Archive for the 'time' category

A Few Thoughts on Elderly Parents (part 1)

Oct 23 2017 Published by under Alzheimer's disease, dementia, parents, time

One of the hardest things about "growing old" is watching those around you. I am still me, and day by day I may change, but I am still me on the inside. In some ways, getting older is like the frog in the pot. Put the frog in boiling water and it will jump out. Put the frog in cold water, and turn the heat up a tiny bit at a time, and the frog will let itself be cooked. Getting old happens a degree at a time. Before you know it, you have a belly and back aches and the strong desire to color your hair blue.

But while one is continuous and contiguous with ones younger self, one notices things in the other people in one's life.  Sometimes it just seeing a friend who you only see at the gym, out to dinner in fancy clothes. Sometimes its family members who live far away. These people have aged, and sometimes to a remarkable amount. The frog just jumps out of the pot.

The temporal bone is on the side of your head, and the temporalis muscle lies right above your jaw joint. They are called "temporal" not because your mind is your temple (despite what you may think). The "tempe" is from time, and the sides of your head, according to the ancients, is the canvas where Time's fingers first paint. Grey at the temples? Grey in time.

Sometimes it is not just grey beards and a shaky gait. Sometimes it starts being cognitive stuff. And if people dislike the idea that their bodies are aging, let me assure you that they like the idea of their mind aging even less. The clinical word for aging-illnesses of the mind is "dementia" de- for un- or bad, and "mentia" for mentation or mind. But as spastic, a very particular neuromuscular medical finding, was an childhood insult for kids you didn't like, demented is an insult for horror movies. And no one fancies themselves in horror movies, either as the monster or the victim.

So the first part of my advice about elder parents (or friend, or person-of-closeness-for-whom-a-standard-word-does-not-exist): acknowledge that it is hard for you. These are your (perhaps) beloved parents. Certainly these are people you remember being young and vital. They are people who (allegedly, in the best possible world, if things had maybe been different) cared for you. Who protected you. Who fed you, and now, now they are old, and weak and, yes, a bit pathetic, compared to your memory. This isn't easy.  I remember, well before dementia set in for my mother, seeing my parents walking down the street. Given where we were, at my sister's last apartment, they must have been in their 60's - the age I am now. I was going back to grad school, or postdoc? I had said goodbye and saw them walking away to visit friends who lived in the same city as my sister. They looked so old! This little old couple out of a movie or a story or something. Not my parents. I remember thinking: when did they get so old? And now: why didn't I run back and tell them that I loved them?

I've loved, been friends with, still am friends with, taken care of, and more, many "old" people. Old defined as older than me. Sometimes its not hard to be a friend to someone with a bad memory, or take a meal to someone who can't cook. Yet when it gets to be family, all the emotions get in the way. Stuff from when you were 8 or 12 or 16 or 30 shows up in your head, demanding attention. You may not be able to say "out damned spot" or you may, and the spot will stay. Just acknowledging it, seeing it, may help you set it aside.

One of the hardest things I did when my Mom was in the early-ish stages of Alzheimer's disease was realizing, and giving credence to the idea that I could no longer fight with her. That all the issues and tensions were going to be moot. She, strong intelligent and very hard on me, would get furious and stop talking to me if I tried to argue with her. And sometimes she would cry. If I tried to comfort her tears, she would double down on the anger and say very hurtful things, things she knew were hurtful. What kind of things? Things like "you will never be a good scientist". Or worse. She knew where my weak places were. In the beginning people with dementia are smart, and articulate and cruel. Executive function is one of the first things to go: the part of brain and personality that keeps civilization going, that keeps people from cursing and saying the worst that they think of.

I had to let go of the past. I had to say (and say over and over): you cannot fight with her. She is not the person she was. It felt unfair. It was unfair. It felt like she won in the end. That I could never convince her  of who I was? But who ever does win against their parent? By the time you can cognitively win, you are not playing and fighting with the opponent of your youth.

Eventually, I reached that place, and really, things were much easier for me. I was a duck and her words rolled off my back. Yes, Mom. Whatever you say Mom. There are other coping mechanisms. Other strategies. And, really, people who care. Let yourself cry and mourn what is lost, because truly, things are being lost. But you, you are still continuous with the glorious child that you were.

 

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All life is a cost-benefit decision, even if you personally eschew capitalism

Feb 27 2015 Published by under life, time, Uncategorized

Forget the capitalism part, that's just trolling.

There is a convo on the tweets about paying for stuff that are "perks" or marginally necessary for what one does professionally.

As scientists, for the most part, there will never be anyone else to pay for many of the science things you wish to do. This ranges from going to meetings and staying somewhere other than a hostel with hordes of unwashed and stoned teenagers to journal subscriptions to page costs to duct tape with little animals on it.

I am not going to sit or stand or lie here and say "this is worth paying for and this is not". There are certainly extremes that are relatively easy to decide (forgo the duct tape and pay for your own coffee on the road). But whether something is "worth it" or not is a totally personal decision. Whether to dip into your shoe budget or cigs budget to buy that duct tape is not a decision anyone can make for you. The value you place on a Friday night beer vs a Monday morning fancy coffee vs flying or driving to a meeting is something everyone decides for themselves.

