That’s just how my voice sounds

I’ve been quiet lately for a reason.  I’ve tried to write, and I started some things, but I’ve been extra irritated with the way my voice sounds.  When I write, I can just hear the annoying shrill sound, and I sound so self-important.  Like, I read back what I say, and it rings in my ears as “SO LIKE YEAH UM YOU JUST DO THIS AND THEN THIS HAPPENS.”  I sound like I think I’m imparting wisdom but it’s really just common sense shit that is so surface level that you just go, “well, fucking duh.”  Or, I write like I’m unveiling some deep unique experience that’s actually so basic and ubiquitous and not an issue that it’s like why am I even (a) wasting time writing about it and (b) throwing it out into the world to waste other people’s time reading and diluting the real, important, meaningful content out there.

It’s like when you’re on the phone with someone and everything’s going great, and then all of a sudden the connection gets a little wonky, and there ends up being a delay between when you say something and the noise comes through their phone, and so you hear your own voice on the other line like a second after you say it and you realize that god-awful sound is your voice.  You sound like that, and that poor other person has to listen to that high-pitched mickey mouse sound.  That’s how my writing is.  I’m hearing myself as I’m writing it, and it’s so cringy I just don’t want to do it anymore.

So that’s why I’ve been quiet.  I’ve still been writing, but it’s been in the shadows (actually the literal shadows because I’ve been writing in my bedroom late at night with all the lights turned off) with no intention of letting any of it see the world.  I’m not sure if the problem I’m having is psychological or if I should take some classes on writing effectively.  I never really learned how to write personal/creative essays.  I could use my science voice that I use for writing papers and grant proposals and such, but that would bore all of us to tears, and it lacks that personal touch.

Anyway, I just wanted to throw this out there.  We all hate our own writing, but we somehow still get over that and continue to produce content.  So, that’s what I’ll be working on.  Overall, the purpose of this discussion is to effectively convey the aforementioned concerns regarding depth of content.  The author expects to see improvements in overall nature of this content over the course of time, with the assistance of resources including (but, of course, not limited to) online articles, local classes in the community, published literature in the field, and, hopefully, feedback from the audience.  Any comments, suggestions, or other responses, including simple statements of solidarity, may be directed to the comments section or directly to the author via the contact tab at the top of this page.  (That’s my science writing voice.)

Kind regards,

Iris.

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Night dreads

You’re in a nice, deep sleep, dreaming and everything, then you abruptly wake up.  Maybe there was a sound or some disturbance, maybe something going on in your dream, or maybe it was just a random occurrence.  In any case, it’s quiet and dark now, but you have that panic.  There’s a tight feeling in your chest, your stomach is unsettled, and it’s hard to breath.  You keep checking to see if you left your necklace on or wrapped the bedsheets around your neck because it feels like your being strangled.  Something awful is about to happen.  You have no idea what is going to happen, so you can’t even begin to figure out a solution to it.  You lay there, wide awake, crippled with terror, not even bothering to try to go to sleep because you know it’ll be useful.  You can’t read a book or scroll your phone because you can’t concentrate on anything except this overwhelming dread.

I had experienced these consistently last summer.  They were so consistent I could set my clock to them.  Wake up at exactly three o’clock every single night, be seized with an inexplicable terror, and lie awake struggling to breathe until sometime after 5am.

I talked to my therapist, Jenna, about it while I was still seeing her over the summer, and she gave me some mindfulness strategies to get over them, but I would work through every single strategy she gave me, exhaust the list of resources from the links she sent me, and nothing would help.  I would be able to think about anything but the dread, which was frustrating because I didn’t know what I was so afraid of, so I couldn’t even try to rationalize it in my mind.

Eventually, they subsided on their own and became much less frequent, happening only maybe once every other week.  Although I usually have a problem with anxiety as I’m falling asleep, I was able to sleep through the night most of the time.

