Friday, March 30, 2007

The Cover

I did not have a good morning. I struggled to get out of the house, cheered only slightly by how shiny my hair was after it was straightened. I made it to work, rode the bus to the office and tried to breathe. I needed something good. Desperately. I had convinced myself that I could send email. Ask for some encouragement or a distraction or anything.

"You probably shouldn't make any decisions in this particular mood." Friend advised the other night when I talked about how much I missed him. "It's not that you can never speak to him again. Now's just not the time to make that decision."

She was right, I knew. Now is not the time to beg for attention from someone who likely retains the power to hurt me terribly. So I took deep breaths as I walked to my office and unlocked the door. No email, I told myself gently. Maybe someday, but not today. Just endure the moments until you can go home. Two meetings - you really can do this.

There was a large white package on my chair. It bore the logo of Very Good Journal and I lifted to find it quite heavy. I found my scissors and sat down with the soft packing envelope balanced on my lap. I pulled a large white box from inside and smiled as I realized I hoped it contained a frame. It did - my cover was encased in plastic and framed by wood and I smiled as I looked at it. A letter from the editor congratulated and thanked me for my pretty image.

So instead of walking into Boss's office and telling him I was freaking out - having a depressive episode and not coping well at all - I could show him my gift from the journal. He was in a meeting, so I went to show Tim - he took the frame, read the editor's letter and was suitably proud of me. Boss came to my office later and smiled widely.

"Some days it's worth it." He said as he examined the frame. "You get accolades and well-deserved awards and you realize that the job is good. Congratulations! Today's a good day."

Carrie said something similar years ago. "Don't quit." She advised when I was having one of many days when it was just too hard. "When you get something published - when you know your work mattered, that someone might read what you wrote and learn something useful - it's good. The feeling is really wonderful."

I place the first page of each of my papers on my wall. I want - some day - to look at it and think, "Yes. This is why I'm here."

Hasn't happened.

The cover did carry me through the day though. I made it through one meeting and picked at my lunch. I revised the grant and an IRB application and smiled when I saw the frame on the corner of my desk. Then Boss came to get me to go to the afternoon meeting of doom.

I nearly fell down some steps on the way there. Then I was largely ignored for 45 minutes and spoke for less than a minute while handing out my carefully created handout. It's fine - I can do what I want without major problems. No reason to shut down and freak out, though it's been only one of my current sources of worry.

I came home after 5, waiting for the bus (wishing I had a sign that said, "I know it's nice and I should walk. I slipped in my strappy shoes and hurt my ankle on some stairs.") with my boxed frame clutched in my arms. It currently hangs over the bed in my office at home. Boss also found an extra journal for me to take home to my parents. He wished me a lovely long weekend before he went home this evening. I didn't ever tell him how badly I've been doing. I also didn't say that while the framed cover is lovely and I'm very grateful (as I wrote in a thank you email to the editor of Very Good Journal), I'm not sure it makes it worth it. The job is hard. These patients are going to break my heart. I sometimes have no idea how to do my work. I remain uncertain that this is worth it.

But the accolades, a proud Boss and a framed copy of a journal cover are very cool. So today wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been. There were good moments - I'll remember those when I smile at my cover upon entering a spare bedroom in my house. Perhaps I'll try to remember them on the drive home tomorrow. And I really should be converting files instead of continuing a blog post. But I very much appreciate the well wishes that have come my way from some of you. I'm OK now - thank you. (Well, not totally OK - I'm out of Celexa and Friend let me borrow some of hers for the weekend. I'm not stable enough to stop the medication for a few days, I think. But I am relieved this week is over.)


My chapter is coming along - it's becoming very readable and, I think, useful. I'm pleased with it despite some problems in getting the last piece of analysis to work right. It's also a bit short - I'll work on adding another technique or more description to it this weekend.

I mowed the jungle that my lawn had become yesterday. It took hours as I inched through the too-tall grass and weeds, hoping the mower wouldn't stutter to a stop, requiring me to drag it to the patio and restart it. I took Chienne for a walk this morning and was pleased at how nice it looks now - all short and clean and smelling of cut grass.

Friend returned last night - at my request - and we had brownies with caramel. That was nice. The chocolate and the not being alone.

I'm heading north this weekend to spend several days with my parents. I'm stressed about being away, but it should be good for me to see them.

I'm busy - data to analyze, forms to revise, meetings to attend. I'd rather be busy than not - it makes time go faster.

But. I would like to curl up in a ball and hope nobody notices me. I wish it were dark and rainy and I could stay home today and wallow in sadness. I'm really trying to cope through this particular episode - retain some functionality, keep doing my job, taking care of daily tasks - but the effort is rather extreme in some moments. I'm tired. And sad. And I want this to stop being so hard right now.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Not thinking

It's not going so well.

I feel very distraught and fragile - I'm no longer angry or bored or frustrated. Just panicked and sad. So very sad.

"No thinking." I warned myself on the way to a seminar. I continued to repeat it as I learned about software tricks and waited for the free lunches to be distributed. I avoided puddles and rushing water from the downpour that lasted most of the day on my way back to the office. I noticed how lovely my umbrella is - light blue with pretty pink flowers along the edge. I listened to the way my shoes sloshed from being soaked in water. I wondered what was in the box I'd tucked in my bag before returning to my office. A few steps later, my throat closed up and I used my free hand to rub at my chest. It hurt.

I went to a meeting and contributed, growing panicked when it lasted too long. I was bored and I drift when I get bored. I needed to leave - to do something, to have some focus on anything outside what's going on in my head. It's scary in there right now. It hurts and I don't like it and to work is to escape it. I nearly threw up from the strain of having to sit there when I needed to get up and move. I appear to be having a bit of a problem.

I made it through my afternoon. My experiment went well, I think. I'm looking at data tonight. I played with some files today and didn't do it right - I'm almost grateful. It gives me something to fix tonight. But I write when I'm thinking. Since I'm very eager to avoid doing that, there isn't a decent blog post to be had this evening. Instead, I shall do mindless work, try to sleep in just a bit tomorrow and see if I can accomplish some writing later on.

I'm just struggling right now. It'll get better soon - until then, I'm focused on remaining functional and enduring as best I can.

Because I didn't send email.

The shower in my master bathroom is small. It has good water pressure and I like it in there (which is good since my guest tub is filled with blankets and towels in case the dog gets scared and requires a safe spot to hide). If I lean against the far wall, the water hits me about chest level. I can rest my left elbow on the little bar above the soap holder and press the curve between my thumb and index finger over my eyes as I cry. It’s easy to splash some water up with my right hand when I need to rinse my face.

At about this time in my book – several months after being so miserable and depressed – my character (her name, for now, is Poppy) is moving on. She finds that the anger has faded and she’s healing as she makes room for the next man. I end the story with her being in love. She’s happy and loved and settled – I find it’s beyond me to deny her something she wants so badly, has worked so hard to achieve. So, right now, she would not be writing a blog post about how terribly sad she is.

The problem with the novel is that I don’t identify with the end. I do not – in all honesty – think there’s anyone else coming for me. I don’t mean to be dramatic or pessimistic. It’s just an evaluation of the facts. Some people end up alone. Some of those people had wishes to the contrary. It’s sad, but, well, what? You cannot force someone to love you. I’ve really tried. It just doesn’t work for me anymore than I can force myself to love someone. It happens or it doesn’t.

I think, if faced with myself in high school at this point – more than a year after I wrote that post – she’d be shocked that I didn’t find anyone. But I also think that once I explained how hard I tried, how much I wanted, how I thought I came rather close but was horribly, humiliatingly wrong, she’d understand. “Twenty-eight?” She ask. “And there’s no one? Not even a past love who has become a friend? Not a friend we might marry someday? Nobody?” And I’d shake my head and perhaps she’d try to soothe me as I cried.

I have been asked – by a few people, actually – if I miss Peter. And I nod because I do. A lot. Hatred – especially with great depth and severity – takes a lot of energy. Any wistful feelings were too sweet and gentle to withstand the heated anger that I felt. So I was protected to some degree. The sadness was lost while I worked through how betrayed and wronged I felt. But I’m done with that, I think. He said at one point – very early on when I was hysterically confronting him (not my most shining of moments) – that no promises were made, no commitments given. He tried to be clear about what we were and were not – this situation wasn’t even a real break-up, let alone a broken engagement or worse, a marriage that ended. That’s true. It’s also part of why I’m writing the book – a small part, but still. I had to justify to myself why it hurt so badly. Why I was so devastated then hateful. I’m figuring it out and it was OK that I acted badly in the process. I think I’ve started to forgive myself for that.

When asked if I wanted to be friends with him, I had to stop and think. Because my first reaction is that I very much want that. He is witty and charming and if you have his attention, he’ll rarely say the wrong thing. He understands people and is not cruel – he’ll try to offer advice or sympathy or some bit of wisdom because he thinks that’s what is needed. I felt – with him – confident and hopeful and sexy and, um, (this is really hard for me right now), safe. When things were good, I thought he knew me and liked me and that meant I wasn’t alone anymore. And as I sit on my couch, surrounded my used tissues and breathing deeply to avoid sobs, I can safely say I’m not so good at being alone. It was the first time I found someone and thought that I could tolerate him at his worst. When he was depressed or insecure or overly sharp or too critical or withdrawn or self-important – I could deal with it because he was worth it. His acceptance of all my flaws just made things click for me. And so I even miss that – sending lavish compliments when he was depressed, checking on him to make sure he was doing better, asking questions when he got too standoffish.

