Thursday, June 29, 2006

Out of practice

I opened a program today that I haven’t used in about a year. In the beginning, I installed everything on my computer at work that I might need. But I didn’t have data, so the software went untouched for a long period of time. I decided, staring at my computer screen, that I was completely lost. Quickly blaming the newest release, I downloaded the more familiar version.

“Well, hell.” I muttered. “I don’t really remember this either.” So I made some guesses, pushed buttons that seemed logical. Backed up a couple times, started over a few more. And eventually that knowledge returned. Countless days spent in my grad school cubicle, writing scripts and calling functions and playing in this software package were worth something. After successfully giving it adequate information, I watched graphs appear, trying to remember how to read them.

I stayed late, resisting the urge to pack up and bring everything home. I did that, actually, but only after finishing with that particular program. I lost notes on how to transfer the data from one environment to another, so I’ve been playing with that tonight – trying to remember processing steps that I could once do mindlessly.

It comes back. It’s definitely not like learning something new. That’s frustrating on a different level, and I’m good enough at being impatient to understand there are different types of learning pains. I took a break from my muddled revisions – loving the feeling of working on something that I was sure would be published. It’s a different feeling for me than working on new projects. There’s hope for them, but precious little confidence. This little paper found a journal on my third try. So I’m peering carefully at figures, trying to recall the tricks to programs, reading text aloud because someone might actually read it.

It turns out that I’m also painfully out of practice with multi-tasking. At one point, I was happiest when working on at least two projects in the same day. Attending meetings for one, then collecting data for another. Mentoring on a third in the afternoon, then back at home to read for the thesis that integrated all of them. Yet today exhausted me – I was left feeling unfocused and overwhelmed. Continued to think about my software woes during a seminar. Am impatient with reasonable requests on other projects because I’m used to having more than enough time to focus on one idea and think all the way through it.

Apparently I’m also not so good at composing blog posts of any quality after days like today. Can’t answer email or pull thoughts together. I just want to rest. Working for more than 12 hours didn’t phase me at one time. Either I’m aging really rapidly or my painfully slow start at post-doctoral research has left me reeling under a relatively light workload.

I’ll get there – adapt and adjust. Until then, bear with me. I don’t even have time to feel overly sorry for myself because I’m so incredibly tired. I can't think of any stories or come up with a decent analogy. I vaguely remember an idea on how I was quite surprised and embarrassed when I realized my pretty white shirt was incredibly sheer, but the humor and entertainment value escapes me at the moment.

I have hopes for writing something more interesting tomorrow - for the manuscript as well as the blog. Cross your fingers for me.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

My thoughts on singing

I sang in high school. Actually, I sang until I was a junior in high school. Just for reference, I won a 1st place in junior high for my lovely rendition of Swinging on a Star. Grandpa sang it to me when I was little and it’s a fantastic song. It’s not easy to sing in junior high by yourself in a room full of strangers and judges. Really.

I vividly remember standing alone in my choir director’s office near the end of freshman year. He was a beautiful man with a wonderful voice and charming sense of humor, and the choir composed of freshman ladies was uniformly smitten. We were nearing the end of the year and auditioning to see where we would be placed in the choral structure. There was sight reading, some memorization, the ability to find the appropriate note in a chord when given a starting point. Then we did scales so he could assess my range.

I was shy, confessing softly to being nervous. It was likely due to him more than the situation. To this day I sigh when I’m in a room with an overly attractive man. Granted, it’s now more likely to be over someone with an easy smile, glasses and quick laugh than excellent bone structure. But I’m an idiot when I’m attracted to someone – I pronounce words incorrectly and pray he doesn’t notice, speak a little quieter than normal in hopes that he’ll lean in to hear me, get overly abrupt when I feel that I’ve tipped my hand and showed a bit too much interest. It’s not overly impressive, which could explain why I’m so very single. I tend toward making a bad impression on men I’d really want to attract.

Mr. Christianson smiled at me, eyes crinkling up. “No reason to be nervous.” He noted. “You sing for me every day.”

“Not alone!” I made a face and shook my head, and he laughed.

“How about we start together.” He offered kindly and we went from there. I did fine – I’m not great at sight reading, honestly, but can get by. I’m an excellent rememberer, so that section went particularly well. We spent extra time as he continued to form longer strings of notes to trick me, complimenting as I kept up. I blushed with pleasure – still remember feeling my cheeks warm.

“Well, the good news is I was right in the beginning.” He said lightly, making some notes on a paper. There were about 100 of us – being young and cute and musical means there’s no shortage of 14 year old girls eager to be in your class – so I’m sure he needed reminders of how we performed individually over the course of the week. He didn’t finish his statement though, and I was confused.

“How were you right?” I finally asked.

“You’re definitely an alto.” He said, still writing. “Definitely your range.”

“Oh.” I said softly, embarrassed. “Right.”

He looked up at me with a frown. “Nothing wrong with being an alto. It’s your natural vocal range, Katie. You have a beautiful voice. It’s when you try to sing outside that range that things get ugly. You’re an alto. And that’s great. You know where your voice works best.”

He promoted me into an upper level choir and I sang there for a year. It’s difficult for me to explain the power of music – of creating something with other people that’s so incredibly exquisite, it brings tears of joy, this warmth in my chest, this overwhelming awe that my voice fits into this harmony that takes up so much space in that moment that it’s all that matters. Everything important and beautiful is in that single chord. I loved it. Can remember wishing certain songs would never end because they were just so perfect. Smile broadly when I recall how we’d look at each other after we finished – whether in the huge classroom we occupied for practice or in front of an audience in the gym – because it was just so completely cool that we’d sounded like that.

There was some honors course that only met during the hour that contained choir practice. As enrollment increased in my high school, I realized there were singers far more talented than I, but also knew Mr. Christianson tended to take current students first when forming next year’s choirs. We had, after all, already put in time, learned from him, practiced hard. So I gave up my spot, a bit sad, but feeling as though it was the appropriate choice.

I don’t sing anymore. It’s been so long – I’ve largely lost the ability to read music to any great degree. I haven’t considered joining a church choir for the simple reason that I don’t care for singing in church. As I sang along in my car today on my commute, I realized I was surprisingly happy. Trying to isolate the cause – especially given a rather rough morning – I decided it was likely the music. It was pretty and I was singing, though I had the volume loud enough that I couldn’t really hear myself. Funny, I mused, that I’d say I don’t like to sing if someone asked.

I always wanted to be a soprano, I realized. They seemed prettier somehow, more graceful, the ones who gathered the most attention and admiration. They got the gorgeous melody lines while I was left to fill in the center of the chord. It was a solid sound from our section placed on the left. Men sat in the middle, sopranos on the right. In my high school, there was a definite difference in being pretty or popular that seemed to correlate to vocal range. I doubt it holds true overall – in fact, if you’re reading and you’re an alto, I’m sure you’re gorgeous and loved by all who encounter you. But I wasn’t. Hell, I’m still not. And when I looked around at the women who had voices similar to mine, they were more like me – quiet, a bit bookish, a tad plain – than like the soprano ladies. They were prettier, faster to laugh, more confident and outgoing.

This is likely a flawed perception recalled from a high school girl struggling to find her place. I didn’t have many friends, though I had my share of acquaintances. I was well liked in high school, actually, though I didn’t realize it until late in my senior year. I was insecure even then though, and that causes me to retreat. If there’s a chance you’ll think badly of me, I’d rather you think nothing at all. So I do my best not to attract attention, which, in my mind, made me a good alto. Which was not a source of pride.

As for church hymns? Well, it’s probably a lot like life. I try to sing out of my range – force notes that my voice can’t create with any degree of comfort or beauty. I also don’t sing enough with those like me. Am foolish enough not to recognize my own beauty and let it color how I see those women who happen to share some of my qualities – even the exceptionally lovely ones.

Mr. Christianson picked up on it, but I didn’t buy his comment. He was right though – my vocal range is on the low side. My speaking voice isn’t light and lyrical either, but it’s pleasant. Increases pitch when I’m happy, softens when I’m sad or embarrassed. It’s a good voice – I try to use it kindly. I need it to learn, to teach, to collaborate. I sing songs for the Little One – blend my own alto with Mom’s. Listened to Cousin and Aunt sing The Grand Old Duke of York with altos of their own. Little Cousin smiled and danced during their brief performance. And it was perfect.

Beauty – perceived through sight or smell or touch or sound – doesn’t look the same. It’s exquisitely varied over individuals. It’s not always slender or able to hit high notes. It doesn’t always have muscular arms or gorgeous eyes. I’m exceedingly proud of being attracted to different qualities in people. She seems a bit quirky, so I’d like to invite her to lunch. He has this intense focus on his work, and I shiver a bit when watching him squint through glasses at his computer screen. I find it difficult to believe that I could find any of you less than amazing. There’s depth and character and humor and insight within what you write and that’s beautiful. Different, certainly, but there is something perfect about singing in your range, figuring yourself out and confidently displaying your strengths.

It gives me hope – seeing how lovely you all are. I have a beautiful voice. Mr. Christianson was right. I’m learning where it works best, though I’ve already found some of the notes that resonate in my range. I need the confidence to sing – to find those moments where I feel filled with joy. Creating something special – whether alone or with other people. I’m hoping I get to be part of a duet at some point, though that’s never been my strength. Blending my voice with one other person’s was always difficult for me – that delicate balance between us, the give and take, forgiving the notes that are slightly off key, merging to form some sort of song.

