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

Monday, March 30, 2015

scratching the surface

I don’t think I was drunk, but I could not have been sober. I keep waiting for all of the memories to come back, but they don’t. Instead I have to reach for them, screw my eyes tight and really reach, and I never do.

I met a bartender that in my past life was a busboy, and he says things that made me dig deep within myself to find my corresponding stories. Did I remember the bartender with the kids, the line cook with the lisp, the one with long hair that is at a new restaurant, that time he had a seizure in the kitchen and woke up with Mickey holding him. Mickey...which one was Mickey, oh he was the nice one, the tall one.

I don’t remember being drunk, but I hate being drunk. I get tipsy so easy so I even try to avoid that. But there was always beer, and harder, in styrofoam cups. For a while there was always red bull and vodka, so much red bull and vodka, the thought of which makes me want to puke, so I must have, once. Right?

Do I not remember, or did these things not happen?

Now on my way to pick up Lena I drive by restaurants that we used to have friends at. The owners have changed and I wonder if the bars are the same, remember the time we took a bottle of tequila and drove off. Remember the laughing, filling our styrofoam cups with margaritas, drive away, laughing.

I couldn’t have been sober, so I must have been drunk.


Lena has been gone one day, and my days are empty, without structure, without purpose.

Was this my life before her?

This is not to say that people without kids have no purpose, but I have found so much purpose with Lena. I think this is a reflection on me. I’m a little weak, on my own. I lack direction and motivation. This must be how I floated through a year not sure whether I was drunk or sober, most likely somewhere in between.

And maybe I would have found something to hold on to---poetry, writing. Maybe science. I hope science. And yeah, so I cheated. I didn’t have to find something to hold on to, find something to ground me. I’ll never know if I would have been strong enough to find it myself. Instead, it was handed to me. Wiped clean and swaddled in blankets, Lena.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


I thought I broke my headphones today but I didn't, and I am very happy about that.

Sometimes lab is really hard and life is really hard and it feels like everyone wants so much from me even if it's just a biography and a picture of my daughter and these things are so overwhelming and anxiety inducing that I don't know what to do. My happy place is alone in my bed asleep but that doesn't work, that's called 'depression.' My new happy place is just learning. I'm isolating a bunch of bacteria for myself and it's wonderfully calming. Streaking them onto plate, noting colors and shapes, when colonies appear. Science! Life! The unknown!

Yesterday [two days ago, actually, I wrote this yesterday] I extracted DNA and PCR'ed up the 16S region and sent if off for sequencing and today [yesterday] I waited for results and got them. I can name these cells (babies) that I isolated (found), grew (raised), and save them. I'm not using our fancy label maker because anxiety attack, so I'm hand labeling my tubes, and with each label, each date and initial, it feels like I am labeling my anxieties: naming them, acknowledging them, putting them away.

I really am so happy that I didn't break my headphones, but with the news today I can't be happy about that, because of the news.

How does the news impact the delicate ones. It is hard to let myself be anxious and weird. Hard to let myself be silly over little things. Even harder when the news is the news.

There is so much outrage, so much anger, so much sadness and pain in the world. I want to not listen, but that is the definition of privilege. But it is hard to listen. It is hard to feel all of these things on top of the little things.

Headphones. Music. Drowning out the world. Drowning. Drowning. DROWNING.

Here. Listen to this song. Listen. Just listen.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

i wouldn't want to do this without you

I have a friend that tells the most amazing stories. She's a little scatter-brained and kind of quirky about a few things, like she doesn't let her kids drink out of water fountains, and the weirdest things happen to her.

A few weeks ago she was working late at night and heard something in her fireplace, and it turns out there's a squirrel stuck in her fireplace. Instead of calling animal control, she decides to build an obstacle course/barricade a path to the door with couch cushions in order to shuttle the squirrel out. It worked, but her telling this story was so. amazing.

Today, it turns out her husband's grandfather is in the hospital because he was in a car accident. He's 95, and he really shouldn't be driving. She was telling me how her mother-in-law was telling her about the accident, (another car hit him) and that the other car was a big truck painted in camouflage. "So my mother-in-law thinks that he might not have seen the car, and I said, but it's not camouflaged to the ROAD, that's not how camouflage WORKS." She had me cracking up during gymnastics. I could not stop laughing, and I'm sure all the other parents thought I was insane.

