Carlos D. Szembek

Born Between Storms

On a parking garage lot, my mother had to be rescued from being blown off the deck during Hurricane Betsy by attendants who formed a human chain, clasping hand-to-forearm to grab her and pull her into their tiny security office, where she rode out the rest of the storm - vision blurred as her glasses had been swept away by the winds. Four years later, my father made the fateful decision to decline an offer from a neighbor to batten down and take shelter in his Mississippi Gulf Coast home from the approaching Hurricane Camille as it took aim for New Orleans. My father was concerned about forcing a sudden trip on my mom, my sister and, primarily, the newborn me. That neighbor was never heard from again.

My parents, both direct immigrants—my father a pastry chef and baker brought over from Germany, my mother working at the Mexican Consulate, teaching my father English in their free time (French being their initial common language)—an unlikely couple bound by a singular love for each other and a simple conviction for raising my sister and me. A hybrid from the start, I have always resided in grey areas, taking root in the in-between. Since their passing, it has taken some time to realize how the strength of their union shaped my hybrid life, providing a calm and unique vantage point to view and absorb the world around me.

My life cycles between the arts and the sciences, between the emotional and the analytical with little urge to force a connection between these, at times, disparate worlds. From years spent teaching art in the rural southern tier of New York State to a blur of a summer working on circuitry design during a residency in Paris to an abrupt leap into the sciences...from a dizzying spree chasing tornadoes in the American High Plains to a research expedition measuring the impact of fog on ice melt atop an Arctic glacier—my experiences have never fallen neatly into either an art or a science narrative. In all of these experiences that quiet, calm vantage of being an outsider (or even an interloper) allows me not only to note the differences between these two disciplines but to ferret out the similarities in the approaches, the people, the friends and the passions that these two worlds share.


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