Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween, 2007

I was writing something this morning - moping and anguished as I am lately - but I had to go to the office. Then I went grocery shopping since I required much more candy than I owned this morning.

“Is this all for tonight?” The cashier asked as she moved large bags of small candy bars across the scanner. I nodded as I tried to calculate. Two bags of Snickers, one each of Milky Way, Mars bars, Skittles, Starburst, Twix, Kit Kats and Crunch bars. With the extra bag of cheaper candy Mom sent home with me, I should be reasonably OK.

“I live in [giant subdivision].” I said and an expression of complete understanding crossed her face. There will be masses of people again this year. From babies in strollers, dressed as tiny bugs or mammals, to teenagers in street clothes carrying pillowcases. I’ve decided to streamline the trick or treating process this year. I had been giving handfuls of various sizes depending on how wonderful a given child happened to be. But I went through pounds and pounds of treats. Seemed a bit much.

Instead, the system will go thusly: Cute child in costume = 1 good chocolate and 1 cheap candy. Child who didn't try hard enough = 1 good chocolate. Teenager with pillowcase = 1 cheap candy. Or perhaps an empty wrapper of a good chocolate that I have eaten earlier.

Friend is deciding whether or not she’ll join me again this year. Chienne is sleeping on the end of the couch right now - the poor darling will be exhausted before the night is through, having to greet children who fear or love her alike. I’ve decided to lock Sprout in his room - he will not approve. But he makes moves to escape sometimes and with all the opening of the front door, I fear he’d scurry away into a night filled with rowdy teenagers and far too much traffic on our residential streets. Perhaps the porch light will lure a few moths and he can coax Friend into catching them for him.

So the mopey post will wait for tomorrow since the costumed children demand attention tonight. But if you’re not having a fantastic Halloween, I hope you’re at least having a reasonably pleasant Wednesday.

I was done writing when I decided to take a photo of the bounty of pretty candy. When scooping it back into bags to place on a table by the door, I breathed in the smell of sweetness. Sugar in the form of candy coating or chocolate. Nougat or caramel. I took a moment to savor it as I'm rarely presented with an opportunity to grab candy with both hands as I prepare to deposit it in tiny hands or buckets shaped like pumpkins.

I smiled - just for a moment - as I thought that each of these sugary treats will find a different home tonight. A green dinosaur might take a Twix and a ballerina some Skittles. Little One is a cowgirl this year. I always hope to see at least one child dressed as a pumpkin. It's nice in a silly sort of way. I vividly remembered dressing up and going door to door, watching for houses with lights on, and returning home to paw through my own mound of candy I'd gathered. Recall breathing in that same sugary smell. I'm suddenly much more eager to experience this evening than I was an hour ago - I have candy that belongs in other houses.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Take 2

I sat in an exam room this morning, having left work a bit later than I expected and waiting for mere moments in the outer waiting room. I had a miserable migraine and was feeling flushed - the way I get before true headache-related sickness sets in. I tried to read a magazine, spared a thought that it was rather well written then fanned myself with the oversized pages as I waited for the doctor to come in.

I wondered if it was the same room I’d used more than a year ago. Sighed when I realized that not all that much is different. I feel immeasurably older and a bit more stable. But parts of the story remain the same.

“I never feel good.” I told Doctor when she came in. She sat on the rolling stool, crossed her legs and cocked her head to listen. “I have headaches, then get nauseated. I’m always tired, but rarely sleep without taking something to help me relax. I can’t connect with anything or anyone without working really hard at it most times. I just don’t care about work, other than feeling a desire to avoid being at the office. And when someone sneaks past my defenses, I often end up afraid that he or she will hurt me. I’m just not right.”

She asked a few questions and I answered them without nearing tears even once. Even as I led her toward the expected conclusion, I wrinkled my nose when she delivered it.

“What?” She asked easily. “You’re still on the baby dose - 20 mg isn’t that much Celexa each day. So we can run some tests if you think it’s physical, or…”

I continued to make my face and sighed. “No. I think it’s stress-related and I’m mildly depressed. I can’t seem to work past it - I’ve postponed this appointment several times for various reasons and I’m just not getting much better. So we can try more anti-depressant if you think that might help. I just don’t want to take it.”

“Yet you’re here.” She said. “So you’re ready to do something. Tell me what you want to do.”

I shrugged and shook my head at her, trying for a half smile. “I just don’t know. I want to feel better. I don’t want to get depressed. I just want to happily go about my life, handling the rough spots and enjoying the happy times. But I can’t seem to manage that right now. So how much more should I take?”

“We’ll double it.” She said immediately. “Take 2 of the ones you have and I’ll write you a new prescription for the higher dose.”

I nodded, resigned. I’m taking walks with the dog in the morning, wandering the neighborhood in the cool breezes while children climb aboard buses to head off to school. I clipped three roses off my plant in front, grabbing the green bud vase from beneath the kitchen counter and nestling the cream flowers with pink edges atop the television so I could see how pretty they are. I made it to the office, took a meeting with Henry and started some data analyzing. I’m trying. I really am. It’s just not working.

“It’s an exciting time.” Doctor said after she went to the hall to fetch the printout of my new prescription. “The holidays are coming so you’ll spend lots of time with family. You’re looking for jobs so you’ll be interviewing and meeting people and watching your future unfold. We just need to get you through the stress of all that. Then we’ll ease back on the dosage again.”

“I can deal with that.” I said then thanked her.

“If you’re not noticing an improvement in two weeks, I expect a call.” She said. “We don’t want you feeling badly all the time. If the pills don’t help, we’ll try something else.”

I nodded and folded the prescription twice so the sheet would fit neatly in my purse. I made my way out to the parking lot and got in my car. Before I started it, I just sat for a minute. Thought. Then I shook my head at myself and came home to my brindled dog, stripey cat and pretty roses.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sidewalk chalk and Apple pie

I turned on my headlights and paused to smile at the colors on the pavement before beginning to back up the hill and out of the driveway. Little Cousin and I had used sidewalk chalk to draw on the driveway while Cousin repotted plants and Jay filtered vegetable oil he used to deep fry a chicken last weekend. I had drawn a pumpkin (then labeled it to avoid confusion), tried to draw another when Little Cousin demanded it, but the pressure was too great and it looked more like a peach. So I labeled it as such and moved on.

"Is that corn?" Cousin asked happily as she looked away from her small daughter's drawings to my work.

"It is now." I shrugged, putting away the red I was going to use for a tulip and drawing yellow ears of corn on my green stems instead. She laughed and Little Cousin came over to supervise as I finished labeling my newest creation. "It's corn." I told her and she nodded seriously before turning to deal with her own art.

"What's up with him?" Jay asked later as I embellished a smiley face.

"He's silly." I said and Little Cousin smiled at me.

"And the teeth?" Jay continued.

"Maybe he's a vampire." Cousin ventured when I was silent. I nodded easily and added points to the 2 long teeth that were coming out of the silly smiley mouth.

"Is he, um...?" Jay trailed off and we both laughed when I looked up at him.

"His lifestyle," I decided, adding an extra gold hoop to one large ear, "is his business." Then we all nodded until even Little Cousin joined us.

I stayed for hours, soaking in family time with no stresses or demands. I scooped dip thick with cream and cheddar cheese, ham and sour cream (it was good!) onto crackers and read journal articles while we watched football. I separated pumpkin seeds from pulp after watching Jay carve the largest orange orb alone. Little Cousin joined him to make her smaller decoration and I separated those seeds too. I cooed to their golden dog as I rubbed his coat. I clapped when Little Cousin sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on continuous loop and giggled when Cousin and Jay danced around the garage to the music on the radio.

"Someday, Mommy and Daddy will embarrass you when they dance like this." Jay told Little Cousin when she joined them with big smiles and little steps.

Cousin made apple pie and I went to pick up dinner. After we ate, I gathered the bag I brought with me, though I hadn't used my laptop much at all.

"You go bye-bye, Aunt Katie?" Little Cousin asked, holding the Dora book we'd read together between dinner and dessert.

"Yes, sweetheart." I told her, pleased she'd warmed up to me though she was still shy at first. I'd been graced with smiles and stories and she'd shown me some of her new toys. It was lovely. But I left nearly 7 hours after I arrived, kissing Cousin on the cheek and sighing with sleepiness.

"I'm exhausted." I told her, shaking my head.

"I'm tired a lot." She said, smiling at me. "Plus, we were busy today! We had fresh air and lots of food and laughed. It's good to be tired after that."

I pressed kisses into Jay and Little Cousin's cheeks before walking down the steps and starting the car.

"Be careful." Jay called from the porch where the carved pumpkins glowed at their feet. Little Cousin echoed his sentiment while perched on his hip.

"I will." I promised with one last glance at the sidewalk chalk. "Love you." I called and backed up, rolled down the passenger window to return the waves of the trio down the modest hill and headed off toward home.

Original Ideas

“So you don’t write your own code?” One interviewer asked, his expression indicating that I must be mentally deficient to even suggest such a hideous idea.

“Not always.” I replied after a pause. It’s difficult when I can read someone, understand clearly what he wants to hear, then not offer it. But I was being honest, I decided firmly, looking over his shoulder at the spectacular scenery. My niche is in one of the most established parts of my field. There are many, many people working on similar projects which means there are many, many software packages out there. Most of them are free and easily downloadable. So I use them.

“I know people who would agree with you.” I told the guy across the table and watched his expression shift into something less horrified and more neutral. I smiled involuntarily. “George was in my graduate group and he spent weeks writing a random number generator. ‘George,’ I said to him, standing at the opening to his cubicle as he worked late into the night and I prepared to go home, ‘do you know how many random number generators are out there? Hell, if you need random numbers that badly, just tell me how many and I’ll give you some!’ But George, sweet as he was, would look up and return my smile, wish me a good evening and return to the code that marched across his screen. It wasn’t that he needed random numbers, of course. It was that he needed to know how the generators were coded so he could build on that.

