Confused Frustration

Author’s note: this was written on September 5th, so information may be slightly out of date.  I’m probably still feeling pretty much the same, however, since this is being published a good 6 days before even the first Week of Welcome activity.  Eh.

So, for anyone who doesn’t read the author bio on this blog, I’m currently a graduate student.

Oh, wait, what’s that?  My author bio doesn’t say anything about that?  Well, crap.  You’re right.  And just to prove how much of a liar I am, I’m not even a graduate student.  Good lord, I just keep digging myself deeper into this pit of lies.

Let me make an amendment.  I’m not a graduate student YET.  Not for another 11 days, when my program starts.

And I haven’t felt this lost in a while.

Ah, you ask, now hanging on my every word (and probably searching for more opportunities to point out my lies), but why are you lost?  The program hasn’t even started yet!  And you mentioned something about a Welcome Week up there in the italics at the top of this post, so they probably tell you everything you need to know and more!

Yes, oh unseen and mostly imaginary audience, this may be true.  And I hope that it’s true, as it would mean that many of my fears are unfounded and can vanish back into my closet.  But right now, I know next to nothing, and this makes me fear that I’m forgetting about everything.

Case number one: finances.  Now, according to some lovely letters on fancy official school stationary, I have been given a stipend of $26k per year.  Woo!  That’s more money than I made at my previous job, by lots!  I should be able to afford to cover my bed in money and then roll around in it, without the indignity of finding coins lodged in awkward crevices later!

Now, however, I’m not so sure.  From what I seem to be seeing online, that money is given to me before tuition.  And I have to pay tuition.  Not only do I have to pay tuition, but tuition seems to be somewhere between $20,000 and $48,000 per year.

Wait a minute!  How can I be getting 26k but paying out 20k or greater?  Given that my rent for the year is 500/month (which appears to be one of the cheaper options in my city of college residence), this means that, even in the best case scenario, I barely have enough to pay for my apartment.  And I cannot eat my apartment.

(Other issue: apparently I don’t get my financial reimbursements until November.  Kind of a long time to wait, don’t you think, university?  Don’t you??)

Even if money was my only concern at the moment, that wouldn’t be too bad.  Talk to financial office, eat cheap foods, consider second job, consider selling organs, etc.  Plenty of solutions.  But even that’s not my top problem (although it’s a close second).

No, as a graduate student, my number one priority is finding a lab to do research with.  A lab that preferably A) is aligned with my interests, B) that has funding/space for me, and C) that has a professor I get along with.  Mostly in that order.  Now, I have a decent idea of what I want to research.  But finding a lab that seems to match up with this is already proving to be a nightmare, and this is before I’ve even tried contacting them to see if they have funding or space.


On one hand, I’ve been reading online that it’s best to try and set up rotations before school starts.  On the other hand, there are also plenty of people who did not set up their rotations before school starts.  Now, I’m hearing about them on sites where they are lamenting the fact that they didn’t do this earlier, but they’re still around, right?  They made it, didn’t they?  It can’t be that bad.

I’d talk to my graduate mentors about this, but they are out of town for the next week.  I’d talk to my assigned professor about this, but I don’t have one yet.  Internet audience, can you see why I’m stuck?

Right now, I’m just going to try and read as much as I can about graduate school, read up on professors, and hope that some of this gets clearer.  Because, sadly, there isn’t much that I can do.

And that drives me crazy.


Rumble Strips, Part IV

The Finale!

Link to Part III.

Close to four months later, I was walking into a restaurant, gazing around the room for the sight of Alex’s unruly hair.  We had decided to get together and catch up on recent events in each others’ lives, and I knew that he had arrived first, as always, at the location we had selected.

I was especially looking forward to this get-together so that I could thank him for his gift.  The watch had buzzed several more times over the last few months, and each time it had ended up saving me from various problems.  One time, it had forced me to pull over to the side of the road, just in time to see a semi truck run through the red light in front of me.  Another time, it had prevented me from eating a “home-made” dish that left my flatmate puking for two days.  Once, it had even prevented me from leaving a friend I had been chatting with.  My insistence on staying forced him to reveal that he was in a deep depression and had been considering taking his own life.  I managed to convince him to talk to his doctor instead.

In short, the watch had proved its value many times over.  It was, quite literally, the best present I had ever received, and I wanted to make sure that Alex was properly thanked.  I also was curious about where he had acquired it; the watch didn’t seem to have any brand markings or logos that I could identify, and my searches on the internet for similar devices had found nothing.

