Wine and cheese at Dolores Park. Feeling free with a bottle in my hand and rebellion in my heart. Cool grass against my legs. The remnants of a wild night—scattered trash and cigarette butts—making white specks in the distance. I am only witnessing the aftermath, but feel almost like I was a part of it. Palm trees surround me. Real palm trees!

Brunch in San Francisco. A bright omelet and bright optimism. Teasing old friends and making new ones. Sparkly temporary tattoos. Photos with complete strangers.

Conversations with the staff scientist. Confusion slowly ebbing away to clarity, which quickly plummets into frustration. Eyes glued to two computer monitors showing me what I don’t want to see. A slow walk back to the hotel. But I’ve got a plan for tomorrow.

A used book store. Infinite shelves of treasure. Claiming a corner and sharing it with Keats, Dickinson, T.S. Eliot. A title: Savage Beauty. I am inexplicably drawn to it. A glance from a stranger, and the thought—here is where lovers meet. Here is where two minds understand each other and two hearts need each other.

Sitting in the same tiny room for too many hours to count. Coming to the realization: this is all my fault. I should have been better prepared. Tears threatening to escape my eyes. Trying the experiment one more time and being disappointed one more time. Polite conversations with the staff. Back in the hotel room, on the phone, crying.

Taking the BART at night. I’m on edge—afraid I’ll get lost—but I’m distracted by dancers on the train, swinging off handle bars, making moves in mid-air. The bar I finally arrive at is the fanciest one I’ve ever been to. Dim lights, candles, typewriters, newspaper clippings. Whiskey and friends. I’m happy.

Struggling to use a new microscope. Even the most basic of tasks are suddenly ten-fold more difficult. Finally acquiring some interesting images—very, very slowly. Asking the staff scientist a billion and one questions because, really, I’ve no shame left. At least I’m learning.

A European books and media store. Guessing the names of foreign titles. Reading Calvin and Hobbes—in French (or trying to). I’m kind of proud of myself because pude leer algunos de los libros espanoles. Well at least, un poco.

Breakfast at the guest house. Everyone is talking too loudly. I am normally smitten with anyone with an accent, but this time I glare silently at the offenders of my morning. The only thing I’m not mad at is my coffee. Although I am aggressively ambivalent about that, too.

Walking around downtown. There are more homeless people than I’m used to, and I’m not sure whether it is more rude to make eye contact, or avoid it. Someone asks me for my leftovers—he doesn’t look homeless, though. “Sorry,” I mumble. “No need to apologize, hun,” he sneers. His friends laugh. I cross the street self consciously.

My last day on the second microscope. Time is running out. Lunch is skipped. Liquid nitrogen sputters out and the vacuum is dumped. An impatient half hour of waiting. Relief when the vacuum is back, exasperation when a new problem arises. 6pm rolls around the staff scientist is leaving. My week is up. Defeated.

The hipster streets of Temescal. Apothecaries and ice cream shops and thrift stores. Of course I buy another journal—I’m accumulating them faster than I can fill them—but the atmosphere, the wonder makes me feel like I need to write. There’s something I love in every direction I turn. I am charmed.

The middle of the night. The seatbelt sign is on. Crammed between an angry-looking woman and a man who looks uncomfortable when I sneeze. Incessant kicking from behind me. At first I don’t mind, but then the angry woman complains, and her annoyance is contagious. Pulling my legs up, curling into a ball. Closing my eyes very tightly.

Young and wild and free

You reach for the whiskey because you long to feel that burning near your heart — to feel your rib cage go up in flames, setting you free at last. You long to toss your head, give the world the finger, and disappear in one grand gesture of rebellion. You want reckless, you want passionate. You want wild.

You wonder if your soul ran away long ago, because it feels like you’ve been chasing it for a while now.

