Saturday, December 30, 2006

A reindeer? Where?

Since I shall be driving home my packed-to-the-fullest car tomorrow, I owe some sort of progress report on poor, dear Blitzen. First he's the last reindeer listed in the Rudolph song, then he gets screwed over on my Christmas break. Things didn't go as planned. First, I got sick! I'm still really, really miserable and am slowly testing out cold medications to see what works. So far, I like Tylenol Cold Multi-Symptom Nighttime Formula. Otherwise, I'm striking out. This means I spend much of my day moaning about how sick I am. I'd do this whether there were people around or not, which is good since my family has started to ignore me.

Result 1. Health. So-so.
I did eat less than I could have, though there were days where it appeared the world would be ending at any moment and all the would save me was additional blubber. Cookies, stromboli, cheesy potatoes, a hamburger (yes, it had bacon too), breakfasts which were decidedly not yogurt, etc. But Blitzen did help a bit. Sometimes.

Chienne was forced to skip her walk twice. That's not bad considering actual holidays (we walked late on Christmas, I think) and my illness. Evening work outs were mentioned once. Never happened.

Result 2. Work. Reasonably good!
Project Q - abstract emailed and ready for submission as far as I'm concerned.
Project X - made progress on the busy work. Still thinking about how it all comes together. But I'm as far as I hoped I'd be.
Grant - Made Boss's specific revisions (which were few) and made progress on the general focus. It's...coming along. Really. Sort of.
Paper - A surprise addition to Blitzen's load, I finished all but 3 problems and have ideas on what I want to do when I get back to data at home.

Result 3. God. Pretty terrible, actually.
This is one area I didn't think I'd struggle and did. Only did a couple morning devotionals. Went to church for Christmas, but wasn't really moved. Prayed sparingly. I'm not sure what my deal is, but it's not particularly positive. So this is moving up the priority scale. Maybe a spiritual audiobook is in order to refocus so I can do some actual reading/praying/thinking.

Result 4. Family. Delightful!
I enjoyed them. Spent all kinds of time talking and laughing and just a bit squabbling. Mom and I saw a movie today and had lunch afterward. We also did more shopping. I watched a movie with my parents last night while working on my grant. It's been comfortable and wonderful. I'll miss them terribly when I leave, but I also think it's getting to be time to go. I remain sad that I'm so far away from them though.

I do not, however, feel any sadness at the thought of returning to a home with a bed big enough for me and Chienne without severe overcrowding. Or wireless internet from a cable modem. Or more than one route to walk in the morning. Or food that I'm actually supposed to eat rather than a continuous stream of new tasty treats. Or quiet. Getting to watch what I want on television...

Friday, December 29, 2006

Inspired by…

I couldn’t sleep last night – stuffy and sore – so I shuffled down my parents’ hallway, footsteps echoing loudly and making me strangely grateful for the lack of basement in my own home. My feet thud softly there – landing firmly, the sound absorbed. It’s louder here with the footsteps and squeaks and humming furnace.

After retrieving my laptop from the side table where it was charging, I headed back to my spot in the toy room. Unplugging the phone to attach the cord to my laptop, I waited for it to hiss and bloop as it found a connection to the outside world. After 26:04 minutes, I disconnected and headed back to bed. I tried for sleep – and eventually achieved it – but was full of thoughts in the meantime.

When reading Locks, I’m often hopeful that she’s a brilliant writer. One who can place the right words in the correct order without having actually lived through some of her post topics. Having had some experience with drunken people – ones who are often irrational and enraged – I identified with sections of her latest post. There are, for me, twin urges to flee and cling. To reason and comfort and try to avoid catastrophic ends. To face the absolute truth that someone you love can behave so profoundly badly so as to put himself as well as the public in danger. It’s infuriating and excruciating and absolutely awful.

I recall a Christmas Eve when I was young. We would go to Grandma’s house to have dinner – usually pizzas – and open presents. The four of us – Mom, Dad, Brother and I – were snuggled into the bed of Dad’s favorite truck. It’s older than I am and really quite pretty. Dad had been drinking at Grandma’s – as was his habit – and smelled of beer. Miller, though he didn’t favor it, but because that’s what Grandpa kept.

We had crossed the river and were waiting to turn onto the country road that leads to our house when someone in front of us stopped abruptly. Since oncoming traffic was nonexistent, Dad was upset that we were waiting to turn left when we should go immediately. He honked, the man in front of us made some rude gesture, and amidst Mom’s firm demands that he knock it off, Dad got out of the truck and went forward to confront the man.

I remember nothing else of that holiday. Not my age or what presents I received, what songs we sang. I vividly recall those feelings though. The terror and confusion. The worry that something bad would happen to my dad or that he’d hurt that man we didn’t know. It was Christmas. Bad things weren’t supposed to happen on Christmas. Not to me. Not because of Dad.

There were, at different points growing up, threats to move out, shouting matches, flashes of irrational rage, a plate broken when silverware was slammed into it, picking Brother up from a wedding reception when he was barely conscious, chasing him down an alley on a Sunday morning – thinking it was not unlike following a loose animal who was unable to reason or understand what was best – and experiencing those same emotions. Terrible fear and miserable shame.

My family stories are largely positive – I know that and am profoundly grateful for it. I love my parents very much and acknowledge that situations were likely far more complicated than I understood. Yet those memories are there, and that’s not OK. I wish I didn't have them. That I didn't nod in some sense of understanding when reading something so upsetting.

Always Listen to Your Pig-Puppet
I love reading Lucy, frankly. Rarely have I come across such a sweet, gentle presence. One who offers such genuine support and well wishes that I’ve never had cause to doubt her sincerity. Much like Locks, I read her with great affection and the fervent hope that the new post will indicate something positive happened. That life is going well for two women who have impressed me so much with their words.

I have a personal fascination with how people fit together. The intricacies between what makes us like others, yet so unique. How, when presented with the same circumstances, there are given trends that are reasonably reliable predictors of behavior. Yet there are more than enough surprises to keep things interesting. I’ve yet to arrive at a really good way to describe this fascination. But Lucy has one I adore.

The thought is that life is all about picking up pieces – finding friends who can understand you, your problems, your joys. Reading books that articulate feelings you can’t quite describe. Doing work that might mimic or slightly extend someone else’s. Writing papers so that others can reproduce or build upon what I’ve done. There’s this sense of participating in a collective. Being one of many, finding those like you, working toward some common good.

But then there’s being you – embracing and celebrating and frowning over qualities and quirks that make you different than all others. I think part of it is the pieces that draw you. The paragraphs of text that Lucy is compelled to save. The words that I chose when I speak or write. The frustration I feel over crappy reviews. The way I greet Chienne when I get home from work. It’s all important and perhaps there’s an element of incomprehensibility about it.

I think that’s what I love about blogs. The mixture of posts I understand completely with those that confuse me to no end.

The Ice Floe
Empathy is a strange topic for me recently. I’ve decided that applying my own personal standard is often too extreme. People tend not to react as strongly as I do to certain stimuli. In fact, I’m aware of some befuddlement over the severity of my own responses. I fell in love over the internet. I was devastated to find how very wrong I’d been. I understand – and felt ashamed – that the depth of my depression was so out of line with what I was expected to feel.

My resources were low – work, Winnie, being away from home and focused on something – one thing – that made me quite happy. I’d felt guilty about the way my last relationship ended. I was depressed to start with. Isolated and lonely. There were reasons, yes, but it comes down to the fact that it hit me unpredictably hard.

The first time I’ve felt truly OK about that – not at all ashamed or embarrassed – was in reading PPB's post. So though I very much like her writing in general, I thought that particular entry had meaning on a large scale for me.

Dora the Explorer
To end on a lighter note, I thought I’d share a conversation between myself (age 27), Mom (age 57) and Dad (age 58).

Mom: Remember that little boy Sister-in-Law used to babysit?
Me: Yes… What was his name?
Dad: George! (He calls everyone and everything George – I don’t know why. It used to be Ralph was his name of choice.)
Mom: No. Jake…Blake! Blake.
Me: Sure.
Mom: Blake liked Dora.
Me: Dora is an excellent show. A lot of stuff happens yet it’s easy to follow.
Dad: Dora’s my favorite.
Mom: Everybody made fun of Blake because he liked a little girl’s show. But it’s a good show!
Me: I agree – Dora is good TV. Poor little guy.
Mom: I’m glad there’s Diego now. So girls can like Diego and boys can like Dora if they want. There are more options.
Dad: I like Diego too. Little One likes Diego.
Me: He’s more focused on the animals. Dora just has adventures in general, but Diego is always focused on a particular animal.
Pause while we all think about Dora and Diego.
Me: You know what bugs me about Diego? Those long pauses so the kids have time to answer the questions? They’re placed in inopportune times! Like when the tree frogs were going over the waterfall? You don’t say, “Let’s count the tree frogs!” and wait for the viewers to think about how many tree frogs there are! You save the freaking tree frogs before the splatter on the rocks below the waterfall!
Dad: I don’t think kids notice that. They need the time to count.
Mom: Or! When the bear was chasing them through the blueberry patch?! They were running and running, then they stopped to ask if anyone could see a boat! It was obviously right there and the bear was getting close!
Me: I saw that one!
Dad: I don’t think kids notice that. They want to help Diego find the boat.
Mom: Then! When they got out to the lake, they stopped rowing! He said something about the water being too cold for the bear. But then the bear started swimming after them! So we had to help them row faster – row, row, row!
Me: When clearly if they’d just found the boat themselves and rowed the whole time, they would have been well ahead of the bear.
Dad: Perhaps you’re overthinking this whole episode.

