Thursday, January 31, 2008

Twitch of the lip

There's a book - a rather predictable romance novel with a cop and a woman being stalked by a murderer - wherein a serial killer operates in a rather interesting way. He works in customer service at a department store and when a woman is overly rude to him, he gathers her personal information, sneaks into her home and stabs her to death as she tries desperately to escape. I liked the book overall when I read it - the characters were good, the plot moved quickly - but I was terrified of this psychopath. He was careful and smart and the only reason they caught him was that Marlie - the heroine of the novel - became psychically linked with him while he was torturing and killing. I had nightmares about him, but comforted myself that he didn't strike randomly. And I'm generally nice to people who work in service-related jobs.


I am not a patient person. I value my time and don't like waiting. It's become clear of late that people have ignored me and this has caused me no small amount of mental anguish. But when I request something, it's because I need it. And I expect a response in a timely manner.

I once got a paper into a journal because they took so long on review. It wasn't a bad manuscript, but it also wasn't brilliant. After four months, I sent an email checking on the status and a nice assistant returned my note with an apologetic explanation that they were struggling to find a second reviewer. At the time, the journal was undergoing some organizational changes, so my guess was that it had sat around in a misplaced file for a bit, but that my nudge would get it moving through the process again.

But each time I turned my calendar to a new month, I would send another email to the nice editorial assistant who grew increasingly apologetic. This went on for another 6 months or so - I never got angry or demanding, just checked in each and every month so they remembered I was interested and wanted the paper to be accepted and that such an event would be important in my life. After a long time, the editor replied and apologized himself. It was very unusual for them to take so long deciding on a paper and though they had only a single review, the editor had read it himself and decided it was worthy of publication after the lone reviewer's moderate changes were made.

I've always wondered if I snuck in. If my paper got accepted on a technicality because the editor felt badly about preventing me from submitting the paper elsewhere for about a year. If that was the case, it doesn't bother me. A journal shouldn't turn down a paper after holding it for a year - it simply isn't right. Nor should people sit on reviews - one month is about as much slack as I'm willing to cut someone before they should review it or hand off the job to someone else. (Though if it had been an awesome piece of work, I probably would have pulled it and sent it elsewhere. It was my choice to leave it there and wait it out.)

I have bothered two men for over a month now. One about a job and one about some funding. The former I want for me and was told that in another two weeks, we'd talk again.

"What are they waiting for?" I asked Steve on Monday night. "It's almost cruel to make me wait this long. If they're not interested, why won't they just say no?"

"My guess is they are interested," he offered. "But maybe they're waiting for some big shot to make a decision first and they'll offer it to you if he opts out."

Boss - when we talked about it with Tim yesterday in a casual, hallway conversation - said he thinks the process is just slow sometimes. That his letter was strong and he's sure my others were similarly glowing. He's optimistic.

I'm tired of waiting.

But for the funding issue, timing is important. When approaching a potential clinical issue as well as a research question, 4-5 weeks is a long time to push a decision back. When a man has the resources to easily grant a request and instead ignores emails and, in the event that he finds time in his super-important schedule to answer one, makes time-consuming demands, I get impatient.

So last night I sent email, nudging once again for an answer and reminding him of all the work I'd done to convince him thus far and that I really did want to act soon.

He didn't reply to me but Boss sent an email this evening saying that he'd received a response and it seemed I would not get help from this particular source. Boss would find a way to provide funding himself, he wrote, and I felt my whole body tense as I realized that the man who had ignored me and made demands only to refuse my reasonable request more than 4 weeks after I initially made it tried to get me in trouble with Boss. After indicating that he'd agree, that it wasn't a big deal, that he only had my best interest in mind to strengthen the argument before providing the resources I needed, he goes to Boss to turn me down?

I get a twitch in my neck when I'm nervous. It's awful and embarrassing, though I haven't suffered it for quite some time. I must have learned to deal with tension a bit better.

There is a spot on the left side of my lower lip that apparently twitches when I'm enraged. That tiny muscle continued to spasm as I read the email, wrote to Boss that I was very disappointed but not surprised by this response, told Friend of my abject hatred and anger, took a shower, and began to drink the first of what will be many glasses of wine.

It twitches still.


Awful as it may be - and I do have some sense of how hideous this is to write - the only way to make my lip stop twitching is to picture myself moving through racks of blouses and slacks in that bright lighting they use for displaying retail wares. I see myself asking a salesperson a question and moving in the direction she indicates. I would approach a counter and smile at the man behind it, ask for a slip of paper and write down a name, address and identifying information. I would look at him meaningfully and he would nod before I smiled my thanks and walked away.

Not that I'd actually do it, mind you. But I'll probably worry later over how much I enjoy the thought.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Katie's day off

I am lonely. Deeply and fully aware of the fact that I’m not in love and have little hope of being so in the near future, it has become a physical ache of late.

“I’m sad,” I confided to Friend as we waited for the bus yesterday morning. I had joined her when she took the prettiest of her cats to the vet, though I didn’t think she’d hear bad news. And I slept better with her here after finding graffiti on my neighbor’s house. I’m grateful for her - I love her dearly and enjoy spending time with her - but it’s not the same as having a man in my life.

“Greeter called from church and left a message on my phone,” she told me. “She thanked us for coming and said to let us know if we had any questions about joining.”

“Us? We?” I asked. “We’re not together. I’d think I’d be in a much better mood of late if I was having sex, and I’m decided unhappy a lot of the time.” She laughed and nodded and we headed off to work. But that’s the deal - I sigh when I drift off to sleep then wake hours later, all alone. I want to go to dinner with someone and kiss him goodnight. I want to pick up the phone and answer it eagerly when his name appears. I want to giggle at lame jokes and listen with fascination to stories that might otherwise be boring and blush when I realize he noticed me staring at his mouth. I miss being infatuated and distracted and all giddy because there’s this guy.

Yet I’m doing nothing to find him and I don’t really want a guy - I want the guy - and blah, blah, blah.

I had dinner last night with Steve and his longtime girlfriend. I ate a rather elaborate meal (spinach mint salad with pine nuts and feta? roasted butternut squash with mango and red onion? homemade rubs for the fish? Wow.) that Steve pulled off quite beautifully, remarked with concern of how thin his adopted dog is and watched his girlfriend of five years talk and finish his stories and help with the meal and the dog. So I was jealous - not because I want Steve, but because I so desperately wished someone was with me. To touch my hand before asking me to pass the spinach mint salad with toasted pine nuts and crumbled feta. To provide some detail of a story that I didn't remember. To take me home because I don't particularly enjoy driving in the dark. And it was late because they eat far later than I would and I’d stayed on campus too long and was moody and out of sorts, though I worked hard to be a delightful guest.

I decided even before my overly long and not so productive day yesterday to stay home today. There was nothing going on at work and I decided I could read and sleep and hang out with my puppy. So I woke early - alone, of course, and sighed over the fact - and shuffled down the hall for coffee and blog reading a bit of news. I soon yawned and shuffled down the hall to take a shower. They relax me so I decided to go back to bed and woke a couple hours later.

I was a bit hungry, so I put a loaf of take and bake bread in the oven and enjoyed the gentle rain that sprinkled the gray day with moisture. I breathed in the scent of baking bread and went to take a golden loaf out of the oven, breaking off a steaming section to nibble when I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to put on it. My search of the fridge did reveal the cookie dough I’d saved from Sunday’s baking, so I took out trays and began to bake for tomorrow’s group meeting. It was lovely and relaxing to spoon dough on the silver trays I got for Christmas. To set my timer and breathe in the new, sweeter smell. Then to rescue them from the hot oven and transfer them to cool on the table - all pretty and delicious.

After I finished, I selected three small cookies with the most chocolate chips and poured a glass of milk. I enjoyed my treat and decided to do some work after I called the insurance company about my roof. After couple hours of productivity passed pleasantly, and I selected a book and settled under a blanket on the couch to read. When I grew sleepy again, I napped. When I was done resting, I got back up to find a television show to watch. I luxuriated in the freedom of not having to be at work. Or relaxing and spending a day doing only what appealed. It was nice. I do feel better. Ready to tackle work again tomorrow and not quite as moody and unhappy as I’ve been.

But the ache persists. And I wish it would go away. My life isn’t bad. I’m really quite blessed. I don’t want to be hurt again and falling in love never seems to go my way in the end.

I’m still lonely.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Choices, paint and property values

“Is that a news camera?” Friend asked and I frowned, certain I’d misunderstood her. So I stepped around the small wall that separates the kitchen - where I was baking chocolate chip cookies - from the living room where she was peering out a window toward one of the houses behind my own.

“What?” I asked, since that’s my typical question for her. Either I can’t hear of Friend mumbles - I often require repetition before I can decipher her messages to me.

“There’s writing on their house,” she said, still squinting through the blinds. “I think the news people came to fill your gang-ridden neighborhood.”

I sighed, found a spot to look with her and watched my hopes of selling my adorable cottage disappear like paint from a spray can. So I swore. I think Friend nodded in agreement.

“What does it say?” I asked, resigned.

“Something bites? Or Bite something?” she guessed. “It’s kind of unclear. This is why they need to teach better penmanship in public schools. I can’t read what they’re saying in their graffiti.”

