By Dahl Clark
I've been wondering. I don't know why I wake up in the morning and try to go through the day to accomplish stuff. Right now, I see no point to life. There's nothing valuable I can offer to the world that someone else hasn't already done or is better at doing it. I'm tired of writing letters like this. I'm tired of being anywhere at all. I can't understand why I have the ability to be conscious of my surroundings or to be able to distinguish myself apart from everything else. It hurts to be able to understand things, and I don't know if it hurts more than not being able to understand things. Why do people encourage me to become a better person when it is so obviously futile to do so? There are already people better in all the areas I'd like to be better in, and they're going to be the ones who will shape the world and be recognized widely by others. I would have liked to have had the chance to do the same. I don't know what it feels like to really be friends with another person, because everytime I try, I fail. I always have to move away, or they always have to move away. I don't feel close to my family because no one there really knows me. They have such a different picture of me than what I have of myself. I would like for my dad to be my best friend, but everytime we have a streak of good, happy days, something always happens that plunges him into anger and despair. All of those deep emotions are shed on me, unknowingly, perhaps. He is so different from me, but yet he's my father, and I don't know what to do with that. I love him, but then there are times when he is the person I either most fear or who most disgusts or angers me in the entire world. When I'm at home during those times, I feel that my house is indeed my entire world, and it wasn't until two years ago when I finally got a glimpse of hope that I might be able to enter the outside world. By talking like this, I know I'm actively setting a boundary between myself and the world that I can't cross, but this is exactly what I am trying and what I want to do. I want to belong to something larger than my life, and I want my life to have some meaning. I received very close to a full scholarship to Duke University, and I still feel empty and bereft of guidance. Dr. Winters says that I can do physics, and sometimes I believe him, but it's times like this when I'm not sure. If there was anyone whom I could really consider to be my best friend, it's Dr. Winters, but I don't think he'll ever realize this. The only time he ever sees me is in physics class and whenever I happen to see him around school, but yet I consider him to be a sharer in my life simply because I think he can sometimes understand me. He knows so much, and I hope to be like him someday. Watching and learning from Dr. Winters in class motivated me to learn physics and how to present information to others. I never really felt that I could be a social person until I met him. I have never been a person to talk too much to friends or strangers, but I think I have talked more this year to him than to anyone else at my school this year. I feel I actually have something to say because to him, what I have to say is important. I feel that life actually has a purpose, and I think to myself that there's actually hope that I might be a physicist someday.
It's a good thing Dr. Winters isn't ever going to read this letter. It's a good thing no one's ever going to read it, perhaps not even me. Every day I try so hard to cover up the fact that I am uncertain of my future, and this makes me very miserable. Sometimes I wake up and ask myself how I am able to open my eyes and look upwards at the ceiling, or to move my hands or head. I ask myself what the purpose of my existence is, and I never get an answer. I have to have answers. I realize that the reason other people don't have this problem is because they either do such a good job at ignoring this question, or they simply don't pay attention to the purpose or mechanics behind their lives. I guess I've spent so much time alone in my life that I have plenty of time to roll these questions around my head. I think I've had too much time. I know people feel uncomfortable around people who are uncertain of their futures or people who appear outwardly miserable, and such expressions of feeling can be detrimental to one's reputation or career. That is why I must try so hard to pretend I'm happy, because things just go downhill when I express these kinds of feelings. I realize that I live mostly in a fake world, where people never reveal their true selves to others in fear that others may dislike them. I want to share my life with other people, but I don't want to share my life with those who aren't thinking about doing the same thing. People are too ignorant about other people, and I think that's a primary source of the world's problems because people are just too selfish and inconsiderate of others.
This year, I learned how to care for somebody. I learned the importance of doing that, and I learned how wonderful having a friend can be. However, I've realized that Dr. Winters is not the person I should be seeking guidance from. I've realized that I can't seek guidance from anyone. I've been so alone these past few days, and that's not too uncommon for me--for my entire senior year at Science and Math, I talked to very few people, and near the end of the year, I hardly talked to anyone because I knew we would all go our separate ways and I didn't feel too great a need to keep in contact with them. I never have. I feel so alone, but I'm not going to run out and find friends just because I feel lonely. I need to talk with people who will be understanding, considerate, and who also have a certain depth of insight in life. The world is too homogeneous--there aren't too many people who stand out, and when they do, they are trodden over by the crowd. That's why I'd like to talk with Dr. Winters more often, but he is perhaps the last person in the world I need to be talking to. He teaches physics and is always busy as a result, and that's what he likes to do. I've realized that he probably doesn't enjoy having me standing around Physics Floor taking up space. Dr. Winters has more important stuff to do, and I feel sometimes like I'm wasting his time. Often, I feel like I'm wasting everybody's time. I can't see where I fit in within the world. As soon as I leave Physics Floor, I wonder what happens to everyone after I leave. Where do all the students go? What do all the teachers do after I'm gone? The only thing I can see is what I'm doing. I notice myself walking down the stairs, one by one. I notice a few students passing me in the hall, off to do whatever they're about to do. I notice myself getting off the stairs, passing a few rooms. I wonder what happens to people, or what they're thinking. I'm curious about how other people live. I suppose I am because I don't know a lot about other people besides what I happen to see, and that isn't much. There is a whole world around me that I don't know of, and that often makes me feel bad.
