Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Pink Life

Why do you seek, why do you seek the Pink Life?
How do you sleep, how do you ever lie down?
Why do you need, why do you need your Science?
Why am I your only outside line?

I know it's been a while since I blogged. The last time I did I was pretty happy with the way things were going, and I still am in a lot of ways. And I'm still having a tremendous amount of fun. I've also had some recent blows to the groin and I've been working like an animal, still feeling like I'm running in syrup or quicksand, overwhelmed by a mountain of work. It's been an exhilarating, exhausting month that left me pretty drained. It was in this mood that I had the following realization.

Science is for me like an abusive relationship.

I have long half joked that I am in some way cursed by my love for what I do. It has led me, as it leads most of us, to put up with some serious life compromises. I don't have an answer for those that wonder why we do this other than that the deeply rewarding thrills I draw from the best aspects of my job outweigh the shit I have to swallow.

See the stone set in your eyes
See the thorn twist in your side
I wait for you

Late in this marathon run of grant deadlines, tantalizing emerging discoveries, and frantic manuscript preparation, while driving home after my kids were already in bed and I was nearing crash mode the U2 song "With or Without You" came up on my iPhone and I heard the song in a way I never had before.

To say the least the lyrics to the song are elliptical, drenched in symbolic imagery, with Bono shifting the pronouns "she", "me" and "you" interchangeably. The narrator is tortured yet lustful, but who is he addressing? A mercurial woman? His fans? God? Maybe Bono is speaking to himself?

Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails she makes me wait
And I wait without you
With or without you
With or without you

At the risk of veering off a hokey and pretentious cliff with this post, I can honestly say that in that moment, that haze of exhaustion, I felt he was articulating how I feel about not my "job" but Science. I feel like I'm constantly waiting. Perpetually suspended at a critical juncture and success is only just around the corner. First it was getting into grad school, then it was finishing my thesis, then it was getting my postdoc work off the ground, then it was getting a job, then it was getting my first grant, then get my first paper, then get promoted… All the while feeling as if I could just get to the next level, all my problems would be solved.

Through the storm we reach the shore
You give it all but I want more
And I'm waiting for you

It's taken me a long time to get to the insight that that will essentially never happen. The work will never be "finished", and Science will keep swallowing as much of my attention, my thoughts, my sleep, my life as I allow. Its appetite seems infinite and my obsession drives me and at times consumes me. At the same time, my ego is regularly battered by setbacks, failure, and disappointment and I have to wonder: When are things going to break through? Will they?

My hands are tied
My body bruised, she's got me with
Nothing to win and
Nothing left to lose
And you give yourself away

Please don't misunderstand me - I have had some great fortune to make it as far as I have to this point, and I feel so very graced to be able to do a job that I am so passionate about. I truly see my science as an extension of my core personality. I consider it a form of self expression not that different from the work of an artist or musician, and that is a rare and special thing to me. I should also say that I feel particularly lucky to be at my institution, which is uniquely supportive and an ideal environment. This is about me and my relationship to my muse. It's a rocky one at times and this is one of those times. But I'm convinced this is my destiny and we've been through the fire to get here against the odds and all logic. I'm not even talking about P.

With or without you
I can't live
With or without you


  1. The opening lines and post title are lifted from Mike Doughty's song "The Pink Life".

  2. I feel time now. It keens at me always. Like the staccato beat of high heels in a long linoleum hallway. Time chases me. My fingers type slower. My shoulder shifts forward to combat the stiff ache. My hand won't let go of the paring knife after I've sliced the apple.

    And I feel time.

    We all have things we don't want to lose. We all have things that we NEED to do. The PD makes me winnow those things to their finest point. If I am forced to choose what would I aim for first?

    For surely if they knew about the Parkinson's they wouldn't trust me with...

    I feel time.