Spotting the shock of mussed hair sitting at one of the tables, I made my way through the restaurant to Alex.  “Hey, sorry I’m late,” I said as I sank into the seat across from him.

“No problem,” he grinned, passing over a menu.  “I’m just glad that we were able to find this time to get together.”

After a brief pause while we both inspected the menus, we placed our orders and resumed talking.  Alex filled me in on his recent developments – he had earned another raise at work, and he elaborated on several pranks that he had gotten away with.  He was always so creative with his revenge stories, and by the end, I was in stitches.

“So, how’s the watch working out?” he asked, after the laughter had subsided.

I smiled back at him.  “I don’t know where you found this thing, but it’s amazing,” I told him.  “It somehow knows about bad things before they happen, and warns me!  It’s saved me from so many bad things, you wouldn’t even believe it.  But I haven’t found anything else like it!  Where did you get it?”

Alex, surprisingly, looked uncomfortable at the question.  “Um, it was actually a gift to me,” he said sheepishly.

“A gift?  From whom?”

“From my dad,” he continued.  “I asked him for a good present idea for a girl, because I know that most of my other ideas from other years haven’t worked out so well.”  I nodded in agreement at this, picturing the robot floor cleaner still sulking in one corner of my apartment.  “And he said that I should get you a watch, and that he had an old one sitting around from someplace.  So I gave it to you.”

I ran my hand over the watch.  This still didn’t tell me much about where it was from, but I had met Alex’s dad before, and knew that he was a kook who accumulated all sorts of odd things.  “Really broke the bank on this present then, huh?” I joked.

This broke the tension, and he narrowed his eyes back at me in a mock glare.  “Hey, you said it’s the best one yet!” he shot back.  But then, his expression grew serious once again.  “Although, this does sort of lead to something that I’ve wanted to talk to you about for a long time.”

I braced myself.  I had a fairly good idea of what was going to come next, and I wasn’t sure that I was ready for it to happen.  Alex, however, was still talking.  “Look, Sue, I’ve known you for a long time,” he started.

“Alex,” I tried to break in, but he held up a hand to forestall me.

“I like you,” he said, the words pouring out in a rush.  “I like you as more than just a friend.  I’ve felt so for ages, but I’ve never been able to tell you, because I was scared of how you’d react.  But now, I’d rather at least say it than continue not knowing whether anything could happen between us or not.”  As he finished this, he stared at me, clearly scared but waiting for an answer.

I stared at him, my mouth possibly hanging open, not sure how to respond.  Of course I had known that he liked me – I had known it so long that it had all but faded from my memory, merely one more bit of background information like the color of his hair or the way that he would rub his ear whenever he was upset and searching for the right words to express his anger.  But I had never planned for how I would respond when he told me, when he changed our relationship from implied to actual.

Finally, my brain kicked into gear, my fight-or-flight response seizing control of my upper functions.  “I’m sorry,” I stammered, jumping to my feet, “but I have to go.” Ignoring Alex’s voice behind me, I hurried towards the door of the restaurant, stretching out my hand for the handle, already finding it hard to see through a veil of tears.

Buzz.  I looked down at my wrist; I could feel, rather than see, my watch going off.  I reached down, hit a couple buttons in an effort to make the buzzing stop, and then reached for the door handle once more.  If anything, the vibrations doubled in intensity, the watch shaking until I could feel my whole arm being shifted back and forth.

I stopped, stunned.  What was the watch trying to tell me?  Lost and confused, I turned around.  Alex was standing there, a few steps away, frozen as my eyes locked on to him.  “Sue,” he said softly.

I took a step back.  The watch buzzed angrily.  I took a step forward.  The buzzing stopped.  Was it really so simple?

Hesitantly, slowly, step by step, I moved forward towards Alex.  He said nothing more, but held out his arms, letting me step forward and into them.  As I felt them curl around me, for one last moment, I held out.  Was this right?  Was I making the right choice?

The watch buzzed once more, a short sharp zing, as though it was able to read my mind and disapproved of what it was seeing.  “Fine,” I said aloud, and turned back to Alex’s smile as he gazed down at me.  “Now what?” I asked him, my words coming out sharper than I had intended.

Alex’s grin grew wider.  “Now this,” he said, and he kissed me.

The watch was silent.  Somehow, I knew that it would be silent for a while.  I was done making bad decisions.

