Today I was the keynote speaker at a symposium at a university in Canuckian New York*. It was a one-day affair, with students giving talks, presenting posters, and with one headliner that the students had voted on. They voted to invite me, which is absurdly flattering. I hate when invited speakers only attend a very small slice of an event, so I made plans to be present for the full symposium.
Logistically, this was a bit complex, as the commute between New City and Canuckian New York is dire. Unforgivably dire. Google maps was predicting a driving time between 2:15 and 4:10 for the morning drive, and 3:45-5:10 for the evening drive. It is 1:15 without traffic. No, thank you, that sounds unremittingly awful. I elected to take the train, which reliably takes a slow 2 hours, but on which I can work and think and accidentally run the battery down on my phone before a long day away (oops).
To be at a symposium from 9:30 am until 4:45 pm, I left the house at 6:35 am. I will be home, if this train makes up some of our delayed start, by 7:30 pm. A seven hour day at work becomes a thirteen hour day with the commute. I will be home just in time to nurse Spud before he goes to bed, having nursed him when he woke up briefly at 5 am. He was asleep when I left the house. I will see him, awake, for less than half an hour today. There are people in New City who do this every day. There are more and more people in New City signing up to do this every day, as houses can be had in New City, and they are out of reach in Canuckian New York.
The symposium itself was fun. It was hosted by one of the broadest departments I’ve ever encountered, so there was significant variety in the expertise and jargon each student was comfortable with. I judged posters, met some potential collaborators, had a catch-up lunch with someone I knew in my Ph.D. but did not like much (verdict: still don’t, amusingly arrogant, but small doses needed), and gave my talk. When handing in my poster scoring sheet, my host offhandedly mentioned arranging reimbursement for my travel, and that he would lump it in with my honorarium. I did not know I was getting an honorarium. This talk was the first talk that contained only research from my own lab group, and I was ridiculously excited to give it. I was flattered (and it will reflect well for tenure) to be invited as a keynote. I had no expectation of also being paid for my trouble. I plan to pre-spend some of that honorarium on candy on the train home because I’m an adult like that.
I pumped twice sitting on the floor of the accessible/genderless bathroom. My host had offered his office, two buildings over and requiring him to cede me his key card and key on a day when he was running a symposium, so I demurred and used the bathroom. It had outlets, but the outlets didn’t work, so I was glad I’d tossed the battery pack into my pump bag at the last minute. It wasn’t nice, but it worked. I think it is a rite of passage for expressing moms to pump in a public bathroom, so I’ve dubiously checked that box off my list.
The undercurrent for the day was darker. I am part of a mom group online, and one of our members lost her husband suddenly and shockingly last night. She is away from their home, traveling to see family, and so has been having to handle a missing person and then identification of the body from afar, with her seven month old in tow. It is a complicated situation, but it is also simply tragic and deeply sad. We are trying to be good internet supports for her. My recent experiences with tragedy have not equipped me to be any more eloquent or helpful, it turns out. My heart aches for her.
I am vaguely aware that the outside world may have gone to absolute shit today, in a doomsday-clock kind of way. I walked to the train station from the symposium past some outright terrifying scrolling news headlines: “How to survive a nuclear attack”, “Fire and fury scorned, consequences likely”, “Canada to open border camp to house U.S. refugees”. I am ostriching for now. I want to have time to find reliable sources and reasoned opinion to discern how bad this is. I want to have seen Spud today before I spend time envisioning how to keep him safe in this unstable world.
I am trying to daily reflect on a handful of things I am grateful for. It is a proven anti-anxiety technique, and I find it relaxes a quiet constant tension I otherwise carry. Today it is not hard to think of things I am grateful for. A commute that is 20 min door to door, on reliable and swift public transit. The opportunity to share my lab’s research with colleagues, and to introduce the ideas that drive me to a new audience. Pea, hale and whole and a partner in all ways. This life we are building, in a country whose values I identify with. I am worried for the future, but I choose to spend this train ride eating candy and reflecting on the good.
* it is nothing like New York, but it likes to think it is, and other established nicknames are not flattering. I have quite a big soft spot for this city. It currently houses both of my sisters, and was where I met and fell in love with Pea.