I miss him. As I’m left without anger, I find I miss him a huge amount.

As I started to cry – about 90 minutes ago – I thought about sending him email. Because I have so much to tell him. So many questions about his life. And I’m so sad that we don’t talk anymore. That I can’t tell him something I thought was funny or finish a story that I’d told him the beginning of. Rachel called the other day (I didn’t answer) and I think she’s going to announce she’s pregnant and my first thought was that I should tell Peter. We’d talked about her a great deal and how I struggled to be happy for her and her husband. He doesn’t deserve her. I’ve made someone understand that, but I no longer have access to him.

For me, in general, I still miss what was until I’m dazzled by what is. So if there isn’t someone else for me, I’m stuck with missing Peter forever. This realization is not new, nor is it welcome. It is, however, true.

If I am to miss him forever, then why can’t I send email? I thought as I gently closed the laptop, set it aside and moved down the hall toward my shower. No, I don’t trust him. I’d wonder if he was making fun of me with his current interest. I wouldn’t want to believe it, but to say that I knew him is ridiculous on some level. I might have, I guess, but I can’t know that. And I’m not great at trusting people in general right now, to be honest. When interacting with almost anyone, I’m leery. Wondering what they want from me. How they might hurt me later. So I’m guarded for no good reason other than fear. But perhaps, I rationalize, if I can work through my feelings about him, then I can trust everyone else again! That sort of makes sense.

Except that he’s moved on. He doesn’t read me, has overcome any lingering curiosity, has – I assume – decided that he’s done all he can or wants to and would like to escape without further communication that asks or tells or offers something which holds no interest for him. And that’s good – I think that’s good. It makes me wonder why I can't do the same, but that's OK too. In fact, in the absence of anger that convinced me he deserved to have to deal with me, I find I can resist the impulse to contact him. I can leave him alone – I really think I can. I know I should. I don’t want to, but I can. I can cry and shower and cry some more. Write a sad blog post that I likely should have incorporated into my book to shield you all from this messiness. But as I’ve documented the process so far, I thought this was worth mentioning. The painful part where I realize I truly lost someone I loved. Someone I shouldn’t try to get back because it simply isn’t fair.

If I had written to him, I’d have asked when it would stop hurting. I would have hoped that a friendship would ease the pain some. I think it’s just supposed to hurt though. And eventually it might get manageable enough to avoid inappropriate email and a weepy blog post.

I am aware, by the way, that we are at war. I read the Newsweek features and was very moved. I met someone with cancer today and could make a career studying said disease. I give money at church to feed the poor and pray for those with problems much greater than my own. Yet the search for love – for connection and safety and belonging – is of profound importance. The loss of that – the acknowledgment that it may not happen for me and I will forever be sad and disappointed on some level – is, I think, worth some time and tears.

But I think I’m done with this particular episode. I hurt, but I’ve stopped crying. I’m on my third glass of water and finally took Tylenol PM to help with the headache and to force sleep so that I’m functional tomorrow. I’m shaking my head at myself even as I feel the need to publish this. I have problems, I know. I really am working on it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mixed emotions

I missed a message yesterday afternoon. I failed to take my pager to a meeting and returned to the intermittent beeping that warned me of two people trying to reach me. I also had a voicemail on my cell phone (it was keeping my pager company in my bag). I returned the first of the pages and talked to one of the doctors recruiting patients for Project X. I have not held out much hope that I’d ever get data, so I was crushed that I’d missed an opportunity to meet with a potential subject by being unavailable. I left a message on her machine, but didn’t hear back.

“My plan,” I told Friend as I drove her to pick up a newly-repaired car this morning, “is to call and see if she answers her phone. If not, I won’t leave another message – I don’t want to stalk the poor woman. So I’ll email the doctor again and mention that I’d still love to speak with her if he sees her soon and she's still interested.”

So I enacted that plan and spent the remainder of the morning despondently moving through piles of work. I had wanted to fix one part of X’s experiment, but if I missed the patient, there was no reason to hurry. I was momentarily cheered when I figured out how to run some old code. I found a page of notes tucked in my files, swore at java error messages, then remembered how to fix the problem (I tend to make the same mistakes over and over and over. Which means that if I can jog my memory, I can sometimes make progress). I quickly wrote myself a text file describing how to use the various files to do what I needed (because I'll definitely forget and make the same mistakes again). I should do that more often – include notes with packets of code.

My pager sounded just after noon and I scrambled to call within seconds of hearing it. In my email to the doctor that morning, I’d apologized for the earlier glitch and promised to return any page immediately. I was told that the patient was waiting to speak to me and after a thrilled announcement to my officemates ("I have a patient!"), I hurried – files and flyers in hand – to meet her.

We talked and she signed forms and asked a few questions. My initial euphoria – visions of data and publications (I was already drafting an introduction) – faded as I noticed she looked tired.

“You realize,” I said softly, “that this isn’t likely to provide any personal benefit.” I’d explained the premise and aims. Described all risks and inconveniences. She nodded along easily, her husband making conversation with me while she read the consent form. Working in a research institution, I’m familiar with many, many patients who participate in research studies to further general knowledge or deal with pilot studies that will be pushed to full scale in other populations. It’s a big deal - giving of their time and energy to help humanity. I find it - them - to be profoundly impressive.

She nodded, asked a few more questions, and we planned our next meeting. I’m torn, frankly. I want the data. Badly, actually. And it could help her – I’m flipping through ideas on how it might do so. But though I’ve worked with oncology patients before, I haven’t had nearly the contact that I’ve set up in these projects. I will obtain consent, deal with scheduling, answer questions, talk with patients before each experiment and serve as the primary research contact throughout the process. I’m wondering how I’ll cope with it.

I’m so sorry you’re sick, I thought as we talked this morning. I hope you get well very soon. And I very much appreciate you helping with my study. I only said the last part out loud.

There was, of course, the aftermath of relief. All the setting up, getting funding, practice datasets might actually yield something useful. I spent the afternoon covering details – both scientific and logistical. At 5:00, I sat at my desk and was completely exhausted. I had been tired all day – I’m a bit overwhelmed and though I can focus and tackle one thing at a time, I feel the pressure of everything I could be doing.

There were good moments – Boss proudly announced that more journals were being sent to us. He called and asked, which, again, I find terribly sweet. I had lunch with Friend, who also had a successful day. I flopped on the bed after taking off clothes (when I got home – I don’t prance around in undergarments at work), pajamas clutched in my arms, and was attacked by a cuddly puppy. So I laughed and fended of kisses and decided I'd get up and do some work after all. I was pleased to have solved some problems today – I felt strangely capable and positive, if very tired.

I think the exhaustion caught up with me though – I was weepy on the way home. Work is finally going well. Projects are picking up, there is writing that should be happening, I can figure out problems and learn new software with some online help. I’m pleased, really.

But alone. If I had cancer, I’d be sitting in the waiting room alone. No husband to sit beside me and listen to treatment options and research projects. No children to play with the toys scattered about. I’m grateful for my health – I really am. But as I write my novel, I recall that I was willing to walk away from this whole institution if I found someone who happened to live elsewhere. I’d leave research completely with a semi-compelling reason. I think I could be equally happy doing something else, especially if something else included a family.

So. I’m a bit sad, though I feel badly about that when my problems are comparatively miniscule. I’m generally pleased (and terrified) with how things are going at work. And I’m very tired. Very, very tired. But I made it through my stack of papers and have 3 more references to download. I’m sitting through a day of seminars tomorrow, carefully tucked by a back entrance, I hope, so I can respond to the summons of my pager if it plays its ‘bee-bee-beeeep, bee-bee-beeeep’ song. I just hope I can stay awake.

Monday, March 26, 2007

So Many Words

The Real Book
When I opened Word this evening to compose something for my blog, I was greeted by my book chapter. It has a pretty title, bold and centered, under which my name and affiliation is followed by two others. I write, by the way, in Arial. It’s not so scary anymore. The 11 point font marches neatly across the screen, interrupted only by bold headings when the topic changes or a pretty, color figure when a point requires illustration.

It’s lovely, my chapter. Very incomplete, of course, but the section I see when it pops in front of Firefox is pretty. I have a folder of literature piled on my side table and another batch of papers waiting in my bag. There’s so much to learn and incorporate. Thousands of words to skim, hoping that I’m not too tired or distracted to mark the good parts so that I can come back to them later.

It’s coming along – rather quickly, actually. I’m learning a lot, though my knowledge on this particular topic is rather superficial. But I can apply certain algorithms, make a pretty figure, then explain what happened and propose some explanation. I wished today for the quiet of home. Time with my fine point Crayola markers – I like to pick a color and write on papers as I try to focus. When I finish a paper, I get to change colors. It keeps me oddly motivated. I also didn’t send my chapter to the office, so I couldn’t work on it there. But I wanted to write it today – had ideas and desire, but lacked opportunity.

