Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Year in Review

There is an odd disconnect.  

I attended a conference recently (ish) and found myself embracing colleagues I'd not seen in over a year.  

"Hello," I'd say, sometimes still holding tight.  

"I'm fine," I'd answer when asked and would elaborate that I was quite good at my new job and, yes, it could be viewed as a stumble back when most expected me to pounce forward.

"My parents got cancer," I'd explain, trying to remember the Katie who existed before March, 2012.  "And we lost my dad."  Sometimes I'd cry.  Others I could blink back tears.  Mourning, I think, not only Daddy and for Mom - who just hasn't been happy since - but me.  That brightness that I seem to recall but may be getting wrong.

When I think back over 2013, I recognize that I was aware of days passing.  I sign a lot of documents so I'm aware of the progression of days.  But considering events?  Moments of joy or surprise or laughter or that sharpness of longing?  I look up and to the left expectantly, hoping my brain is embarrassed at my prompting gaze and comes up with something I could write down.

I turned 34...  Oh!  They decorated my desk at work - my second of three spots since taking this job - with balloons and streamers and magnets.  I got flowers.  It was actually really lovely.  (Good job, brain!)

I'm pretty sure I was in Europe.  I say that because my desktop photo on this AirBook I rarely open is of Zurich.  So I think that was when I did a Switzerland, France, Germany swing.  I threw up all over a hotel room outside Paris - I remember that more than I wish I did.  

I recall the train from Zurich to Paris though - of staring out the window as the countryside rushed by and thinking that it was still amazing to be in Europe.  Exciting.  Beautiful.  

As I spoke to new colleagues in the airport, I realized I didn't want my old job anymore.  And I was walked through Munich in the snow with my new boss, searching for beer and sausages and pretzels, I watched the snowflakes fall on old fountains and swirl around ornate steeples and smiled, even as I rushed to catch up with him.  

Mom turned 64.  I think we started seriously considering having her move in with me around then.  Otherwise, I probably played on my iPad.

Worked?  More playing on iPad?

Might have gone on a short business trip?

Please see April.  

We were launching a new process that I was to manage.  So I was working a lot.  (Still found time to play on iPad.)

Alaskan Cruise!  With the otters and elderly people and gospel singers!  I actually had a really lovely time - marveled at nature, learned songs about Jesus, hung out with my mom.

Mom and the Ones (my nieces) were here for the day Dad died.  We stayed busy.  Took a tour of a nearby city on a boat and bus.  Did projects.  Took long walks.  It was actually far less terrible than I expected.

Then the girls went back to school and Mom moved in.  Sort of.  She still goes back and forth fairly regularly but rarely stays at my parents' house.  She'll mostly be here or with Aunt and Uncle.  But it's going reasonably well.  Mostly.

"My son had on a stained shirt this morning for school," NewBoss sighed while we were waiting for everyone to join a conference call.

"My son had to have Nike socks so I spent a fortune on Nike socks and then he wouldn't wear the Nike socks today!" A colleague exclaimed.  

After we'd laughed for a minute, I offered that my mom had asked if I was really going to wear this top with this skirt as I'd walked out the door.  "So maybe you parents should calm down about us kids," I decided.  

I visited Friend!  It was long-overdue and probably too short but we talked and ate and shopped and visited the waterfall-that-wasn't.  (I think those 2 sentences cover the extent of my socialization in 2013.)

Massive documentation exercise in owning this new program.  So Many Forms.  

Audit on September's work.  

Audits are tough - I've now had three.  With a good auditor, I understand the benefit.  She may have ideas on how to better manage certain sub-processes.  Can identify common errors and make some off-the-record suggestions on how to correct those.  May mix encouraging statements in with the demeaning "this is how you failed at your job" listing of offenses.  

With a bad auditor?  It's soul-sucking - makes me want to stab someone with a pencil, make sarcastic comments and list my qualifications because I get so miserably defensive.  

