Worthy

Every Wednesday during the semester my department has Research Round Table, or RRT.  Research Round Table is a great name to describe the weekly meeting; RRT is a horrible acronym.  It may not look like a horrible acronym, but try saying it out loud.  Quickly.  You sounded like a hungry gawking seal, didn’t you?  So when I am in my lab and someone asks if I can meet with them or go for lunch on Wednesday at noon, I almost always blush when I say, “No, I’m sorry I can’t, I have RRT,” because I know the person listening to me cocks their head a little and crosses their fingers hoping that I don’t grow a flipper and slither onto the floor like Daryl Hannah did in Splash.

Last Wednesday at RRT we had a different format than the typical journal club or think-a-loud or research presentation.  Instead the graduate students threw out questions for faculty about the writing process, the publication process, and managing professorial responsibilities in academia.  The meeting was enlightening and inspiring and daunting and discouraging.

At one point, the conversation tail-spinned into a discussion on the peer review process.  When a manuscript is submitted for publication to a scientific journal, if it is deemed worthy by the editor it is sent to other scientists for peer review.  The reviewers have at the manuscript like hungry paper-eating wolves, critiquing everything that is weak and wrong in the writing, and then deciding whether or not the study is worthy of publication.  All this goes on while it is thundering and lightning outside with ominous music playing in the background, and the reviewers are throwing their heads back in uproarious, evil laughter.

In rare circumstances a manuscript is accepted with no modifications.  Although I can’t say that it isn’t a good goal to aim for “accepted with no modifications,” my sense is that the result of having such a lofty goal would be similar in result to getting on the Tilt-A-Whirl ride at a carnival, leaving your wallet on the seat next to you as you spin and twirl madly, and then expecting your wallet to be there on the seat at the end of the ride – in either case you will be let down.  Also your hair will be ridiculously disheveled.  More likely when submitting a manuscript one can expect to see “accept with modifications,” “modify and resubmit,” or “reject.”

The purpose of the peer review system admirably is to improve the quality of published articles, and likewise comments are meant to improve the conceptual and technical aspects of these manuscripts.  Perhaps on occasion this process unfolds beautifully as intended, like a budding flower opening to the warmth of the sun.  On the other hand, my beloved faculty shared one woeful experience after another about frustrating reviewers and outrageous comments.  All this from a group who I admire, who are profoundly intelligent, and who are well veteraned in writing and publishing.  They continued to explain that no one in academia has time to dwell on the strengths of a manuscript; if a paragraph or concept is not red-marked so to speak, then it is considered to be good, or at least good enough.  It’s the epitome of “no news is good news.”

I floated out of the circle of conversation for a moment to reflect on this.  There really are few moments in this profession where someone comes along, pats you on the back and says good job.  The positive feedback is not extinct, but certainly endangered.  This predicament trickles down into advisor-graduate student interactions as well.  Compliments can take on strange forms.

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Not far off from this satirical comic is a particular instance where I had emailed a paper to my advisor.  In her return email she said that I really did do a great job on the paper…and then I opened the attached document and saw an obscene amount of comments and changes.  Hard to believe the “great job” in the body of the email was written in reference to the very file that had been subjected to the dreaded advisor review.  Of course in this case many of her comments substantially improved the paper, but that doesn’t mean that the imbalance of feedback wasn’t difficult for me.  In my thirst for affirmation, I read the “great job” at least fifty times so that it felt more like fifty compliments instead of just one.  It helped to offset the three thousand comments in the paper.

So during this RRT discussion the overall message was that the critics can be harsh.  The advice on how to deal with this stark reality was 1) to allow yourself time to cool off before responding and 2) to grow thicker skin.  For a person that craves positive feedback and approval, these were grim coping strategies.  I left the meeting with angst over my future.  If I continue in this profession, who’s going to tell me “nice job,” or “well written,” or “great idea”?  With constant focus on what is wrong with my work, how am I going to feel any sense of worth?

Well, I went home that night and God decided to use my procrastination for good as I read the following post from Stuff Christians Like (a funny, inspirational, well-written blog that I stumbled upon while doing the ever popular Facebook stalking):

Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Wondering if we’re worth anything.
I interpret any two people closing any door in the entire office at work as a private meeting that is being held to discuss my imminent termination.

