Friday, April 22, 2016

Long Live the Queen

In honor of Earth Day, I forced myself to sit down and write a poem that's been bouncing around in my head for years. It's written with a specific precious turtle in mind that I cared for after a serious boat strike injury. She has since recovered and been released, and I think of her often.

This poem is written as though I'm speaking to her after she first arrived to the hospital. I  am dedicating this poem to all the sea turtle biologists, conservationists and environmental activists out there taking steps to make this world a better place, thank you and Happy Earth Day.

Hello, Your Majesty,
I regret to inform you, you’ve suffered some injury,
As a result of a run in with a boat,
Luckily, my colleague found you afloat.
I must apologize for my species,
I assure you that we’re trying to change things.
It’s amazing that in all the challenges you face,
That you’ve been able to continue the race.
Predators, weather, humans and pollution,
Yet you’re unchanged after 120 million years of evolution.

No matter the challenge, the threat, you’ve thrived!
You carried on and continue to survive.
As a result of all the backbone you’ve shown,
You’ve finally risen to claim your throne.

It’s so wrong to see you in this tank,
A sea turtle out of water?
My heart sank.
Your wounds are deep,
Your pain, too great,
I am not worthy to influence your fate.

But duty calls, and I must respond.
Your caretaker, of whom, you’re not so fond.
I promise to soothe your pain and heal what ails,
Before I’m ready, you will set sail

Back to your kingdom
Where you reign
You’ll leave this hospital
And forget the pain
Freedom never tastes so sweet
As when you’ve lost it, temporarily.

Your brothers and sisters fill the halls
They were hit by boats or nearly drowned in trawls,
With hooks embedded or trash ingested,
Your forgiveness is not deserved, but requested.

For all the humans doing wrong,
Taking all they want for far too long,
There are humans fighting to resurrect,
Our future, and trying to prevent shipwreck.

These things I would tell you if I spoke your tongue,
I would tell you of all our heroes unsung.
And all that activists before me have done.
The battles we lost and the ones we won.

For now I will show you through what I do,
How deeply I desire to help you,
I will focus my actions, both large and small
To advancing your cause and helping you all.
My actions will show you, I say what I mean,
I'm your voice, your soldier, and everything in between.
I will fight for you until the day I die
And on my deathbed you’ll hear me sigh,

“Long live the queen.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Losing My Childhood Friend of 16 years, My turtle, Hercules

March 5, 2016 was one of the best days of my life, as I was honored to receive an Archie Carr Best Student Paper Award in Biology (runner-up). While I know that based on the laws of physics and chemistry that the universe strives to be in dynamic equilibrium, what happened March 6, 2016 nonetheless appears to be a cruel twist of fate. 

Sixteen years ago or so my parents let me bring home a red-eared slider turtle from the pet store, and I promptly named it Hercules (only to find out about 4 years later that SHE was a female). While we acknowledged that it was a big decision, I don’t think any of us realized what the consequences of such a decision would be – that turtle ended up inspiring a career in sea turtle conservation physiology research and a lifelong vow to help turtles every way I can until the day I die. 

Hercules, I had hoped we would have 16 more years of adventures together, but it appears that that was not in the cards for us. It was painful to be 3,000 miles away in Peru and receive this news, but we will have a proper burial when I get home. We have been through so much together, and coming home at the end of a long day to watch you swim, chase fish around your tank, go crazy over peeled grapes or take you outside to crawl in the grass were simple pleasures that has kept me going through some very difficult transitions in my life, and it has been for as long as I can remember. You were with me throughout my childhood, you went with me to Louisiana to start my master’s, you came along during my fieldwork in Florida, and you have seen me through the first 8 months of my PhD in Texas.
My only consolation is that I finally got to put you into the beautiful tank you’ve always deserved that I could never provide in the past, so that at least you could have a month or so swimming freely and living the high life. 

Thank you for changing my entire future and helping me discover a deep passion that gives meaning to my long days and purpose to my long nights. Thank you for helping me find hope and happiness. I don’t think you ever cared much for me, but thanks for never complaining in a frequency that I could hear, and I hope that in some way I was able to show you how much I love you. 

Every time someone asks me how a girl from Iowa decided to pursue a career in sea turtle biology, I talk about my childhood friend, and how it all began.

While some people might say you were “just” a turtle, to me the world is a sadder place without you in it. 

