Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Camden, redux (with a different ending than I'd planned)

I got to work early yesterday morning, and happily skipped to my desk so I could set a few things down, proving that I had been there first. I like for people to know that I won the race to the office on the mornings I actually get there before dawn.

Now that winter is easing its grip (because it’s downright balmy here, and I scoff at the person who berated me for telling her there was no need of a jacket), it’s getting light earlier. I also have discovered that my sensitivity to coffee works in my favor. The bitter liquid that I attempt to mask with cream and sweetener makes me almost desperate to do work.

So, hyper and early, I set several items on my desk, gathered my notebook and pen, and headed off to the seminar I wanted to attend. It’s surprisingly populated by a number of students, professors and clinicians, despite being held at 8AM.

I’ve personally drug myself to the talks many times since starting my post-doc, but always walk outside to get to the appropriate conference room. I like to (right – that should read I need to) see all the buildings, able to orient myself as I make my way toward the center of campus.

On several occasions, someone has walked me back to my office after the seminar without going outside at all. I try to pay attention, and honestly, the route seemed relatively simple. And I liked the idea of not having to slosh through the rain on my early morning trek.

Hopped up on caffeine and allowing extra travel time, I head off to the meeting. I find the hospital easily enough – it’s the building through which I’ll navigate to reach my conference room. As I wander through the halls, I think of a trip to Toronto. They have a whole system of underground tunnels, like I’m sure many other cities do. I like them. They have shops. In fact, the umbrella I carry in my bag came from underneath the Royal York (By the way, I still think it’s a shame they removed that sign and put up the Fairmont one atop the building. Not cool.)

Right. So I’m walking down the hall and I reach the cafeteria. In short, it confuses me. I can’t remember which door I passed first on my last trip back to my office – the main cafeteria or snack shop. Maybe I should go up a floor. I think the hospital is built on a hill, so perhaps I’m down a level too far.

So I take the elevator up. Then I start to walk again. I see a sign that I think might be in the right direction, so I head that way. Then I stop and look around. It doesn’t feel right. So I turn around and head the other way.

Reaching a window, I look outside and, startled, realize I’m almost back at my office. I’ve circled around completely.

So I go outside, and find another entrance and start to head in the right direction. Once again, I feel like going up a floor would help me out. So I’m again on an elevator. I exit and wander to a window, check my position and head in the right direction. I end up in another section of the hospital and wonder how the hell this building snakes around so viciously. I see some nurses, but wary of embarrassment, I turn around head back in the other direction. I end up back at the elevator, feeling discouraged and pitiful.

Back outside once again, I see the sign for my building and scurry toward it in the misty rain. I find a rear entrance and take an elevator to the appropriate floor. This time, getting lost pays off. I’ve wandered the floor extensively in the past, earnestly looking for the conference room. So I quickly ascertain my position, find my way, take a seat and relax into someone else’s words and ideas.

It is with significant energy and determination that I resolve to make my way through the hospital back to my office. I remember taking one particular hallway on a previous day, so I started out in that direction. Looking around, focused on memorizing landmarks, I realize everything looks familiar. I continue to walk straight down a single hallway, make a turn near the end, and exit the door I originally entered that morning.

Much like my trip to London, I was almost where I wanted to be very early in my journey. The place I wanted to reach was minutes away – in less than 20 feet, I would have entered the lobby of the appropriate medical building and realized where I was. Instead, crippled by self-doubt and second guessing every single step, I turned around and continued to walk in circles. I passed the same point four times, turning a 5 minute trip into a 25 minute trek.

It’s a life lesson, I nodded decisively upon reaching my desk again. If you’d just have some faith in yourself, you could be where you want to be, I continued to internally lecture sternly. Making significant progress in research, involved in a romantic relationship, laughing with good friends actually located in your current location.

Instead, I stop to think, looking around and feeling as if something is vaguely wrong, then hurrying to fix it. If I’d just focus on moving forward – straight down the hall and toward the room – I might reach my goals rather than waiting for elevators, jogging down stairs, continuing to stand outside in the rain in an attempt to regain my bearings.

This was my original stopping point, but then something happened this afternoon. It's so perfect in my mind that I can hardly believe it happened. But I promise I'm not making it up.

I was standing outside, waiting for the shuttle to take me to my parking area, huddled under an overhang to avoid getting soaked. There was a car, a black Honda Civic with the passenger side severely dented, driving around. It distracted me from dark thoughts of traveling in circuitous paths when a straight shot was available but overlooked.

I’m not observant – I spend the vast majority of my day locked in my thoughts, considering problems and composing blog posts. I don’t notice other people, let alone cars. So why this one?

It was driving around in circles. Over and over and over. I started to feel a bit dizzy watching it twirl around.

It would stop for the shuttles (none of them mine) and for other cars as they picked people up to complete the commute home. But as soon as the path was clear, it would weave around obstacles and continue to circle around the little turn-around drive.

It wasn’t going fast, I thought, frowning at the car. Just steadily proceeding around the circle again and again. I didn’t even count its revolutions, so engrossed was I in determining why someone would engage in such behavior.

The shuttle came and I hurried to board, arranging myself in line so I could sit by the window on the driver’s side. I wanted to keep watching the black car as it continued, passing the same points over and over with no signs of ceasing.

A woman was driving, I noticed upon the closer inspection my new seat afforded me. I wondered, as she headed away from me, if she was crazy. Had finally had enough of medical research and lost it. Perhaps, like me, she was tired of working so hard to make so little progress. So she decided to get in her car and just make little circles, always turning left.

But as she approached my shuttle again, I saw her face. She was laughing – shoulders shaking lightly, hugely grinning as she made her way past me again. I smiled without thinking about it, but stifled it when I realized I was probably mistaken in my interpretation of her mood.

Impatient now, I waited for her to approach yet again. It’s a small circle – I didn’t have to wait long. She was smiling – she looked joyous. I let this smile stay on my lips, eyes squinting this time, not in befuddled focus but in bewildered happiness for her.

Just as the shuttle began to pull away, one of the 4 parking spots along the cirle drive was vacated. She neatly pulled her black, dented Civic into the space, and was unbuckling her seatbelt with a smile as we drove away.

As we headed through the rain to my parking garage, I was suddenly thrilled that I hadn’t written this post last night. I would have complained about my trouble finding the room, berated myself for not trusting my original plan and for not paying more attention when I had walked through the hospital before.

Instead, I’ve decided that even if there is a quick, easy route through life, I’m not always going to find it. If I’m lucky, I’ll walk that path for at least some of the time, and spend other days of my life making circles – some small, some huge.

But if I pass the same point again and again, I’m going to remind myself of the woman in her Civic. Sometimes, there will be a reason I'm passing the same point ad nauseum. Maybe I'm waiting for the right time to progress, maybe I'm re-learning the same lessons until I really understand something.

But as it’s happening, I have a choice. I can duck my head, embarrassed, and pretend I know what I’m doing so nobody thinks I’m stupid. Worrying all the time that they see through my facade to the insecure ignorance I sometimes feel.

Or I can laugh, abandon myself to the joy and humor of the moment, enjoy my trip uncaring if passersby think I’m completely insane or realize I’m just waiting for a parking spot.

Driving home, still smiling, I thought, remember to laugh when you screw up. If this is going to be hard, at least you'll get to giggle.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Dad: work and solutions

“I have a problem, Dad.”


“So I have this hollow sphere. It has 2 holes in it – on opposite sides.”


“They close with small plastic screws, so you need to have both screws out to empty it. Or the air holds the liquid in.”

“Of course.”

“So, I emptied it, but now I have to fill it back up. But the hole is too small! I tried to make funnels, but it just leaks down the side because the air is trying to escape as the new solution enters.”

I wait for a response. None comes. I continue, feeling as if I’m describing a story problem, sitting at the kitchen table as I work through math homework that’s taking too long.

“I’m at home, trying to refill this sphere with a new solution I made, but I can’t get the liquid in.”

“What if you don’t put the other screw in so the air can escape from the other side?”

“No. They’re on opposing sides, so if I’m trying to pour some liquid in one side, it would just leak out the other side if the hole is open. You know?”


“So how would you fill this up?”

“I’d use some sort of squirting device. Do you have an eye dropper, only bigger?”

“Like a syringe?!”

“Sort of. But bigger.”

“No, I need a syringe! The hole is really small – a needle would be about right! Where do I get one of those?”

“I was thinking more like a turkey sucker. That thing your mom uses that moves the turkey gravy around? Something big.”

“No, the sphere only holds about a liter of solution. So something small would work. Even an eye dropper, though it would take forever.”

“Yeah, but you’re right. It would probably work.”

“Where would I get one? Wal-Mart? Would CVS have one?”

“Probably. Like in the medicine section. We have one for the little one. For liquid medicines.”

“OK, I have to go get one! Thanks, Dad!”

My father didn’t finish high school. Always having authority issues, he decided he could learn what he needed to know on his own. His parents weren’t the best, and he was always conscious of doing better for Brother and me than they’d done for him.

He’s smart though. Argumentative and superior sometimes, but sensitive and thoughtful at others. He can fix anything, and I can easily picture him sitting on the floor of my house here, staring at the garbage disposal, or the toilet, or the lighting he’d taken down. He takes things apart, looks at them, figures out how they work, then fixes them. Anything.

