Thursday, November 30, 2006

When I grow up...

Grandma liked to tell a particular story. I can’t remember how many times I heard it – it could have been once and just stuck with me or could have been multiple times that encoded it into memory.

“When Aunt was little,” Grandma said, “she was sitting in school one day. The teacher asked them to go around the room and tell what they wanted to be when they grew up.

“Aunt came home that day and was so sad. She told me about how everyone had made fun of her. How they’d laughed and laughed when she told what she wanted to do with her life.” Grandma shook her head disapprovingly and said I could be anything I wanted to be. And if anyone teased me? Well, they were just wrong. I was smart and special and strong. Beautiful and loving and kind. Like a princess, only better. (Grandma loved me a tremendous amount – I still miss her terribly.)

I miss having a constant source of support. Someone who rarely told me I was wrong. She simply offered comfort and love. Smiled gently and kissed my forehead. Radiated gentle confidence that things would work out because I deserved good things. God loved me and would care for me. It would all be OK.

I was thinking about Aunt recently after my first appointment with Dr. Counselor. He asked what I would like to be doing if I could be doing anything at all.

“That’s the thing.” I said, exasperated with myself. “I just don’t know! I think… I guess…” Then I twisted my mouth and thought – I want to be alive. I like myself, think the world is ridiculously funny and remarkably fascinating. So if I could have anything – do anything – what would I want?

I found myself making a statement similar to what Aunt said as a child, standing proudly in a classroom to take her turn.

“I want to get married.” She said with a smile, for she wanted to do what her mother did. What she saw as profoundly important and loving and right. “I want to be a mother and a wife.”

I’m afraid of picking the wrong man (justified if you consider my romantic history). I’m worried about giving too much and expecting too little (also valid). I’m terrified of ending up alone. Devastated over the idea that I might not have children.

I’ve thought about the last one though – I’m having one. I’d rather not do it alone – plan to try like hell to meet someone wonderful – but I can if need be. But I could also be good at being married – sharing my life with someone.

I don’t think my way is the only way. My heart hurts much more over the woman who couldn’t hold her daughter’s hand because she was smoking and drinking a can of soda as they walked down the sidewalk than it ever would over a strong, capable woman deciding children aren’t in her plans. I understand feeling awkward around children – I sometimes do. But when I think of my life and try to imagine being alone – having a career and pets, wonderful friends and the opportunity to travel. Time to read and write and have incredible hobbies. Money to indulge myself. All those facets – pieces of what sound like a good life – leave me with an empty spot. I’ll always be looking around, wondering where the man is, when the children will come. That's just me.

So I’ve been thinking lately. About what will be right for me. About the intense stomach flip that I thought I needed so much, but perhaps is just throwing me off. Perhaps gentle strength and stability is (or should be) more appealing than dark and brooding talent. (Ah, brooding talent…) Sweet sincerity should win out over easy flirtation. Respect should matter more than heat. I’m getting it, I think. It gives me no small amount of comfort that I can see what I need and can get used to finding it attractive. I might be moving closer to what I want.

While having these thoughts, life goes on though. I put up my Christmas tree this morning. Locked Sprout in his room last night so I could sleep – the running and noise must stop at some point (and by “some point” I mean at, um, 9:00 when I’m too exhausted to stay awake until later). I took Chienne for a walk this morning. Started a project for Carrie. Made progress on another for Steve. Submitted some revisions on a paper after meeting with Boss. Had another meeting with a good collaborator. I’m productive – even after heading down the hall to find clothes while moaning “I don’t want to go!”

I’m continuing to collect lists of charities for holiday giving. I’m eager to attend church on Sunday. I have therapy tomorrow (well, I’m dreading that a bit, but that’s OK. I’ll let him know I was dreading it and see what he says). I’m not feeling nearly so sad as I was at one time – Christmas reminders help me out a lot. (I really like my tree.) I felt guilty – miserably so – for being so vulnerable and hopeful in my search for someone to love. That particular pain – whether through time or prayer or something else – has eased. I think it’s good for me to want this particular future. It’s OK that I’m sometimes sad that a part of my life I consider important is missing.

I’m good at my job. I can do this, if only I find the energy to do so. I’d be good at having a family. I’m a good daughter, an OK sister, a fantastic aunt. I have my faults – many, many quirks and habits and flaws that make me non-ideal. But I feel good about my goals. I, after all, can do whatever I want to do.

Grandma said so. Mom and Aunt would certainly back me up. And these are women more amazing than any I’ve been lucky enough to know. I badly want some young woman to be able to say the same of me some day. And lately, for some reason, I'm oddly hopeful that she will.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Rough start

Back to bed, I told myself sternly, leaving the laptop with many blog entries to be read. It was early – around 4, I think – and I may have left some incoherent comments (sorry about that, some of you) while appreciating some really good pieces of writing. I like blogs very much.

So I cuddled back into the soft sheets and fluffy comforter and battled consciousness, eager for a couple more hours of sleep, but lost. I dozed just a tiny bit, but stayed awake. Just thinking. Not unhappy or panicked – just awake and thoughtful. I finally relaxed into dreams just as the sun was trying to come up. Then I jerked myself awake – I’d come back early so I could attend meetings today so it would suck to miss them.

“6:20.” I mumbled, then stayed in that position – propped up on one elbow, trying to gather my thoughts to decide if I had time to sleep more or should get up. I flipped the covers back, then thought some more. Tugged them back up and cuddled into bed again.

“Meeting at 9.” I said softly, trying to focus. “Be there by 8:30 so I can get to the office and drop stuff off at my desk. So…” I broke off to yawn, trying to resume my calculations. “Um…traffic will be bad. I should leave here by 7:30 at the latest. I showered last night – don’t have to do that. I’ll pull my hair back. Wear…something. With my new black flats.” Then I closed my eyes and smiled, thinking about my new black flats. The ballet kind. With tiny bows over the toes.

I gasped when I woke again, frantically checking the time and noting only 10 minutes had passed. I was still tired but hurried out of bed and toward coffee.

I’d been dreaming, I remembered. I’d been ready – wearing my black flats and arriving at work a bit early for my meeting. But my plant wasn’t on my filing cabinet where I’d left it. Sick with worry, I looked around frantically. I disrupted my officemates with questions about my violet.

“Have you seen it?” I asked, heartbroken. I feel badly for dream Katie just thinking of it. “Where did it go?” I blinked back tears, looking at both men beseechingly. We had to find the plant.

“Someone threw it away, I think.” Said the grad student in my dream, not unkindly. I could tell he was worried about me – not understanding why I was so very upset, but recognizing my extreme emotion.

“No.” I said in disbelief. “I wanted it. It was on my shelf. My cabinet – it was on my cabinet, not bothering anyone, and it didn’t deserve to be thrown away! When?! When did someone throw it away?! I wanted it! We have to find it!”

Both men moved to help me, looking behind desks and in filing cabinets for the lost plant. I started tossing papers out of the trash can – breathing shallowly, searching anxiously.

I found it at the bottom. All the dirt was gone – it was just a few leaves on thin vines with sickly looking stems in its container.

“Why?” I cried softly, cradling the plant – it didn’t look like a violet at all – to my chest protectively. “Why did someone throw my plant away?”

“You didn’t water it.” The other of the two men offered gently. “I guess someone thought you didn’t want it anymore.”

“I did want it.” I said, my voice growing ever softer as I grieved. “I was going to water it as soon as I got back. I was. I’m sorry. So, so sorry.”

[That made me cry again – hold on while I get a Kleenex.]

I basically did the same thing this morning – forced myself awake, busied my hands with making coffee and brushing teeth - eager for distraction. Threw on clothes and put my flats in my bag (they’re new, so I knew they’d hurt) and wore my more comfortable strappy sandals with a gentle heel. I drank half a cup of coffee, did my makeup, fed the animals and headed out the door. I turned on my audiobook for the ride in. Rush hour equates to a long commute and I made more progress on this particular story.

But I listened and laughed lightly and inched forward on the interstate. I arrived at campus, secured a parking spot and caught the bus to the office. It’s freaking muggy out [insert scowling and swearing] and I didn’t want to sweat through a walk. But I settled into a fairly peaceful series of thoughts that would continue – on and off – throughout the day. Marriage, dating, how to determine if a man was right for me, the difference in how age/maturity affects how I view people and events.

I unlocked my office door, and remembered my dream. I flipped on the light – I hadn’t asked anyone to water the violet in my absence – and looked toward my filing cabinet. The one that’s a bit wobbly and sits upside down. I picked up the violet – healthy with its softly fuzzy self sporting three new leaves – light green and small – growing in the center. I gently plucked the dead blooms from the center. It’s all green leaves now – no purple flowers. Then I took its clear plastic dish and put water in it from the bathroom sink. I settled the plastic pot – full of dirt, roots and healthy, green leaves – in the shallow water and settled into gratitude that the plant was OK.

(The plant was Winnie’s. Jill kept it at her desk and said it bloomed and grew like crazy after she took it from Winnie’s office.

“It’s like she’s telling me she’s OK. That everything will work out.” Jill cried one day.

I raised an eyebrow (she didn’t see) even as I comforted her. The plant didn’t mean that much to me – or so I’d thought, I guess – but I desperately wanted to do a good job caring for it. For Jill. And, I think, for Winnie. I still miss her. I’m still terribly sad when I think of her.)

But I checked my email and went to my meeting, arriving right on time. Who schedules a 2 hour meeting? People who need 2 hours to get through their material, I answered my own question with a nod. So I wasn’t so wise to place meetings – both with people far more important than I am – immediately back to back. So I sheepishly excused myself from the early meeting to make the later one, waiting patiently for the VIP to finish up her previous engagement.

I’d been dreading that particular obligation, but it went well. Her normally brusque manner eased a bit – we laughed and worked quickly. It happens to be a very easy job that a grad student struggled with because it was outside his realm of interest. I, in contrast, want to learn this stuff and am eager to get my toe in the door with VIP. I was very relieved when the meeting ran long, yet was completely productive and pleasant.

