Thursday, May 29, 2008

To Do

1. Organize. Pack.
"Whatcha doing?" Dad calls down the hall occasionally after I disappear.

"Packing. Organizing. Throwing stuff away," I call in reply from my spot on the floor surrounded by a tub for stuff I want, box for stuff I don't (but that's still good) and trash bag for crap. It shocks me that after hours spent doing this, so very little is done. I've dealt with books (small percentage - 3 tubs and counting), clothes (perhaps most - the master closet is as done as I can accomplish without forsaking clothes completely for the next month. Nobody, including me, wants that.)

But there is a pile of tubs growing in the garage. I'm making slow progress. But I have a lot of stuff.

2. Mow.
"I could raise the deck," Dad offered loudly over the roar of the mower.

"It's fine," I said in return, continuing to shove the machine through the tall, thick grass.

"You shouldn't let it get this long," he told me, following along behind me while I wondered why he couldn't go find anything else to do.

"It's fine," I repeated, slowly clipping a path through the grass. "Thanks for trimming the edges," I called as he continued to walk with me. "It looks very nice." I saw him nod and sighed when he moved away to make sure one of the fence slats was secure.

"You're only mowing half as much as you could," he told me on my next lap. Pointing to how I don't use the full width of the mower deck, overlapping my rows pretty liberally.

"I know," I replied. "This is how I do it."

"I could raise the mower deck," he said again, reaching toward the handle.

"No," I said, clinging to control in our little land battle. "This is how I do it."

"But it's too slow," he argued.

"No," I repeated, shoving at the mower and dabbing at my face. "This is how I do it." I had just congratulated myself on my victory when the mower sputtered to a stop.

"It's out of gas," Dad said gleefully. I nodded and walked around to the garage to get the little red tank.

"He's moving the deck up," I muttered to myself as I trudged back to the gate. "I just know it."
I couldn't resist a grin when he straightened away from the final wheel and took two quick steps away when he saw me return. He tried to look innocent as I quietly filled the tank and screwed on the cap.

"I raised the deck," he finally offered.

"Never thought you wouldn't," I sighed as I stood and started the mower again. I shook my head and smiled at him while he grinned back.

3. Touch up paint.
"There are the two spots on my ceiling - water leaked or something - and they've been there forever."

"We'll get special primer," Dad decided. But before we had a chance to acquire some, we decided to fill in some of the spots that appeared after my roof was done. "The nails are coming through the drywall," he said after we maneuvered the huge ladder he found for me (it lives in the garage) to reach the tall ceiling. So instead of a chainsaw up a tree, there was a pocket knife up a ladder as he scraped at the nail heads before dabbing spackle over them.

We met at the paint counter this afternoon, each having examined a different aisle, holding different chips and deciding whether the exterior paint we'd use to touch up the door frame out back should be more yellow or tan. We finally agreed and asked the nice paint man to mix it for us. After selecting a small brush and carrying the special primer he needed, I paid and we moved toward my car to come home.

"That looks much better," I praised as I glanced up at him carefully covering the stain and smoothing the paint on my textured ceiling. "But my head is killing me. I'm going to take a quick nap." Focused on his project while I cursed my allergies, he nodded absently as I escaped down the hall.

I jumped when he woke me about two hours later. "Come see if the paint color is OK," he said, obviously ready for me to be done sleeping. I made some noise of startled exasperation and finally shuffled down the hall to say I thought it looked beautiful. "You did an excellent job," I yawned.

4. Do something fun.
"Friend sent me stuff about racing this weekend," I told him this morning. "There are drag races on Friday - apparently people just bring vehicles from home and race them." I looked dubious until I glanced over and saw him visibly brighten. "We could go do that," I concluded and he nodded happily.

He called Mom to tell her so she could be suitably jealous. He's going to take his camera. I'm pleased he'll get to do something worth telling his friends about on his return home. And I'm trained to suffer through races - I did it all the time growing up - so I'll be OK. Friend foolishly agreed to tag along, though she'll have to be at work crazy-early to actually participate in the 'let's go watch cars!' plan. We'll see how that goes.

But as far as project 'get house ready' goes, it's coming right along. And I'm rather enjoying the time with Dad - I love him a lot.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wait! Now? Really?

My phone rang just before 9AM. I wondered, after answering, why my mom's greeting sounded vaguely apologetic.

"Your dad should be there around 3," she offered.

"But..." I trailed off and looked across my living room at Friend. "Today?"

"He left at 7," Mom reported, sounding cheerful as she focused on her life rather than mine. "I asked when he was coming back and he said, 'Like you'd care.' And he did pack a whole suitcase full of clothes. So he might not be back for days! It'll be so relaxing and wonderful," she sighed with pleasure. "He was in kind of a bad mood and he said he hadn't called you because you said he could come whenever. So he's on his way!"

"But..." I said again. "I said late this week. Or this weekend. Not '24 hours after I left!' I just got home - it's a mess and the lawn isn't mowed and Friend is here and I was going to work today! I'm not ready."

"Yeah," Mom said, not unsympathetic to my plight. "Try to pick up a little and hope for the best. Because he'll be there this afternoon!" Friend, laughing in her corner of the couch, didn't seem overly supportive either so I sighed and said that was fine.

*****

"I'll get them," Friend said later that afternoon. I convinced her that we both should drive and I should return home alone. Dad likes people about as much as I do and the addition of Friend - while lovely for me - would make him tense, I think. Then he might yell and she'd yell back and I can't handle that. Plus, he amuses her with some of his more outrageous statements and I feel badly for him when she laughs and he looks confused.

Anyway, she handed me the stack of boxes after she descended a few steps. I'd parked illegally near her building and was acquiring the boxes she obtained earlier in the day. "No more steps," she offered as I took the folded pieces of cardboard from her.

"Oh!" I cried over my shoulder when I understood. "Because I fall down! Right - now I get it!"

"Congratulations," she offered dryly and I grinned at her while we tucked packing materials in the car. I waved after she wished me luck and offered again to help (and deflect criticism) should I need it.

"I'll be fine," I assured her and headed home. I quickly swept the stray grass clippings off my driveway. I parked outside so Dad's car could go in the garage. I frantically picked trash off my floor and shrugged at the lingering clutter. I winced at the back yard, knowing I'd be firmly scolded.

*****

"That guy is some supreme being," Dad commented as we sat at the table this evening. I glanced at him inquisitively, wondering what he was talking about. He'd arrived, commented with great disappointment on the lawn and said there wasn't all that much to do to prepare the house to go on the market. He killed a mosquito when I yelped and refused to do it myself (I hate when I think a bug is dead and go to remove it and is moves!) and settled on the couch. When he said he hadn't eaten (though I specifically told him during a phone call that I didn't have food and he should stop on the way), I jumped at the chance to go fetch beer and pizza.

"What?" I finally said of his supreme being statement.

"He's like a leader of something," Dad explained. "He summoned someone."

"Oh, on Charmed?" I asked of the show I watch about the witches and warlocks. "I thought you were talking about the neighbor!"

"No, TV," he said and paused to have a bit of salad. "She married him but he's bad. Evil," he corrected himself, having clearly watched the program while I was gone. "Is she going to get pregnant?"

I nodded and swallowed my bite of pizza before explaining. "She turns evil too - just for a few episodes. They she does get pregnant - the baby's all evil too. So the the witches kill the husband and the baby... Well, remember that woman who showed up late to the wedding? I told you she was the evil psychic lady? Well, she magically takes the baby from the wife witch into her own womb, but he's too powerful and he kills her. And himself."

"Wow," Dad said and I paused for a moment before starting to giggle. So though I expected this would be stressful and hard, it's actually been rather easy and relaxed. He's currently napping on the couch while the TV is on too loudly. I've clipped back the sheflara - it was just too big to move and it'll grow back once we get settled up north. I packed two 20 gallon tubs with books (tip of the iceberg) and have started to sort clothing into piles. I fixed the blinds Sprout broke (Friend taught me when she moved and now I'm awesome at it.) and packed up all his toys (and continue to do so as I find stashes he's hidden).

I'm making progress.

And while it would have been nice to control the timing a bit more, it'll all work out. Stuff will go into boxes and get cleaned and fixed. I'll occasionally freak out that too much is changing and somehow things will get done. I don't feel ready. I suppose it's good that it doesn't seem to matter.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Diapers

I Hurt Everywhere.

There are certain aspects of life that simply work better in theory than in reality. When I picture coming home to hugs and kisses and games of peek-a-boo, it's delightful. I miss my nieces terribly sometimes and I hate that they don't know me as well as they should. Yet, upon arrival, it's somehow being awakened when Little One blows whistles in my ear before 7AM. It's temper tantrums and watching movies over and over again. It's carrying Smallest One who is just heavy enough to make my arms and back ache. It's exhausting and a little stressful and I'm generally ready to go home before it's actually time to leave.