Depression.  Visited new doctor to get more medication.  With Dad's birthday and my parents' anniversary looming near the end of the month, I was down-down-down.  Luckily, my new job is way flexible and I can work on projects when I can't sleep at night or fuss with documentation even when I'm blank and sad.  So while I was down, I wasn't self-destructive.  And that was a comfort.  

Mom and I have settled in at a new church - by far the most liberal religious institution I've ever experienced - but it's nice.  I think I like it.  

Mom had the main floor of my house painted as a Christmas gift - it's Navajo white with some accents of Ivoire.  We left the ceilings white so the contrast - while very gentle - makes me happy.  

We had a nice, low-key Christmas.  We did go back to Illinois for a day to spend time with my Aunt's family - we'd skipped it last year so the kids look so old to me.  (They're in 3rd grade.)  I cuddled with the puppies (!!!) and kept asking them when they'd become dogs.  

The Ones returned to the frozen north with us and convinced me to give them their gifts.  (I had purchased Saige and Emily from American Girl.  Even though they creep me out a little bit - they really are lovely dolls.)  

[Side Note:  Little One is beautiful.  Quiet and smart and bookish like her Aunt Katie.  (Also selfish and overly sensitive.  Like her Aunt Katie...)  She loves to read and plays with dolls and went hunting (WTF?!) this year with her mom's boyfriend.  But that's OK - nobody needs to be exactly like Aunt Katie (obviously) - so I'm proud of her for exploring.  I just wish there were less dead animals in said exploration.

[Smallest One is a character.  Precocious and charming and quick and ever-so-funny.  She's learning karate and made Mom cry when - after breaking a board with a backward kick - she presented the pieces to her grandmother as a sign of respect and love.  She still drinks pink milk and watches my SpongeBob DVDs when she comes to visit.]

Brother followed the next day, having managed one more shift before heading north.  He's largely the same - doing well at work and I'm proud of his stability and talent.  He's funny and loving yet still has the quick temper that we try to work around.  

They all resent me a bit for taking Mom away, which I understand and accept without comment.  The truth is that she needs someone around regularly and Brother and the Ones aren't able to offer that.  Their Years-in-Review would be too full already and occasional visits are no longer enough.  Mom is without part of herself.  And I'm obviously in a position to offer support and attention and my regular presence and I'm honored to do that.  

But perhaps that's a story for another time.

January 1, 2014
After moving all the furniture for painting, we reorganized.  I moved a chaise into my office and relocated my oft-ignored Mac to the room with my books.  

Today, I moved some large pillows to said chaise to make it more inviting.  Then I sat and began to type.  Perhaps I want to remember more.  Or try to find that person I was before.  Be a better person - more centered and thoughtful and loving.  

So without grand promises or resolutions, I hope I find that here.  And that - for any of you left - you have a happy and blessed New Year.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

In Search of Sea Otters

I love otters.  The flippers.  Their noses.  The soft, dense fur.  The speed and elegance with which they move through the water despite their cuddly appearance.  

And so, when we dropped anchor and floated near Sitka, I convinced Mom to de-boat, as she called it, on a tender and we boarded a smaller watercraft for a pricey fee but with a guarantee that we'd see wildlife.  An otter, whale or bear or we each would get $100.

And so we set off on the Sea Otter Express.  Settling inside the heated cabin, we arranged ourselves with binoculars and cameras and sighed over the beauty - the shades of blue, the multitude of islands, the forest.  

I smiled every time someone would gasp over a sighting - the fin of a whale or flight of an eagle or jumping of a random fish.  I soon grew antsy, impatient with the barrier between the animals and my camera, and zipped my sweatshirt and climbed up the narrow steps to perch on the open deck.  

There was a certain sort of wonder up there.  Of whimsy.  Of peace.  Breathing in the air that was the perfect cool-not-cold.  Feeling the wind tangle my hair as I sighed and searched the horizon for bumps on the water.

"That's an island," our guide noted when people took too many pictures of a small rock jutting from the water.  "We sometimes confuse it for a critter, but it isn't."

When we frowned our disappointment, he smiled and promised we'd find something alive to photograph.  And we did, slowing to follow an orca as she swept across the water near the surface, emerging so we could admire her white markings that just barely broke the surface.

