Saturday, November 30, 2013

Speak Softly, and Carry a Big Baculum

As I write these words, I am watching Emily Graslie dissect a wolf penis. While she had me at "penis bone," I was truly titillated when she dropped this pearl: the scientific name for a penis bone is baculum. Whoa. In Latin, baculum means "stick" or "staff," and it's the origin of the word "bachelor." Today, a bachelor is an unmarried man with a smelly apartment, but before the word traveled on over to English, an Old French bacheler was a squire, or a young man in training to become a knight. Until that young bacheler earned sufficient skills and medieval chivalric cred to warrant a real sword, he had to practice with a wooden training staff, or - yes, you guessed it - a baculum.

Isn't that just lovely? I mean come on. Anatomy, history, and etymology, all in one glorious melange.

I'll get back to the amazing Emily Graslie in a minute, but first, some background on why her lovely visage and linguistic know-how graces my blog this evening.

This has been one amazing, bizarre, kick-ass, dreamy year. For those of you new to my little ol' corner of the blogosphere, here's a quick recap: in the past twelve months, I was the subject of a New York Times piece, published my own New York Times piece, placed my first piece at the Atlantic, watched that article go viral, scored my agent, who then crafted my book deal with HarperCollins for The Gift of Failure. While I was teaching middle school full-time. And parenting two boys.

All of that amazing stuff happened so fast, I hardly had time to appreciate each new milestone along the way. Each one of those items was a big-deal, bucket-list, life-capper item, so my head has only recently stopped spinning.

Well, it didn't as much stop spinning as I traded the metaphorical, euphoric spinning for the much less enjoyable literal, nausea-inducing spinning of post-concussion syndrome.

Concussions stink. Seriously. Wear a helmet when doing dangerous things that take place more than a foot off the ground.

Because my brain needed a rest from activities involving the printed word or any kind of screen, I had a lot of time to think about all things I want to accomplish in the coming year, once my work on the book is done. The one thing I really wanted to learn how to do this year was podcasting, but that goal got lost in the many other to-do items that dominated my time.

I have been dying to do an audio or video podcast. I've even planned episodes in my head. I have guests, I have topics, and I know how and where I want to do the recording.

At a recent speaking engagement at The McDonogh School, someone even asked during the Q&A session if I make my talks available on the web or in the form of a podcast.

If only. So I'm back to my speculative scheming.

I have role models in mind, accomplished teachers whose style, smarts, and wit I hope to capture when I launch my own show. One of the very best of the lot is Emily Graslie. Her YouTube show, The Brain Scoop, embodies just about everything I admire in a webcast, and I hope to emulate just a small bit of what she accomplishes in her little corner of the educational world.

That said, there's one aspect of this whole YouTube channel/podcasting enterprise that gives me pause. As I've mentioned in the past, commenters are a bane and a boon, and I'm constantly wrestling with their weight and significance in my work as a writer and teacher. While I've been incredibly fortunate in that the comments I receive are generally intelligent and productive, the odd negative and insensitive feedback still leaves me a little untethered. So naturally, opening myself up to more of that kind of weirdness gives me pause.

But then I watched Emily Graslie respond to her commenters with grace and charm in the episode of The Brain Scoop embedded below. In this episode, she addresses the internet bullies who feel free to comment on her clothes, body, glasses, geek-cred, and facial features as if that has any bearing on the fact that she delivers some of the best STEM content on the web.

So heck, if Emily can carry on teaching with panache as she rises above the freaky-ass contents of her inbox, so can I.

Thank you, Emily, for your content and your class. Fear not, your ladies are out here, watching and listening.


  1. Thanks for this post Jessica. It's a good reminder that no matter what you are doing in this world there are going to be people who hate, criticize, and put you down in a public forum.

    But that shouldn't stop us!

    This gave me a nice little boost in finishing up my own podcast!

  2. Thanks for the referral to Emily's channel. I've watched a few of her videos and she is indeed quite good. I'm passing the link onto my 16 year old budding biologist.

    Oh...and just do the podcasts. You learn as you go. It will be excellent.