“Hey,” I greeted Steve last week when I opened his door and scooted a chair beside his. He waved since he was swallowing the last of his lunch and I raised my eyebrows. “Am I early?”
“No, no,” he said, wiping his mouth before crumpling and tossing a white napkin in his trash. “I was eating leftover lasagna and dealing with email. Your timing is perfect - I was finished.” I sniffed experimentally, wondering if I was going to have to open his door to the hallway to be able to breathe. But the odor wasn’t unpleasant - green pepper and oregano, I decided, so I left the door closed and sat down.
“Are you wearing cologne?” I asked absently as I dug my laptop from my bag and stacked some of his papers in a neat pile before placing them aside. Steve and I have known each other since I started grad school in 2001. We’ve gone boating and he hit me with the sail. We’ve shared dinners and conversations and laughed a good deal. He sat next to me on the insanely long flight to Kyoto, drank the last of my wine when I didn’t want it and let me lean into him while I tried to sleep. So I didn’t really think about making room for my computer or asking before I flipped through his papers.
“Aftershave,” he replied without looking away from his computer screen where he was typing a quick response. Laptop open and files ready, I sat back, crossed my legs and waited for his attention.
“What’s up?” he asked, swiveling to face me before removing his glasses to clean the lenses on his shirt. “Remind me.”
“Squiggly lines,” I said and he nodded. “But I actually want help with something else.” He nodded again and squinted over my shoulder as we started looking at data from the institution where I last interviewed. I went over what one post-doc there said and what I thought and showed him everything I’d seen.
“So,” I summarized, “they’re having these problems and I’d like to help them out, but I don’t know what’s wrong.”
“Why,” he began and continued to list reasons why they should collect and process and check data differently. I sighed and waited for him to finish.
“Sweetheart,” I said, for I use endearments when I correct people to prove that I still hold them in high regard. “They collect data like this and they have for years without these types of problems. So I know you’d do it differently, but they do it like this. I need you to help me troubleshoot here. Don't look back. Start from here and diagnose some problems for me.”
So he sighed and nodded and we wrote down some general ideas. He assured me that he didn’t have strong feelings about the problem and waved me off when I said I felt dumb for not immediately knowing. It’s part of what I enjoy about Steve - I can be honest and sarcastic and he laughs rather than worrying over my mental state. Though he did come to my desk once when I was so depressed. Awkwardly, he asked how I was and what was up. I finally turned my chair to face him fully, cocked my head and asked what he was doing.
“I don’t know,” he admitted with a shrug. “But I’ve heard people are worried and they know we’re friends.”
“Ah,” I said, patting his arm. “You’re on a fact-finding mission then.” I waved off his promise that he wouldn’t repeat anything I told him and continued to speak. “It turns out I’m not so great right now,” I said, understating the problem. “But I am working on it and will be better soon.”
He’s much more comfortable with me now - though I still get moody and mopey, I am far more stable than I once was - and we happily moved on to my squigglies. As we were waiting for data to load, I asked about his papers and watched him wince.
“I did some new analysis on our project,” he offered hopefully and I smiled before shaking my head at him.
“Steve,” I said patiently, “do you need to do more analysis?”
“Probably not,” he answered with a frown.
“And do you need to write papers?” He nodded sheepishly and I smiled, delighted by the thought that he was an assistant professor and badly wanting him to succeed in that role. “So you’ll revise the one I saw - add some emphasis on the significance - and send it out! People won’t beg you for manuscripts. You’re going to have to put it back out there.”
“I know, I know,” he said and when I continued to look at him, he promised that he would try. Then he asked what my plan was for the near future.
I sighed then smiled at him. “It’s much easier for me to figure out your problems than to identify and fix my own,” I said after a moment. He nodded, said something generally encouraging, and I walked from his office.
More recently - this morning, in fact - Friend asked if there was to be a blog post today.
“Probably,” I replied. “I could write something about being tired and sick and not very productive. Oh, and rejected.”
She nodded before heading off to points east to visit her family. I’ll miss her while she’s gone and really, truly hope (a lot) that her trip goes well. While she was preparing to depart, she listened to me take the call about the faculty job I interviewed for in December.
“They liked me,” I told her after I hung up and she watched me quietly. “But they want someone with the specific skills I don’t have and don’t really care to learn.” She nodded. “He said he knew it must be disappointing, but I don’t think it is,” I mused. “I’ve either made my peace with it because I saw it coming or I truly don’t want to do that particular job. Either way, I don’t feel crushed.” She nodded again, looking a bit worried. “What I don’t understand is that he didn’t sound overly enthusiastic about me joining them in some other capacity, but was absolutely insistent that we talk again before I made my final job decision. What’s the point? If someone else wants me, he might change his mind and offer me something?”
Perhaps, I decided after she left, it is time to mope. With the journal rejections and employment uncertainties and horrible illness, I tried to muster some sense of impending doom. Perhaps I truly am sleep deprived because I couldn’t do it. I’m a bit down, yes, but I’m working and reading and trying to figure things out.
I still don’t know what’s wrong with that other institution’s data. Steve still hasn’t submitted his paper. I have no firm idea of what happens next should none of these job prospects play out. I’m entirely sick of the taste of cough drops but more horrified by how much it hurts to cough uncontrollably. So the overall assessment, I suppose, is that things are hardly ideal. But they don’t appear to be all that bad either.