I keep getting distracted – talking about men, past and future. I think it’s all mixed together. The core knowledge that, for me, the most exquisite music isn’t created alone. Perhaps that’s why I’m so fond of blogs – have no writing aspirations outside this format. The commenting, looking at site stats to see who’s reading – it’s a group effort, the linking and mixing of inspiration. The offers of comfort in comments or the insight written in email. It’s some kind of chorus, I think. At least in my mind. What scares me is that I have some issues figured out - I simply lack the courage to apply what I’ve learned to make some crucial changes.

In the same way, I think Mr. Christianson had the right idea years ago. He knew my range, admired my talent for what it was, saw the beauty and made some notes on where it would fit with the rest of the group. In contrast, I was shy and embarrassed that I wasn’t more conventionally pretty. Couldn’t find the courage to sparkle happily as an alto. It’s not trivial to find your range – to understand where you sound the prettiest, where your voice is most comfortable, stable and strong. Even after locating it though, I need to sing. Trust that someone will appreciate it, that I’ll find happiness in using my talents. Learn from the times where I’m slightly flat or sharp. Because I find I miss it – that rush of creating something beautiful, of being part of something greater than myself, of leaving such a group stronger than I went in.

I find it’s important to me – singing. And I’m an alto.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


“You know the best part of having my kids move out?” She asked me over dinner. I was sitting across from a woman about my mom’s age at restaurant a few weeks ago. She was visiting and I had joined her and two other older women for dinner.

In my continuing attempt to convince myself I’m not aging, I tried to identify with her 18 year old daughter, and realized I was 18 nearly a decade ago. Ten years. Ten. But I comforted myself that I was still about 15 years younger than the woman across from me, and she was actually quite pretty. Happy, I decided. Confident and comfortable –her ease with herself extended across the table and made me relax as well.

“Walking around naked.” She responded to my inquisitive look.

“Oh.” I said, trying for a blank expression and obviously failing as she started to laugh.

“Sometimes,” she confessed amidst the giggles around the table – likely at my expense – “I jump when I pass by a mirror. Think ‘who let that old woman in the house?!’ and laugh when I realize it’s me. Then I keep cleaning or go back to watch TV or whatever.”

I smiled at her, but cocked my head. “You really walk around naked?”

“Yes! I come home and the clothes come off. I’d be naked all the time if I could.”

“Oh.” I said lightly.

“Don’t you do that?” She asked, and I quickly shook my head.

“Never.” I answered honestly.

And it’s true. Even at my thinnest – when I considered myself to be quite pretty – I wore clothes. All the time. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve been sans clothing anywhere in my house outside the bathrooms. I shower but as soon as I’m dry, I wiggle back into cotton knits or linen pants or cashmere sweaters. Comfortable clothes – soft in color and texture, fitted loosely, matched with frivolous heels or color-coordinated flip flops.

I was thinking about it today as I disrobed in a dimly lit room with New Age music. I’m strangely comfortable doing so. It took me some time to find my new therapist, but I like her a great deal. A sturdy woman, she’s quite maternal and performs massages that are therapeutic yet pleasant. Having left some sessions bruised and others with lingering muscle soreness that wasn’t eased out, I’ve found that balance is difficult to find. Since moving here, I’ve tried four different people before settling on my current masseuse.

Strange, I decided, sliding under the sheet face down. I took deep breaths and shifted to get comfortable, wincing at the pain radiating from my right shoulder. I sometimes put on clothes while I’m still damp from the shower. Yet I love massages. Look forward to them as soon as I make the appointment. I’m just more comfortable in daily activities – watching television, working, cleaning, reading blogs – if I’m in t-shirts and sleepy pants. Mostly gray. Sometimes with little bleach stains or small holes from years of loving use. That’s what I notice when I happen to walk by mirrors. Frayed hems or threads hanging from seams. If I'm at work, I tug at hems to make sure the material hangs correctly. Smooth wrinkles I missed when ironing. I've never found myself wishing I was nude.

I looked across the table at the woman again. Not overly pretty in the physical sense, but somehow beautiful. I wondered if I had some of that quality myself – if some people could translate some kindness or intelligence or dignity to beauty of some sort when talking to me. And if I decide that being attractive isn’t comprised completely of my physical appearance, why am I so concerned about how I look? Even how I look to myself while home alone?

“How long have you been married?” I asked her, trying to figure this out.

“25 years. I was just out of high school.” Her lips lifted in a smile that started out as fond then eased into slightly wicked. “He loves the way I am – the way I look and laugh and talk. We do everything together – we’re still so in love.”

The tension I’d felt in trying to determine why I didn’t feel beautiful eased. It’s hard to always remind yourself. I’m personally comforted and validated by the thoughts of those people I love. So my thought is that if I were married for that long – was safe and comfortable and confident in the love of some amazing man – that I’d be exquisite. Radiant with the knowledge that someone loved me – wanted to hear me laugh so much that he remembered funny stories from work. Would read me parts of books he liked so he could discuss them with me – eager to share his knowledge and learn my thoughts. He’d call my cell phone in the middle of a dinner with 3 other women just to check in because he missed me.

Self-confidence is difficult at times. I do relatively well for a while, then falter. Find myself looking around and hoping people don’t notice me, spend extra time with make-up trying to cover freckles that someone might find adorable. Long for winter and the ability to wear heavier fabrics and cover more skin.

It’s also dangerous to tie your self-worth to another person’s vision of you. He might go away or just not happen to be around during a weak moment. The beauty – the certainty that I’m lovely and worthwhile – has to come from me. I know that.

I just thought, looking across the table and she apologized for taking a call at dinner to tell her husband she loved him, that it’d be nice to have someone who thought I was gorgeous. It might not solve my problems, but my guess is that it would help a little. But until then - if it happens at all - I'll have to remember to tell myself a bit more often.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Bees, paws and prancing

When I got my dog, she was in bad shape. Hoarse from whining, ears terribly infected, kennel cough and quite shy. She came out of it – several vet appointments, prescriptions and a significant amount of love and attention later, she was an amazing little puppy. About a year old, she loved other dogs and was thrilled with people as well. She’d sit at the sliding glass door in my first floor apartment and watch people go by. When I pulled in the parking lot, I’d see her ears perk and she’d leave her sunny spot at the door to meet me at the interior entrance to our rented rooms.

Living in an apartment, we took a few walks each day. Sometimes just wandering the property, others taking to the sidewalks and moving up and down the hills of our neighborhood. After building up some stamina over several weeks, we set out on Saturday morning for a couple hours. I walked, trying to burn some calories, and she explored – bounding from my side to smell trees, grass, signs – all sorts of fascinating items.

Energy waning, I started to attempt some guess at where we were. My sense of direction is shockingly bad. I get all turned around and can’t see how to get where I want to be. But I squinted across a park and realized we could cross it and end up relatively close to where we lived. I was distracted, looking around and making sure I wasn’t making some typical travel error that would culminate in my confused arrival at somewhere opposite than intended. I happened to glance back at Chienne – she had stopped to sniff some weeds at the edge of the grassy area – and saw some bees.

She yelped before I could warn or tug her away.

I hurried to her side, pulling her closer to me, determined to squash any bugs who dared injure my girl, and examined her little paw. Touching the pad gently, rubbing my fingertips across to make sure the stinger was out, I pronounced her relatively sound.

“We’ll put medicine on it when we get home.” I promised and kissed her head. “We just have to get there first.” With that, we started off, walking slowly. She was fine – barely limping, looking around at the park she hadn’t seen before. But I fretted, watching her closely, wondering if her newly-discovered allergies extended to evil bee stings. She stumbled briefly and I gasped, stopped and picked up her paw.

“You poor thing.” I crooned, kneeling in front of her and looking at her paw again. “I don’t see a stinger, sweetheart, but I know it hurts. You’re so brave and tough to deal with such a horror. I’m so sorry. I didn’t protect you – I get lost sometimes and wanted to be home because I’m tired. You’re such a good girl though – you don’t deserve to have your poor little paw hurt.” Kissing her once more on the head, I tried to urge her along.

She made it two steps before stopping, looking up at me pitifully and raising her injured paw.

Near tears, I knelt down, remained unable to find the problem – no swelling, no stinger, and picked her up and began to carry her across the park.

She weighed nearly 40 pounds at the time and I’m not in the best physical condition. I can walk around, but weight training? Not so much – now or then. So I rapidly reached my limit. We walked for maybe 2 minutes, her head resting comfortably on my shoulder while she contentedly watched the park go by.

“I can’t do it.” I told her breathlessly. “I just can’t. It’s too far! And you’re a bit heavy.”

Placing her gently on the ground, I tugged at her collar and watched with dismay while she sat and offered her paw once again. I knelt in front of her and tried to explain. I finally picked her up again and made a little progress before giving up.

“You have to walk.” I told her, trying to be firm and feeling as though I had failed my precious little friend. She just stared at me, paw in the air, until a man rounded the corner ahead with his dog. She perked up immediately, standing up and prancing toward the new arrivals. I frowned when she put weight on her paw with no ill effects, following as she pulled me along at a brisk pace, saying softly, “So it was all an act? You’ve been fine all along?”

I play pitiful a lot myself - probably taught my dog to do it that day in the park. It's suprisingly effective - I find that people in general are quite kind and in the face of distress, will attempt some help or comfort. Blogging is an excellent example. Not only does it offer an outlet for all the negative garbage that's in my head, but there's also some chance that someone will offer a story so I feel less alone, or a kind word or the hope that tomorrow things will improve. The problem is that sometimes I start to prance for no apparent reason - hurt paw forgotten in some lovely distraction. So I'm wondering, amidst all my whining that is completely sincere and filled with genuine pain at times, how much I do it in an attempt to get someone to offer to carry me across a park.

