Monday, July 31, 2006

Dinner plans and pretty birds

Here’s the thing.

I’m not so good with small talk. Shameful, isn’t it?

Now I can be a delightful companion. I’m not at all bored by your stories! I can listen to what you had for dinner or how this guy cut you off in traffic but was rather cute so it was almost OK or how the parking lot was full and you had to drive around for 10 whole minutes to find a spot. Those are all valid topics of conversation – light and easy. I can ask questions and offer comments about nearly any issue and like to think I’m relatively easy to talk to.

Unless you’re counting on me for a topic of conversation. Remember when I spent several days in Hawaii? Talked to a dear friend all the time? We would lie on beaches or sprawl out on her lanai to watch the ocean, face each other over dinner and take walks. We’d often sit in silence – I’d marvel at how very pretty it was there, dig out my camera to take a few pictures. But when I’d bring up things to discuss?

“What would you do if you only had a year to live?”
“If you could live anywhere, where would you go?”
“Do you think people have a unique soul mate or that there are a number of people who could make you happy?”
“How would it feel to be homeless?”
“What’s up with global warming?”
“How badly do you think we irritate God?”

Seriously. And I wonder why I have so very few friends. The fact is you have to love me to put up with this crap.

I sent email to someone I liked awhile ago. We haven’t been in touch lately, but one moment sticks out from one of our conversations. He told me, not unlike some of these comments, that I was putting too much pressure on myself. Not everything had to be framed so nicely, not every opening line had to be thoughtful. I could send the phone book and he’d reply. (How sweet! This is why I adore having crushes on smart men.)

So I told him I was not so good at small talk. That if I didn’t have something I felt was worthwhile to say, I wasn’t going to say anything. Quoting directly,

“Sending you something like ‘So my commute took longer than usual this morning. The weather here should be gorgeous after the sun burns off this haze. Then on my walk to the office, I saw this really pretty bird.’ strikes me as wrong.”

I think I look at relationships with most people as finite. And, in the case of this man, I was right. We’re no longer in touch, which is fine – it’s not like I’m in constant mourning for those people who have been around for a brief time then moved on. I think of these acquaintances fondly and like to think of them as being quite happy. But when I have a chance to interact with people I find bright and charming, I want to offer something I think is important.

Likewise, I’m writing to record these years – it’s part of how I justify my time here. When I look back on this, I want to smile and shake my head in embarrassment. Perhaps nod along a couple times because I was right about some thoughts. And it’s not that my dinner plans or details of my commute are secret – they just don’t register for me. I don’t tend to bring them up with anyone.

In Hawaii, M was encouraging me to call a man – a different one than I just mentioned. (Wow. You’d almost think I had a life if you were reading this post. Never fear – I don’t.)

“And say what?” I said, confused. I’m not good on the phone in general, and I never make a call unless I have some topic in mind. It’s worse if I like him. Then in addition to being too serious, I’m also nervous. It’s, um, less than impressive.

“Anything!” M replied in her high pitched little voice. “You say, ‘Hello. What’d you do today? What’d you have for dinner? Did anything make you laugh?’ You just talk! You talk to me all the time – it’s not like you don’t know how.”

“M,” I sighed. “I have never asked you what you were doing for dinner unless I wanted you to go get something to eat with me. We only talked about dinner plans in grad school because I like eating out.”

“Hmmm. I see your point. But still! You should call him.”

I shook my head – calling just to talk? Asking about details of his life? Offering pieces of my own day? It’s just so intimate. Doesn’t sound like something I’d do unless I knew someone really well. So I didn’t call him. Because I find those moderate conversations – not overly serious (“What do you think happens when you die?”) but not overly light (the infamous dinner question. Do people really talk of such things? I’m not trying to be condescending here – honestly. I just have never thought to offer such information) - difficult to initiate with people at first. So I either think of a cute story or think though something that bothers me or try to be entertaining or I’m quiet. On and offline.

It’s just me. And it’s not great.

I mentioned the pretty bird in the middle of a “small talk marathon” in a subsequent email.

After describing my trip to work, I wrote “Then I saw that pretty bird. I almost didn't notice him since he was sitting in the middle of this bush and his brown body blended in. But he had the prettiest shade or orange on his chest. So I found myself pleased that I noticed him.”

In describing my day – all the details that didn’t add up to an analogy or any real point, I felt strange. It was out of character. I expected a change in subject, frankly. I didn’t give him much to respond to – no question on the value of higher education, insights into my relationship with my parents.

I was delighted with his response – will likely always smile over him when I notice birds for some reason. I find the reactions to small talk fascinating. Watch most people interact with each other in a detached, nearly bored manner. And I don’t want to offer up my dinner plans to watch someone’s eyes glaze over. I hate feeling that people are obligated to listen and are battling boredom the whole time.

So I grin when I walk Chienne and notice our feathered friends because he wrote, “Did the pretty bird make you happy? Did you point him out to others? Did he fly away and make you sad? Was he singing?”

I happen to think that interest in the small details speaks of friendship. So though I’m not good at sharing the “fluff” (though saying most of what I write isn’t fluff makes me seem far more pretentious than I actually am) and likely won’t do it often, I appreciate that you’re willing to hear it. I think that’s very kind and offers some idea of your character.

As far as my character? I smile and shake my head because I’m highly unlikely to point out the pretty bird and much more likely to say something like…

“So. What’s up with global warming?”

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Saying something

I've been writing. Honestly. I just can't finish anything.

I have slept until I can't sleep anymore, which leads to terrible nights where I'm frantic with worry over meaningless problems.

I'm finishing up some revisions on a paper, so while I'm spending time at the laptop, writing for work is surprisingly more appealing than writing for fun.

I'm not fond of myself lately - I'm either vicious and irritable or mopey and depressing. While I have documented such instances in the past, I hesitate to do so again because... Well, I don't really know.

Here's part of it. Awhile ago, I made some friends who read this. That was nice. New, interesting, all that good stuff. Then email slowed or ceased, and said friends stopped reading. Which is fine and understandable. I was telling Charlie that I appreciate cycles of readers because my problems are so damn constant. It's not difficult to keep up, right? I don't have an overall plan at work - I'd probably like to leave in a year or two, so I'm frustrated with my lack of quick progress. I'm alone, but doing nothing to fix that situation. I believe in God, but don't talk to Him so much lately. I have a family I adore, but they live relatively far away. Same goes with friends.

But nothing changes. In knowing that someone could read for a month and pretty much know all there is to know, I'm apathetic. Feel like I'm telling the same basic stories with slight twists for new people.

Added to that is I don't like thinking too much lately. Would rather be mindlessly busy than cuddled in thoughts of what I want and where I'm going and what I've learned. It just seems pointless right now.

I sent email to Dryden saying I felt disconnected. Keep trying to act based upon what seemed appropriate. If I looked at something or someone and thought, "It seems like I should care about that." then I'd simply act as though I did.

This blog has been important to me. It seems like I should care that I won't finish anything to post. So I'm saying something to indicate that I might care a little bit.

It's shockingly difficult though. So I'm left feeling frustrated because I should be able to do this! It's not assigned or graded, so why can't I just write? It's just not there, folks. I can't seem to connect with anything or anyone for long enough for it to be meaningful.

It seems like that should make me sad.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


I seem to have developed some sort of mild sickness that enables me to sleep for nearly 20 hours a day. I went to bed last night around 1AM and woke at my normal 5:30. I tried mightily to make some coffee - I bought new silver cannisters and was eager to remove the precious beans from them. I caught myself on the counter when I started to sway and decided that admitting defeat was wise. I slept until 10.

I tried to do work but found myself sleeping on the couch, then back to bed for another few hours, then to the couch again. I'm awake now obviously, but don't have much hope for remaining that way.

This new ability has me quite grateful, honestly. I've been taking some sort of sleep aid every day this month - Tylenol PM, Simply Sleep, Nyquil - to ease into some rest. I'm averaging about 6 hours, which is far less than I believe I need. So perhaps this brief illness (which could just be my body demanding unmedicated rest since I feel fine other than a mild, drowsy headache) will allow me to ease back into a more reasonable sleep pattern.

Just wanted to say something, and since sleep defines my life lately, that's all I really have to write. More later.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


I was trying to think of something to post - I very much appreciated the comments and emails and very much want to keep writing so I can interact with you. I was tired of dealing with the work I brought home, so I decided to shower and think of something to write.

Chienne (who believes water is liquid evil) started to climb in the shower with me. This is unusual to say the least, but I decided that I was in her bathtub and she wanted it back. So I laughed at her, informed her that I would soon be done with the tub, then turned off the water so she wouldn't get wet. She's selfish, yes, but doesn't deserve to be bathed because of it.

I was putting on pajamas when I heard the beep.

