Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Today: in three (or four) parts

I arrived at my desk a bit late in the morning and tucked my bag next to my chair and frowned at the papers lying atop my keyboard. I picked them up and hit my space bar a couple of times – Belle, my iMac, needs a bit of motivation to wake from her beauty rest.

Ken and Maria were discussing politics in the Middle East. While I’d normally be interested in their insight, I was distracted by the faxed pages I was dissecting. Perhaps someone needed to hit my space bar a few times – I wasn’t moving so quickly this morning. Then I gasped with joyful disbelief and interrupted their conversation so they could both congratulate me. I thanked them graciously, apologized for disturbing their talk and scampered to Boss’s office.

“I can’t believe they approved it!” I said after knocking and waiting for him to place his glasses on his nose. He doesn’t use them when viewing the computer and has to find them when someone enters his office.

“The IRB application?” He clarified. “I thought you’d be pleased. Congratulations!”

“But I spent all weekend absolutely positive that it was all falling apart. I really thought we’d have to fight harder to get this going. I love the IRB!”

“You do good work.” He said, expression turning serious. “It should have been accepted and I’m proud that it was. You’re well on your way.”

When we had a group meeting later that day, he made several announcements. People had abstracts accepted. Someone’s grant got funded. This guy was presenting based on a workshop he attended.

“And Katie,” he concluded his remarks, “has a paper being published in [Very Decent Journal]. She corrected proofs last week?” He waited for me to nod and for people to offer their “wow”s and “congratulations” before mentioning the recent IRB approval. “So that’s very exciting. Our first experience on this [certain toy] that should yield some very valuable data.”

And I preened with excessive pride.

After a quick drive downtown, I found myself in a different room. The generous classroom I admired last week held myself, Director and the young woman at whom I smiled last week.

This week, I nodded in understanding.

“I’m sorry I got so angry at you and said all those things last time.” She said, glancing up at Director. “I’m back on my medicine now.”

“That should help.” Director said. “But it’s important that you don’t take rejection personally. If I gave letter grades and I gave you a C or D, what would that mean?”

“A D?!” She winced and shook her head. “I would go nuts! That would be bad.”

“It would mean,” he clarified, and I frowned at his condescending tone, “that you had work to do on that particular subject. That you had room for improvement.”

“No.” She corrected him. “In my mind, it would mean that I’m not good enough. That I didn’t do enough to earn a better grade. That I’m not good enough. Again.”

I nodded. That’s what it would mean to me too. Not that I agreed that it should mean that for her, of course. But I understood what she said.

“You just need to put on steel-toed shoes.” He suggested. “When people offer you areas where you can improve, you can’t feel badly! You just make progress in that particular area and still know you’re a good person.”

She looked down.

I paused, then spoke. “I’m in therapy for the same problem.” I told her gently. “It’s hard. I know.” And she looked up at me – 10 years my junior and likely with experiences that I’ll never have – and nodded.

“Really?” Director said.

“Yes.” I said, finding myself unashamed. I understand this particular problem. It doesn’t make you bad or incapable or wrong to take rejection personally. It makes you human. At least I think so. “I have trouble when people criticize me. Or my work. It’s still difficult for me to find the strength to respond for a position of calm confidence. I’m still working through it.”

“Well, then maybe you can help with this area.” He said. “I guess I don’t really understand it all that well.”

“I’m glad I’m not alone.” The student said. “Maybe it’s a woman thing.”

I don’t know that I agree that gender plays the dominant role. I do know that it’s possible to be successful and happy and wonderful while still seeking help for some issues. I believe strongly in finding a community of people who can help each other along. It’s how I think of academia on a good day. And I’m pleased to be part – a small part – of the network that helps these women during a tough time on their paths.

I returned to campus and parked my car, hurrying toward the final meeting of the day. I waited for the elevator and went toward the conference room I’d visited yesterday with Dr. Delightful.

“There she is.” He said when I poked my head inside the closed door.

“Hi.” I said, setting my shoulder bag on the floor and my tiny shopping bag on the table. “Thanks again for letting me attend. I brought cookies since I sort of created work for everyone.” I busied myself smiling at those already in the room, shaking hands and repeating names, then unearthed the cookies I bought in yellow packages and baked the night before.

“The swirled chip ones are a bit soft.” I apologized. “But the turtle variety are good!”

Dr. Delightful launched into an explanation of how I could fit into their work and they mine. It looks as though we can merge the projects quickly and easily – I’m shocked at how easy this particular gigantic problem will be to address. It won’t be perfect, but for a first pass solution? It’s absolutely delightful.

Each of the students presented a few slides and movies, explaining their work carefully. I asked questions and murmured compliments – they do amazing research. They took cookies and we tossed ideas around and they were gentle and lovely and incredibly helpful. It’s the best meeting I’ve had in recent memory. It’s how I wish the research world presented itself more often.

And tomorrow
I’ve been planning to go home for weeks now. There is always something to get in the way. I’m not feeling well. I have too much work. I have friends in town. I must become hairless. It’s always something.

The weather is going to be bad tomorrow – the target day for the trip home. So I debated and agonized and tried to weigh work vs. convenience vs. my desire to go home. My parents will understand either way – they know it’s a long trip for a short visit. It’s really OK. Each week they invite, and I accept and then cancel.

I sent Mom a fifth email today and announced I was coming. Regardless of the inconvenience, difficulty, missed work, bad weather. It was important. Aunt Katie is not a giant liar.

Little One called last weekend. She asked when I was coming home. Repeated after me when I said Thursday. Said she missed me. “I miss you too.” I replied with great feeling. “Lots and lots and lots.” She said she loved me. “Oh,” I said, near tears. “I love you too, sweetheart. I love you very much.”

“Be careful.” She said before she told me good-bye.

“OK.” I said, a bit surprised. “You be careful too.”

Mom said she offers a “be careful” to most everyone. I didn’t know that. Because I haven’t seen her since Christmas, I think.

So I’m going home. If not tomorrow, then Friday. Because apart from work triumphs or failures, a house that will likely remain a bit dirty and gas that’s rather expensive, I miss my little niece. But I will get to see her soon.

Today was a good day. This weekend will be better still.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Kitten-Abducting Terror from the Isolated Earth

Get Your Monster Name

I would like to point out that I did not abduct Sprout. He showed up and decided to stay! Honestly!

Likewise, I did not push Friend to get her hair cut. Much. When someone indicates she would like to cut off the damaged parts of her lengthy mane, I finally determined that I'd simply make 2 appointments when I went to fix the mess that was my former haircut and tote her along with me. It wasn't even hard to arrange - she was willing to part with some of her hair if said event was given as a gift.

We arrived at a new Aveda salon just moments late for our respective appointments. I took comfort tea while noting my new surroundings. Deep blues and light wood. Silver fixtures and large mirrors unblemished by surrounding frames. It was both classy and chic. I rather approved.

A petite stylist with dark hair approached and introduced herself to both of us. The receptionist decided Friend would work with Tiny Stylist while Male Stylist offered me a limp handshake and directed me to his station.

It was located across the room - separated by a huge product display - from Friend. Luckily we ended up in adjacent shampoo chairs after our consultations.

"What are you going to do?" I asked Friend eagerly. Male Stylist had sifted his fingers through my hair with a frown moments before as we attempted to decide the course of action for my hair.

"What happened here?" He asked, tsking me a bit. I told him I'd visited a local woman in my town and that I knew it was a bit poofy.

"There's this odd under-layer that's a whole different length." I explained to him. "I hate it. I've tried to tolerate it, but it's not subtle or pretty or anything. It's just..."

"Like a mullet." He finished my sentence, his distaste clear. I raised my eyebrows at him in the mirror. "Or a gypsy shag." He corrected himself. "Sorry."

"No." I sighed. "That's OK. I know. You're going to have to help me. Fix it."

So he planned and played and determined how short we'd have to go while trying to salvage some of the length from the cut I hadn't realized was quite so horrible as he believed.

Tiny Stylist replied when Friend stayed silent as we were draped in heated towels while the water warmed. "We were thinking an asymmetric bob." She teased. "Or a faux-hawk."

"That'd be a bit much." Friend offered dryly and I pouted in silence. I had a mullet-esque mess to fix and nobody was going to be nice enough to tell me the plan for Friend's hair. (And it really wasn't mullet-y. It had 2 distinct layers that weren't overly attractive, but I don't think it was all that bad.) But I like to know plans!

We separated again - after Friend was scolded for using Pantene. Apparently it coats your hair in some sort of plastic substance that is evil incarnate. I don't care. I like the smell. And my hair is thick and poufy - it can use the plastic coating to tame some of the fluff, I guess.

When we met again, I cooed over Friend's new hair. It was shining with health - the color was rather brilliant and I marveled at the wonder that is Aveda shampoo. It had volume and body, though it didn't look overwhelming or out of character at all. Soft layers - very subtle and still long - framed her face. I thought it was lovely and told her as much.

"Do you like it?" I asked, remembering to be worried after I decided my own above-the-shoulders cut with some gentle tapering would serve me well for the next couple months.

"I think so." She said and I wondered if I should have left her hair alone.

I do try to nudge life in the direction I feel is best. I admit that. But I also am pretty obvious in my approach so that people can push back at my manipulation if they find it's inappropriate.

If I had Friend's haircut, it would make me happy. I hope the same applies to her - that she looks at it and - just for a tiny second - admires the way it shines and swings and looks so pretty. If I were a cat, I like to think that having my own room with toys, blankets, food and water would please me. I don't know that I would share the stripey kitten's addiction to the laser pointer, but did I not purchase one when he showed inordinate fondness for Friend's? Yes. Yes, I did.

I worry about Maria since she looks to me for guidance I'm not sure how to provide. I was euphorically pleased this morning when I met Dr. Delightful and he provided solutions to many of the major problems associated with my project. I now have a direction in which to push. I'm best in those situations. It's when I don't have a plan that I flounder.