Rather manipulative when I consider it that way, and it's not a goal of mine to act that way. So I'm resolving to try a bit harder to consider my problems relative to how very lucky I am. This "poor me" mood of late is getting old. Perhaps I'm just holding up my paw when it's been relatively fine all along. Just a tiny bee sting that, while unpleasant, is hardly a reason to refuse to continue a happy little walk.


Sunday, June 25, 2006

The State of My Manicure

We arrived at my cousin’s house yesterday and couldn’t park near the door. Her husband was cutting down a tree and limbs had fallen across the drive. He took one hand off the chainsaw to wave and we left the car up the hill and wandered toward him.

“What did the tree do wrong?” Dad asked, squinting up at what was left of it.

“It got struck by lightning, then keeps getting blown around in the storms.” Jay replied. “It just looks bad, so I decided to take it down. Cousin, Aunt and Little Cousin are at the store. They should be home soon.”

We all stood and looked at the tree. Jay raised his eyebrows at me and I shrugged.

“I think we want to help.” I suggested. “Do these limbs go somewhere?”

“I need to cut them apart first.” He said. “Then you can help. Or go inside – just hang out.”

So we stood out of the way while the remainder of the tree came down. Jay grabbed a machete and created more manageable pieces of tree. As I gathered several limbs and prepared to create a pile near where they would burn, I asked if he’d always had a gigantic knife.

“No.” He grinned. “But it’s damn cool.”

Mom, Dad and I carefully piled the leafy limbs in one section of the yard while the larger ones were cut for firewood. It was neatly stacked – big pieces on the bottom, littler ones on top – with the wood already drying for next winter. As I grew uncomfortably hot and brushed bugs, dirt and wood off my arms, I wondered at my feeling of contentment.

We work in my family – like to feel useful. It makes me more than a little uncomfortable if I’m not allowed to help clean up after dining at someone’s house. I’m good at putting leftovers away, scraping plates, washing dishes, leaving pans to soak. I’ve done it for years.

Likewise, there was no chance we’d go inside to sit while Jay dealt with moving tree pieces. We would offer advice (that’s Dad), giggle when a task goes awry (Mom and me) and pitch in to get something done.

I sometimes wonder if I present myself correctly here. It shames me to admit, but I think my years of education have made me a bit uppity. Not too much, but enough. Honestly? We’re much more casual dining than fine. Beer and soda rather than cocktails before dinner. Dad watches races while the rest of us talk. We play Pictionary, but I’m the one who’s viciously competitive, glaring and sneering, “Come on!” when someone can’t figure out that the bird-like creature is a swan, dammit. (Um, I may not be much of an artist, actually, but I do hate to lose. Someone should have guessed that one for me, and if they had, my subsequent tantrum would have been unnecessary.) We all drive relatively new cars, but they’re sensible. We know how WalMart and Target are laid out so it’s easy to find what we need. I don’t know when Brother last read a book, and though I own more books than I can adequately store, I’ll admit to a fondness for light reading rather than dense literature.

I just spent a couple hours helping Mom scrub my floors. It’s not something I do all the time, but I know how. So we talked, each of us with a sudsy sponge, and wiped baseboards then under cabinets. Listened to the sponges squeak when we rubbed quickly at splotches. Dad came to get a Pepsi and decided to mop up the mess. I’d spent time outside with him earlier. Bringing out my little ShopVac to vacuum my shamefully dirty car, then listening to a different sponge squeak as I tried to remove the bugs from my front bumper.

“If you’d do this more often,” Dad scolded as he squatted next to me and scrubbed at his section, “it wouldn’t be so hard.”

“Because they eat at your paint if you leave them too long. I know, Dad.”

For as many times as I trudged around the yard at home, picking up sticks and dragging limbs to the burn pile after storms, I also stood around our fleet of family cars while we washed them. Start with the windows, then work from the top down. That way you can rinse and the soap will slide to areas not yet washed. Never let the cars air dry either – they spot. So you get old windshield wipers or special towels to pull the water away from the paint before it dries. Look up and make sure you’re not parked under wires – no reason to make it easier to get the car dirty again.

My car is now lovely – it’s always good to have it sparkle after being neglected so long. I’m currently sprawled in a chair that could needs to be recovered and watching the light bounce off my spotless kitchen floor. My hands are a wreck – the bleach and car soap and tree limbs have certainly not left them pretty. I’m strangely proud of them – find it soothing to know that I’m capable of some labor though I often choose not to do it.

I don’t come from money, though we always had enough. I think I try to make the impression that we’re better off than we are. After all, I know certain staff at the spa where I go for massages and pedicures. Tend to stop and have my car washed rather than bringing out my bucket, sponges and hose at home. I sweep and Swiffer wet rather than crawling around my floors. I vacation on my own and with family, though the trips tend to be short and I save for them. I don't know that I could survive without my wireless internet, but my parents use a computer that's nearly 10 years old.

It may be a process for me – fitting in where I came from with where I’m trying to go. It turns out, however, that the latter might be closer to the former than I once would have thought. I'm proud of my parents - they work hard. And they've taught me how to do so as well, even to the point of having rather ugly hands.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Resembling clarity

“Why aren’t you going?”

I looked up from my admin’s desk. We were frowning over an online form and discussing how this fee should be paid.

“Going to the conference?” I clarified, a bit confused over the arrival of one of the other fellows and her subsequent question. I like Winnie a great deal, and have noticed she’s looking more and more stressed lately.

“Yes! I’m not going to know anyone!”

“You’ll know people.” I soothed. “It’s mostly local labs, and you’re more connected here than I am.”

Jill finished up with the forms that would pay for yet another conference and I headed down the hall. My post-doc friend, Winnie, wandered with me, looking for a binder for her newly-printed manual.

“Honestly?” I offered. “I didn’t want to go. I have nothing to present, and while I’d love to hear what’s going on in the region, I’m selfish enough to want to collect my own data so I have something to present later on.”

“Me too. But I thought we should go.” Winnie said softly as we arrived in the copy room. She found her binder and a hole punch and I looked for paper clips.

“We should.” I agreed. “I was dreading my talk when it was time to register. I haven’t published some projects from grad school. I want to get started on some stuff I’ve been postponing.”

She was nodding along, and I felt badly as I looked down at the small box of clips in my hand. It’s just more excuses.

“I’m intimidated.” I confessed. “I know many people from here are going and I think they’re smart and productive and doing better than I am. I don’t want to feel inferior so I’m skipping it. I’d have to socialize, and I’m afraid people won’t like me – will think I’m not smart enough or don’t work hard enough or am too isolated within the group. All of which may be true, but I don’t want to think about it.”

Jill had walked in while we were talking and I turned to see her shaking her head at me.

“Katie, my dear.” She started, and I leaned into her when she put her arm around me. “I worry about you. You have a great personality – you’re easy to talk to, funny, and very sweet. People like you! Why wouldn’t they? And you’re smart – your work is interesting and we know you work hard.”

“I’m inconsistent.” I interrupted. I love hearing compliments – thrive on them, in fact. Will start to wither in their absence. But you can’t go too far – I do good work, yes, but it comes in bursts. I don’t show up every day and produce. Look at the blog! Sometimes I think it’s lovely – I'll read posts multiple times and think I wrote exactly what I meant. Other times I’ll wince when I glance through old pieces – thinking that my thoughts aren’t clear, stories are too long and convoluted, or that people could have taken away the wrong idea. It can be good, but it isn’t always.

Jill rolled her eyes and scolded. “You’re so hard on yourself! You fret over what people are thinking, but they’re not thinking badly of you at all! So much wasted energy.” She squeezed me tighter – whether with affection or exasperation I’m not sure – and I snuggled for a moment. Then she left us alone again.

Winnie continued to punch holes in her huge stack of paper, and not comfortable just standing around yet feeling it wasn’t time to leave, I began to places the pages in her binder.

“Are you OK?” I asked, feeling more stable after Jill’s little pep talk. It’s unfortunate, but I’m most receptive to other people’s needs after my own have been met. (It doesn’t escape me that I’m ashamed of a quality I think many people share.)

“I’m on probation.” She said with a sigh.

I waited for her to elaborate and couldn’t quiet my curiosity when she didn’t. So I put my gentle questioning skills to work and gathered details. Then I frowned and began nibbling on my lip. It’s a terrible nervous habit.

I went into my sympathy speech. I understand that I often want to vent – need someone to listen and acknowledge that it absolutely does suck or he certainly was an ass or that had been completely inappropriate. Reflect back, I remembered from my training as a peer counselor. Then attempt to comfort.

As I did that, I started to look at her – really look. Not just assume everything was fine and she was having a bad day. Winnie is married and has children. She’s involved in the community and stretched too thin at work and home. She looked unwell. A lovely woman, the dark circles under her eyes worried me when I took the time to really consider them. She was shaking slightly. I hadn't noticed before, but I could see it now.

“I think you need to take care of yourself.” I said softly, my hand on her arm. “This is hard, Winnie. I know. But if you can’t handle the workload – and it’s incredibly intense for you – I think it’s good to acknowledge that and ask for help. Prioritize and do what you can. Sleep. Be kinder to yourself.”

We continued to talk and I accompanied her to one office to get one issue resolved. Sometimes that first step in fixing a problem is most difficult. Inertia and all that.