The point overall? There is – in the midst of a surprisingly sad time in our section of blogland – some very good stuff to read lately. It just doesn’t happen to be here.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Sniffle, sigh...

"I'm not going to get sick." Mom bragged from the front seat as I sipped Sunny Delight and read a book to Little One - something about Dora, Boots, Valentine's Day and Rainbow Mountain. "I had a flu shot, and I'm taking antibiotics for something else! I'm so healthy!"

"A cold is a virus." I informed her nasally. "You think your body is strong enough to fight it off?"

"I do." She stated confidently. "Bring on the viruses!"

"And your body will just say 'Pow! Pow! Pow!' and battle them away." I confirmed. "While mine is asking why it's cold here and wondering what's up with all these unfamiliar virus strains. From northerners. And little people." I said, offering Little One a tissue and Life Saver as she coughed again. "My throat hurts." I whined for the millionth time.

"Drink your juice." Mom advised.

"Read!" Little One demanded.

I did both on the ride home from a brief shopping trip to Target and Yankee Candle (annual sale and clearance at the latter! And Juicy Grapefruit and Greenhouse are being retired. Sad - I'll miss them. But happy - they were cheap to buy right now.) Then I took Tylenol Cold, went back to realize it was the nighttime formula when I couldn't keep my eyes open, then napped with a surprising depth. I woke up 2 hours later feeling like I'd just fallen into bed. Bless you, Tylenol Cold Nighttime. I just took more.

I have decided to drive home on Sunday after church, which means there are several more days of no links in my posts, sporadic checking and rare responding to email, and getting achy from lying on the floor, propped on my elbows, and typing.

And I'm getting very little done. I did work on my grant a bit last night and have ideas for more I want to write and revise. Just can't find the energy. I also should be avoiding cookies to a much greater degree, but I'm sick. I deserve special treats (or so I tell myself).

The house is finally picked up and Christmas stuff has been safely stored in the basement. I've filled my trunk with presents and still have more to load. I'm enjoying my parents, though we've squabbled a bit - I get slightly more irritable when I'm sick, but the medicine really mellows me out. So it's a trade off, I guess.

The medicine is actually kicking in as I type, so I'll stop before this rambles into incoherence. It would likely go the direction of how wondrous Tylenol products with sleep aids are. Magical. Exquisite. Delightful... But only in moderation. Which means I should enjoy this relief while it lasts.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Gently curling moods

I received, in addition to a pile of presents that included a Kone vacuum, DVD player for my bedroom, pants, shirts, jewelry, the Betty Crocker cookbook, shoes (brown flats! With a floppy ribbon bow!), a Chi hairstyling device. If you’re not familiar with the concept, there’s this crazy hot little ceramic deal that pulls any curl into submission very quickly and efficiently. I love mine and used it immediately after I was finished unwrapping gifts yesterday morning. My hair, of course, then looked glorious. Sleek, shiny and ever so straight.

I woke this morning to hang out with Little One while her grandmother took a much needed nap (they’d been up since 3AM). We took down ornaments, decided which of her toys should be removed from her toy room and placed downstairs to make room for the massive quantity of new items she’d received, talked and watched Dora. When Mom woke, I scampered downstairs to take a shower. Then I returned to eat breakfast, try to conquer parts of the insane mess that was encompassed my childhood home, and, finally, to cuddle back in bed again to sleep.

I woke up about a half hour ago and when I brushed my teeth, I shook my head over my hair. Curls. Curls upon curls. I try to let it dry naturally because it tends toward frizzing otherwise. I’m careful to use products for the same reason. But when I sleep with it wet, it insists upon curling six ways to Sunday, bouncing happily to be in its natural state.

It’s genetic, I think. Little One’s head is covered with light brown curls that, if she’s like me, will darken with age. I’ve threatened to take her home with me if they don’t start using some sort of gentle product to restrain the fuzziness and consult a stylist for how to properly care for those curls. I was a mess though most of grade and high school as a result of improper hair care.

My point, I considered as I thoughtfully snacked on day old monkey bread, is that being a bit negative and melancholy might be like curling hair. It’s just where I tend when I’m not paying close enough attention. When left to my own devices, I’ll get sad. It is, however, easy to pull me from it. I’m affected by my environment to such a degree that I can spring from my dull disinterest to giggling joy in seconds. But when I return to solitude, my thoughts drift to the upsetting somehow.

An example? Well, I have several.

I’ve been thinking of what my dad said the other day. Something like, “Everyone likes Grandma more. Grandpa isn’t anybody’s favorite.”

And it’s true. Both my animals, Little One, me, Brother… we all gravitate toward Mom. She’s sunny and giving and loving. It’s easy to be around her – we laugh and bask in this gentle warmth. Dad, on the other hand, is unpredictable. You’re never sure if some mistake will invoke laughter or irritation. Chienne sometimes receives cuddles when she approaches, but is sometimes scolded for being in the way. In the absence of knowledge as to what caused the latter, she simply avoids him. He’s wonderful with Little One, but fails to help with Mom’s around. Diaper change? Find Grandma. Make a mess? Tell Grandma. Need a different toy? Grandma will get it. So why the surprise when she naturally looks for Grandma at any given opportunity?

For Mom, Brother and me, there are mildly insulting comments, constant advice and a relatively steady stream of negativity. Being one who can dish it out but not take it, he’ll lapse quickly into hurt feelings if anyone tries to correct him. That doesn’t always stop us, but it often does. So I’ve been puzzling it over in my mind – if I’m more like Mom, who is generous to the point of exhaustion, or Dad, who inadvertently pushes people away.

But there are undeniably happy times here, and I’ve done much more smiling than thoughtful frowning over the past days.

“It’s a bear!” Dad said, trying to be impressed, but failing when he opened one of my gifts. “Why does it have a remote?” Upon pressing it, the bear makes a farting noise and his face lit with delight. “Little One will love this!” And she does. Brother, Dad and Little One squabbled over the remote yesterday from a toy I bought from a catalog, all the while mourning that people in my family would truly find humor in such a device. I do enjoy the look I get from Mom upon every sound from the toy Little One has dubbed “Boofer Bear.”

“Oh, this one should be your favorite.” I said, handing one present to Dad. I gave them several presents together – a soft blanket for napping on the couch, liquid soaps for the kitchen and bathroom, and “It’s a picture of me!” I giggled and they both made the right sounds of appreciation. Mom had taken the photo when they’d visited earlier and we’d gone to see waterfalls. I don’t particularly mind pictures being taken, but I rarely frame them and offer them as gifts. I thought it would be rather funny. They, however, adore it, and it’s at the forefront of their picture collection in the corner. I should remember to tuck it in behind numerous baby pictures soon.

Little One opened toys for hours. She played with her new baby in a new stroller, bassinet, carrier set. She offered music from her new learning table. There are Little People and Dora’s backpack, several reading devices, many games, Elmo toys, Strawberry Shortcake dolls… and those are just the ones that remain in the living room after several trips to her toy room to find space for all this stuff. So I’ve played and ooohed over all her new toys. I listen to stories and am pleased to report I’m quickly gaining the skill to decipher her language.

We opened presents with my two tiny cousins last night. My bouncing Tigger gift for Little Cousin was a huge hit. She bounced and smiled with it. Her father thanked me for choosing a toy with a relatively low sound level. Other Cousin – a little boy who is absolutely adorable – did quite well too. He pounded on a tool set given by my parents until Little Cousin took his hammer. Then there was a negotiation/crying/whining session to restore order. I sat in the corner to observe, snapping pictures and looking up to see Uncle, one Cousin-in-law, Mom and Brother doing the same. It was beautiful – all the bright colors and little faces looking in wonder at their new stuff. Being distracted by someone else’s gift, then focusing on their mothers who were directing them to the next wrapped present. It was really, really lovely. And I was happy in those moments. Warm. Not at all jealous that I wasn’t on the floor with a little one of my own. Just happy that people I loved had families they loved. It worked.

I did have a brief pity party over my lack of significant other on the quiet drive home from Aunt’s. Just as I felt a little sorry for myself as I worked on my paper revisions last night. It’s like curling hair. Whining and reflection on the sad stuff might just be what I do.

The house is still a mess, though blessedly quiet for the moment. Mom and Little One are sleeping, I’m tucked under a soft blanket and eager to throw myself on the office floor and read blogs. I don’t believe we’re going anywhere today, so I’ll let my hair curl for the time being. There are worse things than having the ability to straighten it when I want something different, I guess. I’ve just been trying to remember to straighten my attitude as needed as well.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

F You, Reviewer 2

Yesterday? Blitzen washes his hands of the whole experience. My mood deteriorated so rapidly and completely that I
1. Had a dinner comprised of a half dozen Christmas cookies and didn’t even consider exercise.
2. Abandoned work on the grant or project X in favor or poring over new reviews and cursing this reviewer.
3. Didn’t start Lamott and tossed Tuesdays with Morrie aside to focus on the rage at my paper.
4. “For the love of all that’s holy, if you don’t stop making that freaking whistling noise, I’m going to have to hurt you!” was directed – at shouting level – toward my father when he was playing with a balloon/whistle device he’d made while I was trying to read/curse the comments on my paper.

But perhaps we should start at the beginning.

I woke yesterday morning after hearing Mom instruct the Little One to check on my sleeping status for the 3rd time. I’d hear tiny feet move down the hallway, step lightly into the back bedroom and look upon my closed eyes. Then she would scamper down the hallway to announce, “Still sleeping!”

