Friday, March 17, 2017

Thinking of 2016

It is hard to believe that we are already deep into March and I am talking about 2016 in the past tense. It seems yesterday that 2016 started and I was at Cajun Crawfish in Seattle with friends, donning my bib and gloves and eating seafood like gluttons. I left for Germany soon after, not knowing that I would be making three more trips in the next three months all over the US, mostly for faculty interviews.
2016 was a pivotal year in my life, and my career. It was craziness on steroids. I did a lot of new things, but more importantly, I had a lot of fun doing the things that I did. I ate rabbit meat in Malta and fried crickets in Mexico (and hated both). I almost got killed a couple of times, once after being chased by an angry donkey while hiking up a hill in Greece and once, when I got on a wrong train in Germany and landed up in the middle of nowhere at 2 am, being stranded at a desolate railway station for hours (I need to write about it). In the middle of a faculty interview, I managed to rip my pants and spent some time locked inside the dean’s office, stripped waist down, hurriedly sewing my trousers to be able to hang on to my dignity and continue with the interview. There was no dearth of adventure in my life. Amid all these little and not so little things, I will remember 2016 specifically for these reasons:
My grandfather’s passing: His passing not only left a deep void in me, but also made me face for the first time the consequences of my life choices of living away from the country, the land and the people, so far that saying goodbye would not be possible. He left behind a gaping hole in my heart that will never heal. I lost a person from my childhood, and there is only a handful people left from my childhood. I sometimes go through phases where I can sense him around me. Everyone from the family and extended family was at his funeral except me, his first grandchild. I haven’t found closure and I never will.
Losing my passport: Being robbed off my passport in broad daylight made me realize how paralyzing the instinct of fear is and how strong gut feelings could be. Although I would choose to be robbed off neither, if someone held me at gunpoint and forced me to choose, I’d rather they took my money than passport. A stolen passport remains in your record for a long time. I am often singled out for extra scrutiny every now and then. That incident in Athens shook me. Along with my passport and all my money, what I lost that day was my self-confidence. I felt small, and I felt violated. It wasn’t easy to think calmly in an unknown country I was visiting for the first time, being on my own. Losing a passport strips you off your identity. Suddenly, there is no way to prove who you are. There is no way you can board an airplane after that, even to your own country because without a passport, you cannot even prove what country you belong to. For a long time, fear had gnawed my insides. The feeling was very visceral.
Finding the job: 2016 was when I transitioned from finding “a job” to finding “the job”. It wasn’t easy and it took me a while to get there. It transformed things for me fundamentally, from working hard to fulfill other’s scholarly dreams to now working harder to fulfill my own scholarly dreams. Being faculty is one of the hardest things I have done in life. It takes up all my time and energy every single day. And that is exactly how I would have wanted it. I have a better understanding and much greater appreciation of my PhD adviser now. There were so many times I could not comprehend why he acted the way he did. Now, I finally do.
Moving back to the US: After two years of my linguistic exile in Germany, it was interesting to move back to the US once again as a resident and not as a temporary visitor. I have a driver’s license again. I have access to US Netflix. I am in the same time zone as many of my friends (or within a respectable time difference). I have a US number again. I can suddenly understand and be understood. These are little comforts that I had missed out on big time.
Traveling: 2016 will be my most well-traveled year. I traveled 16 countries (and 35 cities), 13 of which (countries) were new, and 11 of them, on my own. Paying monthly rent became a formality. I turned thirty five while hiking the forts of Dubrovnik and scaling the mountains of Montenegro. Visiting the concentration camps of Auschwitz was another significant experience. I took a cruise ship for the first time, all the way to Norway. I almost scaled the pyramids of Mexico. In terms of travel and experiencing places, there has never been a better year.
I am grateful for the many experiences 2016 brought me. 2017 has been relatively low-key so far. But I am not complaining.
sunshine

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Teaching: Then and now

Eleven years ago, I started my career working as a science/math teacher. I did that for a year before going back to grad school. That was the end of my teaching. Eleven years later, I started teaching again. But it's not quite the same anymore.

2006: Students used to call me ma'am, and different variations of it. Math ma'am. Chemistry ma'am. Funny ma'am. Angry ma'am.
2017: Students call me Dr. [My last name]. I keep nudging them to call me by my first name. Even then, an Asian student said, "Sorry, it is not in my culture, I cannot do that."

2006: I was given a syllabus the ICSE board had prepared.
2017: It took me an entire week of blood, sweat and tears to write my syllabus. I put two classes on reliability and validity testing and then went like, naah, not so cool. So I deleted them. Talk about acquiring syllabus superpowers.

2006: I used to feel like a celebrity putting "right" marks and my signatures in red ink, as if I was giving autographs.
2017: Technology has taken away the fun. Now, I grade word documents. And I put those red marks in my own calendar, just for kicks.

2006: I used to start reading the chapter an hour before class.
2017: Now, I spend the entire week reading up not just textbooks, but research papers, Coursera materials, and stuff on the internet.

2006: "Okay, enough questions. Let me continue."
2017: "Any questions?" (And I silently die a little inside when no one asks questions. Are they not engaged? Are they not understanding? Are they not connecting with me? PS: It takes exactly 3.87 seconds for a silence to get awkward)

2006: If I didn't know an answer, I would make it up on the spot.
2017: Now, I just say, "That's a great question. What do you think?"

2006: My comments went into students' evaluation.
2017: Students' comments go into my annual evaluation.

2006: "No one should talk now." (I had too much to say in 50 minutes)
2017: "Let's spend an hour doing student presentations." (I don't think I have enough to say for 3 hours)

2006: After my first class, I must have gone home, watched TV and dozed off peacefully.
2017: After my first class, I kept checking the online roster for 24 hours to make sure that no one had dropped out of the course.

sunshine

Monday, March 13, 2017

Another immigrant story

I don't even claim to fully understand the extent of the discrimination and the anguish immigrants and their families recently affected have gone through. It is beyond my imagination. To be denied entry into your home must be the worst form of humiliation. And fear. And then to be shot, killed, become victims of hate crime! But I am an optimist and keep hoping that things will only get better from here.

In the light of this, I share a snippet of my own immigrant story. I do not even claim to equate the horrors of my story and the stories of people who were detained or were recent victims of hate crime. I have never suffered the horror and humiliation of refusal to entry, have never had a gun pointed at me, and pray that I never do. My purpose of sharing this personal story is to show solidarity among the immigrant community. Because specific immigrant experiences made me hardy, putting a thick cover on my skin and an extra spine while teaching me to let go of shame and self-doubt. And because although we are all a part of the tight-knit immigrant community, no two immigrant stories are the same.

