Thursday, October 29, 2009

Piles Of

"Crap," I gasped, opening my eyes and blinking at the 6:58 that glowed on the digital clock. "Crap, crap, crap," I said, jerking myself out of my comfortable nest of fluffy softness. Thinking it was a miserable shame that I'd slept deeply only after 5:45 and was going to suffer for my 73 minutes of rest, I proceeded toward being late for a call I'd set up.

"Crap!" I repeated hurriedly when realizing my cordless phone was dead from being left off the charger all night. I ran downstairs to grab another phone, jogging back up to plug in the device and start the call with my secret code.

"Crap," I mumbled a moment later, opening the meeting announcement and seeing a different code. I quickly joined my Chinese colleagues on the phone and listened carefully while sipping soda leftover from last night.

"Do you want to go?" I asked Chienne after slapping on make-up and yanking on clothes. "We haven't walked for a long time. But you have to go slow." Halting the happy prance only long enough to have the leash clipped to her collar, we soon headed off - not at all slowly - down the street.

"Crap," I muttered when, holding a bag of that very substance, I looked back to see Chienne duck her head to escape her collar. "Come here, please," I coaxed and praised her when she wandered toward me. I said her name warningly when she did the same thing 5 minutes later, switching tactics this time to scamper away rather than follow me home.

I went ahead a swore for real before moving wearily toward my house. I got the mail and waited on the front porch before shrugging and heading inside. Summoned by neighbors who'd come to tell me Chienne had just crossed the street, I finally got my puppy back by crouching to cuddle a very soft sweetheart named Baxter. Jealousy works wonders and I was able to slip the collar back on, thank the neighbor and her canine and walk inside.

I left without a word or treat for Chienne, merely glaring as she blinked at me.

"Crap," I sighed upon seeing my schedule. Constant meetings - back to back to back - from 9AM-9PM. I was already tired and could feel a headache lurking, but I began my day, talking to people and taking notes.

"Don't make me tell you no," a superior - though not mine - warned me, much as I spoke to my dog when she was going to run away. "I haven't decided yet. I'll let you know what you can do to help. Later." I went back to my desk to sag with defeat.

I finally laid my head on the table, crossing my arms to cushion my forehead as the people around me continued a screaming argument in a conference room on the other side of the building. While I'm prone to exaggerating for effect, there was actual yelling. Some of it at me. So I cried. Two real tears in front of a group of people hardly cemented my impression of a graceful and effective leader. But at least they stopped yelling.

The topic of said meeting was to kill a project I've been working at since I started. We ended up shelving it rather than murdering it completely, but the overall effect could well be the same. And I thought of all the effort and time and, dammit, hope that went into this and I'm just crushed. Utterly demoralized.

"It's so bad," I said to Adam sadly after finishing a meeting with several people in his office. "I know," he replied simply. "I think I've been screamed at more this week than ever before in my career. We're losing the battle, Katie," he sighed. "And we're turning on each other."

"What?" I said, confused and exhausted when I sat in another office in a different building an hour later. A man sat behind his desk and indicated there would be a multi-million dollar lawsuit forthcoming. "But you don't know who?" I asked, completely befuddled. "Or why? But you want me to prevent it?" Summoning a moment's anger that we can't seem to find lawyers who do much other than caution us to Avoid All Risk, I tried to think clearly about this problem that may or may not materialize but had to hurry back to my office for another meeting.

"Hi," I said, smiling weakly at one of my favorite scientists when he entered. He sits outside my branch of the organization but he's wonderful - smart and creative and productive - and happens to own my favoritest of the works in progress. "Better, but still not good," I answered when he asked how I felt. "Crap," I replied when he informed me that his group had been reallocated to different projects, remaining slightly hopeful that they could continue putting some effort toward the cornerstone of one of my major strategies.

I turned to look out my window, rubbing absently at the searing pain in my head and noticing that my hands were trembling.

"I'm going home," I told Adam obviously when we passed in the hall with bag over shoulder and keys in hand. "I'm sick. And I can't. So I'm missing the 5:00 we have - do whatever you want. I really don't care anymore right now."

"Take care," he said mildly. I waved and walked outside, taking deep breaths in hopes to ease the nausea and got in my car.

"Crap," I said tiredly, looking blankly at the light that shone its desire for more gasoline on the dash. I stopped and got some, wandering inside to pay with my gift certificates. For the first time since doing so, I did not feel like a winner.