So, fine. Perhaps I am a bit pushy. Manipulative. Spoiled. But I did not abduct that kitten!

Monday, February 26, 2007

The bright side?

You know who’s always happy?

My dog.

I asked her to trade lives with me this morning, my stomach sick with the dread of going to work and facing an unhappy Boss, scary meeting plans and revisions for the Evil Committee. She was jumping around the room, thrilled that it was morning and that Friend was finally out of the office and on the couch. I’d been up for a little while already and Chienne had greeted me with similar joy. A new day for her means an opportunity to take a walk! Then nap! Then play with her squeaky toys and beg for food! It’s just all good.

“Well,” I qualified my request when a canine response failed to emerge, “I’d like to trade lives after you get your shot today. I don’t like shots.”

I’ve been thinking today about my overall attitude. Dr. Counselor often calls me “a double-minded woman, unstable in all she does.” And there’s truth to that. I’m often conflicted and confused. I’m not sure what I want, where I’m going, the right answer in any given circumstance.

I tend toward overreacting – always have. I take any given statement or event personally and I do hold grudges. You can mention the EC to me two years from now and I will offer a dramatic glare. I do, however, know that life generally works out for the best.

I have found a friend – I’m not so lonely anymore. I’m finding my footing at work, present turmoil notwithstanding. I’m writing a book that I find entertaining and interesting (well, sometimes). There’s a man who has some interest in me – though it’s in the very early stages and any number of things could go wrong, I’m enjoying the idea that there’s someone out there who thinks of me fondly. I believe in the good.

I just don’t believe it happens all the time. For those who can blindly see the positive in any situation? I argue it’s simply not always there. There is pain and disease and injustice that has no reward, no lesson worth learning, no reasoning that makes it somehow OK. If you’re lucky enough not to deal with such issues, please refrain from lecturing me in how to find the silver lining. Self-absorbed, little twit. In the midst of her 21 year old lecture about how she has lived and loved and made both good and bad decisions, I found myself rolling my eyes in a not-so-polite manner. Because, honestly? I don’t buy it.

Chienne ran toward the vet this morning, paws struggling for purchase as she drug me into the office. Greeting everyone with overwhelming joy and curiosity, we were placed in an exam room where she whined piteously until someone came to see us. She left the room to have blood drawn and a shot injected, tail wagging and eager to explore what was behind the other door. My canine companion returned in the same condition. Thrilled to see me, eager to introduce me to her new tech friend, pleased that I still had her favorite treats in a Ziploc bag. Completely happy.

I brought her home after a car ride where she let her ears flap wildly in the wind as her head thrust through the open window on the passenger side. She wandered in from the garage, noted that Friend was still on the couch and her tail picked up speed as she tensed her muscles to sprint down the hall. Ever so happy, she greeted her favorite friend and became very sad when we both packed up to take our respective cars to work. She bounced back enough to chase the treats I threw for her as a consolation prize for being without company today.

I went to work, still sick, and dragged myself toward the building that houses my office. I talked to Boss, keeping him up to date on my progress. He had some suggestions that I implemented, then printed forms to take to Dr. Icing who is going over them this evening. I’m taking steps to fix problems. I’m worried. I don’t know that this is going to go my way. I can’t find the energy or will to wag my tail wildly in bursts of happiness that make everyone around me think I’m rather goofy but harmless.

I hate to be the person who sneers at optimism. Who rolls her eyes at youthful certainty that you can find the good in anything if you try hard enough. I don’t need to feel like a failure for preparing for the most likely event. My experience has indicated that it’s the best choice for me in the present moments.

I was on a relative high last week. Approving the last set of proofs for my last graduate publication, submitting an abstract to write a chapter for a book, making a presentation to a group of upper level faculty and students on campus in my particular subject area. I was doing well! When Grad Advisor forwarded an email and offered to recommend me to a close friend for a faculty position in one of my chosen locations? I was thrilled! Putting together timelines on my current projects so I could decide when I’d decide to leave, updating my CV, considering my research interests for the future. I was properly medicated and therapied and ready to face whatever came!

Except...not so much. When slapped back by a couple of “requires major revisions” and some aggressive questioning, I crumbled. I doubted my project, knowledge, background, ability. Hell, I don’t even know that I want to continue doing research anymore! I’m a fair weather scientist. Shameful, isn’t it?

Life tends to cycle for me. Strength and weakness follow each other through time. Faith and doubt. The craving of company and the desire for solitude. Productivity and excessive sleep. I’m still trying to find the constant thread through that. I know there is one – a constant Katieness. But to say that I’m not still discovering it, chasing it, and to offer some chastising statement that indicates she is somehow inferior for being sad or tired to someone having a rough time? That’s anti-Katie, my friends. So I made a mental note that this particular person was either a bit dim or a real twit, reminded myself to avoid her if at all possible, and will move on.

At least I’m learning what I don’t like.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Peace, then more problems

After impressive storms last night, it appeared to be sunny this morning. I blinked myself awake, trying to remember what day it was, then shuffled down the hall to make some coffee. When I opened the refrigerator to get my Coconut Crème, I saw the caramel pie I made last night.

Did you know that if you boil 3 unopened cans of sweetened condensed milk for 2.5 hours, you get enough caramel filling for 2 pies? True story. I did it. Just make sure the water is always covering the entire can. Oh, and cool thoroughly afterward or the pressure will cause a molten caramel explosion which would likely be painful. But the one pie I made (by expertly dumping out 1.5 cans into a pre-made pie shell) had solidified, so I cut a piece, piled whipped cream, chocolate chips and chopped pecans on top and had a treat with coffee.

Chienne was already bouncing around so I asked if she was ready to go and gathered my shoes and socks to take our walk. I decided to take the long route, then paused to put in contacts so I could wear sunglasses, finally clipping the leash on the whining animal and heading out the door.

The temperature was perfect – just cool enough – and the wind was blowing steadily. The birds were chirping busily, collecting the worms who had left their earthy homes so as not to drown in all the ground water. Chienne was sloshing through people’s yards and it was early enough so that I could hear everything around me. The soft thuds of my sneakers hitting the ground, the gentle click of Chienne’s nails on the pavement when she abandoned soggy grass for the street. I think we saw 4 or 5 cars on our hour-long journey. So it was peaceful and pretty. The sun bouncing off the roads that were shiny with residual rainwater. The green grass and sprouting flowers. All the pretty birds and fuzzy squirrels.

We face inescapable facts, I decided along the way. I am who I am. A bit timid. A tad lazy. Desperate for approval and tending toward depressed with a big enough shove in that direction. That’s OK – it’s what I have to work with and I’ve done reasonably well so far.

I came back home and sent an email to Supreme Polar Bear. He intimidates me greatly. My improvement in the professional realm coincided with he and his group departing our habitat for their shiny new one. I just relaxed when I didn’t see them in the halls all the time. It’s not that they’re mean or awful – they’re actually quite funny and incredibly smart. I just don’t fit in and I’m left feeling isolated and inferior. With their move, I started to feel OK again. I had my own portion of the research world and I would do what I could in the space I’d been given.

As I gain distance and perspective from the unpleasant Friday I spent, I’m coming back to a couple of points that are truly valid. I can’t solve either of them alone. I worked at one yesterday – reviewing and revising the protocol so I could resubmit to EC and ask Dr. Icing to intervene.

For the other, I needed to ask Supreme Polar Bear for help. So I wrote an email this morning at 7:30 or so, then went about my day. After a lovely church service and nice lunch had me feeling peaceful and calm, I checked email and saw that SPB had responded and cced many of the Lesser But Still Cool Polar Bears. One of the LBSCPBs had already written a message including more people in our little discussion. Now we’re all supposed to meet.

And I retreated once more into terror. Hands shaking, I sent several emails and tried to get everything put together as much as possible from home on Sunday.

It’s really OK. It’s important to involve the SPB and his group of LBSCPBs. They know things and have resources that I do not. I feel incredibly intimidated and threatened by them, but MT is one of them and he was quite lovely to me. And they can’t stop me from doing some part of the project. I don’t think they want to keep me from doing this work, but I’m so nervous and upset and small right now. I feel very unsettled and fragile and I’m not particularly enjoying the turmoil.

I took a nap this afternoon. Am trying to breathe and relax and let things happen. The project could be made immeasurably better through their input. If there are problems, it’s good to address them now rather than after it’s too late to fix them. I don’t know why I’m reacting so strongly against steps that I put into place – I asked the penguin for input and was pleased to present at his Friday meeting. Yet I was also very fearful. I sent email to SPB this morning, yet my stomach clenched hard when I saw he responded.

I don’t know what my deal is. But it’s still not going so well over here.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Big, scary wave of evil

May I never walk into a room and have someone glance up, see me, and think, “Oh, fuck.”

Though I internally winced and grimaced, I outwardly smiled politely and asked how he’d been, shaking John’s hand. He chairs a committee that had soundly rejected two of my proposals, one of which I'd be presenting within the next 5 minutes. As this committee has no power to stop the study, nor was it offering funding to perform the experiment, I had no idea where they got the idea that being all high and mighty would result in any action from me at all. So I was doing the mature thing and ignoring them – I filed their revision demands away and invented new insults (which I never said aloud) whenever someone mentioned that particular group.

Then I, in my pink cardigan, gray pants, black flats and pink lip gloss, rose from the table to deliver my slide presentation. We were not at Evil Committee’s meeting, though a few of their members happened to be in attendance. This was instead an informal gathering of scientists doing clinical and bench work. The idea was to share our projects, get some feedback and foster collaborations where none previously existed.

“Delightful!” I said when the penguin invited me to speak since he didn’t want his turn. “I’d love to!” Then I did the typical nervous ick beforehand. I over-wrote the talk, then systematically cut it down to only the most important slides. Then I started to feel sick the morning of, requiring Friend to coax me into work yesterday rather than the other way around. I had eaten everything in sight that morning – it’s a nervous habit – then was accordingly sick as I commuted to campus.