But they’re coming back now.  The last three nights in a row, I’ve had these night dreads, again lasting from 3am til around 5am.  I don’t know what’s causing it, whether it’s a biological response (poor diet or a screwed up internal clock), an external factor (maybe a noisy truck drives by my street every day night at 3am?), or an internal one (the things I worry about during the day are manifesting at night, maybe0.  I scrolled through the posts I’ve written over the summer to try to get an idea of what was going on, and it’s clear that I was in a deeply disturbed emotional state the entire summer.  I am very stressed out right now, I can’t stop grinding my teeth and I feel a pretty much constant sickness in my stomach.

I’m trying to exercise a lot and eat unprocessed foods to try to deal with any biological problems, but it’s not really making a difference.  I just feel so unsettled, and on top of that, I feel like my mind is in a fog because I’m not sleeping at night.  My usual go-to theory is that there is a parasite living inside of me, and that very well may be the case.  My body is a walking disaster, so it already has most of the symptoms of a parasite.

So anyway, that’s what’s been on my mind lately.  I’m hoping I can get this worked out soon so that I can stop dreading sleep, which is the one thing I have to look forward to these days.

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Great Expectations

I wrote last week about some struggles I was having with someone I’m dating.  I’m still struggling with that, and I’m trying to communicate with her about how I’m feeling, but it’s hard because I’m craving so much more from her than what she’s giving me, but she says she likes when I take the lead.  It’s difficult to know when I’m overstepping boundaries and turning into an obsessive girlfriend.  A significant issue here is just the unknowing.  I don’t know how she’s feeling, and she doesn’t know what I’m needing from her.  It would be so much easier if we could handle this like we handle things in grad school—writing lists of expectations.  That’s why I decided to write out the expectations I have for someone I’m in a relationship with.  I obviously can’t share it with people I’m dating, but at least it helps me articulate to myself what I need.

  1. You will be supportive of me and always have my back.
  2. I can talk to you about anything, and you will listen without judgement. If we disagree, it’s okay, but we’ll have a respectful discussion about it.
  3. We will see each other at least once a week.
  4. We will be exclusive.
  5. We will text at least every other day.
  6. You will text me first roughly half the time.
  7. You will act (and preferably be) excited every time I ask you out.
  8. You will put in reasonable effort to see me (e.g. drive across town)
  9. You will tell me about things going on in your life.
  10. You will tell me how you’re feeling.
  11. If I feel neglected and try to break it off, you will try to change my mind.
  12. If I pull away, you will check in with me.
  13. If you lose interest in me, you will tell me (but preferably in a nice way).
  14. If I’m too overbearing or trying to move faster than you’re comfortable with, you will tell me.
  15. You will make me feel special.
  16. You will introduce me to friends and acquaintances if we run into them while we’re together.
  17. You will occasionally invite me to gatherings with your friends.
  18. The first time you see me naked, you will tell me I’m beautiful.
  19. When we have sex, you will communicate what you like and don’t like.
  20. You will always offer to drive me home after our dates unless you’ve been drinking (because I don’t have a car).
  21. You will listen to me when I talk about how I’m feeling, even if it’s irrational.
  22. You will not check your phone while we’re together unless it’s a special circumstance or we’ve been together for more than a few hours.
  23. You will decide where and when we eat.
  24. You will let me decide what movie we watch.
  25. You will not try to kiss me in public.

I stopped at 25 because it seemed like a nice number, and I could continue all night with more of them, but they’d just end up getting way too detailed with hypothetical scenarios.  Do they sound reasonable?  What are some expectations you have for a relationship?  How do you articulate them to your romantic partner?

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Another short trip

This time, the conference was in Michigan, and it was chemistry-focused instead of biology-focused.  I also wasn’t alone for this one.  My roommate and a scientist in her lab came with me.  I decided to write a little bit about this experience because I tend to travel different when I’m with other people.