I returned to the office to a missed lunch invitation, though Friend and I did meet up later. I was limping after only 30 minutes in my pretty black flats. But they were ever so nice to look at. And I think they’ll be less painful next time. Eventually, they’ll be super comfortable. Really.

I sent three documents to three different boards/committees/people. (Screwing with my mind, I tell you. Seriously.) I organized email and consulted my list of projects to complete. It’s going reasonably well. It was a good day.

I returned home – another hour of audiobook down – and settled in to read blogs and watch television. I bounced back up – already after dark – with the memory that I was going to decorate my Christmas tree. My attic – blessedly uninhabited by intruders – doesn’t have lights, so the tree will wait another day. But the angels are on the television, nativity scene on my shelves and Mr. and Mrs. Santa on my mantle. I’m happy for now.

But I fear I’ll have some sort of nervous breakdown if that violet takes a turn for the worse. I’m profoundly grateful that it’s a kind plant and is doing so well for me. I’m also thankful for having a productive day today – for feeling my early return to work was worthwhile.

Not a bad day at all, despite a rather difficult beginning.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Home again.

I carefully planned my retreat from my house. Plants were watered. Dog door blocked. Doors carefully locked and double checked. Heat turned down to 65°. Fans turned off. Coffee maker was cleaned and unplugged. Trash was taken out so as not to smell funny upon my return. Carpet vacuumed. Remote carefully placed on the arm of the loveseat to be easily found when I wanted to turn on the television. Cat and dog food was put away. Water bowls were emptied, waiting to be refilled.

I like preparing my little nest so it’s waiting prettily for me to come back from any trips. It makes me sad to leave home (where my parents live) – I miss the noise and laughter and chatter that comes with having other people around. I miss teasing my parents and knowing they think much like I do about many issues. I like cuddling into Mom and having her smooth my hair. I like how Dad brings me coffee when I shuffle into the living room each morning. Then I get refills for both of us. It’s just nice – cozy, comfortable and familiar. A distraction from any negative thoughts and a nudge into feeling happy when otherwise my mind would be blank.

I’m better at home than I am most places.

But my house is also nice. It was wireless internet. Is blessedly quiet. Sprout feels very much at home and I don’t have to search the house – dark corners of the basement especially – when he won’t come out. I just assume he’s fine. Chienne has her dog door so she can move freely inside and out. It’s comfortable here too – more isolated and lonely, but cozy and lovely too. Mine.

After about 8 hours in the car, anywhere would be good. I get so tired of sitting. Of fighting traffic. Of meowing cats and antsy dogs. Of the musty smell that builds when transporting animals for long distances. Drinking soda for miles and miles. Monotony broken only by stops at the gas station and audiobooks. It sucks.

So Chienne and I were both bouncing with excitement when we turned into our neighborhood. There were Christmas lights glistening from many houses, and I cooed at them. I like Christmas lights and people tended toward my favorite schemes – white outside, colored inside. Wonderful. The trip is almost over! I’ll quickly be home to shower, unpack, and order some pizza! (We’re too rural for pizza delivery at home, and while it’s a distant second to wireless, high-speed internet, I did miss it too.)

So I was completely eager to reach my house when I turned the final corner. Then my stomach clenched.

The garage door was open. Light off – so it had been open for a long time. But there was no white door – instead I could see a few items where the street light illuminated the first few feet of space inside my attached garage. And while the front and back doors were secure, the garage door always remains unlocked. Someone could have easily backed into the garage, loaded up my precious belongings and driven away. Anytime over the past week, apparently.

But I drove in, closed the garage door behind me, then allowed Chienne her freedom. I timidly opened the door, flipped up all three switches in that hallway, and listened carefully, cell phone clutched in one hand. The dog gave me a look, then trotted in, doing her general walk through the house to make sure nothing had changed. I did an unusual trip myself – checking to see if the computer, television, jewelry and other items were still around.

They were. So instead of calling 911, I dialed my parents. Upon answering, Mom immediately asked what was wrong after I said hello. I don’t hide tension well.

Dad demanded I go find a neighbor to check the attic. So I let him go while I unloaded the car. Why – upon reaching an open house – would someone make themselves at home in my unfinished attic space rather than stealing some stuff and leaving or at least making themselves comfortable in the furnished, nice parts of the house? Nobody’s up there – I’ve been here about an hour now, and I’m remarkably certain of that.

But it was a rude shock – knowing the garage likely bounced up as I drove away last Wednesday (sometimes the sensors are weird, which is why I usually check to make sure it stays put) – upon returning home. But I’m the only one upset. Sprout’s sprawled on the ottoman – fast asleep after thoroughly cleaning one paw. Chienne found the spot with the most blankets on the couch and is also doing some napping.

We’re all content to be back home. Though last night was the first I didn’t sleep well, I think I’m semi-ready to be back at work. I have meetings tomorrow – they dragged me back when I was planning to take the whole week off. But now I’m in the land where conditioner is kept in showers, there are robes for afterward and multiple towels. And the water pressure! If I could write poetry, I’d include some work on how lovely my shower is here. (I just got out, actually. Such a blissful experience – showering in my master bathroom.)

Tomorrow I shall decorate my own home for Christmas and sort through the mail. But for now, my general well-being from being at home seems to have headed south with me. I feel good. Settled and peaceful. We’ll see how long it lasts.

(If I’m wrong about the attic being empty of intruders, I don’t think it’ll last very long.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Still home. Still fine.

I teased Mom mercilessly last year after receiving the family Christmas letter. It was all correct and quite nicely written. But each paragraph started the exact same way.

"[Dad] is fine. [Insert details about what Dad is doing and his health.]

Katie is fine. [Insert relevant details about how I am, in fact, fine.]

[Brother] is fine. [Wedding recap, stuff about work, etc.]

I am fine. [A few details.]

[Little One] is perfect. [Extensive paragraph about Little One's accomplishments, preferences and overall... well, perfection.]

Merry Christmas!"

When Aunt asked if Mom would be sending a Christmas letter again this year, I giggled and Mom shook her head at me.

"What?" Aunt said. "I liked your Christmas letter!"

"Let me sum it up for you." I said, trying to choke back laughter. "We're all fine."

Though I offered to write one of my own - it would probably include copious dialogue and descriptions of how cute my animals are and how sad it is that I remain single - Mom said she'd just send cards. So I addressed envelopes for her last night after spending the day decorating, then wrapping presents. (So many presents - I'm so tired of putting paper around gifts.)

The house looks wonderful - very festive. The garland and lights over the living room window even look good, though I got hysterical when Mom and Dad tried to put them up. They kept falling down and apparently my intense laughter wasn't so helpful in the process.

But everything is pretty much done. Gifts wrapped, house decorated, leftovers eaten, gutters clean.

"I'm already showered." Mom noted yesterday afternoon when Dad said he was going to clean the gutters.

"Crap." I muttered, then I stated more loudly, "I can help, Dad. I haven't taken a shower yet."

So we assembled this strange device from the ShopVac - the blower part, 2 straight tubes, one curved tube and one little nozzle.

"It's supposed to blow 200 mph with this little thing on the end!" Dad stated proudly as I looked dubiously at his tall concoction that was supposed to blow all the dirt and guck out of the gutters.

He taught me how to use it - rest the curved part along the outside of the gutter, tuck the nozzle in (but not too far - it gets caught) and blow in one direction, but not toward the roof, but not too far out either. Go with the wind or you get really dirty (that warning didn't work when I turned a corner - I got very dirty as a result. Then I coughed while listening to him tell me how I should have listened when he told me about the wind.)

He did most of it, only letting me take a few turns while I fed the extension cords around the house. I did get to use the ladder to get the big clumps out of the way. That was surprisingly fun.

"Ow. I got some in my eye!" I called after the wind blew on one of my trips to the top of the house. (The wind is my freaking nemesis when cleaning the gutters, apparently.)

I paused a moment, blinking and crying, trying to dislodge gutter ick. Dad wasn't very patient.

"Well," he called up, "get down so I can finish it then."

"Not very nice." I pouted as he offered his advice on how to get it out. On his way up the ladder to finish the job.

Today we had Little One again so we weren't nearly as productive. But Mom did teach me to make a baby bonnet out of a hanky while Little One napped. I needed a baby gift for a former colleague and wanted to send a blanket and bonnet. So I had Mom get to work on that.

"Then you stitch this here." She said patiently, gently attaching the tiny flower to the front of the bonnet where she'd folded the hanky together. She put on the ribbons next, then handed it to me.

"You can order hankies online." She informed. I just looked at her for a moment before returning my attention to the pretty lace around the bonnet. It even comes with a sweet little poem - I love giving hanky bonnets for baby gifts.

"You're not going to make them are you?" She sighed. I shook my head.

"You're just going to keep asking me to do them?" She asked.

"Yes." I said, and smiled.

"OK. Well, then when I die, you should order the hankies online. And remember how to stitch those 3 places."

"Sounds good!" I said, then thanked her with a kiss on her head. "But you're fine."

We all are.

And I head home tomorrow.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Elaboration on the accident story

“How am I supposed to get out of here?” I asked as the three of us headed toward the shiny, red Jeep. The parking lot was swarming with cars and even the 3 parking attendants, clad in their bright orange vests and talking sternly in their walkie talkies, weren’t keeping tight control.

“Would you like me to drive?” Mom asked, handing over the plastic bag that contained her 3 Christmas watches. Two red – with Santa faces – one for her and one for Aunt, and one green.

“Yes.” I answered quickly, and climbed in the backseat. I seldom use ‘yes’ in conversation. It’s bothered me that I tend toward ‘yeah’ or ‘yep.’ Little One uses ‘yes’ exclusively, so I’ve picked it up. This pleases me no small amount.

A woman sped into our empty spot before we’d turned around completely. Mom sighed and called her a twit. Dad said “thanks a lot” out the window quite loudly and I rolled my eyes.

“This parking lot is stressful!” I defended her. “Everybody’s trying to get out of the way!”

“She’s still a twit.” Mom said to Dad.

“Yes.” He agreed.

