One of the joys of a weird alternative education is that I now, at 54 years of age, am doing with great pleasure what most of my cohort did sullenly at age 16. I've backed off my open courseware Fundamentals of Biology course, because it became clear by week two that without chemistry it was going to be hopeless. Now I'm happily settled in with my Complete Idiot's Guide to Chemistry (I liked the Khan Academy lectures, and will keep watching them as well, but they don't have exercises, and there's something reassuring about having an actual book in my pack when I'm trying to learn something.) And I'm learning about significant figures, which no doubt most of my readers, who went to real schools, learned about at a tender age.
It is deeply, seriously cool. How to work with numbers that are unreliable. In the real world, almost anywhere that it matters, numbers are unreliable, and you end up rolling your eyes at some of the laborious arithmetic people undertake, knowing that the final digits of most calculations are trash. What I didn't know was that people had systematized how to do this. There's a protocol for it! I would no doubt have been irritated by it at age 16, when I didn't realize just how leaky the arithmetical boat would be for actually getting anywhere; at 54, I'm enchanted.
The sky is darkening: I should hop on my bicycle before the rain comes, I guess. But suddenly I'm happy. I have book full of things to learn, and a bicycle to ride, and the leaves across the way are greener than any leaves have ever been since human beings first made their way across the Bering bridge and wandered down the West Coast. This beautiful, beautiful place.
I am so happy that I deserted: that I left academics, and didn't become a specialist or a professional, learning more and more about less and less. It would have been the lucrative thing to do, but my heart always hated the idea. And now I'm free to take up chemistry lovingly, rather than wade resentfully into a pile of academic journals. I'll never have one of those palaces in the West Hills, where I go to do many of my in-home massages, the spacious rooms and lovely windows looking out over the champagne, where the lights twinkle at dusk. But I think I enjoy the views more than the inhabitants. And I get to lay hands tenderly on people, which is what I always wanted most of all.
It's been a life with a lot of odd turnings and detours, but I would not trade it for any other, not for any other at all.