25 April 2009

Wherein the author cuts out the crap

Ok. I don't know what you'd call this, but I'm calling it a change of direction. I am 46 years old and I think I have earned the right to start taking control of my own life. I'm tired of doing things to please everyone else.

I know there is an entire contingency out there that can't believe I do ANYTHING to please anyone else, but you're wrong. I have spent a lot of time and energy trying to please other people and smooth things out for others, and make sure everyone else is happy and never giving a thought to what it is that makes me happy. But a recent series of events in my life have demonstrated, unequivocally, that my self-denial is without value. Let's just say that the lack of positive reinforcement for such behavior has led me to believe I am knocking myself out for absolutely nothing.

So the buck stops here. Presumably, half of my life is over. I think that gives me some latitude.

I have decided to stop coloring my hair. The reasons for this are two-fold. One. Coloring your hair isn't good for it. Two. Despite buying hair color that is designed to be "cool" and not highlight any red, every box of hair color I have tried over the past 4 years has turned my hair red. And it's not a flattering red. It's this weird red that I don't think favors my skin tone. And I guess there is also Three. My dad had grey hair and it looked really nice. I'm hoping my hair will go that way.

Now not coloring hair is a pretty radical thing in my family. It's sort of like saying you aren't going to shave your legs anymore. My 92-year-old Gram still colors her hair. She told me it wasn't polite for me to go grey before she did. I have a feeling that should anyone ask, they'd stare at me like I just dropped out of graduate school to join a commune if I told them of my decision. But color it I will no more. If it makes me look old, I guess that means I'm old.

#2 on my list. I have decided to start drinking Coca Cola Classic again. I love Coke Classic and I haven't allowed myself to enjoy it in years and years and years. I figure if I am going to be overweight and sexless, I might as well enjoy the things I eat. I don't drink enough soda for a can a day to make that much of a difference.

#3. I am going to make some new friends who have absolutely nothing to do with school. I am outgoing. I have always enjoyed a high level of social activity. I never had to wonder what was going to happen on Friday night, because something would come up. Social activity just spontaneously generated around me. And when I first came to Carbondale, we had a large group of grad students who enjoyed each other's company. I thought it would stay that way. But things have changed. People have moved on and new faces have arrived. There are cliques now and I'm part of none. I have tried to integrate but it just feels forced. I don't quite know how to put my finger on it. I'm generally forgotten. If I am not at the forefront of people's minds when it's time to do things, so be it. I'll do my own thing.

#4. Someone once said of me: "You don't seek to be a leader, but in the absence of true leadership, you will lead." I think that's on the mark. Professionally, I have floundered for 4 years. I thought I had the skills and the talent to raise money for my project. I do not. The entire time that I have struggled and panicked and come to terms with an unfunded project, I have done so alone. None of my professional mentors--even those that I thought SHOULD give a shit--offered a hand, any friendly advice, or any alternatives I might have considered. While I was out in the field over the past few weeks, I came to an epiphany. My path through graduate school has been impossibly harder than almost every other person I have studied beside. (I am willing to concede that the Chinese student who was involved in an arranged marriage, became pregnant, and her husband began to abuse her and her child--all while attempting to study for her prelims in a foreign language--wins that contest hands down.) But on a general ease-of-making-progress-in-graduate-school scale with my peers, I have come up as a significant outlier. I have waited on those who should have led to lead, and I waited in a vacuum. I have watched with some amazement as those people who ignored my efforts and needs bend over backwards to extend themselves to others. It is painfully clear I am now solely responsible for finishing. I am left to my own devices. So I am no longer looking for leadership, mentoring or advice from those folks anymore. I believe I have the skills I need to do the work. I believe I have sufficient funds to do the work. And since I traversed the hard times alone, I've decided to continue on my own. I think people who know me in my professional life are going to notice a big change in the coming year. Or worse, perhaps they won't even notice at all.

