Thursday, October 13, 2005

Greener Grass

I was at a meeting the other day with a bunch of other professors in my sort of work, and they were all very convicted about the value of what they are doing. I wish I shared this conviction; I don't know why this work depresses me so much. I feel like if I described to a lay person the sort of work I do, and why, they might say, "Hey, that's really important." I feel like if I agreed, it would make the frustrations much more tolerable. I don't know why it is that for example, in a proposal, I can describe all the reasons it's important, but that on an everyday level I allow my insecurity to tempt me into thinking that I invent these justifications, that they're part of the big picture of my failures or lack of great success. I allow the insecurity to taint my passion for the work, and that makes my insecurity worse.

On a flight on the way back from the meeting, I was seated next to a pediatrician. We talked about a lot of work-related things, even though I don't know anything about pediatrics. It was funny where the similarities are. For example, he talked for a while about all the paperwork, that for every 15 minutes he spends with a patient, he has to fill out 3 or 4 or 5 pages of paperwork, and that this takes up a lot of his time. He talked about how the measures of success seem arbitrary, for example, that if you take two diabetic children, one from a well-off household and a healthy background, and the other from a poor household with a lot of health problems, you can't compare their quality measures, like how many times your diabetic patient goes to the eye doctor or how many follow up calls you have. Maybe the poor diabetic child doesn't have a reliable phone number and moves around a lot, and probably rarely ever goes to the eye doctor - but this doesn't mean that your care of that child has been a failure. More important than how far you are is how far you've come.

I asked him how easy it was for him to become disenchanted by the whole thing: the paperwork, the irritating metrics, etc. He said, "Oh, I guess it happens sometimes. But usually I just figure it's the price of doing the job, and kids need doctors."

I was thinking, "But hey, pediatrics, that's really important."

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Faculty Wives

My department, being somewhat old-school, relies a lot on the "faculty wives" to coordinate the more social events associated with normal department function. They do things like arrange tables for dinner meetings, bake things for events, etc. I find this reliance very weird, though I understand how this worked, a million years ago. These "faculty wives" belong to the oldest members of the department, and to an almost bygone era.

It recently came to my attention that some of the "faculty wives" have been pointing out that it's time for some of the younger wives to get involved, and I find this both sad and funny. Certainly the services these women have provided to the department have been valuable and much appreciated, but it's just not realistic in today's world to expect the same level of participation or co-dependency. Wives have their own jobs, events, etc. to try to coordinate. PLUS, allow me to point out the obvious: not all the faculty are men. Ain't no way my husband is baking some fancy breads for my departmental meeting, nor getting together with all the ladies to discuss whether we should have off-white napkins or gold ones at the upcoming breakfast.

I'm sure we can do without the niceties once all those ladies are gone. At the same time, it does make the job just a little colder. It's been pleasant with somebody thinking about the napkins.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Shock and awe

A few nights ago my husband and I met some distant acquaintances for dinner, the wife is a woman that I sort of know, but have never met, and I didn't know the husband at all.

With in minutes of introductions, and what-do-you-do? sort of chit-chat, he more or less came right out with some very nonchalant statements about his political leanings, to the right.

I was oddly taken aback. I lean to the right myself, but in academia, nobody would ever admit to such a thing, certainly not on a "first date". But he was so casual about it, AS IF IT WERE TOTALLY NORMAL.

So I am forced to admit that my perspective is skewed. If I had ever really thought about it, I could have come to this conclusion, but before this evening I never really thought about it. There have been a lot of discussions on my campus and others recently (and certainly before recently) about the general political leanings of college faculty, but I didn't realize how much I had assimilated this microcosmic attitude as reality everywhere.


I'm a little disappointed in myself that this took me by surprise. Fffft.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Why doesn't my office look like the ones in those TIAA-CREF commercials?

You know those commercials? I *heart* the ones about professors because they make my job seem so noble. That's nice. But, those commercial professors have the nice wood-paneled academic-looking offices, with lots of space and books and scholarliness. My office, which is, from what I have observed, more common especially at the big state schools, is cement block, flourescent lighting, and not a speck of wood paneling.

I'm not going to lie to you. It's ugly. It doesn't help that it's kind of a mess. (In my department, if you are gone for a few days, you will come back and somebody has moved a pile of stuff into your office . . . we've had a lot of turnover recently, and nobody feels empowered to throw out files from somebody that's moved on, so they just get shuffled into the next logical person's office.)

The other day, the building custodian came into my office and asked me if it ever annoyed me that my tall filing cabinet was grey while my desk, lateral file, and bookcase were beige. It had not, up until this moment, annoyed me, but now that he mentioned it . . . So he volunteered to swap out my grey filing cabinet with an empty beige one across the hall. This encouraged me to throw out most of the contents of the grey one, which were not mine to begin with.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Through the looking glass.

So, on Friday, I went home and had a little breakdown. Possibly a little breakdown every once in a while is a good thing, except I still feel like crap. Oh, well.

Yesterday I got an email from my friend R, to whom I had recently written a sort of self-pitying note about how icky I feel about my work. He said,

You seem to be harbouring a touch of uncertainty in your accomplishments.

Which made me laugh right away. Seem! A touch! Hahaha! He then proceeded to try to convince me that I am successful and awesome, which I appreciate but don't believe. But everybody needs people like this, who tell them nice things. My husband would do this for me, except that he's been overloaded with my insecurities the last several years and has now moved on to the "tough love" approach wherein he does not permit me to wallow in, or express in any major way, these fears. I guess everybody needs people like this, too.

Lest you think I am all negative all the time, I do have some accomplishments, I just don't think they're important or valuable. I have two papers coming out this fall, which is positive, but doesn't seem like a lot of forward motion to me. I have a couple more currently in the review process and one about to be submitted. I have two grant proposals currently in the pipeline, though I don't expect them to go anywhere because they never do.

See? That's about as positive as I get about my accomplishments. This attitude also depresses me, because prior to this job, I considered myself a pretty upbeat, confident person. I am really hoping that this new anxious, insecure me is only temporary.