27 and a PhD

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Growing up I never really had many traditions, family traditions that is. Sure, we visited my grandmas, one divorced, one widowed. I saw my grandfather a few days after. Gifts were exchanged. My mom, my sister and I always went to church, either midnight mass or on Xmas day, sometimes both. My dad never went with us, he’s not a religious person.

Now that I’m all grown up, and live on my own, I find myself yearning to establish something, something other than going to church and visiting the family. Something that I feel proud of starting.

When hon and I purchased our very first Christmas tree together, we bought decorations, and I added a few of my own which my mom had sent on my first year in grad school. I remember being so thrilled about receiving that box. It had lights, a nativity set and and a little plastic angel which I always hang by the entrance of the apartment. It’s a bit kitschy, but I like it. I also started to get ornaments, handmade ornaments for the tree. We bought the little tree in Canada, and it’s now in NYC with me, thought it is currently in storage. That first year I bought two or three handmade decorations, a little nativity one I purchased at Ten Thousand Villages, and some stars I purchased at the place where hon got his incense from. They’re little wooden stars, golden little stars. I also got a vintage tree topper which I adore, and again, is hidden somewhere in one of our storage boxes.

Then last year I didn’t get an ornament. Last year I was pissed. I wasn’t home with my mom, sister, nephew and honey. Thankfully I had more than a few caring souls around, who sent cards (thanks tweeps!), gift cards (thanks M! and my in-laws) and even brought gifts to the lab (mmm, chocolate). Last year I felt very lonely. I didn’t venture into the city for days. I was in my own little foul mood. I didn’t get an ornament … but one of my users did.

My users are awesome (with one or two clear exceptions, people who break off parts of instruments and then act as if nothing had happened …. grrrr). I got tons of delicious chocolate, an ornament, thank you notes. All in the span of the 5-6 months I’d been at work at the time. My PhD boss used to call each of her students into her office and get something for them/us (usually something decorative, a vase, candles, wine glasses) along with candy and a gift card. I’d never had a boss/mentor do that. Nor have I had one since (though my postdoc boss paid on occasion for beer or wine).

But last year was different. Last year I felt pampered by the people I try to help. I want their experiments to work, as it reflects on both my place of work and my capacity to do my job in the best manner I can. It felt great to have people say thanks, give me and my supervisor a hug, invite us for lunch, or a cup of tea. It reaffirmed my belief that, although I was far away from my loved ones and buried in debt (I’m recovering from that but oh so very slowly), I still felt the love and care … all coming from people that had known me for months, in some cases weeks.

This year has been somewhat similar, though now I have more experience. I had someone pay for my lunch for letting them use a bit of bench space for a few hours over a couple of days. I had a PI send treats with their postdoc. I’ve been given hugs and thanks and emails with links to classics on youtube.

I’m thankful for the wonderful people I work with, the lives I impact with my humour or my ability to solve a problem or train. These perks mean more to me than anything material I can get. And I keep these memories in my heart.

This year, I did get another handmade ornament for our tree, honey. I’m looking forward to our future, and to have a little tree with ornaments from different times of our life, to share with our families.

No need for pity/ I’m thankful

This is a rather personal account. You don’t need to read if you don’t want to. And I’m not looking for pity. This is just one of the many challenges I’ve been facing lately. It goes to show that everyone, even scientists, have problems, the same problems that “regular people” have. We have needs, and we have problems, like the rest of the world does. You’ve been warned. Proceed with caution.

Even thought it’s not Christmas day yet, I still made a few calls this morning to hon and my family. I realize they may be busy later today and tomorrow, so I wanted to talk to them before the celebrations begin.

While talking to honey, he mentioned that he’s really sad I have to say in the City (me too, but I really couldn’t go home). He asked me to please, please, please, get out and do something fun. Go to the City, see places, maybe call up a friend, just do something and get out of the apartment. I told him that while I would totes to that any day he’s here, I really didn’t feel like going out (including, tourists, long lines, waiting for a long time for a subway or bus ride, sick people, annoying people … heck, people, I know, I can never be a secular humanist).I mentioned that I really do not dread staying in, I enjoy it, as I spend usually 10-12 hours away, most days of the week, and that whenever I get a chance I stay in, and veg-out. Once he saw that I’m not terribly frustrated by staying in, he felt a bit better (though he would still like me to do something fun).

The reason I’m staying in the City is money. I have very little of it after taking care of family debts. I got a nasty email from a family member a week before I was scheduled to move to the City (yeepee, I spent my last week in Canada weeping like a moron and wondering how the hell to get out of this one). My dad had asked this person and I to co-sign a loan for him (you know where this is going, it is not pretty). My dad had been faithfully paying this debt, until he lost his job, twice. Instead of calling me and saying that he’d be short on cash for a while, he thought he could get out without telling anyone. He convinced the bank (credit union, really) not to call me, that he’d figure something out. What I got instead was the angriest you could ever imagine email from said family member who said he was getting harassing calls and that I needed to pay for things now, or else (I was jobless at the time, in a foreign country, and I couldn’t collect unemployment).

The emails and the drama that followed wrecked havoc on my life, my peace, and my credit score (the least important of the 3). The credit union did manage to get a hold of said family member, who instantly blamed me for all his bad luck in not getting a loan to send his youngest child to college (his credit score is well over 710, while mine is 540). Said family member has been harassing my mom and my dad relentlessly. Said family member happens to live in the City, and also had enough time and anger to call my mom’s side of the family and tell them that I dislike paying credit agencies and that I’m an irresponsible asshole (among many other lovely things).

The reason I can’t go home is because I’ve been trying to dump as much money as I can to bring said loan up to date. My parents are at risk their house, and half of the family hates me (not that I was their favourite anyways, somehow they seem to hate me and my sister, even though we’ve been among the best sheep in the family). The money I was hoping to dump on the debts I made for myself is now being carefully divided to make sure everything gets paid, even if it’s only the minimum. The City is expensive and since the move-out from Canada, I’ve added even more things to my life that need to be paid (I need to sell my car, yet I can’t even afford to pay to transfer the title, let alone get my City driver’s licence, or pay for the basic repairs needed to at least put it in the market). New clothes or shoes are obviously out of the question. Getting married or having a kid won’t happen for (at the very least) 5 years.

I can’t go home because I can’t afford not to get paid, and I haven’t accumulated enough time to justify being away from work for 7 days. And I haven’t had a break since this time last year.

I know it’s a sad story, but I’m not alone in this. It could be worse, I could be unemployed. I could be missing a part of my body that wouldn’t allow me to do what I do, or I could be chronically ill. Thankfully the only things I’m allergic to are pain-killers.

Instead, I have many things to be thankful for (probably more than I have reasons to be bitter). I have a job and feel better about it than I did about my previous position as a postdoc. I’ve made friends at work; we all seem to genuinely like each other. I met a PI that I’ve admired for 10 years, and after dropping a seriously hilarious and nerdy line, he seems think that I’m somewhat sane. I have clothes, a roof above my head and warm food on my table, every day. I haven’t had to go without food a single day since I moved. Even thought it’s the minimum payment, I’m on time on all my debts, old and inherited. I got gifts and cards this year, even though my family is far away. I have legs that work, health insurance, a warm bed, a coat. My basic needs are covered.

I’ve been bitter for a while, and I hate the money situation like you have no idea. I’ll be looking for a (hopefully part-time) second job next year, so maybe I can visit the family and dump some more money on the debts. It’s tough, but somehow I hope to make it.

Don’t feel sorry for me, don’t pity me because I bitch and moan about not going home. I could be a lot worse, and I have many things to say thanks for.