Shared Joy is Twice the Joy, Shared Pain is Half the Pain

Stories

Work vs. Play vs. School

I’ve always had high expectations for myself. I’ve always set as my “someday goal” an upper level management position, or a significant government post, or a professor at a named institution. I’ve just always oscillated between these as I changed my interests and my ultimate destination. Many friends of mine never questioned what they were going to do with their lives. (High school friends who knew they were going to be doctors and just partook in their white coat ceremonies, for example.) But I’ve never really known. I took a windy path, one could say, to end up where I am now.

But I had a moment last week that reminded me that where I am now is exactly where I want to be. It was the weekend, I was reading for fun. I was reading Science (if that doesn’t tell you a bit about who I am becoming…) and came across an article about “Yellow Lights” in science – basically that the current stop & go regulatory frameworks that are commonplace make it incredibly difficult to innovate in expensive industries. The article focuses on the complex FDA requirements and high biomedical expenses and argues that more flexible regulations – a yellow light or “California Roll,” if you will – could allow new and safe products to get to market (and help patients) faster. (Interestingly, an earlier magazine (June 12) focused a lot on innovative spaces – primarily in Cambridge, MA and the SF Bay Area – that allow biomedical startups to share workspaces and expensive machinery to compensate for these difficulties.)

Remember, I was reading for fun.

And then I realized I was also reading for work. Because my current task is to analyze the FDA regulatory structures and attempt to find ways the NRC could potentially mimic successful FDA frameworks. And this yellow light idea is definitely one to steal, for it would allow reactor designs that are more efficient but differ significantly from those currently on line to be approved in stages. This would in turn allow the designers to find funding in stages, instead of looking for a couple billion dollars on day one.

And then I realized I was also reading for school. Because part of my research project this fall is to look at other industries – I had planned originally to focus on technologies that inspired a regulatory overhaul, but the FDA parallel structure briefly mentioned in the article (and which I’ve thoroughly researched since then) could also be a perfect case study for comparison. Oh wait, that’s what I’m to complete over the next two weeks at work! And then I’ll rewrite it for school. And the book I’m currently reading for fun is about the beginnings of computer science; I haven’t gotten to anything significant about regulations, but I’m only 1/3 of the way through the book. So maybe my fun reading will become school too. Less likely, but still possible, it might become work.

So work is becoming school is becoming play is becoming work is becoming …

And while I know my parents have discussions where they go back and forth – one is proud of what I’ve done and the experiences I’ve had, while the other is distinctly more aware of the incredibly accomplished people my age who knew what they wanted years ago and have a much more focused resume – I always remember what I’ve noticed about the CVs of the professors I’ve admired and the industrial professionals I’ve looked up to: they’re usually missing a few years. Their resumes and CVs list their undergraduate graduation date and, with only a couple exceptions, nearly nothing can be found within five years of that date in either direction. Maybe an internship with a particularly significant politician, or a summer job at a big name company. But usually, nothing.

I often remind my friends about this while they stress about finding the perfect job today that will set them up for their dreams tomorrow. I remind them that the people we dream to become did something, presumably, for those few years, but it didn’t hold enough importance, relevance, whatever. Even just ten years out, those few post-college years became professionally irrelevant.

Obviously, I don’t want to aimlessly wander for a few years on the assumption that I can take them off my resume when I become who I want to be. I’m not squandering my immediate future because the resumes of people I idolize don’t mention that part of their lives. But I am using this reality – because it is reality – to remind myself that this is the time of my life when I should be doing what I want to be doing. This is the time when I should pursue jobs where expectations at work and the things I’m passionate about align, because that’s how I’ll get to the dream jobs I’ve always seen myself in.

And with that, I’m off to read an article that’s long been on my list of things that sound interesting. My fun list, if you will. I just put it off until an hour when I could say I read it for work, because its relevant to that too. 😉

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I Once Wanted a Sister

September 2.

My flight landed in Prague. I was greeted by orange shirts and big smiles, pushed into a cab with a cabbie who had about as much information about where we were going as I did – namely an address. I spoke about ten sentences of Czech and he maybe twice as much English.

When we arrived at our destination, I recognized my host mother standing there from a picture she’d sent me. We wheeled my two giant bags into the apartment building, into the elevator, into the flat, into the room that would become my rom, and then ran out again. On the way out, I was informed that we were going to see Emma’s celebration of her first day at school. We got there, everything was in Czech, and I had no idea what was going on. But apparently the little girl with the blonde pigtails and the pink dress with the tutu would be my little sister for the next four, maybe nine months. If we’re being honest, I didn’t know what to make of it all. At least she was cute?