“Do you think they see us?” I asked, for the neighbors were standing outside, looking at the side of their house at the black paint shouting some large words on their beige siding. Friend shrugged and I moved to the kitchen and looked out the back door. It has a better view and Friend soon joined me.

“I wonder when it happened,” I mused, feeling a bit sick. “I don't think Chienne noticed - she usually barks at anyone out there near her yard. Oh, no,” I gasped. “Do you think there’s anything on my house?” Picturing my pretty, light brick marred with symbols and words, I looked at Friend with mild panic. She shrugged again.

“Go out and look,” she suggested. “And see if you can figure out what that says. And talk to your neighbors and see what they know.” I scowled and shook my head.

“I’ll go out when they go in,” I decided, not wanting to talk to them. But I’ve long hated that house. I’ve had to shout at younger children who were tormenting my dog a year ago - running at the fence and picking up rocks to throw at her.

“Hey!” I yelled one day above Chienne's barking when I caught them, incensed and overprotective. “If you can’t leave her alone, you can’t walk through the yards! That’s not nice!” They scampered away, laughing.

I’ve seen the older boys - they’re always dressed in baggy jeans and dark shirts with the hoods pulled up against the cold mornings. They walk right next to the corner of my house, shoulders slumped and strides slow, to catch their bus at the end of my driveway. Chienne will often go bark when they walk by, but they ignore her. So I’ve left the pair of them alone.

After I came in from looking at the exterior of my home - it remained untouched - and decided that the message said “Bite Brown” and then one last word I couldn’t get, I sighed. I’d like to make this simple and be angry at the parents for not keeping track of their children. For not teaching them right from wrong and no-gang versus gang. My gigantic residential neighborhood has suffered arson and shootings and defacement of property and it’s all attributed to the high school population of young adults without supervision. And, damn it, where are their parents?!

I tried to imagine what that couple thought as they stared at the side of their home. If they worried that someone would soon come with bullets instead of paint, targeting their offspring for some minor statement or choice or color worn. And I think of my parents - who were arguably good at raising children (I'm delightful!) - going to pick up Brother after he was arrested for possession of marijuana. Or when he announced that his 19-year-old girlfriend was pregnant. Or talking to the Dean when he skipped school his freshman year in high school. Or figuring out a punishment when he drank all the liquor they kept downstairs.

Brother is cute and athletic. Incredibly social and quite smart. And I don’t think it was a matter of not living up to my example - we’re just really different. I hated having all his friends around, preferring to read and think in solitude. I was quiet and obedient, crushed when my parents showed the slightest disappointment in me. Brother was brash and impulsive and would laugh at them when they scolded him, leaving Mom lost for what to do.

I remember hearing them talk in the mornings before I moved into the dorms. I’d smell the coffee and drift from sleep, curling into warm blankets and mounds of pillows, feeling safe as the murmur of conversation down the hall reached me, though I didn’t fully follow all the words - just the sounds of parental voices. But when it came to Brother in his teenage years, there was tension and urgency in those conversations. But there never really was a good answer.

And in the absence of what I think the parents should do, I’m left feeling a bit sympathetic. My pity rests with greater intensity with the teenagers inside the house though and with those who felt it necessary to deface property to make a point. Yet as the sun rises and light filters through my back windows, illuminating Grandma’s china displayed in my kitchen and carpet I vacuumed on Saturday, plants I’ve grown over the years and possessions I love, I’ll confess to some anger and fear as well. Those actions have adult consequences for some of us. Property values and insurance claims are not trivial, dammit. And those kids are screwing with my life.

I turned off a living room lamp when I woke at 5 this morning. Friend left it lit when she went to bed, and I’ll probably continue to do the same from now on. I flipped off the light in the back yard when I cleaned Sprout’s box and made sure the deadbolts on both doors were locked before bed. Then I sighed as I stared through the window and past the picket fence that protects Chienne's yard as daylight made the paint all the more ugly as it marred the side of the house not too far from my own.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


I did go see the puppies (!!) today. I picked up Friend and stopped to get food for my pets and toys for Cousin's dogs. The puppies (!!) received a long blue toy that squeaks on one end and quacks on the other. The elder of the canines got a gray elephant. My Chienne got a gray hippo for when I finally arrived home.

Between the purchase and Chienne's receipt of the gift, I spent hours on a kitchen floor, rubbing puppy bellies and petting puppy heads and giggling while puppies nibbled my chin and gnawed on my hair and ate holes in my pajama pants. In short, it was perfection and I was very happy.

The blue toy got buried a couple of times - hence Golden's dirty nose. She and Gray were resting on my leg - they fell asleep at times, played at others and I loved them dearly for the entirety of the experience. I tried to head out to the living room to watch movies with Friend and Cousin. But I most often peered at the television through the baby gate as I sat on the kitchen floor with puppies (!!). So I wanted to share photos of the oh, so adorable girls.

Persistence Pays Off.

“So Elusive didn’t call me back,” I told Friend on our way to dinner Thursday night. We had decided on Greek food and while she lost a week’s worth of work for some sciencey reason, I was stuck because Elusive broke his promise to get back to me in the later afternoon. “He actually returned my page in the morning, but was busy. So he said he would call me in the afternoon. But he didn’t.”

“Shocking,” Friend offered.

I arrived on Friday morning, looked at my neat desk and nodded decisively. I paged him again and looked around happily at my repotted violet and extra workspace. I threw out some old journals and made room on my shelves for the texts Friend had given me (she was going to throw them away). I took out my pages of numbers that I’d forced myself to work on and began to type in lines of code and write down numbers. Over and over and over.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you yesterday,” Elusive apologized when I picked up the phone moments later. “But I’m around today. In [room I didn’t know]? Would you like to come over?”

“I’ll be right there,” I said and quickly printed a document in case he didn’t have the one I gave him. I then hurried across campus - Mission Impossible theme playing amusingly in my head (if you click on the link and allow it to play in the background while you read the rest of my story, it's completely awesome. Honestly.) - and walked in the room. I didn’t see him, so I interrupted someone in the darkened room to ask about his whereabouts. I found him in a corner, peering at a computer screen with a student, and waited patiently - feeling quite victorious - until he finished what he was doing.

“There’s a bit of light here,” he said, pulling two chairs into a small pool of illumination by one door. He withdrew the documents I handed him, we spoke for a few minutes and he pledged his support to continuing the project.

“Thank you,” I said sincerely as I took my leave. “I’ll be in touch when we need you again.”

My sense of elation was short-lived, however. With Elusive contained for the moment, I must return to stalking SPB to get money to do my next experiment. The hopeful element is that I’m getting better at making people pay attention to me.

But I wrote email to Friend once I returned to the office.

“Elusive has been captured. Repeat: Elusive has been captured.

And, um, the crow flies at midnight.”

We currently rest at 1 day and counting that SPB has ignored me. I’ll keep you updated.

In more satisfying resolution, I have completed Project A. To briefly summarize for those of you who have recently joined our program in progress, I have pieced together a post-doc. I have several little projects since my major focus was a major failure. For this particular endeavor, I met Very Important MD (who grows more important all the time) and did administrative tasks so she could more easily analyze data. I actually don’t mind doing it. I like lists and organization and I’m quite efficient and helpful in these roles. VIMD slowly grew to like me after I’d proven my worth. And while the project was quite time consuming, it was never actually hard. Phone calls and emails and data transfers and filing and checking to make sure items were correct interspersed with meetings I had to remind VIMD we needed.

All was well until I was told - by the company who wanted the results - that I wouldn’t receive credit for the work. I told Boss who talked to VIMD and it was decided that since I hadn’t been paid for the labor, an authorship would be demanded. I still met with resistance from said company, so I got tough. Well, more annoying than tough, but still. I moved the project firmly to the bottom of my priority list and, when nudged, reminded my industry contact that I was getting nothing from this so my attention was better directed elsewhere. I found a way to mention authorship in every single exchange we had and when it became clear that without my pushing the project forward, it sort of stalled (VIMD is too busy and important for them to bother her directly - they had to go through her minion, yours truly), attitudes changed.

Worn down and discouraged by the recent lack of progress, my industry contact promised me authorship and Project A made my list of things to do again. I started doing what they needed in a timely fashion and met with VIMD last week to finish the last of the analysis.

“That’s it for us, I think,” I told her as I closed the files I’d labeled ‘Final’ and emailed them to myself.

“What’s your plan?” she asked. “How much longer is your fellowship?” So we talked about projects and timelines and my hopes for that faculty job. She offered her influence if it became useful and I thanked her. I won’t use her though - she knows me as a minion, basically. I’ve done nothing overly impressive beyond putting in time and caring about the quality of the research. But her name does appear on my CV and this paper would be a big deal.

In my final email to Industry Contact I noted the finality of my files, gave a statement about billing for VIMD’s time, I closed with “As the last of many reminders, it would be quite important to my young career if you'll remember me when it comes time to write the paper. In the meantime, I'm happy to help answer questions that come up.”

She replied with answers to several questions and closed with,

“Katie, I would not forget your contribution on this project. I have mentioned to Dr. [project leader] about the authorship and he agreed. I will make sure your name is included when the manuscript is written.”