The dog was trying to squeeze herself under the bed and I realized she had braved the shower because she was scared of the noise.

I've heard intermittent beeping before, so I glared at the smoke detector and went to look for my batteries, hoping Dad had placed some in the kitchen drawer. I couldn't find them, but I went back in the bedroom to twist the little white circle off the wall.

"Don't hurt yourself." I warned out loud since there was nobody else to suggest I go get a stable chair from the dining room rather than the one that swivels from the office. In my defense, it was a whole 10 steps closer!

The back wouldn't twist off the detector, so I pried at it with a screwdriver (yes, I'm very handy) until it loosened and I could remove the battery. I took it to the garage, remembering that when I removed the noisy one in the office, it continued to beep angrily as it died.

I returned to my spot in the living room, but continued to hear the beeping. I decided it was for the best - I really should put the detector back up. So I looked harder for batteries, found some, and replaced the battery and carefully put everything back. I told the dog everything should be fine, but didn't even reach the loveseat before hearing the beeping again.

"Son of a bitch!" I remarked, acknowledging I'd probably be using that phrase several times in the next few minutes.

I changed the battery in the hall smoke detector, knowing all the while the beeping was coming from the bedroom.

So I sighed at the continued beeps - about a minute apart - that were now just taunting me for fun and walked to the bedroom to think.

I turned off the ceiling fan and my noise machine - the rain sound helps me sleep - and flopped on my bed, closed my eyes and listened.

I lasted one beep before swearing and fetching the office chair once again, climbing up and removing the alarm for the second time. I laid it on my stomach when I reclined again so I could decide whether it was actually making noise (which didn't make sense because I'd changed the battery already) or if the wiring in the wall had evolved enough to be able to beep with no apparent mechanism for doing so.

"It's not you." I told the detector after the next beep. I took it to the living room (where it still rests on the couch) so it couldn't get blamed yet again for a noise it wasn't making.

Back on the bed, in the quiet darkness as I waited for the next beep, I turned my hostile glare to the wiring. "How are you doing it?!" I asked.

Then I jerked my head to the right as I heard another beep. I replaced the battery today in my stupid pager. I hate the little sucker - always have - so I let it stay dead for several days. Newly powered, it rested in the pretty pink purse resting on my bed. Apparently the tiny black box wanted to know the date and time, so it ruined a good 30 minutes of my evening.

Just to prove my authority, I did not tell it the time. I turned it off. Because enough is enough.

I rather appreciated the distraction, honestly. When I'm consumed with small problems, I can forget about the underlying pain that surrounds me lately. Not for myself - I'm really OK - but for incredible people who have somehow suffered some profound loss. When acknowledging those losses, it seems inevitable to understand that bad things - events that are awful and undeserved and shocking - can happen to me as well. And that's sad and scary and painful. And as I turn these issues over in my mind, found myself desperately seeking privacy at work when tears emerged unexpectedly, I think I'm preparing for my next miserable experience by trying to figure out how to deal with this one.

The beeping, while annoying, is under control. I would have continued to try different things - and I started to think hard about all the electronic equipment that could possibly make noise in this house - until I made it stop. That control soothed me. Even if I was wrong about the source of irritation - my past experience with noisy smoke detectors led me astray - I eventually made it stop. Likewise, eventually the pain from the loss will ease. I won't think about it as much, though I know there are reminders. Losing someone - even a person who played a rather peripheral role in my life - always hurts when I remember to think of it.

But for now, there's blessed quiet. I think I need things to be quiet for a little while - controlled, calm and easy. It wasn't my goal for this space to be "Minor Revisions - where you go to get bummed out." But when you're so sweet and accepting of my painful posts, it only gets easier to tell you when I'm sad. I appreciate it very much.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Love and loss

Winnie’s memorial was today.

I sat at the end of a row of men from my department – we’d come across town in the same car. I clung to the passenger door to avoid crushing Tim as he huddled in the middle of the front seat. We walked in together - the 6 of us, mostly silent, and looked briefly at a collage of pictures at the door before taking our seats.

Since we’re in the south and I’m a girl, everyone stepped aside to let me enter first. I decided on the 4th row of orange theater seats, tucking in the little flip-up desks as I shuffled down the aisle to the opposite row. Tim was next to me, but we didn’t speak. Just waited in silence, staring blankly at walls until an introductory slide show began.

I blinked back tears at the first photo of Winnie smiling. As her many tributes would lovingly recall, she had a warmth about her regardless of her location or mood. A wide smile would light her face when she’d see people. I don’t always smile at people. Will roll my eyes when approaching some friends if I’m having a bad day. Will grin easily at others. Have avoided eye contact with almost everyone if I’m feeling particularly busy or irritable or sad.

Despite my many pep talks to stay a bit detached, I found myself trembling throughout the hour we spent in the room. Wiped at my eyes when the speakers would cry. Swallowed repeatedly to keep control. Listened to others weep openly, knowing I wasn’t comfortable doing the same. It hurt though. My entire throat ached from holding back displays of sadness for the lovely people seated just 2 rows in front of us. Her son in his tiny dark suit, no more than 4 years old. Her daughter was seated on the other side of Winnie’s husband, Warren.

I lost Grandpa when I was in first grade. Mom thought I would be inconsolable. I loved Grandpa so very much. But I wasn’t all that sad. I didn’t have any experience with someone going away and not coming back. It’s difficult to comprehend the actual loss when you lack a reasonable comparison. My deep sorrow for Winnie's children stems from knowledge of my own losses. The many times I’ve picked up the phone to call someone who wouldn’t answer. Drove past homes that used to contain people I loved dearly. Missed someone so much I ached too much to cry.

I watched her husband walk to the podium, his son on his right, daughter on his left. Each holding his hand. He thanked everyone for the outpouring of support. Spoke haltingly but with an underlying strength. I briefly lost my battle against tears when her mom, a beautiful woman, stepped to the podium and wept before she was able to speak softly. Warren placed his hand on her shoulder, offering support. Then the 4 people walked back toward their seats before Warren stopped and headed back to the podium. The children looked momentarily confused before following their grandmother back to their chairs.

I turned my attention back to him – this man who had lost his partner. He wanted to thank a few more people specifically. Mentors that were important to Winnie – she would have wanted them to know how very grateful she’d been to them.

“She was simple, Winnie.” He said. “She wanted a few things. She wanted to teach here. She wanted to do research. She wanted a home and family. And she wanted to love God. Some of you gave her the opportunity to achieve those goals. She would have wanted me to thank you. To let you know how much you meant to her.”

That moment – a single memory of a lovely service full of moving statements and songs – lingers with the greatest pain for me.

I went to WalMart after leaving work. I was hurting – remembering how Winnie’s mother pressed her cheek into mine when I hugged her after the service. How her grandmother wept when I told her how incredibly wonderful Winnie was. I promised to continue my prayers as I met Warren’s eyes, gripping his hand between both of mine as I tried to find words to express my deep sadness over his loss. I returned to my desk, shaky and with head throbbing. I couldn’t focus – felt that sitting in a bathroom sobbing would do little good – so I decided to run some errands.

I bought a hose – my old one has a leak – and some weed killer to continue my recent obsession. I picked up some vegetables and ice cream – a friend’s coming out for dinner later this week. And I decided on a card. I couldn’t articulate anything meaningful for Warren, and felt I wanted to say something.

For whatever reason, I didn’t use the express lanes. I must have been lost in other thoughts when choosing a line because I waited behind 4 people with carts full of groceries. The pair in front of me was a father – an older man – and his son, likely my age or a bit older. Father helped Son unload the cart, his movements a bit slow, but healthy. I wondered if Mother was at home. For some reason, I desperately didn’t want Father to live alone. Wanted him to have someone to talk to, go places with, grocery shop for.

“Why 2 cartons of blueberries, Dad?” Son asked, smiling over at his father before placing the small cartons next to the larger one of strawberries.

Father shrugged and said something too softly for me to hear. Then he handed a large bag of bagels to Son.

“I like those.” He said, and I smiled over the quantity. There were 18 according to my quick count. Far too many for one person to finish before they went stale, I soothed myself. He had someone at home for him. A partner. Someone to cuddle into at night when he was cold. To share coffee with in the morning. Someone to take care of him. Share his bagels. He was OK.

Then he placed a single toothbrush on the counter at the end of his order.

I looked down to see that I was turning the sympathy card in my hands, dangerously near tears. Worried that he might have his own Winnie that he missed every day.

They finished after Son paid for the food and loaded the bags in the cart. I paid for my purchases – the hose, weed killer, watering can, Snaps for Chienne, a piece of red velvet cake from the bakery, green beans, chocolate cashew ice cream, and the card that was placed into a small bag then into my purse.