“I’m not like that.” I concluded, with fond thoughts of George and hopes that he’s doing well. Interviewer couldn’t restrain a frown, so I tried to elaborate.

“I see it this way.” I explained. “There’s a clinical problem and I’m trying to solve it. If there are established acquisitions and data analysis tools, I use them. A community of people has already tested and debugged and made those pieces of code reliable and correct. I don’t personally feel the need to recreate the wheel just to prove I can. If there are holes in the analysis structure that exist, of course I’ll write something and have done so in the past. But if a group in Japan or Boston has already done a piece of what I’m trying to do and has offered the code they used to accomplish it, I feel time is better spent merging our resources, using what’s available and going from there.”

They disagreed, of course. Bunch of Georges who could probably have random number wars with the superfluous generators they’d all coded at some time. I sometimes muster enough maturity to admit that neither of us is wrong - George and I just represent different views on how to solve problems and spend time. (And I’ve published a whole lot more than he has, but his papers tend to be more high impact than mine.)

Wrapped in a fuzzy pink robe to guard against the chilly morning air sneaking in the barely opened window, a warm canine curled behind my knees as she continues to sleep, I was thinking about problems - or new experiences - and how I want to approach them.

I tend to categorize. New Disease is like Disease X in this regard. Therefore if I read about Disease X, I’ll find out what worked well and apply that to New Disease. Then I might as well use software created for Disease X with the idea that it’s probably close to what I want and I can tweak tiny details if need be. So before I’ve started, I’m halfway done! And this way of thinking only gets easier as I’ve done more analysis and written more code myself. I can cut out some of the reading time and just know what works and what doesn’t. Which analysis methods are promising and where the gaps in current knowledge exist. It’s effective and I won’t apologize for doing it. I will, however, need to find an employer that recognizes the wisdom in my strategy.

Friend and I are struggling lately and I’m at a loss since she is unlike any of my other friends. I have experience with those women and therefore understand what they want and what I’m comfortable offering. There’s a certain predictable nature to the relationships that comforts me. When I get self-absorbed and don’t communicate for weeks, I’ll be forgiven. When I am sad and scared, I receive pep talks and comfort. So I cuddle into those relationships as if they are blankets fresh from the dryer - warm and fluffy and smelling of clean comfort. Yet as I try to figure out what to do with beloved Friend as we both are dealing with stress from many angles, I continuously read her wrong, become hurt and withdraw. It’s as if she’s an issue that won’t be analyzed by my trusty software packages. And when I’m feeling depressed or lacking in resources, I simply don’t cope very well. I need to write code here, I think, but I don’t know how. And it’s so hard.

I read an email the other day - I get a few about a couple of posts that I’ve archived. I disappoint searchers looking for red velvet cake recipes. I’m not much help to those who are concerned with bee stings in their dog’s paw either. There’s at least one transitional relationship search each day and I smile each time someone reads my Longaberger baskets post. Anyway, occasionally someone will search for something then stay to read for a bit. I always feel a spark of eagerness when I note that someone has clicked on the link to send me email. I’m curious as to why people are here and what they thought when they read something. Plus, I’ve emailed a few bloggers myself when particularly impressed with something they wrote. (Sadly, no. I don’t get many emails.)

But when one particular man wrote to gently chastise and encourage me out of my lethargic state, I read the email twice and nodded. “You’re like Peter.” I told the email on my computer screen. Pleased with the categorization, I soon frowned. “I don’t know what to do with men like Peter.” I admitted. The fact is that when faced with a man in his late 30s who strikes me as very smart, wryly funny and an exquisite writer, I crave approval. Hard as I try, I don’t know when or why it started. But when I think of men who have made me flutter over the past two years, they’re all in the same general age group and share a few basic characteristics. And while new people can be subcategorized into Charlies or Robs or Peters, I tend to lavish attention on any of the above.

I started my second email to him with a paragraph that included the sentence, “I'm easily manipulated by a certain type of man and you just might fit into that category.” So since New Peter (I haven’t asked permission to name him, so I won’t) is far away and involved with someone and more interested in writing beautiful messages than in flirting with me, I have decided to allow my fascination to overrule my immediate distrust. And it’s been so long since I’ve checked email from anything other than habit, looking forward to learning something new and reading something written extremely well. So when I read a paragraph three times because the words flow just right and the images evoked are so vivid, those feelings trigger old ones. And - without meaning to - I miss Peter.

We don’t write (and haven't written for some time) and while I was initially dismayed - I love very few people and hate to lose any - I understand. There’s nothing more that should happen, it seems. We’ve talked out the end, he’s said all he can, I wrote a novel to repossess the feelings and actions and understand where I was and what I did, it’s been more than a year. Why am I not done with this? What am I doing wrong that makes me want to ask once more if we can’t be casual friends? If I can’t get a lovely email just sometimes. Or get to know what’s happening in his life since I cared about that so much once. I know why that’s not possible, of course. And that’s why I haven’t asked - I’ve reached a point where I’m able to leave him be and I’m grateful for that. But if all I’m getting from those memories is a strong sense of ‘don’t trust men between the ages of 36-42,’ which is absolutely ridiculous anyway, then why do I have to remember at all? Can’t it just fade to black and allow memories untinged with sadness to surface when I meet someone new?

I’m aware that this categorization is a gross oversimplification and might not reflect so well upon my personality. But there are reasons that it works - that seeing how a new situation is like an old problem provides a starting point on how to solve it. And I’m good at that. I rocked at the ‘One of these things is not like the other ones, one of these things just isn’t the same.’ game on Sesame Street. But when my strategy fails and the old code isn’t going to work with the new problem, I’m often stuck. That’s when I panic and feel useless and unprepared.

I want it to be easy. And sometimes it just isn’t. So my instinct here is to ask for code. How do I forget someone who was once important to me? How do I fix a friendship? What would you do if you were me? And sometimes that works - identifying resources and asking for input is never a bad idea, I think. But there are situations where I must put my head down, think, demand more from myself and figure it out. Because sometimes - when all else fails - I write some very decent code myself.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

An England Story

“So you’re in for the night?” Mom clarified and I smiled as I confirmed and heard her sigh with relief. I was 25 and had spent the afternoon taking a train from Manchester to London, then walked to my hotel as the city grew dark.

I’d called my parents after taking the rickety elevator to my floor to reach the corner room assigned me. I finally sighed and left my suitcase by the door, taking the stairs to reach the front desk once again.

“I knew you weren’t paying attention.” The girl smiled, the light from the lobby chandelier sparkling off the hoops in her nose and eyebrow. “You push the card in, jiggle the handle, push the card a bit harder, pull on the door, turn the handle the rest of the way, then open it.”

“Push, jiggle, push, pull, turn, open.” I recited dutifully. When I had offered my credit card upon entering the tiny lobby from the street, I hadn’t committed the steps to memory. How hard, I thought, could it be to open a door? I smiled ruefully in acknowledgment that gaining entry to my room was beyond me and trudged up the stairs with my carry-on over my shoulder as I continued to murmur the steps. “Push, jiggle, push, pull, turn, open.” I said in a continuous loop, smiling when I passed a businessman going out for the evening. I assume he realized I was American, returned my smile and stepped aside so I could reach my room while he waited for the elevator.

Perhaps Mom was right to worry about me. I’d become terribly lost on my walk to the hotel, had been unable to open the door to my room without getting instructions twice, and was undeniably tired after the long day. “I had on heels.” I told her, laughing, upon removing my shoes and seeing the beginnings of a blister from my unexpected trek when I went the wrong direction upon leaving the train station. “I’ll wear better shoes tomorrow.” I told her and explained yet again that I already had a ticket for a hop on/hop off bus tour of London. I would see all I could tomorrow, then catch a flight at Heathrow the following morning. Mom would meet me at O’Hare later that day.

“Call when you get back tomorrow?” She asked before I hung up.

“I will.” I promised, then began to unpack - placing toiletries in the small bathroom I’d paid extra to have to myself and pulling a chair over to the window that sat prettily in one corner of the room as Dad started on a list of people to avoid and things that could go wrong and demanded promises that I’d be very careful.

“I will.” I said, pushing aside the sheer curtains and staring down onto the street below. “I can’t believe I’m here, Dad.” I sighed. “Watching the cars and buses and people wandering around.”

Briefly distracted, he asked what kinds of cars. Was there anything cool? Disappointed by my reciting a list of colors, he sighed and told me once again to be careful, that he loved me and that we’d talk again tomorrow after this ordeal was over. I smiled, feeling momentarily sorry I’d made my parents worry by insisting upon traveling to England alone, then found the smaller of my two bags, dug out the bagel I hadn’t finished from the morning and smiled upon finding a chocolate bar I’d purchased when I picked up a novel for the train.

Settling in, I frowned when I realized I couldn’t see very well. So I turned off the lights in my room, opened the curtains fully, and put my freshly bandaged feet on the windowsill as I scooted around to watch the cars go by. I remember seeing a man listening to headphones as he stood on the top level of a bright red bus. The lights stayed on inside the lumbering vehicle and I could see a woman reading near the doors on the lower level. Cars formed neat lines as they moved through the traffic light below my window. I simply watched, chewing my bagel then unwrapping my Cadbury chocolate as I basked in the simple pleasure of being in London.

I had wanted to make the trip in high school. Had gone to the informational meeting, spoken with the teacher who bleached her hair and spoke with a fake accent for some reason. I brought home the paperwork and watched my parents consider, both frowning.

