Release

A ferocious thunderstorm is attacking us this evening. I knew it would have to happen. America, you tried so hard with your baking sunshine and humid warmth – it could only be sustained for so long. The humidity ratcheted up, now it broke.

Sunday is the day for cramming in chores. Laundry. Sweep clothes off bedroom floor. Get to the supermarket. I’m slowly pushing at my limits with the driving. The navigation challenges are getting a little more finicky (no sat nav, remember) and my radius of comfort is expanding. I made it to a swanky diner (kinda an oxymoron) for brunch-food the other day, this weekend I went off in search of a baked potato, which took me to an air-conditioned palatial mall just up Route 1. The elusive baked potato was consumed in the less illustrious food court setting, but was worth the excursion. A 20 minute distance by car equals 20 minutes of NPR. Although it may seem eccentric to claim that you enjoy driving because it gives you time to listen to the radio…my grad school brain is otherwise inundated and endlessly preoccupied with research project increments: it makes a refreshing change to put some other stuff into my brain, too.

Thunderstorms are a release. I love it when they arrive. Driving Saxon when the rain hit, I was amazed at how much rain can pour out of the sky at once to hit my windscreen. American roads don’t appear to have drains – those large, fast roads turned to rivers. Once I reached my apartment I killed the engine – even the radio – and stayed there. Waiting for a respite in the onslaught, watching the pattern of water coursing down the windscreen in near-darkness.

I have no work-life balance. Research is what I do. It’s what I doodle about in coffeeshops, it’s what sits on the edge of my mind whenever I am out of lab. “Oh, once you get back to the lab tomorrow you can do X” “Say, you should probably nip in the lab this afternoon just to sort out Y before Monday.” In industry you will find a disconnect – work is left at work. In academia…work is never left, because nobody really leaves work at the end of the day.

This is not something I mind. I made a pact with myself sometime back about those cursed 12 Hour Days in grad school: I would play that game, and I would play it well. If I wasn’t willing to play it well, I shouldn’t be in a PhD program.

I consider myself lucky. After nearly a year on a tough project, a semi-offshoot is yielding consistently good results. Only 3 or 4 months ago, I was on a knife edge. Developing a new reaction means you have to control a handful of parameters: regulate, understand and optimise them, then you’ve got yourself a publication. Except that I could never control all my parameters. Change A. Parameter B goes up (awesome). Parameter C crashes (blast). Change A and D. Parameter B and C crash. Etc. The main grad school struggle is not the work-hours or the smartness required, rather it is the mental strength to stop a fucking year filled with fucking set-backs and derailments from damaging me on the inside.

So I sweat the poisons from me in the sauna. Bracing against the heat until my body is slick with sweat and I rub the grey dead skin crap off my arms and legs. So I go to Starbucks at 8pm to sip their fruity iced tea drinks and inhale soothing espresso powder scents, just to escape my immediate surroundings. So I take the long way home, to let me push more radio into my head. So I grin and shriek when the thunder comes.

Surviving. Releasing. Surviving again.

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