Hey internet, or rather, mom.
Updated: Apr 7, 2019
Since its inception, I never thought to contribute to this blog. Although the love-child of Andrew Hamel and Matthew Loberg—or rather, Drew and Loberg—initially created quite the ripple in our group chat We Went to College Together, writing a blog post sounded both like too much effort and too nerve-wracking for me to ever commit. I’m sure many people out there agree, but for those of you who don’t, hear me out. Yes, I recognize that presupposes anyone will read this.
Most things I read on the internet are both incredibly witty and meticulously scrutinized, which leaves contributing to this blog a daunting task. How to write in my voice, but embody the style of The New Yorker? Be provocative, but not overbearing? Authentic, but similarly relatable? Honest, but not exceedingly vulnerable? This being my inaugural blog post, I feel it’s appropriate to start by (re)introducing myself—cue PSA by Jay-Z.
Being emblematic of my personality, there have been many drafts before this one. And as if the pressure to meet my own and the internet’s expectations is not enough (yes, I know, there remains some small fear of people actually reading this), I’m also writing alongside my best friends—five of the most earnest, determined, and talented people I know. Marcus Carano, my freshman and “senior year” roommate—a contentious debate among us—and I nicknamed ourselves The Dumb Room in Apartment Kennedy B for good reason. Not to be overly self-deprecating or deliberately short-change our own accomplishments, the masking-tape sign emblazoned above our doorway was just public acknowledgment of whom we lived among. Ben Taylor is pursuing a Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in which he is focused on political theory and comparative politics. Having already presented and published several manuscripts at (inter)national conferences, he has begun to establish himself as a thoughtful researcher, all while continuing to put his knowledge to practice by actively participating in volunteer organizations on campus and in the community. Loberg is a MSTP (M.D./Ph.D.) student at Vanderbilt University whose undergraduate research on peroxiredoxins in baker’s yeast awarded him a Goldwater Scholarship. And to further my point, Alex Downs is a second year J.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Law and the chief editor of their Law Review; Andrew Hamel has already received his M.S. in Bioinformatics from Boston University (no Ben, it wasn’t Boston College, we promise you) and works at the premier ophthalmological and otolaryngological clinic in the world—Massachusetts Eye and Ear; and Marcus, who is no slouch himself, is about to begin a Master’s program in Public Administration at THE Ohio State University.
Now—I recognize each member will have read the previous paragraph and felt a pang of embarrassment coupled with a healthy dose of uneasiness related to my line of thinking. And yes, I recognize titles/degrees/grades don’t and/or shouldn’t actually mean much blah blah blah (insert paragraph about humans’ predilection towards academic achievements being significant demarcations of intellect). I can assure you, every person in this group is awe-inspiring.
Though I recognize the pressure is self-imposed, it is difficult for me to vacate that headspace, which is similarly symbolic of my childhood and adolescence. I am the youngest of four sons. The eldest, Scott, has a Ph.D. in Spanish and Lusophone Studies from the University of Minnesota; John, a D.M.A in Trumpet Performance from the Peabody Institute; and Michael, a Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) from the University of Colorado Boulder. As the youngest, I spent much of my younger years (sub)consciously wondering how to distinguish myself, but similarly heed to my brothers’ guidance. Every school year was welcomed with, “Oh another Ehrenburg! Are you the last one? Oh what a joy [insert Scott/John/Mike] was to have in class!” In many ways, I am thankful for the path they paved for me, but in others, I feel it forced me to find ways to be different. I know, I know—typical youngest sibling trope.
So the question begs, how to be different among a crowd of such accomplished, well rounded, and most importantly, truly good people? Thanks in large part to my humanities and liberal arts background, my first thought to answer this question is with another question. That is, why do I feel the need to be different at all? And why, despite my best efforts, do I so incessantly compare myself to others?
In short, these questions manifest intrinsically due to social and cultural norms driven by late-capitalism and neoliberalism. Western culture is inextricably rooted in competition and pervasively fetishizes uniqueness. Our cultural icons are lauded for their never say die attitude and their willingness to do whatever it takes—see Mamba Mentality. Every athletic company’s slogan centralizes on these principles and markets their products ad nauseam on them. And the very field(s) I hope to be a part of—medicine and science—have a well-established and self-admitted issue with publishing studies and papers that only demonstrate positive, novel results. And though I do my best to not pay this any mind, it is all but impossible not to eventually feel suffocated. And seeing as these problems have persisted since the dawn of society, I must once again ask the question, how am I different? And what about me makes me, well, me? And by now, I am sure you felt like you could have skipped the last few paragraphs to get here; or rather, should have stopped reading some time ago.
To answer the obvious questions first: I do eat avocado toast and I do enjoy almond milk lattes. I fit the mold of what most people consider to be a bearded, white, middle-class, heterosexual, cisgender, English-speaking, liberal arts college educated, male would be. Man, I forgot I was supposed to be writing about what makes me different. Well, uh, against the aforementioned dissensions, here is the About Me you have all been looking for. (Sure seems like I think people are going to read this, huh?)
Well, here goes nothing. I don’t have any social media—so no, we can’t connect on LinkedIn. I talk to myself out loud and practice conversations with people before I have them. I think sports are inherently meaningless with one exception—see Didier Drogba and Cote D’Ivoire Civil War—but openly admit watching soccer is a weekly guilty pleasure. I think sunrises are better than sunsets. I tend to both be an early bird and a night owl. I am exorbitantly passionate about all things communication, language, speech, and hearing. I don’t eat meat because of its ecological effects and don’t intentionally consume dairy because of my lactose intolerance and I think drinking milk from a pregnant mother of a different species is very bizarre—my contribution to taking down the Big Milk industry. I eat way too many bagels. Like way way too many.
As a child, all I ever wanted to be was grown up. I am (a)social, but love to be spend time with the people I love and care about. I refuse to legitimately use the term ambivert. I think it’s impossible to talk about race, gender, class, or religion without contextualizing the other three—shout out to Judith Butler. I don’t think there are original ideas. I am incredibly conflicted over animal research. I think having an approximate knowledge of every medical issue and its respective treatment(s) is the most powerful and endlessly fascinating insight a person could have. The last three years I have been trying to change my entire life path and haven’t had as much success as I had hoped. But more broadly, I just want to spend the rest of my life helping others, because in my mind, there isn’t a more fulfilling way to give back—shades of a medical school personal statement.
So do any of these things make me unique? Disappointingly, the answer is probably not. But I am not sure it even matters. So instead, I’ll do my best to find beauty in the ordinary, rather than searching for the extraordinary.