Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sales Support

I don't know if you've heard, but the economy? It's not so good right now.

"I got the email," a man said after shaking my hand. I nodded at him - I received the same message and was ordered to set up the meeting to regroup. "And I read the 'extreme urgency' and 'all hands on deck!' So I got up out of my chair and ran around my desk a couple of times to show that I was a team player." He smiled at me when I giggled. "Then I sat back down and wondered why we all had to panic and not just some of us."

"We may lose the deal," I replied simply and laughed again when he got up to run around his chair at the table. In addition to earning my immediate affection, he added a bit of levity to what has become my professional life of late.

We make a product. It's expensive and when people buy it, everyone is happy. We focus on enhancing it so you can purchase a lovely upgrade. So everyone's making money and we all like that. It turns out that when people stop buying our products, we get very tense and worry that our strategy might not be optimized. This leads us to - very occasionally - flip out and demand that everyone scamper around their desks in panic and dismay.

Our sales force, surprisingly enough, isn't particularly happy either. Deals are few and challenging. And, in their irritation and without many commissions to spend, they turn to us and note that it sure would help the business if we showed up. So fly out east for a day! Wait, two days. Well, since you're here, maybe 3 days. Stay the week!

Oh, and could you call this guy? He won't answer - he's very busy. Just keep calling. Perhaps twice a day. Three or four times, max. And tell him what he wants to hear!

You're coming out west? Then it makes sense to come a couple hours north while you're on the coast, right? For a day. Then isn't Nevada on the way back? And it's not that far from Arizona, considering. You could stop in Texas! Texas is awesome! But this is all rather complicated so you should organize it all yourself.

I feel like recording a message that says, "Thank you for your request. Unless you have a deal we have a chance in hell of winning, please hang up and know that I'm sorry your life is hard. If you've remained on the line with a customer who has money and interest, please ask yourself the following two questions. Do I have money to pay for Katie's travel costs? If not, please hang up, look for said money and try again. If you've remained on the line, please have your credit card and billing information ready. As you look for your credit card, please ask yourself - Do I have time and energy to coordinate any and all meetings so that Katie just has to arrive at the airport - per your purchase of a plane ticket - and await transportation to locations and people you have arranged? If not, I'm afraid I can't support your request at this time."

Here's the problem, I want to say. We work with certain customers very closely and that continues to be a priority. We have a responsibility to continue development because while it feels like the sky is falling, we do plan to be in business when the economy rebounds and want to launch new products. So we need to continue working on these projects, even when you think our attention is better placed elsewhere.

I like meeting customers - it is useful and challenging. I don't mind travel - I don't love it, but I'm learning to tolerate it a bit more gracefully. I'd hoped to limit my need to rise at 4AM to take off my shoes and sweater at the security check point, but it hasn't worked. (My going rate, by the way, is around $500/day for travel costs. Crap, I told myself yesterday when more email arrived, I really do sell myself for the company.)

Today I napped as laundry sloshed through water and tumbled dry. I ended up in my car Friday morning and glanced down to see a beige bra and bare belly between the edges of a soft, gray sweater. I blinked a couple of times and wondered why I wasn't wearing a shirt, shrugged and came inside to tug one on. I somehow think that no matter how awesome my presentations are, I should be rested enough to remember to put on clothes.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


"It's amazing what you miss," I replied when a colleague noted he hadn't known it rained all day. We emerged from the building after 9:30 and began walking through the empty parking spaces toward our cars. I thanked him again before climbing in my Jeep and pulling the seat belt around me.

I admired the way the lights reflected off the wet pavement as I made my way home. I had driven in during the rain, coming in late since I knew I'd be unlikely to leave before 10. So I savored being ahead of schedule as I tried to relax out of the day.

Remembering a (very) few nights spent late during my post-doc, I smiled. I had been rabidly impatient, I recalled, as I waited for Friend to finish up whatever stupid project held her attention. I would finish all the feeds in my reader, write a blog post, organize any and all email. I would try to read papers or analyze data or write something. But I would mostly sit, miserably bored and even more irritated, and endure until I could leave.

In contrast, I sat today in a larger office containing many of the same items that were arranged on my post-doctoral desk. I worked steadily, focused and happy. I answered email and planned additional travel. I worked on slides and revised documents. I checked items off a list I could never complete and jumped when my phone vibrated against my hip. It always surprises me, that tickle of awareness when someone calls.

"Hey!" I offered before listening for a moment.

"Yay!" I rhymed when being told the experiments were complete. "I'll be right there." I looked around as I moved briskly down the carpeted hallway. The overhead lights had flickered off at some point. I'd failed to notice as I sat in my office but glanced around the relative darkness before moving across the lobby and into the lab space.

I glanced through data and approved results before editing a final report.

"Go home," I ordered the group who had remained. "This is amazing - thank you for your help." I smiled and checked a couple more variables before returning to my office to pack up. I pulled into my garage, mind filled with calls to make, emails to send and items to add to the unending list. After flipping off the lights and nudging the car into park, I reached for my bag before pausing.

I like my job. I feel useful. I admire and enjoy my colleagues. But I recognize the need for balance. "I'm flexing," I told Adam when he asked where I was this morning. "Since I'm working late, I'm coming in late." Realizing that I'm happier when I place reasonable limits around my career, I walked into the house empty handed. So while I'm tired and not overly eager to show up at 8AM tomorrow morning, I feel like I'm making progress.