It was time to go early this morning. I called down the steps as a temporary farewell to His Sproutness. I'm not worried about him, having been awakened at 4:30 this morning by the opening of every window in the house. When I mmphed at Dad, he said that Sprout wanted to sit in a window and since he wasn't sure which one was best, he was opening all of them. I rolled over and tried to rest for a few more minutes. So while I keep glancing around the house for the stripey cat now that I've arrived home, I know he's OK.

In more bittersweet news, it turns out that pushing a tire swing for about an hour is nowhere near as fun as swinging. My shoulders and back continue to ache from pulling the tire over my head and letting it swing toward the fence while Little One squealed with delight. Even as I sweated and my muscles twinged with pain, I continued to stand in the hot sunshine and shoved the tire to and fro. We talked about other kids in day care and what cartoons she liked. She told me about playing games at a party and how someone cried when he lost. It was lovely. But it hurt.

Likewise, I ended up building the whole flipping diaper cake (we give them as baby shower gifts) while Mom visited with the neighbor who'd arrived uninvited. She made the baby blanket to go on the platter at the base, but I rolled most of the diapers and secured them with rubber bands. Who tied the ribbons around each layer? Who secured thinner ribbon to each little toy so it could hang from the bottle the defined the top tier? Who tied bows and curled ribbon and threw away trash? Me. And it's not that I mind making diaper cakes - it's just time consuming. And when dinner preparations began, before I escaped outside with Little One, everything was too loud and busy and messy. And Mom started talking about how I'd be home all the time after I moved so I should get used to how things were and I started feeling panicked and trapped.

"Doing OK, Kate?" Brother asked on his way to the refrigerator and I stared up at him until he grinned at my expression.

"If your mother," I said deliberately, "thinks I'm coming home all the time to cook and clean and run endless errands and making freaking diaper cakes, she's out of her ever-loving mind." He glanced over his shoulder at Mom while I continued to wipe down the counters. He patted my shoulder before reaching for another beer. "You people are going to drive me to drink too," I muttered.

It's somehow rarely as good in practice - a visit home, that is - as it seems in theory. Perhaps, I comforted myself, when I live closer, they can come see me more often. Or the durations of my stays can be shorter because the drive isn't so dreadfully long.

Regardless, I've given the last kisses and cuddles and waved to Little One last night and Mom and Dad this morning. The latter will arrive relatively soon to help prepare my house to go on the market. I still don't know details of the relocation package - I'm sure I'll let you know when I get more information. I've paid bills and am excited about going paperless for my credit card statements. Chienne and I are both sleepy - I had to wake her up to walk out to the mailbox with me. But it's good to be home. And I did - despite a few snags - have a nice weekend with my family.

(Oh, and the diaper title - because that wasn't clear. Refers to how nifty I think the gift is, despite the fact that it's constructed of items designed to hold human waste at some point. There are some things you just shouldn't think about too carefully. Like visits home, apparently.)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Tire in a Tree

"That was fast," I said as Mom moved across the concrete toward where I stood holding the ladder as Dad balanced on the top step.

"It was yesterday," she said of the graduation party she'd left to attend. "I must have read the invitation wrong. She's going to go to local college and major in elementary education," Mom reported as we looked up at Dad securing a section of rope over a branch of the pine tree.

"Is she going to live at home? Don't worry - he's fine. This is the last rope," I assured her as she continued to frown up at Dad.

Mom nodded and moved across from me to hold the other side of the ladder. "She says she wants to teach at the grade school she attended. Live close to her parents after she graduates. She's not going to live in the dorms so maybe she'll never leave." I shrugged and said she was 18 - she'd figure out a path that worked for her. I was, I decided, in no position to judge the daughter of Mom's colleague as Dad's sneakers balanced some six feet off the ground trying to recreate a piece of my childhood for Little One.

"She loves to swing," Mom said this morning as we chatted over coffee on the back patio. We cuddled together on the wrought iron loveseat as it rocked gently back and forth. "I should get her a little swing to put over one of those limbs."

"Good place for a tire swing," I commented, sipping from the mug that held the logo of Dad's former employer. I raised my eyebrows when she looked confused. "I had a tire swing at the old house. In the tree by SideStreet." When she continued to squint at me quizzically, I got offended. "On the other side of the garage. In the tree. I used to play there all the time! How can you not remember?" I gave her a moment to shake her head at me before yelling inside for my father.

"Do you remember my tire swing?" I asked him as he opened the screen door and stepped outside, settling himself in a chair and balancing his cup of coffee on his knee. He nodded immediately and I looked smugly at my mother. She shrugged.

"It was in that tree I fell out of," he told her.

"Oh," she said, nodding while it was my turn to look surprised.

"You almost fell out of my tree? Was it while you were putting up my tire swing?"

"No," he said, looking thoughtful. "I was trimming some limbs and I lost my balance when I was starting the chainsaw."

"You threw it so you wouldn't fall on it," Mom remembered and Dad nodded.

"I knew I was going to fall, so I threw the chainsaw as far as I could and then fell down."

"So you didn't get hurt?" I asked, trying to remember and wondering if I was born yet at the time of this event.

"I almost broke my neck! But I didn't get cut," he concluded, taking his turn at being smug.

"Huh," I said, taking another sip of coffee. "I don't remember that, but I did love that tire swing."

"Was it flat or hanging on end?" Mom asked and I glared at her for her continued lapses memory.

"It was flat," Dad and I said together.

"We should build one for Little One!" Mom decided and I nodded slowly in agreement while Dad, knowing the project would be assigned to him, frowned and sighed. "We have all kinds of tires," Mom defended her request. "All we need is rope and those bolts and some nuts." Dad finally nodded, already gazing into the yard to evaluate limbs.

We returned from running errands this afternoon and Mom flitted off to the party she thought was today. Dad and I walked out back with Chienne and stared up into the pair of pines that reside inside the small portion of fenced yard directly behind the house. We quickly decided on a sturdy limb not too far off the ground and set off for the garages out back to select a suitable tire.

"That's too thick," I decided of one he picked up to stand on end. "Try that pile on the left."

"The rims are still in them," he replied with a shake of his head. So we both continued to glance around behind the garages at the 10 or so tires that were piled in various areas. "I think I have more in the shed," he decided and I followed behind him while shaking my head over the fact that I couldn't even estimate how many old tires we had.

"That's perfect," I decided while he told me it was the original tire from his mother's car. She died when I was very small. Which makes this tire rather old. But I began to roll it toward the fence, tugging Chienne along beside me as she explored the yard. I gathered the materials we bought earlier while Dad carried a huge, old drill from the garage. He handed me a yard stick while he drilled the first hole through both sides of the tire as it sat flat on the ground. I knelt when he was done and measured to make sure the three holes would be equally spaced. We decided on 18.5 inches between them and I watched while he drilled.

He preened when he realized he'd chosen the perfect length hardware for attaching the ropes to the tire. I handed him washers and helped screw on the nuts. He showed me how to change the drill bit for a sander and I carefully smoothed the inside edges so they wouldn't scrape Little One's legs. We both took a moment to smile at the hardware-decorated tire before moving it across the patio to the tree we selected.

He climbed up the ladder the first time and I could hear him muttering to himself as he looped the rope into a knot. Back on the ground next to me, he tugged at it until it slipped to grasp the branch tightly.

"Good job," I praised.

"It wasn't supposed to slip," he told me and I glanced up at it in time to see it slide free and drop to the ground.

"Try again!" I smiled as I said it and he sighed before climbing the ladder again. I watched him attempt the knot a second time before wrapping the rope around his waist - he told me that's how he learned to tie the knot in Boy Scouts - and memorized how the rope looped and crossed before tossing the end over the branch again and knotting it correctly. I watched when, back on the ground, he slipped the rope through the silver hole and knotted it again. Mom arrived to assist with the final one.

"So what do you do for fun when you're home?" I asked myself. Then I answered. "Oh, I stand around in a tiny circle with my parents to protect the fire while we singe the ends of nylon rope. It's really very cool." Mom giggled with me as we stood shoulder to shoulder with Dad around a tiny flame from the lighter as Dad heated the ends of the rope and pushed the threads together so it wouldn't fray.

"Oh," I breathed when we finished and stepped back to view our completed project. "It's just perfect." I held my breath when Dad sat gingerly on the tire, watching the knots and the branch for any signs of imminent slipping or snapping. It held steady as he swung back and forth a couple times before getting up.

"Get in," he told me. "It's fun."

"Oh, I can't. I'm too heavy. And old. It's for Little One."

"It'll hold you," Dad scolded. "Just try it." So I moved slowly toward the tire before turning away. I gripped two of the ropes as I sat down into the swing. I felt a little silly until my feet left the ground and the tire swung gently forward.

