Monday, September 24, 2007

The Formation of Anger

“I know you think I’m awful.” Carrie said years ago after removing a sucker from her mouth to honk and scold a driver who cut her off on our way back from lunch. Full of yummy Mexican food and not eager to return to our office with the excellent view, I looked at her with wide eyes. “It’ll happen to you too.” She decided, then guided her car toward the parking near campus.

At the time - as I first started grad school - I wondered if she was right and decided she certainly wasn’t. “I used to be nice too.” She insisted. “Grad school turned me into a bitch.”

It seemed so unnecessary to me though. Yes, the driver made a mistake, but was it really worth it to correct him so noisily? Why make people feel badly when it wasn’t necessary? She was sort of mean sometimes.

I, however, am obedient and sweet. Not at all like Carrie. Or so I thought until the trip back to my house yesterday found me honking and scowling (there may have also been a finger involved) at this jackass who wouldn’t let me merge. I failed to acknowledge it at the time, but I realized this morning that I’m not just angry in the car.

“I don’t hope she has a nice day.” I muttered after Mom smiled at the woman who made us wait at the post office before finally deigning to sell a book of stamps last week.

“Do you hear that woman yelling for help?” I asked a nurse at the station before Mom came down from recovery. When she scowled at me, I scowled right back. “I just think you should do your job.” I sneered, unable to resist the jab.

I wrote a comment for PsycGirl yesterday and realized it was painfully true. If I don’t get credit for doing something, count me out. A project just to learn? No. Editing just to help out a student? I think not. Moving up my talk because one of the professors has a conflict? Not anymore. The same attitude I clucked over in Carrie has encompassed me just as she predicted.

I’m tired, I think. Of getting the emails to volunteer for a conference and seeing the recipient list made exclusively of women. Of watching a herd of people follow an important professor back from lunch and noting they’re all men. Of having people ignore my email. Of the constant expectation to politely help and smile when I get nothing from the experience. Of not getting my rightful place on an author list. Of being rejected from journals until Boss rewrites my work.

I’m unhappy, I know. I was ill much of the time at home. I don’t like stress and conflict. “I love having Katie home.” Mom would tell any number of friends. “She takes care of me. [Dad] helps, of course, but he expects me to make decisions. Katie takes over and I can just relax while she figures things out.” And it’s true. I research online and write to Charlie to ask medical questions in his area. I make lists of questions - some of which I found in my bag this morning when I arrived at the office. I note schedules and medications and appointments. I cook dinner and clean and organize without being asked. I don’t expect thanks for those things. I love my parents and know they would take care of me again whenever I needed them.
The balance is off at work. Not with many people, of course. Residents and assistant professors and other postdocs promptly return my emails and edit my manuscripts. As we all try to claw our way up, it’s worthwhile to help collaborators since those publications bear your name as well. Yet once someone reaches a certain point, the lack of interest is maddening. SPB - despite 3 emails - won’t get back to me about funding more patients. The bowing and scraping was, apparently, for naught. I can’t decide whether to bug his secretary or get Quiet Mentor to step in. I’m leaning toward the former, but am already writing the paper as a case study if I can’t do more work on it.

Dr. Icing has also put me off for over 2 months. The paper is actually ready to submit - uploaded and proofed and everything - but I feel wrong about pushing the final button without meeting with him first. Yet I’m frustrated with his inability to set a meeting time or just read the sucker and make notes on it.

When someone from the drug company wrote about Project A, I swore. I had problems and - since I receive neither money or credit - asked the employee who receives both money and credit to solve it. She bounced it back to me instead. Then wrote to ask if I was done yet. So I replied and sent email before I talked myself out of it. I had not done anything, I replied, as I’d not had time. This was a side project and since she assured me I wouldn’t be author, nor was I receiving payment for my services, it was understandable that it slipped far down the priority list. I’d get to it when I could and if that was a problem, I suggested she handle it herself.

I never thought I’d do such a thing - send an email that was at best borderline rude. I also don’t feel the slightest bit badly about it. I’m becoming sort of hateful in certain situations, which strikes me as sad but inevitable. This environment makes some of us vicious. And unhappy people are dangerous - I don't mind if I take others down with me.

Yet when I was walking to get water this morning, weaving through halls I hadn’t seen in 3 weeks, I smiled at Boss when he exited a conference room.

“Hi.” I said and he smiled, shifted his legal pad to the other arm, and wrapped one around my shoulders and squeezed.

“How are you?” He asked, looking sincere and concerned as he listened to my answer. He spoke not a word about my being gone for so long, didn’t ask about my taking vacation days or the meetings I’d pushed back while I was away. He simply nodded then told me he was glad I returned.

When he asked a favor, I spent the day putting slides together for Henry. Boss wants an upcoming talk to go well for the man who has been less than kind to me, so I will work on it. Henry has very little data on which to speak, so he can use mine. Boss is generous with me, so I can return the favor when asked.

But it’s probably one of those things that - once Henry fails to acknowledge me in a talk composed of all my stuff - will eventually piss me off. And I’m starting to wonder if I can live with this person I’m becoming.


Estrella said...

You ARE a deeply caring person. And you also happen to have a lot on your plate at the moment. The fact that you think about these things- and feel some regret for your perhaps-less-than-perfect moments just goes to show how UNLIKE a witch you are.

Besides, even caring, thoughtful people aren't like that all the time. And- to be assertive (i.e. the work which was low priority for VALID reasons) is not a bitchy quality. It's the behavior and thought process of an intelligent woman who knows what she deserves and who refuses to tolerate B.S.

(P.S. I laughed about the horn-honking story because I definitely honked at the inconsiderate idiot who wouldn't let me merge yesterday when he had plenty of room to switch into the other lane and I had no merge lane at all. Oh, and I too kick myself over my less-than-sweet moments.)

Alethea said...

What estrella said. She got there first. Don't you look forward to when, in thirty years, you can be all congenial and full of bonhomie and good mentorship? I'm presuming it will happen. Meanwhile, the small investments you make, like those slides - they're sops for your soul. You won't regret them later except for the time they sap away from other activities. Then again, you'll be able to look yourself in the mirror easily in a year, despite being cranky from time to time.

(And thanks for your good wishes; I'm looking forward to the outcome as well. The title and abstract have stayed as is, for the moment, since I can't think of anything better. My first time in the big leagues, as well.)

flossie said...

I don't think you're being a bitch; I think you're standing up for yourself. And that's important. I recently got a plea to volunteer to organize a conference--of course, it was almost all women on the recipient list. I've started to ask myself "What am I getting out of this?" in any given time/work commitment I think about making, and sometimes it's personal gratification, sometimes it's the ability to make connections with people, sometimes it's money, etc. But if it's just to be nice, a good girl, or whatever--forget it.

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