Tag Archives: chemistry

The Precipitate’s Not the Problem: An Infertility Primer for the Non-Infertile

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” – Your Mom

Or maybe not your mom. Maybe it was your dad or a great auntie. Maybe a principal or a well-meaning member of the safety patrol. Whoever it was — someone said it to you at some point. And you got the point. Unless you’re trying to fix the problem, you are the problem. We’ve all internalized it. And since no one ever ever wants to be the problem, our natural inclination is to offer solutions, to fix it.

And then we all grew up a bit. If you’re anything like me, you became even nerdier. Maybe you even got into the chem scene (which makes chemistry sound cool, don’t you think?). If that’s the case, you may have latched onto this alternative adage — my personal favorite:

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.” – All the Nerds


It made you laugh and laugh (not as much as the ether bunny or the ferrous wheel, of course), but you knew deep down that it was only a chem joke. Not a real life lesson.

Or is it?

I posit that it’s a better saying, really. More accurate for particularly complex problems, like infertility. Because to extend the chemistry metaphor a bit further — in the case of infertility, there are only two solutes in solution. My partner and myself. Anyone else can really only be part of the precipitate. A precipitate can’t fix anything, it just hangs out in the tube, separate. But that doesn’t make it part of the problem.

{Image Source -- Thanks Dartmouth Chem Lab}
{Image Source — Thanks Dartmouth Chem Lab}

In the wake of our most recent crappy news, we’ve been offered a lot of love, a ton of support, and so very many ideas for next steps — ranging from “just relax” to offers of surrogacy and referrals to adoption case workers. These fixes come from a place of love, good intentions, and probably also a subconscious devotion to the first quote above. Unfortunately, it’s no one’s problem to solve. Instead, it’s Seth and my path to walk and because I know it’s hard to understand, hard not to want to fix, I thought it might be nice to share some aspects of infertility from my own perspective.

But you ain’t got no eggs!

Infertility happens for a million and one different reasons. Or even for no discernable reason at all. There’s male factor and female factor infertility. One or both partners can be affected. There can be no eggs, poor eggs, an inability to release eggs. Similarly, no sperm, poor sperm, immobile sperm. It can be mechanical — related to the shape or size or functional ability of the uterus, the shape or size of the vas deferens. It can be scar tissue, the result of surgeries, childhood radiation treatments. Genetic, chromosomal, hormonal issues. All of the above, none of the above, anything in between, or something else altogether.

We started out with “unexplained” infertility (i.e. everything seemed to be just fine). While it’s good to have nothing obviously wrong, lack of diagnosis makes treatment much more difficult — everything is just a guess at that point. However, after lots of tries (see below), we ultimately ended up with a diagnosis of diminished ovarian reserve. That means that despite being just 32 (and only 27 when we started trying to conceive), my eggs are just about out. The tank is approaching E and the few eggs I do have left are poor in quality — hence the miscarriage late last year. That’s our reason. And ultimately, it has the greatest impact on our potential solutions. So while I appreciate the offers of uteri for rent and the like, that’s not actually going to help me one bit. My body is technically quite capable of carrying a healthy pregnancy, we’re just missing half of the equation.

Grieving the loss of imaginary piggies.

Miscarrying last September was really hard. It was the most difficult experience of my life to date and the grief still comes so fiercely sometimes that all I can do is hold on and ride the wave for a while. I still had hope though, I thought that pregnancy would be followed by another. That we would have our own children. As it turns out, though, the lack of eggs means that the thing I’m really grieving is an imaginary future — one that was never going to exist, but always felt real to me in my mind. I’ve spent years wondering about the curly blonde babes Seth and I would someday bring into this world. I’ve always imagined us like Piggy and Kermit — all the girls would be pigs, all the boys would be frogs. Would they have my green eyes or Seth’s blue? My ready, beaming smile or Seth’s slower, more mischievous, lopsided grin?