Upon returning home, I greeted the dog then ate my cake. It’s all I’ve had today and didn’t help much with the sick feeling I’m trying to fight. Then I found the books I ordered on my porch and settled in to read.

I tossed the book to the floor after 4 pages. I was sad. Found myself wondering what would make me happy. I came up empty which is why I’m sitting here writing.

I had the thought that I wished I had a partner. Someone who knew me well enough to decide whether to distract or comfort. To cuddle or seduce. To say, “enough with the cake, sweetheart" before I got sick. Then perhaps he’d make buttered noodles or something soothing. Or we’d go out and wash the car so I could get rid of some of this awful energy.

I found myself recoiling from the very idea. That someone would matter that much to me. That we’d know each other so well, trust that the other would be around tomorrow for as many tomorrows as there were.

The problem – the reason I get stuck – is that we wouldn’t likely have the same number of tomorrows. I might find myself walking back toward a podium after speaking once already because I’d remember something I know he’d want me to say. Would think of all the times he’d mention people at work, the funny stories he might have told. His goals that would have become our goals because we were partners. And I’d have to share those thoughts with his colleagues because he’d be gone.

Or perhaps he’d one day shop for food alone. Buy extra blueberries because I’d always liked them. And some of my preferences eventually became his own because we’d lived together so long.

The thought of such loss overwhelms me. Terrifies me. I know how to be alone. It’s not always great, but it’s not that bad either. I don’t want to adjust into loving someone then lose him. Nor do I want to love him more than I imagined I could love someone and acknowledge that he could be hurt by losing me.

I know there are reasons we decide to love other people. To accept the inevitable pain that comes with loss because the alternative is to be isolated. And we generally don’t like complete solitude.

Except today, for me, caused a retreat into myself. I don’t want to love anyone right now because that would mean accepting I could lose him. I’m quite grateful to be safely single. No falling in love, I told myself sternly as I curled up on the couch, rubbing my chest to try to soothe the ache there.

The cool thing about people – about life – is that the heart overrides the brain sometimes. I didn’t want to cry at the service today. Professional Katie is pretty contained and I decided beforehand that I’d remain as aloof as possible.

I didn’t last 2 minutes before wiping at tears that arrived without my permission. I hurt for her family – couldn’t stop that initial painful sting as they took their seats. I blinked back tears for her mother, mourning the daughter she lost. I prayed with complete focus and sincerity when directed to do so. I was desperately sad as I looked into Warren’s eyes, trying to find words that would express my sorrow for him. I didn’t plan to kiss her mother’s cheek and whisper something comforting, nor did I plan to choke out a sob while I embraced her best friend.

It just happened. My heart demanded the right to express what I felt. Those awful feelings I couldn’t control.

My guess is that love is the same way. I can’t control the amazing emotions any more than the painful ones. But that’s for tomorrow. For tonight, I believe I’ll make my own buttered noodles, wash the car by myself, and consider that ice cream I was going to save for my friend.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

I have 4 points.

The feeling for the weekend?

I’ve been quite productive and relatively social, yet I could have done nothing but sleep and been just as happy. I’ve purposely withdrawn as much as possible to try to save up some energy. I don’t want to be exhausted and sad all the time, so apathetic seems the way to go lately.

Being busy is excellent for indifference though – I just did mindless work for the most part. Since my blogging habit stems from being too introspective, my outward focus left me with nothing interesting to write. I’d start something, get bored with whatever I was trying to explain, then stop to do something else.

Damn. I’m out of weeds.
Weeds – plural. I lived on a wellness floor (yes, seriously. Hush.) in college and can honestly say I’ve never been offered weed, singular. Would it make me seem cooler if I told you I know people who have tried it? I didn’t think so.

I continued my weeding obsession this weekend. My first thought upon waking Saturday morning – in all seriousness – was “It’s raining! Those weeds are going to be so easy to pull!” And I was happy for a few minutes before indifference slipped into place.

After a few hours, I was able to settle on my damp sidewalk with shears, a garbage bag and my gardening gloves, and I pulled weeds until there were no weeds left to pull. The ants? Well, they were less than pleased. Let’s just say that I don’t think they’ll be building a statue in my honor anytime soon.

I was so disappointed that I couldn’t continue with pulling weeds (It’s shockingly soothing. I don’t know why.) that I decided to walk around the perimeter of my home, weeding all the way. There were lots of bugs disturbed by this project – spiders and those black rolly ones – but I uncovered a tiny rose bush (who knew?!) and got some ick away from my air conditioner. After three good hours of weeding, I called it good.

I think we can all agree that I tend toward obsessive. Which means it’s good that I like weeds, plural rather than weed, singular.

I embarrass my dog.
I dogsat for a friend in grad school. She had 2 toy rat terriers and they were fantastic. I was confused when the younger of the 2 would immediately drop to the ground - lying as flat as possible - on some mornings when we'd go outside. I couldn't figure out the cause, but the tiny dog wouldn't budge from her low to the ground position.

When I asked Carrie, she asked if it was windy on those mornings.

"I guess. A little bit." I replied, still confused.

"The wind is her nemesis." Carrie explained. "I don't know why, and it's very weird, but YoungerDog hates the wind." So we laughed and I decided if I had a dog, she would not be afraid of random weather elements.

Chienne, of course, hates the rain. She actually doesn’t like any form of being wet. I had to yank her out of the apartment on her leash in grad school so she would take a brief walk. She’s recently developed an unfortunate aversion to thunder – this one in the form of terror. So while I’m happiest in the rain, my dog is not.

It was cloudy on Saturday morning. The soft rain seemed to have passed by, and though I was eager to get started on the weeds, I decided to take a walk first. Thrilled with the cooler temperatures (the heat broke on Friday night here – I’ve never been so grateful for upper 80 degree temperatures in my life), I decided on a longer route. Just before the midpoint (we tend to walk in large circles through the neighborhood), it started to pour down rain.

Chienne was less than pleased.

I decided to turn around and return home, but we still had about 20 minutes of walking to do. I matched the dog’s brisk pace, giggling slightly when cars would pass because we clearly looked stupid, and asked her why she looked so disgusted with me. She tolerated me drying her off, then climbed in the bathtub and refused to make eye contact for a couple of hours.

We were later out back, and the sun was starting to shine. I was nearing the end of my weeding marathon and captured a huge plant near the patio. I threw it onto the pile and looked down to see a worm on my glove.

So I screamed. Just a tiny yip of alarm. Then flailed my hand so the worm went back to the ground.

My dog looked up from her spot the fence, sighed at me, then went inside through her dog door. She didn’t return for the 20 minutes I remained in her yard.

I reminded her – after finding her sleeping in my office - that she’s 4, which is 28 in dog years, right? Far too old to be that embarrassed by your family. Unless my mom asks a stupid question in public. Or my dad tells a lame joke.

But that’s different.

Then stop it.
I try not to talk about work very often. I believe that a ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say’ philosophy works best in this area for me. It’s actually not a problem for a few reasons. First, I think what I do is pretty boring. It’s important and cool on some level, but I don’t spend hours of my free time thinking about it. That’s just me. Second, I have a lot of positive statements to make of my current location. Any problems and lack of progress are completely my responsibility. I’ve found people to be helpful, lovely and smart. Third, when I do decide to describe a work problem, I tend toward overly cute little stories.

So. I’m a polar bear, right? Let’s say a penguin needs some ice moved. The penguin knows a lot about ice in general – he works with it all the time. However, I’m big enough to actually move the ice, so the moving part of the project is actually my area of expertise (among other things, of course. I’m also an excellent swimmer and have a very pretty black nose). So the penguin explains some properties of the ice to me, and I tell him a little about how I’m going to move it. But we’re basically going to do our own thing and meet up at the end.

So that happens. I might have to interrupt this penguin to make my polar bear point when we meet with the head penguin, but that’s OK. I figure my penguin pal is just excited with how well the ice is moving so far.

But then we go meet with a whale. Now the whale has heard of ice – can easily learn whatever he needs to know to be peripherally involved with our scheme – and can also understand some details about moving the ice. He’s more interested in moving objects in general. Water currents. Migrating fish. That sort of stuff. So this ice movement project can apply some of his general knowledge of movement. Lovely. The whale’s great – I like him a lot. We share some tips on swimming while we wait for penguin to waddle in.

But when the penguin arrives, he devises a plan where we will demonstrate the ice moving plan by taking turns sliding down a hill on our bellies. So the penguin goes down the hill while I wait for my turn - after all, I developed the technique we're demonstrating. But then he races up the hill and goes again. The penguin apologizes – several times – for not allowing me to slide down the hill on my belly, yet continues to cut in front of me, demonstrating parts of my ice-moving plan even though he doesn’t have all the details quite right. Whale keeps looking at me – he only gets to slide down the hill a couple of times himself, and I step in to correct penguin’s technique and race in front of him to make a couple slides myself. But I’m mostly silent as the penguin hogs the hill.