And then it was just perfect. The texture of the rope on my palms and fingertips, the smell of old tire and slight grittiness that remained. The smooth glide through the air while sheltered under a bough filled with needles and cones. I giggled as I rocked back and forth while Dad smiled at me before moving to put tools away and Mom called Little One to tell her of the new toy she'd see when she next visited.

I dipped my toes to touch the ground and nudged the tire into rotation, staring up into the tree as the carefully-knotted ropes wrapped around each other in a tight twist. There was a moment of stillness when I caught my breath with anticipation, remembering the exact same feeling when a tire seemed gigantic compared to my tiny body. The reverse rotation started slowly but picked up speed, turning the familiar world behind my parents' house into a blur of greens and browns, houses and garages and trees and yards. I giggled again, stretching my legs out in front of me to enjoy the spinning and blinked dizzily when the tire slowly - after going clockwise and counter, clockwise and counter - stopped twirling around.

There's something about the familiar that's appealing. Seeking places where you feel loved and safe and knowledgeable about shortcuts and shops, where you know people and backgrounds, seems natural. There are adventures away from home, of course, and I can't say I'm sorry I've sought some of them, even though my parents had to threaten me out of the car when moving into my freshman dorm. When I wept bitterly after they left me in grad school, then again in my post-doctoral city. I still pout when I return to a house filled with toys and tiny girls and parents who are more interested in filling sippy cups than hearing my stories. The fact that change in inevitable seems sad sometimes.

It's those moments - perhaps when one is twirling on the tire swing and breathless with laughter - when the familiar love and happiness seem within easy reach. Since I've been aching over the thought of leaving Friend for a new city or Sprout for here several weeks while I deal with the transition of moving or selling the house I love or having to meet everyone I see in the hall rather than just saying hello to those I've known for three years? It's somehow perfectly comforting that long-lost moments can be recreated, at least in some sense, when my feet left the ground to float through the air, and in the thought of Little One giggling and twirling her way to her own memories.

Morning at my parents' house

"I could make pigs in a blanket," Mom offered from across the room just moments ago. Dad and I wrinkled out noses at each other. "Sausages wrapped in pancake!" she explained with exasperation.

"I would rather have sausage," I held out one hand, "and pancakes." I held the opposite hand far away from the first. Then I wrapped one hand around the other and shook my head firmly.

"Why would you think of that?" Dad asked her.

"We saw them at that restaurant!" she exclaimed and I grinned at her, recognizing that I came by my passionate tendencies toward over-dramatization honestly. "The three people at the next table got them and I said they looked good and you said they looked good too!"

I grinned and glanced at Dad. He shrugged.

"I said I wanted to make them and you said I should!" Mom continued, starting to wave her hands around while I giggled.

"And then you woke up?" Dad asked.

"No!" she cried. "At the restaurant! With the three people! And the pigs in blankets!"

"Why are you getting so upset?" Dad teased her. "It's not my fault I don't remember your dreams."

"This was important to me! You never remember what's important to me! No pigs in blankets for you," she huffed and moved toward the kitchen.

"No," Dad protested, rising from his chair and following her to the stove. "I want pigs in blankets! I remember!"

But this morning started with coffee on the back patio with Mom. Yesterday, I was awakened by Little One blowing whistles in my ear. Today we're running errands and having pizza. Yesterday was exhaustedly playing with tiny girls and mowing the lawn.

When I have time, remind me that PhysioProf and I discussed doing a post or two about postdoctoral salary structure. Oh, and the phone interview I had with the CEO of a start-up on Friday. And how sad I am that the moving transition will start with Sprout staying here with his grandparents when I drive home tomorrow or Tuesday. I will miss him. And I don't deal particularly well with change.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Corrections

Without even officially starting, I've screwed up with my new job. I was supposed to get a huge set of documentation. It's available only to in-network computers and is far too large to email. So someone suggested Adam burn and mail a CD. I said that was fine or it would wait until I arrived in several weeks.

Adam replied and chided me for giving up too easily. He asked if I had an ftp site - I didn't, but do now - and reminded me that we live in 2008! Embrace the technology! I initially felt awful - profoundly disappointed in myself that I'd failed already - but I decided I was going to screw up a lot in the next few months. It's a pretty drastic change from what I've done until now. I'm bound to stumble.

So I replied that I had set up an ftp site and was pleased to know that he wasn't the type to ask me to purchase a horse and ride north for several days in order to copy the documents by hand. My strategy, therefore, is as follows: I got hired because I'm lovely to work with - I shall remain charming and witty even when I look dumb. If I pretend I'm not horrified by the mistake, then people won't hesitate to correct me (and therefore teach me) in the future. I won't make the same mistake twice (well, no more than twice, maybe) and I'll fix it as quickly as possible.

Anna and I were talking last week about how we hated being corrected. I postulated that it was the condescending manner in which criticism is handed down that often grates on people. So how is it done properly?

"This one taked a nap," Little One told me as we played Strawberry Shortcake.

"You took a nap?" my doll asked hers and she nodded.

"I took a nap too!" She hopped another doll over and said it correctly this time. I smiled at her. She knows the right way to speak, but gentle reminders seem best when words go wrong.

Likewise, when one doll stole another's spot for napping, they appeared to be growing fairly violent in their discussion. My doll hopped over and said we were playing on a bed - there were many places to nap. And hitting wasn't allowed in strawberry world. Only baking. And napping. And other things I like. It seemed to work and I was too tired to engage in a lengthy interrogation when my first inquiry over doll fights was met with a shrug.

That's not to say said method always works though.

"Have you been crying?" I asked Brother's Wife when she walked in. She nodded and proceeded to tell me about a talk show while I mostly ignored her and played Peek-a-boo with Smallest One. She thinks it's hilarious and I always giggle too.

"And it decapitated her head off," Brother's Wife concluded. I glanced away after clapping and saying 'Peek a boo!' with great feeling and blinked at her for a second.

"That's very sad," I said, "that someone was decapitated."

"Decapitated her head off," Brother's Wife repeated, shaking her head with apparent misery. I opened my mouth to say that decapitated was a head-specific sort of thing. But I decided that I didn't really want to embarrass her (but apparently I do want to point it out on my blog) because it's sweet that she was upset for these people on TV and how often is she really going to use decapitated in conversation? At least I tried.

As for whether my method is sound or not in general? Who knows. I'm obviously still getting nudged away from wrong answers too. (I did make it home safely. I'm tired and achy, but these drives home will soon be much shorter!)

Homeward Bound

"Did you get my voice mail?" I asked Mom about a week ago.

"I did," she said and I nodded before she continued to speak. "I listened to it three times just to hear your voice."

Since I'd have to go through blog archives to recall my last trip home - perhaps the March interview with Pseudo-Academic - it's definitely time to trek north with the happy dog and protesting cat to see the much-neglected parents.

The problem was the same as when I was trying to find jobs the last time. I didn't know when they'd decide. I wasn't sure how much money I'd make. I had no flipping clue what I'd do if nobody hired me. Imagining their looks of horror should I mention moving to Texas meant I couldn't even comfort them with a back-up plan.

My parents are emotional, rather dramatic people. It's lucky I haven't inherited these characteristics - being the model of cool stability that I am. Seriously though, we feed off of the ambient energy and all worry together and it creates this suffocating feeling of impending doom. So Dad would have offered to loan me money from the cash he hordes and carefully deposits in the bank. Mom would tell me I'd be fine while her eyes looked pinched and stressed. So I avoided it - sticking firmly to my 'hibernate until there's good news!' plan. Now - Thank God - there's a reason to celebrate and feel relieved and happy.

"I told Aunt you had a job offer - she says to tell you she's so proud of you - and how much the salary was. We both gasped at how high it is and Aunt asked if you took it right away. I told her you were going to ask for more money and she said that all we could do was nod and smile. Her girls are the same way - you don't think about jobs and money the way we do."

I smiled and mused that I probably should have asked for more money still since my gentle 'how flexible is that salary number?' was met with thousands of dollars. I might have been able to push a bit higher, but I'm enough of Mom's daughter to pounce for now and nudge for increases later. As for travel demands and working hours (No naps? I don't understand. Napping is awesome!) and the stress that will certainly come from a high pressure job? I think I'm ready. I have decided I'm going to be fabulously good at this and on tough days plan to think of paper rejections and grant renewals and all that stuff that just never seemed OK to me.

"When are you coming?" has been the prominent question of late. With Friend asleep down my hall - we're likely to be nearly inseparable for the remainder of my time here, which will make leaving hard (I'm already bracing for the emotional fallout - I'm going to be very, very sad about that loss, folks. Not good.) - and the car mostly packed, I believe the answer to when is 'quite soon.' I'll see if I can't come up with funny parent stories while I'm there.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Congratulations continue.