I don't want a lot of money, or fame, or fortune, or success. If I happen to see some of these things along my journey through life, then that would be good. However, I've realized from a very early age that all the wealth in the world means nothing if you're not happy. A rich person without friends can be much more miserable than a poor person with friends. I've done many things in life that people used to praise me about, such as winning science competitions and fairs, getting awards, and getting the Duke scholarship this year. However, doing all these things or earning all this money means nothing when you can't come home or go to work and share your experiences with other people. I am the only person from Science and Math to win such a wonderful scholarship to Duke, and yet, I don't feel much different right now than before this fortune happened upon me. My dad is still thinking about how he's going to pay the 4,700 dollars for me to go to Duke, and he's even more upset at how he's going to have to rent a truck to carry all my stuff just 100 miles up the highway. I ask him about when my half-sister had to move all her stuff from Princeton back to Ohio, or what about all the people who live in North Carolina and decide to go to Caltech or Stanford for college. I've learned that every family is different, and now that I've learned that not all families do things the same way as my dad does, I've been able to see a different perspective on my family situation. My dad, however, refuses to see anything beyond himself and asks me why I always bring "other people" into our conversations about such things. He has not changed in all the years I've known him; he is still very effective at keeping me physically, socially, and emotionally isolated from the rest of the world, and he sees nothing wrong with what he does because his parents did things the same way, and so did their parents. I have grown up to be very different from my dad, not because I've forced myself to be, but because I have actively tried to seek other options of living.
I didn't come to Science and Math this summer so I could earn 4,000 dollars, because the school's going to close on July 15, and unless I find someplace to stay so I can work until August 15, I'll only make 2,000 dollars. That's without the taxes, I found out. I'm never going to find a place to stay up here. I don't want to rent an apartment because I'll have to spend some of the money I've earned, and I don't want to stay with anyone I might know because I'd feel I was imposing on the person and that I'd be out of place. The main reason I came up here is because I can't last an entire summer at home. I'm not productive, and my entire personality and self-awareness degrades there. My dad doesn't have a clue, and he doesn't understand how I'm feeling although I make it a point to tell him how I feel about being home. There's no physics at home, no science, no educational discussion, no passion for learning, nothing but my dad and me sitting in a house pigging out on food and watching TV. I've grown to hate the TV, and I hate it when mealtimes approach. We know that sitting down at the table to eat is fake, because neither of us eats as much as we do at dinner when we're not together with each other. My dad eats a sandwich a day and some other stuff, and I get PFM food. We both feel terribly full when we're done, and we don't have the motivation to do anything after feeling as miserable as we both feel. However, my dad, coming from the military, goes right back to doing stuff around the house after he finishes eating, and he thinks that I should do the same. He gets up at 4:30 in the morning and forces himself to do exercise, and he often forces himself to do housework. He stresses out very easily and doesn’t know why that happens, and he doesn't listen to me when I tell him the reasons he's feeling stressed.
