I still vividly remember my inner conflict over physics as an undergrad. On the one hand, all the physicists I was meeting, no matter how brilliant and good at what they did, turned out have little or no interest in the outside world. No wonder, I suppose. To be one of the world's best physicists, you probably have to devote yourself exclusively to physics. On the other hand, I knew that physics was considered the deepest and most fundamental knowledge of reality. No matter who I talked to, they said you could go on to study any science you wanted once you had a physics degree. So I stuck with physics as my chosen major.
Nevertheless, that insatiable longing I've described would overtake me almost any time I had a spare moment. It urged me to read something deep and meaningful, or to write "profound" poetry, or to ponder consciousness or reality.
I turned to poetry. It seemed that of all the art forms, poetry was able to express the most with the fewest words. I wrote many experimental poems, trying to express this longing that I had, but continually failing. It was your classic, angst-ridden, jouvenile poetry, except filled with allusions to physics and science which, rather than making the poetry deeper, usually rendered it bizzare and incomprehensible.
I also start listening to indie rock. Among my peers, indie rock was considered the pinnacle of modern art: experimental and intelligent, yet emotionally powerful and accessible. It never crossed my mind that a fellow 19-year old was probably not the best source of refined musical taste. Probably because in our messed-up "modern" culture, everything is turned on its head: newer is always better. All that old-fashioned, sentimental crap, whether rhyming poetry, folk music, or religion, is for the weak-minded. Or so goes the conventional wisdom that I had not yet thought to question.
So there I was, plowing through endless problem sets of mechanical math exercises, blasting avant-garde hard rock on my speakers, as if the combination of the two, Order and Chaos, Science and Art, would somehow satiate my soul. After dashing off a few secret verses of nonsensical physics-poetry, I would then run off to get drunk with friends who seemed cooler than me, but who I later would realize were not all that much wiser.
My world was fragmented. Physics, poetry, and the pop-culture banter of my friends each seemed to inhabit a universe all of their own. My longing grew deeper: this was not how life was supposed to be. Inhabitants in each universe ridiculed the others: physicists dislike poets, and the hip disdain both.
But then, out of the blue, I was inspired to write a short story. The story combined elements of all three: it was a sci-fi fantasy story exploring the nature of time, inspired by Coleridge's Kubla Khan, and infused with a darkly cynical avant-garde absurdism. It poured out of me almost automatically over the course of three nearly-sleepless days.
I still don't know what the story meant. Probably not much. But I showed it to my friends and ... they liked it. A door was opened: finally I had found a way to express myself. But this door would soon lead to the opening of additional, very dangerous doors.