Monday, June 30, 2008

Ill-fitting muumuu

Friend’s knee is injured, a fact I would sneeringly call convenient given my staggering list of things to do save the fact that I think she worked at least as hard as I did yesterday. (And there's the fact that my ankle was hurt when she moved, but that's not the point.) She outlasted me on weeding, lingering in the afternoon heat to yank tall grasses and spikey things and dandelions out of the beds on either side of my walk. I took a break in the middle, shivering through a cool shower to get the hardwood mulch off my skin in an attempt to stop severe itching.

“It’s beautiful,” I sighed when I went back out. Friend had cleared a path on the far side of the plants so the mower wouldn’t get too close to them. I wrestled with three giant bags of mulch to fill in the newly weed-free spaces to prevent regrowth and stood to admire our (read: mostly her) efforts. “You know,” I noted, hefting the back of mulch again and dumping it around plants, “I always meant to do that – make more space between the yard and the walk – but never got to it. Why is it people fix their houses right before moving? When it’s too late to enjoy it?”

“The joys of home ownership,” she replied, saying her dad had fixed the kitchen just before her parents moved. I nodded and continued to mulch, scratching at my skin where the wood touched it and sweating profusely in the afternoon heat. I did dig the hole for the new plants - just two with pretty flowers like we saw at the gardens - because Friend's knee couldn't take the shovel. But I was out of clothes and into the shower very quickly afterward, moving across my beautiful new welcome mat and down the hall strewn with cords and garbage bags and random items that need to go somewhere else but haven’t made it past the hallway.

“I’m going to nap, just for a little while,” I told Friend once we were both clean. “My head hurts and my eyes itch.” So I rested while continuing my mental lists – dust walls, touch up paint in spots. Vacuum, rent rug scrubber, clean carpets. Finish packing kitchen and clean in there. Bribe Friend to deal with bathrooms.

The last two happened relatively easily. I got out of bed, shuffled down the hall and said I’d make pasta for dinner.

“What’s the back-up plan?” I asked, returning to the living room.

“You packed the pots,” Friend guessed and I nodded.

“I don’t know where they are!” I cried when she shook her head at me. “I thought they were in one of the two boxes in progress, but they aren’t! So they must be packed and sealed and in the garage. What are we going to do?

“We’ll order something,” she sighed, so we did. After we ate and I began packing boxes full of dishes, I poked my head out of the kitchen again.

“I do want pasta,” I told her. “May I borrow a pot to boil water tomorrow?” She laughed at me and nodded.

“So you’re done using the master bathroom,” she confirmed, looking at me sternly as she walked into the kitchen (or wherever I was fluttering around at the moment). I nodded obediently and promised, leaving her to walk down the hall to somehow – using magic, I think – make my counter look sparkling and clean and fabulous.

“Wow,” I breathed when I went to grab robes off the back of the door to pack.

“I even got the brown gunk away from the faucets,” she said proudly. “I worked and scrubbed and stuff,” she said when I asked her how in the world she could achieve such a feat.

“Magic,” I repeated as I walked away.

I continued in the kitchen, working my way through coffee cups and wine glasses, large plates and bowls to their smaller counterparts. I moved full boxes to the garage and rested for a moment, hand on one side of my lower back where I’ve pulled or tweaked something, before complaining to Friend and starting another box.

I walked in the living room once to find her shoving at the new slipcover I bought earlier in the day.

“It says it fits sofas up to 96 inches,” I told her earlier. “And mine is 93 – you made me measure. But I’m still not sure this will work.” She somehow managed to fit the fabric around the generous curves of the couch and was tucking at the material. I started to giggle and she joined me as we viewed the results of her efforts.

“It works,” she decided. “But it looks like an ill-fitting muumuu.” That statement, for some reason, sent me into more intense fits of laughter and I ended up sitting with my back to the loveseat, staring at the covered couch.

“Muumuus aren’t very structured, so an ill-fitting one is impressive,” she explained. And I cocked my head, deciding the poor couch did look like it was trying to squeeze in an outfit two sizes too small and laughed again. She removed it, saying it could get in line for laundry because it smelled funny. I nodded, tugged at the tight material across one arm and we tossed the cover on the floor.

“Ill-fitting muumuu is my new favorite phrase,” I declared and giggled as I went back to the kitchen once more. I finally quit, putting a heating pad under my hips and trying to ease the sore muscles in my back. She cleaned windowsills, exclaiming over the dustiness and sneezing profusely.

Today we go to work. Friend has a job that requires her to actually do experiments and put in time at a lab. I plan to bid farewell to some collaborators and pack up my office. I need to back up some data, return one of the computers I use and put all the pretty things in boxes and bags to return home. I’m often struck by moments of sadness – the thought of leaving Favorite Friend and my getting-prettier house is excruciating at times – but things are continuing to move right along.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


“Have you seen Finding Nemo?” I asked as we headed out of the amusement park. When Friend and H nodded, I continued my thought. “When I’m very tired, but there’s no real option of quitting, I often sing Dory’s little song.”

“Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim. Swim! Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…”

I don’t even remember their replies, so busy was my brain with singing and continuing to move out the exit and toward the car. Given that I’m currently in the position of having tons of work to do and a limited time in which to accomplish it, I find myself pushing through and singing little songs a lot of the time lately.

“OK,” I said, feet scrambling to retain some balance at 6:45 yesterday morning under the weight of a very old mattress. “Heavier than I thought, but that’s fine.”

Having napped much of Friday away, I woke early yesterday and decided I was going to work. Move bed out of guest room, replace with bed that was in the office. Clean, pack, make rooms pretty. So I wrestled a mattress older than I am off the bed and into the garage. I sighed and stared at it when it flopped on the floor, breathing hard and sweating and deciding I’d ask Friend for help if she came out this weekend.

“Cushioned with hair on both sides?” She read when we maneuvered it on its side and shoved it across the garage to sit upright against a wall next to the box springs. “Gross. This thing must be older than I am.”

I nodded, thinking earlier I’d called my parents to make sure Mom was OK with me trashing Grandpa’s old mattress. The springs are beginning to get pokey (apparently the hair is thinning) and when I put the new mattresses on the old frame, the bed suddenly looked inviting and soft.

“Of course,” Mom answered. “You can sell or throw away anything you’d like. Aren’t you getting rid of your living room furniture too?”

“I don’t know,” I said slowly, curling further into the corner of the loveseat. This is where I’ve written most of my blog posts, where I’ve shared countless conversations and even more quiet moments with Friend. And while I have plenty to keep me busily distracted – dusting alone could take days – there are moments where I think of Friend and close my eyes against the pain of not seeing her so often. Of having her slip into the category of friends I miss and try to keep up with and visit when I can.

“I was thinking of putting slipcovers on it,” I told Mom of my furniture that really is falling apart. Stuffing is escaping from the cushions, there are stains on the stripey material and the large pieces aren’t so visually appealing. “I could put it in the basement of my new house,” I said. “Then Sprout or Chloe could use it down there.” Or, I thought silently, I could go curl up and write a blog post and chat online with Friend. If there are tornado warnings, I could find a book and read on a piece of furniture that once resided in the house I loved in the south.

“I need slipcovers,” I told Friend. She drove down, we had lunch and got caught up on happenings online and off, and headed to Target to use my coupon. One arrives pretty much every month – I think I only need to spend $1000 to get my 10% off reward. And since the two of us can almost make it to $500 in a single trip and there are double points for money spent at Target, the little coupons arrive pretty regularly. “I also want those giant Ziploc bags and a new doormat. To make a good first impression to potential buyers!”

We shopped companionably – I didn’t rush her as I sometimes do. Instead we each pushed our respective carts through the aisles, picking up all sorts of random odds and ends in addition to the items that made it on the list. We returned to the house to unpack our purchases, settling in our respective seats and deciding to look at Bed, Bath and Beyond for slipcovers since none were found at Target.

“I also need mulch,” I reminded her. I’d meant to stop at Lowe’s but there was no room left in the car for the bags of chips I’d use to fill in the flower bed and prevent weed growth in my absence. I still need to arrange for people to come to take care of tasks – I have these brown spiders everywhere in the yard and some of them are making it inside. My pest company should come and spray again to make sure they don’t take over the house. I want to get the house listed on Monday if at all possible. I need someone to mow and trim every week.

I did it myself last night at dusk, moving the mower easily through the front yard and thinking it didn’t seem too terribly hot out. I scowled at the weeds that had randomly grown very tall – they sometimes twisted to elude the mower blades so I had to run over them twice. But I finished as cars drove past with headlights on – it was pretty dark – and let the mower take a spot in the center of the garage between the boxes that are packed to go and those that are haphazardly filled with stuff to get rid of. Friend and I moved the mattress and returned to the house so I could do more packing and cleaning.

