Thursday, July 23, 2015

Enough social faux pas to go around...

I debated whether I should even write this post because it's...honest. Honest in a way that might hurt someone's feelings, although I doubt the people involved would read this. Let me preface what I'm about to say with this - it's not my intention to hurt anyone's feelings, quite the contrary. I'm going ahead with this post because it exemplifies some of the unspoken social difficulties of being a PhD student who, as a matter of course, interacts with other graduate students/postdocs/academics in general.

One of the senior graduate students in my department successfully defended her thesis yesterday, so two of my former lab mates - I'll call them "T" and "P" - were coming back for her defense and the reception afterwards. I hadn't realized they were coming until the master's student - I'll call her "D" - in my lab said so when she came in this morning. I guess they all communicate via texts, which I'm not included on. I felt a knot twisting in the pit of my stomach - I was dreading this.

Let me back up a bit. Both of my former lab mates are more than 10 years my junior and, although we got along well, I knew they weren't "my people", you know? The people with whom you develop fast chemistry, an easy rapport; it's something you recognize when it happens. T was good friends with another graduate student in a different department, "B", who would visit our lab a lot and we would drink with him in the lounge. It was fun. Fast forward somewhat and B gets engaged to his long-time fiancee. After a period of time, it becomes clear that I am not invited to the wedding. I get it, I've planned a wedding before. No big deal, right? Well, it also became clear that everyone else in my lab at the time (T, P, and D) are not only invited, but are hanging out with the bride and groom after the wedding. Um, ouch. That hurts, but after a while of feeling butt-hurt and not being able to talk to anyone about it, the feeling fades a little.

Until yesterday. So the whole fucking lab has been reconstituted for the day and guess what they can't stop talking about? How much fun they had at the wedding I wasn't invited to. I almost said something about it to explain why I wasn't being very sociable, but I just went to the other side of the lab and did some work instead. I don't think anyone was terribly bothered that I didn't want to talk. P was cordial enough, T was his usual friendly self, and D was just really excited to see them. I have no idea if they knew I wasn't invited or if they thought I was and had declined, or if they just didn't give a flying fuck about it altogether. But wow, that really felt shitty all over again.

I didn't handle it very maturely. When the newly minted doctor arrived at the reception in the lounge, I wasn't there to congratulate her. No one texted me to tell me she had come down, but I did hear the loud cheer come from the other end of the corridor. Granted, I'm not a baby and I could've - and probably should've - just sucked up my hurt feelings and gone down there to wait along with my lab's in-crowd and everyone else. I eventually sulked my way down to the lounge, grabbed a champagne, slammed it, had an awkward conversation with my boss for about two minutes, and left. Didn't really say anything to anyone else, either.

I left the lounge, I left the lab, I left the building. I just left. I went and picked up Elliot half an hour early because I couldn't deal with how I was feeling. I can't even name the feeling, really. Kind of rejected and unwanted, but those terms seem too strong. Feeling sorta kinda less than everyone else; feeling like the past illusions I'd had about fitting in were just that - illusions. This was the reality. I don't fit in here, I never have, and I never will. It's too late now anyway - I mean, there's no one left to fit in with. Whatever. It'll be okay, but the social crap has been the hardest part of the whole PhD experience. It casts a pall over everything - even the things I thought I liked - like doing science. I used to love doing science! Now I just want out. I just want to be done and move the fuck on.

If there's anything I've learned, it's this: it's not enough to love what you do to make it gratifying. It's not even enough to like the people you work with - I did. Someone has to like you back. It's about cultivating satisfying relationships. I don't know if other people have the same requirements; I have come to accept that I am high-maintenance. When I was at Eastern, my emotional needs were met, and I feel like I was at my best. I was probably the best student I've ever been, the best teacher, I was funnier, happier, thinner (not that looks should be important, but hey, they are). I felt needed, and important, and at the top of my game.

I don't think I'll be looking back on my time here with such fondness. That's being honest.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Summer (camp) in The D

For the next week and a half, I have to try really hard to act like a responsible adult/parent. Elliot is half-way through the three-week session of Camp Engineering, a summer day camp put on by Wayne State's College of Engineering. Drop-off is between 8:30 and 8:45 am Monday - Thursday, which means that I have to drag my grumpy ass out of bed before 7:00 am, get myself and the boy ready, and be out the door by 8:00 am. This is tough for someone like me, who prefers to keep vampire hours.

Anyway, the program we signed Elliot up for is "Creating Technological Toys". Not sure exactly what that means and I don't feel like trying to find out right now, but I should, since I think that could be construed as part of the whole "being a responsible parent" bit. Goddamn it. I tried asking Elliot what he does every day, but I didn't get very far with that approach. He did tell me that he met an 8-year-old who, at lunch, ate a bunch of corn dogs, pizza, and ice cream. I think this earned Elliot's immediate respect. All I really know is that he likes lunch. The kids go to the fancy dining hall on main campus, which has damn near everything a kid could want.

