Thursday, August 31, 2006

Disney won.

I really thought I was up for it, and, with all due modesty, I did quite well. Disney World - in my experience - wears you out. But when given a park hopper pass, hop I did. With minimal complaining about heat, humidity, thirst and hunger, I traipsed around the parks. At the very bottom of the picture, you can see the very top of my head - dark hair pulled back and ready to face the day that began at MGM and my very first (and likely last) upside down roller coaster. I prefer to remain upside up.

We continued on to the Magic Kingdom, where we spent most of the day. It was actually pretty overcast and the temperatures were relatively mild. I was only miserable a couple of times throughout the day, which, for August, is impressive. In addition, there were small crowds which lead to efficiency in rides, food and shopping. Delightful, and if I'd included the remainer of the picture to the left, you'd see my smiling face attached to the hair that had fallen out of my ponytail.

We wrapped it up at Epcot and finally called it quits and headed back to the car. I didn't get sore or achy, but realized - upon sitting down for the drive home - that I was incredibly tired. But 3 parks in 11 hours with nearly constant activity makes for a tired Katie.

So it was a nice day - I do enjoy Disney a great deal. I also found delightful presents for the Little One's upcoming birthday. Tomorrow is shopping and time for work. Just wanted you to know that the mouse and I are doing quite well.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Out of Office

I realized I may have neglected to let my blog friends know that I was going out of town. So... I'm out of town now. I caught a flight early this morning and headed south (for even more intense heat and humidity. I know.) to meet a friend. This is a working trip for the most part (not even "working" but actual working) so the laptop is filled with files and notes and papers half written. I forced myself through some revisions on my layover, but otherwise have just felt sorry for myself because I'm going to Florida and have to work a lot. Poor me.

But as I was sighing over my extensive list, I noticed the person seated in front of me shifting. In doing so, she moved the tray table, and I glanced up. She was younger than I am and I wondered if she was going back to school since she was traveling alone. I comforted myself by thinking of how far I've come in the educational process, though I still don't know where I'm going.

Upon arriving in Orlando, we deplaned and headed toward the baggage claim. Since I'm normally pretty oblivious, it took me a moment to realize that she was in full army gear. It provided an important reality check. I'm on vacation - taking a trip I didn't really need to take, but one which will increase the Publications section on my CV. All these papers I'm writing and research I'm proposing helps - first and foremost - me. In terms of career development and learning opportunities. Will it provide some critical clinical component? Eh. It'd be lovely, but it likely won't. So I'm focused on feeling grateful for the opportunity to do all this work I brought. Really.

But tomorrow? I have to see about a mouse.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Scary Arial

I started a post yesterday and was unable to finish it. It was kind of cute, so I was confused as to why I kept minimizing it whenever I’d get distracted – I put the document away multiple times without meaning to do so. I pulled it up again this morning – thinking I might finish and publish it since I was reading blogs anyway – and automatically minimized it again. So I thought I had some subconscious problem, didn’t feel like figuring it out, and left it alone.

I realized when I just opened it again that I’d used Arial font. Word defaults to Times New Roman, which I tend not to use, so I usually pick a new one. Right now I’m using Tahoma. I can’t use Georgia because that’s what’s on the actual blog. Mail uses Helvetica, so sometimes I try that. Optima is kind of nice. But Arial is reserved for work documents – I write everything professional – papers, proposals, abstracts, CV – in Arial. So what I think happened was that I glanced at it, got the impression of Arial, and automatically made it go away.

My problem, I think, isn’t that I dislike my job. I’m rather enamored with the actual work. Going through data, developing methods, troubleshooting even. It’s interesting – moments of intense challenge followed by relatively mindless progression through datasets. I’m at the point where I’m getting good at it. Have a strong idea of where to start, can spot problems more efficiently, can reach a steady point from which to ask questions rather than beg for advice. I like it – feel that I’m at the appropriate point in my academic career.

But the writing? Apparently anything in Arial font? That can go to hell. I’m not so good at it, honestly. And after spending a year doing little else, it seems like I’d enjoy it more. Or at least feel more confident at the results of my work. Instead I seem to have developed this instant, subconscious aversion to the Arial font. So, since this blog has turned into my version of therapy for now, I thought I’d try to figure out what my deal is.

I hint at problems around the end of grad school a great deal. The whole story is depressing – I still get sick when I talk about it – and I, of course, would make myself out to be the blameless party when I obviously wasn’t. The end of the story is, basically, that I left graduate school without defending under the condition that my defense would be scheduled when I had another first author paper accepted. I find this to be a bit stupid, frankly, for a number of reasons. Not the least of which was that I was incredibly hurt, surprised and helpless in this particular situation.

I’d battled publications for years. Ideally, people in my group would publish a first paper near the end of the second year. Then another around the time of the preliminary exam, which left time for a couple more as we wrote a thesis and did serious research. Except that it rarely worked out that way. Some people left with a single paper. Others – well, one person – left with five or six. While I had three under review, and after reading each of the manuscripts it was agreed that it was publishable material, it was decided that an official acceptance letter from a journal was my ticket out of school.

When the fate of four years of work rested upon 2-3 reviewers rather than 5 faculty members who are intimately acquainted with my work, I started to fear reviewers. Kind of like when I see a large spider and recoil without thinking. Chances are that the spider won’t hurt me at all, but I’m instinctively fearful. So whether I’m writing an Institutional Review Board protocol, an internal grant proposal or NIH grant application, or a dreaded manuscript for peer review, I’m scared. I hold it for too long, writing a draft then putting it away so I can look at it again later. Then I repeat that – put away, look again, put away, look again – for as long as possible, then tense all my muscles and wince while submitting the sad little paper that will almost certainly get kicked around. Poor thing.

(I don’t mind abstracts though. I’ve had excellent luck with abstracts for the most part. It’s a good academic community for that, and I’m grateful.)

It’s not that I’ve never had good experiences. I had an NIH fellowship in grad school – funded after one round of revisions. I’ve had papers accepted – some fairly recently – so should feel encouraged that I can see some progress. But I’m not sure if – for me – it’s worth the work. All the time and energy and careful planning. Changing some text to address comments from outright rejections, then carefully selecting a journal to try again. Grant reviews that seem contradictory among readers. Protocols that sit in review for months when they seem to require only a quick glance.

It’s what I do. And my feeling is that as I progress in an academic career, I'll spend increasingly large amounts of time writing and less time playing with data. And while I’m happy pushing buttons and looking at graphs, I immediately minimize anything written in Arial font. Recoiling in fear before convincing myself to deal with whatever document I left open as a reminder to look again – it’s not a good realization to make.

I think that it’s important for me to have several projects going. It’s not the end of the world if something gets rejected, because there are three other projects, papers or protocols in various stages of readiness. Retaining hope while recovering from disappointment.

In the meantime, I’m learning. I’ve had a couple papers rejected many times and finally figured out - with extensive help from my current advisor - what I was doing wrong. They’ve both found conditional acceptance at journal homes, and I feel pretty confident I can make them a bit prettier and get them published. It’s scary though – I’m rather fond of being “pretty confident” and hate to see that turn to “failed again.” I have hope that I can fix sections of my grant and resubmit it – I didn’t think the comments were all that bad. But avoiding the revisions means retaining the belief that I can do them. Once the document is open and I’m trying to alter lines of text, I inevitably come across something I can’t properly address. It’s difficult for me.

I think… I don’t know, actually. I’m not making much progress here. I do hate to switch from Arial font for work though. What if I become afraid of all text and can’t read or write at all? So maybe it’s just a spider for a little while. And I realize I need to handle it. Capture the spider and throw it outside. Or spray it with half a can of bug spray. Whatever works, right?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

All in good time

“I don’t understand a word they’re saying.” A girl, likely around age 10, whispered from behind me as I sprawled on a blanket and tried mightily to ignore the fact that I was hot. I giggled and looked to find my new friend laughing as well.

When I was in high school, we had writing days in one particular class. We were to come in with paper, pen and a topic in mind, then sit and write an essay. No focus on form – this particular teacher didn’t even demand paragraphs – or punctuation or spelling. Just the ability to think and articulate feelings on a particular problem.

I wrote once about how I hated gym. Kind of like how I hate being hot. I saw it as something to be endured with great amounts of whining, and only did that when I couldn’t figure out a way to avoid it completely. I remember – because even then I struggled with weight – writing that it was a shame that the classes were all structured the same. After all, we’re different. I hate team sports with a passion. Get embarrassed easily and feel badly when I duck from the ball (I’m sorry, but a volleyball hurts like hell when it hits my arms. They turn red, for goodness sake! That’s not cool!) and my team loses. I dreaded those days when we ended up inside and had to play kickball with the boys.

I continued my high school essay by saying that fitness was important. I recognized that though I had no desire to match actions to this feeling. But if someone offered me time to walk or jog at my own pace? Perhaps offered a weight training class that was catered to certain students? In short, if we replaced the freaking “how many sit-ups can you do in 60 seconds?” tests with something that appealed to smaller groups, perhaps some of us who cowered in the corner would learn to develop a routine that would keep us healthier.

