Wednesday, December 29, 2010

- The Best Laid Plans

I posted my first entry for this blog on May 4th.  One day before I ended a 3.5 year relationship that had been limping along for way too long.  I knew that it was the right thing to do.  That I was finally ready to do it.  I didn't cry.  I was excited about the summer, and my freedom, and wanted to be comfortable and confident in who I was because I knew I'd be moving soon.  Moving alone.  And that I needed to be able to stand on my own two feet.  I went out that night and took tequila shots, and texted someone new...

Somewhere in my summer of fun that someone new became a familiar face who then unexpectedly became someone important.  Things between us just clicked into place and for the most part everything was easy.  Simple.  I did what I wanted to do because it felt right.  I was smitten.  I fell in love.  I had the best relationship I've ever had.

And now it's gone.  For the most part I have what I wanted in May.  I'm moving and confronting a big life change.  I'm confident in who I am, my intelligence, and my ability to be independent.  Yet, everything feels wrong - because my plans from May didn't make it through that summer.  They were replaced with new plans.  Plans I liked better than my plans from May.  But now those plans don't fit either.

I am not only grieving the loss of a boyfriend, but a best friend who in a matter of days feels like a stranger to me.  I lost a potential future that I saw with someone - because I made plans when I felt secure, even when I knew I shouldn't have.  Because despite how great the relationship was, I always knew what we were up against.  Since this happened I have been brutally honest with myself about how I feel.  I have never denied that this is what it is.  I haven't tried to bargain my way out of it.  Sometimes my mind just can't give up on reminding me of how ill-used and wronged I feel and I want to be mad.  I want to yell and curse and throw things and sometimes I do get that way.  Sometimes I say harsh things that I don't mean because it makes me feel better for a second or two.  Sometimes I feel like I regret everything and that this would all be easier if I had let my head dominate my heart.  Sometimes the unanswered questions and raging insecurities about my ability to keep a  successful relationship for any significant amount of time feel like they will drive me crazy.  Mostly, I am terrified that I will never feel the way that I felt this summer again.  And I am more sad than I would like to admit about what I have lost.

But, I have had these fears and felt this way before.  I have always been able to patch myself back together and become a better version of myself.  So even though the future I envisioned isn't going to happen, some version of the future will come to pass.  I accept that.

I considered deleting some posts that I've written since May because they almost hurt to much to remember, let alone re-read.  But I made myself confront them.  I considered not talking about anything that might be related to how I am dealing with this, or that I am even dealing with this.  So much of me wants to only show my tough facade and not the cracks.  But, this is my life, and it's not always gift wrapped with a bow.  I will always be humbled and appreciative of how fortunate I am, but I will also stumble and flounder through moments, friendships and relationships.  I will feel joy, love, and hurt - and I will write about it here when I am able to wrap my mind around those feelings, just like I've always done.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

- A Bittersweet Symphony

I maintain that one of the greatest songs ever is Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve.  It was perfect when I was all angsty in high school, but it's remained one of those songs that I've loved for years and years.  The first two lines are resonating heavily with me these days:
'Cause it's a bittersweet symphony this life, trying to make ends meet, you're a slave to money then you die.
Christmas has been pretty bittersweet this year, as it's the last time that I will be gathering with my family for a while.  Two weeks from tonight I'll be spending my first night in my new apartment in Minneapolis.  Now, I think Minneapolis is great - and I really enjoyed the time that I've spent there.  I'm excited to start my career there for one of the best food companies around - and I'm extremely grateful that I obtained my job relatively easily, especially in "this economy".  However, if I'm being perfectly honest with myself - I'm terrified about the hit that my social life is going to take, and the fact that my family and "home" won't be a 2 hour drive down the road anymore.  I've always been able to escape and head home when needed so that I can regroup.  In 2 weeks, I'll lose that sense of comfort.

My bff Kelsey is going to make to the trip up there with me.  But, as far as road trips go, this is a relatively short one.  We'll leave Friday morning and by Sunday night she'll be on a plane back to Raleigh.  And I will be alone. 

Now don't get me wrong, I have friends in the area.  In fact, this job is located where I know the most people/friends/colleagues/alumni.  And I fully intend to get together with as many of them as much as I can and as soon as possible.  However, my job doesn't start until the 24th of January, and logically speaking, there are going to be days and nights that I spend alone.  Days where I unpack, maybe run an errand or two, and then eat dinner, watch TV, play Wii, read, and go to bed...alone.