It feels a lot like stepping from the office and into a brisk evening after it's rained all day. Breathing in the fresh air and feeling peaceful and pleased. It was a good day - not perfect, but very good.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


"Hey, Katie, have you heard of the issue where..." she paused just inside my door and her hair swished around her shoulders as her head turned from side to side. "Is someone talking?"

"Oh," I grinned as I understood why she'd examined my office and motioned to my phone. I had it turned all the way down as the speaker broadcast a meeting. "I'm listening in but not participating. I'm on mute - go ahead." We talked for a moment - I hadn't heard of the problem and couldn't answer her question - and I returned to my list to begin working as I mostly ignored the conversations on the phone.

I finished documents and worked on slides. I took phone calls on my cell and occasionally paid attention to the meeting. I went to get some soup for lunch and refilled my bottle when I was out of water. I embraced a ridiculous amount of guilty pleasure when, upon reading the email that upset me, someone called my current nemesis a nasty name.

I finished the day in Adam's office, going over a couple of issues that had emerged. Swishy-hair entered when Adam waved his arm and we both squinted when she made his lights flicker on.

"Why were you sitting here in the dark?" she asked when we both sent reproachful glances her way.

"It was very romantic until you ruined it," he replied and I grinned. I hadn't even noticed, honestly. I dislike overhead lights and rarely turn on my own. I can see pretty well in low light and was chatting comfortably while the last of the afternoon sun came in through the windows.

Swishy-hair walked over to a chair and seated herself in dramatic fashion, all the while huffing over a project gone awry. I listened quietly, reviewing my notes and thinking I was a little hungry. I glanced over my shoulder at the clock and saw it was well after 5. Wondering what to have for dinner, I shifted over when another colleague joined us, grinning at her while she silently listened to Swishy-hair's tirade with Adam and me.

I waved at my boss as I rose from my chair. Swishy-hair paused to look at me and I asked politely if I could be excused. After being called cheeky - he does that a lot - I was told to go home. I patted my quiet colleague's shoulder affectionately as I took my leave, returning to my office to pack my things and bundle up. I waved a bemittened hand at the group who wandered out with me, pausing as I withdrew the keys from my pocket when a young man in a bright white shirt moved to his own car after asking one of the scientists for directions to the store.

"New people," I thought with delight, making the connection with the tours I'd seen assistants giving throughout the day. It was a bright spot at the end of a productive day - realizing that people were starting fresh in the building where we've been tense and disappointed of late. It seems our dismal predictions were overly optimistic. While nothing drastic has happened, the mood has dipped as stress settles in. We don't want the deals, we need them. Decisions don't seem important, but actually are.

But we're hiring, I decided happily. There are new people who are being shown around and then can learn and grow and create new solutions and opportunities. So though I didn't speak to any of them yet, I found myself cheered by their presence and, as I headed home, spared a moment to hope they transition easily and enjoy their time in the buildings where we work.

I jumped, as I often do, when my phone vibrated in my pocket. I glanced at the screen before flipping it open and grinning when my quiet colleague asked if she was bothering me.

"Not at all," I replied, checking traffic before turning right. "What's up?"

"You have to teach me how to do that," she teased. "Disappear from a meeting just before it gets boring and repetitive."

"I'm sorry," I said, though I smiled. "I must have had my phone on mute too much today - I just decided I was done so I left and assumed you wouldn't miss me." We chatted for another few minutes until I pulled in my garage and came inside to greet Chienne. From the time I said hello to my dog, I don't think I've spoken another word.

After a day of constant noise - conversations and questions, complaints and replies - it's a rather pleasant state of quiet.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Making me angry.

I am easily annoyed and overly dramatic. Understanding that about myself - and having no shortage of people eager to point it out should I forget - I take steps to control it. I don't send the emails that I immediately write in response to petty nonsense. I bite back the sharp remarks and control the impatient gestures when someone says or does something of which I disapprove. My particular personality includes sensitivity toward hurt feelings as well as anger so I try to use some care at not accidentally poking at someone's sore spots.

"So," Adam said, "as I expected, this went white-hot very fast."

I replied with a bad word.

"Update me on the background," he ordered and I obediently began reciting what I knew, making sure to point out every single flaw I could remember about one particular colleague.

"She," I seethed, "whispered to make sure I wasn't invited to dinner." I remember blinking in surprise when she did it, but soon brushed it off and decided I didn't want to spend time with her anyway. "She has gone out of her way to exclude our team and then - when we have made progress and established relationships in spite of her - sends hysterical email to important people in the company because she heard a rumor that wasn't even true!" I detailed progress I'd made and waited while Adam took notes.

"OK," he finally said. "I'll handle it from here."

"I'm sorry," I said, suddenly sad that I'd let him down. "I know I drop the ball sometimes, but I didn't here. There's nothing more I could have done!"

"I know," he said, distracted but attempting to be soothing.

"I hate this," I sighed, feeling my lip emerge in a pout. "I know I get emotional and I actually like people who are passionate about their work. But I would never have gone to my boss's boss's boss with a petty complaint about a colleague without talking to her - multiple times! - first. She was wrong and unprofessional and vile." I nodded at the final word.

So, despite prayers requesting some help with forgiveness and peace, I feel like an angry cloud. "Oh, shut up," I mutter when someone says something with which I disagree. I call them names and delete feeds from my reader and make faces when I talk on the phone. And I plot. It's awful, but I formulate and discard various plans, all the while knowing that - given the opportunity - I'd pounce on it to make her suffer.

