Wednesday, January 31, 2007

So, hello.

“So, hello.” I said, deciding that I should be praying out loud. I decided against listening to my audiobook on prayer and just practice my own method instead. I noticed I’ve avoided talking to God for any extended period of time. While I think it would be better for me to sit and focus with no outside distractions, sharing my commute with Him seemed better than nothing. So I put on piano hymns and tried to talk. Instead I made faces and attempted some reasonable amount of focus until I started to speak.

“I don’t know what to say.” I admitted. “I’m not sure if I’m angry at you or hopeless or tired or just going through a down time. I’m OK – I hope You can see that. I’m not nearly as bad as I was. But… I don’t know. I just don’t take time to talk to You. And now it’s like when you have friend and you haven’t seen her in a long time and have to spend so much time catching up on the background that you don’t get to converse over any fun topics. Though You know what’s been going on. So I guess I could just talk. About…something.”

“I thought You’d take Friend’s mother.” I admitted when I stopped at a red light. “All those times I asked for you to let the treatment work, to be with Friend as she waited for news… I thought you’d hurt that family and have people say it was for the best.” I shook my head. “I’m glad you didn’t. Thank you for letting her stay. For showing me that sometimes what we ask for is the right thing – the endpoint you want as well.”

I considered for another moment. “I want to fall in love. Thinking that I don’t get that makes me sad. And annoyed that You’re withholding it. Dr. Counselor says I should ask for the strength to be better so that I’m ready when my partner comes along. And that I should pray he is growing ready for me. So, yes. I’d like that. Please. I’d like You to pick someone out for me and lead me toward him. Teach me what I need to know beforehand and give me the patience to learn it. But I’m afraid you’re going to say no. That I’m asking for something that you have no intention of giving.”

I drove in silence for a little while – breathing deeply, listening to the piano play through my car speakers attached to my iPod, trying to hear some response. “It’s strange.” I offered moments later. “I know – intellectually, anyway – that You’re watching. That You know. That in the end, life works out. Events that seemed trivial or awful somehow coalesce into something good – nudging me down the right path so that I eventually see how I learned and grew over time. I know things work out. I know You love me and want me to be happy. I do know. I just don’t always remember.”

Having established that fact in my mind, I just started to talk. I began with people online – blogs I read, prayers I think are needed – some of petition, some of gratitude, some of simple conversation, telling stories and laughing or thinking. Then I drifted slowly into family members and friends, asking for guidance and love and grace. “I’m strong enough now,” I told Him. “If You need me, here I am.”

As I made my way quickly toward work, I found myself just listing names. Aunt, Uncle, Cousin and her husband, Older Cousin and her husband. Little Cousin and Other Little Cousin. Little One.

“I love her most of all.” I confided with a smile. “I think she’s growing up so wonderfully. She talks so much and watches her movies – the ones I sent got there yesterday. She’s so bright and strong and funny. Well, You know. You know her.” And I lapsed again into content silence, letting myself think and hoping God spoke somehow. Then I frowned with a realization.

I’m Little One’s Godmother. And I haven’t ever prayed with her. Told her Bible stories. Watched a Christian cartoon with her. I don’t know if Mom prays with her while she rocks in the chair before bedtime. Or if Brother and Brother’s wife talk to her about the concepts after church. She understands enough that we could introduce her to God, I know. I’m not sure how to go about that exactly, but God reminded me that it’s a priority today. It’s a job for which I’ve always been profoundly grateful – from the moment Brother asked me to serve as a Godparent, I was honored. I need to do a better job. And I will.

Then I thought of Friend, talked about some of her concerns, prayed over them. Admitted I don’t know the answers – I just understand some of the problems quite well. Others I can only guess at, but I don’t know how to help other than ask Someone I know to do some work on it. To guide me, to watch over Friend, to be with all of us – celebrate when we’re happy, soothe when we’re angry, comfort when we’re scared and sad.

“It’s hard here,” I admitted. “For all of us sometimes. I just wish it was more straightforward. Easier. That I didn’t worry over Friend because I know You’ll take care of her. That hearing war news didn't make my stomach hurt. That I trusted on some profound level that it’s all working toward a good place.”

I merged into the right lane of traffic to exit my interstate and get on the bypass. I pulled in behind a familiar car and cocked my head. How strange would it be if I followed Friend to work just as I’d been talking about her? But there were still many cars speeding about, so I didn’t put much thought into the fact that it might be her. But she moved from one lane to another and the shift was quicker than average. “That car drives like Friend’s.” I mused, deciding it really might be her.

I became more certain as we continued to move toward campus. I couldn’t see her all the time – traffic separated us at some points and large trucks sometimes blocked my view of her little car completely. But I didn’t panic – I knew where she was going and happened to be going there myself. I know her well enough to predict where she’ll park in the lot. I checked the time and realized that she was running on her normal schedule while I was getting in a bit later than I’d wanted.

I got a bit weepy when I thought about God. “She may not even know I’m here.” I told Him. “Just following along after her for these few minutes. Ready to stop and help if needed, pleased that traffic is moving swiftly for her, hoping she has a good day and slept well last night.”

God isn’t a hovering parent. I think sometimes He follows me silently, just watching and waiting for me to realize I need help and guidance. Then He nudges in certain directions, introduces me to the right people at the right times and removes opportunities that – while incredibly tempting – just aren’t right. He’s a strong presence – moving along at whatever pace I need, sometimes tugging me along when I’m too weak to continue, other times offering support when I’m too tired to travel on my own. It’s the times like today – when I’m driving along and everything is fine (if a little boring or vaguely unsettling) and I don’t even glance in my rearview mirror to see if He’s back there. So He waits until the morning I decide to spend some time talking and sits through the lists of names, the general requests, the honest thoughts of why I can’t get serious about spiritual growth.

I parked one spot away from Friend and got out of my car as she paused to wait for me.

“How unlikely is that?!” I offered cheerfully. “That I ended up following you all the way to work?”

“As unlikely as me screwing up the same experiment different ways every time I do it?” She responded.

I smiled then told her that I’d been praying. Just talking – halting and awkward at first, then making some progress as I made my way to work. “I was praying about you and then I ended up right behind your car.” I said, thinking it was a minor miracle and some indication that God wanted me to be sure He was listening. That He knew. That He heard.

“I saw you way back there.” She said and I nodded.

“I saw you as soon as you were merging from the entrance ramp.” I offered.

The rest of the day was frustrating and productive depending on the moment. I got bad news on funding a small part of Project M and tried to fill out still more paperwork when I thought I was finished. I was wildly irritated so I took a walk to turn in more paperwork around campus. I returned to make a presentation at meeting then ran an experiment in the afternoon. I listened to music and swore at traffic on the way home, oblivious to God or anything He wanted to tell me.

I find it tremendously moving that He was there anyway. Following along, watching protectively, yet waiting until I chose to notice Him. He knows where I’m going though. Is familiar enough with how my mind works that He can predict the route I’ll take to get there – the things I’ll see and people I’ll meet around the way. That He chooses to join me is miraculous. That I rarely acknowledge Him is depressing. But I heard Him this morning – if only for a few spare moments, I got it. I felt loved and appreciated even as He gave me an idea of the work I have yet to do.

“Thank you.” I just said. He deserved it and sometimes it helps me to say it out loud.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Poor editing

That’s what I get for writing quickly and while tired. I was – brace yourselves – eager to get a bit of work done before I grew too sleepy last night. I didn’t finish the project until today – was scattered between reading and writing, working and watching television. I’m strangely off lately. Not unhappy, necessarily. Not depressed or unable to cope. Almost jittery though. I had to change outfits 10 times yesterday morning. I limited myself to trying on two shirts this morning, then realized I couldn’t make myself wear the second one and changed one last time. I forget what I’m about to do next when my focus slips from the task at hand. I’m writing a lot of lists and notes and am multi-tasking relatively well. I just feel a bit strange. Unsettled is perhaps a good descriptor.

I’m not dating, though I appreciate the interest should I begin to do so. I am emailing a couple of men, both of whom seem lovely without being overly compelling. I would meet either of them for coffee and suggested it to one. He responded in the affirmative but his failure to set a date perhaps speaks more to the negative. Which is OK – I find I’m ready to try, but not desperate to do so.

I have not heard from Client, though Dr. Counselor informed me that he thought I was “worth a call.”

“OK.” I responded easily after I gave him a strange look. Therapy was weird yesterday. It left me feeling unsettled. At one point, I found myself holding my breath against sobs while looking at the clock. Even I – therapy newcomer that I am – realize that completely breaking down when there isn’t time to pull together again is hardly the smartest move. Given that I decided to start my week dealing with mental health, I find I resist getting too emotional. So I was presenting my stable side. Happy and polite, I began by asking about his weekend, made sympathetic sounds when he noted he was dealing with some sinus issues. We moved through a quick discussion of my progress at work. He noted that I’ve been spending time with Friend lately.

“It’s good.” I said, smiling as I remembered my befuddlement with lobster tails. “It’s mushy.” I had said, poking at it with my fork and watching as it slipped into my bowl of lemon butter. I frowned as I fished it out, placing it on my tongue and trying to force myself to be sophisticated enough to enjoy it. Soft, I decided, and wrinkled my nose. Then I reached for more shrimp.

“It is good that you have her.” Dr. Counselor noted, and I refocused to nod my agreement.

“I’m not so lonely anymore.” I admitted. “I tend to stick close to one person. I had one good friend growing up - Mandy. At various times though undergrad, I’d have a favorite of my girls and cling to her. Then in grad school there was M. We’d be in class together, then go to our separate labs, then meet up for dinner. Study together or watch TV or sit and talk. And I was happy – I had someone who knew and loved me, wanted to hear my stories and I knew all about her too. Prayed over her problems, cheered her successes, provided a place to sleep on the rare occasion she’d had a tiff with her boyfriend. She left, and Carrie and I became inseparable. Then after she left, there was Ryan. I moved south and was all alone for the first extended period in my life. So when Peter came along, I clung. I so badly needed a friend and given the slightest chance to turn him into something more, I pounced. You’ll notice I didn’t even allow for the possibility of an end until Friend came along. Having someone around who could ease the loneliness… I like that.”

He nodded and smiled and I allowed a moment to feel gratitude that people had shown up when I needed them. Each of them provided support and laughter – kept me company. That’s important.

