Notes from the Road

I spent 6 nights in First City, First Hotel Chain, in room 1133.

I just arrived in Second City, Second Hotel Chain, and was given a key to room number … 1133.

Uncanny, right?

DH jokes that I should place a bet on something at 11:33. ūüôā


Today’s drive wasn’t very long, only about 4 hours, and was quite enjoyable.

When I drive, I listen to the local radio. I listen to a station I like until I get out of range, then find the next one that’s not staticky. No matter where you are, you can always find a classic-rock station, an adult-hits station (extra gooey and fairly dated pop), and a top-40 station. You can usually find a country-music station, a religious-talk-show station, a classical-music station, and a Spanish-language station. (This¬†paragraph might have exhausted my allotment of hyphens for the month of July.)

I always prefer radio to my own music — I like to be surprised.


There’s a gym on my floor, with lots ¬†of treadmills, and free fruit and water. Yes! And yum!


Second City is surprisingly beautiful, in a tough, gritty kind of way. I love the skyline — the hills, the skyscrapers.

How to Be an Asshole to Fellow Immigrants

At this conference, I met a couple (a scientist husband and a homemaker wife) who’ve lived in North America for about 40 years. They are originally from a big country in Europe, and are not only very proud of their origins, but maintain ties that are so strong that one wonders why they ever bothered emigrating at all, when they go back to the Old Country every chance they get. Here are some excerpts from our conversation, which is typical in showcasing how obnoxious immigrants can be to other immigrants, especially when they way you do immigration deviates from “the one true way,” which is of course their way. (Italics refer to what I am thinking but of course wouldn’t say, because I am a well-socialized adult and don’t have the foot-in-mouth disease.)

Wife: What’s your name?

Me (pointing to my name tag): My name is <How I Pronounce My Name in the US>.

Wife: Oh, you are <How the Name is Spelled>! Your name is not <How I Pronounce My Name in the US>; your name is <How the Name is Spelled>.

My name is what I say my name is. Who the fuck do you think you are to lecture me on what my name is? 

Me, out loud: Actually, I have been in the States for nearly half my life now, and <How I Pronounce My Name in the US> is what my children would say my name is, so that is in fact my name.

Later on, I talked with the husband, as he sat next to me. It is worth noting that the couple both have very thick accents and less-than-perfect grammar in the English language despite having lived in North America as long as they have.

Husband: So do you go back home often?

Me: Well, my kids were born here, so this is really my home.

Husband: No, your kids’ home is where you are.

Go fuck yourself. 

Me: No, I don’t go to Godforsakia often.

Husband: Why? Don’t you have family there?

Me: Some, but after you have been gone a while, things change. People move on.

Husband: But don’t you take your kids there to learn the language?

Me: My kids speak only English.

Husband (eyes open wide, about to fall out of head): But why? It’s so important to learn multiple languages! It helps with brain development!

My kids’s brains are just fine, and it’s perfectly possible to learn foreign languages later in life. Not everything needs to be shoved down kids’ throats starting in infancy. In fact, the native language is critical to one’s identity. I don’t want my kids to think of themselves as anything other than Americans; I don’t want them to think of themselves as Godforsakian-Americans. They don’t need the immigrant bullshit. The immigrant bullshit stops with my husband and me. If the kids wish to learn my native tongue or any other language, I will be happy to help, but I am not forcing anyone to learn a language of a tiny country, which they would have no one to speak with.¬†

Me, out loud: Mhm.

Husband: Our kids and even our grandkids speak our native tongue! We all go to Old Country whenever we can! We love it there, it’s wonderful! (Follows up with an elaborate description of ¬†a party in his mother’s garden, with kids and pets prancing and speaking in the Old Country tongue.)

So why did you leave then? Seriously, why?  I will never understand the people who emigrated decades ago, but would apparently still rather be in the country of origin than wherever they landed. 

Husband: So have you already been on vacation or are you just going?

This is the US, how much vacation do you think we get? Besides, I like working. One of the things I like about the US, as unhealthy as is may seem, is its workaholism. The US crazy matches my crazy.

Me: We’ll have a weeklong vacation in August. We’re going to <Vacationing Spot>.