I understand there are class size restrictions and the lack of staff and money to put such programs in place. But it’s taken me years to find exercise routines that seem to work for me. I’ve suffered through crash dieting to try to be pretty. Even now, I tend to go through cycles when I eat too much, followed by eating too little to compensate. I don’t have a happy medium because I never really learned how to create one. I have some idea of how to cook for a family from watching Mom, but when it comes to just me? I end up shrugging and ordering pizza.

Except now I walk. There aren’t quick results. My clothes – 7 months after starting – are just now starting to hang unattractively loose. But for the most part, I enjoy picking out which hills to climb and what parts of the neighborhood to wander through. I laugh at Chienne or tug her along when she stops for too long. I scowl some mornings as I’m cranky and trying to work through problems. Other days find me adopting a more serene attitude as I face life with a bit more sunny hope. Likewise, the other day I was driving home and realized I had no food. I did, however, have cash, so I was discarding various take-out options. I ended up stopping at the grocery store for milk so I could make a noodle dish at home. Something balanced and healthy and shockingly appealing when compared to fast food options. I’m figuring out something that seems to work long-term. It just took me a long time.

So when the girl I mentioned the beginning expressed her confusion? I remembered doing the same thing in college. Picking up MacBeth and not being able to keep track of all the characters, let alone understand what they were trying to tell me. So I rented the movie. Shamefully, of course, because it was Shakespeare, and if I was really smart, I’d get it.

I didn’t. Frowned over the movie, took notes to try to memorize characters, and battled my way through the play. Wrote my paper – which I’m sure was boring and predictable – and forgot all about it. On my way to the park today, I mentioned to my friend that I had read it before. I was trying to be a bit impressive, I think. Unfortunately, she’d read it too. Neither of us remembered much. So it was with mutually unexpressed expectations of a long evening in the park that we arrived, had a nice little picnic (during which I complained about the hot a minimal amount!) and put our blanket down to guard our patch of grass.

The play started, and – shockingly – I liked it. Understood it. Laughed and watched with my mouth slightly open through parts as I saw pieces come together. It turns out Shakespeare was pretty good at what he did. Who knew?

I’ll admit that I probably missed a few points. And were we to have a discussion of the play, I’d likely have more questions that insightful statements. Well, and you might be less than impressed by the insightful statements I made. But if invited to see it again? I’d definitely accept. Not out of a feeling that I should like or understand MacBeth, but from a genuine enjoyment of the work.

I don’t think it’s all due to age – this ability to find my way through life or literature. Quite frankly, it irritates me when people say, "you'll understand when you get older." Though that may be partly true. Or perhaps now that the pressure is off – I don’t have to blush when it’s my turn to kick the ball or try to produce a MacBeth paper in the minimum amount of time so I can deal with differential equations – I’m free to let myself get it or not. I try to do that at work sometimes – find other projects while taking breaks from a primary one. Let myself drift a bit while I see if something clicks into place and everything makes more sense.

If I’d been bored silly at intermission tonight, that would have been fine. I’m glad that I wasn’t because it made for a more pleasant evening. When the girl sitting on her blanket behind me reiterated to her mother at the end of the evening – “I really didn’t understand a word they were saying.” – I grinned again. I’ve been there – feeling like everyone gets it but you. Hell, right now? I think I’m going to be the only one left alone in the end. That I won’t find someone to love who’ll love me back. I wonder why I can’t pull it together at work when so many other people have found their footing and are moving briskly forward.

For tonight, I’m giving myself a break on all the lack of progress. If I’d spent the last 9 years worried over why MacBeth didn’t mean much to me, I likely would have panicked at the idea of facing it for a fun evening. While it easier to ignore MacBeth than my personal life or work, I think it’s possible – in some moments – to accept that I just don’t get it right now. Can’t understand how it’s all coming together, might be missing many relevant points, and am just doing what I can to get through some days.

That’s OK, I’ll tell myself soothingly. Perhaps one day, I’ll find myself on a blanket, laughing at the right jokes and watching wide eyed at how a story comes together in a particularly impressive way, and realize I was just waiting to be ready to see it.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Alone - this time it's professional.

I’ve realized lately that part of my problem in my current location is just that – location. In grad school, I chose a delightful office. I sat with 3 more senior students and we would throw around questions and ideas, and I had incredible sources when I needed to fix a mistake or design a project. So I started with the ideal set-up for me.

Then we moved – were kicked out of our shared offices – but got gorgeous new cubicles in blue and gray color schemes. I had a L-shaped desk, 2 filing cabinets and tons of shelves for books and journals. I brought in posters and little stuffed animals and created this cute little home for myself. I lived there happily – situated in my corner – until leaving to start my post-doc. I did have to walk a couple steps to ask questions, but my people were readily available.

I replaced a horrified frown with a pleasant smile as quickly as I could when viewing my work space upon arrival here. A tiny desk – no wider than 3 feet and reduced to nothing when my tiny laptop and a single text were placed upon it – along one of two walls with 15 other tiny desks just like it. Those little partitions were placed between each space, and as students arrived last fall, the room continued to get more populated. And I continued to grow more unhappy.

Post-docs, you see, were to have good space! Most of them had a small room with three other people! Like my ideal space! But no – I was stuck in a room with 15 undergraduates (or maybe grad students – I don’t know) who were doing more coursework than research. I’m not fond of crowds in general. Plus it was starting to smell questionable in there. I had nowhere to put all my books or journals or all the files I brought with me. And someone kept stealing my Ethernet cord when I’d take my laptop to a meeting. All 15-20 of us shared a phone. It was constantly loud - from the hum of many computers if not voices. I hated it with a passion.

“Enough.” I said to Jill, our secretary many months ago. “I keep asking for new space, but I’m dying in there. Can you talk to Boss too?”

So she did, and I continued to try to whine politely, then I started skipping meetings. Only the unimportant ones, but I wanted it to be known that I wasn’t coming in. That I was so distressed by my worst environment ever that I would work nearly exclusively from home. I soon got a desk. (This, by the way, is why I go with passive aggressive sometimes - it's darn effective.)

Now it’s a nice desk – I have room for all my books, files, and pretty items I require to distract me. There’s plenty of space to spread out files and papers and work. I like it. But I sit with administrative assistants. And while they’re delightful and we’re friendly, they don’t really know why my region of interest isn’t in the right spot. Or whether I should process using 5 or 6mm. If I should remove 2 files or 5. If Matlab is more efficient than coding in C. (It never is, by the way, but I like Matlab so much more.)

So I feel isolated – that’s my point. And my personality type lends itself well to casual communication that’s easily available, but in terms of seeking someone out just to talk? Not so much. I feel a certain pressure to fix problems on my own, first of all. I think that’s valid, and have seen a few grad students make rapid progress when their primary mentor graduates. In my experience, advisors play limited roles in daily work, so when your particular dissertator goes away, you’re faced with a new level of independence that’s overwhelmingly positive for most people. I know it worked for me when β left, and it seems to have worked for students I helped considerably as well.

There’s a difference, I’ve found, between being independent and being alone. I’ve long believed that the answers likely already exist. I laughed with a friend over his special database for publications. He wrote code and created a website and developed this special software, then said, “It’s like PubMed. Only not as cool. Or effective… It’s pretty much just a giant waste of time.” I’ve seen other students write random number generators – much worse than the ones already freely available online. I’ve never believed in recreating the wheel – even as a learning tool. I think I can learn effectively while making progress on novel applications.

But to make that progress, I need to understand what’s out there. And we all talk to different people, have software that could be tweaked to work for another purpose. We’ve read a paper that might illuminate this foggy section of research. Saw an abstract that might be applicable. So by being isolated – whether working at home or in my poorly located desk in the office – I’m lacking the resources to progress quickly. I sometimes waste time doing work that could be much more efficiently approached. I make mistakes that someone could glance over and easily correct. I don’t ask questions until I’m at a point where I can present in group meeting and have done a tremendous amount of work already. I miss my people – continue to contact graduate colleagues rather than finding new people here.

There are reasons this is difficult – it’s not just me being lazy (though yes, that's part of it). It is complicated, and I could get around it, but doing so would require consistent effort and overcoming a feeling that I’m seeking people out to use them for their expertise. Plus, I’ve seen people feel guilty when someone comes to them with a question they can’t answer. It’s just so much easier when it’s casual – a random “do you know?” tossed over my shoulder without turning from my computer screen. And I know stuff too! I could contribute if I wasn't tucked away in a little corner where nobody ever comes.