I have been an immigrant since 2006. I moved to the US because I had heard great things about this country from other people, and I was mostly motivated to travel, see the world, go to a US university, and live independently. That was my basic agenda. I was 25 and believed that I had endless life possibilities (I still do). So despite vehement protests from the family, I said "okay goodbye see you!" and made a new home in an unknown country.

Between then and now, I have been severely affected by visa issues twice. I was working full-time both the time. As a result of this, I was forced to become unemployed and homeless twice. The first time, I was unemployed for eight months, homeless for five. The second time, I was unemployed for two months, homeless for two. For a single-earning member, it is like jumping off a cliff in the middle of the night in your pajamas and without a parachute, not knowing where and when you are going to land and if you are going to survive the fall. The sinking feeling of dread at the core of the stomach we talk about is a very real, bodily feeling I have experienced many times.

Both the times, the community jumped to help me, providing me shelter, food, a safe environment, a warm comforter, and love. I lived in different people's homes, in labs, at universities, sometimes sleeping on the couch, sometimes in my own room, but never in my car (though it was a real possibility too). Dozens of people leaped forward to take me home with them.

I had to leave the country. Twice. Never stayed illegally even for a day. Always came back legally. Both the times, some recommended getting hitched to a US citizen for reentry. Never contemplated doing such crazy shit. No self-respecting human should have to marry for need or convenience.

I was able to turn it around both the times.

The first exile was for five months. Went back to Kolkata. Had a blast. Came back to do a PhD with full scholarship in a great school. My life got even better.

The second exile was longer. Two years precisely. Moved to Germany. Had a blast. Traveled all over Europe. Came back as a tenure-track faculty.

Being an immigrant has taught me resilience. It has been a mental and bodily exercise to let go of the shame, embrace the uncertainty, and take whatever life offers. I hope that I do not have to leave a third time, but I am always prepared. It's like a fire drill one gets used to. With every move, I learnt to pack my bags more quickly than the last time. And I always figured how to find my way back. Because while Kolkata is home, this is home too. Homes do not depend on the country of birth or citizenship.

All said, I know that I still come from a position of privilege. If it ever comes to me going bankrupt and on the streets, I have a pretty good Plan B. I can always go back to living with the parents. There will always be free lodging, free food, plenty of love, and I am sure I can find a job too. That's a great backup plan to have. Not all immigrants have that Plan B.

The immigrant resilience should never be underestimated. Many who live in their privileged bubble and never have to deal with immigration issues have no clue what it feels like. 

I look forward to hearing other immigrant stories of courage. Because stories are powerful. Stories build human connections. Stories bind us together, especially during times of hardship. And because no two immigrant stories are the same. Please drop me a line if you write and publish your story.

sunshine

Friday, March 10, 2017

Post-surgery

Post-surgery, I have learnt and realized so many things. If I were to fight for mankind, I'd fight for liberty, equality, dignity, and my right to chew. 

As much as I hate the smell of overripe bananas, they are now my best friend. These days, I buy bananas in bulk and let them ripen. Because when you cannot chew, overripe bananas form an excellent base to mash up anything. It's different that every time I enter home from work, the strong smell of bananas makes me go bananas. I just can't stand it.

I have realized why some pregnant women go crazy reading pregnancy literature. These days, all I do is read literature on dentition. Every time I meet someone, the first thing I notice is their teeth. I must be losing my mind.

I have learnt to blend insane combinations of food that I never thought would go down my throat. Blended strawberry and yes, you guessed it, overripe bananas with milk. Blended grapes. Over-boiled pasta, cooled and blended. Avocados, mashed eggs and mashed potatoes with sweetcorn. Don't even ask me how I bear to eat all this. I am forever hungry, tired, irritable, and in a constant state of pseudo-PMS. Because it takes no time to digest liquids. You'll be amazed to know how constant hunger interferes with your thinking. It takes very little for me to have a meltdown these days.

And I no longer feel the urge to make small talk (simply because talking is so painful and I have to save my energy for the 3-hour long class I teach every week). When people ask me how I am, I no longer pretend or feel compelled to lie that I am fine. Because I only have less bad days and more bad days. My less bad days are the ones when I spit coagulated blood. My more bad days are the ones when I spit out little pieces of bone instead. I lost some bone graft last week, but they cannot do anything, just wait and watch me for 6 months and hope that I grow enough bone on my own. I wish it was as simple as growing hair or nails. I go back for weekly visits and looks like I am healing really slowly (which is why I am still not allowed to chew). And talking about pain, I thought periods are painful. I thought my leg fractures were painful. I thought eyebrow threading is painful. But nothing in my life had prepared me for the pain that comes when they put stitches inside your mouth.

At night, when I lay on my back and stare at the ceiling in the darkness, I often fantasize about eating a regular meal. Enjoying a piece of succulent bone from a plate of biryani and not having to worry that it can cause the makeshift bone roof that they have put inside my mouth to collapse.


sunshine

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Happiness and health do not correlate

Nothing brings out intense punnery and sarcasm in me more than sitting at a doctor's office and listening to the breakdown of the bill that I have to pay out of my pocket even after insurance. I mean, I live in a country where you are sent a bill for holding your newborn (Google it if you don't believe me). Naturally, discussions around medical bills always make me edgy.

I listen to the detailed explanation at the dentist's and blurt, "Wow, that's a lot to chew on." The person is not amused and continues to explain what I would be paying. I see the final amount and cannot hold back anymore. I wonder if they also do kidney transplants on the side there. How does one even justify this kind of bill?

"Looks like I'll have to sell a kidney to pay for the teeth," I laugh out nervously.

I get very dirty looks, but it doesn't matter. Healthcare costs in this country make me wish I am dead before I get old or ill. If tooth implants cost this much, I don't know what other implants cost. I just started my job, and I don't have a bunch of sugar daddies waiting on me, not even one. I always walk out of the dentist's office in a state of shock and depression.