We watched people fish for salmon in a sheltered cove.   I pondered the jellyfish - the giant gelatinous masses floating below the surface - and wrinkled my nose at them.  I focused my attention on the orange starfish that rested just below the surface.

"They're very tough creatures," our guide noted.  "Sometimes under water.  Sometimes above.  Sometimes hot in the sun.  Often frozen from the cold.  Subjected to salt in the ocean and fresh water from rain.  They just adapt."

So I admired that resilience until we sped away in search of the treasure - the otters I'd so wanted to see.

 "There they are," our guide noted.  "See those dots in the water?  There's a raft of them resting over there.  We'll try to get closer and hope they don't mind us watching them."

So we did.  And they didn't.

Utterly (otterly!) charmed, I took upwards of 40 pictures that are all a bit blurry.  You have to want to see the otters to truly appreciate these photos.  But they napped as they floated, occasionally one would grow curious and pop up to look at us.  Finding us acceptable, they would return to their supine position, tucking furry chin to sleek chest and resting once again.

 We floated there for long minutes, leaving only after we'd alerted the other tours and not wanting to form a crowd and cause the otters to depart.

"It's a humpback," the guide cried a bit later and we paused in open ocean in hopes of watching it dive.

And that's when I grew queasy.  The bobbing motion of the boat at odds with the gentle sway of the cruise ship to which I'd adjusted.  I blinked rapidly.  Focused on the horizon.  Sipped some peppermint tea while sitting back inside with my 'having a lovely time/not sick at all!' mother.

But as we lingered and rode the waves up and down and up and down, I swallowed against the nausea.  And when the kindly tour people offered salmon for a snack, I had to escape to the aft deck again.

"Salmon?" the guide asked as I stood there, clinging to the railing and trying to think of the otters who'd  made me so happy such a short time before.

"I will throw it up all over this boat," I replied and he looked closer and told me I was a bit green.  Patting the hand that clung to the railing, he promised it would pass and departed.  Leaving me to give myself hiccups in an attempt not to vomit.

"I was fine," Mom offered happily when she helped me up the ramp on the dock as my head was still swimming.  "I had a great time!"

I made a noise in response, found a soda and found that I rapidly felt better once the world stabilized around me.

A sea star, I am not.

But I do have otter pictures.  And because I want to see that they're otters, I do.  So now you can too.

Friday, August 09, 2013


(This is a photo from the aft deck en route to Alaska.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of this post.  But look!  Pretty!)

When I was in 3rd grade, we hung projects in the hallway that described what we wanted to be when we grew up.  I still recall mine - the wide-ruled notebook paper beside a hand-drawn picture upon which we posted a school photo of our faces.

Crayon-drawn Katie (with actual-photo head) was standing in a courtroom, emerging as a victorious lawyer from some undoubtedly critical case.  I had, after all, seen lawyers on TV and that's what I wanted to do.  Aid the downtrodden.  Give voice to the wrongfully accused.  Fight the power.

Then I grew up.

And met some actual lawyers.

And quickly adjusted my goals.

Now, some 25 years later (crap - can that be right?), I find myself with a fondness for most of the lawyerly with whom I'm acquainted.  They know big words.  They think with a certain clarity.  They ask interesting questions and can often distill complex situations into the most relevant points.

But have you met a corporate lawyer?

I have.  A few of them.

[Q: Are you able to define 'a few'?
A: I don't remember exactly.
Q: Do you know more than 1 corporate lawyer?
A: Yes.
Q: More than 2?
A: Yes.
Q: More than 10?
A: Probably not.
Q: So less than 10?
A:  I think so.
Q: More than 5?
A: Yes.
Q: More than 7?
A: Yes.  Eight, OK?  I've met eight corporate lawyers.
And that's why you want to stab yourself or others with a pencil during a deposition.  Because who cares?]
I will admit that sometimes that attention to detail - that application of knowledge and definition of fact and separation from opinion or interpretation - can be exquisitely useful.  When I have a complicated problem and need direction?