Much like the reaction I’m seeing in my comments (which is lovely and important to me, so thank you so much for offering your yays! or congratulations!), the general sentiment here at the office has been primarily relief, followed quickly by a pleasant amount of pride.

“Did you get the job?” Ken asked when I walked in. Someone asks – and has done so – at least every day. But this time, I got to say yes.

“I got the job!” I chirped happily, and he glanced up to grin while Marlie turned and asked a couple of questions. I soon wandered down the hallway and knocked on Boss’s open door before entering his cluttered domain.

“Industry made an offer,” I told him with a tentative smile. When we’d discussed options, he’d thrown his admittedly gentle support behind academic roles. I understand that – we’re trained to write grants and do science and teach and learn, not watch bottom lines and compete and sell. But instead of mild disappointment crossing his features, he closed his eyes very briefly in what looked like abject relief and smiled before reaching for my hand with both of us.

“Congratulations,” he said softly. “I’m so proud of you and think this is a wonderful opportunity.” So we talked salaries and start dates and how to finish up these last 3 papers before I bolt from campus life for good. “You’re not cutting off any future opportunities though,” he mused. “Many people go back and forth between academia and industry.” Then he proceeded to list names of people who’d done well in both settings and moved back and forth pretty freely.

“You should tell Dr. Bus,” he said of the man I see most frequently on the rides to and from work. I like him – he’s smart and kind and funny, so I nodded. “He’s been worried about all of you,” Boss elaborated. “We’re trying to place four of you here in the near future and we were all starting to put our heads together to think of contacts we had to find you all jobs.”

“Oh,” I said, thinking briefly of the three men who started right around the time I did in 2005. “Are we all struggling?”

“I think everybody’s struggling,” Boss said sadly, looking down and nudging a pile of papers with his foot. “Even grant applications are fewer than normal – I don’t know if people are giving up and getting out or what. But it’s not good right now.”

I frowned, growing concerned for my peers as I thought through the situation. I’m much more aggressive than any of them for the simple reason that I’ve had to be. These past few years haven’t been particularly easy (which you know – you read my blog. It’s not like I have to welcome you to the whining). But I’ve grown up – even Adam (which is what I think I’ve settled on for my first industry boss after calling him several things here because I didn’t really think I’d get the job) – stated that the post-doc has been very good for me. I’ve published and presented more. I’ve talked enough that I’m pretty good at it. I’ve met people and pushed hard enough to eke out a job here before my time ran out.

“How’s it going?” I asked Dan, one of my fellow job-seekers at a meeting this afternoon.

“Could be better,” he muttered. “I’m starting over again. Which means I have nothing to show for the past 3 years. Which means it’s going to be hard to convince anyone to hire me to do more of this nothing I seem to be good at.”

I nodded, made soothing noises and came back to find an email from Pseudo-Academic job. They did not pick me. I quickly filed the email, not wanting to look at it and dwell on the fact that I came thisclose to resorting to Plan 'I Don't Want To'. Had I given up when Adam didn’t return my calls, had I not pushed for the fourth time to get an interview, had I not gone and played it confident because I didn’t think I was going to get it anyway – it’s somewhat miraculous that I’m not staring at unemployment in my parents’ basement with the tiny windows at ground level. That’s terrifying, honestly, and makes me want to cling to Adam’s ankles in gratitude while I beg him not to change his mind.

Instead, I decided to ask for more money and to push my start date back a week. Not that I won’t fold like tissue paper – nary a whisper of protest in me – should he refuse, but it seemed appropriate to at least ask. I’m currently waiting to hear back from him – since this very state will likely define my life from here on out, I’m OK with it. (He called back and easily gave me $5K more than the initial offer and was fine with starting in July. I love Industry!)

In the spare moments when I stare at the items on my desk that will soon be tucked into boxes, I smile over comments that have arrived during the day. Some pop up in Gmail where I can coo over them. Other people poke their heads in the door to nod proudly or offer hugs. I’ve received calls and emails from former group members and Advisor. I even went to the bookstore to begin putting together thank you gifts for my references.

I’ll admit to ducking my head sheepishly at the number of times someone expressed how concerned they were that I was looking narrowly and running out of time. I was worried too (Very Worried, actually), though a friend of a friend was just named director of a center and offered me a spot in the southwest. (That was Plan 'I Don't Want To.' Not because I don't think highly of this person - she's really talented and fantastic - but I don't want to move farther away from home! That's not the goal!) There was just another industry position posted that sounded rather perfect for me, though not nearly as good as the job I’m going to take. Then Advisor wrote that she thought she could get me a post-doc at my graduate institution. So there were options – none of them great – that made hanging on for word from Industry and/or Pseudo-Academic semi-justifiable.

As for what comes next, I’m going home this weekend. I need to sign a contract sometime next week, after they work out some details up there. I want to go see Carrie for a few days while I still have vacation time to speak of. I’d like to get these 3 papers accepted somewhere, which means we need to finish revising. And I’m going to bask in the flexibility of sleeping late and leaving work early. And there's the pure joy that comes occasionally when I think about opportunities and challenges and a new house and being home again.

I'm happy. And it's very nice.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Outcome

I broke the clip off my pen while talking to his secretary. I was nervous. I apparently had reason to be since the 35 minute phone call was a bit stressful. I took three pages of notes with the pretty blue ink that flowed from my pen. I stared at the fuzzy inside of an iris petal while thinking this job sounded hard. No, challenging, I reminded myself. Challenging is good!

Pick something impressive, I ordered myself when he asked for a situation that showed leadership skills. I glanced through the notes I'd written this morning, took a breath and launched into a description of project X and how some people thought it couldn't be done. How I'd found funding from multiple sources, collaborated heavily, presented the work multiple times to gain insight and was planning to hand the project over when I left. "I think that the work is more important than the credit," I said humbly.

I hung up after the VP assured me someone would be in touch after they all talked. I placed the phone back on the table and sat for a moment, willing my hands to stop shaking. I blinked a couple times, realizing I was moderately weepy and sat on the loveseat and stared at the television. Realizing I was growing more upset, I clipped the leash on the dog and headed outside to weed my front yard in the steamy afternoon heat.

The spikey weeds, thwarted in their attempts to take the back yard, have launched a frontal attack and set up camp in the flower bed. I sat down on the front walk and began to dig at them with the pokey tool. When I realized their roots weren't very long at all, I began to nudge the mulch away from the base and pulled. The spikes are present there, but not yet firm enough to sting my fingers. I soon had a decent sized pile of spikey weeds next to me on the concrete. So I went to fetch a bag from the garage to hold the awful plants. While transferring them inside the plastic, some of them poked through my gloves and into the flesh of my palm. It hurt.

I crawled toward the house a little more before tucking my legs underneath me and continued to wiggle and pull root systems from the beds that should contain flowers. I gasped with dismay when Chienne decapitated an iris with her leash. I smiled gently when I noticed the pretty flowers that bloom in the fall had started to sprout already. When Chienne began to pant, I put her inside and focused on pulling the plants that didn't belong and let my mind drift a bit.

I met my current department chair in flip flops, I recalled. He wasn't on my schedule, I assumed we were almost done as it grew late in the day and had slipped my blistered feet into pink sandals and tucked black pumps in my bag. Boss entered his secretary's office and said the chair had time to talk and I was to follow him immediately. So I went - in my gray suit and pink blouse and matching casual shoes - to chat with a very important doctor about my qualifications and how they'd love for me to work here. It was all very pleasant, if embarrassing, and I underestimated how tough this VP would be. He was clearly evaluating me before signing off on anything, and I doubted I'd been impressive enough.

Trying to be philosophical, I glanced at the progress I'd made in the flower bed, dabbed at the sweat on my face and came inside the cool house. Remembering how I'd prayed before the call started, I took a breath and tried to show a little faith that things would work out. I showered and washed my hair, I dried off and slipped on clean pajamas. Then I returned to my loveseat to sip some water.

I blinked to find email from the man who would be my boss should I get this job. He said to call him!!!! So I did, commenting on the number of exclamation points in his email and starting to feel flutters of hope. He asked about my current salary structure and any benefits I currently receive. Then he promised to call me back in 10 minutes. That was approximately 1 hour ago.

*****

Shortly after I typed that, he did call. Though he hadn't yet gathered all the details, he wanted to let me know that they wanted to offer me the position. At which point I put down the paper I had at my side and responded that, yes, I did own my home. And did not have dependents other than my pets. "The dog and cat are pretty flexible when it comes to offers," I noted.

"Wait," I said when he commented that he'd try to track down the HR man with whom I interviewed to get back to me about salary. Relocation would be included, he assured, so my house shouldn't be a problem. "Thank you," I told him when he paused to let me speak. "I'm a little surprised, I think, and I'm thrilled and thank you for thinking I can do this."

"I may be slow at responding to email and phone calls," he teased, "but I am good at recognizing quality. I'll be in touch soon."

