Monday, October 22, 2007

Water Off A Duck

This weekend as I was contemplating some home improvement projects, I remembered an incident from when I first moved here. I arrived at my present job with an infant, I was coming up for tenure after only being at my new university for a year, and the tenure bar was higher than at my first university. My husband and I bought a house soon after arriving here, but we didn’t have time to think about the house or garden for the first few years that we lived here.

One of the technicians in my department lived in the neighborhood, and he and his wife (a grad student) frequently went for walks in the evening. Their walking route occasionally went past our house.

When this couple was about to leave the city to go to new jobs and I was saying goodbye to them, the technician informed me that there was something he had wanted to tell me for as long as I'd lived in my house: every time he walked by my house, it really bothered him and his wife that I had shades in my windows rather than curtains. He then proceeded to describe what he thought were the perfect curtains for my windows. Perhaps I could even make the curtains myself!

Aside from the fact that I didn’t want curtains and I don’t know how to sew anything more than the occasional button, at that time of my life, the attractiveness of my windows was quite far down on my list of priorities. Tech Guy didn’t understand that, but I sometimes wonder if he does now that his wife is a professor and they have kids and a house.

At about that same time, one of my senior faculty colleagues described me as a swimming waterfowl. He said that, at the surface, I appeared to be gliding along gracefully and effortlessly, but he knew that I was paddling furiously underwater at top speed. Those who heard this analogy then disagree now about whether he compared me to a swan or a duck, but whichever it was, I took it as a compliment. I certainly didn’t feel like I was doing anything gracefully, but it was nice that someone thought I was.

Ten years later, I am not so duck (or swan)-like, and my garden (if not my house) looks great, but I’m still not going to get (or make) curtains.


Anonymous said...


I found this post both hilarious and reassuring. My husband and I moved to a new university with a very young baby and deliberately bought a house that wouldn't need any major repairs for quite a while. It's a few years later and the yard has been left to its own devices (aside from the occasional mowing). I wonder sometimes what the neighbors think, but I don't care enough to do anything about it. Nor do I have time to do anything about it at the moment, even if I did care.

One other comment - I recall one of my PhD advisors being a bit smug when he witnessed my husband and me struggling to figure out how to juggle research, a kid, and teaching. Not because he is a jerk (he's not) but because he was wondering if we were finally realizing why he sometimes had trouble juggling his advisor duties at the same time that he was teaching, doing research, and parenting his 4 kids...

Anonymous said...

But, this is where the balance issue comes in from several posts ago. The people who can't stand having a house without curtains, and _want_ to make them, see this life as unbalanced.

Now, mind you, I think an R1 career is probably incompatible with someone who needs to make curtains and have children (it seems like you get to choose one hobby, and children counts as one). But, it just goes to show how different people order priorities.

I think most swans are actually swimming furiously under the water. The question I wonder about is whether the waterfowl that are furiously struggling above the water are actually making progress, or, if like in ice-skating, one of the requirements is that you have to make it look easy.

Ms.PhD said...

I cringe at the thought of anyone from work seeing our house or yard.
And I do the evil laugh of victory when someone else from work invites us to a party at their house.

The waterfowl analogy is great, but as a role model it can be dangerous, as discussed on previous posts.

Anonymous said...

I think I'm more like waterfowl flying in hurrican-class winds...

Anonymous said...

Waterfowl - phuyee!! As a grad student, I see myself more like a stone that has been skipped across a wide river. Sure I'm skipping across now, but what's the realistic probability that I end up making it to the other shore (tenure) without sinking like a--well, rock?