Recent Work

What I Took Away From My Animal Behavior Course

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Human circadian rhythms (sleep/wake cycles) are twenty-five hours long. Days on Earth are twenty-four hours long. That’s why it’s so hard to stick to a sleep schedule.

Sharks were the first animals to have penises.

Neoteny is a word that describes an animal that has evolved to keep the characteristics of its ancestor’s young for its entire life. For example, dogs have the floppy ears and barks of wolf pups. There is a theory that this happened to humans. Think about it: we are barely fuzzy like baby monkeys and we keep learning for our entire lives. If you ever feel old, this fact should comfort you.

Octopuses keep some of their brain in their arms. So their arms will swim around and look for food for a while after they are severed. Side note: According to scientific convention, the word is octopuses, not octopi.

Bulldogs should not exist. They can’t breath all that well and have a lot of other expensive health problems.

There has been a fifty-year experiment going on in Russia to breed domesticated silver foxes. They are adorable.

Some airlines keep falcons to scare away other birds that might get stuck in propellers.

The males of some dragonfly species grab onto their mate’s head with special clampers and hold her over a body of water until she lays her eggs.

There is a species of musk deer that grows fangs instead of tusks.

Water striders have post-coital communications with the vibrations of their feet.

Oprah Winfrey

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Oprah Winfrey turned twenty-one on January 29, 1975. She was attending Tennessee State University in Nashville, where she studied communication. Nashville was a record 75.9° Fahrenheit on Oprah’s twenty-first.

Oprah was working at Nashville’s WLAC-TV as the first black female and youngest ever news anchor. She would move to Baltimore later that year to co-anchor the six o’clock news on Baltimore’s WJZ-TV. She had to choose between the job and graduating from Tennessee State. She chose the job.

Oprah was dating William “Bubba” Taylor, who she would break up later that year because he didn’t want to move to Baltimore with her. While Oprah was twenty-one, she began her famous friendship with her current magazine editor Gayle King.

She talked about this time in her life in an Entertainment Executive interview: “It was very uncomfortable for me at first because when I first started as a broadcaster, I was 19. Very insecure. Thrown into television, pretending to be Barbara Walters, looking nothing like her. And still going to college. So I’d do all my classes in the morning, from eight o’clock to one o’clock, and in the afternoon, I’d work from two o’clock to ten o’clock and did the six o’clock news. And I would stay up and study and all that until one, two, three o’clock in the morning, and then just start the routine all over again. My classmates were so jealous of me, that I remember like, taking my little $115 paycheck – and at the time I thought it was really a lot – and trying to appease them. Anytime anybody needed any money, I was always offering, “Oh, you need ten dollars?” Or taking them out for pizza, ordering pizza for the class, things like that. That whole “disease to please.” That’s where it was the worst for me, I think, because I had wanted to be accepted by them, and could not be. First of all, I didn’t have the time. They wanted me to pledge, and I didn’t have the time to pledge. I didn’t have the time to be a part of all the other college activities, or a part of that whole lifestyle. And it was very difficult for me socially. Really one of the worst times of my life, because I was trying to fit in at school, and be a part of that culture, but also trying to build a career in television.”

Amelia Earhart

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Amelia Earhart turned twenty-one on July 24, 1918, about a year after F. Scott Fitzgerald. She was living with her sister, Muriel, in Toronto, where it was around 79° and sunny on her birthday. In the year before, she attended the Ogontz School, a finishing school out of Philadelphia. She had only meant to visit her sister, but the visit was soon extended indefinitely. Earhart never graduated from Ogontz.

Earhart worked as a nurse during her time in Toronto. She prepared food and handed out medications to soldiers and victims of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. Earhart was hospitalized after catching influenza herself, during November and December 1918. The side effects from this flu, including sinusitis, affected her for the rest of her life. She spent her time in the hospital reading poetry, studying mechanics, and learning to play the banjo.

While she was living in Toronto, soon after her birthday, Earhart visited a flying exposition with a friend. She had an epiphany when a World War I ace dove toward her to scare her and her friend: “I did not understand it at the time, but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

fscottF. Scott Fitzgerald turned twenty-one on September 24, 1917. He was attending Princeton, but his involvement in various literary and theatrical societies was causing his coursework to suffer. He was on academic probation by his birthday in 1917. On November 20, 1917, Fitzgerald dropped out of school to report for duty as an infantry second lieutenant in World War I. The picture above was drawn from a photo taken while he was in the military. He grew worried that he would die on a battlefield in Europe, so he hurriedly finished a draft of the novel The Romantic Egoist while stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. At first, publishers rejected this work but, by March 1920, it had become the acclaimed novel This Side of Paradise. Fitzgerald was still twenty-one when he met Zelda Sayre while stationed outside Montgomery, Alabama. Fitzgerald would not marry Zelda until 1920.

