Friday, October 31, 2008

Revelation Delayed

I miss the soap.

I would stand in a small room with a toilet and sink at Post-doctoral Institution and wash my hands, breathing in the pleasant scent that was a bit floral and very clean. Whether I’d sought a quiet place to cry or was simply getting clean, the smell comforted and pleased me. Every time I wash my hands in the prettier restrooms at Industry, I frown over the foamy suds dispensed into my palm. They’re not the right texture. And they smell wrong.

I found myself in the restroom just after 6:00 this morning, yawning as I reached to unlock the door to the stall with a sleepy plan to walk to the sinks. I stilled, hiding when I recognized the voice that was cursing at the flowing water. I scowled and paused, wondering how long I could stall in the stall. Wrinkling my nose, I walked out and greeted WWE. I washed my hands with the soap that’s just wrong and walked back to my desk before heading to the lobby to greet our guests.

I shook hands and offered my standard ‘welcome to Industry!’ spiel. I rather enjoy meeting new people, talking science and learning something new. So when WWE approached me to ask how they’d entered the building without her granting access, I shrugged, wishing I could return to talking to the British guy, one of the five who were there to see us.

“I suppose someone held the door open for them,” I replied when she continued to look at me for a response.

“I never let anyone in,” she gasped with what seemed like real alarm. I blinked at her, opened my mouth to ask why in the world not, and closed it again. It’s clear the two of us disagree on a great many issues.

“Maybe they’re magical,” I offered after a moment. She apparently found my comment much less amusing than I did. I soon found a better audience and rolled a chair closer to my new British friend.

“I took a class in grad school,” I offered as he elaborated on a topic I find rather fascinating and asked a question. He began to explain something about tactile perception and touched me to make a point. I blinked in surprise, looking down at the spot on my upper thigh where he’d rubbed. I wondered why he touched my leg, covered by gray pants, rather than the arm I’d tucked into a soft, blue sweater long before dawn. I shrugged it off, much as I did when he tucked me under his arm and held on while we looked at a piece of equipment.

“What’d you think of him?” WWE asked when our visitors were otherwise engaged.

“British One?” I clarified and when she nodded, I shrugged. “He seems smart – he knows about topics I personally find important. And I think the technique they’re proposing is pretty cool.”

“He seems lecherous,” she decided and I couldn’t help myself from rolling my eyes. “He does!” she insisted and I shook my head at her.

I thought about it a bit as I drove to pick up the piece of my post-doctoral life I miss most of all. It’s not that WWE is a bad person, I decided. She’s actually very smart and quite funny. I’ll even admit that she has good intentions much of the time. Given that we’re both rather intense women, it’s almost natural that we’ll disapprove of the other’s behavior since it’s diametrically opposed.

I’m overly permissive. I tend to touch people on the shoulder or arm as I speak to them. I laugh easily and often. I’m happy when others are content and don’t mind being a bit inconvenienced to make that happen. I’ll flirt with the British visitor because I think he’s smart and like his accent. I’ll go for drinks with another colleague, even if that ‘personal relationship’ makes WWE uncomfortable. I’ll even pause and hold the door open when someone is walking up behind me, smiling when they thank me for my kindness.

I frown at the thought of her pulling the door closed after entering, demanding to see credentials to anyone who gets inside. I don’t like that she makes people – employees and visitors – uncomfortable with her intimidating questions and unrelenting attitude. I find it tiresome that she adheres to some personal code of personal vs. professional and expects me to apply the same rules.

It’s not, I decided as I flipped my phone closed and looped around the airport once more, that one of us is right and the other wrong. We’re just different. And if I don’t mind someone touching my leg while explaining a concept, I should be more accepting of her quirks as well.

“Hi!” I greeted Friend as she hopped in my car with a backpack stuffed with items for her weekend visit. I blinked a few times behind the lenses of my sunglasses, heart utterly happy at seeing someone I love dearly. “Traffic is awful,” I complained soon afterward and we slowly moved toward my house for an hour or so before stopping for dinner.

I miss this, I just thought, way more than soap. Sitting in the same room, keys clicking on separate laptops, thoughts shared as necessary. But she’s here for a couple of days – my first non-family houseguest – and perhaps the comfort inherent in that gesture has allowed me to become more thoughtful and less judgmental about WWE. We’ll see how long it lasts.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Character Flaw

“I hate my job,” I heard her mutter and my lips curved with pure pleasure. I wiped the expression from my face before she entered my office, updating me on a project that had her all aflutter.

You’re worse than I am, I told her silently, cocking my head as I evaluated her. Equally melodramatic and with a strong evil streak, she had the detriment of having an ill-defined role and time enough to self-destruct.

Conversely, I have many responsibilities and a penchant for control. I’m honestly either too busy or too tired (or, well, too hurt from falling down while trying to walk around) to work myself into a proper fit. My last one, I decided, continuing to ignore her in favor of my thoughts, was when she hurt and offended me. I meant to work at getting her fired, I recalled and nearly shook my head. I need to start writing stuff down or these important projects fail to see sufficient progress.

“She was looking for you the other day,” BestWorkBuddy said earlier and I rolled my eyes as she nodded. “I told her you were out and she got very…” she paused while looking for the right word.

“Shrill?” I offered. “Angry? Annoying as hell?” BWB nodded her agreement at my final answer and we returned to the notes we were reviewing after I patted her knee with satisfied affection.

When WWE (worst work enemy) left, having failed to elicit a response from me apart from an impatient stare, I grinned again before returning to my documentation. She deserves to be miserable, I decided. And until I can get some traction on making something bad happen to her, I’m glad she’s being unhappy on her own.

“Hello, dear,” I offered in greeting, having hobbled to a nearby office to drop off some paperwork. “You look good,” I decided after the older woman turned around to acknowledge me. “A bit more rested. How are you?” I asked the last question absently, mind already skipping ahead to the next task at hand while calculating how long it had been since I’d had Advil.

“Oh, no,” I stilled and reached to enfold her in a hug when she said she had to travel home. “I’m so sorry,” I whispered into her shoulder while I rubbed her back.

“We knew it was coming,” she sniffled and I blinked back tears as I nodded, for she'd told me as much weeks ago. People I loved have died after long illnesses though. It made the loss no less shocking or painful. I stood there, holding most of my weight on my right leg, wondering what to say or do and feeling positively awful.

“I’m so sorry,” I said again and she nodded. “Please let me know if there’s anything at all I can do,” I requested softly, wishing I could feel less useless, knowing she was hurting and lost as to how to ease that pain.

I hobbled slowly back to my office, lowering myself carefully into my chair and staring blankly at the screen of my computer. I picked at the cuticle on my thumb and worried the left side of my lower lip between my teeth as I fretted. I was near a revelation along the lines of not wishing misery on others when so much of it was unavoidable. But then WWE pranced by, trying to get the attention of a visiting executive and taking credit for work not her own.

I still hope she gets fired.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Puppies, injuries and miserable pain

“Emily?” I called, having shoved my feet into flip flops and quickly emerging into the chilly morning in sleepy pants and t-shirt. “What’s happened?”

A tiny, tear-stained and tortured face turned up to meet my eyes and she explained between sobs that the puppy had escaped and she had to catch the bus.

“OK,” I said, reaching to smooth her hair. “Go get your bag and wait for the bus. I’ll find Petey.” When she looked both relieved and uncertain, I promised I’d return her young, black lab and set off to do so while she went back to the house that neighbors my own.

I wandered the neighborhood, rubbing my palms briskly up and down my arms in an attempt to warm them against the nearly numbing cold. I called for the growing canine, squinting down streets and letting my gaze drift over wide, unmowed fields, looking for signs of the creature.

“Hey,” I finally said, filled with pleasure and anticipation of heading back to my warm house when I saw him. I opened my mouth to tell the erstwhile pup it was time to go home but instead emitted a short gasp of alarm when my inappropriate shoes failed to find purchase on the slick grass and I began to fall. It happened quickly enough that I didn’t have time to think about catching myself and once I landed on the ground, I was busily reminding myself not to pass out or throw up.

My knee – the left one – has an unfortunate tendency to slip out of its home. I gritted my teeth and waited for the black spots to leave my vision, swallowing hard against nausea, and gave myself a moment before assessing the damage. Tentatively, I pressed my fingertips against my thigh, then calf, then skimmed them gently over my kneecap.

