Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Stories with Links

I had just curled up in bed for yet another nap - I’m painfully lethargic of late - and my bedroom was cool and rather dark. The sheets were smooth and clean and the Horton I got yesterday from Kohl’s was soft where I’d tucked him under my chin to cuddle. I’d just decided that I’d tuck the plush elephant in, take a photo and write a blog post entitled, “Horton Takes A Nap.”

Then, as my mind drifted from topic to topic as it likes to do, I realized that several situations have recently presented themselves which neatly update old posts I’ve written. And with several new readers of whom I’m fond, I tend to preen and flutter by linking excessively to stuff I’ve written in the past that they might (or might not, more likely) want to read. But when thinking of the venerable Black Knight or the exquisite Citronella, a rather irrepressible character called PhysioProf or the delightful Bean-Mom, or Life Member, whose writing is so painful I have to wait for the right moments to read his posts, I decided some linking was in order after all. So Horton is alone down the hall and I’ve returned to the loveseat to do some writing with some general hope of something coherent as a result.

Dad and His Job, or Lack Thereof
“I just wanted to let you know I was unemployed,” he said last night after I told him that Friend and I had taken Prettiest Cat to the vet, that they weren’t sure what was wrong and we were going for medicine. I was tired, I told him, since we’d driven around all day, shopping and running errands and having an incredibly pleasant day despite being distracted by thoughts of Prettiest Cat.

“You finally quit,” I breathed and Friend glanced up with eyebrows raised.

“Did your mom have to bail him out of jail?” she asked quietly and I shrugged as I continued to listen. Dad has a bit of a temper and, when confronted, has grown violent at various points in his life.

“How are you?” I asked. “Did you get terribly angry?”

“I’m fine,” he said, sounding odd, but not too bad. He’s worked there for fifteen years or more, I thought. How strange to walk away from something you’ve done for that long and never return after making a quick decision about it. “I was mad at first, but I calmed down.”

“Well,” I said last night, “I think it’s a good thing. It’ll be better for you now, I think.” I called again this morning and caught him while he was out in the garage. He told me he’d been to the scrap yard already and turned in some copper he’d been saving. He got $60 for it. Then he decided he’d organize the garage a little while he thought about what else he’d do today. And I frowned because he sounded so lost. What gifts I have for manipulating people come from my father. He has this ability to make me feel sorry for him even when his circumstances are all his fault.

He told me what happened and I nodded along, not particularly surprised. Tension has been building on both sides for a long time now. Dad’s not happy and makes little money and works very hard. The problem is that he’s not very, um, diplomatic about stating his concerns. He’s insulting and condescending and seems not to understand that people don’t like that. Yet they don’t, so they snap at him, and he’s offended and angry so he snaps back. So a simple conversation with his boss about training yet another person to do his job while he takes my mom and nieces on a four-day trip next weekend ended up with his boss threatening him with suspension for being grossly insubordinate and Dad’s subsequent resignation. Effective immediately.

“They sent a regional manager to talk to me and she asked how they could make me stay. I told her they could pay me - I haven’t had a raise in five years and that’s not how you manage people. She said they couldn’t do that right now and I said I was done. So I shook hands with the people I liked and told them to mail me my check and 401K. I’m not going back. Your mom got me back on her health insurance this morning.”

I nodded while I thought for a moment then opened my mouth to speak. “I really do think this is good, Daddy,” I told him firmly. “You went to sleep at 7:00 at night and were up at 2AM - that’s not normal.” I shuddered at the very thought. “You were stressed and angry a lot and you need to take better care of yourself.” I vividly remembered - and you can too if you click the link - watching his eyes roll back in his head. Curling my fingers around his hand and timing my breathing to his as the ventilator worked at his side. I don’t want to do that again. I really, really, really don’t want to do that again.

“I slept until 7:30 this morning,” he said proudly. “It was light out when I woke up!”

“Isn’t that nice?” I asked, smiling as he pulled me from dark memories. I listened and offered encouraging noises when he talked about part-time jobs and buying an old car to fix up and watching the girls a little more during the week. Over the past years, I’ve wondered how long he has left and always worry before his annual cardiology appointments. So this is good. Perhaps I’ll now worry a bit less.

It’s always with deep sorrow.
A friend lost a colleague this week. Within my relatively short time in academic circles, I’ve lost but one person with whom I worked. I happened to write about much of the process - being told, attending her memorial service (could be the saddest post I've written), the subsequent therapy sessions devoted handling the loss - and, as pain tends to do, the ache has eased over time. Yet I still miss Winnie. I still hurt for the time she didn’t spend laughing with her children or making some important discovery. She was bright and funny and wonderful and the department lost something profound when she didn’t return.