That's a terrible trait to recognize. It's one that - in my experience with other nemeses - fades with time. I wouldn't even recognize the little girl who hit me with a hairbrush when I was 5. I have no ill will toward the blonde who accused me of cheating on a science test in 7th grade. While I did take vicious pride when winning all the final awards in high school, I can't summon any residual emotion for the girl who shunned me because she was sure she was smarter than I. I don't even mind WWE anymore - she eventually realized I'd fight back and the effort cost more than it was worth. So we leave each other alone.

But this one - for now - should stay out of my way. At least until I figure out how to get a life and be a bigger person.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I am pleased. And tipsy.

I tugged on my boots and picked up my stack of dishes and walked next door. I dutifully went to the store this morning, started to marinate chicken and put together cheesy potatoes. I baked a cake with a bright lemon flavor and tucked cream aside to whip later. After my asparagus was finished roasting, I packaged everything and transported it to the smaller house next to mine.

We spent three hours talking, sipping (multiple) glasses of wine while we curled up in matching chairs next to a fire and chatted. We traded impressions of Japan and she told me of Africa while I nodded. We discussed marriage and divorce, dating and friendship. I sighed with happy relief when she indicated she'd been in remission for years and offered a quick prayer that she would stay well.

I know neighborhood gossip. Did you know the man who used to live in her house and the woman you used to live in mind had an affair? They left their respective spouses after being caught together in my garage during a neighborhood party. They were having a bit of a private celebration of their own. ("She was giving him a blow...well, you know," Nancy told me.)

She has a beautiful home and she walked me through the various rooms. I admired her paint colors and she offered to help me when I decided to do my walls. We discussed lawn care. "I'm awful," I sighed. "You people are all immaculate and I feel guilty when I fall behind on cutting the grass, let alone weeding the flower beds." She waved off my concerns and said she was thinking of planting a tree in her backyard. Her front landscaping is already lovely. My thoughts turned to what flowers I might plant and how I want to re-mulch with a prettier color.

I smoothed my hand over her dog's coat and we talked about Chienne's health. She told me about the other neighbors and we discussed our respective careers. I wasn't trying to be impressive or important and simply relaxed into the evening, continuing to drink from a crystal goblet that never went empty. We sat down to eat when I got giggly and I wandered home soon after we finished dinner.

It was comfortable and lovely and I savored the feeling of gentle contentment as I greeted my dog and put away dishes. Then I checked work email and the hatred I feel toward one particularly vile and useless woman was sparked once again. The angry tension swirled around me, displacing the former glow even as I tried to force it back. I stomped to the kitchen to fetch a slice of lemon cake, spooning a generous dollop of whipped cream atop it. I attempted to plot my revenge while I nibbled at the treat and gave up when a suitably devious plan failed to form.

For every person who takes credit when none is due, who makes life more difficult and unhappy, there is someone who is bright and funny, warm and interesting. If I choose to focus on this waste of a human being I sometimes encounter at work rather than the lovely person who lives next door, I have problems of my own making.

Replacing the fork on my plate, I closed my eyes and breathed in the positive, held it in my lungs for a moment and then scowled as I exhaled the negative. I need more practice - my stomach remains cramped with annoyed frustration - but at least it's a start.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Feeling rather proud of myself as I followed my happy, red snowblower down the sidewalk, I paused to wave at my neighbor. Placing my gloved palm back on the handle, I moved forward again, flinging fluffy snow in a sparkling arc toward the street.

“You’re doing this the hard way,” I shouted over the rumble of the machine when I got closer. Nancy was using a shovel to clear the eight or so inches that had fallen on her driveway and sidewalk and I made quick work of her remaining surfaces while she watched.

“I have a snowblower,” she shouted back, moving closer when I paused. “But the cancer makes me too weak to push it.”

I blinked in surprise, frantically searching my memory for any mention that she wasn’t well and finding nothing concrete. “Mine is self-propelled,” I finally said, motioning rather obviously toward my Christmas gift. “You’re welcome to borrow it or I can come over to take care of the snow.”

“No,” she shook her head. “The kids usually do it, but they’re with their dad this weekend.” I nodded in understanding and stood for a moment, feeling like the self-centered twit that I likely am.

“We should have dinner,” I suggested and Nancy immediately accepted. “Tommorrow?” I asked. “Around 4?” I held up the correct amount of fingers. “I’ll bring something over and we’ll talk.”

“I’d love that,” she said and I waved once more before making may way back toward my own drive, throwing snow once again to clear the way to the corner.

I had no idea that Friend’s mom was having surgery. I angrily exported my feeds from Bloglines, bitter over its failure to update me of new posts. I was traveling, then busy, then sick. But always self-centered, I decided as the familiar weight of guilt settled.

“You’re going to drop the ball,” a colleague said. “There are simply too many of them to catch so you need to identify the important ones, keep them in the air and try not to trip on all the ones rolling around on the floor.”

I’m trying to prioritize at work. I have a spreadsheet where I enter tasks and when I find time to work, I consult my list and handle the most important item. I’m going to start a list for home. Ask Friend more specific questions. Arrange trip to Hawaii (mid-April. If I can last until mid-April, I’ll get to take a break.), schedule a massage (I’ve had a gift card for months).

Tonight, I’m going to curl up on my couch and read a book. Tomorrow morning, I’ll spend some time in prayer. In the afternoon, I’ll find something to cook and take for dinner with Nancy. And I’ll work very hard not to resent the time spent away from professional email.