Then I explained that I was eager for a relationship because it’s what I do anyway – there’s just not always a romantic component. But I do miss it – being physically close, feeling all tingly and warm, those moments where it’s more than words – curling up in silence and enjoying each other.


So there are the boys online. There’s Client. “Hope! Possibilities!” Dr. Counselor cheered and I offered a weak smile. “What are you feeling as we talk about this? The end of what you hoped would be your great love, the oncoming potential – what are you thinking?”

I opened my mouth, then closed it. Looked at the wall to my right, then checked the clock on my left. Shrugged.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen for me.” I offered. Then I expounded. “You don’t know this is part of God’s plan.” I argued after he made some statement. “I also want to be fabulously wealthy so I never have to work. I hardly think that’s God’s plan just because I’d like it to be so. There’s no guarantee that just because I’d like to love someone means that I get to.” Then later, “You can’t have it both ways. If there’s someone out there for me, then I’ll find him. I shouldn’t have to lose weight or spend countless hours in coffee shops making sure to display my empty ring finger to any man who passes by. It’s not me – it doesn’t feel appealing or natural – so I hardly think it’s necessary.”

Frustrated that I continued to shoot him down, he asked, “So what’s the point of dating?”

“When I fail – end up alone – I want to be able to say I tried. Tell my little stories and explain that I made an effort and am lonely regardless.”

“Well, then, you’ll get your stories but lack a man. Self-fulfilling prophecy.”

I paused for the first time. Considered. Nodded. “I know.”

We left it so that I’m to pray about it. But I’m still wrapped up in God and the lizard and remain sad over how that all went. I need to find room to hope – to truly move on and be open.

But it doesn’t really make sense to me.

“You can forget all that!” Dr. Counselor admonished when I started to complain about my grad school experiences again – how I was disappointed and overwhelmed at the end and was reminded by my final paper acceptance. “It’s over. Your work is published! Forget it and move on to the next thing!”

I wanted to correct him. It’s not over if I still remember! If I still know I was wronged. I was hurt and sad and confused. I have stories about that! Lots of them. In fact, I think it’d be good to spend more time hearing those stories than to collect material for new anecdotes.

Likewise, the book is coming along really well. I know – change is hard, clinging to the past, same story on a different day. It’s just that I like writing it – love making up pieces to fill in the gaps. Adore that stray chapters have become various sections. I’ll reach the point where I just need to connect them. I’m still at the stage where I’m building stories, selecting characters, writing what feels right at the time. Last weekend it was Winnie – that hurt. The one before was happy times with Peter – I ached with missing him and many times talked myself out of sending email to which he wouldn’t respond. I didn’t even start composing a message though – I wanted to, but resisted the desire. Progress. This weekend I wrote a bit of Charlie – I happily followed the impulse to contact him since I realized it’s been a little while since we’ve talked.

I’ve noticed that Peter’s been on my mind more over the last few days. I really think that I’m bothered that I can’t even have him as a casual acquaintance. If a new chapter develops for a story he’d known, I don’t get to tell him. If I think of a question he could answer, I can’t ask. Google usually knows too, which makes me think it’s not so much about the knowledge. It’s about connecting with someone I truly appreciated. I guess I’ve integrated the pieces of my heart that used to belong to him. Those that belonged to Ryan and Mandy and all those other people I used to love and no longer have any expectation of seeing. They’re all just soaked back into the whole in some weird way.

Yet a tiny sliver remains – one that, for a moment, wished ever so hard that Mandy was well when I looked at what she’d written in my 7th grade yearbook. “I remember.” I murmured softly, tracing my fingers over the words written her loopy and ornate script. “I see poltergeist in my screen.” I said, then told Mom how Mandy would say that when we wrote papers on the new computers in our English classroom. I recall the face she’d make – attempting scary but hovering just this side of hysterical giggles. How she’d wiggle her fingers. Not only her voice but her tone when she’d deliver the oft-used line - I could picture it vividly. And those memories - the good stuff – surfaced with painful intensity. But it was good – I loved her and I miss her and that’s a good thing. A worthy way to spend time between wincing over bad glasses in 4th grade and wishing I’d known how pretty I was before I started high school rather than obsessing that I wasn’t more popular.

I had a dream the other night. I was told that Grandma had cancer though there was part of me that knew she’d been gone since I was in high school. I know a little about what I’d do if told I needed an oncologist so I told Mom what steps I thought should be taken immediately. I wanted to see test results, functional imaging, details of the diagnosis. As I was demanding the required information, someone - a stranger - started to go over the costs to society in treating diseases. Tax money devoted to research, Medicare, and now people wanted universal health care? She just thought it was ridiculous.

I don’t know who this woman was but I began yelling at her – aware that I was causing a scene in what appeared to be a large ballroom (I don’t know why I was in a ballroom, but apparently dinner would be served soon for some function) as I railed against the injustice. Research was important! “Which would be obvious if you weren’t such a small-minded selfish moron!” Then I said something like, “What kind of bitch doesn’t want the elderly to receive medical attention? I hope you burn in hell!” Which might have been a slight overreaction, but I was so enraged. I wanted her to suffer. When I woke up, I was still angry. Then I realized I hadn’t gone to see Grandma at all in my dream. So focused on making sure people knew I’d be offended and demanding information that I didn’t really need, I failed to do the one thing I thought was most important. I didn’t get to hear her voice in my dream or reach for her hand. I lost track of the priority and I was left wondering how often I let that happen.

In the absence of boredom after winter break, Peter and those people associated with him have stopped reading me. The space has given me room to consider what’s important. This has led to writing my book with painful honesty. Sometimes I don't look so good. Other times I'm downright adorable. As far as quality goes…well, you know. I do find myself reading sections sometimes rather than writing more. I wondered the other day if the goal is writing it or reading it after I’m done. Given that I don’t tend to write anytime other than weekends, it might be some time before I can offer an answer.

What do we know now? I’m still figuring it out. For me, the past needs some room. It just does. I miss people who are gone and this is the first time I find I can’t make an effort to just say hello. Which is sad. At some point, however, the past needs to scoot back to make room for the present. The evaluation of goals and priorities, the focus on the positive – being with people I enjoy, hoping for the arrival of more – while understanding it’s not really my job to educate the world. Because if it were, we’re all screwed. I barely know what I’m doing, let alone what the ideal method might be. Even my retrospective analysis of the past year or so is in desperate need of more chapters and rewrites of what already exists.

Regardless, when I date, you’ll hear about it. And when I finish the book, I’ll let you know that too.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Dinner with Family

“It’s funny,” I said to Friend as we got in my car to head back to my house, “how family members can annoy me in the abstract – how I can be irritated that I have to deal with these people so often. But then I see them and think, ‘Oh! You’re mine and I love you ever so much!’”

Having been invited to Cousin’s house to see Aunt and Uncle on their visit, I accepted happily, then sighed after I hung up the phone on Saturday. Aunt had earned a place on my list of irritants after her train request. She and Uncle also skipped my graduation ceremony which is not a big deal in good moments and a grave offense when I’m already aggravated. But I turned on a light this morning so as not to return to a dark house. I told Friend that Cousin had invited her to join us on the off chance that she’d be willing to leave the lab before some insanely late hour. The dinner was on my calendar and I decided I’d likely attend rather than sending last minute regrets.

After a morning therapy session that was both good (I fed my violet and am starting to date) and bad (I don’t think I’ll ever find someone to love and am therefore frustratingly pessimistic), I spent the day working. Making calls, returning emails, attending meetings, finishing paperwork. I wrapped up around 4:30 and with a fleeting thought that it’d be nice to go home and order pizza, I told Friend I was leaving and met her on campus. We made our way through reasonable traffic toward Cousin’s house.

I walked in and Aunt rose from the floor where she was playing with Little Cousin and reached for me. Before removing my coat or introducing Friend, I pressed into her, breathing in the familiar mix of laundry detergent and soap. I hugged her tightly, holding on as I realized how much I missed her – how much I loved her because she was Aunt. With a final squeeze, I released Mom's sister, then kissed Uncle’s cheek and settled on the floor to watch Little Cousin.

We had dinner and talked over lasagna – laughed and traded memories and enjoyed the company. Then we sang to Uncle over an ice cream cake and laughed as we remembered the birthday where I demanded hats, games and cake for Uncle since I had so enjoyed my party the month before. I watched Little Cousin dance in Cinderella shoes – clear plastic with feathers – as she did a very credible tap routine with much spinning and jumping to a soundtrack from the Leap Pad learning farm on the refrigerator.

I looked around and realized that I’m profoundly grateful for these people. Those individuals who look a bit like me, save Uncle (“Remember that time I had to tell my friends we weren’t related by blood?” I asked at one point and his face creased into a smile as he nodded. “It’s good to announce that.” He agreed.) They remember my triumphs and defeats and love me regardless of which came more often.

I’m too tired to expound upon this further, but it’s good to remember that I adore them. The moments I recognize myself, the times when I smile – impressed that I get to love such wonderful people, and the warmth when I’m folded in a hug I didn’t realize I needed quite that badly. All worth recalling when I scowl over the next card addressed to “Miss [me]” instead of “Dr. [me].” when Aunt remembers a holiday. Because sometimes I’m lame and petty, but I can refocus on the love and gratitude when a gentle reminder comes my way.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Change is hard, part...many

I mentioned that one of my post-graduate goals was a king sized bed. I don’t enjoy feeling crowded when I sleep, and I use mounds of pillows so that I’m surrounded by softness on every side. This takes up room. With the introduction of a snuggly canine into my household during my 3rd year of grad school, I decided I wanted a bigger bed.

Having purchased a house with a large master suite (and teeny tiny extra bedrooms, lest you think I’m bragging over the size of my home. It’s small.), I asked Cousin to have a friend order me a huge mattress and corresponding box springs from a relative who sold furniture. It arrived and was placed in her garage as I waited to close on my house and I smiled over it’s gigantic size. I am the only person in my family with anything larger than a queen, so everyone was suitably impressed with the quantity of my sleeping space.

When questioned over why the sole person who slept alone required more mattress than any other family member, I spoke gravely to the reasons.

“When I interviewed and stayed in hotels, there were always king sized mattresses. I loved them.” I now realize that after the defense debacle, I likely wanted to cling to a time when I remembered feeling confident and strong in an attempt to recapture those elusive feelings. I also had the powerful hope that I wouldn’t be sleeping alone for long in my new house. I had a PhD, bought my house, had my dog, found a job that would work well in the short term – the next step should naturally be a partner and I was determined to find him.

