The Last Jedi

I am no Trekkie.

My first real introduction to the Star Wars franchise was The Force Awakens. There, I said it, gasp all you like. I may have had some familiarity with the movies, mythology and characters, but I don’t think I ever watched a film end of end before that. I was too young for the original films in the 80s, and I missed The Phantom Menace etc. in the 1990s. I also think these films need to be watched on a big screen, for one, and if you miss the big screen release then you miss the magic. So, there you have it.

I was captivated by The Force Awakens, even though it dragged a bit and I felt it was not the best film. But it intrigued me. I went back and tried to watch some of the earlier films. Thing is I watched these when I was sick, so they are all somewhat of a blur and I have to say that they struggled to hold me in their small screen (laptop, the scandal) avatar.

[Spoilers ahead]

This one though. So many OMG moments and reasons to hold one’s breath and gasp and also snort at the sheer audacity. Daisy Ridley is the Girl With The Most Perfect Face, dethroning Natalie Portman for the honour, which seems appropriate somehow. Kelly Marie Tran as Rose and Laura Dern as Holdo were awesome (though I did have a wait, they’re making Derne the bad guy, really? moment. I officially have a crush on Laura Dern, with the rest of the thinking world obv.) I find Mike Hammil’s Luke Skywalker a bit … unkempt, but I’ve never really had a thing for Luke, sacrilege I know. It was that floppy hairstyle, I think. Finn… I did like him in the last movie… and I loved that they had him and Rey have a spark, but he’s flattened now and I openly tsked when they had him almost die and then Rose almost die (both times I thought they were dead. I know, that’s the point, I know). It does seem a typically Hollywood sleight of hand to snatch the white heroine away from the black nice guy at the last moment and relegate him to a secondary character romance though Rose does seem like a more fitting partner.

Because Rey is going to end up with Kylo right? The chemistry between them was electric, literally so, a force field. Of course, it could turn out they are brother and sister, like Luke and Leia. There is a bit of an incestuous thing going in this series no? I would scream if that happened though.

Kylo (and Adam – Driver, but he’ll always to some extent be Adam from Girls for me – as a Kylo is masterful) really truly steals the show. Before I watched the film, someone posted on Facebook about how the light side is good an all, but Team Kylo y’all, and I concur. I half wanted Rey to join him. What a pair they would be. The ultimate balance. Ah well, guess we’ll have to wait for that.

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In other news

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Nene broke his arm.

I came home one Friday evening, and my helper walked in the door with Nene and informed me that he’d had a fall. Nene was in tears. I swallowed the urge to act right away, and said we should wait and see if ice helped. For once, my helper was taking an urgent tone and felt like we needed to see a doctor. When I realised that Nene couldn’t even move it a tiny bit without shrieking, I figured we’d better skip the doctor and go right to hospital.

Then came the drama of getting a cab on a Friday night. Our security lady kept calling but couldn’t get one. In the end, one of Nene’s friend’s dad used a taxi app to get us one and was super helpful in requesting the driver to drive slowly since Nene couldn’t be jerked around. At the hospital, I was informed that I could only see a GP and get an X-ray and nothing else could be done at night. If I wanted emergency treatment, I’d have to go to a public hospital ER. I opted to see a GP and get the X-ray, which showed that Nene’s arm was broken (not a hairline fracture that could be fixed with a cast). The GP recommended he be admitted that night, which I thought was excessive but I went along with it.

Nene was admitted to the children’s ward and once we were settled in, V, who had been out on his once in three months drinking with office colleagues, and my helper left. To my surprise the orthopedic surgeon showed up 15 minutes later and after examining Nene suggested we have surgery that night itself because the swelling would blow up if we left it till morning. While they got the operating theatre ready and the insurance sorted, I managed to put Nene to sleep. He was woken at about midnight, and I was asked to move him into a wheelchair. This was the worst part as he was groggy and the nurse didn’t give him enough time to get up on his own which he could, but asked me to carry him only the wheelchair and his arm moved and he started screaming in pain.

He then got really scared of going into surgery, although he really is the bravest kid. They let me be with him right up to the entrance of the OT but I had to leave after. An hour of so of pacing outside and the doctor came out to tell me the operation was fine but Nene was crying. When they wheeled him out he was hysterical. It was better when he saw me but he couldn’t stop crying. He began begging for water but I couldn’t give him any because you can’t eat or drink for four hours after an anaesthesia.

