Friday, February 26, 2010

Looking Back and Trying to Look Forward

We've waited for so long for this moment, the moment in which we'd have a more concrete idea of where we were going to end up and perhaps, (dare I say it?) settle down. And now that it's very, very close, we feel relief and, at the same time, an eerie and suspenseful expectation because the most unexpected thing of all happened, an interview at a "high place."

We're still a bit stunned, although now that it has passed, K has realized that the interview itself was not such a big deal. After all, he already works at an Ivy League institution and even during graduate school he'd been to conferences at such places and interacted with scientists from elite schools. The interactions he had during this week and in the previous interview have done him a world of good, particularly in getting him really fired up to work on his research.

Most importantly, in a short two week period we went from a sad "regret relapse" (which prompted me to go and finish the now infamous "regret post") to joyful expectation and relief. And now, looking at the past we can forget the regrets and realize that the choices that K made were absolutely the right ones. The latest interview made that clearer than day.

This afternoon we stopped at a store which has a panoramic view of big pharma and K turned to me and confidently said: "Now I can look at it and not feel any pain and regret. Now I know that it was all worth it." What a relief to hear him say that and feel it myself! I, the one who never even went in there. And I turned to him and said, "The Ivy League interview was the answer, wasn't it? It made it clear that you've made the right decision." And he agreed.

Of course the job offer should be the most important thing, but the recognition, the realization that your work is worth pursuing anywhere made it clear that what I wrote in the "regret post" is very true. The main reason K left the industry job is that he didn't/doesn't know the ropes of such a job and he most certainly "knows what it takes" to succeed in academia.

Now, I wish we were less anxious and expectant so we could just concentrate in planning and dreaming about the offer on hand, but it's just too difficult. Maybe it's all the disappointments of the past year, the nearly imperceptible but real changes that we underwent, but it seems that now we're more cautious, less innocent. And, of course, we're also allowed to dream with "high places," why not? So I feel a bit weird for not having once checked real estate or rental listings for the area in question, or stores, one of the first things I check. There was only one thing I searched for -- CSA farms :-). I guess I really value locally grown food, don't I? And I found a small farm that I really liked. It think I'll email the young farmer. It doesn't hurt, right? Since eating is our most basic need.

So, yeah, I'm trying to look forward to the future, but right now it's more comforting to look back at the past and see how things have turned out OK, better than we imagined.

Afterword - 10%!!:
I've been talking too much about K's job search, but, in case I forget, let me just say here, for the record, that everyone (former advisors, faculty people, etc) is saying that the fact that K had 3 interviews -- a 10% interview rate for the 30+ applications he sent -- in a bad year like this is simply AWESOME! The applicant pool has nearly doubled in some searches and there aren't that many positions to begin with, so he is very happy with 3 interviews and 1 offer so far. Who knows? Maybe he'll have more offers!

I'll keep you posted. Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Driving in Bad Weather

K is still driving back home from his interview and it's taking him longer again, because of the weather. It's not as bad as the forecasts anticipated. They said there was going to be quite a bit of snow, but so far there's NO accumulation here whatsoever, in spite of the fact it's been snowing non-stop since the early morning.

Last night when I talked to K about the forecast I told him I thought he should drive straight home this morning (and not visit our graduate institution as he wanted), but he said he should do it and that he'd be actually glad to drive through a storm again. He cheerfully reminded me that "Whenever I drive through a snowstorm to an interview I have an offer" (right, this happened once, and it was on the way there, not coming from there!). And then I reflected that in fact he had trouble driving to all three interviews (only minor problems last Sunday, congested roads that meant a delay and no more dinner with a faculty member).

I'm just "superstitiously" wondering now... should I take the relative lack of snow today as a sign that maybe there won't be an offer from the elite school? I mean, we're not counting on that or anything and there are several reasons why that wouldn't be good,* but still, it's funny to think of these "signs."
* First and foremost, the insane conditions for getting tenure, which would take a big toll on our family. Second, I think we'd prefer living in the VA university region. Other than that, it'd be awesome in most other ways.

I'm glad he's coming back and I'm secretly hoping there won't be any more interviews. Being the only parent at home is just TOO MUCH when the kids are also doing school at home. I have to brace myself, though, because in two weeks he'll be away for a whole week again. Booo! I don't know how I'll survive.

P.S. I have to post photos and videos of the boys' ski day yesterday, it was AWESOME!!!

Goldilocks and the Job Search

If the previous comparison was serious, this one may be a bit silly, but I still think it works! :-)

First, if you're not familiar with the "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" story, you can read the (annotated) original here. Or even watch a cartoon.

I thought of writing this after K told me how fancy his room in the Inn was on Tuesday night as I remembered his description of the shabby NJ university buildings he had given me over the phone the night before. Since the universities are not being named here, I don't think it will be too bad to write about them, right? :-)

So, K had three interviews at very different universities. One a distinguished undergraduate institution (it does have some graduate programs, but not in K's area) in an idyllic country setting, the other a mostly undergraduate school for working students (it even has night classes) in a gritty urban area. If I'm not mistaken, both are part of their states higher education system. Then, there was the Ivy League institution (I don't want to give that one away, if you're really curious, you can email me).

There are many factors one has to take into consideration when evaluating these universities and I am not going to do a full evaluation here, I'll be over-simplifying for the sake of the argument. Well, for the fun of it, actually!

So, some of K's main impressions of these three places made me think of Goldilocks and the bears' porridge, chairs and beds. The elite school feels too big, too fancy, too intimidating, too hard (to get into and get tenure), the gritty urban one has an affable (if small) group of faculty and crumbling buildings which feel small, cramped and outdated. The country one, on the other hand, has shiny new buildings, large and friendly faculty, and they want him to go there. It seems just right, no?