I call counsel.

Ah, but then...  They trick you into thinking they're lovely people.  Bright, funny, wonderful conversational companions!

So you start a conversation and ask for a simple contract to be drafted.  And even if you're not feeling super-great because August 13 is next week and you really, really miss your dad, you're trying hard to focus on work and get stuff done because that's a nice distraction.

And Lawyer 1 says, "Wait.  I don't think this is in scope of the procedure."

So you say, "No, no.  It is.  Blah, blah, explanation, blah, blah."

And Lawyer 2 (helpful tip from Katie - Never Let Lawyers Form Groups) gets all concerned and wants to Stop Everything while you look up the procedure and discuss the contract and examine the request and start from the very beginning again so we're sure we really understand.

Growing impatient, you look up the formal document and read it to your lawyer friends that you're starting to hate a little bit.  You explain the situation again.  In the middle of your explanation, maybe you use the wrong word.

And they pounce - both of them - voices going accusatory while they chortle between them in their lawyerly way and - even though you watch Law & Order reruns and know not to get upset or otherwise emotional - you do get upset and emotional.  And start to think you're wrong.  You're a terrible person.  Oh, this is awful - how you've willfully attempted to break the rules and ruin everything!  And you're sorry.  You'll start over.

But you keep thinking about it - on the drive to and from work, on your walks with your blind dog - and you realize that you're not wrong.  You may have misspoken but they're wrong.  And this wasn't on the record or written down.

So when you - well, when I - pushed back, I pushed back hard.  Explained my request again.  Indicated that if they thought I was out of order, they could prove it to me.  And until then - since we run a business - the time it took to escalate and get a decision (as corporate lawyers seem to really struggle to make decisions, bless their 'let's debate this some more' hearts) was going to be measured as 'legal delay.'

So now I feel mean - as they pointed out that it was uncharacteristic of me to 1) push back with such vitriol (my word - not theirs.  I know big words too!  I looked it up to make sure I was right but I had the general idea) and 2) demand others do work that I otherwise would have done myself.

I also feel ineffective as these lawyers will take months (and months) (and more months) to make this decision and I'm effectively halting my project because I'm pissy.

There's no good conclusion here - I'm standing my ground even if it is a bit shaky underneath me.  But I have two points.  1) If I had been a lawyer and ended up working for a large company, I would be much better at it.  And 2) I would like to request independent counsel.  I just need to find out how to  make sure said independent counsel if viciously efficient and effective.  I shall try to find someone from a television show.

Thank you.  Please see irrelevant photo of a glacier below.

Sunday, August 04, 2013


Preparing to mow the lawn yesterday, I wandered my main floor.  Smoothed sunscreen on my face.  Located my flip flops.  Informed Chienne that I would be outside.

It was then that I noticed a creature hopping around the white tile of my kitchen floor.

"Oh," I said, startled.

For while I have a dog and cat, I have not - in my long absence - added a bird to my brood.

Sprout, however, on an accidental (on my part - quite purposeful on his) adventure Friday night had apparently added to our family with his hunting treasure.

I believe the bird - little and gray - fought back and escaped my vicious feline and hid until he went to catch a nap in the sunshine.  Chienne and I have no killer instinct of which to speak - quickly scurrying from the house and closing the door, leaving the bird inside.

"That's not going to work longterm," I told my loyal hound before she abandoned me to sit outside in her yard.  I set about opening doors (with an absent hope that no other birds came in) and arming myself with a giant storage container and long stick to convince the bird (who may have had an eye dangling from its socket - I didn't look closely enough for definitive confirmation) to fly out the door he deemed most convenient.

I tapped the plastic container on the ground as I held it before me and may have said, "please go away, Mr. Bird."  But apart from that, I was quiet - sighing with relief after he took flight into the morning sky and going about to close the doors again.

I talked much more on the cruise to Alaska I shared with my mom (and 2,000 other older people - half of them Southern Gospel fans).  And I meant to post of it - at least to share some stunning photos of water gone green with glacial sediment in Tracy Arm or sea otters napping off the coast of Sitka.

