Saturday, June 19, 2021

A Bad situation is a good situation...

Dana, Chris, and Evan--my loving family


I can’t be fixed.


I have no broken bones, no cancer-riddled organ. My breaks are down at the tiny cellular level where nerve tendrils should be energizing muscle cells. Thousands of these connections have already failed. More are giving up the ghost daily. With this state, how am I to be happy and feel a sense of well-being?


Fortunately for me, the well being part is being covered in spades. Chris, my husband, takes care of 100s of small requests and manipulations every day. He’s expert at the choreographic “dance” that takes place every time I need to move around in life—something that most people never consider. Friends check in all the time—usually asking about me and how I’m doing. Caregiver Joni assists me in my desire to still be able to make good food. She styles my hair like a pro, making me look like not much is wrong. Dana and Evan, my adult children, plan their days off to help out relieving Chris from some of those small, but never-ending chores he does for me daily.


But what about happiness? How happy can a person be who can no longer walk across the room, plant a tomato start, or scramble an egg? Where does happiness come from? Is it important for well-being?


Marilyn and Mat-happy 2021

Like many folks, I often rely on outside experiences to make me happy. I’m happy when we have visitors and we laugh. I’m happy when people read my blogs. I’m happy when I’m solving problems—saving the Salton Sea, teaching students about the importance of diversity and equity, or nudging a student towards completing their degree. Give me a problem, I like to roll it around in my head, sleep on it, and come up with a few ideas to fix it. I have to face this…


I am a fixer. It’s not easy for a fixer to not be able to fix herself.


Diving slightly deeper. Chris and I love each other. I love my family and they love me. My friends love me as well. Not only are physical needs cared for—I never feel abandoned, discarded, or not valued. I am so grateful for them. I am so grateful for all that they do for me—to make me feel well and yes, happy.


Happiness is all around me. I need to let it in. I need to open up and let my happiness flow out. There’s that inner shell we all have that needs to be cracked open. When you don’t feel well, sometimes that’s harder than it should be.


Since the visit of Mat Wooller, Zen master, I’ve been pondering and talking about this:


A good situation is a bad situation. A bad situation is a good situation.


My bad situation with ALS has made me rethink and redo my life. I would have ended my career at 70 without much change. Instead, I am learning about the challenges of the disabled, fighting for justice in academia, writing this blog that reaches way more people than the papers on isotopes that I’ve published. As I diminish physically, I’ve been given the time to grow mentally. I need to embrace this gift of time even more.

I think I understand people better. I try to be kind. [I’m not always successful at this…]


“Research suggests that an act of kindness spreads out through 3 social steps. That means that when you help a person, that person then helps other people, and these people, in turn help other people. I call it the '3-Degree Ripple Rule'. It's Pay it Forward in real life.” Dr. David Hamilton (3-degree ripple rule)


For folks in the hard-knocks school of scientific academia, kindness is not a trait that is thought to help achieve career success. Now, I’ll no longer reject any science manuscript—but ask for major revisions instead. I’ll stick with my practice of not giving an unsatisfactory tenure assessment.  I’m done with dismissing employees who don’t work out. I will continue to stand up to support those who need it—and not give in to science bullies. I have the standing and capacity as Isotope Queen to do this.


Wooller/O'Briens and Fogel/Swarths, 2017

So, it may be that my bad situation isn’t as bad as it might appear. How is your situation?—when you stop and think about it? Could you crack open that inner shell? Let more kindness and happiness flow?


I’m going to try harder to be grateful and kind more often. As I think about how my days go, those miniscule broken nerves get in my way without my control. Spending time pondering how my bad situation could have turned good will be a daily practice.


Thanks to all of my blog readers for writing to say the blog's words are meaningful and helpful to you.


Do me a favor when you read this—do one act of kindness today. And tomorrow as well.



  1. Thank you, this was a wonderful reminder for how to greet every day. Wishing you all the best.

    Your posts have been a beautiful guide through how to find real success with people, in work, and in living mindfully. Thank you!

  2. I'm so grateful you take the time to write these blogs and share the kindness, love, and support you advocate for and actively build in your family and academic communities. I am glad people can see what it's like to be not only a good academic, but person as a whole, through your writings and stories.

    It is such a joy to hear such a kind voice in what often is a swirl of negativity in ego driven-science. Your voice is a delightful light, and I'm thankful you share it.

    Cheers & many well-wishes from a PhD student from afar.

  3. Amazed to read you Queen Thora, you continue inspiring us. No surrender

  4. Marilyn,

    I always look forward to you next edition of your wonderful blogs. Your insight and superb writing always makes me think of something relevant in my career. Fortunately my health is good, but I have experienced many of the scenarios you so aptly describe relating to the inequalities of women in science. As a Career Development professional, I have coached many women in options to consider as the last 30+ years have been incredibly difficult for women to be successful in their scientific professional paths of their dreams. Some women chose to change career paths by identifying more "equality" in the academic route, others have found different career paths that use their scientific education. Thanks for your words of wisdom. I try to pass it on the next generation of scientists to consider the obstacles you encountered and try to figure out a way to shine!

  5. You are the strongest person I know, and you haven't let ALS get you down. You keep looking to the future, and hold on to how you can continue to make a difference in the world. I want to be you when I grow up!


Rounding Third Base and Heading Home

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