In which I make the best of things

BluebellsGreetings from the tail end of a typical British bank holiday, where the big highlight was gardening in the rain.

In all seriousness, it was rather lovely to be out tidying up the flower beds in the fresh air, among the blooming lilac and the first roses, hacking order from chaos through water-splattered specs. (When I was a kid I always longed for windscreen wipers for glasses, and even though the year 2024 sounds like science fiction, I’m still waiting.)

It made a nice break from grant writing, at least. I’m on the home stretch, finishing up the last of four I’ve been wrangling this spring, probably the one I’m most excited about. It’s due next week, and I’m confident everything is under control. The competition will be tough, but I’ve got a great foundation, building on our published work in a way that seems logical but also timely and exciting.

It bothers me that I seem to spend most of my research time writing grants – singing for my supper instead of eating, let alone enjoying the meal. I’m painfully aware that there are a few manuscripts that would go more quickly if I only had more time to spend helping their lead authors out. But the way I’m funded at the university, I have to prioritise writing the bids that will bring in small fractions of salary, cobbling together my two days a week buyout from teaching. It’s not easy to mastermind a continuous 40% salary, but just when I think I’m going to default, something always comes through for me. I could honestly do without the stress, but having lived with it for nearly a decade, I’ve learned how to keep the anxiety largely at bay.

I always feel guilty working evenings, weekends and holidays, though, which I’ve been doing a lot recently. At least my family are understanding, for which I’m grateful. When I have to work through my down time, I sometimes try to make it seem more bearable by surrounding myself with a special environment, to make the labour feel more like a holiday. Normally this time of year I’d park my laptop on the bistro table under the grape arbour by the little cascade and pond that R. built me. But this spring has been more or less a cold wash-out, so I’ve spent a lot more time in our summerhouse cabin with a fire in the wood stove to keep away the chill.

a cabin with wood stove

The cabin is my sanctuary. It’s quiet, bright, smells of seasoned pine, is carefully decorated and offers a lovely view over the lush back garden terraces. When the sun shines, a fountain splashes in a stone trough on the porch; when it rains, the drops tap comfortingly on the roof. Birdsong filters through: robin, wren, blackbird, dunnock, tit. The wood stove is a marvel of efficiency, burning slowly through kiln-dried logs which I spice up with fragrant dried bark from our eucalyptus tree, making the interior toasty-warm. A small glass of wine does not impair my intellect.

In this space, I can pretend that the overtime is pleasure, is voluntary, is what I would have chosen to spend my holiday on if I’d truly had a choice.

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
This entry was posted in Academia, Careers, Domestic bliss, Gardening, Research, Staring into the abyss, The profession of science, Work/life balance. Bookmark the permalink.

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