grad school, parenthood, identity crisis. welcome to the rabbit hole.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

the broadest impact

Unsurprisingly, given the news these days, I have been thinking a lot about race and privilege. I am confused and horrified by the lack of indictments for those responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and heartbroken at stories of similar violence, brutality, and mistreatment of people of color by white people in positions of power. I want to protest, to show my solidarity, but I don't know how. Being able to protest is a privilege--as we see with the way police treat black and white protesters--but also taking the time out of lives and work in order to do so. It is a privilege that I believe we have the duty to exercise if we can. 

This also though, has made me think of what else I can do. 

Before now, I knew intellectually that race is still an issue in America. I don't think I fully understood the extent of that because it doesn't affect me on a daily basis. Except, maybe it does. At Duke University, there is one black person on my entire floor that is not a member of the janitorial staff, and he is a staff scientist. This is really troubling. 

A friend from high school, the amazing poet Kane Smego wrote this on facebook a few days ago, and I cannot get it out of my head. I've copied it all here. Emphasis is my own. 

He writes, 
First of all, it comes down to 2 possible viewpoints on the world that influence a person's opinion on what is most certainly the genocide of black men. You either believe that 
1.) All human beings are born with equal capacities for love, intelligence, and success. While you believe that all humans have free will and hold a degree of responsibility for their own actions, you realize that the large-scale patterns of incarceration, poverty, gang violence (since so many people want to use that as an example), police brutalization, and other forms of suffering are the result of massive structures of inequality. Because our nation has had written language since its inception (unlike the Greek Empire for many centuries), we also have the ability to examine our history in text and identify many of the events, policies, and mindsets that first created these massive structures. While they have been dismantled and have eroded in certain areas, these structures still stand like the skeleton of an ancient building that we still live inside of. In other words, you understand that millions of people aren't choosing to be poor, and brutalized, and locked up, but rather that there are larger forces at work which make these types of suffering much more likely to affect them. 
Or you believe that
2.) Different types of people from different races or cultural backgrounds have different capacities for love, intelligence and success. The large-scale patters of incarceration, poverty, gang violence, police brutalization are the result of their own choices, inherent flaws, or racial and cultural characteristics they receive at birth. We have a name for this second belief system or mindset, it's called RACISM. If you don't like being called racist, labeled a racist, or made to feel like a racist, then maybe you should examine your own belief system and thought process and re-evaluate your view on the nature of reality.

Gosh. You either believe that all humans are born with equal capacities for love, intelligence, and success, or you don't. And it is increasingly clear based on the current injustices that a shockingly large amount of the population whether knowingly or not do not believe this. And it's not their fault, really. By having NO black faculty members on our floor, NO black post docs or graduate students, you're sending a very clear message.

So what can I do?

I am on a fellowship from the National Science Foundation. (Or I will be, next year, semantics whatever.) And the NSF, in each grant proposal, each fellowship proposal, has a section titled "Broader Impacts" and they want to know what service you will do for the greater community. And I swear 90% of these sections are complete bullshit. Mentoring high school students, training undergrads, blah freakin' blah blah blah. I said something about going to my daughter's elementary school with a presentation of my work. One reviewer wrote, "I doubt the applicant will do this" or something to that effect and at the time I bristled with indignation because that reviewer doesn't know me! but let's be honest. I probably wasn't going to do it.

But now I want to.

Aspen, the other grad student in my lab brought it up at lunch. Let's put our time into underserved minority kids from Durham this summer. We put so much freakin' time into these pre-med duke undergrads (and if there is one population that does not need anything it is the pre med undergrads of duke university) why not put that time into a population that actually needs us? Where we can actually make a difference.

Science has SO MANY problems. America has an even bigger problem. But gosh, if I could do one thing that would help both of those problems, well, it would be a shame, the greatest shame, not to.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

heart: the update

Everything is going great, really great. So great that all I want to do is hold you about the shoulders and lean in real close to impress upon you, dear reader, how great everything is going.

Last month I went for a walk in the woods with my ex (the ex) and it was wonderful. I have nothing but hope and wonderful feelings towards him, with no jealousy, no regret, nothing mixed in. Which I think is largely due to the fact that everything is going great, I'm in the perfect place for me, I'm more independent than I have ever been, and I think ever would have been, if things hadn't turned out the way they had.