I came here this summer because my life is up here, not at home. It stopped being at home the moment I came up to Science and Math. I was exposed to a real, actual world that exists beyond the experiences of anyone else in my family--the scientific community, and the world of academia. Great things happen in this world--people have such great aspirations and the willingness and motivation to understand the incomprehensible. People want to learn more about their world, just like me. People are not fake with others, but reveal their true selves in their discourses with colleagues. People come together to brainstorm about ideas on how to solve a problem--here's a group of people coming together for one collective purpose, working harmoniously in the best case, and even in the worst case, the group ends up with more information about each other and the problem at hand than they did before they started. This is a brief, rough description of what I see in the world of knowledge--people wanting to help others make the world a better place. People who are willing to think and to share and receive their ideas with others. People who don't believe in a right or wrong, but who are inquisitive enough to try to discover the truth. I want to be a physicist someday so that I might join the ranks of these great minds. I want to know how they became the person they've become. Everyone I've talked to seems to shy away from this question, as if they want me to create my future by myself. I'm writing this letter because I know that I cannot do this. The way I see my future now, it is dreadful and bleak. I may be successful, but I will never be truly happy unless I do something about my life. That's why I've come up here this summer. I see Dr. Winters around occasionally, but he has stuff to do, and he's the only person I can actually talk to up here. Everybody else comes from all over the state and some even come from out of state, and they're not going to be here past the end of this week. Therefore, I didn't find much need to carry on any long conversations with them, just brief ones with some of them. I would really like to stop by Dr. Winters' office and say hello, but I'd feel awkward because I wouldn't want to interrupt anything. Every day I do work that's totally alien to me in the computer lab on the second floor of the ETC building. I've been working for three days now, trying to enter information into databases and trying to create the databases. I've never done database work before, and I've had to learn a lot about them in the last three days. I've had to pick up and move monitors, CPUs, and everything else. I'm working with Jeremy Portzer, who's now a rising sophomore at Duke and a computer whiz. For the whole day, the only person I really see and can talk to is him, and I really can't find much to say except when I have a question about database construction. Every time I ask him a question, I realize I've learned something new that will likely help me in the future, but I also feel like I know absolutely nothing. I got that feeling a lot when I was studying PhysCal this year too, and it was pretty frustrating. It was really frustrating when I failed my AP Physics and Calculus exams. Dr. Winters and Dr. Britton told me not to jump to any conclusions and that I was probably cutting myself short, but I can't help it. I've listened to them and I've tried to put my strengths above my weaknesses, but I've realized that I really don't have too many strengths in a world where everyday, I'm competing with the best and the brightest for a more valued position in society. I realize this, and I know Jeremy knows far more computer stuff than I'll probably learn this summer, and the same goes with Dr. Winters and physics. I hope I'll learn physics someday. I won't ever give up trying to learn physics, even though sometimes I get as miserable as I am now because I can't perform well on tests or I somehow can't otherwise show people that I can indeed perform well on something. I don't know why some people tell me that they value my company above that of someone else who knows more computer stuff or more physics than I do if their area of interest happens to be computer stuff or physics. It might be for the same reason that I value Dr. Winters' company above that of all others, although we do surprisingly few things together. I can't be sure if that's the case, and I wouldn't ask him. I don't understand why anything happens at all. Why is the whole darn universe the way it is? Why was I born the way I was, and why am I what I am now? Why!!! Why have all the things that have happened in my life happen? These thoughts sometimes occupy me so much that I have difficulty concentrating on stuff, and often I get to the point where I don't want to concentrate on stuff because I feel that if I think about these questions long enough, I might find an answer. If I stay up half the night after working ten hours on a physics problem, I still won't go to bed because I have hope that I just might find the answer. I really do pay for my ignorance and stupidity in the morning. I realize all this, but the subject weighs so heavily on me that I can't do much about it. I feel that there's nothing for me to do in the world, and that I'm absolutely of no value to the world. The people who really matter to me aren't there, and the people who haven't mattered much to me aren't there either. I get up in the morning, go to work, come back, sit at my computer, do more work, go to bed, and get up again, doing the same stuff every day that I did the day before. There's no meaning to what I do; I'm just inputting information into databases. I'm just telling the computer to write a bit of code so that when it reads it later, it can tell some microscopic part of itself a couple of million or billion times a second to either turn off or on, and then to cause the screen to flicker so that I can see words on the screen. My whole life has been reduced to on and off signals, it seems . Everything in the world can be thought of in such simple terms, it seems, which is why I've had a great interest in grand unified theory work. I love the concept of string theory, but I have no clue of what the actual mathematical theory is. I can't yet do the math required for theoretical physics, and I'm starting to question whether or not I should actually try to learn theoretical physics. I don't want to make the wrong decision that would later turn out to be a detriment to my career; that's why I need someone to talk to, so I can get help on making these decisions. Many fields within theoretical physics deal with fundamental particles and their interactions. In the eye, a light particle hits a cell and the brain realizes that the cell is on. When there isn't a light particle there, the brain says the cell is off. That's simple. The worst part to understand is how the brain actually recognizes that the cell is on or off. How am I able to see things? How can I understand the physical world? The human body is far more complex than any equation in physics probably ever could be. The human body is responsible for how I'm feeling now, because I'm human. I don't think any equation could describe why I'm feeling the way that I do. That's why last year I decided not to pursue biology and to stick with physics. Biology is responsible for how I feel because it is cells that have somehow joined together to comprise my body, and that have somehow interacted to form my consciousness. It is responsible because it cannot answer the questions that I seek answers to, although it is supposed to be the study of life. I am alive, yet I do not understand what life is. I don't understand myself or the rest of the world. Sometimes I think I can really understand or care for another person, but then I realize that I can't, because every person exists as a unique entity, separate from all others. It is a horrible feeling to recognize this isolation between every member of the human race. It is a horrible feeling to know that I will probably never truly know anyone. I care for people, but I wonder if I am doing something correct whenever my attention goes unreturned or unrecognized. I always wonder if I am doing something correct, because I hear so many "That's impossible!" or "That can't work" or "I don't think so" or other forms of the word "no" each day. Negativity strikes a painful chord within me, and it hurts even worse when I realize that I have become a source of bad feelings as I have now. There are people in Lab 2 right next to me right now; I'm sitting on Physics Floor at the fastest student computer on campus so I can record my thoughts more quickly. They don't have the slightest idea of how I'm feeling; two people came by about fifteen minutes ago, and I smiled and carried on a delightful conversation with them. Afterwards, I returned to writing the rest of this letter.
