Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Early Christmas Memories

My early Christmas memories are of sunshine. Hoping it would be cool enough to wear a sweater. Wondering how Santa would arrive when we didn't have a fireplace. Going to the beach after Christmas.
As you might guess, I grew up in Miami, FL. I never saw snow until I was 16 and we went to WV for Christmas one year. My grandmother lived near us, and every year she would take my sister and me downtown in Miami on the bus to do shopping. We had $20 each, to get 4 presents, and this was in the '50s so that went pretty far. I remember I always wanted to sit on the back seat in the bus--the big wide seat, so that I could watch everyone getting on and off. My Nana said, that was for black folks, we had to sit up front. Not only did we do shopping, but we ate lunch in a real diner, where they said all the funny stuff "shingles" for toast, "pine tree float" for a glass of water, when you ordered. Looking back, I see that it was probably the cheapest place to eat, and Nana was on a fixed income, but we thought it was a blast. All the stores were decorated up (this was before malls, remember) and had Santa on a red throne for the kids to sit on his lap. Somewhere I have a picture of me and my sister sitting on the lap of the most bedraggled Santa I have ever seen, I must have been 4 or so, wearing a smile that split my whole face. My sister looked like she'd eaten prunes. The crowds were everywhere, and we laughed at the people with the funny New York accents, snowbirds we called them, Calling it My YAM ee instead of my am uh like we did. I remember it was so hard to keep the presents a secret for all the time until Christmas, when what you wanted to do was show everyone right off what you had gotten for them. That hasn't changed. We always had a huge dinner after the presents, one year ot our house and one year at my Aunt and uncle's house. I liked it best at their house, because they decorated it up so nice, and had nuts and mints and candies to nibble on while you waited for dinner to be done. We kids did stuff like peel potatoes, carrots, celery, and set the table, put ice in the glasses, stuff like that. My uncle always had Canadian Club in coke, and he would offer us kids a sip. Yuck!! what a waste of good coke. It all seemed like it would last forever, each holiday a minor variation on the one before, but of course it all changed forever when I got married at 19 and moved away. Years later, here in WV, we had big holiday dinners, my folks, my sister, all the aunts and uncles, extra people with no family, sometimes 16 or more. That seemed like it would go on forever too, but people died, couldn't manage the trip, or the stairs, or the cold, and now it is just the four of us, hubby and me and the kids. The time will come when the kids won't be home either, but for now, I'll concentrate on how great it is to have the four of us, and call whomever is still alive and kickin' and wish them a merry ho ho ho. Some things never change.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

An unexpected phone call

I talked to my mom last night.

That wouldn't be worth noting except that she's been dead nearly five years.

I guess I was dreaming. She called me on the phone, gently chiding me that I hadn't called her recently. We talked about the kids, and my job. I told her I was going to get a puppy for Christmas, a new Newfy puppy (?) She sounded just like she always had.

Even in my sleep I had that lump-in-the-throat feeling.

It's a good thing I have on waterproof mascara, and this is the reason one shouldn't blog while at work.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Shrink wrapped

Going to psychotherapy is an interesting experience, on which I have several years' worth of ruminations. At first, it's quite pleasant, there you are, going on about your childhood, your life now, all the minutiae of your life that no one else but you cares a whit about, and they sit there and actually LISTEN, prompt you for more detail, maybe even take notes. It's flattering in a way. You tell your story interspersed with wry comments and little quips, and you are quite the entertainer. But if you keep going, sooner or later you run out of anecdotes and jokes, and before you know it, you are talking about things that make you hurt, make you cry. Your therapist probes more deeply into the whys and gently but firmly steers the talk to how you feel, what you think about all this, goes over how you dealt with it then, what you might do differently, how you can cope with it now. It's painful, to have an utter stranger know these things about you, things you haven't even admitted to yourself. You find yourself looking at your childhood, for example, in the cold clear light of adult understanding, and find that you know things you didn't know you knew. Some of them are unpleasant, and some are devastating. Some make you feel lower than a rock, and you finish your session feeling wrung out and hung up to dry. It takes all your resolve to keep going back, week after week, that and the memory of the awful space you were in that drove you to seek therapy in the first place. If you stick to it, you will eventually feel better, lighter somehow, more sure of what the past really held and how you'll deal with the future. You'll know the kind of person you really are down deep, a survivor of neglect, maybe, or of indifference, even cruelty, and having survived, become stronger. Maybe you will learn not to sweat the small stuff. Maybe you will learn that small stuff leads to big stuff if you ignore it too long, and how to nip problems in the bud. One thing for certain, you will have a profound respect for the mental health professionals who do this work day in and day out, often for only modest compensation and the knowledge that they are doing good for some otherwise messed up people.
I have two therapists who have seen me through hell and high water these last few years, and they are a tribute to their profession. I literally couldn't have made it without them, even when things were the bleakest and I was in the hospital, I will always be grateful that they stuck with me and with my family, sure that in the end I would be OK. And you know what? They were right. Knock on wood.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Experiencing technical difficulties....

