Yet I want to answer that question. And I guess that’s part of the reason I’m writing this essay. I’ve accepted the fact that, right now, I simply don’t know who I’m going to be, and that it’s going to take some time before I can finally look around and think to myself, “I want to spend my life doing this.” But I’ve come to realize that college can serve as the catalyst that gets me there, the place where I can begin to learn and see the world on my own terms, and take advantage of the choices I’ve been blessed with the ability to make, when the same couldn’t be said about the generations that came before me. I know that with the freedom to study what I want to learn, I can pursue a career born, not out of necessity, but out of choice. I’ve been given the opportunity to change not just myself, but the attitude that my own family will have toward higher education, and the doors that it can open in their own lives.
Yet having that donor egg grow inside me was an experience I would not trade. If at first I fretted that I’d feel the baby wasn’t mine, by the middle of my second trimester, with the first faint hiccups of life, then the powerful kicks and flailing of the baby’s arms and legs, I fell in love. I couldn’t help but marvel at my baby’s movement when my husband lovingly caressed my stomach and talked about his day or played jazz on his guitar. I wondered if the baby could hear my thoughts, because I was sure I could. ‘Yes, I know you’re thirsty, I’ll get some water,’ I’d say aloud. Or: ‘This music is too loud for you, I know.’ I patted my stomach at a Billy Joel concert, hoping to get some pop music influences in before my husband created another jazz aficionado, which would leave me the odd one out.
In the mid-18th century, the philosopher Edmund Burke hypothesised a connection between aesthetics and fear. In a similar vein, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke proclaimed: ‘beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror’. To put this association to the test, I, together with Kendall Eskine and Natalie Kacinik, psychologists at CUNY, recently conducted another experiment. First, we scared a subset of our respondents by showing them a startling film in which a zombie jumps out on a seemingly peaceful country road. Then we asked all of our subjects to evaluate some abstract, geometric paintings by El Lissitzky. Those subjects who had been startled found the paintings more stirring, inspiring, interesting, and moving. This link between art and fear relates to the spiritual dimension of wonder. Just as people report fear of God, great art can be overwhelming. It stops us in our tracks and demands worshipful attention.