Yesterday was not a good day.
It started on a good note. I had organized my schedule the night before so that I’d be able to get everything done: a morning tutoring session, a visit to see a car that Paul and I might purchase, and then lab time to get something done that I had started on Thursday. I woke up early to shower and eat breakfast before I had to start my on-line tutoring session. I felt awake and ready to tackle the day.
The not-good part started when a tutoring student canceled on me at the VERY last minute. I really hate when students cancel. It’s not so much about the money or getting paid as it is about wanting to be useful, and if I’m not actually tutoring? Then I’m not being useful. I don’t like that. I’m not sure everyone appreciates how frustrating it is to not work when you really WANT to be working. We focus so much on the money, but as much as I want or need the money, I’m still bummed when someone cancels yet volunteers to pay for the session that they had booked with me. This feeling is how I know that for me, freelancing is not equivalent to “slacker who doesn’t want to work.”
After the tutoring cancellation, Paul and I never heard back about the car-for-sale, so we never went to see it. On the bright side, I was invited to lunch with my old lab, the lab where I worked for three months before being laid off. “Yay, lunch!” I said to Paul, so of course I went.
Lunch made me sad. Having stepped away from an employment path in academic science, I felt deeply self-conscious about my status as a freelancer. Three of the four other people at lunch, including my old boss, had found new, seemingly stable jobs. And while I’m happy for them, I also felt like I had little in common with them any more. When we talked about my upcoming move to Austin, they made it sound like living in Austin is my life’s dream, as though when I get to Austin, my work is over because I’ve achieved my dream. And I couldn’t articulate the fact that no, once we get to Austin, my work has just begun. But getting out of College Station will be good for me, this town that has been my home through so much heartbreak. I want the fresh start.
When my old colleagues did ask me about my work, they asked about my lab job, which is a way to pay the bills for six months. It is NOT my passion and not something I am deeply invested in. I’ve tried to do a good job in that position, but I’ve struggled with my unhappiness in it. I resent that I needed that job at all, after being promised a yearlong position and being laid off three months into it. And I feel bad that I am resentful, because my current boss has been fair and generous with me. Sometimes I feel trapped, like I just can’t win. I
need want the money, so I have to suck up all these negative or ambivalent feelings and just DO THE WORK.
Finally, I was upset about something that happened in my lab job yesterday, the details of which I won’t share here. Suffice to say, by the time I got home, I was so disappointed that I wondered why I got out of bed at all. But I hadn’t exercised yet that day, and while I could have gone for a run, instead I decided to hop on my bike and make the most of my evening alone. (Also sad: Paul has been house-sitting across town all week, and Lu and I have been missing him. She goes into his room and yowls in despair. I’m glad he’s coming home tomorrow.)
Before the bike ride, my spirits were lifted by a Facebook chat with my future roomie, who listened to my sad day and sympathized. Then I made a smoothie, topped it with Grape-Nuts and peanut butter, and watched an episode of Parks and Recreation. It was tempting, at that point, to stay on the couch for the rest of the day. But there was still sunlight, and a bike ride for fun is a surefire way to feel better. So I pedaled off, feeling lighter and happier already.
Why is it that being literally in motion feels so healing? With just my keys tucked in a cross-body purse, I felt like I could fly away from all the bad feelings, the disappointments, the insecurities, everything that had come up during the day. It was just me and the bike and that big blue Texas sky, strewn with white clouds and the fading light of summer sunshine. As long as my health was good and my legs were strong enough, I could count on that bike taking me away from the daily struggle and the feeling that I’m just waiting for the next chapter of my life to begin.
I rode my favorite neighborhood loop but took a detour to visit a favorite park. There, I hopped off the bike to do a lap. Halfway through, I thought of my friend Amber and her endlessly playful spirit, and I ventured off the path into the grass. I was fully present in that moment, the texture of the grass under my shoes, the warm air on my skin, the feeling of being alive in this body of mine. I did some gymnastics that I learned years ago, when I was more flexible. Putting both hands on the ground, I stepped into an inversion, one leg straight in the air, the other bent with foot touching opposite knee. I did that several times, trying to do it better each time, with a straighter leg and more grace. Then I tried something harder, a cartwheel, and promptly got thistles in my fingers, one of which drew blood.
I stepped back on the path and continued my walk. My thoughts took me back in time, to being 16 and 17 years old, a simpler time in my life. My work seemed so much simpler: getting good grades, baton twirling and coaching, making a little money doing manual labor. Pick some colleges, apply, receive acceptance letters. I worried about paying for college, yet I marched toward attending a school that I really loved, undaunted by price tags.
At that time in my life, I didn’t carry the weight of professional disappointments and deep personal loss. I’d never been in love. I had yet to grapple, really grapple, with my inner demons. I was self-centered in a way that was not only allowable, but really perfect for that age. I hadn’t walked through the fire of graduate school, an experience that would forge me into the person I am today.
And yet. Despite all of that, I was able to transport myself back to a younger age and feel the lightness and hope of age 17. That’s such a blessing. It was restorative on a night when I desperately wanted to shed all those bad feelings. But now it also reminds me of how much I want to work with students who are in that stage of life. I want to tutor high school students who are just now learning about chemistry. I want to work with undergraduates who are struggling with genetics or cell biology, trying to see the big picture from inside the fog of facts that float in front of them. They are the people who inspire me to want to be better at what I do. They’re the ones I’m trying to serve when I write about research and graduate school, trying to offer advice that is encouraging, useful, and realistic. Working with those students isn’t about revisiting my youth per se—it’s about being a bridge from a place of uncertainty to the next step in their path. It’s about being a tiny part of their journey to adulthood.
And after all that thinking, I hopped back on my bike, pedaled home, and resumed my spot on the couch with Parks and Rec on the television.
It was a good night.