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As our first real class in medical school draws to a close, I am faced with the intimidating prospect of memorizing hundreds of pages of notes from the past eleven weeks. I’ve done similar things before, all throughout my teenage years, but this time feels very different; maybe it’s because I’m finally tackling this challenge after more than two decades of absentminded dreaming.

The following excerpt from my ongoing science fiction novel reflects how I wish my memory would behave over the next two weeks, as I begin to review the vast realms of biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics, immunology, microbiology, and infectious diseases.

A coriander fractal

A little background for those of you who are unfamiliar with my story: Willow, the main character, is a sixteen-year-old college student traveling with a wilderness expedition of nomadic chemists in search of new energy sources. Willow has a knack for identifying wild plants. Jedediah, a postdoctoral fellow in the expedition, shares an office tent with Willow while they are not in active transit.

***

“You would be a good doctor,” Jedediah said.

I choked on my cough syrup.

“It’s true,” Jedediah insisted. “You would be a good doctor.”

“Me? Why?”

“You don’t provoke other people’s wrath. Irritation, sometimes, but never wrath.” Jedediah scowled at the mud-streaked paper plate that River had abandoned on his desk. “That can’t be said of other people I know, who just can’t keep their mouths shut when their own ego is at stake. But there’s more to it than that. It’s how you absorb complex details. Think about all of this plant taxonomy shenanigans you’ve managed to learn, for example.”

At Jedediah’s prompt, I did think about it. I thought about how I relished the thrill of large maps of names and characteristics seeping into my mind; how I could zoom out to examine only the most prominent branches of the massive tree, and then soar into its depths as much as I liked – an infinitely deep fractal, a flawless snowflake, or the vast night sky. Delving into the image in my mind brought forth yet another layer of intricate maps, upon maps. When I sat down at my desk to learn, I felt as if I was floating freely in deepest space; engulfed in light, upon light, and immersed in the ever-expanding grandeur of the natural world.

“But I can’t learn by hearing anything once, or even twice,” I said quietly, shaking my head. “I have to spend hours with the material, and map it out carefully on many sheets of scrap paper taped together…”

Jedediah shrugged. “I wasn’t saying that you were a genius. But some fools are geniuses, and all geniuses are fools; therefore, by logical deduction, the remaining fools must compensate for the inadequacy of geniuses by completing projects that are, or were, ingenious.”

I bowed my head for a brief moment. “Whatever you say, Jedediah.”

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