Saturday, September 27, 2008

Purely Complicated

“Hey, killer,” I said, distracted from my task as Sprout wound his fluffy body around my ankle while I sat at my desk. I reached down and scooped him up, settling him on my lap where he curved warmly into my abdomen. I smoothed his coat, having missed him while I was traveling and knowing Chienne is painfully jealous of late. I felt him purr even as I heard the pleasant rumble and paused to rub under his chin and murmur to him while I uploaded one last file.

“So, pretty guy,” I began, moving my gaze to meet his green one, “what’s up with the torture of rodents?” I’d found and discarded another carcass this morning. This one differed from the last in that there was only the back end of the unfortunate mouse. When I shared with Friend that I wasn’t eager to find the front, she proposed the Sprout may have eaten it. I wasn’t sure if that was more relieved or disgusted.

I’m stuck noticing dichotomies lately. Much as I like contrast and gravitate toward interesting clashes, I find myself both disturbed and soothed if such a state is possible.

One of my colleagues is from a country in eastern Europe. He is painfully elitist, frustratingly superior. I restrained myself from rolling my eyes over and over again, lest I turn into some spinny-eyed freak while he talked at length about any given topic and how incredibly informed he was about that very concept. Yet when we arrived at the car after the day of meetings was over, he opened the door of the car for me, waited until I was settled and closed it gently before taking his own seat behind a different door. Polite? I wondered quietly, thinking him rather sweet, or did he think I was too dim to figure out how to make my way inside the car without help?

If you’ll remember, I was a teensy bit frustrated at the way the fence/flat tire incident was handled. But once Home Depot became involved, I was immediately contacted from the store (and later when someone read my blog) and the money was credited to my account and two people had called to apologize within a week. So while I was upset by the initial contractor response, I was thrilled by the way the situation resolved. (Which, by the way, is why I would recommend contracting through one of the big stores. Their commitment to customer service and leverage over smaller companies is impressive. I was very happy with how it all played out – yay for Home Depot!) Hence, the crappy stuff happened to showcase how well this company cares for customers.

I think another colleague is a great guy and has treated me with nothing but respect and kindness. So I blinked in surprise when he mentioned how "stacked" a woman in a different office is. I was scolded pretty firmly in a meeting when I glibly said something about it all being about money. I was told that we cared about quality and science and all that is good and right! I sighed and stayed quiet, sending a look of gratitude across the table when an older man said, "If it won't sell, we won't make it." I grew mildly frustrated when a friend blew me off for work, even knowing I'd likely have made the same choice. People aren't really bad or good, I thought with some dismay. They're more complicated than anything.

As I smiled at the cat curled on the bed, I walked in they toy room and asked him how he liked the Care Bears. I obligingly rubbed under his chin when he arched his head back, looking around for signs of his last bloody victim. Seeing none, I asked him if he ever felt guilty. If he felt at least a twinge of pity for the sweet mouse before dragging the body home. Probably not, I decided when he blinked at me sleepily before stretching and easing back into sleep.

“Hi, Little One!” I said last week when I called. “I got your letters in the mail today.” I smoothed my finger tips over the scraps of lined notebook paper. Between the uneven edges were little scribbles made in marker. “They’re beautiful,” I told my eldest niece. “I’m going to hang one on my refrigerator at home and one at my desk at work.”

“OK,” she said happily and Mom told me how she beamed with pride.

“Thank you very much,” I said, loving her and the treasures that had arrived in my mailbox. “I love you,” I added softly and she immediately responded in kind before hurrying off the phone.

“I’ll go make you more pictures,” she called over her shoulder before handing the phone to my mom. The arrived today – four pieces of paper folded into tiny packets. I smoothed them carefully and smiled over the squiggly lines that marched neatly across the page. Pure goodness is tough to come by, I thought as I placed the new art on my refrigerator. But I have some to look at every day.

Friday, September 26, 2008

An Evening Note

I'm sad. It aches.

The feeling, for if depression is like a thick, suffocating cloud, my current state is more of a gentle mist, is somehow made worse by the fact that I'm quite happy. I often look around and smile because I like my life. I love my family and house and pets and job and friends. I feel challenged, embrace the intensity of my work, and long for only a few pieces of the life that was mine only months ago. I giggle and swear, pray and spend long moments in daydreams. I move about my days with a general contentment.

Except when I don't. Somehow the exhaustion of this trip left me waking from a 13 hour nap feeling lonely. I returned to an empty house and frowned over the quiet even as I was soothed by it. I liked not having to talk to people, but I recognized the absence of a person. He's not coming, I acknowledged silently, looking at my feet as I climbed the stairs this evening. This is it.

And it's not awful, though my current level of self-pity would indicate I believe otherwise. The slow movement of tears from the corner of my eye to the pillowcase beneath my cheek will eventually cease. My throat won't always ache from holding back sobs. I'll be able to breathe without wanting to rub at my chest in a vain attempt to ease the odd pressure there. All will seem brighter tomorrow. My life is really quite good.

But for now, it feels anything but.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Left My Heart...

As it neared midnight (Pacific), I wearily continued to tap the keys of my laptop as I tried to find a comfortable position in my seat at the gate while I waited for my red eye flight to board.

"Too much information," I muttered, which might have earned me some concerned looks from the Californians had I not already decided to lie down on the row of seats to rest a bit earlier. So while talking to myself out loud may have been ill advised, the thought was valid. When one works for three days straight - having back to back to back meetings - and waits until the end of the trip to deal with reporting the findings, the process becomes exhausting and cumbersome. So, first, I missed you dearly - I want to say, "Let's never be apart again!" but work trips are not good places for blog posts. So know that when I'm away, I'm taking pictures and thinking of snippets of stories to share.

Sunday - Hello, Pacific!
I woke early, walked the dog, drove to the airport, flew across the country (1 stop), caught a shuttle to the hotel and ended as I began - on foot. After checking in and dropping my bags, I secured the knots on my shoes and decided to wander along the beach.

Frankly, I missed my Chienne. She did very well with her sitter, but I'm not used to walking alone anymore. Still, I admired the water near the airport, smiled at people who were jogging and biking and took a few photos. But, I decided with what must have been relief, it's not home. I made the right call in returning to the Midwest rather than departing for the west coast. It's beautiful, I thought, taking in the water and paths and mountains in the distance, but foreign. So even as I rested in preparation for the coming days, I was already a little homesick.

Monday - Look at me!
"I'm sorry," I offered, stepping back when a flight attendant approached where I was standing on the curb. I had taken the hotel shuttle back to the airport to make my way toward another hotel nearby where my colleagues were staying. Several of us were departing one shuttle and I attempted to stay out of the way while several members of the United crew gathered their luggage.

"I was going to tell you that you were very pretty," the uniformed man said as cars streamed past on both sides of the median where we stood. I blinked at him in surprise and looked quizzical, sure I heard him wrong. "That color," he indicated my purple cardigan, "is perfect on you with your dark hair and eyes and your fair skin."

I ducked my head modestly and reached to touch his arm, telling him that was so very kind of him to say. I felt all warm and happy the rest of the morning and was shocked at how much a simple compliment affected my sense of well being. I hope many wonderful things happen to that man - I now love him very much.

Less flattering was a moment in a coffee shop where a colleague told me I had "something on your...um...back." I frowned at him and said I'd go check it, wondering with some chagrin if a pair of pantyhose was stuck to the leg of my pants. I excused myself from the table we shared while we waited for our first meeting to begin - I'd ridden with two men in their late 30s/early 40s - and walked toward the restroom. After much twisting and squinting, I saw a small sticker on my bottom. The hem of my sweater (which looked perfect on me, by the way) almost covered it, but there was a glimpse of black on my charcoal pants on the curve of my bottom. I removed it and tossed the offensive item in the trash, wondering where it had come from. More disturbing was that my colleagues were examining my ass closely enough to see it though. There's no need for that.

"I saw you earlier," one woman said when our small group was given a brief tour. I smiled at two women who were standing in an equipment room and the older one recognized me.

"Today?" I asked, confused that I didn't remember meeting her.

"At the coffee shop this morning," she confirmed and I replied with an "oh, of course," though I didn't remember seeing her. I almost asked her what made me memorable in the small, crowded space - my gorgeous sweater or the tiny sticker on my tushie. Perhaps, I thought later, it's that I consistently make eye contact and smile at people. It's a habit that fails to register - if my gaze meets that of another, my lips curve without any real thought behind it. But the day left me feeling like people did see me. I think in most instances that's good.

Tuesday - More wine, please.
"I don't mean to flatter Katie too much," a young scientist said as we had a late dinner with our respective bosses, "but I thought she did a wonderful job. She came across as smart and thoughtful, but very open to suggestions and complaints. I think the important people here really embraced her attitude."

Adam nodded and said he was also very pleased with how I'd done. I ducked my head again and thanked them both, grinning when Sue's boss nodded his agreement on how cool I am. "I was actually very pleased with what I presented - I think it's a strong plan and am certainly willing to tweak it." Given that some members of the team seemed to offend our collaborators - unintentionally, I'm sure - I was pleased at my understanding of academics to smooth some of the awkwardness (or just blatantly take their sides when it became appropriate).