With a heavy, heavy heart, I renew my promise to find answers to difficult questions, develop new techniques and resources for biologists and conservationists, and fight to make this world a better place each and every day for turtles and other organisms like you. I also promise to do everything I can to inspire, encourage and mentor the next generation of biologists and conservationists so that I can one day rest in peace knowing that this important work continues. Because as much as I know that turtles need people like me, I also know that people like me need turtles on this planet so much more.

I promise to do all this, and to never forget all that you meant to me and what the life of a single turtle can represent in this world. 

Swim free at last, my dear friend and hero, thanks for everything. This one’s for you.

"Fake It 'Til You Make It" Is Bullshit

Dear wonderful person who needs to hear this today,
Are you feeling worthless? Are you feeling anxious about a big task? Are you doubting your ability to accomplish the things you want from life?
I know it’s not that simple. I know this is something you have always struggled with.
But stop.
Stop being so mean to yourself.
You need to quiet all the doubting voices in your head. Silence them and just listen to me, because no matter how you’re feeling right now, you have to trust that I am right and they are wrong.
All your life you’ve been faking it. You’ve heard this mantra over and over and over, “Fake it until you make it,” right? And you’ve been faking it. Has it helped? Did you wake up one day feeling confident and amazing? No. You never have and you never will by faking it. So, I’m telling you that it’s bullshit and you need to let that go.
From now on, I want you to think about CULTIVATING CONFIDENCE in yourself.
You are not a factory of productivity. You are not a robot that is constantly churning out tasks. You are a wonderful, talented, amazing, living, feeling human being. You are so much more than those things because you have DEPTH and EXPERIENCE and PASSION.
You are a beautiful garden. You are capable of incredible growth, prosperity and life! But for you to grow to your full potential, you need constant care. You need to be cultivated. You need to be watered, inspired, tended to and, of course, loved. 
So, that sounds nice and everything, but how do you cultivate confidence?
You need to reach down, deep inside. You need to find all those voices that are tearing you down. You need to hear them when they start to chip away at your confidence, and you need to reframe what they say.
Instead of saying, “Why aren’t you done with this yet?” Say to yourself, “Wow, I’ve really made progress on this and I’m going to finish it.”
Instead of saying, “Everyone thinks you’re an idiot!” Say to yourself, “I am a talented, bright human being and I will prove to everyone how much I have to offer.”
Do this every time you feel those voices rising up again. Do this every time you prepare for a big event. Do this every time you start to feel that self-doubt creeping in and making second guess things.
You deserve to be treated with love by everyone around you, but ESPECIALLY by your internal self. Who else do you spend 24 hrs/day, 7 days/week with? Who else is with you even in sleep? If you are constantly cutting at yourself from the inside, how can you expect to perform at your best? How can you find confidence and happiness with half of you always tearing at the other half?
You can't.
If this seems hokey, think of it this way: if your little sister came to you, your best friend, your son, and told you they had made a mistake or they were nervous about something important happening in their lives, what would you say to them? Would you tell them they’re an idiot? That they’ve screwed up their only chance at success? That they’re guaranteed to fail? Of course not! You would tell them that they can do anything they set their minds to, that they have every opportunity to turn this right back around, that everything is going to be okay.
You deserve to hear that in your weakest, private moments, and you are the only person who can be there for you then. You deserve to hear that you can do anything because it’s true!
Look, a positive attitude is not a guarantee for a good day, but a negative attitude almost always is a guarantee for a bad one. Allow yourself a fighting chance!
When I started being kinder to myself, I was happier at work, I got more done, I felt more confidence and I was able to do so much more high-quality work because I wasn’t spending ½ my energy each day self-sabotaging.
You deserve to feel happy and full while you’re on your journey to the things that you want. And when you hit a speedbump, you deserve to forgive yourself and move forward, because it’s not productive or helpful to keep kicking yourself over and over. You create a vicious cycle.
You have earned all your accomplishments, nothing has been handed to you. Give yourself the credit for it! Stop giving all the credit to luck or to others!
You have HUGE things coming at you in the future – the best is yet to come! So, you need 100% of your energy dedicated to doing what you need to do and giving yourself the emotional support you need to do it.
BE KIND to yourself, especially when things are hard.
BE EXCITED ABOUT THE POSSIBILITIES AHEAD, and not afraid of the possible bumps along the way, and know that you will get there, no matter how long it takes.
BELIEVE YOU CAN and you will.
You’re not done yet, not today, you have so much fight left in you. And don’t you dare let those inner voices say anything to the contrary.
I believe in you.