I woke up at 5:30am on Wednesday to pack, get a shower, and have coffee.  I also had time to sneak in a power nap before Mitch picked us up at 8.  It was another short conference, but I was taking my usual carry-on, so I ended up way over-packing.  For a 1.5-day conference, I brought 5 shirts, 4 pairs of pants, and a dress.  Whenever I have the space for it, I like to pack extra clothing in case there’s a wardrobe malfunction or the original outfit isn’t comfortable when I put it on.  I coincidentally did end up having a wardrobe malfunction on day 2 when I found a hole in the crotch of my dress pants.  I don’t think it was noticeable, though, so I kept wearing them because they were comfy.

The drive down wasn’t too bad.  I didn’t know Mitch very well, so it was nice getting acquainted with him.  It was really awkward, though, because he has such a deep voice that it was difficult to hear from where I was sitting in the backseat.  The trip went pretty fast, though, and to help pass the time, Linds and I took turns reading horror stories out loud from a Daphne du Maurier collection.  We stopped halfway through the trip for lunch at a Mediterranean place, which was nice because it was fast, but not heavy and greasy like typical fast food.

When we arrived at the hotel, Linds and I sprawled out on our beds watching TLC for a few hours, which was nice for both a physical and mental break.  We went to a local brewery for dinner, which had okay food and fantastic beer.  We only stayed for 2 beers, and then we went back to the hotel.  Linds fell asleep and I watched Food Network (my favorite thing to do when I’m in a hotel).

The next morning, Linds and Mitch had to meet with a collaborator for training, so I hung out at a local Starbucks, getting some work down and acquainting myself with the undergrad scene.  I would have preferred to sleep in, but we were switching hotels, so I had to clear out of the room.  I met up with Mitch, Linds, and a big-name professor in my field for lunch, which was great because I have a huge professional crush on that professor.  It was a great networking opportunity, and we went to a fantastic Chinese restaurant where we shared 4 entrees, so it was great food as well.  Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and Linds power-napped while I watched more Food Network.

The conference started that evening with a social hour before the talks, which was probably the most awkward part of the conference.  I’m so socially awkward, and it was incredibly hard breaking out of my shell when Linds was there as a safety net.  The two of us mostly just parked at a table and let people come to us.  One of the people that stopped by was the most famous professor at the conference, which was a shock to me, so of course we both sounded like bumbling idiots.  It was an excruciating conversation that I’m hoping he doesn’t remember, but it was enough to give me a jolt back into my professional networking mindset.  We mingled a little bit with another professor and some grad students, and stood around awkwardly for a while, but then the talks started, so we could safely take a seat and just absorb.

The social hour had some light appetizers, but that was it, so Linds and I went out for pizza after the last talk, around 9:00pm.  It was a cute place that was kind of like a Subway for pizza, where you choose your own ingredients as you’re led down a line.   After that, we had planned to get drinks somewhere, but we both were crashing, so we just headed back to the hotel.  Here’s a nice picture of some snow from on the way back to our hotel.  It’s the only picture I took because I felt awkward taking pictures in front of groups of people.  I definitely didn’t want to tell anyone I was documenting this for my blog.

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Here’s also a nice blurry picture of Linds (as proof that I’m not just making these people up).

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The next morning, I woke up super early 6:30am, took a shower and got ready to go, then went back to sleep (wearing my dress clothes and all) while Linds got ready.  We went down for breakfast, which was seated, so not many networking opportunities, but that was for the best because I need coffee before I can exchange pleasantries with anyone.  The talks continued, and they were all fantastic, and it was nice being in such a casual setting.

There were a few breaks, and I dreaded every single one because it meant I had to get out of my comfort zone and force myself to talk to people.  This is difficult when you’re one of very few grad students surrounded by high-profile professors.  My strategy was to watch like a hawk for a professor to be alone, then run over to them and “casually bump into them” and say something like “I really enjoyed your talk,” or “it’s great seeing you again after we met at blah blah conference last year.”  It worked surprisingly well, and I ended up talking to a lot of different professors.  I even got offered a post-doc position, which is very exciting for job security.