I think this means I’m famous!
Instead, I stayed on campus after arriving a bit late. I worked on my grant – not writing, per se, but restructuring so that it followed a more logical order. My initial attempt was more like “here’s a bunch of paragraphs. What’s important is hidden there somewhere. Good luck! And please give me money.” I find this new way Boss devised to be rather amazing in how it actually says what we’re trying to say.

After sending him the new draft, I got an email that read as follows:

I just got the new issue of [Very Good Journal that Published My Last Graduate Paper]. Congratulations on having one of your figures chosen for the cover!

Since I don’t get that journal and had no idea one of my figures had been chosen for the cover, I hurried down the hall toward his office and knocked at his open door. He picked up the glasses lying next to his computer screen and settled them on his nose before smiling at me.

“May I see the journal? Do you have one?”

“Don’t you get one?” He asked, jumping up from his desk as he looked around for his copy. “I didn’t know you got the cover! That’s fantastic – quite an honor.”

“I didn’t know either.” I told him. He handed it to me and I looked at it for a moment. Silent. Wondering who else had figures in that issue that might have competed with mine. I was proud, but in a distant way. More pleased – strange as it sounds – with the colored image than I was of myself for making it. Boss went through calculations of the chances one had of getting a cover image – calculated probabilities of getting published in that journal at all, then in having a reviewer mark that a certain image was cover-worthy, then to have that one chosen over all other candidates. I just continued to look at it.

“Make sure you tell Advisor.” Boss noted after we’d talked for some time. He then went down the hall to see if anyone else would part with their copy of the journal, hoping we could frame one, send another to my parents, have another for him to keep since he’d given me his. Boss is terribly sweet – I love him very much.

I composed an email – one of many since I’d updated the co-authors on this paper’s tentative acceptance, official acceptance, the arrival of proofs, the online publication, and its selection for a virtual journal.

In continuing news of "look how well my paper is doing!" I thought I could let you know that our figure was selected for the cover image of the March issue of [Very Good Journal that Published My Last Graduate Paper]! Boss is quite pleased and has given me his copy. So the little paper that took forever to get published anywhere is finally doing quite well for itself. I'm really quite pleased. So congratulations to all of us again! :)

I hope you all continue to be well. And this really should be the last time I say, "hey, look at that!" about this particular paper.


I don’t know why I said the paper was doing well for itself any more than I know why I think of it that way. But that’s not the point. Advisor wrote back a congratulatory email that was also copied to the members of my committee. The same members, by the way, who postponed my defense date by 6 months because “the work I’d done would never get published if it wasn’t in press upon leaving grad school.” That I “made the department look bad with a poor publication record upon leaving.”

They were wrong. I got every single paper published (well, there were only three first author manuscripts, but still! They’re all in print now! It just takes time, dammit.) and have not, I hope, brought shame upon all who know me. So that was a nice little boost on a Monday morning.

And the novel
I wrote the beginning - it took awhile for me to even start that. Then I edited the beginning so I didn’t think it was poorly written. There is a small gap between where I left off and where I picked up again in the middle. I know – in some basic sense – what I want to fill that space. The stories, the mood, the conflict, the characters. I can’t find time to write it. So it sits in my head and waits, and as completely self-absorbed and insane as it sounds, I sort of feel it there. Pressure as the ideas build themselves into sentences and paragraphs and itch to be typed out on paper so they can stop their swirling in my brain.

I like my middle section. Of the book, not of my body. It’s the happiest part – the most hopeful and right and lovely. And it replaces someone else’s words with those I can claim as my own. If I want to remember at some point, I won’t read what he said. I’ll read what I wrote. It’s small, but seems significant to me for some reason. I’m not completely sure why – I haven’t discussed it with Dr. Counselor.

Anyway, I wrote another middle chapter this weekend. A long chapter. It was easy to start and hellish to finish. Not because it hurt to write – that had been my problem so far. I end up saving certain documents for later because they’re too painful on certain days. This is the first time that I knew where I was headed and could not – hard as I tried – get there. Increasingly frustrated, I stared at the screen – at these characters – and cried, “Come on!” The mood kept slipping and the dialogue went flat and even I lost interest as I was writing it. I finally fixed it after I took a nap – I think it’s reading a lot better now.

“I finished a chapter.” I told Friend afterward. “Sometimes that completes a section. I say what I want, tell a certain story, then I’m done with that part. But this section just keeps flowing into something else I need to write. There’s so much there that one chapter just links to the next. And this one in particular cuts off in the middle of scene! I know where it’s going, but it just takes so long to write. So I’ll leave it at a stopping point and write for work. Really.”

But it’s another section that is screaming to be written down (I sound pretentious – I know – I’m sorry. I have problems.) and I really want to try to write it and I don’t have time or energy. I am shocked, by the way, at how much time and effort goes into that kind of writing. It's hard for me to retain focus on the major point of what I'm writing while telling other stories, foreshadowing, incorporating some humor (I get rather dark at times) and trying to create something interesting. I guess if I'm going to write a book - even if only a few select people read it - I'd like it to be decent. But I don't have time to do it well right now.

What I have is a stack of writing projects and a full work calendar that doesn’t leave enough time for professional writing, let alone personal. Which is why you get yet another whiny blog post. But things have changed – my recent boredom has allowed me to start several projects. Finding time to finish them will be the real trick.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Another Day

It's morningtime, so I just completed my walk with the dog. This should come as a surprise to no one, but we did go to the lake, which is a bit unusual. I'm not sure why I don't go more often - it's a good distance and easy path. But there is a busy street to cross and I hate to train my puppy to head that way if she should happen to get loose.

Regardless, to the lake we went this morning, having more than adequate time before preparation for church had to begin. I woke at 5, then again at 5:30, realized I didn't feel well, so I took Advil and finished a book chapter. Not, unfortunately, the one for work. Though I did make serious progress yesterday on review articles and thought - multiple times - "I've heard that word! I've used that word. And now I know what it means! How delightful!"

I think my mood is lifting a bit. I enjoyed the walk to the lake - it's early enough that the evil ball of fire we call the sun has not yet heated the air to an uncomfortable degree. It's nearly cool outside and I walked along happily, Chienne trotting beside me until some smell demanded her attention. When we reached the water, I stood to watch the birds as the dog desperately devised a plan to get rid of me so she could chase the birds. I adore this first photo - if you look carefully (or click to enlarge), you'll see that the ducks have taken a supervisory role. They were busily dictating to the birds in the water. I almost felt badly for them, quacking away as they were. The swimming guys clearly had no coherent plan, but ignored the well-intentioned advice being thrown their way. Behind the ducks, the two white birds (I don't know species - ducks? swans? What exactly do geese look like?) appear to be rather affectionate. I didn't notice them at the time, but I think they're rather sweet. And the little guy just above them appears to be heading toward the boats quite quickly. I admire his initiative.

I liked the reflections in this next one. That's really all I have to say. Well, I guess I could comment that I expected things to be a bit more spring-y down there. Lots of new life and growth and all that. Instead it looked like it continued to wait. There were no little ducklings or goslings running about, little bodies fluffy with new feathers. I hope I remember to go see them when they're around. Trees were starting to bud and there was some sort of white, flowering plant that smelled very sweet in the crisp morning air. It would probably be cloying on humid afternoons, but it was perfect for a cool morning.

I thought the sky was pretty in this last one, grading from vivid to dull. The lake was quiet, though there were several people fishing and more arriving to put boats in the water. Chienne was tugging lightly at her leash, plans - I assume - were hatched and discarded since the collar is a bit too tight for her to slip her head through. Plus, those birds would win in a war - my sweet girl has been coddled into a wimpy state overall.

So, well, nothing all that interesting is happening. I took a walk, saw some birds, took pictures of said birds, posting said pictures on my blog. Little Cousin had a nice birthday party - I enjoyed watching her. I sighed and said "Boots! His name is Boots!" when Cousin kept saying "Dora and the monkey." (Oh, by the way, I found the SNL cartoon last night absolutely hysterical. "Don't question it - just do it!") I giggled when Little Cousin flung articles of clothing over her shoulder as she removed them from the box, obviously looking for an item that was a worthwhile gift. We don't get Little One clothes for that very reason. But she was very sweet, looking around the room with wide eyes as we all sang to her, politely thanking people as her dad pointed to them after she'd open a gift, crying only once when the only other child in attendance would try to play with her newly opened presents. It was, as predicted, a lot like last year.