“There are all these options!” I would continue to explain to fondly tolerant family members. “You can sleep up and down or side to side! If I get crowded by Chienne, I can get up and switch sides because there’s always room somewhere. It just takes a glance to find open mattress space, then I can sleep perfectly because I’ll find room to do so!”

I tried – for the first time, I think – sleeping across the head of the bed last week. I rearranged the pillows and nestled myself perpendicular to my typical sleeping position on the left side of the bed. My back was to the wall and when lying on my side, I was facing the television with my entire body, able to escape into mindless entertainment while I drifted off to sleep. I noticed that I was restless over the course of the night. I continued to shift then drift back into sleep. And in the morning I found myself lying up and down on the left side of the bed – exactly as I normally sleep.

It’s a variation on the same theme, I think. Change is difficult for me – if I’m not vigilant, I’ll end up in the same position I typically tend toward. Considering that it’s taken no small amount of time and effort to find some measure of contentment at work, I’m quite worried that I’ll drift back into working from home, alienating collaborators and being anti-productive as I nap and get depressed and watch a lot of daytime TV. That would be bad. I’ve done it for over a year, and the lengthy experiment has convinced me that it’s really not so good for me.

In an attempt to soothe myself a bit (and in order to post something since I’ve somehow missed a few days this week), I wanted to remind myself of the steps I’ve taken to keep myself on the right path. I have every expectation that there will be problems and days where I don’t do what I should. That’s OK. I’m looking for an overall trend more than a consistent and glowing triumph.

Therapy on Mondays
“I need to come at the beginning of the week.” I told Dr. Counselor 2 weeks ago before he shifted my appointment back to Monday morning. “It helps me refocus for the week and ensures that I’ll get to campus on Monday. Begin as you mean to go on and all that.”

He smiled proudly – pleased that he’s helping me – and I plan to start my week with him. The thing is that the problems of the past week seem somehow distant after the weekend. If someone bugged me, I need to address it so that I don’t subconsciously screw myself over. And if the weekend tripped me up, I can get past that too.

Take a break. But don’t leave campus.
I was reading LaKisha the other day – I love finding new blogs, though I’ve had her on bloglines for a least a little while now – and she was talking about how she spent all day at the library. No chance to eat or stretch or use the restroom. She had reasons for not wanting to lose her spot.

I just do all those things for fun. There’s no reason I can’t walk away from my desk to get a snack, take a walk, run an errand. So I’m getting a massage every other Thursday (I found this amazing deal!) at a place about a mile away from my office. Between the walk to and from and the actual massage, I’ll be away from the office for about 2 hours. Sometimes when I meet Friend for lunch, we’re gone for almost that long (though not always) as we get cheesy potatoes or ice cream or sandwiches.

There was one day that I really didn’t want to be on campus. Friend and I walked to a busy little sandwich shop, got orders to go, found a table under some huge trees on campus and watched the squirrels as we talked. I headed back to my desk feeling relaxed and focused. Instead of scurrying home early, ashamed I’d accomplished so little, I finished some work, talked to people and made the day relatively productive.

On Friday, I followed up an early morning experiment with some writing, then opened the yogurt I bought to find it was a little sour. Feeling immediately foodless and sad, I sat at my desk and thought about other food I had at home. The familiar tug of “let’s just leave!” hit me pretty hard until I talked myself into walking the short distance to get a snack and soda. Returning to my office to eat a biscuit and sip Diet Coke, I felt better and hung in for an entire 8 hours. It sounds simple, but it's something for me to remember.

Google Calendar
I have struggled with how to keep a calendar since starting this job. I like iCal, but don’t have it synced to anywhere, so it’s only useful when I’m at my desk. In the past, being at my desk has been the problem. If I keep a physical calendar, I forget to use it or lose it somewhere. I find the Google Calendar is more than adequate for my purposes – though the notifier appears to think all my meetings are 4 hours later than I’ve scheduled them – and can check it in the morning from home, remembering why being at work is important, and get there on time.

I’m good at talking myself out of remembering events, so losing that excuse was rather important to me.

Problems solved.
There were a few snags I didn’t think I’d get past. I therefore got discouraged and despondent and just avoided thinking about it altogether. However, there are a couple of projects that have gone blessedly right in the past few months. Project H came together and is off my desk until the penguin finishes writing it and I can edit my sections. Project M found funding, added an amazing component and people seem excited about the data I’ll soon collect. The graduate work is all in press. The feeling that progress is possible has lent me a feeling of hope that has been painfully absent in the past months. I find I’m more able to handle the inevitable disappointment and delays on some projects when other things are going right.

That reminder has led me to stack my to-do list with a variety of projects. I’ve always been big on having lots of stuff going on so that at least something is going well. I’ve avoided doing that here since everything I touched went to hell, but now that I see that was likely more depression coloring my world view, I’m picking up tasks and collaborations and feeling much more controlled and productive.

Always a caveat
I’m doing better, but I doubt many people would classify my current status as amazing. That’s OK. There are days I’d much rather stay home. I likely will indulge that impulse on occasion. I have bad habits even when at work – I get emotionally involved and take things personally. I’m still timid and deferential and the respect I get from others reflects how I present myself. It’s very much a work in progress and I don’t want to pat myself on the back so much that I forget there are still many areas to address.

As an example, I let Project X slip off my list of things to do. The final approval required extensive and trivial revisions, I didn’t want to do a practice run, I didn’t think recruitment was going to happen anyway. So I just ignored it completely.

Then someone emailed and asked if we could meet about it. So that’s Monday afternoon. I tried to remember where I was getting stuck and realized I can work around a couple problems. I scheduled time to run a trial experiment. I took a look at revisions and finished up some forms I started. I would not have done it without the external nudge. I wasn’t happy about doing it at all. But I can make it work. And if it doesn’t fall apart, that will be a nice confidence boost. When it does go to hell, I can at least say I tried.

From here, I guess we’ll just see how it goes. When Chienne crowded me the night before last, I moved to the bed in the office and slept incredibly well. So change is possible, even if tremendously difficult for me to maintain.

And now I’m going to go back to writing my book.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


I swore silently to myself when I realized I needed to talk to Henry on Monday. There was data I didn’t have and someone kept asking me about it. I needed the information. Henry had it. My dealings with Henry have historically been less than pleasant.

I walked slowly down the hall, dreading the exchange and wondering if this would be one of the times I responded to criticism cheerfully, glared silently or started to snap at him. He keeps his door closed – the only one in the department with that habit – so I knocked and waited politely for him to respond. When he did not, I peeked inside after opening the door mere inches. He looked up and waved me in. I sighed and entered his office, asking for the required data.

When he looked at me blankly, I explained what I needed. He told me it wouldn’t work. I listened to a drawn out explanation as to why he believed that and nodded along.

“I understand your point,” I said, “but there has to be a way to make this work. It must be a common problem.”

He went into another spiel about how he would correct the problem – a solution requiring much time and inconvenience to others – and I nodded. It would work, I acknowledged, but I wasn’t going to do it that way. I had my own ideas.

I explained that politely and he finally moved the coveted files to my USB drive. I thanked him politely and prepared to leave before this exchange degenerated into one of my typical fantasies of kicking him in the shin. Really hard. We were slowly developing a workable relationship. He didn’t seem to express nearly as much irritation or disdain when he was with me and I was more capable of tolerating it without becoming all pathetic when he was mean.

“I have an idea.” He said, and I paused, halfway out the door. “For the experiment this week.”

“OK.” I said, leery of spending more time in that office, especially to discuss this particular collaboration. He never lets me run the machine. I’m forced to sit silently while he makes mistakes I recognize but would be berated for pointing out. I don’t get to look at the data without a lengthy explanation as to my purposes in doing so. Plus, he’s not my favorite individual.

When I interviewed here, I had already given my seminar many times - my current institution was the last stop on my interviewing tour of the country. My talk was both rehearsed and natural – those 60 minutes were when I was able to shine. I was then able to bask in the questions. I based my decision on post-docs based on those moments. People were eager to offer suggestions and opportunities as much as clarifying my methods. It was completely lovely. Well, except for my interaction with one person.

Henry slouched in the back of the room, interrupting someone else’s question to ask his own. I paused, looking at Tim in confusion over the slip in decorum that seemed so out of place in this department.

“Please.” Tim said. “Let Henry go ahead.” So I did, making a mental note to return to Tim when I was finished. But I turned my bright smile toward the back of the room and cocked my head inquisitively. I started to frown as the question turned into a monologue about highly technical details as he did calculations in his head.

“So it should be ¾…no, 4/3. [Talk, talk, talk, blah, blah, blah] If you did what you said you did, then the experiment would take 27 minutes!”

Then he laughed at me.

Shook his head. And laughed at me.

I’m sure my surprise was vividly clear to everyone in the room. Boss started to ask another question, but I kept my narrowed gaze on Henry.

“It did not take 27 minutes.” I said tightly. “It was a 6 minute experiment.” Then I turned to Tim and started to speak.

“You’re wrong.” Henry said loudly from the back. “27 minutes.”

“I’ve done the experiment.” I said. “It takes 6 minutes. I’m sure.”

“27.” He insisted.

“6.” I stated, clinging to some semblance of polite behavior.

“27.” He repeated, shaking his head and laughing again as the rest of the room looked on in tense silence.

“6.” I hissed. Then I took a breath. I actually wanted this job and I was hardly impressive at the moment. “Perhaps we could talk later.” I suggested with forced interest in my voice. “I don’t think we’re understanding each other very well, so maybe you could help me see your point after I’m done here.”

Then I avoided him for the rest of the day. I barely bit back a sarcastic “If you say so.” when Boss told me how brilliant Henry was and how helpful he could be with some of my work.

Since working here, I’ve been unable to avoid Henry completely. We’re forced to do experiments together – at Boss’ insistence – and I get pushed aside and ignored if not subjected to some other display of rudeness. It’s infuriating, frankly, and I’ve complained to friends more than once about Henry. Especially after the time I got to use the equipment, finally getting the experiment to work after many failed attempts. Thrilled with my accomplishment, I was mapping out future directions of the project for Boss later that day.

Henry arrived, shook his head and said to Boss, “This project is moving really slowly. Katie just doesn’t catch on very quickly.”