When I hear the sliding door sound that our cool offices make when we seal them shut, that little panicked voice inside me says, “You’re going to get fired.” When I am left off a meeting invite, I automatically think, “Why did that guy leave me off the meeting? Does he know I’m a dead man walking? Is he thinking ‘what’s the use of inviting Acuff to this meeting, he’ll be fired soon?” And I start to worry that I might be turning invisible. Like that photograph of Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future, I’m disappearing and unless someone plays “Earth Angel” and two people make out, I’m gone.

That’s ridiculous. It’s embarrassing that the running dialog in my head gallops to that so quickly like a drunken gazelle. (See, even that analogy was lacking because I’m stressed.)

But as dumb as that is, as complicated and tangled as the thoughts in my head feel, I think they come back to something I’ve written about on this site before, something that is impossibly simple …

I want someone to tell me that I am enough.

I want someone to validate that I matter. That I am valuable and important. Like Thom Yorke said in the song “Creep,” “I want you to notice when I’m not around.”

And it turns out I’m not the only one.

Two weeks ago news broke that Alex Rodriguez, arguably one of the greatest baseball players of our generation, took steroids in 2003. If you don’t follow sports, this was a huge deal. It’s the equivalent of say, Samson using performance enhancements or finding out that David had used a pistol on Goliath instead of a sling.

That a professional athlete used steroids isn’t that interesting to me, but in his confession interview with Peter Gammons, Rodriguez said something really revealing. When asked why he did it, when asked why after signing the biggest, most lucrative contract in baseball history for $252 million, he risked it all by taking steroids, he replied:

“When I arrived in Texas in 2001, I felt an enormous amount of pressure. I felt like I had all the weight of the world on top of me, and I needed to perform, and perform at a high level every day. Back then, it was a different culture. It was very loose. I was young. I was stupid. I was naive. And I wanted to prove to everyone that, you know, I was worth being one of the greatest players of all time.”

He wanted to prove to everyone that he was worth being one of the greatest players of all time. That when the Texas Rangers signed that $252 million contract, Alex Rodriguez was worth it. He wanted the fans and the owners of the ball club and people that watch him on television and journalists and anyone that ever came in contact with him to believe he was worth it.

He wanted to know that he was enough.

The unfortunate thing for me and Rodriguez is that no one on the planet is going to be able to tell us that to our satisfaction. Not a stadium full of fans, not every coworker I’ve ever had. Not a sports journalist. Not my web traffic or technorati ranking or eventual book sales.

That’s the problem with asking other people to tell us we’re enough. They can’t. They didn’t make us. They didn’t knit us in the womb or imagine us thousands of years before our parents danced at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. (That’s Back to the Future reference number two for those playing along at home.)

Even our friends and family members, the people that know and love us best can’t satisfy the deep desires of our heart because they didn’t put them there. They don’t know where they’re hidden or even know what this crazy work of art called “our lives” is supposed to look like.

And when we ask other people to tell us we’re worth enough we end up doing crazy things. Like taking steroids or lying in bed awake at night wondering why your name wasn’t on a Microsoft Outlook Meeting Invite.

Fortunately for you and me and Alex Rodriguez I went ahead and asked God if we were all worth it. He said “yes.” He said He sent His Son because He wanted us to know how very “enough” we all were. He said to feel free to ask Him that same question yourself. Go on, I dare you to. I promise that regardless of whether you’re one of the greatest baseball players that ever lived or a stay at home mom that feels invisible sometimes, the answer is going to be yes.

Duh. In my graduate student haze I momentarily lost sight of this truth.  I have tried to feel worthy by absorbing the words of others.  I have tried to feel worthy by puffing myself up with positive self talk.  But there is nothing that has ever made me feel so worthy and satisfied as the fulfilling love and promises of God.  What a timely intervention.

Being Illiterate Can Be Fun!

An undergrad that works on one of my research projects in the lab told me today that she is going to send me things “to keep me up to date.”  Wow.  Just wow.  I don’t really feel old, but for fun I like to joke about feeling old.  Sometimes, though, I do get pure glimpses of the ever increasing age gap between me and the undergraduate species. I have not been one of those young whipper-snapping undergrads for over a decade, so I am grateful that I have people like Jenna to keep me hip and in the loop and to help me take my mind off all of the things that my generation thinks about when we’re not napping – like BenGay, shuffleboard, and Early Bird dinner specials.

Today Jenna sent me a YouTube clip that apparently is “the latest thing.” (Karla, you don’t even have to like cats to appreciate this!)

Yes, any generation can adore the fresh, creative, slightly spastic mind of young, innocent children. My favorite part is “No…she’s…nooot!”  What’s yours?