I don't know if this is all for the better or the worse. I don't really think it matters. I'll be a grey-haired, grumpy ol' fart, who stays home with her dog on Friday nights, or maybe I'll be a smart, genuine, person who finds a social circle that does enjoy my company and what I have to offer. Maybe Jake will be my only friend. Maybe I'll take up roller skating. Or sky diving. Or hip hop dancing. Maybe I'll spend every weekend in the herbarium. Maybe people will be pissed at me or maybe they won't even notice the change. So be it. There is more than one way to do graduate school and there is more than one way to live your life. From now on, I'm doing both in a manner that pleases me.


  1. First: fuck yeah, D.

    Second: While the first holds on the whole... "Friendless at 46"? That hurts. Your I-B doesn't count anymore? I know I haven't been a big online presence, but I haven't been completely out of touch.

    Anyway, you said you're not looking for advice or whatnot anymore, and I don't have much right now, but I say "Go on with your bad self," especially on the hair coloring, which is funny since I've been waiting for some gray because I think I'd wear salt-and-pepper well, and if I'm going to be a 30-something single guy, I might as well be classically debonair about it. (Though there are of course differences in culture, age and gender, but still: on with your bad self I say.)

    But don't forget -- you didn't do it on your own; no one can. That's not to say that you didn't do MORE than your fair share alone, or more than you ought to have had to alone, or had only yourself to depend on at times. But there are many of us, I think, that have at one time or another been of some small help at some point. I don't think you intended this as a "fuck you" to those who've tried to be there, but it comes a little bit as one. Maybe we haven't been there enough, and "lord" knows there are people who should've been there for you much more who instead were not only not there for you, but rather demanded you serve their needs when the converse was their actual job, but you're not alone, and you haven't been. We're -- I'm -- rooting for you, D, and you've had it tough, so put your shoulder down and bowl through it, but don't forget to accept help, mentoring, or advice as it comes. The fact that it's often not there when you need it doesn't mean that when it is there, you don't need it. Take what you need and can use and leave the rest, but don't write all of it off as not needful and useless. Otherwise, your self-determination, strength, and wisdom will be for naught.


  2. Well, you got me there. I wasn't clear it seems. Of course I wasn't thinking of my friends or even my peers when I wrote about #4. I was thinking about those people who's job it is to train me in the profession I am pursuing. Those people should have been there to offer that mentoring and advice. Of course, I realize that a lot of people have allowed me to lean, to bitch, to vent, to wallow, to be as low as I can possibly get, and then to pick myself up again--without holding it against me too much. =) I appreciate everyone of THOSE people. THOSE people are my heroes. I was more reflecting on how I have given a great deal to my lab and my department, more than was expected, more than was called for, and without so much as a thank you. I'm talking here about the way I am going to conduct myself in my professional life from this point forward. I am done being the (generalized) faculty's friend, bitch, go-to person, leader-among-peers-so-they-don't-have-to-bother type anymore. I am finished being the one they go to to ask for things they don't want to do themselves. As a for instance....the chair continually asks me to act as a go-between between himself and D-friend Bek (his student) on matters of work. I have done it as a favor, but it has gotten so bad, I asked once if I was his new social secretary. He found that amusing and now addresses me as his Social Secretary when he is bringing me information to pass along to Bek. I guess what I'm saying is that when the ask comes in for favors now then answer is no. In fact, it's a militant Hell No.

    I will always be there for my peers and my friends, but I am not going to be there for the "department" or for the man or for whatever you want to call it. If people can't treat me with respect personally, I am done pretending that the disrespect is okay.

    And I totally appreciate my I-B, even when he neglects me for all those real life babes in Michigan and NY. ;)

  3. Heh. Good to hear.

    And I totally support then your attitude towards the berks at the dept.

    Sounds like the Chair missed a class in clues when he not only found Social Secretary amusing but also an apt, appropriate, and enduring position for you rather than an irony to be avoided.