My heart-warming tale of self-affirmation


Creek Running North has a guest blogger this week, and she has asked for inspirational stories to help her get started. So here’s a little motivational tale from my undergraduate days about my love for animals, and how I learned to overcome self-doubt and appreciate myself.

I was one of those nerdy little dormies in college. I thought I was quiet and pleasant, and I showered every day, but there was one troubling thing…I just couldn’t keep a roommate. I had a few who lasted a year, and several who only lasted a quarter before transferring out. I was beginning to wonder what was wrong with me, whether I had some subtle character flaw.

Then one term I acquired a new roommate I’ll call Jack. Jack seemed a nice enough fellow, but he soon showed the signs I was getting used to…the nervous tics, the way his voice would crack when he’d talk to me, his frequent prolonged absences.

He started freaking out over the most innocuous things. He’d complain when I’d idly play with my collection of dental picks and scalpels and rongeurs, and he insisted that I only sharpen my forceps when he wasn’t in the room. I had a wonderful set of dental picks, I want you to know, and I liked to keep my forceps needle sharp.

Jack also objected to my pets. I had a small swarm of frogs—I’d made them myself, inducing ovulation in a female and fertilizing her eggs with minced male gonad, and so had raised them from the time they were itty-bitty gametes—which I fed on bits of liver and baby food and earthworms. They would just peep quietly in the night, and he found that objectionable.

And then there was my cat. I’d been working on a cat in comparative anatomy, and we’d mainly focused on musculoskeletal stuff. I want to do more nervous system work, which was outside the curriculum, so when we were disposing of the carcasses I snipped a few muscles and made a quick snick behind the third cervical vertebra, and took the head home in my pocket. It was a pretty white cat, and the head was a little smaller than my fist.

So of course I named her Snowball.

I was courteous. I only worked on Snowball when Jack wasn’t in the room, and I kept her tucked away in a secret place otherwise. It was a quiet, harmless hobby—I was meticulously carving away the skull to expose the cranial nerves.

And then one day I came home from class to find Jack incoherent and furious. He could barely speak and would just squeak and point at our mini-refrigerator.

He’d found Snowball.

There she was, floating in brine in a yogurt cup, a perfectly isolated brain with two eyes dangling on stalks, and a flawless fringe of delicate nerves splayed out beautifully. Jack seemed upset.

But hey, what was he doing opening my yogurt cups?

Later, Jack would take my girlfriend aside and try to break us up. He told her I was going to be some kind of serial killer and that I was going to do horrible things to her some day. Fortunately, this was the girl who would go worm-hunting with me and would help me chop them up for the froggies, and with whom I’d had a few dissection dates, so she just laughed.

I realized, though, that the problem wasn’t me. I was a good roommate. It was them. They were jealous of my implements, they were trying to break up my relationships, they were trying to steal my yogurt behind my back! Bastards. The lesson I learned was that it was their fault, and the lesson they should have learned is to stay out of my refrigerator.

I just needed to find a good person to room with. So I moved in with my girlfriend and lived happily ever after.


  1. Ian H Spedding says

    Who are you trying to kid? Like all your fellow ‘icky-thyologists’ (that’s the science of studying the messy bits for those of you not up with the latest research) you just love grossing out the rest of us. May the Curse of Bastet be upon you! (That means that you spend all Eternity cleaning out the litter tray.)

  2. HP says

    Did Dean Halsey ever find out you were dating his daughter?

    I spent most of my time at Miskatonic studying library science with Dr. Armitage, but Carl Hill’s comparative anatomy class was notorious all over campus.

  3. Carlie says

    Ah, reminds me of my own college days. I was lucky enough to have another biology major for a roommate, and we used to thoroughly enjoy regaling our friends at dinner with stories of our lab classes. The most fun was after the human physiology lab, excretory system, in which we had human volunteers drink various substances and we then analyzed their, um, output every twenty minutes for the next three hours. For some reason it took awhile to get people to eat dinner with us again after that….

  4. says

    See now, this is why philosophers make the best roommates. They don’t dissect anything, they don’t use anything fluid that doesn’t have a beer base, and they’ll happily talk all night if you want them to, or retreat into a book if you don’t. And they don’t mind you stealing their yoghurt because they have honestly forgotten they bought it. They might wonder why they’re losing weight, though, when none of their food budget results in actual eating, although I can’t honestly recall many thin philosophy students. Potato is more than a food group, it’s an entire cuisine for philosophers.

  5. CCP says

    ah, dem ol’ biocollege daze…
    had a housemate one year who had a fairly lucrative herb concession and kept his stash in rolled-up baggies in our kitchen freezer. One fine day he presents a prospective customer with a sample bag for to savor the aroma etc…poor guy unrolls the bag and oops! finds the dead shrews I had pulled from my Mammalogy-course trapline that morning, pending the opportunity to skin em and prepare museum skins. Guy freaks out, hilarity ensues…oh, my those wacky antics ‘n’ crazy hijinks!

  6. says

    CCP –

    I can’t say how I would react to that happening to me. I think it would really depend on whether or not and how stoned your roomy had gotten me before I opened the bag. Regardless, it would make a very amusing anecdote, after the fact.

    PZ –

    Personally, I would have found the whole situation fascinating. I would probably be the roomy you wanted to be rid of, because I am a tremendously curious sort. I never got into dissecting animals, because I never studied biology, but I am all about taking things apart to see how they work. Give me electronics that have failed and I’ll have hours of fun, trying to make them live again. Give me a dead critter and the best I can do, is separate out the edible meat – usually.

    I was always fond of watching a couple of friend dissect various critters we found, because they knew what they were doing and could give me a pretty good idea how various bits work in conjunction with other bits. Loads of fun when they got into showing me the nervous systems of frogs. Lots of laughs tormenting the girl down the street with that. . .