I took breaks to look at listings online, falling deeper and deeper in love with an adorable home with a 2-sided fireplace between the living room and kitchen. I also keep looking at a huge builders model with 3.5 bathrooms! ("Why?" Friend cried. "You'll just get them all dirty!") It looks like I have a number of choices – most of them lovely, though not all of them perfect – in terms of houses to buy. I’ll miss this one – I range from being excited about the future to painfully nostalgic. I go between thinking I’m in excellent shape in terms of packing, so proud of my progress to thinking with some panic that there’s no way I’ll get everything done.

Just keep swimming, I remind myself. So I’ll go have coffee and deal with the kitchen.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Old Dog

“I don’t spend money on make-up anymore,” I told Carrie as I sat next to her in the shoe store (Baldwin needed sneakers) after wandering through Sephora on Wednesday evening. “I’m done experimenting. I have products I love and routines that work for skincare and becoming pretty, so it seems silly to spend money on tubes and bottles and jars of stuff I’ll just throw away eventually.”

She nodded and said she’s the same way. We’ve abandoned perfumes for lotions with more gentle fragrances. It’s easier to evaluate clothing and resist buying something that is cute but wrong. I even wrinkle my nose over some books, knowing the quick read isn’t worth the purchase price.

It’s rather nice to age, I decided. You get to know yourself better and with understanding comes power. And the ability to save money! It also allows one to establish friendships that are lengthy and important and lovely.

“I couldn’t stop crying,” I sniffled as we left the theater. “With the happiness and heartbreak and emotional moments – I’m a mess now.” The three of us – Carrie, Baldwin and myself – had gone to see Sex and the City to catch up on characters and plot lines. And I cried and giggled and walked out of the theater with a giant headache. Situations hurt or thrilled because I was emotionally involved from the beginning. As I live longer, there is a slowly growing pool (most of them non-fictional. Maybe not 'most.' Perhaps half?) of people about whom I care deeply.

I reminded myself of that as I settled in for another nap or watched more television with my friends. I’m no longer plagued by the need to do something or see sights when I visit people I love in other cities. I came to spend time with them – to glance across the room and share a thought rather than sending an email when I get a chance. To linger over meals together rather than sneaking in a phone call on my commute. So the chance to reconnect – to hear about her credit card that was stolen and an intern who didn’t test as well as she wanted – was valuable and lovely.

Likewise, she knows how much my mortgage was approved for and asked me to email listings for new homes as I start to decide. I spent my last night with them glancing through websites and peering at photos, pleased that my pre-approval extended past the amount I was planning to spend. I looked around the mansion that hosted my stay in BigState and sighed. I didn’t need anything quite so large, but I’d almost talked myself into wanting a third bathroom before I tucked myself into bed.

My delightfully relaxing visit ended with a bit of a glitch in the form of a pre-5AM arrival at the airport. My fellow passengers were apparently terrified of the self-check-in computers and decided to simply stay in line until an agent was available to walk them through the process. Lest I start to sound too mature, I was clenching my jaw and tapping my be-flip-flopped foot by the time I finally found my way to a computer. But travel progressed smoothly. As I made mental lists of furniture to rearrange at my house (I'm leaving things here to encourage buyers!) and more forms to fill out and services to cancel, I came home and thought of all I should do and napped instead.

But this morning found me awake before 7 and taking down pictures and moving around a few pretty items on shelves. I decided to nix one of the three beds and move the good one to the guest room. The office will remain bedless - I rather like it. But as I shoved and swore at bedsprings, I realized I can do this. I've somehow learned enough tricks to make stuff happen on my own.

Getting old doesn't seem so bad at all right now.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New Tricks

I smiled and rolled out of bed before my eyes were open.

“Hey, Buddy,” I said to the eldest of Carrie’s three dogs, a tiny terrier who had hit the side of the bed three times in his attempt to join me for naptime. He was just too little and old, age 15, to make it. So I stood up and bent down, asked if he was ready, then waited for his little legs to push off the ground before I lifted him up and placed him gently on the mattress.

“Good boy,” I murmured, smoothing his coarse coat before snuggling back into my comfortable bed, six pillows and dreams about moving and jobs and decisions. There was once a time when he could bounce in excited greeting and reach my nose, I remembered of Buddy. But situations and abilities change. Creatures adapt. And, many times, it all works out in the end, I decided as Buddy tucked himself in the curve of my ankle to sleep.

Carrie is being tortured by nausea and other less-than-delightful pregnancy symptoms so the trip thus far has been very low-key. I’m pleased – not at all with her condition, for I wish she was happy and glowing – but with the time to rest and think and make phone calls. I’ve already spoken to someone about moving belongings, a new mortgage, where to send mail, turning off most services and arranging last lunches with people before I depart. I’ve been most productive, which pleases my efficient, little heart. But we did leave the house today for a quick trip to work (I had to fax a form, Carrie had to finish some slides) and we had lunch with Jane on one of her trips back to this location from her new job.

“So?” I asked the woman I met a couple of years ago at a conference. “How is it? Are you happy?”

“I am,” she answered, but shrugged. “There are days when it seems like the best decision of my life and others it feels like the worst.”

“Transitions are hard,” I noted and she nodded in agreement.

“I do like it though,” she said. “It’s a good move for me.”

“Well, absolutely,” I replied immediately. When I met Jane, she had barely been able to come to the major conference in her field. While Carrie and I stayed high above the conference in the recommended (and very nice) hotel, Jane walked for upwards of a mile from her cheaper room. Her PI couldn’t afford anything better, she explained, and plus, she was happy to have the exercise.

I raised my eyebrow dubiously but didn’t comment to my new friend. We were talking about job security – always a problem – and salaries later. She was wondering when she could get her car fixed and wistfully speaking of houses.

“How much does she make?” I asked Carrie later as we were alone, either eating, napping or complaining about how something was appallingly unacceptable – this is why we’re good pals.

“Thirty-five,” she said and I frowned darkly, prompting a request for explanation from my longtime friend. “Well,” she replied when I said that seemed low, “it’s NIH scale. So pretty standard.”

“Pretty low,” I insisted, reminding her that I turned down a post-doc when they offered scale, though they offered more money if certain grants got funded. “I turned down forty from here,” I reminded her of my offer when I interviewed for post-docs, and her eyes widened as she nodded.

“I forgot about that,” she mused.

“Jane should ask for more,” I decided, thinking that I’d started making closer to 50 than 40 at the job I took. And I’m not that cool – I think people need to let go of this ‘PIs can’t help it! They pay what they can!’ nonsense and start rolling their eyes at ridiculously low dollar amounts. Perhaps it’s specific to my field – though I sincerely doubt it – but I know several people at private and public institutions, all of whom are paid far more than scale off NIH grants of various types.

“Is the money OK?” I asked Carrie hurriedly of her new job when I sat down to lunch ahead of Jane.

“Six figures,” Carrie nodded and I smiled, pleased.

“All of my stuff is ordered,” Jane replied when Carrie asked. “The lab is set up and beautiful. I’ve been talking to people and writing IRBs and setting up collaborations. It’s a bit new, but it’s exciting.”

“You have an office?” Carrie asked.

“It’s beautiful,” Jane sighed. “It even has a private, attached bathroom.”

“Wow,” we all sighed and I thought of my cubicle waiting up north. But I smiled again, truly pleased for the woman who was sitting beside me. She offered me a job in her lab – they wanted her so badly, they gave her hiring privileges – and I’m thrilled someone so lovely did so very well.

So I was happy about that, settling easily into an afternoon nap, when I heard Carrie’s husband on the phone.

“I’m the driver,” he said last night as he chauffeured us to dinner and the bookstore. “You can call me Baldwin,” he decided.

“That’s your driver name?” Carrie clarified and when he replied in the affirmative, I decided it was a blog name as well.

Baldwin struggled a bit after grad school. He did a post-doc and was expected to guide students rather than do independent work. He moved after several years and worked for someone who almost immediately switched institutions and cut off some promising research he’d been doing. He took a visiting spot and finally began teaching as he’d always wanted. They screwed him over there too and just when I thought maybe it was Baldwin and not academia, he found a job he loves.

And he’s brilliant. Teaching awards and grants, summer research and fantastic reviews.

“It’s not fair,” he said on his phone call. He paused for a moment to listen before asking if they could take part of his salary and pay a student who was teaching a lab. And the cynical part of my heart melted – there are people who struggled and then became compassionate, wonderful faculty members. When he speaks of how he loves working with students who think themselves incapable, I cock my head and coo at him. When he pushes for policy changes that benefit both students and staff, I beam at him proudly.

