Bagels, Chores, and Compromises

Lizard Island
Credit: flickr / Philip Morton

I discovered something new about where I live at the weekend. The nearby drugmart doesn’t sell bagels. I’d always assumed that they would, but when I tested that theory I found it lacking. Living in a small place, there wasn’t anywhere I could continue on to and so I ended up at my boyfriend’s apartment practically in tears saying “I hate it here”.

Something of an overreaction. To be fair, I was a little strung out because after nearly two months of deliberation my paper got accepted (yay) and I was given… two and a half weeks to make edits. Of course I get this news last thing on the Sunday night of a long weekend, and it hangs over me all week. My earlier paper was invited to be extended as a journal paper (something I’ve been ignoring with everything else that has been going on) but I should be able to put some of the stuff that is being cut from the second paper into that… Meanwhile, I discover that my work permit has come through and I can leave the country again (!), making tentative plans of New York next week and MTV the week after into reality.

Except MTV is infeasible because I have to do these papers – the timing of that trip is more flexible than my attitude on travelling with two laptops. But, what better motivation to get cracking on Saturday morning than a trip to NYC?

And instead I’m having a crisis on where I live. There are so many things that I love about KW – my job, the people at work, the office, the people in the community and the amount of stuff happening. It is, in so many ways, an awesome place to live.

The problem, for me as a city girl, is not things to do, but when I’m not doing things. Going to the grocery store is such a palaver because it’s so far away (although I did end up trying a closer one that I’d been nervous of because it looked sketchy. It wasn’t as bad as I’d thought). I’ve finally found a tasty Lebanese place that will do lamb kebab sandwiches (perfect post spinning – protein, and just enough carbs so stop me from keeling over), but it’s a 10 minute drive away in the middle of an industrial park. There is nowhere within walking distance to pick up Asian food (there is one really good pizza place, but I try not to eat that kind of stuff) and there is only one place we will order in from (tried others, with varying degrees of fail). The result – for me – is that whilst it’s easy to go out, it’s actually really quite stressful to try and have a night curled up in my apartment with a book. I flit about enough, that doing a weekly grocery shop and stocking up on stuff just seems to end up being wasteful – I never know how much I’ll be home. Mostly I shop for clothes etc when I travel, in the US, Toronto or Ottawa, but I ended up doing some shopping the other week, and it involved going to two malls – at either end of KW – because they are both small and don’t have a huge selection of shops.

To come back to the work I was supposed to be doing when I was instead having a crisis… I don’t enjoy writing papers. It’s a lot of work, in a very rigid structure, for what? A trip to Switzerland – the best part of which was the date in Geneva with my boyfriend and the train ride to and from the conference through the stunning country. The new paper is in Singapore, somewhere I’ve long wanted to go, and we’re likely going to make it a holiday. Unfortunately the timing of it means I’m supposed to simultaneously be in Singapore and Seattle. Thankfully the time-zone difference makes that almost possible! I know, I’m lucky to get to go to these places, but the reality is – and anyone who travels for work says this – mostly it’s not fun, and you barely see anything. In California, I just end up at work 8-8 and yes, the campus is amazing, and it’s much warmer in winter, but unless I’m somewhere for the weekend as well I barely get to see anything. It seems that I spend ages on a paper, send it away, wait for ages, have to make the changes they request in a hurry, wait some more, travel, and I get to list one more thing that is somehow supposed to be an “achievement” but really just feels like a chore.

So – the question I have to ask is, why am I doing this if I hate it? Why am I more likely to be doing something that I feel “obliged” to do than something I actually want to do? Because I don’t like to let people down, and because I feel that I need to prove that I was smart, talented, and hard-working enough that me escaping rather than graduating from grad school is not completely my failure. That I didn’t just learn about things that make a terrible manager, and walking away from a sucky situation – that I also learned how to play the publications game. With this latest paper, I met the goal I set myself – of two on-topic publications – that would prove that if I had been willing to pay thousands of dollars to bang my head against a brick wall for a while longer, I’d have an MSc. Comparing this to working on products that get used by an unfathomable number of people, it seems like I shouldn’t care. But I do.

Meanwhile, why do I live here, if I hate it? Because it’s not for ever, and because mostly the good outweighs the bad. It just didn’t seem that way, that morning. It’s rare that you don’t end up having a trade-off between where you live, and what you do. Pick the city, or be tied there by your partner’s career, and you’re constrained by what’s available and how far you’ll commute – and of course, often these constraints limit your career, and I refuse to to let that be me. Pick the company, decide that the opportunity is more important than the location and you end up living where the opportunity you follow is.

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