Having established the good fortune to which my fortuitous birth entitles me, I can go on.
I was born the sixth of six children. A few years later, I became the sixth of seven children. The number of kids in our family is actually open to debate. The children in our family claim that there are either nine (or ten) children in our family, some of whom have been tragically lost to us. Mary was eaten at a tender age by lions at Lion Country Safari (a now defunct Disney Adventure). Susan was flushed down the toilet as a mere babe by my older brother. Now, if you ask my parents, Mary and Susan never existed. That's okay. The kids know the truth. Mom and Dad were just too traumatized to bring themselves to admit what happened. Of course, there's Richard. The younger kids claim that Richard ran away to join the Army at the age of nine to escape my older brother's regimentation. The older kids scoff at this idea, claiming that Richard never existed. They're traumatized, too.
So I am in fact the ninth child out of a family of ten, seven of whom are still with us. Clear?
Now, some of you are doing a double take. Richard joined the Army at the age of nine to escape regimentation? That can't possibly make sense. Well, it can. You see, my oldest brother also had an army. We did jumping jacks at his behest. Sometimes hundreds of them. When we were really really young. We stood at attention, and he smacked us to improve our posture. If you cried, you washed his door with a toothbrush. Your toothbrush.
I have vivid memories of us going on a hike in the mountains when we were younger. He had us marching along the trail, and he barked orders at us. At one point, I remember him bellowing, "Enjoy scenery!" to which we responded, "Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy" in a flat monotone.
Now you may be wondering how my older brother got to be like this. I suppose a word is in order about my parents. I have no wish to malign my parents. In fact, they're great. It's not quite fair to say that they drove us crazy; but I don't think I was born into sanity. I know, I know. Everyone says this about their parents. So I think a succinct example of the depths of my parents, uh, other-mindedness can be provided. When we were sick, my parents wrote us notes excusing us from school. Now this is quite normal. However, the sorts of notes my parents wrote were not.
There are other stories. My housemates particularly enjoy the story of the pumpkin pies and the blue bread. I don't think I've told many people about fudge and blue bread. There's a horrible story involving maggots which still gives me the cold shivers down my back. I summarize the first seventeen years of my life thusly: I have a weird family. You think you have a weird family. Everybody thinks they have a weird family. Trust me. My family will out weird yours any day of the week.
I got my undergraduate degree from Florida State University. I majored in math and chemistry. Somehow or other, I managed to complete the requirements for these degrees with some semblance of grace.
I should say a word about the process of getting my undergrad degree. I was poor. I was really poor. I realize there are people who were even worse off than me; those people were the ones who were supporting people besides themselves. For the last year of my undergrad career, I lived on betwen $350 to $400 a month. This really colors my view of money; to this day, I can't order a sandwich without thinking that with that five bucks I could buy two containers of oatmeal.
While I was poor, I also really liked fiddling with computers. During a temporary upsurge in my finances, I had built my own computer. I wanted, oh how I wanted, to upgrade it. To do anything to fiddle. Alas. It's hard to upgrade your computer on a budget of $5 a month. So I started messing with software. At this point I freely admit that I pirated a bunch of stuff off of friends first. But the novelty wore off, and I wanted more upgrades. I overclocked my machine. And that wasn't enough. So one day, I installed Linux. Gradually, I began using it more and more....
Okay, back to the main story (although that is the main story, just not yet). Here is Heidi, majoring in math and chemistry. Somehow or other, I managed to complete the requirements for these degrees with some semblance of grace. I finished, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Interesting jobs for people who like math and hate labwork are few and far between. Except, ding ding ding! Brilliant idea! I decided to do theory. No labs. No experiments to mess up. All math and computers. Yay! So I went to Berkeley and ended up working for David Chandler, doing theoretical statistical mechanics for a few years.
Yeah. Then basically I got bored. I mean, there's a lot more to it than that, but here's the essential problem. I went to grad school because I didn't want any of the stupid jobs you could get with a Bachelor's degree. Then I realized I didn't want any of the stupid jobs I could get with a PhD. A PhD is a lot of work if you don't really feel like it, and besides, I hated, absolutely hated, talking about my research. Every time it happened I felt worse and worse, and stupider and stupider. And the process seemed to be exponential. Didn't take a genius to figure out that there was a problem. Plus, as I mentioned, I was bored.
But I didn't want to run away. I saw too many people doing that--taking any out they could get from graduate school, because they wanted out that badly. So I stuck around for a while and thought in the back of my mind about what I wanted out of life (and what I didn't want).