So I sigh and try to figure out what to do with myself. It’s actually going to get worse here shortly – departments are shifting office locations and some of the people with whom I’d like to interact daily are moving across campus. Others are beginning faculty positions that will take them out of the daily research realm. The clinicians I talk to most often are clueless as to what I do – having an exclusive reliance on what I present to form their opinions. Sometimes I don’t know exactly what I’m talking about. Other times I make a mistake that leads to some slight (or large – whichever) error that I eventually catch. But I'm becoming paranoid because I want to be sure I'm right, obviously. And if I don't catch it, nobody will.

So this complaining about how I’m alone? Now it works for my professional life as well as personal. And the fact that I alone can rectify the situations isn’t helping me out much.

Oh, but I'm meeting my blog-friend-turned-real-life-friend this weekend! I'm quite excited - she mentioned 3 or 4 activities that sounded delightful, and she already knew I had no desire to see V for Vendetta! This only proves my point that if some of you would just move here, I'd have many friends I adored. But I shall settle for one such friend, and it'll save you at least one post (perhaps on Saturday) about where I mope over my solitude. So a good time will be had by all. But for now? Please feel sorry for me. Thanks.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Laundry and mildew

When the final comment at your group meeting presentation is, “After this, you’ll be ready for politics!” things probably didn’t go your way. Or at least they didn’t for me. And the problem, like sometimes happens in politics, is that I still think I’m right. I also spent a good deal of time repeating myself because I felt like I nobody addressed my actual question. So everyone listened, several people made points that were valid but didn’t necessarily answer the question of interest, and I left feeling like they weren’t pleased with my conclusions but couldn’t come up with a concrete reason why.

I just got back from McDonald’s, having realized that the puppy hadn’t had a double cheeseburger in weeks if not months. Our morning walks have resulted in a slight change in metabolism that makes me want junk food a bit less. I probably could have done without dinner completely – I was working on a different project here at home – and Chienne was cuddled in the corner of the couch, fast asleep. She picked her head up to look at me when I settled down with a bottle of water, and I thought about how darn cute she is.

“Should we go get something for dinner?” I asked, already up and wandering toward my flip flops at the door as she pranced toward the garage. So we took a short trip into town, got 2 cheeseburgers and I gazed at the spectacular sunset – radiating stripes of orange through a background of vivid pink. It was really beautiful and I found myself pleased I’d ventured out to see it.

On my way home, I remembered a post that I’d started several weeks ago, then never finished. I do laundry in my garage. I guess that in an area where it rarely dips below freezing and the ground is too rocky for basements in many areas, a little nook is placed in the attached garage and you tuck the washer and dryer in said nook.

Upon arriving in town, I bought a moderately priced dryer and splurged on a front loading washer. They’re environmentally friendly, I insisted when Mom asked why I spent the extra money. I actually just think they’re super pretty. I have a fondness for cool appliances so I twirled with delight when Dad hooked them up for me – washer on the right, dryer on the left. I smile at them each day I pull my car in the garage.

Unfortunately, whether I see clothes in the washer has little effect on my action. I’m usually carrying items when I get home. Have my pretty black work bag over my shoulder and an empty coffee mug in my hand. I remember I put a load of laundry in the night before and think that as soon as I put my stuff down, I’ll return to the garage and put those clothes in my reasonably priced dryer.

Yet I don’t. For some reason, I don’t make it out there until too late. Finally think of those damp clothes and realize it’s been longer than 24 hours since I put them in. I think I luxuriate in not having to hurry after years in apartments where wash cycles were carefully timed so as not to use the machines for longer than necessary. Normally it’s not a problem to let the clothes hang out for a little while – I go switch them around eventually. But something about the heat and humidity has made this plan gross. They appear to mildew a bit if they’re left out there for very long lately.

So I opened the washer with some horror about a month ago. Took the clothes out, ran the empty washer, then washed the clothes again. Told myself firmly that I would promptly dry the clean laundry because the alternative was unacceptable.

But I did it again. Left wet clothes in the washer all day Saturday while I was busy with other tasks.

“Do you like mildew, Katie?!” I scolded myself sharply when I remembered my laundry and hurried to the garage. So I repeated my remove clothes – empty washer – wash clothes again plan. Then I struggled all day Sunday to get myself out there and switch laundry around promptly.

It was – in all honesty – painful. I was used to going out when I felt like it! I didn’t want to feel like I was living in an apartment again! Rushing to the washer after 30 minutes had passed! But the mildew forced my hand. I continue to remind myself – keeping laundry within my thoughts as much as possible – so I don’t have to wash a single load multiple times.

It’s an appropriate story to tell today because I think it’s difficult to change. I belong to the camp that believes that people are who they are. If someone demonstrates some major life change – and maintains it – I’m sincerely impressed. It’s not easy. An example? Other than my laundry habits? I can do that.

I wrote about how work wasn’t going to fulfill me in any complete way. That it’s important for me to devote time and energy to family, friends and faith because they make me happy. Yet today – like most other days – I woke up to check email, read some blogs, started thinking about several projects I have going. Found myself grinning on my way home because despite a rough meeting, I made progress on two other projects. I like multi-tasking a great deal. Was proud of my time spent today – mostly on mindless tasks that were moving some projects forward and made me feel productive, if not overly talented. So mere days after I realized I need to take time away from my professional life for other interests, I did nothing but work. I tend toward my normal behavior. I work. Or hang out and feel guilty about not working.

Change is, of course, possible. People improve themselves all the time. Make better choices. The problem – for me – is that I forget to pay attention. Gain weight back because I eat when I’m stressed or sad. I stopped working out years ago after losing a great deal of weight, and realized how delightful it was to sleep instead. I ceased my dramatically social behavior in grad school because I didn’t remember to make an effort to respond to invitations or to save up mental energy to go out at night rather than watching television. I just tend toward the comfortable – the normal. So if I want to make an effort to be more balanced, it has to be like laundry. A constant, nagging reminder in my head. Work can wait until tomorrow though my inclination is to finish it ASAP. I need to return phone calls rather than reading blogs. I should respond to email – make plans to meet people for dinner or drinks – rather than eagerly retreating to my pretty nest here at home.

The good news – and there is some – seems to be that habits – good ones – can be incorporated. I walk Chienne every morning and miss it when we can’t go. It’s good for me and it was rough at first, but now I just go. It’s become normal. Yet when I skipped a couple days last week, I panicked. Falling out of the habit – letting it drift down my list of priorities – means I won’t do it anymore. I know myself well enough to realize that. So I forced myself through another couple days, and now the dog waits at the door impatiently each morning. She knows we’re going. It’s the interim that’s hard – remembering why the change is important, making sure my daily routine incorporates some new behavior, and hoping it sticks.

I’m not there yet. But I do have some hope. And if it doesn't end up working out with balancing this job, perhaps I'm developing some skills that would lend to a political future. It's always good to have an alternate plan, right?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

New beginning of a different type

I have a flexible schedule and will likely continue to do so in my current job. While I feel a bit small and unimportant lately as many folks in blogland begin teaching their courses, I snuggled into my pillows and slept until 8AM today, walked the dog, showered, read blogs, drank coffee, watched television. Then, at 12:30 in the afternoon, I decided to dress up and go to work.

My commute was a dream, and since I worked late to make up for my belated arrival, the ride home was amazing as well.

I met a woman on my walk to my building. She was scampering around, looking a bit frantic. I smiled at her, making eye contact so she could ask for help if she needed it.

“Do you know where the hospital is?” She asked brightly.

“I’m heading that direction.” I said after nodding at her. “It’s this way.” And I paused to wait for her to follow me.

“Wait. I have to get my husband.” She told me before taking two quick steps in the opposite direction. “Bill!” She called out, and I saw a man a half block away turn and head quickly in our direction. “She knows where the hospital is.” She said, and I watched him make a relieved expression.

“The medical part of campus is relatively large.” I said as we started to walk. “It’s easy to get confused with all the traffic and parking options.”

“We’ve never been here before.” The woman confessed, her accent a bit stronger than I typically hear.

“And I didn’t know where to park.” Bill said, keeping up with our pace while he organized a handful of notes.

The woman – let’s call her Anna – reached over and took his hand, then beamed at me. “We’re having a baby.” She said, nearly breathless with excitement, and I smiled back at her.

“Our daughter is delivering in the hospital.” Bill said, holding Anna’s hand and looking down at the paper he’d placed at the top of his pile. “The entrance is supposed to be near the medical library. The…um…I can’t find the name. I thought I wrote it down...”

While he frowned and freed his other hand to page through his notes again, his wife asked me to hold her purse. I shifted my bag to the other shoulder and carried her brown leather purse as we moved along.

“The library isn’t all that close to the hospital.” I mused. “I’d go in the main entrance and ask at the desk. They’ll be able to direct you to the maternity area. I’ve never been there.”

Anna confirmed they had brought the extra battery for their video camera, then took her purse after thanking me. Bill nodded nervously over my directions before taking Anna’s hand again.

“It’s our first grandchild.” He said, easing into a grin. “We’re excited. I hope we don’t miss it.”

“We’re almost there.” I said, pointing out the entrance about a block away.

