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

Boston

Welcome back, back spasms.

In 2012, I was living and working as a ski instructor in Australia when I took a wrong turn on the mountain and experienced the sharpest, worst pain in my life. On a scale of 1-10, this was an instant 15, and I honestly had no idea what to do. Fortunately, however, this was an on-the-job injury in a country with much stronger worker compensation protocols, so while I lost almost two weeks of pay, I didn’t have to pay for the medical evaluations, physical therapy, or prescriptions that would have cost me more money than I earned over those three months.

It did, however, mark the beginning of a long, hard slog of chronic back, neck and shoulder pain that I’ve been dealing with ever since, not to mention the headaches. The initial recovery period however – the time it took to go from essentially unable to move a muscle to basically (if painfully) mobile and able to go back to work – was just shy of two weeks.

In the three and a half years since, I’ve found physical therapists and chiropractors on three continents, tried everything from deep tissue massage to acupuncture, and finally settled into something of a pain control regimen. Between daily strengthening exercises to prevent back and neck pain and pharmaceutical solutions to the chronic headaches, I have managed to turn my constant and sometimes debilitating pain into a regular but manageable nuisance. I’ve learned the nuances of my back and neck pain and can tell when a stiffness is best treated with heat or ice. I’ve worked with enough experts to know when lower back pain is a lower back issue and when it is a result of muscle tension or spine misalignment somewhere higher up. I’ve mastered the art of keeping my spine aligned by bettering my posture, but also by learning the exact order to tighten certain muscles in certain positions to bring things back to normal. I’ve resumed skiing and dancing, rejoined sports teams and even signed up for an aerial silks course. (Yes, Mother. I joined the circus.)

And then it struck again. As class was ending on Friday, I felt a familiar jolt of pain in my lower back that meant I wasn’t moving for a while. I slowly bent myself into child’s pose and tried to stretch the back muscles out even as they were spasming. I carefully stood up and painfully got dressed and took an hour longer to get home than normal.

I cancelled my plans and found my heating packs. Spent the evening lying on my back, with a lacrosse ball rolling slowly along either side of my spine, putting painful (the good kind of pain!) pressure on my muscles to work out the tension. I slept with my knees bent over a pile of a half dozen pillows, and repeated the heat/massage/heat/stretch routine again this morning.

Unlike last time, when I was on opioids for a week, I didn’t take any pain killers today, and although I took a lot of ibuprofen last night, it was as much for the anti-inflammatory effects as the pain-killing ones.

Unlike last time, when the pain was so bad that I couldn’t focus on anything for days, I wrote two essays today.

Unlike last time, when I didn’t get off the floor unless absolutely necessary, I met friends in a coffee shop today, and then went out for drinks tonight.

Unlike last time, when I had no idea what was going on or how to fix it, I have the tools to relieve the pain and to mostly address the underlying issue.

I’ve just finished a half hour of rolling more tension out of my back, and I’m currently lying on my heating pad. When I wake up tomorrow, I’ll be doing it all again. But then tomorrow at noon I’ll be performing in a tap show, and though I know it will be painful, nothing bad will come of it.

 

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When pay equals play

When I was a kid, people often told me that the best possible job is the one where I get paid to do what I want to do. And not so long ago, I wrote about how exciting it was that what I do at work, what I do for school, and what I do in my free time seem to be aligned and are sometimes so similar they’re basically identical. I stand by that post – it is exciting. But there’s a slight problem with it too.

I don’t know what else I do.

I go to work and research nuclear policy. I set up to work on my independent study and research nuclear regulation. In my “off-time,” I’ve been doing a lot of research into graduate programs in nuclear engineering and nuclear chemistry with allowances for policy courses or sub-programs emphasizing governance and public communication. Before I go to bed, the book I read is an overview of the French nuclear program.

I was inspired to write this post when a friend came over, saw me at my computer, and assumed I was working. When I told him I wasn’t working, and explained what I was doing, he jokingly replied “Even when you’re not working, you’re working!” And he’s not wrong.

While I enjoy all of this – the research, the writing, the potential of what I’m currently working on may become, and the possibilities of what I’ll work on next, I can’t help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, I should spend some of my time reading about, thinking about, or doing something – anything – else.

Recently, I’ve been obsessively thinking about Switzerland, where employees commonly take an hour or more for lunch to relax and have flexible work schedules. I’ve placed that system of flexibility on a pedestal in my head, which is so fascinating to me because I could do that. I make my own schedule literally. every. day. If I wanted to take an hour for lunch, I could. I can. Sometimes, I do. I can make the choice to work only four days a week or work seven mornings and have the afternoons totally free. I don’t, but I could. And realizing that has made me wonder, and then realize, what it is about the Swiss system that is so appealing to me: if people take that time off work, that means they’re doing something else.