I talked to my parents, retelling the same stories twice so each could hear them. I was short with them earlier in the day, so I told myself to make an effort last night. It was actually easy - I talked easily with Mom, then discussed cars with Dad. I read some papers and wrote more for my book. Today will look largely the same, though I am considering mowing my back yard. So, well, look at the pretty birds. That's about all I know.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

On boredom

I’m rather bored of my routes through the neighborhood on my morning walks with the dog. She manages to find places to sniff and explore, but I’ve seen what’s there. The houses, the flowers, the pretty lake in the distance. It’s all very nice, but, well, it’s been done. Day after day after day, I retrace my steps on one of the five or six options I’ve developed. There are short routes and longer ones. We can go left or right when leaving the house. If we go right, there’s another selection of directions – I’m familiar with streets if we turn either direction. If we go left, we always head toward the lake.

But I’m bored.

When I hurried from the house this morning, eager to walk before the day warmed to the insane degree of heat that required me to turn on my air conditioning yesterday, I wondered why I never go north then east. (Or east-ish. Not so good with directions, but I do know where the sun is each morning.) Chienne pulled left and I followed along, knowing where the crowing rooster lived, wondering how the daffodils looked in one particular yard, musing that if the pit bull pair was out in their fenced area, I’d force Chienne to cross the street rather than allowing her to pee in their yard just to irritate them.

Then I decided we’d make a sharp left turn on the first street that came along. I didn’t know what was up there, exactly, and have never consulted my map to figure it out. But I assumed that if I became hopelessly lost, I could always turn around and retrace my steps. The dog was, as always, pleased to explore new territory and I found myself tugging her along with increasing annoyance as we moved through a new section of neighborhood. The houses were larger, I decided. Too large, perhaps, for the families that lived there. Though my house is a bit tiny – and would certainly shrink even more if stuffed with another adult and 2 children – I don’t know that I would require two large floors full of living space.

Eh, I decided, no reason to worry about it. I’m going through that unpleasant phase where I’m quite certain that love isn’t going to find me at all. No husband. I continue to hold the thought that I may someday adopt a child though. Time will tell. (I find it nearly excruciatingly depressing sometimes that my best shot at a relationship that I found lovely and promising was based upon a somewhat ludicrous hope. But those thoughts go on a different blog. So let’s move on.)

So, I’m walking along, looking at big houses, feeling a little sorry for myself, untangling the freaking leash from around mailboxes when my genius of a canine companion becomes engrossed in chasing down a particular scent, and I turned a corner to behold a rather steep hill with some surprise. The topography in my particular neck of the woods is a bit confusing. Hills and valleys spring up regularly, then ease into flat land. So while I often drive less than a mile (I guessed – again, not good with directions or distances) from where I thought I currently stood, I was rather shocked that a hill of such magnitude was before me.

I climbed it, hoping that an increased elevation would give me some clue as to where I was. My neighborhood is huge, frankly, and rather than gridding the area so that navigating the streets would be rather straightforward, the lanes and drives meander – curve with varying degrees, allow space for courts in which more houses are placed, change direction completely, alter their names. After huffing and puffing my way up the hill, I stopped to view a busy scene. I’m aware of the signs that advertise new construction, but thought it to be contained to a whole other area. This was new – many houses in various stages of completion. But my inhaled breath brought scents of wood and fresh concrete rather than carpet and paint, so this section was in the early stages yet. Men yelled over the roar of tractors that were busily pushing earth around. I felt momentary pity for the machines. Having joined Friend in digging in my small flowerbed last weekend, I’m aware that the dirt is composed of heavy clay and many, many rocks. Not easy to move that crap around.

I glanced at the street sign and turned right, thinking that eventually I might find a way to complete a loop and head back to my house. After all, I hadn’t yet had coffee and a new Pralines and Cream variety of Coffeemate awaited me at the modest structure I call home. I wandered along, wondering how long the families had lived in the houses that still sparkled with newness. Grass was growing nicely, but flowers had yet to be planted in carefully sectioned beds. I wondered if there were stacks of cardboard from broken down boxes inside the houses or if the non-crucial items still resided in dark corners, remaining neatly packed away until someone found the time and energy to unearth them. I smiled at someone who was getting his paper from the end of his drive, both of us still in pajamas, lazily starting the morning.

I sighed at the view from the crest of this particular hill. The land here is pretty – littered with houses, yes, but when you get up high enough, there are still rolling hills, and trees burdened with clusters of white flowers, just beginning to fall to the ground so the budding leaves can emerge. I moved my gaze from the trees in the distance to what was nearer to me. On the way, I noticed the lake. I frowned when considering my route so far – I face the lake upon leaving my house. Had turned left, left again, then right. It seemed as though I had one more right turn to go before such a landmark was visible. “Freaking curving streets.” I muttered. “It’s no wonder my lot is shaped like some trapezoid on steroids. Makes it hard to mow because it’s not a rectangle. There’s always some weird triangle at the end – both in the big part of the front yard and the little part of the front yard and the fenced backyard. Stupid neighborhood planners.”

At that point I realized my grumpiness has not yet eased completely and took mincing steps down a rather steep hill. When a road sign came into view, I squinted at it to read the name of my street. “Huh.” I told Chienne. “We made a loop without even trying!” She was less than impressed at my navigational skill (smart dog) and we made one last right turn and walked easily back home.

I tell this story because this is a blog and where else can I ramble for 2 pages about my morning walk? But also because it addresses a problem I’ve noticed with increasing frequency.
I’m bored. I find my daily routine tiresome. People are painfully predictable, and I’m likely the worst of the bunch. I know where things are in my house. I moved a canvas chair from one corner and bought a new canvas drawer set to take its place and I’m fascinated by the change. I traded a chair in neutral colors for a different structure in the same palette and it’s where I look in my living room because it’s just blessedly different. Maybe I should move furniture around – shake things up a bit. But things fit where they are. And I have writing to do this weekend – grant and book chapter and, um, novel. There’s really no reason to procrastinate by insisting the couch and loveseat trade places.

I’ll go to Little Cousin’s birthday party today, but I could tell you how it went already. It’ll be much the same as last year. A prediction of how next year will go as well. I met with Boss about my grant. He said the same things he’s been saying. I’ll try to alter my own routine of ignoring the document completely and make some progress. Chienne’s asleep on the couch; Sprout in the window. Later, he’ll curl up on the bed in his room – between where the fluffy, down comforter meets the row of gray pillows. Chienne will stay in the living room so she has easy access to the yard if there is reason for barking. When she wants in, she’ll cry at the door to see if I’ll come open it for her. I don’t know why – just this morning, I told her, “It’s a dog door. You’re a dog. Figure it out!” When I don’t come, she’ll eventually barrel through, leaving it to swing noisily behind her.

The book chapter (for work) is interesting to me because it delves into areas that are unfamiliar. I was terrified when I realized I had to do it – it was the beginning of my terrible mood of late. I don’t know how to do the analyses I proposed! I have no idea of the theory behind them! I can’t write a chapter on something that I don’t know! There’s too much reading! Decades of research on this topic that I can’t begin to understand! I don’t know the software, or what works, or what makes sense! It’s scary.

But new. Unfamiliar topography. A chance to climb a new hill and see the world from a slightly different angle. And, like anything, once I started exploring, it wasn’t so bad. There are review articles that lay out the possibilities in a logical manner. I can understand the simple ones, and can muddle my way through those with more technical details. I’ve found software that can deal with my data, and when I look at the processed results, I find the theory more manageable. If I can see an example, certain things click for me. And so it’s slowly coming together in my mind. And I’m pleased.

To push myself is scary. It might get in the way of the napping I so enjoy. But I’m finding there’s little to dream about when I curl into my pillows. Honestly? I miss being infatuated. At this time last year, I was completely obsessed with a particular man and when I write about it for my novel, I find myself wistful. It was thrilling to try to figure him out. Wondering if he liked me, trying to determine to what degree I liked him. Blushing over compliments and giggling over jokes and sighing over what I hoped might be. I miss it. Is that odd? That I miss the feelings that led me to such a bad place? That I grieve because I don’t think I’ll get to feel them again? It was new and special and really quite wonderful. And I miss it. Because I wasn’t bored at all.

But. I should pick up the clutter that surrounds me, put items back in their proper places that have long been determined, shower with the same soap and shampoo I always use, put on lotion that smells more familiar than anything. I’ll vacuum, then take out garbage so I can empty the vacuum canister in the bin outside. Email from Friend just arrived – I’ll bet she didn’t sleep well last night. Then I’ll work at my chapter and perhaps write a bit more of the novel. And wonder when something exciting might happen.

Because I’m really quite bored.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Grrrrr-umpy (and my desk)

So that's where I work. Except not today. After hurting my throat yelling at people (something like, "For the love of all that is good and right, get out of my way!!!"), I arrived at work, met with Boss re: the grant, then decided to take my bad attitude back home. I picked up a bagel with honey walnut cream cheese on the way, but am dealing with a rather miserable headache right now and don't really want to eat it.

Allow me to explain the clutter from top left to lower right. Above the shelves are binders that contain notes from graduate school. They are neatly labeled and, for the most part, organized in chronological order. I don't remember the last time I opened one of them.

On the shelves are magnets from Target (so pretty!) that hold up 2 of the flyers I'm using for patient recruitment. I have blurred out my contact information, though if you can analyze the photo and get my number anyway, feel free to give me a call. I'm not so good on the phone - especially in my evil impatience of late - but give it a shot if you like. The pretty flower notepad was a gift from M.

