Tuesday, December 30, 2008

bacterium terium on the floor

New Years Resolutions:
1. Work more
2. Exercise more
3. Write more

4. Keep work desk clean
5. Keep work papers organized

I can't recall the last time I took New Years to mean that I should make some resolutions. Resolutions don't seem fun-- I think that's it. But this year is different. Not only is it a new year, but a brand new world spreads itself before me, as I am out of the Catfish Lab. I am in my new lab: Alice's Lab, and I had my first day of experiments today. It was thrilling! It turns out that I do love being a scientist. I love running experiments.

I am growing bacteria. That alone is exciting! I will get to peek into the incubator every day and watch them grow. It is almost like having a plant. Almost like having a pet. Almost like --- Sea Monkeys!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Echo and Narcissus

It's hard to watch a person you love, admire, and respect (more than almost anyone else) spend time and energy and devotion on a person who doesn't deserve even a minute of that attention.

I don't know what my role exactly is with him. I don't know if I was ever supposed to be involved in the first place, but I am, and it's a false and frustrating kind of involvement--I'm consulted, I say what I think, even the brutal things, but I have no power or control. I couldn't possibly, even if I wanted to.

You can't make a person see what you see--you have inevitably different and separate points of view, no matter how much you communicate. You're only communicating to them what you see; you're painting a picture of your point of view, and then they say "Oh, so that's what you see," but it isn't what they see, and it doesn't really affect them.

This person, this object of his attention, is not a special person. Not kind, empathetic, interesting, productive, inspiring, worthy of respect, uplifting, exciting, deep, thoughtful, or even decent, at this point. This description is "my opinion," though I am only one of many who hold it. But then that just makes it them against the world--they're in that stage where they believe they "have a connection" that they've never had with anyone else, and this makes it worth continuing.

When asked the pros and cons of being with this person, he can't think of any pros. But it's that "connection" that people talk about. All that means is that the other person makes you feel special. That you have shared intimacy between you. It's a false feeling that they "get" you. They "understand" you because you were both lonely and now you're spending time together. Even though you're miserable now, it's not technically from lonliness.

I experienced this with my first boyfriend. I thought we understood each other unlike anyone in our lives had ever understood us before. The truth is that we both had a similar chip on our shoulders and some similar pain in our lives, and we recognized that in the other. But you can't build on that. It's like pitching a tent over a hole in the ground.

The truth is, they don't "get" you and they never will. They don't even really know you as a whole person, because they'll never understand your brilliant side, your peaceful side, your happy side. They don't want you to be happy because then you'll leave them behind. They want someone to lay down and be sad with; they want somebody who will leave the party early with them.

When you're "in love" with someone who exhibits narcissistic behavior, they don't think about your feelings for even a moment. You think they see your pain because they know it so well in themselves, and that's why there's a false sense of connection. They're even really good at listening to you when something's wrong in your life--in fact, they revel in it, because then they're not the only unhappy ones. But try to share something good about your life with them...watch how they retreat or change the subject. They don't want those things for you.

You spend enough time with them to know intimately the ins and outs of their moods, their insecurities, their meltdowns, their patterns, and you become the caretaker. The Very Special Caretaker who is the only one who understands the dosages, the remedies, the exact amount of time and space, the words that will illicit the least amount of reactionary anger. And "the connection" and the sense of closeness--of the two of you against the world--is fueled. It's one big ego dream that alters your sense of reality--it takes you out of your own life, your goals, your freedom, your tendency to seek joy. You're not you anymore--you're on call. You're the red-eyed patrol nurse. You brush off your family and friends because they're not in desperate need of you. Your everyday interaction with healthy people feels less intense, less passionate. You slowly start to reject healthy behavior in others and yourself. You can't relate to it anymore. You can't relate to anything without sirens attached. At the warm party, you're outside on the phone. You let them pull you away from happiness. They've convinced you that happiness is dull, boring, and fake because they can't feel it. They're your beautiful, dark, tortured thing, alive with pain and self-loathing and need.

The worst delusion is the one about losing them--you've become scared of freedom, naturalness, and peace. Of quiet. Your delusion is that you'll be lost without them. You've forgotten who you are if you're not the caretaker. You imagine a long string of quiet, mind-numbingly boring moments in which all there is to do is think about how you've lost them and you don't know what to do without them. You don't know who to be.

The truth is that you can do anything you want without them. You can think about what you'd like to do today--who you'd like to see, where you'd like to go, what you'd like to have for dinner. You can laugh really loudly without feeling lame or guilty. You can sit around without feeling boring. You can see your family and friends and admit that you have a great time together. You can stay in one place and enjoy yourself. You can turn your phone off. You can be you again, or at least start to remember who that person is. Later, you can meet a person who truly sees and appreciates you--someone who wants to hear about the good things in your day and gets excited for you. Someone who doesn't need you in their life, but who just likes your presence. Someone you don't even feel like fighting with, because they believe in you, and you don't have anything to prove.