I've been a technician in a biomedical laboratory for the last 30 years, only just recently moving to an office/admin type of position. Being a technician is an odd sort of profession, one where the vast majority of people don't have a clear idea of what you do. It's not like a nurse, which is probably its closest relative, because the "doctor" in charge is usually, but not always, a Ph.D. rather than an M.D., and people do have enough contact with nurses to understand what they do. Mostly, in biomedical labs, you are being paid on a grant, often from the NIH or NSF, but also perhaps from a drug company or other biomedical company. You will probably work at a university, occasionally directly at the pharmaceutical firm, and less often at a private R & D firm, and most rarely in federal labs like OSHA or a VA research hospital. Because you are paid on a grant, the funding for your job is often subject to the variabilities of the federal grant system, that is, you are often hired for the course of a three year grant, which must then be competitively renewed before you can continue working. Thus, while your work may be excellent, reproducable, cutting-edge, your continued employment is dependent on the "fundability" of the investigator who heads up the lab, and this depends on many factors-- the reputation of the university, the political climate of federal funding, the relevance to a specific problem (like cancer, heart disease, etc.), and lastly the reputation of the investigator, his 'track' record with funding, publications, associations, and awards. So even if your work answers exactly the question in the grant proposal, if the question is poorly written, irrelevant, or contradictory to accepted knowledge, the grant may not be renewed, and thus you are Fzzzt gone. Many labs have only one or two techs, and thus experimental days may run very long, or entail coming back late at night and on weekends to start/stop something, or to do the next step in a list of lengthy steps. What the technician gets out of this is a paycheck. Rarely do professional accolades follow a technician, even in Nobel laureate caliber labs. When you start a new job, you essentially start over, learning their variation on tasks you have done before, or learning entirely new skills; with luck, you may continue in the same university or company, in which case your 'network' of contacts and experts will be helpful. Otherwise, you'll start over there, too. You will always be considered a second class employee, because you do not have a Ph.D. (a Master's degree is no help at all over a BS) You will see secretaries get flowers, candy, taken out to lunch, and thanked fulsomely for typing a manuscript; you will receive none or few of these perks for doing the work that produced the manuscript. You will get bitten (by lab animals), risk your health (with toxic, carcinogenic and radioactive chemicals), and waste your social life (because you are expected to put in whatever hours are necessary to finish the experiment), all for the pleasure of knowing you have contributed to the advancement of human knowledge -- even if you don't understand exactly how. Your name will only be found in the "acknowlegements" section of a journal article, after "with the technical assistance of", usually just before the name of the secretary.

I never questioned why, when I first started out in this field, there were so few middleaged or older lab techs. The personnel profile of most techs is, the wife of a student in medical (law, etc.)school, working until his career is established and then retiring to have babies and do family life. I never thought that one day I would be one of those 'middleaged' techs that everyone goes to with questions about equipment, procedures, etc. I never realized, until the last few years, that I would gradually be older than the principal investigators, who prefer young eager technicians over one the age of their mother. I never guessed that the whole thing, interviewing, starting over every three or four years, working long hours, would gradually become unbearable. I never anticipated the number of foreign-born researchers coming to the U.S., ones with a fairly medieval view of working women.

I am so, SO glad that I don't have to do technician jobs any longer.

Friday, December 03, 2004

My Home page

It isn't much to look at. I haven't done anything with it since I put it together after taking a Mickey Mouse class in web design, but I wanted to put the address where I can find it. Maybe I'll get some photos on it soon.

