When I write about myself, it always reads like a poorly designed match.com zinger. Boring, clumsy and something like:
I am Alex. Aquarius. Love dogs, classic rock, old episodes of NCIS. $1 pocket thrillers, labeled “Happiest 53rd Richard! All my love, Janet” and “8/17/2005, I saw this and thought of you! And I like to wonder why Steven King’s Carrie evokes thoughts of said person Who is Richard How is Janet?
I also like coffee. And tea. Peppermint, of course. Irish breakfast, of course. Chamomile, why not. But I think I really enjoy collecting mugs – hearty ceramics, delicate porcelain, hand-painted, dishwasher safe, chipped and stained monstrosities. That could be a problem though (as I don’t have much shelf space).
Favorite movie genre? It has to be anything in the Meg Ryan romcom cinematic universe. Or the Brat Pack coming-of-age cannon. Breakfast Club, St. Elme Fire, About Last Night, Pretty in Pink. Really just the Judd Nelson je ne sais quoi.
I think my 2nd grade superlative was “Wormiest Bookworm”, whatever that means. This may have been the year I read all of Nancy Drew’s books at the library and founded the first and only detective company in the neighborhood. I wish I could say I made the world with Jules Verne in 80 days – circumnavigating five nebulous oceans, frozen Arctic plains, Swiss peaks and continental slopes; Phileas Fogging my way across the Mediterranean, aperitif in hand. But I’m a bit out of the world in a geographical sense. I have only left the country once to go by boat next to Niagara Falls, wearing a thin plastic poncho and a I tee (though I may have done a second time in Canada after getting lost on the circumference of a lake in Vermont).
I’ve only ever lived in Charleston, South Carolina, never straying too far from its maze of intercoastals and waterways, its Theseus-style shrimp boats, gliding toward the harbor. At Duke, I spend half my time majoring in molecular/cellular biology and half lamenting my isolation, missing Charleston’s temperate sea breeze.
Growing up, there was only the brine entree and the house of waffles, midnight bacon, butter pasta, spartina, moulting blue crab, churches on every corner and in every denomination, a weak coffee and greasy breakfast, September hurricanes, salt, cicadas, farm stands full of peaches, a once-in-a-hundred-year 6-inch snowfall that shut down the school for two weeks.
On Saturdays, I hunted shark teeth with my sisters in now-developed fluffy mud patches (outsiders tend to find the smell of the swamp pungent, but I think it builds character). Fished for the red drum. Search for pearls in half-moon oyster mouths. Kayak descent of creeks.
Charleston is a literary city, at least that’s what I’ve always heard. I think the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe is haunting a cobblestone alley downtown or something. And if it’s not an alley, then a quaint B&B, its porch bearing creaky rocking chairs and purple coneflower. I went to arts college and high school for creative writing, wrote bad poetry in my formative years and a few dodgy shorts, then went to college and I somehow fell into the field of cell biology and now I spend a decent amount of my free time researching genetic heart disease in a lab on campus. Feed the cardiomyocytes via a gentle pipette as if they were sea monkeys.
I like to imagine the act of writing and the act of science as similar – fraternal twins or first cousins - and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first philosophers were our first doctors, mathematicians, physicists, chemists, etc. Both areas challenge us to ask questions about our world, its inhabitants, its quirks, its nuances. We just answer it differently.
For this reason, I’m extremely excited to join Duke’s research blog, to write about science and innovation, to poetize protein structures, or to seek lyricism in neural action potentials at the way of a deep-sea fisherman in search of the elusive giant squid. I just think there’s something so wonderful about learning new things, cradling little curiosities that often lead nowhere, and doing it through an accessible and enjoyable medium.
Message from Alex Clifford, Class of 2024