The lesson I hope I remember is that while life may be wildly unfair at times, people - in my experience - try not to be so. If I can articulate my problem and the ideal solution clearly (and frequently), some agreeable compromise might be reached. For me, seeing problems written out helps. Venting on my blog and reading comments and gaining confidence in how I feel can nudge me past the worst of my discomfort over bothering people and allows me to ask - or demand - what I need. And while this may seem easy and obvious to some, it was a non-trivial lesson for me. (I should note that I don't think this is a feminine thing as much as a Katie thing.) But I do - at long last - seem to be getting it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Chienne Speaks

After seeing that Disreputable and the Dixie Dog got to play, Chienne demanded her turn to share five random facts. She's bossy like that.

1. My real name does begin with a Ch- but ends with an -loe. Grandpa, not being so cultured, decided it should be pronounced Chew-low. Katie and Grandma often call me Chloebug.

2. I hide in the bathtub of the guest bathroom when I'm afraid. Katie keeps towels and blankets there for my comfort. Things that are scary include, but are not limited to, thunder, fireworks, beeping sounds from alarms or pagers, and people who hiccup. There are obviously logical reasons behind each of these fears, but I'm afraid I'm unable to disclose them at this time.

3. I sleep an awful lot. I like to be around people and prefer to share a bed or couch with someone. Unless it's very warm in the house, I should be covered up - my coat is quite thin and I don't like to be chilly! Sharing the couch with Little One is easiest of all. I don't have to curl behind her knees - she leaves plenty of room for me at one end while she takes the other.

4. I am the first of the grand-dogs. Uncle has a big ball of fluff that's named after a car. She has to stay on the floor while I get to be on the furniture. I like children in general and Katie compliments me on being so gentle and sweet with them (I'm usually too ecstatic to meet new people to display any manners). But sometimes I hit Little One with my tail and am firmly scolded. Smallest One smells funny, but my name is said warningly if I get too close. But sometimes when nobody is watching closely, I slide over and kiss her baby feet. Then she laughs. This means she likes me.

5. I love Friend very much. In fact, I'm pretty friendly and am always eager to find new friends. I also adore treats - my favorites are Alpo Snaps and it's really best if both my containers stay full at all times. The red ones are the best - I always eat them before the yellow, tan or brown Snaps. I demand a walk every morning and am happiest when we meet stray dogs so I can socialize (Katie is less pleased with them for some reason). I always want to go for rides in the car and am terribly sad when people leave me. There was obviously some confusion when Katie thought I wanted a cat and though I never did want one, I have Sprout anyway. (Katie says the same thing happened to her with Brother.) I like squeaky toys and tennis balls - especially ones that are brand new. If you happen to have something I like and aren't handing it over quickly enough, I can beg and bark at you.

Katie says that's about all you need to know. Feel free to visit! Or send Snaps!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I'll do it myself.

I threw a single tantrum in public when I was small. It was completely out of character, shocking my mother completely.

She and a friend had taken me to the mall. I often went there with Grandma and Grandpa and they indulged me to the nth degree. But on that particular day, we had finished shopping and I was perhaps a bit tired. We descended the escalator in one of the department stores and as we reached the bottom, Mom’s friend reached for my hand.

“I want to do it by myself,” I told her, pulling away and readying myself by watching my feet carefully so as to step away at the right time as Grandpa taught me. My focus was so complete that I didn’t notice her reaching for my hand again until we reached the critical moment and she ruined my moment by helping me off the moving steps.

According to Mom, I flipped the hell out. “Apparently,” she said, “your history of not throwing tantrums did not arise from not knowing how to do it.” I went limp, refusing to walk and screaming at the top of my tiny lungs with pure, indignant rage. At my sound, Mom’s friend released my tiny hand and I fell to the ground, now crying pitifully but loudly. I wailed that I wanted to do it myself and would not be consoled by Mom’s promises that we could make the trip again and I would definitely be allowed to depart the escalator independently. She promised toys and treats and anything else she could think of to make me stop embarrassing her, unaccustomed as she was to her toddler’s terrible behavior in public.

She and her friend, seeing that their former efforts were futile, hid behind a rack of towels so they would be out of my sight. Mom reports peeking around the fluffy terrycloth displayed in multiple colors to see me look around, immediately stop crying and sit up. She said passersby would speak to me and I’d smile sweetly in return. After giving me time to calm down, Mom approached me again. I screamed until she retreated. We repeated that a couple of times until she finally scooped me up and buckled me in my seat whereupon I cried all the way home.

Most of the time though, I was eager to ask for assistance. Dad once scolded one of my friends - an older girl in my neighborhood - for saying I broke a toy. “When Katie breaks something, she brings it to me right away so I’ll fix it. She never hides it - then she wouldn’t be able to play with it later.”

And so goes my general philosophy. If it’s broken or I’m confused or a project’s failed already, it seems simpler and easier to ask for help. The problem with this is that I become dependent on people very easily. For example, say I have a crush who makes me happy by paying attention to me. But then he goes away and I’m despondent. Or I’m worried about my moods and unable to work so I start taking anti-depressants. When my doctor asked if I wanted to wean off of them for a while, I vehemently refused. I need them. They help me. When I have trouble praying, I tend to meet with my pastor. When I struggle in general, I call my mom. Something wrong with the car? Dad advises and I trust the people at my local service station. I’m lonely? I have a pretty puppy and a stripey cat.

Advisor employed a pretty hands-off policy when it came to publications. He would “read” drafts I sent and write “Looks great!” on the top of the first page. Occasionally, he would make some changes or cut some superfluous text. But I wasn't taught how to pick a journal or how to outline a paper. It may very well be the case that it’s a ‘learn by doing’ situation, but due to my defense experience, publishing graduate work was a rather miserable experience.

The exception to that rule was the paper I almost abandoned and worked on with Boss. He rewrote that manuscript with me more times than I can remember. We worked for months to make it appropriate for the journal he selected and that process - seeing where I went wrong and how he structured sections and paragraphs and even sentences - has cleaned up my writing considerably. And that paper did well! One of my images was on the cover and I have copies displayed at home and at work. My parents have a copy in their living room that they show to people. It was selected for a virtual journal and has gotten some attention (mild attention, but still.) from several groups.

So, like a broken toy I might want to play with again, I take new manuscripts to Boss and smile as sweetly as I know how and ask that he fix them so I can get them published in upper level journals. He has commented sparingly of late and indicated he was very pleased with how I’m writing now. But I continued to push him on the reject and resubmit paper. I want it in that particular journal - I picked it, but it’s the right choice, I think - and I don’t know how to convince the reviewers. So I emailed and nudged and asked in person and begged and asked some more. On Friday, he said he planned to get through it. It was on his desk.

He did not give me comments before heading out of town this weekend.

I know he’s been busy. Perhaps he wants me to be more independent. To trust my own work and deal with the criticism that results. Take what he’s taught me and apply it.

It was with some disappointed irritation that I took the paper out again today. In the month since I’ve looked at it, some errors became clear. So I fixed them, read the reviewer comments and nodded in satisfaction that I addressed all of them that I could. So I uploaded the files, checked the pdf and pressed submit.

I would have welcomed a steadying influence and held Boss’s hand as I stepped off this escalator. But in the absence of that option, I remembered what I learned about timing and balance, watched my feet as the floor grew closer, stepped off the moving stairs and toddled away on the ground floor.

I’m rather proud of myself. Perhaps next time I’ll be a bit more eager to try it on my own.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

No. I don't want to.

I've tried and tried to compose something - anything - even mildly interesting. Something about the past and the future. Something about medical worries for parents. How papers shouldn't say there is free software if the website is so broken I can't find my way around it other than to sneak in and view html and say, "Yes. This is really screwed up."

Instead, I find myself listless. I have both professional and personal email to answer. I have three phone calls to make. But any one of those emails or phone calls would take time and energy and I can't seem to muster the latter to spend the former on anything other than watching television or sleeping. I can't even read! I pick up a book and stare at the cover before placing it on the floor, too exhausted by the thought of paying attention to the story to read a single page.

I'm all blah and blech and I don't really know why. So an uninteresting life yields boring blog posts, I suppose. I shall go back and read my birthday comments again - it doesn't take much energy at all and makes me feel all warm and special. Then maybe I could empty the dishwasher. Right after I finish watching Raymond. And maybe rest my eyes just a little bit.

Monday, January 21, 2008

I want a dollar.

Little Cousin came over for my birthday party. I brought out my bags of Care Bears and the last strawberry that contains the Strawberry Shortcake dolls. We also bought a coloring book.

"She's just so pretty," Mom sighed to Cousin while we ate.

"I know," Cousin replied. "She knows that she can just smile at me when I'm annoyed with her and I'll start to laugh. She's just too darn cute!"

In fact, she is a very pretty child, though I acknowledge that it's likely we think so because she's one of us. Her features and coloring match what I'd expect from our families and the curls atop her head aren't all that different from Little One's. She was also mostly good, running around to chase the monster (that'd be my Chienne who was willing to trot around the house, mostly confused about what was happening), coloring on the floor, and bandaging her parents with paper towels after giving them shots or noticing they were wounded.

"It hurts! It hurts!" Jay exclaimed after being told he was bleeding from his finger. Little Cousin wrapped the pretend-injured digit in layers of paper towel. When he continued to play along with whimpers of pain, she patted his shoulder seriously, looked in his eyes and said, "It's OK, Daddy."

