Friday, November 30, 2007

Well, hell.

I have been doing very well lately. I like my job! I feel productive! I've been writing and analyzing and taking on new projects! I scoff at my former bipolar work habits - I have figured out a level of productivity that is very high yet sustainable!

Except not so much. The motivation is gone and in its place is a complete lack of interest in work.

I could work on Happily Revising Paper. But I don't want to. I could make a figure for Problematic Paper. Rewrite and refocus it since I know how I want it to go. But, no. I could write more on the IRB forms I started for Marlie's project. But I don't really care. I could do more reading to figure out this technical problem since Maria isn't answering email anymore. But it seems too hard. I need to make notes on that fellowship application since Boss agreed to sit down with me next week to work on it. But I'm tempted to just write down his comments and submit them - they'll certainly be better than mine. I should write my interview talk since that event creeps closer every day. But I'd rather mindlessly watch TV or sleep.

This frustrates me. I have Photoshop open in the office. I have various word documents open next to a number of papers that describe relevant research to any one of those projects. But I don't want to deal with any of it. I hate that as much as I wanted to work - craved productivity - I'm now just as intense about not wanting to work.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Quiet Mentor Speaks

"I know you're a big girl and have written many papers." He said as he sat in an armchair beside me in the seating area that occupies one corner of his spacious office. He crossed one ankle over the opposite knee, the creases in his slacks sharp.

"I wouldn't say many." I offered, cursing the fact that I'd arrived late to campus and my bag was full of printed and highlighted journal articles rather than a neat notebook and copy of my manuscript. "And I realized we've yet to write a paper together, so it makes sense to meet."

I like Quiet Mentor and have done since we met on the day I interviewed here 2.5 years ago. But I'm glad our contact is somewhat limited. We sat in an office after I gave my interview seminar and he spoke too slowly about career development and how to pick projects and how to select labs. It's his style of dealing with underlings, I decided, so I try to appreciate the attention while I have it. So yesterday I removed several pages that held color figures for Problematic Paper and folded them in half so I could write on the backs. Happily Revising Paper rested on a table in the pleasant sitting area and I smiled at it fondly before returning my attention to Quiet Mentor.

"This is a teaching moment." He declared. "And I like to take advantage of teaching moments when they appear." I nodded and tried to look interested.

"Always start," he began to lecture with a nod toward my paper and pen that indicated I should begin to write, "with the figure legends and figures. They tell your story and should contain the experimental design. So you move that text to the methods section and expand on it a bit." I scrawled words on my paper and put little numbers next to my list to indicate order. I'd already decided to write a blog post about this meeting, so I didn't want to forget relevant details.

"The titles of your figures provide subheadings for the Results, so then you fill in that section. Then I move to the Introduction. There should be three paragraphs. What's the problem? That's paragraph one. Why is the answer important? That's paragraph two. And what did you end up finding? That's paragraph three and should end with a single sentence describing your conclusions in such a way that draws readers into your methods because they're so impressed with what you've written so far."

He nodded, appearing satisfied with his explanation, and waited while I finished writing and looked up expectantly. "Now I write the Discussion. Yours was too long." He noted, with a wave of his hand toward the stapled pages on his table. "You had three figures and each gets a paragraph. Now if the paper is particularly complex, you can have one of two extra paragraphs and when I read yours, I decided it likely needed to have five in this section. The good news is that you can combine many of your paragraphs."

"I did that." I said. "Your suggestions of what to remove were good and when I combined the paragraphs, I noticed I could reorganize and remove the redundant information. It did make the section much cleaner." He smiled and nodded rather regally, pleased that I appreciated his suggestions.

"The last sections - the very final step - are the title and abstract. I review a lot of manuscripts and most people struggle when it comes to naming their papers. I think it's because they've submitted abstracts for meetings and already have a title and abstract they want to recycle."

I nodded in agreement and was rewarded by a dark frown of disapproval. "Don't do that." He ordered. "Throw that away - it'll hurt you far more than it helps. You want to read the paper and get a real sense over what it tells readers and title it appropriately. I can't tell you how many times I've picked up a paper and thought it was going to be fascinating and realized that everything they were telling me had nothing to do with how they'd titled the work!"

I opened my mouth to tell him the authors probably did not mean to offend him personally by the slight, but instead decided to admit I often struggle with titles.

"I get writers' block sometimes." He said, trying to identify with me. "That's why I follow the format I laid out for you. There's no room to get blocked because it's paint by number. Each section flows into the next and you know what each paragraph should contain so you just type it out." I nodded thoughtfully, but thought I could still stare at a blank screen, knowing what the paragraph should say but not knowing how to say it.

"Now the title and abstract require creativity. I suppose the introduction and discussion might as well. So I work on those first thing in the morning." I wrote down 'utilize creative periods' as he explained that he was most creative when he first woke up. "Caffeine also works well for me, so I often sit down very early with a pot of coffee and write the difficult sections. You have to find your own creative period." He declared and I nearly smiled as I pictured him standing around his early morning slot, guarding it against eager students who might want to use it as well while drinking part of his coffee. "It's mostly bimodal." He decided, using his hand to draw an M with rounded edges in the air. "Some people are early morning and late afternoon. Other people are mid-afternoon and late evening. Very few are middle of the day though." He frowned. "So no writing titles and abstracts around lunchtime." He shook his head at the very thought. "If I can't write in the mornings, I'll go exercise at lunch to encourage my afternoon creativity. You need to find the tricks that work for you, but you're free to try the coffee and exercise."

I smiled at him and nodded, rather amused, then raised my eyebrows expectantly. "So what else can we talk about in terms of career development?" He asked. So we touched on grants and he demanded I resubmit the K award. We talked about potential employers for my next job and he listed various institutions and the people he knows. He said I could contact them and use him as a reference. We talked about CV formatting and I was surprised when he suggested padding it by putting various items - travel awards, specifically - in various places. "They're an award, a grant, an international presentation and an abstract!" I'll continue to list mine once, thanks. I don't like the idea of writing clean papers then sending out redundant CVs.

"I think this is good." He said, waving his hand toward the pages that had remained on the table, a silent witness to our meeting. "Many young investigators won't publish anything unless it has strong conclusions and far-reaching influence. They hold papers too long when you should be pushing your name out there. This is good work and though the conclusions are less than vital, it's still publishable. I'm glad you wrote it up. So tell me what's next - how many papers have you published?"

"First author?" I asked. "One from undergrad, three from grad school. There's one under review, the one you've seen and one other that needs to be rewritten. It explains the findings in this paper but I want to refocus it. I wrote a book chapter and I might be able to pull one more paper out of something I've done."

"Middle author?" He asked and I smiled. This is where I shine.

"Many." I said. "Upwards of 10 in the time I've been here."

"Really?" He asked. "Excellent. You'll be seen as very productive on the job market then. Let's get the grant back out there and I think most people would be very pleased to see what you've done."

"I could have done more." I said. Not necessarily in terms of quantity - I'm good at ferreting out papers from very little - but in terms of high quality, high level research? I could have done more.

He shrugged. "I think you look good. No regrets necessary."

"Thanks." I offered, then nodded when he said we'd meet again. He wanted to see the next draft of Happily Revising Paper and looked forward to reading Problematic Paper when it was ready. He wants to see my CV and look at the grant application I should be writing now (I have no plans to do so). "I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me." I told him, slipping my bag on my shoulder.

"It's always good to see you." He commented and I smiled at his secretary as I exited his suite of offices. I smiled at Ken when I dropped my bag in my office and set my soda on my desk, tapping the space bar to wake my computer. I told him of my meeting and he shook his head.

"I took notes." I grinned. "It was that or glare at him for treating me like a child."

"I'd have glared." He decided and I laughed.

"His heart's in the right place. And who knows? Maybe I'll end up following his format for the next paper and will write more effectively for it."

Plus, I decided silently as I waited for new email to download, it gives me a blog post.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Whilst & Heretofore

I printed the fellowship application yesterday at my office on campus, wheeling my chair the few inches necessary for me to reach the documents resting neatly in the paper tray. Having decided to work from home today, I woke this morning before 7, happily poured cold coffee leftover from yesterday in a mug with cream and sweetener and flopped on my loveseat to get more Matlab code running.

It slows down the laptop considerably, so I had to choose between figuring out a technical question or reading the application. The latter won since it felt too early for derivations and Fourier transforms. I moved to the couch and covered up with a soft blanket. Then I lifted the edge of the fabric striped in shades of blue and green so Chienne could curl at my feet. I began to read, nodding with agreement at the significance and points in the introduction. I was distracted by the word 'whilst' and stopped to put a smiley face in the margin with the thin purple marker I held in my right hand. I wondered briefly if I might someday be kissed by a man with an English accent, then forcibly returned my attention to the sheaf of papers I held.

I was doing fine until I reached the end. As I moved the final page to the end of the stack I held, I was faced with the blank reviewer forms I am to turn in before mid-December. Apart from the other happy face I drew next to the sentence that contained 'heretofore,' I didn't make very many notes at all. I understand the premise, am familiar with the techniques and hold one of the listed mentors in extremely high regard. He was friendly to me at several international meetings - asking questions and making a point of introducing me to people. I'm therefore quite fond of him and would like to help him - and therefore his trainee - out.

It's not that I don't have ideas. I can and will list technical suggestions and suggest potential problems and limitations. But I've never reviewed a grant before and upon having this realization as I was leaving for my morning perambulation (insert smiley face here), I paused to frown. I'm not great at peer review for publications - I'm far too worried about someone's hurt feelings and am naturally encouraging rather than critical. But my skills in this area are developing slowly so I'm not overly concerned. But when it comes to grants, I'm very much a writer. If it lacks technical detail, I know how it feels to run out of room to tell all about my plan. If I feel it's very ambitious, perhaps that reflects my own feelings of failure when I tried to complete something rather similar and couldn't pull it together.