After turning right on the one way street downtown, we headed toward the big, tall bridge that always makes me feel a little queasy. It’s far too high. Before we could reach the turn lane, the light turned red and Mom stopped when so advised by her husband.

I was setting her watch – a red one – and had flicked the little white protector off the knob to correct the time. It was 1:37 and I was moving the hands accordingly.

Mom and Dad were talking about something – I was ignoring them, so it’s likely I didn’t approve of the discussion – when we were hit from behind.

I met Mom’s eyes in the rearview mirror – I was seated behind her as she drove – and assured her I was fine.

“Are you guys OK?” I asked, even as Dad was unbuckling his seatbelt to assess the damage. Dad loves cars, and I spared the driver behind us a moment of sympathy. There was no way we were leaving without calling the police because there would be some amount of damage that had to be corrected. I opened my purse to find my cell phone and sighed upon seeing it was dead.

“The light was red.” I heard Dad say to the woman behind us, and Mom sighed as she too exited the vehicle. I stayed put – Dad has a tendency to embarrass me and I didn’t want to snap at him.

“I know.” I heard the woman say. “I turned around to talk to my kids and my foot must have slipped. Are you all OK?”

“We’re fine.” Mom said, then asked about the driver and her children. I’m sure Dad was shaking his head disapprovingly at the thought of a foot slipping off the brake, but I was facing forward so as not to see any of this.

“Your car is fine.” The woman said, and I smiled at this. Good try, lady. Meet my father. “There’s damage to my car, but if you’re all OK, I’m going home.”

“No.” Dad drew the word out for dramatic effect, and I shook my head. “You crunched in the spare tire – the clear coat is off of it so now it’ll rust. And the back is caved in – if you look behind the spare tire, you’ll see it’s all out of alignment now. The bumper is probably buckled too. There’s damage.” He concluded. “We’ll have to call the police.”

By this time, he’d embarrassed Mom as well and she returned to the car. She threw the phone at me with a “do something” order that I thought was rather vague.

“I never know if you’re supposed to call 911 or the actual station. I don’t know the number to the actual station though.” I said. “So…”

“Ka-tie!” Mom whined. So I quickly dialed.

“No emergency.” I said to the operator when she answered. “I’m sorry. We had an accident and need someone to come fill out a report. Do I call someone else or can you help?”

Then I offered the street names, vehicle makes and colors and assured her we didn’t need an ambulance.

“Someone will be here soon.” I reported and we settled in to wait.

“Are you supposed to dial 911?” Mom asked after we spent a couple minutes in silence. “Or were they mad?”

“Did they yell at you?” Dad asked, turning to look at me - he'd finally returned to the car.

“No. No yelling. She took the information, so I guess it’s fine. How would someone know the appropriate station to call? So I really think that’s the right place to go for help.”

“You should have asked her.” Mom said, always a believer of learning as you go along.

“Oh!” She said, looking in her side mirror a few minutes later and reporting back to Dad and me. “He’s here. He’s talking to her first. … Now he’s getting in her car. What’s he doing?”

“Probably checking on the children.” I offered and she made a noise of agreement before continuing with her observations.

“He’s out now. OK, here he comes.”

“Tell him we all had our seatbelts on.” Dad said quickly and quietly just before the officer arrived at Mom’s window.

“Is anyone hurt?” He asked and Mom shook her head.

“We’re fine.” She said, then waited for the next question. I was surprised and impressed that she didn’t offer we had all been safely buckled in at the time of the incident. She handed over the license, registration and proof of insurance. He wrote down her phone number, and asked if there were just 2 people in the car.

“My daughter’s in the back.” Mom said.

“Those windows are tinted,” Dad offered. “That’s why you can’t see her.”

The policeman – I’d decided he was quite cute – squinted and peeked behind Mom’s seat.

“Well, hello.” He said after grinning at me.

“Hi.” I said with a smile of my own.

“Are you OK?” He asked, and I nodded and told him I was fine.

“She’s from [southern city].” Mom reported after asking if he’d like her to roll down my window.

“I don’t think that’s necessary.” I said as he shook his head, still smiling. So Mom continued.

“She’s home for Thanksgiving – she drove up on Wednesday and is staying until Tuesday.”

At this, he looked back at me.

“I’m driving home on Tuesday evening.” I confirmed, not sure what I was supposed to say. Then I shrugged at him while he stifled laughter.

“I’ll go enter this in.” He offered. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Oh, can you tell me what happened?”

“We were sitting at a red light, and she hit me.” Mom said obediently and Dad and I nodded.

“Hard? Or just a nudge?”

Then there was silence as we all considered the question. I never know – accidents are so weird like that. It happens and I try to reconstruct it, but the details are lost because I wasn’t expecting to have to remember some random moment right before or after being surprised by someone hitting my car.

“We rolled a car length.” Dad said, leaning forward to offer his opinion from the passenger seat.

“I don’t know.” Mom said. “Somewhere between hard and a nudge, I guess.”

Then he got to return to his car while we sat to wait again.

“Does he have a partner?” I finally asked.

“No.” Mom said, looking in her mirror again. “He’s all alone.”

“I wonder when they did that.” I mused. “If I were a policeman – hush” I admonished Dad when he chuckled at the idea of me being an officer of the law, “I’d want a partner. What if something goes wrong? Who’s supposed to call for help?” Then I told a story I’d heard on my local news where a partner was definitely in order, but had been missing. Said officer had been seriously hurt as a result of her solitude.

We all sat in silence to think about why officers were no longer paired.

Then Dad got out of the car.

“Oh, hell.” I said to Mom. “What is he doing? Does he have to go look at the car right now? In front of that poor woman?”

We jostled forward as Dad shoved on the back end. Opening the door to make sure it still functioned. He tried to close it gently, but it failed to latch. “Moron.” I offered lightly, then he slammed it closed. He didn’t hear me, but we tend toward teasing insults to each other anyway. He wouldn’t have minded. Much.

Mom, however, agreed completely. “He’s so stupid sometimes.” She sighed, looking in the mirror to watch him. “Now he’s under the car – lying down on the street under the car. Goodness.”

He soon returned to his seat and closed the door to list the Jeep’s injuries.

“Did you have to do that now?” I asked.

“Why not?” He responded. “I’m bored.”

“That woman is sitting right there when you’re out the screwing around.” Mom said.

“I was looking at the car!” He defended himself. “And she’s just sitting there looking sad.”

“She is sad!” Mom and I both said quickly and dramatically.

“I didn’t say she wasn’t sad.” Dad said, laughing. “I said she looked sad. It could be real.”

We shook our heads at him, and he smiled, happy with the attention.

“Maybe my neck hurts. I should sue. Then she’d be even more sad.” He decided.

“We don’t do that.” Mom said firmly. “You stop.”

“I could be hurt.” Dad insisted.

“Probably a terminal case of being a bastard.” I muttered, and my parents both laughed.

“Can’t sue for that.” Mom said. “Pre-existing.”

“Oh!” She said after several more minutes of silence – Dad started reading the classifieds and I daydreamed in silence. “He’s coming back. Now he’s talking to her – giving her some papers.”

As he made his way toward our Jeep – according to Mom, anyway – the phone rang. Dad fumbled his way through Mom’s purse, looking for the ringing device, as Mom turned her attention to the cute officer at her window.

Dad looked at the display – as is his habit – as it continued to create noise while Mom tried to listen to the instructions being given.

“Answer it!” I hissed and Dad finally flipped open the phone to speak to Brother.

“She’s talking to the police.” He finally said after Brother asked about Mom. “We had a wreck.” Then he waited for dramatic effect while Brother grew appropriately concerned. Then he started to tell the story in his slow, Dad-like way. I spared a moment of sympathy for Brother, then focused on the paperwork being passed through the window.

Mom asked several clarifying questions. Officer answered patiently, and told us to drive safely and enjoy the beautiful day.

I wasn’t expecting it because Mom had done so well so far. But then it came.

“May I ask you one more question?” She said, looking at him sweetly.

“Sure.” He said, and I shook my head because he really was younger than I am. It’s happening more and more and I don’t like it.

“Why don’t you have partners anymore?”

“Oh, Good Lord.” I said softly, and he smiled upon hearing me.

“Um,” He started, pausing to stifle more laughter. “Some of us do have partners. Others don’t. It really depends.”

Now I was curious – as to what factor determined the partner or lack thereof and as to whether Mom would inquire further. But she just thanked him and allowed him to walk back to his vehicle.

She proceeded toward the big, tall bridge and toward Brother’s house to pick up Little One.

That was your question?” I said lightly.

“I wanted to know.” She said simply.

“I thought you’d ask about 911.” I offered.

“I should have!” She exclaimed. “I forgot. But I wondered about the partners – he’d be safer with a partner.”

“I wonder how old he was.” Dad started to tease. “If he grew up around here. Why he wanted to be a police officer.”

“If he likes his job.” Mom continued as I giggled. “If he ever gets to do anything other than traffic stops. I wonder if he’s ever shot his gun…”

And that’s what it’s like with my parents. Long story long. And I still don’t know the answer to the partner question – sorry about that.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Saturday, and all’s well.

It’s all been standard here. Exactly as I expected. Mom and I met Aunt to do some shopping yesterday. We made it through three stores before I started to whine.

“I’m hungry,” I offered, briefly distracted by a display of sporting goods. Mom chose a 13 year old boy from the mitten tree ornaments, and she had an idea of what she wanted for him. But then I remembered, and finished with “Who would like to buy me breakfast?”

We finished our shopping at that particular store, checking out and receiving a discounted teddy bear, then headed to get donuts. I do like donuts here up north. It took another store for the sugar to kick in, but then I was good for another few hours.

We didn’t buy a tremendous amount – none of us needed much, so we focused on bargains and items we needed regardless of sales. But we laughed and stood in line. Played Mom’s favorite Christmas CD in the car and watched the people bustle around.

Then it was home for leftovers and out again to pick up a Christmas watch for Mom. We had a small car accident after that. The highlight? Mom’s remark to the extremely young looking officer.