I look at the bus timings. At this rate, I will be using the bus for the next five years. There is still 20 minutes to kill, and it's freezing cold outside. So I aimlessly walk into the nearest store where I see light and humans. It turns out to be an overcrowded dollar store with people buying junk that they are better off not using. A minimalist here is a misfit, a pariah. I walk down the aisles, more for seeking heat than staring at mile-long aisles covered in colorful wrappers. It's amazing how the human civilization got eventually convinced that life is meaningless without material stuff (read Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind for some interesting perspectives). I walk up to the frozen aisle and see all kinds of junk food at dirt cheap prices proudly on display. A bunch of people are excitedly stocking up on such inexpensive, calorie-laden, nutrient-deprived food for the holiday season, talking and giggling. Who knew happiness comes so cheap when the price I'm paying to stay healthy is throwing me into perennial depression? Happiness and health do not necessarily correlate, and the irony of the situation is not lost on me. Thankfully, my bus arrives and I extricate myself from the womb of one dollar consumerism.


sunshine

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

From the dental diaries

November, 2016.

The walk back from the dentist's office this evening was long, introspective, and evoked a deep sense of sadness. I needed some time to let it all sink in. It started innocuously enough, when a crown came off, taking me to my first dentist in the US (I always saw dentists in India). The visit opened a can of worms in my life. I went back again today for a full X-ray. We ended up chatting for more than 2 hours. I was interested in knowing everything to the root (pun unintended). Long story short, I have undergone major tissue damage and bone degeneration over the years. So I will be regularly visiting the dentist at least for the next 6 months, if not a year. The visits will not be as chatty as today's, but will involve several invasive procedures, some with partial numbing, and some, full.

Apart from being terrified about degenerating health, dealing with pain, time involvement, and money, in that exact order, I feel an overwhelming sadness to the core. All this was preventable, had I started seeing a dentist like this 10 years ago. But being afraid of going bankrupt on student insurance, I never did. I always went back to India to get my teeth checked. In air crash investigation videos, they always tell you two things- one, a significant number of crashes are caused by human error that were preventable, and two, a plane can never go down based on one malfunctioning; it takes a series of events gone wrong like a chain reaction to bring a plane down. My thoughts are on similar lines.

In a 4-page long questionnaire they asked me to fill out the other day with questions ranging from dental history to mental history, I honestly wrote, "I am terrified of dentists. My apologies." I was not lying. Since age 5, I have had a history of experiencing traumatic dental incidents. At 6, a doctor had pulled out the wrong (and healthy) tooth without numbing me first, by mistake (he was old and had poor eyesight). In my late teens, I had my first root canal that involved a scary looking man with huge, hairy hands pinning me down for hours every Sunday morning. A few years later, I shifted to a female dentist to do away with the huge and hairy hands shoved in my mouth, only to have hands that smelled of cooking spices that induced a strong gag reflex in me. The gag reflex never went away, but only got worse over the years. The recent one was no better. I have been terrified of dentists all my life.

The sad part is having to go through all the pain every few years, spend huge amounts of money summing up to tens of thousands every time, and then learning today that I have lost massive bone tissue over the years. The root canals were never done well, the gutta percha fillings from 16 years ago didn't go all the way to the core. The crowns never fit properly and needed to be redone. The upper right wisdom tooth has grown at a precarious angle, hurting surrounding tissues. From angles that I have never seen myself before, my mouth literally looked like an airplane crash site.

Was this preventable? Possibly. I have only two responsibilities I take pretty seriously- staying alive and staying healthy. I brush more number of times than anyone in my family does. I don't do drugs or alcohol or soda or nicotine, I try not to do stupid things, get run over, speed while driving for cheap thrills, or voluntarily put myself in danger. Yet I have had freak accidents and lived with injuries that occurred inexplicably. The dentists addressed injuries but never did preventative care. Even the one last year, who said that he cleaned my teeth, lied through his teeth. The injuries were all there for me to see through a series of more than 24 X-rays I brought back with me, for posterity, thanks to Dr. Roentgen.

Am I upset? I am devastated. Losing teeth is losing a part of my body that I can never build back (unlike shedding the uterine lining, nicking my skin, or breaking a nail). I feel violated. It's not that I did not act on time. I never even knew until today that there was a problem.

I am prepping for a long and cold winter of suffering, bleeding, not talking, surgeries, sutures, implants, associated headaches (I already have one since morning), and a long recovery period. The optimist in me sees that I don't have oral cancer (they checked for that too), I live in an English-speaking country (imagine if this was Germany!), I have some form of insurance, am otherwise healthy (or so I think, god knows), and will eventually heal. But I keep wondering, was this not preventable? Because if it was, I would have camped outside the dentist's office in a heartbeat and made sure that today never happened. Sometimes, things in life do not add up, leaving you confused, with so many unanswered questions.


sunshine

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Getting high

My world was spinning around as I was trying to word my sentences at work. For the first time, I have been on such strong narcotics. I can see how it has messed up my brain.

For starters, my landlady said that I came out of surgery howling. I had no reason to do that, but anesthesia affects the cry-centers of my brain. She drove me back and brought me home, and as she did that, I passed out on the floor. I lost track of time. I had no energy to get up. I remember wondering what if the bed shrunk and I fell off it? The floor seemed safer. Such were my levels of delusion. She called my insurance (I had no idea where my insurance card was and my speech was a disaster), got me my medication, shoved them down my throat with a glass of water, all the while when I was splayed like a lizard on the floor, only, on my back, my hands and legs stretched out. I heard her come and go and come back. I was conscious that way. But since I had lost my sense of time, it felt a matter of a few minutes. I am glad she has a set of keys to my apartment.

There was utter confusion, lack of sense of time, and blurry speeches after that. I slept for hours, but did not realize how time flew. My emails were no longer coherent, and I kept forgetting words. The next few days have been a blur. I have restricted my activities to mostly the basics- finding food, eating, and getting back to bed. But today, I dragged myself to work. Two minutes into my bus ride, a strong bout of nausea hit me. I was dizzy, the world was spinning around me. The parking department guy takes the same bus (imagine the irony, parking guy takes the bus). I vaguely remember telling him that I am going to throw up. He not only escorted me to my office, but came back to check on me during lunch hours. Soon after, two kind colleagues barged into my office and literally ordered me to leave. The bus ride back was equally terrible.

That brownie I had in Amsterdam, I only felt a fraction of everything I am feeling now, only for a few hours. Saying that it was fun was a stretch, but it was educational. This is not. It's only been three days, and I am sick of these constant bouts of nausea. I cannot imagine how people take these drugs on a regular basis for pain management. It makes you realize how hard life can get when you are no longer healthy.