After Friend had to be the new monster but before Little Cousin left for home, she showed Jay an extra bit of memory for my camera. I've long replaced it with something larger, and have this one sitting out for no apparent reason (I'm messy) in its plastic case.

"That's Aunt Katie's." Jay told her and instructed her to put it back where she found it.

"[Little Cousin]," Cousin soon said warningly, "you put that back, please." I looked around in confusion and Friend said, sounding rather impressed at Little Cousin's ability, that the memory had been neatly and quickly placed in a small pocket decorated with a big, purple button.

"I don't use it," I told Cousin quietly and she shook her head and repeated her order to replace the stolen item on the table. She soon sighed when her offspring blinked innocently across the room.

"Do you have any money so we can buy it back?" Jay asked. "A nickel maybe?"

"My mom does!" I cried upon seeing her purse next to me on the floor. "Here, Little Cousin. How about a quarter?"

"That's too much," Cousin protested before her daughter walked across the room.

"I want a dollar," she said quietly but firmly, having already abandoned the useless piece of memory when money was mentioned. I raised my eyebrows and started to giggle. Mom reached for her wallet, saw that the smallest bill she had was a $5 and handed it over.

"No, no," Cousin said, wiping tears from her eyes and trying to stop her laughter. "You don't have to give her that."

"She's never done that before," Jay assured us while we all continued to chuckle as Little Cousin accepted the bill from my mom, crumpled it up and put it in her pocket. Jay soon removed it without her noticing and offered it back to Mom.

"Put it in her piggy bank," she insisted and Cousin finally accepted it under protest. "We taught her to go get her piggy when people come over and show it to them so they'll give her change. But I don't remember telling her to demand more."

I think part of my mood of late - in general, not because of my recent birthday (Thank you again for all the birthday wishes! You're the best-est!) - is that I can no longer make simple statements. Or even make gentle requests. My appeal - coming from being cute or gorgeous or charming or some other quality that makes people melt - doesn't extend that far. People don't answer my emails. My statements that 'I want more experimental time,' or 'I need comments on this paper by Friday,' or 'Could you advise on your time line?' go unanswered.

A specific example involves Guy, my email friend. I rather liked his attention, though he's involved with someone else and the dynamic is nothing more than friendly. But he wrote well and he's a charming man in the right age bracket and it was nice to have some sort of tiny relationship with him. And while I didn't exactly have a crisis of confidence when his messages stopped, I was hurt and sad. It was because I'm not pretty, though I never claimed beauty. I must have grown boring or wrote something offensive. He no longer reads the blog, though a search brought him here several months ago, and while that's fine, it bums me out a little. Which is stupid, I know. I really do. But, still.

So when he did write again, I'm unsure as to how to weigh the pleasure of knowing him versus the depressing anticipating of losing contact with him. It just strikes at certain insecurities I've developed and makes me feel quite unappealing. So I guess the point is that I wish I was one of those women people couldn't refuse. That my attention was like a glowing orb of goodness and a single glance would be sufficient to keep people happy for weeks, so intense was my charm and beauty and overall appeal.

I am decidedly not one of those women. I have to trap Elusive at the end of seminars. I end up sending very pointed emails that demand responses. I'm tempted to jump up and down and throw tantrums that someone pay attention to me! And give me what I want! There is no toddling across the room toward a proffered quarter, blinking large eyes and saying that I'd rather have something larger.

Yet I suppose if I can't pull off such a thing, it's nice to see someone who can.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Birthday Weekend

I did have a nice birthday. Thank you for the happy wishes you sent - I looked at them upon waking and after getting back from my massage and was, in fact, quite happy.

“Not impressed?” I asked Mom as we left the building. She got in the car, we buckled in and I glanced over at her.

“I wouldn’t do it again,” she offered politely. I nodded and began to back out. “I felt good when I woke up this morning,” she continued conversationally. “Now my back hurts. And I have a headache. I don’t remember the last time I had a headache.”

I laughed and apologized for making her go through such a miserable experience. She said she gets nervous and uncomfortable and really doesn’t like anything about the massage experience. She did, however, enjoy meeting some of the people I work for. We parked illegally and wandered in to drop off my new violet pot. Then we met Boss and Tim, Colleague and Jill. They said lovely things to her and she enjoyed hearing them so that was nice. We came to fetch Dad and went to get lunch. I had delightful jambalaya pasta and came home to enjoy a cookie from a bakery back home. We rested in the afternoon and watched Death Wish V that night. I was a bit disappointed in the birthday event, but I ended up enjoying it more than I thought.

Saturday was much busier. Dad wanted to go to a car event. Mom wanted to do some shopping. We did both in addition to lunch, a trip to see puppies (!!) and Lowe’s.

“Hello,” I said to the man working at the plumbing counter. “I’m sorry to bother you,” I added when he looked up impatiently. “Can we find this,” I pulled the part out of my purse that Dad removed from the bathroom faucet, “here or in hardware?”

“Next aisle,” he huffed at me and after I nodded, sighed again and walked briskly to the appropriate place. He handed me the part and I thanked him.


“I’m sorry,” I said, blinking at him in confusion.

“You’re dripping?” he clarified a bit.

“Oh, the faucet? Yes.” I nodded at him as he handed me another small package. I turned to look at Dad, the worker went away and we looked at the tiny parts in the package. I then went to find potting soil and a fern. I bought 2 new pots - a pretty violet one and a silly cow self-watering one. I wanted a fern for the latter and we soon checked out.

We arrived home to start dinner. We made the most fantastic potatoes (I’ll put the recipe in the comments) and steak and salad and vegetables and my favorite rolls. Friend, after much whining and pleading that turned out to be unnecessary since it was her plan all along, brought her cheesecake of ridiculous goodness. Cousin, et al., brought 4 quarts of ice cream. We ate and ate and ate, but massive amounts of leftovers remain. It was lovely though.

“Good birthday party!” I proclaimed. “Even if only two of you aren’t related to me.” I glanced at Friend and Jay, then shrugged. “Still! Good birthday party!” We talked and laughed and sang over candles that looked like crayons tucked into delicious cheesecake. Friend and I finished off a nice bottle of Riesling that Mom brought for me. Friend slept in the office and came to church with us this morning. Mom has a cold - coughing terribly. And her back spasmed last night after the long day of walking and shopping and cooking.

“I don’t want to leave,” she said this evening as we baked cookies and sat together to frost them. “I didn’t feel well at all last time, but this trip has been wonderful.”

“Yes. Massages you hate and car shows that demand you walk on concrete for long stretches. Shopping trips and picking up groceries and coughing and cooking.” I shook my head at her, but smiled.

“I get to see you. And I am feeling stronger. I just have a cold. And I think you need a bigger hole in that bag.”

I giggled as I looked up at her to take the scissors. “Oh, no!” I laughed as frosting began to drip from the open end of my baggie in addition to the hole I cut and the hole that excessive pressure created. “Frosting everywhere!” We tried to control chuckles as we frantically transferred icing to thumbprint cookies I am to take to work tomorrow.

My parents will make the drive back, leaving in the morning. I will miss them. The house is warmer with them here. There’s noise and light and actual warmth - the thermostat is set 7-10 degrees higher than I normally keep it. Chienne has people to snuggle with. Sprout has playmates - he bites Mom when she rubs at his belly. He decided that Dad was safe enough and will allow him to stroke the stripey coat and play a bit.

“I need the New Releases case opened, please,” I said to the WalMart worker after lunch this afternoon.

“Sure,” he replied, “what do you need?”

“Dora.” I said resignedly. “The new one - it was released last week, I think.” Little One asked for the DVD upon her grandparents return and Friend and I went to fetch it when my folks came home.

“Which one?” he asked. “Undercover or Puppy Power?” After I asked when they were released, I said I needed both since they had the same date. “What about this mermaid one? It has the same release date too.”

“Well,” Friend offered when we went back to the car, “at least they’ll have two extra gifts for another time after they give her one movie.”

“She’ll get all three,” I informed her. “Grandma and Grandpa are generous.” And after a weekend full of food and gifts and not buying anything myself, it seems like a very good quality.

Friday, January 18, 2008


For the first and only time, I turn 29 today. I sighed when Beautiful Colleague asked me what is becoming a rather predictable question.

"I've been 28 so I'm officially 29 tomorrow." I said yesterday. "I'll turn 30 next year, exactly as scheduled. I think I accepted I was getting old after 25, which is silly, but these birthdays don't mean a whole lot anymore."

"You seem younger." Beautiful Colleague noted and Boss nodded his agreement.

"Thanks," I offered, "but it's probably because I act like a child a little too often." They both said that was silly, told me to have a nice day with my parents and we waved as we headed separate directions.

I am celebrating my birthday as little ones do though. Mom and Dad arrived last night and will spend the weekend. Mom and I have massages scheduled in a few hours. We'll eat out and I shall open the present that is much taller (it comes to my chest) than it is wide. I will have a frosted thumbprint cookie from my favorite bakery near where my grandparents used to live. We may do a bit of shopping after we drop by the office to replant my violet in a new self-watering pot. It should be a good day.