The truth is, I'd be much more comfortable having coffee (or perhaps some tea! Isn't tea more British?) with the fellow in question. We could talk lit searches and collaborators and I could tell him what I learned. Definitely do these three things, but try to avoid those 10 problems. Don't worry when this happens or you're really lucky if you can get the data to do that. I want to help - offer analysis programs and new acquisition schemes. I'd like to offer my email address in case he needs any help. (And maybe so I can get email with 'hath' and 'to wit' and maybe a 'chap' or two.) But when it comes to offering an objective opinion? I'm all befuddled.

So I've decided to make notes on my ideas, then ask Boss to walk me through a grant review. Given that I find him exceptionally kind, my feeling is that he'll be thorough and fair while retaining a sense of encouragement, especially toward young scientists. I'm content with this decision and will learn how to review grants later this week. Perhaps after I learn to outline articles for high profile journals tomorrow.

But now I will delve into complicated papers I'd rather ignore. I'll find a different pretty marker and some scratch paper and try to make sense of correlations and relationships and mapping against different independent variables and what the full width at half max of the Fourier transformed graph represents. Those words will not receive little smiley faces in the margins or elicit fantasies about walking hand in hand through rainy streets of London with some wonderful man who uses words that make me smile. But one of my technical papers is written from a group in the UK. Maybe they'll at least spell words differently than I would - ou and extra e and s instead of z. Beggars can't be choosers, I suppose.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Back to Work

I made the drive today, leaving my parents' after capturing a much-aggrieved kitten who was locked out of the basement as well as all bedrooms. His sounds are so frustrated and mournful when he realizes he has to go in the car. Poor Sprout. Chienne, conversely, is always happy to bounce right into the seat to make the trips.

I felt awful on the ride - my head ached dully and my stomach rolled sickly. I listened to the end of one audiobook then turned off the radio to let the story settle. I started another story, desperate to make the time pass with some distraction since I felt so physically bad. I finally turned it off and wished fervently that I had an option other than to press on for several more hours until I reached my house and the animals and I could emerge from the car. I found myself thinking of work, busying my mind with thoughts of analyses and papers and things left to do and was surprised at how completely I was consumed by those thoughts. I'm strangely happy doing what I do lately.

"I'll be right back." I told Little One while we were watching Harold and the Purple Crayon one night in the back bedroom. "I want to set something up on my computer." She let me leave without a complaint while I asked Matlab to run several hours worth of code. I returned soon after with a sippy cup full of juice and she cuddled against me again while we watched Harold throw a birthday party for his friends.

Smallest One curled against my chest on a pillow while I explained my job to her one night. She's still young enough that she likes the sound of the words rather than being bored by their meaning. I arranged her carefully and moved by head to peer around her to stare at the screen I'd left open on the end table. "So if I push this button here, we can normalize everything. That takes a little while, so you can nap or we can sing while that works." I told her. She blinked her eyes but failed to look overly excited when I told her that later we could check the quality.

"Put the computer away!" Mom said when I complained of a headache. "You're on it all the time!"

"I am not." I said, looking up in surprise. "Just when we're out here watching TV. And I'm working. Or writing. Or playing."

"That's why you have headaches." She said, shaking her head.

"Well, then I see a lot of headaches in my future." I muttered. "A lot of my life is on here." I did accomplish several things at home. I wrote the abstract for my interview talk and sent it. I wrote an IRB protocol and sent it to Boss. I figured out yet another problem with this analysis and set things up so I could deal with my files when I returned home.

Now - in my house that's kept 10 degrees cooler than the one up north - I immediately began moving stuff off external storage and answering email, thrilling to news that people had read my paper and had comments. Quiet Mentor wants a lot of text cut - he selected four paragraphs to delete and left it to me to shorten a discussion I already called concise. He wants to teach me to write and outline papers for Nature. I snorted at the very thought, but I appreciate the gesture and will talk with him this week. But if we can shorten this enough to do to an upper level clinical journal, I'll be beside myself with joy. It's far higher than I would have hoped.

I looked through his extensive comments, making my way through all the tracked changes, and reminded myself that he said it was a good first draft. I'm not incompetent - I just have more left to learn. And while I wish I was farther along sometimes, I rather like getting co-author input. I also take particular care when going through comments from senior scientists - notice where they change paragraph order (I'm getting better at that - Quiet Mentor only moved one small section of text) and what information they cut (I still struggle with that - I'm overly wordy and even when I cut text, it hurts me because I feel it's important and relevant and someone might want to know it!). I've set up meetings for this paper and started to work on my talk that I'm actually getting excited about giving.

I also got a request from a major British funding agency with a request for an expert review for an application they received. I was flattered and very much wanted to agree. I read the attached abstract and was shocked that I know what they're trying to do. I even know how I think it should be done! I can provide an opinion that is semi-knowledgeable! I wouldn't go so far as 'expert' but I think I might have some insight! So perhaps it is coming along even if progress is slow. Which might explain why I'm so eager to get back to it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Momentary Memories

I took a Vicodin yesterday afternoon. Mom and Dad coaxed me into joining them for some errands though a migraine had lurked menacingly behind my latest dose of Excedrin. I whined a bit, but climbed in the back of Mom's Jeep and we went to get pizza. A local team won a football game - their first victory in years of attempts at a state title. I may have attended some pep rallies personally more than ten years ago for teams of my peers.

"He doesn't have his name on his shirt." Mom noted as the three of us craned our necks to see the television mounted to the corner of the wall as we waited for our pizza.

"None of them do." I recalled. "No names on the jerseys or those stickers on the helmets. It's all about the team, not individual recognition. I always liked that." I mused, reminded of time spent in classrooms where many, many young men wore red jerseys with white numbers on Fridays in the Fall. None had names on them.


We walked through Walgreens to pick up a few random items. As Mom and Dad looked at dog dishes for Brother's dog - he wants her to have one that's elevated, the Vicodin kicked in and I grew suddenly woozy and happy. I smiled because the pain had ceased and a foggy head is better than a painful one. But then, I've taken those pills before. I recall becoming rather silly.


We went to church this morning - just Mom and me since Dad decided to spend his birthday morning at home. The announcements were long - it's a congregation of elderly people who fill very few of the pews. So someone wanted everyone to know her son had visited with his family and dogs. Someone else is having surgery on Tuesday and another couple is traveling. I felt bored and impatient, rather upset I hadn't opted out of services myself. Yet as the sermon neared completion, the power went out. There was only the light filtered through clouds and stained glass in blue and yellow and the candles flickering on the altar. It was lovely and quiet as the heaters stopped humming and the fans high in the ceiling slowly twirled to a stop. Those minutes - the end of a the sermon and the final hymn completed in dark and quiet - were well worth the trip. They felt sacred.


I put together a treasure hunt for Dad's birthday presents that he can complete with Little One after we all have dinner in an hour or so. We'll return to the house and have chocolate chip cookies instead of cake and they can find the rhyming clues I've carefully placed around the house and find the various birthday (for Dad) and un-birthday (for Little One) gifts I've hidden. It might fall flat, but it seemed worth the effort for a chance at one more memory before I call this holiday trip over and head home.


They did enjoy the treasure hunt. "When food is cold, you put it inside. But in there right now, a present will hide!" yielded a package in the microwave. "If you were a dog who wanted to walk, what would you need? Hint: Look by the clock!" was a clue on the leash. "Hurry, hurry, don't dawdle. Run to the garage and look by the bottles!" found Dad's trailer lights. "Stay in the garage and go to the Jeep. Look in the back and a present you'll keep!" earned them a coloring book for Little One. "Now go inside and walk down the hall. Turn into the bathroom and look by the wall!" They found the cannister of mixed nuts in the bathtub and the final clue. "You're nearly done, but first let me see. You'll find 2 last presents under the tree!" It took me a little while to come up with those, but my family has requested I do another one for Christmas. So apparently watching all those Charmed episodes paid off - I can sort of rhyme.

Little One toddled around the house after clues and presents. Then we ate cookies and read stories and sang to Dad. Dad talked to Smallest One as she sat in her car seat on the table. She tries so hard to communicate with him - she does smile and open her mouth to try to form words. She's a darling. I love those girls so much it hurts and when Little One demanded I carry her out through the last little bit of snow that fell, I took a moment to snuggle her close before I buckled her in her booster seat.

"I'll see you in a couple of weeks."

"When it snows again, you'll come home." She said with a bit of a pout. "I'll miss you."

I really want to get closer to home - it's too hard to be away from them when I realize how much I'm missing.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


“I don’t like my job.” I said, glancing over at Mom and Little One as they sat across the table filled with an increasing number of cupcakes decorated like Santa. Little One continued to pick out M&Ms to use for eyes, but Mom glanced up from her initial step of frosting the cupcakes with a thin layer of pale pink.

“This one has blue eyes.” Little One decided and Mom was distracted from my complaint to nudge the chocolate candies in a more appropriate place between Santa’s beard and hat.

My job was to make the hats. I took the pink-frosted cupcakes Mom created and placed a squashed cherry candy on the top to approximate a red cap. But flattening the gummy treats was rather challenging, though I used fresh pieces of wax paper and a Pampered Chef tool to roll them sort of flat. But once they got past a certain thickness, the sugary coating gave way and the red candy stuck to the paper.

“I like my job.” Dad finally said, seated on my left. He was between me and Mom in his customary seat at the table and had a tube filled with frosting to make the white ball on Santa’s hat and the fluffy stuff to create a beard. He finished another beard with a flourish and moved the cupcake toward Mom and Little One for the final touches of a face.