(Yes, I do realize my last posts have re- titles. I just noticed yesterday and was ridiculously pleased by the fact for some reason. We'll see how long I keep doing it.)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Recovery, Failed

Last night, I took a bath. Settling gently in the hot water and sending bits of flower petals swirling around me from the lightly scented fizzie, I winced at the ache in my head and tried to find a comfortable position.

I will take better care of myself, I decided. I will eat more vegetables, though the thought of eating at all make me shudder with revulsion. I'll read books instead of working constantly. I'll make time to see friends. I won't take disappointment so hard. I will, I reminded myself sleepily, muscles starting to relax and pain medication beginning to work, take better care of myself.

At 9AM, I sat on my loveseat, head woozy and held my home phone to one ear, muted the conference call and answered my cell phone.

"I'm better. Not well, but better." I listened for a moment before nodding, wincing momentarily at the pain. "Of course I can be there. And I already sent the presentation and answered those emails."

I depressed buttons to unmute the group on my other line after flipping my cell closed and wrapped up with them before throwing on clothes and enough make-up to make me appear not-so-near-death. Then I went to work.

"I have to go," I finally said four hours after I arrived. My head throbbed angrily, furious at being deprived of medication for longer than necessary. I stood carefully, hand on a table to keep my balance and picked up my bag while my colleagues watched carefully. I don't think I replied to an offer of help, moving toward my car through sheer force of will and mental promises of Tylenol upon my arrival at home.

Huddled into a ball of misery after tugging off sweater and pants, I pulled the covers closer and focused on breathing while giving the pills a chance to work.

I will take better care of myself, I decided firmly. So I'm sipping mint tea and have coaxed myself to have some soup. And tomorrow, I will work from home.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009


"We believe," he told me earnestly, "that mental illness begins relatively early in life. Children are resilient and vary in their behaviors so, unless it's a particularly severe case, we tend not to diagnose the issue until the patient struggles sometime past adolescence."

I frowned, uncharacteristically quiet as I considered the hypothesis. Inordinately fond of anecdotal evidence (I like personal stories), I remembered myself as a little Katie and decided, in my case, he had a point.

"Animal studies indicate that various parts of the brain are hyperstimulated, even when subjects are in a safe place without obvious stressors. But it would explain why some people get stuck in their negative thoughts, are affected more severely by them. And it offers us a chance to teach behavioral modifications at a time when they'd be much easier to establish."

As he named brain regions that had been seen, I wondered which of my poor structures was constantly darting around, looking for problems to magnify and fret over. Replaying rejections and insults and failures. Being hurt and sad and irritated. Wherever it is, I decided, it must be a very tired brain region. I simply can't remember it ever not being busy. I remember lying awake all night, fretting over classroom spelling bees in third grade much as I did for big exams in grad school. I've always made lists - often while not sleeping - to attempt to rectify some situation where I was unreliable. And I'm not very reliable because I panic in some instances and grow ill due to stress in others. It all spirals in upon itself, perhaps helped by my busy little amygdala or insula, and I'm left to frantically plan, lest life as I know it disintegrate around me.

Standing in an airport bathroom at 5AM on Tuesday, trying to arrange myself so the tiny stall would fit my suitcase, laptop bag and my contorted body, I finished throwing up and steadied myself with hands against the two walls.

"OK," I told myself, reaching for my newly-purchased bottle of water and rinsing my mouth. "I'm going home." I blinked back tears of deep disappointment in myself and, narrowing my eyes with grim determination, made my way to the ticket counter.

"I'm sorry," I told the uniformed woman there - I apologize so often lately it's becoming a habitual opening statement. "I'm not going to be able to travel today - I'm very sick." She looked more closely at me and her expression shifted from polite boredom to a slightly more attentive concern. She took my boarding pass, already marked as I had forced myself through security, and canceled my trip for me before I grabbed the handle of my suitcase and wearily drug it back toward the parking garage.

I stopped at another restroom - my third one in the 30 minutes I'd spent in the bustling airport before dawn - and steadied myself after rinsing my mouth once more. I made my way once again toward my car. It took me two tries to heft the suitcase in the back of my Jeep and all I really remember of the drive home was drinking bottled water. The sweet, clean taste seemed to wash at the illness that smeared my throat and stomach. After I would gulp greedily, I would feel cooler, more satisfied. My stomach gurgled warningly when I'd nearly finished the bottle and, blinking with realization, I replaced the cap and hoped I would make it home before being sick again.

My parents got packed and hustled the girls home while I curled in bed between trips to the bathroom. It is a single step closer to go from the near side of the master bed than one of the guest rooms. I somehow forgot this important fact when my stomach grew content with simply cramping rather than heaving and fell into a fitful sleep in said guest room, Chienne and Sprout both close at hand in our newly-empty house.

I spent the last two days in bed, sleeping and hurting in approximately equal amounts. I filled a tiny glass with water and ice, sipping carefully despite a desperate thirst. I let popsicles melt on my tongue as I forced myself to focus on the most urgent work matters via email. I patted Chienne when she would lift her head, watching as I tried to find a position that didn't hurt my aching muscles - my entire midsection is very sore and the lack of stomach problems apparently left room for searing headaches to take over.

My head hurts now, finally forcing me from my bed where awareness ebbed and flowed as I'd catch snippets of the programs I'd left playing softly on the television. I took Excedrin, wincing against the pain and trying to remember when I'd last had Tylenol. I've had headaches ever since I was little - would sometimes need to stay home from school as I battled one. But this can't keep happening. I have responsibilities and travel to customers is quite important.

