Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Shuffling (Papers)

Does anyone else have problems filling out all the paperwork that you are confronted with after you are hired? I am not talking about the paperwork that describes where you last worked, I am talking about all that other paperwork that requires you to provide the contact information for your "nearest living relative" or for a "family member" or for an "emergency contact". Because I have no idea where my nearest living relative is located, and furthermore, because none of my family members have spoken to me since I was 15, I struggle with the paperwork that comes with a new job.

Having watched and sometimes participated with other families as they reacted to crises, I assume that one's relatives execute that person's will or, in the absence of a will, they make decisions about how that person's possessions and body are disposed of after death or permanent incapacitation. But .. what happens to people like me, without any relatives? Do we hire a lawyer to step in to handle these things for us? That seems really .. impersonal. Further, it's silly to spend money on a lawyer when I don't have health insurance and I am struggling to pay my basic living expenses. Besides, even if I had a last will and testament that states how I want things to be in the event of my death or permanent incapacitation, how would anyone know? Would anyone care anyway? If so, why would anyone care when I have neither the power nor the finances to enforce my wishes (a sky burial, for example) under such circumstances?

My other dilemma is emergency contacts: who exactly qualifies as an "emergency contact" and what do they do? Do they do "little things" such as feed your pets if you are hospitalized after, say, choking on a french fry? (Some of my clients list me as an "emergency pet care contact" for this reason, which I am happy to do for them). Or do they do big things like notifying your family (if you have one) and friends in the event that one of your students assaulted and murdered you because he didn't like his textbook? In either situation, it seems that one should at least ask a potential emergency contact if they wish to serve in this capacity before listing them as such, right? Further, it seems that an emergency contact should be a person who lives locally, right?

I always provide my dissertation advisor's contact information as my emergency contact (unknown to him) because he has been in my life longer than any other human. But realistically, what can he do for me in an emergency? He lives 3000 miles away, so it's impossible for him to feed my parrots for me. Additionally, we only speak in email about letters of recommendation for my latest series of impending job rejections, er, applications, that I am sending out, so he has no idea who my friends might be and he is only vaguely aware of my family situation because I have provided few details about this to anyone (well, in real life -- I have written more about the situation here than I've ever said in real life). Other than job applications, we have almost no contact at all.

I wish things could be different, but my advisor is a busy man with a family of his own, so really, I have no right to make such demands of him, even if he doesn't know about it and even if nothing ever comes of it. Unfortunately, I don't know anyone in NYC who has the time and energy to care for my birds properly in the case of an emergency, and there is not one soul in the entire universe who knows who my friends are (to be fair, I am often confused by this, too) and how to contact them if I experienced an emergency. And in view of the fact that people tend to suddenly pop into my life and then disappear inexplicably like tumbleweeds pushed by a wind, I don't think that anyone really can act as an emergency contact for me.

In addition to the practical aspects that I mentioned here, this paperwork stirs up a veritable bees' nest of emotional garbage that never truly goes away. Filling out this paperwork is like a quick trip down memory lane; it reminds me of how truly miserable and screwed up my life has always been, how I've fought and struggled and sacrificed my entire life because I thought (hoped) that things would get better in the future yet I still fail at everything I've ever done because nothing is better, and it reminds me of how I've only ever been truly happy and satisfied during that brief miraculous time when I was working with, researching and writing about birds. That wild, beautiful "career fling" was a love affair of the mind and heart, the great passion of my life, the reason I am on this earth, it was a bright glittering gem piercing the inky darkness with thousands of refracted photons of light, and now that brilliant light is gone forever.

Dealing with all this takes time.

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Academic job interviews: 1 (telephone screening interview for a tenure-track position at a private liberal arts college with strong research support that I think I'd really enjoy)

Academic job rejections: 3 (including one that I telephone interviewed for three weeks ago)

Non-academic job rejections: 1 (science and medical writer -- after they asked me what I wanted to be paid .. apparently, saying that I will accept market rates and I am happy to negotiate rates for special pieces was not the correct answer)

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© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

8 Peer Reviews:

Blogger BotanicalGirl said...

I don't have any easy answers for you. I think the emergency contact is supposed to be someone local that the hospital can call and ask basic questions like who your family is, and if you're allergic to antibiotics, or if you've always had a heart murmur? In your situation I would suggest a good friend, someone who knows who would show up to support you if you weren't well. If not that, then perhaps your doctor if you have one in NYC?