“Why do you want to go over there?” Dad asked. When I started to answer, talking about the history and all the things we would see and how I’d get to stay with people from school, he shook his head. “People set off bombs over there.” He said. “It’s not safe. I don’t think you should go.”

“What bombs?” I asked, unaware that London was some kind of war zone. “I don’t think it’s that dangerous.”

“But you’d have to go on a plane.” Mom offered. “And sometimes foreign people do hate Americans. It’s better to stay here. You’re awfully young to go all that way.”

“I’m 16.” I pouted. “And I don’t think the British hate high school students. Plus, we’re not staying all that long.” I pulled out the papers and watched Mom consider them. I finally huffed that I was going to see Grandma. I had yet to learn that as spoiled and sheltered as I was, I would not always get my way.

Grandma soothed me as she always did after I drove and parked at her retirement home. We went to a kitchen located down the hall from her studio apartment and made cinnamon raisin toast, returned to her mauve living space and talked. She said that my parents were going to worry about me a lot in the future and if I wanted to go to London with my class at school, she would talk to Mom. She also offered the money required to make the trip and sighed when she said she wished she could go with me. Then she offered that if I ended up deciding against this particular opportunity, there would be plenty of time to get to England eventually.

When she died, I mourned the loss of being able to make the trip with her. She was wise and adventurous and funny, my grandma. But I’d decided against the class trip, though my parents did eventually say I could go if I was really sure I wanted to. But they looked worried and I decided I didn’t know many of the other students who were going. Perhaps it was too dangerous and scary. Maybe it was better to wait.

I remember shifting in the chair in my dark hotel room years after graduating from high school, crumpling my candy wrapper and tossing it in the direction of the trash can under the desk across the room, and resting my folded arms near the window as I bent toward the glass. I had made the trip on my own, despite continued worries from my parents. I wandered Manchester alone, sneaking from scientific sessions to shop and look and take pictures. I caught a train to London by myself, watching the signs carefully as I waited, then settling into a window seat and ignoring the book in front of me to gaze out at the countryside. I sighed when I realized everything looked just like I wanted it to. Smiled when watching a man play fetch with his dog in a wide field with freshly clipped grass. Craned my neck to see cottages and farms and sheep as the train moved quickly south.

I didn’t do much more than watch that whole trip. I did, after getting lost yet again, catch my bus the next morning. I huddled in the same blue sweatshirt I wore this morning to walk my dog, bracing against the cold drizzle that couldn’t chase me off the top level of my tour bus. I giggled after catching said bus and looking quite seriously for the American flag when selecting which language I would use for my headphones. I made friends with a pair of Scottish women but had only a vague idea of what they said as I struggled with the charming accent. I was driven by many landmarks as I consulted my map, listened to the information offered on my tour and looked around trying to take everything in.

As the cloudy day started to drift into darkness, I caught a different bus and made my way back north through the theatre district toward my hotel. I smiled at the pierced woman at the desk, rode the elevator to my floor and easily entered my room. After understanding how to open the lock, it didn’t seem so hard the second time. So I settled into the chair the maid had kindly left situated by the window, ate the dinner I picked up on the way back and watched traffic again, pleasantly tired and quite content.

The point, I think, is that I have never and will never be overly brave and outgoing. I had no desire to visit a pub and try to make friends, though I did vaguely wish for a companion for my trip. Being cautious held more appeal though and I smiled over the relief I heard when Mom and Dad both got on the phone to hear about my day and ask for reassurance that I was locked in my room and safe for the night.

The other reminder I could use lately is that there’s time. If something appeals and it doesn’t work out, there are generally other opportunities. It took me a great deal of time to make real friends, to fall in love, and I’m obviously not being fast about deciding on a career path. So London at 16 might have been wonderful, but it’s OK that I didn’t go. England at 25 was wonderful, perhaps more so because I’d waited so long and was determined not to be disappointed with a single second of my relatively short trip. And there’s still time to go again, though I expect that trip will find me staring out a different window at some point, watching the world go by.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Seems about right.

Inside Higher Ed seems to link to me when I have no idea what I'm doing. Once when I submitted a grant, now again when I'm preparing to interview for a faculty position. In all honesty, the only person who has noted the utter silliness of the whole situation is me. Colleagues and family and friends seem to take the news in stride. Is this not why I trained? Isn't the goal to do research and teach and write grants? Given that my thoughts of faculty positions have been along the lines of "seems awfully hard," I find it hard not to be surprised that someone is even vaguely entertaining the idea of considering me for one.

I suppose I don't have a good enough frame of reference.

When I was waiting in a chair, arms protectively crossed across my chest as I jiggled my feet nervously and wondered how high my blood pressure had to get before they refused to take my blood, I had a single calming thought. It wasn't that someone might need my blood. It was that my flights had all landed safely.

I flew on a single trip growing up and was absolutely terrified of setting foot on a plane when granted opportunities to travel in grad school. I recall being in the airport - hours early so as to get checked in, clear security, then sit at the gate and freak out - and waiting with absolute sickness. I didn't think I could do it - the fear was too intense. But I wanted to go and there are many places in the world that I'd like to see that would necessitate flights, so I got on the plane. I was riveted to the safety demonstration, carefully noted the location of all exits, scowled at people who were talking during the presentation that would surely save my life.

It was only the fact that I never scream in public - well, except that one time - that I stayed silent in my moment of complete panic when we lifted off the ground.

I've flown a good deal sense then, and I remain a bit nervous. I don't particularly enjoy the experience, but the terror isn't nearly so great. The fear was based on the unknown and how many things might go terribly wrong. But they didn't. I've not so much as missed a connecting flight or dealt with lost luggage. So I associate that severe yet illogical panic with things turning out OK. So I didn't cry when I turned my head and braced myself for the stick. I complained when it hurt a little, then it stopped and I was fine again. And I was able to proudly proclaim my blood-giver status far and wide.

When it comes to dating or job searches or Mom being sick, I don't have the perspective to think it'll be OK. So I prepare myself for bad news so that if I have to hurt, at least I'm not surprised. I don't want to dress up and go out because I haven't had a good relationship in a long time. So when I think of meeting someone, I soon dread a lame first date or heartbreaking rejection. And it doesn't seem worth it.

Likewise, I'm familiar with these feelings that no career option is quite right. I interviewed a lot before taking this position and felt relatively confident in my decision. And, well, if you're not new, you'll know how that's gone. I am reasonably well trained. I can sometimes display enough intelligence to feel at home in research. I've scraped together some accomplishments from the years I've been here. But it's not nearly what it could have been. I say that not to put myself down but in an attempt at honesty. So when I think about interviewing somewhere - a place that seems really right for me and with people I like and the potential to direct research I think is valuable, I get scared. Because experience indicates I might have made a bad call in the past. So this may not work out either.

I wrote an email today, shaking my head at the thought that I remain easily charmed by articulate men who are a bit older than I am. Even if they are gently critical of some of my choices. I mentioned that I get older, I have less hope. He replied with something nearly poetic about how the loss of hope seems to define depression.

"Not depression." I disagreed softly as I read, though I haven't yet composed my response. "Reality." Then I wondered at how much I meant that - it seems an awfully sad way to consider life. So this post ends much as it began. Inside Higher Ed should link to me right about now, at least based on the limited experience I have with traffic from them. Because I've no idea what I'm doing.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


"Shit." I muttered at the screen of my laptop when I realized I dropped Grandma in the wrong chair. The animated people waiting on the left side of my screen all had preferences floating in bubbles above their heads. One wanted to sit at the bell table. Another wanted to sit next to Chloe, the social young woman with blonde hair. Two of my waiting crowd wanted to sit next to Grandma, but I accidentally dropped her in the last chair at the heart table.

Someone would have to be disappointed.

I find myself drawn to computer games lately, sad as that sounds even to me. I started with Diner Dash when I was home with Mom one of these times. It's soothing for me to know what people want and know I'm capable of providing it. I found tables, clicked and dragged the party to an empty one, took orders, delivered food, dropped off checks, cleared dishes and started again. And somehow hours passed while I had the illusion of control over some portion of an imaginary world.

I bought Sally's Salon on my return to my house. Same idea, different scenery. I hired people to shampoo and style and make coffee, but I dragged customers from chair to chair, cutting and coloring, perming and spraying on tans. And hours passed while I was consumed in something other than hating my life. Which, frankly, is a blessed relief.

"Don't worry about it." Jill said kindly when I told her I had to start taking better care of myself. I eat for comfort and I find I've gained a considerable amount of weight. Clothes don't fit and I only look at myself in the mirror when strictly necessary. It's as if I can't believe I have this set of circumstances with which to deal - a job where I am considered superfluous at best and a terrible hiring decision at worst, friends I don't talk to often at all, and a family which is struggling mightily. So I'm turning myself into someone I don't recognize. "You've had a rough couple of months and you need to be kind to yourself, not beat yourself up over a few extra pounds."

True enough, I thought. But still. I don't want to be here, but have no idea where to go next. I feel like these applications and interviews are born of this desperate desire to change anything to see if I start to feel better. I want to move, but I worry about selling my house in this market. I want to try something new, but judging from my post-doc experience, I might fail miserably yet again. I need to get closer to my family, but the thought exhausts me. I'd be expected to take care of the girls a lot more. I'd go home for more weekends, know more details, be consulted on more decisions. And while I want that, it also scares me.

I also know the process of getting to there from here will be exhausting. Finding a job and negotiating reasonable terms. Packing up a 3 bedroom house I have filled with stuff and moving it to a house I'll have to select and arrange to purchase. Closing my life here and opening one elsewhere is hardly an easy activity, and even as I pursue it, I dread it. So I rest and crave sleep like an addict. I guard my resources closely and growl if anyone encroaches on energy I feel I might need for myself later.