I woke up when Buddy started to yip in his dreams and curled to pat him soothingly. I moved to the living room with the laptop, deciding to tell you a story about people I like who are doing very well for themselves after switching jobs. I rather hope I’ll use myself as an example not too long from now.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Looking forward

"Wolf?" Carrie asked from under her blanket on the sofa. I wrinkled my nose and she nodded, returning to her list of baby names.

"I like Fergus," she said a moment later and I glanced up to ask if she was serious. I considered it for a moment and shrugged.

I arrived safely just before noon and checked my messages, digging a pen and paper from my carry-on to scribble down a number for the relocation team. I pounced on my suitcase when it arrived, hurried out to meet Carrie and called the people back who will arrange my move.

"Should I leave my stuff at the house? Or move it all with me right away? If I leave it, I can make the house all pretty and just leave boxes in the garage."

"Houses that are furnished do supposedly sell faster," she said. "But what if you want something you packed while you're living in the hotel? Wouldn't it be easier to have it in town so you can grab it out of storage?"

"I guess," I noted. "I'm not really sure what to do."

"Barnaby?" she just asked and her husband glanced up from his magazine to offer a veto.

Who knows what will happen - I think we make the choices that seem right at the time and hope for the best. And whether it's moving furniture or tackling the lengthy list I have before I move next week or naming the baby this fetus will become, it seems a good time. Bright and hopeful and scary, but good.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Job Search: A Review of the Posts

When I started this blog – several months after beginning my post-doc – I thought it was a shame I hadn’t blogged the job search out of grad school. The people and lessons and dates and impressions – it all interests me and it seemed a shame I’d lose some of that information to faulty memory.

Luckily (or maybe not), I did it all again! Most of the others in my research group have done post-docs and stayed put, taking on junior faculty positions about three years after they began at their respective institutions. I realized in September, 2006, that I didn’t want to stay here.

On my drive home a couple weeks ago, I rolled down the window on a country road that had been reduced to a single lane over a bridge that was being repaired. Chienne doesn’t like to stop without being able to explore, so I compromise and roll the window down so she can stick her white nose and floppy ears out the window and sniff. She enjoys this very much.

I glanced in the rearview mirror as I leaned over to pat her as the window eased downward and was wearing a grimace. I despise the pervasive heat and humidity that defines every day of my life here in the south, and though I expect it, I greet it with uniform displeasure. I eased closer to the open window when I noticed the air coming in was not hellishly hot and heavy, but cool. It smelled of freshly cut grass and oncoming rain, and there was a hint of exhaust from the construction equipment busily working as we waited our turn to cross the bridge.

I opened my window, resisted the urge to stick my nose and newly cut above the shoulder hair out the window like the dog, and breathed in deeply. My mood was instantly lighter with eager anticipation for fall. But I don’t want to wait until it creeps down to me. I want breaks from the heat, the early arrival of the turning leaves and cooler temperatures, bitterly cold winters that make your ears and nose hurt then go numb. So I looked at Chienne as our lane of traffic started to move, but left the windows down as we proceeded north.

“I want to go home.” I told her, and decided that when my second year is up, I will depart my southern city. This is a big deal, and is causing me a small amount of worry, but I believe it's right.

"I am proud of you, you know," Friend offered the other day when I acknowledged she must be disappointed in my job decision. She shook her head and said she predicted I'd go north and when I blinked at her in surprise of her proud declaration, she paused before elaborating. "You wanted something and you went out and got it." I nodded, thinking that despite it taking another year - I'm leaving after 3 years in my current spot - I did get back home. It just took some time. Interestingly enough (well, to me), the job search started on the east coast and ended on the west. This was despite being highly focused on the middle part of the country - I mostly skimmed locations on job boards and exclusively read those that fit my geographic criteria. So I'll offer links if you've further interest, but here's the job search, summarized neatly.

Interview I
  • When? October, 2007
  • Where? East Coast
  • Who? industry (different company than Industry). It was an R&D position.
  • How? An email went out to a small workgroup on campus. I replied, a headhunter called and I went to interview.
  • What? We mutually agreed the fit was unsuitable, though they said so first.
Interview II
  • When? December, 2007
  • Where? Midwest - excellent location.
  • Who? University - The Faculty Interview
  • How? Advisor did a post-doc for Director and knew he was looking. I sent an inquiry email to him about a post-doc and he invited me to interview for their faculty spot.
  • What? They thought I lacked a particular skill. I thought they wanted a whole hell of a lot from this candidate. I did, however, love the people and location and wanted the job. After being rejected for faculty, we discussed a post-doc. I kept the idea in reserve, but happily abandoned it when Industry said yes.
"Interview III"
  • When? Didn't happen.
  • Where? Midwest - another good location.
  • Who? Another good university - a post-doc in a related area.
  • How? Saw the posting, applied, heard back within 2 days that I could have the spot if I wanted it.
  • What? It wasn't a good job. She wanted someone to work and train people, earning several middle author spots. It would have been a huge pay cut and I thought it was more a tech spot than independent research (which would have been fine - I just wanted more money to do it). So I canceled the interview and told her I thought I should pursue other options. Last I heard, she was still looking.
"Interview IV"
  • When? Didn't happen.
  • Where? Southeast - moving away rather than closer to home.
  • Who? A different excellent university - a faculty spot with an excellent group.
  • How? Advisor interviewed for, got and turned down a faculty spot. He recommended me to the search committee.
  • What? I loved the chair of the department. I would have been good at the job. Yet I declined an offer to visit because it was too far away. This hurt for a long time - when it was looking like employment offers might end up totaling zero, this decision gave me a couple bad moments.
Interview V
  • When? March, 2008
  • Where? One of my favorite cities, Midwest
  • Who? University - the Pseudo-Academic Job I so wanted.
  • How? I applied online. Carrie knew a member of the search committee - I've collaborated with her and her boss, who is a big deal to this particular scientist. Plus, I was really right for the job. I think.
  • What? I finally got an email from HR - "Dear Applicant, We went another way. Sorry and thanks." Not Impressed - I still wrinkle my nose when I think of how they handled this one.
Interview VI
  • When? April, 2008
  • Where? Midwest - a place soon to be called home.
  • Who? Industry.
  • How? I saw a job posting in grad school and was invited to interview. I didn't get it, but when I saw the job open up again, I emailed people who remained in my address book. Then I pushed - emailed and called and waited. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat. I finally convinced Adam - who met me before but was promoted - to bring me in to interview.
  • What? I was hugely thrilled to get it. I was less thrilled to take it. But there's a lingering feeling of having made the right decision. I'm happy.
"Interview VII" (I don't think I mentioned this one - oops!)
  • When? May, 2008
  • Where? Midwest - right near the place I'm soon going to call home.
  • Who? Small start-up.
  • How? I was panicking by May. I had a group of people who knew I was worried - a couple of them immediately emailed me this job posting when it appeared. I wrote an email telling the CEO that my friends and I thought I'd be perfect for the job. He called a couple days later and we talked.
  • What? I'd already been offered the Industry job and took huge security over big risks. Which is cool and I'm absolutely fine with the decision. But I am supposed to call CEO once I get settled and meet for dinner - I believe he thought me charming.
Interview VIII
  • When? June, 2008
  • Where? California
  • Who? Drug Company
  • How? I collaborated on a clinical trial. A position opened, Eve liked working with me and asked me to visit. I was flattered so I went.
  • What? This was heartbreaking. I loved the job, the people and the offer. The location was wrong. And, upon further thought, I think I'll learn more and be much more challenged with the job I took. But it was a lovely feeling to be wanted. I'll always have a soft spot for this company and group.
I wrote a post about interviewing tips. For better or worse, these five campus visits did teach me something. So feel free to click if you'd like my ideas. As for tips on job searching? Again, I'll admit I just did what felt reasonable and right. I don't really know how to do this at all. But I'm all about stories - so here's what worked for me.

  1. Work the network. From beginning to end, I let people know I was looking. My graduate adviser was particularly helpful in this regard - it made me glad we mended fences after the defense debacle. But Boss and colleagues and friends all kept looking and passed along information. Keeping Eve in the loop got me an interview and offer.
  2. Know the wants. This was hard for me. I waffled a huge amount, but came back to center - I want home. I don't want to do independent research, though I reserve the right to change my mind. (I don't expect it to happen.)
  3. Have back-up plan. As far as limiting options as much as I did - in terms of geography and by not looking hard at another post-doc, it did get scary. I can't say I'd do this exactly the same given another shot at it, though I feel blessed and lucky and grateful it all worked out. The reason I clung to my plan was that a friend offered me a spot in a lab she just took over. So I held that in reserve and decided to wait out the options I wanted.
  4. Want it? Ask. Whether it's an interview sooner rather than later or coffee after your fifth meeting while you're visiting, I started to display confidence and expected people to take my desires into account. They started to respond to me differently.
  5. Hang in there. It's a long process for some of us. I suggest writing blog posts, drinking, baths and lots of naps while passing the time.
I'd add more if I could think of them. But I should be packing. I'm off to BigStateYouDon'tMessWith early tomorrow morning. Then it's one more week of packing upon my return and off to start my new job. (Feel free to leave comments if you have job search tips - I hope not to need them in the future, but it's always nice to be prepared. Just in case.)