I have showered and nibbled on crackers. I'm in pajamas and in bed before 6PM. Because, well, crap.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Walking Disease

I opened the door, winced to find the room full of people and turned to grab another chair.

"Katie?" someone called, following me out of the small conference room and indicating there was an empty chair for me. I smiled weakly when my germophobic colleague hurriedly pushed the empty chair to the point as far away from him as possible. Given that I continue to feel like a walking disease, I didn't comment.

"I almost put you in the other room," he told me quietly when I sat quietly in the corner as our guests were otherwise occupied. "Are you OK?"

"Alive," I told him and he took an involuntary step back to avoid catching whatever horror has infected me.

"Are you stuffy?" another colleague asked on the phone. "Sweetheart, how are you so sick?"

"I don't know," I whined, putting the back of my head to see if I was feverish. Deciding that if I was, it was very slight and nibbling on one of my saltines as I pouted. "I'm sore and my head hurts and I'm starting to cough!"

"I'm sorry," everyone on the conference call said and I nodded. They should be sorry. I'm so tired of being sick.

I stayed home yesterday, I think - I don't really remember, honestly. There may have been phone calls. There was definitely a lengthy nap. I did make progress on my Huge Project - it's deadline is Looming, but I'm pretty comfortable with the state of the presentation. I feel like I'm either working or ill - there is nothing else. I listen to television shows as I fitfully doze. I type out emails while I drink more apple juice.

I'm weary of being ill. I'm grumpy as hell - whether I yap like a terrier or growl like a bear, but I still keep losing because I get tired mid-argument. But when I start answering my boss with "Are you fucking kidding me with this?!" something probably should start to shift soon.

Monday, October 26, 2009


"When I was in grad school," I said, carefully attempting to keep one eye open so I could watch myself clumsily apply eyeshadow just at the lash line. Frowning darkly at the effort, I closed both eyes, swiped some on and warily blinked to view the results. Shrugging, I continued my story. "I had my hair done and asked for the complimentary make-up freshening."

Tiny Friend nodded, gracefully accenting her wide eyes as the Mary Kay consultant looked on proudly. I glared down at the color before sighing once more. "She went a little crazy - lots of foundation, heavy eyes, dark mouth. Thanks," I interrupted myself to take the tiny vial of lip color that was put on my palette. "I went back to the lab, walked in the door - hair wildly curly, makeup extremely done - and watched Nicer, Taller and Smarter turn around. Their mouths fell open," I remembered, watching my lips curve in the tiny mirror that allowed me to view the color I absently applied. "And Taller finally said, 'Whoa,'" I recalled, smile widening. "'What happened to you?!'"

TinyFriend and MaryKayLady giggled at me and I shook my head. "I am not," I offered simply, "the sexy type. I'm very lip gloss and neutral eye shadow. Cotton panties and black flats with little bows on them." Feeling a twinge of regret that my arches cramp when I wear my red pumps and that eyeliner looks far more silly than sexy, I waved away the feeling and decided I'm a bit too old to play dress-up and wish for what isn't.

I recalled the evening spent in my dining room as I winced at my reflection in the master bathroom this morning. I looked pale, dark circles under my eyes contrasting sharply with my overall pallor. Swirling, tapping and buffing for all I was worth, I sneezed at the powder that hung in the air from my furious application and cocked my head. Adjusting my glasses so they perched straight on my nose, I tugged at the hem of my black top and shrugged before moving slowly downstairs.

Apple juice and saltines tucked safely beside my laptop, I carefully drove to work and parked neatly in a spot before wandering toward the building. Feeling too queasy to want lip gloss, my naked lips and I went to the first of 9 hour-long meetings and tried to sleepily pay attention. I escaped briefly to head to the restroom, smiling weakly at the woman washing her hands.

"You work on that team," she told me, turning to smile brightly.

"OK," I agreed absently, shaking myself when she looked a bit bewildered. "I'm sorry - yes, I do work on that team."

"You won an award," she said, smiling again and I laughed as I went into the stall and unzipped my gray pants.

"Yes," I agreed, wondering what the appropriate response to that is. Someone who wears eyeliner well probably knows a gracious and elegant reply, I decided.

"Could we have a meeting?" she asked as I finished and emerged from my stall. "Would you mind?"

"Not at all," I said politely, wondering if she was Southern and wondered what we'd discuss.