I had a really demoralizing week. My project has hit a tough spot, I'm in a rut, a local minima. I talked with Aspen about it, and she said, "Think about something else to do, what else are you interested in?" and I, no lie, could not think of one thing. I've been so up this project's butt, that I could not think of one other thing that I was interested in, one other problem, one other question, the tiniest of experiments to do that could get me out of this rut. I went home early, and at 6:30, propped Lena up in bed with a movie and turned off the lights and just shut out the world.

I got a little bit out of my rut today---laughing about the "camo" truck helped. I also flipped through a textbook just to get some ideas, found a relevant paper to read. Then we got an offer for a play date and heels watching from some other friends.

Paul and Amy, have I talked about them here? They are going to get their own tag today because they are going to be a key part in this grad school thing. Paul and Amy both did grad school at UNC, Paul in my dad's lab. They left, did post docs, got TT faculty positions, and then came back here. Paul is now doing a project in my dad's lab. They're trying to clone in some mutation into yeast together and it's super cute.

So we go over to their house, and they ask how I am, because everyone always does, and I was just like, you know what? I'll be completely honest. I have no self-esteem right now, everyone else is smarter than me and I have forgotten how to have any sort of original thought.

And they walked me through it.

I told them an experiment I wanted to do, and they said, that's great, why haven't you done it? I said, because no one told me it was a good idea. Paul says, you can't need validation. Amy says, Paul needs so much validation. Paul says, that's true, but you still need to do the experiment.

It continues like this---I ask them a problem that Aspen has been thinking about, and Paul thinks it's doable. So I'm going to try it. Paul also expressed into words what my project needs: an assay. I don't have a good assay. He gave me a bunch of ideas about assays. I texted Aspen about her project idea and that I was going to try it tomorrow. She said, that's awesome.

This week I: cried, felt stupid, felt like I couldn't do this, went to bed at 6:30, wanted to give up.
Today I: came up with a new idea, got a couple ideas for assays, figured out what my next steps are going to be, started some cultures for a new experiment, got inspired, excited, ready to face the world again, also laughed hilariously at Belichick: "I handled the balls, we all handled the balls."


How do we do this without friends? Luckily, thankfully, I will never have to find out.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

birth story

Lena is going to be seven. SEVEN. SEVEN. I cannot say it louder than that or in more awe that my daughter has been on this earth for seven years, and that I am still incredibly insecure as a parent despite being one for SEVEN YEARS.

It occurred to me that I have never really shared the story of Lena’s birth. Or if I have I have forgotten and just want to relive it now, if you would indulge me.

Lena came two weeks early. I had signed up late for this birthing class at carrboro yoga company, because me, and being without a partner, my mom went to all the classes with me. They were ridiculous and I only remember them being as such. There was so much emphasis on communication and weird relationship stuff and sure we were all going to push babies out in the next month or so, but I had absolutely nothing in common with a 30-something married woman that does things like sign up for birthing classes at the carrboro yoga company. I mean in that venn diagram those circles are barely touching. The week that Lena was born, the class was going to be about massages, and we were told to bring in our favorite essential oil. I am 99% convinced that the anxiety leading up to this class is what prompted me to go into labor. For once my mind and body were totally in sync, in the sense that no. fucking. way. were we going to go to that class.

My stomach started feeling weird on the evening of January 17th. My mom and I had singaporean take out. The thing that’s funny is that the doctors say that labor feels like really bad menstrual cramps, but of course by virtue of being pregnant you haven’t felt menstrual cramps in ~9 months, you have no idea what that feels like. I got my mom to take a picture of me, and then I went home to my apartment.

I'm not even going to edit this picture. It just sums up so perfectly the non-glamorous pregnancy. I see all these pictures of people that do the cute and artful side-shots documenting the "journey", but this was just me. Also my mom has never been able to take a good picture to save her life.
Back to my apartment in carrboro, and I'm watching Gilmore Girls on DVD and making lunch plans for the next week with a friend, and these sharp pains are continuing. I finally call my parents at like midnight or so, saying that these pains aren't stopping and what should we do. 


