Muftin Geckos
My Mini-Biography
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The atypical childhood

So here's the part where I go on about my history. Heh. I was born on October 20th, 1981, in Niskayuna, NY. My dad worked for the Foreign Service (part of the State Department), and he was stationed in Zambia. They had wanted me to be born in the USA, just in case I wanted to run for President (since you have to be a citizen). While I appreciate the effort, I think I'll have to pass guys. Heh. Anyways, I went back (with my mom), and we three were in Zambia until I was around a year old. Then we headed back to the states, to our established home base at Arlington, Virginia, so my dad could work in DC. We were there for quite a while, in Foreign Service time. When I was almost four, my little sister, Vanessa, was born. She's always been a little pistol. Next stop: Moscow, Russia (headquarters of the USSR at the time), where I went to an English-speaking school from 2nd through 4th grade. Around then I started getting teased for being fat, (though I really wasn't at that point, but that's elementary school kids for you). Then back again to Arlington, VA, from 5th through 6th grade. That summer, we headed up to Scarsdale, NY, so my dad could work at the United Nations.

Around then I had an epiphany (or at least what seemed like one for a middle-schooler). I had always been sort of a sad sack as a kid- I told a lot of fibs, was selfish, and wanted little other than popularity. In the midst of moving this next time, I realized that I could just let go of all those stupid parts of myself. I realized that there was no point to being 'popular' or telling weird lies to try and make me look 'cooler.' I think all the things I had seen in my short life came together around then. So, with the passage of 7th and 8th grade in NY, I found I was a new, more enlightened Marla. I was also a big Metallica fan. Heh.

Then a surprise return to Arlington, VA was had. My parents were nice enough to pull some strings so that we could stay in VA for four years, so I could finish highschool at the same place. Highschool was pretty rough for me. I was in all advanced classes, and also got relentlessly beat up by upperclassmen for being 'different.' I was a big Marilyn Manson fan, so 1996/7 was a real struggle for me, as society had their weird freak out over their 'Antichrist Superstar' album. I will never forget the time on the schoolbus that rocks were being thrown at my head on the way home. I was too proud to ask for adults to intervene. By the time I graduated in 1999, I had grown a pretty thick rind to protect myself from other peoples' ignorance and fear. I had also had three surgeries, as I was apparently taking after my dad in the physical health department.

The college years

So, fall of 1999, I found myself at Reed College. I couldn't have been happier to be on my own. For the next four years, the world of academia beat my brain into a mushy pulp, which was just the way I liked it. At some point my freshman year, I realized that my real ambition was to be a veterinarian. Unfortunately, I had yet to realize that Reed was not the school to go to if that's your career choice, as it demolishes your GPA. Even so, I don't regret going to Reed, as it was an awesome experience that really tested my academic mettle. I also met many amazing people, and made some great friends.

Though I'll spare you the details, I had a bad relationship break-up at the very end of my junior year. That summer I found myself without a family to visit (see 'my family's story' below), as they were in transit. I was languishing in misery, and little other than my PS2 and my fish seemed able to spark my interest. That is, until one day, when I walked into a pet store and really took note of the leopard gecko checking me out. For a few weeks, the idea rattled around in my head. And then, one day, I found myself with a 20 L setup and one tiny leopard gecko in my apartment. Though I made many mistakes I wouldn't make again, I was entranced. My first leopard gecko, Jeeves, really helped me through that summer.

The ultimate task was writing my senior thesis, "Does the laboratory axolotl, Ambystoma mexicanum, express a cannibalistic polyphenism?," which I did under (the awesome) Robert Kaplan, professor of ecology. Though I had time for very little other than academics, I somehow found myself reading about leopard geckos online. Once I discovered the snow morph (at the time, quite uncommon and not terribly popular), I knew I had to have one. My second gecko, Myrtle, came from Albey's 'Too Cool' Leopard Geckos. I graduated in 2003, academically triumphant, but unsure of my next move.

These days

For a while after I graduated, I was really burned out. I knew what I needed to do to get to vet school, but I needed a short while to regroup. As it happened, my former thesis advisor was looking for someone at the time to work as his research assistant and to perform the animal care for his lab animals (fire-bellied toads). I worked in that capacity, doing research on sex determination in anurans, for about a year. While doing that, I started taking classes at PSU and PCC to get all my prerequisites for vet school. I also decided that I wanted to breed leopard geckos, specifically snows. I started amassing an assortment, and gradually building up my colony.

Nowadays, my leopard gecko schemes are blossoming into fruition. I've switched from working in research to working in veterinary medicine. I'm up to 6 major surgeries, which is a bummer, but I try and make the best of it. I do physical therapy, and I never give up. For years I've been coordinating everything around getting into vet school. Lately I've dealt with a lot of adversity, but I just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

My family's story

At the same time I was starting college, the rest of my family was busy moving to South Africa, where my father was the deputy ambassador. I visited them twice a year, and had some amazing experiences. They returned to Arlington in the summer of 2002.

After a brief hiatus, my dad went alone to be the ambassador to Liberia, which was embroiled in a civil war. In countries that are that dangerous, spouses are not allowed to join their partners at post. This was very hard on both of my parents. My mother got her first major job in many years (actually at the Department of State as well), partly as a way to keep herself busy. In Liberia, my father helped mediate the situation, many times risking his life to go between the three major warring factions to foster diplomacy. His house was shelled many times, and the US government encouraged him to close the embassy down and withdraw. However, my father wanted to help the Liberian civilians free themselves from the greedy warlords, so he stayed. Ultimately, he helped get the resident insane dictator, Charles Taylor, out of power and out of the country. By the time he left office, Liberia was set to have its first democratic election. For his efforts, my father was awarded a fancy medal (I wish I could remember the title) by the US government, and was knighted by the Liberian government. He also developed heart problems from the stress and horror of what he saw and dealt with. Back in the VA and with my mother again, he had achieved his dream of being an ambassador. He retired from the state department shortly thereafter.

Now my mother is still at her full time job in the Civil Service section of the State Department. She is a master of efficiency, and has been very successful there. She is also the glue that holds everything together in my family- right now she's busy with keeping my dad & sister from killing each other. Heh. My dad went out and got a new job, as he's incapable of just settling into retirement like most people. Heh. It was too hard on him to change from 'stop civil war' mode to 'take the dog out to go poo' mode. So now he does consulting work in the private sector.

My sister has her own story too. We are like day and night. She has always been an athlete (while I have pretty much always been overweight). In the past she's played soccer, been a gymnast, and been a captain of her college's cheerleading team. She's also very short (compared to me). While I'm domestically challenged (I am only now beginning to master scrambled eggs), she is a gifted chef, and is preparing to go to culinary school, now that she has her degree in business. In the meantime, she is teaching gymnastics classes to children. She especially likes making desserts, and will most likely specialize in pastry-making.

Muftin Geckos * Corvallis * OR * USA

All photos and text copyright Marla Blaney 2014

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