Hopefully he won't "break" the "just right" offer, like Goldilocks broke the chair, by taking a bit long to accept it while waiting to see whether anything will come from the fancy place. Waiting is hard, isn't it? More on K's interviews soon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Making to the "Olympics"

This is the first of at least two "metaphors" for K's job search that I'll post here. They may be clichéd and/or ineffective, but I'll share them anyway... that's what people without an editor do (although I should be a self-editor).

When he clinched the third interview, K declared that this would be the high point of his academic career. The job itself may not be offered to him, but the mere fact that he's been selected for an interview at an elite school means that he's reached the most recognition he could ever reach at this point. Even if it's only recognition of his potential, not his accomplishments, much like President Obama's Nobel Prize.

And he compared it to making to the Olympics -- only a few athletes from each country are selected to represent it, and he "made it." Now, getting the job would be the equivalent of winning a gold medal. Just having been able to compete is already significant, though.

His last and toughest day of competition is tomorrow and he's happy to just be there. Medal or not.

The Weather Strikes Again, as well as the unthinkable

Do you know those things that never, or hardly ever happen? Why do they have to happen when they just can't? I know, Murphy's law, right?

Sure, the weather situation is not as complicated as it was on K's first interview with the blizzard and all, because it's just raining. However, since he was flying, the flight was delayed over two hours and he was going to get there late for his talk.

So... he decided to get another rental car (he was returning the one from yesterday's interview) and drive there.

And, guess what? Sigh.

He stopped quickly by the house to get an umbrella and hug the boys (who'd been asleep when he left for the rental place) and he left the car running on the driveway with the door slightly ajar. Of course the door closed and the car locked itself up. How wonderful! With the laptop and all his things inside (he couldn't even drive our own car if he wanted to). We had to call our insurance's roadside assistance which took over an hour to come and now he's on his way. With barely a minute to spare. If he gets stuck in traffic, he won't get there on time. Sigh.

I couldn't bear to blog about this earlier, I was so nervous, and nor should I be blogging about it now, but I guess that by now you're used to our roller-coaster lives, aren't you?

K is really calm and confident that everything will turn out fine. At least he'll have a lot to laugh about and decompress when he has dinner with the search committee folks tonight. At his first interview he was introduced everywhere as "the candidate who drove 9.5 hours from Philadelphia" to be there and it became an effective ice-breaker (as well as a sign that he was really interested in the position). I hope the same happens today. We've got to try to find a bright side, otherwise it's just plain old stressful.

I think this car-locking-with-keys-inside had never happened to K, but I'd done it at least three times before (never with the car running). The first time was at a store parking lot (K came to get me), but the second time (in 2002) was freaky and really scary. I had put baby Kelvin (4 months old) in the car seat so I could go teach my summer section course and after I closed the back door of our Civic and went to open the driver's door, the doors inexplicably locked!! The key/keyless entry pad was on the driver's seat. No cell phones yet back then, but my neighbor was home and I called K to come from the university (we had two cars). Brave Kelvin never cried. I kept talking to him through the car windows (all closed) and fortunately it wasn't that hot and he was just a bit sweaty when daddy arrived 25 minutes later. Phew!!

The last time, back in 2006, I locked our whole family (including my parents) out of the car back and we had to wait a while for the roadside assistance (we always get it with our car insurance, it's really useful). Good thing we were at a church function with my in-laws, so it was OK, we had a place to wait. I'll let you know next time it happens. :-P

I'm always relieved that our old Odyssey has no keyless entry anymore (it was basically broken already when we bought it) and that I always need to use my keys to lock and unlock it. And we also have tons of spare keys. The rental place does NOT have spare keys and they can do nothing for a customer in a pickle like that. :-( What if the customer loses the keys?

OK, I won't be live-blogging this trip, even because we're leaving for piano lessons right now. But I'll keep you posted.

Monday, February 22, 2010


First of all, thanks for all your happy and supportive comments to the latest news. I'll blog more about this later.

I just thought I'd let you know that I finally started twittering. Until I get a smartphone (I don't know when that will happen), I'll be restricted to posting from the web, so my twittering won't be as "effective" or fun as it could be. And right now all I've twittered about is the ice-skating at the Olympics (I really love ice-skating, and gymnastics too, for that matter). And I want to twitter the Oscars, hopefully I'll have some company from blog-reading friends. So, yeah, I blog about the serious stuff and twitter the fluff. At least for now.

My twitter name is pretty ugly, but I decided, for some strange reason, to connect my twittering to the blog and not to twitter under my "real name." I don't know why I continue with the semi-anonymous blogging (and twittering) and with the not revealing the existence of the blog in facebook and to many "real life" people. I guess I just have ranted way too much about academia here and I feel deep down that the "coming out" as a blogger would jeopardize my future in the ivory tower, ha ha ha! What a great future I have...

In any case, my name there is Lilian+ the rest of the blog name that fits (minus the e).

And, prolix or not, I can definitely restrict myself to 140 characters when needed. ;-)

Sunday, February 21, 2010




K has a verbal offer from the university in Virginia!! (having been contacted on the weekend no less!)

It's great timing because this will allow him to be slightly more relaxed in his upcoming interviews (NJ one tonight/tomorrow, fancy Ivy League school Tuesday and Wednesday). Keep him in your thoughts, it'll be a marathon!

He still has to get the written offer, but he's not in a hurry right now, given that he wants to be able to receive other offers if they materialize.

It seems like our time in "limboland" is finally coming to an end. Phew!!

Thursday, February 18, 2010


While I organize my thoughts (and try to exorcise some demons) so I can write a post on the subject of domesticity, I'll leave you with a list the main things I was able to accomplish today.