Rumble Strips, Part III

Link to Part II

For the next week, the watch was silent, and I began to forget about the incident.  I had grown accustomed to its weight and the feel of it on my wrist, and I now put it on each morning when I got out of bed without a second thought.

It was Saturday, and I was heading off to a dreaded but long-overdue appointment with a financial counselor.  I had been putting off getting my finances in order for several years after graduating from college, but it wasn’t until a few days previous that I had realized how behind I was.

At lunch one day at work, I had come into the break room to find my coworkers gossiping, as was usual.  But this time, instead of talking about the latest hookups or screwups in our company, they were talking about retirement.  As I took a seat and began listening in, several men were bragging over the value of their retirement 401ks, a virtual pissing contest to see who had more money.

The longer they talked, the worse I felt as I munched on the pasta salad I had brought.  I didn’t have a retirement account set up at all!  In fact, I only had about six thousand dollars to my name, all in my checking account.  I had been contemplating opening a savings account at all, but hadn’t even pulled the trigger on that small step.

That afternoon, I had resolved to get my money problems squared away.  However, after an hour staring at incomprehensible jargon on the internet, I had placed a call to a local finance firm and gotten an appointment for Saturday with a personal finance counselor.

Now, I was downtown, walking into a tall skyscraper to make my meeting.  I made my way through a maze of cubicles, guided by a pert receptionist in three-inch heels, until I arrived at a large, glassed-in office with a desk inside and a man behind the desk.

Inside the office, fortunately, I found Stan, and Stan managed to immediately defuse my concerns with his firm handshake and easy, self-depreciating nature.  I had brought along my bank statements and explained my situation, and Stan nodded understandingly and listened patiently as I talked, never interrupting or cutting me off.  He congratulated me on the decision to get my money in order, and explained that I had plenty of options.

“First off, we are going to want to get you started on some retirement accounts,” he said brightly after I had finished, pulling out a couple sheets of information and a pad of yellow paper.  He passed the yellow pad over to me, along with a pen, so I could take notes.  He walked me through employer matching for 401k accounts, and a few charts quickly showed me how great this was.  He then talked me through setting up a savings account, and configuring my bank account so that some of my paycheck would automatically be put into savings, removing the temptation for me to spend it at the spa or on a shopping spree.

“And now, on to personal investments,” Stan continued, reaching for another sheet of paper.  “A portion of your paycheck should go to your 401k, a portion should go to your savings, but some should also go into investments.”

“Wait, why?” I asked.  “Isn’t that what the 401k is for?”

Stan smiled.  “Your 401k is an investment, yes, but you can’t use it until you retire.  Personal investments let your money do work for you, but are still available to you for withdrawal at any point, so that you can use them earlier!  They’re great for things like buying a house, big purchases that you can’t always predict.”

I nodded, following along, and Stan passed over a sheet of paper.  “There are a lot of different funds that you can invest your money into, but I’ve been recommending this fund to my clients,” he explained.  “It’s caled Pilco, and it’s been doing exceptionally well for the last few years.  Many of my clients have put all of their investments into Pilco and done very well.  We can set up an account for you here, and just like savings, the money will automatically be invested by us here, without you needing to lift a finger!”

The idea made sense, and I began to open my mouth to ask where I had to sign.  However, I was cut off by my watch, buzzing suddenly on my wrist.  I glanced down at it, and it stopped.  Was it trying to tell me not to invest?

Stan was looking at me expectantly.  Once again, I opened my mouth, and the watch began buzzing again.  “Is there something I sign for that?” I asked, ignoring the vibration coursing up and down my arm.

With a flourish, the financial counselor passed over a legal form.  “Just sign at the bottom,” he said.

I picked up the pen, but the buzzing seemed to intensify, and I couldn’t hold the pen steady enough to sign.  Stan’s expression shifted very slightly as he watched my arm shake.  After a couple of botched attempts, I finally set down the pen.  “You know, I think I’m going to pass on this investing fund thing,” I said.  “Do you have any other ones instead?”

At this news, Stan frowned slightly, but he pulled out a couple of other funds that “were more stable, but weren’t providing nearly as great returns as Pilco.”  I looked them over and found one that seemed to be somewhat reliable, as far as I could tell from the mass of complicated data on the sheets.  My watch didn’t seem to protest at all as I signed for this fund.