“Our son-in-law is from Germany.” Anna told me, looking tremendously excited and nervous as we got closer. I was losing my breath trying to match their pace at this point – thrilled for them, thinking them terribly sweet in their eagerness to be with their daughter and her new baby. “He speaks English really well, but he was excited and his accent was stronger somehow. With getting to the hospital and the baby coming so soon.” She explained.

“We were excited too.” Bill added.

“Of course.” I said, trying not to pant. “I’m heading farther down this street, so you’ll go in those doors and ask at the information desk.”

They looked over their shoulders to thank me as they hurried toward the main entrance.

“Congratulations!” I called out after them, then smiled all the way to the office.

So my day wasn’t consumed with new courses or students or schedules. I did what I always do, though starting later in the day than I normally aim for. But someone had a new beginning. Bill and Anna went to find their daughter after driving, parking, and walking briskly to the hospital. Their daughter and the man she married (from Germany) had their first child. I said a quick prayer that all would go well – healthy baby, happy if exhausted parents, and besotted grandparents.

I think I sometimes get stuck in a negative frame of mind. Feel the research is an overwhelmingly uphill battle. Things are generally difficult and time consuming and flaws are everywhere. When I meet with medical faculty, it’s generally to discuss patients with grave prognoses. People come there to get help, and sometimes it doesn’t work despite all the talent and effort and hope.

But there are success stories – triumph over disease. And the breathless wonder of people rushing to find their way to welcome the newest member of their family. I’m grateful I got to share a few moments with them. It made me quite happy on an otherwise forgettable day.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Dr. Bus and making progress

I ride a campus bus occasionally, and I happened to see one of the senior faculty members in my department waiting the other day. I winced (because I was leaving even earlier than normal), but shrugged and waved hello. He smiled and waved back, so I scooted around the crowd of people who were also waiting to get to Dr. Bus. (See how creative I was there? Nice.)

I don’t know him well at all, though he has always struck me as equally smart and kind. He smiles and asks gentle questions at group meetings. He offers ideas, then stops to listen when I respond with my own thoughts. Perhaps he’s always been an exceptional teacher. Or maybe as he’s aged in the academic system, he’s learned to wait out the youngsters, remaining steady in his wisdom while acquiring new knowledge, and continuing to progress in his research and teaching. Regardless, I like and respect him a great deal.

“Hello.” He said, his voice not over brisk from his east coast origins nor exaggeratedly slow from his time here in the south. He must have noted I looked mildly nervous because he nudged me with his shoulder. “I’m sneaking out early.” He confided with a smile. “I have an appointment, then thought I’d enjoy the afternoon.”

My smile of greeting eased into a grin. “I have company this week.” I shared, and he cocked his head so I continued. “My brother and his family are here, so I’m going to join them at my cousin’s house. I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like.”

He nodded. “It’s hard to be away from family.” I agree, so I nodded along with him.

The bus arrived, and he stood aside to let me precede him. I found an empty row near the front and scooted toward the window so he could sit next to me.

“I can move if your stop is before mine.” He told me, sitting down and perching his briefcase on his lap. I asked where he was going and told him where I’d stop. Having established the details, we started to talk about work. He asked a couple of questions which I skillfully ducked. I’m not accomplishing anything of note, but have become extremely good at deflecting attention from that glaring fact.

“Do you like it here?” He asked.

“What?” I asked, watching as people walked down the steps at the first stop.

“Are you happy?” He restated, turning to look at me more closely.

“Yes.” I said, smiling, not wanting him to think me ungrateful for the incredible opportunity of studying here. “The resources are amazing, and I like Boss very much. It’s a good group. I can learn a great deal.”

“So you like your projects?” He probed a bit, perhaps noting I wasn’t sharing too many details.

I nodded, perhaps unwilling to lie outright. I should like them – I designed the suckers, wanted to do this work. It wasn’t that this was my only job offer – it was, however, the best one. The one I felt offered the fastest benefits, the most comfortable transition, a lifestyle that appealed, and work I was certain I could do. Why the hell am I not happy?! But it hardly seemed appropriate to desperately grip his sleeve and beg him to tell me what I was doing wrong. So I smiled and cocked my head at him.

“How long have you been here?” Always deflect attention, I told myself, pleased with my question. If we talked about him, we wouldn’t have to discuss my progress and satisfaction (or lack thereof).

“10 years…” He said, trailing off and squinting as he calculated.

He’s an older gentleman, so I felt comfortable asking from where he came. As he went through a list of industry and academic positions (a short and impressive list, actually), I nodded along.

“It’s good to be here.” He concluded. “I considered retiring, but I can’t think of anything I’d want to do more than this. We’re lucky, aren’t we? To be able to do something we love?”

“It’s easy to forget that, I guess.” I murmured, then lapsed into silence. Guilty silence because I should love it, but I don’t. I’m not sure if it’s a temporary problem or if I picked the wrong niche or field or freaking career path in general. I do know that if someone offered me enough money to live comfortably, I’d take an extended break from my job. Would I return? I’m honestly not sure. And shouldn’t I know? Even if this is wrong (which would be quite disappointing, yes?), it would be nice if I could make some decision and move forward.

Instead, I spent today working on those paper revisions – recreating tables from scratch because I lost files in my move. That’s the problem with publishing projects years after they’re completed – stuff gets lost. Or forgotten. Or seems inexplicably strange. Regardless, I did work that I can remember doing before so I could complete additional analyses to actually get this paper in press. Then I created a presentation on a different side project. There’s some satisfaction in that, I decided. Even while I languish in indecision over my future, I can make some moments here professionally meaningful. Not have a section of my CV that reads, "Postdoctoral Training: Eh, not so much happened."

I realized, whether in working or talking or thinking this over, that work may not feed my soul at any point. There will always be concerns of greater interest. God – I feel right when I’m doing well with Him. Peaceful, centered and strong. Oh, and I loved sitting on the couch, the Little One resting against my shoulder as nursery rhymes played softly on TV and she dozed quietly. There’s a loving warmth that I can’t imaging giving up for any amount of money. Perhaps that’s where my life needs to center – around people and faith. Maybe work is just what I do during the day – a place to make progress on projects I think are important, to learn and challenge myself, to be satisfied with my contribution when I leave to attend to the parts of my life that make my heart happy.

It has always been my fault I’m not blissfully happy here – there’s no question of that. But I think the strict focus on work or miserable guilt when I’m not working is the wrong strategy. I need to find a church home that works for me – I’ve made a tiny effort, then wrinkled my nose and spent more time with the laptop. I’ve let old friendships slide and have made little effort to meet new people. I haven’t braved the long drive home very often though I miss my family terribly.

This month has been good, I think – having people around, starting to miss God more and more, realizing that there are steps I can take so that I can answer more confidently when someone inquires over my happiness. I’ll work on it. Promise.

Note: I have a bad headache, so the edits on this one could be less than ideal. Sorry about that. Oh, and thank you for the comments on the new look! It makes the hours I spent on it feel quite worthwhile. (Yes, hours. Photoshop is delightful, but it takes me some time.)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Blog's new outfit

I'm at that point I always reach when guests leave. It's bittersweet - seeing them go. Regardless of the quality or length of the visit, it's pleasant on some level to have people around. To listen rather than read, to see facial expressions change as I speak. So Chienne and I stand in the driveway and I wave as a car drives away. Then I look down at her.

"Alone again." I sigh, and we watch as our visitors turn the corner, then we turn to walk inside. I believe myself to be rather solitary by nature though, so it doesn't take long until I'm quite happy to be in my own space again. I clean up and do laundry, restore order to my cute little house. I tried to do some work but found myself completely unable to focus.

So I slept. Decided it was too hot to mow the lawn. Looked at some revisions for my paper - we're almost finished with them. I'll really make an effort to reformat my response letter after I finish this. I found myself bored with my life - I'm tired of feeling sad about being alone. I am. I will be. But I get sweet, encouraging comments that make me feel better when I break down and admit that I'm sad, so it's not likely to stop for long. I'm sick to death of not making more progress at work. I know what needs to happen, but I continue to struggle to find the motivation to actually do it. I couldn't finish the post I was trying to write, but then I realized it's been a long time since I updated my header!

I do love updating my template, so I did that. Then I hooked up my ancient video game system and played Super Mario Brothers 3. It was strangely unsatisfying though. So then I came back to design little sidebar graphics! (Is that too much? Are they weird?) So now I'm all vain - clicking over to look at my blog because it's all new and pretty! That leaves me relatively content for now and ready to get back to work tomorrow.