“I'm assuming that this will arrive after you've already left for your talk, ,” Friend’s last email read before I headed upstairs from my desk, “so rather than again saying that you'll do fine, I'll say instead congratulations on having done fine. I hope you got the help you needed.”

My reply when I did return to my desk a couple hours later?

“I could cry. Seriously. Very, very brutal. Good ideas, I think, but mixed in with many "you kind of suck" statements.

I'm going to nibble at my lunch that I took (if anyone owed me a cookie, they did) and then consider leaving. Sniffle.”

It all started out reasonably well, though John’s presence was not appreciated. The room was filling up when I started and when I glanced around after making my way through 2 slides, there were no empty chairs at all. But people were eating their deli sandwiches and picking at containers of pasta salad, so I continued on happily. This was my thesis work and included the proposed project of which I’m inordinately fond. I wanted help on some sections with which I’m unfamiliar, but didn’t expect them to stomp all over my lovely plans.

A few people asked some questions as we moved through the presentation. I glossed over many of the technical details, which may not have been wise. They were confused by the big jumps and my attempts to explain using only figures were met with blank stares from some. But then moving to the more detailed slides I kept at the very end was met with horror (equations?! Oh, no!) from other members of my audience. A mixed group of purely clinical faculty to basic science undergrads makes a talk challenging. For me, anyway.

After I finished, I began to ask my own questions about what they thought was appropriate. And so began the next hour or so of people interrupting each other to say “No!” or “That won’t work!” or “That’s too vague!” in various ways.

I eventually settled into a glare that was just a shade on the right side of basic decency and leaned forward into the podium. “So what would you do?” I asked someone, interrupting his aggressive questioning. I got laughter from the room, and smiled, then raised my eyebrows.

“Seriously.” I said, holding eye contact with my current nemesis. “I need ideas. ‘That won’t work’ doesn’t help me out. Tell me how you’d do it.”

A brief pause ensued as we stared at each other, then he nodded, considered and offered some suggestions. I wrote them down and we went from there. And I did get reasonable ideas from several of the people in attendance.

I held my own, though I think I’ve blocked out some of the details. I argued some, took notes some and tried to explain a lot. I don’t know if they really hated me or if their passion on this particular issue meant I had the potential to do good work and they considered me one of them enough to attack me as they would each other. I like to think I handled it, but many people approached me afterward.

Nemesis – a man I actually quite liked based upon this initial meeting (and stare-down disregarded) – smiled warmly and told me I’d done a nice job. It was an important study and he looked forward to hearing how it went. Eddie – a friendly collaborator on this particular project who’d tried (and failed) to defend me several times – also walked over while finishing his cookie.

“On the hot seat, weren’t you?” Eddie asked, nudging me with his shoulder.

“A bit.” I said dryly and smiled. We talked about a few questions and ideas, though I was beyond exhausted at this point, and I paused to talk to John.

“So you’ll get that protocol revised at back to EC (Evil Committee), right? Soon? Because your IRB application is on my desk now and I don’t know what to do with it.”

Panic overwhelmed my exhaustion at this point. EC couldn’t stop me from doing the work I’d had approved so far, but there was a new component – one that’s important and cool and I really, really, really want to do – that still awaited the IRB nod. And he could hold that up. I felt sick just thinking about it.

“Sure.” I said, face falling immediately.

“I think you know a lot.” He tried to soothe. “You just need to get it written out and respond to the problems I faxed you.”

All the problems.” I said, tired and afraid and feeling depression settle over me in big, scary waves. “Those reviews were brutal.” I offered.

“Oh.” He said, looking surprised. “I’m just in the position of having to quickly summarize the thoughts in the room, and…”

“They weren’t good?” I tried to finish for him. “I got the impression that you were all anything but impressed.”

“We don’t mean to be brutal.” He said, and I shrugged and made a face that said I wasn’t sure I believed him. And he walked away, having ruined my day completely.

I thanked the penguin on my retreat from the now empty room, shocked at how sincere I could sound when lying through my teeth. Who in the world would thank someone for such a miserable experience? Then I walked in the hall, clutching a free lunch I’d been offered as I walked out of the room (there was only 1 box left), and spoke to Eddie again.

“What’s going on?” He asked of my interaction with John. I explained the process – we had official approval and funding and were left looking at demands of major revisions from a group that seemed irrelevant to me.

“Huh.” He said. “So why’d you submit it at all?” He asked. “I sit on the committee and we don’t usually see stuff like yours.”

“I know! I don’t think I should have. But the research nurse in another department insisted.”

We talked some more, I told him his committee was mean, he looked abashed and regretful and reminded me he hadn’t been in the room when my work was reviewed.

“I’d ignore them. I mean ‘us’ I guess since I’m on the committee. Just don’t resubmit it.”

I went on my way, still feeling sick, and sent email to Friend and consumed my lunch. Then I came home. And proceeded to worry excessively over my new project component that would get swallowed up by the Evil Committee because they were so very evil. And hateful. By the third time I started to pace around the living room in the middle of the night, I was convinced that all that was wrong with the world was encompassed in that room where they met to rip poor, little post-doc protocols to shreds with their big, evil fangs of doom.

Anyway, last night wasn’t good. I felt the depression ease over me – the withdrawal, the sleeplessness, the anxiety and fear. Everything that seemed good had been false, I decided. Work was all going to hell, so what was the point of my recent effort. There would be no data, no papers, no way out of here.

I woke this morning – having spent a tremendously long time trying to get enough sleep between trips to the living room (but not the bathroom floor! Progress!) – and walked the dog. Then returned to send email to Dr. Icing, pleading for help. I explained and whined and tried to be professional, yet my fear and irritation leaked out onto the screen in which I composed my message.

He responded this afternoon – “We’ll talk on Monday. Don’t worry! I remain positive!” And so I took the evil review from the Evil Committee and made some changes to the protocol that they don’t even need to see. And that’s all I’ll do for now.

And the waves of depression leave an actual physical sensation as they wash over me still. And I’m worried – especially as I’ve canceled my Monday therapy appointment to take Chienne to the vet for her allergies – about how next week will go.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Ten Weird Things About Me

I so rarely get tagged for memes. So when Jane mentions me, I tend to be quick to respond. And I'm nothing if not a bit odd, so this shouldn't be hard at all.

  1. I jump up and down to relieve stress. I have a mini trampoline in my bedroom and at least once a day, I put on headphones, listen to my iPod and bounce. I have done this ever since I can remember.
  2. I watch - and enjoy - Charmed. I like the idea of fighting demons that look ugly and bad. And I believe I deserve the power to freeze time.
  3. My hair is naturally wavy. I will sometimes straighten it, then go back and curl it so that the curls are as I (not nature) intended.
  4. I love stripes. As I look around my living room, my furniture, throw pillows, blanket and general decor is composed of stripey items. Even His Sproutness is stripey.
  5. I have psoriasis - a very minor case - on the inside of my ears. This means that I play with my ears more than most people and have rapidly shedding skin there. Gross, I know. My mom has the same problem.
  6. I don't like lobster. I believe it to be mushy.
  7. I once invited someone I've never met offline to go to Italy with me. We didn't go (though he did say yes), and he was actually not the man who broke my heart.
  8. I only wear socks with shoes. My feet have always been overly warm - I abhorred footy pajamas when I was little - and so I'm barefoot more often than not. I also adore flip flops since they allow me to go sockless.
  9. I have a collection of state quarters. I finished my first book amidst much nagging from my parents. They took my second book back since I was doing a miserable job at keeping up with my coin collecting. They update me on its progress when they find new quarters.
  10. In my blog stories, I use a random assortment of actual names, pseudonyms with some meaning to me and random names for no reason at all. I sometimes have to look back in my archives to remember what I called someone.
Since I rarely get tagged, it's difficult for me to tag people. Um...let's see. I don't remember reading Lucy's list. Then I'll try The Contessa, PhD Me, TitleTroubles, and Estrella. I have this terrible fear that I'll list someone who doesn't read me and then be humiliated and sad. But I've already done the humiliated and sad routine today (story to come later), so what more is there to lose?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Date Update

“Hi, this is Katie.”

“Well, hello!”

“Hi. Actually, may I ask you a question?”


“What is that song that plays while I wait for you to answer the phone?”

I did finally call him – the rap guy from eHarmony. I did aerobics and thought about it – it’s been on my mind as something I really should do and I keep thinking about him at odd times. We've exchanged emails and he's been unfailingly kind. I’m not one for wondering what would have been and though I don’t know that I’m ready to fall for someone, he did say we could go at my pace. And though my initial email impression of him was less than overwhelming, he did say he was better on the phone.

He was right. He seems to balance the talking and listening pretty well – that’s not trivial at all. He’s smart, likes his job, loves dogs (I’d be friends with him for the latter alone). I enjoyed talking to him, though I did limit the conversation to 30 minutes. I see no need to push too fast. I’m pleased he’s finding other women online – I’d rather avoid the pressure (He offered that over email so we could remain honest). I’d happily meet him for coffee – I’m getting a friendly vibe rather than a romantic one. But that’s OK.

Oh, and the song? Jesus Walks. I, um, don’t know what to say about that. I think that after he told me, I replied something like…

“Oh. Well, now I know.”

I also know I'm glad I talked to him. I'm not sure where it's going - if anywhere - but I'm pleased I called.

So now you know too. :)

A little less selfish

“You realize,” I said out loud though I was the only one in the car, “that I got lost because I don’t really want to go.”

Receiving no response, I continued. “I’ve put it off for about a year. Had the idea, liked it, made a contact, then backed out with my metaphorical tail between my legs. Then I liked the idea again, asked if I could start and now that it’s time to go, I feel sick. I got lost – I must have written those directions down wrong, but I didn’t have to follow the same road for 10 minutes before turning around when it dead ended – and really want to go home. Just like I’ve felt all afternoon.”