“It’s back in,” I told Petey since he had wandered over, motivated by curiosity more than sympathy, I’d guess. “I think I’m OK. I just need to get us both home.”

Regaining my feet gingerly, I hissed with pain when I tried to support weight on my injured leg. Looking around for some sort of salvation, I cursed the stay-at-home moms who weren’t looking out their windows to help me. Taking another breath, I picked Petey up and wondered how I was going to carry him all the way home, calculated the distance to our destination and began to limp.

I was making tiny sounds of pure misery by the time I reached my house, earning myself puppy kisses on the neck and ear that helped not at all. Using the counter as support, I bent to place Petey on the tile floor of my kitchen and left my forehead pressed against the countertop for a moment, reaching to feel the coolness of the skin on my leg, belied by the heat of injured muscles underneath. I released a sob of intense self-pity and moved through the house, wondering how I could climb the stairs to my bandages and painkillers.

I found my bandages and placed them aside as I searched for narcotics, having made my way to the second floor. I had two Vicodin saved from my last injury and I debated only briefly before leaving one in the bottle and gulping down water to ingest the other. I remained on the bathroom floor, slumped against the side of the bathtub and with my eyes closed as I impatiently awaited the cessation of pain. Some time later, I blinked to view my surroundings again and awkwardly came to my feet, carefully wrapping my knee so everything would stay put.

Hearing the scramble of paws on the main floor, I sat down on the top step and descended, much like Little One sometimes does, on my bottom. I limped toward the phone in the kitchen, calling a neighbor on my list and asking if she’d come put Petey back in his house. She agreed, though her expression changed from cheerful to concerned when she saw me open the door and hand her the dog, Chienne’s leash clipped to his collar. I assured her I was fine, repeating the statement when she returned the leash, and told people at work I was staying home to nurse my aching knee.

“I have,” I told Chienne as she settled by my chair to take a nap, “become injured.” When she didn’t seem to care overly much, I frowned, wanting sympathy. “Stupid dog,” I muttered, unsure if I was speaking to my unfeeling canine or the fuzzy cause of this whole episode next door.

Dogs and kneecaps should stay in their homes.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


After sleeping rather late and waking feeling luxuriously rested, I drank some coffee flavored with pumpkin and spices and watered my plants. I made some decorating decisions, wished I had a loveseat in the living room and did a bit more work.

"Would you like to go for a walk?" I asked the sleeping canine when I walked back upstairs to my bedroom. She perked up and stumbled off the mattress and to the floor while I fetched socks and put on shoes. Leashed clipped to collar, we set off into the sunny, windy morning to admire the bit of nature the surrounds my neighborhood.

I like the cold, I decided, shivering as I savored the smooth slide toward winter. I felt my muscles warm and loosen as we wandered briskly down paths and sidewalks, smiling and greeting other pedestrians as we moved. I thought of work priorities, sighed over lack of romantic prospects and spared a moment to feel grateful that I finally had a weekend with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Despite the time spent working, I felt relaxed and lovely.

I picked up some litter as we paused to stare at the geese floating in a pond. The wind tugged locks of hair from my ponytail and I tucked them behind my ears with my free hand, holding trash and leash with the other. With a toss of her ears, Chienne began to trot again and I obediently followed her.

"Relax," Adam advised when I wrote to ask him a question late last night and complained over the hours I'd spent doing training. "Everything will wait until later."

"Put the computer away," Henry scolded from the west coast when I asked for material.

"Go do something fun!" Marlie insisted after I replied to the request for help she'd sent.

I sighed a bit at each reminder to find some balance - were they not all online as well? It's not like I'm the only one working! But I felt good as I tugged Chienne out of people's flowerbeds and watched the leaves blow in the wind. A bit of a break is necessary and delightful, I reminded myself firmly. Upon returning home, I realized I wasn't dreading Monday nearly as I much as I was last week. A peek at my calendar (while doing just a bit more work!) assured me I can accomplish a few things this week rather than just putting out fires.

And pretty soon, if I'm very lucky, it might start to snow.

Swear Like a Sponge

“Son of a barnacle,” I said, channeling SpongeBob as I try to cut back on the cursing. I almost said the f word in front of my boss the other day when I was only mildly annoyed over something. So I need to retrain myself to use more mild language.

“Seaweed and scallops and…” I trailed off as I stared at my 66% score on the screen, knowing I needed 85% to pass the soft-shell-crab quiz to document my online training. “Shit,” I seethed, forgetting to censor in favor of glaring with true menace at my work laptop as it persisted in thwarting me.

I ended up with a paper and pen, carefully writing down the answers I selected and – much like that game on the Price is Right – I decided to change only one at a time, all the while coming up with aquatic curses when my score didn’t reach the appropriate level.

Seahorse!” I erupted with unreasonable dismay when I got to 80%, only 1 question being done with this particular course so I could move on to the 20 others that awaited me.

“Who the coral-reef writes these dorsal-fin questions?” I muttered, but my face lit with utter joy when a passing score appeared. I forgot that I was forsaking my weekend to deal with work that I don’t enjoy and basked in the glory of enduring a difficult ordeal. Then I sighed, went to get some orange juice and clicked on the next line and tried to stuff more scuba-snorkel facts in my brain.

For fun, I worked on a presentation. I answered email. I left voice mails for business calls I didn’t have time to return during the week. And I mowed my lawn.

I came up to go to bed, trying to keep with my ‘up by 6AM!’ schedule, but realized I hadn’t made time to go over proofs. My paper arrived yesterday and I glanced through it, wanting to weep. I was at my limit, faced with looming deadlines on asinine training, pages of email growing impatient for answers and projects I wanted to do but had no time to even consider. I ached with the need to rest last night, so I walked upstairs and curled sadly into pillows, wondering why I couldn’t pull off a bit of balance.

I woke feeling brighter this morning, tackling the quizzes with good-natured ocean-themed swearing and, when I realized I wasn’t quite tired at 10PM, opening a pdf to read carefully through the words I’d written.

“It’s good,” I decided, for I am proud of the work and pleased that it got accepted into this particular journal. But I don’t mind that it’s over. I think.

After writing Adam a note that said I’ve decided he doesn’t pay me enough to deal with this online quiz stuff, I returned to the list of items I hoped to accomplish and sighed.

“Stingray,” I sighed and clicked on one last link.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Eat, sleep, breathe

“Let’s go get dinner,” I suggested around 6:30, having finished with our experiment. Well, it was his experiment. I was observing and developing timelines and troubleshooting.

“I’m OK,” he demurred and while I appreciated the excuse to head home, I insisted that we go chat over food. I wanted to talk about projects – he has knowledge I covet – and wanted to take advantage of the chance to get to know each other. I like the scientists who share my focus. And talking politics and family, travel and work gossip made me relax and laugh before I dropped him at his hotel and proceeded to my house.

I think, I decided when I blinked myself awake and put on another sweater and pants while looking at the ones I wore yesterday lying discarded on the floor, that I’ve never been so motivated to do good work. I don’t know if it’s the money – though it’s likely part of it – or how competitive the atmosphere or my fondness for my colleagues. But I want to do this well.

So though I got home around 8:30 tonight and will need to be back in the labs by 6:30 tomorrow, I remain focused and productive. But I am glad Friday is almost upon me. Between my visit elsewhere at the beginning of the week, a single (long) day to catch up and then a visitor here (at my request) to close things out, I’m getting tired.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

13 Hours of Dedication

I plodded down the main hallway toward the lobby. Darkness had long since fallen outside and I spared a tired moment to feel grateful I’d left the building for lunch.

“Wine, please,” I told the waitress after a very busy morning (for me, not necessarily her). “Something white, I think.” My dining companion nodded his approval and I perused the menu before deciding on chicken salad. I began to sip when my glass arrived, enjoying the golden liquid as it warmed my throat just enough to notice.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever had a drink with lunch before,” I confided, already reaching eagerly toward my glass again.

“Good time to start,” he decided and I nodded in agreement before wondering if I could have two glasses.

Probably good I didn’t, I thought as I giggled again during a meeting. I tend to get a bit happy when I’m tipsy and though I certainly didn’t feel drunk, everything did seem Really Funny. But then Adam said Japan wasn’t part of Asia.

“What?” I chortled and stopped when I realized he was serious. “Oh,” I breathed a bit too dramatically. “May I declare that Missouri is no longer part of America?”