The next two hours were the longest of my life, as I had to stave of requests for water from a hysterical child. I finally wet a towel and used it to wipe his dry lips, but it only helped marginally and served to remind him how badly he wanted water. The whole thing reminded me of the scene in the Bible during the passion when Jesus is crucified and begging for water and some soldier puts a cloth on a stick soaked with vinegar and gives it to him. I remember once telling my mum as a kid that I didn’t think Mary had to have had an immaculate conception to be holy, it’s the mere fact of being the mother of a child who grew up to be so unusual and was punished for this with a cruel death that made her worthy of veneration, and when my children suffer I think of Mary even though I am not religious anymore.

I would here like to thank Steve Jobs and team at Apple for inventing the iPad and my husband for pre-loading videos onto it, because this is what calmed (somewhat) my son and gave him something else to focus on besides his pain, fear and thirst. He finally fell asleep and I was able to stave off requests for water for 5 hours. When he woke up we did little sips, until the nurse came in and informed me that he could have breakfast. He ate like a fiend, without any signs of nausea, and though groggy and weak, I knew he would be fine.

I would also like to thank V’s company for giving the whole family great health insurance. We could have handled this through the public system but we would have faced a long wait and would have been roughly treated. As it happened, we moved from one checkpoint to the next pretty seamlessly given the circumstances and had the benefit of a private room and room service which does make life so much easier.

V, my helper and a very tentative Mimi visited in the morning, and I traded places with V and went home for some much needed rest. By evening, the doctor pronounced Nene fit to go home. He was groggy for a couple of days, which I now realise was most likely due to the strong antibiotics, but by the end of the week, he was up and about. The problem then was how to entertain a child that is not allowed too much physical activity and who cannot use his right hand. I got his teacher to send back his school books with Mimi so he could do his homework. Mimi was a sweetheart and acted as his writer through that week. What can I say, the girl loved homework.

The next week he was back at school. His bestie invented “walking tag” so he didn’t have to run during recess, and would carry his bag up to class every day. He could even take part in the school play where he did us proud with the few lines he had to say. Last week, I had a follow-up appointment, and the doctor said his arm is healing well and we can remove the cast mid-January. In the meantime, Nene seems to be able to do a lot with his one hand and the fingers on his right hand, so our challenge is going to be making sure he doesn’t over-do it.

The job search annotated

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This process has been “interesting”. It’s been a long ride since I actually started way back in July. Some things I learned along the way:

1. Don’t undervalue yourself. Though it’s hard not to when you’re getting no interest. The fact that I got no interest with 15 years of experience behind me rattled me no end. I entered the PhD thinking I had an escape route if the academic career didn’t work out, and I was stunned to realise that the door might have slammed shut behind me.

2. In the event, it turned out it hadn’t. It was a question of timing. Companies put out an ad and they like you to available in a month. I was applying two to three months in advance. Frankly, the entire process from start to finish (joining date) does take two months so I don’t know why companies are stuck on candidates who can be available in a one-month frame. Their loss I guess.

3. If you’re at the mid-senior level or above, you should use personal connections. Well, I guess at any level but at the mid-senior level, the field narrows. I don’t know how HR screens, but they’re doing something wrong.

4. Be persistent. Keep emailing the concerned person, especially if you have the line manager’s contact. You’d think people hiring would be eager to find someone, but especially in busy companies they sometimes don’t have the time. Both the offers I got, I nudged and nudged. It surprised me that this works but it does.

5. If you have a PhD, hide it. I started off explaining the PhD on my cover letters, then I stopped. I tucked it away in my resume, and I realised that several of the people I interviewed with hadn’t even noticed it. Heh. I don’t know if putting the PhD upfront in the beginning was the reason for me not getting any interest, but it well could be. There are people, especially academics, who think that having a PhD raises your stature in the job market – it does not, unless it’s related to the job in question. In the worst case, it will doom your chances because potential employers will question whether you can function in the real world, not to mention the insecurity of having a lesser academic degree themselves. I don’t have a superiority complex because of my PhD but it is assumed I do.