I am, in short, selfish and awful and angry and sad. Which leads to the question of how depressed I am. And the answer is that I don't know.

Life isn't impossible, but it is hard. I am withdrawing as much as I know how, and when I look at the situations from which I recoil, I understand that response. I don't want to talk to Henry about how he wants to be on papers with which he wasn't involved. That will suck. I don't want to go to meetings with people who think unkindly of me. I feel awkward and inadequate so I avoid attending. I feel like I'm doing penance with Friend for not being there for her, yet I don't feel badly about making the decisions that resulted in that. So I bristle even as I try to fix something I fear might be broken. So in all these things, I know there are problems and though I've made some attempt to fix them, I'm making no progress and it makes me miserable and sad.

So I play games.

Wedding Dash consumed most of my day as I sat on the loveseat ignoring work I could be doing. I didn't call home to check on Brother's Wife - she had her gallbladder out today. (Actually, I did call this evening. She's hurting, but everything went well. Mom's sick again, but she and Dad are keeping Little One. Dad was sad he didn't get to talk to me last night because I called too late and he was already asleep. So I'm disappointing people yet again.) I didn't write to Friend because I know things are hard for her and I don't know how to help. And I'm so damn tired of feeling badly. I just want to forget. I want to be someone else.

So I'm the one who seats wedding guests, trying to make everyone happy and planning ahead so the animated people can sit with the people they like most. Then I take their gifts, deliver them to the happy couple, and bring appetizers. It's easy because the guests have bubbles over their heads in which their desires appear. Hungry? There's a little shrimp over Grandma's head. So I click on the plate of shrimp in the corner, then on Grandma and all is right with the world. The olive skinned woman with the short hair wants cake? It appears in a bubble over her head. I can click on cake then click on her and wait until she disappears in a poof and reappears in the corner, dancing until all the other guests are finished eating. I don't know why it's soothing, but it is.

And if I don't do well - if the guests start to cross their arms and their lips move as they mutter complaints - I don't score enough points and the nice animated woman appears after the level is finished. She says it was a good effort and that I should try again. And as I do, I get better and get to see new backgrounds. I went from backyards to ballrooms to cruise ships and ended up on an island when my right hand started to cramp a bit from the hours of clicking and dragging.

Why not apply that energy to life? Because I never feel like I'm winning lately. I never feel like I'm doing a good job and that Suzie and Joe's wedding went well so I can move on to Betsy and George. I don't have much hope that submitted or work-in-progress paper will be published. I don't think I'll find anything from this clinical project I was going to finish today, so I'd rather leave it until tomorrow. While Boss and I discuss future work and I try to talk about how I'm interviewing, he finds a reason to cut the meeting short. So I've no idea how he feels about me going, which makes me feel unsettled and bad.

I should, I know, work harder. Go to the office for 10 hours everyday. Exercise, drink more water and stop eating comfort foods. Write and read from my house. Call home twice a day and be focused and loving with each conversation instead of distracted. Be supportive for Friend. Call my other friends to let them share some of my worries and learn about their lives. The games (and the book I also read) today didn't get me any farther than I was yesterday.

But I'm going to the doctor tomorrow to see about increasing my Celexa dosage, though it pains me to do so for some reason. In the meantime, I'm going to accept that I am very unhappy with my current circumstances and take whatever selfish comfort I can that I'm working (in a grand sense, not - obviously - in my daily life) to change them. Then I'll take something to help me sleep, rest for a while, and try again tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Phone interview 3

"Advisor mentioned you in the spring, but I wasn't ready to move yet. So I hated to let the opportunity pass, but timing is a funny thing."

"It is." He agreed. "But you didn't. We haven't yet hired for the tenure-track position that I mentioned to Advisor then." From subsequent remarks and the overall tone, I got the impression that he was considering me for said position.

But, listen, I wanted to tell him. I'm Katie. I screw up and don't feel like I know as much as I should. I get rejected by journals and funding agencies alike. It takes me too long to write code and I cry when I discover my patients have died. I've not taught a single class in my entire life and I'd just stand and stare at a grad student if you told me she worked for me. Despite training and publications and expertise that does look impressive on my CV, I'm not cut out for faculty.

The utter ridiculousness of applying for a tenure-track position at an R1 institution strikes me. I analyzed data today that left me mostly baffled. I gave Boss a draft of work-in-progress paper that only sort of makes sense. I need to make my points more clearly and focus the minor points to reflect my major point. If only I knew what my major point was. I read some papers and gathered relevant information. I talked to Mom on my commute through a morning filled with traffic. Then I came home early to work through some data I owed a collaborator instead of having dinner with Cousin.

I often think lately that I'm doing the best I can. That it's OK to sleep and read and seek time alone. It's fine to ponder projects for months as I try to write or discover some new facet which has remained stubbornly hidden. I still wince over the idea of taking classes, shake my head over homework problems with one of my officemates shows me something, vividly recall hiding behind a chair while I answered questions at my prelim.

I suppose I have more than a month before I need to figure out if grants and classes and a lab of my own is something that just might work for me. Given Advisor's euphoric response to my email informing him of the interview, I realized this has been the goal. I have been groomed for tenure-track faculty at a large research institution.

Given that I just took an interview with people who deemed me inadequate, I'm not overly hopeful that these folks in academia will want me for faculty once I arrive. Yet it's nice that my CV makes me sound good. And perhaps I can talk them into a different position when I get there.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Written and Writing

It surprises me - even when it likely shouldn't - when I ponder the power of words. How I escaped to a vandalized summer camp and a pair of lovers who'd lost each other while Mom had a filter placed in her vein. On the drive home to tend to Mom's uncontrolled bleeding, I giggled over a woman who, finding herself obsessed with Pride and Prejudice, accepted a gift of a vacation where all attendees had to pretend they lived in Austen's time period. The alternative in both cases was sobbing terror so being engrossed in something - anything, really - was a gift beyond measure. When I was clicking between my audible library and goodreads shelves to write reviews for my few friends, I recalled with stunning clarity exactly where I was going, what I was doing and how I felt when hearing those audiobooks.

I found myself standing in Borders on Saturday, therefore, feeling confused and dismayed and a bit frantic. I had parked in a 15 minute only space and Friend had rapidly collected the items she wanted. She approached me, holding a bag and I shook my head.

"I can't remember what I've read!" I told her. "I keep picking up books and they sound familiar or not interesting and I don't know what to buy!" She shook her head in return and headed off in another direction while I continued to think that I couldn't leave a bookstore with nothing. I finally found a small novel and gave the cashier $5 before leaving. As Friend held the door propped open as she passed through, I cocked my head.

"I know I've read romance novels where a Scottish man from the past pops up in the present and falls in love with the woman who somehow summoned him." I told her. "But I don't think I've read this particular one." Yet it sits on my bookshelf, having been placed there for later.

I had better luck at Books-A-Million yesterday. I went immediately went to the children's section and picked out 3 Care Bears books. One had stickers! Then I turned right into a smaller aisle and waited patiently until a small boy drifted away from the Diego books. I pounced on those featuring Dora and pursed my mouth as I knelt on the floor to select the best ones.

I am charmed - easily and completely - at how little ones handle books. Little Cousin reached out a tiny hand as she had her head buried in Cousin's neck to accept the Care Bears book I gave her last night. She later found a spot to sit on the kitchen floor and spoke softly to herself as she turned the pages and considered the pictures. Little One is much the same when confronted with a new story.

"Can we read this?" She asks, then snuggles close to point out some feature of a picture, respond to a question (Dora is awfully inquisitive) or giggle when something funny happens (that big, red chicken is rather amusing). I'll sometimes find her curled up by herself, slowly turning pages and frequently telling what she remembers of the adventure out loud.

I loved books growing up too. I remember walking over and reaching up to turn the handle of the door leading to the hall closet. My books were on a low shelf and I would select a few before running to find Grandma or Grandpa to read to me. After Grandpa passed away, I'd often stay the night with Grandma. We slowly worked our way through Heidi - a chapter or two at a time - as we prepared to sleep. It's the first book I remember that had very few pictures. She would ask if I wanted to open my eyes to look at them as I rested next to her in bed, my body quiet and resting while my mind focused on a young girl and her life with her grandfather on the hilltop.

"You'll read to me someday." She told me and I smiled at the thought. We would often read together often for years longer.

At 16, I worked retail - a job I neither enjoyed nor for which I had any talent. I would coax myself into going with internal bribes of going to the KMart at the end of the shopping center to select a book when I arrived early. I would hurry back to the shop afterward, walking swiftly past the racks of clothing and boxes of shoes to the back. After passing through a set of swinging doors, I would turn left and take several more steps until I reached the small break room. I'd be alone there until the 5:00 clerks arrived and I'd finish several chapters before having to regretfully close the pages. I'd wander out to my section and start to straighten and hope for customers so I could push buttons on the register. Somehow, it helped pass the 4 hours to wonder what was coming next for the characters in my waiting book. I would drive home to finish the story before going to bed and would feel happy that I had a job that enabled me to buy the precious pages of text.

Yet I find myself unfocused much of the time lately. I make it through a few pages, but rarely find myself engrossed in a novel to the exclusion of all else. Perhaps my standards are growing higher. Maybe I'm too stressed and tired to summon the mental energy to appreciate novels - even the happy romances I favor.

Regardless, I find I've been reading more journal articles than anything lately. I finally revised my own paper tonight, culling some of the blatantly unimportant or redundant sections and finding an organizational scheme that seems to work. Given that Boss wants to meet tomorrow morning to discuss my recent work, Henry has written to ask if we can meet about the project we discussed earlier (how do you politely tell someone you did not and will not add them as an author and are shocked they even asked?) and I have an afternoon phone conversation planned with a potential employer whose very relevant paper I've not yet read, maybe that's the way it needs to be.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


I forgot to mention Sprout. He refused to come out of hiding when we first got home. About 15 minutes later, he made his regal way down my short hallway, greeted the dog, blinked at me dismissively then ran away when I reached to pet him.