"I'll book time on your calendar," she decided happily and I grinned at her enthusiasm before nodding. People are funny, I decided, counting slowly to 15 as I washed my hands and reaching for a paper towel.

After I tossed the damp towel in the trash but before I managed to open the door, my simple black flat hit an unexpected puddle of water. I hit the tile with a thud, whimpering a bit with pain before scampering to my feet before anyone saw me, wishing once more for a bit more grace and beauty.

I have showered and washed my face, carefully applying moisturizer because it's getting dryer up here. I managed a full day at work, though I'm utterly exhausted and don't know how I'll manage a 10 hour day tomorrow. And my bottom hurts. Because I can't walk around without falling down.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I do not enjoy posting here lately. I still love many of you very, very much. So I don't get why I wrinkle my nose when I think of actually finishing a draft of something. As I attempt to power through, I offer you bullets.

  • I'm out of my favorite Lush product. It creates silky bubbles and a nice smell and I like to smoosh it between my fingers as it melts. So my bath last night was filled with splashes of regret since I don't have my little flowery bundles of goodness anymore.
  • I am excited about going back to work! I have missed it.
  • When I finally could think again, I dove into a presentation and spent two blissful hours reorganizing content and making new graphs and charts. I really do like my job.
  • I pondered why I adore apple juice and abhor apples. Decided it's that apples hurt my gums. They are too firm. Katie has spoken.
  • I do, however, enjoy pears. Is there such a thing as pear juice?
  • I talked to Mom about Smallest One today - something I've been meaning to do for some time. When told she dumped milk in yet another DVD player, Mom said she and Dad were both Very Frustrated with the toddler. When asked what she was doing wrong, I pounced on the opportunity to offer ideas.
  • I think, I said, that people have little motivation to be good when there's no positive reinforcement. And while we did little but tell Little One how wonderful, smart, beautiful and talented she is, Smallest One is far more likely to get attention by being bad. You should tell her when she's doing well. Pay attention to her when she's quiet. Reinforce that she's wonderful and funny, smart and adorable.
  • Sometimes you have to let her win. Win without arguments. In 2 days, I saw she often got what she wanted but you've trained her to fight for it. Nobody says yes on the first try - it's always a battle for the little darling.
  • We struggle with second children in my family. First ones (me!) are awesome (-ly neurotic) but second ones tend to be willful and troublesome. Advice for the adorable, wonderful Smallest One?
  • I like massages to hurt. I was a bit surprised when a completely effective massage didn't feel deep enough to really feel the muscles relax (more in fear of future agony than an actual desire to do so). Odd, yes?
  • I think the economic dip has offered some amazing spa deals of late. I got 2 massages for less than the normal cost of one. I can't totally afford it, but still. I like deals.
  • "This is ridiculous for one person!" a colleague said when he came to fetch DVDs of data yesterday. "The house?" I asked, confused. At his nod, I grinned and shrugged. "It's pretty," I defended my choice. But he's right - the place is too big for me.
  • I felt a little guilty about my excessive taste until I remembered the gas fireplace and whirlpool tub. Then I shrugged and remembered this was the only place the fit my criteria for a new home.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Multi-packs of Jello

After accusing someone rather angrily of having a "bullshit argument," I decided to stop taking telephone calls for the day. An unfed Katie brain is an unhappy Katie brain, apparently. Pouting - arms crossed and everything! - I fell into a restless nap.

Upon awakening, I lamented the fact that when I'm supine and comfortable, I'm starving. The commercials of food are so intensely appealing that I'm beginning to lean longingly toward the television when they appear. But, motivated as I am for nourishment, I come downstairs in search of snacks and inevitably grow sick on the short trip. Disappointed, I reach for a cracker and nibble sadly.

"What can I bring you?" Sibling asked. She was the third call of the day and I repeated my answer that I was fine - there was nothing I needed. "I'm coming over and bringing you stuff," she said calmly. "Please decide what you'd like to have."

"Jello, please," I requested, growing a bit weepy at her insistent kindness. "The little individual servings - any flavor."

I told her I had soda and she said she'd get me juice instead. I mentioned I had crackers and heard her scribble a note to get me more.

"Hi," she said when she stopped by. "I brought things you could eat without getting up. Bananas. Little bottles of juice. More crackers - these are the buttery kind. I'll put them upstairs."