While everyone seemed completely understanding and sympathetic - "Go to bed, curl up and get better," Adam wrote in response to my explanatory (and apologetic) email - I must find a way to fix this. Unfortunately, my brain seems too busy feeling guilty and inferior to arrive at a suitable solution.

Monday, February 16, 2009


My heart ached a bit when I first saw the water. The sensation surprised me enough that I rubbed at my chest even as my eyes stayed fixed on the view before me. Frozen and coated with a layer of snow, it still brought to mind many hours spent with various people, staring out at the line where the deep blue water met the lighter sky while we discussed matters of varying importance.

I remember when construction started on that building, I thought of the tall structure that was already showing signs of wear. I recall sitting on a crush’s lap and sharing a margarita at that bar. I thought of M as I sat and ate pizza for lunch, sitting alone in booth and remembering spending days with my friend and never tiring of her company. I lived in those apartments for two years, checked my mailbox in that building with the huge columns for four, worked out of that office for 6 months and last gave a seminar about a year ago in that lecture hall over there. I remember waiting at that crosswalk during frigid winter mornings, bundled up but still feeling the tips of my ears go numb where they'd escaped my hat and spared a sympathetic thought to the young woman who triggered the memory.

Having not returned to my post-doctoral city since the trip where my belongings were packed away and driven north, the nostalgia that overwhelmed me upon visiting the town that hosted my graduate study was surprising and strong. It’s a good place – one that was my home for a few years in my early twenties and holds far more good memories than bad. Today, I held meetings and took notes, unfazed by how little my opinion of people changed despite the new perspective this position offers.

“You’re very emotional in email,” Adam said this morning when we spoke. “Whether you’re pleased or angry, there’s an intensity there that probably shouldn’t be. So try to reign that in.”

Hurt, I offered a dark frown that didn’t travel through the phone line. I know evocative words! And my enthusiasm and energy have been praised by multiple people! As usual, my irritation quickly gave way to sadness. I’m not good at this job, I kept telling myself as I traveled toward my next meeting. I am emotional and intense, I acknowledged easily, thinking how my fit of tears a few nights ago matched the one in grad school when a fellow student criticized my work ethic. Do I really want a job that requires me to compromise an inherent facet of my personality?

I’m tired, I thought, sighing as I faced my reflection after washing my face. I rolled my eyes at the angry pimple on the tip of my nose – it’s positively hideous and without Bare Minerals (It makes me pretty!), I couldn’t bear leaving the house. Distracted by how adorable my hair was, I tugged on a loose curl and grinned as it bounced back. Aligning beauty products semi-neatly on the counter, I sighed when I realized I’d need to be up again at 4 to pack again and flit off to the next city.

While some things don’t change, I tried to soothe my sleepy brain, I’m not exactly the same person I was when I started grad school in 2001. Or finished in 2005. The opportunity for growth is positive, despite predictably wounded feelings whenever I’m criticized. So I pulled my curls into a ponytail, grabbed my camera to download photos from my last few cities and dabbed repairing cream on the tip of my nose before crossing my eyes to glare at the offending blemish once more.

Nostalgia aside, I’m ready to make the trip to the next city on my itinerary. I already miss home.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


"Why," he asked as he entered my office - the only one in the building that wasn't dark and quiet, "are we working on Sunday?"

"Because," I replied, glancing up from my monitor to grin at him as he dragged a chair closer to mine and thinking we'd been out of town at opposite times for about a month now, "we suck and can't accomplish everything necessary during the week?"

He returned my smile, opened his laptop and we began going through documents and making additional lists.


"Crap," I sighed and began to type an immediate response to email. "VP read my report and passed it along to the other managers for immediate handling. If he keeps listening to me all the time, I'm going to become a target."

I glanced at my mother, herself a product of 35 years of corporate life and waited for her to argue. To say that it was good to be singled out and valued by upper management. She nodded instead. And I resolved to be a bit lower profile. Freaking high visibility role and ego that makes me enjoy attention.


"Do you work every day?" Dad asked as I replied in increasingly snippy words when he asked questions as I tried to revise a document.

"Yes," I offered simply, frowning over word choices.

"I'm glad I didn't go to college," he decided and I paused to smile at him before returning to my page of text.


"Uh oh," Smallest One said when she dropped Tigger from the edge of the bathtub.

"That's OK," I smiled at her, picking up the orange plastic toy and placing it in her chubby palm. She toddled closer to the edge of the tub again, watching her big sister finish with her turn before the water was drained and started again for the second bath of the night.

I carefully detangled Little Ones hair - it's past her waist when straight - while Mom lathered and rinsed the baby. We got them cuddled in soft pajamas and under fluffy covers, each watching SpongeBob. I smoothed Little One's blanket over her shoulders and sighed.

"I have a conference call at 10:30 tonight," I told Mom of my last conversation of the day. "Don't let me forget."

Saturday, February 14, 2009


I placed the folded cardstock between my hands, not really thinking about the seminar series it advertised as it perched atop a lunch table. Instead I considered the inherent opportunity the folded paper and printed graphics represented. The free exchange of knowledge. The ability to sit in a room to learn and question and understand.

"No," I answered immediately. Upon arriving last weekend, Mom asked if I could work for Industry forever. I paused after I spoke for the plan had always been to move and grow within the company, finding new challenges and opportunities. But I'm absolutely exhausted and mostly demoralized. I can't continue to function at this level and expect to stay sane.