Smoky Summary

Crazy Cats
"Oh, excuse me," I said when I opened the door and found ShowCat out of his carrier in the bathtub. He was exploring the bathroom and though I needed to use it, I decided to wait a moment before entering. But when I opened the door again, he remained between the toilet and trash can, so I moved in the small room and closed the door behind me.

"Hi," I said warily. "I'll hurry and then you can have your room back. I apologize for the intrusion." All the while hoping he did not attack my naked-for-the-moment bottom half, I hurried from the room as soon as possible, feeling a bit silly.

"Oh, hello ShowCat," Friend said when she and H returned from the lobby. She also stepped back and closed the door in front of her, allowing him time to return to the tub.

"He won't go," I offered helpfully. "He stayed out while I was in there too - he just glares from outside his carrier rather than through the little window in the side." ShowCat is very regal - a bit superior and aware of his beauty.

"The door swung shut," H offered when she checked on him. "He couldn't get back in his carrier."

"He's probably very relieved you finally went in," I replied. "He kept getting stupid humans who wouldn't help him out."

Pretty Park
"I want to go home!" I insisted to Friend. She ignored my petulant demands while I obediently (if unhappily) went toward the road through the mountains that she wanted. We eventually found the correct winding road and turned off the air. Rolling down the windows, we were able to hear the rush of water over rocks and watch the play of light as it slipped through the leaves on the trees and sparkled off the surface of the river.

"The rule," I informed Friend (who'd not had any coffee after I hustled her into the car as soon as humanly possible this morning), "is that you have to tell me if you want to stop. Otherwise, we go. So we can get home." But we stopped frequently - even my strong urge to return to the puppy at home quieted by the natural beauty. We drove up and down hills and around many corners. We moved over a couple of bridges and I marveled at the mountains in the distance and the river that hugged the edges of the road.

We exited the park to head back toward home and hit traffic. Lanes upon lanes of stopped cars. Somehow the light glaring off the painted automobiles was much less soothing than when it sparkled on the gurgling water. I finally took a side road and we ended up a bit better off.

"One of us wasn't going to live through it if I had to wait at the light much longer," I said, clipping my words in pure frustration. "I was either going to have a stroke and die because we could have made it out of the touristy area before it was late enough for all these people to be out if you hadn't made me go to the park or I was going to kill you and dump your body in this awful, busy place!"

We did, quite happily, make it out alive and well. But it was a rough trip home - both of us tired and she wishing we'd spent more time in the park and I desperately wanted to be home. But it was very pretty. And I didn't whine the whole time.

More creatures? Really?
“There are ants,” H noted yesterday evening as she put giant kittens back in their tent. I wrinkled my nose, unappeased when she said they were tiny ants. I do not enjoy bugs.

I did not particularly enjoy shopping either, but I wanted a dress and perhaps some pants for my new job. I found 3 tops instead of more pants, but I was pleased with an adorable dress I picked up. I love the empire waist trend! Friend and I found bras – more exciting for her than me because of the scarcity of her size – but I did find socks with frogs and monkeys on them.

“Sleepy time,” I announced after we’d stopped by the show and hauled a stack of H’s grading back to the room. Friend carefully selected questions I could check and assign points and I moved along with a blue gel pen, doing as I was told. I finished and caught her in the middle of grading a more difficult question, so I was able to surround myself with pillows in the middle of a bed I wasn’t currently sharing and napped.

“Hello, sleeping humans,” H said as she entered the room (before she found ants). So I shuffled over to the bag containing the clothes I packed and tugged some on before driving to dinner. We returned home to hold kittens, who, as it turns out, are not so enamored of strangers. It broke my heart for one of them to stare at me with large, worried eyes. Then she bolted and we had to capture the poor dear. Friend returned her to H, but fetched the other giant kitten. She visibly trembled while held in Friend's arms and I sadly told H I was sorry the kittens hated me.

Then I later told Friend to stop moving the sheet because I kept thinking the ants were coming to attack my toes.

Road Trip Recap
"I thought the amusement park was fun - most of the time," I reviewed when Friend and I were finally close to my house. Chienne was ecstatic to see us, but did fine on her own. I bet she and I both worried, but we made it through unscathed. "Then the cat show was...interesting. And we did well with shopping. And though we should have come straight home this morning, the park was pretty."

The only problem with me - for it was a nice few days - is I feel like I should be resting and packing and preparing for the new job. I do start 2 weeks from tomorrow. But I have to head out of town yet again on Tuesday, this time to spend a few days with Carrie. I'll work on my mood before then, I promise.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Well. Hello, Dolly.

I'm OK!

I write to you not from beside the hot tub in the lobby, but surrounded by cats in cages. This trip is a bit surreal, but I am - as yet - unharmed.

We slept in and slowly got ready to make the short drive to amusement yesterday. We parked and walked inside and headed toward a roller coaster I wouldn't ride.

"We're done," came the call on my cell phone far sooner than I expected it. So I nodded when I was told there'd been no line and turned around to head back from whence I came. I cheered up over funnel cake and soda (the first of 3 huge diet cokes) and waited again while they rode another scary ride. I watched people and eagles and got pretty bored.

"I'll ride the next one," I pouted and kept my eyes closed and attempted to keep my head steady. I failed on both counts, jostling my brain severely and opening my eyes to find myself facing straight up in the air, hanging upside down and hurtling through the darkness on my side. Freaking ride. I slowly made my way down stairs and blinked rapidly.

Friend and I giggled through a movie ride with seats in motion. "It's like driving with me!" I said as we bounced off other cars and our hosts on the screen yelled about bad drivers. It was fantastic. We stopped for lunch and moved toward the old train. After five pieces of coal dust got in my eyes, I put on my sunglasses and wrinkled my nose over dirty-diaper boy in front of us.

"Seriously?" I asked Friend when she said the carousel was up next. But it was somehow impossibly lovely to wrap my fingers around the gold post and slowly rise and fall on the pretty painted horse while moving around and around. "Let's spin more!" I cried and we moved down a hill and waited in line for the platform that spun around and slid side to side.

"I don't know," I said as I watched people ride while we waited. "This part might be fun," I noted of the beginning. "Then I'll get worried...and then this will start to suck." But I loved the whole thing, full of giggles and squeals and spinning feelings of delight. We moved immediately to tea-cup-esque rides where H, Friend's Former Roommate, used her super strength to make us twirl quickly while I giggled.

"I'm a little sick," I noted, finding a bench while they continued to look at crafts. "You look at candles and wood and stuff. I'll just wait here. Try not to vomit."

"I have a delayed spin response too," H said kindly. I nodded weakly, blinked hard and shuffled toward the next crafty offering. We listened to gorgeous windchimes and finally found blown glass. I bought presents for my mentors back home and we trudged toward the car after stopping to buy baked goods.

I flopped on the bed when we got back to the room. "Katie yells at other drivers," Friend unnecessarily had informed H after I'd scolded people who wouldn't go.

"I know," H replied easily - I like her a lot. "I read her blog."

So there was a shower and pizza and sleeping. There were calls from a giant kitten who has not yet been spayed. She finally unzipped her tent and ran around the room. When someone wakes me up to help catch a cat, the creature seems to move at lightning speeds. But H finally carried her back to her tent and we were treated to soft kitten calls at random intervals.

Now there are cats. And a lengthy and desperate search for coffee (I was finally successful - until then, there was whimpering). But all is well. Hold off on the rescue mission. For now.

Much love (and because of that, I do not wish you were here),

Friday, June 20, 2008

(Please send help.)

"Sure," I said when Friend asked if I wanted to take a trip with her to celebrate her birthday. We'd meet her former roommate after driving several hours, stay at a hotel, go to an amusement park, attend a cat show, do some shopping at an outlet mall and head home. What could go wrong?

"Did that say 'Live Babies in Incubators?'" I asked as we drove toward the hotel. "We should go home - the sign changed before I could read it all, but I really think we should turn around and go back. I'm very afraid."

"Oh, thank God," I breathed a few miles later. "It's not human babies - I think they're, um... What are those animals with the long mouths and lots of teeth? They swim. Sometimes they eat people."

"Alligators?" Friend said in a long-suffering voice and I nodded.

"I'm still afraid though. What's up with all the flashing lights? And Christmas decorations? It's June. And is it bad that every time we pass a building I think, 'Please don't be our hotel. Please, please, please don't be our hotel.'"

"I share that thought," Friend said but continued to move further inward to this touristy destination.