I sat behind my refrigerator the day I moved in, holding a flashlight as we stared at the motor that powered the water dispenser in the freezer door. I wanted to be unpacking, but I sat impatiently as he carefully took pieces off the refrigerator, then disassembled them. He’d clean some pieces, examine others for defects, and place them carefully in line so we could put it back together.

He’d explain how he thought the device worked, pulling water from the wall, then forcing it up the pipe he’d identified that lead to the ice maker and the water dispenser. We checked everything, carefully consulting manuals to find the right part number so we could order a new metal box.

We carefully constructed the motor again with the new part and the pieces we saved. Dad let me put it back in, and I remember pushing the first glass against the little lever and watching water come out. Triumphant, Dad and I grinned at each other, then moved on to the next task.

Now when I stare at something, impatient with my inability to think of a good solution, I wonder what Dad would do. Patient, thoughtful, inquisitive, he would look, draw on experience, and figure something out.

I have far surpassed both my parents in terms of level of education, I mused as I sat at my kitchen table, forcing liquid from my newly-purchased syringe into my hollow sphere. Mom graduated from high school while working part-time. She started a full time job in addition to working retail immediately after she finished school. Apart from two 6-week maternity leaves and a month-long stay at home for illness when I was in junior high, she’s worked ever since. That’s over 40 years of going to the office every day, doing her job, then coming home to care for us.

Dad aced the GED when he was drafted to go to Vietnam. He did well when he was there, was asked to re-enlist, though he declined. He returned home, married Mom, and worked as well. He mostly fixed things – all sorts of machines. Cars were his passion though, and he continues to putter in his garage behind the house.

They bolstered my confidence when it shriveled into nothing. I vividly remember receiving a bright white plush bear with a shiny black ribbon around his neck when I lost the 3rd grade spelling bee. “You tried hard, and that makes you a winner.” Mom told me gently, fixing a special dinner and letting Dad give me the bear.

They corrected me when I got too arrogant, overestimating my natural ability and my academic background. They have served as a constant reminder (sometimes silent, sometimes very loud) that the people I respect most, those who leave me in awe of their intelligence and talent, their compassion and sincerity, don’t necessarily have any sort of degree. They would have been proud had I made other choices, ended up somewhere else, found a different path. And I am completely aware and thankful of how blessed I have been by having them in my life.

When I have problems, I’m calling my parents. I still think they know most of the important answers. And when it comes to hollow spheres with holes that are too small, they know some of the little answers too.

Yet another header

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Found it!

We had a consistent joke in our house. Whenever we weren’t able to find something, we say that someone broke in and took it.

The first time was for the fire safe. We stored our savings bonds in it, and when I started college and needed to pay the remainder of room and board, I wanted a couple of mine. We looked and looked. Mom and Dad both remembered seeing it in different places – he downstairs, she in their bedroom closet.

After 30 minutes, I gave up, sure that Dad would find it. He’s like a bloodhound – never tiring, continuing to look until whatever was lost is now found.

He came into the living room, exasperated. “We need to be more careful with that, you know. It’s not just bonds – all our important documents are in there!”

Mom and I didn’t respond – it’s best to just let him talk as he continues his search. Our comments wouldn’t be welcome as we curled up on the blue armchairs and watched him standing in the doorway, hands on his hips.

“Someone probably broke in and took it.” He called as he went back down the hall. I couldn’t resist saying something then.

“Dad? Someone came in and left everything else? But took the fire safe? Without the key that we already found?”

He stomped back up the hall moments later, flushed from crawling under beds and moving boxes in closets.

“They could have! Burglars look for safes! And that one had a handle!”

With a glare, he headed back to the bedrooms to look.

Mom and I dissolved into giggles, our soft laughter stifled only when he returned. He was carrying the safe – found in Brother’s closet behind some of his hockey trophies.

“Dad! The burglars brought it back!” I cheered. He wasn’t amused.


I keep telling them that someone broke in and took my power cord, asking the dog why she didn’t better protect the house. When I first moved, I had the cord – I remembered seeing it in my office. But I couldn’t find the external storage drive that matched it. After months of sporadic searching, I was triumphant in that quest. But then the cord was gone, and none of the other random electrical devices would fit.

So I took the 250GB drive to work, carefully stored it in a bin and wondered where the cord went. I looked – all over the office several times, in the boxes I’d stored in the attic, in the master closet, in all my hidden storage spots, in baskets, behind furniture – everywhere. Even knowing that there was somewhere I hadn’t yet checked, I couldn’t think of where it could possibly be.

So I priced one online. $30 seemed steep for something I already had in my possession and I decided it was worth it to continue my search. Then I asked around the department, hoping I could borrow someone’s and transfer the data and burn DVDs from my work computer. They suggested I buy one.

Resigned, I put it on my list for this weekend.

Friday night, my glasses fell under my bed. I have a king size mattress but no headboard. So when the remote or my glasses fall, they end up in the small section of floor between my bed and the wall. Peering down at them through squinted eyes, I decided I’d get the glasses later.

Last night, right before removing my contacts, I remembered I had to retrieve them. Stretching my arm toward the wire-rimmed lenses, I watched in dismay as the remote slipped off the mattress and bounced under it.

Grabbing my glasses, I tried to reach the remote but realized I’d have to climb under the bed to get it.

I moved the container that holds my extra sheets, but couldn’t see the remote because the power cord for my storage device was in the way. Pleased, I silently thanked the burglars for returning it. Only then did I remember trying to use it for my alarm clock, and not having it fit. Then it must have accidentally been shoved under the bed in one of my “cleaning” sprees.

Now it sits in my bag and I’m eager to bring it to work so that it can reunite with its device, happily providing power so I can finally access some of my old data and code.

I didn’t inherit Dad’s talent for finding things. Often giving up, moving on to other pursuits, only to be reminded that eventually I need to locate the missing object. But it’s often easier to wait – to find it on accident rather than through consistent effort and methodical searching. Instead, I wait until the remote bounces under the bed, then grin when I see my power cord unexpectedly.

I’m drafting my second IRB proposal. My problem with both studies I’ve designed in my post-doc so far? I’ve done this stuff already. Or slight variations thereof. I’m talking about using familiar techniques in popular problems. I’m questioning the ability to publish any of this pilot data and dreading the day when I finally discover the fatal flaw behind these studies. I was hired primarily for my experience - the ability to avoid the pitfalls of conducting studies of which I'm fond.

But the problem - that flaw - is always there. I’ve done nothing that hasn’t, at one time, made me look over my shoulder and force back tears. It’s frustrating to go through the same situations and understand you’re making progress, but also know that it’s coming too slowly.

So as much as I try, mulling over the study design, reading papers and gleefully pointing out where I could have better done the research, I know I’m missing something. Looking in all the wrong places, and not seeing the problem that each reviewer will note when I try to publish or attempt to get grants funded.

So I sigh, unhappy with the significant progress I’ve made this weekend. There’s something missing, if not wrong, in those words I’ve so carefully put together and referenced. Something missing in the control group, ill-advised in the timing of data acquisition, impossible within my plan for the processing and interpretation of results. And I just don’t see it. I'll find it, accidentally, when I'm trying to figure out results - too late to fix.

I bet someone broke in, read my work, and knows what it is. Smug in the knowledge that they know what will ruin all my projects – the small glitch I didn’t predict or the problem I thought I accounted for but didn’t. So I keep going over my plans, my lit searches, my hypotheses. I want to list all the possible problems and figure out ways around them – sketch outlines for the future papers so I understand how the work should flow.

I have the background, the resources, the education. But sometimes I wonder, faced with consenting hundreds of sick patients, some of them children, if I have the faith that any of this will ever do any good.

That makes me feel lost.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

PSA: iPod, red circles and such

I seem to be getting a fair number of hits from searches resulting from my iPod post. Apparently people are struggling with why the forbidding red circle appears. Perhaps they, like me, connected the little guy to their computers without reading any directions. The unfortunate thing was that my post offered no solutions to the circle, so I'd like to remedy that.

I use my iPod (whose name is Chandler) on my PowerBook. But I assume similar things happen in any Windows OS. When I plug it in, iTunes opens and I can move music around, create playlists, and other fun stuff. The red circle is on the whole time it's plugged in. So when you're finished with your iTunes activities, you'll want to find your iPod's name in the left source portion of the screen and push the little eject icon located right next to it. Then wait a couple seconds and the red circle goes away and you can unplug your iPod happily.

Please feel free to send me email if I can help with anything.

Oh! And if you have the new video iPod, for goodness sake, be careful with the screen! Mine is terribly scratched already and I thought I was keeping it carefully encased. Now I'm sad just thinking about my scratched screen.


I took my dog for a walk this morning. She wakes up and waits at the front entryway, refusing to use her doggie door that leads to the fenced yard in back in favor of guilting me into putting on shoes and grabbing her leash to explore the neighborhood.

We have disparate goals, the dog and I. I would rather walk briskly, covering our normal route in as little time as possible, burning some calories and forcing myself into full wakefulness. She wants to look around, smell around each mailbox and shrub, wait for people to come out for their newspapers in hopes of making new friends. So we battle for dominance; I tug her along, she plants her 4 white paws to smell a little more. She sees something cool and surges forward; I maintain my pace and brace myself for the pull.