Hang in there. NYC is a big place full of people. You'll find a handful you connect with somehow.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Tabor said...

I don't think this situation is unique to you and your family history. We seem to live in a society that is cocooning and withdrawing more and meeting face to face less.

I have only gotten closer to my family in the last five years after decades of relationships buildt on exchanging letters (this is pre-email).

One thing I do know is that life changes every single day and there is not much you can do about that except go with the flow.

I hate that you say "I still fail at everything I've ever done." You are at a low point now. You are not a failure.

5:22 PM  
Blogger Peruby said...

Groan. I hate filling out paperwork every school year for my daughter and niece. Nearest living relative, what to do in an emergency school closing, who can pick up your child from school, doctors, dentists names, phone numbers and addresses. Sheesh.

On another note, I am not sure my idea will be of any help or not, but how about The Salvation Army as a point of contact? At least until you can get back on your feet and develop a database of acquaintances to suffice.

Heaven forbid that anything does happen, at least they have the resources to deal with it. And, you wouldn't have to pay a lawyers fee.

I hope you don't take my idea in the wrong context, I really am just trying to help. You sound so desolate.

5:48 PM  
Blogger Ms.PhD said...

I'm with BotanicalGirl. Putting your doctor as an emergency contact makes a lot of sense. Seems simple and practical and gets rid of the emotional aspect of filling out forms.

As for failing, failing is good. I've learned more from my failures than my successes, and I think most people would have to admit the same. It makes us better people, and more to the point, it makes us wise. Wisdom, not to be confused with smarts, is one of those things you can only get through experience.

Lemons into lemonade, yada yada.

Seriously though, it used to really stress me out when I got in trouble with my parents, yelled at by my thesis advisor, or died playing a video game. All that hard work! And so much work to get back to where I was before I died! But now I'm a little better about taking it in stride.

My current paper has gotten rejected at no less than 6 journals, well maybe 5, I stopped counting. But this paper is not me. I have other things on my CV, and so do you.

It sounds corny, I know, but it's much more important to be happy than to be successful. If you can be happy with a bowl of rice and a burlap sack for a dress, you're doing better than the richest CEO on Wall Street. I'm sure the Dalai Lama says stuff like that all the time.

I love reading your blog because you're so scrappy, you're out there pounding the pavement and you genuinely love doing research. Hold onto that. You're not the stuff in the little boxes on the forms. You're not the stuff in your blog. You're a very interesting, thoughtful, 3-dimensional person.

Now figure out how to tell the search committees that, and you're done. But you have to get used to knowing that, admitting that, about yourself. Repeat after me: I AM 3-D! You have to believe it to sell it.

And in the meantime, the Salvation Army person, however strange they sounded, reminded me that sometimes volunteering is the best way to meet people in a new place. Sign up to pick up litter or hand out soup with some non-denominational group. Join a choir or something like that. You need a local network, and it's easy to get one. Have you seen Fight Club? Go to support groups for diseases you don't have. Go to the laundromat and start conversations with strangers. Cities are easy that way. Go to libraries and book stores, poetry readings. See who you can't scare out of their hiding places. I would never have made it this far without my handful of very devoted friends. There's not a lot of us, and we don't all get along as a big group or anything, but I depend on them and they depend on me. And I sometimes list them as my emergency contacts, just because I know they'd want to be the first to know if I've been hit by a silently falling tree.

9:24 PM  
Blogger Peruby said...

On second thought, how about one of your cat-sitting clients for a contact person?

6:06 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Interesting idea, Peruby, I could ask a cat sitting client to be my emergency contact .. he and his wife are one of my references for my new cat sitting clients .. and they enjoy sitting around and drinking beers and watching football with me sometimes after work, so that's gotta mean something, right? Hrm.

I am not totally alone here in NYC (although I frequently feel I am, given my current crappy situation), BotanicalGirl, I actually have people whom I hang out with here in NYC (mostly due to Craigslist) and I think we are friends, although we all are busy doing stuff and don't get to hang out together as much as we all would like. I htink NYC is odd, though; my attempts to make long term friendships with the natives have not been successful. Is this because I am not a "pursuer" type of person and they wish to be "pursued"? is this because the natives already have their own circle of friends so new friends really aren't that important? Is this because there is so much to see and do here that working at building a friendship is just not that much fun, by comparison?