The physical part of being alone doesn't bother me.  I mean I'm alone a few nights a week usually and  have spent the last few months so consumed by my dissertation that I have been isolated.  But I'm afraid about how loneliness can seep into your soul and effect who you are and how you feel about everything else.  How it can make you feel negative, and make simple facts of your life seem worse, which can lead to a downward spiral.  I'm not trying to say that this will happen, or that it will necessarily be bad from the get go...but I don't want to be naive and expect this to be easy and then be caught off guard when I'm not doing so well.

For the most part I am trying to remain positive.  Once I start work time is going to fly by and I will be settled in and have new friends and being alone won't bother me.  Plus there will be a nice paycheck providing an emotional buffer.  BUT, there is no changing the fact that my family won't be there and I won't be here with them.  Sometimes geography just works against you, and time is the only thing that can help you adjust.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

- The Christmas Spirit

Lately my Christmas spirit has been akin to someone taking Santa out back and shooting him execution style.  As in, not only I do not have any, but I'm pretty sure I have a negative amount.

This Ph.D. was not easy emotionally or physically to complete, and it's been hard to bounce back and re-start living my life the way I want to, since now it's not being dictated by crazy deadlines.  But what really hurts is not having my stuff.  I know that sounds terrible, because this season is not supposed to be about materialism.  But for me, my Christmas spirit is directly related to how many surfaces I've been able to decorate with frasier firs, clear lights and sparkly ornaments.  This year that's been -2, resulting in my "negative" Christmas spirit.

This past week I've been able to visit Jaclyn and Matt's twice, which is one of the closest things I have to home right now.  Even though she only put up one of her two planned Christmas trees, the house is beautiful with sparkly, iridescent ornaments everywhere.  Christmas tree garlands with twinkling lights and candles make everything glow and feel warm and inviting.  Add in the fire, homemade cookies and some much needed quality conversations and I was starting to feel the season again.

Today I capitalized on that by doing some Christmas shopping and decided that I really wanted to try to get presents to the girls I babysit before Christmas.  For the last 6 years, I have always given them presents after the actual holiday so I can see what they got and make sure I don't duplicate anything.  With my time running out in Raleigh, I didn't know if that would be possible, plus I was really excited about their gifts.  So I decided to stop by and see if they were in.

Again there was a beautiful tree, two roaring fires, and a family that feels like my own.  I think of these girls as my little sisters and they were so excited to see me and spend time opening gifts.  And yes I gave them stuff - but what they will remember from this is how we sat together and laughed and hugged and treasured some of the last time that we have together.  Their family and home has been one of the only constants in my life throughout the last 6 years, and I especially love it this time of year.

It's taken me longer than ever before to get here.  But now I'm home.  Seeing my family and my Emma bears has brought me full circle.  Spending the past and the next few days surrounded by people who I love dearly has filled me with what I've been missing.  And it feels all warm and sparkly and stuff.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

- Weekly Specials

Since I moved out of my apartment in August and have been "drifting" from couch to couch I couldn't tell you what I've been eating.  I've been to the grocery store more times for wine than food and I can't remember cooking more than once a week.  In fact the last time I "cooked" was for a baby shower I hosted...last Sunday.

But, there was a time when I planned my meals for a two week period around grocery store specials, and I signed up to be an eVic member at Harris Teeter so that they would send me emails with the weekly specials.  They always summarize what things you buy a lot of that are on sale, and you can tell how much my shopping habits have deteriorated over the past few months by looking at "my specials" for the week:

Green Beans - bought for Emma to have with her dinner, haven't had Emma since October.
Celery - I have no idea when I purchased this last.
Asparagus - Probably not since October.
Baby carrots - Treats for Emma/veggie tray for baby shower
La brea bread - ?
Ritz crackers - Usually I use these a lot around the holiday season, but haven't at all this year.
Cream cheese - Purchased 8 packages for the baby shower
Oscar Meyer lunch meat - To wrap Emma's pill in
Jimmy dean sausage - Sausage balls for the a Christmas lunch and the baby shower
Mushrooms - The only recent thing I bought for myself outside of an event.  About 3 weeks ago I was feeling like I hadn't eaten anything unprocessed so I went to the grocery store and bought stuff to make a gigantic yummy salad.

I have NO idea how I have survived this long. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

- Erasing

After a break up, it is absolutely ridiculous how every single little thing you see, hear, smell, or taste will remind you of the one thing that you can't bear to think about.  Most of the time I can't remember where I put my car keys, or my cell phone, or my watch, or my sunglasses, but I'll be damned if I can walk past a bench in Cameron Village and not be confronted with a deluge of mental photographs of a Sunday afternoon brunch that, at the time, I never wanted to forget.  That one memory is like the first drop that slips through a hole in a dam.  And no matter what you try to put in that hole - your finger, gum, a waterproof epoxy resin - it's only going to get bigger and allow more and more memories to flow through so that eventually you're getting blasted with a waterfall of mental images of happier times that will literally make your heart ache.