"There's a hot tub in the lobby," I whispered when we entered and she shushed me. I walked around, curious and still a little afraid, and moved back to her side as she was finishing with the carbon copy forms.

"Hi," I said to the front desk worker, a boy in college. "Does it ever freak you out to drive by all the lights and trashy shops?" He smiled and asked if I meant on the main street. I nodded, eyes wide with remembered trepidation.

"Why," he finally asked, "did you come here if you were only going to make fun of us?" He grinned while he asked it and I smiled in return while Friend told him he had a good point.

"We're with the cat show," she finally answered him.

"So you're with the cat show," he said returning his attention to me, "and you're making fun of us?" I giggled and said that I came because I was invited.

"I'm sure it's lovely," I noted and tried not to show my revulsion at the room.

"I've stayed in worse," Friend assured me.

But we're here. I slept reasonably well, despite Former Roommates 3:30AM arrival time (poor thing). Today we do amusement park. I hope to make it back here alive. But for now, picture me at a table right next to the giant hot tub. With lots of Southern people. Being slightly afraid. I'll return to the lobby tomorrow to let you know how I am. If you don't hear from me, figure out where I am and send help. Please.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

But... Oh.

Yesterday, after I enlisted Cousin's help with dog care while I'm out of town with Friend and Friend's Former Roommate, I scampered from my position by the box I was packing to my front door. I waved at the FedEx woman who was climbing back into her truck and carried the thin envelope inside.

"Industry," I said softly, feeling proud and pleased, "your offer came first after all."

I contemplated taking out my camera to document the occasion, but shook my head and pulled the tab to open the cardboard container. I withdrew pages, flipped through them rapidly and sat down heavily while more carefully paging through them again.

"But..." I murmured, placing the small stack of pages on my lap and moving each one to face down on the ottoman beside me so I was absolutely sure I hadn't missed anything. I hadn't. It was an I-9 form with detailed instructions of how to prove my eligibility to work in the US and a document to give the people who would perform my pre-employment drug screening.

"Oh," I said, confused and a little sad and powerfully disappointed. These were not details about the relocation program! There was no confirmation of the salary we discussed or mention of stocks or pensions or moving expenses! Official news is about a month later than I expected, and it arrives in the form of a Homeland Security form and instructions on where to give a urine sample? No, no, no!

I called the number on the blasted envelope of pain and disappointment and left a message for yet another HR representative. I told him I'd received the forms and while I supposed that was nice, I was kind of hoping to see an offer. "So let me know what's up, please," I said, trying for peppy and unable to sparkle past merely polite.

He returned my call a couple hours later. I had just spoken to Cousin and was invited to join them for dinner - leftovers - and to bring Chienne to see if she wanted to be their houseguest for the weekend or if she'd stay home alone for a couple days.

"I'm sorry," NewHR guy apologized. "Those forms weren't supposed to beat the actual offer. But there was a mistake on the letter and I corrected it, but that had to be approved. So I'm still waiting on that final approval before I send an email copy. It should be within a couple of hours."

"Today?" I asked, letting skepticism define the word.

"Today," he replied. And true to his word, the email did arrive with links to a very nice offer. The salary was not a surprise - I'd negotiated to a number I felt was fair and it was neatly printed in the first paragraph. I was pleased with the relocation package - they will buy the house after a defined period if it doesn't sell. Which is reassuring and wonderful and something that isn't included in the Drug Company deal. The lump sum payments were high - moving expenses and cash in lieu of house-hunting trips - so there was no need to negotiate there.

I read the letter on the screen of my laptop a couple of times. I paged through the pdf explaining the relocation program. I nodded slowly as most of my questions were answered and I realized this really would be, as Adam stated, very straightforward and easy.

"I'll have to think of something to request," I told my parents when I called them to let them know I finally had an official document offering me employment. I decided on stocks (none were offered. I think I'd like stocks - I should have some.) and a longer time in complimentary housing. I wrote the email this morning - I'll let you know how my meager negotiating skills play out. So far it's been as follows:

Me: Hi. How flexible is the salary number?
Industry: You could have $5K more.
Me: OK! Thanks!


"There should be cake," I told Friend this morning as I curled my hair and finished my make-up. I'd spent the evening with Cousin last night, finding Little Cousin friendly and delightful. I relaxed when Cousin said she had no opinions on the job situation - I should do what made me happy. Friend, when I picked her up on my way home so I could help with menial labor for her paper, nodded when I told her how nice that was. Then she offered disparaging comments about Industry and I snapped at her. But all was well this morning. "Boss wanted to make sure I was coming to the meeting today - he asked me to present some slides - but it must be to have a 'Congratulations, Katie!' party. So I'm all pretty if someone wants to take a group picture and I'll have cake after pizza. I've even prepared remarks about how wonderful everyone is and how happy I am to have this job offer."

I practiced said remarks on the way to work, leaving her to listen absently until I finished. At which point she started reciting her to-do list out loud, so I don't think she was overly moved by my heartfelt speech. No matter, I decided happily, and arrived at my desk to print out various forms from Industry to start reading and signing and preparing them to fax after I get a reply re: stock.

I walked down a hallway and sat with our receptionist as she notarized my I-9 form. I signed papers and filled out medical history documents and admitted I take anti-depressants. I called the number as directed and set up my appointment for my drug test and blinked with surprise when she said I could come today, tomorrow or Friday.

"I guess I could come today," I said, thinking my afternoon looked fairly free after my party. She told me where to go, instructed me to drink enough water (I wrinkled my nose - I'd rather not discuss urine at all, thanks.) and told me to call if I had any problems.

I did have a problem, though a call wouldn't have helped since it wasn't urine-related. I walked into the conference room, having been detained in the hallway by one of my favorite faculty members as we discussed the fight for my employment between Industry and Drug Company. I showed him the forms that bore Industry's logo and my signatures and he nodded approvingly.

"I thought you'd go closer to home," he said. "Congratulations." That, I decided, was what it should say on my cake. He'd obviously stalled me so they could set up my "surprise." But I glanced around the table and saw only pizza boxes and sodas. There weren't even very many people there, I thought. But maybe the cake would come later?

"We're a bit sparsely attended today," Boss said after we settled around the table, "but I asked Katie to present some more slides from the conference last month." Then he looked at me expectantly while I blinked at him for a moment.

"But," I wanted to say and didn't. "I'm leaving soon. I'm taking this offer and I start in two weeks and there was supposed to be cake. People were supposed to talk about how great I was and wish me well. And there's nothing? Just slides and pizza with freaking bacon on it? Really?"

"Oh," I said instead. "Right. So here are some abstracts I picked out." And I talked and we discussed some points and I wrapped up far earlier than our normal ending time. "I didn't prepare very much," I said to Boss and he said it was fine. I didn't mention I'd allowed time for cake, choosing instead to walk back to my office and pack my things so I could go pee in a cup.

No cake for Katie, I thought sadly after I'd dealt with feeling a bit like a criminal at the testing facility. A beautiful offer from Drug Company arrived today and I slowly moved my gaze across the pages, smoothed my fingertips over heavy paper and beautifully typed words. I smiled at the stickers that instructed me to sign here and sighed heavily because I'm not going to do that. It's best to keep expectations realistic, I think. I feel the Industry offer is right - safe and comfortable, challenging and wonderful. I know that might cause twinges of disappointment in some of you on my behalf. I'm sorry. But join the club - no cake for you either, apparently.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Me? Confusing?

I try to keep my naming scheme mostly transparent. I often fail. So I'll happily make a list to make things easier for an anonymous new reader.

Here @ Home
Katie - That's me.
Chienne - She's the dog. I've had her for five years now and she's a hound/pit bull/other mix.
Sprout - He's the stripey cat. He moved in a couple of years ago when I found him in my front flower bed.

Friend - She deserves a category all her own, I'm sure. I met her about two years ago when she sent me an email because she read my blog and realized we likely worked in the same spot. Despite a few random problems, we've been very close ever since.

Dad - Recently retired, Dad will turn 60 soon. He had a heart attack when I was in college, but has since been relatively healthy. He loves us all dearly and also feels compelled to point out even the smallest errors we make. Then he looks confused when we get frustrated.
Mom - She's historically been one of my closest friends and we've missed each other a lot in the three years I've been away to do this post-doc.* She's incredibly loving and generous and funny, has always been smart and healthy and strong. She had both knees replaced last summer and suffered a number of problems afterward. I was home a lot and terrified that those stays in the hospital revealed her frailty. She's fine now, but I still want to be closer. Just in case.