I won’t bore you with the rest of the conference, but let’s just say that after talking nonstop to chemistry professors all day, I was burnt out, mentally exhausted, and feeling very self-conscious.  After the final poster session at 9:00pm, Linds and I went back to the room and spent the rest of the night talking about all the dumb stuff we said at the conference.  It was so nice having her there so that I didn’t feel like such a fucking idiot.  We vented about how little we knew, reassured each other that we were doing okay, patted ourselves on the back for being so good at networking, made fun of ourselves and each other for some of the dumb stuff we said and did.  I was laughing so hard my stomach hurt.  We ended up talking until 1am, then we both fell asleep.

We left the next morning at 8am, headed for home, with a quick stop at one of America’s finest breakfast establishments, IHOP.  On the way home, none of us felt like talking, so we listened to NPR’s This American Life.  When we finally got home, I took a nice 2-hour nap, then Linds and I ordered take-out and watched Burn After Reading and Fight Club.  Neither of us were able to stay awake though Fight Club, but it’s okay because I watch that movie at least every 2 months, so I didn’t miss anything.

And that, friends, is another example of how I travel for conferences.

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I fall deep

I’m the kind of person that, whenever I invest in a person, I completely invest in that person.  My emotions function like a switch—it’s either on or off, there’s no in between.  It makes dating hard because it’s a fucking roller coaster and I’m never satisfied.

I imagine most relationships work as a steady incline.  You meet, have no investment, and then it gradually grows over time, maybe eventually plateauing or just continuing on forever, I don’t know.  Mine works more like a sine wave, continuously oscillating between 0 and 100.

Right now, I’m at the top of the curve, where I’m craving the person I’m dating, Alex.  It takes every ounce of willpower to give her space and not pounce on her every time I see her.  It’s especially hard with her because she’s an executive chef at a new restaurant, so she works 16-hour days most of the week and never has a day off, so usually we only see each other for a few hours in the late evening when she’s super tired.  She’s the first person I ever dated who works more hours than I do, so it’s a difficult adjustment.  I’m used to the other person dropping everything to be with me every time I get lonely and giving me constant attention and affection.  I realize that I can’t expect that from any real person, and I just got lucky that so many were willing to give that to me.

It doesn’t help that I’ve been lacking motivation at work over the past few weeks, so I’ve spent a lot of mental energy over-analyzing our relationship.  Last week, we almost broke up and I told her it would be best for us to take a break until things slowed down at work for her.  As soon as she agreed to it, something shifted inside of me and I felt the overwhelming urge to never ever let her go no matter what.  I immediately made plans with her for the following night.  That night, told her that I was willing to make things work no matter what, and that I wanted to continue seeing her, however sparingly that would have to be.

All weekend, I couldn’t stop thinking about her, and I’ve been trying so hard to not smother her with texts.  I felt as though my body was physically aching for her, which honestly is so dramatic because we’ve only been dating for a little over a month.  But also, how can I not invest everything in a person that’s basically auditioning to be my life partner?  I don’t do casual, and there’s just no in-between.

I don’t want to move fast with a significant other.  I would prefer to move slow to let something meaningful develop, but at the same time, I want that end goal of a deep romantic relationship with someone that I don’t want to wait for it.  I try to act all chill and non-committed on the outside, but on the inside I’m planning our wedding and rehearsing how I’m going to introduce her to my grandma.  I’m thinking about what cities we can move to where we’ll both be able to find jobs and build a life together.  I’m providing emotional support 24/7, offering to bring her anything she needs, while also responding with “eh, no pressure, whatever works is fine,” anytime she tells me she wants to see me.  It’s exhausting how much I get consumed by the person I’m dating.  And I can never let them know because that’s admitting weakness.  That’s giving the power to them, and I will NEVER give up power.