Imaginary future... {Source}
Imaginary future… {Source}

And then just like that — I’ve been removed from the equation. No piggies at all. I can’t pass on the Vonck mouth. My genes won’t ever go anywhere, no matter what we decide to do next. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Something I have to wrap my mind around. Another loss to grieve, but how? There’s no memorial in the cemetery for this loss and it’s hard to know how to let it go.

All magic comes with a price, dearie.

After more than a year of trying to conceive on our own, we sought medical care for infertility and decided early on that we wanted to exhaust our possibilities to have biological children. And exhaust them we did. We’ve spent many, many, many thousands of dollars on diagnostic testing and assisted reproductive technology ranging from simple clomid and timed intercourse to intrauterine insemination (IUI) and finally two rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) over the course of 4+ years.  Side-effects, needles, injections, ultrasounds, surgeries, procedures, tears and snot and stress and rage and bloating and month after month after month of disappointment. We did it all for a chance — all at great cost.

None of it worked for us. Now we know why. And because we’re quite certain that we do indeed want to be parents, we’re left looking at the next set of alternatives.

Egg donation, adoption, fostering. And even those options have sub-options — fresh or frozen, international or domestic, public or private. And those sub-options have sub-sub-options — how do you pick a donor? Physical characteristics? Genetics? Occupation? Personality? Psych profile? And if you adopt — are you prepared to wait for an eternity? Are you willing to let a birth parent pick you? What if they change their minds? What if you fall in love with a foster child and then they get sent back to their biological parents (Wisconsin focuses on reunification whenever possible)? Can you bare that? Can you bare any of it?

It’s a lot to think about. So much to process. And all of it — every last option — comes at great cost. Physically, emotionally, financially. On top of everything we’ve already been through, every time we hear “at least” (e.g., at least you know you did everything you could, at least you can afford it) or “just” (e.g., why don’t you just adopt?) it’s like salt in the wound — minimization of everything we’ve done so far and the difficult road ahead to family. Yes, we are fortunate that we can consider options, but that doesn’t make the necessity of considering them any easier.

It’s not you, it’s me. 

The ugliest truth about infertility is that it colors everything. Over these last four years, infertility has become increasingly woven into my being and I have a hard time separating who I am from this thing I can’t do. I’m not proud to admit it, but in the face of cutesy pregnancy announcements, #blessed ultrasound pictures, and bow-decked baby bumps, happiness for those that I love and a sense of jealousy and bitterness are always there in equal measure. Of course, I wouldn’t wish infertility on my worst enemy, but that doesn’t mean I handle fertility with any kind of grace and I’m issuing a blanket apology for my poor reactions. It’s not you, honestly, it’s me. And presumably, someday it will get better, easier, to just be happy.

But here’s the most important thing: the announcements, photos, bumps, hashtags, motherhood memes — none of them have anything at all to do with me. So you shouldn’t stop doing them. It’s all worth celebrating and my scroogey attitude shouldn’t take away from that.

Conversely, radical self-care and self-preservation means that some Facebook friends are hidden and I won’t be RSVPing yes to a baby shower or making any more baby blankets for the foreseeable future. It’s too painful. I don’t ask for forgiveness or even understanding, just patience.

All roads lead to Rome.

Ultimately, there are a lot of different paths to parenthood. At present, I struggle because I don’t like any of the choices. Or, more accurately, I don’t want to have to make a choice. I will come around though. I always do, but as I said above, there’s no “just” about any of the paths. Once pregnancy via sex and waiting is off the table, nothing feels simple anymore.

In my present state of mind, egg donation proves that Seth really should have married someone else and fostering/adoption is unlikely to work out considering that even God wouldn’t choose me to raise a child — why would anyone else? Thankfully, Seth is much more capable of rational thought at the moment and I’m slowly starting to wrap my mind around some of the options. One foot in front of the other, all the way to Rome.

Not everybody wants to go to Rome.