I am addicted to books on neuroscience and the brain. Reading is something, but experiencing first-hand how narcotics affect the brain is something else. Everything you do without thinking- speaking coherently, walking upright, digesting food without throwing up, being able to have a focused vision, and even a sense of humor, everything is going to be compromised. I have been sleeping 12 hours a day ever since, and I am still tired. I want to go back and reread Jill Bolte Taylor's book. But I can no longer read at a stretch without feeling dizzy. If you haven't read the book, you must at least listen to her TED talk.

sunshine

Monday, March 06, 2017

The day before the surgery

Tomorrow morning 9 am, I will be headed to the dentist's for the big day. I would be starting a series of treatments that would last me all of 2017. I have died a little bit many times the past few months, (p)reliving the anticipated pain even before anything happened.

By the time I got home this evening, I was starving. I was so hungry that I could eat a bus, which is surprising because I am a ravenous breakfast eater but I never feel that hungry for dinner. It could be because I was not supposed to eat or drink after midnight, and by the time the procedure was over, my life would have changed. Or it could be because Thursdays are teaching days and I was just back from teaching and talking continuously for 3 hours, it was 9:30 pm, and my energy levels had depleted alarmingly. Or it could be because starting tomorrow, I would be on a liquid, pureed diet for 3 weeks, eating food with baby-food consistency. Or it could be just because I knew this would be my last pain-free meal for a while.

I was on the phone with my most faithful friend who calls me everyday to ask me how my day was. Even before I could talk about teaching class, my stomach was growling. I had to hang up. I never get this hungry at this hour. Maybe my body was preparing for a stress situation by storing up energy. The brain is pretty smart that way.

What would I eat at this hour? I had not cooked dinner, and as I inspected the fridge, I knew exactly what I was craving. It surprised me even more, way more than this unexpected hunger, because this is the comfort food I never crave. In my ten-plus years of staying away and cooking on my own, I have never once made this. I can imagine craving biryani and kosha mangsho and Chipotle, those are clearly my favorites. But this?

Well, I was not going to fight my cravings at least today. Pregnant women talk about sudden cravings, and I never understood it until today. The analytical me started to wonder what signals my brain was producing as I got a potato and an egg and put it to boil. I boiled some rice too, and as I did, I chopped green chilies and onions. I neither crave rice nor potatoes (I mostly crave meat and sweets), but my body must have been prepping for a fight-or-flight mode and was craving the carbs to store up energy. These were my thoughts as I prepared my dinner of over boiled potato, egg and rice made into a mushy, semi-solid consistency with ghee. I added the chilies and the onions and mixed the mush with some pickle oil. The smell was driving me nuts. I kept wondering how could a person who did not crave any of these ingredients (potato, egg, rice, ghee, chilies, onions, pickle) crave this meal. And suddenly, I had my answer. It wasn't about carbs or hormones or fight-and-flight responses or glycogen storage in the liver or anything. In anticipation of the stressful situation, I was just craving comfort food that I have old and fond associations with. Food is a lot about memories- childhood memories, nostalgic memories, romantic memories, school memories, like the smell of an egg roll always reminding me of penurious college days or the smell of macher kalia (fish curry) reminding me of wedding invitations. Even if this was not my most favorite food in the world, I was craving the comfort of family. This is what we ate when Ma was sick and unable to cook. This is what we ate when we came home from somewhere and Ma did not have the energy to cook (we rarely ate outside without occasion, Ma would simply throw in all these along with some boiled lentils). I was just craving the comfort of childhood memories, Ma's reassurance, and old and familiar smells.

The first spoonful of that piping hot dinner sent me straight to heaven. Tonight, I would not even have looked at fish fry or mutton biryani. There is nothing that could have made me as happy as this meal did. 

Wakefulness eludes me as I write this, and I can already feel my eyelids drooping. It is funny that even an hour ago, I was so anxious that I did not think I will be able to sleep all night. And now, I will soon find it hard to walk back to the bed if I do not leave this recliner. Tomorrow, we shall see tomorrow. Right now, the class has been taught (I am good until next Thursday), the tummy full, the cravings satisfied, and I am just grateful for good health, good appetite, and fantastic food memories. And of course all that ghee-drizzled, mushy dinner. Toothache, we will deal with tomorrow.

sunshine

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Being faculty: End of semester one


I wrote this post the last week of my first semester as faculty. Well, it was technically half a semester since I got in late. Ten weeks of faculty-hood was like getting on a roller coaster ride that I mistakenly thought was an innocuous rickshaw ride by the park. I have journalled well, scribbling down the many little experiences that shocked, surprised, and shocked me again. Don't know about grey matter, but grey hair increased exponentially as I was asked to analyze the many grey areas in my research. Here are ten random scribbles:

1. By the end of week one, I woke up to the realization that time, and not money, is my new currency. Being faculty means wrapping my head around so many things in many different directions, I now understand why the term "protected time" exists in the research world.

2. There were numerous moments when I was deeply engrossed trying to make sense of a problem, only to think, "Shit! I cannot make sense of this, I need to talk to my adviser," only to realize that there is no adviser. I am the adviser. The voices in my head often tell me, "Stop thinking like a grad student!" In the garb of a confident tenure-track faculty member, I still feel like a confused grad student inside.

3. Almost every time someone heard what my job is, they asked me what I teach. Well, I do not teach. However, I will be, from January. The professor in me says, "This is exciting, let's bring it on!" The grad student in me says, "Shit! What did I get myself into?" After doing mostly qualitative research, I am now developing a survey course. I thought this is some kind of a cosmic joke from the universe. For the past few weeks, I have been brushing the cobwebs off my statistical knowledge about factor analysis, IRT, and other stuff I learnt way back in grad school and swore never to use again. Well, never say never. Writing the syllabus alone took me three full days of effort. This will be my first time teaching at a university, and as excited as I am trying to be, I am terrified inside.

4. A big part of being faculty means making things up on the fly. Barring some exceptionally interesting talks, I zone out in most talks and start thinking about other things. I was attending a seminar when someone asked me, "Blah blah blah ... so what do you think of it?" Not only did I not know what to think of it, I was not even paying attention. All I can say is that with practice, you get good at making things up on the fly.

5. It was funny when multiple people mistook me for a grad student. Just the way a grad student addressed me as the professor, and I looked away, thinking that she was calling someone else. This new role that I have assumed will need some getting used to.

6. My mother beams with pride that I am now a state employee. No one in my family is one, and where I come from, there is a lot of prestige associated with being a government employee. She doesn't get it that that state government and this state government is not quite the same. However, her excitement is infectious.

