."

...oh man.

Went home that night? Slept 13 hours. I hadn't even realized I was so exhausted. Slept like a BABY.

I swear, this summer has taught me so much. I think my parents have been trying to teach me this all my life, but I finally figured it out for myself:


it's so fucking disillusioning, sorta. heh. i mean, it's not about brilliance and hard work at all. or it is? but in a place like ucsf or stanford, everyone's brilliant. everyone works hard. so you get ahead by under-the-table shoo-ins and connections and that extra smile in the hallway, that extra office visit when it counts.

ah well. welcome to life, eh?

dna replication and touching the face of god.

heh -- one of those late night rants of mine. katya was the victim of this one. once in a while i just remember what it was that made me go into biology and medicine in the first place. it's not that i want to understand and take apart and know everything about the human body, really. it's not even that i want to fix all the wrongs. i mean, i know my profession is to fix wrongs, but what REALLY took me into biology in the first place, the real reason behind all this, is because i can't possibly understand everything. i can't possibly fix everything. it's so complex, so intricate, and yet so elegant and so perfect that all i can do, sometimes, is be awed by what little i do see and understand.

so, yeah, this rant is about just a FRACTION of the 31847698769 amazing things going on in your body right this moment.

Damon: actually, heh.

Damon: that's one thing about medicine?

Damon: i mean, you see so much UGLY because people come when they're sick?

Damon: but you also get SUCH an appreciation for how beautiful human bodies are.

Damon: not just -- on the superficial level, either

Damon: in how everything just FITS

Damon: it's like...dude, seriously.

Damon: there is NOTHING like the human body and its mechanisms

Damon: i could name so many things that are just mindblowing.

Katya: yeah well. ayup.

Damon: like -- okay. in metabolism?

Damon: you have the kreb cycle and the urea cycle

Katya: oh. you ARE going to name them.

Katya: ...

Damon: one's for producing energy

Katya: and in words i don't know too.

Damon: one's for getting rid of wastes

Damon: but they just INTERTWINE

Katya: urea!

Katya: i picked it!

Damon: like the "waste" products of one?

Damon: shunts into the other and becomes useful.

Katya: hmm.

Damon: and it's just this incredibly intricate, yet simple and elegant, cycling system that's miraculously evolved by PURE CHANCE

Katya: ....

Damon: it's like MUCH more intricate than any machine we can possibly build.

Katya: people would dispute that.

Damon: yeah, i know.

Katya: see .. thats when pure chance doesn't seem so.. right.

Damon: heh. sometimes i wonder too.

Damon: it's SO complex.

Damon: and SO perfect.

Damon: there's just no waste to it.

Katya: well. you don't have to believe in.. *muse* any religion's god. it sufficient just to believe in something, methinks.

Damon: i mean... the best engine we have, manmade?

Damon: is like... i think about 20-30% efficient

Damon: meaning of all the potential energy you put in, in the form of fuel

Damon: only 20% of that comes out as useable energy

Katya: maybe aliens landed on earth and designed us.

Damon: the body? is like 50-60% efficient.

Damon: and more than that, it's organic.

Damon: it adapts.

Katya: but we churn it all?

Damon: it self-tunes.

Damon: *amazed*

Damon: okay, here's another thing:

Damon: DNA replication

Katya: 50-60% doesn't sound so good.

Katya: ooh ooh!

Damon: at any given moment, i'd guess about 10% of your cells are actively dividing.

Damon: there are TRILLIONS of cells in your body

Damon: so at any INSTANT

Katya: its... C and T and N and..... dammit i forget the letters. :( i'm totally wrong. i remember nothing of biology.

Damon: there are BILLIONS of dividing cells.

Damon: (CGAT)

Katya: ..... how many trillians?

Katya: ooh thanks

Damon: i can't remember *LOL8

Katya: but i can spell it!

Damon: but -- you know the basics, right?

Katya: deoxyribonucleic acid!

Katya: ... i think.

Katya: maybe i spelled wrong.

Katya: yeah.

Damon: DNA is a chain molecule, with a sugar-phosphate backbone and bases (the CGATs) that are attached?

Katya: i remember.. i think.

Damon: so -- the polymerase that goes through and replicates DNA

Damon: has an error rate on the range of 10^-7 or something like that.

Damon: 0.0000001% error

Damon: ...god, i can't even remember the numbers

Damon: *goes look it up*

Katya: *peer*

Katya: i think i'm in awe of you when you go on about things well beyond my understanding.

Katya: *muse* of course, it makes me feel dumb too? but.. I think thats because i'm incapable of retaining information.