But I came home and returned to work.  I click in different locations on different screens.  I sign and date and review and approve.  I have flashes of amusement or anger or general interest, but they soon pass and I drift back into the monotonous contentment that defines me of late.

"The ambition is gone," I told Sibling when she returned to visit last week.  "I keep waiting for myself to bounce back.  To awaken and feel strong and purposeful and like Katie again.  But I don't.  I haven't.  So I don't know what comes next."

So let's try photos from Alaska.  And see if I can at least find a less-silent rhythm here.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Making Up Stories

She stood just before the road curved to go uphill.  Unmoving on the sidewalk without a dog to accompany or umbrella to shelter her.

Watching her for no more than than a moment - the time when I came downhill around the curve from my house perched atop, traveling at a gentle 25 mph through the neighborhood.

Her hair was dark and fine, slipping from the grip of a ponytail holder as the rain dampened it to the deepest shade of black.  The multi-hued t-shirt was incongruous with her expression - the rainbow colors happy below the sad droop of her facial features.

Standing there in a sullen drizzle, she stared at the house across the street - one of my favorites in the neighborhood with its cedar siding and bright clumps of tulips and new rough-hewn fence to contain a big boisterous brown dog.

I've seen the couple residing there, I'm sure, but recall the dog best.  There may also be a child or three, I considered, furrowing my brow in an attempt to aid memories.  Discarding the attempt, I wondered what had so captured the sad woman's attention.

Perhaps she once loved him - the man who lives there with his new family.  I do know how heartache - the regret that can sweep gently or stab viciously - can linger.  How sometimes you peer at old letters or visit old places.  Close your eyes against the memories of old songs or scents.

Perhaps she pictured herself living there, I mused on my commute.  Letting out the dog and laughingly scolding his friendly barking.  Tilting her face to kiss the man before he left for work.  Asking if he had preferences on take-out that she could pick up on her way home.  Thinking how she might have planted lilies rather than tulips.  Maybe a rosebush there at the corner of the fence.

Wishing for something that never was.  And never will be.

She lingers in my thoughts, that melancholy woman, as I wade through piles of paperwork at the office and struggle for sleep amidst my mounds of pillows.  As if she is the ghost of dreams lost - left to spend the present stuck at the curve between the past and future, unable to take the next steps uphill.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Amphibious Admiration

I mowed my lawn earlier this week, entering the mild afternoon sunshine to clip at the overgrown grass in Chienne's fenced yard.

I was going downhill near one of the pine trees when I yanked the mower toward me in order to cover all the grass near the pointy needles waiting to gouge me when I saw the frog huddled closely to the ground amidst the roaring noise and swirling clippings of grass.

I gasped but had already started the forward motion and between the self-propulsion of the mower and downhill gravity outweighed my alarm over harming the creature and I mowed the patch of lawn in which he huddled.

Having closed my eyes against the potential carnage, I opened the right one slowly and sighed in relief when I didn't see pieces of mutilated frog.

Peering into the grass once again, I noted the concave shape of his back and nodded in admiration.

"I'm not sure I could have stayed so still and hoped for the best," I admitted to a colleague when I told the story.  "With all that noise and pressure, I'm afraid I would have attempted a panicked escape directly into the swirling blades."

As I consider it more though, I am quite frog-like of late.  Keeping the lowest of profiles.  Answering calls from Mom and speeding home for visits.  Absently noting the tulips in bloom and budding trees with the knowledge that they'll all die sooner or later.  Trying to remain unnoticed as I wait for the next bad thing to happen.

"It's fine," I told a different colleague when she asked about a silly project I'd been asked to lead.  "I'm fine."

"You say that a lot," she noted, looking at me with concern.  I shrugged, swiveling my chair back to regard the monotony that lives in my work laptop.  It keeps me busy.  Distracted.  For when I think of things, I'm often sad.