But the day had been long, as had the previous one. Adam and I sat shoulder to shoulder, having drinks while we worked on my presentation. I enjoyed the time in the bar - giggling at his jokes, rolling my eyes when he teased me and making progress on editing my vision of this particular project. It was casual and fun, though quite productive, and we eventually moved to the dining room for dinner.

"White or red?" he asked, examining the wine list. I quickly responded that I preferred the former, much to his dramatically exasperated response.

I rolled my eyes at him and said the glass I'd had already was likely sufficient for the evening. But I could have a glass of red if he got a bottle. We ended up ordering wine flights - white for me, red for him - and I made my way through the small glasses more quickly than I realized, finding them pleasantly crisp and fruity. I firmly declined his offer of a nightcap, realizing I was getting a bit too flirtatious, even for my comfort level.

We started with prosecco on Tuesday night, the long day of meetings finally over. We then shared a bottle of wine (white, as per my preference), and port after we finished our meals and decided on desserts. But before I began stumbling around the city in my strappy sandals, I frowned when my fork clattered to the floor of the tiny restaurant. I had just started my salad - a delightful blend of endive and arugala, apples, walnuts and gorgonzola. I waited patiently for the waitress to make her way back to us - while the place was small, it was very busy. Adam finished his own salad and moved to hand me his fork.

"Really?" I asked, surprised. "You don't mind?" he shook his head, seemingly surprised that I'd ask and I happily took his utensil and finished my salad. He got a new fork with his meal, the four of us laughed and drank and ate and we made our way back to the hotel quite late that night. At first I was concerned - it's a drastic shift in dynamic from what I experienced as a student or post-doc. But it seems like a way of interaction we embrace in my sector of industry and I rather enjoy my colleagues. So it seems like all will be well - it just continues to strike me as a little odd for some reason.

Wednesday - Reaching My Limit.
After the 9th hour and 6th meeting yesterday, I shook my head and tucked my notebook in my bag. "I can do no more," I said and hugged my west coast co-workers good-bye and set off to explore downtown. I was told to take the Muni and, charmed by its cute little nickname, I made my way toward the stop. I got off too early, looked at the map more carefully, and got on a far more crowded car several moments later. I disembarked at Embarcadero, made my way out from underground and wandered a bit. Deciding I was exhausted and didn't really know what I wanted to see, I decided to catch the Bart toward the airport. Upon finally reaching it, I caught the airport tram to the proper terminal, got my hotel shuttle to go fetch my suitcase, returned on the shuttle, checked in and spent a few hours at the gate doing work. I'd elaborate further, but the haze of exhaustion prevented me from recalling a great deal. Good thing I took notes!

While I remain quite tired, it's good to be home. I will now return to catching up with my feed readers to see what I've missed.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Come on in!

I ache with weariness, but I find it’s pleasant to be so tired. I accomplished a great deal today. I clea
ned and organized and now know where a great deal of items are placed. I’m down to a single box – it’s filled with books waiting for one last shelf to arrive. I put a few pieces of china on the dining room table. I decided where keepsakes should be and beamed when I found closet space for those I don’t want to display. I did laundry – I think 8 loads or so – of linens and clothing and towels.

A colleague said her son would puppy-sit while I was away. Hugely grateful, I'm paying him well and wanted to make sure everything was clean and ready when he moves in tomorrow. I woke at 7 this morning - my new version of sleeping in - and started to work. I emptied a few boxes and began to sit and actual consider where I wanted to put items that I'd continued to say "just leave them there - I'll deal with it later," when someone would ask what to do with any number of my belongings. With the pressure of arriving guests, I began to make decisions. Thrilled with my progress once the office was tidied, I continued to bustle around my house while cleaning and putting things away.

I shoved boxes toward the garage so I could recycle them next week and turned to beam at the way the shelves match the existing cherry woodwork. It's a little fussy for my taste, but I rather like the way books are everywhere in here. It's not the library I envisioned, but I do see novels quite often that I'd love to read again.

Last night, I did just that. I was tired so I nestled on the couch in the basement, had the television on but ignored it, and read a book from beginning to end. Stress nagged at me when I went to bed - there was a lot to do to get the house in shape and I desperately want a day of nothingness in which to be quiet. But once I started, the rooms emptied of boxes encouraged me to move on to the next space.

"Thank you," I said when my colleague complimented my home. "I didn't finish cleaning yet - I worked from the top down so the basement is still cluttered - but I love it here right now. Everything's so neat! It's like I actually live here now rather than am somewhere in the process of moving in."

There are still problems. The chairs don't match the table in the dining room. While I loved the latter, I didn't like the matching chair design. So I picked up a couple leather ones then moved old chairs from the kitchen to the dining room. I opened up space in the kitchen - which pleased me - but they don't really go in the dining room. It makes me frown at the problem for a moment, but not enough to fix it.

I finally have a guest room, I thought with satisfaction. I ordered new bedding since the room is so light colored all over. The new comforter should arrive sometime before I get home next week. I'm fluttery with anticipation! But I like the sparse decor in this extra bedroom. A comfortable bed, lovely linens and a few beachy animals - crab, dolphin, turtle - that match the photos I've taken in Florida and Hawaii.

I found sheer panels and took down the crayon-red valences and replaced them with the translucent, white fabric to cover the windows. I moved the alarm clock to the headboard and took cases off pillows so they'd be freshly laundered for my guest tomorrow.

I personally find the other spare bedroom rather comforting, though I realize it could translate into creepy for some of you. The ceiling is painted blue and clouds dot the surface. I considered painting over it - and actually have primer in the room - but I rarely go in there and think Little One might like it. So the clouds have stayed so far while my old friends - mostly CareBears - perch on shelves along one wall.

There are games and dress clothes in the closet. There is a giant plush dog at the foot of the bed, standing guard over that corner of the house. I remember opening some of those bears as gifts, tearing away paper from the distinctive box in which they sat before someone ripped away the cardboard to cuddle. I don't know why I wanted them out - I suppose it's oddly soothing to go in, curl up on the bed I used growing up, and look across the room at the faded toys and remember that I've grown up. At least a little bit. And somehow life feels a bit less scary after that. CareBears are powerful, obviously.

Chienne took a bath and I a shower. We had mowed the back lawn (well, she was of limited help, mostly observing my progress from the deck) and did some weeding before talking to a neighbor and his children.

"All moved in?" he asked before his daughter - an adorable blonde with short, shiny hair - sold me something for her swimming fundraiser.

"I'm down to one box," I proudly proclaimed, flushed from the effort of trimming Chienne's fenced yard and thrilled with the continued friendliness of the subdivision. So, yes. I think I'm beginning to get comfortable here."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Exactly as Expected

On Fridays, we take out the trash.

In my idyllic little piece of suburbia, the blue recycling bin goes next to the black rolling trashcan. Recycling closest to the driveway, please, so that each house’s refuse looks identical as one drives down the curving hill and past the many cul-de-sacs toward the main road.

“Must take garbage,” I murmured, trying to rouse myself from the last moments of a fitful sleep. Chienne, hearing my voice, struggled out from under the covers so she could have me pet her favorite spot – right above her tail. Sprout had been in several times during the night, always purring proudly, so I was unsurprised, though certainly not pleased, to see the dead mouse lying on the carpet in the living room.

I sighed rather than screamed as I once would have done. I knew when he started going outside that he’d revert to old habits and begin bringing trophies back with him. I didn’t realize it would happen so soon, but my expectations were that I’d someday begin my morning routine picking up rodent carcass. So I grabbed a giant trash bag, opened it, placed a broom above the poor creature and slid the dustpan underneath. I released the remains over the trash bag, took it outside and placed it in the black trashcan I wheeled out to the curb.

“It’s not,” I told a colleague a couple of days ago about my job, “that I didn’t know what to expect. The application and interview process were neither smooth nor organized. I arrived to begin work on Monday and had to remind people on the Friday before that I was showing up a in a couple days. I knew I’d have to meet everyone and adapt to the culture and learn a great deal of new information. But I also expected I’d be really good at this. That my understanding of academic environments and my passion for the field would matter.”

“Hey,” I greeted a young woman in my group earlier today. “Where’ve you been?”

“[Ivy League],” she replied and I nodded, thinking I know someone there. “It was fun,” she told me.

“Good,” I smiled at her and said I was pleased things went well. “I worked really hard,” I replied when she asked about my week, “and accomplished very little.”

“I feel the same way!” she said immediately. “And I was talking to another guy and he said that's exactly what he's been thinking too.” I paused in the middle of the task I was performing – a question that had piqued my curiosity enough that I was rather happy to be analyzing data to answer it – and considered the problem. Was I trying to fit into a group that’s inherently inefficient?

I’m out of the office next week, flitting off to the west coast and taking only my work laptop. So there won’t be blog posts from Sunday-Thursday. This works out since I imagine I’ll be working from dawn until bedtime. Sometime within the intense meeting schedules and jovial dinners and desperate need for sleep, I plan to spend some time thinking. I understand the job and what’s expected. I can identify top priorities and the many tasks that prevent progress on said priorities. Given that I’m a bit different than everyone anyway, courtesy of the texts that line my shelves and letters I sometimes (though not often) throw after my name, I think I might try out a different schedule.