And if I couldn't get back to sleep as I begin my 30th year (or does that happen tomorrow? I'm easily confused by these things) because I'm not in love and my professional future is relatively unclear and I'm unhappy about my appearance and unsure of my overall appeal to employers or friends or the world in general? Well, that's why I'm only turning 29 once. With the hope that the arrival of my 30s will bring about some happy resolutions to these issues. And that this year will be a pleasant way to move toward that end.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mission AnnoyPeople

I had but two tasks for my day when I arrived in my office. I first found parking, pulling neatly into my favorite of the illegal spots within scampering distance of the bus stop.

“Ha, ha!” I said when I saw that there was room for my tiny car. “I win!” I noted to the other cars who slowly swarmed the parking lot, looking for any space to leave their vehicles. It helps to drive something compact. I made my way to my building, sat at my desk and set about gathering materials for one half of my mission.

I pulled three sheets from a file, stacked them neatly and set them aside. I printed the document I prepared for SPB - it had every detail that might be relevant and I didn’t want to recreate a document that already existed. Then I found the email I’d sent to Elusive one week ago. In the last seven days, he’s ignored two phone messages and three pages. Given that collaborators and his assistant have sighed over how difficult his attention is to catch, I narrowed my eyes with determination. I printed the email, added notes on what he’d find in my packet, placed a staple in the corner and nodded with satisfaction.

“On to the other aim.” I muttered with a glance at the clock, feeling pleased I was alone in the office as I gathered another file and tucked my key in my pocket before making what I hoped was the last of many trips across campus.

I barely restrained myself from stamping my feet upon finding someone using the equipment already. Instead, I cleared my throat to get her attention as I lingered in the doorway.

“Hello,” I returned her greeting. “I was just checking the calendar to see when the room was free.”

“Oh,” she said, “I was just doing this transfer that should take two minutes. Then it’s all yours.”

“Really?” I asked, already pulling out a chair to sit. “I hate to hurry you so please take your time. But there are always classes or labs in here lately and I can never get this one thing done. I'll just sit here and wait quietly.”

She nodded and smiled before finishing up and leaving the room.

“Terribly rude,” I scolded myself, the words belying my victorious grin as I moved toward the precious computer I needed. “But wildly effective.”

I transferred some files of my own, archived what I needed, checked my list and clapped my hands when I realized I was done. After checking to make sure nobody saw my self-congratulatory gesture, I hurried back to my office to implement the last part of my plan.

“I’m going to a seminar,” I told Marlie as she sat at her desk. “Would you like to go?”

She pointed to a notice on her board and I nodded. We set out away from the office and though she’d checked the door three times before we walked away, she ran back down the hall to try the knob one more time as I watched, bemused. Deciding I had too many quirks of my own to begrudge her any, I selected a box lunch and pounced on an oatmeal raisin cookie bigger than my hand before finding a seat. Thrilled with said cookie, I looked at it eagerly even as I tucked it inside the box.

I placed my notebook and the stapled pages on my lap, reminding myself that regardless of cookie delight, I was there to track down Elusive. Glancing around the rapidly filling room, I didn’t see him. But it was a talk in his sub-specialty so he was almost certain to attend. And I was equally sure I would recognize him. Since we’ve only met once, I looked up his faculty page and stared at his photo, committing it to memory. I pouted when I didn’t see him arrive - stupid room with doors in the front and rear - and began to eat my delicious sandwich.

I made it to my cookie - which was soft and huge and stunningly good - a few minutes into a dreadfully boring talk. Though it was huge, it was gone all too soon. Without the perfect taste and texture, I was left to impatiently wait until the end of our guest’s remarks. As soon as he finished, I stood and turned to examine the back of the room. I had carefully noted every person seated in front of me but that left my back to several rows where Elusive could easily lurk.

“Target acquired! Target acquired!” I resisted shouting as I impatiently shuffled to scoot people out of my way. “This is my only chance, people! I have stapled pages! Move, move, move!” My mental energy must have worked because I soon reached the very last row before placing myself between his chair and the door.

“Elusive,” I said. “I need a moment of your time.”

He smiled at me, looking only slightly worried as I blocked his exit, and took the papers I handed him. I explained - hurriedly and mostly in incomprehensible loops - the project and my request to SPB and our initial results and how I needed a clinical opinion. He nodded agreeably and flipped through the pages of his packet.

“There he is,” Elusive noted as Colleague returned to the room. The results in question are Colleague's but since it's my project overall, I'm left to fight the battles for more time or to track down faculty members to get the necessary opinions.

“Hello,” Colleague said as he stood in front of us in the empty conference room.

“I captured him!” I said proudly and Elusive looked at me strangely again. Colleague - familiar with Elusive's nature - simply nodded.

“I understand what you’ve done - she’s explained everything,” Elusive told Colleague.

“I am sorry to bother you with this,” I said. “But I do need some help deciding what to do next.”

“My pleasure,” he demurred. “I appreciate you asking me.”

“So you’ll be in touch?” I clarified. “Send email, page or call me?” He nodded and I smiled.

“If not,” I said lightly once I reached my empty office again, “I’ll find a way to track you down, I suppose.”

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


The goal, I decided as I pressed my back into the exterior wall of the hospital, is to get out alive. Secondary to survival is to emerge in a superior state than existed when one arrived. And third - for goals should come in threes - one should aim that the process be no more painful than is absolutely necessary.

I smiled at the man even as I made room for him on the narrow sidewalk leading to one entrance of the hospital. A tall, thin fellow, he rose carefully from his wheelchair and moved toward the minivan waiting for him several feet from the door. He was accompanied by three women - one his age and two who were older.

“Sit in the front,” the woman I assumed to be his wife said. “Are you in pain? Going to fall?”

He shook his head without speaking, but in order to take a step, he placed a foot a bit forward, tested its ability to hold his weight, and paused before shifting forward to scoot the opposite shoe toward his goal. If it is possible to hurry while moving extremely slowly, the two older women behind him were doing so. Mincing their steps, they fluttered behind the man like two very busily concerned ducklings, speaking quickly and gently as they asked him questions and offered advice as he covered the short span of sidewalk between the door and his ride home as I stood aside and waited.

The four of them moved past me and I didn’t stay to watch him settle into the passenger seat. Instead, I moved into the hospital for the third time that day, resuming my brisk walk toward my destination.

On my second trip to the hospital, I had seen another post-doc and we both stopped to exchange greetings. I don’t recall our first meeting, and we've talked only a few times before but I’ve long liked her. Of Middle Eastern descent, she’s exotically lovely and has a bubbly grace that I’ve never seen replicated. She’s one of those people I think could be a friend, but I’ve never tried hard enough to create a personal relationship.

“Hi!” she said with a smile and I grinned back, feeling frumpy for a moment in my cable knit sweater when faced with her tailored ensemble.

“How are you?” I asked. “I heard you took a vacation.” Dawn sits near her and mentioned that she was out of town when we had lunch several days ago.

“I went to Florida,” she told me, pronouncing all three syllables in the name of the state. I tend to mush it into two. “It was wonderful.”

“Where were you?” I asked and she offered the name of a city farther south than my family typically ventures on the gulf side. She said she had a fabulous time. We moved aside to allow residents to swarm past us in the hallway before she elaborated.

“It was warm enough to walk on the beach in a bikini. The water was cold, but as I was walking one afternoon, I saw dolphins swimming near the shore.”

“Oh,” I sighed. “How wonderful.”

“I’ve never seen them so I decided to get in. The water was very cold but I am a strong swimmer. So I moved into the ocean until I was in up to here.” She placed a hand at her shoulders. “Then I tapped the water,” she dabbed her hand on an imaginary surface to indicate how gently she moved her hand, “and put my face in to call to them. Sound travels through water, you know.” I nodded - I do know that.

“One of them started to come a bit closer - I’ve heard they can be friendly creatures - and the rest were swimming farther away. Dolphins are quite big and I was amazed as I watched them, trying to coax the friendly one near to me.”

Her wide eyes looked dreamy and I smiled as she recalled her adventure. I waited for a moment, thinking again that I should take a vacation. Then I asked how her research was going and watched her expression transform into the mask of resigned stress we so often wear.

“I am busy,” she said, face and voice and stance losing all traces of the carefree wonder and joy that had infused her story of the dolphins. “And there are problems.” I nodded with sympathy and shrugged when she asked how I was.

“One of my papers got rejected this morning, so I submitted it somewhere else just now. I need to finish something across campus, but there are always people using the equipment I need. But there’s a faculty job that I’m interviewing for, which makes me feel rather special that they’re at least considering me. And I’m doing a new project that’s time consuming and tedious, but if I can get something to work, it should be quite cool.”

“Very good,” she said and I nodded. “Did you ever get SPB to allow you more resources?”

I laughed without really meaning to and shook my head. “We’re currently going around on that point again. I don’t know that the results will be much different.” I thought my expression - resignation, disappointment, inferiority - was likely easy to read.

“I am sorry,” she offered and I nodded my thanks. “I continue to have problems too,” she sighed and I cocked my head inquisitively. “It does no good to speak of it. I have decided not to complain and argue and try to make things change. It is hard for me since I always speak my mind and fight what is unfair. But, here it does not work.”

“Just adds stress,” I agreed and we nodded at each other in understanding.