“Don’t push it so far in the frosting, sweetheart.” Mom suggested when the tiny pink candy serving as Santa’s nose disappeared in the fluffy white moustache under a tiny finger with fingernails painted pink.

Little One appeared unconcerned and placed two brown M&Ms for eyes, then said she was done. I glanced up from trying to pry a red candy from wax paper and watched her scamper into the living room to play with her relocated dollhouse since the tree glittered in its former home.

She and Dad redecorated the old toy the day before. My grandpa made it - the three story wooden structure that looks a bit worse for wear after over 30 years of use by my cousins, then me. There are various colored wallpapers and most of the carpet is gone. The furniture was arranged somewhat haphazardly before, but now the toilet and sink are in the tiny bathroom in the corner of the second floor. There are two tables and a sofa in the large living space next to the red-carpeted stairs.

“It’s set up for Thanksgiving.” Dad said while he was busy with his granddaughter.

“So everyone can eat together.” Little One nodded. “The Care Bears and Papa Smurf and Stephanie and Kennedy and Brittany.”

I heard her talking softly to her toys as they moved about the house and I glanced up at Mom to smile across the table.

“I’ll switch with you.” She offered. “I’m falling behind anyway.”

We traded spots and Dad looked up from his latest beard, using the tip to push part of the white fluff more securely on the cupcake.

“You have a lot of jobs now.” He said and I nodded. Mom had been in charge of starting and finishing - providing pink cupcakes for my hats, then putting faces on after Dad finished with the white frosting. But she very competently began rolling out hats while I began creating faces.

“This one has green eyes.” I decided. “Because I found two green candies.” I replied when Mom asked me why. I was careful not to push the pink candy too deep and smiled at the result when I pushed the finished cupcake toward the center of the table. We finally finished and each began to clean up our respective stations.

I did take a walk yesterday - enjoying the cold air and crisp quiet of the familiar neighborhood. I also tried to nap away a headache that got progressively worse all day, keeping me up and praying for medicine to work most of the night. I think I feel better this morning, though I took Excedrin just in case. We’ll have Smallest One this afternoon while her family goes to a parade in the cold tonight.

“Brother’s Wife says she likes singing.” Mom told me the other night. I blinked at her, unbearably tired, and sighed before I started the fishie song. The singing did calm her, and I tried to remember what melodies we’d used with Little One as I continued to sing. There’s a certain continuity to it all - the arguments and dollhouse and Christmas treats Mom wants to replicate from magazines. The migraines Grandma also had and the songs Grandpa taught me.

“The animals are all inside.” Brother reported when he came to get Little One.

“It’s raining out.” I nodded of the description of the nativity scene he has set up at his house. It used to reside here and Brother and I would arrange the figures much to Mom’s dismay.

“Mary’s on the roof for some reason and the rest of the people are outside, watching the animals stay warm.”

Little One plays with Baby Jesus and His Friends just as Brother and I used to. So while it’s exhausting to be here sometimes - the noise and clutter and lack of productivity - it’s rather good to remember too.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Heat, Kitchen, CO

For all my wishing for children, I closed my eyes after falling into bed for the fourth time last night, having just coaxed Smallest One back to sleep as Mom isn't able to lift her out of her bassinet, and felt Little one kick me soundly in the hip as she scooted, still fast asleep, on her side of the daybed. I sighed and tried to scoot as far to the edge as I could and waited for sleep to come. It only did in rare stretches between Little One needing trips to the bathroom and Smallest One waking again.

I was tired this Thanksgiving and if Dad says once more than the stove has been on for days, slowly filling the house with Carbon Monoxide, I believe I'm going to kick him. I think someone bumped the stove on the way out, especially as we had stuff sitting on top of it all damn day. Said argument ended the first time with my leaving the room. The second time, he threw the remote on the table and left Mom glaring at him as he stalked down the hall.

There were good moments, of course. Little One went potty while I sat on the floor and read her books and cheered. We watched movies and cuddled. I took over with Smallest One while Mom spent some time with her eldest granddaughter. I don't think Smallest One smiles quite yet, though Dad insists she does. Her eyes are eager to take everything in though, and she's especially fond of watching the ceiling fans sweep round and round and round.

"You smell like baby." Mom said last night or early this morning as we slumped together on the couch. Smallest One was snuggled into my shoulder as I patted her back gently and rested my cheek at her temple. She's this soft, warm weight with blue eyes that are drifting toward brown and the softest skin there is. Little One's hair reaches halfway down her back, though once her curls emerge as her hair dries, it appears much shorter. She plays with dolls and talks to imaginary friends and can tell me the story after I've read her a book. She's darling and obviously brilliant and terribly sweet. We put together a puzzle at Aunt's before dinner, both lying in the small carpeted section amidst the gleaming hardwood floors.

Little One opted out of setting the table so I did it myself. I spooned mashed potatoes into a bowl with one spoon, then used a slotted version to transfer the green beans to a platter. The turkey was quite good this year - sometimes they get overly dry. Mom, Little One and I made rolls first thing yesterday morning. I cut the dough into various sizes (out of poor planning and lack of sleep rather than the idea that some people would like smaller rolls), and Mom and Little One giggled as they cut small pats of butter and said "Zap!" as they placed one on each doughy ball. We showed Little One how big the rolls raised before we put them in the oven. She frowned into the pan for a moment before shaking her head and returning to her toys.

I read blogs in spare moments since I think I won with half of the data, but lost with the other part. So I believe I fixed the problem and am slowly working my way through it again. I was jealous of stories without travel and noise - of work and writing and productivity. But then Little One would demand more juice or a different movie or Smallest One would begin to cry. The former demanded all three kinds of Thanksgiving Pie - cherry, apple and pumpkin. She ate the whipped cream or ice cream that was served with each, but wrinkled her nose over the fruit-filled pastries. Brother and his family headed off to the in-laws while we helped Mom to the car and came home. She went to sleep while Dad and I aired out the house and had round 1 over how the house came to be filled with poisonous gas.

I woke early this morning and came to my laptop to get more data started. Dad and I argued over something different, I think. Oh, he said my laptop is too loud and will certainly break soon. I'm supposed to hold it up in the air while I work so the fan can get air from the bottom. I went back to bed without replying. I heard Mom shuffle back to bed a couple hours later after arguing with Dad over Christmas decorations. While we slept, he won by default, dragging up bags and boxes from the basement.

The tree is sitting in the corner - it never did make it back in front of the window - and has lights and the ornaments Mom could place while sitting down. There are two wreaths and several ceramic figures and five puffy plush animals that Little One will demand to see upon entering the house. There are carols coming from the television and half-empty boxes strewn all over the floor. I still don't feel rested and my to do list tugs at my attention until I fall into another exhausted sleep. The girls are returning today - Mom and Dad ask to have them, then complain that they get too tired while caring for them.

I think I'll take a walk - Chienne has yet to be invited to go since we've been at home. It's been raining or busy or sleepy, but I'm ready to go breathe in cold air and get a tiny bit of quiet before facing the rest of the day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Travel went smoothly.

I listened to Choke on the way home, departing drastically from my usual happy stories read by a lovely woman with some British accent. Instead, Chuck Palahniuk read me his story that was gritty and dark and filled with emotionless sex and illnesses of all sorts. The man can write though and as I listened and thought through the plot lines, I wondered why we read, why we write, why we live. Instead of a happy distraction, which is all I really expect from an audiobook, I felt dragged to thoughts of addiction and sex and history and spirituality.

The three of us - for I did capture poor Sprout and carried him to the car when he wailed against his defeat then buried his head in my elbow - arrived at my parents' house yesterday afternoon and we were welcomed by Mom. We talked and looked at the presents I carted home. Dad arrived to a joyful dog who missed him terribly while he was gone and we went out for dinner. A sweet nursing student waited on us and intruded only briefly on our conversation while we caught up. Now that Mom's back at work, she has stories. Dad has his list of complaints and I have updates as well.

The drive was pretty. The interstate rises and falls and curves through wooded areas at the beginning of my trip. Leaves continued to cling brightly to branches in various shades of red. Some were nearly brown, others were vibrant, and the remainder contained shades of orange as yellow struggled to attain the vibrant shades of crimson their neighbors displayed. The landscape flattened and forests were replaced with farms as we moved closer to our destination. This morning is perfect as well. Dad left early for work and I padded down the hall to talk to Mom before she drove away too. She opened the doors that lead to the back patio and slid the screen closed so we could listen to the rain. There is a metal roof over the oversized porch out back and it's the only place that the rain sounds absolutely perfect to me. Perhaps my next house can have a back patio with a metal roof. Or it can be closer to my parents' house so I can use theirs more often.

Chienne has gone back to sleep. Sprout is busy running up and down the halls, sprinting down the stairs to the basement to explore. Brother has the day off today and Mom wants us to have lunch together. I like Brother - most times, anyway - so I hope that happens. Otherwise, there's work to do and naps to take. We'll go to Aunt's tomorrow for too much food and perhaps do a tiny bit of shopping this weekend. (NOT on Friday morning though.) As wonderful as it felt to be in my space this weekend - doing work and enjoying the quiet - it feels equally good to be home.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Check! (And a story)

The car is packed, house is clean, laundry nearly done. My paper is out to co-authors, last batch of the huge project is starting to analyze, and book is coming along. I have a list of things to get done while home and hope that my parents have a relaxed holiday planned so I have time to sit with my laptop and work from there. In short, I'm feeling rather pleased with myself and ready to travel home. I just watered plants and paid bills, so if I can catch the cat in the morning, we're good to go.