So today I was bored of my music, because I've basically been listening to two albums on repeat, The Flaming Lips Sgt. Pepper's album, and the new Taylor Swift album, both of which are ah-mazing. Like, hold you about the shoulders and lean in real close to tell you how amazing they are. But this morning I decided to put my music on shuffle. I did this, and promptly skipped like 80 songs because I have a holy metric ton of Johnny Cash on my phone (who knew?) and finally it settled into a nice rhythm of nostalgia and pleasant surprises.

I was almost at work, and a new song came on, and I thought, What a great song, I really like how this is starting out. And it continued to play, and my brain continued to think, I really like this song! but then my heart, oh my heart, it started to grumble, and turn over. Ok maybe my heart is in cahoots with my stomach but anyway there was this weird bodily feeling because about 45 seconds in I realized what this song was. The Fleet Foxes. And my heart was just like, NOPE. And I switched songs.

Which maybe you can read that as, wow she really isn't over that dude, but I wouldn't, I really really wouldn't. It's just to say, how little control we have over our senses, how you can think that all the connections that once were there were gone, or changed into new connections, a new kind of love and fondness for a person that's now just turned into a memory, but there's still some. The last cord to strike a chord.

So everything is going really great. My lab is becoming my best friends and family, to the point where I was saying to them that I really only use two rooms in my house, my bedroom and my kitchen, so I was thinking about moving my bedroom to my living room and having my current bedroom be an office and then have the living room be the living room (it's kind of hard to explain but I can draw you a picture if you want) and someone's suggestion was, "why don't you move Lena's bed into your room and have the bedroom be the bedroom and Lena's room can be the office." And don't for a second think that I hadn't thought about that. Bunk beds were even a hilarious option, but I said, as much as I love that idea, I would like to maintain some semblance of the possibility that I may one day have a partner, and I think sharing a bedroom with my daughter is a surefire way of that not happening.

Everything is going so great, but--I haven't been in love again, and it's weird, because I'm not lonely, I'm happy, and I know this isn't the end all be all, but sometimes it does feel that way, and I'm just a little sad, because I love being in love (except maybe I don't) and I'm not. And there have been people, oh there have definitely been people, but I'm just not...I don't know. I haven't been there.

And I don't think it's the Fleet Foxes. I really don't think it's the Fleet Foxes. But if it's not the Fleet Foxes, then what is it?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

why we do grad school

There are so many disgruntled graduate students/post docs and there's a lack of faculty positions and I think the current graduate school/post doc (in the sciences) model is a bit outdated--we still do things the way we did when the NIH payline was at 30%, and it's now at less than 8% but it takes so long to change the way things are done so we can only hope that the good ones get out unscathed--and they do, the ones that are going to be successful are always going to be successful no matter what--but that's not the greatest reason not to admit that the system is failing a lot of people. 

But I don't know. I read this quote today and to me it was about my grad school experience. Like, right now I get to immerse myself in every single thing possible. Yesterday I spent most of the day reading ridiculous papers on microfluidics and magnetism. Because why the hell not? I wish this is how we talked about graduate school. 

Graduate school is your "selfish" years. It's the time to immerse yourself in every single thing possible. Be selfish with your time, and all the aspects of you. You are the most important thing. Your ideas, your time. Tinker with shit, travel, explore ideas. Love them a lot, love them a little, and never touch the ground. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

the best of times

I thought about the title of this post for a long time. Like, a really long time. I also thought about the story arch that this post was going to take. My fake-grant was reviewed in my fake-study section today and I got accused of writing the "slow reveal" which is not what you want someone to write about your grant. Blog post, on the other hand...

Ok. so.

I used to think that the reason two people are parents is because kids are so amazing and full of love that you need a partner in order to share the love and constant wonder that is having a kid. Blahblahblah all fine and dandy.

It turns out, the real reason that two people are supposed to be parents is because KIDS ARE SO RIDICULOUS and one person CANNOT HANDLE THE RIDICULOUSNESS that is a kid.

Which is how I found myself at 6 pm, driving across town with a bottle of wine in the dark, to have a friend check Lena and me for lice.

I learned so much about lice tonight, it's not even funny. It turns out you don't need all the fancy medicine crap. There's a couple urban myths about lice, you don't need to sanitize all stuffed animals: lice only lives for about 24 hours when unattached to a head. Also they don't shed that often--if they're happy they're nicely attached to the scalp. Oh and people say that there are more lice around the hairline but really that's just where it's easiest to see them and I AM SO UP ON MY LICE FACTS. And you know what really helps? A really really good friend.