Summing up - while things could be better, they could be much worse. I'm enjoying the quiet, the ability to work on my laptop without a sweet little girl coming over and demanding pictures, and precious control of my remote controls. No more horror movies! Or Blue's Clues! There are benefits to being alone - I just have to think for a moment to remember them.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Confounds

When I develop methods, I’m cognizant of the fact that it’s easy to manipulate data. Convince myself that something should look this way, so if I just keep altering little steps, I can often get what I think I should. I remind myself in those tempting times that the data are what they are. Then when I finally get a trend I’m convinced is indicated by the data, I’ll meet with people. Each of these people will bring up some problem, and we’ll think carefully about what we have, often left to speculate on our original question because patient data is influenced by still more factors, many of which we’re not able to control. In understanding a problem, I think it's important to note places where my perception is flawed. Since I'm still stuck on the same problem, I'm going to go over a few things for myself. You are, of course, welcome to read along.

“Well, sure.” Cousin responded when I said I just wasn’t feeling well tonight and wouldn't be over to her house with the rest of the people. “But it’s also tough to go from living alone to having people in your house all the time. Hell, I have a family and I’m sometimes upset there are people in my house all the time! You just hang out, relax, and we’ll see you tomorrow.”

So I did. I’ve been home alone most of the day – doing work, resting, reading, taking a long shower without anyone knocking at the door. It’s been good – I feel much more calm and steady. Therefore, I’d like to address a point that may have caught your attention.

I’ve had two people visit recently – both of whom I love a great deal. First came Rachel, then Brother. I have strong feelings against their spouses.

I’d venture a guess that if you like me, you wouldn’t like Brother’s wife. We’re just very different people. There are, however, a great many people who would never want to spend a single second in my presence. I’m relatively serious though I do love to laugh. I expect thoughtful responses to my questions – there’s some feeling that if I’m having a conversation with you, you’ll have interesting thoughts and I can learn something. I’ll never willingly embarrass myself, which means I’m not so much fun. I get ready quickly, so while I’m presentable, I’m not beautiful. I don’t own a single thong, and I folded several of them for Brother’s wife and her friend while doing laundry today. At 19, I was deciding on an undergraduate major rather than a baby name. I avoided high school parties – didn’t want to get in trouble. Brother’s wife thinks that everyone should go to parties to “learn about themselves, not stuff in books.” (Good Lord, she drives me nuts.)

These 2 marriages are actually the worst examples I have. I’m not against marriage in general. I like Elle’s husband a great deal. I favor Carrie’s husband over her at many times. Cousin’s husband is great. So it’s not as though I have a hatred toward anyone who dares have a relationship with someone I met when he/she was single.


I pay attention when I love someone. Therefore, there’s a feeling that I know that person – understand preferences and goals and have this sense of what a good partner would be. Brother needs someone somewhat fun but mostly steady – a stabilizing influence to a personality that tends toward excess. Someone who will respond to wild arguments with calm understanding so that he doesn’t get more wound up. Someone who takes care of him as he takes care of her – leaving him feeling loved and appreciated. His wife isn’t even close to any of those things. She’s rather a spoiled, vaguely pretty (but very thin) blonde. He liked the way she looked, wanted someone sexy and simple after Sarah (his ex-girlfriend) and her demands for good behavior and her family problems.

Rachel, conversely, is incredibly steady – she needs cheer and excitement and a nudge into the more social realm. A bit insecure, she’s also very vain. Compliments go a long way with her, and she requires reassurance that though you can’t spend all your time with her, you do miss her while you’re away. I was a friend and she was viciously jealous of time spent with other roommates. I told her she needed to find a mate who found that possessive streak endearing and cute rather than suffocating in its grip. He’d need to have the patience of a saint because everything she does it slow. Her husband has cheated on her which makes her insecurity even worse. She doesn’t talk much because he doesn’t want to hear her – so rather than drawing her out, he’s shoved her away and she shut down. There’s no more sparkle, and not much laughter left. I had to work hard to get a small smile a couple times.

Looking in, and admittedly with much more attention to a single partner, it’s easy to pick out flaws. To say that my loved ones could do much, much better. Because I know them. Or rather I did before someone stepped in and ruined parts of them.

Because I said so.
I understand being lonely. There are some points where somebody – anybody – is better than sitting by yourself, thinking about how you’ll always be alone. I personally can’t do this – need to believe there’s at least a chance I’ll fall in love when I’m with someone. But if dating for fun makes you happy, I think that’s healthy and wonderful. So I assumed that was what they were doing.

But I worry. So I clarified. Spoke with both of them and made sure they weren’t thinking long term. Outlined my concerns before the relationships got serious. Both Brother and Rachel assured me that they saw the problems and would certainly find someone more suited when they were considering marriage. So with a few parting shots at the people they were dating, I went along and would make a worried/upset face when talking to each of them about their current partners.

As time passed, I grew increasingly concerned. I think people adjust into relationships, grow to love someone because he/she is just around all the time. So I started growing more insistent about ending it. They should be available to those people out there who were more appropriate, to wait for more happiness in the future by being alone now. I argued outright and tried for subtle hints. I was right, dammit, and if people would just listen, then things would work out for the best!

Then Brother’s wife got pregnant, on purpose, I think. Her brother was having a baby, after all, and she was too stupid to make it through a nursing program (seriously – she was failing community college courses at this point). Brother didn’t want to get married right away, so they waited a year. A rocky year fraught with multiple arguments that made my mom progressively ill from stress. Financial difficulties, several arguments which found his wife (before she was his wife) at her parents’ house for differing lengths of time, increasing alcohol consumption and fights with his friends for both of them, a loss of spirit as he settled into family life at too young an age. (Not that early 20s is too young for everyone, mind you, but it was for him.)

Rachel’s husband, conversely, just moved in. She told him no, he brought his stuff. She told him to leave, he couldn’t find a place to live. Then she settled into being part of a couple – her first serious relationship – and wanted the security of having someone. He was always around, so when he finally decided he would leave if she didn’t stop with these silly demands that he help around the house or listen when she talked or refrain from calling her fat and ugly, she panicked. If someone tells you that you need them, eventually you buy into it, I think. So she did, and he holds completely control.

So part of my problem is that I said no. And I like being right. So though I lost to these spouses for now, the thought is that eventually I’ll win. Brother and Rachel will leave, so if I just hang on to my thoughts that this is bad, I’ll be rewarded for my diligence – vindicated when they divorce. So there’s some competitive influence here. I think I’m right, see countless signs that indicate I was correct from the beginning, yet didn’t get my way.

OK, but…
There’s the Little One, who loves her mommy a great deal. And that’s completely fair and appropriate and right. She should – her mommy loves her back. I think Brother provides a loving presence as well, and that – while things aren’t great – the status of their relationship pales in comparison to what’s best for their daughter. It’d be nice if they worked at being a better couple, but if they’re going to settle for being good parents, then I’ll content myself with that. But each time I try to like Brother’s wife, something like yesterday happens and all my carefully constructed “why she sucks” arguments come back to me. And it’s hard.

Rachel is trying to get pregnant now, so there will soon be a child in that situation as well. This causes me great concern – I’m gravely worried – but it’s not my decision.

My decisions?Well, that’s the other thing. I am jealous. Read this from Articulate Dad the other day and sighed heavily. I want someone who supports me while I support him. To talk and have dinner and make love. To look up and smile when he enters a room because I remember how thrilling it was to date him. To hear our children play down the hall and share awestruck glances because they’re so brilliant and we’re so lucky to be a family. I think Articulate is very lucky on a personal level, and while I believe he deserves his happiness very much – he obviously works at being a good husband and father – I find myself wondering what I’m lacking that indicates I can’t have that for myself.

Oh, then there’s Maple Mama and her anniversary post, which made me cry. I like her a great deal. I’m thrilled that someone I think is smart, funny and lovely found a man she can love so much. It’s hearing about relationships like these two – and others that haven’t been mentioned recently enough to make me wish desperately that I could find someone – that give me hope that the relationship I want is, in fact, possible.

But it may not happen. Good, loving, comfortable, sexy relationships are possible, but perhaps not for me. Within the past year, there have been a couple of guys – crushes more than anything else, I think. I fell in love with one and he, well, didn’t fall in love back. I thought he was going to at one point, but we’re very far from that now. But when the feelings were more mutual, I was thrilled for myself and eager to fix my friends (because I’m superior and annoying like that). After all, if I – with all my flaws and quirks and worries – can find someone who loves me, who wants to hear I what I say, read what I write, laughs when I’m funny and offers gentle advice and comfort when I’m sad, then it’s certainly possible for anyone to find such a love. But I’m coming to accept that it’s not likely to happen with him (sniffle, sigh). He’s exceptional – a really amazing man – and I think he’ll find someone and give over to her before he can help himself. I hope so anyway – he deserves a great deal of happiness.

The other crush mellowed easily into friendship and we still talk a good deal. He sends email asking if I’ll be around so he can call. We talk on the phone for hours, sharing enough opinions to be comfortable, but having enough to talk about to be interesting. He’s funny and smart and has a very pleasant voice. He also has a serious girlfriend with whom he’s quite in love. So while friendly attention is nice, it’s also a bit of a reminder that everyone pairs up but me. (Well, and you other folks online who are still looking, but trust me – it’ll happen for you. And I’ll smile when you write about it because I do enjoy seeing people happy. Then I’ll go to bed at night and curl into my pillows and cry a little bit. For as delighted as I am over other people’s happiness, I still wish for some of my own.)