My parents say, "Oh, you can't do anything now, because it is night time, so just come over, try to sleep, and we'll go to the hospital in the morning."

Why did I believe them? People do in fact go into labor in the middle of the night. My parents just didn't want to go into the hospital. So I went to my parent's house. As I was leaving my apartment Julian, my roommate was like, "Is everything ok?" and I was like, "YEP." (Ok so maybe that runs in the family.)  

So I'm at my parents', LABORING. Until they get up, make coffee, eat breakfast, and finally at 8 my mom is like, "I guess the doctor's office is open now, so we can call them."

We go to my doctor's office, they see me immediately because I am very clearly IN LABOR, and this very nice nurse practitioner is all, "let's see how much you're dilated," looks, and after like two seconds is like, "oh you're totally ready to go, you should go to the hospital."

Now it's 8:30, ish, January 18th, 2008, and we are under strict instructions to go to the hospital. It's just me and my dad, because my mom has a meeting that morning. And my dad is like, "Paying for hospital parking sucks--let's park in our parking lot (because they work at the university)." So I'm like, whatever, these searing pains are apparently contractions, and they are coming every 10-15 minutes or so. So we drive to my parent's parking lot, which is in the back of the hospital. 

I don't know if any of you have ever traversed a hospital, but I have never found one to be intuitively laid out, and easy to get through. This comic scene ensues: 

*Me, hunched over at the bottom of some stairs, having a contraction. My dad 10 or so feet ahead.*

dad: Come on rachael, what are you doing?
me: I. AM. IN. PAIN. 

repeat basically until we get into the hospital itself. 


dad: do you know where to go?
me: DO? I? KNOW? WHERE? TO? GO???
dad: ok. 

at some point, I recognize where we are, and start powerwalking like I've never powerwalked before (or since) and now my dad is about 15 feet behind me.

dad: Do you know where you are going?

you guys childbirth is a really magical experience. 

So we finally get there, and the magic of the UNC system is that my doctor had already sent over all there stuff from when we were there this morning so I immediately had a room, and they knew I was coming. I think the birthing class that I took had instructed us to have a "birth plan" and mine consisted of, "the baby should ideally come out in some way." The contractions "weren't that bad" but now I'm wondering if I have a really off tolerance for pain. I'm getting kind of bored writing this part now so blahblahblah, at some point I ask for an epidural and they're like, "it's too late, hon" and then I start pushing and a baby comes out. 

The delivery nurses are the unsung heroes of the world, because the most amazing woman stood right next to me and took control, and told me to relax between contractions, and told me to push when I needed to push, and I don't remember anything about her other than I would not have been able to do what I did if she wasn't there, and she was worth way more than those stupid birthing classes, and I don't even remember her name. 

I remember the doctor that delivered Lena, because he had a weird name and also in the most wonderful swoop of irony had been the one to prescribe me birth control pills back in high school, and I made a joke about his weird name and also decided to tell him that. He was weirded out by me, but now I see him all the time because he's a runner so he's at all the races around town.  

The other things that I want to remember, are the people that came to visit me. 

And then, a baby. Oh oh oh, a baby. 

She kind of looks the same, doesn't she?


I can say without a doubt, that I would not be where I am today without this person. Bolded, italicized and caps locked. Without a doubt. 

Here's to you, smalls, again and again and again and again and forever. To you. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

not quite

I am about to burst, burst, with the amount of things going on right now. 

I'm trying to calm myself, slow myself down. I'm knocking out a bunch of experiments. I'm reading a book before falling asleep. And I'm finding solace in some old things.

This is a poem that my friend Katie gave me when I was pregnant, and it meant so much then, but means so much more (or means something different) now.

Song For Baby-O, Unborn 
when you break thru
you'll find
a poet here
not quite what one would choose. 
I won't promise
you'll never go hungry
or you won't be sad
on this gutted
but I can show you
enough love
to break your heart
Diane Di Prima

Not quite what one would choose.

not quite what one would choose.

not quite what one would choose, but damn, things are happening.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

music as catharsis

Right after I wrote this post I started listening to a lot of mainstream hip hop. My friend mark calls it "ignorant rap", as in "I'm sorry I listen to a lot of ignorant rap." But it is so good. The misogyny, the rampant drug use and relentless posturing. It is all so good.

