Thursday, March 27, 2008

Stories in Snippets

I’m so in. And, now, poor.
There are many, many societies in my field - our choices of memberships are as plentiful as potential journals. There is one in particular that has rather stringent requirements for full membership. As with anything that is exclusive and decided by committee, I decided I wanted it without really knowing why. I let my student membership lapse a couple of years ago then was invited to join because I published something in the society’s journal, so I carefully filled in the blanks on an application and asked Boss and Advisor, both full members, to write the requisite letters.

The membership committee met this week. And I was congratulated this morning. In the next sentence, I was invited to go pay my dues.

Field Specific and Sort of Cryptic
Industry positions are available from three giant companies. Our toys come from ConsonantVowel, MoreThanOneManWithSameFirstName, or AlmostSoundsDirty. If you want the toy to do your bidding in some novel or complicated way, you must learn the proprietary programming language of one of those companies. I’ve never done this.

My relationship with the toys is more casual. I don’t tell it how to peel and slice potatoes, set the duration of frying or the quantity of salt. I simply approach, say, “French fries, please,” and wait. If perchance the fries are not edible, I frown at them and start searching for someone to do something about that. And if someone wants mashed potatoes instead, I blink at him for a moment and tell him that fries are pretty darn good. Are you quite sure French fries wouldn’t suffice? If not, I heard Tom used to mash potatoes - you should talk to him.

My background indicates that potential employers expect me to be able to alter the French fry formula or make some au gratin dish. And my training has prepared me to learn those skills. Basic lack of interest and patience means I’ve directed my attention to other areas, but I now feel confident enough to tackle this particular potato problem. And some people with whom I’ve spoken have indicated that I could take a class and start to practice while I’m completing this fellowship. Which is actually a good suggestion.

But the problem comes in picking a giant from whom to learn recipes. Because I’m complicated and not particularly wise, I’m considering employment with three places. Each of those places uses a different company. So the choice of whether to go visit ConsonantVowel, MoreThanOneManWithSameFirstName or AlmostSoundsDirty would be dictated by who makes the offer I want to accept. Because why learn to talk from ConsonantVowel when I’ll have to lose some of those habits to make AlmostSoundsDirty work? Yet some of the skills would translate. So I’m stuck without knowing what to do.

Performance Anxiety
“Deep breaths,” I urged Marlie silently as we sat in the conference room yesterday. “Don’t be scared - you’re doing fine.” But she continued to stutter and pause, clenching her hands tightly in front of her. I winced with sympathy - the chances of my giving a meaningful scientific presentation in a second language are as high as delivering a profoundly moving modern dance performance. I wouldn’t know where to start.

I also recall how nervous I would be before group presentations when I first started here. I wanted to make a good impression on the various faculty members. Prove Boss had made a good call by hiring me. Encourage them to talk and collaborate with me. And so I’d prepare and practice and my voice would tremble a bit for the first slide until I’d get lost in the material and forget to be nervous.

The thing is, this group is extraordinarily gentle. They’ll ask questions but never want to see you flounder. Someone is always willing to save you if we see you struggle and even Shouty over there is offering a genuine, if misguided, desire to help. So we squirm uncomfortably when it takes Marlie a moment to process the request to move to the previous slide. Then she feels self-conscious - even though she’s doing fine - and we don’t know how to help.

“You did a nice job,” I said quietly when I moved to help her turn off the projector. I showed her the power button, reminded her to press it twice and rubbed her shoulder when she thanked me too profusely. “It’s all coming along,” I rasped, my voice shot because of all the coughing. “The project, your comfort level - it’s lovely to watch you grow so quickly in this environment.” She looked at me and I hope she knew I was sincere. For some of us, the process can’t be rushed. For me, there was a moment when I stopped being freaked out about talking to this group. Likewise, interviews got less terrifying over time. I don’t know what to offer other than gentle encouragement and support, though if you have ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Texting Talent
(I deleted the first two messages so I’ll have to paraphrase Friend here.)

Yesterday, in the last moments before noon, my phone made the series of beeps that indicates I have a text message. I don’t indulge in such behavior, shrugging and saying I don’t know how to text and that it seems too hard and time consuming to type in letter by letter when I could simply talk to you or send you email. I type very well! Why abandon a workable system for something clunky and inelegant? But Friend explained that texting was easier from her parents’ house with its sketchy signal.

Friend: SpongeBob toys at Burger King! Go get yours today!
Me: Ok
Friend: A response! I’m so proud.
Me: Ok
Friend: And the proud is all used up now…
Me: Ok
Friend: And the proud is now replaced by despair that you will ever overcome your lameness and uncoolness.

(I think that was established by the fact that I enjoy SpongeBob, smile, shrug and go to group meeting.)

Friend: And now disappointment, as we all bet you would reply OK.
Me: (Hours later, summoning a great deal of patience to click through letters): Sorry

Then she asked another question and I called her, unable to deal with the texting stress. But Friend did make the trip safely, sounds quite good, is sleeping far more than I am and is dealing with shopping and children and parents. I'm pleased and relieved it's going well over there and pray that continues.

And I miss her.

Sick. Still. Seriously.
I didn’t sleep well at all, finally making a nest on the couch as Friend recommended to try to sleep mostly upright. I woke with another cough drop tucked in my cheek. I remain a very rabid chipmunk. I’m vague and slow and can’t do anything very mentally taxing. I hurt everywhere above the waist and wish I didn’t have to breathe at all. I’m so tired of feeling badly and not sleeping and just want to be better! So if someone so much as looks at me wrong, they’re likely to find themselves the recipient of an attack. So I think I’m staying home and trying to focus enough to revise a paper.

You’d think that would mean the world is safe from my fury. Yet electrical boys are still outside, messing with wires and going up in the sky to play with power lines. I came home to find my clocks all flashing yesterday. If they take away my power today, God help them.

Happy ending
I changed the blog pictures again - we’re back to the header I used last spring because I was too lazy to take more photos and deal with Photoshop. I see the same trees and flowers though - those images are still applicable. And I’m absurdly happy when I click over and see the pretty blossoms.

5 comments:

Amanda said...

I like the new-ish header. It's pretty. I hope you feel better soon!

ce4460 said...

You would never know you were so sick from your writing. Hope you are feeling better soon.

The bean-mom said...

I'm sorry you're still sick. I hope you feel better soon!

post-doc said...

Amanda-
Thank you. Twice. :)

ce4460-
And thank you twice too. It's very kind of you to compliment my writing when what you create feels so much more wrenching and real.

The bean-mom-
I finally remembered to add you to my list of links! I knew there was someone new that I loved but kept missing - thank you for ending my fuzzy memory. And thanks for the get well wishes. I will take all I can get.

ScienceWoman said...

I love the header pictures. so pretty!

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