Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Having completed my first post-doctoral research position in New York, I found a second post-doc position in Indiana with a new professor, but he would be in Boston for another month. So, I joined him where he was still a post-doc as a “visiting scientist”. Post-docs don’t pay very much money (at all), and as a visiting scientist, I was literally paid nothing at all. I found a room to sub-let, and the guys were kind enough to even let me sleep on an old left-over disease-ridden stained mattress.
The apartment was walking distance from the university. I don’t remember exactly when I was there, but it was late fall. The weather was brisk but not brutal, and damp. It seems like the sidewalk was always wet. Somewhere on the walk between the apartment and the science building there was a bicycle frame diligently locked tightly to a street sign. It was there the day that I arrived, and still there when I left.
At some point, somebody had locked their bicycle to the sign, but only the frame. The tires were vulnerable, and another person stole them, the chain, the gears, the seat, the handlebar; basically, the bike was stripped of everything that could be removed. Only the frame remained. Whoever had loved the bike enough to protect it apparently decided that there was not enough of it left to salvage. So, there it sat, abandoned, to rust away into nothingness.
Maybe it’s the weather, or that I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve, but today I’m feeling like that old bicycle frame. As a society, we have given tacit approval to be treated like that bicycle, used up, profited off of and discarded when we are no longer viewed as valuable. I think of my situation today, and what I’ve accomplished for so many institutions in the past, and I’m feeling just forgotten.
There are some cultures, as I understand it, where the older you get the more revered you are. I’m not exactly at the age where I would be considered a revered elder, but as 2022 will be my final year in my fifties, I’m getting there. I’m at that weird age where I’m still young enough to work, but too old to be desired by corporate (or academic) America. And so I sit, chained to a sign wondering what went wrong.
Dating isn’t any better. I’m still single, but still want a family. Unfortunately, women my age are done with having children (usually biologically), but I’m so old that women young enough to want children don’t want me. I can’t say I blame them. If I had children today, I’d be pushing seventy when I played catch with them. I’m sure no child wants a father who could break a hip playing dress-up. My tires are gone, I’m going nowhere.
There are things I would still like to accomplish, but those successes are becoming increasingly dubious. My mind doesn’t seem to be what it used to be. I am finding it difficult to remember things or find the motivation to do much. I have all of the time in the world today for research, projects, hobbies, but can’t find the motivation to move on them. I’ve been trying to learn instruments and a programming language, but progress is largely stalled because every time I’m motivated to pick it up and resume is quickly followed with a long stretch of depression and self-doubt. I feel as if my drive train, my chain, my gears, my steering have all been removed leaving me with no ability to keep moving.
And here I sit, trapped, suffering through the rain, sleet, fog and ice. Every day I’m overlooked by those who don’t know about my past, or don’t care, and who won’t see value for a man my age in any aspect of our society.
As you’re reading this, you might be wanting a “bright side” twist, one of my “on the other side” comments. Today, I can’t see it. I’m trapped, lacking encouragement, and not feeling optimistic about my bleak future at all. I’m sorry for any disappointment this might cause, but there are days that things just seem, well, hopeless. Today, I’m feeling hopeless.
As a side note, Betty White passed today (as I write this). I have no idea how she did it, but she is a true inspiration of remaining active and finding love throughout her long and beautiful life. I’m so glad she had the success that she did, and she will always be a favorite love of mine. Sweet dreams, Betty. We remember.