I used to think that being a parent was so lonely. In fact, many a blog post has been written about how isolating I found the early days of parenthood. But now I'm finally finally finding my place. My community. I've always been so slow to make friends, but I did it. Lena having lice could have been the worst. It could have been agonizing and isolating and horrible, but it wasn't. It was! While Jenny was combing through my hair checking me for lice, she said, "Did you ever imagine when we met all those years ago, it would come to this?" Above and beyond, these friends, above and beyond. The best of times. the best of times!

Although right now I am in bed with a sleeping bag because I am boiling all of the sheets and comforters...because even if science says I don't need to worry that's lice. Gross. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

the work-life balance myth

I've got this great new outlook on life, where if there is something that I do not like, or something that bothers me, I've decided that it simply does not exist. Humidity, political attack ads, homework. They just don’t exist. It’s a great system.

The latest thing that just does not work for me therefore am moving to dismiss it entirely for the rest of my life: “work-life balance.”

Work-life balance is talked about ad nauseum on the internet. I think it’s because misery loves company. Or insecurity loves company. No one has it figured out so we look anywhere for people that do have it figured out and that is comforting, until we realize that work-life balance is so individualized that none of that helps. The 7-Year Postdoc was a really popular post ostensibly about how to have fun! while being really stressed out! But her descriptions of handling work-life balance sounded like a nightmare. On top of not having a partner to split 50-50 parenting, I'm not a stay-at-work-late kind of person. I am shit at compartmentalizing different parts of my life. So when I read this account of work-life balance, I was devastated. (That's way too strong a word. I was just kind of pissed at my lack of efficiency.)

So then I looked inward. And focused on Lena and focused on me and set up some play dates and made it through 5 seasons of Gilmore Girls in less than two months. (Actually when you think about that I have work-life balance completely under control. You don't make it through 100 episodes of Gilmore Girls without being incredibly efficient and extremely dedicated. Work ethic, who would dare say that I don't have one.) And then I figured it out.

There is no work-life balance.

It just doesn't exist. Mostly because for me, there is no work. It's just life. This is the life I chose, and I am the luckiest person in the world to be doing every day, what I love. Which is to say, living. And for me living happens to include, taking care of another human being, who I love (thank goodness because otherwise it would be harder), designing experiments, learning new techniques, reading papers, attending seminars, going to class, cooking dinner, cleaning the house, giving another human being some interesting experiences and cultural exposures, and taking care of myself. Ok so listing it all out like that seems really overwhelming but it's surprisingly not. The idea that there is no balance between all of these things is, well, liberating.

Since there's no work-life balance, there's definitely not a one-size-fits-all solution. 

Just like the 7-year postdoc lifestyle made me want to hurl, I'm sure my lifestyle is horrific to some. But it works for me. Some weekends I cook for the week and freeze meals and am very martha stewart. Some weeks I make ramen and chicken nuggets for me and Lena. Last week I forgot to remind Lena to turn in her homework and of course she forgot to turn in her homework, and it was ok. I've stopped doing dishes. L and I use paper plates and it is AMAZING, I just throw them away after we are done using them. I stopped making Lena elaborate lunches for school: she gets a turkey and cheese sandwich (with bread out of the freezer) and a bag of chips, applesauce, and a granola bar. Lena sleeps in my bed with me, because bedtime is some of the only uninterrupted time that I focus one-hundred percent on Lena, and I love it. Most of the time, I go to bed right after she falls asleep. It's early and I love it. Sometimes I wake up naturally before 5, and I'll get up and start the coffeemaker (all I have to do is flip the switch because I've filled up the machine the night before) and other times I wake up when my alarm goes off at 5:30. Early mornings are me time and making lunch time and watching an episode of Gilmore Girls time.

The balance part of work-life balance gives the impression that there is something to achieve. That I must devote some part of my day to watching the scales; to add and subtract things to reach and maintain the perfect level upon the ridiculous fulcrum that separates "work" and "life." Admitting that this balance just doesn't exist is the most wonderfully freeing thing I have done since...switching to paper plates.