While I have been checking the job announcements semi-regularly, I've yet to apply for anything else. I seem to have my heart set on the position for which I'll soon interview. Luckily, most of the work I'm doing lately will be included in my seminar. I wrote the abstract today and while I'm going to wait a couple days to send it (in case I decide to edit a bit more), I feel it's strong. I hope it's strong. I'm ready to leave here and think I want to go there. It'd be nice if everything fell into place.

The only problem, I decided as I loaded a few more dishes in my dishwasher and anticipated watching CBS sitcoms tonight, was that I didn't have a decent blog post in mind. Then I remembered I do have a recent story I haven't told yet. I'm rocking the to do list lately.

I wore my hair down on Friday. I straightened it and clipped back a few locks so they wouldn't hang in my eyes. I decided to wear black since it's slimming and I actually took care brushing on powder. The reason I decided to look nicer than normal was that I'd be meeting someone new.

Dr. Icing introduced me to Clark via email. And since the same Dr. Icing did me a favor by providing a resource to DayByDay, I quickly wrote to Clark to ask what I could do for him.

Hi Katie,
Thanks for following up. I am a [descriptive] postdoc in [Semi-related department], and I am interested in [reasonable project]. I have a background in [reasonably impressive information]. I met with Dr. Icing to see if I could be involved with his patients in a clinical research capacity, and he presented [work Katie hoped to do].

It would be nice to meet with you and speak about the project more, and for me to get a better feel for the boundaries and where I may apply my background best. I will be gone next week, but I could potentially meet this Thursday or Friday, or the week following Thanksgiving. Please let me know if any times/days are best for you.

Thanks very much. I look forward to meeting you.


It made sense for him to meet me and I was happy to provide help. So I composed a quick reply.

I can absolutely make time to meet tomorrow or Friday. Honestly though, we hit a wall with recruiting patients. So if Dr. Icing is thinking he might find some folks for me to study, I have an IRB and funding to do so. You're more than welcome to apply a couple of extra experiments - [stuff where I prove I know his field].

The alternative is to work with [one of the polar bears]. I'm almost positive she does all the [stuff Clark wants to do]. She's outstanding and has been a big help as I set up and tried to interpret my results, so meeting with her might be wise too. I've cc'ed her on this email and hope she can find time to touch base with you soon.

But I'm also happy to help personally. If there's a good time to talk, just let me know.

Thanks and good luck,
I felt good about the whole thing. I'd been honest yet helpful and offered him another avenue should my assistance fail him. And he wrote back right away.

Thanks for your reply. I think it would be great just to meet you and to speak. Would you have time this Friday between 11am and 1pm? I have meetings before and after that, but if you have a few minutes to spare, I can come to your office. Would that work?

Thanks for forwarding that email to [other polar bear]. I did my PhD work here, and I remember her, but I do not know her well. I think it would be great to meet with her.

I look forward to meeting you, and I would be very interested in hearing more about what you are doing. If those times on Friday work, please let me know, or if not, I am sure we can meet the week after Thanksgiving.

Thanks Katie.


I read somewhere that you can tell when someone likes you if he uses your name. I tend to be fond of people who like me, so I made time to write him again.

I try to go to a seminar on Friday afternoon, but am otherwise free. So anytime between 11 and 1 would work well. My office is in [Department] in [general location]. I think the room is [some number that ended up being close but not right]? But I'll check on that tomorrow. It's right [more convoluted but specific directions]. If you'd like to meet there, I can show you some results and give you some documentation on our plans. If it's more convenient for me to come to your offices, I really don't mind doing that though. I'll look forward to meeting you either way.

(And if you'd rather wait until after Thanksgiving, that's fine too. I've been here 2 years and got a very slow start, so when I meet people starting new research projects, I tend to be extra excited since I was so disappointed in my early work. Feel free to tell me to calm down.)

See how I was being extra friendly?

Katie, honestly, this is my second postdoc, so I know what you mean about a slow start, and I was at a place previously where there were lots of resources, but I could not access them, so I am excited about starting things here. I can tell you more when I see you and we can share war stories.

I know exactly where your office is. I have a meeting from 9:45 until about 11, so I will come over to your office after that, maybe around 11 or 11:10. Will that work for you?

See you soon,

He used my name again, so I decided we could probably plan a wedding for the Spring. I also looked him up online and sighed with relief when I saw that he's very average looking. I get all flustered in front of people who are too attractive. But I told him that time would be fine and I got all pretty (or as pretty as I'm able lately) on Friday morning. I arrived early and started working on my current obsession until 10:45 then pulled out files and printed a couple of documents so I'd be ready for Clark.

First, he's married. Second, he was terribly sweet and we did share war stories. There are resources you can't use? Me too. You worry about being supported completely by soft money? Me too! You left your last position early because it just wasn't working? I interview next month! So we laughed and talked and discussed the difference between a good idea and a feasible plan. He said he hoped we could work together before I left - I was so friendly and smart. I offered to introduce him to a few more of my favorite collaborators in the hopes that he'd find a couple little projects that would earn him publications.

The moral of my story? I think it's hard. Doing research, getting trained, developing networks, becoming independent. I was thinking this weekend that it pleases me to work though. To finally see the pattern and to retest and find it just might be correct. To make a figure that's just perfect. To find papers that are very relevant even though it's taken months of searching to get to them. There must be something worthwhile that keeps so many people tied to a lifestyle that is often uncertain and frustrating and consuming.

Perhaps part of it is meeting a new person, sharing war stories and feeling as though you've found a new friend.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Rather Indulgent

I decided to stay in town this weekend and plan to drive north on Tuesday morning. I wanted to get some work done, make sure the house is clean, take my time packing for the long weekend at home. It's been - in all honesty - an absolutely delightful weekend so far.

I went to sleep early on Friday night just because I was tired. Instead of forcing myself through work, I shuffled off to bed around 7 and woke near midnight to get a different batch of data processing. I moved files to the computer in my office since the laptop is very slow right now, working its way through thousands of files and turning them into progressively more useful versions of themselves. I had an impressive stack of papers by the couch, a highlighter resting on top until Sprout decided to play with it and I had to hunt the pink marker down when I was ready to use it. They've slowly migrated to the office as I read and mark the important points I want to include in my paper. I finished off data that has perplexed me for months and made figures that are simply exquisite in terms of the story I want to tell. I had an idea of an outline and the paper has effortlessly come together as I perch in the office chair I rarely use. After numerous breaks from this particular dataset, it's suddenly wonderful and useful and I'm getting slight delusions of grandeur when thinking about journals who might like it.

I've napped when I'm tired, rarely sleeping more than 5 hours at a time. I wake at odd hours during the night, but it's helpful as the batch processing I'm using takes about that much time before I can start something else. So the laptop hums along productively while I do some cleaning or run garbage to the dump or fix something for a snack. I gave myself a manicure yesterday afternoon and showered and washed my hair in the middle of the night just because it sounded appealing. I cuddled under a heavy flannel comforter as the temperatures dipped delightfully, Chienne on one side and Sprout on the other. The former snuffles and snores a bit when she sleeps and the latter emits a rather pleasing purr. And just before I fell asleep yesterday afternoon, I realized I was completely content. I felt productive and relaxed and sighed with happiness that not a single person intruded upon my time.

I do get lonely. I very much want children and a husband. There are times I wish I mentored students and was more involved in the department. But there's an undeniable flip side too. I wrote 6,000 words in my book last night, smiling eagerly as I watched the story take turns and tension build. I wrote to Guy on Friday night because I wanted to - I have time and I like the way he thinks and writes. I left football on in the background for most of the day because it's noise, but fails to distract me from whatever holds my attention at the moment. I put another package of books together and found one I wanted to read again. I finished it this morning while curled under a blanket on the couch while my canine curled around my feet.

Today, I'm going to clean then go for a walk. I have a bit of laundry and 2 more papers to read. I want to write a bit more and predict I'll finish the draft of my paper today. I can then write the abstract for my interview talk and send that off. Carrie's project should wrap up tomorrow, though if there's more to do, I'll take it home with me and finish there. Perhaps I'll order pizza later or find something in the freezer to prepare. It may be a bit lonely overall, but this weekend my life feels perfectly easy. I'm pondering the next chapters in my novel as it comes to me in bursts, but I have time to let it percolate. Today that seems more of a pro than a con.

Friday, November 16, 2007


The lake was very still this morning. It reflected the trees on the shore and the sky above with exquisite clarity and I sighed upon climbing the last hill and seeing the water.

"It's pretty today." I told Chienne as she trotted along in front of me. The winds had died down and the leaves on the trees - well, the ones that remained - were quiet as they clung motionless to their branches. I stepped carefully toward the shore and found a ledge of grass before sitting. My dog came close for a little while, cuddling against my back in the cold morning air. As she went to explore the ground behind me, one of the brave black ducks with the bright white bills came closer to investigate. He stayed several yards from shore and a few more yards from the rest of his flock as he turned to face me.

The water was marred by only a few gentle ripples, so I think it was easy for him to remain in the one spot he chose. I wished I had something for him - a bit of bread or a cracker or some popcorn. He deserved a reward for his friendliness or bravery in warning me away - I wasn't sure of his motive. He continued to watch me as I moved my stare to one of his friends. Other Black Bird moved gently toward him, white bill bobbing gently as he paddled through the water. Suddenly, his head ducked down and he suddenly gained speed as he moved toward First Black Bird. First Black Bird began to swim away slowly, looking rather annoyed, I thought, and Other leaped up and jumped on First, submerging him in the lake water. First squawked when he broke the surface and flapped his wings furiously. Other backed off and both made a show of fluttering and fluffing their feathers.

