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. #1 DuWayne
    October 1, 2007

    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. . .

  2. #2 Skeptic4u
    December 5, 2007

    I love this story.

  3. #3 Etha Williams
    April 27, 2008

    Thank you for this story. It gives me, a college student living alone in her little studio apartment, hope for my future.

  4. #4 Dr Strangelove
    July 8, 2008

    Awesome story about an awesome girl. Wow.

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