Thursday, October 4, 2018

I am Badwater Bill

It has been a very long time since I last posted. So much has happened. So much has changed. The “step down” I discussed in my last post (An Open Letter....) turned out to be my downfall with SOFIA. It is not something I want to go into in detail. I will just say that management decided that I was no longer useful to them, so I was put on the job market. In my line of work, that can be a career ender. There are not many positions in astrophysics for someone with my skills and background. Lots of people wanted to help me, and a lot said they would hire me in a minute if they had a position. That was all well and good, but....

This was an extremely stressful and depressing time. My wife, who had been working successfully as an Adjunct Professor at several community colleges, went on a national search for a permanent position. The beautiful house and property we had just bought one year earlier was readied to be put on the market. I was crushed. My dream home had to go away and there was no way we would get anything like it again.

My wife was extremely successful in getting interviews all over California, Arizona, and Maryland. But, hers is a highly competitive business and the offers did not come. I applied for what I could and put out lots of feelers. I made plans for a career change. To what, I did not know. I made what contacts I could. I got more depressed. It was clear, our lives were going to change profoundly. The future looked dark and unpredictable.

Finally, after many months, there was movement. I was able to hang on at my job while all this was happening. I won’t say I liked it, or did a good job during this time. I was too depressed, stressed and pissed off to do that. Not a good look for me, but it was what it was. The work did help get me through the days and weeks and the money was a good thing. The first sign of anything happening came when my wife was asked to fly out to Maryland for an interview. It went extremely well. I figured that I might eventually find work in that area if we went there for her job. It is a hotbed of astrophysics. Then, I was asked to interview at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC. This was a long shot for complicated reasons totally independent of my ability to do the job, or whether they wanted me or not. Again, it is not worth going into here. Too much intrigue.

Very quickly after my wife’s interview in Maryland, she got the offer of a lifetime for her line of work. It was clear she would accept and we would move across country into a world of unknowns. I was not happy about this. I would leave a place I loved, for a new and very different place. I could see no upside to this. I was blinded by my ongoing rage and depression. I could not see this as a new adventure. I only saw hopelessness for me. My wife was justifiably excited. She had done great. I was happy for her, but too self-involved to see anything good in all this.

Then, my interview at NASA proved successful, and I was made an offer. I said yes, but…. I was accepting a job I did not know if I could take. I went to work on that. I felt like Sisyphus. It was painful.

This was the first time I had to look back at what I had done in Death Valley for real strength. I believed then that getting through what I had to finish that effort would make it possible for me to get through anything. I used that, and I knew intellectually that it was true. I would survive, and maybe even thrive. But, emotionally, I was a basket case.

I was not having any success making the NASA position work, and I told them that. It appeared they wanted me enough to try other things. I would work there one way or another. There was some relief in that. While all this was going on, we sold the house (in a day!) and started the move across country. We found a nice house in Arnold, Maryland about 1.5 miles from the college where my wife would be teaching. This was a big change for the good, since she had been commuting up to 120 miles per day previously. If I was to work in DC, my commute would be the long one.

To make matters that much worse, our dear cat, "Goo," died the very day we had to go to Maryland to look for a place to live. I was inconsolable. Then, soon after the move, we lost "Stinky." So much loss. It seemed it would never end.

Fair thee well, Goo and Stinky. You were, and are, well loved.

So, leaving out a lot of detail, it has come to pass that we are both doing well. My wife has completed her first year at her new college. I am working at NASA Headquarters in the position for which I was originally considered (miracles do happen sometimes). We are settled in and learning a new world. My job is excellent. It is hard, and I still have a lot to learn. But, I will succeed and do well. Maybe, just maybe, I will start to thrive again.

For a long time during all of this, I felt like I was struggling just to survive. I relied on my success in Death Valley to help pull me through this. Once, when I was really struggling with my bad back, and the pain was overwhelming, a friend told me that this was why I became an ultrarunner. I remembered that and used it again. My life has been one challenge after another. If I did not have the strength I have found through ultra long distance running, I do not know how I would have made it through some of that. 

To add to the hopefulness, we have welcomed a new kitty into our lives -- "Sirius Black." He is a fantastic animal, and a good friend to our other cat, "The Dude."

Welcome Sirius. You are a good boy.

I think it needless to say, my training has suffered badly through all this. Now is the time to get back to it. Yes, winter is coming. I have run through worse. I will be able to do it. I just need to focus and want it again. I do want it. I need it. It is who I am. I am Badwater Bill. Thank God for that.


“Badwater” Bill
Arnold, MD

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