Probably Didn’t Find What They Were Looking For

Not long after beginning this blog in August, 2008 I added a plug-in that tracks, among a number of things, the search engine searches that have led people to my website. As a way to celebrate the 6-month birthday of Moore Tokens, my dear friend, Amy, gave me the idea of listing some of the entertaining searches that have linked to my posts.

Of course one might expect “token” searches to arrive here at Moore Tokens, but who knew there were so many tokens to be had in the world?  Here is just a sampling of the tokens for which people have been searching —

my brother my friend tokens
tokens for friends
handmade cardboard tokens
bear paw tokens
pilgrimage tokens
olympics tokens
us tokens
memory verse tokens

I really enjoy talking about home decorating, though I haven’t written any posts on this topic yet, which is why it is so interesting to see that people in search of home decor have arrived on my website.  Searches: the entertainer ottoman; ninja throwing star drink coaster.  I wish I had ninja throwing star drink coasters to compliment the numchuks I have on the wall above the couch flanking the 20×30 Chuck Norris portrait, but more on my home decor later.

Others that may have been disappointed by linking to the Moore Tokens site were, oh I don’t know, shopping for children’s gifts?  Searches: 1st generation hungry hippo; stuffed shnitzel doll.

I can only imagine the tired, frustrated mother who is trying to teach her children discipline and responsibility.  She buys a chore chart and gold star stickers, apprehensive about the new task at hand for her, but excited about a new learning opportunity for her children.  Shortly after implementing the chart comes the bickering of who should do what chore and who’s turn is it to empty the dishwasher and why does my sister have to do soooo much less work than me?!  It’s not fair!  To the internet mom goes in search of wise counsel.  She types in fairness among chores, clicks search, and desperately waits for Google to perform magic and suggest websites with answers.  What a let down it must’ve been when she clicked on one of Google’s top suggestions which brought her to my post Fairness Among Siblings.  The title sounds so promising, but eh, not so much…unless the lady is fond of cats that can single handedly supply enough fur to stuff four king-size down comforters.

Search: how long to wait to take a tub bath after.  After what?  After what?!  I shutter at the thought of someone seeking medical advice stumbling on to my blog – not before I finish the online course to earn my “Certificate of Completion to Practice Medicine Online in a Personal Blog.”  Hmmm, perhaps that search had nothing to do with medical advice.  Perhaps the entire search was, “how long to wait to take a tub bath after accidentally soiling pants.”  In which case, I’m happy to advise that person now to TAKE A BATH IMMEDIATELY.  This person’s co-workers can only hope that he found answers sooner than later.

I am intrigued that someone out there searched for j shaped stomach, particularly since I was told recently that I have my very own notably j-shaped stomach.  Are there many of us out there?  If so, I think I see a new Facebook group in my future.

The hello kitty pajama butt hit tells me I need to rethink my fashion sense.  The homemade christmas gift hit reminds me that I haven’t talked at all about craft projects on this site even though I’d like to.  The dippin dots external factors, working at dq funny, and dq buster bar hits warn me that I might be talking too much about ice cream.  The “if i were a doll” + not feeling hit just outright confuses me.

So if you’re shopping for rollaters, hunting for dinner party speeches, searching for Charles Stanley sermons, or trying to print a copy of a “find the praying mantis in this picture” worksheet activity, sorry, Google or Yahoo! seem to have misled you.  But while you’re here, can I interest you in a friendly picture of a camel, a few words on my sweet husband, or some lovely thoughts on my backyard hydrangeas?

The Persistence of Memory

La persistencia de la memoria (1931) is Salvaldor Dalí’s most famous painting.

dali

Dalí died exactly twenty years ago last month, and it’s too bad, because I would have loved to have invited him over for dinner this week.  I’m sure as we would have stood in the kitchen, sipping sangría, laughing, and wildly trilling our r’s while waiting for the paella to cook to perfection, he would have enjoyed the winter scape on our patio.  Our own nature-made Persistence of Memory.

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Groundhog Day

Scout: I saw my shadow.  Winter is over.  Let me in now, my job is done.

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Me: You have that backwards. When Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, like he did this morning, that means we have six more weeks of winter.

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Looks like someone could use some cheering up, perhaps with a new catnip toy.  Either that or an all-expense paid trip to the Caribbean, but we’ll start with the fake mouse and see if that can’t subdue her inner cobra until spring arrives.