I mention this because it’s difficult for me to see people clearly sometimes. I like to assume that everything’s fine, but will offer more of my attention when someone demands it. Once I engage, I’m focused and can squint at you until I feel I understand. Ask questions, figure out what’s up with a given moment. I think it’s much harder for me to evaluate myself. I tend toward negative, not because I believe I’m inadequate or awful, but because I want to predict the worst that others could be thinking. If I think it first, it’s less hurtful somehow. But when it starts preventing me from attending conferences, puts me in a panic before a fairly routine seminar, I likely have a problem. But I live in my head all the time – it’s difficult to make a good estimation of how I’m doing. I’m just me.

The last post was meant to be funny. I laughed during and after the conversation about being pregnant. My parents adore me – Dad was up on the roof on Thursday, fixing those shingles (literally, not figuratively). Mom weeded my flower beds in the searing heat. Dad and I attended an event this morning where I got sunburned and was miserably hot. Mom cleaned (apparently I missed some spots) while we were gone and I returned home to help her grill (They bought it for me last time they were here.) and finish up the 3 side dishes.

“It’s like a holiday!” I marveled. “I usually have one thing for dinner. Two if I’m really ambitious. But four? Wow.”

I’m blessed, I think. I was a bit too spoiled, perhaps. I expect people to find me endearing and want to fix my problems a bit too often. My parents have always been supportive – thrilled with my accomplishments, soothing in the face of my defeats. I’ve disappointed them with my social skills, and continue to do so. But people you love can point out problem areas. It’s a parental responsibility to correct bad behavior, and they haven’t let go of the habit. I’m an adult, yes, but until they hand me over to some nice man, I’m still theirs to nudge, guide, and question.

Reading your comments – appreciating them, though I wasn’t upset by the conversation at all – didn’t see it as such a big deal and included it to lengthen a perfunctory post – offered a bit of clarity to my situation. I get along very well with Mom and Dad. But I’ve wondered over the past couple days whether it’s because I back down, let them win, bite back arguments though I know I’m right. They are my parents, after all, and I want to give them respect because I love them a great deal.

Sitting here on the love seat tonight after a trip to work to get some data I was missing, I looked at Mom to my left then Dad to my right and felt smothered. I’d been near tears trying to discuss dating and marriage with Mom – she rode with me as I headed back and forth to my current institution and inadvertently reinforced every awful thought I have about myself in that area. Dad – offering no help with dinner or clean-up, critical of everything on television and in the neighborhood – made me wonder if Mom was right to caution me that I was looking for something – someone – that isn’t out there. I simply expect too much and my stubborn refusal to settle is going to leave me old and alone. Which is fine, she conceded. I don’t have to be married to be happy. But I do need to acknowledge the outcome of my current choices.

I’m torn. On one hand, they aren’t helping. It just gives support to some internal self-loathing. On the other hand, I love them. Completely. And they me. They tease and don’t expect that I’ll take them seriously. They offer advice because they want me to be happy, and if I say that I want to be with someone, they feel obligated to offer their thoughts on how I’m sabotaging much hope of that. It’s difficult for me to figure out. I don’t know that I ever will. I'm too close to it and rather than allowing some distance to find myself, I cling to what I've always known.

But I’m having a good weekend. I enjoy having them here, though the long times between visits are making me a bit more sensitive to some comments I’d otherwise ignore. I need to make this all fit, but I find myself unable to think very well when the house is so busy and loud. I'm enjoying the quiet after they've gone to sleep and know I need to rest myself to prepare for another busy day tomorrow. I struggle to find balance, but then maybe that's to be expected. I certainly won't figure it out tonight.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

And so it begins

My parents have arrived, and it was good to see them. They're quite relaxed here at my house, which is wonderful.

The house was ready - clean, organized, pretty. I've escaped questions and comments on its condition so far.

My histograms are slowly but surely recovering from what I thought would be a fatal blow to the project. I'm happy, but waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I'm tired. Already. It might be quite a long weekend.

Oh, one detail for you. I mentioned to my folks that I'd been feeling a bit blah lately. Just headachy, tired, upset stomach.

"For nearly a month now." I complained easily. "I just rarely feel really good."

"If things were different," Mom sighed, "I'd be asking if it might be morning sickness."

"It's stress." I said, starting to wish I'd gone with alcohol over iced tea.

She nodded a bit sadly before smiling in my direction.

"Wait." Dad looked newly concerned as he focused on our conversation. Sometimes he gets bored and zones out. "You're pregnant?"

"No. It's stress."

We sat and looked at each other for a moment.

"OK, look." I finally said. "I'm not pregnant. I'm sure. Not possible. It's not likely to be possible in the near future. However I am relatively certain that I'll continue to be tense from work."

"You could take vitamins." Mom offered and I nodded in agreement.

"So if you ever get pregnant," She continued softly, "you'll be healthy."

It's not a battle I'll win. Regardless of how clean my house is, how well or poorly I do at work, my health, my yard - I know they wish I was married. They'd wait eagerly for news of another little one. It used to bother me a great deal that I might not provide that news. It still matters, but the distance has helped with this particular problem. If it happens, I won't be having a baby for them. That's progress, I think.

But for the next little while, when I don't feel well, it's stress.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

It's not that something's bad, it's that nothing's really good.

That’s the problem, folks. I’m usually busy – I make sure I have enough balls in the air that if a couple of them fall, I can still spend some time happily watching some of them fly around between figuring out how to pick up the ones bouncing on the ground. I need something to be good. Anything. So I can smile when I think of it, even in the worst moments of another facet of life. And I don’t know that I have that right now.

The problem isn’t that any one thing is horrifically awful. There are moments where that occurs certainly. I sent email yesterday afternoon – near tears, unable to explain the situation adequately, reeling because it had all been good before everything fell down around me. It’s just frustrating, disheartening, a bit agonizing. That after all this time I still fail to predict problems, can't be quite fast enough with the right answers, feel painfully insecure over some of my work.

I was embarrassed briefly today when said email was answered with comfort and sympathy. It wasn’t that big a deal, I thought sheepishly. I was just being dramatic. Over-reacting. Being emotional. But I thought about it this evening. Wondered if I was being realistic or too hard on myself. I don’t like being mopey, after all. Though I do seem to indulge in that mood pretty frequently. So I tried to figure it out.

My parents arrive tomorrow evening for a long weekend. This is terrible, but I’m dreading it a bit. I’ve cut back on contact with them – for a few reasons, actually – but if you think I’m dramatic, you should meet them. But they’re wonderful and they love me dearly. ScienceWoman wrote a few days ago about how stressful it can be to prepare for those visits. It doesn’t make sense – they’re not going to disown me because the bathrooms aren’t spotless – but I want them to know I’m doing well, taking care of myself, my dog and my house. And with the constant work lately, I haven’t mowed or weeded or trimmed. The car needs cleaning. The house wasn’t filthy, but it required some attention. I decided to tackle the mowing first and considered my situation simultaneously.

Then I thought about my family, picturing that particular ball lying on the ground, perhaps tucked in a corner with a bit of dust on it. I send short email to Mom at night to let her know I’m in for the night and OK. I call on the weekends, mustering energy to not sound depressed or worried or under stress. I listen to stories about people at work, the Little One, what Brother did wrong and what stupid thing Brother’s wife said. And it’s fine – I love them and I can come up with patience and happy stories of my own so they don’t worry. My parents are smart people though – they know they’re being kept at a distance. Make comments about how very long it’s been since I’ve been home. How I don’t call as often as I once did.

Friends are similar story – a once pretty ball that typically flutters through the air but now is bouncing on the ground a bit. I haven’t returned some phone calls – first because I really was out of energy and depressed, then because I was frantic to catch up with work. I’ve been busy lately – trying to pick up everything I let slide while mentally preparing (read: watching TNT and sleeping) for my talk. So there's been less contact there than is good. My friends happen to be quite good at giving me space too - so there's no overt pressure or bad feelings. But I feel guitly nonetheless. They certainly deserve more than they're getting.

But picking up projects at the office was working! I have a tendency to focus completely when I feel I’m making progress. Relationship’s going well? I’m all in – I want to dote on the poor guy because I’m just so happy with him. My family’s bringing me joy? Or perhaps some friends make me giggle nearly constantly? I’m free with my time – visits, phone calls, emails, care packages. But work is likely the most tempting. When I feel like I’m building excellent collaborative relationships, reading the right literature, getting data that makes sense, putting skills to use while gaining new ones… It’s so tempting to just ignore most other things – including housework, yardwork, giving the puppy a much needed but dreaded bath – and put in time at the office, spend the commute thinking through problems, then returning to the laptop to pull more data together. Authorships, for me, have been hard to come by. So I grasp at opportunities eagerly, rejoice when I make progress and despair when I feel those precious papers slipping away.

So now I’m trying to pick up those balls – the histograms, the paper that needs revising, and the one that needs submitting. It’s not a big deal – minor setbacks at best. It’ll either work or it won’t, and the right thing to do is appreciate the victories. I smiled over your congratulations in the comments – if there’s anything that’s overwhelmingly positive for me lately, it’s probably you guys. So when I’m down on the ground, reaching for these work opportunities that somehow got dropped – some my fault, others not so much – I’m looking up, wanting to see something spinning elegantly through the air. Floating freely because it’s good.

