Notes from the Road 5

After this post, some commenters have been wondering about my origins. There are many countries in Europe that would fit the description of tiny and inconsequential (whether or not their citizens are willing to admit it). Knowing which one specifically I am from would probably not bring much excitement or illumination to most of my readership.

Now, finding out that I am secretly Martian, or royalty, or a 60-year-old truck driver named Big Mike who suffers from hypertension and enjoys ballroom dancing — now those would be fun revelations!

I can also vouch that even finding the identity of a pseudonymous academic blogger is essentially anticlimactic. I mean, who could the person possibly be? Unless they are a Houdini-like master of deception (which sounds quite exhausting and I can’t understand why anyone would want to impersonate a professor), the person turns out to be who they say they are: another faculty member at some school, working in a field likely different from yours.

I mean, it would be a revelation to find out that a colleague from down the hall, who I am willing to bet doesn’t even read blogs, is in fact FSP. Or it would be fun to find out that CPP worked as a male stripper to put himself through college, or that DM spent his youth smoking (and dealing!) pot. But other than that, they are just people doing the same job elsewhere and in a different field. I think we are generally fine not knowing one another in meat space; it doesn’t add anything to the online experience. Besides, as a few bloggy friends who know me can vouch, and to paraphrase nicoleandmaggie, I am probably cooler online than in real life.


I spent a lot of time with my former PhD advisor, and we had a great time and a lot of beer. The topics of inspiration and the passion for work and regretting the time spent or not spent on work or on family came up. He is still as passionate about his work as ever, in his mid-70s’, and he mentioned this quote from Steve McQueen’s movie “Le Mans” (I haven’t seen it):

Lisa Belgetti: When people risk their lives, shouldn’t it be for something very important? Michael Delaney: Well, it better be. Lisa Belgetti: But what is so important about driving faster than anyone else? Michael Delaney: Lotta people go through life doing things badly. Racing’s important to men who do it well. When you’re racing, it’s life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting.

Isn’t that a great quote? Science is important to the people who do it well. When you are immersed in the work, nothing else matters. It is hard for people who are not particularly good at much to understand it.

I am constantly guilt-ridden that I don’t enjoy homemaking or playing with my kids or other womanly pursuits very much; I simply enjoy working more. (Some people feel they should come to tell me that I shouldn’t have had kids in that case. If you feel the urge to say that, don’t; instead, ask yourself why you think only women with no professional ambition or drive are supposed to procreate, or worse, why you think women have to squash their professional lives in the service of family.) I crave the mental stimulation and, as much as I love my kids, family life doesn’t scratch that itch. Legos and plastic animals can get very boring very fast (especially by kid No 3); shopping for curtains or home decorating never even manages to rise beyond the level of tedious. Perhaps I am a horrible person, but somehow I don’t think the male version of me would ever obsess about this.


I just got a resubmission of a paper to review. The first time around, I requested extensive edits, while the other referee accepted with minor revisions. In the response letter, I am amused by how the other referee was thanked for “his/her comments,” while in my case “we thank the referee for his comments… In his point No xx, the referee says…” The authors sort of recognize the existence of women referees, but us ladies must be the softie referee, certainly never the hardliner. Tee-hee.


I am coming home soon, I can’t wait. En route, I came across this delicious overpriced latte with a gloriously firm head of foam: Latte


  1. Is it ok for me to say you shouldn’t at all feel guilt-ridden about those things? I don’t! (Though I do really enjoy talking math. I miss doing the fun kind of math rather than the for work kind of math.)

    If that’s a really good latte, then it probably wasn’t overpriced. I’m not a connoisseur, but my DH has gone on and on enough about what makes a perfect latte (“mouth-feel etc.”) and how difficult it is to find one that at this point I’d be willing to pay large sums of money for him to get one.

    I tend to think of the good reviewers as “she” and the horrible ones as “he”– not so much a softie vs. not softie thing. Of course, what makes a good reviewer is in the eye of the authors(!) They may have a definition of good that involves less work for them rather than the result of a better more highly citable paper.

  2. The blogger is obviously from San Marino, a country so small and inconsequential that you can drive through it in less time than it takes for the radio station to play a song.

  3. Hmm, Luxembourg would fit in that bit too, or Lichtenstein or Andorra. All small and inconsequential :).

  4. Eastern Ukraine has some “independent republics” that occupy part of one floor of an office building. Perhaps she used to work in one of those.