“I have one more question for you.” She said, handing the incident report and printed information sheet behind her. I placed it on the seat behind me as Dad talked to Brother on the phone. We were late to pick up Little One already.

“Sure.” He said easily, standing patiently beside the Jeep.

“Why don’t you have partners anymore?” She asked sweetly, and I rolled my eyes and ducked my head, grateful for the tinted windows for the backseat. Though we had discussed that issue while waiting for him to talk to the person who hit us, then fill out his report, I hadn’t expected her to ask. Though perhaps I should have.

I’ve enjoyed being with them. We’ve cooked, cleaned and eaten. Shopped, organized and watched television. Sleeping is the hard part – Sprout is very busy at night and wakes each of us in turn.

Today was finally time to be lazy. I’ve napped twice and will head to bed early. We stayed in until taking Dad for dinner – it is his birthday and he wanted steak. We returned home to load Christmas paraphernalia from the basement to the living room. There is now a tree in the corner, waiting for lights and ornaments. Puffy Christmas characters are in a pile on the floor – they’ll end up perched along the front entertainment center. The ceramic Santa Mom painted reigns in one corner, but his reindeer friend remains in her box. The pine cone wreath is hanging on the closet door but the angel is on the table, waiting to stand guard outside the front door. Wrapping paper, boxes, the nativity scene, decorative towels, dishes and miscellaneous items in red, green and gold remain safely in gray boxes lined across the front of the room.

Mom is thrilled to have me around – I like seeing her smile when I walk in a room, remembering stories she wanted to tell me, continuing to drag out gifts she wanted me to see. (She has a Tickle Me Elmo. I was suitably impressed – she preened with pride. My mother is adorable.) Dad desperately wants to hold the cat, but has so far been allowed to pet and feed him while all four paws remain firmly on the floor. It’s good to be here – to have Little One reach for me when she wants to be held. I love, love, love her. Which is a welcome change from when I normally think “I hate, hate, hate [insert irritating event or person].”

But now Little One has gone home. Mom and Dad are asleep down the hall, Chienne is resting on the couch and Sprout has been offended by multiple squirts from the spray bottle when he was just looking at that tree in the corner (I saw him pawing at it, but received glares after squirting him regardless). It’s quiet and a bit cluttered. And I’m writing a blog post in which I have nothing really to share. I’m enjoying my time at home, content knowing I have a few more days before I need to pack the car to head south.

I’ve had moments of sadness, but they’ve been outnumbered by the times I’ve wanted to sleep. I’ve had moments of irritation when checking work email (one review board is just messing with my mind. I really think so!) and twinges of the feeling that I really should try to get some work done on the grant or a couple projects for which I’d like to write abstracts in the near future. Perhaps I’ll lie down on the toy room floor, post this, then return to my spot near the tree (equipped with spray bottle, of course) to get something professional done. But there’s nothing dramatic – no dream journal, no devotionals (that’s not good, actually), and my walk this morning was with a little girl and pink hippo in a stroller. It doesn’t leave a tremendous amount of time for self-pity. Which is a really good thing, I think.

At least for now.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving, 2006

“I love you.” Aunt said softly over my shoulder as I clung to her in a hug goodbye right before we left her house and headed back home a couple hours ago. “It feels like forever since I’ve seen you. I’m glad you came.”

It was a good day. All my “Thuck Fanksgiving” and “Down with Turkey” subject lines can remain in the draft folder. I don’t need them this year.

I spent some time today thinking. Sometimes that’s not so good for me, but today was reasonably busy. More Dora with Little One, playing house downstairs, answering questions and sharing thoughts.

I helped Mom with pies (cherry, apple and pumpkin. For 5 people. That’s more than a half pie per person, I know. We have leftovers.), salads, vegetables and other side dishes. I took a short nap and tried to write a couple posts, but they weren’t coming together correctly. Hence the thinking to try to make some sense of myself.

I decided I am most thankful for my family. The very people I shared hours with this afternoon.

I am most disappointed that I have not started my own family. And Thanksgiving – for some reason I have yet to figure out entirely – has become the time to acknowledge that over the past few years.

I think it’s because it’s the least important holiday for my family. People are free to skip it, though we’re happy to have folks around if they’re able. But attendance isn’t mandatory. So my cousins rarely show up. Aunt and Uncle sometimes travel. Brother typically pops up at some point, family in tow. But last year it was just Mom, Dad and me. The one who won’t get married.

I remember the large (well, for us 10-12 is quite big) gatherings growing up. Everyone was around. We’d play games and eat too much, talk and laugh. But still, I’m not crazy about turkey. I’d rather have cake than pie. And no presents? Really? Nothing? Materialistic little Katie was quite distraught.

But then eldest cousin started doing her own thing. Cooking and baking in her own home for friends, and now her family. Younger cousin was the next to go – she lived too far away, travel was overly inconvenient, she had to work on Monday. So – even in grad school – I was the only child who traveled to be home on Thanksgiving. But that was fine – I enjoyed being with my family. I liked the attention.

I think it was in grad school that I started to promise myself that I’d soon have somewhere else to go. Or someone to bring home with me. It wasn’t a big deal – not at first. Just a glance in the mirror when I was washing my hands. A “better luck next time” moment of pain that I hadn’t found the right man yet before heading back into the warmth of my family.

But that moment kept getting worse as years passed. There are only so many times I can tell myself the same thing before the statement begins to feel hollow. If I didn’t find him this year, why do I think he’ll appear before next November? This - the way life currently exists - could be it. It doesn’t have to be, of course, but it could be. And I don’t want that – it scares me. Saddens me in a deep, leave-me-alone-if-you-disapprove sort of way.

I decided not to dwell on it this year - not anymore, not after the past few months. I’d simply avoid my eyes in the mirror all day. Not think about it. And I didn’t. Much.

We arrived at Aunt’s a bit late. I helped warm items we’d brought from home, arranged dishes Aunt had prepared. Carefully placed the good silverware and straightened the paper turkey napkins on the golden cloth napkins atop good china. (I’m not sure why there were paper turkey napkins. But I made sure they were as pretty as possible.) Then we ate a tremendous amount of food. Brother, Brother’s wife and Little One sat on one side. I was between Mom and Aunt on the other. Dad and Uncle at either end.

It was pleasant. No, it was lovely. The food was good, conversation easy, atmosphere comfortable. We held hands to say grace and I was pleased to be where I was. Grateful for these people.

My heart tugged a bit painfully a few times – when we prayed for the cousins who were with their families. When Little One went upstairs to find toys from the other grandchildren. I sat on the floor to play with the puzzles and blocks. And wondered if I’d raise a child alone, if at all. But then I focused on the fishies and turtles on the bright foam. And I was good again.

I hugged Brother goodbye after helping him load his own offerings in the trunk. They were late for his in-laws' dinner already. Then I returned to discussion of the other children. Eldest cousin has a little boy. Little Cousin is a girl. I smiled over pictures – they’re both very sweet. I’m looking forward to Christmas very much. I enjoyed the stories, but found myself staring into space, considering the fact that my family consisted of a dog and cat.

That’s OK. I tried to soothe. That’s good. You wanted more and you still have time to get it. For now, there are animals to love and care for. That’s really OK.

I settled on the floor to play Squint with Aunt, Uncle, Dad and Mom. It was surprisingly fun. Moving tiles around, making pictures, giggling and guessing. And if my stomach cramped when I wondered what I’d be doing when I was in my late 50s – if I’d have someone with whom to play games and tell stories – I forced it back and tried to figure out how to draw a golf club with little lines, squiggles and curves.

We took a break to have pie and sat at the table. I finished my tiny slice of pumpkin and started on the cherry, and found myself slipping into sadness again. I had to wash my hands when I was done, so I went slowly toward the guest bath. I sighed when I kept my head down – not even glancing in the mirror. But I couldn’t do it – couldn’t look, couldn’t give a pep talk, didn’t know how not to be sad in that particular moment.

“Help me out.” I asked God. “I don’t want to be like this.”

I returned to the kitchen and Aunt suddenly gasped when she remembered something, then rushed to her sewing room. She returned with an armful of items.

“I wanted you to help me!” She said to Mom and me. “I completely forgot! I was going to put together the ornaments for the mitten tree at church – Uncle and I printed up stickers with the kids’ names and ages, but I wanted to get everything ready tonight.”

So I placed bookmarks in holders and made a pile in the center of the table. Aunt and I stuck names on each of the items while she explained how she’d keep track of who bought for which child.

“The names go fast.” She said, indicting I should start decorating with the shiny Santa stickers while Mom punched holes and tied ribbon on the bookmark/holder sets that were completed.

We talked as we stuck stickers, punched holes, tied ribbons and checked the names off lists. I was content for a couple of reasons. I love Christmas – it was good to look forward to a holiday rather than fighting dread over the present one. And I’m blessed. I have a family who loves me and is able to provide what I need. I’ve been given the ability to provide for myself. I’m capable of being happy if I work at it.

Now I’m sleepy and pleasantly full. Watching reruns of Friends with Mom while plotting out our shopping expedition with Aunt tomorrow morning.

I’m glad Thanksgiving is over, honestly. Onward to Christmas! Additional shopping, bringing decorations from the attic, writing the family Christmas letter, figuring out charitable activities. But today was good, and for that I’m quite thankful.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Long stories short

I lost Sprout again - this time, he escaped from my car when I was returning from pumping gas. After breathlessly watching him circle the building twice, he scampered under a small truck and settled on the muffler.

After about 30 minutes of coaxing and begging and threatening (and 5 gas station employees making attempts), I was able to slide under the truck and pull him out by his paw. He was terrified. I was very upset. But we did make it safely home.

Now he runs if I make the slightest move in his direction. So I'm ignoring him and letting him settle down at my parents' house. He's getting friendlier, but I still feel awful.


Dora (the Explorer) is riveting if a certain Little One counts, names colors and speaks (English and Spanish) while watching it. I've spent 2 hours watching the DVD I brought her as a present and am absolutely charmed and fascinated by my little niece. She's just amazing. So pretty, smart, polite and funny.

I want a little one of my own.


