Stinky Link

Sol, Burning Bright

A few months ago, the sci-fi book club I’m part of read The Sol Majestic. The book is OK; rough at the outset, but eventually gets better, so I’m glad I finished it. I’d give it maybe 3.5/5 stars. The book’s eponymous setting is the best restaurant in the galaxy. People travel for years to have a meal there. Of course, working in that kitchen is the ultimate chef dream. Those fortunate enough to toil in The Sol Majestic live and breathe their art; they sleep in or near the kitchen, and the work atmosphere is one of extreme pressure associated with the highest level of achievement. The boss is not tyrannical; he’s a larger-than life genius who compels those around him with the force of his vision and personality. The Sol Majestic is a place of competitive, creative euphoria.

One of the people in my discussion group complained that these chefs lived in inhumane conditions and had no work-life balance. I didn’t say anything (see all the recent posts about me being annoying), but what I wanted to say is that work-life balance is overrated. Not everyone wants it or needs it. Some people only feel alive when they are firing on all cylinders, when they’re immersed 100% in their pursuits, when they’ve given in to their obsession. Working at the very top of their field is the fuel they need.

People who don’t have this fire don’t understand those who do, those who cannot bear the tedium and predictability of balance.

We see so much popular culture where a guy works non-stop and the wife tries to make him spend more time with family. You know what? Maybe the dude would indeed rather be home, but evil corporate overlords won’t let him. But maybe that dude really likes to work. Maybe he doesn’t actually want to spend time with family. Maybe he shouldn’t have gotten married or had kids in the first place, but he did, and he will spend time with the family now because they need him and it’s the right thing to do (or, you know, because it’s in the movie script). That doesn’t change the fact that, if he were free to pick what he’d rather be doing without being told he is a horrible person then left by his wife, he’d pick work because that’s what he honestly enjoys more than anything else, more than talking about his day or attending Little League baseball and piano recitals.

If you’ve got a fire burning inside you, and everyone tells you that you need to slow down, get a balance, not work yourself to death, that what you feel you need in your gut is wrong, I am here to tell you that you are not crazy or broken, that there are others like you, that you should pursue whatever ignites your soul, and that the fabled work-life balance, for someone like you, means banality and boredom. Do not let those who don’t understand your fire convince you that what you are is wrong. Go, burn bright!

This and That

Lots of work, but low motivation. Being constantly interrupted doesn’t help. Week 7 on around-the-clock cooking duty doesn’t help, either. Daily hour-long walks have become absolute sanity savers. I just wish there weren’t quite as many others outside. Today, it was freezing and raining, so I finally got to be (almost) alone outdoors. It was glorious.


I feel very disconnected from my job. Yeah, I am on sabbatical, but the research part of it is such a slog. I can’t believe that up until a few years ago that’s all I ever wanted to do. Now I’m just really bored. Bored with the papers I read, bored with the papers I write, just bored with science. You know how the general public says that science is hard and boring? I get it now. I get how they perceive us, all of it.


I’m thinking about a second career. I know it’s a stupid idea, an irresponsible idea, but I guess thinking about just starting over is developmentally appropriate at my age and career stage. The thing is, it’s hard to keep doing my job and taking care of my family, and actually immerse myself in another (competitive, creative) endeavor deeply enough so that in a few years I can expect some money from it. But maybe I’m just scared and more than a little lazy. Right now, focusing on anything requires serious willpower, willpower I can’t seem to summon, because of constant, CONSTANT distractions.

Some random reading along these lines:


Missing alone time, real alone time, several hours without having to look over my shoulder, expecting someone will barge in and need something from me. Could I escape and sneak into my office? 


My nose is stuffy, who knows why (allergies? whatever), and when my nose is stuffy, I just want to bite heads off.


I am so, so sick of cooking.


Sup, blogosphere? 

Linking No Blinking

More links today, as I catch up on stuff.

Auditory Infotainment

Podcasts. What do we think? I am not the biggest fan of the form. I find most that aren’t heavily edited to be a slog:  slow, with too little content for the runtime, and hosted by people whom I don’t find engaging.

But, I found one that’s well aligned with my extracurricular interests, and have been enjoying it on walks. Some episodes are awesome, others so-so.

The host sometimes brings her husband on as a guest. Those are the worst episodes, yet, cruelly, also the longest. She sounds really uncomfortable and giggles (nervously? flirtatiously?) far more than with other guests. Also, for this type of podcast you have to love the topic, and he just…doesn’t? Anyway, she’s great when she talks with other women, and those episodes have been smooth and strangely soothing.

Blogosphere, do you have podcast recommendations?  Please share your faves. 

Loony Links

Annoyability, Cont’d

A few days ago, nicoleandmaggie wrote about annoyance and wanting to spare people, and it inspired this post of mine. 

I try to pursue new experiences and activities in meat space, but what invariably happens is that I am the only non-American-born participant. Some people are weirded out by it; others are not. I don’t know if it is my intrinsic ability to annoy people, the accent, or both; all I know is that there is always someone in these little communities who is annoyed by me and doesn’t bother to hide it.

Let me tell you, it takes some expert-level temporary dissociation to work through these events. Fortunately — or perhaps unfortunately — having been a woman in STEM all my life, I have plenty of experiences in environments where at least some, and often most, really don’t want me around. I handle it fine on the spot, but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice or remember the hostility, or that it doesn’t bother me deeply once I am free to feel my feelings again.

