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I wake to sleep by Lulu L. '09

An application to a telescope asked me why I learn and where I'm going. It took a weird turn. It's exactly how I feel.

Where to begin?

Well, in order to understand me, what drives me, what might be my short term and long term goals, it’s important to go a little ways back in my history (what history I have), not too far, just a blink of the eye really in the scheme of things, back across the years that made all the difference in the world to me, or none at all, depending on how you look at it. I was 8 and lived on the outskirts of one of the fastest growing cities in Sichuan, right along the fault where the developing, oftentimes ridiculous city just dropped off into the farmlands like a cliff. I was just a breath away from the main highway they’d started building to connect the major cities of Sichuan, but I couldn’t have been farther away from the knowledge and innovation that they carried. I lived with my grandparents, and we had none of the technology, especially none of the purpose, of this rapidly changing landscape, going from green to grey, ecstatically.

That was when I loved the sky. Before I knew about massive objects and space-time and the various wavelengths of light, the sky was a black sheet and stars were holes in it. And that suited me just fine. I never thought twice about not knowing. No one I knew ever took any issue with not knowing. Except maybe my grandpa, who, later, would be the proudest of me out of anyone when he learned I was studying to be a scientist, but back then I never heard it. He was a reader, a talker with his quiet streaks, and one day he told me that stars came in all colors, that they were bigger than me, bigger than the biggest sky scrapers, bigger than our mountains, bigger than the whole wide world. Just huge. I tried to imagine. I stared and stared. I still remember that sense of awe. I still feel it every time I look up into the cold night sky up here in Cambridge and I’m glad of it.

It’s easy to not know, but once you know something there’s no helping it. It changes things. I came to America to live with my parents. I’d left everything behind but a strange restlessness. The restlessness of living on the edge of great change: an encroaching city of NeiJiang, a bottomless ocean of knowledge.

Knowledge is love. It begins out of curiosity, continues out of duty, then every once in a while it takes on new meaning that makes it all worthwhile. My friend once told me that when he first met me, I was obnoxious, but I had this wide-eyed look, and that’s how he knew I was ok. I realize, now, strangely, that this is how I feel about physics. Through it all– the competition, the hierarchy, the work, the grants, the brick walls in research, progress at a standstill– that is still what I love about it, those big, wide open eyes that just love to see– that take everything in without discretion. Science. Beautiful science. And we created it. I think about that and I feel such a sense of pride, I do.

A lot has happened. My grandparents’ flat was torn down to make more room for roads. I’ve gone to school in three different states and twice as many towns. I’ve lived in Cambridge as long as I’ve lived anywhere and I’m graduating in the spring. I can’t tell you honestly where I’m headed. I don’t know that much. I do know this: MIT gave me an opportunity and I seized on it. Everywhere I go I see open doors and windows. In some sense college has changed me forever, and in some sense it never could. I’m stepping into a empty space armed with only highly specific knowledge and common sense; I’m guided by several things: A strong belief in education. A joy in teaching and sharing ideas. A restlessness that keeps me searching. And above all a love for all things.

Maybe at this point you’re wondering if I did indeed write all this for Arecibo or if I just copied and pasted from some college essay I had lying around. I want to assure you, this is how I felt best to answer the questions of my background, my goals, and my scientific interests. I guess I had a lot on my mind. I like to write, but this is getting rather long. My research experience will have to be represented in the resume I attached.

30 responses to “I wake to sleep”

  1. Danilo says:

    Wow… That was great, I felt like it was myself writing about how I feel about Physics, it made me remember how I love it, and how much I am proud of it.

    I have to thank you for reminding me about it, specially now that I’m trying to enter MIT, and i stay wondering if am good enough to be admitted and what are the real chances of an international students all the time, but after I read this I realize Physics still means a lot more than a college to me.

    Thanks a lot

  2. Ashwath says:

    That was incredibly beautiful Lulu. Thank you so much. It really made my day!

  3. Rankeya says:

    Reads like Stephen King in nightmares and dreamscapes without the scary bit………..

    that is the highest praise I could find for this entry…..

    I was kind of stressed of reading how difficult MIT can be… i wanted to know how a student in MIT thinks…. u fulfilled my wish……….

    i loved physics once but now im sort of repelled by its uncertainty…. maybe u culd write more like this explaining ur view of physics in a bit more elaborate manner to rekindle my interest in physics again… i know u have better things to do that bother rekindling my interest in physics but u can inspire…………

    thank u for this wonderful potrayal of an innocent self……….. and all d best for ur graduation………..

  4. akhila says:

    Thanks for the beautiful post Lulu. All te best for your final lap of MIT undergrad.

  5. That was one of the most moving and beautiful posts I’ve seen on MITAdmissions. It really did not need to be disrespected by a stupid “first” comment. Awesome post, Lulu. I have something to think about for a long while.

  6. deng says:

    “And above all a love for all things.”
    that was lovely

  7. deng says:

    wait. what’s “I wake to sleep”?

  8. lulu says:

    I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
    I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
    I learn by going where I have to go.

