Hard to imagine. This time last year I was standing at the edge of the North Sea in one of the quiet corners of Fife, Scotland – watching grey waves crashing violently against the shore, feeling like I was looking back into myself. I was living with my parents, stationary for the briefest lengths of time, unsure of which direction my life was going to lurch in next.
Now I live barely 1 hour away from one of the largest, busiest cities in North America. Landlocked. I look out of my window to the steady glow of streetlights, drawing into silhouettes the smooth outlines of bald tree branches.
I can still hear those waves crashing, though.
There is a small ritual I have over here in grad school. On Saturday or Sunday night – whenever the weekly list of tasks has been completed – I will retire to my room and light a stick of incense. As it burns I will drink some green tea or Rooibos – it’s far too late at night to be drinking heavy caffeine – and allow myself to wind down. It is a way of signalling to my mind that I can disconnect from work, from grad school, from my hectic craziness. Even if it only happens once per week, it is still enough.
Am I taking grad school too seriously? Am I worried about the right things? It’s really hard to tell. If I didn’t care, didn’t take it seriously then that too would be worrying. I read unemployment statistics for PhD-level scientists on the Chemjobber blog or C&EN News trade-journal for American Chemists…and am reminded constantly of just how competitive the international job market will be when I jump into it. If I don’t work hard and advocate for myself in grad school…no one else will. Why would they?
Fear comes and goes. Fear is tied to so many things. I am afraid of and made to fear so many things.
Fear comes and goes.
The rituals are essential. Integral. Because there has to be a disconnection between myself and the fear. I have to get to sleep at night. When I was in London I would wake up in the middle of the night and only ease back to sleep when I had written down To Do lists for my research project that I could work on the next day. When I was in Scotland the roar of the winter sea or howling rain outside my bedroom never disturbed me once…but I awoke in sweating, pounding terror at 4am for many nights in a row as I waited for my grad school decisions to come back across the Atlantic. I have 5 years of a PhD – sleeplessness over that period of time would destroy me.
Returning to the Eastern Seaboard of the USA was reclaiming the life I wanted. It isn’t a life if I’m constantly stressed and scared.
The incense stick burns down. I sip my Rooibos tea. And I listen to the sea.