“Why Missouri?” Marlie asked, head cocked with curiosity. I opened my mouth to answer and closed it while I thought.

“I don’t know,” I finally admitted. “I like Missouri, I guess. Maybe I think it should be it’s own entity.” Then I started to giggle again while Adam told me I’d better gain some skill if I was going to imbibe during the noon hour.

Two meetings, one paper and many emails later, I realized I was returning phone calls after 5PM. I had more questions and decided to carry on with my work before heading home.

Twelve hours after I arrived, I decided to head home to my neglected puppy and cat. I glanced at the note stuck to my bag, reminding me that another group was visiting and where they’d be running experiments all evening.

Screw that, I thought sleepily. I’m going home – I’m so tired and I’ve done enough. So it was with some surprise that I walked through the lobby toward the labs rather than to the door that would place me outside and closer to my car. Why aren’t we leaving? Part of my brain inquired as I scanned my ID to unlock a series of doors.

“Hi,” I said when I walked in a room and greeted three men. “I’m Katie.”

“Hey,” I bent to cuddle Chienne about an hour later. I sat in my new chair and wrapped my arms around a giant, wriggling dog. I rested my cheek on her back while I said I’d missed her too. “It was a long day,” I told her, though she wanted more petting and less talking. “But I think I’m getting rather dedicated to my job.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Unwelcome surprise

“Kids and their music,” I said on a long-suffering sigh. “Who puts that word in a song title?” A colleague’s son – all of 17 years old – watched Chienne while I was away. I returned home to every single light I own burning brightly and wondered if he’d been afraid or just loved wasting energy. With a shrug, I wandered through rooms, flipping switches and pulling cords and opening the blinds so that natural light could replace that from bulbs.

I sat down at the computer, having taken both laptops with me on the trip (Yes. I am that cool.) and saw a new file on the desktop.

When I was in college, I went to a bachelor auction that a sorority was throwing. One of the men decided it would be fun to drop his pants. While most girls squealed with glee and shifted to get a better view, I blushed and immediately dropped my gaze to the back of the chair in front of me. I don’t know why – he was a very cute boy and it seems I’d want to look – but I didn’t. Organizers quickly asked him to cover himself again so it was a limited-time-opportunity sort of thing.

So when the file opened in a movie player and the opening image was a dark-haired young lady seated in a rather unladylike way and without any clothing on a wooden chair in some sort of wooded area, I looked away from the screen. “For crying out loud,” I gasped and closed the file, giving her the privacy she needed to, um, enjoy her outdoor activity.

“Huh,” I said to Chienne, not sure how to react to such a finding. It’s not that I abhor pornography. Given a person of that age, I think sexual curiosity is pretty natural. Having access to a house and high speed internet all to yourself, perhaps I’d have done the same thing in high school. But I would have done a better job at covering my tracks!

“He could have at least deleted the file,” I told the dog before turning to face the computer again. That’s when I saw the box of Kleenex sitting on my filing cabinet next to the desk. “Oh, ew,” I moaned with dismay. “I so don’t want to know this!”

“Would you rather it be your desk or bed?” Friend asked as I shared my disturbing story. At which point, I paused from spritzing cleaner on my keyboard and mouse and went to strip the bed so I could wash sheets.

Monday, October 20, 2008

…before I sleep

“Seventy-six more miles?” I whined, talking to Anna on my cell phone as I sped toward my destination. “I’m ready now,” I continued to pout.

“Is there traffic?” she asked and I replied in the negative.

“I should be there in about an hour,” I said and admired the landscape – the trees were quite pretty once I crossed the river that’s mighty. It grew darker around me as I grew closer to my hotel, finally locating the building, handing the keys to the valet and checking in.

I poked experimentally at the bed, pleased with the fluffy comforter and adjustable mattress settings. I chose the office chair over other furniture, and began to work. I sent emails and reviewed my talk. I answered my work phone and made final arrangements for my visit. I crawled into bed rather early, watching television until my eyelids grew heavy and I drifted off to sleep, snuggled into pillows and under blankets.

I woke with a gasp of alarm just after midnight, not knowing where I was or why I was here. I looked around and sighed as I eased back into my nest, having jerked upright upon being disturbed. I reached for the alarm clock and pulled it closer, unable to see the numbers without my glasses. I left my fingers curled around the edge of the plastic timekeeper and calculated how much time was left to sleep.

“Six hours,” I murmured, trying not to think too hard. If my meeting was at 8, I planned despite myself, I should acquire breakfast at 7:30. I was going to shower, but not wash my hair. I’d wear glasses, not contacts and just iron my hair straight.

Seven hours,” I corrected myself, deciding I could sleep longer. With a smile, I relaxed into dreams again, but rolled out of bed before 6 anyway.

“90 minutes,” I told myself silently before offering a firm mental reminder to stay focused on the topic at hand. I took more notes, asked more questions and offered more answers. And the time passed quickly before I had to walk across campus.

“I don’t want to keep you much longer,” I said, seeing that only 13 minutes remained of my lecture that I turned into a conversation with the people who crowded the hall. “But I did want to chat about works in progress and get a bit of feedback in our overall direction.” The man in the middle caught my eye again, nodding encouragingly and I grinned in his direction. It was a friendly crowd – laughing loudly at jokes, asking good questions (only some of which I could answer) and offering excellent advice.

“One more,” I told my reflection as I washed my hands. “You’re doing well,” I offered a compliment, pleased I wasn’t utterly exhausted, but recognizing that I was ready to be done. But I took the last meeting, nodded when the woman said she appreciated how serious I was and how many notes I was taking, and wrote some more issues and questions down.

“My head is bothering me,” I told my escort. “Can we get dinner now?” He’d spoken of getting some work done and while I wanted to beg off the whole event, I knew I had to share a meal to finish the day of making nice with the important people. They were delightful though and I did get some delightful soup and mediocre carrot cake.

“Almost there,” I shifted my bag to my other shoulder as I walked, wincing at the weight of my stupid PC laptop and the sketchbook I carry for notes. I tugged the door open and walked through the lobby to the elevator that would carry me to my room. I folded the clothes I removed, placing them neatly in my suitcase. I swallowed two pills for my head and showered until the pain eased. I’m now in pajamas and with a new presentation to make.

One more day and a drive home to go.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Chienne's Search & Rescue

If you visited and I showed you the basement, we could walk down a flight of stairs clad in soft, shaggy carpet. Upon reaching the landing, there would be two steps to either side of us. Moving down the pair to the left would leave you in the unfinished half, looking at the storage and laundry space. If instead we turned right, we'd continue on the carpet toward the living area - oversized sofa and loveseat, lots of plump pillows and bookcases filled with novels.

About midway along the center wall, there is an entrance to a bathroom. Said room has two doors - one opens to the living half, one to the storage/laundry half. Therefore, if I stood in the bathroom and was talking to you as you stood in the living area, and I then closed the door for some reason, you would not be cruelly separated from me forever. You could simply walk back toward the stairs, over the landing and approach the bathroom from the door that remained open to the storage room.

Chienne doesn't get that.

She's pretty much a guaranteed presence in the bathroom with me so we often work on tricks. I have her sit or offer her paw to shake and then I praise her lavishly and rub her favorite spot. I decided that it might be cool to see how long it took her to figure out the double entrances to the bathroom. I mean, there are clearly two doors and she's walked through the room multiple times in the couple months we've lived here. How hard could it be?

Really Freaking Hard.

I go in the bathroom and she follows. I coax her out one of the doors and close it, taking one last glimpse of a befuddled and very sad face. Then I call for her. And she begins to howl with the pain and frustration of our separation, sitting just outside the closed door. I giggle for a moment (because I'm a bad person and rather bored of late) and then I move into the opposite room so my voice is closer to the stairs. The howling stops and I can imagine her floppy ears perking with interest. Then she runs toward me with the joy only dogs seem to achieve and we reunite with many cuddles and compliments.

After three times of this same process, I thought she'd certainly have it figured out. Pretty simple - door shuts, I call, she runs over stairs and to opposite door, gets to see me! But, no. Steps 1 and 2 went as planned and she did make it to the stairs. But something must have distracted her since she went bounding up them rather than just over the landing.

I frowned, realizing neither of us was that bright. Chienne noisily hunted for me throughout the house. I heard her climb the stairs to the bedrooms then scramble back down them. She ran circles on the main floor, wondering where I'd hidden myself. And I stood in the dark bathroom, waiting for my playmate to return so we could learn this lesson!