I don’t mention her a lot because I’m ashamed to say I haven’t kept track of her husband and children. The post-doc position wasn’t very kind to her and while I was too new to the job myself to know that expectations were out of line in her case, I still feel guilty that I didn’t help more. I still hate that it didn’t seem like a very big deal that she died. That I sometimes have to explain in clipped tones to whom I’m referring when I mention her. But her violet is still doing very well - I bought it a new pot that offers continuous moisture and it offers me pretty purple blooms. Jill comes to look at it sometimes and tells me I’m taking good care of the plant.

I keep thinking of what to offer said friend, though my condolences and offers of prayers were sincere and quickly expressed. It’s difficult - the understanding of what the world lost and what good a person was doing and what brilliance he or she was capable of exhibiting. I was showering as I thought about it, frowning deeply as I rinsed the shampoo from my hair, and realized that my friend is never shy about offering an opinion. If he’d had a comment for his colleague, it would have been expressed whether it was positive or negative. When you love people like that - openly and without fear - there’s comfort in knowing that they were aware of your appreciation. That’s lovely.

As far as losing someone who is smart and important and a source of laughter and thought and delight at work, that’s sad. Very, very sad.

Oh, and…!
I frowned and paused, facing the manager of human resources during my interview, and pondered a third thing my colleagues might say of me. I let my thoughts touch on my interactions with Penguin and Dr. Icing and Dr. Mentor and brightened.

“I answer emails right away!” I told the man across the desk and he grinned back at me. “I do get that comment a lot from people - appreciation or expressions of admiration for how quickly I get back to folks with questions. I’m pretty amazing.”

“I had a colleague like that,” he mused, still smiling. “We’d time him and he’d rarely take longer than five minutes. He didn’t know anything most of the time, but he wanted us to know that he was working and all over it and answering email with his Blackberry!” We laughed for a moment and I shook my head.

“I don’t have a mobile email device,” I said sadly. “So people are safe for hours at a time while I’m away from my computer.”

“Is it hurting you?” he asked conspirationally and I giggled and shook my head.

“Not so much,” I replied and told him I was enjoying talking with everyone there too much to pine for email. “But,” I continued, “I enjoy my collaborators and make sure I appreciate how important their priorities are. So it works well that I have a compulsion to keep my inbox clean and get back to them very soon. Sometimes I can answer questions right away. Other times I need to let them know that a task will take some time or that I can’t take a meeting until next week. But I do communicate a lot with people who send me email.”

“Oh, no,” I moaned last night to Friend. “Penguin sent a note and needs me to comment on this second round of revisions. And I’m tired!” For the record, we dropped off the Prettiest Cat at 10, then went book shopping. Friend made me stop when I couldn’t carry anymore and we returned to town to feed her other cats. We had some lunch and flitted off to some quaint little shops where we bought bags full of bath products.

“I take more baths than you,” she said and I looked in at my four bath orbs and a giant cupcake-looking fizzie. Then I nodded. We stopped at a pricey toy store where I mooned over Horton toys until she reminded me that Kohls has them for $5. I looked at her with hopeful eyes and tugged her toward the car. We each acquired a Horton - the last two they had - and went to WalMart for dog treats and dual-layer CDs. I sat in the car outside the fabric store, loving the idea of making a reviewer voodoo doll, but exhausted by the thought of looking for fabric and yarn and needles. Yet we trudged through and returned to the vet where we waited until Prettiest Cat was finally allowed to come home.

“Too tired,” I said after greeting Chienne and flopping on the loveseat. “I know he asked me to do it tonight, but I can do it tomorrow.” Then I opened the document anyway and began crafting my responses. Pleased with my thirty minutes of effort, I sent it off and went to sleep. When I woke after midnight, coughing so hard it hurt, he had written back and asked for a bit more information. I had to force myself back to sleep without replying immediately. We traded emails this morning and wrapped up the revisions by noon. And he thanked me profusely for my 'instantaneous' replies.

Then I got an email from the company from whom I did the 'no credit for you! Oh, if we're forced, then maybe some credit for you.' project. They want me to do some quality checks on the data they reformatted. I wrote back immediately and said I'd get to it this week. Which I probably should be doing now. Or go sleep with Horton. One of the other.

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