In the month since I have last posted something here many things have changed. But what I feel most is that if I have not yet turned the corner, I can certainly see around it. The future may be full of fears and fantasies, but there is now a pathway through the fog, and for the most part, at least right now, it is exciting.
The downside is that there is a large negative influence that has exploded upon the scene. This is not just the constant addition of obstacles and impediments to the practice of my profession. No, this is very personal and it is the diagnosis of a chronic illness of my wife. It is something that can be managed, and it may not turn out to be as destructive as it possibly could, but it does change the way she views herself and how she will need to operate in the world. The extent of the necessary vigilance is not yet known, but the impact of mortality, and of the randomness of fate, is now always present.
This will mean more pressure from my wife, and from inside of me, to live our lives a bit more deliberately and bit more meaningfully – as if I haven’t been doing that. She doesn’t like feeling that things are beyond her control. She is hurt and angry, so I get to be the victim of mini-slights and corrections, as if it is me who is out of control. But I realize that those slights are temporary.
But before the diagnosis hit, and about a week after my last note here, I turned on this computer and sat in for the opening week of my on-line course on biology and genetics. It is being given free ot any and all who are interested. But it is not a consumer friendly version of anything. It is the course given by Eric Lander, the leader of the Human Genome Project, last semester at MIT.
The only difficulty is that the course, to do it well, requires lots of time. Because like any real college course about the Community College level, the tests require much more than answering questions about what was taught. They require taking what was taught and using it to solve a problem. The problem involves terms and concepts that may have been briefly mentioned in a lecture, but which take time to review, organize and understand. For example, the course gives the list of amino acids, but never really clarified the differences, or how they bond, or how they interact with other proteins – or for that matter what proteins are and how they are formed. But the questions make you go and find these things out, which is possible, interesting, but very time consuming.
But the main thing for me is that the course is about what is being learned now. It is about things that were discovered ten or five or two years ago, and how they are being put to use, may possibly be in the future, Also, it is about a basic feature of who we are as people and how we got that way and how things inside of us work, or don’t work.
I find this such a refreshing change from the vagaries and speculation of psychology and psychotherapy. The genetic/biochemistry interactions that create many features, traits, and illnesses that we have are extremely complex, and most are not at all clear yet, but they are emerging, and ways to explore them are also emerging. It is such a long way from the personal speculation about hypothetical constructs and pompous “interpretations” of slight bits of behavior that have been true in psychotherapy for decades. These “interpretations” often reflect much more about what goes on in the therapist’s mind than in the patient’s.
For me, now, this is exciting. It is new, it is evolving, it is fascinating and it could and should be useful. Will I ever be able to use the knowledge I gain if I continue to pursue things of the same of similar nature. That is my goal. I don’t expect to ge a Ph.D. in genetics or microbiology. I don’t expect it will be me who make any startling discovery, or theoretical break-though. But I would like to find a way to show how so many things are tightly integrated, and highly interactive, both inside and outside of people. How a change in diet, fatigue, air pollution, architecture, sunlight, muscle tone, or repetitive noises can influence someone. This can interact with family relationships, work performance, a personal slight, a sexual flirtation, a political point of view. These things can affect family, friends, neighbors or a whole subculture. Those things have political ramifications that can affect diet and air-pollution that can affect how glucose can form the proper bonds with other amino acids, which can help or hinder a gene from performing its function properly.
It is vastly complex, and I understand that no one can really have a real grasp on the details. But it is exciting, fascinating. And mostly, it is real.
And anyway, I’m not that good at details.