It’s been nine months. Emma has taught me Czech and I’ve taught her English. We play games and braid each other’s hair and color and do all the things sisters do. (Or at least all the things I think sisters do. I don’t really know. I once wanted a sister, but I got my amazing brother instead.)

But I was thinking about that day eariler today. About the first time I saw Emma, about how proud Anna clearly was of her. But to me, she was just another little girl. But not, I see her and I share that love and pride Anna has. Because I’ve seen her grow up, and I’ve watched her change, and I love her to bits. But then, how could you not love this face:

Emma funny face


Sh*t Happens

For example, you might end up at the airport in Milan right on time. But at the wrong airport.

Or perhaps you lose a bracelet you love dearly that was given to you by your grandmother, and you don’t notice until you get home at almost midnight. In Krakow.

Or you leave your keys at the restaurant. One of them, because you went to six that day.

But usually it isn’t as bad as it seems.

Because as much as it sucks to pay €160 for a taxi ride through the pouring rain at frightening speeds, you can, in fact, end up at the other – correct! – airport with plenty of time to get through security and onto your flight. Plus, you get an amazing story out of it. I mean, how many people have not one, but two (2!) insane taxi stories to tell?

And your friends are around and convince you to go back out, visit the cafe, the restaurant, and the bar you visited over the course of the evening to ask if anyone found and turned in a gold bracelet. And when that search comes up empty and you’re dejected and you don’t know what to do, they just might convince you to ask at the restaurant that you had lunch at too. And they, even though the staff is in the midst of cleaning up and stacking tables, will still stop and ask the servers from earlier in the day before they check in the magic drawer filled with lost items, and pull out your bracelet.

And your host mom doesn’t actually hate you when you call her at 10pm asking her to throw a set of keys out the window to you. The next morning, when you call first your school, then the other program where you have classes, they happily look around and sadly inform you they haven’t seen them, but that they’ll keep an eye out. The cafes you call are similarly helpful, and when you call the restaurant you had lunch at, the owner has them and will even be by in just a couple minutes, so if you wait he’d be happy to get them for you right away.  And all of this, of course, is happening in Czech, just as a testament to how much you’ve learned.

The reality is that the world is full of all sorts of sh*t, and you just have to deal with it. Sometimes (like all of these examples…) it is self-imposed. Sometimes life just hands you a bad deck of cards. But, as they say, lemons lemonade.

I think it is safe to say that when you travel, you expose yourself to a lot more potential problems. At home, we worry about being on time to meetings or classes, but showing up late can usually be explained with a sheepish smile and an apology. Planes, trains, and busses don’t wait for you to show up with your smile. When you’re abroad, every interaction is fraught with the extra confusions of second languages and different cultural expectations. When you’re traveling, you’re more likely to be moving around; I, at least, am way more likely to loose something if it is in transport.

I know a lot of people who try to plan EVERYTHING when they go traveling. they want to know exactly where they’ll be at every moment. They want to have their schedules written down minute-by-minute before they even pack a bag. They want no surprises, which seems to me to be the same as wanting no real experiences. I leave for a destination with a loooong list of things I’d love to do, but no plan to fit them all in. I usually pack the night before I leave, and I hit whichever destination is appealing at the time.

There are a billion different ways to travel, and I’m not saying mine is right or that ^ is wrong. But I leave myself open to disaster. Because the disasters – which undoubtedly suck at the moment – make the best stories. And the best way to learn, the best way to grow, is to make mistakes and figure out how to worm your way out of them.


Playtime

I’ve got exactly seven nights left in Europe. 7 nights in the Czech Republic. 7 nights in Prague. 7 nights in the bed I’ve been sleeping in for the last nine months, 7 nights with the family I’ve come to love, 7 nights left until this adventure is over. done. finito.

So we’re going to ignore that completely, less it makes me cry, and focus on it another day. Today is all about playtime!

I went to grandma’s house one last time over the weekend, and had good fun. We celebrated her 60th birthday, we celebrated Mother’s Day. We played on the trampoline and played soccer and played on the playground. I took a lot (A LOT) of pictures, and upon returning home realized that there were enough pictures to make a fun series of Jachym. So here you are.

This is Jachym, age 4. I love him a lot.

He has a super adorable smile,

Jachym Smile Giant

 

and a super adorable focusing face.