“It seems sad,” she noted, “that two women like us - smart, young, beautiful, kind - cannot find a way to be successful here. Or when we do well, we feel like it has been such a battle.” I nodded - feeling a spark of anger. If it was just me, I’d write my complaints off as a statistical outlier. But finding peers who struggle - women I find smart and talented and wonderful - makes me seethe against the powers that be who don’t allow the same distribution of resources - equipment, time, money, encouragement, friendship, good collaborations - across the board. The fact that it has been women and minorities who I’ve personally seen struggle makes the disparity even more heinous in my mind.

Regardless, we agreed to meet for lunch or drinks soon and she went one way while I went another. The equipment I needed remained in use, so I returned to my office to page some people, reply to email and make some measurements in what appears to be an endless process for this new project. I later returned to the hospital once more.

On that last trip, I noticed the particular gentleman who was departing the hospital. I stood aside so as not to impede his progress, smiled when he glanced at me with a brief nod, offered a brief prayer that he’ll heal and find each happiness afforded him in however many days remain of his life. I hope he’s settled comfortably at home. That he doesn’t have to return to the building that I entered. That his family doesn’t have to wait in a room with moderately comfortable chairs so they can know how he’s doing.

I remained glum, thinking life could be terribly unfair and difficult sometimes, the contrast all the sharper when hearing of friendly dolphins and beautiful beaches that I don’t visit in favor of work. I decided to repeat my threefold goals as I anticipate the ending of this post-doc while moving past patients in wheelchairs waiting for elevators - survive, improve and endure only what is necessary.


"It seems academic blogs can get overwhelmingly negative at times," I told Friend over dinner this weekend. She gave me the look that indicates I have said something wildly obvious and therefore moderately idiotic.

It's not that I mean to be depressing. And in an environment with a boss I adore, excellent collaborators, incredible freedom to work from home and a very decent publication record from years that could otherwise be characterized as a moderate failure, I realize there are people who have it far worse than I do - I know that I've been mostly lucky. But it hasn't been ideal either. And on some days, that fact seems overwhelming.

Monday, January 14, 2008

In lieu of a finished post

It's been a long time since I've had several drafts open in Word and can't finish any of them enough to publish. It's frustrating. It's a good thing there are bullets.

  • Open Lab 2007 is for sale! One of my unfinished drafts covers why I think this book is so completely cool.
  • I have people who read my blog who offer comments that soothe my hurt feelings and emails that make me smile! Thank you.
  • Estrella sent me a book that arrived over the weekend! She recommended The Blue Castle and then sent me a copy! I was touched and delighted.
  • I am terrified of the American Gladiators. (Those men are seriously scary.) Friend believes this to be amusing.
  • Yet I'm watching it right now. Chienne is protecting me.
  • Friend and I watched My Fake Baby yesterday with open-mouthed amazement and exchanged horrified looks while we synced our laptops to play the YouTube clips.
  • I'm tired. I can't even finish a bullets post with anything good.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Audience Alienation

I mentioned that the Open Lab 2007 proofs were out. I stopped reading when I started making my measurements for the latest project, but I really am very impressed with the contributions. There is a mailing list that includes judges and contributors and has dealt with some details of submission and revision. Dr. Rohn wrote to the group and I tried to let it go (I really did!), but I can’t. My feelings were hurt and I continue to get defensive when I think about it so I’m going to what I do and write about it on my blog.

Her message read as follows:

“For those of you who have dialogue in your essays, some of you are getting the punctuation wrong. The rest of you can disregard this email, and sorry for the clutter.

The rule is a comma replaces a period in a complete sentence, and the first letter of the 'beat' (he said/she said) is NOT capitalized. This holds true in both US and UK dialogue writing.

"Here is a complete sentence," said Jane.
or, "Here is a complete sentence," she said.
"Is this a question?" she asked.
"I called," she said, "but you didn't answer."

Not: "Here is a complete sentence." Said X.
"Is the a question?" She asked.
"I called," She said. "But you didn't answer."

I know there are UK/US differences in whether punctuation goes in or out of quotes for direct quotes (as in scholarly text or press articles), but for dialogue beats in passages of speech, the punctuation always goes inside the quotes on both sides of the Atlantic.

"Here is a complete sentence," he said.

Not: "Here is a complete sentence", he said.

Open up any novel and you can see how to do it. I know it's a minor thing but it will make a huge difference in how it reads.

In a quick flip-through, I noticed in particular that the first problem noted above was happening most every time in the MinorRevisions blog entry.”

First, she’s absolutely correct. I do dialogue wrong and am consistently incorrect about it. There is also a difference between something that appears in a blog online and what will be presented in print. But here’s what I took from her remarks.

1. I don’t read well and though it isn’t even due to the fact that I’m an American. (Hence the capitalized NOT that might help my tiny brain understand that sentence is somehow important.)
2. I’m very slow and need important points repeated at least twice, and ideally ad nauseum. There are five (5) examples of how to correctly punctuate conversation. There are two (2) points of how it doesn’t matter what version of English one is using.
3. I was actually OK until the end though. She does have a point. She edits and does so quite well. But was “Open up any novel and you can see how to do it” necessary? Really? And a “huge difference” in how it reads? I disagree. Friend pointed out the problem when she read my entry before I submitted it. But I was tired and wanted to get this done before I moved on to something else and so I decided to leave it. I didn’t think it’s that big a deal.

Her point, I think, was that the problem should be corrected. Upon further reflection, I agree though we clearly vary in our opinions of the severity of the problem. But I even acknowledge that I should have made the corrections before handing in my final version. Yet after reading her email, I was initially hurt. I quickly grew defensive and irritated. I read books! A lot of books! I’m educated and bright and resent the condescending tone of this correction.

I decided that it was my problem. I’m overly sensitive and feeling vulnerable with papers out for review and the job search. I just took her email really badly. But I’m not so sure that’s the entire problem when speaking in a general sense.

When Dawn was part of our group, she presented once at a group meeting. We walk a line between formal and friendly when we gather. A trainee will bring slides and turn down the lights and present the material as clearly as she is able, always realizing she'll be interrupted with questions. Dawn had been part of the group for a couple of months, seeing 4 or 5 presentations made before it was her turn.

“I’m going to go over some basic biology,” she said to start, “since most of you don’t know much about that.”

I raised my eyebrows at the end of her sentence and grinned when I saw glances exchanged around the table by various faculty members. About 40% of the upper-level attendees are MDs. Those who aren’t deal with clinical projects nearly exclusively. Even I took two years of biology in undergrad. But we all sat to listen while she started from the very beginning and explained things very slowly. By the end of her hour, she’d barely touched on the premise of her project and had come nowhere close to showing us any of her initial results.

“I know that was a lot of review, but I felt it was important for you to know,” she said, pleased with herself, at the end. (It's killing me to do those quotes correctly - I shall likely soon revert to my comfortable but wrong method.)

I watched a particularly impatient faculty member shake his head and we dispersed without having asked many questions at all. I decided that there can be a vast difference between my style - which was developed in research meetings and though giving seminars - and Dawn’s, having been refined while teaching undergraduates. To give a more balanced example, Friend has taught and done many research presentations. I’d venture a guess that her preparation varied depending on her audience.

I changed my major from EE as a college freshman because of a C++ class I took. The professor decided that since so many of us had previous programming experience that we should start well into the text and hit the ground running. In his attempt to prevent boredom from some of the students, he absolutely lost me. The idea of programming - already a little intimidating - seemed impossible when I had no idea how one started to write code or how to debug. I felt hopelessly lost from the beginning and though I ended up with a B, I decided engineering couldn’t be for me - I’d suffered too much trying to keep up with my peers. Our teacher assumed experience and knowledge that I didn’t have and I abandoned any interest (until grad school - I now program relatively well) I initially felt.

Dawn, conversely, set up a situation where she felt more knowledgeable and therefore had to correct the group’s ignorance. In doing so, she wasted time - not necessarily for the faculty members of other post-docs, but for herself. The beauty of presenting in that atmosphere is that you get ideas and corrections and guidance. Most of us give a bit of background then hit the results and potential interpretations hard. When allocating time thusly, I walk out with ideas and explanations and possible confounds. I get invitations to collaborate when someone has an idea for what to do with data. People email me pdfs of relevant literature. It works out very well for me. So most of us follow that sort of model.

Upon further consideration, I believe I'm moving forward with this faculty position application process because the chair of the department liked me. I can remember two specific people being underwhelmed by my performance and answers to their questions. But Chair beamed at me after my seminar and said they would definitely be in touch. I am excited about the results from my project, not arrogant. I’ll tell you what I know in a way that has been carefully prepared and rehearsed, is visually appealing and easy to follow. I’m happy to pause for interruptions and answer whatever questions I can. I also have a pen ready to make notes if someone makes a point I hadn’t considered and can’t address immediately.

Now I think presentation styles vary as much as how people approach research questions. And that’s good. No one style is consistently ideal just as no one person is right for every job out there. It’s a matter of either finding people who like the way you talk to them or altering your approach with a good understanding of your audience. The starting point and pace should be dictated by what they already know. Repetition should be used carefully - I want my audience to get my point, not feel battered by it. Most importantly, I want anyone - from the 5th graders I used to tutor to the man who’ll decide whether I get a job - to know that I respect what they bring to the table. I want to understand their points as much as I crave their interest in mine. I want an atmosphere where we feel comfortable with each other and that encourages future contact.

So what would I have said in response to my editing error? I start with a compliment if one can be found, then I address the error as concisely as possible.