The average temperature in Princeton, New Jersey on September 24 is 73°, and Fitzgerald was probably enjoying the autumn scenery despite his worries about low grades and the ongoing war. Fitzgerald was just beginning to cultivate the alcoholic habit that would lead to his premature death; on his twenty-first birthday, he was probably boozing with his charismatic friends, including the future critic Edmund Wilson, the poet John Peale Bishop, and various debutantes.

David Sedaris

First, an introduction. I want to do a series about the twenty-first birthdays of some of the people I admire. I am doing this because I want to steal party tips, I want an excuse to read biographies and email celebrities, and, most of all, I want some perspective. I want to learn if the goods and the greats were on paths that they would look back and be proud of, or if they did most of their steering post-twenty-one. I want something I can read to recognize the kernels of potential in my life and something that will comfort me when I review my shortcomings at three o’clock in the morning.

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David Sedaris turned twenty-one on this day in 1977. This drawing was made from a yearbook photo that was taken in 1976.

According to his Reddit AMA, Sedaris remembers nothing about his twenty-first except that he was high:

“My birthday’s the day after Christmas.

I know for a fact that I was stoned.

But that’s all I can tell you.”

We can piece together some more information about the day. According to his Wikipedia page, Sedaris dropped out of Kent State University in 1977 and did not go back to school until 1983.  Since Sedaris’ birthday was at the end of December, we can assume that he had dropped out of school by his birthday.

Sedaris started keeping his famous diary on September 4, 1977, about four months before his birthday. In an NPR interview, he says that, “I started drinking and writing at the same time…”

Sedaris’ progression from his twenty-first birthday to “America’s Most Beloved Author” is outlined here. He has an alternative persona that presumably spent his twenty-first birthday in a very different way.

Are You Your Own Twin?

Johnny 2 Lydia Fairchild was surprised to be informed that she was not the mother of her children. “I knew that I carried them, and I knew that I delivered them. There was no doubt in my mind,” Fairchild said. She and her family were taken to court after some routine DNA testing to prove that they were all related after she applied for welfare support. The tests indicated that Fairchild’s boyfriend was the father of her children, but that she was not, apparently, their mother. Lydia Fairchild was taken to court for fraud. How could a mother not give her offspring her half of their genome? The answer lies with the woman’s developmental history in a phenomenon called chimerism, specifically tetragametic chimerism. Chimerism occurs when two separate sperm fertilize two separate eggs, but then the two separate embryos fuse together at the blastocyst or zygote stage. Because the tissues from the two different embryos may not integrate completely, the developed organism may end up with their absorbed twin’s kidney, or one of their pupils, or, as in Fairchild’s case, gametes. Once chimerism was believed to be rare, but evidence is starting to point that it is more common than scientists believed. Most people have some cells that are genetically identical to their mother’s and most mothers have cells that are left over after they give birth to their children. This is called microchimerism. For other species, chimerism is the norm. The male anglerfish joins its body to the female during reproduction to form one hermaphroditic chimera. Marmoset monkeys give birth to offspring with their absorbed sibling’s genes about one third of the time. Fairchild’s chimerism was eventually realized, but only after every other option had been exhausted. Her obstetrician testified. The family ordered tests from different labs, thinking that there must have been a mix-up at the first one. The judge for Fairchild’s case came to the hospital to watch her give birth to her third child. Despite this evidence, DNA tests still showed that Fairchild was not the mother of her children. Finally, the lawyer for the prosecution found a similar story and realized Fairchild’s condition. DNA from a cervical smear test showed that the genetics of Fairchild’s reproductive organs matched that of her children’s. You may never know if you, like Lydia Fairchild, are a chimera. Or your ghost-twin may show herself in one hitchhiker’s thumb, or a blonde eyebrow, or an earlobe that’s hitched slightly differently than the other. Only DNA testing of every organ of your body would show the truth. This depth of testing is improbable and, therefore, you will probably never know if you are one, genetically homogenous body or a mix of twins fused before birth. For further reading: The ABC news story of Lydia Fairchild: http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/shes-twin/story?id=2315693&page=3 The deal with marmosets: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11464-marmosets-may-carry-their-siblings-sex-cells.html#.VELlGEshxg0 And angler fish: http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/FamilySummary.php?Family=Ceratiidae