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A Short Trip to San Diego

I love going to conferences, especially when I go alone.  Conferences are nice because all travel is paid for by my lab, so it’s kind of like a free vacation.  I present something, which is scary, but also exhilarating for a mild narcissist like me because I get to be the center of attention for like twenty minutes.  I also get to spend the whole day listening to cool science, which is kind of like watching educational TV because I get to just sit there passively and absorb.  I hate the poster sessions and social hours because that’s when you actually have to interact with people, but I’m usually able to leech onto someone and skate by or duck out without drawing too much attention.

Going alone is great, mostly because I can have a hotel room to myself, which is my favorite part of traveling.  Also, it means that I don’t feel obligated to stay out late.  I can head back to my hotel whenever I want and no one will notice.

I was excited to be in San Diego again, since I was there once earlier this year, and it was a lovely time.  I booked the earliest flight I could, since the conference was only for one day, and I wanted some time for fun.  (I also just generally prefer super early flights because I sleep very well on planes and it makes rebooking easier if a flight gets cancelled.)  I ended up having to leave my house Wednesday night, so I took a power nap when I got home from group meeting that evening, then quickly packed (I way overpacked, but that was just because I had the space, usually I travel pretty light.)  I left my house at 11:45 to catch a bus to downtown, where I got on a different bus heading to Chicago (because there’s only a tiny airport in my city and the prices are pretty high) to make it for a 6am flight.  I got into San Diego at 1:00 pm because I had a 3-hour layover at LAX, where I enjoyed a nice sit-down breakfast and enough coffee to wake me up from the long series of naps I had taken all morning.

When I arrived at my hotel, I relaxed for bit, got a shower, shaved my legs (which took an incredibly long time because the last time I shaved was back in June and the hair was looooong), practiced my presentation, and did some hefty researching on the area to find a nice place for dinner.  The main thing I was concerned about was having a view of the beach, and the second was the presence of some sort of seafood on the menu, preferably fish tacos.  I was torn between a cute café locating on a pier, which guaranteed fantastic ocean views, and a sports bar located right on the beach that had an impressive menu.  I decided to go to pier for a margarita and appetizer, and then the sports bar for fish tacos and maybe a beer.

When I got to the pier, it was a gorgeous view, and it was nice just walking along it.  However, when I got to the actual café, it looked kind of sad.  There was one person sitting there playing on their phone, and it was dark and dingy looking.  I decided to skip out on the pier and head straight to the sports bar, called Wonderland.

When I got there, I was fortunate enough to be able to grab a seat right at the window looking at the beach, which was such a perfect view.  I was also able to get that margarita I wanted.  It was nothing special, but in my opinion, margaritas are best when kept simple.

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On the menu, they had a variety of tacos listed for $7, so I figured it was a mix-and-match kind of deal.  I ordered one fish and one lobster taco.  I almost ordered a side of fries as well because I was pretty hungry (travel always makes me hungry even though I never fail to eat obscene amounts of food).  I’m glad I didn’t, though, because it ended up getting a tad awkward.  The food-runner came over, hesitated, and then said, “Are you the one waiting on two tacos?”

“Yeah!  That was fast!” I said.

Turns out each taco is a full meal because they are gigantic and served with a side of chips.  So I had two plates of food in front of me.  Whoops.  But no regrets because they were both fucking delicious.  And, like I said, I was super hungry, so one probably wouldn’t have been enough anyway.  It felt a little weird eating off of two plates in a crowded bar, but I quickly got over that because both tacos were unbelievably good.  The lobster one had breaded lobster, cabbage, and some pickled vegetables that gave a nice acidity to the dish.  The fish one had grilled halibut covered in a light herb sauce on a bed of pico de gallo.  The subtle flavors of it were nice because they didn’t mask the fish flavor.  While they were both fantastic in their own way, I liked the lobster one a wee bit more, so I saved a few bites of that for the end after finishing the fish one.  Unfortunately, there was a bit of a miscommunication with the waiter.  He came over and asked if he could take my plate.  I thought he meant just the empty one, so I said yes.  I swear I almost cried as I watched him take the lobster one too, with at least 3 solid bites of delicious lobster left on it.  It happened to fast for me to scream “NO NO NO BRING IT BACK,” and I’m still upset about it today, four days later.