My problem is this. If you’re going to take all the turns, why apologize if you have no intention of changing your behavior? It would be like me saying, “Oh, penguin, I’m sorry I swatted you in the head with my gigantic paw.” And then continuing to smack at him the entire walk back to my snowy area with is swimming pool. If you’re sincerely sorry – and you think it’s a problem – then stop doing it.

My other problem is that there was a smaller whale in the room and she wasn’t allowed to slide down the hill at all. I was too busy glaring at penguin and battling for my own turn to give her any attention, but as I thought about it, I wished she’d had the chance to slide down the hill as well.

Collaborations are tricky, even in environments were they are crucial. I never work alone, and try to play nicely with the other animals. Respect their strengths, accept inconveniences so that working with me is easy, take notes so I can move the ice properly, show genuine interest in this particular kind of ice because clearly its important. I realize that there are other polar bears far more talented than I am. But I’m a good polar bear! I deserve my turn sliding down the hill! And next time we all meet, I’m blocking the route back up the hill so the little whale can take a turn too.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Change and the flower bed

I weeded my flower beds last weekend. They looked awful, frankly, and I felt bad for the pretty flowers that were struggling to emerge. So I wrapped Chienne’s leash around one of the porch supports and settled in to trim and pull and brush bugs off of my hands. The ground was soft so most of the weeds came out easily. I carefully gathered the plant and tugged and twisted at stubborn roots, sometimes using my shears to get at the ones who wouldn’t release their hold on the ground.

I had made some progress in about an hour. Had found a nice weeding rhythm and was switching from the larger bed on the right to the smaller one on the left. Chienne was crying at the door – she was hot – and I had let her in, then out, then in again. She was told on her most recent exit from the house that she would be staying out until I decided to go in. I was trying to weed!

I decided she just wasn’t used to it. We don’t spend a lot of time outside apart from our morning walks. I grilled the other day, and she stuck her head out her dog door, watched me for a moment, then ducked back inside. We don’t like the hot. So she didn't understand why were spending a Saturday morning sweltering in it.

At about that time, I reached the corner in my sidewalk and began to tug at the worst patch of weeds – tall, sticky, a bit thorny – that ants had built some sort of kingdom beneath. They scurried around, some a very pale color, others a darker red, while I yanked away the tall pillars of green around their mounded homes.

“Sorry, guys.” I told them, brushing them away from my legs. “Those weeds are ugly. You should go somewhere else.” Eventually there were so many of them that I had to stop. I was quite sweaty and dirty, had tired of Chienne’s increasingly irritated noises, and was starting to fear the ants a bit.

I got up and moved around the large piles of plant matter on my sidewalk toward Chienne as she wagged her tail.

“Hold on.” I said lightly, realizing I was a bit dizzy from the heat and exertion. Weeding can be surprisingly tough. “I just want to put all this stuff in the garbage bag while it’s still early. Then we’ll go in and be done for now.”

I filled up the bag with the dead parts of the purple flower plants, then stuffed copious amounts of sticky, buggy green plants in the bag. As I picked up, I noticed that a few weeds still marred the sections I’d already finished. So I found myself bent over in the mulch, still weeding, and Chienne sighed and sat down. I taught her that, I thought with a smile.

I like watching babies when they’re little. You can tell what they normally receive in terms of reactions from their parents since that tends to be what they offer other people. An example? My little cousin smiles all the time. Big, wide, easy grins because that remind me exactly of how her parents look at her. My other cousin – a big baby boy – makes faces. Arches his eyebrows and offers this quirk of the mouth that passes for a grin. His parents are equally loving, but provide him with different facial expressions to mimic. So while Chienne can’t mimic the way I smile and exclaim when greeting her every day, she does an excellent job with mirroring my sighs.

I think habits are interesting. I tend to sigh a lot – in irritation, pleasure, exhaustion. I walk the dog every morning. I work from home too much. I don’t weed my flower beds until they’re miserably ugly.

All of that’s fine. Habits can be broken or changed if need be. I can make sure to spend time in the office each day. I can spend time with my flower beds each week. Walk the dog in the evening if that’s more convenient. Sigh less and giggle more. It would be difficult for me to change some of my more ingrained behavior. But I recently started scraping my tongue after brushing my teeth – bought one of those special brushes from It was weird at first, but now I love it. Can’t believe I went for so long without doing it.

The factor that struck me as I continued to pick up weeds until I found myself at the corner again, watching the ants busily moving about, brushing them away from the weeds I’d stolen from them and placing them in the bag with the rest of the trash, was that change doesn’t just affect me. Chienne expects to walk each morning. I’m granted between 15 and 30 minutes after waking before she starts to stare. Then whine. Then nudge me. Picks up a shoe and drops it. Sits impatiently at the door and sighs. My habit has become her habit and she’s in no mood to change it.

The ants had built a cool little community at the end of the flower bed. They had no expectation of those weeds coming up. After all, they’d been there for months now. Chances were that the area would continue to get overgrown and they could expand into a flower bed domination scheme. My impulse to fix the mess I’d left alone too long had severe consequences on the architecture of their major mound. It’s not fair – they didn’t do anything to deserve it. The weeds were honestly so long and dense that I didn’t really realize they were there. But day after day of walking past the icky landscaping had finally worn on me. I wanted it pretty again. So the ants are going to have to deal.

When I show up at work every day – as has been my tendency lately – people are surprised to see me there. Not in a bad way, but it’s different. And changes are a bit jarring. I’m feeling fragile because of the ripple effect from some changes. Mom is sick – she’s on medicine now that should help, but I’m remembering many times I should have insisted on treatments instead of offering comfort. (It’s not really bad – completely fixable. I’m not trying to be overly dramatic.) I remember quite often that Winnie is gone – was writing the date on a data CD I burned and realized her memorial service was originally scheduled for that day. Talk to Dad about the lack of services for my uncle. His sister doesn’t want to deal with it, and Dad isn’t the type to insist.

I can't do much about any of the profound events that have saddened me. I think, much as this analogy pains me, that sometimes I'm the ant. My little world is suddenly much different than it was, and I find myself scurrying around. Confused. Scared. Powerless.

The interesting consequence from all this vulnerability is that I want to change a bunch of stuff myself. Gain some control. I rearranged my bedroom – moved some furniture to the attic, opened up a lot of space in there. I wake up every morning and realize that change can be lovely – I like not having to worry about stubbing my toe as I make my way out of the room. So I decided to move my desk around at work. Put away my journals to open up some space. Changed some of the pictures on my bulletin board. Am going to put up some postcards tomorrow. I like it – it somehow stimulates productivity for me to look at new items, or old items in new places. I changed my theme for Firefox. Bought a new kind of yogurt.

This is basically an effort to avoid doing anything stupid. I’m a little desperate to alter something that will make me better. More happy than sad. My baseline mood lately is low – I find myself avoiding calls, and not really enjoying the ones I take. The bigger concern is that I’m behind on answering email, which really doesn’t happen to me often at all. I feel a step removed from life in general, which is actually good – the hurt is a little less that way, but my level of sadness remains mostly unchanged. The blog is crap lately and I really don’t care. You can stop reading it – that’s fine. Someone came over for dinner. OK. My plans for the weekend fell through. Not a problem – gives me more time to finish weeding my flower bed. I just can’t work up much energy to care.

The problem is that it’s another habit that has consequences. I don’t want to adjust into feeling this way – it’s not who I am or what I want for myself. But I’m disengaging because I don’t know what else to do. Look for another job? No – too soon. And it’s going reasonably well at work. End friendships? No – that’s a bit silly. Just because nobody can make me laugh like I normally did or care as much as I once would have doesn’t mean I love them any less. Date someone? Not now – 2 weeks ago I would have wanted him to rescue me from my sadness, my fear of being unimportant. But now I don’t think I could let anyone in. That would require caring and I don’t care right now. Move? No – I bought a house. A change of scenery might do me some good, but I adore my little home. So I’ll move furniture instead, fix landscaping, clean the garage. That does actually help – I smile when I see the little improvements I’ve made lately.

I think – because I’m not really sure of my point – that I’m reminding myself that my actions have consequences that aren’t necessarily predictable. I’m now stuck taking walks each morning regardless of how I feel or how late I’m running. I feel too guilty about disappointing Chienne to skip our outings very often at all. Even in the insane heat lately. And if I stay withdrawn for too long, it’s a little like the flower bed. Difficult and time consuming to fix.