The rest of the meeting wrapped up without incident, and I thanked Stan profusely for helping me get my money in order as I left.  He modestly brushed aside my gratitude, but before I left, he mentioned the Pilco fund once more.  “Check it out every now and then for the next week or two,” he encouraged.  “I’m telling you, it’s making a ton of money.”

Over the next week or so, I did watch the fund, searching for it on the internet every few days.  Just as Stan had said, it seemed to be on a steep and steady climb.  Why had I trusted the buzzing of my watch and not invested?

In fact, two weeks later, I was ready to call Stan and have him change my money over.  I decided to look up Pilco once more.  As the web page loaded this time, though, I felt my mouth drop open in surprise.

The fund had just collapsed completely!  News reports were saying that it had been some sort of scheme the entire time, and the investors had lost everything.  I had nearly been one of those poor souls!  I lowered my phone in shock.

Apparently, the watch had been right once again.  I resolved, then and there, not to ignore its buzzing again, even if I didn’t understand why it was warning me.

Rumble Strips, Part II

Link to Part I.

The next afternoon, my friends dragged me out to happy hour after work.  Of course, I really didn’t need that much convincing.  They were going on and on about how this new bar they had found had all the cutest guys, and I did have to admit that it had been quite a while since I’d enjoyed any male company.

“Susan, you need to just jump in!” insisted one of my coworkers, Danielle.  “Look, just smile at the first hot guy, and let him buy you a few drinks!  It’s easy, especially for someone as pretty as you!”

I smoothed back my brown hair, looking around the bar.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have been quite as outgoing, but a couple of gin and tonics had loosened my inhibitions a little.  Letting my gaze roam, I spotted one guy leaning against the edge of the bar.  Tall, with slicked-back black hair and a leather jacket over his button-up shirt and tie, he looked dangerous – and sexy.  He was casually looking around the bar as well, and I gave him my best “come-hither” smile when his eyes fell on me.

The man smiled back, and I watched with mingled trepidation and delight as he sauntered over to me and my group of coworkers.  “Hey, I’m Cain,” he said smoothly, leaning in next to me.  I could see the five-o-clock stubble on his face, and suppressed an irrational urge to run my hand across it.

I introduced myself, and learned that he was a marketing guy.  “But I drive a bike, so I don’t totally fit into corporate culture,” he smirked, tugging at the lapels of his jacket.  He was a few years older than me, but his shirt was tight beneath his jacket and I had to admit that the rippling muscles beneath were totally doing it for me.

A few minutes later, I had finished sipping down the last of my gin and tonic, and Cain didn’t let it go unnoticed.  “Hey, let me grab you another,” he said smoothly.  “Gin and tonic, right?”  I nodded.  “Yeah, I need another beer as well.  Maybe you could grab a booth while I get the drinks, someplace a little quieter?”

As he headed into the cluster of people around the bar, I turned and gazed around the room.  There was one booth open, towards the back, so I headed over to stake my claim.  A minute later, Cain was back, grinning as he slid me my drink.  “Tip the bartender early on, and you get the best service,” he told me.

Nodding and smiling as if he had just imparted great wisdom to me, I reached down for my drink.  As my hand closed around the glass, however, I suddenly felt a buzz shooting along my arm.  Was my phone going off?  No, I realized – it was the watch!  The watch on my wrist had lit up and was buzzing loudly, making my hand shake and slop a little of the drink onto the table.

“Something wrong?” Cain asked, his eyes narrowing slightly as he looked down at my watch.

I let go of the glass and held up the watch, stabbing at the buttons until the buzzing stopped.  “No, sorry, just a new watch that one of my friends got me,” I said apologetically.  I reached down for the glass again, but the watch resumed its buzzing, this time after I had lifted the glass up nearly to my lips.

I once again paused, frustrated.  Of course, Alex had gotten me something that malfunctioned at just the wrong time, when I was trying to not seem like a fool in front of a new guy I’d met.  An instant later, however, my eye caught something worrying.

Still holding the glass up before my eyes, I swirled it slightly, now ignoring the buzzing of my watch.  It wasn’t just my imagination!  There was something very faint swirling at the bottom of the glass.  It looked like . . . powder?

My eyes rose from the glass to Cain, and I nearly flinched at his expression.  Cain’s face still portrayed simple concern, but now I could see the hint of rage, of something much more sinister, hiding at the edges.  “Oh my god,” I gasped.  “Did you put something in my drink?”