I’m not doing something else.

It’s high time I found something else to do. Something that I can focus on when I’m not working on my work, or my project, or my grad school research. A new passion, so to speak, that can occupy my non-nuclear hours. I’m open to suggestions.


Routines

When I don’t have a routine, I forget how much I love them. When I’m not busy, I forget how much I love being busy. I forget how much I love rushing from one thing to the next and making it just on time; I forget how much those moments of rapidity remind me to slow down when I’ve got plenty of time. I forget how nice it is to see a broad swath of people, how much I enjoy learning about their lives – even (and especially) the day-to-day realities.

Yesterday was the first day of school. Technically, I suppose, the last first day of school (for the foreseeable future…but we all know I’ll be back at school someday). I had places to be, people to see, and things to do.

I left the house at 9am and didn’t get home until after 9pm. But when I got home, friends came over for berries and cream and a mini-homework session (or, in my case, a work-work session) that lasted until after midnight.

I got home late because I went to a tap class at a local studio (about a mile from my house). It’s been so long since I tapped like that! I mean, yeah, I’ve been tapping with Tufts tap ensemble, but this was *real.* This was challenging choreography for my feet and my brain. There were complex tap steps I haven’t done since I was a young teenager. Half the class was mentally challenging because we were dancing in 7-time (normal dances are in sets of 4 or 8 counts, and as you get more advanced you get used to 3 or 6 counts; but this was in sets of 7…) And I re-met random people I’ve seen at random, unrelated events around Boston.

I’m currently re-reading parts of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, because I wanted to remember his three types of people. One of his big points is that while we tend to value our close ties the most (e.g. our best friends, our family), the most influential people we know in terms of jobs, opportunities, and new experiences are our acquaintances. I’ve always felt like I am in the most solid place if/when I’m meeting and spending time with a wide variety of new people, so I’m very excited for this new group of tappers (a class of about 10 people of all ages – from my age up to probably 45/50).

Before tap, I had (yet another) physical therapy appointment. I haven’t really talked about them here, but I’ve been going to PT for my back/neck/head for a few weeks now. And yesterday, in addition to Marisa (my PT) telling me I’m getting stronger in the muscles I’ve neglected for years (forever?), I could feel it. There were exercises we tried a week or two ago that I absolutely could not do that were not easy, but definitely doable.

I attended part of Fletcher’s “shopping day” yesterday, where I learned about a class I might try to audit (Climate Change and Clean Energy Policy), although the definition of clean energy for this class sadly doesn’t include nuclear. But it is probably a good idea to learn what I can about the domestic and international policy tendencies in the clean energy realm, so I might take it regardless.

I got surprising amounts of work done yesterday and this morning – I’m relearning the “one hour at a time” art I had mastered in middle school. I’m prepped for today’s meeting about my independent study, I’m ready to lead the class I’m the teaching assistant for this afternoon, because the professor is out of town at a conference. I’m about to sit down to my first Czech lesson since I came home from Prague, and I sent my host family an email last night. (It is so nice to still be in contact with them!)

All in all, the semester is starting and I’m so ready. I’ve got a weekly calendar set up, regular meetings, appointments, and classes scheduled. I’ve got friends to see and work to do and my very last semester (foe as it may feel) to take full advantage of!

Until next time…


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. 😉


Eggplant Update

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t make a new eggplant-based dish every day last week. But that’s mostly because the dishes I did make were good for multiple meals – dinner for two, lunch the next day, another lunch for two. But they were also delicious, so I guess eggplant week was successful in that I’m no longer scared of making dishes with eggplant.

I made two more eggplant dishes/meals, both stolen from some of my favorite food blogs:

First was a Cheesy Eggplant Bake from Home&Plate, which was basically eggplant lasagna but better. It was a bit too liquidy for my taste, so if (when?) I make it again, I’ll probably use a bit less tomato, or let it bake a bit longer. But it was truly tasty, cheesy as promised, and multiple friends I shared it with were fans. Unfortunately, both this dish and the next one got eaten before pictures happened…oops. But if that isn’t a testament to how delicious they were, nothing is.

The second dish was absolutely amazing, like basically everything from Smitten Kitchen: Baked Orzo with Eggplant. Again, filled with cheese and melted and beautiful in every possible way. Most significantly, I think, is that this recipe can (and will!) be adapted to literally any and every in-season vegetable.