We use a flexi-lead. In the beginning, she would steal my breath with the strength of her tugs when there was no more leash with which to run. We’d both look at each other as she jerked to a stop – hurt, surprised and irritated. I’ve dropped the leash on several occasions – fingers numb from being bounced off walls or objects when she yanked unexpectedly. She’s stopped and had coughing fits from having pulled on her throat too hard.

As we’ve lived and walked together though, she seems to have figured out where the leash ends. So she’ll sprint for a few strides, the drop back into a trot so that when she’s about 25 feet from me, there’s a gentle tug rather than a violent jerk. She’ll look back at me, express her impatience, and continue to trot along until we reach her next stop.

What a smart girl, I marveled this morning as I have before. It’s cool that she understands how much room she has and stops within the appropriate range.

Then I realized I do it too. When she stops to look around, I continue to progress around corners or up small hills. But when I get too far ahead, I call to her. Then she gets one more sharp command before I stop and turn to say “What’s the problem here? Let’s go!" Then I tug gently or wait impatiently for her to join me for the remainder of our journey.

We understand our limitations, and while I don’t know how she thinks about it, on my part its subconscious. Unwilling to hurt her, even while engrossed in songs or audiobooks on my iPod, I somehow know how far away she’s located and hesitate before continuing without her. We’re reminded of our limitations, tethered together.

I remember dragging my blue plastic chair to the hallway when I was in third grade. We joined the other class, intermingling our brightly colored seats into jumbled rows so we could see the one of the televisions placed in the center of the wide halls.

“I should have made popcorn!” My teacher enthused. We were her first class out of student teaching, and I adored her. Pretty, excited, gentle – I was proud to be in her class and smiled at her when she ruffled my hair as I sat at the edge of my row.

The principal was talking in the center of the school, primary grades to his left, junior high students on his right. He was solemn with the importance of the day. Our weeks of space exploration lessons were detailed as he described how the different teachers had incorporated this special event into their daily schedules.

The walls, painted garishly in school colors – bright yellow with black borders – were littered with creations – artists of various ages had colored and drawn space shuttles, astronauts and planets. Had written stories or essays about the launch of the Challenger. It was noisy as those papers fluttered around and the hallway warmed from the presence of 200 small bodies.

Principal finished his talk with a grin. We were all excited, proud that a teacher was going into space, eager to share in the experience. Our teachers, mostly female, lined the hallways as we sat, squirming and adjusting to see the television more clearly. I remember squinting through my turquoise-rimmed glasses (they were worse than they sound, actually) to see the TV located about 10 rows in front of me.

The volume was as high as it would go – too loud for those located close to it. Since they were spaced at regular intervals, we could all hear – it was seeing that was a problem. We all quieted, rather from demands of our authority figures or from the excitement of the countdown. Watching quietly, I remember our awe. We had started to marvel to one another, glancing away from the screen to smile at the wonders of our society as the shuttle left the ground. Breaking boundaries, surpassing limitations, going far beyond what was considered possible.

I wasn’t looking at the TV when the shuttle exploded. I remember hearing the teachers gasp. Looking up at the television and not understanding what had gone wrong. Turning my questioning stare to my teacher, young and full of possibilities herself and seeing her face whiten and pupils constrict with shock. Tears rushed to my eyes as I watched the line of women desperately try to gain composure, naively sure there was some explanation and a way for everything to be OK again.

“Turn it off.” One of the second grade teachers finally said. Nearing retirement, I wasn’t nearly as fond of her. She sharply called 2 other teachers as she headed to the nearest television. “They don’t need to see this. Turn it off!

I remember sitting there, dead silent, looking around at the pictures and paragraphs that we had written in anticipation of this event. Watching my much-respected leaders look around, unprepared for this outcome and lost as to how to cope.

“We need to go back to our classrooms.” We were quietly told, and picking up our chairs, we returned to our desks. I think we talked about what had happened. I’m grateful I wasn’t called upon to provide reasons, facing a group of young people, most of whom not able to understand why something bad would happen to a group of people we had learned about. Good people - smart, prepared, lucky to have this opportunity. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

Perhaps that’s why we have an inherent ability to sense our limitations – define safety and react so we stay within its bounds. There’s some internal leash that warns me when I go too far, expect too much, reach beyond the bounds of what’s normal and easy. For those that break that tether, who embrace risk and pain in order to snap the cord that ties them to the everyday, I have a great deal of respect.

But I hesitate to join them, because even now, I recall my innocent confusion as to why bad things can happen to those who reach beyond what currently exists. I don’t really want to be the one teaching that to the next generation. And I still watch every shuttle launch, sick with dread rather than thrilled with excitement, until its safely out of our atmosphere. Praying for the safe return for those who are braver than I could be.

Friday, January 27, 2006


I decided not to go home this weekend, though the thought tugs at me after only a month. I was home for Christmas, spent time with the little one, endured excessive drama from Brother and his wife.

I’ve been quite content to sit here in my house, quietly doing some work, cleaning, running errands, getting together with the occasional friend. Since the last visit to my parents’ was so emotionally draining, I’ve been telling myself to just stay away.

But I stopped at the grocery store this morning to get treats to take to work (because I’m nice like that), and there was a grandmother standing with a blonde little angel in front of me. She interrupted the cashier to ask where the pacifiers were kept.

Then she shuffled slowly by with her granddaughter as she toddled unsteadily toward the correct aisle.

They returned before the woman in front of me was done writing her check, and the little girl was starting to fuss. After picking the toddler up, her grandma opened the package and gave her the pacifier, which she promptly placed in her mouth.

Quietly whimpering, she rested her head on her grandma’s shoulder as I watched with a smile.

“Go ahead.” I motioned, sensing the pair was growing tired.

The grandma demurred, but I insisted. “I’m not in a hurry. Really. Please go ahead.”

They scooted around me and handed the package to the cashier. After another smile in my direction, they headed out to the parking lot.

My mom loves our little one like that. She fought a war with one of her daycare providers over a pacifier. I think the phrase “My daughter almost took her boppy to kindergarten and she has a PhD! There’s nothing wrong with using one for comfort when she’s away from home!” was used. They changed childcare arrangements shortly thereafter.

When I was babysitting, always nervous at being on my own (what if, like in Gremlins, I do something to her and she morphs into some diabolical creature? Sure, she’s cute now, but I don’t have enough experience with babies to be positive I won’t hurt her or vice versa), I realized after Brother dropped her off that I was sans boppy.

Mom left work to get one, quickly returning home so she could spend the remainder of the day with me (I know she came for the little one, but I like to feel important). She’s such a good grandma – her eyes sparkle when she sees the little one, will sit for hours just holding her, rocking in a chair.

But I dealt with my feelings – got a bit teary, ached with the desire to run back home, pick up the dog and head north to my family. But there’s work to be done, wars with the computer to be waged. So I went to the office and spent a relatively sad day.

On my way home, I wanted a reward. So I stopped for a Sonic Blast and settled in to wait for my oreo goodness. It’s pleasant outside, so I kept my window rolled down after ordering, happily watching the people and listening to the Oldies on Sonic Radio.

Then a song came on that immediately made my head drop to the side as I smiled. Dad sings to the little one. We all do. It immediately quiets her and she stops any sort of crying/screaming/fussing to listen to our only-slightly-off-key music. I stick to songs my grandparents sang to me. School Days, K-K-K-Katie (and it's Katie, not Katy, because that's how I spell my name), Fishies – the good stuff. Mom also goes with traditional baby songs – lullabies, nursery rhymes, the alphabet song.

Dad mixes it up and sings classic rock and oldies. His favorite for a time went

Baby, baby…baby don’t leave me.
Please don’t leave me...all by myself.

That’s all he’d sing – over and over. He contends that her first word was "baby" though I argue she was going for "bottle" and stopped short. He also makes up songs for her – about waiting for Grandma to get home from work, watching the dog across the street, fixing macaroni and cheese for lunch. But many of these songs, at some point, include the “baby, baby” lines.

So I heard it at Sonic, paid for my treat, and headed to my house. And I ached, because as lovely as this place is, much as I enjoy the people and the weather, as productive as I am at work, it’s not home in the real sense of the word.

As much as my family drives me crazy sometimes - as silly and melodramatic and annoying as they might be - I miss them ever so much.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

From the Sent folder

I’m swamped this evening – lots of work and a headache to deal with. So, for your entertainment (or at least the possibility thereof), I present 5 emails I sent today.

These were all sent to the same person – a friend in the department who knows more computer stuff than I do.

Email 1
Hey [Friend]-

I can't install [software] on my desktop here at work. I get all the way through it, then it won't start the license manager, regardless of whether or not I install it. So I can't complete the installation.

I think [IT person] told me not to install the license manager, so I tried that first. 

I'd ask [IT person], but he's not around and he was kind of abrupt with me this morning.

You're nicer, so I'm bothering you. Ideas? Did you install it on your computer here at work? Why won't it work for me?!


Short, friendly, with only a hint of frustration there at the end so that he would feel sorry enough to help me.

He responds by telling me to uninstall and try again, blah blah, some script, blah blah, change shell types in the terminal. He closes his email with a line that says he can handle it in 5 minutes, so I should let him know if my next attempt fails.

