emperor of all maladies | ormen

I finished reading Siddhartha Mukherjee’s biography on cancer (The Emperor of All Maladies).

Throughout my read, I had to take breaks to write and sort out my own thoughts and memories. I have seen cancer take away people in the family, I have seen cancer take away people I have known through work and friendships, I have seen cancer take away mentors, and I have seen cancer take away idols beloved (a black star left to a village of Ormen).

Then I was in a bit of a funk, so I decided to get level with some metal music. I was listening to a favorite band, and wanted to see if they had a new album out, and went to my music source, and then I saw the  news about Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell. So that put me back in my funk.

So I decided to go back to the basics, and picked up my dear Ecclesiastes in Hebrew. That moved me away sufficiently from the now and the real, and I was floating soft in words well-memorized and cherished.

My boss is an interesting specimen. All my bosses have been interesting, though not always in a positive way. Some of them were good at sexual harassment, others good at mathematics, and yet others good at people management. The current one is a surprisingly complicated onion, full of layers.  He is in his fifties or sixties, and his temper is fierce. I spend a great deal of time smoothing over prickliness with various people for things my boss said or did. It is compensated, somewhat, because I spend a great deal of time listening to his thoughts about people, society, music, and science. I have often felt the odd one out among people with a purely technical background, but his amateur psychology studies are fascinatingly close to my own. I enjoy watching how he mixes intuition and logic to get to sharp assessments of people and situations. I enjoy how he evaluates himself, sparing no thought to vanity or ego, if he has had sufficient time to be objective about the matter (it takes some time to get there, usually). Throughout the years, while I have met many interesting and brilliant people, apart from a handful few, I haven’t really encountered anyone who could see through my methods and facade, who could predict my actions and mood so easily.

It is all new and fascinating. I have had many people give me advice over the years, and he is the first to tell me to be uncompromisingly myself. I keep getting asked by many colleagues to be more vocal, to be more assertive, as my voice gets drowned out by the male voices. It was refreshing to have someone see that I wasn’t struggling, and that my brand of assertiveness usually yields results down the line.  While it is a delightful surprise to be understood, it is damnably inconvenient to have that be by someone who holds such power over my career and income.  Luckily, this man is too impatient to be manipulative in the long run, and I have only short term plans here.

“You’ll get there,” he promised me. I badly want to take him at his word, to believe that I’d be one day as much in love with a partner and enjoying the stability of home and children as he does, to believe that I can have words and music and science all as much as I please, without worrying about visas and a basic safety net. In this, as in many other matters, not being a male can sometimes drastically put limitations on what is possible. I will work my way around that, as I have always done, for what else can I do with the cards I’ve been dealt out?