6. Try not to rush into the first offer your get. I tend to do this, because I want closure. The job hunt process is exhausting in a way. It is time-consuming and emotionally draining with it’s incessant highs and lows. When the last invitation to the next round of interviews came in after I had decided on the newspaper offer, I melted down for the exact opposite reason that I used to lose it at the beginning of my job search – now I had too many choices and I just wanted to pick one and be done with it. The tendency is to pick the first one. Ideally, I should have had the grit to stick it out for as long as possible and see what was out there until you get something that suits you best. I didn’t, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

7. Headhunters are pretty useless. I don’t know what they do. Okay, I know they’re supposed to screen, but they don’t seem to do anything much different from a typical HR. Moreover, they recruit for a job and once done, they don’t maintain contact at all. Okay, maybe I’m supposed to contact them, but wouldn’t it work two ways. I find it weird, that of all the headhunters I’ve been in touch with, none really followed up after the one job fell through. It is strange that when they work in a field, they won’t have other opportunities coming up that the same candidate could apply to. I had one useful conversation with a headhunter about salary scales and where I should be pitching myself, but other than that, I found them pointless and an extra step in the process that was a waste of time for me.

8. On the other hand, online recruitment websites are great. I found LinkedIn particularly useful. I should do more with my LinkedIn profile, but I don’t. I did upload a photo though. Get on all the online job aggregator sites and see what’s out there. I was on two sets of keyword alerts, the academic one and the editing one. Every morning after I’d open my eyes, I’d screen to these jobs, shortlist some and apply. I’ve lost track of how many I applied to. I wrote cover letters like a machine. I could start a side business in this. In fact, I actually polished the bios of all the employees of a friend’s company for a fee after she was impressed by mine.

9. When I signed up for one of the online sites, I could offered a free resume consultation. I took the offer, expecting it to be some generic comments. Turned out they sent me a personalized and detailed critique of my resume, obviously offering to polish it for me for a fee. I turned them down, but I took some of their critique on board. I barely acted on it, however, because I just didn’t have the time to overhaul my resume. I landed the offers I did with my sub-standard resume and networking and straight out cold applications. So there’s that.

10. When you have two possible career paths before you, you have to be clear what you want. I wasn’t for a longest time, until my unhappiness brought it to a head. Even then, I thought out my options clearly given my current situation. I talked to career starters in academia and got a realistic idea of what my life would be life and the money would be like if I stayed in the game. I talked to people in academia in India, and realised that given my need to restrict myself to one city at the start of my career, my options were limited. I wanted out of academia for emotional reasons, but I thought it through rationally. The fact is I don’t have the energy to gamble my reserves of time, money and EQ (what little of it I possess) on a career that would take at least two years to get reasonably started, if at all. If I was enjoying the work at the moment, it would have made the gamble more appealing and probably I would have stuck with it. In the event, it wasn’t and I found I didn’t have the stamina. I won’t say that this is the end of academia for me – I still have to do my defense and formally get my degree, and if a fulltime job opens up, I might apply. I might beef up publications which will help that, something teaching gives me no time to do. I plan to write more about my academic interests online (including here), again something I’ve wanted to do for ages but haven’t had the time to.

11. The reason you need to be clear about what you want is because everyone you talk to will have an opinion, and many most opinions, though well meaning, are based on that person’s own need not your own. A lot of people found it hard to accept me dropping academia after a PhD. I had to comfort them and explain (I do have a tendency to overexplain that I need to curb). I got their objections, but I had already been through that process and was beyond it. A lot of it is tied up to a preconceived idea of what should happen and status. I won’t say I’m immune to the prestige of certain jobs, but it’s never been my primary motivation. I like tangible things like how happy I actually am in the job – can I do it without losing my mind and my life outside the job – and money. Yes, their reaction contained disappointment on my behalf, but tinged with their own mixed up feelings. Many well meaning people liked the idea of having a friend who is an academic, just as when I was with the newspaper, they liked the idea of a friend who was a hotshot (kinda) reporter. Even when choosing between the newspaper job with its cool brand and the more stable corp comms jobs, people had a stake in telling me what to do, which is influenced by their own biases towards certain jobs that have a higher status. I can see this because I also hold those biases. But I refuse to act on them, at least not to the detriment of the two things that I really value in a job.