At which point I started calling people. Mom cried. Dad sounded relieved and offered to come if I needed help getting ready to move.

Brother was suitably excited and impressed. They celebrated his recent promotion last weekend. We'll celebrate mine this weekend while I'm home, he said happily.

Carrie squealed with glee for me. "This is it!" she said. "You'll be there forever. And I can finally tell my husband to hush when he tells me how worried he is about you keeping your search so narrow. We were both a little worried about you. But now I'm happy! And you ended up near home! Congratulations!"

Steve, another collaborator I met in grad school, echoed her thoughts. "Can I tell you how relieved I am?" he asked after we did the happy congratulations. "I was getting concerned that you hadn't heard anything and were sort of running out of time. But this is great. Are you going to wait to hear from Pseudo-Academic?"

I called Anna after allowing her time to get home from work. She never lets me down with her pleasure over my accomplishments and this was no exception. After each call, I'd smile and sigh.

Friend and I met to sit outside and talk for a bit. The weather was perfect - it was almost cool by the time we headed inside. We snacked on bread and fruit. I listened to the wind rustle the thousands of leaves that hung above our blankets and realized with profound relief that those voices in my head who constantly fretted over what I was going to do come August were quiet. Somebody picked me, I thought with awed happiness. It's going to be OK. So thank you for the good wishes and crossed fingers. It looks like there's a path for me that leads away from independent research and, after we figure out some details and I talk to some other people, I'm very likely to take it. I'm very happy and tired and scared and relieved.

Phone Interview Day

There is a bit of twitchy stress, but I'm relatively (for me) calm. I typed up my responses to some predictable questions this morning and felt excited about the ideas and opportunities that go with this job.

Then I released some anger via snippy email at an admin in my department who won't reimburse $4 in meals without a receipt. Seriously. I don't care about the money that much, but I've decided that I'll see her in hell before she wins this one. She's taken money and time from me in the past and I'm done. That was my last trip and I will make her life miserable before giving her $4. Because I'm cool and mature like that. (I do not plan to mention this little glitch on my phone interview.)

While I was reviewing my notes one more time, a friend sent a note with a job announcement attached. I kind of want that job too! So I perused a website and edited a cover letter and sent along my CV. New applications always make me feel hopeful and it's been months since I've found even a glimmer of something that sounds cool. But a final interview and new application in one day?! Well, that will cushion the blow should the former be terrible! Hooray!

That's all I know for now. Stay tuned for an evening update at which time I'll report on how the phone call went. (It starts about 2 hours from now. Positive thoughts are much appreciated. Please?)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Pajamas & Papers (& Pictures!)

"Are you going to post photos on your blog?" I innocently asked Friend a moment ago.

"Don't know," she said, having just finished a phone call to her mom. "Why?" When I just blinked at her, clinging to my guilt-free expression, she smiled and said I was free to post them if I'd like.

"I'll credit you," I promised, "but some of them are so ridiculously exquisite that I have to show people!" I have this first one - with the water and the clouds and the rocks and the lotus (!!!!) as my desktop background. It's just perfect. And after Psyc Girl commented that the pictures were rather relaxing, I abandoned my lit search and watched a slide show of Friend's 150+ pictures in Preview. "It is relaxing," I sighed as the flowers appeared in bursts of colors and faded away to make room for the next image.

Unfortunately, the pretty bits of petals and greenery made my head all sick. I woke at 3, took 2 antihistamines and did lit searches until 4:30. Exhausted, I headed back to bed, only to cough and cough. So I got back up to drink some juice, finally drifting off again around 6:30.

"There were two problems with the church plan," Friend noted at the doorway to my bedroom. I opened one eye to see that it was 10:00 and rolled over to see her with her hair still ruffled from sleep. Then I nodded - neither of us woke in time. Plans to go to the zoo were similarly abandoned - not by any conscious choice, but because neither of us was peppy enough to actually get dressed. I'm still in pajamas and glasses and ponytail - all relaxed and comfy. This made napping easier this afternoon. I had been re-writing and trying to read pdfs on my screen and my brain just got tired. And though Friend showered rather than slept, she still put on a different set of soft gray sleepy clothing after she was clean.

The paper is coming along pretty well. I brought home pages of printed text, but only got through the first two before I started to edit on the screen of my laptop.

"Guess what?" I said to Friend after frowning at a table for a moment. When she looked up, I explained that my rows should be columns and columns should be rows. "When you want people to be able to compare values across groups?" I clarified, "You should put them next to each other rather than every fifth row. I made this really useless for anyone who wants to understand my results."

I began to move cells around in Excel, carefully checking values with raw data and offering a resigned nod when I realized that this was the only logical way to present my results. How did I not see this when I created the sucker in the beginning?! I tossed the document - called Katie's ugly table - to Friend. Then there was clicking and mousing across the room as she made it pretty in Illustrator for me.

"Wait," I said after a moment. "I need to put in * for significant differences!" After a bit of discussion, we decided that * would be p<0.01, ** p<0.001 and *** p<0.0001. I felt smart when we did this and beamed at her. "It's like this table is making everything really easy to follow!" Then she found me a † to represent a significant difference between two different groups (which was hard - I gave up while looking for it, but she persevered!).

So I have done considerable work clarifying tables and text, and feel like the paper is tremendously improved. I'm pleased, but tired.

As for Friend's pictures, aren't they pretty? I didn't do any cropping or anything! She's been killing my wireless all day uploading photos to Flickr, so if you can talk her into letting you see them, there are many, many more that are gorgeous. And my paper is getting better too.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Frolic through the Flowers with a Friend

"It's going to be hard for you to move," Mom said this morning as we talked on the phone. I woke at 7, but was back in bed by 9:30. I blinked at the clock in confusion at 11:30 and shuffled down the hall while I rubbed at my eyes and said I was still tired!

"Well, yes," I replied, glancing around at all this stuff I have in my pretty house. But it would be lovely to get a job. And move on to the next thing.

"You'll miss Friend," Mom said gently, sounding worried, and I nodded in response before speaking.

"I know," I said softly. "I'm hoping that she leaves at around the same time since she's starting to look for jobs too. I'll miss her very much." I dread it, quite frankly. The loss of someone who knows me so well, the easy way we have of communicating, the knowledge that someone knows the background to all my stories and can appreciate the jokes or rants or whimpers of dismay.

After we sipped coffee and both got dressed, we grabbed two bottles of water and headed off to a nearby garden. Upon arriving, we snapped a few photos and wandered down a hill toward a small pond. I bent to take a picture and gasped when my full water bottle tumbled out of my camera case and on to the bridge. "Oh, no!" I exclaimed as I reached too late and listened to it splash into the water. "I littered," I breathed, horrified, to Friend. She laughed at me and I glanced around to see if anyone saw. Then, side by side, we leaned over the edge of the bridge watched the blue bottle float with the moss atop the water.

We continued to wander around the prettiness while I resolved not to ruin any more of it. Friend took three pictures to every one I captured but it was relaxing to move slowly along the paths, glancing at signs and appreciating flowers, breathing in fragrant bushes and piney trees and climbing roses.

"You know," I mentioned as Friend dropped to the ground yet again to complain that the wind was blowing blossoms out of frame as she tried to get very close to the flower, "I tend to take pictures from farther away. Perhaps I'm more a big picture person and you're better at details." She looked at me and sighed, saying something about how it more meant that I just did more work cropping my photos before I showed them to anyone and I paused. "No," I decided after thinking for a moment, "my explanation is more profound."

"Putting that on the blog, are you?" she asked, moving toward the next photogenic plant.

"Yes," I decided, "yes, I will."

"That's pretty," she said at one point and I huffed out a sigh.

"The light is crap," I offered, squinting at the display on my camera. "This is going to be all wrong!" I walked behind her as we moved away from the view of the bench with red flowers. "That was negative," I mused as I followed her. "So, yes. It is very pretty."

Once we got closer, the bench was lovely and we lingered there for a bit. "So," I asked as we moved back up the hill, "if you brought Former Roommate, would she just enjoy or try to dig stuff up to take home?"

"She would not try to dig stuff up to take home," Friend sighed. "You can take her out in public." I nodded in reply.

"I need your water," I said as we found a different bench a little while later and sat down. "Mine," I paused to think of the right word, "unfortunately got lost." She handed me the bottle and while I greedily gulped two swallows, I choked on the third.

"You spit on me," she offered mildly after I'd coughed and coughed, losing the final mouthful of precious liquid all over the path in front of us, my jeans and my camera case. I dabbed at my eyes and coughed a bit more before glancing to see her swiping at her own pants. "Sorry," I offered hoarsely. "Having a problem here."

"Former Roommate doesn't spit on me," she teased. "And she'd know the names of these plants too. Take better pictures." I nodded and blew my nose, thinking the drinking water was very hard. We walked a bit more before deciding to call it a day.