David Clark just came out of Lab 2 to talk to me. I'm tired of writing this letter. I'm way too sleepy to go to bed. He said he and Dr. Winters went to kindergarten in Manhattan, Kansas in 1970, and that's where they met, at Kansas State University, studying physics. I still don't quite get all of that. I guess I can ask just one more brief question before going to bed this evening. I guess I should go to bed so I can wake up tomorrow morning, because I never know, something good might happen. I can't see it, but maybe some good stuff will come my way. I'm not expecting it, however. I've discovered that one tends not to feel too disappointed when one isn't expecting too much. I'm tired of feeling sad, lonely, and disappointed. I want to feel comfort, communion, strength, motivation, and perseverance. When I can do that, I'll be happy. The last time that happened was on May 20, just before I went to Vienna.
I think I feel bad again. I told David to tell Dr. Winters that I hope he feels better. That's something. I feel bad because I care for someone. The last time I really cared for someone to a great degree was when my mom was alive. She passed away in 1993 at 44. She kept me isolated at home from other kids because she thought they would be a bad influence and because she thought I didn't need the company, but nevertheless, she had been a very loving and caring person. I care for my dad, but sometimes I feel there's not enough caring power within me to carry me through the times when my dad's terrible feelings overwhelm the both of us. I care for Dr. Winters. I haven't found anyone since my mom whom I can freely talk to, without having to worry about any retribution for anything I said. He listens to me, and I listen to him. This is the first time I have ever met anyone with whom I can carry on a mutually thoughtful and beneficial conversation. I never knew what such conversation was. I never talked to my mom about anything else besides what she wanted or was able to talk about, nor my dad. Dr. Winters knows the world of science, knowledge, and freedom of inquiry. I don't know what I'll do after this summer is over. I can barely see tomorrow. I just know that I'm going to Duke, and I have to get prepared by studying physics, calculus, and learning how to create various types of graphics using my new computer. I don't know what I'll find there, except that I'm going to be once again competing with the best and the brightest. I have no other choice if I want to be successful and to have a nicer lifestyle. That doesn't automatically mean that I'll have a happier one, but it does mean that I'll have a greater amount of chance of finding happiness within that lifestyle.
I'm tired of writing this letter. It doesn't matter what I write, because no one's going to read it anyhow. I'm just wasting my time, and I could be doing something else better and more productive. I could be getting some sleep, but like I told Todd Clark a while ago as the people in Lab 2 were getting ready to leave, I'm too sleepy to go to sleep. I've got too much on my mind, and even if I go to bed, those same thoughts will still be there to greet me in the morning when I wake up and try to pull myself out of the bed so I can do some meaningful work. I wish my life had a bit more meaning. I wish I could tell someone about all the wonderful things I've done during the day, and about the horrible things that have happened, too. I wish I could freely share with someone the most important things about my life, and I would give them the chance to do the same also. I just want someone to talk to. I feel so alone sometimes. I don't know what to expect tomorrow or at anytime in the future. Anyday, the people near Kosovo might decide to start another world war, and India and Pakistan might decide to use nuclear weapons against each other, and in any case, we'll have a nuclear war and if everyone doesn't die first from impact and radiation, the planet will suffer from nuclear winter and the world won't be like we know it to be anymore. Anything can happen in the future. I'm certain of it because there's no way for me to know the future. I put my best guess forward, and each day, something happens to strike it down. I just thought of something new, that I can't ever hope to be like Dr. Winters if I'm thinking and feeling all these horrible things. He is calm and takes each day with confidence and easiness. I am uncertain, scared of what might or might not happen, afraid to make decisions, and often bereft of all happy thoughts. I'm probably feeling this way because I am about halfway between that time of the month that all female human beings must encounter, and I usually feel low during this time. At least I found out that there might be a physical reason for my feelings, and that makes me dislike biology even more. The only biology I like is that dealing with the earth, plants, and animals. I don't like anatomy, physiology, or any of the medical professions because people in those professions proclaim to have all the answers to every discomfort known to man, and they really know nothing at all except the tiniest grains of truth. At least the physicists I've met try not to proudly proclaim that anything they've determined is absolutely true. There is always a degree of error and room for different viewpoints on a problem. There is always questioning and brainstorming for new ideas. Physics research is where I think I really want to be. As of late, I haven't really