I won’t automatically accept meetings anymore. I’ll evaluate the people and issues involved and make judgments on the value of my time.

I will read more – I want to spend solid time with papers every day, even if only an hour. What drew me to this job – apart from location and salary – was the ability to learn and network. I can focus on gathering information – and have access to top level scientists – who do what I think is the coolest stuff out there. And I’m too busy looking for doohickeys to take advantage of it lately.

Email is faster since I’m learning good contacts. I can route people much more efficiently and would like to only check my account 4 times each day. I’m thinking morning, before lunch, mid-afternoon and just before I leave. The constant arrival of new messages distracts me from more important work so I think exiting Outlook might be wise.

“Because it’ll be hard,” or “We don’t normally do that,” are not adequate excuses. There are a couple of projects I’ve been cautioned against but I think I’m right. I might fail, but I think I’ll be happier in the process.

I need goals and checklists and affirmation. I have all of those things – and my colleagues are supportive and funny and wonderful – and I sense they’d be equally happy to help me if I tried something new with the hours I spend there. If I take a “What am I going to learn today?” rather than a “I have how many stupid meetings?!” approach, I think I can make this work a lot better.

Feel free to offer ideas on how that might be achieved.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My Policy

I shrugged and blinked back a stray tear when a colleague asked how I was this morning.

“What’s wrong?” she said, her voice immediately filled with sympathy. I shrugged again and said something about a rough week. I was just struggling. I woke around 6 this morning and, dreading the thought of going to the office and dealing with another full day, decided to take a long walk before getting ready.

Mist floated in the valleys and on the bodies of water near my house. I grimaced at my lawn, looking rather unkempt compared to its neighbors. Resolving to get home in time to mow tonight, I took comfort in the other yards in the neighborhood that hadn’t been trimmed yet this week. Chienne stopped to sniff and I waited, shivering a bit in the cool morning breeze. But it was peaceful – as it typically is here – and I sighed as we moved in through a loop, watching as people dutifully began their commutes to work. I showered, dressed and soon did the same, packing my bag and heading off toward my office.

I must, I decided, fix things. It’s not like I can afford time off – I read nor write personal emails, I don’t check blogs or read news. When at the office, I work. I began to eat my yogurt while my laptop docked into its station and abandoned my breakfast treat when Outlook opened and demanded attention. I started returning phone calls and answering messages before my meeting started. Adam arrived before I was finished.

He held up his hand when I started to ask questions and reminded me that I’d scheduled time for a different purpose. “Focus,” he reminded me. His eyebrows raised when mine lowered over my most menacing of glares. I took a breath, told myself not to get fired and opened my mouth before closing it again.

“OK,” I finally said. “Let’s talk about the topic at hand. But it doesn’t make all this other work go away.” So we talked and he defined actions for me and we moved on to the next few items on which I needed his input or influence. Then we walked together to our next meeting.

“I worked without stopping yesterday,” I said as we strode down a hallway. “And I accomplished nothing. I talked to people, dealt with technical issues, returned phone calls, set up meetings and went home exhausted. And I accomplished nothing! I don’t work like this! I need progress! I need something to get done rather than just having meeting after meeting and flipping meeting to make a simple decision!” I paused to let him open a door for me and stayed quiet as we continued to walk.

“I’m struggling,” I concluded in a softer tone and without the dramatic hand gestures that had accompanied my previous rant.

“I see that. I hear you,” he said.

“This is really different,” I told him. “I’m used to making decisions and getting things done. But my list just gets longer and longer because nothing can ever get checked off. And I don’t have time to figure out how to fix it because I’m so busy running to hell and back for 10 hours a day.”

“Well,” he finally said after we went through another doorway, “you could do something. And it’s actually mostly done – you’ve completed much of the work already.” About to elaborate, he stopped when we had to greet our guests who had arrived for the meeting. Switching focus, we both shook hands and chatted before the meeting began. Adam left after an hour while I sat through the next four on my own.

“Look,” I finally said to the men who are visiting. “For better or worse, you get me. People pop in and out of these meetings, but it’s my job to stay. I’m too new for them to let me make real decisions – which sucks for all of us, frankly – but this is what we have to make work. So let’s be honest, shall we? I know you do good work, but we don’t want this, that or the other. We’re making those ourselves. We need X, might want Y and need more details on Z. So let’s focus on what’s productive and see where we land.” So we made some progress – nothing major, but it was something. I defined goals, reoriented their plans and got to a point where I understood what they wanted and pushed back on a few issues. They bought me lunch before I returned to my desk.

Adam soon came to fetch me, having seen me walk through my door and close it behind me.

“Come on,” he smiled, motioning me toward his office before turning to move in that direction.

We sat, taking seats opposite each other around his table. “I’m having a bad week,” I offered when he’d looked at me for too long. “I love this job – I really do – but it’s frustrating as hell sometimes. I want to finish something. Get a sense of being productive rather than busy. And I can’t disappoint many more people. You tell them they can have something, then I have to call and qualify that with ‘in a year’ or ‘if you buy it.’ It’s not fair!”

“You sent that email,” he grinned. “I laughed – it’s how you play the game.” I smiled and shook my head and we talked through a couple of problems. “We’ll sit down next week and go over some ideas on how to make this better,” he promised.

“See?” I noted, “We can’t even solve this today.”

But I rarely regret sharing my struggles. If someone doesn’t know I need help, said assistance won’t appear. Feeling better about someone other than me thinking of how I can be more productive, I stayed late to finish a pile of work on my desk. Then I left my computer at work so I could come home and mow.

Looking back at grass that was tidily trimmed, I nodded with some satisfaction before coming in to shower for the second time today. I accomplished something - even if it was mowing and laundry and organizing my closet. And I’m tired so I suppose that’s enough for today.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Oh, Profanity

I woke this morning at 3:14. Sprout, having been in the great outdoors, made his way upstairs to inform me of his adventure. Purring madly, he nudged and meowed until I blinked awake enough to smooth his coat. He cuddled and I frowned at having a large, fluffy mass in my face while I was trying to sleep. But I’m a good pet person, so I sighed and closed my eyes. But I glared when he meowed demandingly for more pets and turned over. The action made Chienne – who was under the covers behind my knees – huff her displeasure at the change.

“We all have problems,” I told her and tried to ease back into dreams. I failed and finally got out of bed before 6 and began putting on clothes and curling my hair.

“OK, that’s not good,” I said before pulling curled hair into a loose ponytail and leaning closer to the computer screen. “There are confounding factors, of course, but an error message should have appeared. Are you sure it didn’t inform the operator of excessive noise?” We chatted for a moment – not really getting closer to an answer – and I had to leave for another meeting. “Set something up for tomorrow,” I requested on my way out the door. “I’ll make time to be there to fix it.”

“It’s not,” I informed my visitors for the morning, “that we don’t have doohickeys. And we don’t necessarily throw them away. But nobody knows where they’re kept either.”

“Are you kidding?” one of the pair asked. “A global, multi-billion dollar operation and you don’t have a single doohickey?”

“We have them,” I said with a grin. “We just don’t know where they are.” But I solved problems and wrangled people and wandered from meeting to demo, shaking hands with each of the men before they left the building.

“I have to leave,” one colleague said as I was walking down the hallway. I nodded, arranging my face into an expression of concern. “Everything’s fine,” she added, “but can you handle this afternoon on your own?”

I waved as she went away, thought longingly of lunch, but resolutely headed back the way I’d come to deal with more technical issues. I slipped safety glasses back on my nose to walk down the aisles through manufacturing, spent hours fighting with equipment and software and bits and pieces.

“Profanity, profanity, profanity,” I whispered when someone said they left me a voicemail. My light wasn’t blinking so I hadn’t checked. The automated message lady said I had 40 unheard voicemails and I laid my head on my desk in despair while I listened to them. I was left to return calls and make apologies for the delay. I blamed the light, of course, but realized I’m simply too busy. I’m letting things slip because I don’t have adequate time and energy to make everything work.

I ran to a meeting, getting there mid-discussion because I was late, then I left early so I could make another meeting, also arriving late to that gathering. I left early again to take a phone call, rejected an idea someone had (which made me feel badly, but it was the right call. So profanity it.) and took another call to hear about more problems.

“No,” I moaned silently when I walked into a computer lab well after 5 and saw a visiting researcher.

“Katie!” he said, rising from his chair to shake my hand warmly. “Do you have some time?”

“Of course,” I said, smiling weakly and thinking longingly that I was just going to check one last thing and head home after an 11 hour day. But talking is my job, so I chatted with the scientist, talked about steps and what’s important and prioritization for product structure.

“You’re killing me,” I told one manager today when he brought up production capacity, pricing and politics when I had decided on a vendor for a certain product based on technical requirements. He grinned and told me I was learning.

“I want to kill you,” I thought of another manager who keeps promising prototypes that aren’t yet ready. This leaves me to deal with disappointed customers and collaborators and I hate it.

I’m painfully busy and struggling to prioritize. My preference would be to pick a few things and do them well, but I see so many details fall through the cracks that I’m somehow compelled to try to catch them. So I fear my widening network just leaves me with more people to disappoint.