I gasped with indignation because I had just made things work! For the first time! By myself! He was the one who screwed everything up! I had friends – mostly online – who validated my feelings and tried to soothe. So I’ve continue to work with him, dreading every moment and learning very little. I skip experiments when I can think of reasonable excuses.

I was speaking to Jill one day when Henry came to drop something off.

“He thinks I’m an idiot.” I said, shaking my head after he left without a word of greeting to me.

“He does not.” Jill scolded. “He’s just a bit different.”

“Jill,” I said, “I don’t know what I did exactly, but that man does not like me. So I’m uncomfortable around him and not learning from him – though I understand he knows a tremendous amount – but it’s not a productive relationship. Which is sad since we really should work together. I understand why Boss keeps pushing for that to happen, but I hate it.”

Jill frowned and nodded. “You should tell him.” She finally advised. “Nobody is allowed to treat you that way, and I know him well. I don’t think it’s intentional. If you had a conversation, I think your relationship would improve.”

“Given that every conversation I’ve had with him has been painful, I’m going to say no. It’s a good suggestion – thank you – but I can’t do it.”

Jill must have taken care of it for me. For after I returned from my Christmas vacation, Henry has been expending tremendous effort to be nice to me. He considers my questions carefully and offers respectful and thorough responses. He invited me to run the equipment yesterday and corrected my mistakes gently, offering that he’d often made many of them himself. He shared the data and asked for my opinion on an experiment he designed.

“We’ll write a paper.” He said, and I looked at him in surprise. Though there has been a steady improvement in our working relationship, I was still shocked to realize we’re now collaborators. I voluntarily asked for his input on my major project. I don’t dread seeing him in the hallway, though I automatically brace myself before knocking on his door. I’m wondering if that will continue to be necessary though. I can actually see the effort it takes him sometimes, but I appreciate it. I reciprocate by being focused and polite and eager to learn. It’s delightful.

I think the overall point is that I’m hitting my stride at work. People I avoided are becoming approachable. Therapy is helping me considerably with monitoring my own motives and responses. I’m finally able to be productive – I have multiple projects that are all moving slowly but surely forward. I’m going to do some work with grad students. I know who to target when looking for IRB approval. The weight of unpublished graduate research is finally gone and the relief remains amazingly huge. It’s good.

And when someone who admittedly tends to dwell on the negative, the fact that I can call work good seems a major triumph.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sprout:Outside :: Katie:Love

The infrared dog door is not ideal. Chienne is afraid of the clicking sound it makes when the device on her collar unlocks it for her. I had to convince her to use it this morning with much early-morning excitement and happiness so she knew it was a good thing to use the dog door! Yay for the dog door! Five minutes later I responded to her pitiful whining and helped her come inside despite the scary clicking. Silly dog.

It is, however, effective at keeping Sprout inside. I was less than OK when forced to deal with ick. I was afraid he’d bring in something live and I would be driven over the edge into insanity. I also worried he’d get hit by a car or fight with another animal on one of his adventures. It’s best that he stays inside. I believe this to be true.

Sprout disagrees with my assessment.

I was awakened at 7 this morning by the sound of breaking glass. He’d knocked my diploma off the mantle, shattering the glass in the frame as it hit the hearth. He comes to my room, cuddles close to my ear, then meows demandingly throughout the night. He’s awake and bored and exacting revenge. Chienne will eventually growl at him as he disturbs her sleep once again. He squeaks the plush squirrel he stole from Chienne’s toy box. He pounces and leaps and runs. He breaks stuff.

When I get up in the morning – or before I go to bed at night – he will go to the dog door and look out the clear plastic. Then he will yowl at the top of his little lungs, so desperate to find freedom once again that the frustration and irritation overwhelm his tiny soul and must find some release. He liked it outside! There were new scents and sights! He could run as fast as he wanted, climb fences, hunt prey. He was a cat in all his glory.

“You know,” I told him after refusing to allow him outside yet again, “it’s not so bad for you. There are toys in your basket, 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms for you to play in. I give you kibble and clean your litter. You can play with your canine companion unless she’s trying to sleep and do I not pet you when you interrupt my working on my laptop? I hold you and you purr and those are nice times, yes? Try to focus on that.”

I worked from home today – not out of a depressive episode but because it really made more sense to stay here and work on my histograms. Instead of driving for 2 hours, I took a nap in the afternoon. And I steadily worked through datasets that are actually looking very good. I continue to bask in the glow that each of my three graduate publications has found a home. I think the dread that the old work meant nothing and wasn’t good enough for publication drained any motivation I had to create new results. It appears that circumstances have now coalesced in a way that mean work is good. I’m happy and productive. It’s weirding me out a bit, but in a pleasant way.

As I sat on the loveseat, transferring data and running Matlab code, Sprout sprinted down from the hall and landed on the cushion next to me.

“What’s up, pretty kitten?” I asked him. Instead of offering his head to be petted, he rolled to his back and presented me with his fluffy tummy. Then he stared at me expectantly. So I rubbed his tummy.

Only to have my hand grabbed with two front paws, claws kindly sheathed, as he attempted to play. I consented, warning him against biting me, and batted at his paws with my fingers.

“You’re bored.” I said as I tapped his nose and pulled back as he opened his mouth. “I’m sorry. But it’s for the best, I think.”

I got email from Mom this afternoon and wandered down the hall away from the computer, torn between irritation and pain and happiness. I decided to join Sprout in his room as he stared out his window, perhaps remembering how it felt to be out there in the cold. How his fur would get wet in the rain or smell of smoke when neighbors were using their fireplaces. How life was new and exciting and full. It was fine now, of course, but it wasn’t all it could be.

I stared out the window too – looking past my brown picket fence into the neighbor’s kitchen. Julie is married and has a son. She works and is in love and has a baby to care for. And while I don’t begrudge her that happiness, it’s hard not to miss what I don’t have.

I miss being in love. In any form, actually. The safe stability I had with Ryan – knowing he’d call or email, that we’d see each other for dinner or movies. That I kept soda he liked for when we’d hang out at my place. I knew his food preferences, though he was always kind enough to sample my cooking experiments. I miss remembering his travel dates and getting long distance calls. Knowing that there was someone out there paired with me, even if unofficially. As more time passes, I wonder if I made the right choice in walking away. I miss him. How he’d listen so carefully and think about what to say. His moderate interest in politics and genuine concentration on church. He traveled with youth groups on mission trips and was being rapidly promoted at work. I wonder if he threw out the plant I gave him one Valentine’s Day – it was a gorgeous schefflera in a handsome piece of pottery. His brother’s wife was pregnant when I left graduate school and his other niece should be starting school soon.

Then there was the intensity that was more recent. The simultaneous desire to stay in this moment forever because it’s so good and the eagerness to see what is yet to come because it might be even better. The sparkling hope that I found the one I was going to keep. That I’d have someone to live with, sleep with, play with. I could cheer his successes and encourage after he faltered. Make sure he ate properly and didn’t slip into a withdrawn sulk. Read books he recommended and cuddle on the couch as we watched movies. Develop a more sophisticated palate with regard to wine. See who I was in a relationship that matched affection with passion.

I found myself closing my eyes against the pain – the thought that maybe I won’t find that. Perhaps this is it. I blinked and looked at Sprout as he regarded me sleepily, content with sharing his bed but vaguely concerned about the arrival of a large, friendly dog.

“Brother is having another baby.” I told him. “I’m not ready to have a baby yet, but I wish I was in love. I miss being in love. Yearn for it like you do the outside. Though the howling at the door is a bit undignified. I’m not going to do that.”

I smoothed the fur on his side, then rubbed under his chin. Maybe the danger and ick outside is worth it. Perhaps a short life happily lived is better than a long one wishing for what isn’t. Either way, I empathize with the poor cat.

I wonder if he thinks he’ll get out again. If he prowls the house each night, plotting his escape and dreaming of what’s outside these walls. Mice and birds and other cats. Territory left unexplored and the freedom to go where he likes. The feeling that you’re just one step away from ecstasy or despair, but knowing that the latter is worthwhile because you got to feel so amazing at least for a time.

Brother can’t really afford another baby right now. I thought they were going to wait since my parents contribute so much financially already. Little One stays with my folks at least 3 nights a week – wouldn’t it make sense to care for your current child before adding to the family? And it just feels like there’s more distance between me and the rest of the family. That Brother’s stock continues to rise as he produces delightful children and I’m left to joke that if I die alone, at least I’ll be able to stave off boredom by watching my train from Grandpa. At the same time, I’m happy for him – they love Little One very much. They’re good parents. I love Brother very much and if this is what makes him happy, then I will be suitably thrilled for him.

But I still feel a bit like Sprout, standing at a dog door that he inexplicably can’t get to open, seeing what’s outside but unable to get there.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


I felt my face heat – I blush when I get nervous – as I sat at my desk, gathering materials and rehearsing my hypotheses and questions. I stacked my papers and other documents neatly and checked the clock again. I didn’t want to be too early, but I also didn’t want to make him wait. I was not giving a talk or attending anything that would require such tense energy.

I was going to talk to a faculty member.

I do that all the time though – I go ask questions and offer ideas, do some work, help write papers. It’s my job. I like doing it.

But, OK. There are people who do what I do. Only much, much better. They have a new habitat – it’s shiny and pretty – and I’m intimidated by them and their aggressive ways of imparting tremendous knowledge. They just scare me for some reason – I don’t fit in with them even though I should be one of them and it makes me feel badly so I try to avoid them if possible and I mostly succeed. (Deep breath.)

Boss decided that I needed to use some of their equipment for Project M. This is actually a good idea since their new toy is one that’s hard to get. So I dutifully made an appointment to talk to the Master of the Toy (MT). He decided on this afternoon at 2, so I canceled tutoring when I marked my calendar last week. Then I prepared, nervously waited and hoped I didn’t make a fool of myself.

I walked over to the new habitat and took the elevator to the floor of faculty offices. I wandered toward where I thought his office was, asked the secretary to confirm its location, and sighed when I saw his door was closed and all the lights were off.

I needed to use Tim’s office yesterday – he’s one of my favorite faculty members in my department. I stopped by in the morning and asked when I could borrow one of his toys. He said the afternoon would work better for him, and I nodded happily. I returned after a terrible seminar (Do NOT talk over your allotted time! No, no, NO. This irritates me to no end. Plus, have you noticed that when people start to say, “I know I’m running short on time.” they also become painfully redundant because the focus shifts from the material to the fact that someone else wants the room? Freaking speaker. I'm glad I walked out of your talk 5 minutes after it was due to be over and 20 minutes after you should have stopped for questions.) and he was nowhere to be found. So I sent him an email asking if he could let me know when I should stop by.