But then again — Rome isn’t for everyone in the end. And there’s nothing wrong with making that decision for yourself. Families come in all shapes and sizes, Seth and I are a family all on our own and puppy makes three. Ultimately, though, the societal assumption is that if you’re infertile, you want to have children in any way possible and there’s the tendency to push couples struggling with infertility to pick a road and get to parenthood, one way or another.

Right now, Seth and I are pretty certain that we want to find a path to parenthood, but I think it’s really important that people accept any choices we do decide to make from the perspective of the precipitate. These things are incredibly personal and based only a little on biology, medicine, and rational thought. More than anything, we have to trust our emotions, our hearts, and each other to make the right choices for us moving forward. We both have to be on board with something 100%, no judgement if not.

The same goes for any other couple, any other family, and if you find yourself interested in learning more, I highly recommend perusing CNN’s recent infertility awareness week series. I shared this article on Facebook this morning and got a great response to it:

When you ‘come out’ about infertility

And there are several related articles written by or about couples who’ve made a variety of different choices that make great points about why people don’t talk about infertility (and why they should), how a “happy ending” to infertility can mean different things to different people, and how varied infertility experiences can be.


I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with the writing of Brene Brown and Anne Lamott and Jenny Lawson. Brave women who share their stories in an honest and beautiful way — they’ve opened me up to a whole new level of comfort in the idea of vulnerability and struggle and story telling and I think that for me, infertility is another avenue for that. The ranks of the infertile… not a tribe I’d have chosen to join, had it been a choice at all, but it’s a fierce one and I’m in good company. Someday, I’ll have a very intentional family and Seth by my side and I’ll be in good company then too. Thanks so much for being here through it all <3


Validate meeeeeeee…

My cousin Tegan recently graduated from Michigan State with a degree in art and a minor in Mandarin. Because what normal English-speaking teen contemplating a minor in a foreign language doesn’t go for an ancient, tonal, character-based language over say, oh I don’t know, Spanish? Tegan, that’s who. Also, she’s an absolute self-taught wiz of a computer programmer. No bigs.

Clearly, Tegan chose a path. A weird path. And she absolutely excelled. That’s awesome.

Yesterday, though, I thought back to my (non-)role in some of those moments where she was deciding on a path and had to laugh a bit at myself as I thought about the concept of validation. You see, back when Tegan was maybe a junior in high school, she was basically good at everything and trying to figure out where to go with that — both school- and major-wise. Naturally, my dream for her was a four year tenure at Michigan Tech for a chemistry degree. Because of course that’s what a bright young woman should want to do. See how well it worked out for me?

Obviously, I had zero effect on Tegan’s choice (unless she was actually leaning toward a chemistry degree at Michigan Tech and my life somehow turned her off, but I choose not to entertain that possibility with any real seriousness), but I sure as heck could have been a lot more supportive and/or helpful. I could have said, “It’s a tough choice, dear Tegan, maybe we should talk about what lights you up… so what do you love? What beautiful things do you imagine for your future? Where do you feel at home? Do you want me to share with you how I made my choices?”


All of this came flooding back over lunch on Friday. I had traveled two hours north to Minocqua for a day long meeting and spent the brief lunch break chatting with Mike, a local pain psychologist. He said something about all psych folks being “fruit cakes” and I said that’s why I loved my psychologist so much — because he validates my crazy (good news: my grief process and dealing with depression appear to be normal as of Wednesday, also my injection of humor to serious situations is a good thing, sweet validation). Then… I’m not sure how we got on the topic, exactly, but Mike’s high school aged son is interested in a career in scientific writing (he sounds to be a grade-A introvert and super into learning, definitely a good candidate) and when I recommended a more scientific route (as opposed to a more English/writing-based approach), Mike mentioned that that was his son’s goal after having seen the husband of one of the local pediatricians perform some chemistry demonstrations at his high school.