It's not as bad to watch it happen as it is to be the one going through it, of course. I won't pretend that any of it is about me. It's not my responsibility, it's not my life, it's not my business. But I still wonder if there's a sliver of possibility that something I say could make a difference--could bring clarity to the situation. The truth that I need to face is that the answer is probably no. Just because I've been through something doesn't mean someone else will look at my life and say "Hey, I know how that turns out. I'm going to go ahead and not go down that road." And just because I have a lot of opinions doesn't make me an authority. My ego dream is that I can fix it, but I can't, because it isn't mine to fix. I just have to hope that he chooses peace. I guess he'll have to get completely sick of it before he leaves. I'm just worried about how long that will take. People choose peace only when they're ready for it and not afraid of it, because it's scary. Peace means quiet, and painful clarity, and sometimes boredom--it means admitting where you're wrong, and letting go, and stopping, and accepting. And I'm having a really hard time with that, myself.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

if only for a moment, every man is an island

It's been a good while since I've visited, much less posted, and I extend my apologies and assurances that it is nothing personal. It's mostly due to the fact that I don't have regular access to a private computer (I'm currently logged in at the Lafayette Public Library), which makes it uncomfortable to write at the frequency I maintained before the computer at home decided to throw in the towel. But then I think, anyone can (and probably does) read this bloggy on the Interwebs, so what do I care if someone wants to take a peek over my shoulder?
The semester ended. Finally. And much to my disappointment, all that's seemed to dissipate is the overriding sense of stress and pressure that managed to keep me on top of my myriad tasks, but also had me on the verge of a breakdown. The sense of suffocation and complete lack of joy in living are still my companions, as well as loneliness and depression. I haven't really been able to shake the last two since the return in January. I am reminded of the talk of karma from Penguin posts past and wonder if I'm being repaid for the peccadilloes of my youth. But it could also be the graver errs I've made and continue to make that have me licked.
The only thing that's different about how I feel today and how I felt about two months ago, is that now I'm accustomed to it. And that's kind of scary.
What's even more scary is that I feel like I'm turning into my Dad more and more every day. As of late, I'm most like him when I interact with him and -- not surprisingly -- we have not had a pleasant interaction in weeks. I think I hurt his feelings and the irony is: that is his legacy to me. After all, I learned from the best. I'd give it back or let it go, but it seems to linger like the smell of an animal that's been trapped and died in the walls of a house. Although, I suppose eventually any stench will fade away, given the right amount of time.

Anyway, I promise to be a more committed blogger. Also, I really hope everyone has warm and fulfilling holidays, whichever they celebrate.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A 42 Family Town

I enjoy the month of December.
There is still plenty of cold weather ahead, it is Christmas Season, and I am filled with Hope for the upcoming year. December is also a time where I look back at the past year and think of all of my accomplishments. This usually involves writing a Christmas Update letter and sending Christmas cards out to my extended family and faraway friends.

It is Sunday, December 21st. I have already traveled to my vacation destination, and I haven't even started composing a Christmas letter.

Remember the post Probability of Order? That was vague, wasn't it? Right. Well, I did it- I made the change- the turbulence is over- I left my old boss's group.

What does that even mean!!!

Unless you are in pursuit of your PhD in the basic sciences, you probably don't immediately understand the significance of leaving someone's group. At the end of this post I have a link to some of my previous thoughts on my graduate situation where I compare it to Slavery in the Old South. Today I will use a different comparison.

My department is a small town where the popular pastime is gossiping about other people's business. The town consists of 42 families, but instead of houses, we live in one apartment complex composed of 3 buildings. The gossip flies faster in such a close proximity.

The research groups are polygamist families before any sort of feminist revolution. The boss is the husband and the graduate students are the wives. (Although husband and wife here are used only to indicate power, not gender.) Leaving my boss's group is equivalent to getting a divorce and getting remarried in this small town of 42 families. My old boss has now been divorced 7 times in the last 6 years.

The good news is: I am out. I am now in a new group lead by a woman who has been a professor now for 2 years. I am going to have to work 60 hours a week on a regular basis- but it will be toward something that will get me a PhD. And that is the goal.

I feel a big sense of peace with this change because I trust my New Boss "Alice" where as I did not trust the old boss "Catfish." Catfish had the following priorities:

1. Complain about life in general, esp. about home repairs, graduate students, and other families in our 42 family town.

2. Sculpting: Ordering rocks and staying home from work to have them delivered, getting graduate students to make illegal copies of sculpting videos at the library, giving chemicals from the lab to the sculpting teacher, making a mess in the lab by mixing chemicals and rocks, talking about sculpting.

