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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Emotional Weather Report [20050405|13:45]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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."

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[User Picture]From: wisdom_seeker
2005-04-05 13:35 (UTC)

A Book You Might Like

Back when I first started going through my most recent bout of depression, my therapist gave me Circle of Stones: Woman's Journey to Herself by Judith Duerk to read. It describes the drive to be constantly "doing" as an over-expression of the masculine anima and the resultant feelings of guilt as a result of not tapping more fully into the feminine. It's a little new agey, but I found the encouragement to just allow myself to be without feeling guilt for failing to do truly helpful. Your description of what you are currently going through brought the book to mind.
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[User Picture]From: wisdom_seeker
2005-04-05 13:36 (UTC)

Re: A Book You Might Like

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[User Picture]From: kujawski
2005-04-05 13:45 (UTC)

I love Teddy

Theodore Roosevelt wrote about how the free time we have is only due to the previous labors of ourselves or other people. He believed that to use this time soley for base pleasure was a waste of it; it should be used to further one's education or skills.

If you're going to spend your time outside of the pursuit that you had previously engaged in, then I suggest you find a new avenue of life to follow and go for it. I think writing and photography are less important than the physical sciences in bringing pleasure to man, so I would urge you to go back to your previous life and suck it up and buy in. But maybe that's just because I have in, and I'm jealous. I'm not sure. There is a lot to be said for doing your time and investing your money early so that you can retire at like 50 and spend the rest of your days doing what you want. That's still 30 more years. Whatever.... it is your life.... what do I know?

-Andrzej Valentyn Kujawski
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-05 14:39 (UTC)
I'm working on rebuilding my life. Actually, a lot of the time I feel like I'm just starting to learn how to live at all.

I don't think most of the people who ask me what I'm doing have malicious intentions. Aside from the few who make snide comments under the guise of being funny, they're probably simply trying to make conversation. I'm not overly forthcoming with most of the details of my private life, and I'm wary of telling people I don't know that I'm writing, walking around looking for interesting things to photograph, drawing silly comics and keeping a detailed record of my thoughts both online and on paper, because most people don't consider those pursuits as valuable as scientific research. Anyway, most of the people who ask aren't a big part of my life anyway.
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[User Picture]From: seismic
2005-04-05 14:10 (UTC)
If you make plans to come back to the states in any kind of permanent fashion, do let me know and I'll start looking into relocation. One of us each in any general locale should be enough to keep the world on its toes. Any more than that and I think we risk Armageddon.

Translation: I know what you're talking about. At least similar enough to give bystanders the heebie-jeebies. *nodnod*
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-05 14:53 (UTC)
Don't worry, it'll be a couple of years. I think we're safely at letter-writing distance for a while. :-D
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[User Picture]From: minirth
2005-04-05 14:50 (UTC)
And that is a good answer.

I understand the guilt. I was unemployed (through no fault of my own) for 4 months, and I had to fight against guilt quite a bit, because even though the financial situation was godawful, I enjoyed being at home. I needed a break, I needed time without external demands.

I'm glad you get to sit in a park on a nice day! Enjoy this time in your life, enjoy it to the hilt!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-06 08:15 (UTC)
And you got to spend time with your cats. I'm jealous. I miss our cats so much, and we can't even adopt any British kitties because our flat is no-pets-allowed.

I'm doing my best to enjoy myself! Thank you for the encouragement.
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[User Picture]From: scanner_darkly
2005-04-05 14:56 (UTC)
After years of mind-numbing work in computers, I took some time off - tried to get back into writing, tried to do a lot of things. I did it until the money ran out, then I got a terrible job and moved up back into the mind-numbing computer work that I was doing before.

I'm okay with that right now. But I'm really fucking glad I took the time off...just to recenter in some ways. Just to try to finish off Anhendonia. Just to take long walks. It was necessary in ways I didn't know.

And yeah, I felt guilty as hell the entire time. But it was worth it.

The truth is - and this is one of those so-obvious-and-right-in-front-of-you that-some-people-like-me-don't-often-see-it
is that we have, in the long run, an absurdly short run of this life, and sometimes it can end at a moment's notice. There is some tiny part inside you that knows what is most fulfilling to you, and can balance that realistically. Sometimes you think it knows what's right but it only has a hunch. Sometimes you think it knows what is right for you and it does know.

Usually it needs to get the lay of the land and you need to stab around in a lot of different directions. You've already taken the Ph.D. direction. What next?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-06 08:32 (UTC)
The tiny voice has been suggesting that I combine the science experience with the writing desire and attempt to get a job in science publishing or grant work. I think it may have a good point.
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[User Picture]From: tharine
2005-04-05 15:06 (UTC)
*emails you*
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[User Picture]From: opheliablue
2005-04-06 13:55 (UTC)
^^ ditto - x 2 (oops, x3!)

(But then, of course, nanila, I'm not working at the moment either as you know so I don't really have anything else to do apart from post comments on LJ and write emails. I was lucky enough to have a breakdown so that I had to leave work. Fabulous! That way I get all this time off but it wasn't by choice at the start so I don't need to feel guilty about it :P /sarcasm)
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[User Picture]From: enterlinemedia
2005-04-05 15:48 (UTC)
You could always turn your life into a work of fiction and write a novel.

But it is always important to do what you want to do.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-06 08:29 (UTC)
I think you've suggested that before. Watch out or I might just take you up on the idea!

Thanks for the supportive comment.
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[User Picture]From: victorine
2005-04-05 17:27 (UTC)
I second that emotion!

When we moved to Nola and Brian quit mp3.com, people kept asking, when is he going to get another job? I said, probably never. Why would he willingly and knowingly go back to doing something that was killing him and stealing his soul? That would just be stupid.