I looked down at Chienne and she wagged her tail up at me.

"I think he's mad at me." I told her, but she didn't seem bothered by that. I decided I could wait to greet him. I got the chance about an hour later. He sat on the arm of the loveseat, then moved to the cushion next to me, then finally to my lap. He settled there for a long time, allowing me to smooth his coat while he purred.

I slept with both he and the dog last night and rested well. Yesterday morning, therefore, felt better. Today feels better still. I think the understanding that decisions have been made - and inevitable consequences accompany them - is step 1. Step 2 is waiting and taking steps to ensure that things turn around.

To that end, when Advisor responded to my Tuesday email that warned him about the potential of upcoming reference requests, I thanked him for his assurance that he was eager to give me a glowing review. And I said that I'd already been found lacking.

He replied quickly and insisted it was their loss. He suggested a contact at Industry Giant and reminded me of his friend in a city within my radius of home. I sighed, remembering how that email from a recruiter felt. I don't like being an upside-down turtle. Yet Advisor knows me and the quickest way to cheer me from a rejection is to offer a new possibility. I do better when I'm happily anticipating something rather than dwelling on past failures.

So I added some papers to my CV, carefully drafted cover letters and sent both emails. Within 15 minutes, Advisor's friend in academia had called (which I missed) and emailed. He is eager to speak with me and impressed by my accomplishments. Which is, of course, a balm to my poor ego that I desperately needed. So I wrote back and offered to speak to him next week. I need the weekend to bask in the glow of not being so stupid after all. And so I'm jealously guarding that email and the pleasant feeling of relief that goes with seeing it.

This morning, I woke and decided to add books to I have just a few friends and have happily added women when asked, but failed to give my opinion on anything at all. Guilt propelled me to make progress there, then I did some cleaning, walked the dog, took trash to the dump, made a figure and wrote an abstract while laundry continued to wash, bought National Wildlife Federation magazines for my niece and 2 cousins for Christmas and took care of other tasks that left me feeling all lovely and productive.

Mom called and happily reported that she'd been able to eat sparingly for the last 2 days and was feeling better today. She had plans on how to keep busy and was resting when she grew shaky or tired. But she sounded happy and well and I cried just a little after hanging up with her. I so desperately want her to be healthy again. I think that's the driving force behind my increasingly serious attempts to find the next job sooner than might be wise. I'm trying to get closer to home.

There is much work yet to be done. The house is only semi-clean, and only that in some rooms. I'm still irritable if the number of blog posts lately that have me scowling is any indication. But I'm making progress and feeling a bit happier. Which I think is quite good.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Snippets - the sort of sad version

Alternative Advice
When it comes to interviewing? Listen to someone who knows what she’s talking about.

They said no. While I admire their speed, I also know that it means the decision was easy and straightforward for them. And while I wasn’t going to take the offer if extended - and more or less told them so before leaving - I was hoping they’d be ever so impressed with me that they’d offer regardless. They were not. So I am sad.

Little and Smallest Ones visited yesterday afternoon. Little One had an accident at day care, so Mom and I were sent to pick up the girls. Smallest One is growing quickly and now stares at whoever holds her. She’s beautiful. Really truly lovely.

Little One, however, overwhelms with me feelings of love and affection. As she sang along with the opening song on the Care Bears cartoon, as she pointed out objects and re-read the Dora book I brought her, as she snuggled next to me with orders to solve her various problems - hungry, thirsty, needs to potty...I just adore that tiny creature.

“I love you.” I told her when I glanced over at the curls tumbling over her forehead. We were watching said Care Bears cartoon and Professor ColdHeart (I think I've met him, by the way) was using The Magic Mirror to make the Care Bears not care. Bastard. But Little One gave me her attention, smiled and said she loved me too. I smoothed her hair and sighed. I knew she'd soon leave and I'd miss her.

I put her in the car several hours later when her mother arrived. I tucked bags of presents I had brought from home around her feet and kissed her cheek one more time. She held the Cheer Bear I gave her in one arm and her new Dora book in the other. After checking that she was safely buckled in, I smoothed her hair again.

“Aunt Katie?” She said when I stood up, so I bent back down with eyebrows raised. “I hope you come home again soon.” She told me and I blinked back tears at the unprompted statement.

“I hope so too.” I whispered.

“You can come to my house if you want.” She offered, her expression serious, and I nodded and said I would do that. Dad and I stood on the porch and waved until the car was out of sight, Little One’s tiny hand extended so we could see it through the open window as she waved in return.

Worries, continued.
I rubbed Mom’s back as she was sick last night, taking out icky bags of garbage, offering wet washcloths and trying to offer whatever comfort I could. Her nausea appears every evening and she usually throws up anything she’s managed to eat that day. She continued to feel sick this morning - she called when I was 6 hours into my trip at around 9AM.

“Still sick?” I asked her. She said she was and had called her doctor. He prescribed another pill and said it was probably a mixture of problems causing the regular bouts of vomiting.

“I hate this.” I whispered to myself as I tried to sleep last night, tucked in the back bedroom and knowing I should rise early to return to my life. “I hate this so much.”

Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep!
My disappointment (and dare I say shame?) over this job is likely due to the fact that I haven’t been sleeping well at all lately. I don’t tolerate such events with any sort of grace and when too many nights pass without a requisite 8 hours, I get cranky or moody or sad. I seem to have settled on the latter for this evening and very much hope I rest well tonight and feel stronger and happier tomorrow.

It’s just that between the lack of anything resembling a personal life, the unexpected interview failure (which really is fine, I know), and realizing that I’ve happily submitted a journal article that will likely be rejected, thereby sending me into another bout of self doubt and mild depression, I am not a happy Katie right now.

But I shall recover.

Random airport story
When I left the airport on Monday, there was an elderly gentleman who boarded the plane with the first few passengers. He hugged his friend - a younger, but still elderly, man - who had somehow made it through security sans boarding pass to wait with his friend. He told the other man this was as far as he could go and let him make his way up the ramp toward the jet bridge. When the older of the two turned once again to smile and wave, I grinned. He seemed so pleased to be heading off to vacation.

When I boarded, I noticed him seated next to a woman in the front row. They were talking about his trip and while I waited for people to stow luggage in the overhead bin, I learned he was going to Seattle to meet a lady friend who was introduced to him online. He was eager to see her, having spoken on the phone several times, and spoke happily about his adventure.

When we were deplaning in Chicago, I had just reached the front of the plane - having been sitting in the very last row - when someone raced back to the attendant and ordered her to call for help. Someone had fallen. I immediately frowned with worry, holding my bag awkwardly in front of me as I had taken mincing steps through the narrow aisle, and slowly moved past the crowd waiting for their gate checked bags and toward the scene of the fall.

As I followed my fellow passengers in a slow line, I heard women gasp with concern when confronted with the older man lying on the jet bridge. There is that ridged, rubber surface that links the two levels and offers a rather steep incline midway between the plane and terminal. He had apparently stepped incorrectly and tumbled backward and my stomach clenched when I realized it could be the man going to meet his online friend.

I peered around the line of people in front of me, pushed as we were to one side as we stayed out of the way, no one able to be callous enough to step over the poor man in order to reach the gate and move on to her final destination. We instead watched four men who had abandoned their bags around the tunnel that contained us and were bending over the man, asking questions, resting hands on his shoulders and reassuring him that it could have happened to anyone.

“I’m so embarrassed.” He said gruffly, his legs halfway up the rubber incline and his body trying to right itself. I could see the indecision within the group around him as they debated helping him up or demanding he wait for professionals. “I’ve never fallen before.” He told them and I saw his wife fluttering around him, and sighed with relief when I decided it couldn’t be the passenger on his way to Seattle. Then I continued to fret about the man who had landed on the thinly carpeted floor. “I’m embarrassed more than hurt, so can one of you just help me up?”

The men decided it was a fair request, I assumed, since they all moved to position his feet and pull on his arms or push at his back as they maneuvered him. The man, once upright, waved us past him and we kept our gazes away in order to be polite. As I passed them, he was following his wife to the gate, his steps careful, his head down and his palm firmly on the handrail.

It is embarrassing to take a tumble. And for everyone who finds love online and jaunts off to meet the person who flutters over them in return, there are those of us who end up looking like flipped-over turtles on the ground, waving about our limbs about with the futile desire to get back up, wincing at the thought that someone saw our indignity and having to accept and tolerate the sore muscles or sprained ankles that hinder us as we make our way to the next gate.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Interviewing, the details

Em asked a good question on my last post and it's one I'm happy to address. I have a decent amount of interviewing experience, though it's centered on industry and post-doc level jobs. I'm sure interviews for teaching and/or faculty positions vary a great deal, but I don't want to teach. So that knowledge is beyond me.

My parents were rather surprised at the length and depth of the interview process as well, so my feeling is that it's a bit odd to have to interview for so long and hard. That's true, of course, only coming from the general population of normal people. In the academic world, I'd be shocked to only talk to a single person for any sort of job opening. It is - in my experience - the norm to have several things in common with an interview schedule.

1. Seminar.
"We'd like you to prepare some remarks." Someone always says when I'm making travel arrangements and the prospective employer has indicated interest in meeting me. "You'll talk for approximately 40 minutes, then people will ask questions for 20 minutes or so."

At my current institution, interviews tend to be scheduled on our regular seminar day. Therefore, the candidate is free to make any statements uninterrupted, telling her complete story and taking questions at the end. I've only given two of these more formal talks. One when I interviewed for this post-doc and the other when I gave my final talk (though not my defense - we do 2 separate events in my graduate department) before finishing up at graduate institution.