You want to light up like a city at night, with neon signs one after the other, flashing, the sound of laughter and clinking drinks against footsteps and car horns. You want to love like a storm that electrifies the skies — and kiss like the rain, lightly, then all at once. You want to live like the stars, burning until your last breath, then say farewell to the universe with a glorious supernova. You want you want you want

But there you sit, burning like a candle — quietly, softly, melting under your own flame.

Taking it easy

I’m the kind of person who loves to keep an impeccably organized calendar—and loves that calendar to be packed. I like adding things to my “to do” list just as much as I like checking things off. I get restless when I’m not busy. I like living life at full throttle, moving from one day to the next, never wasting time. I hate wasting time.

But sometimes when you’re moving so fast, you lose your breath.

After a busy week with two midterms, two problem sets, and three sessions on the transmission electron microscope, I went home last Friday with plans to go out and see the new Tina Fey movie with some friends, but ended up passing out with all the lights still on and waking up in a sweat-drenched fever with a raging headache, coughing my lungs out.

Come Monday morning, when the same symptoms persisted, I decided a visit to the doctor might be wise. When he said I had bronchitis and pneumonia and that I should go home...well, I should have gone home. Slept it off. But me being the stubborn person (and workaholic) that I am, I decided I’d go about doing everything I was scheduled to do that week.

And I did. I went to my cleanroom safety training, I went to lithography training, went to my meetings, and everything was going fine until I got a call from Kathy, a peppy employee from my realtor.

“Hi there! This is Kathy calling from your realtor! Am I speaking to Brooke?”
“Yes, this is—this is—” I croaked. My voice sounded like a dying frog by this point.
“Hello? Am I speaking to Brooke right now?”
“Sorry—” I tried again. “Yes, yes this is Brooke,” I managed before an exploding coughing episode.
“Hi there!” A confused pause. “Are you…okay?”

And that was it. Out of nowhere, tears started streaming down my face. Because, No Kathy, I’m not okay! I feel more sick than I’ve been in years, I’ve got a review article that I need to finish in two weeks that I barely understand, none of my data makes sense, I'm having a hard time breathing and those cleanroom suits don't make it any easier, and there are just so many things that need to be done that I just—physically—can’t—do.

In the next minute, I went from feeling utter despair at what felt like my inability to do anything useful at all, to relief at the prospect of letting myself just forget all the work and wallow in self-pity, to anger at myself for giving up so easily.

In hind-sight, it was silly. I shouldn’t take myself so seriously. I was sick, and upset that I couldn’t get my work done. Big deal, Brooke. The world isn’t going to end if you take a break for a couple of days. But I don’t know, I just can’t shake that feeling. Of always needing to be moving forward. Always doing something. Always achieving. Do you ever feel like that?

But I’m reminded of this little quote from The Book of Brave, written by one of my favorite bloggers Laura Williams: “Progress isn’t always a forward force.”

I know it seems simple, but it’s so easy to forget. You don’t always need to be moving forward. You don’t need to be running full speed ahead each and every day—in fact, you’re never going to make it to the finish line that way. It’s okay to give yourself a day off if you need it. Don’t be a slacker, but also don’t become so obsessed with progress that you forget to take a break.

"Progress isn't always a forward force."

So this is just a friendly reminder from your resident workaholic: pace yourself. Take it easy. Don’t move so fast that you leave yourself behind, alright?

The theory of everything, and more

I have felt a hunger lately.

I have felt an insatiable desire to wrap my arms around the entire world and understand its every nook and cranny. I want to cradle the globe in my arms, whisper my secrets to her, and wait for her confessions to be whispered back to me.

I still remember back in high school when I resolutely decided I was going to study physics in college. I can still remember what I wrote in my application essays — physics is the science that underlies the entire universe. Physics can explain everything. Ironically, five years later, there is still no agreed upon “theory of everything” in the physics community, but I think a part of me thought I was going to single-handedly figure it all out back then.

As it turns out, graduating with a degree in physics did not lead me to uncovering the secrets of our universe. The real secret, I sometimes fear, is that I really wasn’t much of a physicist, anyways….