I will freely admit that I don't feel particularly lonely because I love doing things and then thinking/writing about the experience. NYC is an amazing place for people like me, and I am not especially eager to leave for that reason (fortunately, this has not really been an option).

I agree, Tabor, that this situation is not unique to me, but gee, what do other people do in this situation? Since no one talks about it, I have no idea how common this situation is nor do I know what other people do if they don't have a significant other nor many social "roots" in any one location. The paperwork issue is something I avoid as long as possible, until HR is squawking at me. I was hoping that by filling this paperwork out, one piece at a time, until it is all done, would be the solution to the problem, but it's not. I am sitting here, paperwork on my desk, staring at me. I tell myself, "I have enough to deal with right now without all that added to the mess" and push it back into my accordion folder for tomorrow.

Ms.PhD (and BotanicalGirl) .. I don't have a doctor! That would be a great solution to the problem, wouldn't it? Unfortunately, I was unable to find a doctor in NYC whom I liked and who is covered by my (now lapsed) health insurance, so I am stuck. This was partially my fault; I was not diligent about this because I never dreamed I'd end up in this situation in the first place, nor had I considered the potential ramifications. Denial?

As far as failure goes, I am the expert, which means I should be incredibly wise, which means that I deserve to be called "Hedwig the Owl" since this family of birds are supposed to be wise, right?

But I am not wise. I guess this means I have a lot more failures awaiting me. Oh, joy.

I am trying to be philosophical about things, but it is difficult to do when I am still worrying about rent and, unless I force myself to stop with just that worry, I can get really angry at my stupidity .. all my hard work, wasted! For nothing! What the hell was I thinking?! Now I am paying the price for trying to escape my miserable fate, and all that crap.

But really, I was asked to be an adjunct at a very prestigious ivy league university, teaching evolution this autumn semester, and I learned yesterday that they won't need me. I am still very upset and disappointed and wonder why I bother to try anymore when it seems I am simply postponing the inevitable.

10:05 AM  
Blogger moondancyr said...

Hi - I have been following your blog for a while now -- found you because of my own love of birds and natural sciences and history. I can relate to your postings in terms of the love of research - I was connected with a prestigious university for 15 years - paying my dues and enjoying myself at the same time - doing research in a different discipline than you are. I'm now in a situation where I am an independent consultant set up in a home office with all the comforts I need - a long hard road to get here (including major health and life-changing situations) - I moved from the East Coast all the way to Orange County, Calfornia but here I am!

I follow your journal and am so impressed with your sensitivity and brightness, yearnings and wishes. You have a great deal to offer the world and yourself!

I don't want to be presumptuous (which is what one says as they proceed to be just that) but I thought I could offer a few suggestions to you.

There may be grants available to you that may exist, or there may be funding agencies who are open to hear suggestions for grants. For example, I noted that with all the furor over the NYC raptors, no one has ever documented their activities, or other such wildlife activities, in a scientific manner. There may be foundations, or agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, or the NY Audobon society that might fund such research. Or NYU or one of the City colleges might be interested in sponsoring a person involved in such research. This kind of grant may not pay the rent but it sure looks great on a CV when it's time to look for a full-time position. This kind of research could work well with a part-time instructor position as you already have (some grants provide a partial -- or more -- living stipend)

Now getting something like this would take some legwork, research, and creativity, but in time it could pan out to something you might love.

As someone who has scrambled for grants myself, the road isn't easy, but there's nothing wrong with trying to create your own reality. The time is never wasted as you are networking every step of the way - the right people get to know who you are.

For now keep writing and publishing the best you can. Stay involved in the scientific community. Something will work for you -- and in speaking for myself and probably so many readers of your blog - I am pulling for you big time and know that you will work past this kink in the road - please don't give up (I don't think you will)

In terms of that paperwork you're asking about, once you continue to make your connections these questions will be answered without you even realizing it. And by the way, as one gets older it takes a bit longer to make solid connections in a new place (believe me, I know!) but they are there and only grow stronger as time goes on.

Take care and good luck -- just some suggestions and support --

MD

3:18 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Thanks moondancyr for your support and suggestions. Do you have any ideas where I can find such grants?

5:58 PM  

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