I'm still figuring out how to do my best, trying to finish my biography of Grover Cleveland, etc, now instead of wasting a ridiculous amount of time on trying to maintain some absurd balance, I can focus my energy on doing my best. Being the best grad student I can be, being the best parent I can be, being the best person I can be. Because that is who I am, and that is my life. Balancing, optional.

Monday, October 13, 2014

bits and pieces

**I started this blog post on Sunday morning, and the original title was "living the mothereffin' dream". I think I was in a good mood.**

Thoughts that have been floating around my head the past few days/notes that I've written to myself:

You guys--I don't think I actually like molecular biology. (In the like, canonical sense of the world I mean what *isn't* molecular biology, in the same way that as soon as you use a plasmid you are doing synthetic biology but *synthetic biology* still means something very specific. Where was I? Oh yes--) So I don't think I like molecular biology that much. That level of mechanistic detail just doesn't drive me. But for some reason I love listening to talks about mitotic spindles...spindle pole bodies...microtubule dynamics. It reminds me of my childhood. Of sitting around the table listening to my parents talk. It just...feels like home. I had kind of a weird childhood.

earlier that day...

I mean seriously. Next time my PI gives a talk he's going to say, "Here's the smart one, here's the one that works hard, and here's rachael, the lab idiot." I mean everyone needs one. I'm the foil. The comic relief. The cautionary tale.

My favorite memory from a class in college...

In a human genetics lab we had to turn in a lit review thing about a genetic disease. I chose oculocutaneous albinism...because there was this great Science paper from 50+ years ago where these geneticists drew a pedigree from a Hopi Indian tribe in Arizona that had this crazy high incidence of albinism. The reason was this: albino people were held in high esteem by this tribe, and also because they were really light sensitive they had to stay inside all the time. So like, when all the men went hunting, the albino men would stay at home in their cabin things and you know, and then there is a really high incidence of albino babies being born. I love that story. Ok so--I wrote a report on this, and I was turning it in, and all the other papers were like, 10 + pages. Mine was 3. I mean I printed double-sided, but still I was SO WORRIED and I got really insecure about my assignment. But I covered everything I needed to cover! So then later, I get an A on it (like literally the only A I ever got in a science class I think because maybe I was so tickled by the subject matter) and I talk to the professor who was teaching the class, and she says Rachael, I was so worried when I picked up yours to grade because it was so much smaller than all the others, but you covered everything and you did a great job! 

I just went to find the paper, and I had forgotten the other great thing about it--the citation is "Woolf and Dukepoo, 1969" DUKEPOO.

Just call me Rachael "the village idiot" Bloom.

The reason all this came up...

I'm working on my grant for a class, and I am consistently under the page limit, because I've just said everything I've needed to say. But then I'm like, does anyone ever submit a grant that doesn't meet the page limit? I mean there's no rule against going under. Ok. back to work.

Monday, October 6, 2014

"wish you would step back from that ledge my friend"

L had a new play date this weekend with a girl down the street from us. I would like to take a moment to give myself a pat on the back for overcoming my social anxiety and setting up this play date yes I did that all by myself thankyouverymuch we are very proud of how much we are growing up.

The mom is great, when we were making small talk at the bus stop I asked if she was from this area and she said, no, but she feels like it anyway since she's been here since she came for college in 1986.

*long pause*

Well I was born here and she's still been here longer than I have.

I did some "back of the envelope calculations" (the best phrase ever) and figured out that she had to be at least 18 years older than me. C'est la vie. (Pronounced "cess la vi".) At the park I find out we're twenty years apart, and we laugh at this, but we then find we have so many shared experiences. Wanting to force our kids into Sunday school, crying in the bathroom after we found out we were pregnant. Loving to share the most intimate details about our life. We're not so different.

We walked our kids to the park together, chatting the whole time, and after two hours outside L went over to their house to play for another two hours, while I made all the meals for this week (10 black bean and sweet potato burritos which after making them I never want to eat) and a lasagna. I walked over to their house to pick L up, and there is Christmas music playing. Fred (that's the mom, who is also Jewish) said, "I was trying to find some innocuous music. They didn't like Nat King Cole so we settled on this." She says to me then, when her daughter was a baby she listened to the Clash and the Kinks but now she's older so she worries more about the lyrics.

That's the only time I feel conscious about an age difference. L and I listen to a lot of Third Eye Blind and Rilo Kiley.

90s kid!