"Now my head hurts," I offered when we were sitting in the car. "I feel a little queasy. I think we should eat something." We wove our way out of the neighborhood we'd been visiting and headed toward my house again. I sighed longingly over Qdoba. Thrilled when Friend agreed to my choice, I happily ordered a burrito and went to fetch a fork to eat the filling out of the center while Friend nibbled on a quesadilla and chips.

"It's so good," I sighed, carefully transferring rice and beans and chicken and cheese from inside the tortilla to my fork. I nodded in firm agreement when Friend said she was full.

"There's always room for ice cream," she decided and we walked across the parking lot to fetch some. She soon regretted her words as we sat outside, enjoying the mild temperature and gentle breeze and ice cream with caramel and fudge, pecans and brownies. "There's not room for this much ice cream," she decided.

Having chased down my last pecan, I proclaimed myself finished and tossed my cup in the trash. We got back in the car and headed toward home, full of food and thoughts of flowers. I'd mostly forgotten about the fact that my mom is missing me terribly and I really need to get home. The paper needing still more revisions sat untouched on my loveseat. I didn't even obsess about phone interview preparation or how I'll sell my house or if I'll find someone to love me in my next location.

Instead, I enjoyed the fact that someone loves me here. We're thinking drinks tonight. Church tomorrow morning. And perhaps elephants and giraffes tomorrow afternoon.

So. Yes. It will be very hard for me to move. And when I think about how much I adore this blog and the people who read it, I always smile when I think that it introduced me to Favorite Friend. And, of course, the blog gives me a place to put my flower pictures.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Communication

By Phone
“Hello,” I said to an answering machine this morning. “I’m Katie and I live at Address. I found Simon when I was walking my dog this morning and I coaxed him to follow me home. I got your number from his collar – he’s a very sweet boy – and now I’m not sure what to do since you’re not home. So if you could call me back at Number, that would be great. Thanks!”

“Now what?” I asked Friend, who continued to look sleepy and bemused by the large brindled dog I’d allowed through the front door with Chienne. I’d let them loose in the back yard where they continued to sprint around the fenced area. I shook my head at their continued energy and looked across the room for advice.

“You have two now?” she offered. “Because you stole someone’s dog?”

“Not stole!” I said firmly. “Borrowed. A little. My rule is that if someone puts a tag on their dog, I will get it home. But they didn’t answer the phone.” I googled the number, hoping that it wasn’t a cell number and beamed when I found an associated address. “I’ll take him home,” I decided. After Simon firmly refused to get in my car, I sighed and walked him back in the house.

“Take your phone,” Friend advised as Simon and I headed out the front door, leash firmly attached to his black collar. I nodded and picked it up before heading off toward the address I memorized.

“It’s all the way at the bottom of the hill!” I told Friend when I called a couple minutes later. “Simon, here, boy! That’s a good boy! He keeps circling around me. I’m getting dizzy from turning around!” I turned yet another circle and continued to encourage the pretty dog that trotted around me. “So you’re going to come get me, right? In the car? Because I’m tired and,” I turned a circle again as I was pleading with Friend for a ride, “dizzy. Oh, we’re here! Is this your house?” I asked Simon. “Oh, yes,” I said happily, “I see an open gate.”

After making sure Friend would come fetch me, I coaxed Simon in his yard, secured the fence, tugged on it to make sure it was closed, said good-bye to my canine friend and opened the phone again.

“Hi, Katie again,” I chirped to the answering machine inside the house behind me. “I looked up your address and brought Simon home. His gate must not have latched all the way, but he’s in his yard now. Or, well, if google was wrong, I put your dog at NumberAndStreet in a fenced yard. I hope that’s where he’s supposed to be. Thanks!”

On the way home from work this evening, I checked my voice mail and smiled. “Hello, Katie,” a woman’s voice said in a southern drawl. “I’m Susan and Simon is our dog. Thank you so much for bringing him home! He’s an inside dog, but he stays in the yard when we’re at work and the kids are at school. That’s so scary that he got out and we wanted to thank you so much for getting him home safely. We were all relieved so thank you very, very much!”

“Aw,” I said to Friend. “That worked out very well.”

By Email
Katie to IndustryContact
Sent: Monday
I hope Conference went well for all of you and that you're finding a bit of time to relax. You know what would be fun to do while you relax? Talking to people about my interview! I know it may not sound very exciting, but I think it could be a very cool way to spend some time.
I just wanted to remind you about feedback on our meeting and nudge you toward making a decision. I'll give you a call late this (or early next) week, but please feel free to be in touch if you're ready sooner. If questions come up that I can answer, please let me know. I'll look forward to talking to you.
I decided I wasn't up for a rejection today and resolved to call next week.

IndustryContact to Katie
Sent: Today. After returning Simon and right before leaving for work with Friend

Discussions are done! As a last step, our vice president would like to speak with you on the phone. I’ll copy you on a note to his secretary to arrange the call sometime next week.

I looked at Friend with wide eyes while my stomach clenched and hands trembled. “Before I left for my interview?” I told her, “IndustryContact’s assistant said I might need to meet with the VP and that it was a very good sign. But then she said I didn’t have to and I was disappointed because I thought that meant I screwed something up. Said something wrong or wasn’t pretty enough or something. But now I have to talk to him.”

“That’s good,” Friend said encouragingly.

“I’m scared,” I protested softly.

“I see that. But this is good news. What you want to happen after an interview, actually.”

I have since calmed down after being moderately sick with nerves most of the day. I’m hopeful – which is scary too since the disappointment will be great should I screw things up and up in a smoking cloud of spectacular failure. The time is arranged – I am to call Tuesday afternoon.

In Person
“I don’t know what to call the last section,” I complained to Friend when discussing this post. “By phone! By email! By…talking? The last part needs work.” She suggested ‘in person’ which does seem more elegant than ‘by talking.’ So we’ll go with that.

“I see what you’re saying,” I mused after giving Boss the Hopeless Paper and pausing to discuss Hopeful Paper. “I could make the point more obvious. I’ll work on it.”

“Hello,” a petite woman said when she walked in. I frowned as I tried to place her and pulled my face out of a scowl when I realized who she was. I nodded once and reached to briefly shake her hand when Boss introduced us. She was the awful PI who ‘mentored’ Winnie before she died, Dawn before she quit and who was now stressing Marlie a whole lot.

“Katie has helped us a lot with the project,” Boss said and I shook my head.

“I have done very little,” I demurred.

“Look at you, avoiding more work!” AwfulPI said and I arched an eyebrow at her even though her tone had been teasing.

“Marlie is wonderful,” I said when the silence lasted a touch too long. The subsequent silence was of even greater duration.

“She’s a hard worker,” Boss finally said and I turned to look at him quizzically. Hard worker? What nonsense was this?

“She’s fantastic,” I said insistently.

“We’re working on it,” AwfulPI sighed and I glared at her in earnest. What kind of asinine response was this? I hate you, I seethed and noticed Boss shift uncomfortably as I grew increasingly tense.

“I should go,” I finally said, unsure if I should stay and grow rabidly protective of Marlie or exit before I embarrassed Boss even more. He said a few more things about my paper and I nodded as I moved toward the hallway.

Of all the ways of exchanging ideas, I'd say face to face interactions should be most effective. Yet I seem to have done best using other methods. Stupid AwfulPI. She ruined the end of my blog post.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Editor: Friend or Stranger

“We need to get this resubmitted,” Penguin noted when we all sat together to go over paper revisions some months ago, “before Editor bolts when his term is up.” I glanced up from the pages of the comments he printed and my pages of data I’d brought to address those points.

“Is that how this got accepted?” Dr. Icing asked, looking both curious and smug.

“I think so, at least partly,” Penguin grinned. “We ran into each other and had drinks at the last meeting. I was talking about how much trouble our last paper had and mentioned some of the ridiculous complaints we’d seen in the past. So I’m assuming that when he saw some of the same comments here,” he waved his hand at the pages and pages of reviewer problems we had to face, “he accepted it anyway. He likes this kind of work.”

“Nice,” Dr. Icing said while I thought that this didn’t seem quite fair. In some sense, it was fair, of course. We had five reviewers on that paper, made substantial changes according to their requests and the paper made it past all of them in the re-review. Nothing untoward happened, but I can’t help but wonder if a few drinks and conversation tipped the decision from ‘most reviewers weren’t impressed – Reject!’ to ‘some reviewers are assholes – Accept!’

Judging from my post yesterday, it’s clear that I don’t mind using connections. I remember people I’ve met and mentally flip through my address book when I want something and think someone should be able to help me get it. I’m not great at networking – I think it’s flipping hard – but I did study in an excellent (and huge) department for grad school. And to know Boss is to love him, so when I tell people where I currently work, they tend to respond with enthusiasm. Plus, I collaborate. Which means I know some pretty important MDs. I’ve interviewed a lot so that adds some people to my circle of acquaintances too. If I need advice or a recommendation or I think someone knows someone else I should meet, I’ll ask. I’ve always had excellent responses to this strategy and count myself lucky for knowing good people.