Email 2

OK, I'll try one more time. I just drag everything to the trash to uninstall, right? If not, I already screwed up, so that's nice. 

I also can't set up my .cshrc file to run [other software] correctly, though I did figure it out on my laptop.

I have a meeting until 2:15, I think. Could you stop by when you get here? And just tell me what I'm doing wrong? 

I miss [grad school IT person]. I know I irritated [grad school IT person], but I was used to it so I didn't care. 

I was getting more despondent. I have a threshold for dealing with computer problems that are difficult for me to grasp. I work and work, not able to leave it alone, but then I get mildly irritated, then rapidly descend into feeling completely pathetic.

He sent back some encouragment, along with a question about what type of terminal shell I was using. Basically, since I’m using bash, changing my .cshrc won’t matter. I should instead change my .bashrc or .profile.

Email 3

Yeah, I really don't know what you're talking about. I need to find my step-by-step instructions on how to install [other software] because I don't remember how to change to csh, but I think I have to.

Result? [Other software] won't work right now.
I also can't get my mail program to work. Which sucks significantly.

Maybe we should talk tomorrow since I'll probably yell at you today out of sheer frustration. 

I'll try to find you after [other department’s] seminar. So if you don't want to help, keep your head down and don't make eye contact with me if I see you there. :)

I don’t give him time to respond. Rather I find an online discussion board that had a suggestion on how to restore Mail. It just kept bouncing in my dock, then opened but wouldn’t show me any messages, then would become unresponsive. I force quit it about 10 times.

I was irritated with not being able to install software for work, but outraged at the loss of email. So I worked on that.

Note: I had been using the online email system to send these while my Mail program was broken. So I wasn’t without email completely, but it was less convenient and pretty.

Email 4

HA! I got mail back! The online discussion helped me, though I thought I'd lose everything by starting new. But it's all here! How lovely!

Now I will attempt, one last time, to install [software]. This will mean that I will continue to ignore the stack of work on my desk so that when I go home tonight, I'll think "I spent 6 hours trying to install [software] and fix [other software] when [Friend] could have done it in 5 minutes. I'm a genius!!"


Again, he wisely neglects to respond, understanding that I’m past the point of being helped by email. I know he’ll stop when he comes in to the office.

Email 5

OK, honestly. Would it be impolite to just write out a stream of profanity across the little email screen?

How the f*&% to you change to a tcsh permanently?! If I type it in, [other software] opens fine. But I can't alter my cshs because I don't know how! And once I'm in, it won't let me out! So I have to quit X11 completely!

And why can't anything have a name?! Why must we use a bunch of letters? Like tcsh = Barney. cshs = Fred. That way I can at least remember Flintstones characters rather than continuing to look back at references to remember the freaking letters.

The good news is I can make [other software] work. The bad news is it's cumbersome and I know it shouldn't be!

Haven't even tried [software] again yet. I'm afraid I'll lose the feeble grip I have left on sanity.

I sent it, and started screaming profanity in my head. Then I narrowed my eyes, deleted the hell out of every file that might be remotely associated with [software] and reinstalled it sans license manager. And it worked. I nodded at my worthy competitor, perched on my desk in all its computery glory.

I went to a meeting, and returned to find Friend leaving my office. He smiled and went back with me to rapidly type something incomprehensible. Then he swore at the computer for a minute and tried something else. Now everything works! Perfectly! He fixed it in less than 2 minutes!

I glared at him for a moment, lost in recollections of feeling inadequate and stupid from most of my computer experiences in grad school and beyond. But then I smiled and he laughed with me, squeezed my shoulder, and talked for another minute.

He’s a good guy. I have a great deal of affection and respect for him already. But it’s hard to watch someone do something so easily when you’ve struggled over it for a long time. So while I chuckle over my emails (and hope you do too), I think it’s also kind of a sad commentary on how I see myself at work.

I’d go into more detail, but I really don’t have time. Those piles of work that got shoved aside as I battled my computer? I brought them home.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Privacy in public

“Derrick kissed me.” She told me, my blonde friend who I have yet to name. I’m calling her Mandy.

I raised my eyebrows in shock, phone clutched to my ear.

We were not yet in sixth grade. It was the summer I first read a real romance novel, graduating from Sweet Valley High into one of my aunt’s books without Mom and Dad noticing. I remember being alarmed when I first read it. He put his hand where?! Why would he do something like that?!

“I stayed at Debbie’s house last night, and she went to sleep early. So I went to the basement to hang out with Derrick.” Mandy continued, while I waited, eager to continue my romantic education.

Derrick was older than us, starting high school in a few short weeks as we sweated out the remainder of the August heat across the Midwestern plains. I spent the summer watching Brother and doing chores, swimming in the pool, going to movies and lunch with Grandma once a week, reading voraciously (once I got used to the mechanics, I was fascinated by the sexy novels).

“So I was downstairs and we started to talk, and then he kissed me!”

“Really? Wow.”

Then we sat in silence. Confused, I waited for her to continue or hang up.

“Are you OK?” I finally inquired.

“I’m great! I want to tell you, but I don’t want to seem like a slut. So maybe you could ask questions and then I can answer them.”

Again there was silence, this time broken by nervous giggles.

“I don’t know what to ask!” I said. “Just tell me what happened, and then I’ll ask questions. If I have them.”

So she told me. There was removal of clothing, leading to our extensive discussion about his body and her reaction to it. Then more clothes came off. She said she kept thinking about stopping, but he would kiss her when she started to protest and she just let things continue. She spoke haltingly, weighing her words before speaking them, wanting to share her experience but unfamiliar with how to talk about sex.

“Wait, wait, wait.” I finally interrupted. I like to repeat words when I get excited. “Did you have sex with him?” It was my first question.

She paused and I held my breath.

“I…don’t really know.”

Finally! A use for my newfound romance novel knowledge!

“Um…so… I guess that you officially have had sex when…”

“I know what sex is!” She interrupted and I welcomed her knowledge. “I think he might have, and it sort of hurt, but I don’t really know if…”

“Oh.” I said, not really understanding how you could not know – it seemed like there was a pretty clear definition to me. But I was willing to accept that in my ignorance, perhaps I missed some caveat that would eventually reveal itself to me as well.

I remember winding the cord around my finger as we talked for hours, both behind our respective bedroom doors. My room was done in pretty pastels, filled more with books than clothes, while she had deep jewel tones and more clothing, perfume and makeup than I dreamed of possessing.

We were different, and would continue to diverge in our interests and choices as we waded through adolescent changes and difficulties.

But there were more phone calls as she and Derrick continued their late night meetings as she started to stay over at Debbie’s house more and more. I cautioned her against going too fast, getting hurt, doing more than made her comfortable. But at the same time, I was eager to hear about it – waiting to sate my curiosity while risking nothing of myself. She was similarly enamored with our conversations, calling me immediately after returning home. The flow improved - we both got comfortable with talking about this stuff and she shared more and more.

After one of her encounters, I was not available. I had gone with my parents to see Brother play baseball. We were about a half hour away from home when she and her parents joined us at the restaurant for an after-game dinner. I was shocked to see her, and she quickly pulled me away from fried fish and potato salad so we could go for a walk outside.

That would be our last chance to discuss her budding relationship. We had overplayed our hands. It didn’t make sense that she needed to see me that badly – her parents were confused at her insistence on joining my family for dinner. My parents were equally befuddled.

Mandy and I walked around the parking lot, giggling over details (“He said it tasted like pizza! That’s so stupid! … Did it?”) I remember her smiling and averting her eyes, drawing out the story so I could stand in wide-eyed anticipation.

We went home to questions from our moms. Mandy played dumb.

I told everything.

It was too good! I wasn’t able to keep it to myself. I’m ashamed of myself now, not so much for telling, but for the reasons behind it. I was not motivated to protect her from pregnancy or disease, rather I really wanted to share the stories and have a chance to gossip with my mom. She didn’t indulge me, and soon Mandy’s visits to Derrick were curtailed, and she told me stories of how she was grounded and not able to talk to anyone but me on the phone.

MplsJu posted an interesting question yesterday, and I wasn’t sure how to respond. I’m relatively new to the blogging world, and entered it completely knowingly. I’m aware of people losing jobs for seemingly trivial postings, hurting family or friends when their words were discovered, and having the release of thoughts bring about changes that were unexpected and severe.

My thought was that I would just keep many facets of my life private. I’d speak of general thoughts, and when I ran out of things to say, I’d stop writing. But then I got comfortable.

I spent my first 2 weeks with Minor Revisions alone. Nobody read, not even stumbling across it for something like 16 days. And in those weeks, I started to put more and more out there. I snuggled in and started to build my archives, content in watching the volume of material grow and secure in the fact that it would remain unseen, at least for awhile.

The more you publish, the easier it gets. It’s like that first phone call with Mandy – sitting in silence, feeling your way through an unfamiliar situation. It’s exciting – that rush of feeling as you dip your toe in unfamiliar water. But once you get out there, start talking, think you’re safe in sharing your thoughts and secrets, it only gets easier. My feeling was that talking to me – going over what happened and sharing her experience with a rapt audience of one – was an important part of the experimentation for her. Talking to me made her feel grown-up, superior, knowledgeable. And that’s a rush all its own.