On the bulletin board at the far left are several items. Photos of the beach at Destin (Ah...the beach at Destin. How I miss it.), a pretty calendar of landscapes, and the first page of the recent articles I've published. Even as a co-author. Because it makes me feel like I'm actually accomplishing something. Let's call that the ego trip portion of the photo. In all fairness, it's really quite small.

On the board behind the desk are several items: a brochure on an art exhibit I found fascinating, a card from Carrie, a photo of M, Dave and M's husband in Las Vegas, a photo of my graduate class from my first year in grad school, a postcard from Seattle (flowers at Pike's Place), a really lovely print, a photo of me with my roommates in undergrad and a postcard of an otter. I like otters.

Continuing to move down, there's a box of tissues (anti-viral!), my pretty iMac named Belle (she wears the headphones when I'm not using them), a desk organizer that I put together from Ikea (The drawers don't open so well. You have to lift the drawer while pushing on the base and wiggling as you pull at the drawer. Wiggle-lift-pull! I say to myself when I need something from there. Wiggle-lift-pull!). The violet sits on top of the wooden drawers. There's a tiny white ceramic sheep that holds one of my business cards to the left (I purchased in in Manchester when I was in England) and a tiny plastic note holder with a violet flower on the right (I bought it in Kyoto while in Japan). Then there are the most relevant text books. The rest are located within the shelves above my desk.

Down a bit more is a clutter of papers. It's not always like that - I have 2 (no, 3) filing cabinets that hold that stuff, but I find it helps me look busy if there's stuff all over. Either that or I'm kind of messy. Also note my amazing wireless mouse that I adore a great deal.

In the bottom right corner - on top of the filing cabinet that Friend and I built - is a frame full of family photos, and old and icky phone and my teddy bear holding the flower. So that's where I work.

Except for now - right now I'm on my loveseat processing data for my book chapter. And starting to think about the bagel waiting in the kitchen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


The word I find myself thinking with greatest frequency is hardly becoming of a lady. I don't know when I started favoring the f word so much, but even I'm becoming concerned with the frequency it appears in my thoughts. And it's starting to affect my behavior.

I had a meeting yesterday morning. It was scheduled for 10AM - and not by me, by the way - and I arrived 2 minutes early for a lengthy work session. The MD with whom I was to meet was in her office with another woman, so I took a seat. I hadn't brought anything to read, as is my habit, because we'd scheduled the meeting the day before and I'd sent a file 20 minutes prior to walking to her office. Why carry something I won't have time to read?

I regretted my lack of reading material as I sat there for 25 minutes. For the first 10, I heard them discussing their favorite colors. I kid you not - favorite colors for shirts. And pants. And skirts. Shoes. Jewelry. Then she shut the door. So this was not a crucial work conversation - she had a friend stop by and kept me waiting for nearly a half hour so she could chat. This is un-[profanity]-acceptable. I settled into a tight glare directed at no one in particular - I was alone in the outer office though the MD in question saw me as I first came in.

Freaking miserable, stupid piece of garbage, I seethed as minutes ticked by. I was torn between leaving and waiting for an undetermined amount of time. Having someone wait a few minutes for a meeting you scheduled is certainly fine. I understand that doctors have stuff that comes up. But she's not in a specialty where that would be the case, first of all, and second of all, I'm important too! My therapist says so!

As it neared 10:30, they finally came out, talking and laughing. She looked to find me waiting there, my typical smile clearly nowhere near my lips, and looked momentarily abashed.

"Oh, you're here." She said as she bid her stupid, ugly friend farewell.

"Yes. Have been." I bit out. She owed me an apology, damn it all, and I was getting one! "Are you ready now or should we reschedule?"

"No, I'm ready." She said and I moved past her into the office to the filing cabinet that holds the materials we needed. I should point out that Boss asked me to do this as an entry into another research realm, but it's very administrative. This was fine when I was bored, but as my work grows more intense - I left behind a grant application and book chapter to sit quietly for twenty-[profanity]-five minutes - I'm far less patient. I mean, come on!

"My friend stopped by unexpectedly and I didn't realize how late it was getting." She said as I got the paperwork and made room to work. "I'm sorry I made you wait."

I looked at her for a moment. Then nodded and said it was fine. And we worked for several hours - she left for lunch while I was still finishing up.

Today marked the arrival of several emails regarding the same project indicating that some of the paperwork was marked incorrectly. So I said I would fix it and apologized for the error. But little emails continued to fly, many of which sought to put blame on my head for something that wasn't my fault. So I sent email that said:

I feel the need to clarify some issues. I have been working on this project for several months and have not - at any point - received any hint of the information you claim is of utmost importance. If this is a necessary part of the study, I am more than happy to include it and communicate with those who determine the information of note. But in the absence of communication to that effect, I fail to see how I could have avoided this mistake. I will correct the mistakes as soon as I find time, but otherwise will need to be kept in the loop when decisions are made so that I can react accordingly.

Katie, PhD
I failed to include - in what was an uncharacteristically snippy and sharp email - 'you stupid, miserable sons-of-bitches who clearly just seek to avoid blame for your overwhelming ignorance. I hate you all an extreme amount. And you're not as educated as I am. So there. Whores.'

But I thought it.

The thing is that this project isn't helping me at all. I'll do it - that's fine - but when it causes many problems and clutters my email with stuff I don't care about, I get annoyed. No, more like enraged. Which causes me some concern.

When Dr. Counselor insisted I push back and demand respect, I somehow doubt the goal was for me to start shoving people to the ground so I could kick at them in frustration because they just bug me. Given that the main positive point of working with me is that I'm accommodating and sweetly professional, I may be doing myself some serious harm here. I have, thus far, restricted my foul feelings to this single project. I'd happily quit completely and will talk to Boss tomorrow to see if someone else can take over. Then they won't have Katie to kick around anymore!

But I know I'm overreacting. It's not like I think I'm ever so important. My time is not invaluable, though I do think it should be respected. I can answer email and accept blame just to avoid problems. But I don't feel like it lately. But the extent of my irritation seems out of line, but I'm strangely unable to control it.

In addition, last night Friend called because she was struggling a bit. And I was impatient with her, not because I don't care, but because I don't know what to do. I don't know how to help or what to suggest or anything. Normally, I would invite her out and happily share my space. But I'm all kinds of irritated and having anyone here would likely mean I'm going to be blatantly mean, then I'll have to feel badly about that. So I basically said, "Come out if you want, stay home if you want. I don't know." Which is borderline cruel, I think, but I didn't really care at the time. I wanted my space to obsess over my chapter and write at my novel and have dark and quiet and time to finish eating the 4 Cadbury Creme eggs I bought. (Oh, yes. Totally sick afterward. That irritated me too.)

Charlie called last night and I almost answered before deciding against it. I just couldn't deal with it. He has a good job and is vastly successful and paints pretty pictures and has a lovely girlfriend and I couldn't take care hearing about it. Which is odd because I adore Charlie! But I just couldn't do it last night. Too moody. (Me, not him. I don't think Charlie gets moody.)

I was short with my parents when they called tonight to check on the computer I ordered for Mom's birthday. I don't know when it's coming! I sent the tracking information - that's all I know! They know my tone and left me alone after just a few minutes.

I honked at a guy who cut me off on the interstate yesterday morning. If you're on an entrance ramp behind me, you do not get to accelerate and cut me off as we all wait our turns to merge. So I honked loudly without even deciding I was going to do it. And if I could have given him an electrical shock, I think I would have done that too. I'm just on the edge lately.

I stayed home today - the roads and work were largely safe. But I was irritated here too. People hide their software that I need to write my chapter! These papers are so boring! My scanner refused to deal with the picture I wanted to scan! Then I was playing with the design of the book blog and got all annoyed when it wasn't working right!

So, yes. Not going particularly well over here. I'm sleeping (maybe too much), eating (definitely too much) and working (a good amount, I think). The chapter is coming along quite nicely - it has lots of pretty color figures and I can make one more tonight. That should be good. But I find I just can't stay steady.

Which is, of course, freaking annoying.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Pretty violet

I took a picture of my entire desk area, but I downloaded it at work and deleted it from my camera. Ergo, I can't post it from home. Disappointing - more for me than you, of course, but still.

But! I do have the pretty violets - they lose something when captured on film, but this particular photo allows you to see the abundance of buds just waiting to bloom. I'm very proud of this violet - I think it could be the best violet ever and I look at it all the time.

Ken looked in the trash while he was peeling an orange this afternoon.

"Are you killing your plant?" He asked, looking at all the lower leaves I snipped off per the directions Dr. Counselor emailed me. If it's ugly, cut it off. That's what the website said, so anything that was yellowish or otherwise unattractive was carefully trimmed and thrown away.

"Don't say that!" I gasped. "The violet will hear you! I love it very much and have pruned it as proof of my affection. I will not kill that plant."

In other random news, has anyone burned a WoodWick candle? I find the sound lovely and am captivated by watching the gigantic flame. I'm burning one right now and find it rather delightful.