That being said, I have not given up on my passion for finding answers. What has changed is the realization that if I really want to understand the world, I cannot just do it through science. And I realize that as a first year engineering PhD student, I have five long years of science ahead of me, but what I mean is that you wouldn’t try to understand love by only studying how adrenaline and dopamine work. You would fall in love — and feel every part of it.

I remember going to a poetry reading back at Carnegie Mellon a few years back. During the Q&A session, someone asked the poet why he decided to become a writer. “Because I resisted specialization,” he said.

He kept switching majors because he was passionate about so many different things that he couldn’t pick just one. In the end, he realized that poetry was the one thing that let him combine all his interests, synthesize different concepts through his own interpretation. I remember frantically pulling out my notebook to scribble down his quote so that I wouldn’t forget it, but I guess I let it slip my mind — until now.  

There’s a Barnes and Noble in the student center at Penn State, and earlier this week on a particularly long day, I decided to stop by to pick up a coffee. My friend had told me that it’s better to get coffee at the in-store Starbucks at Barnes and Noble than go to the real Starbucks because the line is much shorter — but instead of saving time, I found myself weaving through the bookshelves for an hour after getting my coffee (my friend was right though, there really was no line! Pro tip.)

I couldn’t help myself. It had been a while since my last bookstore excursion, and I found myself wanting every book that I laid my eyes on. I wanted Mary’s Karr’s memoir, last month’s New Yorker, a collection of 2015’s best magazine pieces, a cookbook, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, a European history book, and a Star Wars encyclopedia. As I darted from shelf to shelf, enthused by fresh caffeine, I realized that I resisted specialization, too.

The research group that I work in places a large emphasis on developing cheaper, more efficient materials for solar cells. But I don’t just want to sit in my lab learning everything there is to know about poly(3-hexylthiophene-2,5-diyl) — I want to pick up that New Yorker and read Elizabeth Kolbert’s story about climate change and Florida’s disappearing coast and understand why we actually need better solar cells. I don’t just want to watch the 2016 presidential debates — I want to refresh my memory on all of American history, way back to the Mayflower. I don’t want to be immersed in my own world, my own life, and my own experiences — I want to read the biographies and memoirs of my many idols and learn through their experiences, too.

I want to see the big picture. I want to connect it all together.

I feel like I’ve grown up backwards, that I am feeling that child-like wonder again, and that the world has all at once become an endless place of infinite new things to learn. I am determined not only to appreciate every shape in its kaleidoscope, but to find beauty in their combined pattern.

To be honest, I think string theory confuses me more than it helps me understand the universe. But in my own little way…I’m already creating a “theory of everything.” And I think I like this version better. 

A few thoughts on surviving my first semester of grad school

I was scared to come here, honestly. Moving to a new town, switching majors, being in a long distance relationship – this all sounded terrifying to me.

Fortunately, the last few months have been nothing short of wonderful.

I made new, amazing friends. My empty apartment became a cozy home. My days settled into a happy routine – and always began with a lazily made latte. I tried cooking new things. I went out to bars and danced to live music. I found time to actually read. I learned so much in my classes (and also learned how to swing dance). I worked out, went to yoga classes, and was even convinced into trying Zumba. I got a haircut. I flew across the country to work at a national lab. I wrote my first song.

And throughout the course of all these things, I started to feel a little different. A little brighter. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on why that was so until I stumbled across a poetry book at Webster’s today.

Inside the front cover, the author himself had scrawled a note to his mentor: More than anyone, your influence, your passion for poetry, sparked these poems, he wrote. Without your teachings, I’m not sure I would have arrived as a ‘poet’ until much later in life. For that, of course, I must thank you. I can assure you, what I become in this world owes no small sum to your dedication and kindness. I would be honored to have a fraction of your sincerity and compassion. I hope these young poems show something like potential. They are yours, somehow – your passion working through me….