On the third trip, Mom came with her. “Katie,” she said gently, “Little One would like to open a present from you. Would you like to get up? We have coffee.”

So I blinked my eyes open, having been waking up for the past 30 minutes, and rolled out of the daybed, onto the trundle that sits beside it, then contorted myself so I could leave the tiny room without stepping on luggage, clothes or other random items.

“Which present are you going to open?” I asked around a yawn as I arrived in the living room. Little One pointed at the large box wrapped in blue snowman paper. It had been moved away from the tree to the center of the floor.

“Do you know what it is?” Mom asked me, and I nodded. It was my favorite of all the gifts I’d transported home, so I was pleased it had been selected for early opening. It made it more special.

“What do you think it is?” I asked Little One.

“Toys.” She responded promptly, and observed the box once again, making no move to open it.

“Would you like me to help?” I asked, so she picked up the box, pronounced it “heavy” and set it next to me on the couch. Then we looked at it together.

“Let’s tear this end open.” I suggested.

“OK.” She replied and we gently pulled the paper from the box. After making sure every bit of paper and tape was removed, she allowed me to help her open the lid to reveal stuffed toys of Blue, Periwinkle and Magenta, two books about Blue and a box set of Dora DVDs.

I did well. She was very pleased.

“Hey, Little One,” I said as we watched the first DVD about the land of lost toys (Dora sought her teddy bear, Boots found his blanket.), “how’d you get them to let you open something early?”

She shrugged, but Mom sent Dad after a new microwave – a snazzy model in stainless steel that monitors the steam levels to adjust warming times. She didn’t know how to wrap it, Mom said, so it was just as well to open it now. I was suitably impressed and grateful and stored it carefully in my trunk.

So pleased was I – no cookies eaten and a walk taken – that I decided to check my email and read some blog entries. There’s only so much Dora I can take without some break, so a brief respite seemed in order.

When I glanced at my mailbox – work email goes somewhere different than does blog, online orders and some personal correspondence – my stomach clenched warningly when I saw a notice from the journal still reviewing my last graduate paper. Journals are – for me – the bearers of bad news for the most part. But I’d been confident about this particular paper! We’d revised it three times for this journal already and I felt that by answering every single point for the last two critiques, we were on our way to publication. I’d even bragged to Friend about what a good paper it was! I was learning to write!

I felt sick as I read the tentative acceptance stood, but that major revisions were still required. I read the general comments – unnecessarily harsh – and put it away, near tears. I walked to the living room, my current despondence even more painful in its contrast from my former cheer – and flopped on the couch.

It’s not fair! I thought. To get this far, then to start hearing the same complaints I addressed in the initial review! It’s the same comments, just offered months later! Then I swore. A lot. But all internally.

It wasn’t good.

Much as I’d like to say I refocused my energies and recovered, I didn’t. I am, however, better today. Church was lovely this morning. I sighed at the organ and the sanctuary that was resplendent in deep green wreaths and bright red bows and poinsettias. I tucked my arm though Mom’s when we sang Joy to the World. I nodded along at the message that Christmas is a time of such intense happiness and laughter, but is sometimes overshadowed by stress and tension.

Last night, I tucked myself into the corner of the couch in the darkened toy room. It’s where I currently sit, actually. But the laptop and I went over the specific comments, removed some of the harshest “I’ve told you this already! Why don’t you listen?!” statements from my general responses and made serious progress on this latest revision.

After hours of recreating figures, checking facts, deleting text I like and adding paragraphs that aren’t nearly as relevant, I went back to the initial comment sheet I received.

There were 2 initial reviewers. I liked Reviewer 1 – he was constructive and encouraging. I believe subsequent revisions were directed to him. Reviewer 2 was an asshole. He just didn’t like the paper. Now, that’s OK. There are some flaws with the study and if you ask it to be something it’s not (a validation study instead of an illustration of methodologies), you’re going to be disappointed. And he is – bitterly, cruelly disappointed.

I think Reviewer 1 was finally satisfied with the state of the paper upon its last submission, perhaps feeling that we’d jumped through enough hoops and provided adequate effort to address his concerns. I then believe Reviewer 2 got it back, probably said, “They’re going to publish this crap?!” and set about ripping it to shreds. He fell back upon his original comments – one of which (the major one) I can’t really address. We don’t have the data he wants. I can’t get it. And if that’s a deal breaker, they should have rejected from the first submission because I was clear in my initial responses that I couldn’t provide the study Reviewer 2 wanted to see. I do, however, think what we have is very worthwhile.

Once I got past that particular point, there were several areas (16, actually) where Reviewer 2 had points of varying validity. I’m taking out a section I’ve fought to keep in so far – I’m just too tired and I don’t care that much anymore. I’m changing 3 of the 6 figures, but I’m content with how they’ll look. I have several more sections to add and a couple of comments I don’t really understand, but I can address each of the specific requests. So I feel better about it.

Not good. But better.

But Reviewer 2 almost ruined Christmas, so I wrinkle my nose at him in distaste.

As for today, things are calmer. Mom and I have prepared much of the food for Christmas Eve, all of the presents are wrapped and I’m considering a nap before continuing work on my paper. I’m hoping to wrap it up (or as much as I can) today, then moving on to the grant. It’s excruciatingly frustrating, but it’s what I do.

And Blitzen can get back on track tomorrow, I think.

Since I didn't publish this earlier (napping got in the way), I can note that Christmas Eve was lovely - full of food and games and laughter. It wasn't perfect, but it was very good. I haven't attended to the revisions yet today, but I think I'll charge the laptop and do that tonight. It seems wrong somehow - that I'm going to be up late tending to a paper that appears to be on the naughty list instead of eagerly awaiting morning myself or watching a child bounce in anticipation for Santa's arrival.

But I like Christmas. I'll pout over other holidays, but I'll battle myself for joy on this one.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Shopping, eating and Blitzen - day 1

“It’s yellow.” Dad offered helpfully as I stood in Victoria’s Secret this morning. “She said if we smelled it, it’d smell like her.” Then he stepped back from the wall of lotion. He’d offered his advice and would purchase what I placed on the counter at the other side of the store.

“Amber Romance, Dad.” I picked up 3 bottles, handed them to him, squinted at the sign announcing their sale and proceeded down the wall, smelling all the way. “Baby Tylenol.” I shook my head at a pink bottle. “Way too sweet.” I frowned at a purple lotion. “What the hell is this?” I asked another vivid shade.

“Here’s another yellow.” Dad announced, still holding the three bottles and sniffing when directed.

“Vanilla Lace.” I mused, unscrewing the lid and smelling. “Like a cookie – I hate it. She’ll love it. We’ll take 2.” I held on to those – I tend toward floral or citrus fragrances while Mom likes spices – and selected a Pear Glace that I found least objectionable. I’ll ask her to wear it while I’m home.

We paid and exited the mall, both of us marveling that it wasn’t busy at all. Then again, it was just after 9AM – people were either working or enjoying a vacation day to sleep in. We don’t believe in sleeping in. I was out of bed before 7, though Mom kissed my cheek before she left for work at 6.

Before she left, I heard her talking to Dad.

“You had nightmares last night.” He told her.

“I don’t remember.” She said.

“You said something about three people. A dead bear, Becky and someone else I don’t like. I said they were all asses and told you to go back to sleep and dream about nicer people.”

“Did I?” She asked, her habit of speaking while remaining mostly asleep legendary.

“I guess. You didn’t wake me up again.”

We picked her up for lunch later today. On our walk into a restaurant on the riverfront, I asked who the third person was in her dream.

“I didn’t have a dream.” She said, confused. We’d been talking about how poorly I slept between visits from the dog when she would steal all my covers, pounces from the cat and general noise where I’m used to quiet and quiet when I’m used to noise. All the background sounds I like are absent, while the sounds of people one wall away are proving a bit disturbing.

“Yes, you did.” I sighed. “About a dead bear?”

“I think you’re the one who had a dream.” Dad said, with a raised eyebrow at Mom.

“Nuh-uh!” I whined. “You were talking about how she dreamed about 3 people you hated. A dead bear, Debbie something and someone else.”

“I did not dream about a dead bear.” Mom insisted.

“I didn’t talk about a dead bear either.” Dad said. “You’re the one dreaming about dead bears.”

“I am not! You people woke me up! Talking about a dead bear, Debbie…someone. Or maybe a different woman’s name…” And I paused to think.

“Becky.” Mom said. “And Ted Bear.”

“Oh.” Dad said, thought, then nodded. “That’s not anything like a dead bear. That’s a guy I don’t like.”

“I don’t know why I even speak to either of you.” I huffed, then considered my menu for the desired lunch I wouldn’t have to buy. They smiled indulgently and decided that Ted did sound a bit like dead after all. Sorry about that.

I was trying to check email earlier tonight – read blogs as quickly as possible, leave semi-coherent comments, answer email – but there are few places to get online with my laptop and all of them involve lying face down on the floor. It’s undignified, but I have an addiction.

“Move.” Little One said as I was sprawled in the doorway of her toy room. “Katie.” She sighed. “Move!”

“A ‘please’ would be nice.” I offered as I rolled and tucked my knees to avoid her art table. She toddled out to find fruit snacks and I gave up on the internet. We have watched Diego save a baby wolf, sloth and pygmy marmoset. She has done puzzles with letters and numbers (she’s quite brilliant) and we each had a glass of water. Mom slept for a little while. Little One finally realized she was left with a less-than-competent Aunt Katie and quickly found her Grandma. So we’re all – me, Chienne, Little One and Grandma – on the couch, watching Diego and Linda the Llama. It’s very, very nice.