Those chem demos? Performed by none other than my sophomore year p-chem lab partner from good old Michigan Tech, John (because small world). Ah ha! And I instantly started pushing — oh he’s just got to go to Michigan Tech for a chemistry degree, both John and I did, obviously the best of decisions. See!! Seeee!! Seeeeeeee?!?!

Validate meeeeeeee!!!


And in that record-scratching-to-a-stop-moment, probably because I had just admitted to requiring validation from my psychologist only minutes before, I recognized what I was doing. Did it stop me? No, I don’t think so. But it at least made me think about it. And how much I hated this very thing and yet, I saw it everywhere and all the time and I was guilty of it constantly.

I first recognized that need for validation when I was finishing up in grad school. I knew, like deep down in my weary bones knew, that I did not want to go into academia. I didn’t want to come up with the ideas or write the grants (ha) or run my own lab or be responsible for other people’s careers in a competitive, fund-limited field. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life studying one small thing. I wanted something different, something that used my talents and passions in a different way, but it was hard to even see any other options. Honestly, I’m just ridiculously lucky that I stumbled into scientific writing. I barely even registered it as a choice before coming across the job that I ultimately got. And when I did get it, people were pretty pissy with me — for opting out of academia, for going in not just a different direction, but the wrong direction.

I was mad about that for a long time. I wanted my professors to be proud of me, but as I walked away, I felt like everyone behind me was shaking their heads in disappointment instead. Then again, how could any of them know anything other than academia, the path they chose? And given that that was the case, how could I honestly expect them to encourage me otherwise? Who doesn’t like to be validated??? Who among us doesn’t honestly feel like they need it, especially when the choice they’ve made was a hard one? And no doubt, academia is amongst the hardest.


After the meeting in Minocqua ended, I got back in my car and drove south past home and all the way to Milwaukee for the annual Call To Action meeting. I made it just in time to hear Zach Wahls speak; you probably remember Zach as the eloquent young man who, raised by gay parents, went viral on YouTube after testifying in favor of marriage equality in front of the Iowa legislature a few years ago. That young man is now a few years older and a polished and professional advocate for equality and social justice. It was an amazing talk; many would disagree on principle. Similarly, this morning, I heard one of the most brilliant and prolific theologians of our time, Sister Joan Chittister, speak about the importance of the public intellectual for the evolution of social and institutional change; again, many would and do disagree.

And, in bringing these beautiful talks back to that idea of validation that I’ve been turning over in my mind, I’m left wondering: how much of this religious strife does validation account for? How much of that worry about the eternal salvation of that-guy-over-there-doing-the-wrong-thing’s soul is really a worry about the validation of our own???? I mean, if that guy is somehow doing the right thing, what does it say about my personal prejudices?

I don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s not at all. But it seems related. Like maybe most of our arguments against equality, change, growth, evolution might actually be about fear — about lack of validation for the status quo, for the habits, patterns, and beliefs we hold dear. Maybe instead, we should all consider saying what I should have said to Tegan all those years ago — you do you, whatever lights you up.


PS: I met Joan Chittister today. In person. So, yeah, that lights me up. No Mandarin necessary.

Meeting Sister Joan

Blossom of snow, may you bloom and grow…

Snow on March 25

Perhaps a bit inappropriate on this day of springtime snow, nevertheless…

“Springtime God… we need your persistent love to disturb… our heart’s rigidity.” –Kate Compston

My heart is feeling rigid on account of it’s FREEZING and we had a mess of precipitation last night, but besides that, Joan’s thoughts are a bit deeper. (Le sigh… such is early Spring in Wisconsin.)

“I love the image of a ‘springtime God.’ Isn’t God always in the growing season in us? Isn’t everything that happens in life simply seeding something to come — and isn’t all of it God? But if that’s true, the question is, then, Are all our thoughts new seeds of life to be pursued? Because if so, then I am being called on and I am, as usual, reluctant to go.” –Joan Chittister

I suppose that everything, every seed, every thought, no matter how big or small requires a bit of coaxing on its way to growth. I’d like to thank chemistry for that basic concept– activation energy.