Husband: Only a week? My grandkids will be with me for two weeks here and then another two weeks there.

Me: That’s nice.

Husband: So who takes care of your kids in the summer?

Woodland fuckin’ fairies.¬†

Me: They go to various summer camps.

Husband, clearly disappointed with my childrearing choices: Oh, they go to camps…

Honestly, I would have much rather talked about science and tried to stir the conversation that way a few times, but he only seemed to want to talk about Old Country, my relationship to Godforsakia, or childrearing. Soon I turned to the person on my other side and talked with him instead the rest of the evening.

Out of Your Mind

A colleague and I chatted today, and it seems we each have a student with the following characteristics: very talented, very hard working — to the exclusion of all else, very sensitive to criticism, and extremely anxious about the external recognition of their work (e.g., constantly comparing self to peers in terms of the number of publications or frequently checking citation numbers and obsessing why the citations aren’t picking up even though the paper just came out).

I think every successful scientist has all of these traits to some degree, especially the first two. The question is whether too much work or too much reliance on external recognition make you so miserable that you can no longer do science or simply enjoy life.

The answer is to find a way to get out of your own head. With experience, people find ways to balance the crazy aspects of the career that can be all-consuming with being a whole human being with a complex web of dreams, needs, and desires.

How can you help someone who relies on you for advice to find a good outlet, a good way to relieve the pressure inside their own mind?

Most people will recommend exercise. I agree that exercise can be an excellent outlet, but not all exercise is for everyone; even activities that seem to be hailed as panacea, like running, are really not. People need to find something they really like to do, and I am not surprised that many people cannot. I, for example, really dislike running. Going to the gym to lift weights, run on the treadmill, or use the elliptical are not my cup of tea — I am going to cheat if I am left to my own devices, because I am actually lazy and don’t want to do the hard work and sweat. I would love to play volleyball, which is what I used to do when I was young, but given my age and the size of my posterior, I think that me playing volleyball right now would be a recipe for a serious injury. That’s an issue with many types of really fun exercise — you actually have to be in a pretty good shape to do it without hurting yourself. I am fortunate to have found kickboxing, which provides the social component that makes it fun, a coach to keep us all on track, and a glorious de-stressing aspect that comes from punching and kicking that bag. But I understand very well that it can be exceedingly hard to find a type of exercise that is both safe to do while you’re still out of shape and engrossing enough to provide a real outlet.

I have been blogging for years now, and it’s a valuable release valve for me, but I know it’s not for everyone.¬†I also like to draw, but I am not good enough, nor do I have the command of various media that might make art a better outlet. Perhaps I should explore further.

I binge-watch TV and movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime, and it takes 2-3 days of binging to realize that my brain is completely blissfully empty of whatever was bothering me.

I love driving and do sometimes just drive around, but doing so for 5 hours would likely lead to my family worrying about what had happened to me, so I don’t really do it to the extent to which I think I would need to in order to make driving an effective de-stressor.

When I talked with my student last about how stressed out he was, I tried to probe what he liked to do when he was young in order to encourage him to take up those activities again. It turned out he had been in the programs for talented kids in his home country since such an early age that he’d basically had no free time or hobbies. He had played an instrument for years, which I suggested he pick up again. We also talked about sailing and fishing, which seemed appealing to him. Various additional recommendations of sports or art forms didn’t seem to click, and neither did suggestions of hanging out more with friends.

Dear readers, how do you get out of your own head? What would you suggest to someone who is clearly suffering both personally and professionally from a lack of an effective or enjoyable outlet?

Get the hell out of Dodge!

I did, eventually, after nearly 12 hours.
This sexy rental-car beast — a 2017 Dodge Charger — and I traveled roughly 700 miles today across six states, and I feel way better than I would if I had flown instead: my legs were not cramped so my knees are not angrily throbbing now, and my love for fellow humans has been in no way diminished by the experience. I am physically tired but mentally refreshed in way an introvert can be after having spent blissful 12 hours talking to no one, taking in the vast open ¬†road, and listening to music.

This post was written on the phone. It’s painful.

For non-US readers, “get the hell out of Dodge” is an expression meaning scram.