I then started telling people that I've been listening to a lot of misogynist hip hop, and they say, "why?" as in, "You identify as a feminist, why do you listen to music that advocates for the objectification of women?" And I thought about it, and I think it's the catharsis.

I wrote a little bit about it, in different words here, when I mentioned that when I was pregnant I listened to T.I.'s Whatever you like just about non-stop. Because it was just this out of body experience--that in those moments I'm not pregnant rachael, I'm just in the song. And then now I'm not stressed out, insecure rachael, I'm Wiz Khalifa smoking joints and getting my dick sucked. (Oh pops you can stop reading now and also you don't have to listen to any of this music because I don't think you will like it.)

Or in the club, high on perp (wtf is perp?) with some shades on, tatted up, miniskirt, with my J's on.

And then sometimes there's just a song that just perfectly describes a feeling. Which is the definition of art, right? And the role of an artist? To express universal feelings in a new way for people to experience? Which Big Sean does incredibly well in the following song. (What a effin' brat though, right?) 

Or it's just a few lines, the hook, the beat. I'm just livin' life. And let my momma tell it n----, I ain't livin' right. 

I asked mark what they were saying in that last song the first time I heard it, and he says, "I ain't got no type," and the song keeps playing, and then he says, "Excuse me, 'I own't got no type.'" 

heh. ok. so that's what I've been listening to for the past week or so. I know there is a plethora of non-ignorant rap, but man. This just fills a niche in my life like nothing else. 

play on playaaaah. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 recap

Um. Suffice it to say, it has been a good year.

January: Did a thing which is now on the internet forever….I told an extremely private story in an extremely public place and it is now on the internet.

February: Started rotating in the lab that would eventually become my home lab.

March: Found a house to live in and decided to live on my own, just me and Lena.

April: Got the NSF fellowship, which never in a MILLION YEARS I thought I would win. It was one of the best feelings in the world. I woke up at 4 in the morning to check my email, and the first thing I did was email my dad. My parent's first reaction: "You're going to be a scientist." It's hard to say exactly what this means--that this was something they could be immeasurably proud of me for. It sounds weird, because it's just a thing and obviously they are happy and proud of me, but this was just such a good feeling. The best feeling.

There was a big down which was my rotation PI gave me some harsh feedback and that was really tough to hear, but also ok. (Mostly because I ended up joining the lab.)

May: Moved into my new house. HIRED MOVERS WHICH WAS THE MOST AMAZING EXPERIENCE. Officially joined my lab.

June: L finished kindergarten, first experience with summer camps.

July: Worked. I’m sure something else happened in July but I can’t think of anything exactly.

August: Lena started 1st grade! I get the Marcy Speer fellowship, a real honor: one second year from my program gets it each year. It serves as a reminder to be the best person I can be, in science and in service.

September: Gave my first talk to over 200 people! Went to my first conference as a grad student: the Lake Arrowhead Microbial Genomics conference with Aspen, Firas, and Lawrence, which was just amazing. Motivating, inspiring, + korean barbecue. Aspen, Firas and I grew really close, which turns out to make lab the funnest place to be on earth.

October: I turned 27. Went for a walk in the woods with Alex, which was just the most perfect thing. Continuing to love my lab and my science. (I think things started to work, or rather, I started to fundamentally understand my project.)

November: I gave a chalk talk for lab meeting, and I discovered that I love giving chalk talks. During said chalk talk I came up with an idea for a project that I started working on in earnest. I also started hanging out with the most amazing person ever, and that is really exciting.

December: A month for retrospection. I am loving my life, I'm making some friends that I think I will keep forever. The biggest challenge of this month and for the coming year is focus. My project moves in leaps and bounds, I am writing more and more. Lena is fun, so much fun. And this boy. This boy fills my life with music and is occupying a space in my heart that I had forgotten existed. If past is precedence, 2015 is going to be amazing. I cannot wait. See you all there.