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  • evanitallie

Look for the wins.

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

My apartment view, and the sun through the windows, got me through the hard parts of this year. Photo credit to Director of Photography for Duke Athletics, Nat LeDonne.

It is almost the end of 2023, and as I reflect on the year, I have to fight myself to not see it in the light of all of the things that I didn’t do. There is a section in one of my dating app profiles that is the response to the prompt: “This year, I really want to:” with my answer being: “Run the entire length of the American Tabaco Trail (ATT), finish my quilt, publish my paper!” I must have written this response last February; I didn’t end up achieving any of these things. 

Almost all the finished quilt squares on my apartment floor.

I definitely didn’t get in shape to run an almost marathon; instead I spent the whole year trying and failing to get into a good exercise routine. I did go for some beautiful runs along the ATT, and I did take advantage of the treadmills at my apartment complex gym; but mainly I always felt like I was failing at exercising. And since I know how important exercise is for my emotional (and physical health), this weighed on me.


I didn’t finish my quilt. I did actually finish step one of the quilt. I sewed all of the 4x4 squares that will make up the quilt. But I didn’t sew them together into a quilt top, and I didn’t “quilt” the top to a backing. I did accept that there is the possibility to pay someone else to finish it, or to pay someone to help me finish it, but I haven’t yet committed to one of those options. 

I didn’t publish my second grad school paper. I did work on it. But, I didn’t work on it enough to get it done. This is a manuscript that I submitted in late summer 2021. We got reviews back for it the day before my father’s memorial service that October. In the fall of the 2021, I worked with co-authors to do the experiment that the reviewers requested. The next step is to incorporate this new data into the manuscript, and re-submit. After really doing nothing on the paper in 2022, I finally started working on it again this year. I achieved some small goals, I used a program called snakemake to make an elegant computational pipeline for a part of my analysis, and I did make progress incorporating the new experimental data with the original experimental data. But there is a lot of work yet to do. Publishing my co-first author paper in 2022 with Christine Field was incredibly rewarding. Working on it sustained me through the second half of 2021 and 2022, and I was so proud of pushing it all the way to the end. I wanted to feel that again this year. I haven’t given up on the paper, publishing it will be an important 2024 goal. 

But if I push myself to think a bit harder, to be gentle with myself about what I didn’t achieve, I can identify achievements, and I can find ways to be proud of myself. 

I published a personal essay that was edited by a professional editor and appeared in print!

My essay titled “My queerness helped me see myself as a scientist again” was published in the June/July issue of ASBMB Today. Pretty soon after starting my job at Duke, I realized that there was a story to tell about my experience of two of my important identities: scientist and queer woman. I realized that publications might be looking for content for Pride month issues. In March, I saw a Twitter post by ASBMB Today that they were looking for personal essays for their magazine about being a queer scientist; this was exactly the motivation that I needed to start writing. I made a first, way too long draft on my Notes app, and then worked through at least ten more drafts getting generous input from my friends and my mother. It was very rewarding to experience the essay get better and better. I submitted it to multiple science publications that publish personal essays and heard nothing! It turned out that one publication - the place that had made the Twitter post and where the essay eventually was published, had immediately replied to me but the emails were stuck in my spam folder! One of the best parts was seeing the essay in print for the first time. I was plant watering for close friends who were out of town. I decided to check their mail, and upon opening the mailbox found “The Pride Issue.” I hadn’t heard that it was out in print yet or received a copy myself, and I definitely wasn’t expecting to come across it checking my friends’ mail. But then it all made sense; Jim, who grew up in Durham with my mom and is best friends with one of my uncles, is the son of the late James B. Wyngaarden, M.D.. I knew that Jim Sr. had had a storied carrier as a physician scientist; he was the Chair of the Duke Department of Medicine, and he was the Head of the NIH from 1982-1989. But I hadn’t realized that he was a member of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; clearly ASBMB Today couldn’t bring themselves to stop sending their magazine to his old (and now Jim Jr. and Liz’s) address. Jim and Liz are an important part of my community in Durham, and we were all touched by this unexpected connection between myself and Jim’s father. 

I gave two wedding speeches. 

I have been privileged to be part of multiple friends’ weddings over the past years. But this year I got to have two new roles: sister of the groom and best person! And both of these roles came with an immense task that I hadn’t ever performed - giving a speech the night of the wedding! I was a bit intimated, but also determined to do a good job. In both cases I enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on the my relationships with the groom - in July my brother, and in early September my graduate school comrade and forever friend Marc Presler. I worked hard on the speeches, and in both cases was lucky to have the support of my mother who listened to me practice and make adjustments over and over. Both weddings enjoyed perfect weather - Michael and Hannah Grace’s in New York City and Marc and Claire in Killington, Vermont - and both had the same best feature - a couple who are madly in love and excited to start a new part of their journey together.

I threw two parties.

Jim and Liz brought a birthday banner!

I love to throw parties; I love to bring people whom I care about together. In particular, I love my birthday, and, have often thrown a birthday party for myself. Last spring, I threw myself a Duke Women’s Lacrosse game tailgate birthday party. I have very little experience tailgating, but I brought coffee, cupcakes, bagels, biscuits, and mimosas to the Duke athletics parking lot and we tailgated! It turned out that many of the attendees also hadn’t done much tailgating or seen a women’s lacrosse game. Everyone seemed to have fun! 

Last weekend, I hosted an “Apartment Appreciation Brunch Party” at my apartment. I served my beloved breakfast burritos from the Durham Coop and bagels from newly opened Isaac’s. Both establishments are within a ten minute walk from my apartment. The weather cooperated, and we got to enjoy the view from my wonderful apartment window with morning sun. I have loved my apartment, and my favorite part is the windows and the view, and so it was very gratifying when my friend’s child ran to the window to look out it one more time before they left. One of the successes of this year has been continuing to build a community in Durham, and I feel grateful for everyone who I have connected with and have leaned on.

In addition to finishing my graduate school paper, I would love for 2024 to include more personal writing - both more blog posts and perhaps a long form essay that fleshes out some of what I’ve alluded to about how I’ve come to live in Durham. I’m hoping that everyone can find gentleness for themselves in this sometimes hard period of end of year reflection and review. 


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