Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Currently content

“You have a pocket knife?” KJ – one of our international postdocs – asked as Tom withdrew one from his pocket to cut open the stubborn lemonade container.

“Of course.” Tom answered. “I’ve carried a pocket knife ever since I learned to walk. I’m Southern.” He declared proudly.

“Maybe I should get one.” KJ mused as he poured his drink. I was perusing the pizza selection, smiling when I saw there was a veggie as well as pepperoni. I placed a slice of each on my plate and sat down.

“Everyone should have one.” Tom replied.

“Is it just a knife?” I asked, picking at the plethora of black olives and watching the rest of the group start to arrive. “Or does it do other things too?”

Tom looked moderately offended. “It’s a knife. Classic.” He reached in his pocket to show it to me. I made a noise that indicated I was suitably impressed. “You should ask Boss for his when he walks in. We all carry knives.”

“Ken!” Tom said and turning to see one of the other men who works in my department. “Where’s your knife?”

Ken immediately reached in his pocket and produced one similar to the one Tom carries. “What do you need cut?” He asked.

“Just proving a point.” Tom said smugly. He repeated the scenario with the same results when Boss made his appearance.

“Do you have a knife?” KJ asked Tim – one of my personal favorites – when he sat down with a plate of salad.

“No.” Tim answered, confused. “What needs cutting?”

“He’s not Southern enough.” Tom lamented. “Sort of Southern, but not really.”

Tim shrugged easily. “I carry a multi-purpose tool on my belt over the weekend, but I don’t wear it to work.”

I nodded in understanding – it made sense to me.

“You always need a pocket knife at the ready.” Tom said with an air of superiority.

“All you have to do is grab someone’s wrist.” Dan said, sitting next to me. “Then the knife is useless in an attack.”

“Yes.” Joe commented, also sitting down to join the conversation. “What you need is a machete.”

“Northerners.” Tom informed KJ, and I smiled fondly at all of them. I find them charming in their gentle ways and little quirks. I took comfort in that as we prepared to dim the lights and start the projector for Dawn’s presentation.

After taking some time to get acclimated, I find she fits in reasonably well. She’s not Winnie, but she appears to be taking control of the project and making strides toward answering some questions. I’m pleased for her. I like her, though I’m a bit distant without meaning to be.

I miss Winnie the most at group meetings. It was the only time I saw her on a consistent basis and we’d normally talk afterward. Sometimes she’d find me when she arrived on campus early and we’d swap complaints about research moving too slowly. I felt comfortable with her – knew she struggled and was comfortable admitting defeat without fearing she’d think badly of me. I thought she was funny and smart and wonderful. And I miss her. When I peer at the violet and count the buds proudly, or when I use her text for reference, smoothing my fingertip over the spot where she’d written her name or when I go in the conference room on Wednesday afternoon to see what’s up with everyone. I miss her.

Dawn began her presentation and I found that the sharp pang I was used to feeling has dulled. It’s more a wistful ‘I wish she was around’ feeling than a miserable question over why she had to leave. It’s interesting how that happens – how feelings just ease and allow some peace to exist. The passion I expected to feel for work has disappeared into mounds of paperwork and months of waiting. I just don’t care that much anymore. I saw a puppy running in his yard this morning on my way to work and was struck by how very cute he was. “Aw...” I said softly while I smiled. Then I remembered I have a very sweet girl at home. But I’m used to her and am more likely to ask her to scoot off my lap when I want to use my computer than cuddle her close. Likewise, the grief has lessened. Winnie’s not here. That’s not really OK, but it is final.

Dawn seemed to be talking down to us though – teaching as if we were college students and she was a professor. Seeing as I walked across campus to attend a meeting through a herd of undergrads, I can tell you I feel a lot older than they seem. Though I never recall having a conversation that went,

“I wish they served that shit at dinner.”

“Yeah. Sloppy joes rock.”

Elle and I did get excited about fried ravioli nights though. But I digress.

Our normal style for group meetings is a presentation of the immediate goals we have with a great deal of time for questions and advice. It’s a friendly atmosphere – Boss takes great pains in that area – but we conduct ourselves in a certain way. It rarely involves presenting 20 minutes of background biology. But I learned a few things, so I gave her a break. She finished with her plans – it’s an extensive and complicated project – and we dismissed for the day.

I was reading email afterward, pulling files together for my afternoon meetings, and making notes on things to do tomorrow. She came in about 20 minutes later and I turned to talk to her.

“You did a lovely job.” I offered after she sighed and expressed relief that it was over.

“Thanks. When I was putting it together, the other lab said I was talking down to you guys, but I told them it was fine.”

I just nodded and smiled. Having been criticized lately, I don’t see a need to pick apart her presentation. We talked, but I remained guarded. My behavior irritated me, to be honest. I don’t know why I won’t let her in. But I’m being a bit stubborn about it.

The meetings later today were good – one for project X, then other for M. They’re both coming along quite nicely, I think. And I quite enjoyed walking around campus in my pretty skirt and pink shirt. The former fluttered happily as I pranced down stairs. I made sure to find as many steps as possible.

It’s not perfect here. It’s pretty – warm, budding and blooming all over. The birds seem insanely loud in the morning until I accept it’s time to roll out of bed and find coffee. Then I can enjoy the chirps and tweets and songs as I walk Chienne. I think that in whatever kind of journey of self-discovery I have going on here, accepting what is – at least on some level – is important. It seems exhausting to continuously try to mold my environment to what I wish it were. Perhaps there’s something to be said for finding contentment with what currently exists. At least in some moments.


The Contessa said...

We have a family joke about carrying knives, my siblings and I all have had swiss army knives since we were 12. I currently have 3 - one average red one on my house keys, one green one ( pretty) on my car keys. and one fake swiss army knife called the single girls survival knife, and it has a corkscrew, a pen, a mirror, a flashlight, a knife, tweezers, a perfume dispenser, a nail file and some other miscellaneous tools I am unsure how to use!

We, northerners do that too....

Maisha said...

i wish i had a knife...or maybe not.right now,i could hurt someone badly.

but i think it is also dawning on my now what it means to be content with what exists currently.guess i just need to be satisfied with this pain.think i feel you on that one.

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