"I can take them," I called weakly, scooping up my Jello eagerly and placing the cartons in the refrigerator after removing one. Wincing when I recalled the linens were dirty and rumpled, there were towels that may have vomit on them tossed in corners and I'd been piling pajamas up as I continued to take showers.

Unfazed, she nodded with satisfaction when seeing me hold my tiny plastic container of red Jello. "Rest," she ordered, gave me a sympathetic smile when I nodded obediently and left me with my treat.

I feel a little crampy after eating it. I'm planning to do little but sleep this weekend - no waking up to take calls. No guilt-induced trudges to write presentations and respond to urgent email. I shall focus all my energies on nibbling crackers, drinking juice and spooning up Jello. And feeling rather blessed that I manage to find myself in the company of extraordinary women wherever I'm living at the time.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


I finally ate without becoming violently ill. I feel crampy and unsettled, but not on the verge of fleeing to the nearest bathroom. And that, my friends, is what we call progress.


"Where is Katie?" a new collaborator asked quietly after everyone in England (well, not everyone - the people I was meant to speak with) introduced themselves.

"I'm in my basement," I offered and waited for them to laugh (God bless the British). "I'm based at headquarters," I offered, "but I'm getting over the flu. So I'm home today." And I contributed and listened and made a somewhat decent impression.


"No!" I cried and then coughed, getting increasingly angry when it made my muscles cramp in protest. "They are a vendor," I argued. "They can either vend or get the hell out of my way."

"I thought you were supportive," a colleague said carefully.

"When I thought they would do what I said, I was. I have now turned on them." I explained snippily. "I'm sick - I'm hanging up now. You tell them I said no."

"Whores," I muttered after I hung up and patted Chienne reassuringly before curling into my covers and pillows and trying to rest.


"Thank you," I offered to the fourth person who offered to bring me things today. "I don't really want food. I have been alternating Tylenol and Advil and have have enough left. And, yes - I promise I'm getting enough fluids."

Now I'm more bored than anything - finding it hard to focus but less painful to breathe. It may be time to go back to the office tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I pride myself on being quippy. I enjoy sitcoms and have picked up a (little) bit of comedic timing and cute responses. So - had I not already been utterly miserable - I would have been disappointed in my reaction to a colleague's comment when I joined a phone call.

"I heard if it's the swine flu, you need oinkment," he offered when I asked to speed things up so I could go throw up. "But the bird flu requires alternate tweetment."

In retrospect, I could have called him a name. Hung up. Let them listen as I took another miserable trip to the bathroom. Instead I offered a weak, "huh," and let it go.

Growing up, we classified colds as respiratory illnesses and flus as more gastrointestinal issues. I think Friend told me something about throwing up not being a prerequisite for the flu, but it remains so in my mind. So when the news declared that swine flu was most commonly dominated by vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue and dizziness, I roused myself from a fitful dose and untangled one arm from the bundle of pillows and covers to point at the television.

"That," I said to Chienne as she lifted her snout to regard me worriedly, "sounds like me."

The hell of it is that I felt better yesterday afternoon. Convinced it was a mild bug, I even went to get a massage, lying silently as Amy rubbed my back and gently eased the soreness from my muscles. I've been in the bathtub twice, fleeing the first bath with nausea from being too hot and the second with shivers as my fever dipped and swirled, leaving me freezing. I've showered too many times to count, miserably attempting to rinse the germ-bugs away.

I set myself up in the basement this morning, fluffy comforter and piles of pillows forming a nest on the couch. I planned to perch my laptop on one side, plugging in my phone so I could take calls. Instead, I made it 4 minutes into my 6AM conference before hanging up to wretch again. I did manage a couple of customer calls this afternoon, warning them that I was ill and shaking myself from the stupor that left me pausing mid-sentence, nary a clue of what I'd been trying to say.

Tomorrow has to be better, I keep telling everyone. A friend from work stopped yesterday to drop off soup. My parents call at least 4 times - forcing stern internal reminders that they're just trying to help and I should not yell at them. I'm tired of feeling shaky and weak, nauseated and crampy. I want someone to rub my back again but already feel guilty for potentially infecting my spa. I can't really think. But I'm so incredibly bored.

Still. Oinkment. Give me a fucking break.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

It all becomes clear.

"What's that?" Little One asked as she curled into me on the loveseat. I glanced away from the screen of my laptop and looked at her before answering.

"This is Aunt Katie's work," I replied. "See all those circles?" She nodded. "Those are all the projects we could do."