He came down the hall to find me, smiling sheepishly. “I’m sorry.” He said. “I forgot all about you! You can come now if you have time. Or later works too. But did you see there were sandwiches and treats in the lunch room? You could eat if you want.”

Excited over the idea of free food because I’d chosen a lame speaker over lunch, I had a sandwich and some strange s'more/cookie creation, then went to Tim’s office. We worked – each on our own projects – in a companionable silence. I made efficient progress and picked up after myself as I went. I don’t like to impose on people, so I try to be as polite as possible when I'm forced to take up their space.

He left after about 30 minutes and returned in another 15. I had one more dataset left to acquire, and glanced up to watch him look startled at my presence.

“Sorry.” I said. “I’m almost finished.”

“You’re fine.” He said. “I just forgot you were in here!”

“I’m apparently quite forgettable today.” I said, meaning for it to be funny, but it came out petulant. Do I really shrink when I’m at work? Become somehow translucent so that people can easily look past me without noting my presence? I let them – I know that. I’d rather be polite and peaceful than battle for respect. But perhaps I’ve had enough.

“I had dental work done this morning.” Tim offered. “It’s still making me all weird.”

We launched into a discussion of how awful dental visits are and everything was fine. But I was reminded as I headed back to my office this afternoon. People somehow forget about me. I diffuse the light so there's a sense that something is there, but I don't seem to register with people in any real way.

So I did what I always do. I returned to my desk, set down my notebook with all my carefully prepared notes and papers and applications, and wrote MT an email saying I had missed him somehow and would run back over if he gave me a call or sent an email. Or if this afternoon turned out to be inconvenient, would he like to reschedule?

And I felt impossibly small and pathetic. Partially because I knew Boss felt strongly that I needed to jump on this opportunity to use the cool, new toy. He would ask questions about the meeting and why didn't I look harder for MT and remind me of how important this work was. I also was so nervous about this meeting – it was important to me and I had thought out my questions and statements, was ready to sit and talk about work I feel is important, and he couldn’t even remember to be in his office at the time he scheduled. I felt very sorry for myself.

I finished up the work on Project H and transferred files to my USB drive so I could do work here at home, answered a phone call and received some information I needed. I was writing a sympathy-seeking email to Friend when someone knocked at the open door to my office. I turned to see MT. Surprise fails to adequately convey my feeling in that moment.

“Hi.” I said, floundering in my confusion.

“I’m sorry.” He apologized. “I really meant to be around and I got caught up with someone and lost track of time.” Shaking his head at himself, he retrieved a chair from across the room, smiled and set my magnet toy into motion with a push of his index finger, then focused his attention on me. “I am sorry. I try not to miss appointments.”

“That’s really OK.” I said, slipping into my sweet and polite mode without really thinking about it. “I would have come back to your office.” I offered and he waved a hand to dismiss that idea as he crossed an ankle over his knee.

I launched into my spiel – asked a few questions, heard the answers I wanted (including the offer to use the toy for free – a very big deal indeed), and was generally pleased with the meeting. So I’ve been filling out paperwork this evening and doing some lit searches. I’m excited – the dataset this project will generate is going to be tremendous. Extreme-crazy-totally-ultra-super-major great-wonderful-fantastic-lovely. But he failed to send the documents I requested. Perhaps there was a small sense that he should do something, but the idea failed to take shape because I'm just not quite opaque enough.

The hope is that this particular project completes my graduate work – fixes all the problems, fills in all the gaps, answers all the questions. There will be glitches, of course, and we’ll likely introduce a whole host of new hypotheses. But this should offer incredible opportunities to learn and collaborate and publish.

My hope – on a personal level – is I gain back the ground I lost over my defense and the beginning of this post-doc. That I find a way to incorporate confidence and knowledge to balance my sweetly questioning nature when I interact with people on a professional level. At this point I think I’m just recognizing how much I put myself down. How often I allow others to ignore me. It will be an important process to stop those bad habits and develop some healthy yet likeable qualities that make me more effective.

I’m not sure how to wrap this post up. This idea likely plays into my site statistics obsession - I need to know someone is listening. That what I do makes some difference - takes up some space. Perhaps it's OK that I don't know the answer right now – it’s all a work in progress.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Therapy: trains, plants and letters

“So what are we going to talk about today?” Dr. Counselor leaned back in his seat after congratulating me on my paper being accepted.

“I don’t know.” I said, relatively happy and stable. “I was just here.”

“You said you wanted to come back early in the week.”

“I remember. And I do. I like starting the week here – it forces me to come to campus and refocus if I’m depressed.”

“So tell me about your weekend.”

“My parents were here.” I smiled. “It was wonderful. I really like having them around.”

“And your mom expressed her severe disappointment that you haven’t had a baby?”

“No. Never. It’s very subtle when it does happen. But they did really well this weekend. Oh, but one thing did happen that made me feel badly.”

“What was that?”

“Mom said that Aunt called her. My mom has an older sister who has two daughters. Both of them have a single child. Older Cousin a boy, and Cousin a little girl. When my grandparents died, there were four big items – one for each of the grandchildren. Aunt took the two family Bibles – gorgeous books we’d had since arriving from Ireland and England, depending on which side of the family we’re discussing. Mom got Grandpa’s trains.”

“Real train sets?” He asked, leaning forward with great interest. I nodded proudly.

“With the falling logs and steam and hills and little trees. Real trains set – an Army one and a Lionel.”


“I know! Anyway, there would be one for me and one for Brother. But Aunt called and asked if she could give one to her grandson – Older Cousin’s little boy. Mom was surprised she even asked. We’re not the type of family to argue over possessions – though I guess any family can get sucked into that pretty quickly – but this issue has been settled for years. Mom said that Aunt told her to ask Brother about it, then to let her know if she could have one.”

I paused for effect while he waited patiently.

“It’s like I don’t matter because I don’t have a baby! It’s my train!”

“Have you thought about the train a lot?” He asked.

“No.” I admitted. “I didn’t even remember it existed. But still! Because I haven’t married and been pregnant, it’s like she’s writing me off. No need to save anything for Katie. She’s going to die alone. It’s my train!”

He nodded and considered me for a moment before changing the subject. “Are you lonely now that Mom and Dad have gone home?”

“A bit.”

“Well, that’s what we should talk about next. I see him tonight – the man I told you about.”

Huh, I thought with mild surprise. He wasn’t kidding about setting me up. I gave him a card when he asked how he should give Client my email address. I cocked my head at him, wondering what the deal was, then shrugged. I can have coffee with someone, I decided. It might be fun. It will undoubtedly make a decent blog post.

I smiled when I decided he was being proactive. I’m lonely. Client is lonely. I’d like to be in a stable relationship. So would he. Rather than talking about these problems, let’s just kill two birds, yes? Free up those two appointment slots so he can help other people find happiness. As strange as I find the idea, I rather respect his plan. If meeting someone would help, then meet someone. After all, I’m proof positive that blogging your problems just leaves you with a lot of text describing your problems. Not a lot of actual progress.

All that took about 10 minutes.

“What else?” He asked, apparently ready to fix another of my concerns.

“I was writing my book last night.” I told him, then paused to answer some questions about the plot and characters and my motivation for this particular project. Then I said, “It was about Winnie. She was in my research group and passed away this summer.”

“I remember.” He said. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“She was an exquisite woman.” I told him. “Did you know her?” He shook his head and regarded me with solemn sympathy.

“I didn’t know her as well as I wanted.” I said, looking down and toying with the zipper of my red cardigan. So we talked – covering details that are remarkably fresh for me as I’ve gone over blog posts, editing and crying and adding more details as I built my chapter with regret that such an event needs to be included.

“I have her violet.” I told my therapist. “Jill gave it to me when I moved in the office Winnie used. It bloomed for Jill – she said it was like Winnie was telling her she was in a better place. That everything was OK. There were so many purple flowers.” I said, shaking my head. I don’t believe the plant was trying to tell Jill anything. Not really. “I got it just as the last blooms were dying. I have nightmares about killing that plant.”

Eager to tell him about my bad dreams – I don’t keep a dream journal, but that doesn’t mean I won’t tell stories from my subconscious – I was peeved when he interrupted.

“Has it bloomed for you?”

“No.” I replied. “But it’s healthy. It has new growth in the center – it looks full and green.”

He was shaking his head even as I spoke. “You need it to bloom.” He said firmly, turning to his computer while I raised my eyebrows. “Let’s see how we can encourage it to do that.”

After handing me a printed document on the care of African Violets, he summarized. “Light, food, water, warmth. You need to nurture this plant. Make it give you flowers. Then when you see them, you can say a prayer – thank God for reminding you that Winnie is in a better place. No pain, no worries, no tears for her. Her work here was done, and she was called home.”

I nodded. Again with the proactive, I thought, but saw his point. Talking doesn’t bring her back – all the dream descriptions and worry over that plant don’t help. But I can do something – put that energy toward finding the right fertilizer, watering from the top occasionally to prevent salt buildup, moving it toward the brighter light over my desk so it might bloom more frequently. It seems right – caring for this plant with a little more than random waterings. I like it – the advice I got. Good for Dr. Counselor.

I sat silently, sadly thinking my thoughts, and he watched me for a moment.

“Maybe you could write her a letter.” He suggested. “Say good-bye. Tell her you wish you could have seen the kitchen she painted. Or met her children before her memorial service. You can thank her for the times she showed up when you needed a bit of goodness in your life. How she made you feel less alone. You can ask for her prayers in the times you feel afraid and isolated. Just tell her all the things you wish you’d been able to say.”

“I wish she hadn’t had to leave.” I whispered and he handed me a Kleenex to wipe my eyes.

“She doesn’t hurt anymore. I don’t know why she had to go, but I do know God is caring for her now. She’s fine, Katie. I know it.”

“I do too. I’m just sad. I don’t think I really grieved for her.” I admitted. “I was so busy trying to figure out why the man I loved was so withdrawn – wanted to be stronger or happier or less devastated by this loss so that he would want to be with me again.”

“You’re a caring person. The pain was bound to come back until you felt you’d honored it enough. I think a letter would help you – you like to write. You like to talk to people. So talk to your friend.”