I sat on the closed lid of the toilet and crossed my legs. I wondered if my ankle had healed properly and rotated it while I frowned. My expression shifted to happiness when I heard Chienne's tags jingle as she ran down the stairs once again. I called her name and her paws slid on the tile when she finally reached me.

"Hi!" I greeted her. "Who's my good girl?" She wagged her tail frantically, wiggling closer when I bent over to kiss her head. "You're terrible at this game," I offered when she looked up at me, but I grinned when her enthusiasm continued, undaunted by my honest assessment.

"Good lesson for me," I said, smiling at her enthusiasm and happiness. "Keep jumping through the hoops randomly set before you and find some joy in doing so." And with that thought, I'm off to another quick trip for work. Back Tuesday!

Saturday, October 18, 2008


There is something rather soothing about cleaning on a Saturday morning. The weekend stretched out invitingly as I snuggled into the pillows to close my eyes just one last time. I finally said good morning to the dog when her head emerged from the covers on the other side of the bed and rolled, soon finding myself upright. Looking around the master suite as I moved toward my toothbrush, I frowned and debated hiring someone to clean.

I hung curtains in my bedroom several weeks ago – deep brown with a flowing pattern of flowers and vines in pale blue. The fabric is quite lovely, draping toward the floor while framing the sliding glass doors leading to my deck. I sometimes spend a few moments in the morning, supine, head propped up on a fluffy pillow, slowly thinking my thoughts and alternating admiring gazes toward my curtains and the sunrise. The plastic that encased the fabric upon its purchase continued to lay discarded on the floor.

While I don’t mind clutter – I rather enjoy the ebb and flow of items migrating from their assigned spots to being randomly strewn about and then back again to their happy homes – even I find it a bit disturbing that I leave trash on the floor for weeks.

Teeth clean, I began to put away the last of the clean laundry from last weekend – I’d been plucking items from the basket and wearing them all week – and filled the basket with dirty clothes that I’d tossed in all directions throughout the bedroom, bathroom and closet. I’m typically shedding clothes even as I climb the stairs after work, eager to rid myself of the professional outfits and snuggle into too-large t-shirts and soft, gray pants. I debated tossing the laundry over the railing and into the foyer, but decided against it, placing the full basket at the top of the stairs to be carted down manually. I then shuffled through the rooms again, picking up bits of trash – plastic from curtains, tags from a new top, tissues from Little One’s runny nose, cardboard which had surrounded newly-delivered books.

“Better,” I pronounced, taking one last look around the top floor of my house, and tucked the trash in the corner of the basket before carrying the whole lot downstairs. It waited again at the door to the basement while I went to the garage to throw things away and began to make coffee. I unloaded the dishwasher while I waited for the pot to finish brewing, then put a few scattered dishes in to wait their turn to get clean. I keep the door to the refrigerator open a touch longer than normal, debating between Coffeemate and actual cream, tasted my coffee to make sure it was correctly flavored and balanced the full mug carefully so that I could also carry laundry downstairs.

A couple hours later, laundry clean and folded and a novel mostly read, I emerged from the basement – now also clean – and rinsed my coffee cup before placing it in the dishwasher. I trudged upstairs to put laundry away, neatly stacking too-big t-shirts and soft, gray pants in fluffy piles that smelled perfectly of fabric softener (I use Bounce), hanging tops on the left side of the closet and skirts and pants on the right.

Back where I started, I can glance out the glass door to admire puffy, white clouds rather than a rising sun. I feel a ridiculous sense of accomplishment over my morning’s meager tasks. Given the pleasure I take in the transformation from cluttered to clean, it seems silly to hire someone to handle my treasured task.

But I’m still pondering someone about the lawn.

Note: We are on post 996, counting unpublished drafts. What does one do for post 1000? I was almost hoping it would coincide with my blogiversary, where I like to ask people to leave comments so I can feel all special and important. Maybe if I get rid of the all posts in draft form, I can push 1,000 posts until 11/13. Such things sometimes strike me as important. Not unlike how I feel about curtains and their packaging!

Friday, October 17, 2008

On Being Awesome

“Awesome,” Adam said, British accent adding a certain something to the word. I’d looked over at him – seated to my right in the fanciest of conference rooms – and raised my eyebrows for a performance review. “A plus plus,” he concluded and I grinned happily.

“I enjoyed it,” I mused as I trotted beside him, moving back toward our offices. “It’s an interesting topic and I’ve studied it a long time. So I’m pleased!”

“Should be,” he offered, patting my back before disappearing into his room while I continued to my own. I spent the week, I thought as I attached a file to an email addressed to upper management, making four slides. Well, I made more like 20. I used four. Talked for 30 minutes on them. Answered questions competently and quickly. Found my rapid manner of speaking was appreciated for efficiency’s sake. I sent the email with the result of my labor, grinned once more and headed off toward a lab to do a bit of work before coming home.

“Hey,” I said to Adam and Sally. The latter was backing up data before leaving for the weekend. The former glanced up and nodded at me.

“I just ran into the group as they were leaving. They said you knew what you were talking about – were rather impressed, actually.”

“Really?” I replied happily, ducking my head with bashful pleasure. I tapped his hand with my own when he raised it for a high five, resisting the urge to cuddle my boss since he looked so tired at the end of the week.

“Thank you for all your help,” I said softly. “I do love working for you. I owe you some sort of present,” I decided, wondering what I should get.

He grinned before standing to leave, shrugging on a jacket as he headed out to a dark, rainy evening. “Just keep showing up,” he suggested and I grinned, adopting a worried expression when he offered a weak smile in return. I chatted with Sally for a bit, finally finishing my last few tasks and returning to my desk to pack up for the weekend.

“I did well,” I softly informed my empty office before depressing a button to extinguish the lights. Nodding with no small amount of satisfaction, I headed toward the lobby. As I walked, I thought of a dear friend from grad school.

“It sucks most of the time,” she said of research. “But when you get proofs for a paper or a grant gets funded? It’s all worth it – the long days and frustrating hours at the computer, reading all the papers and thinking of the failed hypotheses. It’s a rush – those moments when you know you succeeded.”

“Still a rush,” I said out loud, this time to the inside of my car. A good presentation to management, a pleased supervisor, a blog post to make sure the moment was recorded. It's different, yes, but it's pretty freaking awesome.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I slept a little late. I worked on documents from home. I went in to take a few meetings. It was a rather unremarkable day.

I walked out of my office, tugging the door securely closed behind me and adjusting the strap of my bag on my shoulder. I was wondering if I should get take out for dinner or make something at home, thinking that I still had a presentation to finish and manual to proofread when I stopped to grin at a man standing in the main corridor.

“Mark!” I greeted him with sincere pleasure.

He reached to give me a half hug and we exchanged pleasantries and offered sympathy over minor miseries before beginning to chat about work. Adam and another member of my team stopped nearby to finish their conversation.

I mentioned to Mark that Adam had a question for him, making a move toward the exit after rubbing his shoulder in farewell.

“Wait, Katie,” Mindy called. “I have a quick question for you.” So I stopped, noticing our group of four had realigned to exchange conversational partners. The chatter continued – professional but pleasant – until another pair of people arrived. They divided to join our respective conversations, providing two neat groups of three.

I watched people move as topics drifted, the other conversation reaching our ears and distracting us from our own topics at hand. It’s like a kaleidoscope, I thought, as people shifted, reorienting themselves in an optimal way.

“I’m going home,” I finally said to Mindy and she waved before heading back to her desk. I took two steps backward, smiling over my colleagues, before twisting to stride toward my car. The bag came off my shoulder and was tossed on the passenger seat when I arrived and I took a different route home to complete my commute.

“I’m very pleased,” Adam concluded an earlier meeting about my progress and performance. “Happy I hired you!” I grinned when he nudged me with his shoulder.

And, while unremarkable, it’s always a good day when I realize I’m happy I’m here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


“Hello, trouble,” Adam said as he walked by my office. “My place. Two minutes.” I nodded, gathered my computer, pen and paper and wandered a few doors down.

“First,” he began as I got things set up for our meeting, “I wanted to talk to you about yesterday.”

“That’s why we’re here,” I offered lightly but soon sighed, sitting back in my chair and meeting his eyes. He offered that yesterday’s upsetting comments – which happened to be said in front of several people, by the way – were out of line.