I miss Dad.  I want so much to talk with him.  Make sure he's OK.  I worry over Mom as she hates being alone.  I fret over disappointments and hurt feelings - whether of the Ones or colleagues or friends.

But it's fine.

I'm fine.

Just quietly huddled for a bit.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Love & Loss

I vaguely remember being infatuated.  That glimmer of wonder when he seems to like me in return.  Where - regardless of the action or distraction - where the very thought of him curves my lips into a silly smile.  When - even in the middle of a meeting stressful or boring - there's this fluttery hope and happiness.

My life of late has been the opposite of that.

I started to feel better.  We knew Mom's cyst was normal, though painful.  I had returned to work, busily filling in files and approving plans, when Aunt called about an hour after Mom's mammogram had been scheduled.  And I frowned as soon as I heard her voice.

"The cyst is fine," she said and went into detail while I waited with stomach clenched.  "But there's something abnormal in the other breast."  I remained silent while she said it was small and likely a calcification.  Eyes closed, I waited and willed myself to process this.  To say something hopeful and encouraging and loving and strong.

"Katie?" Mom finally spoke.  "Are you OK?"

"OK," I confirmed.

Aunt talked of biopsy dates and times and I assured them I'd be home for it.  So Chienne and I packed up and headed south a day later.  And at every turn - every other thought - there was cancer.  Tentacles reaching from the malignant core to entangle every breath and memory and hope.

Brother traded with Aunt in the waiting room - I released her hand for his while I waited for Mom to emerge from Radiology.  Brother and I took her for breakfast and chatted.  Then I took her home and snuggled her under multiple blankets on the couch, settling into Dad's recliner and keeping watch while she slept and I took conference calls.

I was driving north - Mom and Chienne in the backseat - the next day when I called Radiology for the third time to inquire about results.  Thinking of how I'd wept at Sunday School when I realized that God doesn't hate me - sometimes bad things just happen, I begged him - the breathless please, please, please, please, please kind - to let it be a calcification.

Voice shaking, I gripped the steering wheel and gave praise and thanks after the doctor confirmed it was benign.  No cancer.  Not this time.  And I listened to Mom make calls and giggle her relief while continuing the commute to my house.

So when yet another friend lost her job yesterday, I sat quietly while the remainder of the team expressed their outrage and shock.  Bad news seems to have lost some power over me, at least for the moment.  But I've grown somewhat skilled at listening to the too-long pauses after I ask how friends are.  The uncertainty.  The unfairness of it all.  The thought that all the work - the learning and practicing and extra hours and minor victories - being in vain.

But when this friend didn't answer her phone, I frowned.  And found myself in my Jeep, searching for her apartment to be sure she'd not hurt herself.

She hadn't - buzzing me in and answering the door with a sweatshirt unzipped over a black bra.

"I can't do it," she told me, gesturing at her front and beginning to sob.  I prioritized hugs over proper attire and we stood there - me in my coat still cold from the bitter winds and her warm from where she'd been curled up under covers and misery.  And I whispered that it would be OK.

I helped her zip her sweatshirt and joined her on the couch, looping my arm though hers and holding her hand while she cried.  And I looked at the spots on her cheeks - visible without make-up - and thought of how very delicate we all are.  How frail we must seem.  How a mere puff of bad luck can topple us.

"I don't know what to do," she finally said and I nodded.

"You grieve," I finally replied.  "And you find your balance again and decide what you want and try to get it.  I know you feel alone.  Rejected.  Afraid.  But you have people who love you and talent and opportunities that haven't been revealed just yet.  And I'm sorry - so very sorry - this happened.  It's not your fault and you don't deserve it and it's terrible and awful and wrong.  But you will battle back.  As soon as you've rested and cried a bit more."

I left after a little while when another friend appeared, driving back to work and settling in to type on that laptop between glances at places I've been and people I've loved.  And tonight, quite frankly, I ache - head, body, heart.  Because we are resilient as we are fragile.  And I continue to have hope, I suppose.

But it all seems terribly difficult of late.  And that silly giddiness seems to have faded into memories as I find myself waiting for the next disaster to strike.