So when I read MplsJu’s post and thought about her question, I was honestly at a loss. It’s not a possibility I’ve considered. What would I do if I knew someone casually and discovered her blog? Would I warn her? Would I just keep reading silently?

I keep track of my site statistics carefully so that I know who’s reading. As of yet, nobody from my graduate institution has been here. But someone will very occasionally read from my current place of employment. The first time I saw the school pop up, I panicked.

I never blog at work – never write, never log-in, never even read much of anything. So I knew it wasn’t me. But could it be someone in the department? Someone I knew? Would everyone find out? I felt sick. I went over all the posts in my head, then read through archives. Should I take posts down? Remove the whole blog? Be more careful in the future?

The thought of removing it completely was repellent. This space was for me! You’re not supposed to read it! Or talk about me! Or think about me! Viciously protective, I knew I wanted to continue. It’s making me better – more thoughtful, more aware, nicer. I’ve grown dependent on coming here, looking at my words posing prettily across a web page.

But then I realized I’d fallen into a despised trap. You put something out here so that someone can read it. And in doing that, you give up control over who gets to see your words. As long as they’re out here, anyone can read them, criticize them, tell all their friends. Once my thoughts on your screen, there’s an element of them that is yours to do with what you will.

I hate it when writers belittle their readers. As if there’s some flaw that leads the audience to read or comment when information has been freely given. You have to take responsibility for what you publish. There’s some acceptance of possible consequences, even those that are unforeseen.

But our inherent exhibitionism – our need for someone to try to understand us even when we don’t understand ourselves; to contribute to the dialog – even those of us who may not say much in person; to vent and whine and mope – leads us to tell our secrets. Then some of us sit back and see who might read them, carefully trying to build an audience when our initial goal was to keep this small and simple.

I still don’t know how I want to comment on her post. Because this isn’t like picking up the phone and talking to a friend. It’s like walking outside, closing your eyes and just talking. Anyone can come and hear, and all you receive at the end are tiny slips of paper at your feet. They contain locations, and some digits thrown together for identification. If someone I knew happened to walk by during one of my speeches, would I want them to say hello on the little slip of paper? I just don’t know.

But I'm thinking about it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


I’ve heard a congregation referred to as a flock since I was little. Pastors tend to their flock. Maybe someone is part of a difficult flock. Perhaps there’s disagreement among some factions of the flock.

Anyway, when I think about God, it’s sometimes really profound. Ethereal, powerful, and completely sincere. But when I think about church (which is related to God, but a separate entity for me), I often think of grassy hillsides and frolicking sheep. This is perhaps a holdover from my immature views of worship and the dynamics thereof. Or maybe it makes me happy to represent a serious part of life as something precious and fun to visualize.

I met my pastor tonight. I sent him a note thanking him for his welcome letter (trying to deal with the Southern etiquette), and told him I’d like to get together to discuss opportunities for service. I did this not because I particularly wanted to serve or because I wanted to meet him. I asked for a meeting because I know myself.

I’m a shy sheep.

When I picture the bright green hill, full of grass to eat, sheep to play with, and trees under which to nap, I’m often off by myself. Nibbling on grass in an out of the way area – not wanting to intrude on parts of the meadow that belong to the other sheep.

I look over my white wooly shoulder at the groups of sheep, wondering what they’re talking about. Sometimes there are groups with brighter wool who are pawing the ground angrily as they glare at the sheep with better hooves. Differing ideas, often trivial, can ruin a flock. I roll my eyes as they fight over the best way to line up to get in the barn.

I like being alone with my thoughts. I smile at the lambs as they play, learning about their world, gathered around the shepherd and hearing simple stories. I let their soft bleats blend into the background when the shepherd speaks – still trying to learn myself.

I like gatherings. It makes me feel a part of the flock. Huddled into straight rows, singing together, standing and sitting in unison, bowing our heads, thinking about the greater good.

But after it’s over? I eagerly return to my sheepy solitude, finding an empty part of the hill where I can think and rest. I’ll stand in line to greet the shepherd personally after church, but I won’t hold up the other sheep as we file out into the sunshine. So I knew that I could go to church for years and never introduce myself.

So tonight, I ventured out, met him and his family. I like him. He’s very welcoming, seemed liberal enough to suit me, had funny stories, and was clear about where he hoped to grow. And he loves his flock – speaking highly of so many in such a short time. And he liked me – complimenting my thoughts, thanking me for the tulips I brought, offering me more coffee and additional invitations for time together and with other groups of special sheep.

I laughed and talked, stomach jumpy with pleasure at getting to bleat out my spiritual thoughts and questions and having people listen. Having stories directed at me personally rather than as one of a group. Making eye contact. Feeling connected to other sheep who love God and who are sincere in their desire to grow that part of themselves.

So I was thinking about me as a sheep on my drive home. How fluffy my wool is and how brightly my hooves might shine. How maybe the other sheep would like it if I shared their part of the meadow. Maybe I could run with them as they race down the hill.

I could even see myself with a small group of lambs again. We would play games, do crafts and talk about God. And I’d sit in awe as they answered deep questions and displayed characteristics that made them a better member of the flock than I often am.

The shy little sheep is going early next Sunday. I’ll go to a Sunday School class and try to introduce myself to some other sheep. I probably won’t say much – it takes time for me to feel comfortable enough to offer even a soft bleat. But maybe I’ll look around and realize I fit in, at least a little.

This is going to be my flock. At least for now. It’s thrilling to be noticed – to have someone ask questions and try to make me laugh. So I like being alone, free to contemplate the meaning of why we’re all here and what we should be doing. But I need to venture out and join the other sheep at times. Maybe they know more than I do. Or at least have the ability to make me smile and feel part of a pretty cool flock.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Under pressure: useless part 3

Some relevant points:
* I was raised in a pretty sheltered environment, never having to deal with critical situations.
* My first scary scenario, described below, ended up being a false alarm. So now I take extra time to determine the actual threat level before taking action.
* Las Vegas frustrated me because I took so long to act. Two minutes probably elapsed between my initial realization and the phone call. The idea that serious harm could have come to someone while I thought about what to do disturbs me.

So, my final installment of my Useless Under Pressure series -

I was much younger, though I don’t remember my exact age. Brother was perhaps 7 or 8, making me 13 at the oldest. It was summer – miserably hot in the Midwest, and we were home alone.

There had been a rash of religious visits in the past weeks. Groups of 3-4 men, always in suits despite the sweltering heat, would come to the door and hand out literature. It bothered me – I didn’t like dealing with them, always feeling vaguely threatened though I reasoned that people of God wouldn’t try to harm me or Brother.

On this particular day, 2 men had come to the door and handed me a small pamphlet. They asked me if we went to church, and when I replied in the affirmative, one man started to ask me questions. I don’t remember any of them, but I do recall that he wasn’t impressed with my answers.

I started to close the door. Understanding I was done listening, he said, “I’ll come back later this afternoon to hear what you think of that information!”

I panicked – seriously. I didn’t want him to come back! I hadn’t wanted him to come in the first place. I sat and read the information multiple times, rocking restlessly in a blue armchair by the door, trying to predict appropriate answers to the questions he might ask.

Then I called my mom. Busy at work, she told me not to answer the door when they returned. Brother and I swam in our backyard pool, completed the chores left on the detailed lists Mom would leave on the counter. All the while, I waited tensely for the men to return.

They knocked at the front door late that afternoon, about an hour before Mom and Dad were due home. I didn’t answer, walking down the hall away from the living room. Brother went in his room, located at the back of the house. I went to check on him and found him huddled in the corner farthest from the front door as was possible while remaining in the house.

“Don’t worry. They’ll go away really soon.” I said softly from the doorway. He nodded at me, and came to sit on the floor at my feet when I perched on his bed.

The doorbell started to ring and I called Mom again. She was in the middle of something and hurried me off the phone. “Just tell them to go away, sweetheart!” There were very few times she didn’t have time to talk in my childhood, but this was one of them.

So I called Grandma. Trembling in Brother’s room, I wanted help. Voice shaking, I told Grandma they wouldn’t leave. That they kept ringing the doorbell and knocking. I didn’t want to talk to them!

“You don’t talk to them. Stay in Brother’s room and wait. Did you lock the doors?”

Assured that I did, she continued.

“It will take me 15 minutes to get there. I’m headed to the car right now, OK? If they won’t leave, you call the police, and…”

“No, Grandma, it’s OK. I think they’re gone.”

“I’ll just stay on the phone until you’re sure. Just stay in Brother’s room for a few minutes.”

I agreed and we sat in silence. I had one hand in Brother’s and the other wrapped around the phone as we all sat quietly.

“They’re knocking at the back door.” I suddenly informed Grandma. They were on the patio behind the house, over the fence and very close to Brother’s window.

“Is the door locked?” Grandma asked again, sounding terrified.

Gripping Brother’s hand until my fingers ached, I was about to answer when I saw a blonde head trying to see around the peach-colored mini-blinds.

“They’re looking inside.” I whispered. “Grandma? What should I do?” Never having been so terrified, I remember being confused even as adrenaline coursed through my system. People never tried to hurt me, so it didn't really make sense that I was really in danger.

