Thursday, December 7, 2017

And then it got odd


Where to even begin with this one? 

I could start with the fact that I went into yesterday day dreading the 4 separate meetings I had lined up; that I was utterly convinced it would be another day filled with fighting and disappointments.

And how none of that happened.

What happened was instead of E and me spending my first meeting trying to convince the director to run the course I was proposing next fall or spring, giving me time to develop it, he informed E and me we should run it, having the students help us with the building and development. That he's long been looking for something that marries genomics with engineering, giving the students real experience of what getting a research program off the ground looks like. Both E and I sat in stunned silence, looking at one another because this NEVER HAPPENS. The added cherry is that there's an internal grant for developing science education programs like mine that she and the director want me to apply for. Suddenly I have a course and a potential funding mechanism for gathering data for future grants. Pinch me.

Second meeting was a job interview. That I was 20 minutes late for because the person screening candidates failed to pass on the phone conference information. I figured I was doomed, with it now just being a formality. But what should have been a 20 minute interview with the managing editors for the publishing house the position is in turned into a 60 minute conversation. They informed me at the end that they would be setting up an final interview for next week (something I need to formally confirm today). Yeah . . . .

My third meeting was for a former student who is looking for a mentor. I wasn't jazzed about the proposal, but when I learned that her faculty mentor for the science club project her team was working on is basically flaking, I decided I could spend a few hours a week giving feedback and offering guidance and support. This stuff is second nature to me and can be a lot of fun. 

The final meeting involved me meeting with all the faculty and the teaching assistant who have been involved in the graduate-level course I've been co-teaching. Since it involved my co-instructor/course head who apologized for my performance, I figured it would be one where I would be sitting back, taking the brunt of humiliation about the course being a failure. What happened instead was the Nobel laureate who ran the first half of the course posed a very simple, but important question: are we training the next generation of scientists or are we training super technicians? As my course head sat in stunned silence, I jumped in and told the laureate I thought the course was designed to train scientists, but where the complaints were coming from was a mindset of super technicians who didn't understand that though the emerging methodology was amazing (and that's what industry is hiring for), it's the questions that advance the field. Somewhere in the middle of this, when my course head tried to end the discussion arguing there was nothing that could be done, he confessed that he had apologized to the students about disappointing them. The reaction from this Nobel laureate was utterly priceless: shock, horror wrapped up with some anger over enabling behavior he believes is hindering these students from growing. The meeting ended with some 12 year old Macallan scotch, with me having a moment where I realized how strange and surreal it was that I was sitting at that table. Just wow.

There are two final cherries for this day. The first being that there is a recently advertised position I'm pretty excited about at my current institution. But given all how my contract was ended, I haven't wanted to apply as I'm worried I'm seen as toxic. Both E and the science director told me I should contact the program director to ask for a meeting. The warning being that this high-powered individual who is well-known within the science education community likely wouldn't get back to me for awhile and to let them know if it was longer than a week for response.

I heard back within an hour of sending the email and have a meeting for Friday.

Oh, and Grey has a interview regarding a permanent position at his company while also getting an email from some higher-ups at an extremely well-known and advancing sequencing company about wanting to chat about him potentially working for them. &*(#@!

So . . . yesterday was odd. So odd that when I got home, I did all the bad things you're not suppose to do as a parent (allowing the kids access to the TV remote, pizza for dinner, extended playtime prior to bed instead of quiet reading) while also opening a beer (and handing one to Grey too after he walked through the door). I'm so use to rejection, bad news and fighting tooth-and-nail for any progress that yesterday just felt WAY too easy. Granted, nothing formal has been offered. There's work to be done. All of this could fall apart tomorrow.

Still, there actually may be a way forward and I may not be half as screwed as I believed myself to be. And I'm looking for that one word in the English language to summarize all the emotions and reactions to that possibility.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Counting down

The goal of this week, after talking the talk about needing to embrace the positive, has been working on actually doing it. At first glance, this should be an easy enough endeavor. Classes are over, which allows me to work on tackling other things that have been neglected for so long, workers are here today replacing our heating system (with a promise that I'll have heat by this evening . . .) and tomorrow is busy with secondary interviews and potential future projects.

But old habits die hard, especially when the gatekeepers have a role in enforcing those habits. My dreams of late have been manifestations of all the wrong that my brain predicts will happen, making it hard to fight back. 

To counter this, I've been taking an approach of one positive item daily, enlisting the Beats in helping me in this endeavor. The result has been this advent calendar, with a simple activity of making an ornament to paste on it, counting down the days till Christmas.


There's been other rituals I've slowly been adding: a scheduled walk with a cup of Earl Grey, scheduling time to visit friends or do other winter-themed activities. Making a point to celebrate the small victories.

The hardest, though, has been putting into practice the visualizations of the future we want. Of forcing myself once again to believe that things will not only work out, but will be better than if I had stayed put doing nothing.

So I'm counting down, making plans and forcing myself to prepare. Because at the end of the day, steeling doesn't make the pain of loss and failure any less; the joy that comes from envisioning a road forward does.