I find myself wanting to work on some book chapters - both for my novel (yes, it's sad. I know.) and for this actual chapter I get to write. I did find myself a co-author today, so that's wonderful. He has a method I want to apply and there don't appear to be many people working on my exact topic. Which is nice in that I'm doing something novel at my current institution but sucks that I can't steal code from anyone. So I'm going to be gathering some data and drafting out chapters. It's all quite exciting.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Random Monday Report

There is hot chocolate on the table beside me – real whipped cream floats on top and I try to get a touch of it in each sip. I have on comfortable pajamas, there is a dog sleeping peacefully on the couch and a cat racing around hoping that a laser pointer produces a red dot for him to chase. I turned on the light over the stove, but it’s otherwise dark apart from the glow of the laptop. The atmosphere is soothing and lovely.

Yet I remain upset – agitated and anxious and irritable.

The day started quite well. I left my house on time, chattered to a nearly comatose Friend while I navigated light traffic, exclaimed over my parking spot (it was quite good!) and arrived at work to eat the container of mandarin oranges I packed. They were sweet and juicy and I dabbed the light syrup off my chin before I left for my first meeting.

“Milk?” Paige asked after she’d filled a Styrofoam cup with coffee for me.

“Please.” I answered, told her when there was enough in my drink, then she finished the container before tossing it in the trash. We proceeded to her office and she sat down, motioning me to the other chair. I’d sent her email last Friday.

Can I bribe you with coffee or something to meet with me and discuss the new project? I’d like to have a general plan before we meet with SPB (Supreme Polar Bear) and LBSCPBs (Lesser but still cool polar bears)? Please?

She answered she wanted to meet too and would happily provide the coffee. So I arrived this morning at 9, eager to see if we could iron out some of the bad feelings that seem to have arisen over my involvement.

After I explained how the situation had come about – Boss told me that he’d talked to people and that I was to do this particular experiment then those people told me they had no idea what I was talking about – she shook her head.

“I didn’t mean to upset people or make them feel territorial!” I insisted. “I’m not like that at all. I just did what I was told!”

“I know.” She shook her head. “It’s a minefield over here and you’re trying to make it without a map. Hell, when I’m near their offices, I’m like a dog who’s been kicked. I cower and duck and hope nobody sees me and starts to yell.”

“I’m terrified of them.” I confessed. “Leo seemed so angry and unimpressed last time. I don’t do well with that.”

She waved her hand. “He’s putting in grants and under pressure too, but it’s definitely not you. He’s like that with everyone lately – it’s awful. So it’s not you – it’s just the atmosphere over here lately.”

So we talked and strategized and she helped me considerably – professionally and emotionally.

“I started seeing a shrink for a while.” She confessed, trying to make me feel better after an hour of taking notes and talking. We laughed a lot and shared confidences. I was told to become friends with Paige and did as Boss asked. I've always rather liked her, so it was a pleasure to do so.

“Um, yes. My 10:00 meeting that we’re working around? It’s with my therapist. I’m rather unstable myself after working here.”

She grinned and offered a couple more suggestions, then sent me on my way. I arrived at Dr. Counselor’s office just moments later.

How are the blooms?” He asked immediately.

“Good.” I smiled as I thought of my violet. “I think there are nearly 10 open, and probably 10 more waiting to bloom.”

“Wow.” He said and clapped his hands. “It just needed time. Enough food and water and light, then time to adjust so it could flower again. Like you.”

“Perhaps.” I answered, recalling that when emailed about its progress, he responded that it was an omen – life was going to get quite good for me soon. Kind of like a fortune cookie in the form of deep purple flowers.

“Will you take a picture?” He asked. “And send it to me through email so I can see it?”

“I’ve meant to take a picture.” I said. I, of course, want to post it on my blog.

“So you’ll send me one.” He confirmed and I nodded. “Tell me about the rest of life? Are you blooming?”

I explained my reaction to the polar bears at the meeting. “I just shrank.” I said sadly. “I feel inadequate and small and very afraid. And I know it’s the dark blue chair talking, but I can’t seem to help it. It’s like I’m a mouse in a room full of snakes.”

“Up.” He commanded and moved to meet me at the side of his desk. I stared at him when he held his hands up – palms toward me – at chest height. He looked at me expectantly, so I placed my hands against his. I pulled back when he started to push.

“No.” He said. “When someone pushes, you push back.”

So I tried again and we did some practice on what I should be thinking. I am strong and powerful and though I’m a woman who is relatively young, I have great worth and insight and I can be an advocate for myself and this project.

We sat in our respective chairs again, and he nodded with satisfaction. “So when pushed, you be a strong bird and push back. Be respectfully bold!”

“A bird?” I questioned, confused.

“You said you were a bird.”

“No, no. I said I was a mouse.”

“Oh. A mouse then. The snakes can hiss and slither, but you can be a crafty little mouse. Dart of their striking range and use your resources to work in their environment without getting injured. You can do it.”

I left there feeling good too. A bit amused at my dear therapist, but knowing he was right. I have to push back sometimes. I considered my overall goals while I walked to Friend’s lab, then we wandered to get toasted bagels with flavored cream cheese. We engaged in easy conversation while I decided that honey walnut cream cheese must be some miracle food. It’s just so good!

I walked back to my office, proudly showed Friend my plant, did some work on the dreaded grant that I’ve been avoiding for months, and realized it’s farther along than I remembered it being. Not so scary at all now that I’ve made progress on putting the last pieces together. Several times I found myself thinking that I knew what to write in sections that had previously remained stubbornly blank. Time away has given me some clarity. I feel very equipped and ready to write the proposal again. Boss and I will meet on Thursday to evaluate our current status and map out a plan for a July resubmission.

I went to observe an experiment and hit a wall. I don’t know if I got tired or if someone accidentally pushed a button. I just went from happy and hopeful to surly and itchy to leave. Since I was trapped on campus until I took Friend home – she said around 5 – I was less than pleased about the afternoon in general. But I didn’t know what really happened – my stability had slipped and I was unsure of the cause.

I returned to my desk a couple hours later to a few emails. My recent publication was selected for inclusion into a virtual journal. When I told Friend, she glanced at the page and said “It’s like a journal carnival.” Which is true – this particular thing looks at a bunch of journals, then links to papers they feel are worthy of inclusion on their monthly topical list. I decided to be flattered though I was previously unfamiliar with the idea at all. Boss was pleased – he said it indicated interest was high which made him confident our grant application would be successful. Graduate Advisor was thrilled – he’s heard of this particular virtual journal and loves that my paper was selected. So I got a couple more congratulatory emails from my co-authors and tried to bask in praise while I fought thoughts that the virtual journal were probably just hard up for virtual material. But as my paper is in with 150+ others for the March issue, I don’t know if I'm right.

Then I got an email back from the book publishers offering a preliminary acceptance based upon my abstract. Which is good news, I know. I very much wanted to write the chapter and get a free book. And I sent email this weekend asking about the status of my abstract. But I freaked the hell out when I realized I actually have to write about something that I should know, but don’t. I’m not familiar with the literature. I don’t know how to do 3/5 of the analyses I proposed. What if I’m completely wrong in thinking I can pull this off? The idea was that I would write it, gain a lot of background information and some hands-on experience, throw the chapter in the grant and put another line on my CV. Yet my brain repeated a litany of “oh, no.” And I counted the moments until I could get off campus and retreat to the safety of my house.

Friend arrived about 10 minutes after I sent an email that noted, “It’s after 5. 5:02, actually.” I couldn’t tolerate riding the bus, so we walked to my car in relative silence. I actually don’t remember much of the walk other than cars were always in my way when I wanted to cross the street. I dropped her off at home, helping her carry her stuff in but spending approximately 5 seconds inside her apartment. Then I hurried home to have dinner and mope a bit.

Below the mug (now empty of hot chocolate), there is a folder on the floor. It contains about 10 papers full of review articles and recent research relevant to this freaking book chapter. I’m scared of it – there’s so much I don’t know and I’m not positive that I’m capable of understanding it. But I can read – I’ll see how it goes. And I set up a meeting tomorrow with a LBSCPB to discuss resources I might borrow to complete the work.

So while I find myself burrowing into my hiding place for now, this particular mouse is going to dart out again tomorrow and push back at those pesky fears while avoiding the hissing snakes. Or something like that. But I’m going to put the camera in my bag right now, so tune in for pictures of the pretty violet. I hear it’s supposed to be a good omen for my life.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

New Orleans

I have a single piece of original art. I bought it just off Jackson Square the summer before my senior year of college. It's this fantastic watercolor of the brightly colored buildings and intricate railings on the balcony. It's rather hazy and soft and it hangs in my kitchen, next to the china I inherited from Grandma. I look at it and remember brushing sugar off my front at Cafe du Monde, looking at pralines through a shop window, sweating so much I thought I might die and looking around and thinking the city was exactly as I wanted it to be.