7. Being a new faculty is a lot like being newly married. You are the star of the new family, everyone is excited to have you around. It also means reproduction is one of the key traditional expectations to survive this marriage. Producing viable grants and papers is mandatory. Very soon, older colleagues will be dropping by and throwing known glances at my tummy (an analogy), asking when I would start churning out those academic babies. I have a committee that makes sure that I do not deviate from this (re)productive track. I write annual reviews based on my performance. This contract even comes with a time limit of six years. These ten weeks were spent looking for collaborators who would be willing to father my academic babies. That's something about academia- the more partners and collaborators you can find, the more viable seeds you are likely to sow, the more babies you are likely to produce, and the more your chances will be of making tenure. Academia is very polyamorous that way.

8. I have re-discovered the importance of sleep. If I am not well-rested, I am most likely going to be useless the next day. So while most people roughly my age are partying around, I get in bed by 9 pm, read for a few hours and drift off to sleep. Some people ask me what are my weekend plans. "Read, write, continue loop," is what I say.

9. No one cares what time you come to work or leave work. It's a strange feeling I am still getting used to.

10. A lot of what I do everyday has got nothing to do with being a professor. It involves replying to countless emails. Organizing meetings. Getting in groups and talking about things I have no idea about. Learning to order a dry erase board or filling out a gazillion forms after a trip, asking for reimbursement. Showing up at large gatherings and networking events when the introvert in me would much rather be at home. Remembering the names and faces of a million people you have never seen before, and be able to tag the correct name to the correct face. Everything that I had the luxury to avoid as a grad student- public speaking, large-scale data crunching, teaching stats, attending meetings, avoiding the spotlight, I will be doing it all now. All of it.


sunshine

Monday, January 23, 2017

Driving again

There was a time until 2014 that I could not imagine my daily life without driving. I loved driving. When someone needed a ride to the airport or needed to be picked up, I was the one who would volunteer. When the PhD adviser needed someone to drive 3 hours one way to visit some research sites, I was the one who would volunteer. It almost seems like a different life now.

I drove for the first time after 27 months, and it was quite a humbling experience. I suddenly became every nervous driver I never understood- those who complained of loud music, fear of speed, fear of changing lanes, etc. I know people who have either never driven on the freeway by choice, or have been practicing in the parking lot for years. It did not help that unknowingly, I picked the worst day weather-wise to drive to a nearby city for work. I had hoped for some parking lot/empty street practice first, but the car rental company had a busy parking lot that directly opened to one of the busy arterial streets that further took me directly on the freeway during peak office hours. Snowflakes (that later turned into slushy rain) started to fall fast and thick as I put the key in the ignition. I have never been this nervous even during that first driving test.

With a thudding heart and shaky hands, I started, took a few wrong turns, got on the freeway, in the wrong direction. I made a bunch of blunders. I struggled for the basics- staying in lane and not taking a wrong turn on one-way streets. 27 months is a long time, it is three full-term human pregnancies, back to back. Imagine not writing or not cooking for that long and then one day, suddenly starting to do those defensively (Also, cooking wrong doesn't kill you, but driving wrong does). Little things rattled me, like that tiny rear windshield wiper that suddenly started to wag its tail like a lizard's. Among the myriad of switches, I had no idea how to turn it off.

In this nervousness to drive, I actually forgot to panic about my upcoming and dreadful dental procedure, prioritizing my panic issues. The last few nights saw me spending hours in bed sleepless, googling for articles with search words like, "does one forget driving after two years?" Hear me out, from my personal experience. You don't. But you get rusty. Real rusty. Your instincts are not as sharp anymore, and the fact that you are nervous and overtly alert makes it worse. Pro dancers do not think and then do a series of steps mechanically, they just do it with fluidity. Public speakers do not rehearse every word in their head before speaking up, it comes naturally. When you analyze every future step in your head, you instantly become a bad driver. Driving to me was always calming. I never analyzed it, and I never feared it. Today was different though.

I think I finally understood what driving memory means. Sure, it is knowing how much to swerve left or right without going out of the lane, or how quickly to change lanes without hitting or being hit. It's all those little measurements in your head. But how much of that constitutes actual driving? During long distance freeway driving, it is actually remembering to coordinate your foot between the brakes and the gas pedal. We do it sub-consciously. Most drivers control the speed of a car on a freeway by taking their foot on and off the gas pedal, they do not hit the brakes unless there is a pressing need. For me, that instinct has rusted. People usually drive defensively, which also means sticking to speed limits. I drove like a mouse, I no longer felt I own the road like I used to. I constantly drove 5-10 below the speed limit (driving 25 at 30 and 50 at 60). This is because the sensors in my brain have somewhat lost the perception of speed. Earlier, I did not have to look at the speedometer to know if I was speeding, I just knew it. Now, I did not have a clear sense of how fast or slow I was going without constantly looking at technology. An analogy would be knowing how much to turn on the gas/cooker to fry your onions without burning them. You do not constantly check the temperature of the flame to see what temperature produces what heating effect. You just do it instinctively and with visual and olfactory cues. You know that probably 5 minutes is too less but 30 minutes is too much. The speed sensors in my brain went nuts, they thought that I was speeding while in reality, I was not. Multitasking was another issue- keeping your eyes on the road in front of you, on traffic behind you, staying in your lane while constantly checking on your speed and also listening to a very harsh-pitched, talkative GPS that I had never used before while driving a car that I had never driven before. It sounds complicated when I put it like that, but really, it is not. Every time a huge truck went past me, my car shook, and so did my hands. These things do not bother seasoned drivers. But one day if you suddenly forgot and had to relearn how to walk, walk with speed, and not get killed while walking, imagine your horror.