Damon: okay

Damon: i'm back

Damon: *LOL*

Damon: looked it up

Damon: i messed up: it's even lower than that

Damon: the machinery messes up once every 10^9 times

Katya: 0.000000000000001%?

Damon: ONCE

Damon: in 10^9

Katya: *blank look*

Damon: 1 in 1000000000 times.

Katya: i don't even know wha... oh

Damon: for every 1000000000 bases it adds one

Damon: on*

Damon: it messes up ONCE, overall.

Katya: you should put commas in.

Damon: 100,000,000

Katya: oh. 100 mil

Damon: 1 mistake per 100 million bases

Damon: ONE, KATYA.

Damon: if you were copying

Katya: *laugh*

Damon: by hand

Damon: CGATATGCGTATCGT.... 100 million times

Damon: you would not make only one mistake.

Damon: and actually -- the thing is, it makes more mistakes than that? more like one in every ten to a hundred thousand? (which is still MIND BOGGLING)

Damon: but it's got a built-in proofreading mechanism

Damon: where if it makes a mistake, it'll REALIZE it

Damon: STOP

Damon: GO BACK

Damon: FIX IT

Damon: and go on again.

Damon: and here's the really amazing thing:

Damon: so think of if you were doing this by hand, like i said?

Damon: the human genome is... *thinks*

Katya: *peek*

Damon: had to go look *LOL*

Damon: the human genome is 3x10^9 base pairs long, roughly

Damon: (so all our DNA is 3x10^9)

Damon: which is... 3,000,000,000 bp's

Damon: 3 billion

Katya: .... mmm.

Katya: *nod*

Damon: so

Damon: imagine if you had to copy all this

Damon: CAGATTGATGA...blahblahblah, 3billion of 'em

Katya: well. i wouldn't, for starters. :P

Damon: i know, but like! just imagine how LONG that would take

Katya: yeah. well. *laugh*

Damon: not even ASSEMBLING it? like if you imagine it as legos, snapping it on?

Damon: not even that

Damon: just... writing it

Damon: or TYPING it

Damon: think of how LONG that would take

Katya: you're in a cesspit of awe, aren't you?

Damon: think of how many mistakes you'd make

Katya: *grins*

Damon: but right now

Damon: i mean. RIGHT. NOW.

Damon: in your body, there are a billion cells doing just that

Damon: and it's doing it so that in all 3 billion base pairs

Damon: it makes 30 mistakes.

Damon: THIRTY.

Damon: and it does all this in 8 hours.

Katya: are they the 'mutations' ?

Damon: 3 billion base pairs copied, with 30 mistakes, in 8 hrs, in a billion different places IN YOUR BODY, right this second.

yeah, the mistakes are mutations.

Damon: but 99% of them are totally harmless

Damon: and the other 1%, 99.9999.....9% of that will just be destroyed by cells watching for it.

Damon: now in the VERY slight chance that one cell gets away with it, and starts replicating wildly?

Damon: that's when you get cancer.

Katya: *hms* see my mind has trouble grapping with... so much acti.. ok i sound stupid. *shuts up*

Damon: *laughs*

Damon: bah!

Damon: well!

Damon: doesn't it amaze you just a LITTLE bit?

Damon: put another way:

Katya: it amazes me!

Katya: but.. i don't understand it like you do.

Katya: and.. it just reminds me of sermons in church. *grins*

Damon: the replication speed of this enzyme that does it, called a polymerase, is 1000 base pairs PER SECOND.

Katya: well not quite. but the allusion to how amazing the human body is, does.

Damon: heh -- i mean, can you visualize this?

Katya: not... your raving.

Damon: you've got one strand feeding into this enzyme, which is shaped like a big ring

Damon: and out the other end comes two strands, perfectly matched except for one mistake every 100 million base pairs.

Katya: mmm. you're almost making me miss my biology classes.

Damon: you've got free base pairs floating around in the cytosol, getting sucked in and slapped on

Damon: little bursts of energy every time one gets fused to the backbone

Damon: and this ring is racing along at 1,000 base pairs in a single second.

Damon: i can just see it, you know? *laughs*

Damon: (this is why i went into biology, heh)

Damon: i mean, honestly, THIS is why i do what i do. because it's just stunning, how it all works.

Katya: i did biology as my token science glass in high school, and did well at it! but... i forget everything.

Damon: *laughs* oh well.

Damon: you go learn your doctrines of human law *grins*

Katya: .. class.

Katya: bleh.

Katya: i find it just as fascinating as you!

Damon: i'll stick with my divine truths of human biology.

Katya: but i guess a little overwhelming?

Damon: it IS overwhelming

Damon: that's the point.

Katya: because i don't know it as well as you do.