3. Making money by not actually doing anything: This is Catfish's secret obsession. He likes to talk about how he invested 1000 dollars in this start-up company that is one of his student's thesis projects. My thesis project had me doing experiments that had already been published in 2002! Why did I have to do them? Because he had a patent on this idea (which was a dumb idea which will never make him any money) and he was sure that if I did the work for it he could start a company and make a profit. Right. Forget about doing something because it is good science. Catfish only wants to use science in hopes of making himself rich. What else?

4. Playing Solitaire and Hearts on his laptop. You know how with Windows the start menu shows the recent programs used the most? Right, well every week for group meeting we hook up Catfish's computer to the projector and give him our power point presentations to show. He inevitably clicks on the Windows start menu icon... and the 2 most used programs on his laptop (his only work computer BTW) are ALWAYS Hearts an Solitaire. (the thing is- not only is he not working- how can any semi-intelligent person be entertained by those games!!! Right- Catfish is not intelligent.)

5. Telling graduate students that they need to buy research supplies with money from their paycheck. Awesome. Did I mention that it is HIS JOB to provide research funding for us? Oh yeah- Solitaire is way more stimulating that writing grants or publishing papers. What else is his job? helping his students get their research published in scientific papers. The last time one of his students published a paper containing original research was in 2005. In a few days it will be 2009.

Okay enough of that-- How did I get out? Well my old thesis project was based on this instrument and it was broken when I got it and continued to get worse. Catfish didn't think it was ever broken so it took a long time for me to convince him that we needed to fix it. And finally after trying to fix it for a semester- I realized that it wasn't fixable. The instrument I am talking about is a prototype that never made it to market. There are 5 of them in the world- and they are composed of many "made to order" parts. So... right... but Catfish has a patent (see #3 above) so when I told him that I needed a new thesis project because I couldn't fix the instrument- he said no. And I found a new thesis project in a different group. (A socially acceptable reason to get a divorce.)

In my new group, my new boss, Alice has a different set of priorities:
1. Get research done
2. Publish papers
3. Write grants
4. Stay on top of the current science literature

I think I will be happy in my new family.
Merry Christmas to me.

Recommended reading: Yes Masta, Youse a Good Masta

Monday, December 15, 2008

How'd this egg get here?

I've been thinking a lot about when I'm going to get serious about pursuing writing (as in, 5 year plan and maybe a 2009 summer program), and how I will transition from my current job (which I like) and how soon, etc. etc. I just ran across something that seemed apt and very applicable to my life and the lives of a lot of my friends and acquaintances. It's by Martha Beck. (If you've never read or heard of her, she's pretty much the reason I pick up O magazine.)

"'I just don't think I'll ever find the right life for me,' Shiela frets.

'Of course you won't,' I say. 'How strange to think you would!'

It amazes me how often people use that phrase: 'Find the right life.' Would you walk into your kitchen hoping to find the right fried egg, the right cup of coffee, the right toast? Such things don't simply appear before you; they arrive because you rummage around, figure out what's available, and make what you want."

She then goes on to say that all you technically need to guide you (rather than a clear vision of what your ideal life would be) is that "warmer...colder..." sense like the one you use when you play that game of find the hidden object in the room. Knowing what feels better and what feels worse. Then, she says, "If something feels both good and bad, break it down into its components to see which are warm, which cold. Begin making choices based on what makes you feel freer and happier, rather than how you think an ideal life should look. It's the process of feeling our way toward happiness, not some Platonic ideal, that creates our best lives."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Probability of Order

I haven't posted in a long time - mainly because I feel that my life experiencing some mild turbulence. I am so American because by "my life" I mean my working life. My home life is beautiful.

The turbulence is fine- I am not distressed about it. I am only being cautious as I move about the cabin and having my seat-belt buckled when I am seated.

My current experiences right now have got me wondering: Does everything happen for a reason?

Katu said, "Everything Happens For A Reason." (EHFAR)
I said, "I don't know if I believe that. I don't know if I believe in anything, even Science."

EHFAR got me thinking about Presbyterians and predestination. In college I was at a Bible study in the Methodist church and the preacher talked about how Evil exists in this world. Car accidents kill promising teenagers who haven't had a chance to realize their full potential. Everything does NOT happen for a reason. Some things are not of God.

Even if we remove God from this equation, Is there order in the universe? I now think that there is only a certain probability of order.

I am wondering about EHFAR because suddenly things seem to be falling into place. Actions I took in the past because I thought they were good things to do now have an unforeseen payoff.
This could be the probability of order swinging my way again. Or it could be the fact that humans have evolved to look for meaning in their own lives.