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2005-07-24 - 10:42 a.m.

..the mystery of Edward Hopper...

Last Friday was Edward Hopper's birthday. He was born in Nyack, NY in 1890 (or so). I've always had a special spot in my heart for Hopper, because I lived next door to his Nyack home - the one that's become known, not surprisingly, as Hopper House. The museum used to hold jazz concerts in the backyard in summer.

One of Hopper's most wonderful quotes is "...All I ever wanted to do was paint sunlight on the side of a house."

I love that quote for a couple of reasons. First of all, the house where I lived, specifically the turret that held my bedroom, appeared in a couple of Hopper paintings. In other words, Hopper really did paint sunlight on the side of my house, which somehow makes me feel special.

Secondly, I am fascinated by the phrase "All I ever wanted to do was.." and the possibility that it might have an answer. I sent an email about Hopper's birthday and this quote to my Ph.D. supervisor who still lives in Nyack. I shared with him how amazingly direct and simple I found this quote. My supervisor then confessed that, indeed, all he ever wanted to do was science. Wow. What single-minded determination. I told him that I never had a single dream of what I would be. In fact there would have to be a list of about twenty things. He asked what those twenty things are, and got me to thinking.

When I was 7, I wanted to be a I wanted to be a major league baseball player. When I was 8, I wanted to be president. In my teens I toyed with the idea of being a surgeon until I realized that knives and blood were involved, and then I moved safely onto the thoughts of being a musician, writer, or policy maker (at a somewhat lower profile than president). Notice that 'scientist' hasn't entered ANYWHERE into these dreams and aspirations. So what happened?

And, what if I ask this question now? My superviser also stated that if he had known that being a scientist REALLY meant paperwork, administration, and politics, he might have chosen another career. We once discussed what we would do if we won the lottery: he said he would set up a foundation for himself so that he would never have to write another grant proposal or deal with another piece of administration again in his life - he would just sit in the lab answering the questions he wanted to answer. I should add that he is not a boring man (although perhaps a bit shy. I always enjoy spending an evening with him at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or MoMa (mostly because he's someone who goes through the exhibit more slowly than I do..). He loves art, traveling, and learning, he has a unique sense of humor, and he's perhaps one of the best listeners on the planet. Nevertheless, I'm still astounded by the man's ability to focus, and in fact his love of focusing on one thing.

How would you finish the sentence, "All I ever wanted to do was...."?? And if you had twenty answers, then what are they?

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