Ever since I learned that J.K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter novel in a café, I have longed for the perfect place to go to write my great American novel. I think I may have found it, a tranquil haven of WiFi access, caffeine, and calories wrapped in delectably tempting fresh-baked pastries, all topped with friendly smiles and conversation: Charming B’s Coffee Shop. The décor is beautiful; beautiful woodwork lighted by morning sunshine streaming in through the stained-glass windows. The leather sofas inviting me to sink down into their lucious depths. And, surely among all this olfactory and palatine stimulation, my muse has found santuary and is waiting to inspire me.
I was fortunate; instead of spending the 6:30-7:30 am hour on my commute to work, I was able to spend that early hour at Charming B’s during my work-from-home day last week. Although my obligations to my employer meant that I was writing about buffer systems for biochemical reactions and preparing an undergraduate laboratory about the basics of buffers instead of living in an imaginary world of marauder’s maps and invisibility cloaks, I like to think that my derivation of the Henderson-Hasselbalch equation was inspired.
OK, maybe that is a stretch.
I am at a stage in life in which I want to spend my time with my daughter watching earthworms do their thing or chasing robins around the yard. I want to write what I want to write. I want to knit when I want to knit and spend my time in cosy shops, like Charming Bs, thinking about what I want to think about. I treasure every minute that I have to do this, and I begrudge the things that get in the way, but I shouldn’t.
I shouldn’t because dusting off those gen chem neurons as I worked on the Buffers for Biological Systems guide and laboratory was good for my brain, and tackling that project renewed my confidence in my ability to master those subjects that females, and especially middle-aged women, aren’t supposed to be able to discuss intelligently. The next topic on my to-do list at work is equally challenging: working with an artist and coder to create an interactive, touch-screen application on cell signaling. It’s daunting, but if someone didn’t ask me to stretch and do it, I might never discover that I can.
I am a mom, and I LOVE being a mom. Watching my daughter grow and develop and learn things at a phenomenal rate has been one of the most rewarding activities of my life. I am at a stage in my life when the expectation of some is that I will “settle” mentally and intellectually. I don’t intend to do that. My job is more than a salary that helps pay for dance lessons and provides health insurance. It’s a career that requires me to use the knowledge I gained in school and to continue to stretch and learn more. I never know what topic I will be asked to write about. It may be something in the field of my studies. It may not. Whatever it is, I will be expected to learn enough about it to write clearly and accurately, create educational materials, or interact intelligently as an author’s editor with experts in the field. Sometimes my work is daunting. Mostly I relish the challenge.
I want my daughter to grow up seeing her mom tackle science and math, read books, write articles and stories as well as take the time to relax and knit, listen for frog calls, and stop and smell the roses. I want to model the well rounded, life-long learner for her because children become what they see.
Perhaps one day, Charming B’s will be listed on the historical record as the place where E’s mom wrote her great American novel. Meanwhile, it’s chemistry, cell biology, genetics and math-intensive laboratory curricula along with worms, butterflies, dance recitals, time outs and flowers for me. No settling, just a lot of neurons firing and an awful lot to learn. Life is, indeed, charming.
©2011 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.