Thursday, April 05, 2007

Irritate or devastate

I once whined about problems at work. Told a lengthy story about someone who picked on me! Now I had to work with him and it was unpleasant and unfair!

There are, I was told, situations that irritate and those that devastate. While he was sympathetic to my problems and agreed that it was annoying, there was another realm of suffering to acknowledge even as I complained about the day to day ick.

I think some pain is too severe for me to truly comprehend. I’ve lost people I loved, even watched Grandma slowly decline. Yet I can’t find words to describe how sorry I am for those who have lost or are losing children or spouses. It must be devastating and makes anything I might write seem shallow and stupid.

I tend to withdraw in times of sorrow so it is always with vague surprise that I realize the world continues to go on around me. It is simultaneously insulting and comforting – that one moment there might be a prayer offered on my behalf and in the next breath someone is asking where the cream is kept for her coffee. If you’re suffering, I’m so sad for you. I very much hope that the pain eases and you find a way to cope.

My problems seem quite small tonight, and my day was fine. I had a massage this afternoon, arriving at work quite late afterward. I didn’t sleep in – awakened by a dog who refuses to enter the house without an invitation at 3AM, then again before 7. Why she won’t come in the dog door is beyond me – one of those situations that irritates, I guess. I took a walk, Friend gave Chienne her allergy shot and I watched for signs of death for a few hours.

I spent an hour lying on a table while my massage therapist enlightened my muscles. When asked how she knew where to focus her attention, she thought for a moment. “Some muscles feel congested. That’s the word that comes to mind – like they need some help letting go of their stress. If they’re tight for too long, they get confused and tie themselves in knots rather than flowing in one direction. So I remind them of how they should feel, try to stroke in the direction they should go.”

She held my head in one hand and firmly rubbed the muscles in my neck. “Your muscles aren’t confused.” She offered helpfully. “Just a little stuffy.”

“That’s good.” I murmured. “There’s enough confusion without my muscles joining in.” I couldn’t figure out one software package – it keeps erroring out when I try to use it on my sample dataset. I finished all the pieces of my book chapter that were floating around in my head. I’m now at the point where I have to actually work – troubleshoot software, form some cohesive story from the mounds of papers I’ve read recently. It’s hard. Irritating, one might say.

When my muscles loosened and my time was up, I dressed and noticed that my head felt all woozy. I wanted a nap much more than I wanted to find parking on campus and head to my desk. But I scolded myself and went to work, unlocking the door to my blessedly empty office, wondering if my violet has produced too many flowers, framed a copy of my journal so it could sit on top of the cabinets above my desk. I took calls, filled out paperwork, sorted through mail, sent several documents around campus. I wanted to go home – still woozy and sleepy – but it was more from being lazy than any emotional instability.

I somehow ended up feeling quite productive while I filled out my third list of things to do. I was moving through items so quickly that the lists were becoming obsolete. Being away for several days mean that little tasks pile up allowing for super-efficiency. That pleased me until I realized I was moving through a week of work in a single afternoon. This does not speak well for my overall production level.

I smiled at Boss when I entered his office to get the laptop a student had borrowed from me. I needed it back and asked a few questions while I was there. I emailed a letter this morning – one of the senior fellows in the group is submitting a packet for Mentor of the Year. I carefully crafted a lovely story about Boss – it would have fit in on my blog, and – difficult as it may be to believe – I write better here than elsewhere. I was pleased with it, and nodded happily when I was told that it was awesome and inspiring. I write excellent letters full of gratitude and compliments. It’s a skill, I thought rather immodestly.

“Hey.” Jill said quietly as I moved from Boss’s office. “Do you have a minute?” I sat happily and waited for her to tell me whatever it was I should know. She shuffled through papers, sighed and returned to her computer to print the documents she sought.

“I wanted you to know that you’re doing incredibly well. Of all the fellows, you’re the best by far.”