- Four loads of laundry, now line-drying in the basement (four loads because I washed the sheets and the boys' bedroom curtains -- their curtain rod broke from the wall and they fell down on the dusty floor)

- Overly full dishwasher started a few minutes ago.

- Cleaned around our flat top counter mounted stove (I lift it up from the bottom and clean around the edges, since stuff gets in there. I just have to be careful so it doesn't fall on my hands).

- Washed the dishes in the sink.

- Cooked brown rice and steamed some broccoli (both in the rice cooker) to eat with the black beans I made yesterday.

- Cleaned and swept the floor of the boys' closet and put away some of their clothes.

- Swept steps from front door to upstairs and the super dirty landing in front of the kitchen.

This is way more that I do most days, but the "to-do" list (which never gets done) pales in comparison (like cleaning all floors of the house -- sweeping & swiffering, mopping the ceramic floors, dusting other surfaces, etc, etc, etc).

Most importantly, I was able to get the boys to do some work, less than they needed, but still some. They are almost caught up now. I wish we could keep up with t he work, that's all, but it's A LOT.

Gotta go run some errands now before dinner, which will be later (we just had a snack)!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dissertation Nostalgia - Almost Two Years Later

Today, my "bloggy friend" Jamie wrote this post in which she celebrates sending off her completed PhD dissertation to her advisor (congrats again, Jamie!!). Reading it prompted me to think about and comment on my own dissertation, so I opened the PDF document to write my comment and left it open on the desktop. I read my abstract (found a grammatical error in the last paragraph! oh! the horror!) and the acknowledgments, but I didn't have much time and just left it there open.

It was a strange feeling, that of looking at this document that took me countless hours to produce and which hardly anyone in the world will ever read. I enjoyed reading my very informal acknowledgments and the abstract reminded me of the real value of my contribution and why I should try to get back to this and get more people to learn about it.

After K got home tonight and I could just leave the boys' bedtime routine to him, I came back to the computer and saw the dissertation. My first impulse was to finally send it to a small press in Brazil which would be likely to publish it and I even have the email in draft (attachment and all), but I don't know if that's how it works. I mean, publishing in Brazil is not exactly like here, at least not in these tiny and highly specialized publishers. I think I have to send them a thank you email (their books were very useful for my dissertation) and a query one before I just send them that pdf document.

I closed the draft almost in tears and began to read chapter 2, the most relevant one to the publisher in question. I found it very enjoyable to read it and I was surprised that I can tell which words didn't come from my own brain and were the result of the endless corrections and revisions thanks to two most thorough committee members (how/why did they let the abstract error escape, though? I think only one of them read it).

You know, it's hard to re-read my dissertation. I clearly still care deeply and passionately about its subject and I am convinced that my contribution is an important one. One aspect of the research that I have done (just to contextualize the rest of my data) is just ABSURD in its breadth and originality.

The worst part of it all is that I came up with everything there in the period of ten years that I worked in the project (it originated in a lengthy paper that I wrote back in the Fall of 1998, my first semester in graduate school). What I mean is that there is one previous dissertation on the subject (1994) and a few others (in Brazil, not here) from which I "borrowed" the methodology to analyze one aspect of the books. The rest, the approach, the contrasting between writers of both genders, etc. is something I'd never seen anywhere. Highly original and thus, entirely uncommon and potentially unpublishable (in North America, at least).

A month before my defense I found a scholar that does similar quantitative work in literature, but he doesn't use "raw" counting as his main source as I did. We had a lovely exchange of emails (I couldn't find a post about it, I thought I'd written it), but he's a busy scholar, way out there in the West Coast, so how can we exchange ideas? Nobody has time to read other people's dissertations (unless you're advising one of writing one yourself, right?).

Anyway, I don't think I'm going to send that email right now or do much of anything about my dissertation. I haven't given up on it just yet, but I do feel a bit sad that I feel so discouraged about academia in general that I can't muster the energy to try to keep going without a job and any kind of support.

This is NONSENSE, though, because my dissertation, all of it, had minimum support (in terms of ideas of what to do), I only had feedback on the content from one reader (it was heavy criticism and there were many suggestions). I wasn't doing some kind of "fashionable" research topic, I simply decided to find out what I wanted to find out. So, if I did it on my own, why shouldn't I be able to keep going? I'm entirely capable of presenting at countless conferences if I so desire (I'm going to one in Canada in May) and if could only keep on putting myself out there maybe I'd have a breakthrough. I'm very bad at getting writing submitted, though, so that's a big problem right there.

OK, let me quit all this thinking-aloud-in-writing that must have alienated all but the most academically minded of my readers and go to bed right now. Poor K pulled an all-nighter last night and is already asleep. This job interviewing thing is exhausting and nerve-racking!

Gone Missing

Right before K got out of the door and into the car to leave for his eventful blizzard trip,* I handed him a small camera bag, which he promptly stuffed into his backpack. I, the photo fanatic, thought he might want to photograph the university after his interview, or something, since we couldn't go with him.

Ever since we went digital back in 2003 we've wanted a second small camera since the two cameras we have are old and clunky, with long swivel lenses.** So this past December K bought this one for us, one of the cheapest of the cheap, and we were a happy two camera family over the holidays. This obviously resulted in many more photos, since Kelvin took over the smaller one, but it was a relief not to have to carry the big camera and its bag everywhere anymore.

After his interview was over and K was getting ready to drive home he called me to tell me that he couldn't find the camera anywhere. He looked in the hotel room again, the car, opened his suitcase and bags one more time, and nothing. When he got home he looked again, but it was gone. Too bad...

I just hope that this is not a "bad omen" regarding the interview. ;-)

*I'm thinking of making him a T-shirt with that photo of the car in the blizzard and the words "I Survived the Blizzard of 2010!"