LaKisha has been in New Orleans doing research and is participating in a fundraising campaign. There's little I admire more than intense competitive spirit, so I'm throwing my full support behind her efforts. Please click over to read her post (I'd try to summarize, but I've been drinking daiquiris and editing my book. So I'm not so good with the words right now.) It's a bit shameful for me to admit, but past the initial donations to the Red Cross, I haven't given a tremendous amount of thought to the recovery effort in a truly fabulous city. I plan to fix that this evening.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Snippets - Springtime Version

"I spent 15 minutes on part b of number 4."

"Yeah, a lot of people probably never got that one."

"Oh, I figured it out. I just looked and looked and looked at it until I realized that work is negative! Then all the equations were right."

Work, I thought smugly as I wandered ahead of the two boys walking out of a large building full of science classrooms, is always negative. Seems such a simple assumption. It gets in the way of napping and watching TV and writing my book.

All negative, indeed.

Setting: Conference room 2 door down from my office
Purpose: Maria's dissertation project discussion

I hear: blah, blah, blah, blah, [key word].

I say: "[Key word]? I have a friend who works on that."

Boss: "On campus?"

Henry: "Could he help?"

Katie: "She would probably help. I could ask." Then I tried to think of ways to apologize for dragging Friend into extra work.

Though I did learn something when I wrote: "I think we'd want a strain that had arrested - meaning it doesn't grow anymore, yes? Or does that mean dead? I think we want the little guys alive. I think."

Friend (very kindly, I thought): Arrested means that the rate of cell division is equal to the rate of cell death. So, while they would happily grow again if given more space
and food, the net effect is no growth.

Which reminds me of several days ago
"I have to pick up IRB forms on my way to the office tomorrow. Then I'll make copies, make sure the individual folders are ready and we'll be all set to recruit!"

"Are you going to see the guy you hate?"

"Stupid IRB guy who screwed up the new application? I doubt it. I wish I would though - he deserves to be yelled at. And kicked."

Friend didn't reply, so I poked my head out of the bathroom. "He does deserve to be kicked." I defended myself.

"I'm sure." She answered. "I was just trying to remember if I had my checkbook so I could bail you out of jail if you killed him."

"Oh. I'm not going to kill him. Assault is the worst I'll do."

As I picked up my cell phone and iPod and tucked them into their appropriate pockets, I considered. "I have about $1200 in my savings right now. I was going to use it for the laser hair payments, but I could pay you back if you need to bail me out of jail."

"Good to know."

"I wonder how much bail is for different offenses. I should call someone."

"Yes," Friend said dryly. "Call the police and ask what you can do to someone for $1000. Good plan."

"I just need general categories." I decided as I patted the dog on the head and headed for my car. "Minor assault, major assault, stuff like that."

I say 'stupid.' They say 'crazy.'
I'm hardly the most fashionable person you'll meet. Yet even I cringe at the sight of girls wearing dresses over jeans. It's just not necessary.

There was this petite little blonde in dark jeans and a brightly colored dress that was about knee-length. She was cuddled into a slightly built man wearing a checked dress shirt with jeans. While I tried to remember the last time I'd seen hair bleached that white, I gained on them as I headed across campus to the Panera that contained the bagel I desperately wanted.

Her: "So I talked to her. I was like, 'do you know him?' and she was like, 'of course I know him.'"

Him: I so didn't know they knew each other! That is, like, crazy!

Her: "I didn't know they knew each other either! Like, I said the same thing!"

Him: "I can't believe they've like met before!"

Me: Good God.

Her: "So I like told her that he like painted and she was like, 'I know.'"

Him: "She knew?! That's crazy!"

Her: "Yes! She was like they talk like all the time about like everything."

Me: Those bagels had better be amazing. I'm not sure anything is worth this.

Her: "So I told her about what he was painting and she was like she already knew!"

Me: Because she knows him.

Him: "Because she knows him! That's crazy!"

Me: Not crazy. Predictable. And redundant. And mind-numbingly boring.

I wish I could tell you how this riveting conversation ended, but we made it to the street. Luckily, there was traffic noise and the brilliant pair stood downwind of me so I couldn't hear them. Otherwise I fear I would have been tempted to step into moving traffic.

And that would have been, like, crazy.

When I wore my pretty skirt, I wore my brown flats (with the bows of ribbon!) without hose. The pinky toe of my right foot was severely injured in this exercise and the blister is so miserably painful I can't really articulate it. Suffice it to say that it's almost crazy.

Have you noticed that when you hurt one part of your foot that you end up with multiple injuries because you walk in such a way that avoids excessive pain to that particular spot, thereby putting odd pressure on other joints and muscles?

My shins are killing me from my odd gait to avoid toe pressure. I almost fell in the shower in a strange attempt to situate my foot so that - once clean - it remained out of the hot spray of water. My ankle hurts from when I jumped when my toe hurt unexpectedly. I think I was distracted by how freaking cold it was this morning (it was probably in the upper 30s! I shivered a bit in my sweatshirt! Crazy, I tell you.), Chienne tugged too hard, and I recoiled from the pain and twisted my ankle funny.

My point is that problems build on themselves. I probably should have just said that in the beginning.

"I'm having laser therapy to kill my hair follicles." I told Brother several weeks ago.

"Huh. I'm having laser therapy to quit smoking." He replied and waited expectantly for me incredulous look.

"Wife set it up and paid for it. It's something like acupressure points and her friend at work stopped smoking after doing it so she wants me to go."

"I don't get it."

"Yeah, I don't either, really. It's hard for me to pay attention when Wife talks."


"Right. But I think that it's supposed to do something to the nerve endings? And make me want to throw up when I think about cigarettes? I'm not sure. I just know I have to go next week."

"Good luck with that." I replied.

"I know. Thanks." He said with a shake of his head.

"I hear you haven't smoked." I said a few days ago when I called him.

"10 days." He announced proudly.

"That's really wonderful, Brother! I'm so pleased for you!"

"I told you it would work. You people all think I'm weird, but I knew it would work!" I heard his wife say in the background. When you're right, you're right.

Oh! And...
I wrote that at work while waiting for a meeting to start. I found myself walking to my car (thereby hurting my feet more) because the bus wasn't waiting and I feel ashamed to wait for it when it's so very nice outside. And because I don't have a sign that says, "I hurt my pinky toe and so now I walk funny, and... Well, problems build on themselves. So I'm taking a ride to my car." I decided to tough it out and walk.

On my way, I noticed there are a number of men wearing corduroy jackets. I think that is fantastic - I really like them a lot. For example, while trying to avoid the 'like, crazy' folks on my walk to bagels, I saw an older gentleman wearing a dark green jacket in soft corduroy. He was untangling the cord to his iPod and I thought him to be both charming and hip. I must have given him a look of approval (I was weakened by the idiots in front of me, I think), because he smiled as he tucked the earbuds in his ears. I saw two more on my walk to the parking lot. So, good call, guys. I appreciate the jackets a great deal.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

It's a beautiful day

Some might think U2. I, conversely, think of Mr. Rogers. This is because I'm a bit less than hip. I'm pretty OK with that.

That's a good thing, actually, as I just traipsed around my neighborhood in purple, stripey, sleepy pants, a messy ponytail and a digital camera, asking my floppy eared dog to pause while I took pictures of all the flowering trees. It's almost painfully pretty here lately - everything is delicate and soft and new.

The light was a bit strange - the day can't decide whether it prefers sunshine or clouds so there's a rapid switching between the two as the breezes sometimes edge into winds. I'm not sure if it's weather or stress, but I had a headache this morning. It was severe enough for me to resort to Tylenol PM after about an hour - at least I'd be unconscious, I thought. Soon after, I cuddled into pillows, winced at the pain in my head and fell back to sleep.

(Oh, look! That's my puppy in the bottom left corner of the pink flower picture! I didn't notice she was there before now.)

When I woke, I answered a couple of emails, briefly debated dressing and heading to the office, wrinkled my nose and flopped on the couch to breathe in the fresh air coming through the open windows. A bit bored and feeling too woozy from excessive sleep to work (any excuse is a good excuse!), I decided to take a brief walk to take a few pictures and clear my head. I decided on flip flops since there's a tiny blister on my pinky toe. But I kept seeing all the white trees and while they're quite lovely, I knew there were pink flowers out there too. Chienne was willing to continue her explorations, having been awakened from a nap already to head outside.

"Hello." I called to the woman tending her garden. I'd stopped to capture an image of some daffodils - the yellow flowering bushes just weren't pretty enough yet. I decided not to tell my neighbor down the street that I required some contrast when I redesigned my blog header. She waved before bending to pat tiny seedlings into soft dirt. I breathed in the scent of earth and rain.

I've noted before that I'm rarely more aware of my surroundings than when I'm carrying a camera. I felt a bit like I was on a scavenger hunt for pretty. Instead of plotting a book chapter or scowling over people who refuse to do what I want them to do at work or idly wondering how many calories I was burning, I just looked around. And while I have been aware of my environment of late - it's quite hard to ignore that many blossoms - I'm often distracted by the garbage in my head rather than giving over to the perfection in a single petal as it clings to its tiny friends at the center of a little cluster of like minded individuals. Until I got close enough to fill my view with the plant, I hadn't noticed how some of the blossoms had already released their grip to litter the grass with color.

