Scientist ~ Writer ~ Aspie
I love science. What can I say!?!?! I was probably always destined to become a scientist. From my earliest memories, I was always catching bugs and lizards and fascinated with all that nature had to offer. I grew up in a little town called Valley of Enchantment in the mountains outside Los Angeles. It was a perfect place for a budding scientist... well, maybe a budding botanist or herpetologist.
On January 21, 1973, I discovered marine invertebrates. My 3rd grade teacher, Mrs Downs, used to take her class each year to the Cabrillo Marine Museum in San Pedro. Most of the kids were captivated by the whales and dolphins. But not me. Hermit crabs and octopus. What can I say? On that day, I knew I would become a marine biologist: it wasn't something I wanted per se, it was an imperative. It was the start of something magnificent.
But alas, the youthful naivety and enthusiasm were dampened a bit by reality. People I respected told me that it would take many years of school, and many of the classes would be really hard, and even if I got through it all, there weren't very many jobs, and the few jobs there were didn't pay very well. And I thought that meant something. So as I grew up, I tried to find something that made my heart feel as glorious and alive as it did when I thought about octopus and hermit crabs and their scurrying underwater kin.
And then on 22 December 1992, because of a last minute change in plans, the unimaginable happened: the last field trip of the semester for a marine biology class that I took for no reason other than personal interest, ended up at Cabrillo Marine Museum (now Cabrillo Marine Aquarium). And this time they had jellyfish!
The 20 years since have been nothing short of a vibrant and passionate love affair. Some of the highlights feel extraordinary when juxtaposed in the written word: blindly offered a full PhD scholarship to Berkeley, awarded a Fulbright for my work on jellyfish blooms and fossils, travelling the world and moving to Australia, naming and classifying the largest invertebrate discovered in the 20th century, hundreds of new species of jellyfish, and a new species of dolphin! Wow! But it hasn't been all glory. As high as the highs have been, there have been equal and opposite lows. I've battled fierce depression and those who would destroy me if they could. In October 2010 I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. While some may find this a devastating revelation, to me it was liberating! To finally have it all make sense, to finally find my path...
The highs and lows are all very humbling to think about in the face of the decline and damage I have witnessed too. Sometimes I feel like the glutton at a banquet, knowing that tomorrow the food will be gone and things will never be the same again. The thing is, I didn't know. Even most scientists don't really know. Most of us study our own little corner of the world -- philosophically or geographically -- and the rest is too big so it gets lost in the noise. Experts in climate change, experts in overfishing, experts in pollution... they are all jumping up and down saying "look, this is really bad", but in fact, all these and more are really bad, and we are really in trouble.
My book Stung! wrote itself in 5 1/2 months. I say that because in some ways it was like vomiting, where you can't stop until there's nothing left to want out. But in other ways, it was the most exciting and meaningful time of my life. The book taught me a lot. And I am so very proud of it. I hope you will like it too!