For now though, I’m not quite able to see out of my protective little shell. There are moments where I can pull it off, but then I tuck back inside and settle in. For just a little while longer… All the while hoping that if I have to be the ant, people will leave my protective weeds alone while I recover a little bit.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Not Funded

We had a group meeting today. Our first since we lost Winnie. It was typically the place I saw her. Our conversations would often begin with discussing how very much bacon was on the pizza that was provided for lunch. I would have rated my fondness for the breakfast meat quite high before my arrival here. I’ve come to understand that I have no comprehension of a love for bacon that requires piles of it on a slice of pizza. I’d often shake my head and wrinkle my nose at her across the room if one of us arrived late. She’d nod in understanding, brushing bits of bacon off whatever slice appeared to be the least greasy.

I went late today – continued to work on something online until I thought most people – drawn by bacon pizza – should have arrived. I found one of the last seats and settled in with a single slice of chicken pizza – just a little bacon on it that I smiled over – and opened my notebook. We were going to talk about grants.

Boss said that I was one of the experts – having just submitted a grant recently. I shrugged modestly and noted that we’d certainly have to submit it again. Only a precious few are awarded grants on their first attempts, and I had no expectation of being any different. I did, however, internally acknowledge a glimmer of hope. A funded grant would certainly be the sign that I was headed down the right path. That research might be for me after all. That I somehow stumbled upon a career that could be sustainable in an increasingly tough environment for research.

I was pleased with myself, sitting in the dark, looking at screen captures of NIH websites. I had submitted a grant – for better or worse, funded or not scored – and that was important. I asked some good questions, participated in some of the discussion, and noted that 2 of the other postdocs looked at me with some sort of envy. I knew stuff! Finally wasn’t a half step behind as we talked. Could answer questions easily rather than flipping through a journal article I was presenting while saying softly, “It’s something like… Wait, let me find it.”

Boss closed the meeting by announcing details for Winnie’s memorial service. After some delay, it will occur soon. And I closed my eyes against the sadness. The problem with distracting yourself is that the pain is sometimes surprisingly intense.

As we left, one of the more senior fellows asked if I used eRA Commons.

“Nope. I submitted a paper copy of the grant.” I told him.

“Me too.” He nodded, then continued. “But you can check the progress online through that site. See how things are going.”

“Get the bad news sooner.” I smiled and he laughed.

Instead of watching my pendulum swing toward my magnets, I decided to check out the website. Review was this month, so I knew my results would be available soon if they weren’t there already. I had to request registration from my contact at work. Then I left to pick up new contacts, did a little shopping, then returned home.

After changing out of my work clothes and into my pajamas, I settled on the loveseat with Nick and checked on people who might want to talk to me. I was able to confirm my registration with the NIH, then started doing some other work as it would take up to 2 days to get my official log in. After submitting a paper, but continuing to deal with an abstract, I received my 2 emails – one with my username, another with a password. Like a bank card and PIN, I thought with some amusement, then tried 4 different times to create a password that contained numbers but didn’t begin or end with them, incorporated a special character, and put together a string of letters that I quickly wrote down because I wasn’t likely to remember them.

Then I entered the information that was missing from the little tabs, then clicked on status. Found the fellowship I had in grad school. Below them was the most recent application, and I sighed when I saw it was “Not Funded.” It’s too early to be overly disappointed – the comments will indicate whether the effort was wasted or if we can make some changes and try again. I know people who have done both – abandoned all hope for that particular funding avenue, and who have made changes, added personnel, changed agencies, and even institutions. I don’t know what I’ll do quite yet.

Grad school, for me, had its share of rejection. I’ve been quite lucky in working with people who are eager to pick me back up, assure me that I’m doing good work in a competitive field – journals, grants, fellowships, collaborations – and I’m not going to get everything I want. I have, however, made some progress in certain areas, and that’s nice. As far as this particular work? The grant would have been lovely. But I’m doing the projects regardless – think they’re quite important and cool. I’ve convinced a couple of people I’m right, and if I can keep talking folks into it, perhaps I’ll keep working for the next little while.

That’s enough, I think. I’m here. I’m adjusting. Making friends. Writing up the last of the papers from my graduate work, acknowledging that one may not get published, though it’s the last one I’m submitting after significant changes were made. I’m sad about a number of things and have some questions on what I’m doing here – where I’m heading – but that’s fine for now too. It’s hit or miss lately, but when isn’t it with me?

I wonder sometimes where this story is headed. If someone might read this a year from now and think, “How perfect! Here's someone who struggled with publishing and funding and finding balance! I feel the same way sometimes.” Then she can click over to the main page and see how things are going for future-Katie. I don’t know that I can predict it, frankly. But I have a feeling I’ll be OK.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

My Sunday Afternoon

Sunday afternoon, I went to visit Jill. She’s been away from the office for a while now, and I had started to gather gifts for her from everyone. I brought in some lovely hand soap, lotion, a magazine and some mints. As people contributed, the basket I brought started to overflow and the envelope that housed the card was also home to a good deal of money. Boss decided that rather than getting her a gift certificate she couldn’t use, we should give her the money.

“It doesn’t escape me that it’s also the easiest solution.” He said a bit sheepishly, and I smiled and patted his arm.

“I think it’s nice either way. We can give her cash – then she has gifts from us and can choose what else she wants.”

I met him at work Sunday afternoon and I rode north of town with Boss and his wife. Forty five minutes later, and following 2 missed turns, we had viewed adequate hills, valleys, ponds and rivers to arrive at our destination. We proceeded down a steep drive to a lovely home and tried to figure out how to get in. Use the basement door or try to find the porch steps in the midst of antique tractors, mounds of vegetables from the garden. I picked my way through the clutter, thinking it was rather charming, and continued to look for steps to the porch above our heads.

“Kittens!” I exclaimed, leaning down and watching my pretty skirt puddle on the ground as I reached for the gray and white striped one.

“Hello, pretty kitty.” I murmured, and looked up to find Boss greeting Jill. I waited until he wife had said hello, then smiled and went to receive my own hug. I held on for a moment, asking softly how she felt.

Boss handed her the gift basket, which she promptly passed off to me. “I’m not supposed to lift anything.” She explained, and took Boss’s wife and me upstairs to her room while Boss visited with her parents. Jill had moved home to care for them as they aged. Arriving in her bedroom, I perused her collection of angel figurines and admired her grandfather clock. I need a grandfather clock, I decided, and turned to watch her crying over the card. After another hug and some girl talk, we went back to the basement to chat with her folks.

Her mother, an adorable lady from the rural South, said in a high-pitched drawl that she hadn’t gotten a hug. I smiled and reached to receive a polite pat on the back, but was embraced fully. She ended up kissing my neck since I hadn’t thought to offer my cheek. I was touched by the lack of pretense – the open, loving welcome that was so easily offered.

“Aren’t you pretty as a picture?” She said, patting the cheek she hadn’t been tall enough to kiss, and pushing me into a chair.

“Careful you don’t topple over!” She advised happily, and I found my balance and perched more carefully in the chair, tugging my pink top down and crossing my legs to watch my pink flip flop dangle. As I looked around the room, half focused on Boss and Jill’s dad as they conversed, I noticed several deer heads. Not at all my taste, but it seemed to work with the stone work on some walls and deep wooden planks on others. It was rustic, but gorgeous.

I smiled over the tomatoes arranged on a coffee table. It was a large table, and completely covered with the orange orbs. All face down. I wondered if that was how they were supposed to be stored, only recently have realized that refrigerating tomatoes ruins their flavor. I had purchased one at the store that morning, though they were out of the yellow squash. I contented myself with green and remembered leaving my produce on the table before getting ready for my afternoon outing.

Jill fluttered around, gathering cans of pickles for us to take home as her dad offered advice on which ones were best.

“He loves canning.” Jill told us, patting his arm affectionately and asking if he was still cold. She had two more plastic bags and began to select tomatoes and examine their tops before returning some to the table and placing others gently in the bags.

“There’s peppers outside.” Her dad said.

“We put some peppers in already, Daddy.” She said, still selecting tomatoes. I was tempted to ask what she was looking for – I’m never skilled at picking produce and tend to just pretend I know what I’m looking for – but was distracted by a bunny on the wall that I hadn’t yet noticed in the dim lighting.

Did it have horns? I squinted at it and swiveled my chair for a closer look. Rabbits don’t have horns, I thought, but then wondered briefly if I was mistaken. Horned rabbits? No, I decided, they certainly didn’t have horns that long. This must be some kind of joke. I returned my focus, unsure as to whether I was amused or disconcerted by the horned bunny on the wall, on the emerging discussion on Jill’s gift of pickled peppers versus the fresh ones her dad wanted to give us that were located outside. She found that basket and placed peppers – hot and sweet – in the bags before being directed to the yellow squash on another table.

“I really don’t need anything.” I offered again, knowing I’d be leaving with at least 2 bags – one for pickles, the other fresh vegetables. She continued to busy herself with gathering food for us as we urged her to sit and rest.

