Thursday, March 26, 2009

Inadequate Articulation

I glanced at the tiny woman seated next to me on one of the twenty flights I’ve taken in the last 30 days. I cocked my head in confusion, not understanding what she’d said. She tried again with similar results – I turned to the flight attendant, accepted my glass of water while she looked at me and shrugged.

“Coke,” the woman in the window seat finally said after three inquiries, her lyrical accent unable to morph that single syllable into an incomprehensible murmur above the roar of the engines. She was handed a small plastic cup full of fizzy brown liquid and I tried to recall her original requests to make sense of what I hadn't been able to decipher.

“Coca Cola soft drink,” I realized, at once pleased and abashed that I’d finally understood. She was correct – used the right words in the appropriate order – but I've always judged communication by its efficacy rather than how well it follows rules and standards. Still, I decided, it wasn't fair. I often hear complaints from my foreign colleagues - not being understood despite speaking as clearly as possible - to the best of their abilities.

I sighed, offering my Coke-sipping neighbor a weak smile while I settled into my middle seat. I have not been doing well of late and, unable to articulate it in a suitable manner, I’ve remained quiet. I have too many projects to manage. Too many people need my time. Adam sets priorities with which I don’t agree. People are disappointed in me – multiple people at varying times during the day – and it hurts my feelings. I’m tired and the frequency of criticism leaves me unmotivated. I have no balance in my life and no energy to devise a suitable plan.

But that’s all boring. Multiple words to describe an ongoing issue that – despite the new challenges that each day offers – changes very little.

“Should we go for a walk?” I asked Chienne this morning, awarded by an immediate perking of ears and prancing of paws. We wandered up and down the street, watching kids climb on the bus and ducks paddle smoothly across the small pond. I dropped her off at home with a pat on the head and headed off to work.

I sat with my group 10 hours. We sat around a table, drawing on a board and arguing points and plans. I ignored all else – no email, no (well, few) phone calls, no more than a random thought about other projects. As I sipped my way through three cans of soda and two cups of tea, snacked on two oranges, a pear and a cookie and joined my group for lunch, I gained clarity on a single issue.

I did so at the cost of all else – for which I’m sure I’ll be scolded from any number of people – but it felt good to just think. To gather information and organize it. To speak and listen, ask questions and watch as a plan slowly coalesced into a recognizable entity. I don't think anymore so much as react. When a salesperson calls to tell me how I'm Ruining Everything or when a soft-spoken woman drops off four folders of surveys for me to review ASAP, I feel myself disengage. I can't do anything for either of them - I'm consumed by this flurry of urgent and important items.

"Which bullet will hit you first?" Adam asks when I beg for help with my workload.

"But," I reply, terribly confused, "shouldn't we try to avoid getting hit? Or pick the bullet most likely to be fatal and dodge that? How does it help me to avoid being shot today only to be mortally wounded tomorrow?" So he tells me to do specific tasks and I try to cope when other people demandingly overrule him.

I declined the offer of drinks with the team. When I’ve been with the same people – no matter how lovely – for upwards of 10 hours, I’m pretty much done. So I came home, greeted a happy puppy, petted a resigned cat and made a couple more figures for tomorrow. Regardless of how many words I use to tell it, this storyline isn’t very compelling. And I’m still befuddled as to how to find the next one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i totally agree with your representations of the bullets to Adam, what you say makes more sense to me... but then i'm not a good multitasker, i have to do one thing at the expense of all else... i hope that your workload has improved some!

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