It has been more likely - in my interviewing experience - to expect between 10-50 people at a given talk. I'm sure this varies across fields and recall that Friend's boss only includes people from his lab at some interview talks. Therefore the atmosphere is smaller and the people tend to be much more knowledgeable.

I have found - and have been told to prepare for - a range of people in the audience. I make two assumptions (that I don't necessarily advocate, but it's what I do). The first is that these people are very smart. I make it a rule to never talk down to people. I think there is a balance between being proud of my work and confident in my expertise and being respectful of each audience member's background and accomplishments. I therefore start at a reasonable level, offer what explanation I feel is necessary and am always happy to take questions that request elaboration on certain topics. I've found that people ask when they don't understand something - it's not necessarily a weakness in my presentation (although that has sometimes been the case), rather an opportunity to tailor my remarks on the fly for this particular audience.

Just as there is a balance between thinking well of myself and respecting my audience, I find there's a line between rehearsal and general preparation. My second assumption is therefore that I will be nervous. I know what I want to say for each given slide and often write that out and practice it beforehand. I did less of this for yesterday's experience and my brain was screaming at me the whole seminar for my lack of preparation. For me, a comfort with the material and a firm knowledge of where I'm going with each slide and how to transition to the next makes it easier - even if it seems counter-intuitive - to be open to interruptions and questions that can take me off track during the talk.

2. One on Ones
From a personal standpoint, I've never seen defensive attitudes work in interviews. People are there to challenge me - to ask why and how and what my reasoning was. To suggest alternatives and watch me think through how that idea would apply to my research. I combat that with a genuine interest, first of all. I've received excellent ideas from interviews and sincerely enjoy speaking to people one on one. I think my research is interesting and important and have found it's rare to have people focus specifically on me and what I'm doing. Interviews are good for digging deep into some methods or results and having someone say, "Huh. What if you tried X?" Or "I've used Y for Z. Do you think that might work for you?" Keeping in mind that I've worked with the same general line of research for 7 years now (Crap - I'm so getting old.), that's fun for me. Thinking of it as an opportunity to learn (and people are educated enough to appreciate the desire for knowledge in others, I've found) rather than criticism of my abilities and work helps.

So. Why are there so many stops on the schedule? It depends on the place. In my field, we're highly collaborative. Therefore - since I work on clinical projects - I'm usually meeting with various people in various departments. Since they'll be working with me over the course of my project, it's important to get a feel for what I know, what they know and how well we can discuss common ground.

Yet I always meet with several people who do what I do. I think different people see different things. Some are guided to a decision by a candidate's personality and how well they fit into a group. Others are highly technically oriented and will probe specific skill sets and ask questions like you'd find in a defense. I'm a bit annoyed by this, honestly, and tend not to respond very well. I feel quizzing a candidate indicates a lack of respect in the training institution that produced me as well as, well, me. If I say I know something, don't say, "Prove it." Ass. Yet I answer those questions as gracefully as possible, yet must give off some 'what the hell?' vibe since I rarely get more than 2 of them from any given person. I also - just anecdotally - find that people who ask crap like that tend to be young and trying to prove something themselves.

At this particular interview, I met with many people who did stuff I don't do. I think they were looking for overall impressions - of me, of my work, of my ability to explain the work and answer questions that a smart person who doesn't necessarily have experience in my area would ask. Those are interesting too. I find people from disparate disciplines know very different techniques, but can often find some commonality that provides a good sharing of ideas. Plus, it can take interviewing time (and 45 minutes can go really fast or painfully slow, honestly - the meetings usually aren't so long based on past experiences) to learn about something new and ask questions of their research and interests.

So the technical depth varies widely, Em. Some people know a lot and can ask detailed questions that are challenging to answer. I find they're usually directed toward areas I do (or should) know. Some people know a little and you get bogged down in background and slowly make your way toward a bigger point they were hoping to discover. I have always been worried that someone was going to ask me to make a pyramid of quarters or quiz me on word problems to test my critical thinking skills. Never happened.

3. HR Component
My industry interviews have always involved an HR person, usually toward the end of the day. They tend to be softer interviews, and are the chance to show off your behavioral interviewing skills. I got "Tell me about a time when you were able to overcome a difficulty with a co-worker." yesterday. Um, what else... "What do you think makes you effective at your job in terms of your personality?" Or "If I talked to your closest colleagues and collaborators, how would they describe you?"

4. Katie's Tips!
I don't know how valuable these will be to different people, so do feel free to ignore them completely (or add in the comments if you feel something is completely wrong or very different in your experience, please).

The important people - major bosses, people whose weight will count heavily in the interviewing decision - usually interview first thing in the morning. I think this is because as I talked to more people, I got a better and better sense of the job and what they were looking for. I was unable to help from skewing some answers toward that ideal, though I reminded myself to be honest and realistic at all times. ("Of course I can ride three horses at one time while standing on my head! In fact, I feel that such a thing is one of my life goals, enriches my experience on Earth and my training has been geared exactly in that direction!" I am compelled to tell people what they want to hear, which is a bad habit I'm trying mightily to overcome.) So make sure you're up and ready and thinking in the morning.

Draw, draw, draw. I find making notes on the backs of papers while I'm explaining a concept is valuable. I didn't do that at my first few interviews, but it takes the focus off eye contact, allows me to really think through what I'm saying and some things are just easier to explain when you're looking at labeled blobs. (I don't have artistic talent, so anything I draw is pretty much a blob with a word inside telling what said blob represents.) I've drawn tumors. I've made charts. I've jotted down pieces of code. If drawing doesn't work for you, I'd try to think about how you work through problems in general and use that during interviews to aid in your efficacy and comfort.

Expect the expected. Have a canned answer for "tell me a bit about yourself" or "walk me through your thesis project" and "how did your work contribute to the field in a novel and important way." It's how many people kicked things off with me and it gave me the opportunity to give a positive first impression. Plus, I could often guide the way the questions went based on those first few minutes. So I talked about my favorite subjects where I was most comfortable with my knowledge base. If there's something I don't know, I'm not going to lead you to it.

Be impressive. I reminded myself several times that I was interviewing, not just talking to people I thought were cool. I think being comfortable is wonderful, but I can get too engaged in the process and forget I'm being evaluated. Don't admit weaknesses readily, talk around bad points and keep returning to my skill set. These people aren't here to be friends - they're trying to figure out what I know and how it works to their advantage should they bring me on board.

Expect the unexpected. And be OK with not knowing. "What would you do if you became independently wealthy tomorrow?" One man asked as our time was almost over. "Wow." I said and paused. I looked out his window for a moment and considered, then replied, focusing on my research. I'd actually - truth be told - find some research to do near home, move to be closer to my family and travel and read and learn. I also, I realized with some dismay, continue to desperately want a husband and family. Which made me cry and cry last night when I realized it's unlikely to happen. That I'm headed toward a future I never really wanted and that I'm trying for this job that would likely take me even farther from my impossible-seeming goals. But I didn't say that, of course. Because I was trying to be impressive.

It's reasonable to be tired. And hungry and thirsty. And to have to use the restroom. Focus past it. Well, at least the tired part. These interviews are endurance activities. I, for example, know I hit a wall of exhaustion in the late morning/early afternoon. So I gear up for that and refuse to allow sleepiness to set in. I asked for coffee, then water. I also asked to take a brief break to freshen up. People don't tend to schedule them and while some lovely interviewers will offer, sometimes it's good to ask for what you need. Yet a nap is sadly not an option. So I've coached myself to deliver caffeine at regular intervals, to stay nervous and keep my attention sharp and to be engrossed in all conversations so I'm not watching the clock.

Does that help at all? More questions? Comments?

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the well wishes before and after this interview. I think I did OK, but I'll let you know when I hear something in a couple weeks. I also think there's always room for improvement in my performance and am not critiquing myself overly hard on this one. So onward we go.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Interviewing is hard.

I woke up. Got dressed. Curled my hair and plucked my eyebrows. Put on make up. Went to the lobby for a bagel and juice. Took my taxi to the interview site.

And then began a day that went extremely quickly. I had 8 interviews, each lasting more than the allotted 45 minutes appointment time. Some of the questions and ideas were both novel and impressive. I never felt lost, though there were points where I could tell my answers were not what they wanted to hear. But I stuck with honesty since I believe I'll turn them down even if they offer me something.

I did, however, interview like I wanted it. I cringed at the seminar delivered too quickly and with all the wrong colors in the background since I had to use a stupid PC instead of my lovely Mac. I would have used the Mac, but we were running 10 minutes behind even for my morning presentation and people were waiting for us in this huge room. Without any time to prepare, I was nervous. Abruptly and intensely terrified that I had no idea what I was talking about. Yet 35 minutes later, I was finished speaking and the one-on-one questioning began again.

I liked some interviewers better than others, having a particular favorite with whom I could have spent hours discussing science and technology and trading stories. He was absolutely delightful. He was also the only one who asked if I was married, then immediately leaned back in his chair and said, "Hell. I'm not allowed to ask that. You don't have to answer." I laughed in response and shook my head at him. "It's fine. And no, I'm not." And he gave me a grin in return.

The younger the employee - and three of them graduated the same year I did - the harder the interview. There were copious notes and superior nods and in-depth questions to assess my background. The older men - for I saw only men today - were easier, gathering the necessary information but with a style that was much more refined.

There was one man who met me near the end of the day. His eyes were the exact same bright blue of his shirt. I found them beautiful and had to remind myself to act professional as I fluttered at him. He was informative and honest, which I found refreshing.

