how i became a morning person–and stopped peeing in the shower


Most of my life, I’ve been a night owl. From age 5 to 25, the three most dreaded words in the English language were:

“Are you up yet?”

In high school, my heart would pound at the sound of my mother’s footsteps at the end of the house, growing  louder as she approached my room—much like the music in a horror movie crescendos right before the grisly deed is done. After scraping my leaden body out of bed, I’d take at least two naps before school—usually one in the shower. That’s right, in the shower. I’d be so overwhelmed with exhaustion that I would crouch down and rest my head on my knees while the water streamed around me.

Looking back on it, in those days, I’d weirdly transitioned a number of daily acts of living to the shower—including brushing my teeth. I had an obsession with efficiency, and I truly believed that brushing my teeth while showering would save me a precious two extra minutes (to sleep, of course). Now, when I look back on this obsession, I worry: was I peeing in there as well?! Now, I honestly don’t remember doing this, but I admit it’s entirely possible—especially if I thought it would win me back another 30 seconds or so of snoozing. (Sorry, Mom).

In college, convinced I didn’t hit my peak productive zone til after 10, I’d sit in my lonely single dorm room and blare Les Miserables until the wee hours of the morning, drawing organic molecules, writing in my journal about my profound loneliness, and eating too much ramen.

Then, during my brief life as a commuting, corporate city-dweller, I would cry bitterly as I dug my car out of the snow during frigid pre-dawn Chicago mornings—mostly over having to get out of bed. Continuing my obsession with efficiency, I’d eat breakfast and do my makeup and hair while sitting in the morning traffic, and congratulate myself on the five extra minutes I’d saved. Sometimes I’d nap in the parking lot before going in. That stopped when, looking down during a presentation to the head honchos, I discovered I’d drooled all over my suit lapel,  which I then cleverly blamed on a run-in with the water fountain.

That all changed during grad school. Now, I rise before the sun—even on weekends. I’ve become that annoying person who won’t make plans after 9pm, and falls asleep during movies. Ideally, I’ll have at least two to three hours before I leave for work, to sip coffee, to read, to write, or go for a run.

I’d like to attribute this new “early to bed, early to rise” mentality on my work ethic, or some zen-like need to kick off my day with meditation.  The truth is, it’s bribery. Of both me, and my cat. (There I go, breaking another rule on how to avoid looking like a crazy cat lady).

See, what happened is that when I started getting up earlier, I started feeding Pierre Escargot a treat. I mean—getting out of bed is hard work. Maybe the most difficult task of the day. So I’d reward him with a treat and myself a bowl of chocolate-covered sugar bombs, and we’d get going.

What I didn’t realize is that I was effectively conditioning him to wake up earlier and earlier. Each morning, Pierre would get up increasingly early, stomp all over the bed—and me—before standing  on my chest and wailing (or “trumpeting,” as I like to call it). I’m not sure if this is better or worse for Birdbrain, who doesn’t like the early call time but probably prefers it to my previous habit of hitting snooze for a solid hour.

Regardless, for better or for worse, I’m no longer a night owl. And I definitely no longer sleep—or pee—in the shower. Now get me some sugar bombs, and let’s go.


on rejection: in writing, science, and life


Let’s face it, rejection stinks.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but an “experiment” I was working all summer failed on Wednesday. For my research, I write statistical software programs that sometimes take a long time to run. And sometimes, they take a loooong time to fail. You wait for weeks, only to find that you violated some statistical assumption–or more infuriatingly, that a misplaced comma or errant semi-colon blew up your entire program.

Now, I know: it’s science. (Or social science, as the case may be). Trial and error is inevitable. And I think hope that some of my work is salvageable, but still: disappointing.

Then, last night, while I was gleefully sipping Shiraz with my best childhood friend, I got an email  (damn smartphone!) that my first dissertation paper had gotten rejected by not the first but the second journal I’d submitted it to. Ouch.

Now, I’ve been around long enough to know that articles are often rejected, and that most good journals only accept a small fraction of the articles they receive. But not long enough not to be stung by the rejection. When this happens to my friends, I counsel them: don’t take it personally! But, let’s be real, it’s hard not to take it personally: this work you’ve slaved over, spent hours rewriting and revising, only to have the methods, the writing, or even worse, the idea, has been bounced back to square one? It stinks.

On my more optimistic days, I don’t mind, because I know that in the process of revising, in pushing through the mental and verbal barriers, the work will transform into something better.

But other days, I can’t help but wonder: am I cut out for this? I don’t mean this in a whiny, wah-wah-wah poor me mindset. I mean, objectively speaking: how do you know when failure (or a string of them) are simply barriers to push through? Obstacles that one day, perched upon a mountaintop of success, you will look back and scoff at? Or, when do you read the failures as signs that you should change course, redirect and refocus in a different direction?

How do you know when the data you’ve collected are conclusive, or just blips on the radar?  Continue reading