Category Archives: Uncategorized

Messages From the House Selling Trenches…

Remember you’re selling a lifestyle with this house. You want a guy to walk in and see advanced degrees and the marathon medals and the entertainment room downstairs and close his eyes and think, “I could be like the guy that lives in this house.”

I hope that guy won’t be surprised when he looks down in his fantasy house and realizes that he also has a vagina.

mindy role model

The Wisdom of Gabriel García Márquez…

I learned this afternoon, just as I was preparing for a run, that one of my favorite authors, Gabriel García Márquez, had died. It filled me with all sorts of emotions and thoughts. I suppose it’s good that I had ~8 miles to burn through in order to untangle everything I was thinking about.

For those of you who haven’t followed along on Twitter, last Thanksgiving Dr. Rubidium came and stayed with my family. In addition to many, many hijinks, Dr. Rubidium also agreed to participate in an annual Isis family tradition – the Thanksgiving Day running of a local 5K to benefit technology in the classroom. Later that day, as we were a smidge sore and a smidge drunk, Dr. Rubidium suggested that we train for a marathon. With a belly full of wine and the promise of spurs at the finish line, I gleefully agreed.We dubbed ourselves #TeamMajesty and recruited some additional membership. Now that I am in the thick of actually training for this beast, I am still committed but less gleeful. I am also much more frequently covered in Bengay.

Also, blistered. This is interfering with my shoe wearing.

But, I digress from the things I was thinking about while out for my run…

I first encountered Gabriel García Márquez while I was in high school. Like most children, I had to choose a language to study. I thought it would be sophisticated and romantic to study French. My mother told me, “Don’t be a dumbass. Take Spanish and just get through it.” She had a point and I ended up in four years of Spanish. I took Spanish literature my senior year, figuring it would be another year of coasting by. It was anything but that. We read La Casa De Bernarda Alba, Borges y yo, and Balada de los dos abuelo. My favorites, though, were by García Márquez. I remember reading El amor en los tiempos del cólera ( Love in the time of cholera) and Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a death foretold) and being overwhelmed by how much I under-appreciated the depth of Spanish literature, which in retrospect seems silly.

Gabriel García Márquez wrote some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. He wrote of a love anyone would envy in Cien años de soledad:

Locamente enamorados al cabo de tantos años de complicidad estéril, gozaban con el milagro de quererse tanto en la mesa como en la cama, y llegaron a ser tan felices, que todavía cuando eran dos ancianos agotados seguían retozando como conejitos peleándose como perros

(Madly in love after so many years of complicit sterility, they enjoyed the miracle of loving both at table as in bed, and they became so happy that, even as two exhausted elders, they continued frolicking like bunnies and fighting like dogs)

He also spoke of how we should treat each other, saying:

Un hombre solo tiene derecho a mirar a otro hacia abajo cuando ha de ayudarle a levantarse

(A man only has the right to look down at another when he’s helping him up)

I’ve kept that little quote scrawled on a piece of paper in my wallet for years. A sort of reminder of the philosophy I would like to live my life by. It been a philosophy that’s been challenged lately, leaving me to question my beloved García Márquez’s wisdom. At work, this quote as a primary motivation, coupled with a little scientific acumen, has been successful. When people come for help, they are often responsive to how I suggest they approach their problem. They want the solution, surely, but the are also interested in the process of solving the problem.

With my family, it’s different and I realized today that they very frequently want my help, but they also want my help provided on their terms. They can’t see that the behaviors they engage in and nature of our interactions keep them in the position they’re in. It helps them in the short term, but leaves them unhelped in the long term. They ask for money, but expect me to agree to using Western Union because they don’t understand the bank and can’t see beyond the current “emergency.” I swear that 10% of the income of people in the barrio goes to Western Union. Everything is an emergency, but they can’t see that these emergencies are created because they refuse to stay in their lane.

I wondered earlier today whether my frustration was a sign that I was looking down on the people that look to me for help, but I realized that the beauty of García Márquez’s wisdom comes in his flawlessly elegant and simple choice of words. He didn’t say “when you’re watching him grab you by the ankle and try to use you as a flotation device” or “when you’re watching him use your body as a ladder to climb up on.” He said simply, “when you’re helping him up” and that seems imply that you recognize the type of help the person needs to get up. It implies that you’re providing what they need, not just what feels good to them. That’s where I’ve been going wrong with people lately. While I’ve gotten better, I still frequent help the people in my life on their terms even though I know it’s not in their long-term best interest.  Or mine.

My friend DNLee helped me to articulate that pattern of behavior earlier today.  She called what people were expecting the “self-sacrificing matron (SSM).” This is the woman in the family who, because she has her act together, is seemingly in a position to take care of everyone and because she should feel maternal, she should want to. When the SSM moves up in the world, everyone comes along. It’s a dangerous role to end up in because it allows people to question your loyalty to your family. If people around you are losing their cars because they didn’t plan well enough to pay the note, but you are secure in your life and not urgently throwing cash at their problem, it’s a sign that you’re not loyal and you don’t love them enough to help.   If there’s some scrap of yourself that you’re keeping, and haven’t poured out for others, it means that you’re selfish.

It’s a hurtful pattern of behavior because it makes the SSM the sole bearing of the responsibility for everyone’s outcome, but also powerless at the expense of those who demand of her to determine her own destiny and happiness. It’s a banishment to the duty and soledad that García Márquez wrote so much about.

But, I don’t think he thought that it’s supposed to be that way…



The Philosophy of How We Do Science and Being the Cool Professor

Isis the Scientist:

Reflecting more on, and hopefully cementing, my motivations to participate in Pub-Style Science. I suppose all of this now begs the question: what are the topics that we should be focusing on in the future?