“The Minor Revisions entry, while obviously delightful, has a few errors with the use of punctuation in dialogue. For example, about halfway down on page 39, the sentence should read as follows: “Start writing,” he said. Corrections of that type can be made throughout. Please let me know if you have any questions.”

So, in conclusion, I know I'm not the easiest person to read. I also admit that this dialogue punctuation thing wouldn't even make the top 10 reasons of why I annoy many people. It's why I'm filled with love and appreciation for long-time readers. They cope with a lot from me, bless them. So thank you for being my audience. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Friday, January 11, 2008

See No Evil

Much like my sweet canine avoids the bright flash on my camera, I decided to squint against the glare of life today. I'm becoming overwhelmed and emotional and overly-sensitive of late.

It's the waiting to know about my future. I'm scared and uncertain and feel less than powerful in the whole process.

"My paper needed a third reviewer." Colleague said of the journal where I plan to resubmit Rejected Paper. "One said yes, another no, so they need another opinion."

My technique isn't as complex as his, but it is a new application of a given field of analysis. So I worry that it's not going to make it in upon resubmission. This makes me sad. I also find I'm annoyed that I continue to obsess over it. If Boss would just read it, I could make some decision and stop thinking about it. But now I wonder if the paper should go elsewhere now. If so, where?

Then there are the other two who are currently under review. Penguin's that they're hoping to get past the editor without a re-review. Grants that are going out with minuscule chances of bringing in money soon. It just seems hard right now to find motivation to do more work.

Boss said he was very proud I'd made it this far in the interview process and would be happy to write me a letter. Carrie replied with a surprised but thrilled flurry of congratulations. She forwarded me her statement today and I readily approved everything she wrote. Quiet Mentor's assistant emailed a letter this morning and mailed the hardcopy this afternoon. Advisor wrote this afternoon to offer his congratulations and told me he'd send a letter as soon as possible. He knows Director (which is how I got the invitation to visit) so I was relieved when he said he thought the position would be an excellent fit for me.l My honest assessment is that I've worked for very good people and the ones I've selected will say very positive things.

Carrie's husband had to make a phone call to an interview reference. "He said it was awful." Carrie noted. "The guy said the applicant wasn't organized or smart. He was a terrible researcher and only a mediocre teacher. After it was over, Husband wanted to call the applicant and tell him to pick a different reference. A big name in the field won't help at all if he's going to say you suck."

My references will be complimentary in writing. I did offer their contact information to Director and assume that if the letters are satisfactory, he'll talk to some of them. In that case, they'll be honest. I think that's important and have encouraged all of them to be candid. The conversations don't worry me - I was forthright about my skills and experiences when I visited. But it's now out of my hands. Thank you notes were sent. Requests for references received and in progress. The thought of waiting while I'm analyzed and evaluated is tough. I don't particularly like this.

So I ignored all of it today. I answered a couple of emails, but otherwise relaxed. I took a nap. Read a book. Took an longer route on Chienne's walk. Watched television and played a computer game. There were things I could have done - measurements to make, files to organize, code to write - but I decided I didn't feel like fighting my mopey attitude to accomplish anything.

I'll get back to it tomorrow. It will all wait until then.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Email, Sent and Received (Finally)

To: Reed Cartwright, Editor of Open Lab 2007.

"Honestly - it's wonderful. Congratulations to you, Bora and the judges on a job very well done."

In the interest of honesty, I didn't know if I'd ever read the entire anthology. There are precious few science blogs on my list of regular reads and I tend to think of science as work. It's good work and I enjoy it, but when given free time, I'd rather read more personal journals. Yet I decided to make the effort this morning and found myself leaning back comfortably in my chair as I read page and page of beautifully written and very well organized text.

I'm enjoying it immensely. There's something about reading entries written by people who are genuinely passionate about their topics. I also find the book reminds me of the Grand Ole Opry. In the best possible way, of course. Here's the thing. I do not consider myself to be a huge country music fan. But when my parents wanted to see the show one year as we were traveling through Tennessee, I went along and found it quite entertaining. If you like a particular performer, the song or two that he sings will be enough to encourage you to find more. Conversely, if you despise someone's music, the selection is short enough that you can suffer through it until someone new appears. Plus, even when I wasn't riveted by a specific piece of music, there were people in the audience who loved it, so I felt the entire program was worthwhile.

I'll say more when the book becomes available, but I wanted to make a note that after seeing it, I'm truly proud to be included. And now I know fascinating things about several kinds of animals and finally figured out that ID must be Intelligent Design! (I read the Biology and Life Sciences section this evening.)

From: Director, University of Faculty Job I Want

As a next step we would like to obtain letters of recommendation. Would you please ask at least three people who know your work well to forward letters to me? Email followed by hardcopy would be fine.
I thought I'd get a firm rejection from them. Then I didn't hear anything for nearly a month and wondered if they were really busy or if they were actually considering my application and visit because I did well. Moving to the recommendations stage is much farther than I thought we'd go so I'm thrilled.

Well, I actually feel kind of sick. I don't feel like this is a sure thing by any stretch and the longer I wait, the more I hope and start to picture myself there and it's going to hurt even more should they opt out eventually. But I comfort myself with the thought that if we make it far enough and they hear enough good things, perhaps we can talk about a short, transitory post-doc or a scientist position if they go another way for the tenure-track faculty slot.

I asked 5 people for letters - Boss, Advisor, Quiet Mentor, Dr. Icing and Carrie.

From: Supreme Polar Bear, after receiving my email last night that was a bit more demanding than those I often send.

I will provide experimental time, but have concerns about your goals. Did you get my email last week? I'd be happier if you could explain your initial results before moving forward.
I wrote a very polite response that tried to address his concerns. May I vent for a moment though? Thank you.

  1. Liars go to Hell, you know. He didn't send an email last week any more than I sprouted wings and soared above campus. It adds insult to injury when you ignore me then pretend I ignored you.
  2. I summarized his email, but he expounded on the fact that it was obvious that I'd get whatever experimental time I needed. Given that it has been the hardest part of my postdoctoral experience to get access to the equipment, I found that insulting too.
  3. When I ask for experimental time because I don't know how to explain our results, then list potential explanations, then list ways we could have explained them but didn't work out, why did he ask for said explanation before granting my needs? I need the time to attempt an explanation of greater quality than that which I offered him. Twice.
  4. I did contact one additional person for support since I don't know what else to do to make SPB happier. I suppose when I asked for a favor, his happiness became important to me. But this is seriously sucky and hard.
VIMD also replied to my email and said we could work to finish the analysis next week. I'll pester Boss about the paper again tomorrow and pray he has it read. If so, it would appear that the phase of people ignoring me has passed. And given that the slow step of my data processing is - after several weeks - finished, I should be much busier in the coming days.

More of the Same, with Puppy Perks

I continue to be bored. And sick - this cold refuses to depart and focuses on my head with impressive strength. Oh, and the people ignoring me thing? No real change there either.

"Shoot." I heard Boss say when I stepped into his outer office to greet Jill on her first day back from a medical leave.

"I missed you!" I said to her, turning my head away to protect her from some of my germs as we hugged. We talked for a few moments and she showed me an impressive scar from her heart surgery. Boss didn't emerge to join our conversation - he's actively avoiding me and my daily "Did you happen to read my paper yet?" questions.

"I'll get to it next." He promised later in the day. I had walked in with Marlie when she didn't understand an email. I was busy making a figure from an abstract I will send the Supreme Polar Bear (because I was bored and perhaps going overboard in effort will make me more memorable and harder to ignore), but I interpreted for her and, receiving a blank look in return, found a website, downloaded a form, opened her protocol, filled out the form and walked with her to Boss's office to have him sign it.

"I have a deadline that I had to meet today, but I will read your paper. I want to read it. And I will. Soon." He said when I walked in. I smiled and handed him the single sheet of paper in my hand while saying it was fine. I'd just keep bugging him until I received comments. (I hate that, by the way, but it's been nearly 3 weeks.)

"I do need you to sign this though." I handed him the paper and looked to Marlie to see if she'd explain the situation. She didn't and Boss focused on me since he struggles to understand her so I gave him a brief explanation of the problem and our solution, he signed off and we walked to the fax machine.

It isn't that I mind helping. I got stuck with all the paperwork and it took forever to find my way out upon beginning my post-doc. I don't employ the "I suffered so you shall suffer also" philosophy and want to make Marlie's life easier if I can. But I'm starting to bristle at the amount of time I'm spending on a project which doesn't involve of interest me. I like her and that will allow her a good deal of my time. But I need for her to latch on to more useful resources. I don't want to go to meetings so I can understand and re-explain concepts. I won't make time to attend entire training sessions when I'm not interested in learning the technique. So I'm stuck between feeling mildly guilty and mildly resentful. Which makes me feel more guilty. Ick.

Friend and I fought traffic together and joined Cousin for dinner. Then all was right with the world because there were snuggly, soft, squirming bundles of cuddles.

"Puppies!" I cried, immediately sitting on the floor. They're getting big enough that they can stretch up to nibble at my chin and ears while they give kisses I eagerly return. So I petted and called them pretty and sweet and wonderful. I kissed and nuzzled and let them chew on my hair. I love them ever so much.