  5. Scotland: The country so inconsequential that it wouldn’t vote for its own independence.

    Xykademiqz, do you like to eat stuffed sheep stomach? Do you like bagpipes?

  6. I would never tell someone to their face that I think they shouldn’t have had kids (how rude!). But I will confess to wondering why people (both women *and* men) who don’t seem to enjoy spending time with children have them today. (I’m talking about folks who live in first-world countries where not having kids is an option.)

  7. Alex: Bagpipers! Stuffed intestines! Braveheart!

    Anonymous at 11:28, why does it have to be all or nothing? It’s not the issue of not wanting to spend time with kids; spending time with kids can be fun, thrilling, but also tedious and boring at times; whoever tells you they are never bored is a liar or some sort of unicorn. Why can’t one enjoy kids and work, why does one have to want to spend time with kids more than anything in the world in order to “qualify” to have them? It’s bullshit like this that keeps women from pursuing their careers, because concern trolls everywhere make sure to remind them that it’s family and nothing else, or otherwise they are “unworthy”. If anything, kids everywhere would benefit from fewer martyr mothers and less helicopter parenting, and girls everywhere would benefit from seeing more women who haven’t erased their professional identities at the altar of family. I do not exist solely to raise a family, so they would go on and do great things; I deserve my own shot at doing great things. Fuckin’ patriarchal bullshit.

  8. Fair enough when you say that knowing your country of origin or your real identity wouldn’t make much of a difference to your readership. I still find it enjoyable when I can contrast the blogger and “real” personas though.

    If you’re not royalty or from Mars, I’m voting for Hungary then! 🙂

    Agree that your male equivalent wouldn’t give a second thought to the question whether he’s enjoying parenthood or not. Most male scientists I know seem to enjoy their computers more than their children, and they certainly spend many more hours with the latter. Nobody would dream of questioning why they had kids though. It’s frightening if only women without career ambition would procreate.

  9. “Knowing which one specifically I am from would probably not bring much excitement or illumination to most of my readership.” That’s why it’s entertaining to guess: it doesn’t really matter, so why not guess Moldova? (Okay, I don’t really think you’re from Moldova.)

  10. “If you’re not royalty or from Mars, I’m voting for Hungary then!”

    So let’s keep guessing: my vote goes to Czech Republic.

  11. Xykademiqz, I am so relieved and so glad that you wrote about guilt today. I feel better already. I am pregnant with my first child, a few days away from the due date. I’ve been on maternity leave for a couple of weeks now, and it is amazing to finally have some time for reading and learning.

    I left academia a couple of years ago to work in industry, where I am lucky to have a very challenging and brain-stimulating maths type role in a business environment. I love learning and want to spend more time learning about the business aspect of my role, but unfortunately there is no time for reading during work (unlike what I’m used to and what I loved in academia).

    So I stacked myself with books for maternity leave, and now I’m hoping the baby doesn’t come yet so I can read in peace. Does this make me a bad person? I’m still trying to come to terms with the change that is coming. Will I still have any time for this stuff when the baby comes? I like my job, but it’s very long hours, and I am scared whether it will be sustainable to keep it when the baby is here. Any thoughts for consolation? Please 🙂

  12. Croatia is actually, like, consequential, and stuff, because NATO got involved there.

    I think she’s from Transnistria, a country so inconsequential that it’s like 6 miles wide and only Vladimir Putin cares about it.

  13. Hi xykademiqz_reader, of course you are not a bad person. And there will be a little time to read after the baby, just make sure you go easy on yourself and don’t commit to very much beforehand, see how it goes first; maybe you get a super good sleeper, but maybe the baby is gassy and restless; the first kid is a true techtonic shift in your life, and being an anxious new parent doesn’t help. So your life will change, and it takes a few months to find a new equilibrium, just be very forgiving of everyone involved in the meantime. But I promise you there will be a little time here and there, even initially, for email, social media, and even technical reading; also taking a shower or a walk!
    Cloud of Wandering Scientist
    blogs about different types of arrangements in industry, and I wonder if you could go part-time or ramp up to full hours eventually. If you really enjoy your job and are good at it, I can’t imagine that they would want to lose you completely, and if it’s a good work environment, you might have more leverage than you think. Some people have crazily flexible commuter/part-time arrangements.