First watched Other after that. And when Other would get to close, First would face him and make a warning sound. He didn't want to be dunked again, I decided, and admired his ability to learn.

I've been working on Project I Failed for the last few days. I realized when Jane said she didn't know how much longer she could deal with Anti-Friend and her attitude that I had some ideas I could try. It's just that I hate starting over. I spent so much time on the first analysis and I don't have a clear idea of what went wrong. I like things quick and easy and efficient. So when I do something wrong, I'm sometimes throw up my hands in defeat and move on to the next thing. Which is exactly what I did here. I tried to fix it at the end stages, realized that was futile then passed it back to Carrie with the idea that someone else should take a shot from scratch.

The problem - and the reason I was bothered - is that I've used this particular software ever since I started grad school. I should be an expert! Or at least proficient enough to work through a huge (but straightforward) dataset! So getting the project back hasn't been been the headache I imagined. Instead, I've taken the opportunity to hide in my house and relearn the software I though I mastered long ago.

There was an upgrade about a year ago that offered considerable improvements. In fact, as I've played the last few days, I realized every complaint I'd made in the past has been addressed. I'm delighted with the functionality and the ease of use. But the reason I knew to search for certain features was that I watched Steve - a different collaborator - work for several hours while he went through another patient dataset from scratch. He was applying a different technique, but covered the basics first to make sure everything was cool. I realized I don't do the same steps in the same order. And Steve is a natural teacher. When I asked a question, he'd back up and explain, show me the technique and make sure I followed before moving on.

Some of that information must have stuck because I'm doing much better this time than last. I'm implementing time-saving measures. I'm feeling pleased that this project is teaching me something after all and giving me an opportunity to refine some skills. I'm watching data process and checking quality and fixing mistakes as they appear. It was a good thing I got it back.

So if I am First and this software is Other, I have my eye on it. I'm figuring it out and know when to squawk out a warning when things start to go badly. It turns out the some tasks are worth trying again. Because I think this time I'm winning.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Language Barriers

This blog, in addition to making me feel all lovely from the comments you dear people wrote, apparently makes me a bit brave. When operating from a position where I’ve received support and kindness when admitting weakness, it is far easier to offer that openness to people I actually look at when I speak.

Marlie asked yesterday if we were having a group meeting. I had arrived in the office around 11:45 yesterday after marveling that the campus had turned into a gorgeous specimen of autumn in the last week while I worked from home. There was foliage in yellows and reds contrasting sharply and happily with the sullen grey sky. Tiny yellow leaves littered the pavement in the parking lot and larger leaves in a more vivid shade blanketed the ground under a lovely maple. I was distracted from my guilt over having stayed away so long and the running list of things that must get done by the utter beauty of the day. I like Fall very much.

“I don’t think so.” I told her. “We usually get an email with some idea of what we’ll be discussing. And we don’t meet every week.” She looked surprised at that news and I wondered if she knew something I didn’t. “Let’s go ask.” I decided, for that’s my solution to most things.

When I turned the corner on my way to see Boss, I glanced over my shoulder to find the hallway empty. Perhaps she forgot something and will be along shortly, I decided. The pressure of my list of things to do nudged me forward and I continued to move briskly through the hall to knock on Boss’s open door. He smiled upon seeing me, turning away from the document he was reading on this computer screen. He said we wouldn’t meet until December for various reasons and outlined some ideas he’s had recently. I readily agreed to help where he asked for my assistance and went back to my office, wondering where Marlie had gone.

She was standing by her desk, waiting for me and I frowned in dismay. I should have waited, I thought, and encouraged her to follow me to meet with Boss. “No meeting.” I said gently. “Then there’s Thanksgiving and a conference, so we probably won’t congregate again until December. But Boss was telling me about this other project you could do and asked me to help put things together. So you should ask EB (Evil Boss) what the priority is for this new endeavor then let me know. I can help you with lit searches and technical details and can provide whatever help you need. Sound good?”

It sounded, I decided with a look at her dimming smile and confused expression, like she had no idea what I said. I called myself a jackass and smiled apologetically. I rolled my chair closer and she did the same until we met near the middle of the room. I cut down the lengths of my sentences and used only simple words. I kept my eyes on her to make sure she understood before I moved on to the next idea. I nodded encouragingly when she wrote down the question she was to ask. Then I responded enthusiastically in the affirmative when she confirmed that I would help her.

“You will have lunch with me?” She asked when I turned back to finally turn on my computer. I’d spent 20 minutes with her so far and wanted to check email and get started on my list.

“Of course.” I said, for I’m truly not evil. Just a bit selfish, and I can overcome it. “Would you like to go soon or a bit later?” I don’t like the crowds at noon, as Friend can attest as I often refuse to eat unless we go at 11 or after 1:30 (much preferring the former, of course). It was just minutes after noon and I smiled resignedly when she said we could go now. “Let me check my email and get something started.” I said. “Then I’m all yours.”

We wandered to a Subway not far from campus because she told me to pick what I wanted after I stopped to get money. A sandwich sounded good, I decided and we moved in that direction. The line was long and we moved to the end to wait our turns to order. Talking was even more of a challenge in the loud space. We tried to stick to basic information. Do you have friends here? Where do you live? How big is your family? We slowly moved closer to the counter and the first of three uniformed sandwich-makers - all models of efficiency, asked for my order while I was still two people away from the glass shield. I gave it quickly, moving easily with my line of hungry people, and answered the questions as they were offered about cheese and warmed vs. toasted and what veggies I liked.

I glanced back at Marlie and blinked when I noticed she was a good two feet away from me as I stood closely to the woman in front of me as we waited to pay. She was staring between the menu on the wall behind the sandwich-makers and the first man who impatiently waited for her order. As she haltingly told him what she wanted, I winced and felt my stomach cramp that I had subjected her to the list of questions inherent in ordering a sandwich.

I didn’t eat when I was in Japan, I remembered, staring at the case of cookies while I approached the cashier. Instead I nibbled on the bag of pretzels I carted over the ocean and rationed the tiny chocolates the hotel workers placed on my pillow each day. Much as I loved the experience - and I did - there are elements of visiting a foreign country that were terribly difficult for me. Finding and ordering food was the biggest, so I skipped it. There was much to see and after awhile, I stopped feeling so hungry as I grew used to having just a little bit each day.

I left the conference early one day, riding the train back to my station and walking toward the escalators that would bring me aboveground. There was nobody at the Subway in Kyoto Station as it was mid-afternoon and I gathered my courage and faced the young woman behind the counter. She greeted me and I ducked my head in my awkward approximation of a bow. I had nothing, frankly. My meager Japanese learned from CDs didn’t cover turkey or bread types, cheeses or lettuce. But I was hungry and can’t describe to you how desperately I wanted that sandwich.

Being exceptionally kind, the young lady must have read my confusion and frustration, so she pointed at the pictures that were clinging to the glass. Relieved, I pointed to a picture of the bread I wanted. She squinted at the back of the transparent sticker and pulled a loaf from the warmer and showed it to me. I nodded and smiled while she cut it open. We repeated the process for cheeses since there was another sticker on the glass. I must have looked crestfallen when there were no pictures of actual sandwich types. She moved backward to the menu located on the wall behind her and began to point at various combinations of meats until I nodded at one of them. We did that some thing with the vegetables and I nodded eagerly again when she pointed to a picture of some flavored potato side item. She bagged my meal and took my money and I tried to figure out how to tell her how moved and grateful I was for her patience and help.

“Thank you.” I said, putting emphasis on the words. “You’re so nice and I’m so hungry and thank you.” She nodded and smiled and I moved toward the exit once again. I proceeded back to my hotel and huddled protectively over my feast as I spread it out on the bed. I was finally full after I finished and savored the feeling along with the realization that I hadn’t had to swallow my discomfort over looking into the eyes of whatever seafood I’d ordered or tried to figure out what kind of ingredient was lurking in the curry.

As I watched Marlie slowly make her selections, I winced at the impatience and unkindness evident in the workers at this Subway. They were much busier, of course, and she was holding up their line. Plus, she’s lived in the US for upwards of five years now so - in my defense - I hadn’t known she’d struggle so with ordering food. I wanted to escape the situation and waited while she grabbed three lids for her soda, unable to reach the station to put two back and following me with extra bits of translucent plastic in her hands.

“Let’s go outside.” I suggested, wanting to be somewhere else. I needed quiet and far fewer people and she followed me as we moved toward campus again. “We’ll find a table somewhere.” I said since Friend and I can usually find a place to sit outside and have lunch when we decide to do so. “We’ll be fine if it doesn’t rain on us.”

We hurried toward an overhang when water almost immediately began falling from the sky. I decided America was just mean before I spotted an empty table protected by the building surrounding it.

“Is this OK?” I asked, moving toward it. “We won’t get wet and it’s quieter here.” She nodded and smiled and we sat across from each other as we removed sandwiches from bags and placed straws into our drinks. I tucked her extra lids in my empty bag, not wanting her to be embarrassed if they lingered on the table. Then we talked. I asked when she’d last seen her family in Korea.

“Before I started this job.” She told me, smiling. “Easy there. I can talk and they understand. My English isn’t so good. But in Korea, I can relax.” I nodded sympathetically, recalling how isolated I sometimes felt in Japan. Unable to speak the language, I was mostly trapped in my own head. I could smile and shrug when salespeople asked questions as I selected a tape measurer that looked like a blue elephant and lovely stationary. I could wait patiently for the announcement in English when on the train or to hear the words I’d memorized that told me my stop was soon. I remember saying “Very pretty” to the woman who owned the small pottery stand where I purchased several small pieces. She bowed in thanks. I think. But mine was a short adventure - being moved by her kindness when someone offered a brochure in my language at a tourist location, feeling awed with gratitude for a friendly Subway employee, typing eagerly into a computer that would translate for us when the man who had the window seat on the train back to Tokyo was telling me to watch for Mt. Fuji soon.