“Let me know if you ever want to leave here,” one of my visitors said. “You seem to be a great addition to the team and we might be interested in hiring you if you ever move on.”

“That’s very kind,” I offered in reply. “But I’m good where I am – I really love it here.” And most days – with today as an exception – that’s quite true.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Professional Sites

I have questions.

I’d like to start a web page – using an already established template – for one of my projects at work. I think it’s important for users of one of our products to communicate – to share problems and solutions, questions and answers. The current site provides blogs, discussion boards, a gallery for figures and abstracts.

“It’s failing.” I spoke to a manager last week and we chatted about how important the concept was and how vital the customer opinions were to our troubleshooting and continued development. “We can’t get people to talk. They’ll sign up and read, but they don’t want to answer questions or even ask them. Nobody’s saying anything so why keep providing the site at all?”

I sighed. I’d looked at the site under discussion and he was correct. Statistics indicated visitors were coming. Then they’d leave quietly because nothing was going on. We need something bright and dynamic and compelling!

“Maybe a smaller community is worth trying,” I suggested and he pounced on the idea.

“But,” he said gently, just as I was beginning to flutter with excitement, “only about 1% of your audience will write anything.” I thought of my blog, did some quick calculations in my head and nodded my silent agreement.

“But,” I argued since I really do want this to work, “once someone starts to feel comfortable posting, others might follow. So I think launching and persistence are both important.”

“True,” he said, “and I don’t mean to rain on your parade. I’d love to see you make this work. But it’s a lot of work to launch big and continue to push. And I know you’re new and passionate – and that’s wonderful – but you’re also probably incredibly busy and a little overwhelmed. So I don’t want to encourage you to tackle something that’s going to bury you.”

“No, I know,” I said and paused. “And I appreciate the thought.” He offered several suggestions for alternatives or tips to make the webpage work if I decided to go that route.

“Take initiative,” Adam ordered at a group meeting earlier this month. “You’re management – make decisions. Don’t have meetings for judgments you can make on your own.” I nodded when he looked at me, being rather eager to make decisions and move forward.

“Well, maybe not you,” he said, perhaps suspicious of how excited I looked. “You’re still new – check with me before you do anything major.” Crestfallen, I made a face at him and got a wink in return. But I’m still pushing forward – identifying priorities, guiding efforts, setting up meetings.

Given that I know some of you have set up professional pages for groups, any advice? How to launch well? How to encourage participation? Do I create a student section? A research section? Do high level researchers impress or intimidate? Advice? Please?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Comparisons

“Oh, good gracious,” I muttered when I looked in the mirror. My eyebrows were in terrible shape, having been neglected for several weeks now. I’ve thought about plucking them, but it’s always when I’m nearly asleep or already dressed and leaving for work. Once conscious of the problem, it tugged at my attention all day. But I still returned home to work a bit and read blogs. At 7:30, I finally decided to find my tweezers and remedy the situation.

Current grooming status? Worse.

I didn’t go to work all that much as a post-doc, but the trips I did make included 15 or so miles on the interstate, often laden with heavy traffic. I despised the drive, having problems with the masses of stopped cars, idiotic driving decisions and sheer length of the commute. Now I need about half the time to make a few turns and take lovely back roads past valleys and farms and mature trees just beginning to turn golden or reddish as autumn approaches. I drive directly to my building in the light traffic – the worst point is a stop sign at which I sometimes have to wait for 10 whole cars! – and park as close as possible. Then, instead of waiting for a bus to make my way closer to my office as I used to do, I walk for less than a minute, open a door and proceed to my desk.

Current commute? Better. Much, much better.

I had about 1200 square feet in my cute cottage of old. My home now boasts 3 floors, 4 bathrooms and about 2500 square feet of living space. It also has a number of lovely details that I adore – a large front porch and curving walk to the door, two decks off the back of the structure, cherry accents, a huge master suite and a basement that holds all the odds and ends. But there are inconveniences. The laundry is in the basement and I dress upstairs. So the clothes – whether dirty or clean – are always far from where they should be. I’ve also mentioned that I rarely spend time on the main floor. While it’s growing prettier with the matching shelves I ordered and elegant dining set, I still follow a standard routine. I get home, go upstairs – dog giddy with happiness at my return – change clothes, head downstairs to watch TV and work then return upstairs to sleep. I get completely dressed before walking Chienne in the morning because it’s so inconvenient to run up and down all the time.

Current house? About the same – better in some ways, worse in others. (Once I adjust, it will be better. I’m just being a whiner.)

I used to love to drink tap water. I even had a cold water dispenser on my refrigerator. I now grimace at the soft water I sip from the filtered pitcher I keep inside my refrigerator. Bags of salt? Freaking heavy. Oh, and I also heard the water is radioactive.

Current water? Worse.

I had a great deal of affection for my old colleagues. I loved Boss and Ken and Marlie. I adored having Friend around. I was comforted by knowing my way around campus. But my colleagues now are superb. Perhaps it was the effort I put in at the beginning, but I have friends at work now! We have lunch together and giggle over talk of TV, music, travel and children. I’m thinking of taking a ballet class with two of the women. I grin involuntarily when I see someone from the team because I’m just ridiculously proud and happy to be one of them. I really love the people with whom I work. They’re bright and funny and motivated.

Current colleagues? Better! They're the best!

I eat a burrito each week and do enjoy the rice and beans and chicken and cheese. But I would stab you with a fork to get a cheese biscuit and honey butter. I don’t yet have a good Greek place. I heard about good Chinese but I’ve yet to try it. Yet I have a gas stove and the results of my culinary efforts are of higher quality. Still. I like eating out. And one can only survive on Qdoba for so long.

Current food? Worse. Until I find new options. But the cheese biscuits…how I miss them.

I use a heavy Dell laptop. I had an iMac that sat prettily on my desk and worked whenever I asked her to.

Current computer? Piece of freaking crap comparatively. I sigh with pleasure when I use one of my Macs here at home. (And I have 4 computers here – 2 desktops, 2 laptops. This is likely a bad sign that I’m a little geeky.)

Nancy lives next door. I know her children as well as her dog. When Chienne got loose the other day, Courtney – an adorable blonde girl across the street – caught her while her little sister waved from the door. I also know their parents and dog. There’s a lab puppy who lives down the street – his parents greet me by name when they walk by. People say hello and wave and stop to pat Chienne’s head. It’s lovely. Especially considering I didn’t really speak to my old neighbors, though we could have commiserated over escalating gun violence and the effect of graffiti on property values.

Current neighbors? Better.

As I was contemplating the end of the blog post, I heard an odd banging sound. Rising from my bed to stand near the open sliding glass door (Current weather? Better! It’s cold! There’ll be winter!), I giggled when I realized it was someone practicing the drums. Badly. One of my neighbors down south did the same. Also badly.

Appreciation of bad drumming? About the same.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Changes

“You have turned over a new leaf,” Mom commented and I thought briefly of my 7th grade campaign slogan for vice president. (Oh, yes, I did win. I had a construction paper tree with leaves students could pull off. They trunk proclaimed, “Turn over a new leaf!” and the individual leaves had “Vote for Katie!” on the undersides. It’s little wonder my political career was rather short lived.)

“Because I’m awake?” I asked, glancing at the clock. It was before 7:00. I shrugged while moving toward the coffee pot. “I don’t even nap anymore,” I noted as I took a seat at the table and began to sip.

I’ve been doing a bit of soul searching – if one can call the scattered attention I’ve played to the matter – about changes. After hearing Friend’s news and reading Richard’s post (though the two aren’t related in any way), I suggested a change of scenery to the former and commented that I was different to the latter.

In truth, I have any number of complaints about my job. The magnitude of the politics behind decisions and telling people that they can’t have items we know how to make because the decision isn’t commercially valid? It bugs me. But I’m a tiny cog in a giant machine. I don’t get to decide what’s fair or not. I do the best I can with what I’m given and sometimes I absolutely recognize it’s not enough. And have to explain to people why something is OK even when I don't think that's necessarily true.

But I’m happier here than I can remember being. I’m busy – sometimes ridiculously so considering my level of importance (which is pretty low, frankly) – but I come home remembering what I accomplished. I took 10 conference calls and sent 100 emails and ran across campus to make as many meetings as possible. I’m challenged in different ways than I have before. I’m learning a lot. And I feel valued. If I’m late, people call. When I said I’d take care of something, one of my colleagues hugged me. Surprised, I hugged her back and smiled. Then I went opened my drawer and ate a piece of chocolate before diving back into a sea of problems.

I think the changes – whether it’s sleeping less or being so mentally consumed by work 5 days a week – have, as most aspects of my life tend to do, been obvious in what I write here. I forget to think of blog topics during the day (or discover one I think is a bit risky in a professional sense) and have been catching up on thought-requiring tasks during the evenings so I’m reasonably caught up the next day. So I keep waiting to settle, to return to posts I like writing and editing, to actually find my camera so I can post photos.

“What’s up with you this weekend?” I asked one of my favorite engineers as we waited for a meeting to begin on Friday. He said he was taking a trip with friends and asked what I’d be doing.

“Work. Sleep,” I predicted, as yet unaware that my parents were planning to arrive to assemble shelves and shop for furniture and keep me busy with house stuff.