The week away offered a bit of perspective. I preened when someone told me this was the first visit where they'd actually learned something from an Industry representative. I curled into an airport chair and tapped out messages that would later get sent, trying to address concerns and answer questions that had been greeted by my automatic reply. I did get a summary sent before I forgot details, attaching a five page document full of notes and insight to relevant colleagues.

I returned to questions from various people, some more important than others. I replied immediately to the man who leads the business, thinking him rather good at his job. But I thought about returning in another week - to problems and incredible amounts of work, to pressure and disappointment and problems I simply can't solve - and my stomach knotted in dread.

While that hasn't changed considerably, I did get weepy upon reading an email from the man atop my organizational chart. He mentioned that he's heard from multiple people that I'm doing an amazing job - having an impact with customers and colleagues and taking charge of what has always been a difficult role. He hoped the transition from research had gone well and asked if I'd stop by to talk when I was back in the office so we could catch up.

Then I did my taxes and realized my income slipped above six figures and I've only worked here six months. I thought about how hard faculty members and post-docs and grad students worked and that I am, at least, pretty well compensated for my work here.

I was halfway to some sort of epiphany, I think. Trying to balance pros and cons of academia versus industry, working out my plans and goals despite the chaos that reigned since the invasion began. Then Sprout brought in a live mouse, prompting shrieks from Brother's new girlfriend (who does look 40, by the way - she's pretty, but you can decidedly tell she's not his age, despite Dad's assurances otherwise) and Mom while we scooped up Little and Smallest Ones. The mouse is no more but so went my thoughts. I'm left with the vague plan of continuing to work as hard as possible since that appears to be making a good impression and attempting to find some sort of balance.

I'll let you know when I make some progress.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Help

"Wait," I interrupted my colleague's story while we sat with a former candidate for an industry position. "You have live-in help?"

"I have three kids!" he replied. "I need live-in help. My wife would kill me otherwise."

"But isn't she also home?" I asked, confused. He nodded and I blinked but didn't comment. I do sort of understand though. With the constant demands at work, tasks at home simply don't receive the required attention. And Friend could tell you I'd never been much of a housekeeper.

"Wow," I said when, just after 1AM, I said goodnight to my parents and stepped into my bedroom upstairs. Clutter cleared, bed made, surfaces dusted, it looked remarkably different than when I'd left it. After sleeping deeply - that kind of restorative time spent in bed that leaves me certain my brain is recovering from the stress and activity of past days - I plodded down the steps, still struggling to emerge from the heavy sleep. I waved a vague greeting at the pair of them as they were seated in my office, playing on the computers. I poured the coffee that was waiting and grabbed a banana for breakfast.

"We moved some furniture in the living room," Dad told me and I nodded. "I'll scrub the toilets next week while you're on the west coast."

"I finished all the laundry," Mom noted and told me where all the clothing and linens had been stored. "I cleaned the kitchen and cooked meals for later - they're in the freezer. I worked on the tile floors while Dad vacuumed." I thanked them and dealt with work email for a few hours before wandering back upstairs for a nap - traveling makes me tired.

"We washed your car," they told me when I came back downstairs. "And organized some of the boxes in the garage. Did you want us to mail the box in the back of your Jeep? Or run any other errands?"

I grinned and noticed that my water glass and coffee cup from the morning had been cleared from the end table. The dishwasher was running and counters were all wiped clean.

"How much would you charge if you moved in and took care of the house?" I asked, thinking this rather nice. Then I heard they'd invited the girls to come up for next week to stay and tried to memorize how the house looked, all sparkling and clean. The invasion of the toddlers should have it looking much as I originally had it when I return from the next trip. And I'll relish the quiet again when they all leave.

Still. This is very nice for now.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Travel Log

Frantically pawing through my belongings after they'd begun boarding the first leg of my flight, I realized that - for the first time - I'd lost my boarding pass. I looked around, unreasonably desperate, and hurried toward the gate and, deeply regretful, asked for a new one. A quick glance at my ID and I had a small printed ticket in my trembling hand as I hurried toward my seat.
The lesson? It's not going to go particularly well. Evidence? My laptop crashed to the floor while I was trying balance it and have a sandwich during my layover. I tripped and banged my shin on the steps of the bus as I tried to get to the rental car. My GPS couldn't find satellite signal until I was well away from the airport, leaving screeching after her inquiry as to whether she should continue searching for signal.
"Yes!" I told her, my voice quivering. "I don't know how to get there! I didn't print directions! So if you can't find signal, then I can't find my hotel!"
"Go zero point two miles," she replied after a very tense moment. "Then turn left."
Conculsion? It may suck, but it can be saved.
Meetings, meetings and more meetings. At least I didn't fall down or break any electronic devices.
"We have to go," the scientist of the pair said and we - suit jackets fluttering in the breeze - hurried across campus and toward a nearby center to observe an important procedure. I stood quietly, notebook remaining in my bag, while I watched.
I turned when one of the group said he didn't know what was wrong with her. While my colleagues asked technical questions, my voice was soft when I asked how he would help her. He looked at me for a moment without speaking and I realized we must do better. This isn't a game of sales and marketing - it matters far beyond what money we make.
"I'll be fine," I assured our sales force, waving them away.
"Travel safely!" I called while I waved at my colleague on his way to a cab when I headed up to my room for one last night.
I looked through my visit notes and realized we did accomplish a lot. Engaged several groups, understood several topics to a greater degree, made positive impressions. I returned to email informing me that we got a deal I helped to pitch. I received another note thanking me for waking at 6 this morning to take a conference call with a site in Europe.
"It always happens," the man said, grinning at me and pushing the button for the floor below mine after I'd held the door for him. I cocked my head at him, tipsy and a little confused and shook my head when he said that when you went out of your way to help, people tended to get in your way.
"You're fine," I assured him. "No problems." Because even when it starts sucky, sometimes it can be saved.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Auto Reply

Thank you for visiting. I will be traveling on business for the next two weeks. This is good news because I'm nearing the breaking point in the home office. So the time to travel and meet new people and hear novel ideas is very welcome.