“When did you start to learn English?” I asked. So she told me of middle school classes and the institute she attended before coming to America. She said she would avoid her first PI because she simply got too nervous trying to speak to him. She resolutely decided she’d become less shy and talk to more people to improve her skills. Then she asked if I spoke a foreign language.

“I learned Spanish in high school. But that was 10 years ago.” I shook my head when she asked if it was like English. “English is a weird language.” I said. “Not really like many others, I think.”

“Difficult.” She said and I smiled and nodded, grateful I’d grown up speaking it and happy I didn’t want to live abroad.

“I tried to learn Japanese.” I told her. “I would laugh in my car as I listened to the CDs because my mouth couldn’t make the right sounds. I would hear the word and try to repeat it and I just couldn’t get it out. I didn’t know how to hold my tongue or form my lips to say the words - it was just really different. And difficult.”

She nodded eagerly and I smiled, glad I’d tried to learn so I could have some vague idea of how completely strange it was to want to say a word and being somehow unable to do so.

“So.” I said, deciding I had something else to share. “Your project is very big.” I offered, spreading my hands far apart and placing them on the table. She watched my palms so I left them there for a moment. “Many pieces.” I continued, dividing the table into smaller sections. She nodded. “That’s also difficult.” I said and she looked up at my face without speaking.

“I feel overwhelmed a lot.” I said, opting for honesty since it’s what I’d offer if she read my blog. “Stressed. Too much going on and too many things to do. Boss always has many ideas, but he understands if you tell him you don’t have time to do something right now.”

“It’s OK?” She asked doubtfully.

“Yes.” I replied firmly. “And it’s important. You need to sleep. Do fun things. Have friends. Go to your church. There is always work to do, but Boss will understand if you’re very busy and need time. He goes to church. Travels. Spends time with his wife.”

“I feel overwhelmed.” She admitted softly. “So much training to do and papers to read and people to meet.”

“I feel overwhelmed too.” I reminded her. “It’s OK. You’re doing great and getting settled is hard.” When she looked confused, I tried again. “Starting a new project?” I said and she nodded. “Hard.” I decided simply and she nodded. “You’ll tell me if you need help.” I insisted. “I want to help you if I can.”

“Thank you, Katie.” She said, my name sounding slightly awkward coming from her. She paused between syllables, as if her mouth needed to rest between forming the sounds.

“You’re welcome, Marlie.” And I noticed I paused between the syllables of her real name, trying to get it right and knowing I was only sort of close. We started to walk back to the office after throwing away trash. I invited her to come to my house for dinner and she said I should come see her new condo after she moves in two weeks. I agreed, finding I liked her a great deal and wishing it was easier for us to talk. But we would figure it out, I decided.

I heard her speak, voice suddenly lyrical and fluid, as a man approached. I didn’t understand what she said - I don’t know a single word of Korean - but I was startled at how happy and easy and lovely her speech suddenly was. The man smiled at both of us and spoke to Marlie briefly.

“He is my friend.” She told me. “Also from Korea.”

“So it’s easier to talk to him.” I smiled at her as we began to walk again. She nodded and as we walked in the door to our building, I turned when she said my name.

“It’s easy to talk to you too.” She said and I returned the compliment after thanking her. It may not be completely true, but I think it's important to try.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

700 posts. 2 years. Comments?

I vividly remember turning right onto the street that enters my neighborhood two years ago. As I rounded the corner, I wondered what the hell I was doing with my life. I did the same thing earlier this afternoon. Same corner. Same thought. It struck me as rather sad even as I shook my head and smiled at myself.

There are inescapable trends that emerge when one reads this blog for very long. I mentioned to Charlie some time ago that I didn't mind him not reading much anymore. "You've heard it all before." I noted. "I seem to just cycle through the same situations and stories and if I do make progress, it seems to be in a non-ideal direction." Then I sighed - I sigh a lot. Even my dog has picked up the habit.

I enjoy writing here. I think it's good practice to articulate thoughts and my growth in this postdoctoral experience has undoubtedly been in my writing. My introductions have become concise. My results sections contain results and discussion discussions. It's delightful. I wrote a book of iffy quality and am at 35,000 words of another I like a great deal. I've made online friends I adore. I've become fond of certain cities that appear frequently in my site stats. I've learned to read people I would never know otherwise and become emotionally invested in their lives, even if I never leave a comment.

I rarely do memes, though I've nothing against them. I also have never done a delurking post - probably because I've faithfully lurked on several blogs myself and am rather protective of those who don't feel like saying hello. But I spent the day writing another paper and slowly working my way through some analysis. So I haven't seen anyone at all - my only contact with the outside world has been through the computer.

If it's not too much trouble, I would like comments today. Ask a question, say hello, offer sympathy on my life of late. That would please me greatly.

I thought about doing some sort of prizes since I didn't participate in the gift exchange offer that moved around awhile ago for some reason I can't recall. Then as I was searching under beds for my stripey Sprout, I realized I needed to unload some of those romance novels I collected for years. If you'd like one from my collection, I'll pick a good one, note why I liked it and send it to you. (Seriously - you'd be helping me out. I have something like 6 huge containers under beds. It's ridiculous.) Email (minorrevisionsblog at gmail dot com) with a mailing address will get you one! Or two! Or however many I can stuff into a padded envelope! I'm even happy to mail them internationally (Hello, readers from Europe and a couple from Asia!).

Thank you for reading. Perhaps eventually I'll give you something new and different.

Monday, November 12, 2007


I opened the front door today - adhering to the better late than never philosophy of setting off on our walk around 9AM - and paused to stare at the flowerbed. I spent an hour or so yesterday clipping back the dead and dying flowers. I'm never sure how to encourage them to grow again, so I shake out the seeds and hope for the best. After I had stuffed all the plant matter into a large garbage bag, I added a couple bags of deep brown mulch and raked it sort of smooth before calling it done.

It shouldn't have surprised me all that much this morning when the flowers were gone, especially as I was the one who removed them. But I found I missed the color that lingered in their petals. I didn't expect to be nostalgic over such a small thing.

More predictable, perhaps, is the appearance of lake photos in my header. Chienne and I had to battle a pack of beagles to make our way to the lake. I smiled at their different collars - one red, one blue, one green and another purple. But they were running loose right around the sign that demanded pets be on leashes and I struggled to reign my leashed hound in when she wanted desperately to run and play. It was also too warm - I didn't get to shiver at all down by the lake and found it hard to focus on prayer or thought when I was irritated over the temperature.

I meant to go to work - I really did - but somehow didn't make it. I started playing with some data that continues to befuddle me and Carrie had some advice that I was able to use to work at home. Just as I was getting bored and frustrated, Jane said she wasn't sure she could deal with Anti-Friend much more and asked me to tackle the problem myself. So I started clearing off space on my laptop and moving files back from external storage and off an ftp site. So I'm now in the middle of two large projects and have no real idea of how to do them correctly. I also spent some time organizing data and making phone calls from the might-get-credit-might-not project. Which is always a good way to make me feel all twitchy.

So I feel stressed and inadequate and overwhelmed. So shoot and phooey and snazzlefrats. Frick and darn and crossed arms and stomped feet.

But I do think the new header is pretty.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Victory Is Mine

“Uh huh.” I said absently as I typed with my right hand, holding the phone in my left. I was entering references into EndNote when Mom called to tell me what they’d done that day.

“How close is Target to you?” She asked innocently and I smiled involuntarily.

“So you went to buy toys at Target, left in rage because there were so many people in your way, and now you want me to go acquire these items?”

“You don’t have to.” She said, sounding morose. “Dad and I will go back tomorrow.” She paused and I heard Dad’s voice but couldn’t make out the words. “I guess I’ll go back tomorrow by myself,” she corrected. “I was mean to Dad and he doesn’t want to go with me again.”

I laughed and told her Target wasn’t far from me. I would make the trip tomorrow.

“No.” She sighed. “I’ll go tomorrow, but if the sale ends today, I won’t get the good prices.”

“What am I looking for?” I asked, finishing my references and clicking over to check toy availability online. “The Littlest Pet Shop?” I tried to remember from the small attention I’d paid to her earlier story.

“That’s the brand.” She scoffed. “They make all sorts of toys. But the Littlest Pet Shop Round and Round Pet Town is on sale for $19.99. I want that for Little One. It has a hammock and elevator and gondola.”

“Like in Venice?” I asked, squinting at the picture. “It says $29.99 online.”

“It’s $19.99 in my ad.” She insisted and I resigned myself to going to the store. “Then I was going to get this [another long toy name I knew I wouldn’t remember] for Smallest One.”

“I’ll get dressed and once I’m in the toy department, I’ll call you.” I said and she happily hung up the phone.

I pushed my bright red, plastic cart toward the back of the store and felt some relief that there weren’t many people there. I glanced at the Fisher Price section, but really couldn’t remember the name of Smallest One’s gift. So I moved to Littlest Pet Town and nodded when I saw that Mom was right. They make all sorts of stuff. I saw the Biggest Littlest Pet Shop and the Get Better Center. Then, on the very end of the aisle, there was a Round and Round Pet Town and it was on sale for $19.99. I reached down with both hands to lift it into my cart, then picked up the phone to call Mom.

“I found it.” I said and listened to her happily report the news to Dad after making sure the price was as it should be. “Did you find the toy for Smallest One too?” She asked after she thanked me profusely for triumphing in my tiny pet search.