Brother - I have one sibling, younger than me by about 5 years. He's very smart and attractive and funny. He's doing very well professionally and less than beautifully personally right now.
Brother's Wife - He married a woman, um, three years ago? She's not so smart and very egotistical and I don't like her. She takes advantage of my parents but is a good mother. We have an uneasy peace right now, but only because I glare instead of scold lately.
Little One - My oldest niece is almost 4. She's a brilliant and beautiful and creative and spirited and exquisite girl. She watches movies and reads books, plays dolls and goes to day care. She starts pre-school soon.
Smallest One - My youngest niece is nearly 1. She's also brilliant and beautiful, good natured and giggly. She loves to play peek-a-boo and thinks it's absolutely hysterical when you play along - I can smile just thinking of her.

Aunt is Mom's sister. Uncle is her husband. They have two daughters - Oldest Cousin and Cousin.
Cousin lives fairly near my current location. She's married to Jay, has a daughter (age 3, Little Cousin) and a bunch of animals. Said animals include two puppies (!!) I absolutely adore.

Apart from Friend - who likely plays the largest role in what I write here (and who is blessedly gracious about what I write. She's never asked me to censor stories that include her and allows me to take liberties with dialogue to make a point. I love her for many reasons, but that's one that comes to mind.) - there are a few important people.

Elle (who became Anna when she found the blog and started to read) - Likely my first true friend ever. I met her upon moving into the dorms in college, found her smart and quirky and delightful and have adored her ever since.
Rachel - Elle's roommate in the dorms and the other of my beloved college friends. We're both introverted so it took us time to get closer and we have more trouble staying in touch. But she definitely counts in the friends list and, should I move north, we should get closer again.
M - My best friend from grad school. We were inseparable. She currently lives in Hawaii and I see her far too rarely.
Carrie - My best friend from my graduate research group. We continue to collaborate and it's due in large part to her that I have a CV as long as mine is.

This list will overlap with the Friends one. I do love a vast majority of the people I see at work.
Boss - My postdoctoral mentor. He's wonderful.
Jill - Boss's longtime secretary and a dear friend.
Ken - Sits next to me in a shared office.
Marlie - Sits diagonal from me in our shared office and is relatively new to this post-doc. I like and worry over her in equal (and large) amounts.
Dr. Icing - One of my main collaborators. Works clinically.
Penguin - One of Dr. Icing's colleagues and a collaborator of mine.
Quiet Mentor - We're co-mentored on the training grant and Quiet Mentor pairs with Boss for me. I rarely see him, hence the Quiet, but he's been very helpful and supportive.

Work To Come
I've been dealing with job search issues for about a year. I can summarize the interviews and outcomes at some point, but it's basically come down to two choices at this point.
Industry is a job I've interviewed for twice. Said interviews were separated by 3 years and the second one was eventually successful. Adam would be my boss in Industry, and the job is located in the Midwest, north of where I currently live and closer to my parents.

Eve would be my boss should I choose the job at Drug Company in California.

What'd I miss? If someone needs to be on the list, leave a comment and I'll add him/her. Random people do pop up. IncompetentIdiot annoyed me a couple weeks ago with travel stuff, but she's hardly worth mentioning otherwise. I used to try to link back to where stories started, but then I wondered who in the world would care about what I wrote before. It seemed a little vain, so I stopped. (But I can start again!)

A Little More Confusing
I've decided not to take Chienne home. She's my dog and she's staying with me. This is likely selfish and wrong. But 16 hours in the car is just too much. So she stays. (This is such a bad idea, but Boss asked if I'd attend a meeting tomorrow. And I don't want to deal with the separation/sickness issue at home either. I'm a terrible person.)

*The Wordle link was seen at BH. You can click on my image to make your own!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Suck (or rhyme thereof)

Today has not been what I'd call a good day.

I talked to Brother, for the girls have both been sick of late. Little One has pink eye and a tonsil infection. Smallest One spent last night at the hospital with her mother due to excessive vomiting. This is awful - I hate it when children are sick and given that I love these particular kids to pieces, it's wrenching to think of them suffering.

Adam told me firmly not to worry yesterday. The relocation package is wonderful, he said. Moving is easy, he assured. Sure, I thought. So I emailed my HR guy at Industry. He said he would call today and my letter should be mailed within hours. He hasn't called, so I called him. Now I'll see if he'll return my voice mail.

If I move north, I am to start in three weeks. Three weeks is soon.

Chienne should have been driven home today. I put it off until tomorrow. Therefore tonight will be her last night spent in our beloved house. And while three weeks is soon, it's a long time for me to be away from my precious puppy.

Jill, my former secretary, called today. IncompetentIdiot is still holding up my travel reimbursement. My minor victory over small meals is going to turn into a major loss in credit card interest. Which frustrates me to no end, but IncompetentIdiot won't answer my calls so I can firmly scold her. Dammit! I deserve to scold her!

I recently was told Brother and his wife were going to a marriage counselor. Today Mom told me he moved out more than a week ago. Though I have very little to say that's good about the woman he married, I'm disappointed and deeply saddened that he can't make this work for Little and Smallest Ones. Lest the pity be placed with the one related to me, I'll say that one of my first questions related to who the new girl was. Mom believes it's someone at a bar Brother frequents. She also plans to visit said bar when she returns from vacation. I'm torn given that Brother's wife started sleeping with him when he was engaged to a girl I liked a great deal more. People who cheat suck. I'm so sad about this (though I'm kind of looking forward to hearing about Mom vs. Other Woman should that happen).

Cousin sent an email because I keep missing her lately when I call. Between my travel plans and hers, we're very unlikely to see each other before I move. And I love her and I'll miss her. And I wanted to see her again before I have to go away!

I think I'm doing that typical thing I do before I have to leave a much-loved friend. I get slightly distant and evil and impatient. I notice I'm giving Friend more brief nods rather than thoughtful responses to statements she makes. I'm increasingly self-involved (which may seem hard for my baseline is pretty high, but I can pull it off apparently).

Part of the reason I like reading blogs is that my emotional involvement remains in check. But I've come to realize that when I read someone for years, I fret over them much like I would a friend met in other ways.

So. Basically, there's worry and sadness and frustration the people are ignoring me over email (Industry), or I'm avoiding (Drug Company). I don't like this day at all.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


"No thinking about work or job choices or lack of job choices tomorrow," Friend decreed last night before bed. "Just flowers. Or something fun."

I mumbled my agreement, already snuggled between a pile of pillows and a sleepy dog in the office. She soon went to sleep with Prettiest Cat in the master bedroom with our vague plan of 'no thinking about work' day.

I broke the rules from the beginning. Friend read a paper of mine last night and I finished editing and submitted the final document while she was just beginning to sip coffee this morning.

"What time did you wake up?" she asked, blinking sleepily.

"10:00," I replied, glancing at the clock and realizing that was a mere 15 minutes ago. But I puzzled over paragraph placement and finally decided to follow Friend's suggestions because they made the document easier to read. I still hesitate to put background material in the results section, but it seemed the most logical for this particular explanation. I uploaded files, read my proof and submitted the paper for review. Then I read blogs.

At noon, we looked at each other again, having accomplished little. "It's hot out," I offered from my spot on the loveseat and she shook her head in disagreement. I frowned and sighed, going to the kitchen to load the dishwasher.

"OK," I finally said. "We can take Prettiest Cat home and you can pick up those notes you needed. Then we can go to campus, I can download my audiobooks and you can finish your work." I did not realize this violated the rules of day of leisure, but I eventually would. "Then we can head toward flowers. Oh, and eat. I need food or I'll get sick in the heat."

It started out reasonably well though the order of events changed slightly. We finally loaded Prettiest Cat in a carrier and placed her in the car. We drove to Friend's house, I petted cats and she found the notes she needed. We stopped for salads and sandwiches and I sipped sweet tea while feeling impressed and grateful that Panera had found tomatoes for sandwiches. I miss tomatoes.

We ended up at one of the many pretty places in town and trekked inside, cameras in hand. We looked at and in buildings.

"I want to see the water," I said, already dabbing at the sweat on my forehead, so we walked toward the spring. "Oh," I breathed when we saw it, "it's pretty."

"It is pretty," Friend agreed. "Humid though."

"Look!" I called after moving several steps down the path, "A structure of some sort! Like a bridge."

"Well," Friend explained as she followed behind me, "this is the path we're supposed to take. So it makes sense to cross over the water."

"I'll get hot," I warned, already wiping at my face again. "Brace yourself for the whining." We both took a breath and soldiered on, finally moving away from the quiet gurgle of the flowing water and down a path that cut through parts of the plantation. We took pictures as I trudged quickly through the unshielded patches of relentless sunshine and slowed to glance around once I found shady refuge. Once slightly cooler - enjoying the breeze once I was protected from the sun - I sighed over the play of light over the petals of flowers and lush greenery.