I pried myself away to eat delicious reubens, but quickly returned to the floor afterwards. "Puppies!" I greeted them - for they had been locked in their foyer while we ate - "I missed you so much! Yes, I did! I missed you because you're such good puppies!"

Jay sighed at me - though he didn't scold, likely because he'd dropped a frozen ham on my head while I sat in front of the freezer playing with puppies (yes, seriously) - when I told him I'd cleaned up the accident and the puppies didn't mean to do it, so he didn't need to yell at them. And I looked over at Cousin - after she'd removed the corned beef from Little Cousin's sandwich but before she'd finished her own meal - and she sighed as Little Cousin screamed with some small complaint from the other room.

"She's so moody lately." Cousin said of her daughter. "And work is busy and there's animals everywhere." She shook her head. "It's not the house of fucking happiness."

We laughed and I worry - she shouldn't be so stressed. But once we finished the ice cream cake (and sang happy birthday to Little Cousin, whose actual day isn't until March. She just likes the song.) and I said good-bye to the precious puppies and my lovely family members, I felt the weight of stress again.

"Have to get home so I can get no email from the people who are ignoring me." I told Friend. And so I did.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Please. Ignore me.

It must be in my signature lines. Perhaps the email and phone calls and in-person requests have some sort of insignificant aura around them. "Don't bother." They whisper. "We'll wait. No problem. Just, maybe, when you possibly get just a few seconds of time, you might - if it isn't too inconvenient - perhaps consider replying in some fashion."

I've read everything in my sent folder again. I don't see where I'm going wrong - I'm straightforward and concise. I even set out time frames sometimes! Yet there's nothing. Nada. I know no more than I did yesterday. Or Friday. Because nobody will respond to my questions.

"We really appreciate you working on this so quickly." Penguin told me at our meeting last Friday. I arrived in the conference room a couple minutes late (my goodness kept me busy) and waited patiently for 15 minutes. Then I set out down the hall to find one of the three men who was to meet with me. Penguin apologized profusely, of course. Said that Dr. Icing and Penguin Jr. were running late. And all was fine. I understand that priorities shift - if someone had sent me email and said we should meet 30 minutes later, that would have been lovely. Instead, I waited alone for 15 minutes and spent another 15-20 minutes making small talk with Penguin. Hearing how important my work was, how grateful they were for my help, how vital I was to the project.

"Are you setting me up for something bad?" I finally asked. "Trying to ease an upcoming blow a bit?"

"Not at all!" He said. "We just really like working with you."

"Oh," I smiled and nodded. "That's very kind. And I likewise enjoy working with you."

Our other two attendees arrived and apologized and we talked and pored over manuscript pages and peered at figures.

"This," Penguin said as he looked at one of the tables I'd prepared, "is very helpful. May I have a copy of this to submit?"

"Of course." I replied, making a note on my paper to email it.

"We appreciate that you did so much work over break." Dr. Icing said.

"That's no problem." I smiled. "I'm just sorry it took me so long to get back to you." I was sincere in my apology. Penguin sent the comments on a Tuesday and it took me 8 days to reply with my notes on the reviews and another week to find time to meet to present my work. I blinked when all three men looked at me for a moment before I asked what was wrong.

"You've never taken too long, Katie." Penguin said. "That's just..." He looked at Dr. Icing and Penguin Jr. for help. "Not true." He decided.

"You're a pleasure to collaborate with. Exceptionally quick with replies and project reports and results." Dr. Icing clarified.

But two weeks is a long time! When something gets on my list, I like to do it soon! I started revising my rejected paper the same day I got the email. I carry my laptop with me to the bathroom when a migraine leaves me writhing on the floor. I don't like having email in my inbox so I try mightily to answer and file it as soon as possible. I don't even like to stop reading a book in the middle - I try to start and finish in one sitting.

When I ask for a free experiment, how long does it take to say yes, no, or I require more information? SPB has another two days before I bother him again - that gives him a week to have pretended I don't exist.

Is it terribly difficult to look at your calendar when I ask for a quick phone call to discuss interviewing possibilities or results? It seems to me that a few keystrokes would set a day and time so that we could get this over with. My 2 possible jobs have until Monday before I make more phone calls to them.

VIMD finally told me about the delay in our analysis. I told her I'd touch base next week to see if things had changed. See how delightful that was? We communicated. And now everybody's happy.

I have thus far prevented myself from jumping up and down in a tantrum and yelling, "Why not? Why not? Why not?!" when Boss avoids eye contact and tells me he still has no comments on my paper. It's a short manuscript. A good manuscript! I hate bugging him every day. But I'll do it again tomorrow because I still don't have notes from him.

If we're going to be email friends, one person eventually has to send me email in return. Past experiences indicate that when I don't get email, my email friend is bored. That makes me feel badly about myself, which should be the opposite goal of having email friendships at all.

I felt abject relief when Cousin called tonight. She invited me to dinner on Sunday and I told her sometime this week would be better. I forgot to call her yesterday so she called me back today.

"I'm sorry." I said, completely sincere but pleased that I mattered enough to someone to merit a follow-up call. "I forgot about you yesterday."

"That's fine." She said, sounding breezy and busy and confident in her own appeal. I envied her - she just calls back. I feel invisible and irrelevant and awful when I have to make another call or send another email.

"Tomorrow night." I told her and she said that would work fine. So there will be Little Cousin and reubens and puppies and the house of happiness. I'm trying to tell myself that I simply forgot to call her back. It's not that I don't want to go or don't love her dearly or am anything other than delighted to spend time with them. It just slipped my mind.

But I look at my list - which is composed of people who owe some some response - and feel badly. I dread reminding them that I require some attention. That I need some time they seem unwilling to give me. But perhaps it's a trivial problem after all. Which means you're in good company if you choose to ignore this post altogether.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Not so good.

"I'm so sorry." I said to Boss after he shook his head in response to my question of how his mother-in-law was doing. He shrugged in response before answering.

"It's just one of those things you must handle as you age." He finally offered and I nodded.

"It's hard not to hope it comes later rather than sooner though." I said softly and told him I'd continue to pray. He nodded his thanks and I swallowed my scowl when I realized he'd yet to read my revised paper. There are more important things, I reminded myself sternly, than submitting the manuscript today. So I smiled and returned to my desk, had another Godiva truffle that Marlie brought in for Ken and me and sulked for just a moment.

"Good morning, Katie." Marlie sang as she walked in the door. I took a sip of water from my mug and smiled at her before asking about her weekend. We talked for a moment and I turned back to my computer, frowning when I realized my email hadn't yet downloaded.

"Morning." Ken said as he came in a moment later. "How are you?"

"I don't have internet." I looked up, panicked. "How can I not have internet?! Do you have internet?" I asked Ken, returning my gaze to the screen while I frantically pushed buttons and checked connections.

"I couldn't connect earlier." He mused, sounding very calm.

"What," I said, looking at him with wide eyes, "are we going to do?!"

"I'll go tell someone." He said, looking amused before he rose and walked from the room. I put a hand to my stomach that was clenched and decided I might have a problem. By the time Ken returned, I could connect and sighed when I realized I could cross nothing off my list. Instead, the same list of names remain with the same list questions in the second column. SPB hasn't replied to my request for extra experimental time. Director didn't reply to my email about the faculty job. VIMD didn't answer when I asked when we should analyze the final pieces of data. I'm just waiting for people to tell me what to do next.

I am not the only one.

Marlie asked me to come over and look at an email. The polar bears aren't sure what she wants to do or how she wants to do it. Nor am I. So it worked out that today I could walk across the office to translate or offer advice.

"You should ask Boss." I said of one point. "I'm not sure what the goals are for the project so you two could talk about that if you don't have a feeling for the answer."

"He doesn't understand me." She noted. "I'll send him email."

I blinked at her for a moment, but realized she was right. Boss doesn't hear very well. Marlie has a strong accent and mumbles. But it seemed bad to me that they're unable to communicate.

"You will come to the meeting tomorrow?" She asked me and I nodded. But I'm not involved with this project. I know nothing and want none of the responsibilities. Katie doesn't deal with mice. If I wouldn't do it for my own career, I'm not going to do it for hers. But she says she doesn't always understand what is said and I feel badly and want to help and how did this become my problem again so quickly?

But I can go and listen. I can push to arrange for training and resources for her again. Marlie and Boss both want me there even though I'm pretty irrelevant. So, fine. I don't like being ignored - waiting on other people so that I can move forward. I don't want to hinder her at all.

"I have training in the morning." She told me before she left this afternoon. I glanced up from the paper I was revising for Penguin and smiled.

"Wonderful." I said when she continued to look at me expectantly. "Do you know where to go?"

She nodded and I told her I'd likely see her in the morning before she left for the other building.

"You will come?" She asked and I swiveled to face her again.

"I can walk you over. Sure." I replied, confused. "I think I know where to go."

"You will stay?" She asked and I frowned.

"For training? No." When she looked crestfallen, I bit back my automatic reply that I guess I could stay. "I don't need to know that stuff, Marlie." I said instead. "But you'll be fine."

She nodded and forced a smile, leaving me feeling both awful and resentful that I felt awful. And this is why I don't want to teach. I'm so 'all or nothing' that when I try to help, I either do everything for someone or don't do nearly enough. Who knows where the line is between assisting and carrying? Do you have time to show it to me?

Or is it just one of those things I'm to learn to handle as I age?