So I ended up taking one of the longer routes, trying to recall where the prettiest plants were located. I moved much more slowly - my feet starting to protest my choice of shoe - and just looked around.

I don't aspire to greatness, I realized. I have no desire to win awards or obtain vast fortunes. I don't need a paper in Nature. I'm really OK with applying established protocols in patients I see - if we find something novel, great. If we just improve patient care for those specific patients, I'm completely OK with that too. I don't even know that I want to be faculty somewhere. I'm fine with my current professional status on some level. I'd like to have a husband and children. Enough money for comfort, but not so much that I have to leave my comfortable middle class bracket. I'd like to laugh more than I sigh. See more people who receive genuine smiles than forced polite nods.

For now, I have a job that allows me to work from home when I'm headachy. Projects that are beginning to get started and people who send email that indicates my particular planning path may have been rougher than most. This soothes my poor ego a bit - this getting started period has been excessively long and it's hard not to feel inadequate and dumb about that. It somehow matters a bit less lately though. Perhaps I'm distracted by all the pretty flowers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Currently content

“You have a pocket knife?” KJ – one of our international postdocs – asked as Tom withdrew one from his pocket to cut open the stubborn lemonade container.

“Of course.” Tom answered. “I’ve carried a pocket knife ever since I learned to walk. I’m Southern.” He declared proudly.

“Maybe I should get one.” KJ mused as he poured his drink. I was perusing the pizza selection, smiling when I saw there was a veggie as well as pepperoni. I placed a slice of each on my plate and sat down.

“Everyone should have one.” Tom replied.

“Is it just a knife?” I asked, picking at the plethora of black olives and watching the rest of the group start to arrive. “Or does it do other things too?”

Tom looked moderately offended. “It’s a knife. Classic.” He reached in his pocket to show it to me. I made a noise that indicated I was suitably impressed. “You should ask Boss for his when he walks in. We all carry knives.”

“Ken!” Tom said and turning to see one of the other men who works in my department. “Where’s your knife?”

Ken immediately reached in his pocket and produced one similar to the one Tom carries. “What do you need cut?” He asked.

“Just proving a point.” Tom said smugly. He repeated the scenario with the same results when Boss made his appearance.

“Do you have a knife?” KJ asked Tim – one of my personal favorites – when he sat down with a plate of salad.

“No.” Tim answered, confused. “What needs cutting?”

“He’s not Southern enough.” Tom lamented. “Sort of Southern, but not really.”

Tim shrugged easily. “I carry a multi-purpose tool on my belt over the weekend, but I don’t wear it to work.”

I nodded in understanding – it made sense to me.

“You always need a pocket knife at the ready.” Tom said with an air of superiority.

“All you have to do is grab someone’s wrist.” Dan said, sitting next to me. “Then the knife is useless in an attack.”

“Yes.” Joe commented, also sitting down to join the conversation. “What you need is a machete.”

“Northerners.” Tom informed KJ, and I smiled fondly at all of them. I find them charming in their gentle ways and little quirks. I took comfort in that as we prepared to dim the lights and start the projector for Dawn’s presentation.

After taking some time to get acclimated, I find she fits in reasonably well. She’s not Winnie, but she appears to be taking control of the project and making strides toward answering some questions. I’m pleased for her. I like her, though I’m a bit distant without meaning to be.

I miss Winnie the most at group meetings. It was the only time I saw her on a consistent basis and we’d normally talk afterward. Sometimes she’d find me when she arrived on campus early and we’d swap complaints about research moving too slowly. I felt comfortable with her – knew she struggled and was comfortable admitting defeat without fearing she’d think badly of me. I thought she was funny and smart and wonderful. And I miss her. When I peer at the violet and count the buds proudly, or when I use her text for reference, smoothing my fingertip over the spot where she’d written her name or when I go in the conference room on Wednesday afternoon to see what’s up with everyone. I miss her.

Dawn began her presentation and I found that the sharp pang I was used to feeling has dulled. It’s more a wistful ‘I wish she was around’ feeling than a miserable question over why she had to leave. It’s interesting how that happens – how feelings just ease and allow some peace to exist. The passion I expected to feel for work has disappeared into mounds of paperwork and months of waiting. I just don’t care that much anymore. I saw a puppy running in his yard this morning on my way to work and was struck by how very cute he was. “Aw...” I said softly while I smiled. Then I remembered I have a very sweet girl at home. But I’m used to her and am more likely to ask her to scoot off my lap when I want to use my computer than cuddle her close. Likewise, the grief has lessened. Winnie’s not here. That’s not really OK, but it is final.

Dawn seemed to be talking down to us though – teaching as if we were college students and she was a professor. Seeing as I walked across campus to attend a meeting through a herd of undergrads, I can tell you I feel a lot older than they seem. Though I never recall having a conversation that went,

“I wish they served that shit at dinner.”

“Yeah. Sloppy joes rock.”

Elle and I did get excited about fried ravioli nights though. But I digress.

Our normal style for group meetings is a presentation of the immediate goals we have with a great deal of time for questions and advice. It’s a friendly atmosphere – Boss takes great pains in that area – but we conduct ourselves in a certain way. It rarely involves presenting 20 minutes of background biology. But I learned a few things, so I gave her a break. She finished with her plans – it’s an extensive and complicated project – and we dismissed for the day.

I was reading email afterward, pulling files together for my afternoon meetings, and making notes on things to do tomorrow. She came in about 20 minutes later and I turned to talk to her.

“You did a lovely job.” I offered after she sighed and expressed relief that it was over.

“Thanks. When I was putting it together, the other lab said I was talking down to you guys, but I told them it was fine.”

I just nodded and smiled. Having been criticized lately, I don’t see a need to pick apart her presentation. We talked, but I remained guarded. My behavior irritated me, to be honest. I don’t know why I won’t let her in. But I’m being a bit stubborn about it.

The meetings later today were good – one for project X, then other for M. They’re both coming along quite nicely, I think. And I quite enjoyed walking around campus in my pretty skirt and pink shirt. The former fluttered happily as I pranced down stairs. I made sure to find as many steps as possible.

It’s not perfect here. It’s pretty – warm, budding and blooming all over. The birds seem insanely loud in the morning until I accept it’s time to roll out of bed and find coffee. Then I can enjoy the chirps and tweets and songs as I walk Chienne. I think that in whatever kind of journey of self-discovery I have going on here, accepting what is – at least on some level – is important. It seems exhausting to continuously try to mold my environment to what I wish it were. Perhaps there’s something to be said for finding contentment with what currently exists. At least in some moments.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Today: book, complaints and wishes

I stayed home today. If it gives you a clue as to what I spent hours doing, I nearly started this post with “She stayed home today.” If I start to refer to myself in the third person, someone please save me from myself. The fact is that I’m doing more writing for the book than the blog – living much more in the past than present.

It’s nearly pleasant. Fun to review and fix details and write dialogue. Plus, then there are posts on another blog that are in some order. And I can know that I’m moving documents into the “done” folder. After it’s finished, I won’t write a book anymore. I’ll call it good – this thing I did – and move on.

“The problem,” I told Friend over a late dinner, “is that I’ll just end up back where I started.”

“You mean begging for money? Writing more grants? Or papers? But you won’t be where you started – you’ll know more and do something different.”

I just stared at her, taking another sip of water and craning my neck to look for our waiter. Did he think I was kidding when I told him I required cheese biscuits?

“I guess.” I sighed at Friend. “But there are people on my list – lots of people.”

I held up a hand to review. Index finger represented the IRB guy.

“So it went to sub-committee rather than full, which was not my fault – I checked the correct box!, so now he has to put it on a late schedule for full review, which pisses me off. So now I need to decide whether to alter the application and avoid full review or to just let it go and see how it does. I could alter it, but what if we could get the approval for this risky part? It’s not overly risky and we probably won’t do it, but what if some patient would really benefit?! Now I feel like I’m gambling and I don’t want to deal with this! It was supposed to be done! Stupid IRB moron.” I groused.

“Then,” I said, “Boss asked me to give the laptop to one of the students. To help with his projects. Which is fine – I understand – but I need it! Or I will if I ever get patients. Which I might not. So, fine. I told him to take it, but to be prepared to give it back if I needed it. But I’m annoyed! Why must people bother me?!”

She didn’t say that it was part of my job, though she could have. I’m just blah/irritable lately.

Tomorrow is back to back to back meetings. Two of which I’m excited about (or as excited as I can get today).

“I want this to work. I want to get started and do these projects.” I told Friend after expressing an interest in taking a month off and spending it on a beach somewhere. I so want to go back to Hawaii and zone out with M. Have someone tell me when and where to eat. Sleep when I’m tired. Stare at the ocean and watch for rainbows. Hike and stare at the lush vegetation. Shop. Hook up to their wireless router to see what’s up in a world that feels very far away.

In the absence of the ability to do that though, I’ll do this. Write bits of a book. Complain about irritations and try to muddle though these protocols I’ve created.

Maybe I’ll set my sound machine to play waves while I sleep tonight though.