In other news, the new Boston Public Market has just opened up (no, not Boston Market the restaurant!). This is a locally-sourced produce/food market with 30+ vendors open five days a week at Haymarket. While I don’t plan on making the trek down there during the summer for my produce, I almost certainly will be going down there in the winter to get some fresh, locally grown produce once the fall rolls around and the majority of farmers markets close their doors so to speak for the season.


AKA a world of acronyms

It’s a running joke: politics is a world of acronyms. Just think the Alphabet Agencies of FDR’s New Deal during the Great Depression. I know that. But dear God, is it a world of acronyms.

I had my first day of meetings at my new job earlier this week – a week early because the meetings were to present the nature of the company to a potential donor, and my boss thought it might be useful for me to sit in and get to know what all the company’s really about. Two birds with one stone, so to speak.

Well now, I’ve got the following list of acronyms to look up. All these acronyms were thrown around by the other people in the room and never defined (if they were eventually defined, I wrote that down too). Admittedly, this was a room with four experts, the youngest of which has worked in nuclear energy and nuclear policy for three years and spent the nine years before that studying it (she got her BS, MS, and PhD in Nuclear Engineering…). So I shouldn’t be surprised that, after less than a year of interest, I don’t know the world as well as these people who have been immersed in it for 10, 20, 40 years. But it was still a bit overwhelming, and I’ve got a steep learning curve ahead of me. Anyway, the list:

  • FLOR
  • NTI (Nuclear Threat Initiative)
  • NEI
  • PWC
  • CNTAC
  • ASTM – (American standards something or other)
  • RSSC
  • HTGR
  • EFH
  • EIRP
  • BTI
  • ACORE
  • SMR (Small Modular Reactor)
  • PPA
  • EON (the German one)
  • EON (the American one)
  • AP
  • FONP
  • KSA
  • EA (Environmental Analysis?)
  • EPC
  • DND
  • CBNI
  • API

And then, of course, there were a number of acronyms I already knew:

  • NDA
  • NRC
  • UNSCEAR
  • UNCLOS
  • RFP
  • LWR
  • HWR
  • PWR
  • AP1000
  • And a lot more that I didn’t bother to remember because I, well, I knew them.

Needless to say, I’ve got a lot of googling to do, a lot of learning to take on, and I’m SO excited. Unfortunately, a lot of what I’ll be doing is technical and much of it will be embargoed for significant periods of time, so I won’t be able to write about it here. But don’t worry, I have other things on my plate moving forward (including eggplant!) so I’m sure there will be plenty to write about. Until next time…


Say Hello to Eggplant Week

I got back to Boston on Saturday, and hit Trader Joe’s Sunday morning with only one limitation: I biked, so I could only buy as much food as I could fit in my backpack. Usually, when I go shopping, I’m thinking about the leftovers I have in the fridge, or the half-opened box of pasta that needs to be finished – I typically adjust my purchases based on what I need to finish. But this time, it was just me, my backpack, and an entire store of possibilities.

We already know how much I love produce. I mean, farmers markets are basically my best friends, right? So being back in Boston, where I’ve got access to better produce than that which was available at the Stop’n’Shop in Upland, NY, where I can cull herbs from my baby herb garden on the porch, where I can go to a farmers market just down the street every Saturday… Let’s just say I’m happy to be home.

But back to TJ’s. They had graffiti eggplant for sale, which I’ve never seen before, but they looked cool, and since they’re smaller than regular eggplant, they seemed small enough to work for just one person. So I bought one.

Here’s the thing. I’ve never really liked eggplant.

But I figured I’d try it out. At a total investment of a whopping $0.79, it seemed like a reasonable risk to take.

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In case it isn’t already painfully obvious, I’m now a fan of eggplant. And, in an attempt to experiment with my new favorite mid/late-summer ingredient, I’m dedicating this week to the eggplant. By which I mean I’ll be incorporating eggplant into every dinner I cook for myself this week, and hopefully I’ll end up with a few awesome ways to prepare and consume the strange purple vegetable. And then, since eggplant season is basically now until mid-October, hopefully I’ll have plenty of dishes to whip up as the school year (and my very last semester of undergrad) gets started.

Tonight’s dinner was Eggplant “Bruschetta,” taken off the smittenkitchen site (my favorite of all cooking blogs, incidentally) and was surprisingly simple and filling. It required slicing and baking the eggplant coated in a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then they were topped with diced tomatoes, onions, cheese, and some mint from my herb garden.

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(Side note: the cheese was Trader Joe’s Farmhouse English Cheddar with Italian Truffles and was very possibly the best cheese I’ve ever had in my life. Just smooth enough without being too creamy; flavorful enough to go with salami yesterday for lunch but not so overwhelming that it drowned out the tomatoes tonight…basically heaven in block form.)