**We don't use the first one anymore and the second one was a kind used gift from a friend who upgrades his camera every year or two. We wish we could afford a decent camera. Someday. I'm considering asking my friend again in a couple of years, though, since he just bought a Canon Rebel in 09. (just kidding!)

Young Picasso

One more in the series of the boys' artwork. This one was painted with tempera by Kelvin, my almost 8 year old. He followed closely the video instructions of his teacher. I love it that they're learning about Cubism and other art periods and movements. This will make our present & future museum visits much more enjoyable!

Sunday, February 14, 2010


K hadn't checked his email in three days because of the job interview.

Tonight, as we finished talking with my brother- and sister-in-law whom we decided to visit today, he checked.


He's got an interview at an Ivy League school.

................ .................... .........................

I have no words. K cannot believe it. I just told him I've always had faith in him, though (or else I wouldn't have married him ;-).

Do you guys realize what it means, to have been invited for an interview at such a school? It's something nearly unthinkable... but it's happening.

K may not get a job offer from them, but I have a feeling that at the end of this job search season he'll have a job and we'll finally settle down.

P.S. The school in question is the only one in the country that has a department in my specific field. And there's another school nearby with a department on a closely related area in which a good friend of mine works. Wow, just wow.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Christina (from Mausi) posted photos of the beautiful icicles hanging from the roof of her house in Germany and I decided to do the same. I took these a few minutes ago.
You can see before and after shots of the longest one in my Project 365 blog.

As you can see, I'm moving on. Thanks for all your lovely and supportive comments!

Dawn is Right

Of course Dawn, who's been blogging since 2001, and knows way better than I do about blogging is right in her comment: "the only time I ever feed trolls is if I feel like the conversation would benefit OTHER readers in some way. I mean, if I think a troll -- however mean-spirited -- brings up a salient point or question. This person is not. Don't feed her. Who cares what strangers on the internet think?"

Thanks, Dawn, I needed to hear that. The problem is that I'm relatively new at this blogging thing and have to learn just to let things slide.

So anonymous comments are officially off. Good riddance to you, latest annoying anonymous commenter. And thanks to Monkey McWearingChaps for civilly (and not anonymously) raising a reasonable point in his comments to the previous post which I promptly addressed. I don't object to criticism, just to gratuitous and heartless attacks with a hidden agenda (particularly a rude, anti-immigrant, right wing one -- since I don't even talk about politics in this blog). Sigh.

Party's over, you can look the other way now.

Awash in Adrenaline

Too bad that it makes my skinny body way too cold and shivery, but I've already made a cup of (Brazilian) lemon-grass tea to warm me up/calm me down.

I just thought I'd let you know that the discussion with anonymous commenter is continuing over here in the comment section. Just in case you want to come and add your two cents. I may, or may not, close anonymous commenting after this. After all, it's important to be forced to weather criticism in order to build a thicker skin, since mine is way too thin. I want that overly sensitive girl to be a thing of the past.

Adrenaline can be very useful to me too! It propels me to clean, clean, clean, which is not my normal mode (understatement :-) -- so it's just what I needed today to get me going. I have to go sweep and mop the kitchen now, so I'll see you later.

Going Annie

my apologies for the repeated editing.
This morning, a nightmare woke me up at 5 am. I went back into a fitful sleep until 7 and then got up, the night spoiled by the terror of a strange dream. I guess it may have been an after-effect of the late night adrenaline shot.

I was in my parents' old house -- the house where we lived when I got married, back in 1994 (in São Paulo, Brazil). There were a few people there and then, out of nowhere, appeared this guy and he had a gun. The gun was bad enough, but then we heard this clicking noise and there was this "thing" on the floor, it looked a bit like a broken toy truck, wish loose wheels and stuff. When I saw it, I new immediately that it was a bomb. "Throw it out!" I screamed to my brother, but he picked it up and threw it very close (you know how in a dream you cannot run well, or get things to move?). Then, I picked it up and threw it away, I think, but it didn't go very far either. There was a guy car parked in the neighbor's driveway and the "bomb" landed right behind the car, still inside the fenced gate and I screamed to the man in the car. "Get out!! Get out!" And I think he did, and the bomb began to explode, only it wasn't a Hollywood explosion, I just saw a some sparks and fire and then I woke up.

Of course K is still away and this morning will be the last "leg" of his interview. I'm sure that this is in my thoughts too. I'll write more about it later, but now I just want to share a couple of pictures. I took the one below yesterday morning, when I woke up at 7:30, this time because I knew that early morning light would be the best for photos of the historic blizzard of 2010 (and besides the wind wouldn't have blown all the snow away yet from the trees). Incidentally, this was the photo I selected for the cover of my facebook album. If you're my friend in there, you can check it out, there are 89 photos! And if you'd like to be facebook friends, just email me, ok? And now I'm going to go all Annie on you. Things may be tough for us right now (I mean, not really, but I'm thinking of those regrets), but I know that "The sun will come out, tomorrow!"

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Taking the Leap + Useless Rant Meant for Anonymous Commenter

Like many other wiser bloggers before me, I'm seriously considering switching to Wordpress. OK, I have mostly decided, I just have to work out the details. I even got the URL already (same name).

I'd spent all day thinking about this -- mostly for other reasons, the desire/need to have password protected posts -- and then came this "lovely" anonymous comment which totally pushed me over the edge. I don't know how Heather Armstrong could take the hatred for all those years (I totally supported her "profit from the hate" initiative [it had another name]). And I, a thin skinned stupid over-sharing person should have watched my mouth, but didn't. Good thing, I say again, that I don't have many readers, or else it would be much worse. Please forgive me if I become truly aggressive in the next paragraphs. I just have to get this out of my system. I don't know how to write for nothing. It's the only weapon I have in life. The writing.