As with all trips that require plane travel (and I'm not willing to drive to either coast, frankly), I will only have my work PC. So blogging may or may not happen, depending on how brave I feel and if I can stay awake long enough to write anything.

My parents have arrived to puppy-sit and give Chienne her twice daily doses of drops and pills. The vet said she's doing beautifully but will require continued treatment. She was thrilled to see them and I doubt she'll miss me much at all. And I'll return to a clean house and food in the kitchen - it's good for everyone.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Killed by Kindess

I took an oral exam during my second year of graduate study. It was my first of such experiences, but I decided I knew the material reasonably well. I’d be fine.

The class had been team taught – and not all that impressively – and four members of the team sat in the sunny classroom atop the hospital. I stood before them, shifting awkwardly and wondering what to do with my hands while I waited to write something on the white board with blue marker.

I frowned when the smallest one – a man who looked remarkably like a turtle – continued to interrupt my responses. It was as if he could sense when I felt comfortable and insisted upon foiling my plan to discuss easy topics at length. He jabbed questions at me, not glancing at his paperwork as he smirked and allowed me a couple of syllables before randomly changing directions.

It isn’t particularly difficult to make me angry and I began to scowl at turtle-man. I bit off answers to his questions and didn’t care when I was unable to answer some of them. If he was disappointed in me, I could quite easily magnify those negative feelings tenfold and shoot them right back between his beady eyes.

The bubble of anger grew to include another professor in the room when he laughed and said, “Come on, Katie. You really should know that.”

How dare he laugh at me, I seethed, and carry my disdain to this very moment. It continued that way – the two of them peppering me with questions and insults that I countered as best I could – until the youngest man in the room spoke.

“Stop,” he said simply while looking firmly at turtle-man. When the reptilian creature turned in surprise, my hero continued. “You asked her a question. Let her have a chance to answer it.”

I stood silently as I looked at him before gulping against the lump in my throat and blinking back tears. That moment of kindness shifted the event into focus and I realized it was awful. I felt pathetic. People were being mean to me – people I had liked and trusted – and it at once became too much to bear.

My voice became soft, heated rage replaced by slow sadness, and I haltingly answered the remaining questions while my gaze remained on the podium I'd shifted to hide behind. I caused turtle-man to stumble when I hit him with my shoulder while fleeing the room immediately after being dismissed. I hurried to the nearest bathroom, gasping for air around wracking sobs as I grasped desperately for control.

We have a situation at work that involves a good number of people. It’s pretty bad and very meaningful. And I’m responsible – not for the mess we’re in, but for managing our way out of it.

I have seethed at nearly everyone involved, calling them incompetent, irresponsible, disrespectful and any number of bad words in creative order. (Not out loud.) If you don’t do your job and try to hide that fact to save face, it makes my task even harder. Considering that pressure makes me even more tense than usual, I’m growing increasingly moody.

But I was handling it. I sent a message to the most powerful man in the building today. I explained the situation, gave credit to people who had been helpful, and apologized for not managing the situation as well as I could have. (Because I did make a bad judgment call. For which I’ve apologized and tried to correct multiple times to many people in more than one country.) The powerful man thanked me and the teams I mentioned, reminded us of the priority and encouraged us to work faster. Since that’s fair, I nodded in acceptance.

“Good message, Katie,” an email arrived while I was on a conference call an hour ago. “Do you have 10 minutes to talk tomorrow?” So I gasped for air as I muted the line and let myself weep, remembering his expression of concern when I left a meeting after an uncharacteristic comment that nobody had any time and somebody had to do it.

I interviewed with him. I told him I could do this.

I truly don’t know if I was right.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Dress up

The translucent fabric was printed with sailboats. It was nearly gaudy but shades of vibrant gold and rose and turquoise appealed to a smaller Katie and I coaxed Grandma into letting me put the scarf in the hall closet where my other toys were kept. I would wrap it about my neck, feeling rather grown up and beautiful all the while, and apply Grandma’s red lipstick to my tiny mouth. Sometimes, when I was feeling particularly glamorous, I would clomp around in a pair of high heels.

To this day, I don’t apply dark colors to my lips, preferring subtle shades of glosses instead. I also eschewed the scarves wrapped around the hangers of some of my better suits. One is navy and brown with pretty flowers upon it. The other is covered with a swirling pattern of black and blue. I think they’re both lovely and have on multiple occasions peered at myself in the mirror while trying to arrange one of them around my neck.

“I look,” I would tell my reflection each time, “like I’m playing dress up.” Then I’d watch as I pulled the fabric from my neck and hung it neatly to be stored once again. For reasons I don’t want to describe, I decided there was no choice but to wear a scarf on Monday. So I frowned in the mirror as I looped and tugged and arranged, finally rolling my eyes and deciding to pretend it wasn’t happening as I walked out the door with fabric fluttering as it clung to my neck.