12. Particularly in academia, which frankly is cultish, there is this feeling if you choose to opt out you failed. I won’t say this doesn’t affect me but a) I have already have a very clear view of life outside academia and can compare the two somewhat more objectively than people who have never been outside academia (the case with most academics). People in academia bitch and moan about the neoliberal takeover of universities but if you cite these very things as reasons for leaving, they look at you strangely (or sympathetically, as my supervisor did at lunch yesterday).  b) I came across this post on The Professor is In (which is a great resource for grad students and young academics) on ‘recovering academics’ (I can’t find the exact one I read which was brill so not linking to it, but just google and you’ll find many). I knew I was likely going to be one – a person outside academia who thought like an academic in her free time – and it gave me comfort that were people out there in the same boat.

 

 

So

Those of you who have been following my intermittent updates might have cottoned onto the fact that I was not happy. The irony is that I was not happy … with pretty much if not exactly the situation that I had been hoping for before the PhD ended.

I had been hoping to get some teaching opportunities so I could work towards an academic career and I did. I got a decent amount of work even though the money was not great. You would also know that I had been wavering over whether I should pursue the low paying (for the short to medium term) academic path or ditch it and go back to commercial work. In the event, I didn’t get much commercial interest and having committed to teaching careers I was loathe to renege.

And then the semester started. And the reality of teaching FOUR classes hit me. To non-teaching folk this doesn’t seem like much but these are three hour lectures in which I have to prep all the material (to keep a bunch of 18-21 year olds for whom English is a second language engaged fir said three hours). In addition, there were a tonne of admin tasks from the three low paying gigs. On top of that, I took on some freelance work because a) wanted the money b) wanted to hold on to the clients in case I didn’t get teaching jobs the next semester.

That’s the thing with part-time teaching. Until possibly you have built your cred, you aren’t guaranteed a job next semester. You aren’t even guaranteed that you’ll be offered the same course you taught before. Even when you’ve built relationships, budgets change. Contracts are also confirmed last minute so don’t know up to the last minute whether you’ll have a gig or not.

Given the negatives, I found teaching part time too much work for too little reward. I was told by teachers that typically only 10% of the class will be engaged. In Hong Kong this is exacerbated by teaching in English to kids who are not fluent in English and the three hour timings coupled with kids who sleepy because of staying up all night/extracurricular plus the new phenomenon of iPhones/laptops in class and the distractions. Students see themselves as customers to be entertained and know the power of the teaching evaluation. In addition, there is soooo much admin work and ironically the lowest paid job require the most documentation.

At one point, at the height of my frustration, I started applying again to jobs outside academia. A conversation with a friend persuaded me that I should use my network. I don’t know why I’ve been hesitant in the past – mainly the fiercely independent streak that wants to a) do it all myself b) not be obligated to anyone. The fact though is that building the contacts that I would ask for help has been work (some were old colleagues who know my work) and whether I am obligated or not, I help people.

Slowly I began to get call backs to interviews and then suddenly in a flood towards the end of November I found myself in high demand. It came to a point where I was juggling offers and dictating my expectations. I had started out putting out a very low salary expectation, convinced that my PhD made me commercially unhirable. The HR of one company actually wrote to me to ask why I had specified ‘that figure’. They disregarded it and made me an offer that not only met but exceeded my previous salary, one that I was convinced was over inflated and would not be able to match. That happened right after a meeting with a headhunter who told me I was undervaluing myself and should ask for more.

The fact is that I was desperate. I wanted stable employment and I was willing to compromise heavily to get it. I couldn’t play the bluffing game … until someone made me a fair offer and then I wasn’t bluffing anymore. I had been spooked by the lack of interest in the past few months, and I’m still not sure why that was but I believe it was timing. Closer to the date I was available, the offers really picked up.

With one offer in hand, I was in a position to negotiate. I had to turn down the first offer I got though I did give them the opportunity to up their offer. Every time I though I was done with the process, I got asked to another round.

Finally, I signed with the good offer that I had to work with the newspaper I had in the past. Their package was surprisingly generous, the only catch being that there might be some weekend work and the leave allowance sucks (but that’s HK). Even after I signed that contract, I was contacted by a company I had written off after the first interview.