“I used to take work home,” he recalled. “Now I do things I enjoy in my free time. It’s much better.” I nodded in response, knowing he’s right. I should take time to relax, force work to remain work. But I like what I do and want to be good at it. And I tend toward all or nothing – I either want to work constantly because it’s so exciting and cool or I can barely gather the energy to reply to emails because it’s all so tiresome and tedious.

I do have a huge amount of affection for this blog and people who read it. So I’m not worried that I’ll arrive at some suitable solution for writing and posting and reading when I’m not half asleep or mostly distracted. But the transition is demanding a lot of energy. Changes can be fabulously positive, but they have the potential to be exhausting and uncertain as well. So bear with me here. And I’ll try to find my camera soon.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Belated Snippets

In no particular order, I present the following:

Parental Visit
"Hey," I picked up my phone after seeing Mom's number flash across the display. "What's up?" I nodded and said that'd be great when she said she'd changed her mind and wanted to spend the weekend at my place after all. So she and Dad arrived last night and woke at 6 this morning.

Before noon, we'd fixed the dog door (Look, blogfriends! No duct tape!), built 5 shelves (that are gorgeous and match the woodwork in the house), shopped for suitable living room chairs (Nothing. Still.) and bought a dining room table. Amidst the building, there was much unpacking of books - I feel more settled now. So it was good to spend the day working rather than sleeping.

Pushing Back
"I'm sorry you won't be a part of our solution," I wrote when someone informed me he wouldn't make a meeting he requested. I'm done being sweet and kind and dealing with people's timelines. If it doesn't work, I'm saying so. The alternative is simply too time consuming and I'm buried under work.

The recipient of my message has decided to arrive as scheduled.

Making Progress
"Thank you," I said sincerely, rising to shake a man's hand as he left a meeting I called. "It was lovely to meet you and I appreciate you taking the time to talk." He smiled back at me and my tummy fluttered happily at the potential of one of my projects. I think this is important. And I'm excited about being part of it, even if said part is more coordination then coding.

Within the last week, the most daunting facet of my job came into focus. I had a meeting, took multiple phone calls, gained some visibility and finally feel capable of tackling some of the larger issues.

And One Step Back
"No," I moaned when someone stopped me in the hall to say she was stopping one of the projects I was dearly hoping to expand. She went into how much work it is and legal ramifications and why it's better to take a break.

"I'll do it," I offered, thinking as quickly as I could about schedules and ownership and risk/benefit. "I think it's important - vital, actually. So I won't let it die." She nodded, looking sympathetic for a moment and I sighed before going back to my desk and making some notes. I could be wrong here, but I think this particular concept is high profile and important. I believe I've adapted to the corporate culture enough to want to be part of something big. And this might be it.

I just have no idea when I'm going to deal with all of this.

Sprout's Freedom
"Hey, buddy," I murmured when I felt the bed move beneath the cat's weight. "Outside again, huh?" I asked, feeling soaked rather than soft fur when I reached to pet him. He snuggled next to my side, and I sighed as I felt the moisture soak through my shirt. But I went back to sleep, awakened each time Sprout returned to purr happily and inform me of his adventures out into the rainy night.

The new dog door is composed of a flexible plastic cover over a large opening. I knew Sprout would take advantage of the opportunity. He's a hunter at heart and dearly missed being outside. So though I know there are a multitude of reasons why it's a bad idea for both of us (he could get hit by a car, I could wake up with a half-dead, partially-eaten mouse in the middle of the night), I'm going to go with it. I don't have an alternate solution, the neighborhood is rather quiet and safe and he'll be a happier cat during his likely-shorter life.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dear Home Depot,

I was at WalMart last weekend to pick up a few cleaning supplies for my new house. I was behind one woman, waiting to pay for my bottles and scrubbies, and moved forward after she finished her credit card transaction. She stopped abruptly and turned to lecture the cashier over his customer service policies. Apparently he hadn’t greeted her, had answered another employee’s question while waiting on her and made her feel rather unimportant. I raised my eyebrows in surprise over her strong reaction to the matter and nudged my window cleaner closer to the register and walked forward. I said hello to the young man working, ignored the woman who was still mid-monologue and waited until she went away.

“Some people,” I told him after he thanked me for my interference, “are overly critical. It’s sad, really.” So we chatted until I paid and took my bag with me to the car and I thought with some pity and annoyance of the woman who felt it necessary to try to make other people unhappy. Did her two minutes at the register really matter enough to make such a big fuss?

It’s with some resignation that I admit I must share some qualities with the unfortunate woman since I am writing to share a complaint. I’ve become so annoyed that I feel somehow compelled to take time out of my evening to articulate my unhappiness and the reasons behind it.

I’d met with two contractors before calling Home Depot about putting up a fence. My offer on a beautiful home had been accepted and closing was scheduled for late August. My former house had a fence and dog door for Chienne, a medium-sized hound with bridled fur and floppy ears, and I needed my new structure to share those features. Yet I was concerned about hiring either of the two men I met – one seemed overpriced and almost smarmy and the other was an hour late for the appointment and seemed grandiose in his plans.

Minnie arrived and we chatted pleasantly as she measured the lot behind my house-to-be. She wrote out an estimate, clearly explained the options and charges and I felt comfortable knowing I could ask questions or voice concerns with her and happily signed a contract for Contactor to install the materials they bought from your corporation. The call from the project manager, Mickie, arrived about a week sooner than I expected and I was thrilled to find they’d be able to handle the job a mere week after I moved in. I arranged to go in late to work since Minnie mentioned I should be present when they started to handle any questions that might come up, but I grew concerned when nobody had arrived at 9AM on Friday, August 29.

When I called, Mickie assured me the crew would arrive shortly. I was relieved when a group of three men found the house around 10 that morning. They were lovely, responding easily to my requests about post placement and making relatively quick progress. I was surprised and dismayed when their leader came to the door at 2:00 and said they’d be leaving for the weekend. But I didn’t protest, agreeing they could put the materials in the corner of the yard and return on Tuesday though Mickie had originally said they’d finish that day. I told myself not to be picky, but found myself looking outside sadly that weekend, wishing the fence had been finished as I’d expected.

On Tuesday, I again arranged to go in late to work. I called Mickie at 10:30 and was told he thought the crew finished on Friday and didn’t have plans to send anyone back. He made a call and got back to me very soon to say a crew would arrive that afternoon to finish. I grew worried about 1, thinking if they normally stopped for the day at 2, my fence would never get finished as I’d lost my spot on the schedule. I called Mickie every hour afterward, feeling both apologetic and annoyed since I was missing more work than I could afford to do. So I made phone calls and sent email while keeping watch out the back door for the crew to arrive.

At 4:15, I saw them arrive and quickly begin to arrange cross pieces and attach the fence slats. It seemed to be going well, so I busied myself with work and went outside when the same man from Friday came to let me know they were done. I told them it was beautiful and it was – they did a fast and fabulous job and were gone before 6:30.

Minnie said they would do a stick-built design to follow the contour of the yard as closely as possible, so I was unhappy with one section by the street that left a gap between ground and fence. But I knew they must have been eager to wrap things up, and given that it was only one spot and Chienne was too big to escape through the gap, I decided I was satisfied and thanked them before going back inside.

After they left, I went out with Chienne to wander around the yard, feeling happy that she was allowed off her leash to frolic as she wished. I picked up some trash the crew left – a bottle of Vitamin Water, a few pieces of clear plastic and threw them away. On my way to the trashcan in the attached garage, I found several screws held together when a paper/sticker wrapper near the driveway and tossed them on my deck chair. Our neighbors walked by with a puppy and I invited them inside our new fence and felt my new life was rather idyllic while we talked and the dogs played together. I got back to the office the next day, put in more hours than normal to get caught up and arrived home to pull my car in the garage at dusk on Wednesday.

I frowned as I began to pull out on Thursday morning, hearing an odd thunking sound from the passenger side of the car. Thinking my older car had some odd problem, I pulled back in the garage and out of the rain, left it idling and opened the hood. I didn’t see anything obvious so I walked around the car and saw that the rear passenger tire was completely flat. Thinking it sucked that I’d already missed a day that week and was now going to be late again, I went inside to call AAA. A man arrived within 20 minutes and I watched him replace the flat tire with my spare.

“I just had a fence put in,” I told him and he said he’d seen it and that it looked nice. Then he showed me where a screw had punctured the tire and said the location was likely too close to the sidewall to be patched. He recommended a Goodyear place since I’d put that brand on the car about 2 years ago and I stopped that night after work, braving the rain yet again, to have a new tire put on. The bill was $138.66.

I came home, keeping as much distance as possible between the passenger side of my car and my new fence on that side of the driveway and grabbed my umbrella to look around. I then found another long screw with a pointy end and was angry – with the crew for leaving it and with myself for not checking harder after I found the first few.

I was busy with work and kept forgetting to call Contractor about my tire. I thought about forgetting it, but it bugged me. Everything was perfect in the beginning, but then the crew didn’t show up and finish as expected, that gap between the fence and ground was clearly visible from the street and they were sloppy about cleaning up afterward. So I called Minnie, who told me they only used nails so I must be mistaken about the screws, and Mickie called me back to talk.