“What was it called again?” I asked, pausing next to the plush aisle. “I wonder if they have the anniversary Tenderheart.” I mused, wandering down and glancing around. “Oh, they do.” I breathed, reaching with my right hand to pick up the shiny box. “He’s all fluffy and white and the hearts on his belly and feet are silver. I’m getting one.” So Tenderheart joined the Pet Town in my cart.

“Little One will like that.” Mom praised and I paused, pivoted, and picked up another bear. Tenderheart was mine. “You could get one for yourself too.” Mom ventured when I remained silent.

“Already did.” I smiled and she offered to buy it for me for Christmas. (It comes with a DVD too! I don’t know if I can wait until late December to enjoy the newest member of my Care Bear family!)

Fisher Price Little Superstars Sing-Along Stage.” She said and I made some comment about how flipping long toy names are. “It has a mirror and a microphone and a drum, mini xylophone, trombone and guitar.”

“So it’s big.” I decided and started to look along the bottom shelves. “I see a Kickin’ Bobbin’ Gym, a Bounce and Spin Zebra, Go Baby Go Sit-To-Stand Giraffe… Oh, there it is. There are two signs. One for $34.99 and one for $29.99.”

“It’s $29.99.” She said. “I’m so happy you found it! That’s all I wanted!”

“Hold on.” I said. “I need both hands to get it.” I set the phone next to my purse and reached to pull the big toy out. It was the last one and I pulled it closer protectively though I had the aisle to myself. The toy belonged to Smallest One now. But I frowned at the cart already full of bulky items. I decided to tuck it underneath instead, and finally reached for the phone again.

“Sorry.” I said. “Did you say you wanted a couple more Littlest Pet animals?”

“Do you know what you’re doing?” She asked as I moved back to the aisle to stare at the tiny plastic figures.

“Yes.” I said, mildly offended. “I just didn’t have room in my cart for the Little Superstars Sing-Along Stage. So I had to get it and put it underneath. Toys take up a lot of room.” I defended myself.

“No.” She said. “You doing this means we don’t have to shop the day after Thanksgiving.”

“Oh.” I said, picturing sleeping in and having leftover pumpkin pie with whipped cream for breakfast rather than being awakened before dawn to fight crowds and find parking to frantically search out bargains. “I would like that. That day of shopping is always so hard.”

She assured me we didn’t have to go this year and thanked me again, sounding nearly giddy, for finding the items she wanted for the girls.

“OK.” I said, facing a wall full of brightly colored and packaged plastic. “So you have your single animals for $4.44. Then there are playsets that contain 2 or 3 animals for $10. There’s this arctic set that has a cute seal, um…” I turned the box over for help and found none. “Some sort of rodent with huge ears and a fox, I think. Then there are sick animals at the vet - that’s kind of sad. Oh, here are two dogs in one package. It says one of them is fuzzy - I’ll get them.” I tossed them in the cart before Mom could remind me that Little One prefers cats. “There’s a cat and a fish.” I offered, tossing it in the cart too. “Then there’s one with a horse and something that might be a cat. It comes with brushes and ribbons and trophies. I don’t think the animals have hair.” I turned the box to peer inside more closely. “Nope - all plastic. I wonder what the brushes are for.”

I tossed that in the cart too and moved toward the cashiers. $100 later and, quite honestly, feeling ridiculously proud of myself, I headed home with my trunk full of long-named toys that will be used for Christmas. Not a bad way to spend an hour of my Sunday afternoon.

Lake Effect Faith

It might be a better story had my walk to the lake been planned.

Instead, I made it to the bottom of the hill - the first of 4 streets I’d walk to make the moderate loop through the neighborhood I’d planned - and felt miserable. The muscle just lateral to my right shin cramped hard enough to make me limp and I felt as if I could easily throw up if such behavior was permitted from my body. Chienne was being a brat, venturing far into people’s yards and ignoring my commands to walk.

“We’ll go to the lake.” I told her. “Not because you deserve it - you’ve been a bad dog - but because that’s the only place there is for me to rest.”

My theory, I decided as we made our way across the street and into the park, is that my ankle healed wrong after the sprain. Walking down the hills stresses those muscles that are slightly weird and then I cramp to the point of whimpering as I finish my walk around corners and up hills. The path to the lake is relatively flat and Chienne began her characteristic ‘I’m going to the lake!’ prance when she realized our destination.

There are enough curves and small changes in elevation throughout the road that I can’t see the water until I’m nearly upon it. At that point, the road sweeps sharply to the right so I can’t yet see the parking lot. There is instead a tree with tiny leaves of vivid red on that corner. The forest on the right has stayed mostly green, but there are pale blue berries on some of the evergreens and a gradient of shades exist on the deciduous varieties that stubbornly cling to their chloroform. The lake peeks out from between the wooded areas and I was pleased to see that it was calm. We’d left the house just after 8 and I didn’t know if boats would be buzzing around in the water yet.

There were three trucks and a car in the lot and I saw only two boats on the water near my section of shore. I pulled Chienne to the left, heeding the honking warnings offered by the large creatures with brown feathers and orange bills. I had to move toward them a bit - causing much fluffing of feathers and raising of voices - to find a place to sit. Once I did, I rubbed at my right leg, trying to ease the muscles there.

The sun was warm on my back and the breeze cool on my face. I wrapped my unzipped sweatshirt around me a bit tighter and smiled at the small black birds with bright white bills as they made noises that reminded me of Chienne’s squeaky toys. The bobbed along the top of the water not too far from shore and paddled their way slowly from my right to my left. I forgot to count them, but I’d estimate their flock to consist of between five and ten fowl.

I hadn’t taken my camera since this trip was not part of my Sunday list of things to do. Plus, it’s a rather bulky device when compared to other digital cameras and my pockets already contained a plastic bag and a wad of tissues. I wished to take a picture - or perhaps record a snippet of video - when I saw a rock just offshore. It lay flat, worn smooth as far as I could tell, and the water rippled around it in a way I doubt I can describe in words.

Perhaps the far side of the rock was slightly higher than the rest because the water would separate around it, moving to each side. Then the opposing waves would lap together, engulfing the stone for a moment before receding in several ripples that caught the sunlight and scattered it in various directions. I watched the waves move toward the rock, separate into two halves, cover the gray surface with a thin layer of water, then proceed gently toward the shore. It was nearly hypnotic, sitting there in the quiet morning, watching the water move around that single rock.

I remembered I’d meant to pray. As I was trying to distract myself from the cramp in my leg, hobbling down the path toward the lake, I decided it was fine to spend some time sitting on the shore. It was still early and I really did want to rest a bit, though plopping down on someone’s front curb held little appeal. It’s pretty at the lake, I told myself, and Chienne enjoys it a great deal. The walk isn’t so long as to be impossible, but it is farther than I typically go. But, I rationalized, if one breaks it up into two parts, it’s not really so bad at all. Plus, I decided, I could multi-task and offer a few prayers while I rest my sore muscle.

So I folded my hands around the handle of the leash, laced my fingers together, and continued to watch my rock as I said good morning to God. I want Friend’s mother to get well, I told him. I’d like for us all to be well and if we can’t do that, then I suppose I’d like us to feel strong and peaceful as we battle through our turmoils. I drifted a bit, watching the water continue to move in. I thought of Pastor and my family and other people I love. I thought of work and patients who died and spared a moment to request my upcoming interview go as it was meant to. I apologized for being distant - I’m not really sure why I am, but I recognize the problem.

Chienne began to tug at the leash several minutes later as she grew more determined to respond to the birds who were honking at her. I sighed and rose from the grassy ledge that had formed my seat and tugged her away. It’s a shame that my peaceful time at the lake must disturb the birds’ morning, I thought. That something good for me often takes away from the pleasure of others. But we started back toward home, moving away from the lake and toward the sun.

I was left to consider how much I enjoy the lake - watching the water and being still for several moments before I start my day in earnest. The last time we went is the only walk in recent memory that found my leg feeling healthy upon my coming through the front door of my house. My body requires a rest right now if I want to exercise without excessive pain. Yet I don’t allow it one except on rare occasions that I decide I can wander all the way to the water.

I’m doing this wrong, I told God as I moved rather rapidly up the hill toward home, passing the houses easily as Chienne trotted along ahead of me. Faith should bring hope and happiness and I find I have little of either lately. Instead of slowing down and addressing the problem, I push forward and cope with the pain as I wait for days to pass and something to change when all along I believe You have the power to change it. I think I’m angry that You allowed Mom to get so sick. I’m hurt that You won’t send a man to love me. I look to the future with this resignation of facing problems and pain rather than bright optimism that I can make life better and do some good here.

I finished the walk up the hill and moved up the driveway, unsurprised when my leg felt fine and panting a little from the strong strides that carried me home. I avoid taking the same routes when we walk each morning, not wanting to get bored. Yet I fail to enjoy the time outside when I’m irritated with the dog and my leg is consumed with pain. I believe I’ll try a path that brings me to the water each day - it took us only 45 minutes to complete our journey this morning - and see if I can’t make use of the water lapping over that rock, spending some time in prayer and feeling stronger as I move back up that hill toward home.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Long Story (and I look bad)

I’ve been a bit lost for what to write lately - nothing all that interesting is happening. My book hit a wall just above 24,000 words - in the middle of a chapter, no less - and I suddenly don’t know where I’m going with it. I’m stalled on the in-progress paper too. I have figures and text and am waiting for co-authors to start ripping it apart and adding to their sections. The scope of the study is huge - there are many techniques that sort of fit together. The patient population is small, but I think it’s written in a way that makes the conclusions clear. Which means that the stack of papers that Sprout has been stuffing under my loveseat with his stripey paws (he likes to bury stuff) should be taken to the kitchen table where I could start drafting some text for the next paper. Or I could work on my interview presentation.

