Fix the damn stereo already


The stereo, whose insides are in the picture above, has been sitting on my desk for months now. Every time I see it I feel guilty for not getting it back to the friend who asked if I would fix it. Have I had it a year already? I replaced a few transistors and all the light bulbs a few months ago but it still has some problems. I finally ordered new parts and have kept meaning to get around to replacing them, but for one reason or another I can’t seem to get to it. This evening I was going to heat up the soldering iron and replace some capacitors(“re-cap”) and transistors(“re-trans” is not used), but I decided to write a blog post instead. I need to flesh out what I’ve been thinking today. I’ve been feeling okay this week(had a wonderful time with the family on Mother’s Day), but going to a colleague’s medical school graduation ceremony this afternoon made me reflective and that made me start worrying about my future again.

This colleague is incredibly smart and also a real people-person. I met him when he came to the research group as a graduate student. He had worked in industry for a while before coming back to school. While finishing his PhD he decided to attend medical school. He got a scholarship to go to our local (highly prestigious) medical school, and more recently was assigned his internship and residency in the same city. I always enjoy talking with him, and besides his hard work and intelligence, I’ve also admired his ability to strike up conversations with anyone. His outgoing and warm personality, projection of confidence and fearlessness in striking up conversations has led him to meet so many women that it’s mind boggling. I’m happily married now, but for a long time my fear of talking to women that I was interested during school and college was a constant source of anguish and I would get depressed over all the opportunities and experiences I missed because I was too afraid of rejection. That’s another blog post though. Anyhow, I appreciate that ability in him.

Yesterday I read a New Yorker article about Dr. Steven Zeitels who has pioneered all kinds of advances in vocal cord surgery and has operated on famous singers. His background was interesting, with a stint doing leatherwork while in his teens(supposedly that is where he gained his ambidexterity). What stuck with me, beside the leatherwork, was the creativity and passion he put into his work. He was constantly innovating and coming up with new ways of doing things. Then today, on the way home from the graduation party, I listened to a radio story about Bob Harris who became interested in helping the poor while on a travel writing assignment in Dubai,and just wrote a book about it. The lead into the story was talking about what many consider “dream jobs” and then saying that Bob Harris had done a lot of them (stand-up comedian, successful Jeopardy! contestant, radio host, travel writer and now author).

My colleague’s graduation and the two stories on interesting careers started me thinking about my possibilities once again. I’m surrounded by very intelligent people who seem to put more into their work than I do. I used to think I was good with people in a professional setting, but more recently I’ve found myself lacking in that area as well. I’m only in my late 30s, but I’m feeling slow witted and lacking energy. At home I have a list of things that I keep putting off. For example, I’ve wanted to learn some songs on guitar via youtube videos for some time now but I just can’t seem focus enough to do it. The stereo repair also falls into that category. At work, I am easily frustrated by tasks that require some serious thought/analysis or coming up with creative solutions to problems. My coach says that the lack of energy is because I am not inspired by my work, but I’m not so sure. My ongoing fear is that no matter how wonderful the job or opportunity I won’t be able to rise to the occasion and take advantage of it.

I have good benefits at work, a ridiculously flexible schedule, a quite reasonable salary and I really like the people I work with. Part of me feels it is foolish to expect a better position and really wish I could just adapt or turn on some switch to make me thrive in the lab. My wife’s colleague sent her some warm words telling of his own story of really not finding his calling of school psychology until he was about 40 as a way of suggesting I not lose hope. I thought it was a nice gesture, but with the family to worry about and the high cost of living in this area I don’t feel like there are that many options left for me (not to mention the ongoing fear that I don’t have the energy or drive for anything). As time goes on I am less and less convinced that I will find this fantasy job or career.

A couple of years ago I was looking back at my time in graduate school and realized there were so many amazing research projects going on that I could have been part of or even how my thesis could have been so much better. I feel that I wasted so many opportunities that were open to me then. I’m afraid that a couple of years from now I will look back at my time in my current lab and feel the same thing. What’s upsetting is that I can’t seem to do anything about it.

I just spoke to my wife (she wanted me to lay with her while she went to bed and I’m working on communicating my moods and feelings more) and she reminded me that I’ve been here a million times before, and that I seem to forget how frustrated and restless I get at work. I was also reminded of my need for structure and deadlines. I know the depression is casting a negative pall on everything, but I can’t shake the feeling that I am not good at much that would help me get a job. I feel like that dismantled stereo that has been sitting on a desk for too long. If I could get re-capped and swap some transistors out maybe I would function a bit better.

Nowhere Man

The Beatle’s song “Nowhere Man” came to mind as I was beginning to write this post. I feel exactly like I’m making all my “nowhere plans for nobody”. I actually often create problems with scheduling at home because I make all these stupid plans in my head and it seems all decided but then I forget to tell anyone about them.

I’ve been feeling somewhat lost this week. We had my daughter’s 6th birthday party on Saturday which was fine. Nothing particularly bad has happened since, but I just feel so ungrounded and unmotivated. For example, I’ve been trying to write up a paper on some research I did but I’ve just had the hardest time doing it. It feels like I can’t wrap my mind around what I am trying to say and that I get bogged down in small grammar details, and nothing flows or makes any sense. Trying to dig up citations seems to be such a huge task for some reason. I escape by working on the figures, which for me is much more straightforward and fun to do. It’s funny, I can do a decent job editing other people’s writing but writing my own stuff is usually such an overwhelming task.

Today this inability to act or do came up at my daughter’s school. She left her backpack in the cafeteria by accident yesterday and my wife had asked me to look for it this morning when I dropped her off. I checked the lost and found, but when it wasn’t there I kind of gave up. I’m still not sure why, but the idea of having to go sign in and find the cafeteria(I still don’t fully understand my way around the school) then take the backpack back to the classroom seemed too hard. Writing about it seems ridiculous, but I just couldn’t do it. The secretary is kind of mean, but so what? All I had to do was explain that I needed to look for my daughter’s backpack and be on my way.

When I told my wife she was somewhat incredulous that I didn’t do it and was annoyed because it meant she would have to go after school with both kids to find it. She didn’t yell or anything, and given the circumstances was quite gracious and calm about it. I tend to cut myself down when I’m upset about my behavior but she was patient enough to ask me to stop insulting myself and listen to why it had inconvenienced her so much. I grudgingly listened and realized that I had made things difficult, apologized and still felt like shit. The rest of the day I’ve been off, questioning my ability to do anything in life, feeling like I’ve reached my peak in income and career and everything from here on out will be downhill. I feel like I’m too dumb or unmotivated to learn anything new that requires mental ability. I’m also beginning to get worried because my usual excitement for doing stuff like surfing is also beginning to diminish. I haven’t had the opportunity to surf since vacation, and the conditions haven’t been good anyhow but I’ll have to keep an eye on this.

To focus on the positives (since there are so many negatives I could go off about), I did make some progress on some ongoing projects I’ve fallen behind on. I complied the list of replacement parts for a receiver I am fixing for a friend (this had been seeming impossible for weeks now) and am waiting for confirmation to order the parts. My other accomplishment this week was posting the vacation pictures online for family members. I also got around to printing some B&W photos (one of which I posted above) which I haven’t done for months. Unfortunately, these actions didn’t pick me up as much as taking care of unfinished business usually does.

I’ll try to focus on the rest of Nowhere Man, and hope that I am not completely hopeless and just viewing life through an extremely distorted lens.