So there’s some sense that I don’t really know what I’m talking about. After all, I’m not in a serious relationship, so when I say there’s supposed to be loving, mutual support rather than petulant, selfish demands, it’s easy to roll your eyes at me. Have I found a partner? Nope. So how can I make a decent estimation of what a good relationship looks like? I don’t have one – can’t truly appreciate the struggles of living with someone, of compromising, of being a little disappointed that there isn’t more but also content with the fact that there is something.

And I’m jealous.
It keeps coming through that I do want someone. I’m alone and would rather not be. Wish that as I lie in bed writing this post (Brother, et al. have returned and are watching The Grudge, so I scurried to my room to avoid any nightmares), there was someone who might try to steal my covers or ask me when I was going to sleep. That if I did have a nightmare, I could scoot closer to him and know I was safe. That I could buy groceries and consider his preferences when I did so. Could regularly fold laundry that wasn’t my own. Share coffee and the paper on Saturday mornings. Smile on my commute home because I’d get to share my evenings with someone I love.

I don’t have those things. And while I don’t think I need to be happy at the expense of others – so it’s not at all that nobody should find a partner while I still wait or shouldn’t celebrate their love and happiness – I’ll be honest and admit it might be coloring my view. I’m not crazy about the perception that when Brother’s wife called her mom, she was doubtless told that I was just jealous. That I wasn’t happy about plans for the new baby because I’m getting older and don’t have a husband, let alone a chance to get pregnant. I don't think that's the whole point, but it may be part of it. Maybe.

It’s hard to know the truth. I’d be on Brother’s/Rachel’s side regardless because I love them. I do think there are people who are good enough for them – who would make them better, happier people. But their partners aren’t those people. I try to handle it gracefully – they’ve made choices and I should respect that. But sometimes it’s difficult. Quite difficult. So while I appreciate your comments very much, I wanted to write a bit more about how I’m looking at this.

It’s quite amazing that I can feel more lonely when people are around than when I’m alone. These houseguests have reminded me of what I don’t have in addition to making me wonder if what I want is really possible for me. Plus, I’m depressed, quite frankly, due to a downturn of mood or hormones, I’m not sure. But they’re leaving Sunday morning and I think I can level out after that, though I’ll be miserably sad to see the Little One go.

I don’t like feeling helpless, and I do. About my own situation in addition to those of people I love. So while writing this out did help, I’m still at the same point. Sad, depressed, upset. So I’m going to sleep without a satisfying conclusion. And Chienne came in to curl up at my feet as I edited this, so I guess I'm not completely alone after all. She's not who I want, but she is a sweet little dog.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I don't like her.

Brother was arrested for drug possession about a month after he started dating his wife. His previous girlfriend – he cheated on her with his future wife – had kept him relatively controlled in terms of substances. We have a bit of a problem with alcoholism in my family (which explains why I drink extremely sparingly, actually), but Sarah kept him pretty sober and always picked him up if he did get drunk at a friend’s house. Brother’s wife (who I don’t like enough to name in case you were wondering) partied harder than Brother, so not only was he drinking a lot, he was also doing some extra smoking.

So, arrested, blah blah blah, she got pregnant so she could quit school, more crap and times when I’m cold or openly hostile to her, I refuse to participate in their wedding after walking after Brother as he stumbled down an alley at 8AM on a Sunday morning. He was still completely drunk from the night before and they had argued – she insisted she was leaving him and taking the Little One – and I was in church clothes and heels. (I did stand up with him after some pressure by Mom and Aunt.) I don’t agree with her parenting choices sometimes, though she is a good mother. I hate how she treats Brother – she once told me she was too good for him and I laughed at her.

There’s more, of course – I don’t dislike people unless I feel justified (notice I said feel justified, not am justified). I shook my finger at her over Christmas. She left Brother and Mom was miserable. She returned on Christmas Eve and attended our family celebration as if she’d done nothing to us by not allowing Brother to see the Little One or to talk to them on the phone. She’s young – just 21 now, and the Little One will soon turn 2 – and thrives on power. I don’t like her. I just don’t.

But the Christmas debacle distanced me from my family a great deal, and they shield me from any of Brother’s problems even more. I know some about his life – the general facts, promotions, etc. – less about his wife – I couldn’t tell you where she worked for any amount of money – and a great deal about the Little One. Inviting them for this week wasn’t done lightly, and I’ve enjoyed having them for the most part. Brother’s promotion has meant high stress levels, so Mom encouraged me to be kind and peaceful. So I have. (Honestly.)

It’s been easy until today – I apparently can only tolerate 2 days before I start gritting my teeth until my jaw aches. But the extensive nap she took this morning while we took care of the Little One, the 3 hours it then took her to get ready, her insistence on her way in her timing when we shopped, the four cases of beer that three people have finished with extra trips to the bar for more alcohol, the constant droopy eyes and inability to drive…

“Your wife is bugging me.” I said tightly to Brother as we headed off to get a slice of pizza for lunch while the other girls – his wife, her friend (Brother didn’t bring anyone) and Little One decided what they wanted.

“Me too, actually.” He said. I nodded because in terms of annoyances and preferences, we’re pretty similar. We’ve obviously made different life choices, but I still have no idea how he tolerates this girl.

“She such a child.” I said.

I got worse when we arrived at Cousin’s house. I’m viciously protective of my family – it’s why I’m so careful not to take anyone home because I don’t want to associate myself with him in front of my family unless I’m sure he’s amazing – and she doesn’t deserve them. Nor should she treat their homes as her own. It’s my family and she’s damn lucky to even speak to them.

The Little One, however, is hers. This irritates me. I know it’s wrong and I’m sure I’ll feel badly about writing this at some point, but for now? It’s bothersome that such a delightful child belongs with a woman I find useless more often than not. So my breaking point came in the pool. I contented myself with a noodle behind my head after I’d tired of swimming and decided to float. I love the water, and don’t mind floating without a raft. But I couldn’t resist a huffy glare when she demanded not only the single raft, but said that it should wait for her while she was in and out of the pool.

That actually wasn’t the point where we glared at each other, our mutual dislike clear.

“My parents are putting in a pool.” She said with a hint of superiority. I rolled my eyes – if anyone is superior, it’s going to be me. My parents watch the Little One three nights a week – they’re very close. Her parents, in contrast, have kept her 3 nights in 2 years. They’re nice people, of course – her mother’s not my favorite, but I do like her dad. I just favor my parents, as does the Little One.

Regardless, I didn’t respond.

“They want it for all their grandchildren.” She continued from her sprawl on the raft.

I rolled my eyes again, and heard Brother laugh. “A pool’s a lot of work for two kids who aren’t around all that much.” He said. His wife’s brother also had a child before he was married.

“Not two, baby!” She whined. “Four!”

“What four?” I asked, finally opting into the conversation, feeling sick.

“My brother and his girlfriend are pregnant again.” She announced. “I told you to tell her!” She scolded Brother. “They’re 7 or 8 weeks along.”

“Yes. Fine. Great. Are you pregnant?” I asked, knowing she’d rapidly done so right after her brother announced his first child’s conception.

“Not yet!” She chirped. “But we’re going to try again soon. Like in 2 days! We’re having two and they’ll be close in age. Plus, I’m ready for another baby!”

“Can you afford it?” I said, not able to censor as I should have. “Do Mom and Dad know? They’re not paying daycare for a second child – if you guys decide to do this, you should take responsibility for it.”

“We can afford it. I already turned off our land line to save money.” And this is when I glared. Because first, though I could be wrong, my guess is that babies are more expensive than phone lines. Second, because they don’t need a land line – my parents are paying for cell phones for both of them. So I’m less than impressed by her responsibility level overall.

The thing is that I know it’s not my problem. Mom has requested that I stay out of it – not protect Brother or her or Dad because they can take care of themselves. But when someone – an outsider, dammit – a girl not worthy of my family – takes constant advantage of them, then acts as though we’re ever so lucky to behold her greatness? I don’t see it, and I feel it necessary – no, irresistible – to let her know that I’m positive that she’s not so great. It’s petty, I know. I can’t help it.

So I reverted to the icy disdain I’ve typically employed. Distancing myself emotionally always and physically whenever possible. I do feel ugly around her – she’s skinny and blonde and has a pretty face. She has a husband who loves her and a child I’d be thrilled to have. She cuddled with Brother on my couch tonight – the couch I hoped to share with someone, watching television, being close. I may not ever do that – she may be far superior to me because she figured it out. Has a family. And friends. So jealousy might play a role, though it pains me to admit it.

I’ll figure it out, and I’ll try to be nicer tomorrow. But I’m also going to work – I need some distance to center myself a bit. But I’m sad today. I don’t like being petty and cold. I want to greet the possible news of a new niece and nephew with joyous expectation, not dread that Mom and Dad will overextend themselves still more to help with a baby that Brother’s wife just has to have. Perhaps I’m just in a mood. But, well, ick.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I'm home

and babysitting.

