April 5th, 2005

me: ooh!

Emotional Weather Report

For the first few weeks I was in London, I struggled every day with fear. I was afraid to set foot outside the flat, to enter the fast-moving hordes of purposeful Londoners. I envied the tourists, protected by the knowledge that it was all right to be confused, because they didn't live here. Fortunately, as I've learned, fear is a demon I can master.

The same is not true of guilt. Guilt is my bete noire, the bane of my existence, the reason, six months after the move, that I still have trouble setting foot outside and being seen by the general public. I was sitting in Regents Park when I wrote this. It's a breezy cloudy day and the flowers are in bloom and I feel guilt. I'm not in the park because I'm walking my dog or teaching my child to ride a bike. I'm not in the park because I have nowhere else to sit and clutch my can of lager, babbling angrily at everyone and no one because society doesn't suffer madmen and fools unless they're already wealthy. I'm not in the park because I'm taking a well-earned stroll on my lunch break from my nine-to-five job, secure in my faith that most people will consider me productive and worthy of the resources I consume. I'm not in the park to do my homework, although in my hoodie and Docs with my backpack next to me and my glasses on, scribbling in my notebook, most passersby likely think so. I'm in the park because it's a nice day and I want to be here. Because I can be here. Because I don't have to work to live right now. And there's the guilt, twining its nasty slimy fingers around my enjoyment and holding it to a socially acceptable level.

I predict that some of the people reading this will want to tell me that I don't have to feel this way, that I don't have to let it detract from my experiences. Well, most of the time it doesn't. I can and do grab the guilt by the throat, bung it in a closet and turn the key on it. It doesn't control me or run my life. But guilt is an experienced lock-picker.

People often ask me what I want to do next and when I'm going to start working again. Some of them make snide remarks about being dependent on Marco in the meantime. Aside from the sheer crassness of their implied assumptions about my financial situation and the terms of our relationship, I feel the pressure, intentional or not, of these inquiries. I feel the discordant answering twang of my guilt, roused from its closet and shuffling out to play its part along with its friends, Anger and Incredulity, in the ensuing garble of excuses and lies that come out of my mouth. "I'm considering consultancy." "I'm going to start looking for a job next month."

You want to know the real answer? The real answer is that the thought of returning to academic scientific research still makes me feel physically ill. The real answer is that the I've been away for six months and I don't miss it. The real answer is that I got sick of fighting an uphill battle for a position I never wanted in the first place. I don't read journal articles and every time I sit down to finish writing the last article from my postdoc, I am overwhelmed by a deep and profound sense of Not Giving A Shit. I gave a good portion of my life to research in the physical sciences and I sincerely don't care to donate any more. I can't even honestly say that I want a science job outside of academia.

I want to be unashamed of what I want. I never called myself a scientist, not until I was well into my postdoc, and I was never comfortable with it or with the "Dr." title. It's sad to me that I've only become comfortable with it since I've quit. I don't want to live my entire life afraid to define myself except in the past tense. "I was a student." "I was a Ph.D. candidate." "I was a researcher at JPL."

So. I want to be a writer. I want to get a better camera and become a decent photographer. I want to be an adept and honest chronicler of my own life. And I am not bad at those things right now. I'd like for one of those abilities to provide me with the means to survive without ending up being repelled by the mere thought of them. In the meantime, I'll start giving the people who ask the answer they deserve, which is, "I'd rather not discuss that with you, thanks."