“You tell them to get away! Yell at them right now – say ‘you get away from here RIGHT NOW’! You have to protect Brother!” Hearing my sweet, calm grandmother so agitated, I acted.

“Go away.” I said loudly but politely. “You’re not supposed to be here!” I continued with a bit more force.

Brother nodded, both of us staring at the blonde hair that could be seen around the edge of the closed blinds.

“Are you guys OK? It’s Eddie.”

Brother and I sagged in relief immediately, while Grandma’s threats to anyone who dared harm us were shouted in my ear.

“It’s OK," I told her. “We’re fine. It was the neighbor from down the street. It’s all fine, Grandma. Are you OK? I’m sorry I scared you.”

She told me to call anytime I was frightened – that she always wanted to talk to me. With all the words at my disposal, I couldn’t express the intensity of the love and gratitude I felt for her. She was all that a Grandma should be.

After we let Eddie in – he had stopped by to see if we wanted to go swimming since he didn’t have a pool at his house, then was worried when we wouldn’t answer the door since he knew we were home – I explained why I ignored him. Even knowing I was safe – that Eddie would deal with any unwelcome visitors until my parents got home, his older-neighbor protective instincts aroused – my stomach remained tight and pained for hours.

The lesson, other than the fact that I suck at handling threats, is that it’s often easier to deal with the known than the horror of my imagination. It’s important to rally my internal resources, quickly assess the situation with all the clarity I can muster, and take some action. And if that action is hiding, maybe I’ll embrace it. It’s not the most effective, but apparently, it’s what I do.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Beauty, many forms of

These are jellyfish in a tank at Mandalay Bay. I found the picture when I was posting yesterday and find them strangely compelling. I stared at them forever, both in person and on my computer screen.

Wanting to post the photo, but unsure of what context to use, I decided to note that I've come across websites that I think are even more compelling than the jellyfish illuminated with purple light.

* Veronica writes beautifully. I leave her work feeling a bit sad and challenged - always marveling at her talent. While I'll read anything the Waiter recommends, I particularly enjoyed this link.

* I came across an exquisite site, and I've looked at Christine's art several times since then. I translated my complimentary email into French via google - I like her art enough to go through the extra effort. It's profound somehow that I don't need to speak French to appreciate her work a great deal.

* I adore Charlie - I love that he reads what I write, and see him as a thoughtful, benevolent presence here. I also see him as having considerable talent. Some of his work evokes my memories of Japan; all of it impresses me. And I'm waiting for the update on the polar bear.

I view my writing style as conversational. While I'm working at getting better - including more dialogue, improving flow, decreasing length - I don't find my posts at all difficult to understand. If I'm trying to tell you something, I'll make it as clear as possible.

What I find interesting about art - how I'd categorize these links - is that it's more challenging to fully appreciate. I spend more time - squinting at images, trying to see the subtle hints that enhance the experience, reading posts multiple times trying to see past the lyrical flow to the story within the words.

I have no talent in the visual arts or poetry, and I feel a bit shy about my interest in them. I often feel as though I'm missing something - that I don't have the background necessary to really understand the message. Perhaps my enjoyment of them is enough.

Regardless, I feel like I did with the jellyfish. I'm standing in the left corner of the original photo, close to the glass, face upturned in a thoughtful expression, a bit awed, a bit confused. I was embarrassed the first time I saw the picture M had taken. Now, I like it - the thought of being outside of my own thoughts, stretching myself to understand something that's not completely clear to me. Finding some sort of profound beauty in the unexpected.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Under pressure: useless part 2

I like to think I handle stress very well. I even create it for myself sometimes. The evidence was in my favor – I can cope with deadlines, give presentations, talk to impressive people; professionally, I do OK. So I was sure that the incident with Brother and the UFO was an aberration – a statistical outlier that shouldn’t be allowed to influence my cool under pressure trend. But near the end of grad school, I took a trip…

I’d been in Las Vegas for 2 days and nights, rooming with a guy from grad school and hanging out with 2 other friends. We had been out late, and busy during the day. I had found a guidebook almost immediately upon landing in Vegas, and formed lists of things to do and see for my first visit. One thing that hadn’t made the list was the indulgence in alcohol. I’m not a big drinker and will quickly grow tipsy. I don’t like losing control, and will switch to water to dull the drunken effects when I start feeling silly and slow.

But Las Vegas seductively offered pretty drinks that were tasty and soothing in the heat outside. And sometimes they were free! So I drank more than I normally would have, giggling with M, one of my favorite friends from grad school.

Exhausted after too many hours of seeing the animals, shows and touring casinos, I retired with Dave, hiking across the Tropicana property to our hotel room. Dave, M and I had debated hotel choices extensively, finally choosing based on location and price. None of us had stayed there before and we reasoned that the accomodations weren't overly important. To be fair, other than the overwhelming smell of cigar that permeated even the air outside the casino, the hotel was perfectly fine.

We talked sleepily across the space between our 2 beds, and I remember laughing until I drifted into dreams of bright lights, huge buildings and masses of people. Something disrupted my intoxicated dreams though. Visions of huge golden lions, enormous onyx pyramids, and gigantic aquariums gave way to wakefulness, and I blinked in the brightness of the room. It was morning, I decided. The sun was washing the room in bright white light where the green glow of the MGM illuminated it at night. A glance at the clock, turned conveniently to face my bed, assured me that it was early.

Already drifting back into sleep, I made the mistake of running my tongue over my teeth. Immediately disgusted, I patted the nightstand until I found my glasses. Perching them on my nose, I shuffled slowly toward the bathroom. Picking up my clear travel bag from the edge of the counter, I walked on the cold tile floor to the sink. Brushing my teeth thoroughly, I started to sway – from the lingering effects of strawberry daiquiris, probably. Finished, I stared at myself in the mirror, conducting a lengthy internal debate over putting my contacts in.

Deciding to leave them out, I headed for the door of the bathroom. Why had I awakened? I frowned, unable to remember. Oh! I wanted to brush my teeth! Silly – I thought – walking briskly back to the sink and putting more toothpaste on my wet toothbrush. Beginning to scrub again, I decided I was tired, so I walked across the room to flip the lid closed, then sat down on the toilet, crossing my legs and continuing to brush my teeth.

Had I already done this? I wondered, feeling as if this was all familiar. Recounting my steps so far, I remembered entering the bathroom, brushing my teeth, thinking about contacts, almost leaving, then brushing my teeth again. I giggled at myself, absurdly amused and sure that I was still a bit drunk.

I was startled by a loud banging. Was someone knocking at our door? I wondered, abruptly thrust from giggles into gasps of alarm. My hand over my heart, I scurried to the sink, rinsed my mouth and went to the bathroom door. I listened out, wondering about Dave’s ability to protect me should the need arise.

He’s pretty big, though I haven’t heard stories about him ever fighting. He’s funny, sweet and smart, but probably not the toughest of men. Hell.

It took me a moment to decide that someone was knocking somewhere down the hall. Feeling safer, I opened the door and poked my head out. I looked left, seeing Dave still sleeping soundly. Scowling over his lack of awareness, I walked to the door. Opening it seemed risky, but I was brave enough to rise up on my tip-toes and use the peep hole. I couldn’t see anything, regardless of how I oriented my head.

Then the shouting started, and my fear propelled me away from the peep hole. I found myself with my head against the inside of locked bathroom door, trying to listen while remaining safe.

“OPEN THE DOOR!” My eyes got big.

The pounding continued until I heard a crash. Did he get in the room he wanted? Increasingly afraid, I sat back down on the toilet lid and listened, hugging myself and shivering a bit.

“WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO ME? WHY? WHY?” He continued to shout, speaking in bursts as if he was catching his breath. Was he hitting someone? Talking to himself? It's all the alchohol here! People are different than they normally would be.

I then heard a loud thump – someone getting thrown against a wall, I decided. Then a woman started to scream. She was pleading with him to stop, to calm down, to stop and listen.

On my feet, hand over my mouth, I headed toward the door. Do something! I screamed at myself. Don’t just hide! He could hurt her!

I walked out of the bathroom, but couldn’t make myself open the door to the room. Taking 3 quick steps, I decided Dave was still sleeping. Gasping with indecision, I ran back to the door to look outside. Again, I didn’t see anyone. But I continued to hear his shouted demands for an explanation and her screaming pleas.

I ran back and shook Dave, sitting on the edge of his bed. He blinked up at me immediately, and I asked if he’d heard. He nodded and patted the hand I'd placed on his shoulder.

“Do you want me to go out there?” He asked.

“No! But what should we do? What if he’s hurting her and we did nothing?” I asked, growing frantic with the knowledge that my inaction could be enabling harm to come to some woman. I’d decided she was cheating on the shouting man - someone had told him and he had come to confront the adulterous couple - but she didn’t deserve physical violence.

I noticed the phone located by Dave’s bed. I quickly picked up the receiver and dialed the front desk, requesting security after explaining the situation and apologizing for the call. I wasn’t sure it was necessary, but wanted to err on the side of caution, I told the man on the other end. He assured me that others had called and help would be there shortly. After warning me to stay in my room, he hung up and I walked quickly back to the door and the now-familiar peep hole.