I finished my lawn in 45 minutes – it normally takes me 2 hours. I almost collapsed upon coming inside, eyes stinging from sweat, clothes drenched. I realized that in that moment, all I wanted was cold water. A drink and shower. So I did that, came back to the living room, and made some progress on my poor histograms. Sometimes you just have to crawl around and figure out how to pick up the ball you dropped (or was knocked out of your hand as the case may be). My family situation will be fine – Mom and I will laugh, Daddy will fix my roof, and we’ll eat and talk and spend time together. My friends are amazing – the email this afternoon and a phone call last night reminded me of that. Work is … work. There will be good days and bad days, and I’ll be thrilled with the former and crushed by the latter. That’s just me, I fear.

In the midst of all this though, realizing I still need to pick up some clutter and clean tonight, I realized that I’m smarter than I give myself credit for. The ball that’s in the air – happy and bright and pretty – happens to be right here. The blog pleases me – I like writing it, I love reading others, and I treasure the comments. It provides a pretty consistent spot of loveliness. I feel comfortable here, think through situations a bit better, am offered some insight that wouldn’t have otherwise been gained. I say this often because I think of it often – I’m glad you’re here, whether you comment or not. Thinking about people who might read this motivates me to write it. And, some days more than others, I’m quite grateful that I do.

I'm picking up the balls - it's the only way to get the suckers back in the air. But I appreciate having you guys fluttering around up there. It made me happy this evening.

Monday, June 19, 2006

So, so close

It all falls apart. I knew what I was talking about when I despaired over adapting to a given instant in an environment defined by constant change.

Things have been good lately. One paper got accepted (the third one from that post)! Yay for supportive reviewers with constructive criticism! And for finally learning to stop speculating and just report what I know! The reviewers understood what I wanted to say and offered some lovely suggestions.

The other paper is almost revised. After months of effort, I’m finally changing small phrases rather than addressing major structural issues. It’s good! And we’re aiming for a much higher impact factor journal than I originally planned!

And the histograms were almost complete! I had a significant effect and a strong trend for my 2 groups. My presentation was lovely! I had collected literature to support my findings!

I was pleased – feeling professionally competent and headed toward lofty goals.

There could be a huge confound within my patient population. This fact came up in the middle of showing my pretty slides. My histograms could show this super-cool trend or just the confounding effect. Nothing to do about it – my methodology is good, and the patients are either appropriately distributed or they aren’t. But my precious authorship is in grave danger if my lovely trends disappear.

Which made me nervous about the paper I’m revising. It’s as good as it’s going to get. The work is done. We’re saying exactly what happened. If it can’t get published as is, it’s not going to work at all. There’s quite simply nothing more to fix. It’s no longer a neat project presented in a flawed manner. And I hate to throw it away – it was such a major part of my thesis work. And much of my planned work rests on the basic concepts I want to present. If it's garbage, that's quite bad.

The paper that got accepted? With easy revisions? Some of the final data got lost in the move. It's exciting to finally find a journal and to have strong ideas for improvement. But revising a paper that's nearing age 2? Stuff got misplaced! I’m still looking, but I may be recreating some major figures. That’s fine – not a total loss, obviously. But as projects officially begin, it’s going to create a time crunch that I can’t get too excited over.

So I was down. I know it happens – we all have bad days. I even realize that, for me, a small glitch gets blown out of proportion and colors many other areas of life. Pouting through my drive home is made worse by remembering the sunny optimism of the commute to work.

I’ll be fine. I’m just preoccupied and trying to work tonight. Tomorrow will be better. And if not, eventually I’ll adjust to disappointment, right?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Puppies and polar bears.

I was home several months ago, and exited a restaurant. I was holding the Little One, Dad was getting his coat and Mom had preceded me out the door into a small foyer. She gave some sort of exclamation upon seeing a woman she knew from work. After greeting each other, and asking after her friend’s new retirement lifestyle, she introduced the Little One.

I waited patiently, then smiled. I don’t rate an introduction of late. “I’m Katie.”

“The writer?!” My face fell at this. I know I’m far under my niece in order of importance, but who would call me a writer? I looked over at Mom and she shook her head, confused.

“Katie does [generic name of my field].” She stated proudly. I’ve told her this is an appropriate statement to describe my work and she’s appropriately memorized it.

“Who’s the writer?” I asked her. There are none in my family, so I didn’t think her friend was confusing me with a cousin or Brother. She made a face and shrugged.

“You are!” Said friend commented. “With the email from your dog!”

“Good Lord.” I said under my breath as I ducked my face to hide my blush. I peeked up at Mom. “You showed that to people?!”

“Oh.” Mom said with a smile she quickly tried to hide. “I might have forwarded it to a couple people.”

“It was adorable!” Her friend said, and turned to another woman. “Remember that email I sent you? When her dog was playing in the snow?! It was written from the dog's perspective!”

“Yes! Have you written any more?” The friend's friend asked, now excited as well.

I stammered a bit in embarrassment. “I, um, finished grad school. Got a job at [current university]. I do science, actually. I’m not a writer.”

“She does [generic name of my field].” Mom piped in helpfully once more. It’s pretty much all she remembers when it comes to my job.

“But the dog emails! They were just so cute!”

“Well, thank you. Really. But I don’t write so much anymore.” Then I frowned, thinking of the blog. I do write quite a lot. But serious journaling, I comforted myself. Nothing like dialogue from my puppy to her grandmother when she first saw snow.

Important topics.

Like polar bears.

The comments were, as always, good on this post. I won’t go into more detail here, but if you can add to the discussion, please feel free. I’m still thinking through what I want to do in my situation, and you guys, for whatever reason, are exceptionally kind when it comes to my examples. I appreciate your thoughts so far and will continue to add my own.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Let's say I'm a polar bear.

Note: I'm going to talk about some overly cute example and it's going to take some time. If you're in the mood for something a bit more interesting and well-written, try Ceresina. She mentions me! Oh, and I was right about her being wise.

I watched a polar bear show today. For those of you not lucky enough to work from home some days, air conditioner on, blinds closed against the searing sunlight, working on research and watching television, I’ll provide a summary.

A hunter killed a mommy polar bear and one of her cubs. The other cub (apparently they're born in pairs) survived and was rescued by law enforcement then sent to the Toronto zoo. Apparently the bears are quite vicious, so the cub couldn’t be introduced to their adult population. He was therefore kept alone, with only his caretakers for company, until he could be transferred to a more suitable location.

I love animals. Not even in the reasonable, scientific way. More in the Look at you! You cute little bundle of cuddles! sort of way. Polar bears – even as adults as they swim around in their pools – are adorable. So when presented with a baby, even on TV, I cooed and closed the laptop so I could give the little guy my full attention. He played in the snow, ate his food, took treats from a zoo employee through his fence. He made noise, splashed in his shallow pool and pounced on his favorite blue bucket. I loved him very much. As did those zoo folks.

It wasn’t easy. He was lonely, and while the people who cared for him were able to offer some company, it wasn’t wise for them to get overly attached. He stopped crying after only a couple of days upon arrival, but would wait at the gate in the morning for his people to arrive. So perhaps life wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly OK. He gained weight, got bigger – did what baby polar bears are to do, I guess.

At some point, it was decided that little (well, he was pretty big by then) Inukshuk would join 2 female bears at the St-Félicien's Wild Zoo. He entered his transport cage quite easily and two of his Toronto people went with him to his new home. He ran over to the Toronto employee when she called him, and I sobbed when she said good-bye. She commented while walking away - something about how this was best for him. How he’d be happy and forget all about her in his amazing new home.

After quarantine, where he met his new friends through a fence, they decided the bears were ready for their gorgeous new living area. The woman in charge said that Inukshuk would be the first one out – the females would be slower to explore when their cages were opened. Of course, the ladies emerged immediately, wandered around, played in the pool. Inukshuk took a long time, tentatively poking out his head before leaving his safe little enclosure for the open space full of snow and rocks. Always one to cheer for the slower or more scared creatures, I watched nervously.

As he wandered out, the girls came to see him. And they were mean. I called them nasty names through gritted teeth while I narrowed my eyes threateningly at the screen. Awful girl bears! He eventually started to growl and swipe at them with his bigger paws. The zoo employees watched from above the pen and reassured the viewers that he was bigger than the females and would be fine. He didn’t appear to know that he was a polar bear, but he’d learn. It would all be OK.

The last challenge, the TV informed me, would be this steep slope up to the pool. The ladies – true to their evil form – were splashing around, taunting poor, dear Inukshuk as he’d start to climb, then retreat, finally peeking over the top of the snow and watching his new roommates play. When he reached the edge of the water, they tried to guard it (little hussies!) but he eventually dove in.

And couldn’t swim. His little splashing pool in Toronto hadn’t taught him to use his legs, to relax and let his blubber float him along safely while he paddled his big white limbs. He flailed about with his arms though and eventually made his way back to the side of the pool. One of the zoo people said that he learned to hold on to the edge with one paw – just to be safe – until he figured out the swimming thing. So there was a sweet ending – the website informs me they’re all still around so I assume the three bears are getting along, playing and swimming, doing bear activities. Lovely.

I’ve been considering a situation that I probably shouldn’t discuss online. So I’ll see if I can talk around it and come up with something coherent.

I struggled in grad school. Got depressed. Experienced test anxiety for the first time in my life. Seriously considered leaving (more than once). But I made it. It was tough – I cried. But there were enough people who came to feed me treats through a fence. So I splashed in my little pool for a while, then had someone who said I should try something a little deeper. Then added colder water. Then threw in some irritable bears who didn’t immediately like me.

But it was all slow. My zookeepers got to know me and nudged more than pushed. I’m horrified by the idea of disappointing anyone, so the nudges were more than adequate. If someone told me I had to make my way across an icy pond, I was heading out there. If I sank, I knew I could call for help and be unceremoniously yanked out. I trusted my people. I still do.