We talked for a few more minutes before he started to sum up, writing my name in his little appointment book for the same time next week.

“So!” He said, clapping his hands as he turned his attention to me again. “Homework! You’re going to take care of your plant – try to make it happy so it can give you some flowers.”

I nodded.

“And you’ll write Winnie a letter.” He said more gently. “Give yourself some closure and permission to be sad.”

He paused a moment and let me sniffle.

“I’m going to give your card to this man I see tonight. And if it doesn’t work with him, there will be someone else. Don’t give away that train, Katie. Your aunt can't have it - you’re going to need it for your children someday.”

Well done, Dr. Counselor, I thought as I walked back to my office. That will turn into a good blog post about therapy. And I am keeping my train. Not just because it's mine, but because I will at some point need it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The birthday weekend

“Well,” Dr. Counselor said after being told of my refusal to leave my house on Monday and Tuesday, “let’s backtrack and see what upset you. What did you do on Saturday?”

I thought hard, barely resisting the urge to ask him to check my blog for me. It has lately become more of a daily diary than an outlet for stories, so I knew I could remember if I just peeked at the post titles. But I’d rather he not read what I write, so I focused and remembered.

“Friend came over. We had dinner and drinks and worked on our respective laptops.”

“And on Sunday?
“I went to church, though I didn’t want to.” I frowned at myself. “Then I came back and Friend and I got breakfast, then we hung out and worked for the remainder of the day. It’s nice to have her – we’re both pretty contained so it’s not like we constantly talk. She’s just around. It’s comfortable. Nice to not be alone.”

“When did she go home?” He asked.

“Sunday evening. After she got the mouse for me.

“And were you sad after she left?”

I paused, considered it more carefully before shaking my head as I was about to do. “I guess so.” I admitted. “I didn’t want to deal with the dead mouse, and I liked that she took care of it for me. Then I started thinking that a boyfriend would have taken care of it for me too. But I don’t have a boyfriend – any man who loves me and wants to do me favors, laugh at my stories and sit in my living room for hours with me. And I’m getting older – not old – but older. And this isn’t going to happen – I’m not going to find anyone to share my life.”

Then he pulled out a book on optimism, which I’d told him I’d already heard about. He’s starting to bug me by saying the same thing to so many of his clients. Which is likely why you shouldn’t go to the same therapist as a close friend. And write/read detailed stories of the sessions so I can identify specific phrases that he’s used with someone else. But I did appreciate the clarity he’d lent to my early-week mood. I wasn’t sure why it had hit so hard, but I knew I was struggling.

I bring this up not because I’m growing dependent on Friend to provide one of my few social experiences of late, but because my parents head home today. They’re still sleeping – cat and dog tucked around them – but started to pack and load a few items into the car last night. I hate it when they leave. Regardless of how long they stay or how ready I am for them to go, watching them get in the car and drive away always makes my heart hurt.

I’m ready for another relationship – I understand that there are annoyances and difficulties with being in love with someone. That sometimes you must give far more than you’re able to take. I want that mutual sharing of responsibilities and knowing of your partner.

But when it comes to selfishly basking in someone caring for you? Well, there are few people who can do that better than parents and grandparents.

I remember holding Grandma’s hand, likely playing with her wedding ring on a finger that held the softest of skin, and standing on tiptoes to see over the counter. There were all kinds of wonderful treats in the glass case of the bakery near her house – cakes and frosted cookies, brownies and pastries – but I wanted to see what was behind the cashier in the case along the wall. Thumbprint cookies – a shortbread texture laced with pecans, buttery and rich. And in the center lay a dollop of densely sweet icing, colored in a variety of pastel shades.

Grandma would smile at me, order a dozen, and I would carry home the thin Styrofoam tray wrapped in a clear plastic bag bearing the name of the bakery, holding the 12 cookies, staring down at the pink, purple, yellow, blue and green frosted wonders, carefully deliberating on which color I would consume first. (I miss Grandma terribly to this day. It’s so strange how someone can be gone for so long, yet remain such a force in my life.)

Anyway, my parents arrived late Thursday night and I opened the garage so they could load their luggage into the side of the house that contains the bedrooms. Mom handed me a 9x13 plastic container as she unloaded the car, and I peeked inside. “Treats?!” I asked, thrilled. “I didn’t have any treats today!”

She smiled as I hurried to the house from driveway. I unearthed 2 dozen of the pretty thumbprint cookies in lieu of a birthday cake, and gasped again when seeing a small box wrapped in pretty paper. “And Fannie Mays?!” I asked as my parents made their way to the kitchen. “Vanilla buttercreams?” I asked hopefully.

“Of course.” She smiled and kissed me again. “Happy birthday.”

I have treasured those sweets over the past couple of days – I just had a purple frosted thumbprint – and relished the memories that last as far back as my memory goes in addition to the sugary rush. It’s nice to have people around who know you from the ground up. To remember that while they may not have all the details of my current life, they still understand and love me as much as they possibly could.

I also received a digital photo frame to display my countless images in addition to three pairs of tennis shoes. “Yours were getting old at Christmas so I wanted to make sure you had enough now.” Mom said when I continued to open boxes of shoes, giggling all the while.

Dad installed the dog door in the kitchen and repaired the damage to my guest room. Mom finished my laundry and did some light cleaning. We ate out – cheese biscuits and barbeque on Friday, followed by a late steak supper that evening. We ate for free since the steak took about an hour to arrive.

“You were so nice about it.” The waitress explained when she told us she’d had our bill taken care of. “You didn’t complain or yell or anything – I really appreciate that. It’s been a rough night.”

“I didn’t think it was a big deal.” I said after she hurried away. We had sipped water and eaten our salads. Enjoyed four or five rolls each since she continued to bring us bread. Told stories and laughed. Brother was attending a dance at work – he’s been at this particular retirement community since he was 16 and has worked his way into management.

“I bet he’s dancing right now.” Mom smiled. He likes his job – enjoys his elderly friends and their stories and preferences. He did dance, he reported yesterday. There wasn’t a big group at the party, but they enjoyed the punch and cookies he provided. A few of the ladies had requested he lead them around the floor and he’d obliged.

Little One has a penchant for shopping and milkshakes, they told me later over still more rolls. Brother has ordered them to lay off the latter, as he cannot drive by a McDonalds without being barraged by demands for a milkshake. Vanilla. Sister-in-law called Mom the other day, handing the phone immediately to Little One.

“Grandma?” She said. “Shopping?”

“No, sweetheart. Grandma can’t go shopping with you tonight. It’s very cold and I have to get ready to go see Aunt Katie tomorrow.”

“Fine.” Little One said, annoyed. “Bye.” And with that, she hung up. Sister-in-law called back to laugh with Mom. “She always wants to go shopping!”

Yesterday was a bit sleepier. We retrieved toaster sandwiches for breakfast, then puttered around until we visited a historical site near my house. Proceeding to Cousin’s home, we ordered pizza while we talked and watched Flip That House and taunted the participants.

“How,” I asked, “can you have such gigantic biceps and not develop the rest of your arms? Look at his forearms! They’re tiny! But his biceps are huge!”

“He must only know one way to pick up his dumbbells.” Dad noted. “Even his triceps are bad – it’s all in the bicep for him.”

“And his hair looks like it belongs on a Ken doll.” Cousin noted.

“Look at the tiny realtor.” I said later.

“Those girls look like giants compared to him.” Mom mused.

We watched as he noted the walls were marred around the outlets. We nodded in agreement until Jay quipped, “It’s easy for him to notice that because his head is so close to the ground.”

“OK!” Cousin said later. “It’s time for birthday cookie!”

“I’m going to need a candle to blow out.” I said and she obediently dug through her drawer.

As she proudly displayed her finding, I frowned. “A used candle? You can only offer a single item and it’s pre-lit?”

She sighed and turned to revisit her drawer and Mom pushed her toward the frosted cookie. “It’s fine.” She scolded me and Cousin and I shared a grin.

“So, wait.” I said after I’d blown the sucker out four times. “I not only get a single, used candle, but it’s a mean one?! How is my wish going to come true if it keeps reigniting?!”

People were laughing too hard to answer me.

Mom, Dad and I returned home to sleep and I rose this morning when Mom went to check on their laundry. They’ve stayed in bed so far – much longer than I expected – and I know I’ll enjoy the quiet after they depart. But I’ll also miss them – the way loneliness stays a bit farther away because I’m not alone. How there’s someone to tell that Chienne found a bit of grossness on her morning walk. Someone to shake her head over my cat as he is distraught over not being able to escape the house any longer.

And knowing that if dead mouse should happen to appear, I would not be required to handle it.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Yay for today!

"How do I forward this?" Mom asked. I had praised her for figuring out my laptop enough to read her messages from work and advised that there was probably a button to send that particular information to another recipient. Chienne and I took a longer walk than normal in the bright sunshine and cold breeze. It was delightful.

"You need a mouse. I hate this little square thing you have to use." She said, frowning.

"I have a wireless mouse at work!" I said, distracted. "It has a magnifying button and a button that goes back when you're browsing! And the roller wheel is completely silent! I love my wireless mouse..."

Mom smiled at me, then nodded toward my laptop.

I deleted some messages, let her read some forwards and forwarded the requested email. "All done?" I asked and she nodded happily.

"I figured it out!" She announced proudly and I cuddled her for a second. Then I clicked over to my email.

For crying out loud, I said to myself, first they ruined Christmas and now my birthday visit? Bastards.

"Oh." I said in soft surprise, smiling broadly as I read the short note again. Then I turned to smile at my mother. "They're going to publish my paper."

Because there was something incredibly special about reading

Dear Dr. [Me],

I am pleased to inform you that your revised manuscript, referenced below, has been accepted for publication in [Journal that required three revisions].

while there were people here who knew of the struggle and saw how bitterly disappointed I'd been over Christmas. I battled hard for this little paper and have no small amount of pride in the work and the text describing it. My paper deserves that journal and they were absolutely right to take it. Yay for them!

After sending many emails so that others could bask in my hard-fought success, I folded laundry while Mom tried to rest. Then Dad and I worked for a couple hours to install the new dog door.

"This one is in the bottom right corner of the hole." I explained through the large hole in my door as I peered through one of the screw holes. If you drill the door in a crooked manner, it's rather difficult to fit the dog door together properly. It eventually required 3 screwdrivers (one tool for each of us, though the drink might have really helped the process), the spatula from my grill, a tiny screwdriver, a hammer and some pliers. We would have employed my electric tool but it was a touch too big.