    To cheer you up, here are two really cool and positive mom blogs: Desiree’s (2 kids) and also Rebecca’s

    I also love Lunarbaboon, a comic about being a grownup. He nails it.
    For instance or this one or this one

    Good luck – exciting times ahead!

  14. Anonymous at 11:28 here. I’m not saying that it has to be all or nothing. I suppose it’s a spectrum. But there are very high-powered couples I know who have outsourced so much of their child rearing that I honestly do wonder why they had kids in the first place. If in general, you and your partner are folks who really don’t enjoy kids that much, why bow to societal expectations to have the 2.5 kids in the first place? Patriarchy cuts both ways.

    And FWIW, I do know a couple of women who really seem not to have ever wanted to be anything but moms and wives. They are not stupid or unicorns, just different from me and you.

  15. @Anonymous– Mind your own business re: those high powered couples. You don’t live their lives and have no idea how much time or what kind of time they’re spending with their kids or how much they enjoy spending time with their kids. You’re judging them on no information, just your own beliefs. They should obviously be spending far less time talking to you.

  16. I love my two kids, but after a day at home my brain feels fried. That has nothing to do with how much I love my kids; I enjoy my kids, but house & home just isn’t enough. I get bored. I need my work (Humanities prof in the EU). If other people want or need a different kind of balance, fine. But I would greatly appreciate it if people (mostly women) stopped telling me stuff like “O, so you’re continuing to work full time, with the two kids. That is brave/must be difficult/what ever”. Wtf, they never say these things to my spouse, who has the exact same two kids and an identical position at the same university. I am not judging you; stop judging me.

    Btw, my guess is Latvia.

  17. @nicoleandmaggie: Start by taking your own advice. You know nothing about me or my relationship to the people that I’m talking about. You just don’t like what I’m saying. Get over it.

  18. Anonymous: whether you intended or not, your comments come across as so-called “concern trolling” (you can google “concern troll”). When you make sweeping judgements of broad categories of working parents, the responses are in kind. I think it is pretty clear — from the explicit directions in the main post and from other readers’ comments — that judgements of working parents, especially moms, for enjoying their jobs and achieving work-family balance as they see fit regardless of how it all seems to a random outsider, are not welcome in this thread. I am letting you know that I won’t entertain further such postings.

  19. From Urban Dictionary for “concern troll”:

    “A person who posts on a blog thread, in the guise of “concern,” to disrupt dialogue or undermine morale by pointing out that posters and/or the site may be getting themselves in trouble, usually with an authority or power.”

    So obviously it’s you that needs to learn what this term really means. The only thing I’ve done is express a view that is unpopular here. So have the balls to call it what it is: you and at least one other don’t want me posting here because you don’t agree with what I have to say, period.

  20. Anonymous: I do not like what you are saying and do not agree with it, and neither do a few of the commenters. It says in the goddamn post not to bring up that judgemental crap and it says so in several comments since; how much more explicit do you need it to be?

    Here is why we don’t like what you are saying: what you are saying is NOT so groundbreaking and illuminating that we can’t process it, quite the contrary. What you are saying is a well-known trope in concern trolling: it is “concern” for the poor kiddies who are neglected by mean working mommies (especially in high-powered couples you brought up), and these “concerns” always, ALWAYS start with “I don’t understand why those women even have kids when they don’t spend enough time with them.”

    Once again, to make sure it sinks in: what you are saying is not novel, it is not in good faith, it is sweeping and judgemental, and it is not welcome here. No, I do not like it; no, I do not agree with it; and no, I do not want any more of your comments on the same topic. Is that clear enough?

  21. Hell yeah to the parenting part of your OP thank you so much.

    I rarely feel very guilty about this issue, but it really helps to know other freaks like me exist. Sometimes I do feel like a weirdo when it comes up in conversation, because I refuse to hem or haw in the expected way about “oh, I really WISH I could spend more time at home but you know how work is blah blah”.

    I try to make a point to tell people I unabashedly like my work, that I love my kid, but that I have no compunctions about letting her be with someone else during the day. And that, yeah, sometimes parenting is this:

    Overall I’m happy to say that my child has her own life, I have my own, sometimes those overlap, and it works for us. I also make a big point of mentioning how relieved I was when dad took her for a week on vacation that I could finally get work done.

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