And as in chemistry, some things have a higher activation energy than others. Keeping with the spring theme, crocuses seem to have a relatively low activation energy… sometimes managing to peek their lovely purple, white, and yellow blooms out from beneath the still standing snow.

Don't get excited-- these were last year's little lovelies.
Don’t get excited– these were last year’s little lovelies.

I actually don’t have any yellow ones, though. That’s a little sad. The daffodils the spring up right afterward make up for it.

And then there’s the late bloomers, the ones who need the earth to be not just pre-heated, but consistently warm with no chance of cool before opening up. Like my beautiful pink and white hydrangeas. Just as lovely either way!

The colors at the end of the season-- absolutely blushing!
The colors at the end of the season– absolutely blushing!

Maybe this year I’ll work on turning some of them blue… although I do love the pink.

Flowers are nice and everything, definitely a good example. Bacillus anthracis (aka anthrax, it sporulates, and what sporulates must also germinate) would make a great example too (shout out to all you toxin folks!). But I think what Joan is really getting at is the way we let God work to activate the thoughts we have and the things we feel most deeply. Reluctance, a barrier to activation, is definitely the norm though. It’s easier to live with the status quo, isn’t it?

I think, however, that Joan is calling us to germinate! To let the sunshine in and to bloom bloom bloom like the beautiful flowers we can be. To really let God work in our lives, springtime or otherwise. To be willing to grow.


Maybe I’ll feel it better in my bones once the white stuff is gone for the season. I’m sure we’re almost there!

W is for the Writing Center… and finding my special purpose. (Wink.)

I started working in the Michigan Tech Writing Center when I was a sophomore in college. I loved it there SO much– more than being an RA, more than rowing crew, more even than my actual major. I only worked 8 – 12 hours per week, depending on the semester, but those 8 – 12 hours were much more formative for me than any 15 – 20 credit course load I ever had.

The chem sci building-- where I basically lived for four years.
The chem sci building– where I basically lived for four years.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s good that I learned chemistry and physics and math (except differential equations– what a waste! I couldn’t even get a date out of that class, though I tried…) and such. It’s probably even good that I learned some things about myself by being an RA (which super sucked, but led to meeting my husband, so…) and rowing crew (which made my back, arms, and legs crazy strong for the year I did it, but just ended up being too much– let’s be honest here, I’m no athlete). Those are the things that made me look different from the outside, paid for my room and board, and filled in the bubbles on the GRE, but I’ve got to tell you, they are not the biggest things. The most influential things.

The most influential thing was absolutely, hands down, 100% for definitely sure the Writing Center.

The Writing Center. At an engineering university? That caters almost entirely to the most technically-minded of the nerds? In the middle of no where? I mean… the edge of no where?

Yes. The Writing Center. At Michigan Tech. Which is all those things, but such a hidden gem. (I should really recruit for the Huskies, I love that place so much.)


I’ve talked a little bit before about my boss in the Writing Center, Sylvia Matthews, and how absolutely amazing she was (is, to be sure). And I really think that it was she, Jill Arola, and Nancy Grimm and their ridiculously insightful ways of thinking, living, and educating that made it the special place that it was.

You see, in the Writing Center, it wasn’t so much about the grammar and the punctuation and the sentence structure and all the other technical aspects of writing that tend to give the vast majority of people either a headache or a panic attack. It was about understanding and being understood. About using words to do that. And the things I learned. Oy.

As part of working at the Writing Center, all of the coaches had to take a small, one credit course in which we discussed pedagogy and techniques and experiences and the like. At the end of every semester of “work,” we all wrote reflections about our experiences and what we had learned. I saved a couple of them. Not sure how exactly… they’ve definitely survived several major paper purges since I graduated in 2005, but listen to this one:

I can’t help but feel like this shows the the Writing Center is the place where I am supposed to be and the work I’m doing is important.