Blitzen Update!
  1. I restricted myself to 3 cookies today. A true feat when I wanted nothing more than to stumble out of bed, sit on a stool at the counter and eat cookies until I was sick. Instead, I walked Chienne and got ready for Christmas shopping. I have eaten out twice in one day and helped buy enough food to feed 10 times more people than will attend holiday gatherings. And I didn’t work out – too tired and busy – so this one is hit or miss.
  2. Project Q: Abstract (with figure!) drafted. I’ll send it to the co-author tonight.
  3. No progress whatsoever. I’ll start reading Lamott tonight though.
  4. I’m teasing when I complain. They realize this.
Mom: Do you smell cinnamon?
Me: Yes. It’s really strong.
Dad: Did someone move the book?
Me: What?
Mom: We got potpourri as a gift and it’s really strong. So we put a book over the container.
Me, looking at both of them in vast confusion.
Dad: So…if you smell cinnamon, you have to make sure the book is on top of the container.
Me: Why don’t you just throw it away?
Mom & Dad, looking at me in vast confusion. I then go to move the book back on the container. I’ve done it 3 times since being home already.

Good times. Day 1, and all is well.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Plan Name: Blitzen

The Plan needs a holiday friend. When I return to my parents’ home, my schedule is irrevocably screwed. I go to bed earlier and wake with the sun. I rarely take morning walks. I eat like there’s no tomorrow. I tend toward sitting with people and talking or watching TV (Save me from A [Freaking] Christmas Story. The distaste I feel for that movie knows no bounds. Or Bond. Hours and hours of 007.) rather than doing something semi-productive.

Blitzen is going to ensure that Christmas is merry and productive! What makes up Blitzen?

Merry 1. Health
  • Walk each morning. Chienne enjoys it and it’s a good start to the day.
  • Aerobics each night. My parents have also dropped the habit of evening exercise and I hope to drag them along with me in this goal.
  • Cookies and sweets should be taken individually. No handfuls (or bowlfuls) taken to the living room so I can eat until sick.

Merry 2. Professional
  • Project Q (I’m forgetting which letters I’ve used): Write abstract. Seriously. Write the fricking abstract.
  • Project X: It’s back. It needs some work. But I have a strict plan and reasoning for said plan. I also have a textbook that I’m taking home to provide support for said plan. Get that done, graphs printed and arguments written.
  • Grant: The proverbial coal in the stocking, but those revisions need to happen. At least get through Boss’s suggestions and try to get more text created (and deleted – if the old stuff doesn’t work, lose it.)

Merry 3. God
  • Read Anne Lamott.
  • Renew focus on morning journaling and devotionals.

Merry 4. Family
This isn’t a goal, per se. If I’m there, they demand attention.

Parents (nearly shouting from the kitchen): “Is Katie napping? I want to go out.”
Other Parent: “She probably wants to go.”
Mom: “You ask her.”
Dad: “She sometimes yells if you wake her up.”
Mom: “She always gets irritated at me. You only get yelled at sometimes. You go.”
Dad (very gently): “Katie? Are you asleep? Do you want to get up, get ready and go somewhere?”


Little One (patting my nose until I open my eyes): “Aunt Katie! Katie, Katie, Katie!” (She never gets yelled at. I’m not evil.)

But it’s constant family togetherness, which is rather enjoyable for me.

  • Try to enjoy it rather than complain about it.
  • Avoid copious yelling when they wake me up.

I think that’s it for Blitzen. It’s time for the animals to get loaded into the car, along with my overnight bag (trunk is too full of presents to fit a suitcase) and work stuff. If I can’t find time to update much while at home, at least there will be Blizten accountability posts. Good times for all, I know.

Merry Christmas!! And if you’re traveling today, it’d be good if you stayed out of my way. Thanks.

Pre-holiday travel

I have an idea for a post about how I'm ever so busy - trying to pull together projects to take home, cleaning, packing, starting to take down Christmas decorations - but I can't find time or focus to actually write it. I tend to get in my focused "OK, what next?" mode of getting things done, and it doesn't lend itself well to reflection.

It does, however, go well with productivity. I woke from a nap (because even I rarely go to sleep before 8PM) at midnight and have accomplished a great deal! Kitchen is clean, laundry is drying, Christmas tree is down and presents fill the trunk of my car. I'm semi-packed and think I have all the data transferred that I need to have with me at home.

I have points - feeling guilty about trying to balance work, family and personal interests (I want to sleep! And have high speed internet. That's probably about it for right now.), failure to respect my time, how intense the traffic was already down here. But I really can't pull anything together at the moment.

Instead, I will try to relax and sleep some more. As soon as I can get the mental lists to stop. (I watered the plants, so I need to mail those letters, take out trash, empty the vacuum, finish packing, fold the laundry...)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dryer Sheets and Static Cling

In the moments after Dr. Counselor asked if I wanted to make today a shorter session, I felt my stomach clench. I was better, but I wasn’t good. Still crazy enough to require free therapy! I started to wonder if I should cry – I hadn’t shed a single tear and he’d helpfully offered tissues when I walked in the door. I was abruptly afraid of not being allowed to see him again. What if he made the difference in helping me feel happier and more hopeful? What if I got all depressed again?! I sighed with relief and nodded when he suggested an appointment the second week of January. I’m not ready to let go of that outlet right now.

“I need fabric softener.” I mused on a trip to WalMart. Winter dryness has set in and static is pervasive. Actually, it’s not so bad because I live in the freaking south. It’s the middle of December and I don’t need daily lotion applications. But let’s say I need protection from static cling because sometimes that's true. There’s some way to use the liquid in my washer, but Mom uses the dryer sheets. So I do too.

I’ve found myself snuggling into my pillows a bit more happily lately. After a recent laundering, my bedding is even softer and sweeter than ever! It’s like breathing in the clean. I slip into sheets without any crackle of static. It’s remarkably pleasant.

As I hustled all over campus today – dropping documents off, going to therapy, filing paperwork, sending email and attending short meetings – I realized I didn’t put my gray pants in the dryer. They didn’t get exposed to the Snuggle sheet and they were a bit clingy. Clingy is bad, I decided, then realized if that’s the case, I suck quite a bit. It’s my nature to hang on too tightly for far too long.

I’m comfortable here, I realized, looking around at the buildings and cars on campus. I’ve started to pay more attention when I move briskly through the hallways – I know enough people that I might get to say hello to someone. I can find buildings – I’ve been to many of them before and have general mental landmarks. I can predict the response times of certain committees. I know what Boss will let slide versus what will bother him. I have an idea of who to call for solutions to problems. My list of priorities is coming together. I feel at home. It’s taken me a long, long time. But…I sort of fit.

I found myself thinking I might need a dryer sheet. I don’t want to stick here. That was never the plan. I want something clean and fresh – not the mess that I’ve slowly but surely created here. I want to slip into projects more effortlessly – not overcome slow starts and poor impressions. I’ve relied heavily on the kindness of this southern institution. I have also been incredibly lucky in my choice of departments and bosses. I found a therapist who seems to really work for me. I’m starting to get excited – actually, truly motivated – to do one particular project.

But somehow – whether I’m healing and have the capacity to be happier, I’m picking up on the relief of students as the semester ends, I like the feeling of making a bit of progress, or Christmas is weaving some sort of magical joy around my life – I’m strangely attached to my job, my home, my life. This worried me more than a little.

But what other things are hanging off of me? Unnoticed as if they were a sock stuck to the back of my pants. I rather like the walk from the parking lot – I’d miss it if I left. I love knowing that I can have lunch with Friend at least once a week. Get ice cream or sandwiches or cheesy potatoes. I know right where to meet her and she can also find her way to my office. Boss knows how I work and is figuring out when to push and when to let me figure something out. I adore working for him. I had a dream that I had to move out of my precious little house and awakened feeling absolutely miserable. I love this house – it holds all my stuff! And I like the lighting now that we’ve changed the globes! And I have memories here – Rachel’s visited, everyone in my family has been here, Dave is coming in January, Elle in February, M in June. I can point to where I first saw Sprout. I know Chienne rotates her napping pattern to hit each room, but ends up in my bedroom so she can listen for the garage door and offer ecstatic greetings upon my return home. I like my new church.

Crap, I thought with some dismay. I live here. I might actually be capable of being happy about it. What’s happening to me?!

Clinging is sometimes the wrong choice, after all. I was lying around the other morning – halfway awake and nuzzling into my pillows to breathe in the Snuggle smell – and thought about how nice it was to wake with a smile. There isn’t so much pain anymore. Even the anger is preferable to the despair. My friends like to hear about my irritation – I can be funny when I’m vengeful. Plus, it’s a sign I’m moving on. I refuse to make excuses about how long it’s taken. I was wounded. I had to heal. It takes time.

I got overly confident on that particular morning. When I wondered what I’d ever seen in him, I actually thought about it instead of making a snide comment and listing all the reasons he was lame and mean and icky. It took me a long time – I’ve vilified him to such a degree that sometimes he’s almost inhuman in my mind. I failed to think of a single redeeming quality. I had nothing that I thought was attractive at all. So instead of feeling grateful and moving on, I picked at the problem, rolling over to cuddle a different pillow.

“He kept me company.” I said softly. “He made me feel important. Smart, funny and talented. I knew he was out there and that I caught his attention. He kept me company.” Then I was sad. Not overwhelmingly and miserably hurt. Rather there was a small tug of loss.