We did get it together - all of us taking a turn lying on the floor to guide the screws to the proper positions - and it's huge, but rather pretty. I'm quite proud of the new dog door.

We then went for cheese biscuits, baked potato and salad and I found myself happy. Feeling bright and positive and lovely about life in general. While I spared the thought that I would have been miserable had the paper been rejected, I shrugged and decided I'd worry about that later. For now, I'd just enjoy the rush of getting something in press.

We picked up a few items at Lowe's. Chienne has a bad habit of entering Sprout's room, eating the food located behind the door, nudging the door too far closed to reach the kibble she isn't supposed to have, then being trapped in her misbehavior. I scold her harshly in these cases, but it doesn't help. She got trapped and dug at the molding around the door while I was at work yesterday. So we needed spackle and sandpaper to carefully repair the damage (freaking dog - so much work to do because of her and her kitten friend!).

Then we came home and I tried to do some work - answered email from the penguin (3 of his 4 figures are mine - I believe this makes me proud) then declared I was going to nap. Because it was my birthday weekend. (I'm not sure what my excuse is for the other weekends. I just really enjoy sleeping during the day.) Now I'm waiting to go find steak for dinner. And thinking that in addition to some glorious news from Friend (which made me cry - I couldn't be more happy for her), today was a really, really nice collection of hours.

28 just might be my year.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A bit odd. But mostly good.

Today was one of those lovely days where people I love made some gesture to indicate my affection was returned. As I do enjoy being the center of attention, I basked in the experience. I spoke to Brother and Dad on the phone as I commuted to work. Barely resisted telling the woman at the bus stop that I was dressed prettily in honor of turning 28 when I’m sure she was thinking I was insane for wearing a short jumper and thin white shirt. My hair was pulled back, but I allowed curling locks to frame my face. And, of course, my feet were shod in my favorite brown flats with their pretty satin bows. The woman’s glance at my outfit was justified either way you looked at it – I was very cute and freaking freezing.

I boarded the bus and scooted to the window seat as we stopped to pick up more passengers. I found myself staring at one man in particular. Perhaps it was the orange stripe on his jacket. Maybe he was just in my line of vision. He was rather cute. But he glanced up and we looked at each other for just a moment through the window of the bus. I settled my bag more comfortably on my lap and continued to look out the window at the cloudy day. I glanced over when someone sat next to me, then turned away immediately when I saw it was him. I noticed there were seats left, though not many. But what should I say when faced with a cute man of the appropriate age who is seated mere inches away for a 3 minute ride?

I don’t know. I didn’t say anything. I just thought about how Dr. Counselor would be so disappointed in me for not smiling or doing something to indicate interest.

We had almost reached the last stop when my seatmate said something.

“I’m sorry.” I said, turning to him in surprise. “What’s that?”

“My feet are really hot.” He said again, glancing at me quickly before facing forward again.

“Oh.” I smiled. “My legs are very warm too. We must be over a vent.”

“Right.” He responded with a brief smile and we lapsed back into silence.

“We must protect against the cold at all costs.” I offered and received a grin for my effort.

“Of course.” He said, still smiling.

“You have a nice day.” He said softly as we pulled to a stop and everyone rose from their seats.

“You too.” I said equally softly.

A rather meaningless exchange for most people, probably. I took note though because 1) He might have been the tiniest bit interested in me. This is unusual. 2) I wasn’t sure how I felt about the situation. I wanted to talk to him – there was something about him that was interesting – but I was afraid. Some immediate impulse insisted that I face the window instead of smiling in greeting. He might hurt me – decide at some point that I was not worthy of further attention. And I don’t want to feel that pain again.

“By avoiding the bad stuff,” Friend offered when I was huddled in my house on Tuesday, claiming I was pretty numb, “you lose your chance at the good stuff.”

Dr. Counselor agreed. “There are no complete successes.” He lectured after I shared my bus ride defeat. “Nobody always wins in love or science or friendship. Bad things do happen. You will get rejected if you put yourself out there. But – if you truly want a man to love you – you can have that. I know you can.”

We played the chair game – moving from corner to wall to other wall. I was asked to move my chair to Dark Blue. I live there a lot, but I knew that. He told me – in a moment of frustration – that I was free to stay there forever. If I couldn’t be positive or strong – if all I could offer was timid fear – then I didn’t have to return. He couldn’t help me if I wouldn’t make an effort!

I looked at him, unimpressed. “I am trying. I’m just not going to say ‘I will find someone!’ as you request because it might not be true. I won’t do it. Not even as an exercise.”

“OK, I’m not saying that either.” I shook my head a minute later. He’d moved into some feline analogy for some unknown reason. Perhaps because I admired the lynx on his calendar. I really don’t know.

Dark Blue was supposed to be a cat hiding under the bed. “That’s not fun.” He said. “Not the kind of pet you want.”

“I don’t know.” I argued, for today I was arguing and not crying. “I think it’s fine for cats to hide under the bed.”

“All the time?!” He asked, eyebrows raised.

“Well, no. The cat has to eat and play.”

“Exactly! So move here.” I stepped into Yellow. “Now say I am a curious, sleek, gorgeous pussycat.”

At which time I laughed a little, opened my mouth to reword his phrase and shook my head. When he just stared at me after my initial refusal, I shrugged. “Totally not saying anything that even vaguely resembles that statement. I’m sorry.”

I grew tired of his sighing and he likely felt the same of mine. “I don’t want to play anymore.” I said – sick of moving around the room, having him encourage me to talk to the pieces of myself.

“You’re projecting the internal into physical space!” He said.

“I understand.” I said impatiently. “I don’t like it anymore. Enough.”

So we sat again and he asked if I was gay. I stared at him for a moment and said no. “The problem is that I can’t find a man who likes me as much as I like him. It’s finding the right guy. Not that I’m confused about my sexuality.”

“Honestly!” I later said to Friend. “If I were a lesbian, I’d just do that. I think.”

“Complain that you can’t find the right girl instead of guy.” She noted and I nodded.

But then – as if the moving around the room talking to myself, refusing to play into the cat language, answering questions about whether I prefer men or not, it got even more strange.

“I have another client,” Dr. Counselor said, “who shares some of your concerns. He worries he won’t find love and marriage. And he’s nearing 40.”

He’d asked earlier how old I was after giving me a hug and offering me a bottle of water as a birthday gift. (He didn’t have anything else, he explained when I tried to refuse the Dasani.) “You look young.” He said. “The dress is above your knees. Your hair is in a ponytail. Let me see your shoes.”

I pointed my toe out and smiled. “They have bows on them!” I explained, and he smiled.

“Just then,” he pounced, “you were bright and happy and young. Very open and sweet. That’s who you are.”

“I hope things work out for him.” I offered of his male client. I understand it can be tough for men to date. I feel for them.

“I told him about you.” Dr. Counselor said.

“OK.” I offered, confused.

“You might like him. Is 40 too old for you?”

“I don’t know.” I shrugged. “Maybe. I guess it depends on the person. Do you want me to have lunch with him?”

“I’m not a matchmaker!” He laughed, and I raised my eyebrows in question.

“OK.” I said again. “Well, good luck to him.”

“How could we get you two together?” He mused. “In a professional way that doesn’t compromise your privacy?”

“I don’t know.” I said, not really caring. “I’m good at blind dating. I don’t know enough people to turn down friends. But it doesn’t really matter either. I’m fine either way.”

“So I could give him your email address? Just say you’re someone I know?”

“Sure.” I said easily.

“Will you do me a favor?” He asked near the end of the session that was more about me being stubbornly pessimistic than him being a bit strange.

“It really is going to depend on the favor.” I said.

“Will you invite me to your wedding?”

I stared at him for a moment, then smiled. “Sure,” I said. “you’re more than welcome to come.”

I returned to my office to find Ken, the grad student who shares my wall, had left me a post-it. Bright yellow, it said “Happy Birthday!” with a scrawled happy face underneath.

“A post-it card?!” I cooed when I walked in. He looked up and smiled. “Thank you!” In addition to being older than I am, Ken returned from lunch with a Starbucks gift certificate. Which was very sweet and unexpected and lovely. It’s nice to share an office with such a man.

In addition to the emails and comments – from friends on and offline – that made me smile with pleasure, I received phone messages and a tremendous amount of work to try to finish today. Friend offered Thai food (delicious panang curry) and I returned home to clean a bit in preparation of my parents’ arrival. I sent email to the penguin to finish up Part 1 (of many) of Project H. Then I talked to Rachel for hours. I brought my Infra-red door (very impressed with this website – free shipping that was insanely fast.) inside and paid some bills.

It was a good day. I felt pretty. Hopeful about work. Assured that I matter to the people most important to me. I enjoyed the well wishes from people I enjoy reading online - I really do like you all very much. Perhaps I’m learning more than I think through this post-doctoral work. Regardless, if I didn’t have a blog, where would my therapy stories go? I hope eventually I stop having them – that I find the strength in myself to encourage and guide and support. But for now? I have a feeling you can expect more weekly weirdness for a little longer.


I kept waking up from a heavy sleep, momentarily confused when my stomach hurt upon opening my eyes. Then I remembered that I couldn't find Sprout before I went to bed. Without evidence that he was safely inside (he can go outside until I go to bed, at least until the Infra-red dog door arrives this weekend), I couldn't risk locking him out. I kept telling myself he was certainly fine - just wandering around or hunting more ick - and slept without him curled on the corner of my bed.

When I looked at the clock for the third time, it was nearing 2:00. As I pulled the covers under my chin and tried to relax, I realized he was in trouble if he hadn't made his way back inside. It's cold out and he's but a tiny cat. So I got up, disturbing a sleepy Chienne in the process, and roamed the house silently, looking for a stripey feline.

In what felt like a strange dream, I opened the back door and flipped on the patio light, shivering in the cold as I peered around the fenced area. I didn't see him and despaired that he'd gotten lost on an adventure and grew too cold trying to find his way home. Entering the house again, I methodically made my way through the house, checking the back of the armchair, under the bed in his room, the guest bathtub where he sometimes plays.