He was SUPER adorable while playing on the playground

And yeah. Meet my second brother…


Getting Good at a Language is a Double Edged Sword

When I write blog posts, I write them in the moment. Usually, I have some thought that I realize would make a great start for a post, or I have some experience I really want to record. I often think of this blog as my journal or my diary, it is the way I record what is going on in my life, and I am just sharing it with everyone else in the whole wide world. The point of saying this is to remind both myself and you, my readers, that each of my blog posts exists as a snapshot of a moment. Usually, I write my posts straight into my blog. Less often, I write them as word documents and just cut and copy later. With the exception of my posts in foreign languages, I almost never edit a post before it goes up, just like I wouldn’t edit an entry in a diary.

Like everyone else, my life is a roller coasters of ups and downs. I’ve had a lot of ups this year, but as the end of my time in Prague approaches, there are a lot of downs too. I’m trying to be honest as I record what I’m feeling, even when my feelings from one day to the next are opposite. With that said, I want to share two posts I wrote in word documents in the last few days. They are, interestingly, basically contradictory. The one is full of excitement about my growing language skills, while the other expresses frustration with those same skills.


 

Me and Czech TV

I’ve been traveling a lot these past few weeks (Paris, Cinque Terre, and Malta all in one month) and it has been seriously great. But the result of traveling a lot is that I’ve had very little down time. Especially since we’ve been in the midst of finals, all my extra time has been spent frantically writing papers and studying for those tests.

But this weekend, I’m not going anywhere. Technically I am, but I’m just accompanying my family to grandma’s house. Which means I’ve had the time to just hang out with my family.

I’ve been cuddling with Emma and got kisses from Jachym when he got home from school today. All this kid time means I’ve also gotten to watch some cartoons. Morning cartoons, afternoon cartoons, evening cartoons. There isn’t anything fundamentally interesting about watching cartoons if you are no longer a child. Watching cartoons has actually been a bit like torture over this year, because I am stuck watching cartoons that I don’t even understand. So I stopped watching them sometime around February. I would still sometimes watch other TV shows, like Castle, in Czech because I knew the plots well enough to use them as a sort of lesson in Czech.

But then, this week, I watched some cartoons. I watched some with Emma this morning, and then some with Jachym this afternoon. And I realized at some point that I wasn’t just absentmindedly staring at the TV screen waiting for the program to be over so we could do something else, like I had been earlier in the year. This time, I was actually watching them. And understanding them. Not translating them for myself, but actually understanding them. In Czech!

Now I realize that these are TV programs for children, and so they fundamentally have easier vocabulary and lots of visual clues. But I also know that these are programs in a foreign language. And these are programs that just a few months ago I found incredibly frustrating because even if I devoted 100% attention to them, I wasn’t able to understand even half of what was going on. But now, I can sit on the couch and watch the cartoons like any other kid. I don’t understand all the words, but I catch enough to figure the rest out. I use the images as context for the sentences I don’t understand. I don’t try to translate, but let myself learn through osmosis.

Obviously, this moment of realization was exciting and, honestly, a little overwhelming and disappointing. I’m about to leave, and I finally feel like I’m getting a handle on this language. I can read stories to the kids and feel like I’m actually reading them. When something seems strange, it might be because I don’t understand the words. Or it might be that the story is actually about a biting sweater and another sweater made of spaghetti. (Kids stories can be a little … strange.)


Café Conversations

As I finish my time here in Prague, I’ve been continuing with the habit I’ve picked up here in this city filled with coffee shops. I’ve joked multiple times that there is a café on every corner, and more than once I’ve made it my goal to find a new favorite. Needless to say, I have many.

But I’m not the type of person to just go sit aimlessly in a café sipping a cappuccino. I go with friends, and we chat for hours. Or I bring my computer or my iPad or a book and I write the papers I need to write or I read.

I’ve fallen in love with the café culture here more than I ever fell in love with cafés in Boston or San Francisco, not because there are necessarily more cafés here, or a greater variety, but for some other reason I couldn’t put my finger on.

I finally figured it out.

I hate working with headphones in. Not that I can’t do it or that I find headphones uncomfortable, but just that I enjoy hearing what is going on around me. I like to hear the clink of plates or the low voices of people around me. But in the States, where all those conversations are in English, I overhear something I find interesting, and all of a sudden I am no longer focusing on what I am reading, but rather that I’m thinking about the conversation I am listening to. But here, in the Czech Republic, where everyone is speaking a foreign language, that hasn’t been a problem. Every so often there is a table speaking English, and I hear that and find the language notable, but very rarely is the conversation notable as well. So I ignore it as easily as I ignored the conversations my brother and dad would have while I was in high school.