This was true in my kickboxing classes, which I started and stopped many times. It’s moot now, with the social distancing and all, but every time I rejoin I am the only one with an accent and since the kickboxing folks are generally nonacademics, the accent freaks them out. Some people don’t care, but some do, and those that do aren’t subtle about wanting nothing to do with me (e.g., looking at me askance, ignoring me if I ask them something, being weird if we need to do a partner exercise together).

This brings me to my sci-fi book club. I’ve been attending about a year and a half and most people in it are nice. But there’s one woman who never fails to take a jab at me, and another man who doesn’t necessarily hate me, but definitely low-key avoids me. I’m one of the newest members, so the rest have longer histories together, and occasionally I feel like I should just do everyone a favor and drop it all. But then I remember I didn’t do anything wrong:  I read the books, I listen, I speak up briefly (definitely don’t hog the discussion, which some others do), so why wouldn’t I have a right to be there? And it’s not like anyone asked me to leave; some people actually seem to like having me around.

I had a book club meeting over Zoom earlier this evening, so a very recent jab is fresh and painful. My husband says most people aren’t even fully aware of how callous they can be, how their needling affects others. I kinda get it, but not really, and, in any case, why does the jab victim always have to be the bigger person? It’s exhausting to always have to have my game face on, pretending I don’t notice.  

Are any of you out there feeling sensitive to others’ annoyance and wanting to flee, blogosphere? Hoping to do a favor to yourselves and the people who clearly dislike you by disappearing? 

Grump Nuggets

— I’ve been in a foul mood today, so not much to discuss. I did manage to (in no particular order) cook a ridiculously large amount of food, go for an hour-long walk followed by an hour-long shower/pamper routine, supervise kids’ school work, and work on a book chapter. It wasn’t a total loss, but I’m pissy and just want to be left properly alone, the kind of alone where there’s no chance of people interrupting you, needing stuff from you, or looking over your shoulder.

— I hate to admit it, but some short-story rejections are getting to me. I am a sucker for punishment — as if all the paper and grant review bullshit isn’t enough, so I had to chose a serious hobby through which I get subjected to even more rejections! I have one piece that is the bee’s knees, but it has an unusual narrative structure, so it’s been raking in close-but-no-cigar rejections and that’s messing with my mood.

— I’ve done flash sprints with a small writers’ group twice now. The way a sprint works is a prompt drops (so far both have been visual prompts), you have an hour to write a story of up to 1000 words, then they’re voted on over the next 24 hrs, and whoever wins gets to be the sprint master the following week. There are people who can write a great, long story of 800-1000 words in an hour. Mine have so far been around 500 words; the second one it took me 15 min to come up with a story arc I didn’t find totally boring, but the time was short, and I ended up with a really rough draft, with a few great lines, but still lots of work needed. Being that I am an overachiever, I hate it that I’m not killing it (yet). People say you get faster with time, but to me a visual prompt is like 732 actual prompts and it takes me a while to sift through all the ideas and commit to one, whereas people say have to just pick one in 5 min and that’s it; I generally edit as I go and spend some time finding the voice at the outset, and once I do, things unfold quickly, but if I lose 10-15 min on the first couple of paragraphs, and it took me 15 min to think of a full story arc (both true last time), I blink and the time is up. Ugh. I hate not being able to immediately do stuff with  an arbitrary level of excellence.

— One good thing: Several colleagues outside my institution have written just to say hi, share how they’re doing amid the lockdown, and ask how we’re doing over here. I found this heartwarming even though I am in the middle of an acute misanthropic episode.

How’s it shaking, blogosphere? How are you doing overall? 

Shit Valley

Warning: Whining ahead. 

Since the beginning of the quarantine, which is now five weeks in over here, the university administration has sent between seven and eight million emails emphasizing how we need to be flexible and understanding with our undergraduates and graduate students, how we need to check in on their mental health, and that we definitely positively should not be pressing for normal-times productivity.

This is all perfectly fine and I fully support it. But I’d like the same courtesy to be applied to us, faculty/PIs, by both the administration and students.

I am not teaching this semester, but my husband is. I have witnessed things quickly — within a week or two — going from “Put your courses online in any way you can, we don’t expect perfection” to “Students want this and that, want more synchronous teaching, more videos, want to chat in person, make it all happen, stat.”

My graduate students definitely expect (and receive) lenience from my side, but want me to keep going as usual. They’re impatient about feedback on their papers and re-submissions, even though I have service in addition to research and kids at home and kids’ school work and tons of daily cooking and haven’s had a moment alone in five weeks.

I know, I know, that’s what being a grownup means, and I have a good, well-paying, secure job, and most people are in much worse conditions now, so I should really shut up, but within this privileged life of mine, I occasionally get tired of being stuck in Shit Valley, located at the foot of multiple hills down which all the shit rolls. Kids’ and students’ shit, because they’re young and need protection and I’m supposed to be able to take it all. Admins’ shit, because somehow we faculty work in the service of them and their grand (by which I mean increasingly corporate) visions, instead of them working for us and the students.

I, too, am human, and some days (or years) I don’t wanna cook or read crappy drafts or parse adminspeak-filled emails devoid of content, and instead I want to be left alone to watch Hart of Dixie for the seventeenth time because the fictional town of Bluebell, Alabama, and its wacky inhabitants soothe my soul.

Blogosphere, what do you do to unwind? Any go-to activities, books, movies, shows?

Linky Dink, Dinky Link