That was in 2004!

Pablo Picasso once said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

Words, communicating with them… I think that’s my gift.

It’s not what I expected my gift to be. Nor is it what I thought it was or what I necessarily would have hoped for, but here we are. I think I finally found it.

It’s not like I just woke up one day in the recent past and liked writing or thought I was good at it.


My “gift” found me a long, long time ago. The Young Authors thing-a-ma-jig at Lincoln (who remembers that big book? how good it felt to have your story “published”?) was always awesome for me in elementary school. I loved the Independent Study in English I did with my cross country coach, Mr. Moran, my sophomore year in high school… and even now I’m still proud of the essay I vaguely remember writing about Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles… no idea what it was about, but guys, it was good.

Later on, in college, I got this rave review on a biochemistry report:

An absolute pleasure to read, etc... yay yay yay! A+!
An absolute pleasure to read, etc… yay yay yay! A+!

Yep, kept that too. It made me feel awesome!

And I loved the writing center so so so much.

Yet, my brain, my logic, my ACT results and aptitude tests and interests had me convinced that it was science science science all the way. Science would lead me to success. I would cure something, help someone, do sciencey things and make the world a better place by being noticed, by making a big impact.

A little piece of me must have known that wasn’t true. Because if it were, I’d be a chemist somewhere… working at 3M, inventing polymers and interpreting spectra and such, because I could have done that after college. But it didn’t seem right. Something wasn’t fitting and I wasn’t happy. So I went to grad school… where I wasn’t happy… and tried to go to med school… but I realized that was a very expensive path to continued unhappiness… so I stuck it in grad school… and came to the end… and still wasn’t very happy with my options.

It took all that time for me to admit to myself that I didn’t want to be a bench scientist. I didn’t want to run a lab. I didn’t want to come up with new ideas and new ways to test them.

So what did I like?

Talking about it. Always. Telling other people about science, about medicine, about dinosaurs, about whatever.

Thankfully, the universe, powers that be, whatever, know better than I do… and ultimately I ended up where I am now, as a scientific research writer at a big clinic. Back in what is, essentially, a post-collegiate writing center! I’m finally in a place where I use my gift on the regular.

Well, half of it anyway.

The other half was definitely this blog.

An illustrative example for you…

At work, I say “epistaxis as a result of digital trauma…”

On the Internet, I say “nosebleed because you dug too deep. Get your fingers out of there. Geez.”

A different way of saying exactly the same thing. One gets published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings (hopefully) and the other makes someone laugh, but get it while they’re laughing.

And that’s the other half.

The things that makes me the happiest about writing now, at work and on the internet… and the thing that made me the happiest then, in the Writing Center… was the impact it had on people. And on me. Equal and opposite forces. An action and a reaction. Both things leaving the encounter changed.

At work, I help people make their science understandable and accessible. I cannot tell you how rewarding it is to see something in print, to get a funding notice for a grant… but most of all, to have an author I’ve previously worked with come back an improved writer. That’s the best best. (I’m talking to you, Dr. Kanth!) I learn about crazy things like deformed pancreases and what a vitamin D deficiency really does to your body (it’s not just rickets, yo)… I take that away, and someone takes something completely different away from me. A better technique for incorporating literature into a Discussion section, a modified sentence structure, a new way to format a table. Some little piece of communication.

It always happened that way at the Writing Center too. There was this kid one time, a freshman that I coached, and a professor made him cry in front of his entire class during the first week of school when he pronounced a word incorrectly. My heart broke for him. Absolutely broke. There was little I could actually do besides listen and encourage him and help him to communicate better. And seriously, by the end of the semester, he was volunteering to speak in front of the class. I’m not trying to say that was necessarily because of me, but I do know that he and I were both changed.