“When people do that – and it does happen – you almost need to relax into it, recognize they’re fucking up and be amused.”

“I was very upset!” I protested and he nodded.

“I could tell,” he replied. “You went completely tense and your eyes narrowed – your entire presence screamed that you were defensive about it. Which is probably why she continued to lecture you even when I told her to stop.” I nodded and said I could work on it.

We went through some talking points and went our respective ways, agreeing to meet to check progress later.

“This is a kick-ass document,” he replied when I returned about 2 hours later. “I was looking through the pages you sent? They’re freaking awesome,”

“Thank you,” I said, reaching forward to pat his arm in gratitude. “I’m ridiculously easy to motivate – if you tell me I’m doing well or you sort of like me, I’m all for working constantly. But when I left here yesterday, I was demoralized! So I did nothing.”

He stared at me, probably not pleased that I – who tend to work from home every evening – had refused to do so under pressure. I lifted my chin stubbornly. “I like the guy,” I said, “but I have made no decisions based on personal feelings. Just because she fancies herself some kind of super-business-woman is not going to affect how I conduct relationships with colleagues.”

He nodded.

“Are you worried about how I act with people?”

He shook his head.

“I’m not going to be friendly to her,” I mumbled, beginning to work again and saw him hide a smile behind his hand out the corner of my eye.

I smiled too. And now, motivated, I shall return to my work.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Unhappy people strive to make others miserable, I recited to myself. Pity the unhappy people. Do not allow the unhappy people to bother you.

But I hate her, I seethed, taking a momentary break from my deep breathing and soothing thoughts. She’s so condescending and useless and awful!

“I understand,” I told her for the third time, “that you feel that way.” I bit off the words, narrowing my eyes in a severe glare despite my best efforts to stay collected and controlled. I’m not though – I’m passionate and take criticism personally, especially that of the personal variety. So when she said she was ‘concerned’ about my friendship with a particular man, I nearly rolled my eyes.

I like people at work. I daresay I’m growing to love some of them, feeling tears pool in my eyes when a colleague talked of some family problems with me, grinning happily when another woman told me of her daughter’s progress at school. So sharing meals and conversations and laughter with a guy I think is rather wonderful? I frankly find her disapproval obnoxious and ridiculous.

“I bet you eat alone at your desk a lot,” I wanted to say. “Because nobody likes you very much, right?” Instead, I curtailed the conversation as best I could, continuing to repeat the same phrase each time she’d pause for breath - I understand that you feel that way. Finally realizing I wasn’t going to offer anything other than those seven words on the topic, she moved on. I took a deep breath, trying to keep the anger in check, and moved on to the topics at hand.

Annoying people exist in academia too, I reminded myself as I pulled in my garage and wondered what I’d have for dinner. I left my laptop in the car, refusing to work tonight when my job made me feel crappy today. I just need time to process and calm down, I told myself firmly when I moved to go out and retrieve my work computer. If it comes in, I’ll send her email that tells her that I’m offended and she was out of line. And I don’t want to give her the satisfaction.

Unhappy people strive to make others miserable, I recited to myself. Pity the unhappy people. Do not allow the unhappy people to bother you.

It's not working.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Nice (and Clean!)

"Where'd you go?" Bailey asked, stopping by my office after lunch.

"I ran an errand," I offered vaguely, immediately asking how her weekend went. She told me about her children and their activities and concluded by saying she'd cleaned.

"I don't get spring cleaning," she said. "But fall cleaning - because you spend all winter inside - now, that makes sense."

"I went to Target," I offered as a response to her initial question after pondering for a moment. "I had a coupon. So I bought a rug scrubber," I said sheepishly.

"I love mine," she breathed and sadly told me of how she'd broken a part and it no longer worked.

"I got the mid-range one," I confided, confident that I'd found a kindred spirit. "My basement smells bad," I wrinkled my nose and watched her mirror my expression, "and the carpet is this thick, soft, shaggy stuff. So I can't see stains, but they're there." I thought suspiciously of smelly stains before returning to my product adoration. "So this is supposed to clean with the steam and hot water and scrubby brushes and special cleaner! Plus," I continued breathlessly, "it works on ceramic tile!"

"Wow," she nodded, suitably impressed.

I've returned home, hurried into pajamas and assembled the magical cleaner. I moved furniture and began to clean, squeezing the trigger to release water as I pushed forward, then sucking away stains and smells as I retracted the device.

I finished in time to watch the new SpongeBob special. It smells clean as I lounge in the basement, nibbling cheese and crackers and waiting for carpet to dry - all remnants of ick sucked away.

Life is good.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Girls Go Home

Having given hugs and kisses after we went to the playground, I waved as my family headed south once again. I came home, made an omelet, snuggled back into pajamas and went to sleep.

I blinked my eyes open around 3 and wandered downstairs, looking around curiously for the visiting mouse. I didn't see him and mentioned to a sleeping Sprout that it'd be good if he took care of that. We'll see what happens. I did some work, finding it oddly soothing to capture knowledge in graphs and bullet points and looking forward to showing off my work in a Big Meeting later this week.

At about 5, I went out to mow the lawn, clipping the grass close to the ground so that it would match the neighbors. While I shoved the roaring machine down neat rows parallel to the sidewalk that borders my property, I wondered if I should pay someone to do this - mow, rake, weed, sweep. I frowned at the clumps of grass the littered the lawn, compared it unfavorably to the others on my street and decided that I'd rather have clumps of grass than a McCain/Palin sign and, happily comforted, moved toward my fenced backyard to let Chienne know that we were a bit liberal for our subdivision.

I drank two glasses of water when I came inside, thinking there's little better about easing a need so sharp. No longer thirsty, I started to sip while I sent Mom photos from the weekend and updated my CV with recently published and accepted paper.

As I was copying and pasting, I saw an email arrive from my post-doctoral institution. They're applying for more funding and wanted to update the publication information. Since I had it in front of me and the work was completed there, I sent a few citations. Pausing before I hit send, I noted my new title and employer since it sounds reasonably impressive and I was anything but while I was there.

I watched the activity monitor as the email sent, settling into a thought that I'm glad I don't do that anymore. Given the choice, I'd rather make slides, take meetings and deal with spreadsheets than battle for grants and revise publications. I'm happy managing research and development and while I may go back to actually doing it, I think this step was a good one for me.

Feeling downright peppy compared to my attitude of late, I returned to my work laptop to catch up on email and update a few more documents. This week should be better - less crazy-busy, more focused and efficient. And while I don't like how some decisions are made, I'm not without resources to nudge things in the direction I want. I'm feeling a bit more powerful and smart and less overwhelmed and exhausted.

Which seems quite positive.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Girls' First Visit

“Are we there yet?”

“Soon,” I replied, smoothing a wisp of hair back from Little One’s forehead. “Yes,” I answered the next question – my father’s – of if the zoo opened at 9.

“I bet it won’t open until 11,” he complained. “You think you know everything, but you don’t. What zoo would open at 9?”

This one, I thought as the sign came into view, proudly proclaiming the hours of operation. But I bit back the comment to force some peace to the outing. Little One had woken me for the last time at 6, urging me out of bed to play (!) and get ready (!!) so we could go see the penguins (!!!) and go toy shopping (!!!!). In the time it took Mom and I to shower, dress and get two small girls likewise cleaned and clothed, Dad was still dawdling when we were ready to leave – going to find his hat (sigh), sunglasses (sigh2), the navigational system (sigh3) and a sweatshirt (sigh4).

“I’m ready to go,” he whined when we were looking at fish, perhaps 2 hours after we arrived. Smallest One craned her neck to see out of her stroller, holding her chubby body forward so she wouldn’t fall asleep and miss any animals at which she could point. “My legs hurt. I’m tired of all these people.” I looked at Mom and saw her rolling my eyes. Since I’d wanted to do the same, I felt a bit better.

“I don’t want to leave!” Little One said insistently, her voice lifting into a whine as well.

“We’re not,” I assured her. “We still have to see monkeys and birds and penguins.” She continued to talk about how she didn’t want to go bye-bye and why did we have to leave so soon?!

“Dude,” I finally cut her off, squeezing the tiny hand wrapped around my index and middle fingers, “We’re Not Leaving Yet. Calm down.” She grinned up at me and I leaned down to kiss her head before guiding her toward the primate house. After birds, Dad said he was Done. So Little One and I took the train ride I’d promised her on our own before heading to the gift shop for a sparkly purple koala bear.