"Oh, Sprout." I said forlornly as I stood in my bedroom, looking at the spot where he typically spends the night. Then I turned to see him emerge - heavy-lidded and sleepy - from the master bathroom. He allowed me to hold him, purring comfortingly as I stroked his fur. He was warm and safe and jealousy finally drove the dog from beneath the covers as she watched her kitten friend get copious amounts of cuddles.

I think I have a strong tendency to worry. And I rather enjoy the rush of relief I feel when things are OK. So instead of saying I started my birthday feeling scared my kitten had frozen to death, let's start the day when I was caught in that delicious place between sleep and wakefulness, the dog warming my feet and the cat purring near my ear. Because that was lovely. And instead of rather dreading this day as I've been doing, let's just hope it's a happy one.

So far, Mom, Brother and Pastor have offered their birthday wishes and I found myself cooing over them and knowing people care that I'm officially 28 (though I think I was born around noon. Cord wrapped around my tiny neck, Mom wanted a C section anyway, went straight from the doctor to the hospital, perfect baby arrives, blah blah blah). In addition, I have received bloggy emails that I enjoyed tremendously. So given that I don't tend toward announcing "It's my birthday!" so people can be happy for me, I think I'm giving it a shot this year. If it's not too much trouble, someone can wish me success at work (first author publications, experiments that go smoothly, collaborators who play nicely), time with friends and family, appreciation for moments that go right and the ability to release and ignore times that go wrong, or the ability to pray effectively. If that doesn't work, there's always the hope that I find someone to love who loves me in return (and all the fun stuff that goes along with that), health (both physical and mental), lots of laughter, interesting blog posts that are entertaining to write, good site stats...

If it was your birthday, I'd wish all of the above for you. :)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

In the moment

Dad spent time in the hospital in Fall, 2000. He had a heart attack the night before classes were due to begin, so I skipped a majority of that first week as I spent time in a large structure downtown, waiting for Dad to get better after an emergency angioplasty that had left him with about 75% functionality in his heart.

He had been on a ventilator since his procedure performed late Monday night and lasting into Tuesday morning. He had since opened his eyes and watched us as we spoke to him. Would squeeze our hands tightly as he cried upon seeing us after we’d been gone a short time. He hated being attached to machines though and would often seek attention to motion at the tube down his throat. He’d make a face and gesture that he wanted it out. We’d tell him we knew – that we were asking people – that we’d have them remove it as soon as possible.

I entered the room one morning after spending the night at home – I curled around our german shepherd and accepted the comfort of her dense coat and sympathetic personality. I woke on the living room floor, the same spot as I’d knelt then laid flat in order to cry. I showered and changed clothes, then went back to the hospital to the tiny room with a single glass wall opposite the one containing a window. Mom was slumped over in a chair, sleeping fitfully, so I quietly moved toward the bed.

Dad’s eyes opened to regard me and he reached for my hand. I wrapped all 10 of my fingers around his palm, blinking back tears as I squeezed.

“Hi, Daddy.” I said softly. “Did you sleep?”

He shrugged in response. Motioned to the bustle taking place on the other side of his glass wall. I turned to look at the nurses and patients and doctors as morning rounds would soon begin.

“Are you feeling any better this morning?” I asked. He shook his head just a little and motioned to his mouth. “I know you don’t like the tube.” I said gently. “I think they’re going to take it out today. I’ll ask when we see the doctor.” He nodded and closed his eyes, opening them only to cough. I kept one of my hands on his and brushed away tears with another.

“Just breathe.” I said. “That’s all you have to do right now. Pull air in, then push it out. Don’t fight the machine – just let it help you breathe.” I waited until he closed his eyes then let my own drift shut. I matched the rhythm of my breathing to his and just focused on the soft sounds as our lungs took in oxygen.

In utter helplessness, we spent time with God. Not praying with words – at least I didn’t – but standing in His presence as I felt Him match his breathing to ours as we stood in a CICU room on a sunny morning in late August. In those minutes, I wasn’t worried about when the tube would come out, though I hoped it would be soon. I didn’t think about where I should be at school. I had no worry for Brother as he slept in a waiting room full of strangers down the hall. I didn’t wonder when the nurses would be in to check on us. All we had to do was breathe. The rest would figure itself out and when the time came to act, I would somehow know what to do.

I was reminded of those moments as I listened to Prayer on my commute to and from work today. God’s mercy flows from the highest point to the lowest. Sometimes our strength separates us from His power and when we are the most needy is often when we can access the most help. It’s not a how-to manual on prayer, but rather a set of explanations on how prayer is considered so important in people’s lives, yet is often such an unsatisfying activity. I like it – I needed to hear it. I think I need to focus on the given moment more and the overall goal a bit less. In these days – when I’m inexplicably struggling pretty damn hard – I just need to breathe. And focus on the little moments that make up a day.

Before Work
I had a few errands to run this morning. My garbage service irritated me before Christmas, so I let them know – quiet haughtily, actually – that I no longer wished to work with them. The dump isn’t far from my home, so I would take care of my trash on my own. It’s rather inconvenient though. Smelly. I put it off until I really must remove my garbage, so I am – as Friend pointed out – punishing myself far more than I am my former garbage people.

“Is there a place for aluminum cans?” I asked the man who supervises when I arrived this morning. He always sits on a stool behind the middle of the green dumpsters. The far left one is for cardboard, then there are two for standard garbage. I had two small bags of garbage, a tiny bag of cardboard, then another bag of diet soda cans. I had properly placed all but the aluminum.

“Are they empty?” He asked, and when I nodded, he tapped a plastic bin in front of him. “Right here.” He advised and I reached for the bag in my trunk, emptying it where directed, then smiled and offered my thanks.

He just stays there – dawn to dusk. Five days a week. Watching people drive in and leave what they no longer want. Enforces the organizational structure. Answers questions when needed. But mostly he sits peacefully and watches. Smiling when smiled at, observing quietly otherwise. I sometimes have seen him get up to push a button that compacts the trash, making room for others to leave their items. Other times he’ll poke with a stick to settle the bags more securely.

After stopping to get gas, I proceeded to work. The bus driver saw me moving across the parking lot rather quickly in my brown flats with their pretty bows. She pulled around the corner and just as I sighed, thinking I’d have to wait until the next one came around, she opened the door and paused as I walked faster to meet her.

“Thank you.” I said breathlessly as I boarded the empty vehicle, took a seat in the front row and crossed my legs. We picked up two more passengers, making three other stops where nobody got on or off. She smiled and said “you’re welcome” when I expressed my gratitude again before departing at my destination.

Life is monotonous, I decided. Poke at then compact the garbage. Drive the same route in the same campus to take people from their cars to their offices. Re-do experiments and re-write papers. Just because it’s superficially boring or seems pointless, I decided, doesn’t mean it’s not valuable in the larger scheme. If you do a job where you can think your thoughts and provide for your family, that’s profoundly important. In recognizing that for others, perhaps there’s hope in seeing it in myself.

“If you don’t have anything to talk about in therapy,” I wrote after I arrived at my desk this morning, “ask about the names of the chairs.”

“I didn’t have to ask.” She reported an hour later. I eagerly await her description of the event and hope it arrives soon.

“You’re not supposed to cry in yellow.” I told her after she gave me meager details. “If you view my diagram, I think you’ll see that crying should be done in Dark Blue. I spent most of my time in Dark Blue. Yellow just felt…foreign. What God wants me to be – this blissful creature in tune and at peace with everything around her? Doesn’t sound like me.”

That's reason enough to dread therapy tomorrow, I think.

I greeted people as they entered the conference room, then selected two slices of pizza. Shaking my head over the grease content, I found a napkin and viewed the title slide of someone’s PowerPoint presentation.

“I wanted everyone to introduce themselves to Dawn.” Boss said from his seat at my right. “She should be here soon, then we’ll get started.”

She entered the room and smiled as we all dutifully offered our names and areas of specialization. She sat at the end of the table near the door and I turned my back to her as I viewed the screen on which the presentation would be projected. I tried mightily to focus my attention, but had only moments of success.

In truth, I’ve spent some time lately thinking about Winnie. How she’ll fit in my book, how so much potential was lost, how I can’t really be angry at her for leaving so I’ll instead focus that disappointment on the one who did decide to go. I wondered how her family did this Christmas. If their loss occupied all of their thoughts or if they found ways to enjoy old traditions while incorporating new ones. I prayed they were well.

When the lights came on and the projector was turned off, I turned to face the center of the table. When we were all dismissed and rose to leave, I took a breath and went to say hello to Dawn. She is – in many ways – the opposite of Winnie. Smaller – in stature and in spirit. She’s quiet and polite, her smile is more refined than joyful. I couldn’t picture her admiring my pretty shoes, sharing her struggles to make me feel less alone or coming to distract me before I had a talk. Winnie left an empty space. Dawn won’t fill it. She will, however, make room for herself, which is exactly as it should be.

“Have you moved in yet?” I asked her. She’ll be using a desk diagonal from my own in the large-ish room I use.

“Only some.” She responded. “I brought in a clock, but the rest of my stuff is at home.” I smiled and shared stories of the multiple times I’ve moved since my arrival at my current institution and told her to let me know if she needed anything. I went back to the office to see her clock – it was shaped like a pink flower as it hung prettily on the far wall. I looked around at my items – the teddy bear holding a felt flower, my magnet toy, the violet, my calendar of North American landscapes, my photos of family and friends. I liked her clock, I decided, and told her so.

We talked about her project as she sat at her desk. I moved some journals out of a file drawer for her. They weren’t mine so I put them in the library. When she asked about being a woman in an all-male department, I paused to consider her seriously. I offered an honest opinion on the subject and wondered if she’d disagree when she’d been here for some time. I listened to her teaching philosophies and her reasons for returning to research. I laughed and admitted I have no idea when she asked what I’d be doing when I left here. I showed her where the office supplies were kept and asked if she needed post-its, pens, pencils, paper, paper clips, or any other item beginning with a p and belonging on a desk.

I sent an email to Maria – she’ll be using the desk directly behind mine. My little office is filling with people. I think that can only be good. I sent a summary of Project H to the penguin. I looked at an article from GradStudent (already in my office) and pondered a statistic with which I’m unfamiliar. I did some reading and looking and we talked about what we thought these people were trying to measure.

Driving home, I listened to more thoughts on prayer. Thought of standing next to my dad and helping him breathe. Decided that being in the moment – accepting when there was humor or joy or breathtaking pain – was a good strategy for now. At the very least, today was better than yesterday. And that’s something.