For some reason, these words touched me deeply. Maybe it was because they were handwritten and felt like such a personal glimpse into a stranger’s life, maybe it was the inspiration and gratitude that was so evident in his tone – but for whatever reason, this note made me realize what was different these past few months: I’ve felt inspired.

Much like the poet who just published his first collection of poems, I have just begun a new chapter of my life that I am passionate and excited about, too.

Sometimes, our days just blur together and we find ourselves on autopilot. Sometimes we get so caught up in our schedules that we lose our true sense of what we’re waking up for every morning, what we’re ultimately fighting for. But I realized that I felt different these past few months because it was the first time in my student life that I had both the time and the interest to truly appreciate everything I was learning. And it turns out that when you are actually happy with what you’re doing, you live with a little more...purpose.

You live more deliberately.

And even though I’ve been warned that it’ll get harder, that research will be tough and that I will grow jaded and tired – guess what? I like living deliberately, so I am determined to hold on to the optimism and zeal that comes with new beginnings. I’m going to stay inspired, and stay curious.

Because why do what you’re doing if you can’t find meaning in it?

You win some, you lose some

I went to a poetry reading a few weeks ago—or rather, I went to a cafĂ© with the intention of studying, only to discover that I had walked in on a monthly poetry reading event. As it turns out, I think I learned a lot more from the poets than I ever could have learned from my thermodynamics textbook.

My favorite poem was titled “Why A Pansy.” The woman reading it explained that she had recently gotten a tattoo of a pansy—because it is the symbol of remembrance. The pansy represented the things that we’ve lost: the ones who have passed away, the lovers who left us, “the versions of ourselves that didn’t make it to today.

That particular line stuck in my head. It reminded me of all the risks I didn’t take, the challenges I shied away from, the accomplishments that I never achieved because I was too afraid to try. It made me realize that there are far too many versions of myself that didn’t make it to today.

And that’s such a shame.


I’ve been trying to learn how to do headstands lately. Now don’t judge me, but I follow all these beautiful, fit women on Instagram who are always posting pictures of fancy yoga poses and videos of effortless inversions. Feeling ambitious (and a little jealous), I thought, hey—I can do that too!

Except that…I couldn’t.

I tried over and over again, but to my utter disappointment I just could not hold my legs up straight. Being upside down felt unnatural and scary and I didn’t like the way my room looked when the floor was suddenly the ceiling. My body felt heavy and my arms felt weak—

Until I flipped over, landing flat on my back with a resounding thunk. Ugh, my downstairs neighbor is probably judging me right now, I thought, being self-conscious about what other people think of me, as per usual.

But wait, that actually didn’t hurt was my second thought. Because it really didn’t.

And suddenly, headstands got a whole lot easier.


I know that most things in life aren’t this simple, but I’m a sucker for metaphors.

And the truth is, the concept still holds: it’s scary to put yourself out there, to try something new, to tackle a challenge when you’re not sure if you’ll come out a victor. But for what it’s worth, even the most perfect person will not be successful in every one of his or her endeavors—ironically, it’s the realization that it’s okay to fail that will ultimately make you successful.

During my Thanksgiving bus travels, I listened to Mindy Kaling’s book Why Not Me? She said that a little girl once asked her, “Mindy, how are you so confident?”

Her response wasn’t what I was expecting, but it sure was the truth. She said that confidence is like respect—you have to earn it. There’s no magical formula for becoming that smart, confident person you want to become. You just have to work hard. Put in the effort. Try.


I know it’s a little early for new years resolutions, but I always thought it was silly for January to be the only month you could rise from your phoenix ashes.

The way I see it, you can’t wait around for a sign to finally do the things you’re scared of. Maybe it’s a hard physics problem that you don’t think you can solve. Maybe it’s a hobby that you’ve been meaning to pick up “when you have time.” Maybe it’s admitting to that cute girl that you think she’s really somethin’.