What's hurtful to me is that it sounds like this commenter was not an occasional reader. I wonder if it's someone who's commented before and whom I may "virtually know." That's why I think it's so annoying to me that people always hide behind anonymity to criticize others. Or do it behind their backs in "real life." Of course, earnest, idealist me wants to be always honest. And, YES, you're right, commenter, I AM, have always been a whiner. Unfortunately. It's what my husband hates the most about me (good thing he likes pretty much all the rest). This is my blog, however, and I have never asked you to read it. You're reading of your own volition. I've also been known for blaming others, but my husband and I talked this subject over hundreds of times and I really wasn't the one making the decision. I just stood by whatever decision he made. Are you angry that I'm writing about this? (And I know that I could talk about other things in the blog that could be "blaming others" -- like blaming others for not having a job or for the PhD being useless. I'm not really doing that, since I haven't even looked for a job, and a humanities phd is useless after all, but I would still have done it).

And another thing. I don't think your tax dollars are going towards my mortgage, did you hear me? I'm pretty sure that all of the principal that's not paid now is being deducted from our equity and we'll end up paying for it all in the end. And besides, I have already paid enough taxes in this country, you hear me? And not been eligible for most everything that other tax-payers are. And I've always been here legally. I have spent thousands of dollars paying your consulate to get a visa to travel back and forth to my country. I didn't want to be an immigrant here to begin with and it's encountering people like you that make me feel like this is indeed a hopelessly lost land full of shallow, selfish people. I can go back to Brazil if you want to, but you have nowhere to go, right? You're stuck here and if this country unravels, then you're just going to have to face it.

OK, enough. I have a feeling that the commenter won't even read this, or, if he/she does, maybe he/she won't want to do a rebuttal. Whatever.

And I thought of deleting the post, but I won't. I don't like to take back any of my words. I'm not talking about anyone's life but mine. It's therapeutic to share these details. It will be better doing that safely behind a password once in a while, though. At least I won't need to waste my sons' sleep (we were going to bed when I came and saw the comment) and my adrenaline.

I'm done now. My apologies for all my other readers for this rant. Peace and love to all. Really. Even to anonymous.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Out Into the Storm (Live Blogging K's Trip)

K drove a rental car out into the storm to go to his job interview about an hour and a half ago, fearing that he might never be able to get there tomorrow morning if he delayed his trip until later today. He decided to do that after checking the forecast (which includes a blizzard warning for our area) and noticing that there was a lull in the snowfall from 7-8:30 am. It had already picked up and it was "sleeting" pretty bad when he left by 9:50, though. Now it's mostly a light snow.

Our lane (it's a "three-house-long" street) was cleaned 20 minutes before he left, so that allowed him to drive away comparably safely. I'm hoping the highways will be fine, the only problem will be reaching them from the house and then transitioning between major highways. The university itself is right next to a major highway, so I guess that the conditions won't be too bad.

I wanted to include an update with this post and I called K, but he didn't pick up the phone. I'll update the post as we talk on the phone later today. Now I have to continue cleaning the driveway (I want to do it before more snow accumulates and then I'll re-do it after the storm is over tonight). Keep K in your thoughts and prayers today, OK? Thanks!

Edit 1 at 12:28 pm:
I just talked to K on the phone for a while. What he's doing is completely crazy, and he's never seen so much of the white stuff in his life, but he's safe so far. Some parts of the highway are cleaner than others and he's had to drive over 3 inches or more of snow at times. A mildly unfortunate thing happened, in using Google Maps to try to help him find the best way to transition from one highway to another I
unwittingly made him take an exit into another road (with worse driving conditions). It will add only 3 miles to the trip, but I hope it's not a big problem. He just hung up and will call me later and then I'll have a second update. He'll probably get there safely, but still, I wish he had listened to me yesterday and traveled yesterday afternoon... sigh.

2nd update at 12:57 pm:
K is on the second highway now, the one that basically cuts through the university. We just spent some minutes on the phone with me reading these two articles of the Chronicle to him: "
Preparing for Campus Interviews" and "The Academic Job Interview Revisited." We printed them out before he left, a copy for me to read and a copy for him. I hope it helps! Now I'll go back to shoveling some more.

3rd update 1:58 pm - K exited to eat and now found out that the Interstate has been CLOSED! I think K will try to hang out in a hotel lobby for a few hours, I hope they'll allow him to. :-(

4th update, 2:58: K wasted an hour because couldn't park at the hotel (too much snow) so he's driving towards Maryland now on a smaller road. What a nightmare. And to top it off, I accidentalky left the phone off the hook for 45 minutes while he was frantically trying to call me. We talked briefly just now, but got cut off. I'm getting worried now.

5th update 3:29: No worries, he's just fine. It has stopped snowing for over an hour there. It's very like Pennsylvania to close its highways... I don't like this state much. In any case, it's not snowing where he is, but the wind is strong. K will have to drive on a smaller road, parallel to the highway all the way to the Maryland border and there the highway is open and it should take him two hours at most (we hope) to get to his destination. Now I'll go back to shoveling the driveway a third time. I actually enjoy it a lot, but more on that later.

5:11 pm: K's in Maryland now. He realized that he had crossed the state line because the road was way better (cleaner). PA doesn't seem to use enough salt on its roads. He's just got into the highway now and it is clean, so in less than two hours he'll reach his destination. It looks like this will be the next to last update. Phew!

8pm: It took K 9h30 to get there, instead of 4h30, but he's safely there. Now I hope everything goes well tomorrow.

And I'm glad this live-blogging post is finally over!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

I love snow, except when I can't

And I can't love the beautiful snow that's falling out there tonight and that will continue falling tomorrow because K has a most important job interview on Thursday and it's a 4h+ drive away.