“Really?” I said, plucking it off the shelf and handing it down to her. “You want this one?” She nodded firmly and I found a flamingo for her smaller sister (who waited in the car with her grandparents) before we walked briskly toward the Jeep. We stopped at the car dealer for license plates (I complained about my experience to the owner. Because he was there, I was annoyed and I apparently suck like that. My favorite part though was when someone started offering excuses about how they were So Busy and that’s why it took me 6 hours to purchase a freaking car, and he said, “I don’t care. Tell me something that matters.”), went for lunch then selected toys before heading back to my house.

“We need to relax,” I said. “Aunt Katie is very tired and stressed.” (Obviously, since I don't love referring to myself in the third person.)

“Aunt Katie,” Little One called. “Do you want to play Play-Doh with me?”

“Katie,” Mom said, “would you mind putting the ham in for dinner?”

“Eeeee!” cried Smallest One, which I take to mean me, and I went to offer my hands for balance as she slowly walked across the floor toward her blanket.

“Aunt Katie?” Little One said, “Can we play a game?”

“Katie!” Dad yelled from downstairs, “Sprout brought in a mouse! And it ran under your bookshelf!”

I trudged downstairs - having played and finished dinner and cleaned up and changed diapers and held Little One while she pottied (we didn’t take her special seat with us when we went out), cleaned a few messes - and asked what was wrong. Dad wanted to capture the small gray creature, but I looked down at the mouse when the man moved the bookshelves and the former looked up at me with big, black eyes. He looked overwhelmed and tired and I stared at him for a moment, thinking of how much damage mice do to houses and calculating the chances of Sprout eventually catching him before I stepped aside to let him escape. Dad started to talk about how useless I was and I moved my gaze to him, standing quietly for a moment while he complained.

“What’s wrong with you?” I finally asked. “You’ve been in a terrible mood the whole time you’ve been here. When you’re not with the girls, you miss them. When you’re with them, you don’t help and instead complain incessantly.”

“You let the mouse go!” he insisted and I shrugged, knowing it would irritate him.

“It’s my house,” I replied, thinking I probably sabotage any romantic relationship I have because I’m terrified of ending up with someone like him. I walked upstairs, upset and exhausted, rubbing at my shoulder which started cramping sometime after I carried little people around this morning and when I reached in the back of the Jeep for a blanket while turning my head to answer a question for Little One.

“Do you want us to leave now?” Mom asked and I shook my head and returned the wave Smallest One offered by opening and closing her tiny fist. I drained one bathtub since Smallest One was clean and started the water in the master bath so Little One could have room to play with bubbles. I sat on the floor next to the tub, playing with Pooh and Piglet on the edge while Tigger frolicked in the water. While Little One splashed and played, I thought about the small-and-still-decreasing probability that I’ll have a family of my own.

Maybe it’s for the best, I thought as I thought eagerly of when they leave tomorrow and restful quiet reigns again. This task seems impossibly tough. And it's one too important to screw up.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Good, Bad, Obvious

There are moments when it all seems quite good. When the sun hits the corn fields and turns makes them glow pale gold. When the mist rises off the lakes and rivers in the morning, diffusing the light around the water as I pass over bridges on my morning commute. Grinning at a man who makes a file for me that greatly enhances the presentation over which I’ve been slaving for days. Making plans to meet the girls from work for drinks on Sunday and chatting with them about my plans to visit the zoo with my nieces this weekend. Hearing the buzz of conversation about how to do things better, faster and cheaper as I leave a bit early on a sunny afternoon, having finished my project a mere 90 minutes before the deadline. Beholding Smallest One’s expression of delighted focus as she placed the lid on her bottle once it was filled with milk.

Then there are the bad moments. Talk of doing something which may hurt some people I’ve met and hold in high regard. “It all comes down to money,” was the justification and despite my embracing ‘resourcing’ as an actual word to be used in spoken and written communication, it makes my stomach cramp to do something for the sake of profit which might not be best for all involved. Sounds of the hushed questions my parents asked Brother about court when they called to tell him they’d arrived safely at my house with his daughters. The thought of doing laundry, paying bills, cleaning, dealing with the lawn that will soon fill with the brightly colored leaves that have thus far clung to their branches, keeping up with friends, buying sufficient Halloween candy, etc. while finding time to sleep and keep up with work. Acknowledging that while I am lonely, there’s no one I know that could really fill the void at this point.

What’s lovely – not that it changes much, really – is that everything goes away while I work. When I’m focused on a conversation or slide or spreadsheet, I can exist only for what I’m doing at that moment, feeling peaceful and productive. I surfaced from one of those moments today, having reviewed some information and noted some minor changes, and realized the only other time I feel free from the tension and worry is when I pray or worship.

Which means, of course, that I need to get back to church. I’ll see if I can’t find a suitable place soon.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Chilling. (And icky.)

There are awful sounds during the killings.

I paused, a puff of popcorn halfway to my lips, and frowned earlier this week. I tipped my head up, gazing at the ceiling of my basement, and muted the television so I could hear the noise if it was repeated. It wasn’t and I soon shrugged and nibbled on buttery goodness before offering a bite to Chienne.

“Oh,” I said when realization dawned a moment later. There was a thud when Sprout pounced on the floor above my head and I realized the sound I’d heard had been his cry of warning and pleasure before yet another mouse met his demise. I wrinkled my nose, disturbed, and put the popcorn away as my appetite fled.

Even knowing there was a dead creature in the house, I yipped with alarm when I realized Sprout had carried the corpse to rest on the landing at the bottom of the stairs. I took the long way, moving through the bathroom and laundry room to approach the stairs from the opposite direction, skirting the rodent while keeping my eyes carefully averted. I returned with the trusty broom and dustpan I keep for mouse removal and made the steps safe for climbing once again.

“Are you kidding me?” I groused last night as I sat at my desk, peering at figures and making sure the presentation was as stunning as possible. I heard my stripey cat emit the same chilling sound and shuddered with sympathy for the mouse and dread of cleaning up the results of this evening exercise. The bell Sprout now wears around his neck makes the event even more grotesque, the happy jingle at odds with the murderous actions of he who wears it.

Yet I did what I typically do when I find something bothersome – ignore it as long as possible.

“Done?” I asked the cat as he moved into the office, an edge of irritation in my voice. My emotion of choice shifted quickly to alarm when I realized the mouse’s tail dangled limply as Sprout carried the small, gray body toward where I sat in my chair.

“No, no, no!” I screeched. “Do not bring that toward me! Gross! Icky! Ew!” Having scampered to the entry foyer during my frantic refusal of my feline’s gift, I glanced over to see him move haughtily toward the stairs, arranging himself regally on the second one from the bottom while the mouse lay in the middle of the floor. I sighed and returned to the room with mouse-removal tools in hand, but there was something about how the creature lay there, frozen in the grip of death and with his tiny paws curled into defenseless claws.

Dropping the dustpan on the floor, I approached the cat with an angry stride that failed to impress him. I scooped him up and stomped upstairs, placing him in the toy room where he typically sleeps the day away and closing the door firmly, locking him inside. I wrote to Friend, sharing my horror, disgust and irritation and was gently scolded for refusing the gift the cat had bestowed upon me.

I told her I was not going to praise his hunting skills and eat a dead mouse, regardless of what feline protocol demanded, but agreed that it was better that he left the bodies in obvious places rather than tucking them somewhere to rot. Sighing with defeat, I released him from the bedroom, receiving a dark glare for my efforts, and went to fetch another dead mouse.

Such is life these days, I'm afraid. I can shriek and stomp and sulk all I want, but it changes little in the end. It saves time to just put my head down and dispose of the task at hand.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Shift of Focus

I delivered my deliverable. We opened lines of communication, discussed resourcing, and deep dived into risk assessment.

“I expect,” I concluded, pleased with how the meeting had gone, “that these conversations will evolve to be more effective as we settle into a routine. So please let me know if you’d like to present something or have other suggestions on format or content. And thanks again for your time this morning – I enjoyed talking with all of you.”

Lewis reached toward the center of the table and disconnected the call. I nodded my thanks as I finished writing something down and took a breath before looking up to meet his eyes.

