And… we’re on Mars.

6 Aug

The successful landing of Curiosity — the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet — marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future. –Barack Obama

And all of a sudden I’m brought back to being 16, with an acceptance letter in hand to attend the Massachusetts Academy of Math & Science–one of 50 from my state selected to attend classes at Worcester Polytechnic Institute to finish my high school diploma. I stared at that letter, knowing I was probably the weakest test-taker in the room of students who had applied, having been thoroughly confused by an advanced physics problem about a camel walking, blah blah blah, some distance, some other camel, trading packs, weight, distance, time, blah blah. I could only imagine that among the small percentage of students who couldn’t answer the question, my response had somehow earned me bonus points: I named the camel and, in the midst of math errors and miscalculations, sprinkled in narrative details about the camels’ home lives, presumed spouses, and life ambitions.

To be a writer or to be an aerospace engineer? The question was difficult. A stay at NASA’s Space Academy has exposed me to the world of flight simulation, mock missions, and zero gravity. I was enchanted. I knew that I wouldn’t always be the best at anything I did, but with the right encouragement and enough hard work, I could succeed to some degree in any field. And hard work was something I was good at, if I was good at anything when I was 16: even back in high school, I woke up at 6:45 a.m., went to a day full of school and extra-curriculars, and stayed up till 1 or 2 a.m. studying. Math and science didn’t come as easily as Spanish and English, but what did I really love?

I don’t regret that I chose to attend a liberal arts college to double major in Spanish and English. I don’t regret the M.F.A. in creative writing or the M.A. in comparative literature I’m currently working on. Three languages later, I’m more invested and in love with literature than ever before.

But sometimes, in moments like these, I see a glimmer of what could have been if I’d chosen a different path. If I could re-write my past and choose a different option, how would it have turned out? What if I did finish high school at WPI and major in aerospace engineering? Where would I be right now? (Well, probably in graduate school anyways, but still…) What if I were… a rocket scientist?

And then, in the end, I know I was meant to be a writer: because my first idea is not to start pondering physics classes but to start writing a new story about what could have been.

A writer may only have one life, but through story can learn to live many different ones.

More on the Mars Rover.

 

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