I wished he could have left before the storm, but he was busy working on his presentation and the last minute need to borrow a laptop from a friend (ours doesn't connect to the video projector anymore and we cannot afford a new one). He's still working on the presentation as I type. I wanted to keep a "vigil" staying up as late as needed with him, but I don't think I'll be able to do that.

The boys will wake up early and I have two extras tonight and tomorrow (our friends' sons, 7 and 10) to look after.

I'll keep you posted about K's travel. We think he won't leave until tomorrow evening when the storm will be winding down.

Oh, and we had nice plans for tomorrow and the weekend... We were going to drive down together to K's brother's house in Maryland where I'd stay during the interview and then we'd spend the weekend there too. The snowstorm rendered that plan unfeasible. :-(

BIL had called to say, however, that it would be hard for us to come and visit anyway since there are no parking spaces available at the crowded townhome community where he lives. Things are chaotic in the D.C. area right now!

I just hope that K can get to his destination safely tomorrow night. Until then, I'm at odds with the snow.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Drowning in Regret: A Sad Tale of Naivete and Idealism (or How We Refused to be "Mercenaries")

(I began this post on 4/13/09, but never finished it. I decided to go back to it after today's earlier post. I may not be able to capture my feelings from back then fully since now I'm much more hopeless and sarcastic, but I will try to recapture the reasoning that made me give it this pathetically long title. I promise that it will make some sense in the end.)

Original 09 opening:
We have this saying in Brazil that goes, "Se arrependimento matasse... eu já estaria morto." Something like, "If regret killed, I would be dead by now." Well, yeah, we would. Not that I think we made the completely wrong decisions, but perhaps the timing of the decision was not right in this particular case.

I am about to share something that K initially didn't want to share with anyone (he hasn't even told his parents because he wants to spare them for now -- he later did), but I've already talked about it with most of our closest friends (and I did call my parents the very next day). I just cannot help it. Sharing helps ease the pain.

You may, or may not remember, that after the initial and devastating shock of October 31st, 2007 (when K lost his job after having it for only 2 months, on the very same day he mailed the first mortgage payment), he was re-hired, albeit "temporarily," with a review of the group due on November 08. He had already found another job, a postdoc position, but let that go, obviously. Work didn't go well for him at big pharma, though, the projects his group was trying to tackle never took off, and he found himself frustrated and feeling that he was wasting his time doing basically nothing (in retrospect, now we know that it must be something fairly common in industry jobs, that's why many people, including academics, find industry so outrageous, but we were too naive and "idealistic" to see that at the time, but more on that later).

In June 08, we went to Brazil and he didn't get the tenure track position he had applied and competed for -- which was good, because we were not sure we wanted to go back to Brazil. After that experience, which included a surreal event in which one of the professors in the hiring committee told him that one position he had applied for in the past but then decided not to interview for had not been filled and that he was the candidate they wanted. (That was an "alternate reality"/ Back to the Future type of experience that felt very strange and kind of sad, knowing what could have been, but never was -- if you're curious, I can elaborate more in the comment section, oh, and we kept this information from our parents, fearing they might get too upset -- they still kind of don't know, hope they don't find out from this post. 2/8/10).

When he came back to the U.S., K contacted the professor who had the postdoc position back in November 07 and found out that he still had the position (Feb. 2010 edit: what we didn't know back then was that the professor is somewhat of a slacker, that's why he hadn't hired anyone. He also took a long time to apply for grants and that's why K's job has to end on August/10). So, after thinking long and hard about this and having been encouraged (or, rather, almost persuaded)* to quit by his boss, who reassured his that his prospects in the industry were not very good decided to quit his job, that by now [Feb. '10] was temporary, up for review in November 08.

[Continuing on February 2010]
The thing is, before going to Brazil for the concurso (tt job competition), K had gone to a conference in Boston where he met his boss (who lived England). At that meeting, the boss encouraged him to take a new job if he found one and explained that -- from his point of view -- K was getting too old for a career in the industry. THAT IS, assuming that in industry everyone wants and needs to climb up quickly to management, since apparently when you're 50 you're kind of stuck or whatever and you have to be up in the ladder. He made the whole reasoning saying that K would have to climb "one step" of the ladder per year to be in the boss's position when he was 45, or something. (Why would everyone want that, I wonder).

[ridiculous number of parenthetical remarks ahead, but I'll leave it as is.]
Then, there's the "academic side" of this story. Academics (those in the sciences and engineering at least) generally loathe industry folks because "they don't know anything" [ETA 2/12/10: this statement bothered a reader, see comment here, and I responded in this comment] (after his two first months there, K tended to agree, but he's not so sure now) and fellow academics whom K met during that year all commented in derisive terms of his decision to work for the industry. This, coupled with his dissatisfaction about the uncertainty of work and plain lack of work, made him reconsider his decision to continue on the job. This and one key issue, or lack thereof: whereas in academia K had plenty of role models, mentors and all the knowledge he needed to succeed (he just knew what he had to do from years of doing it), in the industry he did NOT! He had no mentors whatsoever and, most importantly -- he didn't know the ins and outs of industry jobs (that was as big problem, he learned too late)! He knew one devastating truth: these jobs were UNCERTAIN. He was permanently scarred from being laid off two months after starting. That did it. Academia meant certainty and gave him a feeling of security, of knowing what he was doing and where he was going to get, whereas he felt unsettled and uncomfortable working in the industry. Oh, and I almost forgot, there's one more thing that is really important. If he took to long to return to the academic environment (particularly because he is an experimentalist) he would never be able to go back. Academically, he had already wasted one year of his life, with no publications, research, nothing (and that, I must say is hurting him now, most certainly!). So, it was a either "now or never" moment in his life. The moment in which he had to decide what, in his heart of hearts, mattered most for him. What he wanted to do with his life. So, academia it was.