“We’re going to have to leave.” Boss said as the conversation lagged a bit. “She won’t rest while we’re here.”

I stood to help Jill with the bags – they were surprisingly heavy. Boss stood as well, cocking his head to listen as Jill insisted we go see the house her brother was building.

We placed our jars and vegetables in the trunk and followed Jill and her mother to another part of their property. Were impressed by the stone work around a small pond, noticed the waterfall they added. Wandered through the log house that was mostly finished. It was exquisite – the property, pine trees, the location for the pool and hot tub, all the storage.

I was walking with Jill’s sister-in-law as we prepared to leave. She’d hugged me on arrival as well, and I decided I liked these people. They were just so warm, and while I consider myself to be friendly, I rarely feel the immediate affection that seemed so natural to them. I went through a hugging line as we prepared to leave. Told the sister-in-law how happy I was for her – the house was going to be just perfect. Kissed Jill’s cheek and told her to take her time in recovering. We missed her very much, but wanted her to return to us completely healthy.

Then her mother – a little bit of a woman – walked over quickly while ordering Jill into the car.

“We’re going to be late for church!” She said, still coming toward me as Jill promised they’d make it in time.

“Darlin’, thank you for coming out. You come again.” She ordered me, and I smiled and leaned down for her hug.

“We love you.” She said in her sweet drawl and I pressed my cheek briefly to hers as she patted my back.

“I love you too.” I said softly, realizing with some surprise that I meant it.

It’s been clear that I’ve isolated myself since my arrival here. I have no illusions about it being anything other than a personal problem. I have excuses, of course. There aren’t people my age! Well, there are, actually, but they’re all married! I’m not married. I’d apparently rather pout over that fact than go out and meet people.

The nice realization from that afternoon – spending time with my boss and his family, then Jill and hers – was that I’m quite capable of being social. I enjoy time with people and before my traffic situation I was quite pleased with life in general.

The lesson? I like it here. There are people I’ve known yet overlooked as friends for some lame reason. We don’t have much in common. He seems a bit pompous. She’s too flighty. They’re quite a bit older than I am. So now I realize the problem was that I didn’t want to get close to anyone. Know I’m likely leaving in another year or two, and don’t want to form even more friendships that require sporadic email and calls, then visits that make me remember how very much I miss having daily contact with that person.

You probably won’t hear countless stories of parties and my evenings at bars. But I’m going to start working out with someone in the office. Have plans to visit Jill and her family again. Invited another friend over for dinner. It’s taken me a good deal of time, but perhaps I’m settling in a bit more.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Busy with distractions

I’m normally quite reflective. Tend to over think life a bit perhaps. Except it’s not helping lately – when I sit down to write, I get sad and I don’t want to be sad.

My uncle died last week. I keep thinking I’ll write about it, but I haven’t finished anything. We weren’t overly close – no need for sympathy – but he was, until several years ago, around. I loved him and wanted him to be happy, though he was the most negative person I’ve known.

Dad is subdued – trying to settle the estate with his sister, arranging to retrieve the wrecked vehicle, taking phone calls from people who knew his brother.

Mom’s procedure went well this morning. Perhaps that’s not exactly true – she’s in a lot of pain right now and loopy from the anesthesia. I listened patiently while she told me the same story 3 times when I got home from work. She closed each telling of the story with a weak “I wish you were here.” And it hurt my heart each time.

Jill, a friend from work, has been out with an illness for some time now. I went to visit her yesterday and took gifts from everyone at work. It was lovely – really, truly wonderful and I’m glad I went – but seeing someone who has always been vibrant and healthy looking pained and tired is difficult.

You may not see it from reading here, but I really am generally happy. I smile at people. Laugh easily and often. Have a great deal of hope that life works out for everyone. Think people are far more good than bad. But I lately find myself drifting toward grief in spare moments. Went to take a nap on Saturday – between my many showers that yard work made absolutely necessary – and unexpectedly cried until I was sick.

I find the same thing happens when I try to write. I’m alone with my thoughts and there’s not much funny or sweet or interesting. And while being alone and feeling inadequate are somewhat sad, I can usually smile at my tendency toward the dramatic in examining them. But when people get sick or die? That’s bad. It’s worth some tears and genuine mourning.

So I’m doing that. But being sad hurts. So the advice I received was to keep busy. I am. Talking to people and being productive at home and doing my job at work. In those moments, I’m content. Peaceful. I smile and laugh and respond to email and phone calls. I make progress on manuscripts and move forward with projects. I organized my pantry and closets. Moved some furniture to the attic and rearranged my bedroom. Ran errands and cleaned. I watch television mindlessly when I’m tired, only going to bed when I’m sure I can fall asleep immediately. Thinking just hurts so I try to avoid it most of the time.

Perhaps I’m just finding my balance. Trying to heal a little bit before I can feel stable and normal again. Until then, there’s not much to say. I can list all the tasks I accomplished today or we can talk about how scary death is. How it’s just as painful to lose someone who wasted opportunities as someone who didn’t get a chance to see many of hers materialize. How physical illness can rob someone of their own sunny personality.

See? Not fun. So tomorrow, I have an appointment for a car problem, then need to pick up contacts. I have a meeting followed by a seminar. Need to touch base on one of the projects I’m working on. Have a pile of work I haven’t dealt with yet tonight because I was busy grilling then eating then cleaning up. Did some work on cleaning my garage but haven’t finished yet…

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Profanity...deep breath...more profanity

I had the sweetest post planned! Had a lovely afternoon, honestly. It was funny and interesting - and I do want to write it all out so I can remember.

But I sat in traffic on my way home for 2 hours. For what should have been a 20 minute trip. So I waited and swore at whatever was causing this delay. Then I tried another route with similar results. Yet another route was found - and there I sat for my 2 hours after my dad figured out what might be causing the problem. There's a concert venue between where I was and where I wanted to be. And parking is always a problem at those events. I remember sitting with a friend in a car for several hours trying to park at a show several years ago.

I also recall asking her how badly it would suck if you just wanted to go home - were trying to get by everyone who actually had a reason for waiting in line.

Now I know.

It's [insert several bad words] terrible.

But now I'm home and can finish up some work then rest. If a lesson can be learned, it's that an unavoidable inconvenience can alter a perfectly lovely mood from an afternoon well spent. Unfortunate, isn't it?

In other news, Mom is having a relatively minor medical procedure done tomorrow, so I'll take prayers if you're so inclined. I talked to God already. After I apologized for all the swearing.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Pictures

The Romance Novels

There's a tall shelf in my living room for the taller books. But this is relatively reasonable, right? Not such a big deal. Since you can't see titles, I can't be overly embarrassed. But in the interest of some disclosure, I'll link to some of my personal favorites.

I read The Real Deal on my trip to England. Loved the trip, love the book.

OK, this is hard. Some of them are, um, a little explicit. Not hardcore necessarily, but near the erotic end of the spectrum. People always make fun of me for my "sex books" but then I loan them out and everyone wants to read more. So don't judge me. Much.

Oh! Bet Me is more subtle and is the cutest story ever! He asks her out on a bet and she is sort of mean to him and the dialogue is quirky and funny, and there's this whole part on how she doesn't believe he could love her. And she has these great shoes! And Krispy Kremes! I sigh happily over this one - I'll likely read it when I'm done writing this.

What? Those? They're some of the books I keep in my bedroom. Note the stacks behind the row in the front of the cubes. Moving on...

I will read anything Susan Donovan writes because of this book. It's one of those "kind of blushing when reading certain sections" novels, but it's adorable. She's a soccer coach and teacher turned homemaker columnist and he's a cop investigating her stalker.

I like Erin McCarthy in general, but I loved
Mouth to Mouth. She's deaf and he's a cop. Oh, she has a stalker too. Hmmm... In my defense, many romance novels are strong women who happen to be in distressing situations.

How do I know? Well, those are 3 bins that I keep under the bed in my guest room. There are 3 more in my office. And another 2 in the master bedroom. It's a good thing I have so many books I like to fill all this space next to pictures.

I do not enjoy Linda Howard's recent work. It made me cry. But her early stuff is great. Dream Man is in the bins, but it's a bit scary (for me - my tolerance is quite low).

I also adore Lori Foster, but tend to like her best in the little 3 stories in one books.


To finish Ceresina's request, I took my camera with me on a walk a couple days ago. And forgot to take pictures. So I'll try to remember tomorrow, but in the meantime, there's this.

I haven't planted anything in my flower beds - I just wait to see what comes up. So I was thrilled when these little guys appeared. In appreciation for their cheery beauty, I spent 90 minutes this morning pulling weeds so they had enough room to grow and bloom.

It was quite hot.