Today, I’m sitting in a café, like always. Like always, the conversations around me are in Czech. But this time, I understand most of what is happening and I can’t focus anymore. I am listening to these conversations around me, understanding enough to want to understand it all. And it is distracting.

I finally figured it out.

I love having background noise, and as long as I couldn’t understand them, dozens of conversations could happen around me and I wouldn’t be bothered.

It feels like I have been doing my homework in the eye of a hurricane all year long. But now, the eye has moved, and the wind is blowing my papers away and I am getting wet. And it is distracting.

Perhaps this is why I never fell in love with doing work in cafés in Boston. I’ve gotten lots of distraction-free work done in Diesel, where you have to pay for internet. But that was in spite of the atmosphere, not because of it. I would go to Diesel with headphones and playlists because otherwise I’d happily sit in a corner and eavesdrop. And here, with just two papers left to write in Prague, the same thing is happening to me in Czech.


So I guess getting good at this language is a double edged sword. I was hoping to bring my love of cafés as work spaces back to Boston, but now I suspect that won’t be happening. At the same time, learning that I need my headphones in cafés here too is a little exciting, because it means that my latent language skills are growing exponentially! Just in time to go home…

I’m not going to pretend that I’ve got a good answer or come to any sort of conclusion regarding how I feel about these discoveries. But you can be sure that there will be lots more posts about leaving coming up. Consider this a warning – my blog is about to get sentimental.

 


Český Čtvrtek – Trhy

O víkendu, jsem jela na Výtoň na největší farmářské trhy v Praze. Máme hodně trhů ve Kalifornii, a věděla jsem tento trh bude jako tenhle, s jahodami, malinami, melony. Věděla jsem, že můžu koupit ovoce a zeleninu a chleba a květiny. Je pravda – mohla jsem. Ale Pražské trhy a Kalifornské trhy jsou jiné.

Vyton Farmer's Market

V Praze můžu koupit květiny a chleba. A opravdu dobré dortíčky. A mnouho sýrů. A ryby a čerstvý džus a kávu. Když chceš, můžeš koupit ovoce nebo zeleninu, ale myslým jsou lepší ve supermarketu než na trhu. Možná trh s ovocem bude lepší v létě, ale nevím.Dorticky!

Ale, Pražské trhy jsou jiné než jenom farmářské. Má Masopustní a Vanoční a Velikonoční trhy. Tento týden je prvný týden Velikonoční trh u Anděl, a šla jsem tam. Viděla jsem tradiční Velikonoce vejce a trdelnik (jasně!) a květiny a malé cukrové ptačky.


Over the weekend, I went to Vyton for the biggest farmer’s market in Prague. We also have markets in California, and I thought this market would be the same, with strawberries, raspberries, melons. I thought I could buy fruit and vegetables and bread and flowers. It is true – I could. But the Prague markets and California markets are different.

In Prague you can buy flowers and bread. And truly amazing little cakes. And lots of cheese. And fish and fresh juice and coffee. If you want, you can buy fruit or vegetables, but I think they are better in the supermarket than in the farmer’s market. Maybe the market’s fruit will be better in the summer, but I don’t know.

But, Prague’s markets are different than only farmer’s markets. It has Masopust (Carnival) and Christmas and Easter markets. This week is the first week of the Easter market at Andel, and I went there. I saw traditional Easter eggs and trdelnik (of course!) and flowers and small sugar birds.

*For another post about markets, see this one! Also, more pictures to come, once today’s photos of the Easter markets get onto my computer…


Being in Prague with my “Dumbphone”

I just read an interesting article about the use of “dumbphones” in my generation. A generation so intent on advanced technology and constantly being connected and the internet and … oh my god. Sometimes, I get tired of it.

I made the decision, seven months ago when I came to Prague, to leave my iPhone at home. Part of my decision was that I assumed my parents would give it to my brother (it is technically their phone, after all…) Part of my decision was because my phone wasn’t unlocked, didn’t have an externally accessible SIM card, and I’m not about to pay the roaming fees. Part of my decision, if I’m being honest, was because I wanted to know if I could survive without a smartphone.

I’m always that person that looks stuff up. I LOVE googling stuff. Literally any time a conversation back in the States included a question, I’d whip out my phone and look it up. I like facts, I like statistics, I like having all the information to influence my opinions and conversations. Even here, when I’m on or near my computer, I google stuff. Just today, in the ten minutes before my class started, I looked up the budget of Radio Free Europe (approx. 90 million USD), Radio Free Asia, the history of NPR’s finances (in the 70’s, it was entirely government funded, by the 80’s it was being weaned off, today it is fully funded by local stations and their listeners), and the horrendous acronyms we use in our daily life (think the USA PATRIOT act…). But when I’m out and about in the city, I can’t look stuff up.