This is all well and good and expected, to a certain extent.  But then you hit a point where you would do ANYTHING to be numb and not feel anything anymore, because it starts to all feel so pathetic.  I mean, I'll be out doing something, trying to stay busy and keep my mind occupied and then all of the sudden "Look at those people eating.  OMG we used to eat together." And my breath will catch.  "We used to cook together.  Seared tuna.  Pasta salad.  Sausage gravy." At this point I know I have to get out of public because I'm too far gone to stop what's going to happen.  Within about 30 seconds I've been reduced from a seemingly normal person to one who has no semblance of sanity and is sobbing uncontrollably in their car.  I mean who cries in their car?  It really is pathetic, and throughout these experiences, even I'm judging myself and wondering why my emotions must be so dramatic.  Being emotional blows.

Since I can't stop the irrational way my mind is working right now, I am doing the best I can by "erasing" physical reminders.  Ticket stubs from Chicago and San Francisco, pictures, notes, receipts, acknowledgements, playlists: anything and everything, all unceremoniously thrown into a trash can.  Even though it feels wrong and unnatural, I know that I have to let them go to move forward from this.  I can't carry these things with me any more because I am not strong enough to bear the emotional weight, right now.  I'm picking up the pieces of my life, and figuring out where they go now that they've all changed shape.  I am reconstructing my identity to include the things I've learned from a relationship that ended, and working to accept that I cannot change the way things happened - that I fell in love and it didn't work out.  Someone I deeply care about will no longer be an important person in my life.

So, I take a deep breath to steady myself and open the car door.  I put one foot in front of the other and walk back in to finish my errand.  Because I have responsibilities, things to do, and life goes on.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

- The Doctor Is In

Yesterday my research advisory committee voted to unconditionally pass me after I defended my dissertation.

Translation: I have now met all of the requirements for graduation and I am officially a DOCTOR.

As in, it is now okay for you to refer to me as Dr. Laurie, Dr. Steed, Dr. Laurie Steed, Laurie Steed, Ph.D., Doctor, Doc or anything else along those lines.

Also I will never get tired of the following compliment: "But you look way too young to have your Ph.D."

I will promise not to be too obnoxious about it after this week, but I will probably feel the need to use the following phrases copiously this month:

"Trust me, I'm a Doctor"

"I can do whatever I want, I'm a Doctor"

"That rule doesn't apply to Doctors, like myself"

"You should listen to me, Doctor's orders"

All joking aside, this accomplishment never would have been possible without all of the important people in my life.  I dedicated my dissertation "to those who believed I was capable of great things, before I could even conceive of them."  

And since most normal people will never read my dissertation - I mean it's completely boring unless you find sweetpotato cubes and industrial scale microwave systems interesting - I wanted to put the acknowledgements that I wrote here:

For my committee
Dr. Truong – For me, no degree would have been possible without your never-ending professional and personal support - your devotion your students is unmatched.  I am grateful for the many opportunities that working for you has provided and that you have always called me “Dr. Laurie”, for that is what first made me consider a Ph.D.
Dr. Sandeep, Dr. Simunovic, & Dr. Swartzel – All graduate students should be so lucky as I am to have committee members that are excited and willing to be thoroughly involved in the research process.  You have kept me challenged and motivated to be a better candidate, and I am so thankful that you’ve chosen to be a part of this 5.5 year journey with me.
Dr. Jaykus – I have deeply respected you since I took your undergrad food micro class and you taught me how to apply knowledge, rather than just memorize facts.  I believe that one of the most beneficial aspects of my Ph.D. program was getting to work closely with you and experience an area of food science outside of my comfort zone. 

For my department
I am so proud to be a graduate from the Food Science Department at NC State, and I can only hope that the feeling is mutual.  I would not be the student I am today if it were not for the guidance and mentorship of Dr. Farkas who I have considered a supporter and friend for the last 7 years.  Dr. Daubert and Dr. Klaenhammer have offered kind words and research advice over the past 3 years and were also two of the best seminar graders I could ask for.  Knowing that there were faculty members like you to learn from made it impossible to consider other programs. 