"How come they're different colors?" she asked, pointing at a blue one.

"The colors indicate ownership," I answered. "The blue circles are my projects. The orange ones belong to Sibling. Best gets the green ones and PrettyHair is red."

"Oh," she nodded again. "No purple?"

"Not right now," I smiled, cuddling her closer. "So we're trying to prioritize the projects we could do and pick the ones we're going to do."

"How?" she inquired sensibly and I nodded in appreciation for her question.

"Well, it's usually pretty simple. Remember when we went to the toy store today? And you looked at all the Webkinz? How did you pick yours?"

"I like birds because they get treetop rooms, and my friend at school had the caterpillar so I wanted her too."

"My job is kind of like that. I try to figure out what people like - favorite colors, most common problems, bonus applications - and what other companies have. I think about how much money each circle might make and how many people need to work on it. I talk to important people all over the world and ask what they think."

I pointed to the appropriate circles when she asked which ones we'd picked.

"But," I said, thinking my five year old niece now knows more about my job than anyone in the family, "there's more. How much are Webkinz?"

"$12.95," came the prompt reply.

"Cool," I decided. "So let's say you have $25. But we were at the store and you wanted the pink bird - "

"Cockatoo," she corrected me and I repeated the word dutifully.

"And the green caterpillar. But they cost more than $25 put together - almost $26, actually. What would you do?"

"I'd ask you for more money. Or Grandma. Or Dad."

"Right," I praised. "Or you could look for a sale. Or take cost out of Webkinz production. Adhere to lean processes." I grinned when she gave me a funny look and leaned down to kiss her forehead.

"Then what?" she asked and I beamed at her for retaining interest for so long.

"Well, I take care of the projects. Like you do with Webkinz. I check on them and talk to the people who are doing all the work. I make pictures and write stories so people understand it. I present this picture to other people and ask them if it's right or wrong. I see if they want to work with us to do some of these projects. I keep track of new Webkinz to see if there are any I might want if I get money later. It's pretty cool."

"Yeah," she agreed. "What this circle way over here?"

"Oh," I said softly, stomach tightening. "That stands for kids who are sick."

"Oh," she said, leaning away so she could look up at me. "Their tummies hurt?"

"Maybe," I replied, smoothing her hair. "Or their heads or their hearts."

"How come it's so far over?" she asked, and I blinked at the lonely circle as well, feeling completely unprepared to explain this part. Somehow small return on investments or low competitive advantage lost meaning. Profit margins and strong investor reports didn't seem so compelling when I thought of someone else's little one with a hurt tummy or head or heart.

"It probably shouldn't be," I finally answered. "I'll talk to some people about it on Monday. That was a very good question, sweetheart."

"I know," she answered seriously and cuddled close again.

No Complaints

Daily life continues at a hectic pace. I work. I sleep. I react to urgent situations and try to plan a sustainable strategy for my professional life in general. I meant to blog several times over the past week - I had stories and questions, but little time to share them. And, honestly, as my prioritization are constantly refined, I find writing here falls below replying to emails, calling home and - sometimes - blankly staring at baseball games on television until I fall asleep from a mixture of exhaustion and sheer boredom.

We did our first set of global reviews since I started with the company last week. I owned the project - I'm told that's a rather large vote of confidence - and, quite frankly, rocked. It wasn't perfect - some people were late, others didn't attend at all, the presentations had a few minor mistakes that the audience caught - but there were times when I would answer a question and watch people's reactions and I'd pause to think that I was amazingly good at this. I get it. I've found my balance. I can present material with focus and enthusiasm and find I'm quite influential with my opinions. So while I was exhausted after the week was over, I smiled sleepily at all the emails and phone calls that congratulated me on an excellent 20 hours of meetings.

After finishing on Friday, I hurried home and clean a bit and do mounds of laundry. Mom, Brother, his girlfriend and the Little and Smallest Ones arrived on schedule and immediately set to finding all the presents I'd placed around the house. Dad stayed home with an illness and I assured Mom it was fine to come despite some vomiting stories from the girls last week.

I added another story when Little One was sick in bed on Friday night. After a moment of shameful revulsion, I braced myself and scooped her up from the other side of my bed and got the grossness off her. Tossing my own shirt aside and leaving her with Mom and wrapped in a towel, I grabbed my softest robe, bundled her up and put her to bed with ice chips while I started more laundry.