I can’t search the history of a particular church I’m walking by or the hours of my favorite cafe. In a lot of ways, I miss that. I miss being able to pull out my phone and search for a fact, or look up directions, or double check that my friends aren’t running late.

But in just as many ways, I am glad that I’ve done it. Since I don’t have my phone to save me when I’m lost, I wander. I find new spots in the city that I never would have found if I hadn’t been completely turned around. The first month or so of the year, I carried my map around with me. If I got lost, I whipped it out, found a street name, figured out where I was, where I was going, and how to get there. And then, once I felt confident enough in my ability to understand directions in Czech (or at least, the first one!), I started leaving the map at home and asking for directions if I needed them. I still carried my tram map around for months, but now I don’t even need that. Since I don’t have my phone to tell me where I need to go, I figure it out for myself. I use the old-fashioned paper map, or the even more old-fashioned technique of talking to people. Unlike my friends, I can tell you which trams stop in Wenceslas Square, how to walk from JZP to Namesti Miru to IP Pavlova, and how to walk from point A to point B without staring at a little electronic screen.

If I’m running late, I feel bad and I apologize profusely when I arrive. If I am on time and my friend is late, I spend my time people watching. Or reading. (I’ve taken to bringing a book with me wherever I go, and I’ve read a lot of books this semester.) Or just staring into space. Or listening to people’s conversations and practicing my Czech. When I’m running late, I can’t get out of the consequences by sending a quick facebook message on my way and calling it an excuse. (I also can’t send a text message, since most of my friends are so dependent on their wi-fi messaging services – facebook, viber, whatever-it-is – that they don’t have phone credit and can’t read a text message even if I was to send it.) When someone else is running late, somehow the time passes faster when I’ve got nothing to do. I occupy myself with the world around me as I wait for them, and it seems like less than the five or ten minutes. If I was scrolling through my facebook wall for five to ten minutes, I would be so bored and so over it and that short amount of time would seem honestly insurmountable.

If there is something I really want to know – like, really want to know – I write it down to look it up later. Or I ask a teacher, a friend, a stranger. I go into that bookstore across the street and see if they have a book about it. Or I duck into the library and check it out (I know a lot of libraries in this city by now.)

I love the fact that there is nothing to distract me when I’m at dinner with my friends. Even if there is wifi in the restaurant, I don’t have a device to pull out of my pocket. I don’t have a device to use as a barrier between me and the people around me. I went to dinner a few weeks ago with four other people. Within five minutes of sitting down at the table, they all had their phones out, they were all on facebook or texting or merely searching instragram. I brought it up. I asked them about it, about why they were on their phones with some friends when they’re also sitting at the table with different friends. One said, “I don’t want to stop interacting with my friends, just because I’m not with them.” I bit my tongue, and didn’t make the retort I wanted to make: that he was choosing virtual interaction with friends kilometers away, instead of real interaction with friends sitting by his side.

I’ve enjoyed my seven months without my smartphone, but I also miss it. I miss being able to look up the quickest of the possible routes I know – and knowing how long it will actually take. I miss the fact that I can’t access my email on the go – not because I want to instantaneously respond to my emails, but because I often want to reference an email and I can’t get to it. It makes me sad that I’m missing out on the pervasive snapchat culture in the students in Prague.

A few times, I’ve wondered if I even want my smartphone back when I get back to the States. As much as I love looking stuff up, I could survive without that. But I can’t survive without being able to access my friends on the go and, more importantly, for my friends to access me. Yeah, okay. They could just call me. But sometimes emails or facebook messages are really the better, more effective, and more fun way to contact each other. And I can’t escape the reality of being a Silicon Valley girl. People joke that San Francisco natives have the most apps on their phones, and that might be true. My iPhone has apps for transportation, restaurants, random games I’ve been asked to beta test, and pretty much everything under the sun.

So, once I’m home, I’ll have my trusty iPhone again, with the multitude of apps I learned to love and miss dearly. But it will be a bit less pervasive in my daily life. I think my phone is going to live in my bag, not in my pocket. I’ll still use google to look up the answer to whatever question might be burning a hole in my head, but when I’m at dinner, it will definitely not be in my hand, or even on the table.