And since the professor still had the job (seven months later! It looked like a "sign" for K, really [ha ha, only a sign that his future boss was a bit too slow]) and K was all but certain that he'd be laid off again in November when his group, which was doing nothing and accomplishing nothing, would undergo a review (remember he'd he'd been re-hired in a temporary position), he decided to take the leap.

And take a 60% paycut. With a mortgage that was half his monthly pay at the industry, and credit card debt from the home renovations.

The plan was to put the house on the market immediately and move,** but we were unable to finish the renovations (with K's new 3 hour daily commute and me starting to work at Kelvin's school three days a week for around 9 hours), so ended up not doing that. We figured that we could survive at least six more months on the severance package. K was also counting on my meager salary and the online gig that I was going to start -- that's part of the story too, hang on.

In any case, fast forward to March and April 09. Panic strikes. We have to put the house on the market. Immediately. We are risking losing the house 'cause we really cannot afford to pay it anymore. After three "dark" months of and countless house showings and no offers, we appeal to the bank and Obama's plan for struggling homeowners comes through for us (although we felt really guilty that our problem was not really related to the economic crisis, but chiefly a consequence of our decisions). You read about those things here, if you've been around.

Before that, though, came one fateful afternoon in March (a Tuesday, the 26th), when we were getting ready to put the house on the market. I was working outside weeding an empty flowerbed next to the house when a car pulled into the driveway. A guy came out and talked for a while with K, who had been working on the garage. The previous night K had sent a job application for big pharma again. He was desperate, and he had emailed that guy, who stopped by to bring some mail for K that had been at the company for months. I -- foolish me -- thought, "Wow, maybe there's another opening at the company and he'll be able to go back to work there." And I continued to work feeling a bit hopeful even.

The guy left and I thought it was strange that K continued working in the garage quietly. It was almost 6 pm when I finally went inside and opened the door of the family room to the garage and talked to K. I will never forget what he told me then. His face was ashen with pain and regret and he looked very very tired.

"They're still there." He said.

"Who's still there? Where?" I asked.

"My boss T and the other guy here in Philly, V. They're still there."

"What?" I incredulously asked.

"Yes. They never left last November."

We both knew what he'd say next. The truth hit us harder than anything ever before. It was like a regret tsunami, and we were drowning in its dark void.

"I'd still be there."

This is just too painful to write and think about even over ten months later. The absurd irony of the timing was not lost on us. Why? We asked incessantly, why did we have to learn this just days before having to put our house on the market? Why couldn't we have remained blissfully (hahaha) ignorant? Why? It's always like that with us, the timing is always "perfect." It never fails, even in disastrous situations.

After my delightful two weeks in Massachusetts were over (the return trip was blogged here, I don't know if anyone read, no comments), I became really bitter about this. We began to analyze K's decision process described above and I reached a conclusion: we're just too idealistic for our own good. I know, the world needs idealists, yada yada yada, but some people are just handed too much of it at birth and from their upbringing (both in our case) and the two of us are "Idealism Champions" or, as Heather Armstrong would say it, we're "The Valedictorians of Idealism."*** I know, pathetic. K also realized that he had been simply too naive to have been persuaded by his boss. I mean, it was in his boss' best interest to have him leave, right? One less person in the payroll, one last person to try to find "work" for. He caught on that K still had links to academia and encouraged him to go.

And where do I get into this story? Before all this happened, there was the horrendous, nightmarish online gig. I knew we needed the money. I could have tried to "suck it up," but I just couldn't. I hated it, I rebelled against and disagreed with the whole thing most passionately and thus it ended the way it did (they dropped me). This happened in February and helped unravel the whole situation with the house. It wasn't much money, but it made a difference and we needed it most desperately.

Why, oh why, couldn't we have agreed to be mercenaries? For the sake of keeping the house. For the sake of the family.

K's immediate reaction was one of extreme guilt. Guilt for making his family suffer and go through all this. He apologized profusely. My dear K -- last year was the "year of apologizing" for him (the whole imbroglio with the school that left me depressed happened because he decided to pursue it and later he apologized too). I reassured him that it was OK, that it made me happy to see him enjoying his work and feeling passionately about it once more. And it totally does.

The painful regret, though? It comes and goes. I don't think it'll ever go away.

Maybe someday when K reaches that same yearly income. ;-)

Too bad that in academia (if he gets a job) it will take a long time for him to get there...

So here's our tale. All things considered, I guess I was able to finish this pretty well. If anyone will get this far into reading it is another question!

* This whole experience has made me compare K to Anne Eliot, the main character of Persuasion, my favorite Jane Austen book. I think he may be just too persuadable. (note from April 09)

** We even went to visit a townhome in a rental community and hated it with a vengeance. :-(

*** Yeah, I was so idealistic that my "non-speech" (I don't like formality and never made into t he valedictorian finals in high school, it received only one vote. I still see the woman who got to do it when I go visit my mom. I guess she's been probably more successful than me in life ;-).

Happy, but Overwhelmingly Worried

I haven't been blogging lately because I just don't know exactly how to articulate my feelings. We're happy with K's interviews (more so with the first one, this upcoming Thursday) and at times we're even giving ourselves the dangerous permission to dream, but still with very mixed emotions. We don't want to be disappointed and heartbroken. Again.