I reached the interstate – the place where I started heading in the wrong direction about 25 minutes ago – and asked for help in resisting the impulse to head home without attending my appointment. I clenched my teeth and passed by the entrance ramp, moving south toward where the building must be. I slowed to go through a school zone, smiling when the crossing guard offered a friendly wave rather than the shrill whistle I’d have received had I been speeding. Then I made a U turn to reach the correct address, parking on the street in front of a gray building and waiting for a break in traffic to exit my car.

It wasn’t a terrible part of town, separated by a few miles from the center of downtown. Then I frowned at myself – it’s not as if I feel unsafe downtown either. I was just being resistant for some reason. I walked toward the discrete sign and pressed the buzzer so someone could unlock the door for me. I told the woman who opened it my name and whom I was there to see. Then I shook hands with a man I’d met about a year before.

After exchanging pleasantries, he told me I’d entered the family portion of the shelter and that the women’s division was located adjacent to this structure.

“Oh, OK.” I said, glancing around at the tiny lobby that contained a single suitcase. I wondered if someone was coming or going.

“I’ll give you a tour.” He said, and I smiled. When I’d first met him at the men’s shelter, he’d done the same thing – we wandered around the building and talked while I smiled a bit awkwardly at the residents. The director of education had decided I’d do better at the women’s shelter, but I never actually got there. I invented a number of excuses, but couldn’t make myself find the building and go inside.

But God and I decided today was the day so I arrived on schedule, having allowed an extra 30 minutes in case I got lost. I’d used every moment.

We walked through the chapel – a dimly lit room that contained several long pews that curved gently as they faced a simple altar. Exiting the other side, we walked to enter the other building and he showed me where I could park next time. I nodded, resolving that there would be a next time. I would show up next week, unsure as to why I felt it was so important when the dread was so strong.

I peeked in the computer room, congratulated an older woman who’d finished her GED in December and stepped quietly inside a generously sized classroom. There were rows of wide tables with folding chairs – plenty of room to spread out books and papers so proper studying could occur. As Director explained the class schedule, I watched a young woman look up from her large GED study guide.

She met my gaze evenly, then shyly smiled when I let my lips curve in greeting and apology that we were disturbing her. Something about her – her solitude in the large room while everyone else was in the computer room next door, her dark hair and eyes, heavy-ish frame, her too-large sweatshirt, overall manner – reminded me of me.

That, I think, is why I want to be there. I understand bad decisions. I get crawling out of a hole you dug without realizing it. The difference with me is that there has always – without a single exception – been someone to help me when I fall down. Sometimes they catch me and I avoid hitting the ground completely. I haven’t been punished nearly as much as I deserve. I catch more than my share of breaks. I know that.

I have fallen though. Even at my lowest – the very worst post that I wrote when I was so depressed – I recognized that I was surrounded by people who loved me and wanted me to get better. I drew strength from their very existence. Good was out there and I would find it in myself again.

I dislocated my knee in undergrad while visiting another campus to do research. I stepped wrong when going down some steps and my knee popped out and stubbornly refused to go back in. I had two friends with me at the time – they attempted to give me Advil (which I took), and tried to put me in a car to take me to the hospital (I couldn’t get in – my knee wouldn’t bend since the kneecap was located near the back of my leg. Seriously. They took X-rays and everyone was very impressed.)

“Call my cousin.” I finally said.

“No.” One friend said. “We don’t want to bother her!”

“Call. My. Cousin.” I bit out, insisting with narrow eyes. “I need her and you’ll call her and she will come and fix me.”

Older Cousin arrived shortly after, full of sympathy and brisk competence. “You’re OK.” She said, smoothing my hair briefly before ordering me into her car, supporting my leg while I maneuvered it in her Jeep. She stayed with me in the ER for four hours, holding my hand when they finally wiggled the kneecap back in place. Then she took me back to my dorm, helped me up the stairs, and went to fetch me dinner that she insisted I eat.

I’m grateful for friends – people I love dearly and enjoy very much. But at the basic level, my family shows up. Regardless of how bad it is or what is needed, we will figure it out. There’s some basic comfort there. I’m never alone because Mom introduced me to God. And if I need them, they’re a phone call and fastest driving route away. That’s comfort – something I don’t know how to live without.

Were it not for that – for choosing labs where people would tolerate my depression and fits of productivity, for having family who loved me regardless even as they nudged me toward what was best, for finding friends with whom to laugh and plan and be myself – perhaps I would have ended up relying on people at the shelter. These women, I think, are trying to make progress. To learn what they missed having left high school while eating simple food and living in a rather shabby dwelling.

I want to be someone who shows up. Who offers attention when they struggle with math. Who reads what they write and offers suggestions (I mentioned that I’m not trained in that area. Though if anyone wants to pen an overly dramatic blog, I could certainly offer aid.) I’m prepared to admit that I likely won’t understand the depth of their struggle, but I can go there and try to listen.

The overall experience is also a reminder of feminine resilience. How we’re strong and capable and willing to make a life for ourselves. How we can find room in our routine to help each other. And now I know how to get to the building, where to put my car and which door to use. Perhaps I’ll figure out the rest from there.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Progress (or not) - a grant update

While my book chapter abstract sits neatly written and initially revised on my laptop, the grant is silent in its folder. I know what needs to happen with the revision – I even know how long it will take. I had an entire list that I could have made my way through as time went by. Instead, I focused on other areas. Got Project M ready to go. Finished up papers. I even have Project X theoretically ready for recruitment. Moving forward with research was important!, I insisted to myself as I stubbornly ignored the grant draft.

During my brief meeting with Boss yesterday – in which I glowed and fluttered over my professional accomplishments of late – he brought up the grant again.

“Oh.” I said, grimacing. “About that. Um… Huh.” I stumbled, trying to think of a way to make myself sound good. There wasn’t one. So I went with honesty. “I think we should wait until June to resubmit.” I admitted, ducking my head then lifting my chin to meet his concerned gaze. “I haven’t worked on it – decided to focus on other areas – and so…there’s not much progress. It’s not ready. I haven’t done…well, anything.”

“Well,” Boss paused to consider. “let me see what you have and we can evaluate it together.”

“But if we wait until June, then we’ll have preliminary data.” I tried.

“But you don’t need to have done the work for this mechanism. You just need a plan. And you have a plan.”

“OK.” I said, thinking that while I do have a general plan, it certainly isn’t written out and described.

"If we need to wait, we'll wait. But I don't think we've decided that yet." He said with a reminder to send what I had.

I considered it today as I decided to stay and work from home. I feel good about work! The papers, the possible opportunity to contribute to a book, the plans and progress. Why won’t I take steps to drastically improve my career by focusing on this grant?

If you’ll remember, I submitted the last one a year ago amidst much complaining and moaning. Anything that takes me back to that time – the blissful, ‘I’m so stupidly in love!’ months before the terrible, terrible depression that followed - is scary. I can write the good parts when drafting my book (um, not the real book, but my weird, little hobby), but when I reach the beginning of the sadness that so occupied my life, I just get stuck. And I don’t want to repeat that – the steps leading up to it, the slow decline that slowly transitioned into my world falling out from under me. That sounds terribly dramatic, doesn’t it? I know there are many, many people with far worse problems. But the grant is associated with those times and I can't get around it.

I can do it in June. That’s different than last year – I can work on it as the weather warms and grows uncomfortably humid. But staying home to focus on the text while the weather is still cool and rainy feels too familiar. I want to prove I’ve made progress. These projects can’t wait while I do more planning or arrange more funding. Let’s go forward with what I currently have! No more waiting or hoping or wishing for the ideal – let’s just get something going and see what happens.

Likewise, I don’t want to fall for someone right now. I don’t want the rejection or the euphoric musings that this one might be one I get to keep. It’s all about being different. Going to therapy, taking medication, being focused and stable.

However, I can get nervous with too many changes. While Friend is a non-objectionable presence and I rather enjoy having her around, I stayed home today to enjoy the pure freedom of my empty house. Ownership of every room. The ability to eat all the food I wanted without considering which half was fairly mine. It’s all mine today. Be noisy if I want, have perfect silence if I can make the cat and dog quiet down. I was utterly lazy for moments, then very productive for others. I just enjoyed the space, the time.

I also marveled over the difference. When someone paged me, I didn’t delete the message and wallow in guilt because I wasn’t at the office. I just called back – told Jill I was working from home and returned whatever message she had for me. I had all of the good parts – staying in pajamas, watching Judging Amy, ordering pizza and breadsticks and snacking all day, taking a nap when I was tired – and very little of the bad. No guilt or worry or dread of returning to the office tomorrow. I’m just taking a bit of time to recharge and connect with my motivation.

Said motivation simply doesn’t extend to the grant. I opened it to find references for my book abstract. Then I frowned at it, wondered where to start and put it away. I just can’t do it right now. I’ll have to find a way to articulate that to Boss and feel OK about my limitations. I’ve always been curious about how people can strive to do better – be more – and remain peaceful with the current incarnation of themselves. I only glimpse it – the satisfaction and pleasure in the current moment even while I plan to improve in the future – but in those seconds, it’s lovely.

This, I think, is progress. Even if the grant sees none of it right now.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A Real Book

“It’s just snowballing for you!” Boss smiled and nodded with pride. “It happens like that sometimes – there’s nothing for a while, then everything comes together and builds on itself. I’m excited.”

“I’m thrilled!” I chirped happily. “It’s just been so good lately!”

I had printed out the email I received – my first ever invitation to submit an abstract to be considered for a book chapter! – and scampered to Boss’s office to share my news. Then we’d talked about the work I’d done this weekend, the progress I’d made overall, the study recruitment that officially opened this afternoon. I could get a patient anytime now. And I’ve been developing an idea on a book chapter with some early data.

