Tuesday, March 04, 2008

May I quote you?

“Wisdom comes from people who are wise.”
- Youth Pastor at the children’s time on Sunday.

After the laughter died down, he smiled and nodded. “It’s hard to define wisdom since it’s different than being smart. It’s more about knowing things - having been there and done that and learned something from it. So one way for us to gain wisdom is to listen and watch people who have been there and done that.”

I would argue that wisdom could be gained with equal - if not greater - ease from people who are decidedly unwise. Who make mistakes or flounder needlessly. I say this because I sometimes gain wisdom from reviewing my own behavior. And I'm not so wise.

“The hotel is reserved in your name. Someone will meet you in the lobby on Friday morning.”
- Pretty Accent to me, email, yesterday evening.

I haven’t written my talk, though it will be short. She suggested a twenty minute overview so I’ll spend some time deleting slides and trying to add focused summaries that apply to some projects they do. I don’t think I’ll take the job - that’s my assessment of the situation going in. There are too many negatives, though I can try to offer some advice and insight. Having more information is always good before turning down a job. But there's this sense of "Oh, hell, I have to go do this. Wouldn't it be better to just cancel the whole ordeal?"

“Huh. Still looks weird/bad/noisy.”
- Steve to me, email, 1:20 PM today

I have worked on the squigglies until I have no ideas left. I’ve looked and altered command lines and looked some more. I’ve defined regions of interest differently and thought hard about methodology. I want the answer to the question. I’ve followed guidelines well enough that it should be a relatively simple matter.

I’m frustrated and discouraged that I can’t get anything that other than weird, bad and noisy.

“So then I read the bulleted points of what they want, and asking you to write a paper like this is just ridiculous!”
- Carrie to me, phone call, 2:00 PM today

I sat in silence for a moment - it’s what I do when faced with an insult. I’d forwarded a call for papers that had somehow made it past my near-immediate press of the delete button. This particular special issue does have to do with a topic I consider incredibly important in terms of data management and aiding diagnosis. And I’ve done a little work in the area, which is why I think I was invited to contribute. So rather than an informative brainstorming session, I was taken aback that she was putting me down.

“So I’ll think about this some more and let you know if I have questions,” I said near the end of our call. Carrie’s been having her own set of stresses lately and I sort of agree that this is a bit of a stretch for me. But why can’t I reach a little? At least propose a paper that details how I would go about setting something up? “It’s a topic I find important so I’d like to keep my hand in. I’ll see if I can come up with something interesting to do," I concluded.

“Let me know if I can help!” she concluded cheerfully, and I wondered if she slighted me unintentionally or if she felt badly about hurting my feelings. I moped for a moment before staring at the email in front of me.

I felt inadequate and discouraged from trying to pull even 100 words together to submit for an abstract. I tried - honestly - to remind myself of the book chapter proposal I submitted even though I was terrified I couldn’t actually write the thing. But I did and I learned something and it all turned out OK. (It’s not a big deal type of book, by the way. Just a standard sciencey book that very few people will read. It’s really simple to make me feel proud of myself. Sadly, it’s even easier to make me feel badly.)

And so, as I find myself all flustered and angsty for professional reasons, I decided to take the advice Friend ignored. She failed to heed said advice, by the way, because it wouldn’t really work in her situation. It does, however, work in mine.

“This is actually where I'd recommend doing something completely different. Work on a different project, take a couple days off, leave this alone until you're not frustrated and edgy with it and might have a chance of seeing something that's not so obvious. Continuing to beat my head against something has rarely been effective for me.”
- Katie to Friend, email, 12:43 PM today

To review, I have work to do - a presentation to edit, squigglies to battle, ideas to think and a short abstract to write (if I decide not to delete that call for papers after all), numbers to analyze for a different project for which I’m questioning my methods and am loathe to finish because I can’t come up with a better idea. But I was scattered and upset so I looked across the room at the single book that rested on my table. Last night I read, riveted so that I could discover the fate of the kidnapped child and elude the evil men who were after the heros (who, of course, fell in love). This afternoon, I looked back and forth between the screen of my laptop and the small paperback.

The computer made a satisfying click when I closed it, and set it aside and picked up my book before flopping on the couch under a soft blanket. I chased a mad murderer through the streets of London, was charmed by this new couple who were falling in love and watched paths cross and characters develop as the afternoon passed pleasantly. And while I do think taking a break is good advice, there comes a time when the novel ends and life intrudes. I seem to have regained the ability to escape into a story - to lose track of problems and issues outside those pages - but when I reach the end, the laptop lurks on the other side of the room.

So I’ve returned to it with a few more thoughts.

- Rest, work, read. Time passes regardless. Hours spent buried in a book have always been hard for me to regret and I don't intend to start now.
- I am perfectly capable of learning things. Just because I haven’t done something before doesn’t mean I can’t do it. And if I call for advice, don’t be discouraging when I’m already discouraged! So I'll do this particular thing on my own if I decide to do it.
- Everything to Steve is non-ideal. If I compare to published results, mine aren’t bad at all. So screw it. I’m fine with what I have for now. It’ll rest for a little while until someone has a new idea.
- Big decisions must be made, regardless of how scary they are. I will take what I know, ask whatever I can, and make a call that feels right.
- Wisdom is a tough concept and makes for long sermons. And while listening to the advice of others is great, there comes a time when one must put down the book and do some learning of her own.


Anna said...

“So then I read the bulleted points of what they want, and asking you to write a paper like this is just ridiculous!”
- Carrie to me, phone call, 2:00 PM today

I don't understand how this is a slight against you? I guess if you emphasize "YOU?" It sounds like maybe she just thinks they are ridiculous to want such a paper?

- Anna

Anna said...

I guess it was a phone call though, I thought it was an email at first.

Anonymous said...

yikes, sounds like you have a lot on your plate. and dealing with squiggles definitely does not sounds like fun. good luck with all of this!

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