“Well?” I asked, “How am I supposed to evolve these to be more effective as we settle into a routine?” He shrugged, said he thought it went well and offered that the longer I did much of anything at Industry, the better at it I’d be. I nodded in agreement and began to set up more meetings to open lines of communication, discuss resourcing and deep dive into risk assessment. So I typed notes and sent reviews and found times for people to talk while I listened and managed conversations.

It’s hard, which you know because I’ve said that. I love it, which you also know because I’ve mentioned the life out of that too. And there are interesting and infuriating things that happen at work. But I’ve grown used to the fact that we don’t write stuff down. If you have sensitive information, you speak it. So I spend much of my life in calls and meetings, therefore blogging about confidential topics is hardly a good idea.

Is it annoying when a vendor goes over my head after I express my disinterest?
Am I likely to ignore you if you insist on calling me five times a day after I’ve told you I can’t help?
Do I worry when we receive multiple notices of uncertain economic times and iffy financial commitments?
Can I feel somehow ineffective and not so productive after working from dawn until way past bedtime?
Will I grin and tease with colleagues even when we’re under intense pressure, enjoying them completely?

Of course.

Can I go into wordy detail on any of those topics to give you a peek into my daily life?

Not really. And given that work is all there is on many days, that makes writing hard.

Perhaps, I thought the other day as I was tossing fitfully between my silky brown comforter and fluffy blue sheets, I should take a break. My recent frustration with the ‘I’m so smart and special so you should do what I say!’ faction of the online community has left me wondering what I’m trying to accomplish here. I do like the attention, checking site stats at least daily and knowing exactly how many subscribers I have on Google Reader and Bloglines (87 and 65! Only a few of which are me!). I find it somehow comforting to know that my post-doctoral years are lovingly/painfully documented should I ever want to remember something.

The first thing I thought when I opened an email from Very Good Journal today? I should tell my blogfriends! My revisions were accepted without re-review and I’m going to get a paper in a journal I’ve always admired! I sent notice to my co-authors, gracefully accepted the congratulations that filled my inbox, and continued with the work I was doing.

In an attempt to distract myself from crushing stress, I glanced through the recommendations from Google Reader. I ended up somewhere new and lost 30 minutes or so clicking back through entries, and I remembered what I love about good blogs. I am fascinated by details - what people think about when walking their dogs, what features of their spouse they find most appealing, if a neighbor said something funny or a colleague acted in an adorable manner.

The problem with being busy is that I often don’t notice that stuff. And it’s there, glimmering with some promise of humor or insight. I used to watch for those moments to be sure I could write about them. I’ll see if I can train myself to do it again.

When I was puzzling out why I was so angry that someone might belittle or attack a writer I liked, I realized I love some of you. When I struggled through my post-doc, when Mom was sick or when I was too depressed to go to work, I had people who made me feel somehow worthwhile by showing up to read, offering gentle comments or writing encouraging emails. That strength and support if a valuable piece of community and one I wouldn't trade and have no desire to lose. I think the way to do that is to write for the pleasure of writing.

So we'll see how that goes.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Conversational Snippets

“I’m a little stressed,” I replied to the inquiry of how I was and Linda laughed.

“I was getting that impression from your emails,” she replied and assured me everything would be OK. I asked two questions, forced myself to ask about her weekend and rushed her off the phone as quickly as possible. I’m in busy mode – people need to give me what I want and promptly move aside.

“Do you know what you’re doing?” Molly asked, poking her head through my open door.

“Rarely,” I mumbled around the pen I had in my mouth while I typed something on a slide. “What’s up?” She came closer to watch over my shoulder, finally asking if I’d send her what I had so far in the document that’s due tomorrow morning. I nodded absently and saved the file so I could email it before I forgot. By the time I left for the day, I had 20 emails half-finished with the same rationale. If I at least start something, it can act as a reminder to finish.

“Are you listening, Katie?” someone asked and I stopped typing and unmated my phone to lie and say that I was. “Can you believe that?”

“Well, yes,” I said dryly, for I seem to be more myself in this job than I have been in others. I’m rather funny, push back when annoyed and call people names – sometimes even out loud. “I mean, it’s not ideal, no, but I’m not really all that surprised. You people have already crushed my spirit here.”

“You should be outraged!” Zach said and I shrugged even though I knew he couldn’t see me. “This is awful!”

What I wanted to say – but didn’t – is that though I realize I was hired for my dedication and passion for the work we do, I’m so completely tired. There’s only so much I can give adoring attention to – with 5 projects, I can baby them all along and feel confident they’re under my capable control. But with 50? It gets pretty tough.

So now – though I know I’m painfully boring of late – I need to sleep so I can work myself to exhaustion again tomorrow.

But, honestly? I’m happy. I like managing the development of a product I find profoundly powerful. I don’t mind losing track of hours while I focus and work. Which is good, I suppose, since that’s what appears to be required.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


"Here, little goat," I called to the animal trying to nap on some stairs. "We're all tired, sweetheart," I coaxed. "Come here and take some food from Little One, please." The floppy eared creature persisted in his attempts at rest in the warm sunshine and cool breeze and I looked down at my eldest niece and shrugged. I reached for the ice cream cone filled with animal pellets for the creatures in the petting zoo and tucked it in my pocket.

"Sometimes," I told her, crouching down to tuck her long curls behind tiny ears, "animals disappoint you. Like when Chienne thwaps you with her tail. Or your cat scratches you when he's falling off the couch." She nodded, soon scampering off toward the swings while Brother followed behind her. I lingered to frown at the goat, thinking it wouldn't have killed him to come over and say hello.

Little One went to school for the first time all alone. She carpooled with people from daycare and stepped into a classroom with a new teacher and new friends without any family support.

"Grandma went with me," I remembered when Mom sniffled over the fact that nobody had told her so she could accompany her granddaughter to class. "She sat on the steps outside the classroom and I would peek outside to make sure she was there when I got nervous."

"I would have done that too," Mom said sadly. "Brother's Wife didn't tell me - or anyone - so we could go." And every time the little girl cuddles into me while I read to her or giggles over a silly joke or says something sweet and smart and wonderful, I am overwhelmed by love and a vicious need to protect her. Hence the glare at the goat.

"What's up with the plaid shorts there?" I teased Brother after we'd all met for breakfast.

"I look good," he drawled and I shook my head at him even as I smiled.

"I can't believe you bought plaid shorts," I said on the way to the orchard with boasted hay rides and a petting zoo and picking of apples and pumpkins.

"I didn't," he said smugly, withdrawing a card from his wallet with a picture of a rooster on it. "Cougar bait" was written on the slip of paper and I looked at it with horror. "Someone bought them for me," he offered when I blinked at him over a very wrinkled nose. "She makes a lot of money."

"Is this the one who's nearing retirement?" I asked dryly and he protested that she was only 40! A mere 16 years his senior! I opened my mouth to lecture, but closed it when I saw him roll his eyes in preparation for my monologue. I shot him a look instead and he nodded in response to my unspoken message. Then I glanced at the girls in the backseat and thought they deserved so much more. The divorce becomes final next month and Brother and his wife are both behaving fairly badly. Damn it all.

Having left Little One with Brother mid-pumpkin selection, my parents and I continued to sit on the hay with Smallest One as we bounced back toward the barn.

"Do you see the pumpkins?" I asked as I held the baby on my lap. I grinned widely and nodded when her tiny finger pointed, arm extended toward the fields that stretched around us. "Very good," I praised, nuzzling her hair. The same arm - autocratic, yet pudgy - extended several times to point the way to her next destination. I would walk with her perched on my arm or while pushing her in her stroller until she babbled and directed me to the next acceptable spot.

I want everything good for them. I hate the idea that they'll be faced with pain, disappointment and worry. Little One, especially, is like me in that she's concerned about what others think and how they react to her.

"Don't yell," Brother warned when a little boy pushed Little One while she was climbing the steps to the slide. I glared warningly at the parent until the problem was warned to wait his turn.

"Go ahead," I encouraged my niece. "You're OK." And as I took photos when directed to do so, I prayed circumstances aligned in a way that works well for her and her little heart.

Stars aligned when Smallest One pointed toward the ducks and Little One followed. We debated which fowl was our favorite - I liked the napping ones (since I too enjoy sleep) and Little One decided the one closest to the fence was nice. I couldn't figure out which of the flock Smallest One pointed to.