I know of someone who has been struggling, and due to my own experiences, have offered encouragement and hope. She’s recruited a network of zookeepers, has been offered many chances at the same pool depth, has been encouraged then nudged then pushed. Nothing’s working. She just can’t seem to figure out how to paddle her legs. And instead of hanging on to the edge, floating around, getting scared by sinking a little bit then finding out that, oh, look, I can swim after all!, she scampers away from the pool. She finds some otters to talk with – and the otters are lovely, I’m sure – but they’re not polar bears. Then waits for the zookeepers to bring her food, shaking her head over returning to try at the pool.

At some point, if an animal is miserable in its new environment – can’t adjust, figure life out, make some attempt at an effective existence, a responsible zookeeper would, I think, remove that animal. The polar bear would have to go somewhere else if he can’t interact with the other bears very well, do normal bear activities, make appropriate progress. The kind action, I think, might be to take the bear by the paw and explain that he’s an excellent animal. But perhaps he’s not cut out to be a polar bear. Could just be temperament. Might be background – maybe he spent so long in his splashing pool that he just can’t make sense of deeper water. Perhaps, if given the choice, he’d make a better horse. Or giraffe. Or elephant. Something that didn’t have to swim in such deep, cold water.

I don’t know. It pains me to say – especially in this case, because I like the person in question a great deal and find her to be quite talented – but perhaps being a polar bear isn’t for everyone. Even those who initially thought it seemed like a lovely plan. It strikes me as quite unfortunate that there might be some shame - if only imagined - for her in saying that the cold depths just aren't for her. And sometimes, even as I paddle my way across the pool, I wonder if I want to continue to be a polar bear myself.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The more things change

“Mom!” I said insistently from my perch in the passenger seat. I think I was in 6th grade – 7th perhaps. And my dear mother had said something so horrible – so unimaginable – that I was compelled to argue with the utmost passion.

“They will never break up! They’ll always be popular! You don’t understand at all.” I finished by shaking my head sadly at her inability to comprehend the culture of our society.

She laughed easily and patted my arm. “Princess, nothing stays the same for too long.” Watching me roll my eyes, she shook her head. “OK, fine.” She continued. “You believe whatever you want, and we’ll talk about it later. We’ll see who’s right.”

To this day, she will raise the pitch of her voice a little bit and tease. “They’ll always be popular!” She mocks, and while I try for indignant, I end up being more amused. We giggle together. That’s actually one thing that’s stayed relatively constant over the years.

As the heat continues and the folks at work tell me it will only grow worse (How?! I ask. I already avoid going outside between 8AM-7PM! What more does this region want from me?!), I find myself walking to meetings through the miserable temperatures then pausing when I enter buildings. I’m pink from the heat, and sweating a bit – neither of which is part of the professional persona I wish to project. So I find a spot out of the way and just stand for a moment – get a drink, find a restroom to freshen my lip gloss and dab at my forehead. I’ve developed the habit of irritably informing my body it should “adjust already!” Cool down, level out, return to its normal color. It’s a very rare room where I can’t acclimate to the temperature, but those moments before the shift into comfort occurs are unpleasant. I feel overly warm, and out of place among the comfortable people who have been in this environment for longer than I.

The ability of people to adapt fascinates me. Always has. We’re capable of dealing with great pain and intense joy, yet somehow are able to fit in a routine. Go to work. Shop for groceries. Walk the dog. Talk to friends. Write a blog. There’s some sense of normalcy – a feeling that this is how life is going to be for the next little while. So I adjust. Wake up and know that I need to head out the front door with the dog pretty quickly or I’ll lose the motivation to wander the neighborhood. I should drink coffee soon after waking or the temptation to head back to bed becomes overwhelming. The chances of making it to the office diminish rapidly if I haven’t left by 9:30. If I don’t get some idea for dinner during the day, I might not eat. Likewise, if an idea for a post doesn’t happen, I’m likely to write garbage.

Those general rules – they help me understand myself. Once I know that mornings determine how the remainder of my day will play out, I’m careful with how I spent the first 2 hours I’m awake. I think that if I took a break from blogging, I wouldn’t come back. So I try to write every day. I believe that I – in some sense – get what I deserve. That if I’m predominantly kind and honest, good things will happen. So I bite back irritation, smile and engage in conversation when I’d rather be left alone, offer to help on projects where assistance is needed.

So why the initial story with Mom in the car? Because I think I’m spending too much time trying to adapt to a given instant in a constantly changing environment. Nothing stays the same for too long - Mom was right. My life has been spent in the academic world, and the nature of that world – at my level, anyway – is that people come and go. Move around, learning at each stop, then picking up to go meet new people who do your types of projects differently. So becoming too comfortable dealing with one particular collaborator isn’t overly efficient. I try to generalize concepts – understand that dealing with Dr. X teaches me to be more patient, while dealings with Dr. Y give me a new understanding of how to react to someone who’s overwhelmingly condescending and mean.

I think there’s likely a balance – though I’m never good at finding it – between becoming comfortable and effective in my surroundings, yet open to continued change. Letting people and situations evolve and giving myself the time to stand in the corner and acclimate to the changes. Instead I fight it – refuse to accept it until it’s clear there’s no alternative, then struggle to make it fit in my mind.

That’s not very clear, is it? This is why I talk to you in examples – it makes more sense. OK. This blog. I started out alone, which was good, and people started reading about the time I was getting antsy for them to do so. That was really nice. What else is good? The new readers – I love having new people comment, finding their blogs. My link list is relatively large, so perhaps I should introduce some of my new favorites in case you haven’t all met each other. The Repressed Librarian is newest, I think. With her pretty pictures and lovely template (I’m slightly jealous, yes. It took me long enough to just change my header picture – I can’t imagine doing the whole page.) Propter Doc (Her job is harder than mine by far, though I think she complains much less than I do. Probably a lesson there, right?) is obviously brilliant and though she's big on tea while I survive on coffee, I think we could still be friends. I love JustMe. Taking on too much work, having crushes and getting hurt, talking about church – she sometimes reminds me (only in good ways) of myself. Apparently is also wonderful – I laugh a lot when I read her. After all, she is hilarious. Ceresina strikes me as wise for some reason, perhaps because she has knowledge on my 'fear of teaching' situation which I don't yet know. DRD, who's been around almost as long as I have, though I didn't find her right away, wrote about a similar struggle between wanting to make new friends and knowing you'll lose them.

So that’s wonderful – I love that new people (to me, not necessarily to blogging) read! But I find myself reading old posts – old comments – and missing people who used to be here. The interesting part about blogs is that there’s absolutely no obligation to keep reading. I’ve stopped reading a few sites – sometimes I just got too busy and had to cut some out. Other times I’ve found myself vaguely upset and decided it wasn’t worth the effort. So I understand that the identity and number of readers changes – sometimes due to my content, other times having nothing to do with me at all. It’s hard to tell. It is something I think about – especially as I’ve reached the point where I’ve been here for a little while now. ScienceWoman – my very first commenter – took a break, and I missed her. I wasn’t aware until Monday that phd me read me anymore, though I keep up with her. Charlie and I email, and I think he’s wonderful beyond adequate description, but site stats don’t lie. He reads less than he once did. Dryden – charming, brilliant, and author of some incredible comments on past posts – is taking a break. Veronica and I got to be friends, which was amazing, but have lately lost touch.

Things change.

So. I guess I’m not so upset about the post yesterday and those that are certain to mimic it in the future. This site – for as long as you want to read it – isn’t likely to change a whole lot. I’m a creature of habit – I write posts in the evening for the most part. I talk about work and like my job, though I often feel inadequate. I love my family a great deal, though I don’t see them nearly as much as I used to. I wish I was with someone, but being single is going to be a constant for quite some time, I fear. (Though I hope not forever. Please, please, please not forever.) I’ll likely never figure out my relationship with God completely, though I hope to make some progress. My friends are fantastic, but they're all far away. I sigh and try to elicit sympathy then attempt some hopeful conclusion. Pretty much every day.

But I’m here – clinging to happy times and trying to figure out how to make them last longer. Having trouble getting motivated because I’ve been depressed and developed a mild habit of spending the majority of my time alone lately. Getting too attached to people and routines, though I know that at some point everything shifts a bit. It’s better, I think, to be slightly hurt when I lose someone than to not care at all. Plus, new people show up when I need them. Online and off.

Oh, and to end this on a lighter note, and to convince most of you to avoid me like the plague? The “They” I started with? New Kids on the Block. I’m shamefully serious (and now pretty embarrassed). Poor Mom deserves some kind of award for dealing with me.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


I've started three posts. They are all quite terrible. To the point where I get 3 paragraphs down, and make a face at the screen because I don't even care and it's my lame story! So, no. Not publishing any of it.

In the absence of even a mildly entertaining whine, I don't really know what to say. My day was not so interesting. In fact, there wasn't a single moment that even reminded me of a fascinating event in my past.

Just more histograms. Retrospective studies - especially when you're just looking for "something interesting" can be a tremendous amount of work. Everyone has ideas and while I think I'm only trying the most reasonable ones, I feel a bit like I'm running in circles. Which - if you've ever run in circles, you'll know - keeps me quite busy, but it's really boring. Tiny changes to the code, looking at different sections of the data, color-coding results and graphs so I'm sure I understand each step before moving on to the next idea. It's more or less mindless work at this point, but I'm very focused to avoid silly mistakes.