Dave’s eyes had closed during my phone call and he was deeply asleep by the time I reached the door. This time I saw people – shirtless men lining the hall – and couldn’t hear further noise. Someone had intervened, I decided, someone braver than I had been. Grateful that someone had stepped in to help, I also felt guilty that it took me so long to take any action at all.

Security came and took the man away in handcuffs amidst the pleas from the crying woman. She went with them in the elevator, and the men outside returned to their respective rooms.

I walked to my suitcase, pushed aside flip flops and dress shoes, and finally found a book. Taking it and my guidebook back to bed, I glanced over at Dave to see that he’d rolled toward the window and snuffled as he found a comfortable position. I arranged the pillows so I could read comfortably, but wasn’t able to focus.

I kept getting stuck on how I hadn’t taken action. My instinct was to hide – retreating behind the bathroom door, waking Dave, peering out the peep hole. Granted, I was impaired – sleepy, drunk, and overwhelmed by the Las Vegas experience. Perhaps if I were more awake? Fully conscious and in control of my internal resources?

Not so much… There's one more story to make my point.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Under pressure: useless part 1

“Get up.”

I heard the words, but resisted their urging and continued to sleep, albeit at a more shallow level.

“Hey. You have to get up.”

A hand touched my shoulder, the only part of my body other than my head that was outside the fluffy comforter as I slept peacefully on my back, head cocked to one side and nuzzled into the pillow.

I opened my eyes to see a man standing over me by the bed. Disoriented and abruptly terrified, still slightly asleep, I gasped. Then, staring wide-eyed at the figure, I tried to focus my eyes. The lack of glasses and light didn’t enable recognition. I didn’t consider screaming or calling out for help.

My defensive action? I gripped the covers in my fists and pulled them up so the edge rested just below my eyes.

Even when I was small, I felt safe under the covers. I went through a phase where my stuffed animals stood watch while I slept. It took me a good 5 minutes to gather my plush army and situate them so they surrounded me on both sides as I slept on my back. Then, if anything came out of my closet or out from under the bed, I would be safe. But I had no stuffed animals around me now, and would be forced to handle this situation on my own.

“Come here! Get up!” The voice insisted.

“Why?” I said meekly, my voice barely above a whisper.

“You need to see something. Get up.”

“Go away.” I responded, slightly louder as I continued to wake, but still peeking out from behind my comforter.


“You go away, and then I’ll get up.” Determined to hang on to my only protection – my fluffy blanket – I didn’t want to leave my bed for some reason. I couldn’t clear the sleep from my mind – confused, afraid, and not doing anything to help myself. I just wanted to be left alone.

He sighed and walked from the room. I felt my muscles tense further, readying for some sort of evasive maneuver now that I had been given the chance for escape. I looked around, noting the complete darkness and finding it strange. My apartment in grad school was located on the ground floor by a well-lit parking lot. Where was I?

I looked over to find my clock, the desire to know the time intense even when I felt I was in danger. It wasn’t there, so I looked up. Red numbers glowed 2:04 above my head and I abruptly realized I was home. The clock rested on the headboard of my childhood bed, not the nightstand that cuddled the side of my pillowtop mattress in my apartment.

Muscles relaxing, I realized that Brother had come to get me and was quickly alarmed that something might be wrong and I had failed to respond.

Quickly rising and shuffling hurriedly across the room, I turned on my closet light and relaxed further by dispelling the darkness. I walked across the hall to his room – both of us retaining our childhood bedrooms at that time. He was standing at the window, bent slightly so he could better peer out through the blinds.

I touched his back, quickly realizing that nothing major was wrong and wondering if he was asleep. He and Mom have a habit of being active physically while asleep mentally. It’s a source of great amusement for Dad and me, though I’ve recently heard him singing in his sleep. When confronted, he admits to dreaming about taking care of the Little One, so it’s hard to tease Dad for being so sweet.

So I’m looking out the window next to Brother, the relief that I wasn’t in danger so strong that I was growing sleepy again. I glanced over to find him intent on something, so I frowned and looked outside again, growing alarmed when I thought a threat might be coming from the dark yard behind our cozy house.

“There!” He pointed, squinting as he focused on the sky.

“What? Brother? Are you OK?”

“Do you see those lights?!” He asked, not looking away from them.

“I think so. Are you OK? You scared me.”

“What? Do you think it’s a UFO?”

Eyebrows raised, I looked again. I didn't know what it was. Nor did I particularly care.

“Go back to sleep, Brother. It’s nothing.” I shuffled back to bed, amused and sure he was mostly asleep. He did remember it the next day, and we laughed about it.

I remain disturbed that when confronted with what I thought to be a serious threat, I did nothing to protect myself. I always thought I’d do whatever necessary when presented with a given situation. Instead, I froze in fear, seeking any meager protection I could find. Next time, I promised myself. Next time, I’ll do better.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Some minor revisions

See how I did that with the title? Nice.

I have 2 points.
1. I'm very sick. I'm either miserable or drugged, and neither state is conducive to writing.
2. I can't finish anything! The image is of my desktop as I continue to start posts that I find promising, but then can't complete any of them.

In the beginning, I wrote this completely for me. That was a very good thing since nobody was reading for at least 2 weeks. The lack of notice in the beginning was lovely - a nice buffer between what I wanted to say and the real world. The chance of someone reading was thrilling, but the reality of keeping my thoughts to myself was comforting.

But as soon as some of you started to arrive, I took note. I keep a spreadsheet of visitor locations and my document has 2 tabs. One is for first-time visitors and it is vastly larger than the second. The next page are repeat visitors - some only twice, some almost every day. Every time I move a city over to my repeat page, I smile. I love having someone come back.

I tend to be moderately picky on what I read regularly. When first seeing a new blog, I like to read a couple of posts, and make some estimate of my interest in this particular person. I used to make careful note of when a writer last updated since I like active bloggers. But bloglines has eased that requirement. If you don't post, I don't read - easy and wonderous. So I rely heavily on someone's most recent work to determine if I'm going to make an effort to return.

I give an "oh, hello there!" to my regular readers every time certain cities pop up on my sitemeter page. It's a different kind of feeling when someone new arrives, and I always wonder, slightly nervous, whether or not that person will be back.

My concern is that my recent posts have not represented my best work. So if you're reading one (since I know they're long), then deciding never to return, I'm sighing at myself. So, in the interest of providing you with the opportunity to read something I think is of higher quality, I spent considerable time today making a Topics of Interest section of my sidebar.

Minor Revisions is only a little over 3 months old. But there is a relatively large volume of text here and I don't expect anyone to delve into the archives, especially on your first visit.

But if you have some time and want to view something I like, pick a link and read something older. When I start to feel less awful, maybe I'll finish something and let my most recent post speak for itself.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Timid music recommendation

“It’s just so sad.”

I glanced over at Elle as we wandered through Barnes & Noble, waiting for Rachel to draw pictures for some advertising assignment. We both were carrying stacks of books – me: romance in pretty pastel covers, her: poetry in black jackets. The late nights of undergrad - I ache with nostalgia sometimes.

“What’s so sad?” I asked absently as I walked toward the best-sellers rack of the music section.

“You have all these categories,” she started to rant. “Classical, Jazz, even Country!” She was gesturing wildly toward the signs perched atop the shelves and starting to get loud. Having known her for 3 years at this point, I simply smiled and looked around apologetically – she didn’t embarrass me as much as she once had, but I was still conscious of the reactions to her speaking volume.

“And…?” I said, eyebrows raised, waiting for some spark of the profound or absurd. I never knew which.

“Well, the biggest section is Popular.” She said, motioning to the signs that dotted the area in which I stood. “That’s not a type of music! When someone says ‘What kind of music do you like?’ do you really want to say ‘I only like stuff that everyone else likes.’?”

“It’s not a way to describe music! Popular could change over time. And really? Is Britney Spears all that popular? Do people really like her or do they buy her music because they think it must have value because other people like it?!”

“Well, I like popular music.” I responded easily, used to arguments with her. “If enough people like it, there might be something worth listening to. Plus, it’s what you hear on the radio – it’s on for moments I want to remember. You know?”

“I guess.” She said, frowning as she looked between me and the music, thinking, I’m sure, that I represented the downfall of our generation. Educated, smart and sincere, but trapped into thinking like everyone else.

The truth is, I’m not really all that into music. I like it, but it’s on a much more general level than some people I know. As I was filling up my iPod, I realized that most of the music would be classified as popular. Or at least popular at the time I bought it.

I went through a brief country phase in high school. I stopped and switched back when I had to pull over one day coming home from work. I was crying too hard over some overly touching lyrics in a haunting melody. I don’t need to be that sad over music – I see it as providing background noise in most situations, and don't enjoy having an emotional crisis when I’m trying to navigate long country roads.

So I carefully selected songs from those CDs when importing music to Chandler. In all fairness, it’s good stuff. But its value to me is that it evokes high school memories – bringing back vivid images of who I was, how I thought, what I wanted in life. But nothing that might make me sob when trying to write code or filling out forms was included.

The point is that I don’t think I could list performers I like without most people at least recognizing the names. However, it’s my habit to assume that everyone is like the small crowd of people with whom I discuss music. Now that I’m living in a part of the States where country music enjoys considerable popularity, I decided to delve into it once again.

My opinion? Eh. Some of it is great – I’m particularly fond of Josh Turner and will probably buy his album upon its release later this month. I turn other songs off – they just don’t work for me.