Perhaps they don’t typically use screws and I’d made them suspicious – I don’t know. But I felt like Mickie thought I was lying – I didn’t know if it was a screw or nail, he said. Even if they did leave the nail, my tires weren’t worth what I paid for the new one. When I protested that I had new enough tires and didn’t want to put more money into an old car, he sighed and said he’d talk to his crew and the main office. Then I went to find the screws, realized I’d been right along, and got angrier.

I did talk to Goofy at the main office today since I’d missed his call yesterday. “I wish you wouldn’t have fixed the tire without talking to us,” he said. “We need to be involved right away. Now we can’t investigate properly.”

This immediately made me defensive – I hadn’t done anything wrong! I’m at a new job in a new house, dealing with a great deal of transition. I’m busy and tired and living alone. So when a screw flattens my tire, I fixed it. I don’t see how that changes the fact that the tire closest to the fence got flattened with a screw the day after the fence was installed. And that I found other long screws near and in the driveway on Tuesday and Thursday. At some point in your “investigation,” logic should play a role. I criticized Goofy’s tone, said that I was going to let Home Depot know my level of satisfaction was very low and told him I’d fax him the tire receipt as well as a photo of the screws I’d found. (I do, however, take responsibility for the tire. I meant to keep the flattened one and should have done so. I did call Goodyear and the trash pick-up had already occurred.)

The quality of customer service is determined when things go wrong, I think. And while I couldn’t have been happier with the initial part of the transaction, the end leaves me scowling at the fence every time I look out my back door or drive into my garage.

I want $138.66, not because the money is that important, but because people bug me when they mess up and only grudgingly take responsibility. And the reason I’ve spent so much time going on about a fence is that it added stress to an already busy time. I suppose I’d like someone to say he/she is sorry this was unpleasant for me. I realize my experience is likely outside the norm – and that Home Depot had little responsibility in the matter at all – but I still expected better.

I’ll send Goofy a copy of this letter as well as the receipt and photo tomorrow. If you’d like to speak in more detail (though I’m not sure how it’s possible after this amount of text), please feel free to be in touch.

Sincerely,

Katie

(And this is why I don't often write angry letters. Too much time and energy.)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Retrospective, Two

"Katie?" she asked when I stepped in the small room and wrinkled my nose. I shook her hand, smiled warmly and immediately asked if she wanted to go walk around. When she declined, I sat down across the table, smiled again and asked how she was doing.

In three years as a post-doc, I participated in exactly zero interviews. I rather like talking to candidates - I'm easy and I like to think I offer a pleasant break from the tougher questions and discussions. So I was thrilled to get an email request to talk to someone after just two months. It made me feel like part of the team! Important! Like my opinion counted! So I pranced across our campus at my assigned time, folder in hand with a CV inside, and met with a young woman just finishing grad school.

"I've only been here two months," I confided, beginning to chatter while I admired how composed and alert she looked after a full day of meetings. I was more rumpled than she, tugging at the hem of my pink sweater and adjusting the strap on my black shoes. I led my first major meeting this morning, making good progress and feeling good about the experience. I participated in two other gatherings, wrote a presentation for later this week and went for an afternoon coffee with a colleague.

Interviewee asked about the transition and I grinned. "I'm so happy," I told her, leaning forward as if I was sharing a cool secret. "I don't know that it's for everyone, but it was such a good move for me." So we talked about the environment and goals, the differences from academia and the amazing people with whom I work and she'd met. She asked some questions and I elaborated greatly when replying - offering her time to sit back and rest, though she stayed focused and interested the entire time.

I finally asked a few questions of my own, laughing over shared graduate struggles and talking through some decision points on why I wanted my job and why she wants the one we advertised.

"I hope you find something that works for you," I said sincerely, shaking her hand warmly when our time was up and her next appointment arrived.

"I'm glad you found something you love," she offered and I paused to smile a bit more brightly at her.

"Me too," I replied after a moment. "And thank you."

I don't know if the meds are kicking in or if I'm relieved about my progress that I noted on my graph today (I need them for my biweekly meetings with Adam), but I felt truly content today. And given a month that included closing on two houses, settling into my new home and making time to stay reasonably caught up at work, that seemed like quite the blessing.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

20mg of perspective

I have taken Celexa – an anti-depressant – for about two years now. I tried to abruptly quit twice (some time ago – can’t really recall) and subsequently decided I felt better on them than off and planned to stay on a low dose for the foreseeable future.

That all went pretty well. I refilled 3 months of my prescription before moving and made a mental note to see a new doctor once I got settled to keep my bottle safely filled so I could take one each night. I take said bottle with me when I travel – not because it kills me to miss a night, but because it’s part of my evening routine to swallow a tiny pink tablet for my mental well-being.

“I can’t find my pills,” I told my parents last weekend. “I almost didn’t take them to the desert, but I decided to go ahead and throw them in the bag. I don’t know where I put them when I got back.”

“Did you leave them?” Mom asked, already moving toward the stairs to go check my room.

“I don’t think so,” I replied, rolling my eyes when Dad said I probably did and the hotel threw them away. “They wouldn’t throw away a prescription,” I snapped at him and he went into some speech about how they had to do that. Mom and I continued to distance ourselves from said monologue and searched my bedroom and bathroom.

“I wonder if I lost them,” she fretted, for she’d taken charge of unpacking the master bedroom/bathroom/closet for me. I shrugged and patted her back in reply.

“I doubt it,” I finally said. “I just don’t remember unpacking them so I’m not sure where they went. They’ll turn up.”

But the tiny tablets stayed stubbornly lost all week. I found a sample pack of pills and took half doses for four days, then stopped when I ran out. And I felt like hell.

My mood dipped pretty quickly, but, knowing the cause, I tried to control my reaction to it. I do the worst at night, right before bed. My mind races with worry – this house is too big! What if I get fired? I’m not social enough to do this job! If Chienne potties in the basement, I’m never going to get rid of the smell! What if Sprout escapes through the dog door? He might get hit by a car! Or in a fight with another cat! I have to take the animals to the vet to update shots and get overall checks. Sprout hates the vet – what if I lose him while getting out of the car? I'm a bad person for not taking care of my pets. I don't deserve animals to love. It's so very sad.

I practiced deep breathing while the frantic worry bounced around my brain, forcing back panic over the fact that I have a problem that requires medication. And I lost the pills!

In addition to the mental struggle – I became increasingly mopey and paranoid last week – I felt physically awful. I had nasty headaches every day – the kind that lurk even after I’d taken painkillers. My stomach felt funny all week, leaving me sipping soda and nibbling crackers to try to work through the queasiness. And I spent a lot of time talking myself back from destructive thoughts. People like me, I replied firmly to the worry that they did not enjoy having me around. I’m smart and capable. Adam’s not regretting his decision to give me this job. The neighbors don’t hate my fence and resent me for putting it up. I’m fine. Everything’s good.

But the dark fog – for I’ve been immersed in the heavy, black cloud of despair and this episode wasn’t nearly so bad – refused to disperse completely. I forced myself out of bed each day but finally stayed home on Friday, blowing off a meeting (which the other attendee did too, thank goodness, so no problems) and sleeping instead. When a sick headache finally forced me off the mattress, I made an appointment for next week. I need the pills back, I thought, and couldn’t wait for Mom to send some of hers or for mine to turn up.

I’m drawn to water when I feel badly, so I’ve taken lots of showers. I decided yesterday that a bath sounded nice so I ran the water into my gigantic tub and after a moment perusing my Lush offerings, decided to add a bit of bubble bar, breaking off a small corner of the square. Then I added a bit more, thinking the tub was big enough to require an extra dose of suds. I climbed in, depressed the button to start the jets and relaxed until my shoulders were submerged under the layer of bubbles that sparkled atop the water. I glanced over to see the book I brought with me and decided to just rest for a bit before reading.

I opened my eyes when the bubbles touched my nose, blinking in surprise at the mounds that had formed. The jets seemed to be encouraging their multiplication so I sat up and began to giggle as the fluff continued to rise around me. Sitting in the middle of the tub, I glanced around and was surrounded by a soft, white cloud of shimmering bubbles that whispered even as they grew larger, encouraged by too much bubble bar and the strong whirlpool currents. I scooped three handfuls of the soapy stuff off the ledge, found the button and stopped the jets. Then I glanced around my softly scented environment.

I tried to scoop water over the bubbles, but they simply formed smooth curves under my hands. I blew at them, forming tunnels in the large mounds that refused to disperse. I played for a while – making shapes and lingering in the white puffs that caught the light and scattered it around the room. When I decided I’d rather relax (but would be buried in bubbles if I tried to do so), I began draining the tub and stepped out to shower off the suds. I glanced in the mirror, literally coated with bubbles such that only my face was visible, smiled sheepishly at my reflection and stepped in the shower next to the tub.

It took some time to coax the suds off my skin. They slowly dripped down my arms to my fingertips, tickling a little before finally dripping to the floor. By the time I finished, I was clean and soft. And covered to my shins with bubbles that didn’t want to go down the drain. It took my tub over an hour to empty of its bubbles and I rinsed the sides before bed, deciding I’d try again with less product next time.