Monday, December 4, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Alpas

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.




Sunday, December 3, 2017

Wall

Friday was a weird day. Following a morning where the course professor took another public dig at me, I had an afternoon that basically displayed his incompetence to the administration. The short of it is we had a student miss her final presentation. While I followed up with admin to make sure nothing bad had happened, I got pushback and was told to leave it alone. Turns out this student was in crisis and is now getting help. But I'm paying for my decision to push as doing so could paint the person who told me to leave it alone in a negative light.

In addition, I *believe* I had a strong interview for a position I'm pretty excited about. I'll find out next week. And I learned Friday that a friend was offered a permanent position. So there was reason to celebrate.

All of this combined with being sick has resulted in me being beyond exhausted. The desire to sleep has been so high that doing basic tasks like cooking and cleaning have been extremely difficult. Never mind continuing to job hunt and prepare for another interview.

I struggle when I hit the wall. Whereas others have an ability to go with it, dropping everything else so that they can recover and heal, I find myself overcome with guilt. I blame myself for our current predicament, both with job instability and with missing that the Beats were so unhappy with their previous school (because we have a LOT of evidence that they are thriving now).

But I'm also struggling with anger over having hit a wall and feeling like help won't come. If I'm being honest, this was the root of the issue with me blowing up at my FIL. It's a hard period and the idea of emotionally managing him and the fallout from a visit is just too much. Something that my in laws are unlikely to see, even when explained.

Sadly, I don't know a way around this. This afternoon needs to be spent moving our stuff out of the basement so the heating system can be replaced this week. The uncle asked us to avoid purchasing storage as our landlord apparently cannot afford to pay for it (but she can afford her summer home). In addition, we need to decide whether it's possible to live here while the heat is being replaced. This on top of everything else.

Hence my exhaustion gets to wait. Even though I know that with a bit of recovery, I could manage everyone else a lot better.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Advent

Sunday marks the beginning of Advent. Having been raised Catholic, I remember this period every year of waiting and preparation. The Sunday Mass services with the wreath and 4 candles, usually with purple bows tied around them to symbolize the darkness prior to the celebration. We had our own advent wreath at home with said 4 candles that were light every night at dinner. A reminder that we were waiting.

This time of year is also historically important for me as it when I did my first and last round of IVF. The first round resulting in a retrieval date of December 14th followed by a first transfer on December 19th. It would be 3 days after Christmas that I would see my first ever positive pregnancy test. And it would be New Year's day that I would learn I was miscarrying. A year later, it would be a repeat with me being much more seasoned and trying to find a way to resolve despite the potential outcome. The fact that this happened, allowing Grey and me to find a path forward and create our version of happy, doesn't change the memories from this time of year. Memories of waiting in the darkness.

All of this has been resurfacing given that I'm once again in a waiting period. I'm still haven't heard about the results from my first interview (I job that I cannot afford to take) and have been dealing with the sting from rejection from a second interview. This was topped with hearing that a company cannot even consider my application given a conflict of interest with the educational program I'm currently contracted for and also getting some rather negative feedback about how I'm not trying correctly with my job hunt. But all of this was contradicted by my interview on Wednesday that did go well and my now having a second interview arranged for next week (writing assignment too). And I have an interview today for a position I actually think I'm a very good fit for. The final cherry is that the reviews from the programs I've been running have been unexpectedly good, leading the founder to want to ramp up my time and the frequency of programming.

In addition to job transition waiting, next week the heating system in our rental is being ripped out and replaced (furnace, water heater, the works). I'll leave the details of that one to your imagination.

The summary statement of all of this is waiting is something I'm still mastering. As I've confessed many times before, I'm not a naturally patient person and anything that is prolonged tends to be anxiety inducing. It was the waiting that was the hardest part of infertility and pregnancy. While others talk about enjoying certain moments, I found myself wanting to get to the point where I either knew a cycle had worked or that we had hit a "safe" point. I think part of this has to do with my Catholic upbringing and this period. An odd irony that it's traditionally been this time of year when I'm back in this mode.

The question is how to tackle this. If I'm being completely truthful, I really haven't made this a priority. Sure there's been the meditation and mantras combined with the positive thinking. But actually making a concerted effort to address this need to get out of the discomfort of waiting instead of sitting with it, observing all that comes with it: well, that's something that's long overdue for being addressed.

So in the spirit of Advent and knowing that I'm overdue for tackling this vice, the Beats and I have started an advent calendar. A Christmas tree shaped 25 day calendar where each day we'll construct a paper ornament to add to it. The goal for them is a simple one: they learn about waiting and preparing. But upon further reflection, the goal for me needs to be the same. Because while I'm use to sitting in the dread that comes with anticipation, the truth is I've been so focused on getting out of it and heading towards the light that I've failed to see the purpose behind it. That this habit of sprinting to the end is actually the root of a lot of problems.