But sending papers to journal editors I know? Well, that’s dirty.

“So he said that he couldn’t help me with initial cover letters because that information is normally exchanged in pre-submission emails. So he knows journal editors and tries to pal around with them! Cheater,” I muttered and shook my head with great superiority. Then, since we waited forever to get a table for dinner, I was thinking about my opinions on this matter when talking to Friend.

Those thoughts take us back to the circumstances surrounding my defense. If you recall (and you should – I talk about it all the time), I was told that since first author papers were submitted but not yet in press, I couldn’t graduate. In an attempt at trying to save myself from the horror that was becoming my life at the time, I contacted a friend whose post-doctoral supervisor edited a major journal in my field.

“MajorJournalEditor looked at the paper,” I told one member of my committee desperately as I fought back tears and tried mightily to get him on my side before the committee met without me. “He said that it was definitely publishable and he’d put it in his journal if that would help.”

I recoiled from his expression after I spoke. “That’s awful,” he scolded me. “Absolutely terrible that you would try to use connections to get a paper published. It makes me think badly of you and him and the journal, quite frankly. I’m very disappointed in you, Katie.”

My mouth fell open as I looked at him. I was crushed that he could be even more disappointed in me than when we started, that my plan had failed so badly, and that I’d taken down MajorJournalEditor with me. “No!” I cried, trying to fix it, for I did misspeak. “It would go through review! He wouldn’t just publish it without having anyone look at it – that was never, ever suggested and I apologize if that’s the impression I gave. Please don’t think badly of the editor or journal! He was just trying to help!”

But I still remember the lingering expression of disapproval. And I was bitterly disappointed in myself for thinking of it and explaining the plan wrong and vowed to never submit any work to someone I knew, lest someone be disappointed in me again. And like a few decisions I've made when depressed and terribly hurt, this one stuck.

“You should send us something,” Director said when I interviewed for that faculty spot. And though I took the card for his journal, I immediately rejected the very idea of sending anything there. It would look like I cheated! People would wonder at the quality of my work! And make fun of me or be disappointed in me! And that would be awful.

“I talked to an editor at the last meeting,” one collaborator told me several months ago. “He asked what I presented and I told him about the poster and he said it sounded like good work. So I asked him why his journal rejected it and he said to send it back and include that we’d discussed it at this meeting in the cover letter.” The paper is currently in press.

“We just had to do some minor revisions,” A friend explained of one of her graduate papers. “Then Advisor could send it back to his editor friend. I can’t take care of that – it should come from him since it’s his contact.”

“He’s a good man – a good friend of mine,” Boss said when I showed him my letter from the editor that came with my framed copy of the journal cover on which one of my figures appeared. And while I still basked in the glow of my accomplishment, I wondered if I’d had an edge because Boss was a co-author. He had suggested the journal, after all, and encouraged me even when I said it was too high impact for the work.

There’s a mid-level journal in the field that I won’t use because I’ve worked semi-closely with the editor. I also feel a vague sense of disapproval when his own people publish a ton of work there. I’ve started to glance at the institution before the abstract when there’s a C/N/S paper I think might be cool. If it falls in a ‘who you know’ category for me, I’m unlikely to even make it to the first sentence. (Plus, those papers are generally too short to be overly useful to me. I often swear if I want to learn something from a paper that’s very high profile.) I heard people openly scoff at yet another friend who published three papers in her boss’s journal and it reinforced the idea that friendly connections mean disappointment in others.

Yet this is one of those areas where academia may not be strictly fair. But it’s not unfair either. Crap sometimes gets published, but each of the papers I’ve mentioned in this post were representative of strong science and good writing. So maybe this is a quirk I should try to let go.

“Can I ask you something?” I said to a friend and he nodded without glancing away from his computer screen. “You rolled your eyes when one friend published in her boss’s journal. But I just saw your paper come out in your boss’s journal. How’s that feel?”

“I couldn’t get it in anywhere else,” he replied absently and I sat back in my chair and nodded thoughtfully.

Perhaps I know where to send that paper Psych Post Doc convinced me not to give up on. Because I know an editor or two myself.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A bit of brightness

"Are you freaking kidding me?" I exclaimed to Friend when she said my flowers were unlikely to bloom this year. We dug them up late in the season last year, spreading apart the tight clumps of green into neat rows around the edge of my flower bed. Then we had to dig them up again when her mom told her we'd planted them too deep.

"What are they?" she asked while we sweated over the work.

"I don't know," I replied, pausing in my complaints that I was hot and tired and this was hard. "Lillies, I think. The other side blooms sometimes." I waved my hand across the front walk and remembered the white flowers with the pink center. "These never have."

"They're irises!" I told her a few days ago. "One bloomed and it's an iris - well, I think - and it's yellow and beautiful!" I've long loved these flowers and have sighed over the ones that bloom for other people. Vivid purples and bright whites. I wished I had some of my own. And now I do! And they're this perfect, sunny yellow!

I made it to campus today, dropping off trash along the way. (The dump was closed and I had dead bunny in my trunk that I was not taking home again. So I stopped at Friend's old apartment complex, hoped I wouldn't get arrested for trespassing, and dropped of garbage there. I'm resourceful!) I printed Friend's paper to evaluate sentence readability (well, I printed 34 of the 63 pages - that's a lot of knowledge there), turned in my receipts from my trip and lent Boss the conference CD. Feeling relatively productive, I decided to send an email.

Dr. Icing,

For some reason, I think you know someone at the Place I Want To Work. I was thinking about it this morning since the hiring committee will meet within the next couple of weeks re: Position that I badly want. I wondered - if you do have a contact there - if you (or he) might be willing to write a quick email to talk me up a bit. If not, that's fine too. I think I was impressive enough at the interview, but it never hurts to be sure. (Chatting about work stuff).

Thanks, Katie

He replied immediately, said he did know someone there and forwarded the email he'd sent to his friend.

It was great to see you at [redacted]! I am contacting you because a friend and collaborator at Current Institution – Katie [LastName] – has applied for a position [there]. Katie is brilliant and she would be a fantastic addition to any center that would be lucky enough to recruit her.

As I was writing this, Dr. Icing forwarded the email that his friend had sent the hiring director that talked about what a "terrific addition" I would be, spoke of my "excellent background" and continued that he "cannot tell you how thrilled we would be to have [Katie] as part of the [group there]." I have a post planned about how I feel weird about submitting journal articles to editors I know personally. Yet I'm perfectly happy to exploit any resource that occurs to me to find employment in the fall.

The biggest boost - apart from the compliments that had me dabbing at tears (I'm quite emotional lately) - was that I did something. The problem with not finding suitable postings at the conference was that I didn't apply anywhere new. Waiting while being completely passive has weighed me down with pessimism over the entire job search. I need to do something - anything - and Dr. Icing helped me do that. And I adore him for it.

So between reading Friend's very impressive paper (Yay for Friend for being smart and writing beautifully! Even in the face of criticism!), attending a seminar and helping Marlie with some political situations that didn't quite translate without my interpretation, I felt nearly happy.

Someone I like and respect a great deal called me brilliant. I might have received an important boost in the eyes of the hiring committee. I felt more stable - I printed a paper for Boss, I answered some email and revised my to-do list. I told Marlie we'd have lunch tomorrow, feeling capable of reassuring her and offering pep talks since I didn't feel quite so heavy anymore.

It's not all sweetness and light - not that much has changed. But there was a hint of brightness today. And it seemed impossibly lovely.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It's a matter of cropping.

"It might blur," Friend warned when I snapped the photo. "It's a little windy."

I shrugged in response, disappointed that there weren't more flowers out. They came in waves of loveliness this year - one type of tree at a time filled with blooms before the leaves crowded them out and the next group of trees would blossom. I was bored today (and sad - so heavy with the sadness lately) and decided to redo my header and sidebar graphics. I was flipping through old photos and came across this one, wrinkled my nose, then pronounced it perfect for blog images.

I've become - through necessity rather than natural talent - quite good at picking out the pretty parts of the picture. Data has been hard to acquire for various reasons throughout my career so I analyze and ponder and read before plucking out the components I think are useful. It's like drawing the selection box in PhotoShop and scooting it around until the right amount of pink flowers and green grasses are contained within it. Avoid the dead branches, tighten the focus, ignore that which isn't interesting. Frame the tiny selection with the proper colors and emphasize certain elements of the composition. And bask in the glory of a blog (or paper or abstract) that made something pretty from raw data which was less than impressive.

