1. When and how (as accurately as you can remember) did you realize that Physics is in fact not where it's at?
For me and my life, I assume you mean, as it is where it's at in some very crucial ways. Umm. I had pretty firm inklings in my last semester of college. That was a wonderfulawful semester. A lot of things were going very right and a lot very wrong, and many of the things that were going right were feeding into the wrong of other things. The Asimov Award was a big part of this: for the first time, someone who does this for a living had said yeah, you can, go for it. Here, have some money and something for your cover letter, even. Go you. You're good for something outside physics. We'll vouch for it.
At the same time, I was coming out of my best physics classes ever (Math Methods junior spring, Quantum and Stat Mech senior fall, Nuke senior J-term) into my worst physics classes. I knew going into Astrophys that I didn't want to be an astrophysicist or an astronomer. I had research in astrophys to back that sentiment up. It was charming enough research in its way, but it was not for me. But I took the class anyway. Why? Because...um...because I was still in GAC Physics Brain, essentially. Because My Department offered it to me, and for the most part I took what they gave me. I also hated Optics, and I knew I would, and I took it anyway because One Ought. And the professors were such dears that, to be honest, I didn't want to hurt their feelings by not taking their classes. In a different department, I probably would not have had that reaction. I wasn't in a different department, nor did I really want to be.
But I told myself it would be all better in grad school because grad school would be like Nuke and not like Optics or even like Astrophys. It was not. I did not look forward to the opening of classes in grad school, which should have been a clue and was not. I was aware that I was miserable within the first week of class. But it did not occur to me that I would be less miserable doing something else; it did not occur to me that we could manage financially if I wrote, and possibly we couldn't have at the time. (So yes, I stayed in nuclear physics grad school for a year in part for the money. You're allowed to laugh at me for that.) And in part because I was being Not A Quitter, and in part because so much of my identity was tied up in playing Marissa Lingen, Girl Physicist. I didn't remember how not to be her. From the minute you want to be a physics major in junior high (if you are female), there are people who want to hold you up as an example to grade school girls. People who know me only a little from high school remember me as science-oriented, because it was how I came off from so early. And I still love writing science articles and reading up on the latest physics, and oh, I still miss the math. But not for What I Do.
For most of that year I was in grad school, I really couldn't talk myself into believing it was a good thing at the time. I just thought it was the best I could get to from where I was. And maybe it was.
2. What is your favorite curse word?
By volume? Probably uff da. Although there are some swearing concepts borrowed from Finnish and Swedish that I really, really love. They're pretty vile, though, so I don't say them much.
3. What is your favorite number?
4. After moving to Minnesota, what was the first thing you realized that was wrong before, but was now right?
Heh. I stepped out at the truck stop in Albert Lea and inhaled. Even with the gas station smell, the rest of it smelled -- oh my. It smelled like October in Minnesota. I hadn't had all of an October in four years, and...I was home.
I really had a sense of what I missed. It was not a nameless-longing kind of homesickness. There was not subtle wrongness. The wrongnesses were large and conscious, for the most part. It was just that the list of what I missed could take all day or until I couldn't stand talking about it any more without crying, whichever came first.
5. If you could have a conversation with one person who is now dead that you did not know while they were living (for any reason), who would you pick and what would be your opening line?
Lönnrot for sure. Elias Lönnrot, who did the Kalevala, and as he was Finnish, my first line would have to be a cautious nod. But I would talk to him about the assembly of the Kalevala, how he formed arcs out of old stories, why he put them together in the way he did, how much was him and how much the old stories themselves and where he had stopped being able to tell the difference.
That's this year. When I'm done with Sampo, the answer will be different.
Okay, back to something usefulish.