Here’s what I said about it on December 7, 2004 (Writing Center reflection style, again)–

I have been continually impressed with Jason this semester. He has determination and work ethic like no one I have ever met. I can say with confidence that having been faced with the same situation, I would have become very apathetic toward my work, sure that I could do nothing to please the teacher. I would have been very angry, but Jason never was. As much as I feel like I helped him to come out of his shell, he showed me the way that a person can handle difficulties gracefully. Through all of these difficulties, I am really glad that I got to be Jason’s coach.

And I think that maybe, just maybe, that’s what Picasso meant. When you give your gift away, this intangible gift that is the purpose of your life, you don’t lose anything. The little space you opened up is filled with something even better, something different and new and exciting. A new facet on your perspective. And the person who took that little piece of your gift away? They grow it– they grow it into something completely new, and different, and exciting inside themselves. Like planting a seed, or rooting a plant cutting.

At least, that’s what Picasso said means to me.

Communicating with words, erudite and crass, is my mission and my jam, my calling and my thang. I can do it for science, I can do it for life, I can do it for the twisted workings of my brain, and I can do it for others.

For others though, that’s my favorite part. I can brag about my sister-in-law if she’s having trouble doing herself (she’s always have trouble doing it herself– Sister Doctor just got the biggest honor you can get in all of medical school and tells people it’s “just” an organization thing. Sigh.). I can proofread and format a resume for someone who has lost a job. I can fix up a poster when someone panics a week before a conference. These are the things I can do. The gifts that I can share. Always something in return, of course, even if it’s just the satisfaction of having been able to do something when I would otherwise be helpless. And I like that so much.

The Writing Center helped me to find my special purpose… not the same special purpose that Steve Martin came across a little prematurely in The Jerk (Trista, let’s watch that this weekend! trip to Family Video!), but a special purpose in the sense that his mom really meant it. I couldn’t have done what I do now if I hadn’t pursued all of the sciences, so I’m glad that I did the chemistry degree and the grad school with all the STDs and the like, but at the time, science was always the goal. Not so, it turns out! The Writing Center was to be the place I circled back to, in another form, yes, but the same idea. I work with authors with all ranges of education levels, backgrounds, accents, talent and skill levels on far more topics than I could ever possibly fully understand, but regardless of all that– I help people get their words out, to be heard, to share, and in return, I am constantly changed.

It’s funny that way back in 2004, I worked so hard with other Writing Center coaches to present on what we called “The Ripple Effect” at a writing center conference… but only as an abstract and beautiful thing that I mostly hoped would happen. Good news: it did. It does. Always.

Here we are at that sweet writing center conference-- Sylvia right in the middle :)
Here we are at that sweet writing center conference– Sylvia right in the middle 🙂

Well… this is awkward. I go searching to find a link to take you to the Writing Center website and find out it’s now called the Michigan Tech Multiliteracies Center. Makes sense. Still in Walker 107. A rose by any other name, I guess! More importantly, M for Multiliteracies is basically just an upside-down W for Writing… so… we’re good.

Oh wait... apparently I did know. I took this picture when I was there for Winter Carnival in 2012. Well then...
Oh wait… apparently I did know. I took this picture when I was there for Winter Carnival in 2012. Well then…

A missed opportunity, a happy ending, and a 1001 BOOK CHALLENGE!

I’ve mentioned a few times my failed attempts at friendship in the recent past. Kite flying in San Francisco, anyone? It was awkward… and kind of pathetic… but I don’t regret it. Because that was not a missed opportunity for friendship. Granted, it didn’t develop into a friendship either. At least I know! Because missed opportunities for friendship? SO MUCH WORSE!

Lots of wind-- perfect kite weather!
Lots of wind– perfect kite weather!