“Bubbles in my ears,” I said absently while waiting to fall asleep last night. Surrounded by a flurry of worry rather than a cloud of bubbles, I got up and shuffled to the bathroom to acquire a Qtip. When I reached in the cardboard flap of the large box, my fingers encountered a bottle. Upon withdrawing it, I smiled at seeing my anti-depressants, popped one in my mouth and swallowed a bit of water from the bathroom tap.

In truth, I didn’t feel like me without them. And while part of it was the abrupt cessation, I still don’t feel like I can ever be apart from the chemical help they offer. I see why some people might feel flat – they do decrease the intensity for me. But I’m still high-strung and dramatic, honestly. They didn’t change my personality so much as made it easier to handle. I don’t worry frantically at night when I’m medicated, a habit that has otherwise persisted since childhood. I feel more centered – able to tolerate criticism and disappointment without wanting to weep. And it’s easier to rise in the morning, get clean and dressed and head off to work.

I resisted medication for a long, long time, all the while truly needing the help. Grad school was often a study in misery, the first year of my post-doc was filled with intensity that resulted in a lengthy period of profound depression. When I was agonizing over whether to begin taking drugs, it helped me immeasurably to hear people I liked and respected saying they took something and felt better for it.

As of last night, I’m now taking something and will soon feel better for it. Said information is on medical documents I submitted when starting at Industry. I don’t feel embarrassed or weird about people knowing I take them, though I had issues with that a couple of years ago. I’m also happy to field questions about my reaction to medication – in comments or via email. I think academic life can be tough for some of us. I also think the environment can nurture these types of thought processes – I should always work harder, I’m never smart enough, everyone is criticizing me – and make the worry intensify and cause folks to drown in inadequacy. Pills aren’t the only answer, but they’re one that’s been effective for me.

And as long as I’m doling out advice, if you use a bubble bar in a tub with really strong water pressure and jets, go easy on the dose.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Dog Day

"Sweetheart," I said as I stumbled down the stairs this morning to let Chienne outside. "You know I love you bunches and bunches. But if you step on my pajamas again while I'm walking down stairs, I'm going to swat you on the head!"

Much as we - Chienne, Sprout and I - love the space, we're still adjusting to several aspects of our new home. Chienne doesn't have a dog door, making it challenging for both of us to sleep when I'm trying to decide if she has to potty or not. If she goes in the basement again, I'm going to do worse than swat her on the head. So I shuffled toward the sliding door before 7 on a Saturday morning and watched her trot down the deck stairs to explore her yard. She looked at me beeseachingly when she returned to the door, so I sighed and obediently went back upstairs to find shoes and socks.

We set off along the trail near my house - a lovely trip through a patch of forest - and said good morning to the other puppies. I shook my head over the runners, smiled at the bikers zipping by ("Passing on the left," they call. "OK," I agree, keeping the dog from flipping them over.) and enjoyed the cool air and pretty trees.

It was lovely, I decided, peeking through the trees to see the water bounce reflections off its still surface. We made it to a nearby park after about a mile, then wandered the paths there before turning to arrive home.

"Our door is here!" I cried when we neared the house. So I put Chienne inside (which startled Sprout into a sprint up the stairs) and dragged the heavy box through the gate and onto the deck. I let the dog out to join me and she decided to let me deal with opening the huge box while she watched neighbors and dogs go by. After wrestling the top off, I withdrew the patio dog door that would easily slip into place.

"Step 1," I read after opening the last box and pouncing on the booklet I found, "decide if your door fits on the right or left." I frowned at the booklet and looked at the door. "Well, it depends on if I'm outside or in. Book? Do you want me to be outside or in?" I finally decided that it should be on the right (I was supposed to be inside) and that the weather stripping should be removed and swapped out. (The door was made to fit on the left.)

"Well, that's not coming off," I said to myself as I sat on my deck. I tugged once more on the rubber attached to the bottom of the door and glared when I was soundly defeated. It wouldn't budge. Then I smiled when I decided to outsmart it. So I put the door on backwards - what should be outside faces in and vice versa. "Screw it - who'll notice?" I decided and set about my installation.

"Awesome," I praised myself when I had it in place. Though I fumbled trying to put in the dog flap and had to read directions more than once to figure out a couple steps, I had it in place. And was quite proud.

Until I made my way inside and saw all the gaps between the patio pet door and my sliding door. "Huh," I said, looking suspiciously at the bees flying around outside. "I wonder if it's because I put it on backward." I stared at it for a moment before shrugging. I could probably fix it, but I'll wait until Brother arrives next weekend. So I stuck duct tape to the top of the door and attached it all the way down the door, temporarily (and not-so-elegantly) fixing my problem.

Chienne has spent the day barking at neighbors, basking in the sunshine and sleeping on couches and beds. I think - much money and considerable time later - she's all set in her new home. I'll keep you updated on Sprout's escape attempts.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Solitary Issues

“Have you heard from that guy?” Mom asked while she was here, ever hopeful that her only daughter won’t be alone until the end of time.

“Nope,” I answered easily, sparing her a moment’s sympathy. Then the man she married voiced some asinine complaint and I rolled my eyes. Dad didn’t get to go anywhere while he was here! (“But,” I said, “you had a car. If you want to go, you should go.”) He was getting bossed around! (“But,” I said, “you attach the dog to the leash you’ve wrapped around the deck and she broke her collar. So I don’t see why you insist upon continuing to use a method that’s proven ineffective.”) He wanted to apply tint to my windows! (“Like you use on car windows?” I asked with a disapproving frown. “On the windows of my pretty house? No.”) For much as I love my father, I grew tired of arguing over decisions that should have been mine alone. I didn’t want more suggestions and criticism. And why was it my job to deal with dinner when I worked all day and he’d been home?

“Oh,” Mom replied and returned to unpacking and cleaning.

“I’m OK,” I told her and she nodded. “I know you worry – and I wish I was in love with someone who loved me back – but I love my job and have friends at work and am so happy with this house. I really am OK.”

“I know,” she said, looking surprised. “I’m not worried. I was just curious.”

“I don’t know what happened to him,” I told her, beginning to unpack again as we chatted. “We talked,” I paused to think, “a month ago? Maybe three weeks? Then I went back south, packed things up, moved and Dad’s been around. I assumed Jon was busy too, though I hope he’s doing well. And, honestly, I think I’m done chasing men. It never works – if someone isn’t interested in maintaining a relationship – be it friendship or otherwise – with me, then I’m not going to beg him to reconsider.”

She nodded her support and changed the subject, lest I get even more self-righteous and indulge in another monologue. When I went to bed that night though, I did wonder what was wrong with me. What I did – with men I like, don’t like, am unsure about (it seems not to matter) – that means I always end up by myself. And while that allows me time to read and write and sleep and having things just how I like them, it also means few people get close.

“Are you disappointed in me?” I asked Adam yesterday when he came to sit in my office. After the group lecture earlier this week, he sent another couple of emails that seemed to contain messages that were displeased. He glanced up from my computer screen and blinked at me in surprise.

“No,” he finally replied. “Why would you ask that?”

“You just seem stressed and short and I wondered if it had to do with my performance. Because I’ll fix it if I’m doing it wrong.”

“Stop,” he waved his hand to dismiss my remarks. “I’m very pleased with you – just a rough week all around.”

I nodded and smiled when he patted my shoulder before hurrying off to answer someone else’s question. I thought of the conversation while I waited to have my tire changed. I think part of my trouble with getting overly attached to people is that I think they’ll eventually get to the point so many others have. They’ll see something is wrong with me – get bored or frustrated or something else – and be done. And whether that’s a self-fulfilling sort of situation or that I’m just difficult to handle, it seems best to embrace the solitude.

“Hey,” I replied with pleasure when Jon called this evening. He had been busy – dealing with transitions of his own – and we spent just a few minutes getting caught up. I’m bad about keeping up with people so I don’t take offense when there are long gaps between conversations. But I was relieved and pleased to hear from him. Then I frowned over feeling better about myself because someone took a moment to give me a phone call.

“How is that different than keeping track of how many people read and comment on my blog?” I asked the dog and grinned when she kissed my chin in reply.

“We have issues,” I told her, kissing the top her head. “I need to work on my self-esteem and you need to stop eating Sprout’s kibble. He keeps meowing at me because he’s hungry.”

Men seem to have trouble in my life, I decided after dumping more Cat Chow in Sprout’s bowl. I smoothed his coat when he came over to eat, smiled when he purred at me. If Chienne can tolerate the stripey cat – and he her – then perhaps there’s hope for me yet. Not a lot of hope, mind you, but a tiny bit.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Honestly?

Yesterday I had trouble getting to work because I forgot my badge at home.

Today I was unable to leave the driveway.

"Ka-thump?" I said, befuddled. When I don't immediately understand something, I tend to repeat it. "Oh. Ka-thump," I realized miserably. The idiots who put up my fence had left pieces of trash and hardware strewn over my lawn. A nail or screw had, I predicted, lodged in my tire and flattened it over night. So I nudged the car into drive and made my way - all 5 feet of it - back into my garage.

I didn't even consider changing the tire myself, though I did stop to offer a sympathetic look at the passenger rear wheel on my way to call AAA. The woman was delightfully helpful and a guy arrived within 10 minutes to refill and put on my spare.