Blue's Clues? Not incredibly impressed.

The Little One? Charming, smart, beautiful and a bit bossy. I'm very impressed with her.

She likes Nick (the laptop) almost as much as I do, so I have little time to type before she demands "pictures!" again so she can page through iPhoto.

I'm not sure if I'm ready for children (which is good since I have no opportunity to have one right now), but it's hard not to yearn when I can point out flowers, birds and kitties to her on walks, list shapes and colors and numbers, and look at countless pictures. She's ever so sweet. And I find myself thinking - just occassionally - that I really hope I get to have one at some point.

In other news, I've cock my head at people who claim that fight back when they feel depressed - battle the way it colors the worldview. I just didn't really understand it. And yet today, I found myself looking in the mirror, wearing jeans that didn't fit at all a few months ago, thinking I was hideously ugly. It likely doesn't help that my sister-in-law and her friend are wispy and giggly and younger than I am, so the comparison is less than ideal. Regardless, I very much wanted to opt out of dinner plans when I couldn't find a suitable top, all the make-up in the world wasn't helping, and my hair was completely unacceptable.

I should make a cave in this closet and rescue people from having to look at me, I told myself.

Then stopped, refused to linger in those thoughts, got ready and went out. It was difficult at first. And while I was distracted from it, I feel really negative - not about the world, but about me. I think I'm trying to fight those inclinations toward self hatred, it's not all that easy. So I still don't think I get it, folks. But I'll let you know if I figure it out.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Say vs. Do

I think there's a basic choice between lingering in my thoughts versus translating them into some action. I get stuck in my head a lot - blogging helps me escape that to some extent. In fact, the problems that trouble me most haven't made it to the screen yet. Interesting.

The truth is that I've been busy lately. I try to consider a topic carefully, relate it to something else, differentiate between various feelings I might have. I enjoy doing that, which is good, I guess, since it's such a habit. But thoughts tend to scatter when actions crowd them out. I've been working, talking with people, had lunch with someone who reads my blog today (which was surprisingly comfortable, as she graciously didn't bring up that she knew a tremendous amount about me. I sincerely think that it's a good way to meet people - if you can tolerate reading me for any length of time, there's a decent chance you'd like me in person. I think. Plus, she was interesting, funny and delightful. I'm quite pleased it happened.), went to another meeting, cleaned and did laundry.

I'm still tired - can't seem to get enough rest at night. I still worry that research is moving far too slowly. I looked at my CV today at the request of a colleague and was sharply concerned over my meager publications. I was flattered this morning by my mention at the GRADual Progress Carnival (which I'm going to read right after I switch laundry around). Oh, at my meeting today I bounced wildly between pleasure that I designed an interesting study that could result in an excellent paper and terror that a fatal flaw had been discovered. I think there's a post waiting to be written over my lack of confidence in my ability and how it's paralyzed me to a great extent. My struggle to graduate near the end was bad, shopping for journals that would accept my papers is demoralizing, not getting the grant was depressing (though the summary statements are encouraging - I'll resubmit it at least once)... I find myself not wanting to work, I think, because my experience is that it all falls apart. I'm just waiting for some confound, bad review, unexpected null (and unpublishable) result. I think I'm starting to hope again - I came out of the meeting ready to work, which is relatively unusual. I didn't work though - I drove home to grocery shop. So maybe I'm not progressing as quickly as I'd like to think.

Ack - now I'm stuck in my head again. I'm going to put away the dishes I washed, do a bit more laundry and make sure the guest bathroom is acceptably clean.

Don't forget!

The 1st Monthly Carnival of GRADual Progress is over at StyleyGeek's right now. This is where I admit to never having seen a carnival before - my dad seldom allowed us to go since the rides were all moved so much and put together quickly. (Yes, seriously - I'm still leery of carnivals and fairs, though I realize the ones online and quite different) - so I was delighted and impressed by this one. I haven't made my way through the links yet (I may have slept a little late this morning), but it definitely is on my list of things to happily do.

Monday, August 14, 2006

So close...

I thought I'd spend the day calculating how many hours were left.

While I did some of that, I also contributed to discussions and met some lovely people.

I was shaky from too much caffeine this morning - is 8 cups excessive when you've only slept 3 hours and dozed for another 30 minutes before facing a long day? Apparently it is for me - I couldn't write anything down because my hands were trembling. Yet I was still exhausted enough to think nothing more than how strange the shaking was.

I had a delightful orange after lunch. I haven't had an orange in far too long - I'm thinking of buying some for when Brother et al. arrive tomorrow.

The Little One is coming to visit with them! I'm ever so excited about that!

I felt surprisingly awake when I got home tonight. Chienne was thrilled to see me, so we played for a little while. Then I ordered pizza because I decided against grocery shopping tonight. I read all my bloglines feeds, answered some email, and even commented on blogs! I would easily be able to write something for my own!

Except - all of a sudden - I'm exhausted. Almost loopy from the need to sleep. So off to bed I go with the thought that I'm glad today is over.

Fun facts

I need to be at work by 7AM today.

I rarely adhere to a strict morning schedule.

I don't use an alarm (ever), so needing to be awake slightly earlier than normal causes me no small amount of stress. (Which is why I won't make myself get to work at any set time in the morning - I can't sleep if I do.)

I know that's a bit strange and unpleasant, but I tend to wake up every hour or so to check the clock. I hate being late with every fiber of my being, so I want to make sure I'm awake in time.

More often than not, I'll sleep for a couple hours, then find myself hyper and unable to relax.

I went to bed at 10 and planned to sleep until 5:30. That's not a bad plan for sleep at all.

I woke up at 1:20 and have been awake since.

I usually worry to the point of getting frantic at night (or in the early morning hours), so I calmly got up and read blogs (bless you people who update at night), checked email and headed back to bed when I felt drowsy.

I tossed and turned for about an hour, losing the drowsy feeling completely and feeling more and more awake.

Now I'm up again, have ground coffee beans and filled the pot with water in preparation for making large amounts of strong coffee in another couple hours.

I won't make it now because there's a tiny glimmer of hope I can sleep for another hour or so. Said hope is dimming though.

I did get some work done that I thought I couldn't do from home. So that's good. Plus, I love sending email in the 1-4AM range because then people might think I work crazy-hard instead of assuming I struggle with insomnia.

Another silver lining? It gave me something to complain about on my blog. That's always a good time.

I hope you're all resting comfortably. Think kind thoughts as I sit in 10-11 hours of meetings (back to back, people. Back To Back.) tomorrow. Oh! Perhaps I can complain about that tomorrow night! Something to eagerly anticipate, I'm sure.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

How (not) to manipulate a runaway pet

I was really sleepy yesterday morning. I’ve also skipped a couple of morning walks with Chienne, and I hate to let go of that habit. So I shuffled down the hall at 6:30, checked the Weather Channel and found that it was already relatively warm outside and would obviously get worse as the sun continued to rise. I wanted – desperately – to go back to bed, snuggle into my many pillows and soft blue sheets, and sleep. Instead, I put on my new shoes and socks, grabbed my keys and opened the front door. I stared blankly at the dog when she paused at the end of my front walkway, and tried to figure out what struck me as wrong.

“Oh, no. Chienne! Come back – I forgot your leash.” I murmured, then gasped with outrage when she sprinted away, enjoying her accidental freedom.

Still half-asleep and now quite befuddled, I closed the door for a moment. The heat from outside wasn’t helping me think with any clarity. Then I absently picked up the leash, and opened the door again, hoping the dog would be waiting for me outside.

She wasn’t.

I was more annoyed than worried. She’s run away a couple times before – normally by backing out of her collar when she’s on her leash, so at least this time she was wearing her name and address on a tag. But I wanted to be able to scold her if she chased another dog (she did that last time) or entered someone’s yard (she set up camp on someone’s patio, just out of reach of their dog’s chain on her first trip alone). Plus, I can’t just sit and wait when she’s running around loose, so I walked down the road after I’d caught sight of the white tip of her tail.

We’ve been through a couple of obedience classes. Plus, I’ve lost her before. So it’s not as if I have no idea as to what strategies to use to get her back. There’s no sick panic anymore – I assume she’ll eventually come home. This means I can skip more quickly to irritation over the inconvenience of chasing her around.

Recall games in obedience classes were pretty simple. I got down on the dog’s level, crouching on the ground, and used my happiest voice to call to my furry "friend" (she was more of a mortal enemy at this point), maintaining my high level of excitement when she (theoretically) scampered toward me for pets, cuddles and praise. It’s hard to find the energy for that level of happiness before 7AM (“Here, Chienne! Who’s the pretty girl?! Where’s Chienne? Oh! There she is! Such a good girl!”), but I gave it a shot.