And my fingers hurt badly.

And I got bugs on my hands.

But look how pretty the flowers are!

Katie's Closet

The blue shirt held up this post already, but I like JustMe too much to deny a request. The shirt was dirty so I washed it, but then I left in the dryer too long (I forgot it was in that load and needed to be hung to dry!) and it wrinkled. So please know that it's a lovely shirt and helps me give decent talks. It's not at its best, but I love it.

I also like that pink striped one in the background (behind the blue shirt - with the white and pale pink stripes. Though I do like the black stripey one too.)

To be fair, blue shirt has been to Canada, Japan and England so it's rather used to being wrinkled. It irons out like a champ, and it is a cute little shirt. I put it back with its friends (the other clothes) after the photo, but I'll iron it tomorrow.

To make up for the wrinkles, I'm offering some of my shoes. This is only some, though we can pretend it's all of them if that works better for you. Back row: L-R. The sedate pumps are friends (taupe and black), then there are the little ones with the strap. They taper into this tiny little heel - such cute shoes. Then the navy ones with the bow are flirting with you - probably the sexiest shoes I own.

My favorite strappy shoes are the black pair in the front row. So comfortable and easy to walk in! Then there are the ones with the sparkly butterfly and the white leather flower! And all the ones behind them...

Where I sleep

This is my bedroom. Chienne looks irritated (but pretty!) because she was trying to play with a squeaky toy and I was trying to take a picture.

Notable in this one? I do sleep with that many pillows - there are 5 plus a body pillow (plus those 2 throw pillows). It's a king size bed though - there's room for all of them.

The sheets are blue - you can see the pillow peeking out in the corner at the head of the bed. The comforter is gold but has these nifty little patterns embroidered on it. Not something I'm typically drawn to, but I like it. It's silk underneath, which is lovely. I put my blanket on the pillows so you could see it. There are clocks on either side of the bed - I'm quite near sighted and like to know what time it is. And I love older posters like that one - there are 2 more in the bedroom and another in my dining room.

I love the loveseat!

So, Diss Daisy, when I first came to my southern city, I couldn't close on my house for another week. But I had to start work to close on the house, so I lived with my cousin. I fell deeply in love with their old basement furniture. I think some people leave the cushions along the back, but I put them on the sides and nestle deeply into the furniture. You can see where the cushions are both smooshed in the middle where I prop my arm on them.

I usually sit by the table (with my water, Chandler the iPod (aren't his speakers lovely?), a drink and my lipgloss) and prop Nick (who wanted to say hello too!) on that pillow on my legs as they're tucked in front of me.

That flash you see in the TV is from my camera as I'm perched on the loveseat. So I can see - in the foreground - my ottoman with some work on it. That's my front door on the left, then some postcards I like (I have a mild obsession with postcards, actually). Then there are pretties on those shelves (Oh! My little baskets from Dresden - second shelf from the top! They have tiny kitchen utensils in them!). Then there's the television, VCR, DVD player, Sex and the City DVDs, Friends, Felicity, then some random VHS movies I haven't watched in years.

Roof, Repaired

Dad said the shingles he replaced were slightly different colors than the original ones. I certainly can't tell where they are though. I do know they are toward the front of the garage - so if you're looking, try the left side of the photo.

This one is likely more meaningful if you're remembering the Torn Shingles post. I can see out my pretty blinds to the front of the garage here. The part that bugged me most was the shingle hung in the gutter about 3 feet from the corner.

It bothered me a lot. Even more after I wrote that post and it represented my blatant lack of progress in many areas.

When I started grad school, I had an awful view. Was stuck in the corner of a U-shaped building and could basically see a gray brick wall. So after moving into a different apartment, I adored sitting my living room and looking at the trees outside. Getting sun for my plants.

I love the view from my living room too. While I had to get close to the window to compensate for lighting, I see something similar from my loveseat.

The Pretty Puppy

Chienne showed up before, but I'll give ScienceWoman a couple more. The dog hates being hot as much as I do - she used to be great about it, but I must have trained her to be weak and whine. We're returning from a walk and I realized I'd forgotten to take flower pictures, so I got this one of my girl waiting for me to open the door already.

She cried at the door today when I was weeding. I took her out with me, then let her in, then brought her out again when she cried from the living room. I think I was supposed to come in with her, but she was miserable in the humidity. Silly dog.

She has very short hair, so she's always slept covered up. Since she's selfish, she also rests on top of the blanket and wants it wrapped around her so nobody can take it away. She's probably as tired as all of you after making it this far, but no worries. I'll let you stop reading soon.

And I did cover her back up after I took this picture. It's probably a year old, so she's long since forgiven me for disturbing her.

And the smile

That would be my smile. From a photo I ruthlessly cropped that was taken several years ago - near the beginning of grad school, I think. This is good though since I was told in junior high that I squint when I smile and needed to stop that. So you're spared the squinty eyes, though I think it's rather endearing. That woman obviously had poor taste. Right?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

So I had this dream...

I’m still not feeling well, though I am better. And you guys are the sweetest for offering your wishes for my recovery. Since I spent another day at home – watching television between valiant attempts to do work on the laptop – I decided to write about a dream I had early this morning. I’m editing to add that it’s long. And, well, it’s a dream that I thought was fascinating, but I don’t expect it will hold the same interest for anyone else. So feel free to skip it. I got in the habit of journaling some dreams after a class I took in undergrad and can now pick out what I think are the important parts from some of them. And since I can't come up with anything else to write about, I thought I'd post this rather than nothing.

I went to prom. Or rather some variation thereof since I was near my actual age – somewhere in my late 20s. There were three couples – myself and a younger man I didn’t know well but liked to a moderate degree. That’s rather usual for my relationships – moderate affection and appreciation for his good qualities. It rarely extends beyond that. The other two women were pretty – both blonde and giggly, but fun. I liked them though I could tell we weren’t close.

The men were all nondescript. I do remember thinking they were all younger, looking a bit ill at ease in their tuxedos. They were good friends, laughing and talking with each other rather than us.

We didn’t spend long at the dance, instead squeezing back in a car that was far too small to proceed to a hotel. I felt awkward – I didn’t have strong enough feelings for him to have dinner with my date alone, let alone spend time in a room with a bed. I was pleased when we parked and all wandered across the parking lot to check in to a single room. I remember feeling a moment of confusion on what we’d all do in one room, but then was distracted by the flashing lights of the rides across the parking lot. A large carousel with large yellow bulbs shining atop its canopy. Tiny cars that raced around a small track. The carnival was populated sparsely, but I decided it was because it was rather late at night. I smiled at the people – some children – as they laughed and cheered over their fun evening.

The six of us made our way past the rides and up a large set of stairs to the second floor. The boys settled near the window, sitting on a ledge and drinking. I took the glass of wine I was offered, wishing for white over red, frowning when my request was ignored, then sipping bad red wine. I sat on the bed with the blondes, a smile struggling to emerge as they giggled and talked. They were fun, but I felt out of place. A bit uncomfortable and increasingly irritated with the boys who were blocking my view out the window.

I was appropriately pleased when they decided to take a walk, perhaps encouraged by my increasingly hostile glare. I hurried to the window, setting my glass by the television perched on a small table along one wall. I looked outside, stretching to see the rides and people. They were probably families, I mused. I liked being with my family. Felt most comfortable with being myself – fishing for compliments, being open and easy with my thoughts and feelings, laughing until I cry, snuggling in when I want someone to cuddle me. Knowing how that feels – to be open without feeling vulnerable, secure in the love and affection that surrounds me – makes spending time with casual friends seem shallow and wasteful.

So I decided to leave the hotel. Called the front desk and asked if they could call a cab to take me home. Thanked the girls as they watched me prepare to leave, and insisted I was fine. Just tired. Ready to go.

I checked my purse to be sure I had enough cash to pay for the ride home. I don’t take taxis often at all, so I’m always quite paranoid that some nice driver will take me somewhere and I won’t have enough money to pay him. Assured that I had a serious amount of cash - and not feeling good about having so much money, frankly – I asked the girls if they wanted my room key back. I suddenly remembered we’d only received 3 copies and I didn’t think I’d need mine anymore. They nodded, so I set it on the table, checking to see if my lipgloss, Advil, keys and wallet were in my little red purse.

I turned to leave, assuming the cab would be here soon, and noticed my pretty pink purse was on the table as well.

“Is this mine?” I asked them, and they looked at me strangely but nodded.

“It even matches my dress.” I said softly, looking down at the soft pink gown I was wearing, a tiny brown bow at the waist and a filmy skirt flowing down to my knees. I smiled because it was so pretty – I hadn’t noticed before but I loved this outfit. Quickly stuffing my red purse (it wouldn’t match at all!) into the pink one, I told them I’d left the room key card on the table and skipped out of the room just to watch the skirt swirl around my legs.