For the USDA-ARS lab group
Thank you all so much for your professional and technical support throughout the last 5.5 years. 
Dr. McFeeters – I cannot say that I have enjoyed every lab meeting, but under your leadership I have enjoyed the sense of community that it fosters within our lab.  I appreciate all of the times that Dr. Truong has come to you with financial requests and you have taken care of me.
Seth Fornea  - Your ability to always remain positive inspires me to realize that things are never as bad as they seem - you squirrel friend you.
Sandy Parker – You have been a constant source of support and I have loved every minute we have spent talking together, no matter the subject.  I’ve enjoyed watching you grow as a mother to your beautiful twins, and will dearly miss being a part of your family. 

For my friends
To those that have come, conquered, and moved on: Jessica Childs, Josh Evans, Drew Watson, Megan Whitson, Maegan Olsen, Nick Kuhlman, Craig Koskiniemi, Christine Yen, & Iris Liaw – There is not a day that goes by that I do not miss having each and every one of you as a fixture in my everyday life.
To those that I leave behind:
Audrey Kreske – Your advice through all of this has been the most valuable of all.  I honestly can’t thank you enough for all of the ways that you’ve been there and helped out, whether it was running up for a chit-chat session or staying late to help with my experiments.  You are a remarkable woman and I admire you immensely.
Kelsey Ryan – Our friendship is new, and yet has been so dear to me as I finish this process.  The summer of 2010 will never be forgotten for so many reasons and you are a part of all of them.  I’m so glad that we finally got to be roommates, even if it did involve an air mattress, and love that we will be fellow Minnesotans!
Pat and Nin Leksrisompong – My fellow “lifers” in the department, this will be you guys soon and you’ll continue to make it all look effortless because you are both so beautiful and intelligent. 
To those that have known me the longest:
Kate Fox – Our friendship is constant and stable and dependable and I love that it’s been a fixture in my life for over 10 years.  You are the picture of class and grace and I am so excited for all that life holds for you in Dallas.
Jaclyn and Matt Efird – Your friendship has moved past being a luxury to being a necessity and I am most nervous about not having you in close proximity, because who else knows me like you?  I have so enjoyed seeing you grow into your first and second houses, your marriage, and now into your about-to-be family of 3.  I cannot wait to see you as parents and to meet the little Monkey Man who will be lucky enough to know the endless love that you are both capable of giving. 

For my family
You never told me who I should be, or what I should do, but instead taught me how to figure it out for myself, all while providing unconditional love and support.  Wherever you are is “home” and that is where my heart will always lie.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

- Imperfection

This year for my birthday I bought myself a pair of boots.  They weren't a major splurge in the grand scheme of things, but as far as broke grad students go, it was kind of a big deal.  Since I got them in February and I live in North Carolina, I didn't get to wear them that much before it was too warm.  Which was kind of cool because they still felt "new" when I busted them out this fall.

On their maiden voyage, I took them out to eat.  While sitting at an outdoor table ranch dressing spilled by the previous customer fell through the cracks of the table onto my boots, on the perfectly visible part on the top of my right foot.  Much to my chagrin, this of course left a horrendous blob of a stain.  When I googled removal methods, the outlook was bleak.  So I took my beautiful cognac colored boots to a professional cobbler who said there wasn't much hope for removing "this kind of stain" from "that color of leather" and ultimately he would feel bad taking my money.

This was a huge blow.  I had spent MONTHS looking for this pair of boots.  They had the perfect toe shape, the perfect heel hight, the perfect slouchy shaft, they were the perfect height and they didn't break the bank (too much).  And now they were already gone/ruined?  There were so many outfits I had planned around them but not gotten to wear yet.  But, as I was talking to the shoe guy, I realized something.  The gigantic blob of a stain had morphed, into a nearly perfect heart shape.  I usually shy away from heart-shaped anything.  It all just seems so tacky and wrong and gross.  But for some reason, this heart shaped stain on my boot - was actually kind of charming.

3 months ago I bought my first fall dress of the season.  One of the reason I loved it so much was because it goes perfectly with those boots.  But then the stain happened and here it is December and that dress was hanging in my closet with the tags still on it.  But today, of all days, I need a reminder of life's little imperfections.  So I wore the dress, and the perfectly stained boots.  As I was walking into school I looked down and caught site of that greasy perfectly shaped heart, and it made me smile.  

Tomorrow is my defense.  It won't be perfect.  My dissertation isn't perfect and neither is my presentation.  I will not answer every question perfectly and in fact, I'm not sure there is anything I will do perfectly tomorrow.  Or that I have ever done anything perfectly or will ever do anything perfectly.  But at about noon tomorrow it will be over, and that is "perfect" enough for me.