But the stuff I love is in the bluegrass genre. So if I were to recommend music, which is something I’m not at all qualified to do and probably won’t approach again, I’d say my new favorite is Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder. I watched Grand Ole Opry Live last week (see how I’m trying to fit in!) and was charmed. So I ordered the CD (not available on iTunes to my knowledge) and am now listening to Brand New Strings on repeat. And loving every moment of it.

I’ll put it proudly in with my Edwin McCain, Matchbox 20, and Sarah McLachlan. But for now, in my moderate quest to conform – to have something in common with those people I encounter at work, church and shops – I found something I really like. So as I listen in awe, I’m pleased. Being here – doing something quite similar to what I did in grad school, making slow professional progress – I’m experiencing people, music and situations I wouldn’t have otherwise.

So, seriously – try to check out Brand New Strings. Oh, and let me know if there’s something else I’m missing. I’m still figuring out that while what’s popular might be good, the less mainstream music, like the people that might be overlooked, can be completely charming, delightful and tragic to miss.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Random - illness, heating costs, surgeries and fate

7:15AM, weekday, parking garage

I’m taking the elevator down so I can walk to my office. A woman, pretty blonde in her late 30s, enters and makes eye contact.

“Good morning.” I murmur with a quick smile before turning my gaze back to the numbers above the doors. Unless I leave the elevator first and hold the door for her to catch as we exit the building, my interaction with this woman is over.

“It’s not such a good morning for me.” She drawls with a shake of her long hair. “I’m still getting over my cold, and you know I’ve had it for 2 weeks now!”

Well, no, I didn’t know that. Does she think we’ve met? While I don’t remember all their names, I do recognize the people I worked with so far. And I’m positive that I don’t know this woman.

“My son, Billy? He’s just starting with it, and Julie, my oldest daughter, gave it to me.”

“It seems to be going around?” I offer hesitantly, feeling the need to say something.

She nods in agreement before continuing. I learned that Julie’s boyfriend, Jason (whose mother makes substandard waffles), had not been sick, but she was sure that the cold had come from him. Apparently the families had congregated for breakfast since Julie and Jason were growing pretty serious.

I was engrossed at this point. It’s like a book! Or soap opera! I’m learning characters and trying to get into some dramatic storylines when the elevator reaches the ground and I part ways with my new friend. She throws a “have a good day, hon!” over her shoulder, and I walk toward my office, wondering what will become of Julie and Jason, and hoping little Billy feels better soon.

2:30 PM, Saturday, grocery shopping

“Do you have gas heat?” I hear someone say, but continue my perusal of the granola bars. Variety? Chocolate chip? Oatmeal raisin?

I’m tapped on the shoulder and quickly turn to see a robust woman with gorgeous red hair, cut short.

“I’m sorry.” I say quietly, moving out of her way and turning back to the breakfast products.

“I have gas heat.” She states, and after a glance around, I decide she is, in fact, talking to me.

“Oh?” I respond absently. Finally deciding on the chewy peanut butter granola bars and putting them in the basket hooked over my arm, I’m ready to move on. I give her my full attention.

“My bill was $328 this month!” She informs me, and despite myself, I feel my face exhibit shock.

“Wow. That’s a lot of money.”

“I know! I told them I wanted the gas turned off.” She nods decisively, the florescent lights glinting off lowlights and making me wonder where she gets her hair done. I’ve been considering playing up the tiny hints of red that run through my hair. They used to be more evident, but my hair continues to darken as I get older and as the brown gets deeper and deeper, the highlights are getting harder to notice.

As my mind wanders, she relates the conversation she had with the gas company. They, apparently, were not so nice.

As I refocus on her problems and turn my attention away from my hair color, I have a question. I tell myself not to ask, but I can’t help it! I get drawn in easily and am curious.

“If you turn your gas off, how will you heat your home? Or cook?” I inquire. My understanding is that your appliances – furnace, stove, oven – are designed to utilize a specific kind of input. You buy gas or electric depending on how your house is built, right? Not on what the better deal is? I, for example, don’t have gas in my house – everything’s electric.

She shakes her head at me, so I wonder briefly if I’m mistaken about the gas/electric issue. “I’m not using it if it’s that much money!” She insists, and unwilling to argue about it, I decide to nod and smile before wishing her good day and heading off to find the yogurt.

10AM, weekday, walking to a meeting

I’m walking relatively slowly, hampered by heels, navy this time, that look snappy with my outfit. I think briefly that I should ask Charlie if the women he knows wear heels during the day if they have to hike to a meeting. If so, when do they change shoes? What if you run into a colleague on the way and they see your less-than-professional footwear? I decide that I should suffer through the heels for a little longer – I’m still meeting people for the first time, and don’t want to make a poor initial impression. Then I wonder if walking so slowly could constitute a poor first impression.

I’m gaining on a man who has the slightest limp, favoring his right leg just a tiny bit. He glances back at me with a smile and I return it. He’s in his 40s, I think. Handsome in a stately sort of way, hair graying, face lined from previous years spent in sun and smiles.

He stops to wait for me, and I make my inquisitive face.

“Hello.” I greet him, wondering if he needs directions and hoping I know the building he’s looking for. That only happens if I’ve had to go there for some reason.

“Hi! Are you going to the hospital?” He asks.

I nod. “Sort of. One of the research buildings around there.” I tell him, again lapsing into silence so he can ask his question.

He starts to walk in his original direction again and looks expectantly at me. I fall in step. We chat about his upcoming knee surgery, and I sincerely wished him the best on his preparation then recovery. I heard about his family – a wife and 2 children. I was given more details on his upcoming medical adventure, listening sympathetically as he explained how the operation was performed, some of his rehabilitation plans and his ideas for keeping up with work as he wouldn’t be able to continue his long hours for a couple of weeks.

I left him when I reached my building, hurrying up to the right floor to make up for the time I’d lost making another new friend.

I’m fitting in, I congratulated myself. I don’t mind talking to people now – have grown used to coming up with questions and comments when faced with impromptu conversations with strangers. I guess the increased friendliness may come with the warmer winter temperatures, I conclude, and resolve to try harder to participate in these little exchanges.

7PM, weekday, sitting at the library

I’m listening to my iPod on shuffle, skipping through songs I don’t feel are fitting for my super-exciting evening of literature searches. I get irritated with myself when I leave the floor that houses the journals, then realize I needed a couple more papers. It’s inconvenient to return and defeats the purpose of my careful lists and necessitates an extra trip.

So I was skimming through papers, organizing them into piles, checking relevant references to make sure I had all the knowledge for the specific stage of the project. I was in work mode – headphones on to discourage anyone from disrupting my carefully designed efficiency.

I honestly didn’t notice when she sat down, this woman who was probably near my mom’s age. I smiled at her before returning my attention to my music and journals. Then I saw her mouth moving out of the corner of my eye.

Biting back my initial irritation (after all, I was newly resolved to be more friendly), I turned down my music and shifted the headphones off the ear closest to her. I really wanted to go home and had to finish my skimming and sorting before that could happen.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. Can I help with something?” I asked, forcing politeness and patience to the surface.

“I just had a really bad day. I hate my job.” She then explained her educational background and how she ended up at her current position. I looked down at her book, science fiction, and wondered how she ended up in the journal section. There’s a reason for everything, I told myself. Don’t brush her off too soon, I warned myself sternly.

I decide to share some of my thoughts during a brief pause in her monologue. “There’s a reason for everything.” I say, out loud this time. Trite, perhaps, but somehow important at times when you feel like everything is trivial.

“That’s true!” She said, looking at me wide-eyed. “There’s always been some reason that I’ve done certain jobs or gone certain places.”

I nod, and glance momentarily at my papers to continue to sort them.

“I like to think I’m in control of everything. But maybe it’s all …” She trails off, and I meet her eyes again.

“Fate? Predestined?” I offer. “I don’t know about that. I think there’s a plan for all of us, but we do have free will. We can take any path at all.”

I start to wonder though. I can take any path, but I feel drawn to some rather than others. And even if I took one that felt wrong, maybe it ends up in the same spot. I have to get through a forest full of problems and tests, and there are many ways to walk through it. Do you end up at the same spot, or at least somewhere near it, regardless of which path you take? Does God continue to nudge you toward the best situations/people/goals? Lost in my thoughts and forgetting my sorting, I had to ask her to repeat her statement as I was sure I’d heard it wrong.

“I said,” she repeated, looking a bit exasperated, “that I wondered if the aliens had a reason for bringing me here.”

I grinned at her, then turned back to my work, adjusting the volume of my iPod to discourage further conversation. I don’t have to be in a large city or a blue state to find people who are different. And while I briefly wondered if I should engage in a conversation about Christ, I decided instead to smile at the unexpected and pray for her later.

"It'll work out. Enjoy your book, and maybe wait until tomorrow to worry about it." I told her, and she smiled at me before she walked down the stairs to the door.

The very randomness of people - of hearing their stories, learning of their worries - has charmed me thoroughly. It's different than I'm used to - the depth of conversations, the effort that goes into initiating them. I'm not sure there's a point to this post, much like I'm not sure why these people keep talking to me. But I'm starting to enjoy it - enjoy them - and it seemed worthwhile to note it.