Originally posted on Pub-Style Science:

Prof-like Substance has a post over at Scientopia about being the “cool professor”.  He writes:

When I started my lab I had a very distinct idea of the type of PI I wanted to be. I had experienced some different styles and observed many others. I knew what my needs were as a graduate student and a postdoc and recognized gaps in what my mentors had provided for me. Above all I thought I could navigate that line between friend and boss where all my trainees would both respect me and want to hang out with me.

Oh, and I wanted to ride a unicorn to work every day.

I’m soon to finish up my sixth year as a PI and have mentored two cohorts of students at this stage. I’m hardly a grizzled vet of the mentoring game, but I’ve had enough experience to change my views on my…

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Beginnings, Endings, and Total Chaos..

On Friday I had a meeting with a realtor to talk about selling my house. One of my senior colleagues suggested this realtor and it was immediately apparent why he had recommended him. He had data and charts and graphs and numbers and approached everything scientifically. He also revealed his strategy. He told me that, in selling a home, we are really selling the “illusion of a lifestyle.” He told me that people are buying the illusion that they could live in my home and be clean and organized and peaceful. Then he asked, “tell me what your home conveys about your lifestyle right now. ”  I replied,

Chaos and mayhem and cholera.

There are many different spheres of chaos in my life right now. Luckily, my professional life is not one of them. We had two more papers accepted last week, which was amazing. We’re likely to have at least one more accepted by the end of the month, and likely three more by the end of the year. I got to meet with the contractors last week about designing my new lab, which my new MRU has agreed to build from bare walls and floors.  I’ve got blueprints and measurements and it is sexy, organized, perfection. My home though?


It is like the seven circles of pandemonium.

The steady state of mayhem is generally my own doing. Ish. There’s just a lot of stuff to do and not enough hours in the day to do it. Faithful readers of the blog will recall that I once hired someone to help us fight the mayhem and I adored her and she ripped out my heart and set it on fire with her thieving ways. So now, about 80% of the time, my house is covered in a find dusting of person sheddings. This is made worse by the presence of a brother who feels the need to pee all over everything. Literally.

This all surrounds the chaos that Tiny Diva brings to the yard. Tiny Diva is two years old and, by default, two year olds are assholes. They make no damned sense and they will stomp on your soul and laugh. Tiny Diva and I have had one problem in particular. I have a huge bathtub and I have frequently allowed the children to join me. Little Isis is respectful of the bathtub. Tiny Diva desecrates it every single time and *only* when I am in there with her. She could bathe alone a hundred times without incident, but add her mother to the equation and each time is the same. We discuss the rules and I am lulled into a false sense of security. She seems cute enough. Innocent enough. There are bubbles. Then, all of a sudden, she’s red in the face and you realize the big job has been undertaken.

Today was no different except, this time, she assured me she understood the rules and then started quietly humming the Jaws theme.

big jobThat is exactly what you think it is, I am afraid. In my bathtub.

I have to give her credit, though. The Jaws theme was a nice touch and reveals an advanced level of “fucked up in the head” that I had not previously recognized, but can admire.

That’s all the standard chaos. I can own that chaos and almost, sort of, tame that chaos. Yet, this week has added new, additive levels of mayhem that have amplified the steady state chaos. Earlier in the week my Aunt Mo called me. Aunt Mo had not previously had my phone number and I blame Aunt Isis for giving it to her.  Aunt Mo’s mother-in-law has been in intensive care for treatment of pneumonia for a week and is apparently having a hard time coming off the ventilator. She called me for help interacting with the doctors, which would normally be fine except that Aunt Mo is…a challenge. She’s scrappy like Carl Lewis. She’s loud and has got a mouth that is orders of magnitude fouler than mine and getting the whole story out of her can sometimes be like trying to squeeze water out of desert sand.  Eventually, it ended with discussions about “palliative care.”

ariel voice
But not before I’d had a lot of the energy sucked out.

At the same time, Grandma Isis-in-Law, who is 96 years old and had a stroke last month, started to develop pulmonary emboli. Her family and doctors decided that the risk of another stroke would be very high if they tried to treat them and opted to move her to hospice. Mr Isis flew home to the warmer part of the country to be with her, and I’ve had the Isis kids alone this weekend.  I’m trying to get the house ready for the realtor to visit next week, I’m tending to these wackaloons and trying to seem chipper despite their tub pooping, and I’m also feeling sad about Grandma Isis-in-Law. She’s a great lady and I am struggling to figure out how to be a comfort to my family-in-law, but there’s also not anyone here to offer a hug. I’m not sure when I’ll get to feel these sads, or if they’ll have to be tucked away while we focus on selling the house.

So, this week is a blur of chaos of emotion and dirt and cleaning and chaos. Selling our house, closing the box on our life here, saying good-bye to people we love. There are a bunch of endings for us right now and I am thankful for what we’ve had. But, there are also new beginnings. A new home and a new place. A new lab. I’m thankful for those things too.

I know that it is all going to come together and we will return to a steady state of chaos, but right now I’m just having all the feels. Chaotic, mayhem-esque feels. And I am wondering if there is a vaccine for cholera. We kinda need it.



My Students Are Nut Busters

Earlier today I tweeted that I had a paper accepted. Within moments I had a text message from a student asking about the status of their papers..

nutbusting students

I hereby co-sign Hermitage’s recent post that “passion” is not the thing that is limiting scientific advancement in students. I certainly don’t need to kern anyone around here. These fools have nut busting down to an art. Then again, I may need to remind them that we can’t get papers accepted that they haven’t written yet…