randombio.com | commentary
Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Dead leaves in your pocket and snowflakes in your hair

On being a scientist and having regrets. Or being pissed, which is basically the same thing

T here's an old Irish folk tune that goes “Run, run from the little folk, or you'll have dead leaves in your pocket / and snowflakes in your hair.” The full lyrics are here. Well, I know for a fact that those snowflakes are getting in my hair already. And I may have just found a dead leaf in my coat pocket. No wait, it's a Kleenex.

That damn tune has been stuck in my head all week, no doubt as punishment for not under­standing it as a kid. They're talking about leprechauns, but what they're actually saying is that you should pay attention to what's really valuable before it's too late. Sure, now you tell me.

I can see how young people, some of whom are beautiful, smart, and amazing, are being forced to pretend to believe things they know to be false. Smart young people are out there, and it is they, not the fanatical brainwashed ones we see on the Internet, who will lead the next gener­ation out of darkness. To them I would say: do what the tune says—run from the little folk.

The price for not doing that could be like the one I paid. I'll be forced to watch forty million people die a horrible, lingering death from dementia, which I dedicated my life to curing. I finally succeeded. Before I could publish the results some bureaucrat at my university decided on a whim to force me into early retirement.


The only hope for the patients is for some unscrupulous corporation to steal my idea, and one big biotech company appears to be trying to do just that. That's the lastest scam: interview people, interrogate them for six hours straight, then steal their ideas. Meanwhile my phone rings off the hook from people offering me consult­ancies on projects with no scientific value. They value my skill and knowledge only when they think they can fill their hands with gold.

When you're in the Little Land
they fill your hands with gold,
you think you stay for just a day,
you come out bent and old.

Music in the little land
makes the heart rejoice.
It charms your ear so you cannot hear
the sound of your true love's voice.

What they're chasing after are not diamonds, but cold pebbles, as the tune calls them. Thanks to the little folk and the ones who put them in charge, we spend our lives on useless, dead-end projects, and then one day the ones we care about are gone.

We should take the time to learn from older people. My grandparents spoke Swedish and had wisdom and vast knowledge about their homeland that I needed to know, but I was too dumb to listen. A visiting professor who came to work with us for a few months spoke Swedish as well, and he too had interesting stories to tell, but I wasn't interested, and shortly thereafter he died, his stories lost forever.

And then there's my dad, whose grave is buried under a foot of snow today, as if time has been frozen since that awful day many years ago. Maybe if I'd asked more questions, been more of a snot-nosed brat, broken a few more teeth, or spilled more paint, he would have been forced to take the time to share his wisdom with me, and it might have made him tougher as well.

Dead leaves
Dead leaves, in case anyone doesn't know what a leaf looks like

I didn't take those courses in advanced mathematics and physics in college or in grad school when I had the chance, and so I had to learn it on my own, spending my weekends reading mathematics textbooks. Talk about dry, dead leaves.

Nor did I take the time to learn much history or western culture. This, of course, is much easier to learn on one's own, but the perspective of what is important and what is irrelevant is harder to gain.

What I regret most is never having fathered any children. The women I met were all conformist and too good at playing dumb. They think that's what guys want, but they are wrong. Cute, yes; but if there was an independent thinker out there, I never found her.

I discov­ered that nature is unrelentingly cruel. The older you get, the cuter little children become. I never imagined how painful it would be to see other people's rotten snotty-nosed little bastards running around breaking things, and then watch their minds gradually develop as they become sophis­ticated, intelligent adults.

But the programming in the human subconscious mind is brilliant. It's always searching for ways to ensure our survival, yet we are usually unaware of its existence. The subconscious is our guardian angel. It never gives up. It never stops thinking, and it never stops tricking us into wanting to stay alive.

Even now it's making me practice trying to sound crotchety and trying to get my wheezing to sound authentic. So far not much success, but it is a skill I am confident of mastering. Or maybe it'll tell me to buy a cane so I can shake it at those rotten kids who are always on my lawn. I'll buy a rocking chair and a dog, sit on one and have the other lie by my side, though, I suppose, the dog won't like it. Or maybe it will make me roll the dice.

I've gained a new appreciation for the people who are older than I am. They can see farther into the past and so can project farther into the future. They are the ones who can see the turning of the gears of life and evolution, and if we were to ask, they might just repeat the lyrics:

When you're in the Little Land
you watch the wee folk play
you see them through a game or two
you come out old and gray.

The Little Folk live to make us angry so they can distract us from the things we ought to be doing, and in so doing make us one of them. Don't let them.

march 05 2019, 3:21 am. last edited mar 24 2019, 4:17 am

Related Articles

Hey you kids, get on my lawn
The older you get, the cuter kids look. It's nature's way of punishing you for not creating more of them.

How to kill twenty million people without really trying
A new treatment for Alzheimer's disease has been devised, but it's headed for the trash bin.

Is an academic career worthwhile?
Last month, advice for a young scientist. Now, some advice about graduate school. The fountain of wisdom never stops.

On the Internet, no one can tell whether you're a dolphin or a porpoise

book reviews