The feedback I received was positive. But there were some who gave few clues as to their opinions. They were all meeting in a conference room that overlooked the front area as I waited for the cab that would deliver me back to my hotel. I was briefly tense at the thought of them discussing me and the qualifications and knowledge I had trotted out for their possible rejection. That I was too tired to think about it anymore.

The cab driver was late, but I waited outside, breathing in the cool air and relishing not being inside and being asked to respond to questions anymore. He drove painfully slowly (in contrast to this morning's driver who was going 72 in a 40mph zone), listened to some conservative radio talk show and asked me to look up the address of the hotel since he didn't know where it was. Then I believe he tried to subtly berate me for my choice of tip (he got 20%). This bothered me more than it should have, but I now believe him to be a whore. And I'm taking a different car company to the airport tomorrow morning for my early flight.

I don't know that I'm particularly glad I came. I suppose the experience was good - it reminded me of how out of practice I am in the interviewing game, but my skills returned quickly. I talked and laughed and made a few notes as I spoke to people. I was honest about my skill set and preferences. And I made it through the day being attentive and engaged with the process - my biggest problem is hitting a wall of exhaustion, but I didn't yawn a single time.

It's over though. And that feeling I used to have after big exams or perhaps a big presentation is present. Relief that is covered with exhaustion and residual tension as it dissipates. And tomorrow I travel. Here to parents' to pick up my dog (who spent the day bonding with Mom - they apparently napped and talked and ate a bit), then continuing south to reunite with my stripey cat.

Any questions? I'm in answer mode today, so give it your best shot. Otherwise, I believe I'm going to sleep.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Up, up and away

I just sent email to Boss as I sit here at my parents' local airport. I had to press the button for service in a nearly empty lobby. I was checked in by a rather brusque gentleman and walked through security with only the employees around me as I took out my laptop and little baggie with lipgloss inside. I found a table away from the crowd that is waiting for the delayed 9:30 flight. I'm starting to worry that O'Hare is running behind and will screw with my travel day today. If so, that is not cool O'Hare. Let's get things going, shall we?

Boss, returning to my story and away from my fearful 'what if I miss my plane?! I've never done that before!!' thoughts, replied that all sounded well and we should meet when I return to discuss our plans of work yet to do.

Which made me frown despite the agreeable email I sent in reply. It's hard to deny I'm in the 'wrap this puppy up' mode. I'm writing and doing last bits of analysis. My interview talk - such as it is - is written and I have other projects to discuss while I seek my next job. I'm not particularly eager to do more work now. I don't want to start something I can't finish - I have enough of those projects already and deeply regret this work that was carefully planned, hopefully begun then painfully stalled.

I've started doing retrospective analyses in my head. Within my postdoc, I wrote a blog. I made a Friend. I drafted a novel after having my poor heart broken. I became deeply depressed and started taking medication and went to therapy. I traveled a little. I slept a lot. I acquired a cat. I wrote a book chapter. And published my graduate work. I did all the work I could find to create something from this situation which should have been amazing and productive, yet somehow was not. (Sadly, very little of this can be presented in an interview. Bummer.)

Honestly, when I look back over my time since leaving my graduate institution, I find myself coming back to this collection of words that chronicle my time in nearly 700 posts, most of them far too long. I haven't carried this blog with me through graduation or to a different job. I'm doing much the same thing as I was when I started writing here. And while it strikes me as poetic to let this end when I leave this job, the likelihood of that happening is rather low.

Even as my motivation to write here - especially anything substantive and interesting - wanes, I like the idea of having a record of what happened. So that when I finally get to know what happens next, I can return to this and recall what it was like to wonder.

Right now - just for the record - it feels tense and nervous and a bit sick. I don't like the idea of the late flights, though apparently we're trying to make up time. (OK - I just looked. There was an aircraft issue that delayed the first plane. The one I'll take is on its way here now and should leave on time. Travel Agent makes me nervous though with these tiny layovers. Less than an hour at a connecting airport? That's as big as O'Hare? What if I have to freshen up or get a drink or grab a snack or find a book? What if I trip and hurt myself (as happens a great deal - I ran into an end table at my parents' last night for no reason at all)? Honestly!)

So. Minor Revisions - bringing you unnecessary whining and complaints since November, 2005. And likely to continue until I have less to freak out over. (Which means it's probably up to you guys to stop reading - I'm not going anywhere except up in the air and back down again. And I'll probably let you know how that went when I find wireless internet in my suite tonight.)

(Oh, and thank you for the lucky wishes! I shall try to use them and do very well tomorrow.)

Checking in:
The flights went smoothly though my pilot (same one on both little flights - isn't that odd?) liked to bounce the plane when he landed. I did not approve. There was also a tiny bug between the panes of glass of my window on the trip here. It was completely white, save a touch of black at the very tip of its hindquarters. I'll probably have nightmares about that bug.

I got a car at the airport and had a lovely conversation about how awful New York City is in terms of traffic and crowds and cost, yet how completely cool it is despite all that. I smiled in pure agreement, though I haven't ever visited. I'm north of there and the driver chatted with me until he left me at my hotel.

I have a lovely suite here. It has a desk with a real office chair (with wheels! and adjustable height!), a little kitchenette and a sitting room. Then I have two double beds and a huge bathroom. I ordered dinner - it should be arriving soon - and arranged for a car tomorrow morning to transport me to my interview. I am - with all honesty - feeling rather important as I use my free wireless and fill out my expense report. I'm going to run through my talk just once tonight, shower, iron and prepare to meet my next car early in the morning.

I'm not very nervous, which is quite strange for me. Perhaps I'll do brilliantly in terms of emotional stability. Or maybe the crazy-nervous feelings are just waiting to pounce. Yet I will enjoy my contentment for now - my lovely room in a pretty city with a day tomorrow that's all about me.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Admitting Failure

"Sprout decided to stay home for this trip." I announced on my third call home this morning. I had awakened at 6 and was prepared to leave. At the sight of the suitcase, the cat trotted to the end of the hall and hid. He remained unseen for the next two hours. I watched TV. I took a shower. I offered food and his laser pointer. I looked under beds and in tiny holes. I called home for ideas.

Then I left without him.

"Yes." I answered when Mom asked if he'd get lonely and bored without me and his canine friend. "But there are consequences to actions. If he won't come out to allow me to capture him, he has to stay alone. Those are the options and he selected this one."

The drive home was easier without him talking and hissing from the back of the car. Chienne and I made three stops to stretch our legs, get gas or grab a snack. She's a good traveler, sleeping some, looking some, whining very little. The car was lightly packed - I have a few clothes, some gifts for Smallest and Little One, and my new laptop bag neatly organized for my trip.

I listened to a book on the way home - I like that series, finding it cute and easy and very well written. It's very easy to let supernatural stories drift into laughable, but this one is a little silly and quite entertaining. I approve and am disappointed that this appears to be the last one.

I feel flushed and...odd. Not awful, but not particularly well.

I sighed at the sense of failure when Carrie wrote to tell me that she's assign her project to someone else. She soothed and took care not to make me feel badly, but it's still sucky. I should have been able to do this, but I couldn't. And I don't have the time to start over and fix it. Which means I suck. And while there is an element of relief in having admitted it and having the responsibility go elsewhere, there is the lingering feeling of unpleasant realization that there are some projects - even simple, straightforward ones - that leave me lost.

And I will mildly worry over my stripey feline who is staying home alone for the next few days.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Time To Think

I was to drive home yesterday. I postponed until today, then postponed again. I'm still at my house and feeling semi-guilty about the fact that I've not yet made the drive north.

I am, I think, nervous about my upcoming interview. I tend to get paralyzed with fear when anticipating an event. I sleep a tremendous amount. I'm unable to do anything right. I get impatient and awful. And this I have been the past few days.

I sat in an office on Thursday afternoon, doggedly refusing to leave until Steve gave me the measurement I sought. This particular task has topped my to-do list for at least six months, yet I couldn't make it work. So I demanded a meeting and since we're friends, he obliged.

"Aren't you tired?" I asked after a mere hour of debugging code and starting from scratch to recreate work I'd already done.

"No." He said, giving me a look then shaking his head at me. And I watched him work, doing nothing more than sitting and making mental notes on how to recreate the process in the future. I apologized several times when the length of our meeting stretched past 3 hours, then 4 and neared 5. He waved me off and continued to transfer files between my laptop and his, then to his desktop and back again, typing and clicking and scowling in turn.

I was crushed when it didn't work. I returned to my office with head down and shoulders sagging. I wanted to put this in my paper! Had a section ready for it and a figure. And disappointment didn't begin to cover my feelings that it had all been for naught.

I came home and spent hours dealing with Carrie's data. I, put quite simply, screwed it up beyond repair. I think what has to be done is to start over from scratch and carefully recreate each step, checking for errors all the while. After watching Steve do the same thing with a different project of mine, it's hard not to feel useless.

"Fine." I said sadly after trying my last idea and realizing it wasn't going to work. "At least I can do laundry." And I believed that until I was pulling clothes from the dryer and came up with a USB drive. It was very clean, but I doubted it enjoyed the wash and dry. So I sighed heavily and brought in laundry. I decided to check poor Eenie (of Eenie, Meanie, Minie and Moe - my 4 2GB drives) later.

Then I took another nap, waking to realize that hours were gone but my feeling of unbearable failure hadn't eased at all.

I read a book, feeling tense the whole time. Then I decided to pick up the house and vacuum. I did more laundry and put away clothes. I picked out what to wear on my trip, deciding - perhaps to my detriment - against wearing a suit. I'll try pants and a sweater instead and see how comfort over formality goes. I looked again at Steve's results and decided on a way to use them after all. Then I made several figures for my paper and felt the tension ease just a bit.

I packed, ran some errands and continued to clean. I fixed slides in my talk and am doing one more piece of analysis to fix the last section that bugs me.