Sunday marks the beginning of Advent. But today, I'm marking the beginning of my preparation and waiting. Of reflecting on all that has happened and learning to grow again from it.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Winning the Pain Olympics

Last night, Grey and I met with our landlord's uncle, who also is a property manager. The purpose of the meeting was determine whether our current rental agreement was salvageable if not simply avoid a lawsuit given all that has happened. During the discussion, the uncle kept emphasizing how much our landlord has been suffering. First with the sudden loss of her mother, than with all the unexpected repairs and replacements that were making in necessary to take out lines of credit to cover them. Listening to him, we emphasized that we understood she was struggling but that it didn't take away from the shitstorm we were literally living in.

That's when, in an effort to de-escalate, the uncle told us that he got it. That what we were living in was highly problematic and that despite his niece's hardships our concerns were valid and needed to be addressed immediately. In short, we had won the Pain Olympics for this situation.

And though his intentions were good, it pissed me off.

I don't know who first coined the term Pain Olympics (honestly, I'd love to know), but the premise is based on human behavior of trying to one-up one another about who is actually in the most pain given a situation. Within the ALI community, it's not uncommon to see if crop up following a catalyst moment of some sort, usually with someone innocently venting their frustrations about their journey only to have them be attacked by someone (worse yet, a group of someones) who have decided they actually don't have it that bad. It's an odd game of King/Queen of the Hill people play where the prize of "yeah, you do have it worse" only usually makes the awardee feel slightly better for approximately 2 seconds before they also realize the prize comes with social isolation and questions about mental sanity. In short, winning the Pain Olympics isn't something one should be aspiring to.

And yet, engaging in the Pain Olympics is a common human practice for geting people to acknowledge pain and grief. When I was first diagnosed, I remember feeling so alone in my pain with hardly anyone being able to understand. The idea that someone who experiencing something I saw as far less traumatic taking away the support I so desperately needed left me feeling very threatened. Countering the lore that love is limitless, the truth was support really wasn't, leaving me struggling alone a lot of the time.

But this isn't universally the case as there are some crises and situations that humans are trained to acknowledge and respond with support. Terminal disease diagnosis, being laid off, an unexpected death or being physically harmed by another out of no fault on your end (think criminal charges or lawsuit worthy offenses). Granted, there's a level of judgement many still will quietly pass, but it's commonly acknowledged that doing so publicly can easily land the offender with the title of "asshole," complete with scarlet A, resulting in being socially exiled. It's these specific cases humans have been trained to recognize are sure-fire ways to win a Pain Olympics argument while also garnering social support. And apparently Grey and I have now landed such a combination.

The thing is, as anger as I am about our current shitstorm, it's not worse than infertility and loss. The chronic pain is just different. What makes it extremely manageable is that we also have an abundance of resources to turn to. For an uninhabitable home, there are laws written to protect us. For toxic childcare, there is readily available access to other high quality facilities AND a direct contact for the Board of Education (combined with fines). With job hunting there are experts and career counselors combined with access to a skilled network of professionals who are happy to pass on leads and advice. Granted, there's flaws each system and it's rare things are ever easily solved, but unlike infertility and loss there's actual support and social conditioning to do so.

While on the train today, I spent some time reflecting about why there's this divide and disconnect. Why is it we have to train people to be empathetic to specific types of trauma? And the best I could come up with is a lesson I learned from Lavender Luz, which is this general assumption of Either/Or we all swim in. We're surrounded by memes and reminders about how someone out there always has it worse, comparisons are made in order to rate pain or there's images reminding us that we need to strive for bigger, better and higher moral status. But in this process of extreme competition, we fail to connect and form the connections that are critical for our mental well-being. By shunning the Both/And, where pain and grief is acknowledged and is allowed to exist regardless of the circumstances, we find ourselves in a culture of one-upmanship.

At the end of the day, I don't want to beat out my landlord on pain. Losing a parent is painful. Losing one where they literally drop dead right in front of you is something I never want to witness. She's grieving and I fully understand that it's a process. But her pain does not mean that she is absolved from her responsibilities to Grey and me as a landlord. Just as the former daycare director's responsibilities and duties she failed at are not absolved solely because she's pregnant. And the pain and anger I face now isn't worse than when I lived with infertility and lived through my losses.

In short, no one should ever win the Pain Olympics. Because doing so just hurts everyone involved.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Juggle

I’ve had this busy week on my calendar for awhile. Two new programs plus final presentations. Throw in two phone interviews (tomorrow and Friday) and an exit meeting with the department Executive Director. It’s only 3:30 pm my time and I’m ready to call it a day.

The weird part is I like being this busy. Being idle is where I get myself into trouble was it gives my brain a chance to go places it shouldn’t. The problem is my body doesn’t agree with this go-go-go mentality. Missing breakfast and lunch is no longer something I can do without feeling it later.

So instead, I’m relearning how to juggle. Forcing myself to stop, breathe and take care of basic biological functions before they hit a point of crisis. Because even though I’m not as speedy and malleable as I use to be, the tasks ahead are also a hell of a lot more complex than anything I’ve done before. Hence I’m long overdue for finding a new way to balance.
 
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