Let’s just address the elephant in the room. Let’s let the cat out of the bag, take the bull by the horns and call the dogs off. I come bearing my idiomatic menagerie in the hopes that you will forgive me for not posting on this blog for more than a year. I can only imagine the dwindling legion of readers who anxiously checked ShutTheFolkUp each day for new posts, only to leave, disappointed, as the site gathered dust on some forgotten corner of the Internet.
So why the lull? Well, basically everything happened at once. Have you ever studied organic chemistry? Studying organic chemistry is like studying the rules of some complex foreign sport, where every law is constantly altered and nullified by shifting by-laws, where electrons jump and bounce like over-caffeinated 4th graders, where just when you think you know what’s going on, an aldol condensation reaction or benzoic dehydrogenation occurs and you struggle to remember what aspect of medicine and patient care this knowledge might inform.
Sometime in the summer I studied for and took the MCAT. The name might suggest a purring, serene creature, eager to rub against legs and perch on laptop keyboards, but this feline is better related to the type that might stalk you on the Serengeti. As you lie sedately by the watering hole, the MCAT sneaks up behind you, targeting the weakest of the herd, the oldest, the plumpest, the ones who have not adequately memorized the ideal gas laws for a non-volatile vapor. I left the building despondent, certain that I had failed and thinking of the plans I would have to cancel so that I could be ready for a retake. I’d left my phone at home and wouldn’t be picked up by my dad for a few hours, so ended up wandering the lot of a nearby business park, feeling sorry for myself and scowling at strangers. When my dad did finally arrive to pick me up, I was too miserable and exhausted from my suburban hike to say much. “Never mind,” he said, in a way that only dads can make sound comforting. “Never mind.”
A few days later, I left for Guatemala with my high school friend Scott, a reward to myself for completing my pre-medical studies. After a few days climbing volcanoes and swinging in hammocks, I forgot the MCAT had ever even happened. We crammed onto camionetas or ‘chicken buses’, old yellow Blue Birds that retire from civilized lives carting children to and from schools in Des Moines and St. Louis to lives in Central America, crammed with locals who have paid less than a dollar to travel the length and breadth of the country. On one particularly memorable journey, Scott and I boarded an overcrowded bus and stood uncomfortably in the aisles, swaying in part from the awkward camber of the mountainous roads but mostly from all the dodgy street food we’d had earlier. I was jealous when Scott was offered a seat, until I learned the obligations of this arrangement: a moment later, my taciturn, rugby-playing companion was handed an eight year old boy to sit on his lap for the rest of the journey, while his parents laughed at their reluctant new gringo babysitter. Guatemala is an absolutely incredible country and with some careful planning we were able to cover vast swathes of it in just over two weeks of travel.
Of course, as with all these things, the MCAT score wasn’t nearly as dreadful as I had anticipated, and before long I was interviewing at medical schools, in rooms with other nervous twenty-somethings, each desperately trying to convince admissions committees that we were God’s gift to the anatomy lab. When I received my acceptance phone call I ran out into the backyard of my parents’ home, my mum and dad and sister clinging to the doorframe behind me as I spoke to the dean of admissions. When I turned behind and gave them the thumb’s up, they erupted into cheering hugs. I had to ask the dean to repeat himself because they were screaming so loud.
It’s a wonderful feeling to have a trajectory, to know that the gravity of your future is drawing you into a steadily predictable orbit. I have many, many demanding years ahead of me and exams that will make the MCAT look like a basket of kittens, but the terrible part is over, the part rife with self-doubt and second thoughts, the part where you can never quite drop the feeling that the system is trying to shake you loose, to prove that you aren’t really supposed to be there. But once you’re in, once you pass that vital test and plant your foot firmly in the door, you find yourself surrounded by people determined not to see you leave.
My girlfriend recently celebrated a birthday, and her mum wanted to buy her tickets for a gig. She asked me to research bands playing in the area, and being the dutiful boyfriend that I am I quickly found out Johnny Flynn was touring. I hadn’t seen Johnny Flynn since my first year of university, but I had been blown away by his voice and unique songwriting. I’ve featured him on this blog before. He’s often lumped in with Noah & the Whale, Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons, but for some reason never really achieved the same notoriety as these guys. I think this is slightly unfair, as his lyrics alone set him above the others, and the guy plays like 17 instruments; halfway through their opening act, The Melodic told the audience their next song required a violin player, and Johnny Flynn suddenly emerged from backstage to accompany them. He came out 20 minutes later for his own set, and The Melodic stood near us in the audience and cheered along with the crowd. Everyone was just there to have a good time.
…especially the middle-aged woman standing in front of us who couldn’t stop screaming with excitement every time Johnny Flynn spoke, and then trying to actively engage him in conversation between sets. But, okay, I get it, blonde hair and blue eyes, he’s a handsome guy.
Johnny Flynn had a son recently, and wrote one of my favourite songs from his new album ‘Country Mile‘ as a lullaby that somehow explains the theory of relativity to the boy. That should be reason enough to love the song. You can listen to it below :
(wish I could ‘embed’ songs like I used to, but WordPress want me to pay $20 for this privilege and I think it’s a little cheeky)
And so now I prepare for my next big journey. In a couple weeks I will be boarding a plane for Dublin, then another for London and a final one for Frankfurt, where I plan to spend a few months learning German (because, you know, I’ll be working with so many German patients in medical school). I haven’t booked the plane ticket after that, but I know that somehow I will wind my way back to California by late July to start medical school. In the mean time I just sit back and relax, another piece of flotsam drifting in the current.