So, seven months ago today I decided I had some things to say. Found myself running in a different circle - leaving work too early, driving home to spend time alone, watching television, feeling isolated and sad. I've learned a lot from some of you - feel great affection for leaving comments (I still get nervous when commenting elsewhere, so it's a big deal when you say something to me), smile over certain cities that have become familiar listings on site statistics. I've read your blogs for longer than I've written this one and I'm always impressed with how genuine and brave you seem. To put feelings and events out there and hope people can understand and accept what you're trying to say.

Some problems are constant here - I wonder if they're just part of being me. But I've improved some areas - started to see myself a bit more clearly, made a couple of friends, read a lot of good stuff from those folks in my list of links. I mention it a lot, but it's a significant comfort to know you're out there. That the world contains people who listen and are much more likely to leave kind comments or say nothing than they are to inflict pain or anger on someone. It makes me more careful of what I say, of the attention I give people. So I'm grateful, as always, and tired, as I often am.

Not all that different than usual, yes? Just no story today.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Torn shingles

There’s a shingle in my gutter. We had a bad storm a few weeks ago – thunder, lightning, strong winds. After it was over, I headed to the attic to see if I could find any leaks. My house is just over 10 years old, and while I adore it, the roof is aging. Peering out the front window that looks over the lake, I noticed that three shingles had torn and fallen down toward the gutter. Sighing over how very unfortunate this was, I waited until the rain stopped completely and headed out to inspect the rest of my roof.

It was fine – it’s just those 3 tiny places over my garage. I don’t know a lot about roofing, but my guess is that I could drag out a ladder, examine how the rest of the shingles are attached, then use the extra ones neatly stacked in my garage to repair the damaged spots. It’s rare in life to be able to see exactly what’s wrong (oh, yes, this is an analogy), so it strikes me as rather foolish to ignore the obvious.

Yet I haven’t seriously considered climbing up there a single time. I don’t like heights, first of all. I get a little dizzy and shaky, and who needs to deal with that? Then there’s the fact that I don’t know anything about roofing – what if I mess it up? Better to wait until my parents visit in a couple weeks or to call a professional who can handle such tasks. There’s this typical distance between what I think I could do – should be able to do – and what I’m comfortable trying. I’m honestly not so worried about personal safety – I doubt I’d fall off the roof, and it’s not even all that high. I’m more worried that I’d stumble and be embarrassed if someone saw me. That I’d get up there and break something, making a bad situation even worse. Fall through the roof, get bit by a bug, attacked by a bird – something stupid like that.

The worst part isn’t that my house is sort of falling apart a little bit. It’s that I see it. When I sit in my favorite spot to use the laptop (Does anyone else find themselves in the exact same position even though a wireless network and laptop would allow you to sit anywhere at all?), I look out and see that shingle hanging sadly in the gutter. It irritates me – something’s wrong, and I don’t want to deal with it. But I’m reminded more often than I’d like – find myself scowling out the window, knowing some action is in order.

The damn shingle can apply to any number of areas in my life right now. Is work going well? Nope – shingles are definitely missing and though water isn’t coming through the roof, I fear that during a particularly bad storm, my professional life could end up drowning. When I was so miserable these past weeks, I thought I would do something about it. Drag out the ladder, ignore the fear of embarrassment, and figure out how to nail on some shingles. But now that the talk is over and the pain has eased? Eh. I’ll just do what I do and wait until the next time I’m nearly nonfunctional again.

Then I think about being alone, brought about lately by some posts by the lovely phd me. Not that a reminder was necessary, but shingles are gone there too. Little spots of damage, perhaps. I sometimes forget about them completely, think about how lovely it is to always decide what’s on television, to listen to Paradise Lost on my commutes (I’m trying to be intellectual and cool) then giggling hysterically over the way the narrator says “evil” (I’m neither cool nor intellectual, I fear) To work all evening when the motivation is there. I rarely cook 2 nights in a row, and can live on leftovers for nearly a week. I sleep when I want. Put every little item in this house exactly where I believe it should go. Being single? Not all bad.

But sometimes I get glimpses of those torn shingles. Wish there was someone other than the dog to greet upon arriving home. To have listen to the "evil" pronounced “Eve-L” on my iPod because it’s ever so delightful. (Maybe I could also ask him what’s going on with Milton’s work because between the giggling and having to yell at other drivers (They need to be corrected when they make mistakes! It's how you learn!), I may be missing some major points.) I’d like to care about someone else. To ask about his day and know he cared about mine. See movies. Try to make him laugh. Have him soothe when I’m irritated over something small.

I’d rather ignore the bad spots. I tell myself that there are wonderful people who are still looking for someone special. But I wonder if there’s something in me that means I don’t get to have that. Perhaps those shingles are staying torn. Maybe that’s OK. But what if 10 years from now, I'm looking up at a ceiling that's showing some water damage? What if I deeply regret not trying harder? For not settling for pretty good instead of continuing to wait for incredibly wonderful? But is that like putting up duct tape rather than actual roofing material? So it would still be wrong, just patched in a way that would bother me as much as the original damage?

I don’t think being involved with someone – married, even – correlates to a perfect roof. That everything is just magically repaired and lovely. I realize there will still be bad days, insecurities, fears over being inadequate. I think the major sticking point for me is that I’m doing little to fix either problem – professional or personal. I do some work, try to learn a few things. I write my blog, safely tucked in my living room, choosing words to explain exactly where the shingle is torn and precisely where it rests on the gutter. How it makes me feel to view the shingle. How it reminds me of this other story when I worry over it. I think that's good for me, actually. But at some point, those spots have to be fixed. Since I bought the house, it’s my responsibility to get that done – whether I want to crawl up there myself or call someone to do it for me. Something should happen – the waiting only works for so long, right? I can’t come up with a good reason that I won’t make progress.

Therapy? Ew. I tried that, I whine. It just brought up problems of which I wasn’t aware! In addition to the garbage I already worried over. I couldn’t take it. Dating? Ew again. Not that I don’t enjoy it, but it’s stressful. And I’m out of practice – it’s been quite some time since I’ve been asked out. Almost a year since my last relationship which itself lasted a year. I knew him – didn’t have to worry over what impression I made. Plus, what if I do meet someone and then need to deal with the whole "stay or go?" question in another year or two? It sounds too hard.

So the shingle just hangs there – reminding me that something’s wrong. Minor, perhaps, but wrong. And I’m not doing anything to fix it – just passing by it in the morning when I take Chienne for a walk. Then sighing over it at night when I get home from work, telling myself that it’s too late to call someone today, too hot to get up there myself right now and it’ll be dark soon regardless. Excuses - because for some reason, I’m not ready to move forward.

So I’ll keep writing about the shingle, and hope that someday I can pull myself together enough to pull it down and fix the spot where it came loose.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The talk? It's over.

I have this shirt. It’s pale blue, button down, but meant to be worn untucked, ¾ sleeves with pretty cuffs. This shirt is professional, but in a casual way. It’s perfect for talks that I give, actually. I don’t joke – don’t screw around at all – but I talk like I write. Friendly and easy – I’ll tell you what I think, and you can take it or leave it. I don’t speak with extreme arrogance – I go with casual confidence that can gracefully accept correction if needed. I do this best in my blue shirt.

I gained some weight - without my permission - when I arrived here. Was stressed and alone and quite fond of the red velvet cake, among other southern food not readily available up north. I had to put away my blue shirt because it started to pull funny across the chest. It wasn't awful - just a bit off so that my easy professionalism was now marred by tugging to make sure the material didn't pucker strangely. So I was nervously getting ready that morning, going over slide transitions in my mind, considering which parts of the talk to remove, and which to leave alone, and I wandered into my closet. (It's huge, my closet, so wander is actually appropriate.) I looked longingly at my blue shirt, thinking it would be so nice to give this dreaded seminar wearing it. With gray pants. Black pumps. Hair down and slightly curled. So I put it on, and preened when I saw that it no longer puckered. It fit well - I looked quite nice.

Armed with my ideal talk outfit, I arrived at work to take out yet another slide (this talk shrank significantly over the last 12 hours) and walked down the hall to ask a question on my histograms. I made a face at one of the other post-docs in my group and she smiled back. "You look very nice." She whispered as I moved past her, and I smiled in thanks.

Heading into my boss's office, I greeted his secretary. After asking how I was, she said I looked confident and calm, and I rolled my eyes, telling her it was all fake.

"You look great. I like that shirt."

That earned her a grin. "I like it too. I wasn't able to fit into it before."

"I knew you were getting skinny!" That's southern for you, I thought. I'm nowhere near thin - honestly - but I'm better now than I was. I took a form she had for me and returned to my desk.

“Doing OK?” The woman who shares my office looked up at me and smiled. “You look nice. Very professional.” She offered.

“It’s the shirt. And I'm scared.”

“Don’t be nervous. You’ll do fine.”

“I know.” I sighed irritably – at myself more than her. “It’s that I haven’t done anything this year!” I stated firmly. “I mean, there was the grant and all the starting paperwork, meetings, finishing up a couple papers.” I frowned, trying to decide why I didn’t feel better about myself - I did accomplish something. “But I haven’t taken much data at all – haven’t perfected code or read as much as I could have or put in enough hours on a consistent level. And this seminar – the time I should review my work over this year – is just focused on the fact that there’s nothing to say. So I’ll stand in front of people I like and respect and say … what? 'Here’s more stuff I did in grad school, then there’s some other stuff I happen to know, and here’s a slight variation of what I discussed about a year ago when I interviewed.' Ick.”

I looked at her expectantly – pleased to have articulated why I was so bothered by this particular talk. She looked up, obviously distracted. “I’m sorry. What?”