Carrie responded to my “look at this!” email with some advice. “Apparently a book chapter is under a peer-reviewed publication on the priority scale, so don’t give the book people anything you could get published elsewhere. But you know enough to do a cute, little review with some of your current data – that’s an excellent idea!”

Friend nodded wisely when I shared my knowledge. “Peer review is better.” She noted. “I knew that.”

“But I want to write a book chapter.” I insisted. “I get a free copy if I’m accepted! With my name on the cover – all the contributors' names go on the cover! So I won’t give them my amazing data, but I could do something comparative and review-y. I think it might be really good for me to write regardless! And it might go in a book!”

So instead of thinking of a suitable blog post on the commute home, I spent my time plotting analysis algorithms that could be easily implemented and incorporated with some text describing the method options.

Work is good. I’m grateful and excited and quite happy. Now I must return to my internet searches and a sample dataset.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


There is a place I like to sit in church. If I enter the sanctuary and turn right, there are a couple of rows from which I generally choose. I like the short back row of the front section on some Sundays. I can watch the congregation, see the words of the readings and hymns on the screens high above the pulpit and feel warm and safe on the edges, yet included, in a crowd of people.

On other days, I sit in the front row of the back section of chairs. Though it’s mere feet away from the formerly described seat, it’s an altogether different feeling for me. Since there is an open area before me, I feel more exposed. People smile as they walk past and I often shift to allow them more room as they herd children to the bathroom or exit to answer a cell phone. I’m more outwardly focused in that seat. There’s more ‘what can I do’ where the seat slightly closer to the front seems to elicit a ‘who can I be’ feeling.

The interesting thing is that I don’t consciously decide where to sit. It just happens, and until today, I didn’t give it much thought. And had we not had a guest pastor who talked for nearly an hour himself, leading to moments of exasperation and boredom, I mightn’t have considered it at all.

I chose the third seat from the door in the front row of the rear section this morning. I tucked my gift under my seat, having received it upon entering the lobby.

I was “good morning”ing my way through the crowd of people when Sandy reached to shake my hand.

“Have we met?” She asked in typical Presbyterian fashion.

“I don’t think so.” I smiled and shook my head, offering my name and that I’d attended sporadically for several months.

“Did you get a welcome bag?” She asked, reaching for the last one on the table.

“No, I didn’t, but that’s really fine. I don’t need to take your last one.”

“Of course you do!” She insisted, placing the handle in my fingers. I didn’t even peek inside before finding a chair and smiling at the woman two chairs down. She immediately scooted over to introduce herself.

“It’s a pretty church.” I offered, not sure how to fill the post-introduction silence.

“Thank you.” She said, ducking her head graciously. “The windows have stories behind them, you know.” Since I did not, in fact, know, she told me that the pastel panes came from a church that had merged with theirs, the vibrant rectangular panes from the old building that had given way to the new structure and the top octagons had been specially designed for the new church. They’re individually exquisite, yet they don’t fit together. There’s no cohesive theme and I was rather relieved that it was supposed to look as though they came from different places. When you knew the story, it all made sense. You use what you have because the pieces are meaningful.

It’s a bit like how I feel about my book. There are these pieces that I have written – I uploaded them to another blog (carefully password protected since it’s not ready for readers) and looked at what exists and what’s clearly missing. The thing is that it’s not very cohesive. There’s dating, family, faith, professional goals, friendships, online journals… It looks a bit slapped together – like I failed to pick a theme and just chucked everything I could think of into a book. My feeling is that piecing it together is the important part. If I can find the underlying self in what I’m trying to say, it’ll make sense because there are separate facets of my personality that struggle to exist in the same space. The disparity between who I am in church wars with who I hope to be in a relationship and I get confused as to what the goal is. Who is it that I’m trying to be?

Interestingly enough, the title of the long sermon was “Who do you think you are?” And if I think past the family photos and the astronomy lesson he presented to the underlying message, I think the guest pastor was trying to get at the dichotomy of our existence. We are miniscule from the perspective of the universe. Teeny, tiny specks of dust. Yet I believe we are important to God – so important, in fact, that He sent His only Son to die for our sins. It’s making those two ideas fit together that can be a challenge. Find the humility and pair it with the comfort of knowing we’re immeasurably loved in an environment that is impossibly large.

Likewise, while defining who I am, there is a knowledge and acceptance of what currently is as well as a willingness to discover new interests and traits as I grow. The strong calling of faith – the joy of singing hymns and reading scripture – that gets overshadowed all too often by the lure of the secular. I’d rather check site stats and read new blog posts than do my morning devotional. Yet I stick to listening to my Praise playlist on my morning commutes rather than taking in a radio broadcast or a different iPod selection. I want to be in a relationship, yet refuse to call the man who has expressed interest in me. I’m terribly lonely sometimes, yet can guard my space with an almost vicious intensity.

It’s all about making it fit. Transitioning from one chapter to the next so that I incorporate past lessons without drowning in the pain of them. That I conduct myself with kindness while retaining some selfish energy. To make progress at work even as I make social interactions a priority.

“I think it’s the chapters I’ve been unable to write that could be the most important.” I told Friend over waffles this afternoon.

She nodded sleepily. I could do the same. Because when she asked if I was tying pieces together as she folded laundry, I just replied.

“Nope. Writing a blog post about tying book pieces together.” Eventually I’ll get around to actually doing it.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Laser Tx One

“I’m nervous.” I confessed to the tech, scolding myself and demanding that I stop wringing my hands. “I know I signed up for this and am paying for it. And I really do want the hair to be gone. But I’m sort of scared.”

“Don’t be scared!” She chirped. “It’s not bad at all and if it does hurt too much, you can tell me and I’ll just turn the power down.”

I nodded at the toothpick-thin blonde. She was rather adorable and she smelled nice. I liked her well enough, though I doubt we’d ever be best friends. But she was going to zap me with a laser for some undefined amount of time. I was trying to prepare for excruciating pain – willing to accept it to solve my little problem, but not at all eager to experience it now that I was there.

The day had dawned rather snowily. There was a dusting on the ground and flakes continued to gently fall from the sky.

“The roads are yellow.” Friend said as she perused the online traffic map. “Snow and ice. And many, many accidents.”

“So I should leave now to allow enough time.” I nodded.

“You wouldn’t go to work in this, but you’ll go to a laser appointment?” She confirmed and I responded in the affirmative. I didn’t go home this weekend so I could move along my hairless path. I was getting zapped come hell or high water (or snow or big accidents as the case may be).

The roads weren’t that bad – more wet than anything, though I was concerned that if the temperature dipped too much, all that standing water would cause some severe problems. But it didn’t feel that cold and the car was handling well. I grew a bit worried when I saw many cars either abandoned or crashed along the side of the interstate – lots of flashing lights, police cars and tow trucks were trying to sort out the mess of southern winter driving. But I allowed more room between myself and those cars around me, slowed my speed a bit, and took turns carefully. I was fine.

“If you didn’t want to get where you were going,” I asked yet another car as it pulled over to the side of the road and parked for no apparent reason, “why didn’t you just stay home?” And I don’t understand the concept of trying to drive, then deciding it’s too hard and giving up when you’re only partway to your destination.

Regardless, I was pleased I’d allowed extra time, arriving a mere 5 minutes early to my appointment, which coincided with the opening of the office. I was ushered into the waiting room, flipping through a magazine as tension built, then asked to come back to a treatment room.

It was a small corner room – the two large windows covered by white mini-blinds that allowed some of the soft, white light from outside to enter. There was a small machine next to the table covered in paper. It had few buttons and a rather harmless looking laser delivery system attached. I frowned warily at it regardless. There was a counter with several tubes of gel on it. A sink and space for other items was beside all the gel. I noticed the same post-treatment lotion as I took home last week in one corner.

“It’s going to hurt.” I said and Courtney turned to shake her head kindly.

“You’ll be fine.” She said and I nodded. Then she returned to her laptop and continued to enter my information. “OK! Perfect.” She said when she finished. “Go ahead and sit up here now.” She requested, patting the sheet of paper on the raised exam table.

I got up from my seat in the corner and boosted myself up.

“Now lie down.” She ordered patiently. I did, entire body clenched against nerves though I really did want the treatment quite a lot. I just wasn’t sure what to expect and when given the opportunity, natural reserve and apprehension take control of my thoughts. “OK, we’re going to do some patch tests on your neck. Just to make sure there’s no discoloration and to see how sensitive you are to the laser.”

“OK.” I said, nearing tears as I became more and more afraid.

“You’ll turn your head away from me.” She said, taking my glasses and replacing them with green goggles.

“Oh.” I said, surprised. “I can still see. I thought I’d be blinded while this happened. That seemed scarier.”

“Nope.” She touched my chin to turn my head a bit farther, exposing my neck. “We only use eye pads if we need to. But the light will be bright, so don’t let that scare you. Are you ready?”

“I guess.” Then I held my breath, laced my fingers together and clenched my hands tightly.

She squirted the cold gel on my neck and smeared it around with a piece of gauze. “It’s cold, I know.” She offer sympathetically. “We’re going to start with a setting of 12, which is pretty low. Just let me know if it’s too much.”

I caught a glimpse of bright light and raised my eyebrows in surprise. “That didn’t hurt at all! Though there was some sensation. I just don’t know what it was since it didn’t last long.” As we went up to a setting of 30 – the highest my skin will theoretically tolerate – I decided it was like a rubber band flicking the skin - just as I've heard it described. But not in a sharp sting – just in a kind of tapping sensation. It wasn’t even unpleasant – just odd.

We got started and she applied and smoothed more gel onto my skin. I requested the areas along the jaw, around my chin, on my upper lip become hairless. I closed my eyes – not wanting to see, but grateful for the ability to do so if I changed my mind.