Damon: it's like... unimaginable, how fast it all is

Damon: and how perfect!

Katya: well. even the words are overwhelming!!!

Damon: gahh!

Damon: katya, to be totally honest

Damon: (and i'm gonna say something corny here)

Katya: *laugh*

Damon: if ever i believed in... i dunno

Damon: not god? not the way christians believe?

Damon: but if ever i believed in some greater pattern

Damon: something greater than ourselves, that we can't ever understand, but can sometimes see or feel or touch?

Damon: it's when i think about stuff like this.

Katya: yeah well. *grins* sounds like something said by a creation scientist.

Katya: except they know who to attribute it too. *muse*

Damon: it's like when i really think about it, or visualize it, it's like i'm seeing a tiny fragment of something incomprehensibly larger than myself.

Damon: and i know in every discipline out there, there are moments like that.

Katya: *nod* *sighs* yeah it all is. I think thats why I don't think about it.

Katya: like i can admire, and be fascinated and awed and all that.. but don't think too hard about it.

Damon: i mean, astronomers look into deep space and see things that make them feel like they're touching god, or creation, or whatever, just for a second. i just find it within, instead.

*laughs* why not?

Damon: (ok, i'm not getting up in the morning *laughs*)

Katya: because.. i don't think my mind is capable of dealing. :P

Katya: (no shit)

Katya: (i still wanna watch my movie. *sighs* damn you! *shakes fist*)

Damon: (that's why i'm talking to you now!)

aww. talk a little longer? then i'll sleep.

Damon: and heh. katya, my mind is not capable of dealing either.

Damon: i get boggled by it.

Damon: i'm like, moved by it

Katya: and i think a lot of people feel like you do. *muse* well. a lot. no small amount.

Katya: yeah but i'm not capable of dealing with the implications, i guess.

Katya: *grins*

Damon: i swear to god, i think about it enough and i get all MOVED *LOL*

Damon: it doesn't matter to me what's behind it?

Damon: like if it's god or evolution or creation or aliens or whatever you wanna attribute it to.

Katya: happy without your meanings? *smiles*

Damon: it's just that feeling you get that for a second there, the fabric of the world as we know it kinda rolls back and you see something MORE than yourself, or anything you could possibly understand.

Damon: gah! i have a hard time putting it into words.

[end rant]

--Turns out I screwed up my math. heh. it makes one mistake in 10^9 base pairs, so that's one in a billion.

ONCE in a BILLION. 3 times in your whole genome, when it replicates.

i really -- have a hard time putting down exactly why this amazes me. i think the bottom line is because it's right there, inside you. it's easy to be amazed by deep space and particle physics, and things so obscure it takes a lifetime to even begin to understand it. but what most people don't realize is inside their bodies, right now, right this second, any given second of any given day, there's a billion tiny miracles happening.

i mean -- right now, just look down at your arm. look at your skin. right there, what i ranted about is happening. it's in you. it IS you.

you don't need to look at the stars to go beyond the human experience and see something divine. you don't need to witness stigmata and miracles of the church. it's right there inside you, all the time. the very act of being alive is a collection of a hundred trillion miracles every second of the day. and that's what amazes me.

i know my party line about being in medicine is to help people, blahblahblah. but really, it's more selfish than that. it's because if i go into this profession, i work with this stuff every single day. and yeah, most times all i think about is -- how much of this drug to give, what procedure to do, what tests to administer, patients and diagnoses, problems and solutions.

but as long as i'm exposed to this stuff, sooner or later, once in a while, i'll be able look beyond the details and see the whole of it. i'll be able to sit back and look at it and realize, if only for an hour on a monday night at 4:35am, the utter beauty of it all.

and when i do see that, it gives me an utter certainty, somehow, that there's something amazing out there, and in here, and everywhere. this whole secret life of the universe just under the skin of everyday existence, never far away, always within reach, if only i stop to remember it.

if i just stop and consider it, i'll remember, if only for a second, how i felt sitting in a lecture hall learning this for the first time. i'll be able to reach beyond the mundane existence and touch something that proves to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that there's a pattern to everything. i don't understand it, and i won't understand it, and i wouldn't ever want to understand it and take it apart to its fundamentals. because all i need to know is that it's there, and that it's not out beyond the stars. it's not out of reach. it's right there, inside me, if i just stop for a second and remember.

gah. i sound so pompous when i go on like this. i can't help it -- it's because i'm trying to put this down in words, but the words just don't ever come out right, and instead it turns into a bloody church sermon.


it's so frustrating. i just -- can't find the words to explain it. i try and it comes out all wrong.

okay, anyway, i'm gonna stop trying to add to it. heh. maybe i'll try again some other night.