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Anyway, the night was still enjoyable because I was there at the exact right time to watch the gorgeous sunset over the Pacific Ocean.  The bar was fun because right at sunset, they rang a bell and everyone toasted.

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After that, I went back to my hotel.  At this point, it was around 7.  I put on Food Network so I could watch Chopped, but I ended up falling asleep before the first commercial break.

The next morning, I woke up at 5am so that I could have plenty of time to prepare before the conference started at 8am, and I wanted to make sure I was fully awake because I was one of the first presentations.  I make several trips to the lobby in my pajamas for coffee, successfully talked through my presentation twice without using my slides at all (it was comforting to know I didn’t need to rely on them), and then went upstairs for breakfast and more coffee.

The conference went very well.  My presentation was well-received, I was asked a lot of questions, and people seemed excited to talk to me about it afterward.  This made networking a lot easier, which is good because that’s something I struggle with.  I established connections with a few notable professors, called that a win, and then left at the beginning of the final social hour.

Back at my hotel, I was going to make use of the pool and hot tub since it was my last night, but there were so many screaming, sweaty kids running around that I decided I would be okay missing out on that.  Instead, I ordered pizza and watched Food Network in my room and again fell asleep super early.

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I awoke at 2:30 am, quickly packed up, got to the airport at 3:15am (which was way too early), and then proceeded to nap throughout all of my travels until I made it back home.  I decided to walk instead of taking the bus from downtown to my house in order to stretch my legs, and when I finally got home, I was exhausted.  (I never had time to get coffee because my connections were tight.)  By the time I got home, it was around 4, which is too late to drink coffee, so I ordered food, laid in my bed, and suffered through the headache until I feel asleep once again at 7pm.

And that, my friends, is how I travel.

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Crawling out of my rut

Life is all a series of ebbs and flows, and lately I’ve been stuck in a hefty ebb.  I guess it started with the recent political climate.  I was doing fine until the Senate voted on the Supreme Court nomination, and since then, things have felt bleak and it’s been hard to motivate myself to do anything.

Recently, I’ve been trying to kickstart myself back into high gear.  Last Friday, I got my hair cut off, going from below-shoulders-length to a super short pixie.  I hoped that going through a drastic outward change would trigger an inward change.  It didn’t, but at least I look nicer now.

Normally, making lists helps me get things done when I get like this, but the same list has been staring at me from my white board for the last several weeks with nothing crossed off.  At this point, it’s just meaningless marks on the board.  I wrote some inspirational quotes on the same board, but those also just faded into the backdrop.

The only other thing I can think of that helps me is to force myself to go through the motions.  Our thoughts are connected to our actions, so if thoughts can’t lead to actions, sometimes working in reverse helps.  By forcing myself to write right now, I’m hoping I’ll get back into the writing spirit, and once I’m back into that, all else will follow.

I’m also leaving tomorrow for a conference in California, so that might help.  I’m traveling alone, so I’ll get to stay in a hotel room by myself (one of my favorite things to do) and treat myself to a nice dinner in solitude (another one of my favorite things to do), with margaritas hopefully.

I also checked out some books from the library.  I’ve wormed my way back into my addictive habit of TV-watching, which is dangerous for me because I can’t casually watch TV.  If I start watching TV, it’s the only thing I do with my free time, and my brain goes dead, and I feel drained.  If none of these other things help, I’m hoping that by reading each night instead of watching TV, I can revive my brain from it’s quiet slumber and eventually I’ll have more of a desire to get back into the game.

Anyway, that’s the plan.  What are some of the things you do to get out of your rut?

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