"This," I told Friend when I finally convinced her to leave, "is the most miserable I've been in recent memory." She laughed and I continued to explain/complain. "I've traveled and interviewed and agonized over job decisions. Yet I'm drenched with sweat, very hot and completely tired of being here. This is the most miserable I've been in recent memory." She said something about it not being so bad and reminded me of perspective and I rolled my eyes. Then blinked hard when sweat got in them and stung.

"This didn't work out as planned," I noted as we ended our excursion in her lab while she finished things up. She'd finished telling me that the group will surely be scolded by a disappointed PI because nobody managed to have stunningly perfect results from this weekend. Friend started to plan her next moves - experiments and job possibilities and work for the graduate papers she's trying to write - and I sighed over the email I'd received from Adam while downloading my audiobooks.

He said not to worry. The relocation package is great and everything will go smoothly and easily. So onward I go, I suppose. I'm back to worrying over job options while giving part of my attention to a blog post. It was a nice try - the water was lovely and the flowers pretty. But life sometimes pushes in and demands worrisome attention from me. But it will be OK - even the worst misery eases in an air conditioned car. And someday soon, I'll compare offers and make a decision.

Until then, look at the pretty pictures!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

More Mundane

There are, I decided, a couple of reasons that a woman, age 29, healthy and single, could find herself on all fours before 9:00 in the morning on a rainy Saturday.

“Want to go outside?” I asked Chienne, who happily acquiesced to having her leash attached to her collar. We unlocked the front door to step into the cloudy morning. “Oh, it’s barely sprinkling,” I told her when she huddled on the porch and pawed at the front door. “But, OK, you silly girl.”

I followed her inside, smoothed my hand over her coat and, much to her dismay, headed outside again through the garage. I grabbed a garbage bag and gardening tool and shook out the former while moving up the front walk toward the porch again. I glanced down at the sidewalk where shallow puddles of water waited then up at the sky where rain fell gently but persistently. Then I shrugged and sat down, feeling the water instantly soak the thin gray pants I wear for sleeping and listening to the water touch the black plastic trash bag as it fell from the sky.

It was soothing and lovely, for I love the rain. I smile over cloudy days where I can eschew contacts for glasses. (The sun can’t force me to squint when it’s hidden behind a blanket of fluff.) I open the blinds and let the light inside, enjoying the fact that it’s more white than yellow, making all the colors in my world seem more vivid against the softer background.

I’d miss the rain in California, I sighed, but shook my head against thoughts of jobs and two tentative offers but zero written ones. I avoided people who wanted to mentor me yesterday simply because I don’t have all the information yet. I don’t know relocation details or stock options or bonus structures for Industry. When I felt my shoulders tense against stress rather than in preparation of wiggling the roots of a weed from my flower bed, I firmly directed my thoughts to the present.

All I needed to know for the moment – on a Saturday with a complete and exquisite lack of plans – was that there were weeds around my sprouting flowers and I was going to remove them. Even sitting on the sidewalk, feeling the surface of hair hanging loose around my shoulders grow damp from the droplets of rain, the emotions were bittersweet.

I like weeding. I love this house. I’ve not always been happy here, but I always have loved the sand-colored walls inside, the light brick that surrounds the exterior. Friend and I planted the seeds that are sending leafy stalks a foot or so above the surface of the soil. I decided after examining the buds that they'd soon blossom into a ball of countless (or countable by someone with far greater patience than I possess) petals. There are mostly shades of pink, if my memories of last year aren’t flawed. Then there are the smaller flowers that bloom later. It was in those happy clumps of orange and pink and white that I found Sprout. (Who is residing quite happily with his grandparents. Chienne and I will drive up on Monday and she’ll move in with them until I settle in my new location.)

I’ve long said – when pressed about how worried I should be about selling my house in this market – that I’ve loved living here. It’s hard to regret so many days when I smiled over the high ceilings and odd angles in the living room. When I cooed over Grandma’s china that just yesterday got taken from the shelves in the kitchen and tucked into protective carriers that could then be packed. When I mowed my lawn and thought my thoughts. I can be loud or savor the quiet of not sharing walls with neighbors. Chienne grew used to having constant access to her back yard and each day rotates through the multiple napping surfaces that this structure contains. Sprout moved in without thoughts of pet rent or permission. I like having a house.

“I’ll miss you,” I told the flowers as I gently nudged them aside to yank at the weeds that crowded them. I hoped fervently that someone new would protect them from the spikey weeds and giant grasses, would mulch with the dark brown color I’d chosen and drag the hose around to water them if the summer was too dry. The reward is the gorgeous yellow irises at the far end of the walk. The pink lilies that make too many flowers and whose stalks topple over, leaving the blooms laying on the mulch. I keep telling them to put more energy into stalk strength and less into pretty flowers, but I’ve yet to see a change. I’ll be sad to leave it. But I feel blessed to have lived here.

It began to rain steadily harder and I got dirt in my hair when I tucked it behind my ears. I considered cleaning my glasses on my shirt, but couldn’t find a dry spot. When I moved from sitting to pull the weeds closest to me and shifted to rest on my hands and knees to delve deeper into the bed, my pants slipped off my hips, having grown heavy from the water they’d absorbed. I moved a hand back to tug at them before crawling forward to finish what I started. It was cool outside and I’d much rather be wet from rain than sweat. So I tugged and coaxed and finally grabbed the pokey tool to jab at the soil and rip roots from the ground.

“Oh, fine,” I told the rain when I’d almost reached the irises whose blooms have disappeared though the plants still look healthy. There were increasing levels of noise coming from the increasingly full garbage bag as the drops bounced off the black plastic with greater force. The fabric around my legs sloshed when I moved from sitting to kneeling to standing and I giggled when I realized the few cars that passed by probably thought I had serious problems. But I finished as best I could through the now-pouring rain, nudging my glasses down my nose so I could see above the spotted lenses to get at the last remaining weeds.

I waddled toward the garage, slipping out of my flip flops that had become puddle-carrying devices, and waiting until the door rumbled closed before giving up and letting my pants fall to my ankles. I stepped out of them while I tugged off my shirt and tossed everything in the washer.

“I got wet,” I offered to the dog who appeared taken aback at my lack of attire when I walked in the door. She waited while I selected a different pair of pants and loose t-shirt and then accepted the pets she wanted. I kissed the top of her head before moving to the bathroom, cleaning my glasses on my soft, dry shirt. I toweled off my hair before glancing at the dark curls and realizing that a majority of them had stayed dry. It was only the top layer that had absorbed the water, leaving the rest safe and dry.

We’ve only scratched the surface of what I can handle, I decided, feeling strong and smart, capable and relaxed. So I smiled at my reflection, washed the dirt off my hands and went to make coffee.

I think today should be a good day.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tenuous Grip on Reality

"I just can't picture it," I tried to explain to Friend when she asked one more time how I could turn down the California offer. How I could look at a wonderful job that almost never becomes available, consider fabulous people who really want to work with me, and think of the California scenery and still shake my head side to side instead of up and down.

"I try to see myself there - in that sunny cubicle in the corner of the floor, surrounded happy people who love their jobs, walking downstairs to the incredibly clean and lovely locker room and slipping into a jacuzzi to ease away any stress that might linger after I work on things I know how to do." Friend nodded, head cocked as she tried to understand. "And my brain giggles." I concluded. "It's just ridiculous - stuff like that doesn't happen. Who puts waterfalls on campus? Offers 5 weeks of vacation and a fully vested 401K to brand new people? Where is it beautiful all year and full of people who think I'm so cool they have to hire me? It doesn't make sense. They're all crazy and I can't deal with it."

"So it has to be miserable and hard to be right?" she clarified, forehead creased in a frown, likely while she decided whether we should finish our Greek food or she should rush to have me committed.

"Not constantly miserable," I said, forking up a bit more salad and beginning to chew. I grinned while she shook her head at me and sipped more sweet tea.

I decided not to go to work today, snuggling into the office bed and napping instead. I dreamed I had started at Industry but was still interviewing. I remember trying to schedule enough people and say enough of the right things to make them pay attention to me. At one point, I promised to drag my office chair across campus to a meeting just to be overly impressive. So I was carrying my chair down some steps and I sat down in it to push with my feet and roll across the sidewalk toward a castle-like building. I kept getting caught on pebbles and in cracks in the sidewalk. When I stopped to rest, I got scared because there were people hurrying around me and I didn't want to be late.

I finally arrived at the castle, having risen from the chair and gripped the top of the back to pull it behind me, and there was a padded step - as large as a very big bed - that had to be conquered before reaching the main office level. I tossed my chair ahead of me, but the wheels sank into the padded surface and I didn't have the strength to lift it to the landing. People steamed past me, bouncing the bed-like surface as they hopped to the main level, but nobody offered to help.

I wandered down the hall after I woke, a little shaken, and told myself I could handle Industry. I might be a tough transition and I'd have to battle for attention, but I could do this.

