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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Long-Chain Molecule of Desire

My friend Krista Seckinger posted a graph on Facebook showing the relative pay scales of various college majors.  Among other things, I discovered that Petrochemical Engineers make a whole lot more money than Theater and English Majors.

I was gob-smacked.  I realized how I'd wasted my life.

When I was in college, I was an English Major very active in the Theater Department.  What only my closest friends realized, was that I'd always secretly longed to be a Petrochemical Engineer.

Ah, I fondly remember as a child, my mother would say, "What's that stink?" and I'd say, "I'm applying catalysts to naptha to form a xylene isomer."  "Cut that out!" my mother would say.  "How many times have I told you to quit wasting your time with that tomfoolery!  Now get back to work on those metaphors in the kitchen!"

Like so many others, I put aside my dreams because others called them "impractical" and "foolish."  The friendliest advice I got was from a high school counselor.  I'd confided in her my fascination in steam cracking natural gas liquids to form olefins, which I know are a very common derivative, but I still find them just fascinating.  Even today, olefins are my favorite.  Anyway, my counselor smiled in an unfocused sort of way, and said, "That's nice.  But don't you think you ought to have something to fall back on in case the olefin thing doesn't work out?  Have you considered becoming an English Major?  You'll learn how to explicate poetry.  People will always have poems they need explicated."

And that was that.  I turned my back on my true desires to follow the trail of the Almighty Dollar.  I sat in class day after day discussing Melville and Hawthorne thinking, "at least there's money in this."  But inside my heart was breaking down, just like petroleum breaks down into olefins and aromatics.

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