So when people say that driving memory never fades, what they perhaps mean is that people still remember to maneuver their cars, turn left when they intend to turn left, and right when they have to turn right. That knowledge never goes away. What gets rusty is the fine tuning- how much to hit the gas pedal, when to start applying the brakes, and how quickly to change lanes. But perhaps, the memory comes back with practice, just like with most other things.
Driving those 160 miles was the most stressful thing I have done recently, and I came home and crashed for two straight hours, I was so exhausted from focusing on the road all the time. I am actually looking forward to taking the bus tomorrow morning. I wanted to meet a friend, but changed my mind after my morning drive since I wanted to be back before it got dark. These things never bothered me before, I have breezed through some of the notorious cities like Chicago, Miami, and Houston. Yet today, I struggled to wade through the paddy fields at a humble speed of 60. Summer of 2014, those 8,000 miles driven all over the US in one month was my reality. And today is also my reality.


sunshine

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Budding romances

New addresses are like budding romances. There is the thrill and excitement of knowing a new city, its many hidden gems and secret nooks. Every day is a surprise, an exploration, a new page of a diary, a brand new chapter of a book. The thrill of discovering a restaurant serving your favorite cuisine. Or a cozy little coffee shop inside a quaint mall with your favorite corner, a little obscure, to sit and read in anonymity. A lesser known road lined with colorful trees. New sights of the changing seasons. Of streets never walked before, and houses never seen before. New smells and things that feel different under the skin. Who knows where this road leads to, and what stories lay in the nooks and corners of these buildings? The sun is the same, but the sunshine seems different, falling on unknown objects and making them glow like new. Like a snow-capped mountain or lavender field that gets you all excited while blasé drivers zoom past without stopping. As I walk back home every day, taking a different road every time, every new house excites me. I see little Christmas lights glowing inside, newly decorated trees, and wonder who lives here, what their stories are. Relationships are the same. They come with the excitement of the unknown, the smell of a new book, the newness of a spring flower. The world is out there for you, waiting to get explored, and discovered. Even the sparkle in the eyes thrills you, because it is new for you. That is how this city feels like right now.

With time, some romances fade, and others turn into love. When the dust of the newness has settled, it leaves behind the comfort of predictability. Knowing all the roads and where they lead to, where they start and where they end. Knowing every little restaurant and every little garden. Knowing exactly where to take the guests. And what roads to avoid during game day. Like living with the same person for 20, 50 years, and waking with them every morning, holding hands and feeling the same love every single day as you take a walk. Romance changes to love, and the excitement of the unknown to the comfort of the known. Because what you created in between is shared history, shared memories. Memories that are unique, like carrying a piece of their DNA in your heart. The city's. The person's. Calling someone and already knowing how they say, "Hello?" on the phone. Or respond when you call out their name in a crowd. On nights that I am working late and all is quiet outside, I can hear the horn of the train with routine predictability. I derive a strange sense of comfort from that sound, just knowing where it is coming from and that it happens every day, although I am sitting miles away from the train and cannot see it.

Because places are not much different from people. You live in them, you live with them. You grow with them, and they grow on you. Familiarity sometimes breeds contempt, and romance dissipates, love evaporates. Until you see things from someone else's eyes, from a new perspective, and perhaps remember what it felt like all those years ago. Because we are creatures of habit, and new places mold us into new habits. Like, I drop by the grocery store every day from work, even if I do not need anything. Because the aisles feel familiar, the people feel familiar. That is the comfort of familiarity. Then sometimes, I take a different bus home, and am surprised by the newness all over again. And thus continues my romance with this city, turning a little bit into love with every passing day.

sunshine

Monday, December 05, 2016

Teething Troubles

The most horrific thing happened to me this Halloween. While chewing on a piece of Halloween candy flicked from the office kitchen, I bit on a piece of something rock solid. In a split second, I instinctively knew what it was. I was engulfed with a sinking, panicked feeling in my stomach. I'd be less freaked out had I spotted someone staring back at me in the bathroom mirror. I had bitten on a porcelain cap that was guarding one of my upper molars. I had gotten it done in Kolkata last year, amid lying in a pool of blood and tears during a root canal surgery. What is even more horrifying is that I had woken up that same morning in cold sweat after a nightmare where I saw some of my teeth falling off. I could not believe that I was living my nightmare happening for real within a few hours.

I immediately smelled dental cement. Shit! This was not good. I could have swallowed it by mistake and then, they would have to trace my plumbing system to get it out. Worse, I could have choked on it and died in my thirties, even before attaining tenure. Carefully, I spat out the tooth cap, my tongue feeling very raw on the exposed remains of the tooth. I wanted to keel over and throw up.

Last year, I had spent an arm and a leg and a sizable portion of my kidney to get a root canal done from this dentist who claimed that the sophisticated machinery he used meant one would feel no pain. Far from it, I had wept and whimpered, periodically spitting salty mouth wash and coagulated blood. His hands had felt like boxers pummeling fists inside my mouth. I had been sore for days. Even with all this, he had not done a foolproof job. Danger bells had started ringing in my head when I overheard him take a call and brag to someone about an upcoming Dubai trip and plans for buying the new iPhone. I instinctively knew whose wallet would be riddled to pay for it. I have always had a hate-hate relationship with dentists since my milk teeth days.

In a fit of panic, I made a terrible mistake. I somehow managed to put back the cap in its position. I instantly knew it was a mistake because now, I could not eat without fearing that I might swallow it once again. At night, I was afraid to fall sleep lest I swallow it and choke and die in my sleep (I slept on my stomach that night and duct taped my jaw). The next morning, I chewed on another piece of Halloween candy and there, the cap was out again. I was so relieved.

I messaged the Indian dentist on Whatsapp. Rather than sounding apologetic, he admonished me, sounding defensive and telling me how he had taken fresh impressions and gotten me a second cap (yes, this was the second cap that came out, he did such a good job). I wasn't expecting him to miraculously cure me on Whatsapp, but I was not expecting rudeness either. He alluded that the architecture of my teeth must be faulty (blaming the victim, as always). He asked me to find a dentist in the US and ask them to glue it back. As if I did not know that already. I hope that the Dubai trip was worth it. Someday, when dentists in India start getting sued for malpractice, I'll be the one laughing. Perhaps a toothless, gummy laughter by that age, but I'd definitely be having my last laugh.

It's been a nightmare since then. The next few days found me dentist-shopping, and the wide array of options confused me. Some said I need an endodontist, some said an orthodontist, and some, just a dentist. I have never seen a dentist in the US or Germany before (always depended on my Kolkata trips to get my vision and dental issues fixed), don't know how the insurance works here, and the thought of lying in another dentist's room scared the hell out of me. I am suddenly way more troubled at the thought of getting older. I am suddenly repentant for asking grandma more questions and making her talk more on purpose every night after she removed her dentures (and giggling at how funny she sounded). I feel sorry for having thrown grandpa's dentures on the garage roof at the age of five, just for fun. I can sense karma catching up with me big time. Will I ever be able to chew on a mutton bone from my biryani in peace? My Korean dentist friend once told me that most of the patients who visit her do so to fix their dentures since they sometimes come out while kissing with force (why people would be kissing with dentures on is a different story, but who am I to judge anyway?). Would I ever be able to do that without fearing disastrous consequences? Would I be able to fix my tooth without filing for bankruptcy? Would I ever be able to chew on a piece of bone without worrying? Or smile without looking funny? Would I be able to teach three-hour long classes from the next semester without bellowing like a broken harmonium? Or feel less mental about my dental problems? Stay tuned if you have nothing better to do in life and want to know. And if you have secretly suffered from dental problems all your life like I have, let's bond over virtual coffee and share those stories.


sunshine

Thursday, December 01, 2016

A car(e)free life

Priorities change. Our fears change. We change.