That of course, makes some of the decisions even harder. And many are not trivial at all. One example: people who are on a 9 month, academic year salary, do you teach in the summer? Depending on the university, the union and other factors one can earn 10-30% of ones academic year salary. That is not small potatoes. But, you still have to teach for that money. Sometimes the teaching is easy, and sometimes not. Sometimes even if its freshman bio, or remedial M1 physiology, and something you can do in your sleep, it will suck the life out of you. Even if its only in the mornings, you are too mind-fracked to do real science in the p.m. Sometimes the decision gets more complex. You add in the cost of daycare for little ones vs. salary in vs getting another paper out before tenure. These are tough decisions. And they are decisions that you weigh for yourself. They are based on your ability to parse time efficiently, stay on track and not run yourself into the ground.

The important thing is to understand that you are making a cost/benefit decision. Do I want to teach or write? The next most important thing is to be able to assess the costs and the benefits with some accuracy. What is a new car, better day care, a night out once in a while worth to me? The third most important thing is to remember that money is just a counter in your to translate those cost/benefit decisions. It is not anything more than that. Money means buying this or that. Money means my students don't pay me in sheep wool that I have to spin and then weave into a pair pants. I have always found it useful not to think "I need (to earn, to acquire, to beg) another $Xk", but to think about what that $Xk means to what I can and cannot do. Yes, this is the tedious "do a budget" thing, but it is important when you make these cost benefit decisions and comparisons. Just like time, money slips away. In fact, in organizing my younger academic life, I far more frequently that at any other time in my life thought money is time.

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Words of Wisdom from Mickey Spillane

Feb 19 2015 Published by under life, time, Uncategorized

Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If its a letdown, they won't buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book.

 

The same could almost be said of scientific papers. Posters. Talks. Your intro sells the current work. The discussion will bring them back for more.

I have found that operating at different time scales is difficult, but necessary. This paper is not just about this paper.

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Working with A Tech

Feb 13 2015 Published by under life, professionalism in science, time, Uncategorized

One of the hardest things I ever learned as a faculty was how to work with a tech. It was doubly hard when I was young, and the people with whom I was working were within 5 years of my age.  Finding the balance between friend and employee, supervisor and colleague. Its not something for which we get trained.

As is true of trainees, the most important thing may be respect.  Recognize that this is another human being who is both different from you and still shares all sorts of stuff. Its Scylla and Charybdis all over again. Bluish-yellow. For lots of women I know, it has often worked better to veer towards the professional end of the spectrum and away from the "we're all friends in this lab". I have found that getting sunk into the inevitable personal problems that all of us have, that younger folks wear on their sleeves, can upset the flow of work in a lab. For lots of guys, the professional /cold/hard attitude can send the message that you are merely a pawn or stepping stone on my path to greatness.

This is a person who works both with you and for you. That's the balance problem. You have a job. You have a task. You have a mission. Your job and task and mission has short term and middle term and long term parts. A person, a non-trainee person, working with you and for you is going to contribute to all of those parts. They don't have to know everything, but if you treat them like a cog and tell them "what they need to know" they will not be invested in your work. They won't have loyalty towards those goals, let alone to you.

I can't tell you all the small specifics of what to do. In fact, understanding the overarching principles is probably a better guideline. Treat the people who work with you as you would want to be treated. The rest is just NIH funding.

 

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Mental Health

Feb 05 2015 Published by under life, time

There is so much stuff on the web, that I'm not surprised when I find something new and interesting, in this case a blog called Conditionally Accepted (Space for scholars on the margins of academia).  There is a good post on being pregnant while academic. The blog posts from a variety of folks, not just science, on a variety of topics. I found a post titled Acknowledging the "one-body problem" (from Dec 2013) by Eric Anthony Grollman.

I liked this one because it was more than the usual story of I was mentally healthy, and then I did a PhD and the horribleness of the experience destroyed me. And then... either (a) I woke up and left academia and I am very happy today or (b) I didn't wake up and I still struggle and its horrible. This post acknowledges that its hard, but that there are things you can do.

In the middle of the post he asks:

What are you doing to ensure that you will even be alive long enough to get tenure, become full professor, or leave/retire from academia to start a second career?  What are you doing to ensure that you can achieve these career goals and be happy, and have a life, and feel healthy rather than depleted and frazzled?

Sometimes I feel that we (in RL, in the blogosphere, in twitterland) are surrounded by so much negativity that I want to say: what the fuck are you doing here, anyway? If this is all so horrible, why, why why?

The post goes on to offer ways to think about dealing with mental health problems. How to think about what you need (and he makes the important body that your body and brain are not separate entities and that you should go take that bathroom break).

Every time I hear someone say that they stayed up all night, that they pushed beyond physical comfort, I cringe inside. Yes, there are times when you need to push more. But way too often we (yes, that's a we) trade working longer for working harder/smarter. Thirty minutes of exercise does more for mental health than an extra two hours of editing that proposal.

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