Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The first part of a very long story

I don’t do a whole lot of entirely personal posts on my blog anymore because… well frankly, I don’t think they’re as interesting to most readers.  My blog is almost reaching its first anniversary though so I think it’s time to tell the story of how it started.  And even if it’s not that time, this is my blog so I make the rules around this joint.


This little baby blog of mine started as an entirely different animal.  It was truly a “personal” blog in every sense; I posted once every Sunday solely to recap the previous week.  If you know my life now, which consists almost entirely of work, brunch, and a bit of running here and there (otherwise avoiding the outdoors as much as possible), you’ll wonder what I wrote about.

Well, I had a lot to write about.  I have mentioned it several times that a year ago, I moved from South Florida to Chicago.  But that sentence, or even a paragraph, really doesn’t give even a sliver of the story.

That story started in 2012.  I couldn’t tell you the exact date but I can tell you exactly what I was doing that day: I was frantically scrubbing my hands in a lab sink, wondering if that tingling sensation was toxic chemicals seeping into my bloodstream or just paranoia.  Either way, from my middle finger to my wrist was feeling a bit prickly or I was feeling a lot panicky.

You see, when I accepted my first job out of college as a research technician in a biochemistry lab in South Florida, I didn't know what to expect.  I didn’t know what to expect about living alone for the first time, states away from my family in Maryland.  I didn’t know what to expect from electric bills and rent.  And I didn’t know what to expect from my job because, well, I really wasn’t sure what a research technician did.


It turned out that for someone who likes doing research, my job was awesome.  I was treated more like a PhD student or postdoc than a research technician, i.e. I was given a lot of freedom to do my own experiments.  I got to use fancy equipment and had plenty of opportunity to nod as smart people gave unintelligible lectures that I didn’t understand.

The only problem was that I didn’t like research.  This was as shocking to me as to anyone else because I find the subject of biochemistry genuinely fascinating.  I loved learning about it and talking about it… just not doing it.

So when I was frantically scrubbing the hand I had accidently swiped with one of the many cancerous, toxic chemicals that litter a biochemistry lab, my second thought was, “What am I doing here?”  (My first thought was, “WHAT THE EFF, AM I GOING TO LOSE MY HAND?!”)

You might think I was being dramatic and I probably was, but the fear wasn’t completely irrational.  In the nine months I worked at the lab, I had seen two of my lab mates get carted off to the hospital for various burns and spills.  One of them had to strip off his pants as some unknown acid burned holes through them.

And that’s not to mention your run of the mill, “What’s that on your hand?” “Oh, some sort of rash.  I spilled something on it yesterday, no big deal” conversations that were somehow routine and alarming at the same time.


A pretty big hazard from something you don’t even really like to begin with.

So I started Google-ling.  Specifically, I Googled, “What can I do with a biochemistry degree?”

Sadly, there’s not a ton you can do with a biochemistry degree if you don’t like doing biochemistry.  But there were a few options, one of which was patent law.  Basically, patent lawyers and agents talk to inventors or scientists who did the work, write about that work, and then argue with the Patent Office about why that work should be patented.

Science, writing, and arguing: my favorite three things after brunch and Derrick.

The thing is, even the best writer and/or BS-er would have had a hard time putting together a persuasive (and honest) resume with the experience I had.  That experience being nothing.  The only thing I knew about patent law is what I could find on the first 3 pages of Google.

So I did what any respectable job seeker would do: I played up anything and everything else in a way that made it sound relevant.  Ran cross country? I’ll be able to write patents for days without water.  Live in Florida?  Stuffy offices will be no problem for me!

For almost two months, I wrote and re-wrote cover letters, desperately trying any angle to persuade a patent firm to hire me as a paralegal.  I tried the “dedicated student” angle.  The “young and willing to learn” angle.  I tried humor and I tried big words.  The “I’ll make your coffee every morning and walk your dog if you just please give me a chance” angle.  Everything.  And all I got in return was stony silence and the occasional rejection letter.

So when I heard back one afternoon from a firm in Chicago, I was so excited that I was basically looking for apartments before my first interview.  Not taking the job was never an option (so I guess actually being offered the job was extremely convenient).

Looking back on it now, I’m not sure why I didn’t experience any of the hesitation of, well, a normal person.  Chicago existed as much to me as Hogwarts did, after all.  I’d never been there, didn’t know anyone there.  I was vaguely aware that it was near a lake but other than that… it was just some dot on a map up there around Canada.


Not to mention that I’d never lived in a city.  Never taken a bus by myself, never hailed a cab, never had the opportunity to not feed the pigeons, never wondered if the homeless man on the corner was going to chase after me if I denied his plea for a sandwich.  All of this on top of the fact that I really had absolutely no idea what you did as a patent paralegal.

The only thing that gave me any semblance of hesitation was Derrick.  Derrick is from the Gulf Coast of Florida and we had been doing a “three hour by car” long distance relationship since graduation.  And that was very hard for me.  I’m sure it was also hard for him but he was in his hometown, where he had family and friends.  I was living in my apartment alone, my closest friend an hour north in my college town.  West Palm Beach is a nice place but it doesn’t give a 22 year old a lot of opportunity to meet people who aren’t 82 year old snowbirds.

When I told Derrick I was going, we never talked about what it meant for our relationship.  I think we were both trying to ignore it.  But we both thought about it; how could we not, after all?

And that, I think, is enough for now (assuming that you made it this far).  As the title of this posts suggest though, this is not a long story; this is a very long story.  A very long story that I will finish tomorrow.

Until then, happy Tuesday.  Friday's coming... I can feel it.



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