For people who ask what you're up to, I like to quote my friend Lorna, "I'm going to take my high wire act and join the circus." Must be said with a completely straight face. If you try this one out, you must let me know how it goes over!

On a completely divergent note, there is a show on MTV2 called "Wonder Showzen" and it is riot. It's like a kids show with puppets and skits and cartoons thrown in but it's completely fucked up. It airs on Fridays at 10 pm. An example of the hilarity: 8 year old girl in tan trench with microphone on Wall Street asking people who they exploited today, and if they want to go fight the power with her later, handing them a handkerchief so they can wipe off the blood on their hands. Then a cartoon: the history of geo politics in 30 seconds. The US becomes a snarling animal, gets up and pisses on Mexico, bites the shit out of South America, goes over and fucks Saudi Arabia and pops out 3 Mexico babies onto Russia.

See, I bet you don't watch nearly as much tv as I do. I'd say the guilt will subside soon. One of the things I've learned to do is not compare the worth of my life to the perceived worth of others. We're all here to do what we're all here to do. Shit I just quoted the gd matrix didn't I.
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[User Picture]From: comfortslut
2005-04-05 16:05 (UTC)
Life is simply too short to spend it doing something that makes you sick. Period.

What you're experiencing is akin to survivor's guilt. You are truly alive right now. Many others are not. It is not your fault that others are not. It is you who made being alive possible for yourself. That does not require an apology.

As far as wanting to be an adept and honest chronicler, the only thing I can suggest is that you eventually aim to move beyond the boundaries of your own life, else the whole exercise becomes nothing more than narcissism.
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[User Picture]From: beeblebabe
2005-04-05 16:24 (UTC)
Most that I can say is that I while I find the things you've done in your past both impressive and admirable, I admire you even more for what you've done with your life in more recent months. I envy you for having the balls to do all of it, and those who are snide are, well, likely just as envious. Don't stop now; you rock.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-06 09:38 (UTC)
Ah, but if only I could do it with sword-chucks. That would be the best.

(P.S. My icon loves your icon. Gay icon love!)
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From: ripperlyn
2005-04-05 16:48 (UTC)
I think there's a big difference between 'what do you want to do next' and 'when will you start working again.' The former, IMO, implies that the person is interested in what you're doing and how you're finding happiness/fulfillment, and whether or not you are. The latter implies they think you're a lazy bum, and they should be smacked.

I don't think photography and writing is in any way a bad use of your time. xx
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-06 08:42 (UTC)
Yeah, that's true, and I was also speaking of people I don't know very well asking those questions, not friends. I assume that friends are asking as part of finding out how I'm doing.

Also, I said it already, but I'll say it again. You == best. ♥
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-06 09:34 (UTC)
Very few people are going to lament not billing another hour before they die.

Ha! That's a great way of phrasing your standards for spending your time.

I think I feel guilty partly because feeling guilty is an inherent attribute of being a middle-class child of working-class ancestry. I know how hard my parents worked to save up what they have, and I know how hard they tried to provide me with every possible opportunity. I know that I did a lot of work myself as well - I worked nearly full-time hours in college at two part-time jobs to pay the rent - but I also know I couldn't have gotten through some rough patches without their emotional and occasionally, financial, help. I guess feeling guilty for accepting help at any time is part of wanting to be a strong and independent person and not wanting to be a burden on anyone. It's something I struggle with constantly and probably always will. I just hope the struggle will become easier with time.
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[User Picture]From: greyface
2005-04-05 19:21 (UTC)
My lovely mother tried to inflict almost exactly this guilt on me. Only, in my case it was asking why I was wasting time being a programmer, when I should be in science. She did not make it any better by insisting that I was smarter than my brothers (the implication being roughly, that I was doing less with more (one has a veterinary doctorate, and the other has a Ph.D & two masters (lookit'at I guess I still feel guilty about stopping my education so soon, or I wouldn't have bothered to explain their successes))). This was in a bid to encourage me to apply to grad-schools a third time, when my admissability had not changed noticeably from either of the previous applications, and my recommendability had decreased (as professors' memories of me become more distant).

It was long enough ago that I'm emotionally detached from the incident... but it sure didn't make me happy at the time.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-06 09:26 (UTC)
Good grief. It's frustrating enough to hear about people weighting academic achievement so heavily in their assessment of other people and everything else so lightly, let alone hearing about parents trying to impress those standards onto their children. I'm glad you eventually escaped from the pressure, but I think it's awful that you had to go through the grad school application process twice before turning completely away from the academic path.
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From: enzeru
2005-04-05 20:26 (UTC)
Every family member on Aaron's or my side has asked him what I'm doing, ever since I quit Ardenwood two months ago. He continues to tell his own parents that I'm "still looking", even though I've officially declared this month a sabbatical, until I know how my new meds affect me, and until I figure out which of my scattered interests I should pursue the farthest. Really, I want to tell them that it's not a matter for discussion, or at most try to explain my years of struggling with depression, but I'm hung up on staying in their good graces, and they don't even understand their son's own struggles, so we keep their queries at bay with the facile lie.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-06 09:12 (UTC)
Yikes. I imagine it's even more difficult when family members apply pressure as well. I've been fortunate in that my parents have been supportive and Marco's family has yet to say anything to me about it all.

If it helps, I think it's great that you also have the time to figure out what you want to do. It's very brave of you to have used the time to . In my experience, it's incredibly difficult for smart people to realize or accept that they need help in any facet of their lives, so I think it's fabulous that you're doing that. And I think the facile lie is a perfectly acceptable substitute for a real, heart-felt answer with people who don't understand that.
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