Don’t cling, I reminded myself, trying to comfort my poor heart. Just let it slip away. You don’t want to know him. You don’t want to think about him. There are better people to keep you company.

Later this afternoon, I clicked along the hallway in strappy sandals, deep in thought, smiling at an important scientist I’d met before before returning to troubled thoughts about clinging to my current location. I headed to the exit and made my way through the automatic doors. As I turned the corner to head back to my office from the hospital, I stopped short before bumping into a woman waiting outside.

I smiled and scooted around her as she jumped back out of the way.

“I’m sorry!” She said, shaking her head and looking concerned as she tried to find another place to stand.

“No, no.” I soothed immediately. “You’re just fine.”

I grinned when, having moved a couple steps down the sidewalk, I heard her speak to herself softly. “Why does everyone keep saying I’m fine? I’m clearly in the way!”

I considered her accent – replaying her words in my head – and decided on Boston. It’s different here, I thought happily. She wasn’t in the way. We are, for the most part, more than happy to walk around her. I didn’t think about telling her she was OK where she was – it was a statement offered sincerely but without much reflection. I like that she had similar experiences with my colleagues and neighbors. It’s a nice feature of this place.

I cling. I just do. Turnover of my friends is very low. Accrual, however, is even lower. When I lose someone I love – even if it’s necessary and important – it will be profoundly sad. (Though I am working on other areas of my life so my resources will tolerate a similar blow if it should happen again.) Part of my dismay over being content here is that it’s harder to participate in my family’s daily life. I can’t hold on to them as tightly as I’d like. I worry that Friend will leave at some point soon and notice I sometimes try to keep some distance so I don’t miss her too much if that happens.

The point, I think, is that dryer sheets are nice. They make clothing and sheets smell good and prevent too much sticking. But it’s hard to apply a single theory across the board. There’s nothing wrong in letting go something that doesn’t work. There’s also something exquisite about appreciating and enjoying a piece of life, then hoping you get to hold on to that particular quality. It seems it’s figuring out where to cling and where to apply the fabric softener is the tricky part.

That’s the case for me anyway.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Path Ends: Charlie, art and this photo I took

“Charlie says…” has been leading several of my sentences the past few days. It reminds me of standing in the kitchen on many evenings while growing up. I always thought the water was too hot, so I dried dishes as Mom washed. Brother and I alternated evenings and had a chance to just talk to our mother. I would often roll my eyes and whine about having to do that particular chore. But I look back on many pieces of wisdom I gained and realized they were received while putting dishes back in the cupboards.

One such lesson came with some surprise – though it was repeated ad nauseum. Mom would smile kindly as I ranted through some monologue about a boy. I’d done it several times – despite limited experience while growing up, I have always been a bit boy crazy.

“He’s just so annoying/funny/smart/otherwise interesting and worthy of discussion!”

After letting me talk and talk, asking the right questions, laughing at my jokes, supporting all my ideas, she’d smile, hands still lingering in soapy water or wiping down counters.

“Katie,” she’d offer, “you like him.”

“I do not!” I would gasp, mighty with indignation.

She’d smile knowingly, nod and note that she might be wrong. “It just seems that anyone who would deserve that much of your attention is someone you might like to know better.”

As I got older, I’d realize that a tremendous amount was revealed in those sessions at the sink. While my hands were busy with drying dishes and putting them away, I was free to speak without censoring my thoughts. It was just Mom and she loved me regardless. Bad behavior, stupid statements, fits of rage or despair or other passionate displays – they didn’t really faze her. She always thought I was special and smart and beautiful. Though she did offer suggestions on how I might want to behave and can take me from smug to guilty in the blink of an eye, I just liked telling her about my life.

So when a certain male name continued to spring from my lips, I realized that I did, in fact, like that boy. He took up space in my head. I noticed what he did and said. He was – for some reason – important to me. In acknowledging the truth – I had a bit of a crush – I retained some power over my behavior. You’ll notice I said “some.” I’m still me, after all, and I don’t always make the best of decisions.

I was in the midst of sharing some bit of Charlie-esque wisdom with Friend this weekend when I saw a familiar smile appear. Tolerant, but knowing.

“I like Charlie.” I confessed.

“I know.” She said dryly. “I read that post. And I’ve heard you talk.”

“He has a girlfriend.” I said sheepishly. And she nodded at me, not at all unkindly. “Just a phase.” I continued. “It will pass. But at least my taste is improving!”

I’m aware of the problem. I am sincerely happy he’s in a good relationship. But it’s nice to smile over someone I know I won’t later call a complete waste of human being. (Have I mentioned I’m still a bit angry? Yeah, I may have even wished syphilis on him. Not out of nowhere, but still not a good reflection of my character, so let’s move on.) The point is that an online crush where I have legitimate reaction of guilt is not a good idea. So I’m not doing it.


Charlie and I talked a few weeks ago and he revealed that he used one of my photos as general inspiration. Technical difficulties prevented me from actually seeing said art until this morning. It’s… Well, I love it. Find it absolutely and exquisitely perfect. I could try to describe it for you or I could take advantage of the permission that Charlie offered and post it so you can see. (Credited, of course, to CharlieAmra. He said he'd post it on his site at some point, which would be nice since it's ever so rarely updated.)

Pretty, yes? Vibrant and rich and generally wonderful. I love it very much. Keep clearing the documents off my screen so I can look at it.

My actual photo isn’t nearly so pretty, actually. I took it on my trip to Pennsylvania. It was on my first hike, where I found one of the shorter paths that lead down to a small meadow. Once I reached the bottom of the hill, I wasn’t so impressed with the scenery. So I went right until I reached a No Trespassing sign. I considered disregarding it – I ignored several of them the next day – but was too timid. So I stood on the path and sighed, feeling disappointed that I’d have to climb the same hill I’d just descended. I knew I’d have to pull myself out of the valley, but I wanted to take a different route. I don’t like backtracking! So when I returned to the path, I cocked my head at it and went straight instead of following it uphill.

Likely another dead end, I decided, but took some pictures as I went on my way. When I reached the end, I took a single photo. I named it "Path ends." I posted it not because it was particularly powerful, though I do recall framing it to avoid the worst of the power lines leading to the tiny structure, but because I’d yet again followed my instincts to a place I wasn’t meant to be. There was nowhere left to go – I was once again too apprehensive to make my own way. I wanted to follow a path, but this one had abruptly stopped. So I have no idea what exists beyond that building and farther into the forest.

I was obsessed with recording events at the time. If something hurt as badly as recent experiences, it had to matter. I had to at least tell someone about it. So I took a picture of the little building before I retraced my steps to return to the hotel. The trees past their peak autumnal beauty. The little house that emanated such scary sounds. I didn’t get to go further, I thought sadly. I only made it this far. But at least I had a photo proving that I’d made an effort. Tried. Then I turned to hike up the hill, panting mightily and sweating despite the cool temperatures, returned to my room in the lovely resort and downloaded my pictures.

Perhaps the lesson is that there’s value – even beauty – in being there. That recording those moments and feelings was important. Not solely in displaying my pain to gather sympathy or cause some well-deserved guilt, but so that I could go back to them after I’d healed a bit and see that life had been good. I learned on that trip. I took hikes and captured photos. I breathed a little easier – life didn’t hurt nearly so much. And a throwaway picture lead to a piece of art that I find profoundly meaningful, even if I’m not sure I completely understand all the intricacies of the lesson right now.

I don’t care for that dead tree in the center of my photo – Charlie didn’t include it in his interpretation. I always wish for more reds in any foliage scene, and Charlie provided them. His light, shadow and color are more appealing. There’s beauty in that valley – even at the point just before I decided to make my climb. The scary moments provided motivation to get better – to seek medication and therapy I’d likely needed for some time. Friend and I got close very quickly because I so desperately needed someone to provide support during those days. I told people at work of my depression and the relief at being honest was intense. I grew to love Charlie quite a lot – somewhere in those phone calls where he listened to me cry or rant or sit in silence while I tried to find energy to talk. The advice, stories, support, friendship he offered were invaluable at the time.

I’m profoundly grateful. That I get to know him, laugh at his jokes, pick up snippets of wisdom, interact with someone who has a genuine interest in how I’m doing and what I’m thinking. And that I got to see a really beautiful picture.

I now think of that particular moment - standing in a valley in the Poconos - not so much as where the path ended. Rather, it was just a really pretty place to turn around.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

In search of the right word

I nodded absently as he spoke, reminding myself not to squint as I focused on finding the right adjective to describe him. Weird certainly worked, I decided, but sounded a bit too cruel. He was harmless – a completely benign and largely unnoticed presence. So…different, even among PhDs. He was smart – definitely possessing knowledge I struggled to obtain. But I was looking for the right descriptor. I just couldn't make anything work in my mind.

“Useless.” Was an adjective Steve picked. We happened to be discussing Martin during one of our meetings. As Steve has progressed through his career, finding himself neatly in a faculty position, he’s noticed how quirks in grad school students or postdocs - charming when you're a peer - eventually become pains for faculty members.

“He was supposed to figure something out for me – a quick and easy solution.” He shook his head. Steve has the patience of saint. Or nearly so. Apparently you can push him too far. “But he didn’t. I asked – he had excuses. I offered to help – he was always too busy. I finally figured it out myself.”

“Was it hard?” I asked, for sometimes ‘quick and easy’ solutions turn out to be neither.

“No!” He laughed. “It was intuitive and the manual is actually decent. So I got it all set up.

“Then,” Steve continued with a dark frown, “he used it without asking me. And broke it! Took it apart and left it in pieces when he could have just left it alone! Or asked for help! Or done his job!”