"It's a nail," he said. "Too close to the side to patch. I'd charge the fence guys,"

"I will," I said, thanked him, and went to work a little late. My meeting got cancelled so I worked on a presentation for most of the morning. I dealt with constant email and left a bit early to acquire a tire. About an hour and $150 later, I returned to my garage, giving the fence side of the driveway a wide berth.

It's 6:22PM. I'm already in pajamas and considering going to sleep. Some days are better written off.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Badge on my Belly

“How the hell,” I said bitterly when I’d just made the left turn from my subdivision, “am I supposed to be a badge on my belly bear without a badge?” So I gritted my teeth in frustration and made a series of left turns to loop back home and grab the identification that hangs around my neck all day. Dad calls Care Bears different names – Heart on his Belly Bear, Rainbow on her Belly Bear and the like – so it pleases me to think ‘Badge on my Belly Bear!’ when I slip the lanyard around my neck like a good corporate employee.

Chienne was thrilled to see me when I returned and her head hung in disappointment when I patted her and promptly left again, 10 minutes later than I’d planned. Adam shared her disappointment, scolding some of us firmly at a morning meeting for not being prepared. I hate being in trouble and felt positively awful for not having a document prepared even though I asked if it was necessary and didn’t get a reply. Still. I screwed up again and my shoulders slumped accordingly.

I tried to recover, drafting a document as soon as I returned to my desk and beginning to make progress on several other tasks. I missed a meeting because the preceding one ran late, fell all over myself apologizing and made plans to drive across town to make up for it before heading home. Too tired to consider cooking – and wishing not for the first time that I had someone to deal with such tasks – I grabbed a pizza and made my way toward the big house with the pretty fence.

I did a few more hours of guilt-fueled work, Chienne nosing me a couple of times to rub her back and play tug with a rope toy, but she eventually settled on the loveseat next to me while I read and typed and answered more email. I sighed, realizing this is my life now. I submitted my final expense reports and believe I’m officially relocated. I had that moment of panic where my life felt like it was closing in on me. I felt trapped – by my love of this house and need to make enough money to afford it, by family that keeps me happily tethered to the Midwest.

“It must be time to stop for the night,” I told Chienne and she followed me up the stairs to the main level. I opened the door for her and she trotted out to the deck, pausing to glance back at me. Understanding the hint and obediently following her out, I took a seat in the falling darkness, glancing around the neighborhood and catching glimpses of her white nose and tip of her tail as she explored her yard. It was cool outside, having rained earlier today, and the breeze swept through leaves on trees, slightly masking the sound of crickets. Glancing around at the warm light glowing from windows of surrounding houses, I leaned back and crossed my legs.

“Call if you need anything,” Barb said last night after pointing out her house while her husband and puppy played with Chienne. “Even if you just get lonely and want to hang out. It’s hard to be alone.”

“I’m OK,” I said softly. “But thank you.”

It is hard to be alone. Work seems to take on this enormous importance for me without a husband or family to balance my perspective. Feelings of guilty disappointment linger – partially because I’m a little neurotic, but I’m also without major distractions. So while there are certainly benefits – I like sleeping in a little when I have late meetings, taking Chienne for lengthy walks along the paths in the neighborhood and confining my responsibilities to myself and my pets. (Mr. Sprout is settling in quite well. He seems to enjoy the space and is currently keeping watch through the screen door open to my bedroom deck.) But it can get lonely and scary and seem somehow not enough.

Deciding I was too tired for too much soul searching about long term goals and choices, I recalled that I put my badge in the cupholder of my car so I wouldn’t forget it again tomorrow. Deciding a better start might make a difference, I think it’s about time for sleep.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Boundaries

“We can’t finish today,” one man of the three who worked on my fence told me at 2:00 last Friday afternoon. “We’ll leave the supplies and be back on Tuesday.”

“Oh,” I said, disappointed that I had been told it’d be finished on Friday and would now have to wait longer. I shrugged and told my parents that it was fine – perhaps the cement around the posts needed to dry. Maybe they had plans for the long weekend. So I watched them stack slats in my yard and sighed as they drove away.

“We need help,” an email noted soon after I started this job. “We have a customer with grave concerns about our product and require upper level technical assistance to sell more products to this customer.”

“Great,” I replied happily. “I’d be happy to have a phone call and see what we can figure out.” And then there was silence on the matter for upwards of one month.

“Wait,” I said when the representative called me again. “Remind me of the problem, please.” I listened while he talked about buying teams and certain opinions and basically spent a lot of time giving very little information. It’s not uncommon for the salespeople with whom I speak – a tiny bit of information is imparted with much fanfare – but I sigh over it nonetheless.

What makes me odd (or one of the things, anyway) in this blogging community is that I now do business. I take meetings with sales and marketing, pricing and production. Given that I’ve taken nary a single business, marketing, sales or pricing course, my opinions are often non-ideal. But, I comfort myself, they’re based on science and that expertise is why I was hired.

But back to my story.

So I had a bit of information about what the problem might be, and rather thought I wasn’t the right person to address it. “So you’ll come visit us. Tommorrow.” Salesguy insisted and I raised my eyebrows.

“No,” I said gently. “I’ll talk to Adam, but this week is bad for me.”

“But we need you here. We need help on this.”

I like to be needed and enjoy helping, so I went to Adam to ask. He was shaking his head before I finished. “No,” he finally said, “you’re not going. It’s not that important, you don’t have the right skill set and experience to handle these high pressure sales meetings and I’m now throwing you to the wolves so they can blame you if the customer picks someone else.”

“Oh,” I said, blinking. “They want to blame me?”

He shrugged. “Not necessarily, but it does happen. They see a sale going south and call in people in some desperate attempt to save it. For some high priority situations, someone from the group will go. But sitting through those meetings when we’ve already lost? That’s hard. And I don’t want to put you in that situation. Quite yet,” he added with a wink and I grinned at him.

I therefore told Salesguy I wouldn’t be coming. “I’m fairly new and don’t think I’m who you want there. Plus, you seem to want someone to show them apples and I really know oranges. So we could have a phone call and then discuss whether or not you require a visit.” There was then silence for several days. When he called to tell me again how important and urgent the matter, I repeated that I could talk oranges on Monday or Tuesday. Thursday was bad because I was out of town. He said I should visit on Monday. I declined and offered to talk on the phone on Tuesday. Then there was nothing.

I got email on Thursday informing me of a call to discuss apples and oranges at noon. So I huffed and puffed and crossed my arms. I was out of town! Taking meetings and touring labs and making notes!

But I made a mistake – I said I’d do it. I left meetings to take a call for over an hour, finally cutting off the random questions I didn’t need to answer so I could head back to more relevant people.

Adam shook his head at me when I told him. “What?” I asked, confused. “What was I supposed to say?”

“No,” he said simply and continued to stare at me when my mouth dropped open.

“But they told me they needed me!” I protested, trotting after him when he began to walk again. “They said it was important! And urgent!”

“They always say that,” he offered and I frowned for a moment.

“So I’m supposed to say no?” I confirmed. “Won’t that make them unhappy?” He shrugged and I nodded slowly, trying to make sense of it. With too many demands on my time, I do need to sort them and decide what I can actually do. I’m used to jumping when people tell me to though. I like being obedient and accommodating! I love answering questions and promptly replying to email. But I’m getting buried under people eager to take advantage of said tendencies.

“Hi,” I said this morning when I called the project supervisor. “Nobody’s here to finish my fence. When are they coming?” I listened when he said they should have finished on Friday, corrected him by saying they’d only put in posts and needed to fill in all gaps and continued to call every hour, insistently inquiring after when they’d arrive to complete the boundary to keep Chienne in her yard.

After I hung up the second time, my cell phone rang. I answered and scowled when I heard Salesguy’s voice. “Wait,” I interrupted his lengthy spiel of how important and urgent his message was. “What’s the issue?” I rolled my eyes when he began another monologue, interrupted with a bit more impatience in my voice and asked again for the specific question. “I don’t see why,” I finally replied. He said I needed to find out for sure and I didn’t reply. I waited in silence for him to rephrase in a more polite manner.

“Would you be able to check on that?” he finally restated and I said I’d try to find the time. I did find out and called back to relay the message. But I didn’t thank him before he ended the call – I’ve decided these tiny power plays are going to be part of how I establish my position. So while I like being nice and charming, I don’t particularly mind drawing lines. Part of that is being demanding then understanding when people are disappointed in my response (or lack thereof).

“You do need that piece you asked me about,” I offered to Salesguy’s machine several hours later. “It’s a technical issue, but it is necessary. That should answer your last question, so good luck wrapping up the sale.”

I nodded with satisfaction when – after a day of phone calls – the fence guys appeared around 3:30. It’s possible to get what I want. The caveat is that I sometimes have to demand it.

[I should also note that when I went out to admire my fence and let Chienne run around, two sets of neighbors wandered over to say hello. The second came equipped with a puppy who was promptly invited in to play with Chienne in her new yard. Much fun was had by all. And I'm happy - it's a wonderful, friendly place and I've yet to meet someone who didn't tell me to call if I needed anything or wanted to hang out. So yay for my new home!]