    We think by feeling. What is there to know?
    I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
    I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

    Of those so close beside me, which are you?
    God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
    And learn by going where I have to go.

    Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
    The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
    I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

    Great Nature has another thing to do
    To you and me, so take the lively air,
    And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

    This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
    What falls away is always. And is near.
    I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
    I learn by going where I have to go.

  9. lulu says:

    @Rankeya- if I’m understanding correctly I think I know exactly what you mean. Unfortunately I don’t think there’s a way around it. The more fundamental a field is, the deeper it aims to see, the more uncertain it will be. There are some days when I wake up and I don’t believe in the physics I am taught. Sometimes it seems so unlikely that we’d ever be able to figure it out. If you approach a study with the aim of making concrete progress and lasting impact, physics might be a hard way to go. Me, I don’t think I have such needs. I do need to feel like I’m doing something of import; I do need to feel like I’m always moving and going somewhere; but my happiness comes from simpler things, I’m plenty content just being in the middle of it all, I already count myself very lucky to be here.

    But yeah, I think in order to be happy in physics you need to either be HIGHLY goal oriented or none at all. lol

  10. Victor says:

    I really like your post.

  11. Anonymous says:

    SRSLY WHERE IS JKIM?!?

    Also, excellent post.

  12. Anonymous says:

    FIRST!!! (sorry I had to)

  13. Anon says:

    God, that was beautiful.
    smile

  14. Narce says:

    No, anon, you did NOT have to. Baka.

    Lulu, that was a beautiful entry. And the ending was hilarious XD

    Glad to hear from you again after such a long time, anyway!

    Good luck with your last semester of MIT’s undergrad program!!

  15. sepideh says:

    i really wan’t to bow down and thank you for shaking me out of this sleep where i was trying to dream and stupify myself. you made me remind why i started this path, with what intention i initiated and whatever happens i don’t need to give up. i fear of forgetting it again, of getting blind again. i will print and save it and read it everytime i get out of control, what ever happens, if i get accepted or not, i will save it. thank you lulu

  16. Sainyam says:

    i think this was one of the best posts ever ! true passion never dies and is the most powerful! thanks, lulu for making me feel better…
    ps: i i think this was one of the best posts ever ! true passion never dies and is the most powerful! thanks, lulu for making me feel better…
    ps: i <3 physics too !

  17. Sainyam says:

    lol…cut me short !!
    ps: i love physics

  18. Rankeya says:

    @Lulu: I really don’t know why I don’t see the certainty that comes with mathematics in any other field of science. Yes there is Godel’s undecidability Theorems and yes Cohen’s results on the Continuum Hypothesis show that there are areas where Math has its limits but still I guess it has to do with the method of deduction in math and physics that makes all the difference. But the strange bit is that even though MAth and Physics have different methodologies and even though one deals more with the abstract and the other aims to describe nature as it works yet math seems to be nature’s language. I am sorry for my bias. Yeah at times it seems fruitless that you’re working on a problem in Math that might neither be provable nor disprovable because there is no way to know… Some day may be even the Riemann Hypothesis might turn out that way…. Who knows….
    BUT THAT IS THE THING WITH EVERY HUMAN CREATION ISN’T IT? SOMEWHERE ALONG THE PATH THINGS HAVE TO BECOME UNCERTAIN.

    but then again what is created in math stays forever, but what is created in Physics does not. May be someday we might not have the uncertainty principle in Physics…. Who knows?

  19. Pranav says:

    @Lulu: You are awarded the Nobel Prize in “Beautiful Blogging”. I’m certain you have a bright future, brighter than the stars you have imagined, brighter than what The Big Bang might have looked like. If probability allows me to get admitted @MiT, I’ll make sure we intersect so that I can thank you personally for such a graceful entry. You are a true physics major. I can say no more . . .

  20. lulu says:

    maybe we aren’t talking about the same thing…

  21. Rankeya says:

    yeah mayb……. but then again….. this entry is beautiful……….

  22. Vinay H. says:

    This is also how I feel when I look up at the night sky every morning before school. Space makes me feel all tingly inside. (In a good way.) I also want to be an aerospace engineer though.

  23. Barbara says:

    Ah! Theodore Roethke!

  24. Helena says:

    Aww… I’ll be missing your blog update after your graduation! Do you write blog in other host sites?

  25. lulu says:

    hi i don’t have a personal blog… i do keep a diary

    smile

  26. Jacob '13 says:

    That was absolutely beautiful.

    (I’m a writer, so I sort of fall to pieces when I read something so good.)

  27. Amalchi says:

    You know Lulu, I’ve been visiting your blog for almost four years, and I don’t even study at MIT. They bring my enthusiasm back when I have none, they remind me that there’s a purpose for every sacrifice I make; that sleep deprivation is not as bad as people make it seem. They touch my heart at moments; at others, they fill my spirits with utter joy. I’ve learned from you that I’m not alone in this world. There are people out there very much like me. People many have a hard time understanding, but never dare to inquire.

    I will miss inexplicably the experiences you’ve shared with me-with us.

    -A

  28. lulu says:

    that means a lot to me

    thank you,
    really