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Getting back together with my ex


Writing out of self pity and revenge
Carl Djerassi Scientist
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Well, why did I read you all this? Because... I got to writing poetry out of revenge, self pity and revenge for a woman... an otherwise intelligent woman who had this fantastic lover, well, companion and partner, and just ditching him for someone else, a man I never met. Except that I had learned from her... maybe she told me at that time, that he was basically a literati. I don’t know whether he was a journalist or a literature professor, but he had nothing to do with science. And I said, well, I’m going to show her, if that’s what’s bothering her, then I can do that too. The arrogance, of course, as I said of a typical scientist. Who thinks that science is tough everything else is easy, and, well I’ll just write some poems. But the poems really were only a release mechanism for my really, very deep wound. There was no question whatsoever about this. I was just very much in love with the woman, and obviously... so the revenge, the therapy one does at that time, finds other female company. And that certainly occurred, but it was not really very satisfactory from an emotional standpoint for a very obvious reason. Because the women that interest me are intelligent women, and that is absolutely indispensable. Everything else comes afterwards. And they could tell very soon that I’m really thinking of some else. The worst thing would be to make love to a person and call her by another name. Now that I didn’t do. At least I don’t think I did. But it was otherwise, that sort of thing and that always hung over it. And I was a very eligible bachelor from every standpoint. I lived in a beautiful house, on a ranch, and was affluent. I was a well-known scientist, a professor at a great university, blah, blah, blah. But still... and, of course, she didn’t leave my mind. We had no contact whatsoever... she was still on the East Coast. So I started writing a novel... and started writing a novel the title of which I called Middles, based on a novel Nora Ephron, who at that time herself had written a novel of revenge when her husband... I’ve forgotten whether it’s Bernstein or Woodward, which one she was married to, left her for a newer model, a younger model. But that was... Heartburn was her novel, but she had a wonderful sentence in there. It was something like, all beginnings are happy and we wish for happy endings, but middles are the problem. Middles are the problems of, I don’t know, society, something like that. So I called it Middles. And I wrote that novel... if you think about it, in some respects, under unbelievable conditions because I was a full-time professor with probably the largest research group in our chemistry department, and I had teaching... I was having graduate students, post docs, travelling and in addition, I had a horrible accident.

That’s why I remember June 1983. So May '83 she left me, June '83 I was hiking on my ranch with, fortunately, a group of my graduate students and post docs, maybe 20 people. And it’s very rough land there, and I have a fused knee from a skiing accident, but it doesn’t otherwise bother me, but so I have no knee and my leg is like this, and I came crashing through a rotten piece of timber somewhere on the bottom of a gulch, fell backwards, and completely my leg just exploded because you fall backwards on a stiff leg. So I was just screaming... I would have been... undoubtedly would have died because this was out in nowhere... if I hadn’t been surrounded by lots of young men and a few women. Well, it took one of the young men an hour to get to the first telephone, even though it was at my ranch. And then they called the Forestry Service and the emergency... there were about 20 people eventually came. Had to get with four wheeled trucks and then winch me up, of course, try and give me morphine. I was 30 minutes distance from Stanford University and Stanford Hospital. It took seven hours to evacuate me from that place. It was like having an accident on the North mound of the Eiger and had to be just moved up a steep canyon, wrapped into a form of sled. And I was just screaming. And I ended up in hospital for a few weeks and had to have a major operation, and I carry a lot of metal still in my leg. And then I was in a cast for eight months.

All this living alone, and in a beautiful house which has 75 steps, which was, of course, impossible with crutches and everything else. And then I moved into the artists' colony, about which I’ll tell you later, which was on my ranch, and I lived therefore with the artists. Because there [unclear] it was an artists' colony I’d established, but it was all on one level, and of course there was a cook there and I could drive, and so I then drove to work with crutches and my cast, but still the job of day to day living was sometimes really very complicated. And during all that time, I wrote that novel in addition to everything else. And I finished it after one year. And it was three hundred and some pages. And I was very impressed. And I said, by God, now that I’ll get published. Again, publish or perish. And it was entitled Middles.

Austrian-American Carl Djerassi (1923-2015) was best known for his work on the synthesis of the steroid cortisone and then of a progesterone derivative that was the basis of the first contraceptive pill. He wrote a number of books, plays and poems, in the process inventing a new genre, 'science-in-fiction', illustrated by the novel 'Cantor's Dilemma' which explores ethics in science.

Listeners: Tamara Tracz

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: Stanford Hospital, Middles, Heartburn, Nora Ephron

Duration: 6 minutes, 24 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008