My greatest stress about moving back to the US involved getting a new driver license. When you have been gone from the country for 2 years, you are out of the system. Everything needs to be done afresh, and involves liberal amounts of paperwork and running around.

Multiple Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in the area told me that I would have to start afresh- clear the knowledge test as well as the driving test. Although I drove quite a bit for 5 years, more than the average person does, knowledge test involved studying, and often memorizing facts that were not directly relevant (e.g., remembering permissible blood alcohol levels for someone who doesn't drink). I was lazy and did not have the mindset to study.

And then, the actual driving test- a chicken and egg problem. You cannot rent a car without a driver license, and if you don't rent a car, you cannot take the driving test. I do not know anyone outside work here, and when I was invited to attend a Sunday bhajan followed by a vegetarian potluck, I was convinced that I am perhaps better off not knowing anyone outside work. Now how would I get a car?

Burdened by these (first) worldly problems, I decided to at least get a state ID first (needs to be done within the first 30 days). I show up with all my documents. The first person at the counter confirms that this will be a state ID and not a driver license. I need to take the driving test in some other location that needs prior appointment. So I wait patiently until my name is called and I walk up to the counter to get a state ID.

"Your driver license expired in 2014. I see that you did not renew it."

A gut feeling inside told me to keep mum and nod, without explaining that I was gone from the country.

"If you pay a fine of such amount, we can renew your license," I could not believe my ears.

Quickly, I paid the fine, furtively looking around and making sure that no one comes from behind and gets me in trouble. With a racing heart, I quickly took the vision test, pledged to donate my organs when I died, smiled for a horrible ID picture, paid all the dues, gave copious amounts of thank yous and sorrys for not renewing on time, and ran out of the DMV office once they issued me a temporary driver license. I did not even stop to use the restroom, lest they change their mind and take away my new license.

Twenty six months into not driving, I got a driver license. Just like that. Without a knowledge test or driving test. Two weeks later, the actual driving license was in my mailbox.

That was part one of the story. Part two is, around the same time, I had an epiphany (with old age, I have many these days) that I did not want to own a car anymore. Not for the time being at least. Yes, this is coming from a person who drove 8,000 miles solo in one month before leaving the US, and suffered from strong separation anxiety when she had to sell her car. I used to itch to drive other people's cars after that. But as of now, I am done with my love for driving. The only three places I know in town that matter (home, work, and the dentist's office) are all connected by bus. Seattle is only a flight away. For other things, there are cabs. This aligns perfectly with my aim to live like a minimalist. A car means additional costs for gas, parking, insurance, and maintenance. Taking the bus makes me walk more, meet more people (I have already made friends), and plan my days better. Restricted mobility also means not being tempted to do unnecessary things, like driving 2 hours to a neighboring city for good biryani. I used to do that all the time. But now, I am happier getting home and reading a book than driving to someplace with no clear aim. And if I am suddenly dying to drive all the way to Southern California or Florida, I can always rent a car.

It's funny how things changed with time. My car was my life, and I could not imagine life without driving. Then, Germany happened, the much needed reset button in my life. By doing the same set of activities, I was engaging the same neural networks in my brain. Now, I was forced to develop newer networks, new skills- learn to take the train, learn a new language, learn to make conversation with the bus driver, and so on. Eventually, I reorganized my life around different hobbies that did not involve driving. Even with a driver license in my hand, I do not care to drive anymore. It's a truly freeing experience.


sunshine

Monday, November 21, 2016

The lamb shank

A few weeks into my new job took me to my first out-of-town work trip. I was going to stay in a hotel overnight. Being the true researcher than I am, I had looked up a nice place to eat dinner. It had very high ratings, the reviews were stellar, and it was not too far from my hotel. I had even checked the menu beforehand, making sure I knew what I was going to order. I landed all tired, checked in to my hotel, dropped off my bags and headed for dinner.

I ordered the braised lamb shank, skeptical about how tough or tender it would be. I asked the waitress if there will be a bone and she said yes. However, she assured me that separating the meat from the bone will not be an issue. I didn’t quite believe her since I have eaten lamb before, but I went ahead and ordered nevertheless. I didn’t want to create a mess, struggling to use my fork and knife.

And while I was at it, I went ahead and ordered a glass of sangria too. I am not your average alcohol drinker, but I thought that would relax me after a long day. I had spent an entire day at work and then taken the bus for another two hours to get here.

The first sip of sangria sent me spiraling down to Heaven. It instantly relaxed my muscles and made my eyes droopy. I had first tasted sangria earlier this year and loved it. While the cheaper ones were, umm, cheap, the more expensive ones were a gateway to Heaven.

In between, my order of lamb shank arrived, all wonderfully flavorful.

As I put my knife and fork on the meat, ready to cut it, it came out of the bone on its own. It was so well-done that I did not have to struggle with it at all. I spent the next hour or so enjoying the most tender meat I have eaten amid sips of sangria. The meal was very expensive by my standards, and I absolutely knew why.

At some point, the sangria must have hit my head. For I was suddenly engulfed with a sense of guilt. Only a month ago, I was a penurious postdoc. I hardly earned anything. Since I traveled a lot, I traveled on a low budget. I took trains at odd hours like 3 am just to save some money. I made sure that I ate inexpensive food, which was often roadside Turkish food. Although Europe is considered food Heaven, the only time I had eaten at an expensive restaurant was during a Christmas celebration when the department took us out and paid for it. If I was going to be traveling all day, I made sure I was carrying home-cooked food. I ordered the cheapest food, skipping drinks and dessert. I always kept two apples and two bananas in my bag, in case I got very hungry. I realized that I was carrying two bananas in my bag even that day, more out of habit than need. Here I was eating one of the most expensive things on the menu, but still had emergency food in the bag. I even paid a fat tip that day.