I’ll admit I just wanted the process to end. V pushed me to continue, saying that I should be open to better offers – well, basically a better deal on leave and working hours. I had a meltdown because I just wanted to sign off and be done with it. In the end, I wrote back and told the company my expectations and they couldn’t match them, so it looks like I’ll be going back to journalism. Which I’m not unthrilled about.

I haven’t had time to celebrate, except the first flush of joy when those initial offers came in, because I’ve always been in a sort of limbo with new offers coming in that I’m forced to consider, but I have an inkling I’m going to be just fine. Exhausted, thrown in at the deep end, but okay.

Mad men done but not dusted

Finally, I finished watching all 7 seasons of Mad Men. Yeah I know, the series ended three years ago, but what can I say, I just got on board.

Mad Men was my pseudo-therapy these last three months that have been hard on me professionally. It allowed me to immerse myself in something absorbing and beautiful and forget the stress of juggling the too-many classes I have to teach.

Some (obviously belated) thoughts [SPOILER ALERT]:

  1. I’m on board with the finale clincher. It’s in character for Don Draper not to change but to have a big advertising epiphany. If he had gone all hippie and reformed, it woudn’t have been convincing.
  2. I did find it unsettling that Don did not go back to Betty and his kids considering the circumstances though. That was weird.
  3. It was also weird that Peggy went from that call with Don to the whole thing with loving Stan. Though of course, I’m glad to see that happen. Fan-service or not, it helped take the edge of the Don bits.
  4. It kind of sucks that Don and Roger not to mention Ted remained at Mcann. Wonder how Mcann feels about being the big, bad guy.
  5. I feel like I’m the only one who liked Megan as a character. I identified with her in some ways. But her going from “You don’t owe me anything” to this tirade at Don was weird.
  6. In fact, the final season had characters changing without seeming motivation. For example, Joan turning on Don… and then they’re friends again? I also never understood how and why Harry suddenly became the bad guy. In the end, he showed loyalty to Don. But they wrote him out of the partnership anyway. Oh well. He was at least consistently a creep in the last few seasons.
  7. Through the series, I went through identifying with different characters. First Betty (!), then Megan and finally Don (generally for the malaise and feeling like one had reached rock bottom).
  8. Don as a character grew on me to the extent that now I feel like he’s a part of my life. As is everyone else of course. But I actually never thought much of Don in the first episode, and by the final season he had become such a tired character. And yet, you can’t help rooting for him (maybe because he’s so handsome. But also, in moments like that dance with Peggy).
  9. And of course, my favourite character is Peggy. May we all be a Peggy and may we all not only get our Stan (without the beard though) but also strut down an office corridor of the biggest in the business, cigarette hanging from lips, dark glasses on and a painting of an octupus pleasuring a lady under our arm.
  10. Oh god, I have a sneaking feeling I’m going to watch them all again just to fill the void.

Some Rainbow love

I’ve been wanting to read Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell for oh about three years but when I finally got hold of her couple of her books they were her adult fiction. I enjoyed them and was pretty sure the book that made her reputation would be better. 

Somehow I could never get my hands on a library copy though. 

Then suddenly, I spotted Fangirl in the kids section of all places. I grabbed it and ditched one of the picture books I’d picked out for the kids. V rolled his eyes at me. 

And I loved it. This book goes on my virtual must read (again) bookshelf. It’s nothing profound, but just the quirkiness of the characters and the authenticity of the experience (the disorientation of freshmen year in a college dorm if youre an introvert) itself. There’s also the whole wanting to be a writer part, loving, nay needing to write that I identified with. And  And certain kinds of writing not being given due credit.  Then there’s the sisterhood conflict and that always gets me. But what really got to me was the fact that she had two other books going on in that story – excerpts from the Simon Snow fantasy series (a thinly veiled Harry Potteresque phenomenon) and the fanfic that the main character – the Fangirl of the title – writes. Whatever one feels about YA  a genre it’s takes some writing chops to do that. 

Then I read Eleanor and Park. I enjoyed it, a sweet teenage love story, an interesting even original one that is also about being a misfit, but I didn’t love it as much as Fangirl. Read both, I’d say. 