“What’d you do?” I was greatly amused. Steve is normally very mellow – mild curses result from hours of work I’d consider destructive to my very sanity. He can answer endless questions. Offer reading, then work with students until they understand it. I’d never seen him so baffled by someone before.

“I went to see him. Told him he really screwed up my work. Then I explained exactly how it should have gone.”

“He screwed it up again, didn’t he?” I asked, refilling our wine glasses. Exasperated Steve was fun, and if alcohol kept him there, I was pleased to provide it.

“Yes.” He shook his head. “Hours. I spent hours fixing that damn thing.”

“You should have had him write it down.” I said lightly, then continued my advice undaunted by his look. “I use post-its. Then I can consult my post-it space for the little note I need. I take it with me, then put it back.

“Or!” I remembered another technique I use. “I type out a how-to sheet – with bullets and sub-points – then I file it with the other project materials. It takes some time in the beginning, but then I can always practice the technique correctly. And!” I like my how-to sheets, so I was praising them enthusiastically, “when I train a new person, I have documentation to offer.”

He just stared at me, then drank some more wine.

“You made him take notes, didn’t you?” I finally asked.

“Of course I made him take notes! Hell, I took notes for him! On post-its, in notebooks, I even left notes on the equipment! One of them said ‘Call Steve before you touch anything.' Nothing worked! Screwed up.” He lamented. “All the time – screwed up.”

Now I know myself well enough to understand that if a person can drive Steve to resigned despair, I’d probably beat that person with a stick. I’m not overly patient or tolerant, so I decided it was best to avoid Martin. And it works fairly well – we don’t share research interests, nor do we cross paths much.

Until he stopped in my office one day – early for a meeting we were both attending.

“Ready for your close up?” He asked, and I smiled vaguely.

“Sure.” I answered. I had been nervous for my very first journal club presentation. After that, I’ve been eager to talk. It's a small group – all faculty members and the post-doctoral fellows – where the questions were discussion based. It was friendly and casual and I hadn’t worried much at all about my little paper. “It’s a short article, so I don’t have much to say about it. But it’s good to be quick when other people are also presenting.”

“Yeah.” He said, his voice slightly nasal. He took a seat across the room, and I turned my chair to face him. He’s a short man. I tended to notice his too-short pants and socks with sandals more than his height though. I tried to think of the last time I’d seen a beard quite that long. I failed.

“So…” I said, guessing he wanted to waste some time before the meeting started. But I still wanted to check over my slides, transfer them to my USB drive. Deal with email since I’d arrived far later than I should have. In my defense, I emailed a draft of one section of my grant to Boss last night around 2 AM. Against my defense, I should be working on another section right now.

“How are things going?” I finally asked.

“OK.” He answered, and I tried to guess his age. 50? I should ask someone, I decided. He’s definitely closer to my parents’ age than mine, but I wonder how much so. And to be doing a post-doc at that stage of your life? Wow. I’m not sure if I’m horrified or impressed. “I was supposed to be interviewing in Scotland next week.” He shared.

“Scotland? Very cool.” I said. “For a faculty position? That’s great!”

As he explained the intricacies of the position that wasn’t faculty – more a staff scientist – he also listed all the reasons working abroad would be good. Health care for his wife. A new start with research and service responsibilities.

Odd. I tried out the word, cocking my head to consider him. He’s an odd little man.

I have a theory about people with advanced degrees. Crazy – every single one of them. In some way, shape or form, something glitched in our brains and we decided that going to school for-freaking-ever seemed like an excellent idea. Avoid the lucrative careers that would seem relatively easy for someone of reasonable intellect! Instead, enter a highly competitive field dependent on grant monies that are increasingly difficult to come by! Or you could teach all those classes you took for so long! Do research that can only be truly appreciated by those in your very specific niche. Tolerate years of people saying, “Are you still in school?” There’s something wrong with me and those like me. I’m convinced of it.

But even among us – and I realized that I rarely interact with people I can’t call Dr. – he stood out. Unique? Was that the word? He has two doctorates in unrelated fields – one in the humanities (from his youth, I assume) then another in the technical realm where I make my professional home. Perhaps that makes you super-crazy, I decided. Going through grad school and writing a dissertation once, then deciding – of your own free will – to do it again.

Perhaps the adjective was nutso. Cuckoo. Not so right in the head.

But, no. I admire those who change career paths – I’m thinking of doing it myself, though I guarantee mine will involve no more formal education. Down that path – for me – lies pain. Studying, wrong answers on homework and exams, rejection of papers, rewriting material for a grade rather than a publication. No, thank you. I’ll figure out another way.

But he didn’t. Martin decided to get this other degree. He was certainly talented enough to do the work, but he appears to have failed miserably at fitting in. But there are others who stand out as exceptional. Have some interest or personality that causes them to linger at the fringes rather than joining the departmental softball league. Hell, I deleted that invitation email before I’d completely read it. So perhaps I should think about glass houses and throwing stones.

Martin was now talking about his cats. Telling me how long they’d had each of the seven animals. They, like his wife, had numerous health problems. Though I hadn’t heard stories about them from anyone other than him.

“She’s a bit…out of the ordinary.” Jill offered once when I asked if she’d met Martin’s wife. “She came to a party for the department, but was quite demanding. Everyone who tried to speak to her was ordered to fetch and carry things. She was rather demeaning when she spoke of Martin. Maybe that’s why he’s like that.”

As I started to wonder about him, I realized I know very little of the people with whom I work. Even Martin belongs in some sort of novel – quirky and worthy of some decent character development. But the surface details are easily dismissed. He doesn’t do what I do. I can’t think of a way he could offer me publications or abstracts. So screw it. Pay no attention to the strange little man.

I heard him speaking on the phone several days later. He was offering sympathy to his wife – her injuries too severe to work.

“She has a bad back, I think.” Someone offered. “I’ve met her – she seems fine. I’m not sure what the problem is, actually.”

I listened to him stop mid-sentence as he described one interview possibility. “Oh.” He said. “I’m sorry. Well, I’ll let you rest then.”

I felt badly for him then. Nobody wanted to hear his stories. I get the feeling that my current institution would be relieved to see him go. His wife is apparently disinterested, though I’m not sure I can blame her after supporting him through two doctoral programs that have yet to yield a stable career. Perhaps she set aside dreams to allow him freedom to achieve his own goals. Maybe she’s just mean. Hard to tell, and I’m not interested enough to find any true adjective for either of them.

I was listening to an audiobook on the drive home, as is my new habit. It keeps me from moping or growing hugely irritated on my commutes.

“Peculiar!” I repeated, having just heard the word. “Thank you! That’s the word I wanted.”

Then I thought some more. There are far worse things, I decided, than going after a fulfilling career. Locating your passion at any age, then dismissing those who think you won’t fit in and burrowing out a niche that fits you. Being excited about the possibilities and forgetting about those people who demanded you stop taking apart the freaking equipment and consult the notes they left you. Maybe he wanted to see how it worked. Perhaps he doesn’t appreciate us any more than we do him and takes some pleasure in mucking up research plans. Maybe he’s so busy trying to figure out himself and his life that he has no extra time or energy to use to conform.

Peculiar. I think of it as a gentle word. Not as harsh as weird. Just different. Worthy of notice because he just doesn’t fit very neatly. In word and deed, he’s just peculiar.

I saw him walking down the hall the other day. He nodded a brief hello before overtaking me in order to reach some unknown destination. He has to be at least 3 inches shorter than I am – putting him barely over 5 feet. He was wearing dark green pants and a bright blue turtleneck – they didn’t match. But as he scurried toward his next appointment, his arms were bent at the elbow and pumping rapidly at his sides. Wherever he was going, he was getting there fast.

I shook my head, allowed myself to think once again that peculiar was a fitting word for him, then smiled. I sincerely hope that when he arrives at his chosen destination, he finds something that makes him happy.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Internal dialogue

My back hurts.

Well, at least we came to seminar! We saw our new favorite person, got free lunch and can enjoy our soda while we listen to this talk.

I do like her – what a sweetheart.

Did you notice we don’t have to reschedule our talk? Do you think she’ll just forget all about it?!

Now my ear hurts. Freaking cold.

OK, but it’s good we came! We donated to the departmental charity. Important people noted our presence.

I shifted positions, but my back still hurts. I think my ear is starting to throb.

It’s been almost an hour – the talk will be over soon.

Do you think I could hit him with my shoe if I threw it from here?


I have a question.

Ask it.

If you were going to have a line drawing of a breast in your seminar…

Uh huh.

Would you add a nipple?


So let’s say you decided to add a nipple – against your better judgment, obviously. Would you make it a gigantic pink nipple in an otherwise black and white figure?


I can’t stop looking at it.


But…why? Why so huge? And pink? It’s just unnecessary.

Let’s forget about it.

I’ll probably have dreams about it. The giant, pink nipple will haunt me endlessly. Look at it!

It’s gone – new slide. Let’s speak of other things.

I still see it in my head.


Let’s think about how pretty I am!


I like the corduroy jumper. It’s so festive with its green color and shiny buttons! It’s probably 10 years old – I think I wore it in high school. Definitely in undergrad. It’s so cute though!

It works particularly well with the white shirt. Who knew that sheer button downs are ideal for jumper outfits?



Did you notice how the buttons of the shirt line up with the buttons on the jumper? It’s adorable!

Cute as a button. A shiny, jumper button!

The necklace is lovely too.

And the loafers! Absolute perfection!

Hair is curled.