OK, here goes the web counter attempt

If all goes well, this should show the web counter from www.digits.com and here's a tip o the hat to you, mate.

You are visitor numberto this blog since Dec 3, 2004

Logo appears courtesy of Posted by Hello

The above white box will take you to www.digits.com but the thumbnail itself doesn't. I don't know why, or how to fix it! So there!

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Even in Morgue Town

Well, much to my amazement blogger lists 40 people in this small town with blogs. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, it is a university town and there are lots of students for most of the year, and lots of techno-savvy ones too. I still haven't figured out how to put a counter on the site so I can feel good about the nearly ten people likely to visit. If you can tell me, short and simple, please do (and that will make you no. 1 !).

I can't believe it is December already. Time flies when you are having fun. Still, it makes me want to dash madly about buying gifts, and then the realization hits that there are so many fewer people to buy them for. Morbid, I know, to always pick at what you don't have while ignoring what you do. I'm trying to change. Meanwhile I shall revel in the knowledge that come Christmas eve there will also be many fewer gifts to wrap, a job I have always hated. I mean, it preserves the suspense, but doesn't it seem kinda foolish to buy reams of brightly colored paper and ribbons that will end up in a landfill somewhere, all their shiny crispyness faded and tattered? I strikes me the same way when I look at quilts, all those big whole pieces of fabric, cut up into these teeny tiny pieces and then laboriously sewn back together again to make a big whole piece of fabric. As Mr. Spock would say "This is not logical". Originally, of course, quilts were made of leftover scraps of cloth from garment-making, and it was frugal to use them to make something that kept you warm and looked nice too. But now there are companies whose sole product for sale is fabric squares (fat quarters, they're called) in a million and one designs, color coordinated and ready to be cut and stitched. I know because I have bought fabric from them. I only made one quilt, that was enough for me to know that my star did not shine in the precision sewing firmament. I was heartily sick of the damn thing by the time I finished, the only reason I ever got it done was an extended period of unemployment where I worked on the quilt 40 hours a week, 8 hours a day, until it was done. Start to finish, it took me 3 years to complete (only 6 months unemployed, tho) and of course is far too precious to actually USE. See Mr. Spock, above.

We had a gigantic wind storm here night before last, toppling trees and severing power lines across the state. I feared for the barn roof, but all was intact come daylight, although the horses were in a swivet, panic-y and quivering. Not much to do about it but wait for calmer weather. They would have been safer if left outside, rather than in their stalls, if I thought they would use the sense god gave baby ducks and stay put. But I know they'd RACE up and down, risking running through fences and twisting limbs to get away from the big windy beasts out there. Horses, not your brightest animal in the world. They certainly are a testament to the value of domestication, they would surely be extinct by now without it. So would cattle and sheep, come to think of it, must be why domestication worked in the first place, the animals were so dumb they didn't realize what they were letting themselves in for. (Damn, there's a preposition again. Why do they always fit in at the end?) Anyway, with the power outages that came and went, we realized several important things. One, the UPS on the computer is an unmitigated nuisance at night, the whole while it's powering your computer up on batteries it's beeping. Look at me! Look at me! Easier to just shut the computer off, period. Two, the flashlites have swell battery life these days of alkaline long-life, BUT they still refuse to be found in the dark. Don't you think flashlights should be made glow-in-the-dark, so you can find them? But no, all the glow-in-the-dark stuff is used for stickers and cereal and party necklaces. I freely give this idea up for someone to develop. Three, radio stations in little towns suck at telling you what is going on locally when there is a problem, they use a generic 'stay in if you don't have to be out' and think they've performed some mighty public service. How do we KNOW if we don't have to be out if no one is reporting the situation? Oh heck, spin another record, we didn't have a battery powered radio anyway.

The cats are complaining nonstop now that the weather is getting colder. Cats are the only creature in the world, I'm sure, who will lie in the sun on days when it's hot enough to blister paint, and who huddle up one inch away from a blazing fireplace when the room is already hot enough to toast marchmallows. Thermal recharge we call it. Not to be confused with solar recharges, when they bask in the sunlight, getting up from a perfectly good nap to move 6 inches to the left and thus follow the sun as it shines through the window. THAT's why cats' eyes shine in the dark, from their solar charge! Didn't know that, did you?

See, I knew I'd find stuff to write about once I started, the real trick is going to be shutting me up.