Tuesday, May 04, 2010


Sunday was non-ideal. I was up early for breakfast, was quickly drafted to help write a talk and only after we finished was I allowed to go for a walk. It was sunny but cool so wandering along the waterways was wonderful.

The wonder abruptly ceased when my sneakers caused a blister on my left heel, making me wince even as I acknowledged I was at least 2 miles from my hotel. Muscles taxed by yesterdays rambling trek and hours on a plane protested mightily. But I bought a bottle of water and continued to walk, this time toward my temporary lodging.

After attempting to bandage my poor foot, I set off to the meeting I didn't want to attend and found - whether by mood or poor planning - it was even worse than I'd expected. Alcohol might have saved it but we were prohibited from even wine until after the four hours of formal presentations. I was promptly scolded when a request from a colleague earned a firm negative response. I believe I said somehting like, "If you people can't plan ahead and let me know, you'll have to look foolish on your own. I'm not ruining my credibility because you can't do your job." Which was, in retrospect, hardly politically savvy. But screw it - I was tired and annoyed and responded to Adam's warning glare with an impertinent raised eyebrow and early departure from the social gatherings afterward.

Still, I don't like being in trouble, so I was all bothered. I took a nap and ordered room service - delicious mushroom soup delivered by an even more delicious Swede - I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped when I opened the door.

Sleepy Nostalgia
I hit a wall on Monday in terms of exhaustion, reminding myself firmly to open my eyes again when blinking rapidly turned into "Crap - am I asleep?" events. I sat in the back of large meetings and tried desperately to be engaged and attentive during events where my presence was more prominent. But it hurt.

I do happen to be at a conference and while last year the science did not lure me, I find it more appealing now. The distance from the pain of bad results or rejected papers has lent a gentler glow to the overall work. I soothe myself by reminders that I promote discovery and translate that into products that should help a great deal of people. But there are times when it stings a bit to know that I'm only in front of a room of people because Industry paid for the privilege - not out of any merit-based knowledge.

I don't know if it's the bittersweet memories or the extent of exhaustion, but I found myself being overly honest during my last presentation of the day, desperate to be done for the day and meet old friends for dinner. So as it neared 9PM, I answered questions honestly about timelines and availability - earning appreciation from some and hostility from others. I am not, I thought several hours later, a bit tipsy and wildly tired, representing myself so well here.

Starstruck & Starboard (& Sick)
Yesterday was much better. I slept hard and long Monday night and felt more reasonable about my schedule. I arrived and started taking meetings, settling in a comfortable chair and greeting those that came and sat to chat. There are multiple people who are - at least in my mind - scientifically famous and know me, honestly, because Industry puts me in front of them. Feeling suitably grateful for and blessed with my current job, I giggled and conversed, learned and planned.

Unfortunately, my belief that it was springtime and therefore comfortably warm has lead to a lack of suitable clothing here. The predictions that my penchant for wandering in the wind was going to land me with some illness has been proved correct with a vengeance. My throat was sore all day yesterday and last night I was too stuffy to sleep. Now the cold air or strong perfume or cigarette smoke makes my eyes and throat burn. It hurts to swallow and aches to breathe.

Yet when a group decided to take a sunset cruise, I promptly and happily accepted the invitation. "I want to go on the boat!" I offered, nearly bouncing with excitement, and despite the large windows and warm air inside, I couldn't resist standing on the deck and leaning on the railing, talking with colleagues who had come along and marveling at the scenery. I reflected on past meetings - spending evenings alone in my room, feeling isolated and unimportant and homesick - to my current schedule. It's crazy and busy but it's a happy sort of chaos - full of brilliant people and funny comments. Lots of alcohol and late evenings wandering home.

I ended up walking home from the boat ride alone despite that camaraderie - my friends deciding to go out a bit longer and requiring me to claim exhaustion and head back. Memory served to get me across Gamla Stan, pausing to sigh over the winding streets and pretty storefronts. But I crossed the wrong bridge, ending up completely alone in a lovely square with darkness all around me.

"I'm scared," I admitted out loud, not sure of where I was and how to get home, cold, sick and alone. But I took a breath, winced at the resulting pain, and squinted at the skyline before retracing my last steps and finding my way. And that's a rather nice conclusion to my summary so far - it's not been perfect, but I'm figuring it out.


Amelie said...

"Happy Chaos" sounds good. Long meetings and jet-lag can be tough.

Ms.PhD said...

Nicely written.

I especially identify with the part about being "too honest" just because you were tired. I get that criticism all the time (I'm always tired).

Like it should be a bad quality for a scientist to have (!).

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