When the kids say it better 

Why is there only a queen bee and no king bee? Nene asks.
I want to say because men don’t need women. That a queen is enough. 
Instead I try for biological diplomacy. There are many small king bees instead of just one. Nene looks confused. 
No, I know why, Mimi pipes up. Because there can be mums without a dad. 
You’re right Mimi, I say thrilled. I wish I take credit but I think it’s her friend A who doesn’t have a dad. 
Then Nene pitches in. There can be two dads too. They can get married. L and I like each other but we don’t we don’t want to do that. 

Okay honey you don’t have to marry L. 

End of a…something

(Not an era. A bite-sized period of time.)*

Our fish Chow Chow died today. We called him Chow Chow because he was always hungry and ate a lot. We got him as a little black moor goldfish. He grew enormous and towards the end was more orange than black (kind of like the US presidency I guess).

Nene woke us up with the news. I have some bad news, he said gravely. Chow Chow’s dead. I am struck by the calmness with which the kids deal with death (at least of the fish).* I guess they had practice. Chow Chow and Goldie (the smaller fish who survived, despite sharing tank space with a gregarious companion) were the two that lasted out of the six or so fish V bought. The man in the shop had told him that six fish would be fine in the tank he had actually gone to purchase. The shopkeeper was nuts, the fish were too crowded and fought each other, until we – novice fish keepers – realised and separated them.

How we got the fish is an interesting story itself. Nene met a boy in the playground who was looking for someone to take on his fish as his family was moving and they couldn’t take their tank. He offered to take the fish. I came home one evening to find a woman I didn’t know at my doorstep with a plastic container with two fish. She pleaded with me to take them as they were leaving the next day and her son would be upset if the fish didn’t find a home. I reluctantly agreed.

I’m not even sure Goldie is one of the original two we inherited. One of those died and V went to the shop to get food, a tank and came back with more fish so I’m not sure which is which. Chow Chow was one of the new ones.

I did wonder about the ethics of keeping fish in a tank. Our tank is small and doesn’t have anything in it apart from the fish. I tried adding plants and something for the fish to swim into but they seemed stressed by these additions. I tried adding stones but Chow Chow would move and rattle them all night and at one point, it looked like the tank glass would crack. So we removed everything. The fish were alive and fed, but it didn’t seem like a good life. I toyed with releasing them into a pond, but I wasn’t sure they’d survive there.

Chow Chow solved this dilemma by dying. Our tank filter conked off yesterday and we didn’t think to leave the tank open. Goldie was fine, but maybe Chow Chow being a bigger fish needed more oxygen. I think we had him for over a year. Maybe it was his time to go? I will miss him. He made us smile. Another feeding time he was like a dog, pushing up against the glass, his tail wagging. There is something calming about looking at the graceful movements of a fish. I never even liked fish before they were thrust upon me, but like very few things, they grew on me.

 

 

*How is time measured? Could the lifespan of a fish be one measure?

**Two days ago I read my kids the story about Sadako and the cranes. I didn’t realise that the story in a children’s picture book, would openly deal with death, and the death of a child. But I calmly continued till the end, and then told Mimi about the war and the terrible bomb. Mimi had a lot of questions about how Sadako died, what exactly was wrong with her, she tried to find a way to say that maybe something Sadako did like leaving the hospital was why she died but not just that there is an illness that has no cure. I wanted to agree with her, it would have been easy, but I gently explained that nothing Sadako could have done would have prevented her dying, the illness was too strong. Yet, she lives on in her beautiful cranes. The idea sat with Mimi but by the next day, when she asked me to read the story to Nene, she had accepted it. Nene’s reaction was to say “Hong Kong won’t ever be bombed because we don’t fight with anyone.” I told Nene Hong Kong was part of China and the bigger country did have quarrels with other places. They wanted to see picture of the bomb. They were stunned by the size of the conflagration and the mushroom cloud.  (Nene noticed that the cloud in one photo seemed to be smiling). But I stressed that after Hiroshima, the world decided that the bombs were too terrible to ever be used again. I hope this is true.

 

Things that keep me up at night

  1. Keeping students engaged for THREE hours
  2. Timing material accurately so that it is exactly three-hours long
  3. Weird admin things that I suddenly while peeing at 2 am realize I forgot to do.
  4. Teaching so much I cannot find time to write so that I will be condemned to forever teaching so much.
  5. Finding a job outside academia to escape all this.
  6. Finding a job outside academia and realising I forsook all this.

I can’t win.