“It’s strange.” I told her as I pointed and described what I wanted, letting her squint and decide where she thought we should direct the laser. “I hate this – having people see I have more hair than I’d like. It’s embarrassing to come in and talk about it like this. But I really do hate those hairs.”

“Well, we’ll get rid of it, and you won’t have to think about it again!”

Since I had a relatively large area treated, I can say that the pain varies. If there aren’t many hairs located in the laser area, it’s just sensation. Like a tiny, localized pressure, but more electric. A small shock, perhaps. When the hair is denser and coarser, it hurts a bit. I jumped four times – once for my chin (“It’s worst there, poor thing.” Courtney soothed. “You’re just fine though.”), and all three treatments of the upper lip.

“Put your tongue under your lip.” She requested, demonstrating so I could correctly comply. Once it was convex, she placed the laser on the left and the light flashed an instant before I flinched. A mixture of sensitive skin and relatively dense hair follicles made it sting.

“Sorry.” I said after I recoiled the first time.

“You’re fine.” She said, moving to the right.

“Sorry.” I said again when the unpleasant sensation was repeated and I jumped again.

“You’re fine. Just one more.”

“Sorry.” I apologized again when the center hurt again. I think it was worse because I was expecting it to be icky after my experience with the left and right sides.

I was dreading the next location, though the pain dissipates almost instantly, when I heard her put the laser back in its holder.

“Are we done?” I asked, surprised.

“Uh huh.” Courtney replied. “All done! You were perfect.”

“Wow.” I said, impressed. “That wasn’t bad at all! It was so fast! And it only hurt a little those few times.”

“Uh huh.” She said, removing most of the gel with her popsicle stick thingie. Then she wiped at my face with a few pieces of gauze, cleaning at the remainder of the substance. I could smell the hair that had burned – I actually found that reassuring. That we were doing something bad to those nasty follicles I dislike so much. And the sensation, I was told, was the heating of those hairs. If there were many, it was stronger. If the hair was finer, it wasn’t much at all.

“You’re a little pink, but it’s not bad.” Courtney evaluated, rubbing the post-treatment lotion in gently. “I’ll use an ice pack.”

So she pressed one gently to the treated areas while I basked in the relief that I was done with the first treatment and wouldn’t dread returning in 7 weeks for the second. Apart for a few moderately unpleasant seconds, it was really nothing over which to worry at all. I finished with Courtney, thanking her again for being so nice about the process.

I saw Britney when I was making my next appointment for the beginning of April.

“I was really nervous.” I admitted and she cocked her head in exaggerated sympathy.

“It’s not bad.” She said. “You did fine, right?”

“I did, actually. She was wonderful and it didn’t hurt nearly as bad as I thought it might. And it was so fast!”

“Perfect!” She said.

Indeed, I decided. And like any big purchase, there’s that instant where I feel superficial and strange about it. I didn’t really need a new car. Or to join a dating service. Or to buy a house. But in the end, I think there’s some pleasure in doing something good for myself. So I’m pleased with the experience – not feeling pink or sore at all in the aftermath – and hoping the results are as perfect.

It continues to snow here though. Friend and I ran some errands this afternoon. Yankee Candle had a tart sale and I do like tarts. Sprout is entranced by laser pointers, so I wanted one of my own. When we went to Office Depot to find one after stopping by the mall, it was snowing relatively hard. Fluffy white flakes melted immediately upon touching the ground.

Friend and I smiled when a couple emerged from the store as we were crossing the parking lot. The woman breathed out a curse upon encountering such a weather phenomena and her husband was busy trying to capture the moment on his cell phone camera.

“I can’t even get a good picture of the stuff.” He complained as they both brushed themselves off.

“Is it bad that I want to take a picture of the man taking a picture of the snow?” Friend asked, and I laughed.

After obtaining a laser pointer (which has already created a Sprout-y obsession – I’ve never seen him react that strongly to anything) and a USB drive (2GB for $34.99 (after rebate)! I’m enough of a geek that this pleased me greatly. People at work will be so jealous!), we exited the building and headed toward my car.

“Do you want to use the Lord’s name in vain or take a picture of the snow?” I asked Friend and waited for my sleepy pal to laugh at my delightful joke. It took her a few seconds, but she remembered the couple we saw and eventually did laugh quietly. “I think we should try to fit in.” I said.

We stopped at Walmart, then picked up Arby’s on the way home. She decided to nap while I marinated chicken and found couscous for dinner. I sincerely hope she’s successful – I’m growing concerned as quality sleep continues to elude her. I’ve convinced myself that she’s just tired, but eventually I might start to wonder if I’m as amusing as I think I am.

Friday, February 16, 2007


“That didn’t work.” I said as I descended the stairs behind my dog and cat.

“Shocked.” Friend mumbled – she’s been up for hours, poor thing. I found her on the couch when I shuffled down the hall this morning. “Such a good plan.”

“It was a good plan.” I defended softly. “Freaking insulation.”

I believe there are birds in my attic. I can hear them – chirping and scratching with their little birdy feet. I thought that Chienne could scare them away (preferably before they scared her back down the stairs) or if they refused to budge, Sprout could attack.

Chienne entered first – the attic air cold but not painfully so. I closed the door after her – personally afraid of the flying creatures. But then I felt bad and peeked in to find her regarding me with some confusion. Sprout had been waiting patiently behind me, and upon seeing the door finally open, he decided to charge in. He found himself on the unfinished floorboard and paused to look around.

The birds were silent – I didn’t see any of them – and in his search Sprout decided to hurl himself into the fluffy pink mounds of insulation.

“Oh, no.” I said. “That’s fiberglass.” Then I paused to think. “Well, I think it’s fiberglass. Regardless, it’s not for kittens to play in.”

I reached to grab him by his scruff, lifting him enough that I could slide a hand under his belly and retrieve him from his cloud of danger.

“Friend!” I called, hoping for help and receiving none when I heard the birds move again, “I’m scared!”

Brushing off Sprout’s stripey coat, I put him down so he could descend the steps behind Chienne. She remained befuddled as to what we were doing all along, but her collar jingled happily as she wandered back to the main level of the house.

So there are still birds in my attic, Sprout his now painfully eager to get in that room again and Chienne is whining for her morning walk. Life is generally as it should be.

I’ve started working more – a lot more, actually, in my plan to transport Friend to and from campus on some days.

“I’m building up stamina.” I bragged as we headed toward my car last night a little after 6. We’d arrived around 9:30 that morning. “I’m not particularly tired or achy! I am hungry though.” I decided. “But I’m otherwise good!”

“I think I’m losing stamina.” She decided. And though I frown in worry – then and now – I think she’ll get it back soon. Working through the hard part – making progress and doing experiments and showing up in the lab – can be excruciating. And she’s doing that successfully, so I daresay I’m optimistic about her professional future, though I realize her present is less than ideal.

She went back to bed moments ago and I hope she’s sleeping peacefully. I need to brave the cold to walk my dog. Then get ready for work, though I’d rather stay home and read. The interesting thing is that though I don’t really want to go in, it doesn’t hurt to do so. The strange urge to huddle in my home – warm and safe and useless – has eased. I can go to work. I’ll allow people to talk to me, sometimes enjoy the interaction even. I can sigh over problems, yet not feel crushed underneath them. I can feel annoyance without being consumed by helpless rage. I’m leveled out, I think. Insulated from the worst part of the depression by those little pills I take each night. And it’s really, really lovely.

It doesn’t make for excellent blog posts lately though. I’ll have to work on that.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Embarrassing Errands

“Perfect!” She chirped again and I frowned at her this time.

“OK.” I said, trying to be light and happy too. “So there’s a little hair on my chin. A bit along my jaw. My lip. Oh, and I do a lot of plucking on my eyebrows to keep them from being all thick. I... basically have problems.”

“Perfect!” She said again, opening her little binder to consult prices. “So instead of mixing bits and pieces together, it’d be cheaper to do the full face package.”

How embarrassing, I decided sadly. Monday brought a therapy session with a friend. Yesterday found me so desperate for food that I considered eating the box after finishing my personal pizza. And this morning I sat in a nicely decorated office discussing laser hair removal. A full face package. I’m painfully self-conscious about it – I really, really, really hate it. The problem is worsened by the fact that I have dark hair and pale skin. It’s just icky.

“You’re a perfect candidate for the treatment!” Britney said again after she’d listed all the procedures she’d personally had. I told Friend that I was going to inquire about becoming completely hairless. I didn't, but I think little Britney was well on her way there and I found myself momentarily jealous of her job that must allow hefty discounts. “The new lasers are more attracted to density than color, but it still helps a lot to have dark hair and light skin. And you don’t tan, so that’s perfect!”

She flipped through some pages. “So we sell packages – as many treatments as you need to get results that make you happy.” She tried for a serious tone but her inherent hairless cheer was hard to repress. I could tell. “We start with six treatments, spaced 7 weeks apart for the face, and each one should zap the hair in the right part of the growth cycle. So the hair will get lighter and thinner as we go on, but it’ll take some time to get it all. But don’t worry! We’ll keep at it until it's perfect!”

“What happens to the hair after it dies?” I asked.

“It’ll work its way out. I didn’t even notice mine – but after a few days, it’ll just release itself and fall out!”

“Oh.” I said, wrinkling my nose. Then I thought of never glancing in the mirror and reaching for tweezers again. So, fine. I’ll handle it.

“Will there be skin irritation?” I asked later on as I signed many, many papers. Consent forms, HIPAA documents, payment options, instructions for before and after treatments, the 2 year guarantee…

“A bit.” She replied, flipping through forms herself. “We say to treat it like a mild sunburn, but I don’t think it’s that bad. But there’s lotion you’ll use for 3 days afterward to make sure the skin recovers nicely. And you’ll need to be extra careful with sun block for a couple weeks before the treatment. There are products we give you with the package to make sure you’re all set. But you shouldn’t blister or peel. If you do, let us know and we’ll reevaluate.”