Last Friday evening, as I ran to the store to get some hot chocolate ingredients so we'd be ready for the snowstorm, I returned home to find K, just arrived from work, at the desktop (that is very unusual). I saw him from the window, but he got up immediately to go talk to the boys. Later I found out that he was indulging in the ultimate "forbidden" (= too-hopeful) behavior: checking real estate listings for the Virginia area where the school is. (sigh)

The thing is, we've been having renewed "regret attacks" since last Sunday, when the good news arrived, but also a day in when K spent a lot of time thinking about why he would have liked to continue working an industry job (yes, the one he quit), since he was sending out an application that day (the position has since been removed from the site, so we think nothing will come from it). I haven't yet had the heart to finish a post I started writing last April. At this point it will probably be very repetitive and almost irrelevant, but I still want to go back to it. So I guess I won't say more about regrets here. [I ended up doing it a few paragraphs down].

I started writing today because I just had to check a few disagreeable websites: our bank's, our credit card's and another bank account in Brazil. (Remember that I hate money?) The truth of the matter is that financially, our lives have become a disaster and I feel very upset about it. I guess we're better off than most people, but still, having credit card debt, seeing money disappearing from whatever little equity we had in the house,* and, most importantly, realizing that K does not make quite enough money for us to live on, is just unsettling and downright depressing. I feel that the trip to Brazil was just an "escape" and by being there (which cost us quite a bit) we were just "pretending" that things were fine when they're not.

It's the fine line between "living" and just despairing full time. We'd been choosing to bury our heads in the sand, ostrich style, if you will, and "living" for a bit. Trusting against better judgment, that things will end up all right in the end.

I'm tired of living like that. I wish, day after day after day, that the traumatizing big pharma job had never happen (that we hadn't bought this house, etc, etc, etc). And we wish, even as we try not to, that K hadn't done the unthinkable, walked willingly away from a nearly six-figure paycheck. It's all nice and beautiful to pursue an ideal, an ambition, or a higher dream, but there are always the bills to pay at the end of the month. (It's my old trauma, the book about "the beans and the dream," I guess K and I do have a lot in common in life after all).

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It doesn't make any sense to do this (I'm in tears now after writing the previous paragraph), but I just wanted to go back to the "happy" there in the title because it wasn't meant to refer only to the job interviews. I wanted to register here that we're happy with our peaceful domestic routine right now. Although it's still being very hard to "do school" with the boys, things are going very smoothly and enjoyably here. I've been cleaning the house more and even enjoying it, we're eating healthily, K comes home and is not stressed out about having to teach the next day or having to grade. Things have fallen into a smooth "groove" and I like it a lot. It's a simple, but happy life. It was very stressful last semester, with K teaching ("adjuncting"), but that means around 700 less a month, a big difference that we've already felt. He is less stressed out, though.**

OK, I'm not doing a good job of conveying the "happy" because I'm not really happy as I type this. So I guess it's the time to stop and, maybe try to finish that other unhappy post. I wanted it to be a "masterpiece" of regret and despair, but I don't think I'll succeed.

And, right now, the fact that I don't work and don't contribute in a financial way to our lives is really bringing me down. I know, I know... I'm caring for the boys, they're flourishing and learning so much and above all they LOVE to be home with me. But we need to pay the bills!!! We're tired of living in a cold house!

OK, I hate this post and shouldn't even publish it, but I will. I can't even write well. There are so few things that I can do well... I'm just not doing OK lately. How long do we have to keep going on like this? I guess I should go bury my head in the sand (or snow, that's what's available) again. Pretend that everything is fine. And hope, against all hope, that there is a job offer and that in a few months we're out of this nightmare for good.

* That is happening because we're not even paying the interest in full right now and the bank never gets the renegotiation/ refinancing finalized -- I was NOT aware, actually that this was going to happen when we were "rescued," I had no idea we'd lose equity and I'm just so sad about it. What's the use then, of keeping the house? ('cause nobody bought it, remember? 'cause we're paying the same as a rental right now... we should be thankful, ha ha, great).

** Too bad that he also has a negative, ironic view of this. The main reason he decided not to teach was so that he could concentrate on the "many interviews" that he hoped to have. Now that there are only two, it feels as if he'd made the wrong decision. Especially considering that he would have all the classes and most materials prepared already. Why even go there? Why regret such a small thing and not just enjoy him with us calmer and more whole? That's what I said to him when we were having a conversation, but when I look in the the checking account, I almost change my mind.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Abstract Art by a Seven Year Old

(7.9 years old, to be exact)

Kelvin made this during church the weekend I was away in Brazil and my mom had him scan it and email to the whole family! I saw the email first and then I was amazed when I saw the real thing since it is just so small! (only a few inches long and wide). I love the colors he used. I've wanted to post it for over a month, but only had the chance now. I thought that this would make for a nice back to back post with the previous one. :-)

Now, if I tell you that both of my boys do not like to draw (Kelvin is quite good at it when he tries, but Linton is not) and color, you won't believe it, will, ya? It's nothing but the truth, though. That's another reason why I really love their art classes.

P.S. Laura (from Portugal) asked about the cyber-classes and I'd just like to explain a bit to her that the boys are enrolled in a "Cyber School," which is a virtual, computer-based kind of charter school (a different kind of public school, a definition here), so their art classes are part of that. I will try to write more about cyber schooling at some other time. International students can also enroll in at least one American cyber school (there may be more, but this is the only one I'm aware of, it's not ours, BTW), but it's pretty costly.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Watercolor by a Five Year Old

Five and a half, I'm sure he'd have me tell you. :-)
Edited to add: Sarah Sometimes commented below on the use of perspective and I need to clarify that he did this following the exact instructions of his art teacher, whose two part-video lesson he watched twice. The painting was done in two steps, first the background and then a few days later the trees, one close and one far away. His art classes in the cyber-school are FANTASTIC! (you may remember this and that and I should post more).

I just thought I'd post this to fill the space until I find the time to write a "real" blog post. :-)