Didn’t work. At all. She looked at me with some level of disdain then trotted off in the other direction.

So I muttered some inappropriate assessments of her level of intelligence, then followed after her. I have a problem with this too. A couple of years spent at an off-leash dog park have trained her to keep track of me, but then she does her own thing as long as I follow. So my old strategy was simply not to follow. But then I lost her completely a couple of times, got scared, and now trail along after her.

I started thinking, between plotting out punishments dire enough for the continued insult of running from me, about why it was so irresistible to chase after that which won’t be caught. There’s some competitive or needy impulse in me that demands I bring this dog back with me. It’s a similar feeling to when a friend isn’t returning my calls or emails or if a guy seems to be losing interest and backing off. Now sometimes I really like these creatures – pets, friends or men – and would be deeply bothered to lose them. Other times I think it’s just irritating that I wasn’t in control of the situation. Regardless, I’ll try to trick said creature into returning to me.

So the happy “come on!” trick didn’t work. Perhaps Chienne knew it was fake because I’m usually at least vaguely peeved when she gets away. This goes against obedience rules too – I’m always to reward her for returning, regardless of the amount of running she did in the interim. I fail at this – I’m too transparent for her to know I’m anything other than hurt and furious by the time I catch her or she decides to come home. So let’s continue with my manipulation strategies!

I'm already mad, so I decided to go with it. As I walked briskly after her, I would offer insults when I got close enough. This releases some of the negative energy that I have to chase her at all. I also try to mix guilt into this angry phase. Remind her that I buy her kibble, put it in the special container so it stays fresh, and give her some every morning and evening when her bowl is empty. I also offer fresh water, and the leftover milk when I have cereal. I buy her hot dogs and cut up half of one into small pieces for a special treat. I buy Snaps because she loves them – there are 2 boxes in the pantry in addition to those in her treat container, “none of which you’ll get because you’re a bad, bad dog!” I let her sleep on the furniture and under the covers at the foot of my bed. She has a dog door and a fenced yard which I mow for her. She has three – no, four! – baskets of toys we’ve accumulated.

I find this rarely works – with dogs because they don’t understand what you’re saying, and with people because they’ve likely already considered the benefits of being with me and been able to live without them. Plus, it highlights the positives but doesn’t consider the negatives.

So let’s do that – think about why she ran at all. Our walks aren’t always fun. I’m trying to move briskly through the neighborhood and allow her relatively few opportunities to sniff for as long as she’d like. She has a retractable leash, so there is some freedom to stop and look, but then she has to jog to catch up or face a “Come on!” from me. I also don’t allow her to go very far into people’s yards. Nor can she walk in the middle of the street. She has a 5 foot wide zone of OKness that stretches a bit into a yard and a bit into the street. When she insists upon leaving the zone of OKness, I tug her back to it with a reprimand. That’s probably annoying for her. I also tend to pick the route based on how long I want to walk and which hills I want to tackle. Perhaps she had a different walk in mind when we left the house. This understanding isn’t that helpful though. I still want her to come back home, and I still want to walk how I walk. Though I did try to slow down so she could smell a bit more this morning, for the most part, I want to lose myself in my thoughts and walk quickly. That’s just how it is.

Given that I’m not willing to compromise too much (and, again, the fact that she doesn’t speak enough English to understand if I did try to bargain with her) I was still left chasing her tail.

She stopped at one point to bury her head in a shrub, and I sprinted for her. Just took off and ran as fast as I could (which probably isn’t very fast), using the irritation that following her around for 15 minutes and getting a blister from my new shoes (dammit!) had built up. She glanced up, saw me coming, and sprinted away. When she turned to see me sigh, scowl and ease back into a walk, she settled into a trot. Still moving away, but not as quickly. “Nobody likes desperation.” I reminded myself. Though the desire to fix everything as quickly as possible is there, it’s not something that gets excellent results. When anyone sees something coming that fast – that eager – the instinct to flee is nearly overwhelming, even if you like your pursuer a lot.

The opposite of desperation? Indifference. So I would play hard to get. “Fine.” I called out. “I’m going home.” Then I took several steps away from her, resisting the urge to glance back to see if she was watching. Obviously that’s not how you play – you have to really commit to pretending it doesn’t matter. I ruined it, of course, turning around to find myself staring at her tail. She’d turned and walked the other direction, confident in 1 of 2 things. Her ability to find her way home alone or my turning around to continue to chase. She really was indifferent, so I was left chasing her again. This is infuriating because the whole point of playing hard to get is to, well, get what I wanted! To have the object of my chase be indifferent is adding insult to injury!

So, though I knew it wouldn’t work because it never does, I tried again. I devised a plan that would have me telling her of my extreme excitement to go home, perhaps I’d even jog there to display my very joy in getting back! I also decided to offer this ploy.

“I could get another dog, you know.” I told her nonchalantly. “Other dogs would love to live with me. Eat the special kibble. Use the dog door. Play with those toys. I’m a good mom – I could have another dog. In fact, my new dog – let’s call her Sophie – would probably be better than you.” I nodded decisively, assuming she was paying attention despite her continued journey away from home. "Sophie would never run from me because she'd love me very, very much."

I also understood that it’s a pretty pathetic ploy (and that I’d look certifiable if anyone was outside and heard me talking about my new dog, Sophie, as I walked after the one that wouldn’t come home). But sometimes it helps – reminding myself that there are other creatures who might actually be more compatible. Those who want to spend time with me, who would return even if I accidentally let them go. Who would refuse to be scared away by my overly dramatic nature and sometimes insecure view of myself.

So I told her about my new dog. Then I did, in fact, jog toward home, happily talking about how great it would be when I got back. How I’d drink water and have treats and, well, look online for this new dog I was going to obtain. I do like the name Sophie, after all.

I just ended up glancing back, way the hell away from where Chienne had stopped to sniff yet again, unconcerned that she’d be replaced. Fine.

But I was starting to get slightly concerned. My left heel (because that foot is slightly smaller than my right, so new shoes will rub a bit while being broken in) was really sore, I was tired and hot, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do to get this dog back.

I caught up to her as she listened to some dogs bark inside a 2 story home near the end of the 3/4 mile cul-de-sac we'd been walking.

“Just come here.” I said softly, tired and sad that she’d run for so long. She – torn between listening to the dogs she liked and running from me she obviously didn’t care for – walked away slowly.

Then I smiled. I knew she wanted those dogs. So I’d trick her, then trap her. An evil plan, perhaps, but one that would likely be effective. So I walked up the steps, causing the dogs to bark all the more, to the small porch and front door.

“I’m going in.” I lied to my dog, bending down to tie my shoe, hoping I wasn’t going to have to get these poor people to open the door (though they deserve some kind of award if they could sleep through the barking).

I didn’t. She happily pranced up the steps, arriving at the door before me and wagging her tail in expectation of being a guest in someone’s home. I fastened the leash around her collar, told her we were going home, and walked down the steps. I waited only 30 seconds before going into a tirade about how bad she was, how inappropriate her behavior had been, how perhaps I’d take walks without her from now on. And I kept her close to my side as we trekked home.

It’s different with people. They’re generally under little to no obligation to be dragged where I want them to go. I can trick and trap, of course, but they’ll only escape again if that’s what makes the most sense. The better technique, I decided, was to give people a reason to stay – offer some happiness and comfort that they’d hesitate to leave – or to allow them a freedom that might bring them more contentment elsewhere. This hurts – it’s never pleasant to leave someone or to allow them to go. I form deep attachments to people – I tend to love easily and deeply, and though I can talk myself out of it, that's a long, difficult process. So I chase – try to rely on basic obedience, then insult the desire to leave at all, try guilt, then attempt some understanding at the reasons behind his/her decision. Make a desperate attempt at capture, then quickly shift into false indifference. I’m fond of manipulating, so I’ll probably try the hard to get ploy more than once, then determine some way to associate myself with an alternate desire so you’ll get one thing you want, but have to take me with that nice object or event. But people who want to leave? They leave. And people who love me in return? Well, they stay. They’re the ones who end up mattering most of all.

Chienne, by the way, was ignored and any attempts at reconciliation were sharply rebuffed all day yesterday. I forgave her last night and offered her a taco for dinner. I even scraped off the lettuce and tomato for her. Then we walked together this morning and I tried to be less autocratic. I picked our route – a longer one this morning in the slightly cooler, cloudy morning, but allowed her a bit more freedom to enter yards and look around. Not too much, but a bit of leniency might be fine.

She’s curled up in the chair right now. She hopped up and stared out the window for a moment, perhaps considering where she might go if she was free to leave the property. Maybe she was just checking things out – considering the flower beds I weeded this afternoon while she curled up on the doormat on the porch. After she'd looked outside, she curled up on the big cushion and nuzzled in. She’s falling asleep as I write this, and I think she’s happy enough. She – unlike people – has limited options. And if I’m being honest, I’ll admit that I rather like that she’s obligated to hang around.

I’d miss her very much if she left.