"Drug Company isn't going to move fast enough anyway," I told Friend yesterday, almost relieved. She looked skeptical when I said the Industry offer should be here any day now, but nodded her understanding when I said Drug Company was constrained by hiring rules and moving through that process took time. I comforted myself that there wouldn't ever really be a decision to make. Industry offer would arrive, I'd negotiate for a better relocation package and all would proceed as planned.

So, once safely ensconced on the loveseat in the living room, I began looking at houses in the upper Midwest. Given a package that gets me out of my current house, I can easily afford a nice place with a fenced yard. So I was squinting at pictures and trying to imagine having a basement for storage again when the phone rang.

"Katie," a deep voice said and introduced himself as my new HR representative from Drug Company. I smiled when I wondered if my open hostility had resulted in a switch to someone I found less offensive. All perfection, all the time - that's Drug Company! "I wondered if you had an offer from Industry and wanted to update you on how things were going out here."

"Nope," I replied quickly. "They say soon - perhaps tomorrow. I'll let you know if tomorrow ever comes."

"Well," he said, "we put a rush on your background check and should have results by the end of today. While I'm not at liberty to say more until we know that everything checks out properly, you can guess that this might be the final stage."

"OK," I said slowly.

"So as soon as I hear back from them - and I say this unofficially - you might see how fast we can move at the official offer stage."

"I understand," I said and laughed. "And it's really lovely of you to keep me updated. Thank you."

"My pleasure," he noted and promised to call back soon and gave me his number in case I had any questions at all.

"Perfect," I said and thanked him again. Then I sat and looked around at my cluttered living room. I wondered what more I should pack and if these boxes might, in fact, head west instead of north here shortly.

This is driving me crazy though. I'm very scared and confused and upset. (And also feeling spectacularly lucky to have such a decision to make at all.) Perhaps if my head explodes from the pressure of waiting and trying to make some decision, I won't have to decide between west and north at all.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I mentioned that my flight to CA was delayed on Sunday. Boarding should have started at 12:30. At 12:45, I decided the 1:00 departure time would surely be pushed back. Since there was more talking than paper shuffling and moving toward opening the door, I settled in for a bit of a wait.

"There is a mechanical problem with the plane," the agent finally announced. The crowd responded with general grumblings and sighs when she said she didn't know more than that. I sat where I could see the board and watched the estimate departure move in 15 minute increments to later and later times. What frustrated me, just an aside, was that each time would have indicated we should begin boarding immediately and that wasn't happening.

We herded toward a new gate when instructed to do so, each of us shuffling eagerly while waiting to elbow our way to a spot on the escalator. We hurried toward the new gate only to find seats so we could wait another hour or so. People complained about missing connecting flights, wondered why we weren't offered free stuff and sighed when even this departure time started to scoot toward later times again.

"Yay," I offered weakly to my group of complaining passengers when we were allowed on the plane. Then I sat in a window seat next to a disgruntled couple who were heading home after a lengthy east coast vacation. I nibbled at the sandwich I purchased hours before and took out my laptop to finish the last bits of work I'd brought on the trip.

"Just to let you know what's happening," a flight attendant said over the intercom after we'd all been seated about 20 minutes, "someone saw that headrests were broken and once they're reported, they have to be fixed before we can leave. So a mechanic is going to do some paperwork, then he'll board and just placard the broken seats so we can get on our way."

We soon found ourselves frowning at a man who moved slower than my dad (which I didn't know was possible) came and chatted with passengers as he carefully removed the broken headrests, draped the seats with copious amounts of red tape and placed several 'Broken! Do not use!' stickers on the seats. There were 10 broken seats. We waited over an hour for the single man to go on and off the plane, removing headrests and placing tape. Then we finally flew for 3 hours or so to arrive on the west coast.

I smiled when I saw the man seated in front of me haltingly answer his seatmate's questions. I craned my neck to see if he was cute - he was passable - and decided that she wasn't the prettiest woman in the world. Yet she flirted hard and he unsuccessfully tried to sleep or listen to music or read. I was a bit surprised to see him ask a couple of questions once we landed and were waiting - there at the back of the plane - to disembark.

"Here," she said, scribbling her email address and phone number on a scrap of paper. "And what's your email?"

When he gave it to her, I wondered if it was the relief of almost being off the plane. Of arriving - better late than never - at our destination. Perhaps the happiness had gone to his head - the joy of almost being done had made him rattle off a string of letter and characters that may or may not have allowed her to contact him later.

I'd write it off but a similar thing happened on my flight back. I'd noticed a man wearing some sort of shoulder holster thing. The embroidered leather fit over his arms, kind of like a backpack worn in reverse, and two white feathers dangled down the middle of his back. I frowned at him while we waited at the gate before boarding, wondering if he was carrying a baby in some sort of befeathered papoose.

Nope, I decided when I saw him in profile, nary a child dangling from his front. The leather and feathers must just be for pretty.

Oh, I sighed when I saw him sitting in the window seat of my assigned row. He shifted to allow me to sit in the middle seat and the light pouring in from the sunny day bounced off the glitter on his t-shirt. Fantastic, I thought with a barely stifled smile. He's sparkly and feathery. Through the lengthy flight home, I watched him curiously out of the corner of my eye. He watched a video on his laptop that was, I decided, about metaphysical concepts. Then he very carefully read his own tarot cards and spent time examining each card in the deck one by one.

"I would have asked Glitter-Feather man about them," I told Friend as she drove me home last night, "but he had headphones on. Headphones very clearly state a person doesn't welcome interruptions, so I followed the rules and left him alone."

"That wasn't so bad," he said, his voice quiet and a little scratchy when the plane landed. Since all he'd asked so far was if he could close the window and if I'd move to allow him to use the rest room (I said sure to both, of course.), I glanced at him and smiled before nodding. I was again located at the back of the plane and sighed with pleasure as I scooted away from Glitter-Feather man and into Flannel man's aisle seat (he'd stood in the aisle when the fasten seatbelt sign dinged and extinguished).

"Are you going somewhere else or staying here?" I asked, for the flight was scheduled to continue on after it dropped some of us off.

"Driving south," he said and mentioned an event he was to attend. We spoke about that for a few minutes and he smiled at my responses.

"I hope you have a good time," I offered.

"It'd be impossible not to," he replied.

"Isn't it hot?" I asked with a frown.

"During the day," he confirmed. "But that's part of the fun. Plus it cools down at night."

"Do you camp?" I asked curiously and he nodded again.

"Have you ever been?" he asked and I shook my head and laughed. "How come?" he continued with a tilt of his head. I glanced to see the line of first class passengers finally begin to exit the plane in the distance and shrugged.

"I don't like to be hot. And I never camp." He thought about that for a moment while I took a phone call from Friend and promised I'd hurry to her restricted parking area.

"You could go somewhere up north," he offered when he had my attention again. "Get a hotel." I nodded my agreement absently. "Will your ride leave if you're late?" he asked.

"No," I laughed. "It'll be fine - she'll wait. Which is good since I have very little control over the situation right now."

"It's always fine," he said with a smile that made him strikingly attractive. I smiled back without thinking about it.

"Thus far, it always has been fine," I agreed, but felt compelled to add the qualifier.

"It always will be fine," he said firmly.

I thought about it for a moment - and could think about it more right now - but stayed silent as we finally got our turns to shuffle slowly down the aisle toward the jetway. I don't know what my response would have been had there been extra time to indulge in 'thank goodness we're finally here, OK I'll talk to this person for a minute' conversation.

On one hand, it will be fine. I know that, though I can't obtain the zen-like calm to wear sparkly clothes and leather/feather creations. But it will be OK.

On the other hand, I'm Still Freaking Out. I talked to Adam and Eve today. Adam was "surprised and confused" about why I talked to Drug Company at all. "What about the position here concerns you?" he asked.

"Nothing," I replied promptly. "Except I didn't know what was going on - if you'd interviewed someone else or had problems with upper management. So it made sense to look when they seemed so interested."

"I have a cubicle reserved for you," he offered, "and your time is already 50-80% scheduled. Trips to take, people to meet, things to do." And I nodded and said I was ready - I just needed to see an official offer. Yet I think about Eve and how she gave me hugs and is rushing the process to accommodate my timelines. And while I know that either job is a wonderful opportunity and that Industry seems more comfortable and right to me, I'm still struggling.

So I'm eagerly anticipating the happy relief I'll feel when I finally decide between places. And thinking that I might be peppy enough to give my email address to someone I don't really like or offer assurances about the goodness of life to a stranger on a plane. But for now, I'm glancing at my watch far too often and trying to calculate the time before I can make a decision. I need numbers and offers and negotiating points for both opportunities. And I don't have them yet.

Maybe I should have interrupted Glitter-Feather man to ask about my future after all.