For a moment, I saw Cain try to maintain his facade, but then it fell away from his face like a mask.  “You stupid bitch,” he hissed at me.  “You aren’t supposed to notice anything!  God, that damn watch of yours had to go and ruin everything, didn’t it?”

I opened my mouth, but he was already getting up from the table, storming off towards the door.  I managed to find my voice.  “Stop him!” I yelled, pointing at Cain as he tried to get away.  “He tried to roofie me!”

The bouncer, a massively built man at the entrance with a shaved head, perked up as soon as he heard my cry.  He looked down as Cain tried to slip past him, and one hand the size of a dinner plate tightened on the back of that leather jacket.  Cain twisted, glaring back at me as he tried to get free.  “Shut up, you whore!  If you had just drank it, this wouldn’t have happened!” he cried.

The bouncer didn’t need anything more, and I watched as he hauled Cain off to the back room of the bar.  I didn’t know what was going to happen to him, and I frankly didn’t care.  I grabbed my jacket and headed out of the bar to catch a ride home.

It wasn’t until I was in the back of the taxi that I looked down at my watch.  It had stopped buzzing and was once again only displaying the time.  “You knew, somehow,” I said out loud, knowing the words were true.  “You knew that I was in danger, and you warned me!”

The watch did nothing, of course, but I felt a sudden surge of connection towards it.  Maybe Alex had finally managed to pick out a suitable present after all.

Rumble Strips, Part I

As I unwrapped the present that my friend Alex had picked out for me, I tried to muster up the expression of delight that I knew I would need.  I knew that his intentions were good, but Alex always managed to find the oddest and most useless gifts.  One year, I had received a small robot that was supposed to wander around my apartment and clean my floor, but instead ended up mostly just sulking in one corner near its charger.  Another time he gave me a disturbingly large golden spider, all metal and springs, that would scurry about horribly with a few twists of a wind-up key.  He meant well, but he could never quite understand that I wasn’t as thrilled with his geeky pursuits.

The wrappings fell away to reveal a small box with a picture of a watch on the front.  A large blurb at the bottom proclaimed the “improved rumble feature” in capital letters.  Surprised, I didn’t have to work quite as hard to seem delighted.  I had been meaning to pick up a watch in any case, and this would save me a few dollars, even if it wasn’t quite my usual style of accessory.

“Oh Alex, I love it!” I exclaimed.  “I’ve been needing a watch!  It’s perfect!”

Across the couch, Alex beamed back at me, and I felt a slight twinge of shame.  I had known for months that he had a crush on me, but I just never felt quite the same way towards him.  Pulling my eyes away, I pulled the watch out of the box, slipping it onto my wrist.  It was a little larger and bulkier than I would have preferred, but the rubber strap fit snugly and the weight wasn’t unreasonable.

I looked back inside the box for the instruction manual, but the box was empty aside from some crumpled wrapping paper.  Glancing down at my wrist, I saw that the watch was already displaying the correct time on its black face.  Oh well, no need then.

The rest of the party flashed by, and I was saying goodbye to my guests at the door.  Alex came up towards the end, and I held out my arms for a hug.

“It’s actually a really cool watch,” he said, as we stepped back away from each other.  “It has this rumble feature, which is supposed to alert you to danger somehow.”

I glanced down at my wrist.  “Danger?” I asked.  “Like if I’m going to be late for an appointment or something?”

“Something like that,” Alex said.  “I don’t really know how it works.  I was hoping you could tell me how it goes.”

I narrowed my eyes at him.  “Oh, I see.  I’m your guinea pig, is that it?  Your test subject for this thing?”

Laughing, Alex threw up his hands in mock surrender.  “Sue, you’re too smart for me!  You’ve seen through my nefarious plans!  I am foiled!”  As he called me Sue, smiling, I felt another twinge inside.  Alex was the only one who shortened Susan down to Sue.  He really was a great guy, and I knew that he would be a wonderful and caring boyfriend.  But I’d just never had that spark, and I couldn’t pursue a relationship when I didn’t have love as a driving force.

After he had left, I went up to bed, placing the watch on my bedside table.  It had a couple buttons, one of which activated a small backlight and one of which seemed to start and stop the second hand, a bit like a stopwatch.  The third button didn’t appear to do anything, however, and I guessed that it perhaps related to the “rumble” feature, whatever that was.  The watch certainly hadn’t rumbled tonight.  I shrugged and closed my eyes, letting sleep come.

Link to Part II