had the motivation to continue building the inductor project I was working on earlier this summer. I won't give any more information about that project in this letter, but I will say that I'm building this special type of inductor for only a few reasons. First, I cannot explain to another person why or how to build this type of inductor because I might be missing a great opportunity to build it myself. Second, I don't think anyone would want to waste their time in building such a device. Third, I'm afraid that if I explain my theory to people knowledgeable in physics, they might immediately see gaping mistakes in my theory and would laugh at me because I attempted to do something doomed to failure. Fourth, I am curious to see what might happen if I actually build this device. Since I haven't really finished building it, I can't say for certain whether or not it really works until it is completed. Finally, I want to have the opportunity to show people that I actually know some physics and to make up for all the times I failed physics tests or otherwise performed poorly on them. If I said that the inductor I'm trying to build induces a field other than the electromagnetic, I would really be pushing it a bit, so I won't say it.
I want to end this letter by saying that I really do care about what happens in my life and the lives of others. I want to be a good person and I want to live a long, happy, prosperous life as everyone innately wants to do. I'm encountering a bit of trouble in doing that, however. There's no one to help me, and I don't know how to help myself. I've tried. I don't know what to do. I don't want to go on feeling the same way I do now. I don't want to forget all the wonderful things I've done and experienced this year at Science and Math. I'm sure I'll experience more wonderful things in college and beyond, but I can never forget this year. I can't forget all the time I've spent on Physics Floor, struggling to learn something that for a long time, did not come easily to me. I can't forget Dr. Winters. I can't forget this year. I don't know what to do. I don't know why life has to be so difficult for me when it seems to be so easy for other people. I just wish that someone would give me some answers on how he or she got through their life to be the person he or she is now. I know no one's going to do that because no one wants to interfere in my life. They want me to carve my own path through life. I don't suppose they've been reminded that no one walks through life alone, untouched by their interactions with others. No one does this, except perhaps for me. I have been touched at a very deep level by others, and yet I remain untouched, isolated, alone because nothing is permanent. All things change. Friends don't remain friends for ever, and that has always been the case for me. Everyone I've really cared for have left me, or I have left them. There isn't anyone I know now besides my dad whom I talk to regularly after I have left the environment where I once talked to that person. I sort of have to talk to my dad because he's my dad. Not even Dr. Winters, it seems. That really hurts to know that someone you've admired and cared about for a whole year somehow doesn't mean much to you anymore because you're not certain whether it's okay to keep things the same way they were before or if one person should introduce a change. I'm going to college; I'm no longer a physics student at Science and Math. Things would be different just because of this. Should they be? I don't know. I don't want them to. I don't think it matters one way or the other for Dr. Winters, since no student he's ever taught has come back to visit on a regular basis. I don't think any student of any teacher around here really does. He's my best friend, though. I can think about things and ask him about things while we're working on projects, and there is nothing but complete harmony in these scholarly interactions. I ask, he answers. He asks, I answer. We work synergistically like two waves combining together with constructive interference, producing twice the amplitude than that of any component wave alone. I can actually understand it when he explains physics to me, with a degree of clarity unmatched by any other physics teacher on this floor. I might not see him again after this year because my history has shown that I've been particularly bad at returning to visit people. Since December of 1998 I've been dreading this summer because of what might happen. I haven't thought of it much, but as the school year began to draw to a close, I began to think about it more. I think I'm here this summer not because I love databases, but because I gravitate towards physics, and Physics Floor is a black hole with a quantum singularity in Bryan 453. As the summer progresses, my spacetime is becoming warped as I try to counteract the pull that keeps drawing me back to this place. I can only hope that there is peace and stability for me after I move through and beyond the singularity, and that my awareness of myself and the wonderful things of life do not become stretched and torn into shreds of spaghetti on the way through. I have passed the event horizon; there is no escape for me. I am going to college, and that is an absolute fact now. Before I go to college, I must face my singularity. I don't know what will happen, but I hope that things will still be as calm and wonderful there as I have grown to know them to be.
10:07.08 pm, Wednesday, June 16, 1999