While watching Dora, Boots asked what our favorite colors were (so we could color the ladder to help the duckling find his mommy).

"Katie likes blue." Mom said from the couch as I rested on the floor next to Little One.

Apparently I'm the source of great amusement for the family - they found the Sprout debacle to be quite funny too.

I did laugh. Immediately at the favorite color remark and eventually about Sprout's little adventure. He's currently 2 inches from me on the floor, purring happily. I hope I'm being forgiven.


Thanks for the support on my honesty about the blue journal in therapy. I did start a dream journal - it's black moleskin. So I'm being a bit passive aggressive too. And I didn't write in it this morning. I have a feeling therapy is going to be quite the process for me.


Thanksgiving is my least favorite holiday. That probably deserves a post tomorrow since I'm happy to be home regardless of any problems with the holiday or actually getting here. But I'm tired and eager to return to Little One's chatter. Have I mentioned how very much I like her?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Lost and found kitten

“Sprout?” I called, starting to get impatient. “Sprout! Here, kitty…

"Kitty! Come!”

I looked down at Chienne and she stared back at me. “Go find the cat.” I ordered, then got in the shower. As I shampooed, I thought it was unusual for Sprout not to come greet me after I returned from walking the dog. But it’s not worrisome.

Strange that he didn’t come investigate when I turned on the shower to warm up, I pondered. He’s typically quite interested in the water, in a “hope that doesn’t get on me” sort of way.

I remembered calling out to let him know we were leaving when we had departed on our walk. I informed him when we had returned, though it was more to irritate Chienne (who is quite jealous) because she was dawdling by the flower bed on the front walk.

It worked – she scampered inside to assert her superiority against her tabby friend (or foe – whichever). But I didn’t hear the requisite hissing or sprinting in a game of chase. Perhaps I missed it. I’m sure Sprout’s around. He’s just being contrary, I soothed. Cats don’t come when called.

But when I stepped out of the shower, toweling off and reaching for lotion, I called for my lost kitten with increasing irritation. I was worried for no reason, I knew, but what if he’d finally tackled the dog door? Escaped to the great outdoors? I was planning to leave tomorrow morning (early tomorrow morning – 4AM early. Pray for me.) and couldn’t go without him. Even if I didn’t adore the furry creature, Mom never fails to ask about him. I’m not completely convinced I’ll be allowed to bring him home with me, but I do know he’s an eagerly anticipated visitor for Thanksgiving.

“Sprout…” I drawled it into 2 syllables, walking up and down my short hallway.

I took out garbage at 7 and it was now approaching 10. I was barely awake at first – had shifted, drifting easily into full consciousness, when I realized it was light outside. Garbage pickup is early and I didn’t want to miss it – I’m terribly disappointed when I forget and have 2 weeks worth of trash lying around.

So I stumbled through the house, collecting items to throw away. Cleaned the litter box. Mumbled something at Chienne, then clipped on her leash so she could wander to the curb with me. But I remembered closing the door leading to the garage before hitting the button to open the big garage door. I didn’t want Sprout to escape. I made sure he wasn't in the garage.

I was in the kitchen, tapping my lip with my fingertip, when I remembered I’d folded towels later in the morning. So I walked briskly back down the hall, calling the cat, then pausing to listen.

“Sprout?” I said gently, moving toward the garage, just in case.

As I turned the doorknob, I heard insistent meowing. Opened the door to a fluffier than normal cat. I wasn’t sure if he was deeply offended or trying to keep warm in the chilly garage, but his tail was at least three times its normal size.

I followed him as he ran in the house, then past me and Chienne toward the bedroom. I apologized profusely, told him he really was quiet and easy to miss, and he allowed me to pick him up to cuddle.

He’s now very careful to scamper back inside before I close the door. Poor cat. It’s unusual for me to trap him somewhere, but it’ll likely happen (on accident, of course) again.

It’s very unusual for me to not feel like writing for the blog. I had topics in mind – my 3 journals (this blog, other blog, dream journal (which is not blue)), my hatred of Thanksgiving, my strange delight in going home for an extended stay, how well things went at work today – but would rather work, pack and finish up with cleaning my house than weave some depressing or complicated story.

So I’m going to go with it – leave the 2 drafts of posts unfinished yet saved. Try to use the special software for one project again and see if the server troubles have resolved themselves. Allow the Tylenol PM to work so I can sleep enough to be functional at 4 tomorrow morning. Continue to remember items that need to make the trip with me. Eat the rest of those chili-lime peanuts in the pantry (they might go bad! Maybe. And I want them.) And not write anything all that interesting.

Though I am considering putting the bell back on the cat’s collar next to his shiny, silver name tag.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Let's talk therapy.

“You must be Katie.” He said, rising from his chair and reaching to shake my hand after I tentatively knocked on Dr. Counselor’s door. “Have we met before?”

“I don’t think so.” I said, smiling and offering the appropriate greetings. I sat in the single chair in the small office and twisted my mouth as he too sat and regarded me in silence.

“It’s, um, funny you should ask that.” I spoke again, a bit uncomfortable without chatter. “I went to a new church this Sunday and almost everyone asked if I’d been there before. Maybe I have a common face.”

“What church?” He asked, visibly brightening.

“Presbyterian. First Presbyterian, in [town near where my house is].”

“I’m a Presbyterian!” He said and I couldn’t resist a grin as he told me which church he attends. Apparently their obsession with not appearing rude by accidentally forgetting someone extends to work environments. I wonder if I’ll start asking everyone new if we’ve met before.

It’s tempting to write out everything we discussed – I could provide helpful links for some of it so you could catch the background if you missed it. Other revelations I’ve specifically decided against putting on a blog. There aren’t a great number of facts I keep private – and it’s likely you could deduce what I know if you’ve read long enough and really understand me – but these few pieces of information don't need explicit statement.

Luckily, there are enough moments – between the tissues I took (five) and times I decided I was likely more intelligent than my therapist (I lost track, honestly) – that can safely be recorded.

“What’s your favorite color?” He asked at one point.

“What?” I said, cocking my head and offering him a frown.

“What color do you like? What color makes you happy?”

I increased the severity of my frown to indicate my disapproval. I wasn’t sure where he was going with this, but I wasn’t impressed.

We stared at each other for a moment, my frown as constant as his expectant expression.

“What?” I finally offered again.

“Your favorite color.” He insisted.

“I don’t know.” I said, shaking my head. “I like blue, I guess.”

“What other colors?” He asked.

“Gray, maybe.” I said after sighing. “Do you have a point here?”

“Do you keep a journal?” He asked and I visibly brightened. Finally! Something I was doing right!

“Yes.” I nodded firmly. “I write something every day.”

“How?” He probed. “Written out?”

“No.” I shook my head and sighed again. I fail to see how that would be important. “I use my laptop.”

“I’d like you to buy a notebook. A blue notebook since that’s your favorite color.” (I’m back to frowning and sighing at this point. Because, honestly, what the hell?) “Then I’d like you to write in it every day. Doodle. Draw pictures.”

I stifled a laugh, largely unsuccessfully. He looked at me, eyebrows raised, and I shrugged.

“I’m sorry. I just don’t see that happening.”

Then he looked surprised. “Why not?”

“I’m happy with the way I journal now. I don’t write many things longhand – it’s too time consuming. And I’m not sure how I’d feel going over it with you – it’d be awkward watching someone read what I wrote.” (I briefly considered how it was normal to let many strangers read, then dismissed the thought. I wanted to battle the blue journal – of that, I was certain. Even at the risk of failing therapy.)

“I want you to try it.” He insisted. “Buy a blue notebook then write in it. Keep track of your dreams. Do you keep track of your dreams?”

“Sometimes.” I said, trying to think of any I’ve written here. I really should put the archived posts into categories, I mused. Then I focused again to sigh at his continued prodding.

“Keep track of your dreams. In a blue notebook. And doodle. Draw pictures that describe your hopes and fears and concerns.”

“What? Why?

“I’ve used this tool with someone else and it’s so revealing! We’ve learned so much by going through it. You’ll be amazed.”

“I’ll think about it.” I said, then shrugged as he looked concerned. “It really doesn’t sound like something that will work for me. But I’ll think about it.”

I wasn’t always so uncooperative – that was by far the tensest moment. But I don’t want to buy the blue journal! Or write down my dreams. “I don’t doodle. Or draw. Ever.” I said when he brought it up again. His insistence is making me more resistant, I think.

But, really? A notebook in my favorite color? For drawing pictures? It’s just not me.

“You want the wine before you pick the grapes!” He said once after I pounced on one of his statements ("Yes!" I said. "How do I do that?"), and I nodded.

“I am impatient.” I said. “I know.”

“I use a lot of metaphors.” He said, ducking his head and smiling. “But you can’t have a good vintage wine without patience. We'll work toward fixing that problem, but it will take some time.”

And I sighed, but didn’t frown. His intentions are good even if his metaphors could use some work.

“I’d like to see you next week.” He noted as our time started to run short. And I nodded – of course he would. He’d figured out a great many of my problems. I’d talked freely, cried a bit, argued a minimal amount. I’m easy to work with and simple to understand. “Would you like to see me again?” He asked.

“I… don’t know.” I said and watched his face fall. “I just don’t know that I’m willing to do this every week. Come here and cry. But I do need to make progress. I know that.” And I rolled my eyes and blinked back more tears. Reaching for another tissue – he put them on the corner of the desk closest to me – I sniffled and shrugged.

“Tears don’t just clean dirt from your eyes. They clean pain from your soul.” Which effectively stopped my tears so I could sigh again. Then I felt a twinge of guilt as he continued. “I understand this is hard.” He said gently. “If you want to see a woman or someone else, I can make those arrangements. But I think I can help you. I think we can work together and make some things better. I care about you – I want you to be happier and healthier. I don’t mind the tears.”

“OK.” I said softly. “I’ll come back. I really will try, but it might be frustrating. For both of us.”

So I’ll see him next week – it’s on both of our calendars. He did offer some help. I did feel comfortable. I think he’ll force some accountability on some issues that have been too long neglected. I’m a mess right now, so I think anyone could initiate some improvements. When I start to do better, we’ll reevaluate. I’m not going to continue if I feel uncomfortable – if I dread seeing him, I’m done.