Friend is struggling through a large dataset at the moment. I vary between being envious of her and grateful her problem isn't mine. It's hard to find those patterns. And frustrating to develop a methodology on the fly when you're doing something new and different. But it's good to feel useful. And when you finally figure it out, that rush of 'how smart am I?!' is rather delightful.

I'm thinking through two papers at the moment and think I've reached the conclusion that there's just not enough there in one case. We've submitted it to two journals and they have very valid concerns that I just can't fix. And at some point, I tire of trying to spin something into something that it isn't. I think case reports (or papers on small datasets) are important and can illustrate excellent work. But I don't know how to fix this particular collection of points. It's very novel and important and with an additional 10 subjects would be a Big Deal. But I can't get additional data. Which sort of breaks my poor, sad heart.

And while I'm still tweaking details and waiting for feedback on another paper, I'm tired. Everything on my list was started at least a year ago. I'm bored. And worried about where I'm going next. And there's just not enough going on to splice a piece out to make a good blog post.

So, look! Click over and look at the pretty header! That's all I have right now.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Lawn Lessons, part...too many

I decided, having accomplished little else today, that I would mow the back yard this afternoon. I can't seem to shake this 'nothing matters and I'm so screwed anyway, so why not just sleep and drink and snack?' mood I have. Deciding it wasn't too hot in the late afternoon sunshine, I put on liberally stained sneakers and shoved the fully-gassed mower to the gate that keeps my dog safely in her yard.

"I let her out," I confessed to Friend last weekend. "I thought she'd stay with me." That statement earned me a wry look and I ducked my head sheepishly. "Well, Brother's dog is good! And Chienne always stays inside her gate like a good girl. So I told her she could come out and walk to the garage with me! But then she ran away."

Friend nodded.

"But she did come back," I offered and when I only got another look in return, I qualified the statement. "After she was gone for several minutes and we got in the car to go find her and she hopped inside once we pulled down the street."

"I learned that lesson," I said earlier today, talking to Chienne this time as she wagged her tail at me. "You stay there," I ordered and she waited like a good dog while I pushed the mower inside and closed the gate behind me.

"Oh," I gasped, prancing away from the front corner of the yard. "No, no, no, no, no!" Firmly resolving not to think about what I had seen, I moved to the back patio and yanked the cord to bring the machine rumbling to life. I moved around the edges of the fence twice and began on the far side of the yard as I clipped the grass.

Lesson: It's much easier to do what I should than to procrastinate. Mowing every other week is hard and requires restarting the mower multiple times when it becomes choked with clippings. It's only been 7 days since I last mowed and it was quick and easy.
Application to Life: I should keep up with journals and keep revising and writing papers even when I really don't want to deal with any of it. It's easier to keep up than catch up.

Lesson: Battles work. As I wandered the yard, I noticed with utter delight that the spikey weeds were gone! In fact, I saw nary a dandelion or spikey weed or anything other than healthy grass! Throwing $60 at the Lowe's people in exchange for a big bag of Weed and Feed and a cool spreader, then spending a morning depositing far too many chemical-laden pellets around my yard killed my spikey weeds!
Application to Life: Attack! When I notice a problem and frown and stomp and complain over it, it's probably worth directing that energy toward something useful. It's not fair that journal editors and potential employers and co-authors ignore me! So instead of pouting while I wait to take another nap, I need to start pushing again. It seems like a tremendous amount of work right now, but those weeds don't kill themselves.

I may have missed a few spots while I was finishing the lawn since I was studiously avoiding any glances near the gate. I pushed the mower back toward the garage, and started to chat with Friend online.

Me: There's a dead bunny in my back yard.
Friend: Uh oh.
Me: Uh oh. Shriek. Whatever.
Friend: Do you require assistance?
Me: Obviously. Unless dead bunnies decompose Really Fast.

But we continued to discuss how she'd only do it tonight before it got gross (I already thought it was the epitome of awful, but whatever.) and how she'd just gone home to her cats and how that wasn't fair. She expressed some confidence - despite my repeated claims that I Can't and I'd Vomit - that I could deal with it.

So I closed the laptop and walked to the garage, taking a giant garbage bag, a shovel and an edging tool toward the back gate. Keeping my gaze firmly away from the furry corpse, I leaned the shovel against the wooden pickets and reached to tug the gate open. Then I saw the tiny eyes and the sweet, little feet and started to shake as I scampered toward the front of the house again.

"No, no, no," I said firmly. "Can't, can't, can't."

I came in to complain to Friend that if my neighbors hasn't let their lawns grow into meadows then the bunnies wouldn't have lived there and tried to escape into my yard! It wasn't fair! I didn't do anything to deserve this!

But, Friend reminded me, it was my dog who might drag in the bunny. And my house which would begin to reek when the dead bunny started to smell. Not my fault, perhaps, but it was officially my problem.

"OK," I told Chienne when I went to get two large paper towels and a plastic bag to cover the poor creature while I tried to maneuver it into a garbage bag. "I'm trying again." The dog, brown eyes wide, wisely stayed inside when I went out the back door.

"Just cover you up," I said, turning my head to the side and dropping one towel, peeking over to realize it had almost removed the body from my sight. "I have another one - I'll try again," I murmured in my squeaky I'm-freaking-out voice. "Now I'm just going to slide the shovel underneath and lift and drop." I didn't even have time to sigh with relief before I realized I'd ever so carefully moved the two paper towels into the bag and the bunny remained on the ground. This necessitated a short, grossed-out dance about the yard while I hopped and scampered to gather enough nerve to try again.

"It's done," I emailed Friend a few moments later. "Now I'm sick."

After I washed my hands five times and showered twice, I think I'm clean enough. (No, I never actually came close to touching the creature. But it's better to be safe!) As for the lesson, who knows? I had to deal with a dead bunny! But it's probably something about being more capable than I think I am, sucking it up and dealing with problems even when the issue isn't really my fault and how sometimes really, really, really, really, really icky stuff happens and all there is to do is cope.

Maybe I should shower again.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

To Whom It May Concern:

"I have to write a letter," Rachel said upon returning to the dorm several years ago. She withdrew a paper that described the assignment. "Given an audience that has donated money to university in years past, write a persuasive letter encouraging them to give a greater amount this year."

"Huh," Elle and I said, looking at each other. I can't remember how we came up with the letter - if Elle drafted the entire message or if we worked collaboratively. But we came up with the following:

Dear You,

You gave money last year. Good job! You should give again this year. That'd be great - thanks.

Sincerely,

Me
I started to wonder after Friend and I discussed it about whether my cover letters to journal editors read much the same way.

Dear Editor,

Here's a paper I wrote. You should put it in your journal. That'd be great - thanks.

Sincerely,

Katie

"I need examples," I told Friend and she mentioned she had a couple at work. "I wonder if I've been doing it wrong," I mused.

But I thought of people who enjoyed mentoring and came up with the resident expert on most everything. PhysioProf offered the following.
The key is to explain the following items (in order):
(1) a statement of an important open issue in the field;
(2) a statement of how you have addressed this issue methodologically;
(3) a statement of what results you have obtained;
(4) a statement of how these results clarify the open issue;
(5) a statement of what is important about your results and the scope of the audience that will be interested.

So I need to make a bunch of statements about a bunch of stuff. Which is all true and good and lovely, I'm sure, but I need examples! While I talked to Mom earlier tonight (we're both moody and tired) and Friend did something science-related in her lab, I glanced through several pages she had filed and immediately saw an easy pattern to follow.

Editor
Editor's Address (which seems weird since these are emailed, but OK)

Date

Dear You:

Please find attached a manuscript entitled "This Cool Thing I Call My Paper," submitted by me, my important boss's name, and my important collaborators' names. (I think the idea here is that the editor should be pleased and/or impressed by the people I work with since I definitely don't cut it. Good to know!) I think Editor Joe would be appropriate for this submission.

Let me give you a bit of background about this topic. I'm going to do that for about a paragraph, sometimes with relevant references, sometimes by noting what I or my lab have already done in the past. This should, I think, convince you that the overall topic is important. Because it really is. Honest.

Now let's talk about this paper specifically. We present for the first time evidence that (1) first piece of cool knowledge; (2) second bit of nifty results; (3) final gem of scientific glory. I separated them into a numbered list so they'll be easy for you to follow. I'm nice like that.

These results are significant because they answer some question or clarify some issue. A given audience - hopefully the same one that reads this journal - will so totally care about this. Trust me. It'll be super-awesome. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Me
My contact information

So that's what I think I know. Given that I usually just throw something in that little box when I'm submitting a paper, I've usually hit most of the high points. But I wondered if you have hints or advice you'd like to share. If so, you should leave a comment. That'd be great - thanks.

P.S. Richard summoned the knowledge of the Nature Network on this topic so if you don't read him already (which, honestly, you probably should - he's fantastic), pop over for additional information.