It turns out that going through the slides, packing and preparing for the trip calmed me. Most of the time that doesn't work. If I'm nervous about a talk, I try to forget about it and practice feverishly only to exacerbate my fear. This time, I breathed easier as I tucked items into my new laptop bag and made sure I had everything necessary in my suitcase. I feel better that the house is clean and ready for my return next week.

I crave normalcy though. The ability to work and rest and live without dreading the next big trip or hurdle. I want to settle in and welcome boredom for a while.

But Eenie still works just fine and transferred figures from my desktop to laptop. My analysis is now finished, so I can complete my last two slides. I can fold one last load of laundry and place my luggage in the car. Then I can return home - to noise and people I love - and interview with 8 men and give a seminar on work I think is important. And while I'm still not thrilled about spending the next few days in this manner, the paralysis appears to have lifted so that I'm at least prepared to do so.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Quiet, but fine.

I realized that when I don't post there could be some concern that I have gone home to problems. I am supposed to go home tomorrow, but everything appears to be fine.

I spent 2 hours in a meeting in the morning yesterday trying to understand a project that I don't know how to do. I'm their expert in my field (which always makes me cringe) and I pretended I had some ideas, but I really do not. Curses.

I spent 5 hours in an office yesterday afternoon trying to make a measurement work that had oodles of problems. By the time we finally got through it, the results weren't even interesting. Which sucked. A lot.

I've been battling headaches so I went to bed early last night. Then got up, propelled by frustration over my day at work and tried to fix Carries project until 2AM. I went to bed, feeling as if I was on the right track, only to spend today refining my troubleshooting technique.

All of this should have been straightforward and simple. Yet it is not. Which leaves me feeling less than confident and more eager to sleep my headache away.

After I try this one more thing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

O Positive

I'm nervous about giving blood. But I am resolved to try and hope it goes very smoothly.

But things look brighter this morning somehow. I'm hoping my mood is taking a turn for the better. So far, things that are making me happy include the following:

It's cooled down here! I opened the house last night, thrilling Mr. Sprout by the ability to sit in the windows and experience the world. It also made the walk with Miss Chienne this morning quite enjoyable. No sweating and lovely breeze and the sunshine felt nice on my skin. It could be cooler, of course, but I am content for now with the not-insanely-hot weather.

My yard - in contrast to its former state - looks so pretty. I have happy, little flowers in orange and pink and purple. Sprout hid in them before he moved in last year and I'm fond of my little garden. I killed my hanging plant that resided on the porch but replaced it with this happy little bug sculpture with bells for feet. It's silly and adorable and my porch is tucked in the corner of my house so I'm not disturbed by constant bug-feet-bell ringing.

My pictures arrived! Mom and Dad mailed them last week and I checked the mail to find them this morning before proudly hanging them on my fridge.

"Can you color one for me too?" I asked Little One when we were talking on the phone. Since Grandma was in the hospital, she was getting a picture colored. I was in the hospital too, so I wanted one to bring home.

"Yeah." She said, singing out the word.

"You're not too busy?" I asked her.

"I am kind of tired." She replied with a sigh, considering the doubling of her current workload.

"Oh." I said with a smile. "Well, maybe you could rest before you color my picture. Or do it tomorrow."

"Yeah." She said again. "I'll probably watch a movie first. Then I'll do your picture."

"I forgot it!" I gasped at Dad when I was almost done with my trip home. "I wanted it and I forgot my picture on the table!" He promised to mail it and with my large picture of Dora and Boots, I received a lovely picture of Puss in Boots from a Shrek coloring book. Dad - in appreciation for my help when I was home - colored me something also. It made me smile.

I ordered a new laptop bag for my interview. It's very pretty and should arrive tomorrow. I'm also looking forward to the trip with only moderate nervousness. It should be good to get the first interview out of the way and see what my corporate options are.

My massage yesterday worked well. I'm not nearly as stiff and achy. She even worked with my ankle and eased some of that lingering soreness.


"I did well." I told Mom proudly after I walked from the section of the hospital that held the Blood Mobile. She had earlier said I was unlikely to follow through. I acknowledged that while I hate needles and am sickened at the sight of blood, I thought I could do it.

I arrived and gave the informational packet the same focused attention I offered the safety card in the seat pocket in front of me on my first trip on a plane.

"I've never done this before." I told the woman when I placed my booklet on the pile of others and signed in, checking the sheet in the column for Yes. It was my first time donating. "I'm very nervous." I told her and she smiled and offered me a sticker.

"They'll take good care of you." She assured. "Put this on and take a seat inside."

After a deep breath, I tentatively entered the room and glanced around before deciding to keep my eyes away from any possible blood. I was soon taken to a chair surrounded by shoulder-high cardboard walls that were looking a bit worse for wear.

"First," Andre said with a pretty accent I think was Caribean, "we check your vitals and blood. Then, if that goes well, you answer some questions. You ask questions if you have them."

I nodded, repeating again that I was nervous. "I don't like needles." I warned him as he took one out to prick my finger with this tiny black box. He smiled and said it would be quick. I made a face at the tiny sting, eager to protectively pull my hand to my chest and apply pressure to my tiny wound.

"Your blood pressure is very high." He noted. "You are nervous. Try to calm down." He added kindly. "But your iron is good, and everything else looks fine. So we move on to the questions."

He left me alone to touch the screen of the laptop to make sure I wasn't infected. (What is it, by the way, about spending time in the UK? Africa, I assume, is malaria based. But I could have spent more time in Europe than the UK according to my questions. I'm fond of the British - what's wrong with their blood? And how could I have caught it if I lived there for too long?) He returned to ask me about my trip to England, but that was all. I'm rather boring and healthy - no reason not to take my blood.

"I'll give you someone good." Andre assured me, putting me on a chair that reminded me of cheap outdoor furniture with its plastic straps. I laid my head back, crossed my ankles that were stretched in front of me and tried to relax.

"I don't like needles." I told Lisa when she came over. "Or blood. Please don't hurt me."

She smiled and patted my arm after asking to see both. She nodded and said she thought I'd do very well. "But you are bright red." She said. "Don't be so nervous that I think twice about sticking you."

"OK." I said, trying to breathe and think about something nice. All I could consider was needles and blood and pain. Someone put my tube and baggie on my tummy and I glanced down at them with some queasiness. But soon enough, Lisa put the blood pressure cuff around my arm, marked two very good veins in my right arm and returned with cleaning materials after checking to make sure I wasn't allergic.

"You know how it feels when you get alcohol in a cut? That miserable sting?" I nodded fearfully. "It's like that. Then it doesn't hurt at all. The finger prick is worse than this part and you did fine with that." She patted me again when I continued to peer up at her with terror. "You'll be fine." And she started to swab my elbow with yellow stuff. She did that for a long time. I looked toward the door and wondered if I should leave.

You can do this, I told myself firmly. You're young and healthy and your lifestyle is completely boring. If you're not going to have wild sex, you should at least give your no-way-it's-infected blood.

"Little pinch." She warned and I scrunched my face. I soon became alarmed when it continued to hurt. How long did I have to do this? 15 minutes? It hurt!

"It still stings." I told her.

"That's because I cleaned it really well." She assured me. "It'll stop in 60 seconds. You squeeze every 5-10 seconds for me and call if you need help."

I nodded, already counting down the seconds until the mild pain eased and making sure I squeezed enough. It didn't take a full minute for the sensation to subside and I was soon trying to relax against the awareness that there was a needle in my arm. It wasn't bad - didn't hurt at all - but I wanted to be done. But I continued to count and squeeze my little pill-shaped ball. I decided to consider the "one saves three" phrase they kept telling me. What if one of my three needed more than one unit of blood? I wondered how much anti-depressant hung out in my blood and decided it probably was negligible. If not, perhaps my people would become a tiny bit happier when they got my blood.

I was smiling at myself when Andre came to check on me. "How are you feeling?" He asked.

"Fine." I told him truthfully. "How am I doing?"

"You're done." He said, smiling and I blinked.

"Already? That was fast."

"Five minutes, 23 seconds." He said and I thought my high blood pressure might have helped with the speed of my donation.

"I'm efficient." I said proudly. "And now I'd like this needle out."

"Soon." He said and I turned my head to avoid seeing any of the process. "I need to fill these vials for the testing. It won't hurt at all - no more sticks. I just use this to fill them." There was a slight tug at the tape on my wrist as he popped various vials on and off. I kept my head turned and started when he told me to hold the pressure. I looked down with relief at the white gauze square on my elbow. It was over and I hadn't felt the needle come out.

I sighed with relief and started to feel absurdly proud of myself. It had been hard but I'd done it. And it wasn't at all awful. I put my arm above my head, keeping the pressure on my elbow with two fingers of my left hand and watched - for the first time - the sight of my blood being carried to a nearby table and scanned in. The vials were banded to the baggie and the tube coiled neatly to the package. The substance inside looked nearly black and thick and I glanced around to make sure the other volunteers were producing similar results. I nodded when I saw they were and felt my stomach clench warningly so I looked away from the blood that had just been inside me as it now sat inside a baggie on a table.

I walked across the room after thanking Lisa and Andre for being so patient and kind. I had some juice and took a brownie. I called Mom on my way back across campus - she was surprised and proud and laughed at my story. I felt weird after arriving at my desk. A bit woozy and odd.

Propter Doc was right, I thought. I was a bit worn down and I think this is going to make me a bit ill. A meeting was canceled so I came home to have some lunch and take a nap. And now I feel fine, having removed my red bandage and looking at the teeny tiny spot just below my elbow where the needle went in.

It was, I think, a rather good day. And now I shall take it easy for the evening. I deserve it, I think. I gave blood today.