I shook my head and returned to my laptop. Whispered my way through the talk for one last bit of practice. This is why I write the blog, I thought. Because I can’t find people here who seem to get me. They pat me on the head, sure, and I appreciate it. But nobody understands how badly I feel that it’s not going that well. How sad I am to be so isolated and unproductive. How I have no idea where I’m going or why I’m doing this – what I even want.

Boss came and went over some comments on my histograms, leaving with a customary “Good work!” that I find strangely soothing.

“I should have asked sooner.” He said, turning to look back at me as he stopped his exit from my office. “Is there anything I can do to help with the talk?”

“Can you get me out of it?” I asked sweetly, and he laughed while he shook his head.

“You’ll do fine.” He said, and turned away. He paused to glance over his shoulder, and I blinked at him in surprise when he softly said, “Katie, you’re much harder on yourself than we ever would be.”

Organizer of Seminars arrived shortly after and asked a couple logistical questions about the talk. Microphones, laptop hook-ups, laser pointers and the like. We joked and laughed and I confessed that I was nervous.

“Everyone is. You’ll be fine. You look very nice.” And after confirming the time we’d meet in the gigantic lecture hall (no, it’s not all that big), he too left me alone with my slides. I removed a couple more – if they wanted short, I could accommodate them.

I wrote an email, dealt with my histograms a bit more, then walked to the seminar building. Organizer wasn’t there yet, though the audience had started to arrive. Good deal, I thought, feeling just a bit shaky. I hate to watch people file in, sit down, glance at me. It ruins my general “avoid notice at all costs” plan. Even the pretty blue shirt can't help me with that.

I walked away from the podium and spoke with another post-doc. Then one of my favorite faculty members arrived and we talked for a couple minutes. He and Boss helpfully provided distracting conversation until Organizer arrived. Before I walked to meet him, I smiled tightly at my boss.

“You look good.” Boss offered, and before I could tell him it was the shirt, he continued. “Calm, professional, confident. You’ll do great.”

I walked to the podium, started to speak, reminded myself not to stare at the screen of my laptop. Made eye contact as I should. Pointed sparingly with the laser. I don’t remember much else. I talked insanely fast – my dominant thought being that I wanted this to be over. But I was engrossed in the material and time passed quickly – my 40 minute presentation was over in less than 30, and I relaxed as questions began.

Walking back with Boss et al., I smiled when I remembered how he had waited while several students approached me with individual questions or offers to help with my projects as they came together. As the last of the audience filed out, he walked over and placed an arm around my shoulder, squeezing reassuringly when I looked up and asked if I’d been OK.

“Wonderful.” He’d said. “It’s too bad you get so nervous about these. You do a beautiful job.”

“You really should teach.” One of the other post-docs said as we made our way back to our offices. “You’re confident, but willing to be interrupted.”

I shook my head over the idea of teaching, and turned to look at Boss when he commented on my ease with questions.

“It’s because I don’t mind being wrong. Admitting ignorance. I like learning more than teaching. Plus, I have no experience in front of a room full of students, and you’d have to force me through the door for me to get any practice. It’s just … terrifying.”

Luckily, we reached the point where I headed right to my office and they left to theirs. Teaching – not my forte. Feeling the familiar weight of guilt over that fact, I let sweet relief ease past it. I opened the routing envelope placed on my desk, and smiled when I saw the IRB-approved consent forms for one of my projects. Nodded when I received an email informing me that the other approval should come this week. It looks like I’m going to get started now – perhaps next year there will be much more to talk about.

Time will tell. But I have hope. And a shirt I like a lot.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Another weekend, another template change

It's strange how I'm mildly bothered when I don't post anything. I know I wonder about people when they take breaks from writing, so I flatter myself that at least someone might think fleetingly of me.

First, my talk went fine. I've started writing a post describing the event, but I can't get it to sound right. Something to eagerly anticipate, I'm sure.

I am, however, bored enough to start playing with my header image again. As always, I love the new look and keep going back to compliment my blog on how very pretty it is. The pictures? Random - I just like the way they look. But as I've decided before, there's no strong theme to this site in general, so the random nature of the header is strangely appropriate. I'm also back to the blue/gray color scheme, which I like. The extra text came back per JustMe's comment on my first attempt at a new look. It's a little different than what I started with, but the sentiment is the same.

I always welcome comments on these changes, especially from those of you not using Firefox. If I'm ugly somewhere, I can try to fix it if you let me know. I'll probably fail, but I can promise to make an attempt.

In terms of what's up today? If you read the end of this post, you'll find my life isn't all that different now than it was in February. I still like you guys a lot - I'd definitely buy all of you dinner and talk about how cool you are. I also napped excessively today - not because I'm sick, just because I could, I guess. Plus, it's miserably hot outside, so I'm basically hibernating until it cools down.

Just in case you were wondering.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The histogram post

I mentioned that I was working on some histograms – basically looking for anything that might be abnormal so that it can be a small section in an otherwise large paper. There are a group of people who are doing some undeniably important and impressive work at my current institution. A lovely way to save what has otherwise been a very slow year would be to work my way in with some of their projects.

But I got this. A mess. Jumbled, bi-modal garbage. No idea what’s happening within those 4 groups, so I kept trying new methods. New normalization schemes. But I just kept getting crap. Which is frustrating when I’m working on being depressed and keeping up with TNT programming!

I had to go to the office yesterday – had a brief presentation to make at a smaller meeting, and decided to get some ideas on my histogram mess while I was speaking. So I added some slides, and went in and watched people puzzle over them.

It’s not going to work, I found myself thinking, and wondered briefly if that was coming from my being depressed or if I was just being realistic. One of the most difficult parts of being mentally off – for me – is not knowing if I’m seeing something badly or if my perception is fine and the situation is bad. Plus, I get so tired trying to figure it out that I just give up. Shuffle back home as quickly as possible so I can watch television and mindlessly run Matlab code on my histogram data.

A couple people had decent ideas though. Normalization techniques that made a bit more sense than my initial effort. Someone suggested taking a closer look at some results I may have discarded a bit too quickly. Yet another person suggested an approach I had specifically decided against using and I mustered the energy to explain why I thought that was a bad way to go. A bit more energized – and knowing I was running out of time to be involved with this manuscript, I returned home yesterday afternoon, snuggled back into pajamas and nestled on my love seat, and worked through more numbers and graphs.

After it got dark last night - probably right around this time - I loaded some numbers into Excel, closed my eyes and sighed. This was right – I had no question that the method was perfected and that if something was different between my 4 groups, I should see it. If I got a mess, there was some problem in the data that I couldn’t normalize out. Damn retrospective studies, I thought. It’s hard to go through data I didn’t collect and figure out what was different between year 1 and 4, if the groups were distributed appropriately through time, if some acquisition methodology had been better than others.

But I plotted the data, and found this.

It’s pretty. It looks as it should, and actually holds the exact result I hoped to see. I wanted that low, broad peak (in yellow) from the beginning and had – after multiple attempts and long weeks traveling, returning home, dreading this talk I’m to give tomorrow afternoon (insert shudder) – decided I wouldn’t find. I knew what I wanted that yellow peak to mean. I don’t know what that green blip is to the left of the peak, but I now have hopes of figuring it out. I wrote email this morning and explained what I knew. I received an enthusiastic response this evening from scientists with whom I hope to work closely in the future.

I’m relieved, obviously, and pleased. A bit surprised.

My point? Well, it’s the same underlying data. It’s all in how I look at it – where to focus my attention, how to normalize – if I need to normalize at all. Sometimes I can’t figure it out. I get to know the data, memorize which patients are in which groups so I don’t have to consult my lists so often as I go through long loops of guess and check to see what I might find. I had worked on this particular set of data for over a month. Just kept poking at it, creating new distributions, trying different bin sizes, looking at specific regions – some small, some large, some subjective, some automated – and came up all jumbled. I just couldn’t see it clearly.

I was a bit troubled that I went to the group meeting for help, though it was certainly appropriate. I do, after all, have a PhD and am working at a post-doc in a field very closely related to my graduate work. I should be able to figure this out, right? See the data as they should be? But I didn’t until I heard some ideas – sorted through some advice. And maybe that’s the point – I’m now at the stage of professional development where I know the right idea when I hear it. Can discard methods I think are poor, can quickly implement small changes into my existing code to fix problems I hadn’t considered in quite the right way.

The bright side is that I got through the data in about 5 hours after the meeting yesterday. All that knowledge – gained in a most frustrating way through trial and error, but obtained nonetheless – played in and allowed me to interpret data quickly, choose maximum values from the right spots, divide by the right values at the right times, average and understand where the end results came from so I could back up and do statistics after oohing over my pretty histograms in Excel.

I guess my hope is that I get to that point in life. That I can tell when I’m stuck and know which people to ask for help. Remember to be grateful that I've always had people with good intentions who are ready and able to offer their comments and questions. That I can take those thoughts and recognize which are effective for me. To note results of high quality when they occur. And to hope that the underlying data – the world in general, the people I meet, the decisions I make – really do make sense if I can just look at them in the right way.

In the meantime, the goal is to give myself a break sometimes. Perhaps when I can’t make sense of the data at large, I just need more time to consider it. Meet the people who might understand it. I can write on a blog and find great pleasure in comments and site stats and reading what some of you think on your own blogs. Perhaps, after all, this is part of figuring out how life makes sense for me – taking that jumbled mess I had in the beginning and hoping it ends up in graceful curves I’ve had pictured in my mind.