Make up is beautiful.

Good call on the eyebrow maintenance this morning.

You know the best part of this outfit?

I do.

It’s the pockets. I can carry all sorts of stuff around! Keys, pens, my USB drive. Post-its of things to do. The money we brought to donate. I even put Wite Out in there when I went to the other office!

Adorable and functional!

I think we’re a geek.

Oh, without question.


My back really does hurt.

When we get back to our desk, we should finish up with Project A.

I should schedule a massage. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a massage.

We need to write the methods for Project B.

I wonder if I crossed my legs the other way…

Oh, that might help with the back!

Nope. Still hurts.

More distractions then. Project M is really coming along! That extra paperwork is almost done. And now we know Dr. Icing has a new assistant. I hope she sends that consent documentation today.

I wish he’d stop showing slides. Hush, speaker man. You stop talking now so I can stand up and stretch.

Did I print those grant pages? We can easily fix the candidate section. And Boss is right about Aim 1 of the research proposal.

Shut up, shut up, shut up. Do you think he can see me glaring at him? He’s 20 minutes over his allotted time!

Oh, we’ll talk to the penguin next week. I need to remember to put that on my calendar. I was worried that he just stole my results for his paper, but he really hasn’t written it yet. It’d be nice to get a publication from that.

No more slides for you, Dr. SpeaksTooMuch! How freaking many did you bring?!

I hate it when people skip slides so quickly like that. It makes me dizzy.

At least he’s moving through them. I think we might die in here.

So when we get done here, we’ll fix our calendar, finish that part of Project A, look up something for Project B, make sure we printed the grant sections…

I don’t know why you’re planning. We’re never going to leave this room.

I think we’ll go home after we finish those tasks though. I’m tired and my back does hurt.

That guy’s leaving! Look at him going! I’m so jealous.

That should give the speaker a cue that he should wrap it up. It won’t be much longer now.

Oh, no! The worst has happened! I’m out of Diet Coke!

It's probably a bad sign that I only recognize half the words on that summary slide, right?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Charlie & Mae

I’ve composed multiple blog posts today. I just can’t get one finished. Not because they’re particularly bad. Just rather uninspired as I work my way through the grant and try to read papers and trudge my way through another day. There have, however, been moments of happiness.

I received email yesterday from the postdoc who coordinates the department seminars.


I need to postpone your talk for a couple of months. We have another speaker coming in on your scheduled day. Could you let me know if that's a problem? Or if there's a particular day you'd like to speak?


"Oh, yay!" I said, clapping my hands and waking Chienne from her nap.


How's it feel to be my new favorite person?! I'd love to postpone my talk! For as long as possible! I'm just so happy about this - thank you!


I laughed when she responded.


It feels fantastic to be your new favorite person! So fantastic that you can postpone your talk for as long as you'd like. Just let me know when you're ready.


I informed her that I would talk at the most convenient time. Seeing as she was my new favorite person, I didn't want to complicate her life. But the two month reprieve is most welcome. I left the email in my inbox so I could continue to feel pleased about my luck in this whole situation.

I was giving myself a pedicure at around 6:30 and amidst the trimming and filing and polishing, I remembered I could call Charlie tonight. Now my fondness for Charlie has been relatively well documented. I have – from his very first comment on pictures I took in Japan – enjoyed the man. I pictured him as a rather wispy, artistic fellow. Smart, certainly, but almost frail.

I’m told my impression was mistaken. This isn’t surprising – I’m notoriously bad at matching mental pictures to actual people.

When I sent an email letting him know exactly who and where I was - not long after we began writing, I included my standard signature, which contains all of my contact information. So he’d had my number for some time. I smiled when he included his number later on, then shyly asked if we were actually going to talk on the phone. I found it strangely appealing.

I don’t really remember the first time we talked. I do remember being nervous – I’m not great on the phone. First, I don’t like long phone conversations much at all. Second, I only have a cell phone and it gets all hot being next to my face for too long. Third, when someone has read what I’ve written, I’m always afraid they’ll be disappointed when speaking to me. That I won’t have a chance to edit appropriately – make sure I don’t use the same words too often, delete most of the “so” usages, try to tell a cohesive story rather than bouncing around from topic to topic.

But Charlie? Wonderful phone voice – rather soothing. He has an easy humor and intense insight. We bonded over college sports – the very thought makes me smile. We found an easy balance on the phone – told stories and jokes and have a sort of mutual admiration. I felt natural almost immediately.

“I pictured you as frail!” I remember confessing with some dismay. I prefer men of substance, so picturing him slender and tall kept me from being attracted.

“No.” He laughed. “Not frail at all.” Which is when I flirted with the idea of having a crush on him. I think I knew my intense attraction to another man was heading nowhere good, but after Charlie mentioned his girlfriend, I settled happily into intense but friendly affection. (Almost immediately. Really.)

It comes down to this – I talk on the phone for very few people. I initiate calls with even fewer.

I call Charlie more than anyone outside my immediate family.

He listens. He offers advice that doesn’t make me irate with deeply offended wrath. He complains, then offers a bright side. He makes me laugh. In fact, after pressing end on my cell phone this evening, I realized my cheeks hurt. From smiling. I can’t recall the last time such a thing happened.

How did Charlie manage to bring me such joy? At the end of a conversation where I heard his news, marveled that I can so easily care so much about his life – be happy and exasperated and completely engrossed – then talked of therapy and grants and how I miss actual winter?

He told me about his new wireless mouse. “Freedom!” He said and I giggled. A list of features – fantastic, wondrous features – kept me laughing. The email I requested he send – with the name of such an amazing device that will bring me untold happiness if I obtain it – made that happiness return.

“What about Charlie?” A friend asked many months ago when I first mentioned him. But high on infatuation with another, I remember shaking my head. “He has a girlfriend, first of all. And… I don’t know. He’s so good. Too functional and stable and strong. I’m all moody and dramatic. I couldn’t inflict myself – in a romantic sense – on dear Charlie. Plus, I want to keep him. And history indicates I get to keep friends much longer than crushes.”

I am glad he has someone to love him – I don’t flutter over him as I would a crush. Rather I adore him as I do only my closest friends.

“Have you talked to Charlie?” Mom asked when I was doing particularly badly a few months ago. It confused me that she would trust someone I met through my little blog when the same type of meeting had just ended so badly. That's OK though - I trust Charlie too.

“I have.” I told her. “He helped.

“Are you sure you can’t love Charlie?” M asked recently.

“I do love Charlie.” I told her. “But I don’t think I’m ready for a Charlie. I think once you find a Charlie, you hold on to him. Try to make him happy. And… I’m trying to figure out how to be happy myself right now. Grow up a bit. Figure myself out. Then I hope I find my own Charlie. But I’m keeping the Charlie. I’ll send a gift when he gets married and be sincerely happy for him. I look forward to hearing stories about his trips. I love that he’s so good at his job. Charlie’s my friend.”

“Damn it.” She muttered and I laughed.

But honestly. Would I turn down the chance to hear about how very much I need a new mouse? A wireless wonder of ergonomic magnificence? Even in my sorriest state, I wouldn’t miss the chance to laugh until my cheeks hurt from smiling.

Which indicates to me that my current state isn’t so sorry after all. So I'm settling into gratitude for people who make me happy and contentment that I'm able to allow the happiness to linger. Not a bad blog entry at all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


He looked up from drawing a picture on a little notepad. A few strokes of pencil that continue to haunt me.

“Is this as bad as you get?” Dr. Counselor asked at our last meeting as I wept continuously over little, white and fluffy.

“What?” I sniffled and reached for another tissue and squinted at the V he’d drawn.

“Let’s say this is you. Are you at the deepest part of the hole? Right now?”

I immediately flashed to a picture of myself curled under a towel on my bathroom floor in the middle of the night, winced and shook my head firmly.

“No.” I offered decisively. “I’ve been much worse than this.”

“OK.” He accepted that easily since I seemed so sure. “So let’s say this is you.” He pointed to a point a meager way up the right side of the V (Please see NowModel). I frowned, disappointed in his assessment of my progress. “You’re out of the worst part of the hole.” I nodded, met his gaze. “The question is, do you want to go back down there or do you want to keep climbing out?”

“I don’t like it down there.” I said quickly. “I want to keep climbing out.” Then I stared at the V, a bit fearful, feeling sick at the thought of going back to that scary place. The more I stared at that bottom point, the more awful it seemed. Sharp, consuming, small and filled with suffocating pain. I almost drowned in it. So when he pointed at the uppermost point on the right side - Eventually, he smiled encouragingly.

“Some day you’ll be here.” He assured, and I shook my head at him, near panic, and he frowned.

“You don’t want to be there.” He guessed because I wasn’t saying anything – just sitting in the chair, legs crossed, arms folded protectively around myself until I had to wipe my eyes with another tissue. Then he offered me his pencil. “What’s wrong with there? Can you fix it?”

“I don’t know how..." I paused, thought for a moment. “I don’t know who I’ll be when I’m there.” I said. Pointing with the pencil to the Eventually point and watching it tremble in my hand.

“When I was here,” I said, getting hysterical as I pointed to the top left point looking so high and far in the past, “I was a good person, but painfully naïve. I read romance novels, for goodness sake! Really believed that the world was benevolent and that people who deserved love would eventually find it! I will not be that naïve again! After my defense? When my world fell apart then? One of my committee members said I was smart, capable, good at what I did – but painfully naïve. But I decided he was an ass, so I stayed the same. But look at me now! Being naïve leaves me in the hole! I can’t go back to the hole!” Then I stopped, realizing I had started to sob sometime in my tirade. Shocked, I realized I was leaning angrily over the little sheet of paper, pointing with my pencil, both feet on the floor, both hands placed on the desk.