And maybe you won’t solve the physics problem. And you’re horrible at that hobby. And the girl says you’re just friends. But even if you don’t succeed in everything, you’ll succeed in enough that your confidence starts to grow just a little tiny bit…

So forget new year resolutions. Just start now, because that’s what this is all about anyways: always trying, often losing,

sometimes winning. It’s the only way we move forward.

The art of letting go

Most of my friends know that I am a pretty anxious person—okay, I’m a really anxious person. And I’m a very nondiscriminatory worrier too, because I will panic over the miniscule details of my day just as much as I will panic over important life decisions.

I rush to every class and every meeting, thinking I am late every time, and always end up arriving ridiculously early. I’m incapable of playing any sort of musical instrument in front of an audience without my hands shaking so much that I create an entirely new piece altogether. And if I have so much as half a latte before any sort of remotely stressful situation, I am sure to have a panic attack (which is really unfortunate, because I happen to like lattes a lot).

I am the kind of person who will think about one question on an exam from the moment I hand it in until the moment I get it back, wondering and wondering if I forgot that one negative sign (I probably did). And sometimes, when nothing is stressing me out, I start worrying that I’ve forgotten about something that should be stressing me out.

Am I making you nervous yet?

Anyways, bearing all this in mind, I was sure that my first few weeks of grad school would be a completely traumatizing experience, but to my pleasant surprise it has been quite a happy transition. And I think that it is because lately, I have stopped trying so hard to always be in control.

Because life isn’t about always being in control—it’s the opposite. It’s about letting go.

I went to this yoga class the other day and it was in this dim room with a few earth-toned tapestries hanging on the walls and bookshelves made of dark oak. As I sat on my mat thinking about how unlike other yoga studios this place looked, I realized (with some embarrassment) that there was a shirtless young man doing handstands on my right, and grew increasingly self-conscious when I looked around the room and saw that a little more than half the class was actually male. Suddenly, the instructor said okay everyone lie on your stomachs, turn your head to one side, and close your eyes

And then he started spouting the most philosophical poetry I had ever heard. I actually peeked my eyes open for a second to see if he was reading off anything and was impressed to discover that his eloquent words were completely impromptu.

can you feel that? can you feel what’s in this room?

At this point I started to get worried because no, I didn’t feel anything, what was I supposed to feel?

can you feel your heart against the floor, can you feel your breath? now stop and just notice this moment. notice the present. feel that jumble of neurons in your mind, all the cells that make up your body. do you realize just how many cells that is? And you think “this is my body! I want to control my body!” but just relax. you don’t need to control every one of those cells. don’t you see how your body breathes without you having to tell it to? let your mind be still, trust yourself, and let everything calibrate on its own…

It wasn’t a life changing moment. It didn’t knock the breath right out of me. But the words just stuck with me, you know? They kept echoing in my mind…

A couple of days later, I came across a Native American story in a book I found while browsing through a second-hand book store (the best kind of book store). In the story, a Native American elder said, “There is a river flowing now, very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and suffer greatly. Know that the river has its destination.  The elders say we must push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open and our heads above the water…”

I don’t know about you, but I’m a romantic so I am a giant cheeseball when it comes to life metaphors. And I particularly liked this one.

It’s kind of a relief to know that it is okay to not worry, to simply let life happen on its own. And I’m not telling you to give up, to lose motivation, or to wing the rest of your life. I’m just saying that it’s going to be alright. I’m saying that it’s completely okay if you don’t know what’s supposed to happen next, whether it’s the next day or the next couple of years. I’m saying that even if you plan something meticulously and it all falls apart, life will go on.  

It’s good to know what you want, it’s good to have a plan, and it’s good to care enough about your life that sometimes it even causes you unnecessary anxiety. But if that anxiety is not benefitting you in any way, it’s time to let go.

“Let go of that which does not serve you,” as they say…

Take responsibility for the things you can control, but learn to let go of the rest. Keep your head above the water, but don’t try to fight the current.