But I thought of a topic for a blog post, so I can instead spend some time telling a story. I’ll start - as I like to do - with something only vaguely connected. Some of you may recall - if you’ve read me a long, long time - that I was deeply infatuated with a guy named Gabe in college. Gabe was quirky and kind and his girlfriend (who I thought was rather boring and mean) was a resident adviser in another dorm. She told Gabe that one of her girls was terribly upset because everyone on the floor was talking about how she didn’t wash her hands after she used the bathroom. Gabe was flabbergasted that anyone would notice, let alone share this piece of information with roommates or friends.

“She doesn’t wash her hands?” I asked, wrinkling my much younger nose. “Everyone on my floor washes their hands.”

“Are you sure?” He asked.

“Pretty sure.” I replied. “I would have heard about it if someone didn’t.” At this he stopped walking and because I did everything I could to make him like me, I paused too.

“So if you were in the bathroom brushing your teeth and a girl down the hall came out of a stall and walked back to her room without washing her hands, you’d tell everyone?” I shrugged. “If I picked my nose in front of you right now, would you tell anyone?”

“I’d really rather you didn’t.” I offered and he smiled. Encouraged, I offered that girls talk. And we’re often less than charitable. “Would I say anything? I don’t know - I kind of hope not judging from how you’re looking at me as if I’m evil incarnate. But maybe. The girl should just wash her hands.”

His point was that other girls should just shut up and be nice. But my solution is much more reasonable. The rule is that you don’t give people ammunition. Even now, I have this awful feeling in my stomach at the thought that someone could talk about me. There were a whole lot of people who came to read about a week ago. They all came from the same basket-related message board and it made me ill wondering what they were saying about me in the private section I couldn’t see. I did get a very sweet email from one of them, but the ingrained discomfort that someone is openly irked at something I’ve done or said or written is intense.

I didn’t really think about it overly much until I winced at an email I was going to send this morning. It was catty and mean and there was really no reason it should have been. So let me tell you about Anti-Friend, which is a much kinder name than has been given to her over email.

To review, let’s clarify roles. Carrie is my friend from grad school and is a faculty member at Institution Far Away (IFA). Jane is a post-doc at IFA - we like her. Anti-Friend was a hired assistant at IFA. She was not in a graduate program, though she left IFA to join one this Fall. I met Jane and Anti-Friend at a conference. Loved Jane, wasn’t impressed with Anti-Friend. She was very self important and talked over everyone. She shot down ideas quickly and spoke as though she had the highest authority, leaving me looking across a breakfast table with raised eyebrows at Carrie.

The project is an application of an earlier, more technical finding. Anti-Friend helped with the data analysis for the first paper and seems to feel that anything even vaguely related to that should be credited to her. Which I find odd, frankly, since she did what she was told and had no control over the project at all. But I digress. Carrie is running this application-based thing and asked Jane to do part A. Anti-Friend took some time off to have a baby and wasn’t being quick to return to Applied Project. So in the interest of time, Carrie asked me to do part B. Which I tried and failed.

At that point, Anti-Friend was settled in her new graduate lab and had already complained about how everyone was screwing up things she would have done properly. Since Carrie had planned to list her as an author anyway, she said she’d have her take over part B. That happened with my blessing and I hadn’t thought much more about it.

Carrie wrote to me last week and said that she was done with Anti-Friend. She was irritated and asked if I’d take over part B again. I sighed because I’ve already screwed it up once, but I do have more experience with some of the methods since I tried it months ago. So I could start over and figure out what went wrong. I agreed and said I’d get to it as soon as possible. Carrie then forwarded me an email from Anti-Friend that said she was in no hurry to complete the analysis since the paper could wait. It wasn’t that important, she said, so she’d deal with it at her convenience. Plus, it wasn’t her fault that we were running so late.

I blinked at the tone the first year grad student took with a faculty member and said I’d have been annoyed too. Jane wrote to explain what Anti-Friend thought was wrong and I raised an eyebrow again. I simply don’t believe she’s right. But I was willing to try it on a couple of subject datasets and see. Jane was assigned the role of mediator so that Carrie and I didn’t communicate directly with Anti-Friend. It was at that point that Carrie and Jane started referring to her as World’s Biggest Whore* and I adopted their WBW naming system. (Evil incarnate - I know.)

In the meantime, Anti-Friend sent another note to Carrie in order to make completely clear that she expected to be second author on the paper. Now, I don’t mind authorship requests - I even applaud people who are a bit aggressive when they feel they might get screwed over. But in this instance, her demands struck me as ridiculous. First, Jane has done a ton of work on part A. She also organized all of part B that I then screwed up. So the idea in the beginning - since it is a paper about Technical Idea applied to part A and part B - was that Carrie would write it and take first author. The way workload fell out, it was clear that Jane should go second. Then whoever ends up finishing part B would take third and everyone else could get tossed on however.

Upon giving up part B to Anti-Friend, by the way, I expected to vacate the author list completely. Carrie insisted upon leaving me on, but I think that was more friendship than fairness. I did try and spent a ton of time on it, but I also failed. Regardless, if Anti-Friend does not plan to complete part B (and her email to me indicating that I would do the heavy lifting indicated she did not), there was no way in hell she should have been any higher than fourth. Her snippy demands just pissed everyone off.

Now the mature action for me would have been to stay out of it. Which I officially did - I sent a single email to Anti-Friend (in which I was less than friendly, but managed to be civil) that indicated I was eager to see how she fixed my problems (since she had said the problems were clear to her) and looked forward to getting the data soon so we could wrap this up. But I did participate in the emails that zipped between Carrie, Jane and myself. I reiterated that I didn’t like her when I met her. I gasped with indignation when Anti-Friend scolded Carrie for not doing a better job. I narrowed my eyes when she tried to steal the second author spot from Jane. And I smiled triumphantly when Carrie informed me that I’d be listed as third author if for no other reason than to thwart Anti-Friend and put her in her place.

Once past my annoyance, I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable. Kind of like the gaggle of girls whispering about the icky one who doesn’t wash her hands. It’s unnecessary - we’re all busy, smart women who are actually quite kind. We’ve all done volunteer projects and donate to charity. All three of us have adopted dogs from the shelter! I don’t know if I can blame behavior learned in junior high or intense stress at work that begs for a gossipy release or sharing secrets and venting to reinforce a sincere friendship. All in all, I’m not feeling very good about the whole thing.

* When I was driving Elle and Tom around downtown, I called someone a whore when he took too long to turn.

“That’s funny.” Tom chuckled. “You think people pay him for sex.”

“No.” I said. “It’s just a word of Carrie’s I picked up. It’s a mild insult - like idiot or moron. Nothing more.” But perhaps I should feel badly about that too.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Itinerary Arrives

Today is the final day of Parental Visit of Fall, 2007. We had breakfast out and did a bit of shopping. We returned home so they could nap and I could work. I was tapping away at the keys, back to writing my book, and noticed a slew of emails had arrived.

I scowled at one from Anti-Friend that was a bit snippy and self-important. Carrie is growing annoyed as well so I’m rather eager to see how this all ends up. There were seminar announcements and the daily set of informational messages from Current Institution. Then there was an itinerary sent from Potential Institution. This is professional and delightful since it’s still over a month away and I have oodles of time to prepare.

Yet I freaked out. It’s two full days (one of which stretches from a morning meeting beginning at 7AM past dinner which is scheduled end around 9 that evening) of meetings and tours and talks.

“They’re really serious about this.” I said to my parents. “I may throw up.”

They looked at me, both covered in blankets even though my house feels overly warm to me. Chienne is curled between them on the couch while I sit alone on the loveseat. I have closed the document that neatly lists how I will spend two days in the city I rather hope to call my own. Even now, I feel mildly sick at the thought of going and talking and laughing with people only to have them respond in a less-than-impressed manner. So, crap. I don’t feel ready or smart or anything other than scared and ill, frankly.

My plan? I will start with the talk I presented in DC. Then I can add the material I’ve finished since then. A few relevant slides from my defense and one last bit of analysis should round it out. It will be fine. I can get ready in the next few weeks. Yet my stomach remains stubbornly sick.

I think I’m conflicted over what I want here. At no point have I thought I really wanted a faculty position. I don’t teach. I haven’t even done much mentoring since I’ve been here, preferring to be rather selfish and self-involved. It means there is more time for napping and writing my blog or, later, some semblance of a book. I was thinking of it as I just showered, trying to figure out what about this was scaring me so badly, and I may have figured it out.

There’s a point near the beginning of The Thirteenth Tale where the venerable older writer says that she continued to write stories because her characters would call to her. And they distracted her from writing about herself so it was more pleasurable to compose chapters about their lives and loves and adventures. The final story she told was her own since she wanted the truth to be recognized before she died.

Conversely, I seem to believe my story is already written. My email buddy, in one of our many exchanges about relationships, noted that once one recovered from a broken heart, the next one didn’t seem so scary. As one experiences happiness after misery, the lure of pleasure overcomes the avoidance of pain. I remain resolute in my plan to avoid pain though. So all that’s left to do is find a place to live out my remaining years (and there will likely be many - I think I have another 60 years or so left to live) and try not to get overly bored.

At this point, I want to be closer to home. I’d like to buy another house in a part of the country that I rather like. I would like to make a couple of local friends who make me laugh and think. I very much want to get married, but that event seems as unlikely as my sprouting wings and fluttering around to fix my roof on my own. Therefore, it seems like this job would meet my needs. So the trick is convincing them I satisfy theirs on some level.

Which I can do. As soon as I stop feeling sick.