What I really wanted to write about was the cool swag he got. It's a bag, lanyard, and t-shirt all with pretty much the same logo (he was wearing the shirt and wouldn't stop moving so I could take his picture in it):

They get to walk to the Michigan Science Center, and I think they're supposed to go to the DIA, and maybe the museum of African-American history as well. He complains when he has to walk somewhere. So spoiled.

That's enough for now. I started this post a week and a half ago and just had to finish it already and move on. Take that, ADD!!! <shakes fist like an old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn> Mission accomplished.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Writing and...

Writing and what? I don't know. I'm having trouble organizing my thoughts and trying to articulate them in a coherent manner tonight. I guess I'll just keep typing and see what comes out.

Okay, so fairly recently I've decided that I want to get back into writing. Not the please think my research isn't a waste of the past several years of my life kind of writing I'll have to do to publish in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. And not the please, please, PLEASE give me money so I don't have to wash and reuse pipette tips, leading me to subsequently have to quit science altogether for a better-paying job at McDonald's kind of writing that's involved in applying for grant funding. Ooh, I really hate begging for money grant writing. I don't want to get myself more worked up about it, so I'm going to set that topic down now and back away from it slowly.

The older I get and the more stuff I read, the more I think that writing is not only technical (spelling, parts of speech, syntax, etc.), but also an art. Technically correct writing can be taught. The art and the grace of writing, I think, is more innate talent than anything else. At various points in my life, I've been told that I'm a good writer. What the hell does that mean??? It could mean damn near anything, really. One person's definition of good might be that my description of a technique or a situation is clear and concise. Another person might think I'm a good writer because my words read as if I'm speaking and not just banging shit out on a keyboard. I suppose there could be about as many definitions of "good writing" as there are people doing the defining. And the writing, for that matter.

This compliment is one that has been paid to me at many different ages, in many different environments and states of mind, and by many (very) different people. This raises the question: do I now have a responsibility to write because I'm good at it? I don't know. I have the same question about teaching. I feel like it's a shame to waste a talent, but I guess there are so many other factors to consider. "Like what?" you ask. That's an excellent question. I guess liking whatever it is that you're good at is helpful. My problem is that I seem to be unaware of what I like. I feel ambivalence about proclaiming my love for something that could become an integral part of my eventual career. Maybe it seems like a really big commitment or something. That doesn't really make sense though, especially since I've been with the same man for 23 years. That's a bit of a commitment there. Ack, I'm difficult.

To finish off this session of public navel-gazing, here's an article I forgot I had written for my high school newspaper, The Communicator. I was sorting through old papers in the basement (read: doing more navel-gazing) and found some of the stuff I had written when I actually aspired to be a writer. I barely even remember the event I wrote about, even though it seemed to be fairly traumatic/dramatic. Anyway, enjoy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Holy shit, it's been more than a year...

I can't believe it's been more than a year since I've last posted! I've thought about writing for some time, but just haven't done it until now. I actually just read my last post from March of last year, forgot that I was the one who wrote it, and thought what a good writer that person was...I'm fairly tipsy at the moment because we went to Hopcat Detroit to celebrate my PI's homecoming from India. He was awarded a Fulbright scholarship and had been in India for 5 months. In the meantime, my lab-mate and I both had birthdays, so he took us out for lunch (and beers) to belatedly celebrate our acceleration towards death.

So, what's happened since I last wrote? Hmm, let me think (it's a bad sign when I have to stop and think about what I've done over the past 13 months). I suppose the biggest thing was my foot surgery in September of 2014. I had surgery on my right foot to fix the damage I had done by dropping a heavy glass casserole dish on my big toe joint several years ago. I had a bone chip in the joint space and had developed arthritis that made it hard to walk. Every time I took a step and my toes flexed on push-off, it felt like I had broken glass for synovial fluid. Every single step, every single day for 6 years or so. It got to the point that I had changed my body mechanics so much that I (probably) tore the meniscus in my right knee while playing laser tag at a birthday party with kids my son's age. I got my crippled ass beat by those little punks. Even now, after I've recovered from surgery and had several weeks of physical therapy, lost some weight (yay!) and gained some strength through exercise - my functional left calf is a full 1/2" bigger in diameter than my gimpy right calf. It's crazy! I didn't realize what difference 6 + years of accommodations would make on my legs. I still have almost constant pain in my right foot when I walk, but now it varies from pretty intense (fairly infrequently) to damn near nonexistent (happening more and more these days). It's a definite improvement over pretty intense pain with every step I took, every single day. I might even be able to briefly wear high heels at some point soon! Before the surgery, my toes could not flex enough to wear even a 1" heel without excruciating pain. I'll likely never be able to wear 6" stilettos, but that's okay. I don't really want to feel like an amazon, looking down, literally, at my husband.

That's enough for now, but I've got more to say in upcoming blog posts. Yes, that's plural - I'm back, baby!