I leaned back in my chair, blinked at him, and placed the pencil gently by the paper. “I’m sorry.” I whispered.

“No,” he corrected. “You’re angry.”

I nodded, looked down and focused on breathing for a moment. I’m deeply uncomfortable with crying in front of people. I do that in private. So my copious tears were vaguely awkward to me, but sobbing? I don’t do that. So I stepped back, gulped back the pain, and settled myself a bit. I acknowledge now - and did to some extent then as well - that I'm viciously angry that I had to abandon my worldview. That I allowed myself to push too far and give too much - not just at one point, but over and over again over the past years - until I lost something.

“My point,” I continued, because I wanted him to know, “is that part of my being a good person was naively believing that it was the best way to be. That any minor pains were worth the reward of being truly available to love people.”

“Can you repeat that statement now?” He reminded me which one. I was supposed to parrot it back to him, then state how true or false I found it. For this one, I just stared at him. Finally shook my head. He repeated it several times, I blinked back tears and started to disengage. So we moved on.

“It is…” I rolled my eyes and sighed. This was bizarre! I could say whatever I wanted.

“It is…” I tried again and twisted my mouth. Shrugged. He said the phrase again, gently, and waited while I thought for a moment. "I should be able to say it!" I offered, frustrated.

"No 'should'ing." He reminded me. "You could say it. If you want to. It's just an option I think might help."

“It’s better to have…” I broke off again and frustration at myself took over. I’d just pick up where I left off – only a few more words to go. “loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” I finished in a rush. Then, before I had time to censor it, I finished with “Whatever. I don't know that I believe that. I don’t know that I want to.

“Which brings me to the point I was trying to make. I don’t know how to hope for that Eventually point because I don’t know how to be realistic and good any more than I knew how to at the far left point. It’s one or the other. And being naïve is too damn dangerous to do.

"But I don't want to be a bad person. That's not OK. But I can't let someone hurt me that badly again.”

Though he told me we’d work on it, I still don’t know how it’s going to come together for me. But I do have a couple of notes as I went though and made these graphs.

  • I can get stuck when focused on local minima or maxima.
    • The total picture is only available for retrospective analysis, so I’m faced with working with what I know now.
    • Zooming in on a particular region – even if said data is acquired over years – doesn’t mean I can predict the future.
  • “It’s not linear.” –Friend, many times.
    • Though I can fit a line to my moods when I look over a large enough range of time, when you get closer, it’s clear that there are days where improvement is constant, then there’s a dip backward.
    • I wouldn't remember all the nonlinearity without the blog. Even in my head, the healing so far has been slow, but steady. It's good to note that's not the case (see green line of actual data). I've slid backward quite a bit, only to move forward again.
  • My V is lopsided.
    • The slope downward was steep, though we're zoomed in too far to note my problems in July (which were pretty severe) or my breakdown around the time of my defense the July before.
    • Regardless, it will likely always be easier for me to fall than climb. It's OK that the blue model doesn't match the green prediction based on recent data. It'd be lovely if I made huge jumps forward, but I'm content with taking small, comfortable steps.
    • The smaller slope will get me to the Eventually point more slowly, but that's OK.
  • I'm afraid of the Eventually point. I don't know how to picture it. I don't know what I believe. I hope the anger will pass and that I'll start to feel to a greater depth than I'm currently capable of accomplishing. But I'm nervous about it.
  • We hate the hole.
    • It's very scary and dark in that place.
    • Once I got out of that place - and I wasn't there for all that long - there's room for laughter and distractions and all sorts of lovely things. Perhaps there's less room than there could be, but there is joy. I look forward to certain days now - to work and friends and Christmas. Church, dates, family - all sorts of stuff.
    • I'm capable of much more joy than I can currently feel, so it's worth the effort to keep climbing, regardless of the slope I take.
"I can't force you to get better." Dr. Counselor said. "I think I can help you. I know you can do it. But you have to want it more than I do - and I want it a lot. Do you want to get better?"

"Very much." I answered. It's scary and I kept thinking about the V enough to create another blog entry about that session, but I do want to get better. So while I'll say that therapy isn't nearly as terrifying as I thought it would be, it does have moments where I'm vulnerable and afraid.

Since I don't like crying in front of people, being vulnerable and afraid, or thinking about areas of my life that continue to cause pain, it's important to remind myself that I really do want to get better. It confuses me that Dr. Counselor so sincerely wants to help when I don't have that much faith in the good in people lately. I'd like to recapture that - truly believe in good again. So I'm climbing out of my stupid, scary V. We shall see what emerges.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Third time's the charm - The Plan: Month 3

Problem 1: Location
Curses, foiled again, phooey, etc. Part 1 of this solution was to leave within 1 year. (Abandoned in month 2). Part 2 was to decide against rewriting the grant. Abandoned in month 3. So… I think we’re down to 6 problems because this one is an unsolvable. At least in its current incarnation. I’m dropping it from the list.

Problem 2: Health
Huh. I need to reorder my problems so I get off to a more promising start on these updates. I ate vegetables. (A few times. I can’t really remember, but I’m sure it happened.) I still take morning walks, though I missed more days this past month than any other. I did aerobics. (Twice. Over the whole month.) I even ate yogurt! (Five times? Maybe 6?)

So! Similar goals! Yogurt in the morning – I do well on days that happens and I rather like the Yoplait Whips. Exercise three times a week in the evenings – whether at home or at the gym.

The trick is actually doing it this month. Perhaps the idea that Health is being promoted to Problem 1 next month will motivate me a bit.

On the positive side, the therapy has begun. The terror of talking to someone about my problems has eased and I now look forward to my Monday sessions. The more I speak to him, the more I get the feeling that Dr. Counselor isn’t so bad at his job. Plus, totally free therapy is nice. And I do continue to take Celexa faithfully. I believe that I shall someday get better.

Problem 3: God
Oh, yay! A good one! I only had to attend a single of my two prospective churches before happily settling in. I’m meeting Pastor for coffee next week and wake up on Sunday morning (save this past one – I didn’t feel well) eager to attend worship services.

The plan from here? Attend regularly, consider becoming a member, seriously consider joining a Bible study.

Problem 4: Professional
Deep breath. Push away the negative, seek and embrace the positive…
Project M – I’m currently making the required revisions on the funding application, I’m in close contact with the collaborators (all of whom I adore), and once we have money, we hit the ground running. I’m excited about this. I know! It’s shocking that work should make me smile! But this could be my pet project.
Project X – I have the forms completed, but still need to finalize protocol and do a trial run. No recruitment yet, and I don’t have high hopes. This is a rather crushing disappointment as I don’t see the patient population showing up.
Project P – I’ve decided to focus my department seminar on this project and have an extensive list of recent papers to read and summarize. We deal with patient data in the next couple of weeks and I’m concerned but not panicked. I think we can pull something off. I hope.
Project F – Second revisions are in on the last thesis paper. I actually think they’ll get past reviewers and into a good journal. (Please, God, let that be true.) No news on Project H – not sure how often I can ask about the progress. People should let me know so I don’t have to pester them!
Project B – Slow. The methodology keeps changing and I can’t get a firm answer on where to go next. Developing my own plan would require more work than I’m willing to do, so it’s just on the list, languishing away.
Project A – I still haven’t screwed it up! I’ve made a good impression on a tough MD, contacts in industry that might help me out someday and actually like having something that I haven’t made all icky and have to fix.

Wow – that was pretty good! Yay for me!

Problem 5: Social
In an attempt to multi-task, I’ll say that joining a Bible study could be counted as social. I’m not sure I’ll get that done with the holidays approaching, but let’s call it part of The Plan.

I think I’m on the verge of having actual dates with eHarmony boys, though I could be wrong (and part of me hopes I am). I’m not sure I’m ready or open to anything, but I kind of miss dating. Being pretty and nervous, then coming home to giggle and remember how men aren’t always that great after all. Plus, bad dates are good blog material. And good dates? It’s been a long time since I’ve been kissed, folks. It’d be nice if that happened again.

Problem 6: Family
Thanksgiving was exquisite. I loved being home and miss Little One terribly. I wish I lived closer.

I was talking to Mom on Sunday – she’s going to bake cookies this weekend. After spending Saturday helping Cousin, I want desperately to be in that kitchen where I grew up, giggling over misshapen products and worrying over the timing of when batches come out of the oven. It’s just too difficult and long a trip. But I do miss them. They miss me. It’s sad, but it’s also OK.

We talk on the phone. We send email. I get to see Cousin and her family, which is important to me. As Little One grows up, I think she’ll come visit. I wish I were farther north. I don’t see how that’s possible right now. So I’ll make the best of what I do have. For right now.

Problem 7: Selfish
Meeting 3 was today with my tutoring group. They’re actually too bright for me. The games we play – apart from the difficult Find that Number – are far too simple for them. There’s talk of switching students, though I hate to see any of them go, or I’ll come up with something more challenging for them.

I’m listening to the Iraq Study Group Report (free to subscribers!) on my commutes and am very worried about what I’m learning. Being a responsible citizen – to me – requires knowledge, then some sort of action. I’m working on the knowledge right now, though it’s scary for me to care about much.

I think The Plan and I are learning about each other, and though we don't like everything we discover, we're making a good faith effort to stay together. Plus, I really do think about having to post these updates and it provides some much-needed motivation. So I guess I still love The Plan very much.