"Oh," I recalled while reaching in my pocket for the camera, "do you want to offer them some food Grandma bought for you?"

Scattering the pellets on the ground, Little One giggled as the ducks moved toward her. I nodded in satisfaction, informing Smallest One that ducks say quack as she tried to wave at the animals. After final hugs and kisses a couple hours later, I made my way back north to turn my worry toward other topics. And now here we are again.

I think not. (A job search response.)

It turns out that vast irritation can spark motivation to post.

First, a weekend story. Feeling a bit under the weather and stressed about my first “key deliverable,” I decided to go ahead and make the trip to my parents’ yesterday morning rather than Friday evening. Rather than the day of travel I would have faced in my post-doctoral location, I hopped in my pretty, new car – that I can afford because I work in industry and make actual money – and zipped down interstates for a couple hours to arrive in the house where I spent my childhood.

Dad and I chatted a bit before I opened my laptop to work on my presentation. We didn’t have much to discuss, frankly, since he was just at my house to watch the puppy while I traveled and stayed to assist in the purchase of the pretty car. Instead of staring at each other and wondering where to start catching up, he asked if there was anything new with the restructuring at work or if my neighbor’s dog was feeling any better since he was sick a couple days ago. Instead of a vague, “I wonder if Katie’s OK. She likes us to call on Sunday so we’ll wait to bother her then,” there’s the sense that we know each other again. Given that they were married 10 years before having me, I’ve spent days sitting by hospital beds, terrified that I’d lose Dad in college and Mom last year. Plus, frustrating as they can be, I’m rather fond of my folks. I like – no, I love – being close to them.

“I love you,” Little One smiled up at me as we sat on the same side of the table for dinner. I leaned down to kiss her nose, said, “I love you,” and in that moment – defined by cheesy potatoes and sippy cups of strawberry milk and a tiny book of preschool trivia questions we were reading together – I felt like I was in exactly the right place doing exactly what was most important.

That, for me, is happiness. I love teasing Ken about how his head is constantly ducked over a Blackberry as he wanders the office. I sit shoulder to shoulder with my boss when we discuss three year plans and current literature reviews. I felt the oddest sense of accomplishment when I sat – in a pale pink sweater, no less – in a room with 15 men as they gave presentations of their work and left me to decide which ones were worthy of more attention. On that same trip, Denise called mid-dog/pony show to ask if I was OK. “Traveling,” I reported happily, touched that she’d checked up on me and that my colleagues back home were disturbed at my absence. I like motioning people through the door of my office and answering questions or offering advice. I really love what I do. I adore where I do it.

And I got here by looking for over a year at academic and industrial positions located within a certain radius of where I grew up.

I have a rule when blogging – don’t tell people what to do. The assumption that one person knows what’s best for many is, well, laughable first and has the lingering problem of being powerfully obnoxious. So while I’m sure I’ve broken that rule – I’m good/annoying like that – it’s something I try to keep in mind. Hence my fondness for stories. I applied for only a few jobs over the course of 14 months and, after a great deal of profound stress and with not much time left to find something, got the one I wanted. Would I advocate doing the same? Not necessarily. It really depends on what you want and how you’d like to get it.

This is why, despite a bit (a very tiny bit, at the moment) of affection of PhysioProf, I rarely read what he writes. The overly certain ‘I’m so right and you’re a fucking wackaloon! [Insert ‘eleventy,’ some combination of exclamation points and ones, or a word some LOLcat thinks is teh awesome.]’ bugs the hell out of me. So I ignore it – seems easiest. So it was with some surprise and instant suspicion that I saw Dr. Brazen Hussy’s follow up post to one that seemed pretty clear to me about her job search strategy. With narrowed eyes, I clicked over and began to shake my head as I skimmed through text.

My response can be summarized thusly – Bad Fucking Form. If I need to elaborate, I can do that too.

  1. We all blog – that puts everybody on equally shaky ‘crazy’ ground.

  2. I must apply? Must? By the decree of PhysioProf? Please.

  3. The job ad is a guide – I can buy that in some circumstances. But if something in there – whether it’s location or reputation or housing costs or choice of collaborations and colleagues – makes me wrinkle my nose? I’m not dealing with the time and stress involved with pretending an interest I don’t feel when I could do work, go on vacation or drink.

  4. Practice is great. I’d personally practice somewhere I actually wanted to work and give myself credit for years of training and previous interview experience, but I’m apparently crazy like that.
  5. Offers can trigger other offers and they can give you a stronger negotiating position. If you don’t want to take any of the jobs that are available, I fail to see how this helps you out. For example, I did get the California offer due, in part, to the Industry offer I finally took. But I didn't want the California job so it just added stress, confusion, a couple of weeping fits and delayed the time until the Californians could find the right person to fill the role. How was that helpful?

BH did a beautiful job in explaining her reasoning behind her choices - I realize she didn't require my assistance. I also appreciate that pointing to a specific person can open important dialogues into various topics. I simply think such approaches can be handled in a non-wildly-fucking-annoying way. So. BH, may you find a job you love in a place you adore with colleagues who are smart, funny and have access to high quality alcohol. I wish you every single happiness and a job search with as little stress and pain as possible - in whatever way you decide to conduct it.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Economic Instability

“Nobody’s talking about staffing cuts,” Adam said, looking around the large table. “But there will be some changes – attention to cutting costs, focus on margins, accountability for profitability.” We nodded and I spared a moment’s gratitude for two factors. One – I’m new and am therefore not seen as fully productive yet, and, two, I started fairly high up. I plan to stay in this role for a few years before trying to move up or over so as groups shift and responsibilities change, it’s not like my upward mobility is being stifled.

Still. It’s a little scary.

“We simply don’t have resources to support that,” I’ve told multiple people who make up my mountain of phone calls. “It’s a beautiful idea and we certainly wish you well with it. But we’re unable to help with any financial support.”

And though I’m thrilled with my house and car – they’re a bit more than I really ever thought I’d have – I do sometimes look around and feel the pressure to pay for them. And while I’m fine at the salary I make – industry does pay us quite well – any loss of status would mean I need to give back some of what I’ve taken.

And I don’t really want to do that.

(I’m heading home for the weekend and feeling a bit under the weather. Plus, I can’t seem to hit my blogging stride here lately. Not sure how to fix it.)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Brand New

"What kind is this one?" I breathed, moving toward the corner of the showroom. I'd decided on a green Liberty, but frowned out the window at it, thinking it rather ugly. It rides beautifully, I reminded myself, and it's an excellent deal. Only one previous owner. A nice set of features. Well within my price range. But I walked slowly toward the glimmering black Compass in the corner.

"Look how pretty," I said admiringly as our salesman walked back toward us. "It's all happy and cute from the front and sleek and sexy from the sides. It sort of flares out at the back wheels. It's lovely," I said, peeking inside the open windows at the interior.

"Do you like it better?" Dad and Salesguy said and I paused sheepishly.

"I do, obviously," I replied when they continued to look at me expectantly. So instead of the more logical Liberty, the cute Compass pulled out of the showroom and onto the pavement. I grew impatient when the paperwork took too long, decided on 0% interest rather than $1,000 rebate and glared at the incompetence when the sky darkened and we remained inside the building.

"We'll do it ourselves," I said of the tires when the indicator light glowed and the dealer couldn't find tools to correct the problem. "I'm so not impressed though. Honestly," I shook my head in disapproval.

"I do like it though," I mused as I drove toward home. "It sits lower to the ground than most SUVs, there's plenty of room for me and it drives so smoothly!"

"Lifetime warranty," Dad offered as he peered at the manual. He wiggled something and noted that you could change gears manually. And flip this thingie to put it in 4 wheel drive."

"There's a normal outlet," I said once the vehicle was pulled safely into my garage and Dad was properly filling the tires. I put items in the console - a bottle of pills, packet of Kleenex, tubes of lip gloss - and made a mental note to switch over the insurance tomorrow. Looking at the sparkle of the black paint, even under the bare lights hanging from the ceiling, I smiled.

"I'm glad that's done," I told Dad.

"I did worry about you in that old car," he agreed. "And this is nice."

I'm happy, I think. I feel rather adult in my pretty car. I can drive when going to lunch with people from the office. I imagine I'll grin when I head to my garage each morning and make my way toward work. It was time for a change - even during a time in my life when nothing seems very stable. And I'll share a photo tomorrow - my new transportational device is quite the cutie.