I headed left down the hall, though we had arrived from the stairs on the right. But the rides were to the left, I reasoned, and there must be another stairway. The wallpaper was a bit gaudy – blue and gold, muted and shiny respectively – but somehow grand. Relieved that I was leaving, I smiled over it, feeling light and happy. I reached another stairway, but it was protected – I would need a key to enter it. I sighed in irritation – I often get in trouble by doing something unnecessary but supposedly kind – leaving my key for my former companions – then suffer some annoyance for it. I sighed, irritated at myself, and headed back toward the stairs we’d climbed to find the room. I passed a guard when I turned a corner, ready to offer an explanation of how I was bored and therefore leaving. I noted that he was asleep, then watched him in confusion. Why was there a guard in the hotel anyway? Was I not safe?

I walked briskly toward the hotel room again, needing to pass by to reach the open staircase. The boys had returned, but had no key. I listened to the girls giggle inside as the 3 men requested entrance and were repeatedly denied.

“Katie!” My date said upon seeing me. “I need your key to get inside again. We need more cigarettes.”

“I left it inside.” I informed him, and smiled before continuing toward the stairs. He was as sorry to see me go as I was to leave.

I had to walk around the side of the hotel building before reaching the rides again, noting that I would get wet when I had to emerge from the overhang on the side of the building. It was raining pretty hard, but I love the rain. I wasn’t upset at all. I noticed that there was an indoor section of the carnival, and, not wanting to get soaked, I stepped inside as I moved toward the small building that housed the front desk. It was separate from the hotel building, though I don’t remember it originally being so. I walked through the well-lit building, white walls, huge lights – both constant and blinking – that made me squint after adjusting the gloom outside.

There were two old women riding the cars, arguing over who should lead and follow. I had to walk across the track to reach the other door, and I took small but quick steps in my brown, open-toed heels in front of them before they started to race again. I looked back at them and laughed softly as they started to decide who went first at the beauty shop last time. That apparently would dictate who lead the race in their small blue and red cars.

I viewed the front building with some dismay upon leaving the bright white enclosure. It would be nearly impossible to reach – there were 3 lanes of traffic streaming past it. I decided that – as the sky lightened into morning – people were arriving for the rides. Perhaps there were more elsewhere and these people were all searching for parking. I must have looked panicked to the front desk man as he sat in front of the huge windows in his small building, watching the traffic himself. Where would my taxi be waiting? Did he get swept along in this endless herd of incoming cars?

The clerk motioned behind me, and I turned to notice a black car with small, white stenciled letters on one door when I turned to look. It was parked next to the carousel, and I started toward it. The driver wasn’t inside, and I looked for him as I got closer. He was in what appeared to be a bus stop shelter with sliding doors. He sat on a bench, watching the people mill around the rides with a small smile of his own. I cocked my head at him when he glanced at me, feeling the blush of an intense attraction instantly. I looked quickly at the car, then back at him with a raised eyebrow and he nodded at me before returning his attention to the carnival.

I frowned, confused, but shrugged and sat in the passenger seat, fastened my seat belt and settled my purse on my lap, noting again how well I coordinated. All soft pink and deep brown. Lovely.

Oh, but he was lovely too, I decided, watching his quick approach. He stepped in the car, brushing the rain from the bridge of his nose, and turned to look at me apologetically.

“I thought you had luggage you were going to get.” He said, and I sighed happily over his accent. British? I thought hopefully, thinking frantically of ways to extend the conversation so I could listen to the beautiful man with his beautiful voice and his beautiful accent.

“Just this.” I said, lifting my bag and hoping he noticed how it matched my dress.

“Sorry.” He said. “I was just watching the people.” I nodded, thinking we were obviously soul mates since I had wanted to watch the people too, and deciding his accent was more Australian than English.

“Yes.” I answered when he asked if I was ready, and we set off without my having named a destination.

He drove quickly and skillfully, and I settled in to watch. We talked about how he arrived in town, where he was from, if he liked driving. The basic topics I cover with each driver when I’m in a cab.

“May I look at this?” I asked, noting several sheets of white paper stapled together.

“It’s nothing.” He said, watching the road rather than me. “But sure.”

It was a CV. His. And it was impressive. He’d written papers, had a strong background, attended meetings for the same organization in which I’m active.

“Why’d you leave?” I asked him, getting distracted by his profile. Not traditionally handsome, I decided, but with strong features. Pretty green eyes, though he only glanced at me before returning his attention to the traffic. I glanced at the meter – we were only up to $6.15 and it felt like we’d driven for a long time. His hair was slightly silver at the temples, and his stubble looked a little gray as well.

“How old are you?” I asked before he’d answered by last question.

“Does it matter?” He smiled, meeting my gaze for a little longer this time. Then he swore at a truck that was passing us, gripping the wheel more tightly as I gasped when I felt we’d gotten too close to the gigantic semi.

“Never fear, love.” He advised, and I closed my eyes and tucked myself deeper in the seat, clutching his papers in my hands.

As we sped along, he spoke, though I can’t remember the details. He found the academic world unfair. Too political, too difficult, too hard to predict. I mentioned Winnie and he reached for my hand, distracting me from all my grief and self doubt as infatuation took over. I examined his fingers – long and elegant, yet full of strength – and felt myself blush again.

There were people stopped at a light – though I’d thought we were on an interstate – and he pulled in a gas station to skip the line. I frowned at him, preferring to wait our turn and head along our route.

“Do you know where we’re going?” I asked him, concerned.

“I’ll figure it out.” He assured me with another easy smile. And he pulled around a giant hole in the ground.

“They’re here to fix it.” I told him, watching the repair truck with its blacktop heading toward us. The workers looked friendly and I waved at them with my free hand, the other still wrapped around his.

He carefully steered toward a different road, stopping when a mother was dragging her daughter across the lot. She was likely in her late teens, had dark hair, and was eating a cheeseburger. She was also hugely obese. I watched her with a mixture of pity and horror.

“Get to the car!” Her mother ordered, holding her from behind and pulling her toward their vehicle.

“I’m too fat.” The daughter moaned between bites, ketchup smearing across a face that might have been pretty had it not been obscured by mounds of flesh. “I can’t do it!”

“Stop eating.” I urged softly, and felt him kiss my hand softly. I turned to look at him. “She won’t help herself.” I said sadly. “Why is that?”

He looked at me kindly, placing my hand on the curve of his shoulder as he leaned closer. He tucked a lock of hair behind my right ear as I shifted to face him, and when I turned my face to nuzzle into his palm, I noticed the mother shoving her daughter – still eating and complaining over her weight – into the pick-up truck they drove.

I returned my attention to the driver – confident, sexy, secure in himself – and watched him lean closer to me. I sighed, meeting his eyes and twisting my mouth.

“I’m going to wake up.” I told him sadly. “I can get close, but I never seem to reach the kiss I want so badly. Even in my dreams.”

He smiled, continuing to move closer. He smelled perfect. “You’ll get there.” He promised, closing his eyes just before I opened mine to view my bedroom ceiling.

“Just not today.” I whispered aloud into the gray morning, listening to it rain softly outside and lifting my head to wish Chienne a good morning.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


I woke up this afternoon in the hallway. I woke up with a migraine and, eager to get to the office, I decided to take an Advil and walk Chienne regardless. I stumbled into the house afterward, eager to get out of the heat and away from the icky smells. Some people are bothered by lights and noise, but smells are more likely to trigger sickness for me.

I can't remember a time I didn't struggle with headaches. Before my enduring love affair with OTC pain meds began, I'd spend days in endless misery. Headaches would lead to stomach problems which lead nowhere good. So ever since childhood, I'd make pitiful noises and Mom would rub my back and coax me into taking something.

I tried going back to bed, but couldn't get comfortable. So I camped out on the couch, TV playing softly to offer some distraction, and rested. I watched the clock for 30 minutes, waiting until it was time to take more pills. My house isn't all that big - it took me no more than 6 steps to get to the bathroom - and I sort of remember finding the bottle of medication. I'm not sure if I passed out a little bit or just decided the extra 4 steps to the bedroom was overwhelming, but Chienne nuzzled me awake about an hour later.

I made my 'still sleeping!' noise at her - she knows it well - and cuddled in next to me. Then I realized I was really uncomfortable, and blinked until she came into focus.

"Why are we in the hall? On the floor?" I asked her, confused. She offered little insight. So I wandered back to the couch and went back to sleep under a soft blanket. I'm feeling slightly better, but there's still that pressure just behind the painkiller buffer. So I did very little today - sent email and read blogs when I felt functional, just let time pass when I didn't.

So, if you haven't already guesed, this is my wordy way of saying I have very little to say today.