I earned my undergraduate degree from Michigan Tech way up in the UP. I was a chemistry major and really liked my program, except there were very few women (although that applied to most programs up at Tech) and I often often felt like something of an outcast. It’s not that I didn’t like the people I had classes with, I just didn’t really know how to be friends with them and I spent a lot of time nursing hurt feelings over sexist comments and awful nicknames. (Belgian Vixen– really?! what does that even mean?!) But there was one girl I had a lot of classes with named Nicole. She was COOL, you guys. Like real cool. Everyone talked to her, people didn’t make fun of her, she wore cool shoes and her clothes were all “I’m walking around being confident and cute in something you couldn’t even have dreamed of putting together” and she even had super great curly hair (and this was waaaay before I had tamed mine). I wanted to be her friend. Like for real.

At this point you’re probably feeling super bad for me. But don’t! It’s not like I didn’t have any friends. I met some seeeriously awesome people in the dorms my first year and made a lot more friends working in the Writing Center and  elsewhere around campus. So it’s not like I had the urge to stalk or kidnap Nicole or anything. Really. I wasn’t that desperate. I just thought she was real cool and would have loved to have been friends with her, especially since we were both in chemistry.

But I never said anything. I never even tried. To this day, I can remember where she sat in Inorganic Chemistry (oy, that class… what kind of chemistry professor covers up the periodic table during exams?!)– a few rows to the left of me. Opportunities day after day after day as we filed in and out of the classroom, as we did dangerous (horrifically dangerous, truly) things in the lab, and as we commiserated over the ridiculousness that was that class in the chem computer lab upstairs. (Seriously, I hated inorganic so much– more than p-chem, analytical, instrumental analysis and FORTRAN (yes, I had to learn FORTRAN90, I know, pointless) combined). Enough about Inorganic Chemistry! Get out of my brain!!

Back to Nicole. This story actually has a super great ending. No. A super great re-beginning! So keep reading!

You see, thanks to the miracle that is the modern internet and to Mark Zuckerberg, inventor (maybe– have you seen The Social Network? It’s good!) of Facebook, Nicole and I have remained in touch. As in, sometimez she posts cool stuff on FB and I’ll “like” it if I’m feeling brave. But then! THEN! I got really brave, and I wrote this blog, and Nicole got really brave (turns out we’re so nervously and cowardly alike that we would have totally hit it off in college had anyone had the courage to actually do something!) and commented on something I posted and we talked… and talked some more… and dang! What a chance to make up for a missed opportunity! And get pumped, because something really, really cool is coming out of it!!

Have you ever heard of the list of 1,001 books you need to read before you die? I hadn’t either… Nicole brought it to my attention. Just like she brought a reading challenge to my attention in the first place. Because we like to read, Nicole of Brash Biochemist, Dawn of Cups Running Over (another missed-opportunity-followed-by-internet-reunion-friend), are linking up to bring you the NEVER ENDING BOOK CHALLENGE– a challenge to read (or at least try to read, it’s ok to not finish a book if you’re really not digging it and if it’s something you’ve given yourself permission to do) all of the 1,001 books on that list!

Want to play?

Great! Here’s the deal:

I used the list available here to generate a list of all 1,001 books in a Google docs spreadsheet. (It’s public– feel free to check it out here.) Every time we’re ready for a new book, the three of us will take turns picking… either randomly or not (picker’s choice) and we’ll all read the book du jour.

I went first. I used a random number generator to choose a number from 1 to 1,001 (because I really don’t trust myself to be unbiased) and got the number 814. Number 814 corresponds to Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae (available free on the Kindle!!). So here we go!

As we read, Nicole, Dawn, and I will post about the books and our experiences and we’ll also add our names and the date the book was completed to the spreadsheet. If you’re reading along, please feel free to do the same! We’d love to see lots of names and dates… all of us reading together!

I suppose the moral of the story is this: Learn from me, nerds! It’s so worth speaking up! The response isn’t always ideal (see kite example above), but it’s better than missing an opportunity altogether! Granted, there’s always the internet and over a thousand books to make up for it…

Let’s read!!!