“We can start,” a man told one of his subordinates. “The most important person is already here.” I looked up from the screen of my laptop, looking around the room and frowning when I was unable to locate this important person. “You,” the man offered when I looked at him and cocked my head in question.

“Oh,” I said, lips curving tentatively as I tried to decide whether he was joking.

“Go ahead,” he told the engineer and I blinked in surprise before turning my chair and offering my attention while the presentation proceeded.

I typed a name and followed it with a question mark in a chat window this afternoon. I watched the green light patiently and sighed while ‘Name is typing,’ appeared in the status window. For a long time. People need to type faster. But a greeting finally appeared, allowing me to (quickly) send an inquiry. He immediately agreed to meet me immediately and walked me through a theoretical explanation and a practical tutorial within minutes of my sending the request.

“Katie!” someone else called as I was walking back across campus. Not recognizing him, I waited and hoped he’d ask a question that would offer context. He soon did and I answered it while carefully examining his face while repeating his name in my head. Though I normally walk around completely obvious to all around me – drafting blog posts or crafting some pleasant daydream – I’m always surprised when someone recognizes me and I don’t know them.

It happened three more times on my walk – people would greet me by name and offer a project update, ask a question or request my opinion. I would run my fingers over the ends of my scarf while we spoke, torn between being ridiculously flattered and completely befuddled.

“This is OK?” I blinked up at her as I sat at my desk, and looked down at the list she placed before me.

“I guess so,” I murmured, going over it again to check for errors.

“You approve? Officially?”

“Oh,” I said, surprised. “Can I do that?” I returned her smile while she nodded and I took another look before offering my approval. Officially.

I tugged the scarf from my neck when I got home and took several conference calls without it draped around my neck. I glanced at the puddle it formed on the carpet and grinned. I still feel like I’m playing dress up when I wear it. But perhaps I’m getting closer to being an actual professional than I realized.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Anticipated Loss

She squints when she sees me carry the tiny bottles toward her. I murmur something soothing and tilt her head back, gently pull the eye open and a single drop of medicine drips inside. She blinks a couple of times, I tell her she's a very good girl and then she gets a treat.

Apart from these brief exchanges, life has returned to normal. She curls up behind my knees to sleep. She bounces gleefully when I get home from work. She curls up to sleep peacefully in her green chair while I work across the room. She eats Sprout's kibble when she think I'm not looking and wags her tail proudly when she nibbles at her own.

I'm going to lose her someday, I thought last week, thoughts lingering on the morbid reality. While relationships do re-adjust after such a realization, memories linger. I vividly recall standing next to Dad's bed in the CICU when I was in college, timing my breaths with his as they were controlled by the ventilator. I stared into blue eyes and gripped his hand tightly, both reassured and pushed into grief by the way his fingers held mine. I remember swallowing against nausea while I lived in Mom's hospital room, watching the baggies of blood and fluids wind through thin, transparent tubes and into her arm. I would wake and push myself up from the chair that folded flat into a bed. I'd squint into the dim light, holding my breath as I watched and listened and told myself she was OK. She wasn't leaving me. Not yet.

I did the same with Chienne, moving carefully across my blue sheets, trying not to disturb her as I laid my hand against her side so I knew she was breathing.

"I hate the realization that I'll lose her," I told Friend when she called.

"I know," she said, her voice calm and kind. But when the brindled hound goes to bark at passersby or begs for part of my dinner, the worry is nudged a bit further into the background. And while my heart hurts and stomach cramps at the idea of losing her, it's obviously useless to dwell on it now. While I try to do that, I still check on her more, rolling over to smooth her coat and feel her side rise and fall reassuringly.

Monday, February 02, 2009


"Would it matter?" I asked with one eyebrow raised. His mouth dropped open at my response and I merely blinked before walking away.

It wasn't even a big deal. I'd reserved an room for a meeting and arrived to set up the projector when I found a colleague entering before me. And he was not invited to my meeting.

"We're both in here," he noted when he saw me. "She must not have seen your note," he explained, faltering when he realized the calendar isn't at all confusing. "But we do need the space. Is this going to cause a problem for you?"

I found another space and conducted my stressful meeting where we contracted for a thing and the thing didn't work so they remade the thing and we let customers see the thing only to realize that the thing didn't work in a different way. So now we're upset and the makers of the thing are upset so we sat and snapped at each other for about an hour. ("Well, my copy of the document doesn't say that.")

"Yeah," I offered in response to another colleague's thanks, already walking away after leaving data on his desk.

"No. That will not work," I insisted when someone asked me to cover part of the documentation for a project. "You'll have to find a way to deliver it!" I barely stopped myself from stomping my foot when she tried again.

I stopped to throw a pile of stuff in the mail room, squinting to see if there was anything in my box. I wandered over to pick up a padded envelope, wondering who was going to bother me now, and paused when I realized it was a journal. I waited until I was home to open it, dropping medicine in Chienne's eye and accepting happy greetings. I showed her the cover and told her I'd created that picture and those letters spelled my name. She seemed pleased.

I got back to work, trying to organize and articulate and plan. I'm tired. When asked how it's going, I grow weary of saying 'I love it! But it's so much work.' And worse still, it's Monday and I'm snapping at people I rather like.

I've already sent apologetic email.