But yesterday was lovely - all of us felt mildly crappy but doggedly played games and laughed and went for walks in my quaint and lovely town so we could look at the river and admire the trees.

"Waterfall!" Smallest One repeated, pointing and bouncing on the toes of her bright pink sneakers as she pointed at it. "Ducks! Waterfall!" I snuggled Little One's head under my chin while grinning at Smallest One as she once again pushed her hood back. They're wonderful. And though I've no doubt they inflicted me with untold germs, it was totally worth it.

The left this morning before 7. Mom was unwell but decided to brave the trip. Smallest One clutched the Big Bird toy she got yesterday and Little One waved from her seat in the back. I went back to bed, head aching and full of items I had yet to do for work. But I find I'm remarkably happy after a nap. I like what I do. I love these delightful people who are related to me. And Autumn is undeniably lovely up here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I am...

A winner!
We had a contest at work and I happened to win free gasoline for a year. Every time I stop to fill my tank, I have this mental picture of throwing up my arms and cheering, "I'm a winner!" Same mental image when I go in to pay with my gift cards. And again as I pull away from the pump and back into traffic. I now feel utterly awesome during a normally-onerous chore. So while I was pleased upon being awarded my prize, it's even better now that I have it.

I have been playing Paradise Pet Salon (you wish I was kidding - I'm so not.) when I'm stressed or moody or not able to sleep. (In other words, I've been playing Paradise Pet Salon a lot.) The game has somehow drilled into my consciousness that there's always too much to do. Some people's little hearts will go away because their dogs don't get bathed and clipped and treated medically as quickly as they'd like. So the dogs bark and cats screech as they lose patience but it gets easier to ignore it as I click and click and click and somehow things get done.

When I went to the office today - after taking Chienne for a walk and meeting some friends for brunch - I found it shockingly simple to ignore the angry emails and let demands for attention fade into the background as they blared from voice mails. Instead, I relaxed into the quiet darkness that encompassed the office and did the tasks I'd come to finish. While files were transferring and documents downloading, I went to tackle a pain-in-the-ass experiment and found more errors than I fixed. When I got tired of it after a few hours, I decided to quit and emailed my findings to the team before straightening up, grabbing my bag and heading home. No guilt. No irritation (well, little irritation). I was just calm and capable.

Upon getting home, I greeted a puppy who'd been lazing in the sunshine and took a quick shower before snuggling into pajamas. I started my first fire of the season (how I love gas fireplaces) and put together a spinach and blueberry salad.

I have one email to finish for work - I brought detailed notes home so I don't forget anything. I considered a bath but decided against it - it's rather lovely to stay dry, enjoy the fire and wait to get sleepy before starting another week.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Clipping Cattails

We moved to the country before I started second grade, abandoning our too-small house in an increasingly crime-ridden location for nearly 3 acres in a sleepy neighborhood bordered by several farms. We rode three wheelers and played baseball in our spare lot. We picked strawberries down the street and I walked to school every day until I finished eighth grade. Retrospectively, it was rather idyllic - my parents tried hard and I think they did a nice job.

For the most part.

We had driven by the same spot many times - it was part of Mom's daily commute. She had decided - as part of her 'goin' country!' decorating theme - that we required a jug o' cattails in the corner of our living room beside the giant picture of a barn by the lake that OlderCousin painted us. She had the container - an actual milk jug or butter churner or some such nonsense - and had painted the three-foot tall vessel a pale blue. It waited in the corner and my mother looked increasingly determined to fill it with "pretty" weeds.

I believe, at age 9 or so, that I had expressed my opinion of this plan. (Said opinion was not positive.) Brother was more encouraging, but at 5, who could blame him? (Though I'm sure I did.) So Mom stealthily hid garden tools in the back of the minivan and one day, instead of sighing longingly as we drove past the ditch that contained the coveted cattails, she pulled over.

"What are you doing?" I remember asking her, frowning darkly even as she grinned and hurried to the back of the vehicle. "Mother," I said warningly (for that's how I indicated I was serious), but she ignored me while Brother happily scampered from the back seat.

"Katie," she called in a moment. "If I clip them and hand them to Brother, then can you put them in the back of the van?"

"No," I replied promptly, pretending it wasn't happening as I stayed in the passenger seat, arms crossed and pout firmly in place.

"Katie," she tried again. "I'm not sure this is legal. If you help, perhaps your friends won't see us getting arrested."

