As I write this, I'm on the cusp of my family's fourth annual trek with four other families to the Caribbean island of Culebra. This year, as we've made preparations to go I've been thinking about what it is about events in our lives and places that inspire us and what makes them so special.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Culebra—you are free to Google it—but suffice to say it is one of the Caribbean's afterthoughts. You won't find cruise ships anchored in the harbor offloading hundreds of spend-hungry folks and you won't find a nightlife to speak of, unless your idea of a great night out is sitting in the town square drinking a Medalla Lite and waiting for the 7 o'clock ferry from Fajardo.
Lest you misunderstand me: these are good things.
At my house, it is not one bit of an exaggeration to say that we talk about—and anticipate returning to—Culebra all year long. For us, this is not just two weeks to "recharge our batteries", but a time that allows all of us to break away from the ordinary, everyday life that sits waiting for us at home and create a new idea of ourselves, our work, our family and to find among the natural beauty of this sparsely-populated, beautiful, little spec of an island, new reasons to continue our work and new ways to approach how we do it.
For me, I wouldn't be able to do this on just any vacation in just any location. There is something about the arid landscape, the cacti, the color of the water, the brightness of the stars, the way it rains and the way it doesn't rain that gets inside of me and inspires me to be better.
This recalls a conversation I had, very briefly at the Christmas party of my wife's company a number of years ago. There, I met a woman who is a doctor at the healthcare facility where my wife worked and, very shortly after we began talking, she asked me very simply: "What inspires you? Where is your joy?" The sad thing is it was hard for me to answer her questions and the reason was simple enough, I had given in to the routine of my daily life.
I think of this conversation often, more so since my first visit to Culebra, and as I count down the hours to getting on the plane to take me there, I realize that for all of us it shouldn't take a visit to a small island far away—or whichever place it is that inspires you, to find that fresh perspective, the way of looking at things in a way that you haven't before. All it takes is to actually make the effort to break out of the routine, its own routine.
Yes, it's easier said than done. Like all of you, I am susceptible to the grind of daily life. But if there is a population of people out there who might be more able to bring this into practice, I think it is you, our readers.
After all, it is a scientist's job to continually question, is it not? The status quo is something that can certainly, almost always, be improved upon if only you have the right inspiration—and a little bit of luck. For you, it is routine to break out of the routine.
Or is it?
My fear is that today, even with the tools at your disposal in drug discovery and for all the scads of data produced, that there are many of you whose days aren't filled with questions, or chances to re-examine an idea, or turn it upside down. Instead, it is another day of production or "SSDC"—same stuff different compounds.
Heck, it can feel that way to me editing this newspaper, but I'd like to change that. Instead of letting the inspiration I feel after returning from Culebra fade, I'm going to find ways to perpetuate it through the year—to let the salamander in my garden remind me of the gecko on the island, to let my first glimpse of the constellation Orion poking over the horizon on a crisp Maine autumn evening remind me of the warm tropical February evenings when I can gaze at it endlessly.
These things, and many others, are the inspiration and joy I bring back from Culebra. I encourage you to draw parallels with your own unique inspirational life experiences and put them to work for you—every day.