“It was nice to meet you. Thank you for seeing me.” I said, shaking his hand as I walked out of his door.

“Joy.” He said, and I frowned, not really understanding.

Perhaps eventually I’ll get it.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Be the sheep, I advised as I drug myself down the hall, through a shower, and into the clothes I’d decided I would wear to the new church I was trying out. You like sheep. Focus on being a good little lamb. A shy sheep. A chic sheep, I decided, glancing down at my crisp gray pants, round toed kitten heels and putting on a pendent from Japan to match my black knit top.

“A slutty sheep, apparently.” I said after checking myself in the mirror and pulling at a shirt that was a big clingier than I remember.

I traded the black garment for a soft cardigan with a white undershirt. Black bra for white. Replaced the pretty flower necklace with my long, gold, add-a-bead chain. I debated changing my shoes and bag – navy would really be better with my blue sweater. But my only navy heels are open-toed. And how can I not have a blue bag? I have 6 shades of brown and no navy?

“Respectable.” I noted with a nod upon seeing my reflection again. “Now you go to church.” I demanded of myself, not unkindly but with some firmness since I’m flakey and sucky of late. “Nobody wants to know a sucky sheep.”

I arrived far too early – 9:35 for a 10:00 service. I waited in the car for 7 minutes, then headed into the pretty church. A 200 year old church in an 8 year old building, I calculated upon seeing the plaque. Impressive.

People smiled but failed to greet me upon my arrival. Presbyterians, I thought, with a small shake of my head. I’ve always considered them a tiny bit uppity and standoffish. Then again, I’m not all that friendly in the beginning either. Resolving to remain open to the service in the gorgeous sanctuary – soaring, wooden ceiling, soft blue carpeting and upholstery. I’ve seen better stained glass, but the lighting is nice. I offered tentative approval, and remembered the last church I auditioned.

I tried to remain peaceful and open there too. And hated every second of it. The large stone wall looked like it belonged in a lodge. I had no idea what was up with the people banging on drums before worship started. There were auditions for some talent show variant of American Idol. And if one more lady in a denim jumper with a lighthouse or redbird stitched on the front came up to sing a solo, I was going to crawl over the people sitting next to me in the pew and run out screaming. So I was reluctant to visit a different church – the last one made me feel like a minion of evil since I would never consider returning.

But upon viewing the bulletin, I sighed with relief. More praying than I’m used to, but I like that. Singing, but as a congregation or from the choir stationed up front in pretty white robes with green trim. No special performances. The pastor was a woman, I noted, trying to remember if I’ve ever heard a female preach. I don’t think I have.

She’s actually a lovely woman – she came to sit next to me before the service started. Introduced herself and asked about who I was, where I lived, where I’d been to church before. Amidst repeating my name multiple times and warning me that people would likely ask if they’d seen me there before, (“We don’t like to make people feel unimportant if we’ve forgotten them, so we get nervous and ask if you were here last week. Just in case.”), she said that there was no pressure. I was to go where God wanted me. Where I felt comfortable and right. But if they could answer any questions or provide a community of faith for me, they’d feel privileged to do so.

Then she introduced me to 4 different women, each of whom shook my hand or rubbed the shoulder of my soft sweater after asking if they’d met me last week because I looked familiar. They were kind – gentle smiles and warm greetings. Perhaps, I thought, the Presbyterian reserve mixed with the effusive Southern hospitality makes for an environment I like. So I settled in my chair (not a pew – I didn’t mind), viewed the screens overhead with narrowed eyes, then noted the PowerPoint backgrounds were pretty pictures. I might even put some of them in a header graphic for my blog, I mused. And it was rather nice having the hymns available and the responses printed somewhere other than the bulletin.

The choir is small, but strong. The children’s time was very sweet and well-populated. There were 5 or 6 times of prayer, but I found the pastor’s voice and slight Southern accent soothing and compelling. I listened – I felt peaceful – the world started to make sense.

She talked of Paul and this shipwrecks in Acts. She started the sermon by telling stories of traffic and detours. She doesn’t like being stopped on the interstate (Amen, says I – we have stuff in common!). She asked if we ever felt frustrated. That there was some path we should be following but couldn’t reach it (Yep). We didn’t understand why a detour was placed before us and the confusion, isolation and irritation were strong (Yes. Very strong. Confused. Isolated. Irritated. That’s me.). Paul wanted to go to Rome and was finally on his way. But then the ship wrecked. (So that sucked.) But he made it to shore and was gathering wood and got bit by a snake! (I prefer to think of it as a lizard personally, but I can make snake work.) Then the people thought he was a murderer since he must have deserved getting bit by the snake. (Sometimes you don’t deserve the lizard! I decided indignantly.)

Be grateful for the opportunities with which you’re faced. Be open to help others – when you struggle, you can gain empathy. Truly understand and care for people in situations similar to yours. Replace anxiety with joy. Focus. Pray. Know that there’s a reason for your current struggle and that you’ll find the path again. Detours don’t last forever.

Somewhere within the service – the sermon I liked, the songs I sang, the prayers I prayed (they say debts/debtors, not trespasses/trespass against us! I love debts/debtors!) – my stomach settled, the pressure in my head eased and there was peace.

I know, I thought softly, I’m a Presbyterian now. This is home.

So after saying hello to several more people, singing their little "Go with God" benediction song in my head, talking with Donna (she sat in front of me. Apologized for not speaking sooner, but she wasn’t sure if we’d met before) about my job and her family and my holiday plans, I walked to my car. My inner sheep let out a happy bleat – one of relief and joy and hope.

Being happy – overcoming this nasty urge to be depressed and offended and pissy – isn’t going to be immediate or easy. But this is one of the key steps for me. I’ll be there for services every Sunday I’m in town. I want to have coffee with the pastor to discuss Bible studies and service opportunities. I have a new chance to find a community of faith – one that prayed for people who are alone – who need support and love and encouragement.

They can support, love and encourage me. I need them, I think, and perhaps in attending there, I can offer that support, love and encouragement to others.

My inner sheep had a good morning.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

On bad reviews

I have always struggled with hearing criticism. I get very defensive – even when I understand someone means well. Little Katie had many discussions with Mom about being graceful when people suggested improvements. But if anyone suggested I put my toys away differently or allowed someone else to go first on the swings?

There was pouting. Or sharp retorts. Raised eyebrows that someone would dare correct me. It wasn’t good.

It still isn’t.

Now I realize we’re at war. I have concerns about global warming. People live below the poverty line when I have never worried about money. I work every day with cancer data – it’s truly a miserable disease and sometimes – many times – patients lack good options in fighting it. There are real problems in the world. I’m aware of them. I care deeply, though I don’t act as much as I ought.

The point of this blog is to honestly evaluate how I’m doing, what I’m thinking, what I want on a personal level.

The point of writing papers is to honestly record the purpose, method and results of an experiment that might have gone well.

Grants, in contrast, cover significance and purpose, methods and personnel behind a planned course of research.

We’ll do a bad-good-bad structure here, I think. (I'm upset and had a rather bad day for pretty lame reasons and still don't feel particularly well, so I'm going to rant. Please, feel free to skip this one. Just move along and come back tomorrow where I'll try to write a nice post about the new church I'm going to attend. It'll be great. I might even be a sheep again!)

Bad = Grant
I’ve taken out the dreaded grant reviews. When faced with Boss’s uncharacteristic insistence on making me face something I don’t want to do, I printed out the comment sheets from NIH Commons.

Then I stapled them together without reading any of the text, placed them face down on the far corner of my desk. With as much distance as possible between me and the evil grant reviews, I worked throughout the day, casting suspicious glances at the meager pile of paper.

I brought them home on Tuesday. I’ve had a headache ever since. I have an unfortunate habit of making myself very ill when faced with something I’d rather avoid. I’m not sure that’s what happened this time, but I’m not ruling it out. I really don’t want to write this grant again. I don’t want to be trapped underneath funding – stuck in an academic world that I’m not sure is for me. I tried. And failed. I’d like that to be enough.

Yet it isn’t. And Boss asks very little of me. So, armed with 2 colored pens, 2 markers and a highlighter, I have dissected the primary review and color coded the changes that are required. I made it partway through the secondary review before putting the pages down with shaking hands. It’s just very upsetting to me.

It came down to Primary not being very impressed. Some sections were missing. Others were inappropriately placed. The aims weren’t specific enough. Hypotheses were a bit weak and the testing would be too difficult. Goals were rather broad. Ack. I sort of hate Primary.

Secondary, however, gets me. She really read what I said and understood the overall plan. She liked the structure and complimented how I was going to test my hypotheses. The scope was broad, but important. With a couple of changes, an impressive candidate (that’d be me) was well prepared to embark an a significant research career. I love Secondary with all my heart and would like to buy her presents and send her candy.

I think it’s good to have 2 opinions. But – when given to a person like me – there is much pouting and sneering at Primary. And complete devotion to someone who likes me as much as Secondary appears to. Such an attitude - only liking people who like you back - speaks to my immaturity. I understand that. But...

“Didn’t read that very carefully, did you?” I say lightly, while marking a green line under one Primary comment. “I’ll make it more clear, but if you were a smarter reviewer, you would have understood. Secondary seemed to get it just fine.”

“That’s not fair!” I fume when circling something else in orange Crayola marker.

“Picky, mean-spirited bastard.” I’m muttering by the end. And I’ll pounce on anything even slightly incorrect for evidence as to Primary’s poor breeding, inattentive nature, hatred of everything good in my proposal and general meanness. Then I will call him more names.

There’s a difference between comments which improve the proposal and nitpicky bullshit (pardon me) that just bugs some people. But that’s life in the sciences, so I’ll deal with it. I won’t be gracious – especially not when alone or writing on my blog – but I will fix the errors (even those that Secondary said were lovely as they were) and write appreciative comments for all the suggestions.