The hotel I was staying at was a standard American hotel. It usually means a huge room, a huge television I never watch, a king bed, most of which goes unoccupied, half a dozen pillows never used, half a dozen towels in the bathroom never used, and so on. If you have stayed at one of these standard chain hotels in the US, you will know what I mean. The only noise came from the whirring air conditioning in the room. As I looked out of the window at night, I saw a parking lot, silhouettes of huge cars parked, concrete and cement, and not a soul in sight. This is in complete contrast to the hostels I was staying in even a month ago, sharing my room with travelers all over the globe. I usually had a twin bed and a pillow, and sometimes had to climb ladders to get to my bed. It would be buzzing outside with tourists, local musicians playing live music and what not.

It hit me that day that I will hopefully never have to live in penury again. But that also brought in a feeling of sadness. In the next few weeks, I learnt that money begets money. 

As a postdoc, no one sent me to professional development seminars (that would have helped me find a job sooner), and if I went on my own, I had to pay out of my pocket. As a faculty, not only were they sending me to professional development events, but were also paying for my transportation, food, and hotels (although I can easily afford it now). 

As a postdoc in Europe, I never owned or rented a car, I always took the public transport. Now, if I had to rent a car for work, my university reimburses me. 

I had to buy my own health insurance in Germany. Now, the university pays for my health insurance, although I can afford it. 

I had to buy my monthly bus pass in Germany. Now, the university gives me a free one.

I now have more rights and benefits, although I needed them more as a postdoc. It was a sobering realization, and a sad one too.  The hotel and the expensive food is a nice, kind gesture. But somewhere deep down, beyond this formals wearing faculty lives a poor traveler, happily walking the streets of Europe, eating cheap food, staying in cheap youth hostels, and enjoying live music from streetside performers.


sunshine

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A new blog

I have a new blog now. A blog where I write about academia based on my experiences. But here is the thing. The audience is not other academicians. My target audience is people who are either not in academia (like my grandma) or people who are considering academia and do not know enough to be able to decide. For this, I will use simple, daily life analogies in my posts. So far, I have written for people who know the field. Here, I will write for people who do not know the field.

This blog was inspired when after my first day at work my Ma asked me what work they gave me. I did not laugh at her. But she surely did when I told her that I now have a job where no one gives me work. I give myself work. She did not believe me. Neither did my friends who are from outside academia.

The workings of academia were not always very clear to me and they still aren’t. I am just figuring out things one day at a time. However, I wish I had more information when I was considering career choices. Hence this blog.

I will be writing about my experiences from being a graduate student to faculty. I have written about how a faculty job is similar to driving and how the PhD adviser is like a driving instructor. I also talk about how taking coursework in graduate school is like building your computer processor. As you can see, I use a lot of analogies that people can relate to. Ideally, I would have liked to write a semi-autobiographical, humorous book based on my experiences in academia, but let’s face it, I just don’t have the time and energy to be a book author (if I did, I would have been one by now). So that these life learning do not fade away with an ageing memory, I am documenting my experiences through this blog.

I shall continue to write here on the sunshine blog about mundane, daily, non-academic matters. However, if you are interested in understanding academia or know someone who would, you might want to read this new blog.


sunshine

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

On being one's boss

As the train rolled into the station close to two in the morning, almost an hour behind schedule, I pressed my nose to the window pane trying to make out as much of the city as the view would allow. Silhouettes of tall buildings stood as vanguard in the downtown landscape. Traffic lights blinked red and green and occasional cars waited and sped by in otherwise empty streets. Little local stores stood in the darkness dwarfed by larger ones. There wasn't much to make of the city in the dark.

It took another hour to get home, home being a temporary arrangement of sorts. As I debated whether to fully unpack or wait until I moved to a more permanent place in a few weeks or months, the philosophical voice in my head (also known as brain chatter) told me to go ahead and unpack since all homes are temporary anyway. Running alarmingly low on energy, I was glad for all the home-cooked food G had meticulously packed me (even including dessert) as one would do before sending off their kid to college.

After struggling to fall asleep between delirious bouts of tossing in bed, I finally did in the wee hours of dawn. Despite my ambitious plans of showing up at work by 8, that never happened. I slept fitfully for the next few hours, to wake up and realize that I feel even more tired. I walked up to the window and drew the blinds to get my first view of the neighborhood. It looks like any American suburban neighborhood, at least the ones I have seen. Pretty family homes with yards full of potted plants and trees adding color to the fall season. A little grocery store at walking distance which is a huge relief for someone with restricted mobility. Except for the occasional whir of cars stopping and rolling at the Stop sign, there are no sounds at all. No people, no view of the sea and no ships sailing by. I live thousands of miles away from Germany now.

Thus began life in another prison as I molted and liberated myself out of the last one.

Day one at work was very unusual. I never made it to work. Exhaustion induces sleep in a way more potent than drugs or alcohol. I never became fully awake or cognizant of the world until about 4 pm. Just that "poor thing, she is jet lagged and tired" will not take me very far.

Day two: So as not to repeat what happened on day one, I woke up at 5 in the morning and got ready to take the 7 am bus. I was on campus well before 8, only to get stuck because there was no one to let me in. The day was spent mostly doing paperwork. ID cards and visa stuff, setting up computers and emails. It is amazing how much time all this takes. People came by to say hello and introduce themselves. It is pretty much getting married and being a new bride. People show up in hordes to meet you, smile, say how pretty you are (in this case, how fortunate they are to have me) and asking me if I remember them (from the interview). As a new bride/employee, I have to do my homework. I have to know names and faces and be able to match the correct name to face, pretty much like the old aunt of a distant cousin who says, “Remember me?” I have to be familiar with what research they do so that I don’t look lost when they talk. This is also the time when people want to rope you in collaborations since you are new and they want to help you. It is always good to memorize everyone’s CVs.

But here is the strangest thing about being a professor. Suddenly, you don’t have an advisor. No one tells you what to do and you are your own boss. The feeling can sometimes be quite confusing especially since all this while, you are used to looking for validation. Most people respond in two ways. Either they get off the tangent and don’t work as much, or they try to over-compensate and work too hard. Striking the right balance is the key.

It feels like a decade’s worth of training leads up to this final moment of being an independent researcher and faculty member. It’s liberating and scary at the same time. At home, I feel like a little child, cowering and clueless. But when I go to work, I put on my best clothes, my confidence, and show that I am sharp, smart, and bright. It’s a show, a mask I put on until I can figure out how to effortlessly navigate my way around.

I thought that the brightest spot of my day was finding a bus that runs from home to work (not having to drive in America is a rare luxury). It became even brighter when I was issued a card that would let me ride the bus for free. Little joys in life.


sunshine