Monday, March 25, 2013

Sunday drabble



Sunday afternoon, a tired Legume snuggling in bed beside me.

Legume: Tell me a story.

Me: Uh, okay. (thinks a moment) Once upon a time there was a land where it was always day; the sun always hung in the sky. The birds in that land had feathers of fire.  The people wore bright clothes and were merry and ate hot, spicy food.
       But across the mountains, unknown to the people of the Valley of the Sun, there was another land. And in that land it was always night. But the night wasn’t scary, for a full, bright moon always hung in the sky. And the people of that land wore night and moon-colored clothes: clothes of white and silver and black and deep blue. And they were a cool and quiet people. They—

Legume: And they have a war.
Me: A war? You mean, you want the two peoples to have a war?

Legume: The  moon-people and the sun-people have a war because the moon-people think their moon is the best and the sun-people think their sun is the best.

Me: Okaaaay. . . (Pause).  So the two countries went to war. But a boy from the Valley of the Moon fell in love with a girl from the Valley of the Sun. And they ran off together, away from the fighting and their families, and they found a new country, a country with both day and night, where both sun and moon shared the sky.  And they had babies and founded a new people and lived happily ever after.
      There. Do you think that’s a good story?

Legume: Yeah, that’s a good story.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Freaking awesome quote on writing


This is one of the best quotes on writing I have ever seen.

It was posted on ProfessorFangirl's tumblr, and the subject is scholarly writing in the humanities. . . but it applies to any kind of writing. At least, any writing that we actually want others to read.

The whole post is here, but these are my favorite bits:

5. You are a writer. Think of yourself as a writer and not God. When you get caught up in trying to know (and say) everything, you’re confusing your role with that of Athena or the omniscient god of bloodless abstract theology or the Oversoul or the ubermench or whatever.

6. Send your imagined critics to the Bahamas. When you imagine and try to anticipate every possible objection to your thought, it stifles your creativity and clouds your thinking. Let that critical review come later. Put your critics on a plane and start serving cocktails immediately; you can write while they’re drunk, distracted, and intriguing to sleep with each other.

7. Keep moving. Remember Goldberg. Do free writings so you can get used to writing that you’re not invested in. Every word doesn’t have to count. Get comfortable with words that don’t.

8. Who are you when you write? A scholarly fortress? An impregnable pedant? Who do you want to be? Alive. I want to be alive, and to be alive is to be transitory. This knowledge that I build, this stuff that I produce, it’s transitory. No eternal temple, merely me and you, my reader, locked in a momentary dance step that will pass and move on. Other readers, other dance steps. No permanence or security here. That’s what living prose is.

Think of your writing as dancing, and keep moving those feet. There is no perfect step. There is no set of moves that everyone will adore. You have only your body; if you’re going to dance, it’s the one you must use. You have only your own mind and your own language; if you’re going to think and to write, use them.

Delight in that body. Delight in your mind. The desire for eternal words, eternal certainty, eternal life—it’s a death wish.

—Warren Hedges


I don't know who this Warren Hedges is that Professor Fangirl is quoting, but he is now one of my heroes. And Professor Fangirl? In a follow-up post, she quotes the Litany Against Fear from the classic sci-fi novel, Dune. I am totally fangirling over her now.

Friday, March 8, 2013

On leaving scientific research again. . . this time for good.


I think I’m over the bitterness now. Mostly.
At the end of May, my fellowship funding runs out. I entered this lab on a three-year postdoctoral training grant supplement funded by the NIH to promote re-entry into biomedical research careers.  After a few years off the bench--time spent in scientific writing/editing and in caring for the bean children--I was  eager-beaver as a na├»ve undergrad to do science again.

Three years flies by fast.
Three years is not (usually) enough time to build a real body of published research achievement. Not these days.

A lot can change in three years. A lot can change in 6 months.
For the first two years, I was thrilled to be back in the lab. My project was cooking. Walking in every day was an adventure. I loved my co-workers.

I still love my co-workers. I hate my project.
I expect to write up a small manuscript before I finally leave. . . but my project has gone downhill in ways that don’t bear going into right now. And once my fellowship runs out, there is no place for me in this lab. I always knew my PI would not be able to offer me a permanent staff position; he has too many permanent employees as is that he has committed to. I did think he’d be able to support me for at least another year on his current R01 grant. . . but I was mistaken. So I’m out the door a year sooner than I thought.

And I’m done. I’m not doing science anymore.
I’m not putting up with the extreme career instability, the pressure and crazy hours and pay that would be considered insulting in the business world. I’m not walking out of the house on a bright Saturday morning, saying goodbye to my little fresh-faced bean-girls to spend a full day in a dark basement doing confocal microscopy or sitting at a computer laboriously quantitating image slides.

I’m not looking for another research job which would probably also be cut in a few years time.
It’s time to be realistic.  I’m more than a decade past my Ph.D. receipt. The academic research game is for the young: it’s an “up or out” career structure.  I didn’t make it in the allotted time. I’m old and expensive. I’m out.

So the question is. . . now what? What do I do in a small Midwestern city with limited career options?
I’m going to be looking to get back into freelance scientific writing and editing. . . and into writing some fiction as well.

I’m looking to spend weekends with my family again. Cooking decent meals for dinner. Cleaning the house.
Not being too tired to talk to my children or spend time with the husband.

Other than that. . . well, I hope to figure it out.