I went to make my first appointment – Saturday morning – and nearly rolled my eyes. Britney and friend were listening to a Britney Spears CD on this little blue stereo. It was so cutesy even I cringed and I have a teddy bear holding a felt flower on my desk. But I still think I made the right choice.

First, this is something I really want to do. The hair bothers me on a profound level – I want it gone. So I made an appointment with a dermatologist through my work insurance. But my health insurance doesn’t cover anything cosmetic, so going through the standard healthcare channels wasn’t necessary. The MD assured me that lasers would be effective for me and made an appointment at a clinical with the technology. I’d already waited 6 weeks to see her for 5 minutes. I was scheduled to wait until the end of March to see someone else in the group. And I expected it to be pricey.

“So I’m going commercial.” I told Friend of my hairless plan. “I called and they told me I could come that same day. Plus, they have specials and coupons! They’re part of the competitive industry which should help me out. Cheaper! Better service!”

I’ll let you know how it goes. I might come back and say that I can’t believe I’m paying $100/month for a year to have someone hurt me to remove hair. We’ll have to see.

In other embarrassing errand news, I went to Walmart after work to exchange a Christmas gift. I walked through the door when two women gasped at me.

“Is that broken?” One of them yelled. “Or do you just not want it? Miss? Is that broken?!”

“It makes a funny noise.” I said, doing what many people would do when something they own is coveted. I clutched it tighter to my chest. “I’m exchanging it.”

“She’s not going to find another one.” One said to the other as the greeter put a pink sticker on the box. The customer service agent told me the same thing, though she was nice about my receipt being older than 90 days.

“Try to find another one, but they’re limited.” She warned. “Come back whether you find one or not.”

I had, of course, carefully scouted the toy section each time I went to Walmart. My Elmo made weird noises when tickled. I loved him, but I wanted one that wasn’t broken. When Friend and I were in the pet section on Monday, I drug her though the toy department and sighed when I reached the 'toys that talk and move' section.

“I’m never going to find one.” I said despondently. But I brightened when she pointed at the gray boxes on the shelf below.

“Is that them?” She asked. I nodded happily and put broken Elmo in the car when I got home so I could exchange him at the soonest opportunity. I nearly ran back to the toy department today, going directly to where the boxes had been. All three remained on their shelf, so I selected the middle one and carried it to the front to make my exchange. If the pessimistic women I saw upon entering the store had simply looked for the item, they would have found it.

But I’m proud of my new Elmo. I brought him home and fended off the animals while I watched him laugh and fall to the floor, only to pick himself back up again. I’m pleased that I’m slowly fixing problems. The broken toy Mom gave me has finally been replaced, though I’m sure she never thought I’d get to it. The hair that so bothers me is about to get zapped, regardless of cost or pain. I’d call myself a grown up if I hadn’t written an entire post about exchanging Elmo and buying my laser package.

So while life is hardly the “perfect!” that Britney proclaimed every little thing, it is good. Amusing and interesting and absurd sometimes. But good.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

No hurry

I’ve been riding the bus to my car lately. Between the cold and the hurry to get home and beat traffic, it just seems the more logical choice. But faced with hours left to wait to drive Friend home, I decided to take Ken at his word that the rain had eased and the temperatures were pleasant and grabbed my keys so I could move my car closer to the building.

I wandered slowly toward the parking lot, breathing in the blessedly humid air – it’s been dry here, though I can’t bring myself to complain about our “treacherously cold” temperatures that rarely dipped below 20 degrees – and enjoying the mild breeze. I decided it was unusual that I wasn’t trying to hurry. I had no care for where the bus was – I hadn’t walked because I thought it would be faster. I just wanted to spend time outside while I waited for my day to end.

Maria and I met with Boss today, settling into a conference room where she presented a blank sheet of paper and began to detail her needs at the moment.

“What?” Boss said immediately, leaning forward and squinting at her. I bit back a grin – he’s painfully sweet and he struggles with both his hearing and her accent. Throughout the meeting, he repeated what she said, trying to make sure he understood. I tried to sit back and listen but am too possessive of my work to let some things go by without comment. But we made some progress on defining where Boss and I think the interesting problems are. She took notes – writing down websites and names and concepts. I couldn’t get a read on what she was thinking, so I started to frown and grow concerned. I’m worried about helping her, partially because I’m out of practice. Partially because I just got myself all settled – I selfishly don’t want her to throw me off balance. And I do like her - I want her to do well here.

Maria switched fields recently. Went from surfing to ice fishing as the case may be. And while they both involve water, that’s about the only connection. So her coursework and previous training is all pretty irrelevant as far as I can tell. Not that it’s wasted time – I’m far enough along to know that you never know what skill or knowledge is going to help you out – but it’s not really applicable to what I’m trying to do here.

“So…you’re what? The middle of your second year?” I asked, pretty sure I was right.

“Fourth.” She answered and I’m sure I looked taken aback. I left grad school after 4 years. Just starting a new project – learning about the options, looking at developing a skill set, growing familiar with the field in general – was shocking to me.

“Some of my friends told me to just finish with what I’d been doing. Get my degree and leave.” I nodded my agreement. Why draw out grad school more than necessary? As difficult as parts of this post-doc have been, there’s tremendous relief in knowing I could walk away. I have a doctorate. I don’t necessarily have to use it, but I have it. I hurried my way through and did what needed to be done and escaped. And while I don’t really recommend my method to others, it did work.

“I had trouble with the lab. I didn’t like the work. I thought this stuff was more interesting, so I moved.”

“Wow.” I said, still thinking of how long she might be here still. “I mean, great! That’s good. Gutsy, but good.”

I was thinking about her as I made my way up a hill on my walk. Thinking quietly, moving softly through the late afternoon in my pretty black flats.

“I’m going to catch you!” I heard and jumped, startled.

“Hey,” I greeted Ken after turning to see who was going to catch me. “What are you doing? You left a long time ago – I thought you were going running.”

“I am.” He nodded.

“This is called walking.” I offered with a smile and he rolled his eyes at me.

“I had to stop at the library, and now I’m going to my car. Then I’ll go home and run.”

“Oh.” I said, noticing that I was walking much faster to match his pace. Don’t pant, I chastised myself. Just walk and talk and pretend you’re in some semblance of health that allows you to walk at a brisk pace. I finally gave up.

“You can go ahead.” I said. “Walk faster if you’d like.”

“Nope.” He said easily, pausing to check traffic before he motioned me across the street before him. “I don’t have to be anywhere for anything. Are you in this section of the lot?”

“I’m over there.” I pointed, grateful that the light told us to pause before crossing. I wanted to catch my breath.

As we walked together, I asked if he was still planning to run. He nodded.

“Well then you do have to be somewhere for something.” I decided.

“Not really.” He replied. “I’ll change clothes and go out when I get there.”

“But it might be dark.” I protested, trying to check the position of the sun as it peeked through thick clouds.

“And?” He asked, grinning at me. I took a moment to admire him – he’s really quite cute and nice – and smiled in return.

“Nighttime is scary.” I said, attempting a serious expression.

“Nah. You just have to be scarier to other people than they are to you.”

“Are you scary?” I asked innocently.

“I can be.” He said confidently enough for me to believe him even as I was amused.

We parted ways near the back of the lot and I moved my car closer to the building while he headed home. My calves ached slightly from the quickened pace I’d adopted to walk with him and I winced as I tried to stretch them before putting the car in gear.

Returning to an empty office – hot enough to mimic the fires of hell, and the maintenance people must be Satan’s minions as they continue to ignore my pleas for less hot air – I settled in to do more work and a little whining as I prodded Friend to leave already so I could obtain food. And sleepy pants. And TV. I’m hungry/tired/ uncomfortable/bored. Being physically present when there’s nothing vital to do grates on me. But I can do it. If it helps her to be trapped on campus with no avenue of escape (as if I’d say anything other than “OK! Now?” if she asked me to take her home), then I can do that.

Anyway, I planned a meeting to introduce Maria to Dr. Icing. Then another so she could meet one of the other guys who does what Boss suggested she try. All the while, I was trying to calculate which route would get her though the dissertation work the fastest. Where she’d have less problems, face a shallower learning curve, get published more quickly.

I realized it wasn’t my problem. My way hasn’t been tremendously effective – the constant hurry of trying to get to the next project, place, job. I think I wanted to settle my career so that I could be completely ready to meet someone special. Become “mated” as Dr. Counselor is fond of saying. If I must be alone, then I’ll hurry and focus and try to get everything I can completed. Become as well rounded as time allows, but continue to make progress. Always moving forward.

The problem was that I got tired. I forgot why I was doing this in the crazed desire to keep pushing onward. And when the push earned my PhD, I had nothing left. And if you’ve read me for long enough, you’ll know that very little good can come from such a state.

I want a relationship. I’m envious of Maria’s husband and son, though I don’t begrudge her a happy family life. If it makes grad school a longer process, then good for her for defining her priorities from the beginning. All the distractions and professional successes aren’t going to make my personal needs less vivid. I want to be with someone. That’s OK. I can’t figure out a way – well, an effective way – to rush that process, so I’ll wait. Try to figure out when to slow down and wander, who’s worth a little hurrying so that I can share the journey with him/her, and when I can push because it’s important to do so.

(This would have been written better had I eaten and was in sleepy pants. Good blogging does not result when sitting at my desk, hungry and tired. So that’s my excuse for this evening. I appreciate your patience in this difficult time.)

Monday, February 12, 2007

I’m so tired - The Plan: Month 5

I’m incredibly sleepy today. Not even Starbucks could save me from an afternoon nap and though Friend is here for the evening, I fear she’s on her own starting soon. I’m just exhausted. (And since she asked if I was going to update you on our roommate situation, it's still up in the air to some extent. We did talk to Dr. Counselor - perhaps I'll share that story tomorrow - and are to examine our motives and the logistics. I think we're leaning toward her staying in her apartment, but if that becomes financially impossible, we're leaving the option open for her to use my guest rooms. So there's no firm answer.)