But it sucks. It may improve my proposal (I’m sure it will), but it also makes me feel badly about myself – sick to my stomach, headachy and small – and I get defensive and start calling people names that are not so nice.

Good = Paper
Criticisms of a completed experiment can be easier for me to read. There's simply less that can be altered because some data don't exist. There is a critical flaw in part of my thesis research. (Well, there’s more than one, actually, but let’s try to focus here.) I don’t have this whole section of information that can validate my theory and it’s really hard to sneak that by people. Which is why this particular paper keeps bouncing back with rejections from multiple journals.

Boss has taught me that you can work around flaws in the research. But you have to place words and ideas very carefully. I would say that having a flawed project has made me a much stronger writer. I’m very critical of what I know versus what I think since I have such a good case study of the difference between speculation and actual knowledge. I can state the significance of this work very well because it’s been a struggle to make people listen. I see where I hide important ideas and can pick out places where paragraphs should be broken up and highlighted.

So going through the review process for this paper – getting the squeaky toy so far and learning to walk with my eyes open at first, now getting my nose off the ground – was actually pretty pleasant. I have decided this particular reviewer (my favorite from the first two) really wants the paper to be good. He’s picky – change the word in line 42, move the sentence in line 316 to the beginning of the paragraph to increase clarity, change one statistic to reflect an earlier method.

So even when I disagreed, I worked and thought and analyzed to find a way to incorporate his changes. When confident that he had my best interests at heart – that he, like Boss, wanted to see the paper published in the most positive light possible – I became eager to hear his ideas. Nodded over the critical comments and wrote sincerely appreciative responses to his reviews (except for that one point, where I tried to explain what the goal was and told him to check a few paragraphs of the discussion. Honestly – I’m so right about this one thing. He's, um, so right about the other 15 points.)

And apart from some random swearing and severe sickness when working through these grant comments, I congratulated myself on my progress. I’m like a grown up! Who can hear negative thoughts and incorporate what seems true and blow off what doesn’t. Yay For Me!

Personal = Bad. Bad, bad, bad.
But, OK, look.

The blog is the place where I don’t pretend. Or where I try not to. It’s very honest and sometimes doesn’t reflect so well upon what I think or who I am. And I can say that’s OK all I want – I can note that you can read and not like me. It’s fine if you arrive every day to feel superior that you’re so much more mature and balanced, settled and beautiful, smart and poised.

Honestly? I don’t like it. In fact, I rather hate it.

You should like me! I can’t even make some bold statement about how reading my blog doesn’t indicate you know me. How there are only certain facets of my personality that are revealed and therefore your opinion of me is based upon an incomplete picture. If you’ve read me for any length of time, you probably understand me pretty well. And it’s not all good. The honesty that I prize so highly in this space means that you hear when I feel vindictive and hateful. And when I’m small and sad over something insignificant.

But I like me – think I’m charming and sweet, caring and lovely, funny and rather eloquent. The effort is there and when I’m writing this stuff, I hope I’m making progress. That someone who might be struggling can read what’s here and not think “oh, I suck – she’s so much stronger than I could be,” but rather “Huh. I’m not so alone after all.” So in presenting what is rather than what should be, I’m open to some bad thoughts. Some well-meaning yet rather insulting “Please get over it.” emails. A comment that "a bit of perspective is perhaps in order" for me to appreciate that my problems aren’t very important. A concern that I’m rather unstable and should be avoided to some degree. (I’m not referring to any one person obviously, so if you’re not impressed with me, you’re definitely not alone.)

It bothers me. Deeply. I wish I could get over any number of things. It took me nearly 8 years to think of Gabe without a painful stomach cramp. Stuff just doesn’t go away for me. And I’m older now – there’s less hope and more resignation that life is now how it might be forever. And that’s disappointing. So I will write about it all I want. Not at all because I'm proud or think my way is the proper way to live, but because this space is mine and I have issues and writing them out helps me.

I understand the desire to help. I have the same urges when reading blogs sometimes and spend considerable time worrying that what I offer will be taken incorrectly. Because I obviously want people to think well of me.

So let’s be clear. I want to be over the whole thing about the guy. Very much – that was kind of the point of last night’s post. It is not easy for me. It does matter. I wish I didn’t think about it when I hear certain songs or see certain TV shows and hear specific words. I, however, do. It will ease in time – and has eased so far – but it’s not immediate for me. I understand that some of you are concerned. Hell, my friends want it not to have happened at all, and I don’t want them to worry, so it’s forgotten. We don’t ever speak of it.

But when it takes up space and hurts me, it goes here. Because that’s what this is for. So I should gracefully accept that there is a population of people who shake their head over me. Instead, I’m likely rolling my eyes like a child and calling you names. Picking out any weakness in your argument so that I can be vindicated that you’re really wrong about any criticism.

It’s not something of which I’m proud. I really do wish I were settled and balanced and gracious when hearing advice – some of which is likely true. But I’m guarding my ability to be honest here rather than forming an additional area of my life where I smile politely and nod gratefully when someone corrects me.

I do that at work, and it’s hard. It's effective, but very difficult for me.

When I discuss personal issues, I don’t expect you to solve my problems. I have to accept that people will read and sneer or laugh. I’ll never like it, but it’s part of the game. But in my mind, unless confronted with evidence to the contrary, it’s all benevolent. You read because something here is compelling. Even if that’s false, that’s my story. I’d rather you let me have it.

Because now I have to go make notes on grant improvements and I don’t want to. It’s making me very pissy and defensive and awful.

Now I'm uncomfortable since I don't go toward ranting so often. And 95% of the comments and emails are encouraging and gentle and perfect, and I'd miss them if they went away. They really do help me and I love some of you dearly. So the mature thing is to accept the bad (even when it's just the tiniest bit bad) with the good and stay quiet. But the bad is easier to remember for me, and I've written this post and failed to publish it 3 times over the past months and I just can't tolerate more criticism right now. So I waited too long already to say something and got all upset. So now it's confirmed. I'm immature and fragile and will probably cry if you tell me you're not impressed.

So there.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Sickly and Single

[I've received incredible traffic today from people looking for "'arrival [preposition removed] hell' walkthrough" and have absolutely no idea what this means. But I'm curious. Will anyone help me out here?]

OK, on to my whining.

“Let me know if I can help.” Jill wrote this morning after she reminded me of her cell number. “I can come out anytime you need me. I know it’s terrible being sick when you’re alone.”

Friend said the same thing when I was so depressed. “It’s important for single people to have support networks. Friends. Because there’s nobody legally obligated to help you when you need it.”

I don’t mind being alone. It’s not like I come home every single day or lie awake once every 24 hours to bemoan my lack of relationship. It happens – there are times when I get morose and irritated and lonely – but for the most part, life is pretty good.

I’m more likely to seek solitude when I’m unwell – be it headache, mood swing or other ailment. I like having complete control over my environment. The noise from a television show can be fine one moment and the biggest of irritants at others. I’ve messed with the thermostat more times than I can count today – I’m hot, then cold. Then burning up. Then freezing. There is no happy medium.

So there shouldn’t be a problem. I would rather be alone right now, and – oh, look at that! – I am. It should be lovely. I’d like to be grateful for the way things worked out. It’s not a huge problem that I have no idea what I’m doing professionally – it only affects me. I can take a whole week to spend with my parents over Thanksgiving without negotiating. I can order pizza and eat nothing else all week. Then I can decide – upon looking despondently through take-out menus, then through my freezer – I want to cook. (I was dying for broccoli. I must be lacking in nutrients because it was beyond delicious.)

Yet I keep dwelling on an email exchange, which should surprise no one though I’ve been trying mightily not to talk about it all the time.

Me: Migraine. Bad. Need drugs and sleep.
Him: Ah, I’m sorry to hear that. Wish I were there to tend to you.

Simple. Effective. Easy to remember.

That headache was a long time ago, but I woke up feeling completely better and comforted by the fact that someone – a cute, male someone – knew I had been hurting and wished he could help (let’s say for the sake of argument that it was sincere, a fact we cannot confirm without independent hypothesis testing but will assume for the sake of clarity). I love the thought of someone checking on me – peeking in a dark room to make sure I don’t need anything. Making soothing sounds and smoothing my hair when I whimper. Feeding the cat because the smell of that kibble makes me gag.

The irritating part is that there are people who would do that. Friend would come check on me and has offered multiple times to fetch anything I need from the outside world. Jill treats me as one of her children anyway, so she could easily offer comfort – straighten my blanket as I nap, make sure I’m drinking enough water. Cousin could come over and feed that cat – would likely take both animals to her house for a couple days if I asked her. But that’s different. I want a partner – someone who knows when I want company and when to stay away. Someone I can cuddle one moment and order around the next. (I’ll be sick. I think it’s OK to behave a bit badly when I’m ill.)

So today – a day that was unexpectedly painful (because I should be feeling better now!) – found me pouncing on eHarmony’s free communication weekend like Sprout on a bug. (Which is gross, by the way. I’m deeply disturbed by the joy he finds in torturing the poor bugs. Then eating parts of them. Goodness, that’s quite disgusting regardless of my level of health.) So as I’ve been responding to requests for communication between finishing my paper revisions and curling up in a ball to decide why the pain continued, I’ve wondered why I can’t get excited about any of these men.

I have – in all honesty – walked into seminars over the past month, and demanded that I find someone attractive. Anyone. But, nope. Can’t do it.

I have – in moments where I continue to obsess about what went wrong and wonder whether I feel hatred, disdain, sympathy or gentle understanding – asked myself why I care at all. He was the wrong guy. Apart from good or bad, forgiven or not, fair or cruel – he was very, very wrong for me.

“So you’ve stopped hoping things will work out?” Friend asked me several weeks ago.

“Absolutely.” I confirmed. “Once a dynamic is established in a relationship, I think it’d be a struggle to overcome it. So my feeling is that I’d always be trying to get his attention and he’d always be controlling and cold because I’d let him. So, no. I don’t want him. No, no, no.”


