Yesterday was a hard day. It wasn't necessarily a bad day -- or at least it won't have been when it's all said and done -- but it was a hard day. A hard day at the end of an intense few weeks at the end of a long summer. I drank two too many glasses of wine last night, just so I would remember today how hard of a day was yesterday.
I have been pushing since the beginning of the summer to have a paper ready to submit to this major academic conference that is particularly relevant to my research group and our field. It's one of two or three such opportunities that come along in a given year, and arguably the single most important. I have spent the last three weeks or so thinking of virtually nothing else. Up too early, in bed too late, hunched in front of one computer screen or another* morning and night. Too many fast food runs and evening glasses of red to shut my mind off for just an hour or two.
The deadline was yesterday. After spending most of the day reading and talking and editing and talking some more it suddenly became apparent that we needed to pull the plug. The writing was fine, but we just didn't have the results we needed to make the paper something we wanted to put our names on. I turned off the computer, came home, had a few drinks and made bread. The bread was awesome, by the way. I learned how to make kaiser rolls, and there's a lot of banging of dough involved.
There is really no feeling quite like the end of a long, hard project. And writing -- even research writing -- is personal enough that you get pretty wrapped up in it. And when it's finally over, they all seem to feel different. Some make you want to shout, and others make you want to scream. A few smell like napalm in the morning, and some end up smelling like the men's room in a cowboy bar at the end of rodeo season. And then there are those that don't smell like anything.
A project that neither succeeds nor fails is particularly unsatisfying. The work I did is probably not wasted, and plans are already underway for continuing to work to have something even better for the next opportunity in three months, or six, or whenever it is. But there's a process to this, a steady buildup of heavy breathing and sweat and focus. It's not supposed to end just because someone says, "time's up."
One way or another, it's back to the normal rhythm of life. I will go to the gym for the first time in a month, eat some vegetables, clean the house and go back to my every day. At least until the next time.
* I counted just now, and there are seven different computers in different places that I think of as mine. Though to be fair, I only use five on a regular basis.**
** This is ridiculous