Problem 1. Health
I’m still walking in the morning. I did eat yogurt several times per week – that’s coming along relatively well. So let’s be a bit more ambitious.

I plan to drink 4 bottles of water each day. I will feel a bit like a camel (or how I would expect a camel would feel when it gets incredibly hydrated), but it’s good for me.

I plan to do aerobics 3 times each week in the evenings. Monday, Wednesday, Friday. That gives Tuesday and Thursday to make up for missed days.

I need to reschedule the doctor appointment I missed. And make an appointment to see a dentist. My insurance card arrived and though dentists top the list of people I hate/fear, it’s necessary.

Problem 2. God
I’ve been listening to hymns on the commute to work. I pray a bit more. Those are good things.

I want – badly – to start going to Sunday School. I’m struggling to get motivated, but I want to make that happen.

Problem 3. Professional
Work has been good lately. Really quite good.
Project M – I’m so close to getting started! Practice datasets, how to lists, funding. I have a bit more to coordinate, but I should be reporting more progress in month 6 of The Plan!
Project X – Practicing, talking to people, filling out forms. Progress, though I’m not hopeful on issues of recruitment.
Project P – Remains stalled. I’m still supposed to write my talk on this topic, but that keeps getting pushed back, allowing it to remain off my list of things to do.
Project F – Done, done, done, done, done! Papers are in press!
Project H – The penguin is still writing. I’ve approved figures on the work I did and look forward to seeing the manuscript.
Project B – Steve has it and has confirmed I’m not necessary for further progress to be made.
Project A – Right as rain. No problems at all here.
Project C – Not started yet. Soon, Carrie said, so I hope to get through it before M starts taking considerable time.

Problem 4. Social
Sunday School would still be good. Really. I should do that.

Membership for eHarmony finally runs out shortly – I’m relieved.

Finally getting started on collecting data has provided some opportunity to interact with more people – talk and laugh and all that good stuff. So I feel much less isolated.

Problem 5. Family
I’m going home next weekend. I’ve started sending care packages to Little One. I need to invite myself over for dinner at Cousin’s again soon. I very much enjoyed seeing Aunt and Uncle when they were here – that was truly lovely. I need to send a note to Older Cousin – I don’t try hard enough with her.

Problem 6. Selfish
Still am. The tutoring thing just doesn’t work out on Tuesday afternoons, so rather than playing the hit or miss game, I opted out. I think the timing could work better for the homeless GED work I wanted to do, so I’ll touch base with my contacts there and see if I can get that set up before the next update. That feels like a good thing to do.

I do feel stronger at work. Capable and smart. That’s nice. I also like my church and need to just go more. I want to meet a man to love, but I don’t think the right one is going to come along while I’m writing a book based loosely on the last man I knew. So, well, you know. I really want to focus on feeling more physically healthy – eating better, drinking more water, doing more specific exercise than general wandering around with the dog. A healthy Katie should be a happier Katie, yes?

Oh, and Month 6 should include some nice reward or celebration. I’ll have to think on that.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Elle & Tom

“What’s the point?” I asked Tom, Elle’s husband, as we stood in a building I admire much more than the art it contains. I often find myself examining the floor, the angle of the staircases, the art deco ornamentation as I find myself befuddled by the exhibits.

“What?” He asked, looking up from his perusal of the explanation and artwork.

“So he reproduced a box. Made it look just like the real shipping box for apple juice. So why not just put the real box on a pedestal and save himself a lot of time? I don’t get it.”

“Hmmm. Well, maybe he was trying to comment on how it’s easy to get lost in a society with consumerism as rampant as ours. How art and originality got lost as more things get mass produced. Or maybe this is more permanent. It’s wooden, not cardboard, so you can keep it forever as kind of a nostalgic idea. I’m not sure. It can mean whatever you want.”

“Huh.” I said in response, moving on to look at the gigantic puffy French fries covered with ketchup made of some shiny fabric. I frowned at it too, then shook my head and wandered toward photos. I like photographs. And art that’s really big – paintings that cover entire walls. Stuff that’s pretty. Or at least comprehensible to my non-artistic mind.

Elle and Tom are artists. Stared at the work, noting technique and extrapolating on ideas they could apply to their own projects. Critiquing the pieces, peering in between the four edges of frames. Discussing, mostly between themselves since my contributions tended toward, “I like that color. Brown is nice.” Which apparently isn’t so riveting and earned me fond smiles until I wandered away to find something that interested me.

There was one portion of the exhibit in particular that I found very compelling, but I’m not sure why. Elle was disturbed by it – and it was a bit creepy – but I resisted leaving that section. It was making me think about…something. I’m just not sure what. I’ll have to read the brochure I procured and think on it later.

We did more touristy things – talked and took pictures and read signs. Then we wandered downtown, being far more adventurous than I’d ever been. We strode down side streets and into strange, little shops.

“Do you need glow in the dark office zombie figures?” Tom asked Elle and she shook her head, staring at a costume that contained a g-string, chaps and faux-leather bra. I wrinkled my nose over the incense selection – it gives me a headache – and stared at the plethora of rubber masks that graced an upper shelf.

“This place is strange.” I murmured, and Elle nodded in firm agreement.

“Tom?” She called. “Are you ready?” He emerged around a corner holding a candle holder shaped like a skull. Before he could speak, she told him to put it away. Grinning, he did so and we wandered outside again.

They found a few souvenirs from random shops and I found that as much as I loved them, I was slightly tense. Trying to determine if they were bored or having a good time. Did they think the long drive was worth it? Should we listen to more music? See more places? What was I going to feed them next? How were we doing on time?

In the late afternoon, I had scheduled an experiment that required their participation. I was going to tuck them in a large machine and look at their brains. They had reacted to my timid request with unmitigated enthusiasm and had already planned what they would do with the results I promised to burn on CDs for each of them. I worked after they went to bed last night and again this morning to finish said CDs and am pleased with the results.

Tom went first and I told Elle she could scoot up next to me as I worked on the computer. She had been watching from a safe distance.

“Will I be able to see as we go along?”

“Of course.” I answered absently, clicking and changing and making notes on timing. The first images arrived and I clicked through quickly – checking angles and general quality.

“Katie.” She breathed. “That’s his brain. That’s just so cool! I can’t believe this is what you do!”

I paused from more squinting at the screen as I clicked and arranged to smile at her. “It is cool.” I decided. “But I’m glad you think so too.”

Tom loved the sounds. In addition to making crafts that they sell at shows and in a gallery, they do experimental music, poetry readings, photography. Hell, Tom wrote and helped make a monster movie. I’m frankly as lost as to understanding their lifestyle and thought processes as they are mine.

Elle asked questions as we went along. The experiment went very well, though I made some mistakes that I wanted to fix when I took her in the room.

“I don’t know what that word is.” She said once. “Say it again.” I obliged and she repeated it. “Now tell me what it means.” She demanded seriously. I went into an explanation, struggling to use simple words and general concepts.

“I’m getting worse at this.” I lamented as we drove home later last night, trying to explain another professional concept. “I rarely talk to people without doctorates in general down here. So when trying to explain my work, I’m always talking to people who know more than I do. I’m losing the ability to have a real conversation with a normal person.”

“Just about your work.” Elle soothed. “You talk about other things just fine, sweetheart.”

I’ve loved having them here. I so badly wanted them to have a good time, and they were full of praise for the trip. My house is gorgeous. My cat is so pretty. Chienne is much calmer than she used to be, though still very excited and a bit bigger than she thinks she is.

“Your bed is like a soft cloud of wonderfulness!” Elle said yesterday morning after she emerged from the master suite. “The blankets are so soft and the bed is so big. We listened to waves on your sound machine and that’s all we heard! No sirens! No drunk people heading home from the bars!” My city is wonderful. There’s so much to see and do! The people are so friendly. The art was beautiful – just what they wanted to see.

“It’s so easy to take pictures.” Elle marveled as she paused to snap a photo of some signs on the street. “Nobody stares at you like you’re in the way or doing something lame. It’s just so nice!” My research is fascinating, though far too smart for them to understand. Dinner was fantastic. Everything was perfect, they said, so I’m pleased.

I love them both. Very much, actually. And though Elle and I have both changed as we grew up, we identify with each other much as we did in college. We don’t often understand. I’d listen to poetry patiently, then eagerly ask for interpretation. She’d ask if I was listening when she talked because I started to mutter about physics problems as I progressed through a homework set.

“You’re an artist!” I said several times yesterday because that’s just so neat.

She cocked her head at me after I said it once again. “I keep brushing that off because I know people who are so much better than we are. Who produce so much more stuff and set much higher prices. But I guess we are artists. We love it and we do it and we’re moderately successful at it. So, yes.” Then she grinned and shrugged and I felt a swell of affection for my quirky friend.

“You’re just so smart, Katie. The smartest of all my friends. The one with the coolest job. You help people and can do this crazy thing that makes pictures of my brain! I just think you’re amazing.” She said as afternoon faded into evening and I was trying to wrap things up before we headed to dinner.

I paused, considered all the people I know who work harder, do more, know more. But I’m the only person she knows who does this – who participates in this particular world. And she likewise provides some perspective for me into those who can sit and stare at paintings, looking for something I just don’t see. Who create because they’re compelled to do so.

“Here’s to Katie.” Tom said last night, raising his glass as they sat across from me at dinner. “For letting us visit, sharing her home and being a wonderful host.”

I don’t do toasts in the moment. I require time to think and prepare and write. What I think I would say if given another opportunity is something like this.

“To friends. For allowing you to peek into other worlds, regardless of how confusing they might be. For loving you whether they understand your life very much or not. For driving nearly 20 hours to visit for a little over 40. For being bright and funny and really very wonderful, and for reminding me both of who I was and to appreciate who I am.”