I hate that I still care. That the whole situation still takes up space in my head. That I recall certain lines or conversations. Then wonder why I blindly trusted someone so easily. Why I gave so much of myself and expected so little of him. Was I selected because I was so gullible? Our association certainly lasted so long because I was too weak to stop it. It occurred to me last weekend that it wasn’t like I turned men away because I was emailing some guy who lived far away. Even now – if I’m screwed up about relationships and find it difficult to trust, have confidence that’s severely damaged, can’t muster any real desire to get to know someone better – what’s the big loss? I hardly think there’s a cute, smart, funny someone out there who’s sighing because he just can’t find me. The very thought strikes me as ridiculous.

So instead of trying to list my good qualities – bolster my self-image a bit – or viewing profiles of men I’m sure are lovely – I’m faced with a single fact.

I choose men very poorly.

Even Ryan – my shining example of someone who wanted to marry me! – let me walk away. When asked if there was a reason I needed to stay, he couldn’t give a solid answer. Didn’t ever ask if I’d more seriously consider staying rather than going. So while it’s pleasant to pretend that it could have worked if I made different decisions, I don’t know that to be true. And even if he would have proposed had I not moved 10 hours away, I don’t think I would have accepted.

Then I was over-the-top excited about someone who was wrong. Even when it was so over-the-top obvious to everyone that it was making me over-the-top unhappy. I mean, really. For crying out loud. It's just so embarrassing. And I'm still not over it, which is just annoying. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I don’t want to be that unhappy again. So the whole dating thing seems dangerous if I care. But it’s really difficult to muster the energy when I’m so eh about the whole process.

But it would be good to have someone to feed the cat when I have a headache. Or tug the blanket from if I get cold when sleeping. Someone who could talk and laugh with me. I could take him home for Thanksgiving. Buy him Christmas presents (which might take away from the funds I’m giving to charity or spending on Little One for all these super-cool toys). Plan trips together.

So I think it would be really good to stop caring about what went wrong in the past (on any number of occasions) and focus on how to make things go well in the future.

I just don’t know how to make that happen.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Please see figure 1.

Figure 1 shows the progression of the headache over time. Time 0 is approximately 1PM on Wednesday and the final point point should be at 4PM today. The pain scale is based upon my own personal level of misery. It is perhaps lower than normal, but I don't care. I like to be dramatic when I'm headachy.

I have helpfully included notes to aid in the interpretation of this figure.

Any decreases in pain are due to drugs. To understand that help (or lack thereof) more clearly, we will consult Table 1.

We see that relief was offered by the first 2 medications followed by "PM." The sleeping periods were the only comfort offered recently. Excedrin Migraine allowed me to create the graph and table, so my love for that particular variant of pain relief is confirmed.

As another note, I like that graph. Doing it in 3D makes the line look like a pretty ribbon. A pretty, red ribbon of my extreme misery over the last couple days. But at least it's nice to look at the graph.

But since I don't get paid to make visual aids for my personal life, I should probably return to my paper revisions. I'm getting close to being done - that new figure is pretty (though it doesn't include a pretty ribbon-like graph that illustrates my suffering) and I just have to explain a couple of points that I understand, but struggle to articulate adequately. (I'd like to say - for just one point within many points that were completely valid and wonderful - "Reviewer- You're mistaken. Here's what you asked for, but it doesn't make any sense. So I'm right - the old way was better. Please admit your error and we'll all move on with our lives. Thanks!" but that probably won't work.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Took Tylenol PM and went to bed at 6:30. Woke up to a still-hurting head. So now it's approaching actual bedtime, and I'm waiting for Advil PM to kick in so I can sleep and wake up pain free. (Please, please, please.)

All of this is quite fascinating, I'm sure, but it's all I have tonight.

Because my head hurts.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Polar Bear Maze

Remember how I was a polar bear? Let’s do that again.

Now I have a nice pool for swimming, so I splash in it occasionally. I have a little snowy hill, so I remember sliding down it. There are polar bear friends and they used to be fun. But now it just seems lame. I’m a bored polar bear. And a bored bear is a sad bear. People who visit my little area are disappointed - I don't do anything all that interesting and they were hoping for more from their trip to the zoo.

So when I was asleep (because I sleep a lot), the keeper built a maze. So I woke up and cocked my head at this new structure. Then I wondered what the keeper expected me to do with these new walls and doorways and tiny spaces between them. Eventually my polar bear friends started to enter the maze, so I shrugged and waddled in myself.

The problem with the maze is that it’s rather fluid. Once I choose a particular path, I can’t backtrack and find what existed in the beginning. Everything is different as it changes over time. And I find that I keep moving forward – turning left, then taking that path. Finding a door and passing through it. Walking along with a friend and then turning right to head off on my own again.

Now at first the maze seems fun. I find neat little toys – a tiny, yellow ball that I can carry in my mouth. A soft green blanket I use when I find a nice corner in which to nap. A floppy gray bow I can wear around my paw. Just to be pretty.

So it’s worth it – the maze. Eventually there’s more space between the walls. I feel safe moving through it, though I’m not sure where I’m going or what I’m working toward. But I decide that a blue ball would be good. A big blue ball. One that bounces and rolls and I could lie on top of while I floated in my pool. I could chase it down my hill or play catch with my friends. I could look at my ball and marvel at how pretty it is. The ball starts to represent true happiness.

But at some point the maze feels a bit restrictive. I miss what was. I start to wonder what would have happened had I turned left instead of right. Sometimes I think about the last decision I made. Other times I go back to the beginning and wonder why I took the first door rather than waiting to find the second one. But when I turn to look back the way I came, it’s different than I remember. Because the maze is dynamic and I can’t go back. Rather, I can go back, but it’ll be different now than it would have been then. Or I could continue to go forward.

I’m confused about where the big blue ball is. I know I want the big blue ball, but I’m not sure how to find it.

For some reason, I think it’s down the second path from the left. So I start down that way, shuffling along on my big, black paw pads and lifting my snout proudly because I’m strangely certain that I’ve selected the right path. But then someone yells at me.

I’m startled because I’m not used to being scolded. But I try again – head down that same path – because certainly it was an aberration. The last time was just a little mistake. Maybe I was walking too close to the wall. I’ll try to walk down exactly the center of the path, nose to the ground as I focus on placing my big paws.

But someone yells again. And I look around and it’s directed at me. I’m wrong. Inadequate. “No, no, no!” I’m still confused, so I turn around and scurry away. I’ve covered the fact that turning around is strange – things are different than they were before, though I’m still looking at the same path once I return to where I think I started. But this time, the other paths are gone. There’s only this one road to take. And I think the big blue ball is at the other end.

But now I wonder if I want the big blue ball all that badly.

So I go to a friend – an older bear. And I say that I want to quit. I’m tired of the rejection. There are beings down that path I need – faceless, nameless beings – that don’t like me at all. So he listens while I tell him about my previous strategies, offers encouragement and advice. So we plan and plan and plan.

And I eventually close my eyes, put my big nose down, and run forward as fast as my bulky body will allow.

When I open my eyes, I’m past the bad point. Nobody yelled. In fact, those faceless beings offered some advice of their own on how to get better. Maybe I could open my eyes on the next path – watch where I’m going. Moving quickly was good. But eyes open – that would be better.

For the next section of the path, I dutifully kept my eyes open. They liked that I did that - good progress for me! - but would also like to see my nose up. They thinking sniffing as I move quickly along will help make me a better bear. More capable of moving through this one last section. And they offer me a squeaky toy as a reward for making it this far.

So I take the squeaky toy and squeeze it to hear the happy sound. And I smile because that was nice of the beings. They weren’t so bad after all. I just needed to find the right group of beings! I’m glad I found a good mentor bear - he guided me in the right direction and offered a good starting point for navigating that section of maze.

I’m going to hone this plan tonight, then discuss it with mentor bear later this week. If I make it past this point – through the faceless beings’ tentative acceptance into full in-press-ness, I get a special squeaky toy. One that’s a medium-sized blue ball. It looks like the big blue ball I want so badly! It’s just smaller and squeaky. But that’s good! It will certainly make me happy!

And after I get that prize, I can start on the path to the next one. Mentor bear has ideas on how to re-plan our next route. Fix the mistakes of the first time. Eyes open, nose up, moving quickly, but with a bit of a prance. He’s good at what he does – mentor bear. And I’m learning. It’s easier to run with eyes open. I can work on the 'nose up' part. And I’ve seen prancing done – I could probably pull it off. But there will likely be rejections and hurt feelings along the way.

“My paper was tentatively accepted.” I told Boss today. “But I don’t want to write the grant again. I know I should. And I will. But I don’t want to. I’m so tired of feeling badly about myself.”

So he offered a pep talk and said he’d nudge me toward the grant. It’s important, he noted. We were going to do it. He would help me. It’d be fine.

I was thinking about it – the maze, my prizes so far, the promise of the medium-sized, squeaky, blue ball. And I was – and have been – oddly numb about all of it. The changes are easy – I can probably finish learning to run with my nose up tonight. But the medium-sized, squeaky, blue ball seems a bit lame. All that work, all those rejections (16 months of them - really), all that time. For this? Really?

What am I doing? I asked the keeper on my way home. What’s the point of this particular maze? Can I just quit? Why won’t you just give me the big blue ball?! If I accept I may not get a partner, why can’t I have professional satisfaction and success? Why won’t you give me happiness? Just give me the big blue ball!

And I suddenly realized – with a gentle, yet disturbing thought – that the keeper never said anything about the big blue ball. That idea came from me. The ball may not exist – at least not in the form I expect. The point may not be the end at all, but how I choose to spend my time in the maze. If I help the other bears. If I share the blanket I earned when I see a bear that looks too cold. If I offer my squeaky toy to a cub because I don’t play with it very often. If I ease my focus on the big blue ball to stop and talk to another bear who might be lost. If I offer my shoulder and pat with my paw when another bear is sad. I want to be gentle and hopeful, happy and gracious, attentive and loving.

I really do want that and should spend some time figuring out how to be that bear.

Instead, I’m going to go create a figure that displays how well I can run with my nose in the air so I can get that medium-sized, squeaky blue ball.

Because that’s what I do.

But at least I think I might see it for what it is.