Apart from being an emotional mess, I am living my dream by being a scientist in a field I will take care not to mention, otherwise my identity will be found sooner rather than later. I will, however, allow myself to narratively take stroll away from the main path of this journal….
Concerning my professional life February was awkward, as the Red Queen had suddenly taken an interest in showing me the basics of handling the material I work with – which left me a little bewildered because I’ve been handling these things for years. But since she was in charge of the group providing me with certain types of material I deemed it wise to just let her show me some things (though I talked her out of the very basics), regarding it as some kind of overdue official validation. Still, it left me wondering where she had gotten the idea from.
Moreover, honestly… she is new to this particular type of material, having just half a year earlier completed her PhD working with another, so sometimes I had the impression of being on at least equal level with her. During the workshops she organized for me and a student of hers she occasionally said things that were plainly not correct, and I always had to bite my tongue not to say anything, knowing by now how she would react on being corrected in front of one of her team. Also… I had seen her work before. While being a talent in pushing her team into the spotlight, her labwork was often hasty and therefore a little sloppy. She did things you never never ever do when handling delicate material. But remark on it and hell breaks loose on you. I had learned to look away and shift my work to somewhere else in the lab, wondering if anyone more influental than me would ever notice and step in.
Things between the White Queen and me were not right somehow as well. We had been on amicable terms before, but now she seemed to put an emphasis on distancing herself from me.
During the first days of March there was a private conference of multiple institutes in my field, which was hosted by the department where I do my daily lab work. Under strict confidentiality everybody had just some minutes to present their newest research.
The White Queen and I shared the presentation on our project and we did an awesome job! People from the audience showed a lot of interest, asking questions which the two of us anwered with ease, both feeling very much at home in our field of work. During the break people came to me to pat my shoulder, including the head of the institute, and I was feeling great.
All the more I was baffled when the White Queen summoned me for a talk in the afternoon, telling me I had to mind my behavior in front of other people, because I was always being on too cordial terms with everyone.
I thought about it for long and decided that basically she was right – I was indeed friends with everyone fairly quickly and doing confidential research, some distance would certainly help. I wrote to her at lenght afterwards, telling her that I had meant no harm and appreciated every criticism because it helped me improve myself. I just kept wondering about the time she had chosen to tell me this and the way she had behaved before.
Over the following weeks the situation with the White Queen relaxed and we were soon back at working together well and effectively.
It should be months until I found out what had happened.
After having knocked the stuffing out of me by the Red Queen in front of half of the lab team, just because I had asked the White Queen instead of her for permission to accept a student for an internship – with phrases like “knowing my place”, “overestimating my authority” and “going to change tunes from now on” – I drew the line. She was not my boss and in no position to say those things. Up till then I had always accepted that being under a lot of pressure she was allowed the occasional bout of temper and had kept quiet about it in front of everyone outside of our department. After all, we were all sharing a lab and had to get along. But knowing how bad I had heard her talking at least once about every single coworker when she was in one of her moods, I had grown more and more worried about what she might tell the important people at the institute about me. But would they take me seriously? She was always so outgoing, nice and loveable when meeting new people. Would they believe there was another side of her?
In the evening I called the White Queen and opened up the conversation with: “I am so sorry to tell you but I don’t know anymore what to do about the Red Queen.”
“I know. Don’t worry. I know what she is like.”
It was the biggest relief I had felt in months. It turned out that the Red Queen had had her fits in front of more people than I had thought. Moreover, I learned that at the beginning of February she had talked to the White Queen about how she cannot work together with me any longer, because I was “overly emotional”. The White Queen had had long discussions with other group leaders, and came to the conclusion that there was something doubtable about the whole issue, especially regarding how close the Red Queen and me had once been, so they decided to keep me. Some weeks afterwards the Red Queen had told them all was well again herself. I think she tried to teach me things as some kind of placability. It may have been well for her, but the rest of us still had to cope with her fits, most of the time just keeping our heads down, waiting for the storm to pass.*
That evening I finally decided to distance myself from this woman once and for all. It was all so hard, because she was still funny and cordial when in a good mood, sometimes acting downright motherly, handing out presents and maybe really caring about us – but I just could not go on being emotionally involved in her tempers.
Sometimes I wonder how long she can stand on the edge between being liked and being feared. I try to neither like nor fear her, not always succeeding.
* Well, at least most of the time. Probably I should have been a little more submissive when she declared in front of everybody that we shall now all hate the Butterfly – to which I replied that she was a friend of mine and I will definitely not hate her on anyones orders.