“Oh, Jill.” I said affectionately. “If that was true, we’d all be in trouble. My peers are brilliant. I’m just here.”

She shook her head at me and handed over some documentation for the progress report on the training grant that pays all of us quite well. I glanced through it, my 14 papers and publications for the last year dominating the 2 pages. The next highest was 3. I blinked and frantically looked for a mistake – I certainly wasn’t that productive this year. I must have screwed up. But it was all correct. Papers from grad school that finally made it in, abstracts with collaborators and friends, side projects that had annoyed me at the time but had shown up making me look shockingly productive on paper. I flipped through another page to note that my grant section looked impressive as well.

“Huh.” I said, still frowning over the papers.

“You’re doing amazingly well, Katie.” She said firmly. “I know you’re hard on yourself – I wonder if you see other people very clearly since your view of yourself is so harsh. If you think this past year was bad professionally, you’re setting a standard that nobody is meeting. You’ve done really, really well. You should celebrate that.”

Still distracted by reading over the paperwork I held, I absently said, “No, I should work harder.”

I looked up sheepishly to find her shaking her head. I smiled, thanked her and rubbed her shoulder before I left the office to deal with more projects. I worked until nearly 7, thinking that if I was employed in a place where I could take 3 days off to go home, then return to glowing compliments and friendly offers of help, I should be working like crazy in gratitude for such an environment. Things moved along very smoothly – I found some figure components I was sure I’d lost then put them together when I returned home. I’m down to a single processing step before finishing the analysis for my chapter. It’s getting close to being written, leaving plenty of time for the multitude of internal revisions we’ll do before sending it out.

I’ve started writing my novel again too. It doesn’t hurt so badly anymore and there are still thoughts that I need to release on a blog I continue to keep secret for some self-absorbed reason. It was a day. I wish I had more – Mom argued with Brother’s wife last night and was very upset afterward. She wrote this morning (we talked last night and I tried to soothe her – she’s more melodramatic than I am) and said she beat my high score at Chuzzle then got in bed and told Dad they might not see Little One for a while because Brother’s wife was being an idiot. She sounds weepy, though she rarely cries. (I learned from her.) She said Dad rolled over and cuddled her, told her it would all be OK and he was sorry she was sad. This isn’t shocking, nor is it completely expected of my father. So I wish I had someone to offer a congratulatory kiss when I announced my 14 publications/presentations had blown away my counterparts this year. I wish I could roll into someone and cuddle when I knew I was being overly dramatic late at night.

But I’m blessed with people I love and work I enjoy (and sometimes can even do properly) and a life that holds problems that fall firmly in the irritating category rather than the devastating one. I still don’t know what to say about that. I continue to feel relatively small and shallow and stupid. But I’m also tired and lost as to what I should add here. So, I guess I’m done for today. A bit irritating not to have an satisfying ending, but I'll handle it.


saxifraga said...

Wow, 14 papers in a year! You should be extremely proud and happy. How on earth did you do that? Congrats.

post-doc said...

They weren't all papers - 9 were abstracts for meetings. We have a number of conferences and workshops to which work is submitted.

And they weren't all mine. I was first author on 6 of them, but have a network of friends from grad school and my current institution who are good about listing co-authors.

I am proud of it - surprised by it, even, though I was the one who sent the information to Jill. So thank you. But I continue to think I should work a bit harder. And I also know that this year will hardly match last in terms of looking good on paper. (I'm apparently never satisfied.) :)

The Contessa said...

You are a very impressive young woman. Professionally, while you are clearly modest and set incredob;y high standards for yourself, you are very modest when it comes to praise. Personally, your strength, only to be equalled by your ability to love, compassion and honesty, sets you apart from so many.

It's so easy to lose sight of these strengths when faced with the problems of the living. But each test you get, you seem to perform better at.

Congratulations on everything! I feel so priveldged to know you.

Estrella said...

Congratulations on all of your accomplishments! Wow! May you also have a blessed Easter tomorrow. :-)

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