"I can't believe you're breaking the law!" I gasped, but got out of the car to ferry cattails from Brother's hands to the back of the van.

"Be careful!" Mom called. "If you break them, I'm getting more!" I snapped that I was being careful and planning to tell Dad that she was leading us into a life of crime but she laughed and continued to attack the stems with her garden shears.

Van loaded and seatbelts fastened once again, we merged into sparse traffic and headed toward home. I remember looking at her, ready to complain bitterly again, and she giggled at me. So instead of whining about my mistreatment, I laughed too.

When Chienne and I wandered around the neighborhood in the pretty morning light, I stopped to grin at the cattails. Living in the country meant we spent a lot of time in the car together to reach civilization. The times I remember best were filled with teasing and laughter, and - as I age - the memories seem increasingly wonderful.

Given that I drive by this same spot on my daily commute, I fully expect to eventually find a spot for my own jug o' cattails. I'm equally confident that Mom and Brother would eagerly participate in a plan to acquire them.

Looking Up

The light was pretty this morning.

I stared out my patio doors while still curled under the covers, cuddling into pillows while turning to look at the time. I've not been sleeping well - somehow ridiculously jet lagged from a two hour time zone shift during a recent trip - so I took a few moments to decide whether I was finished resting or not.

I remained awake a few moments later, so I tossed the covers aside, patted Chienne when she sighed at me for disturbing her, and came downstairs. I fetched coffee and played online before grabbing shoes and sweatshirt and leaving for our walk.

Chienne had escaped yesterday while I was mowing the lawn, and - already frustrated the I paid the kid next door and he hadn't taken care of the grass for weeks - I decided to shrug it off and let her run around. She checked in at random intervals but frolicked around the neighbors yards and sprinted up and down the sidewalks. I normally enforce a strict "that's not yours!" rule about playing on people's property but decided to screw it. In return, she was remarkably good as she trotted on the sidewalk, waiting patiently while I took photos and humoring me when I told her how pretty the leaves were.

I came home to shower and dress for an appointment. I arrived promptly, reclined on the padded table and slid dark glasses over my eyes.

"Ready," I confirmed, wincing in anticipation before the laser zapped the hair above my lip. For the most part, the facial hair procedure is mildly uncomfortable. The follicles above my upper lip? They react by screaming "son of a bitch!" with each of the four zaps.

"OK?" the technician (first non-perky one I've met, honestly) asked before positioning the applicator right under my nose for the last time. I braced myself and still jerked in response, whimpering a pitiful "ow..." and wiping a tear from my eye. I blinked at her as she took my glasses and gave me an ice pack to put on my poor face. But I dutifully made my appointment for next time, merely laughing when she asked if I might want to do my underarms or bikini area.

I stopped at Target to buy presents for the girls. They're coming to visit in 2 weeks and I'm going to set up an elaborate scavenger hunt with games and clues to find Snow White dolls, Play-Doh, tiny flowers, coloring books, stickers, candy and Webkinz. Gathering pet food and groceries, I paid and loaded items into my Jeep before coming home to neatly place items in their proper places.

It's an odd shift - a set of random events that align and I suddenly feel better.

"Help Yourself to Happiness," MedicoreBuffetRestaurantSign invited as I drove toward my house.

"Thank you, MediocreBuffetRestaurantSign," I replied. "I believe I will."

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Fine. (Maybe)

"So when you realized you weren't going to change the world - that this job was also hard and disappointing and not the answer to everything - did you panic and want to go back to academia?" my traveling companion asked, driving me slowly insane with his Extremely Deliberate approach to driving.

"Yes, I panicked," I responded with a smile at my own expense. "But, no. I never wanted to go back. I still don't want to go back." Wincing when he stopped at a light that had just turned yellow, I sighed and told myself to relax. I'm overly critical of men who don't drive well. It's a character flaw. But I couldn't talk myself out of losing respect for him with every failure to change lanes or merge properly.

"I did something like that," I noted, looking up from my notes scrawled on lined paper in a spiral notebook and commenting on the grant proposal. "X and Y worked but Z didn't. I think C is novel and fascinating - good for you." And staring across the table at the PI that would have been perfect for my post-doc had her location not been on my least desirable list, I still didn't wish for it. I don't need the publications. I don't want the grant proposals. I don't miss the thrill of victory or sting of defeat, such as it was.

"I was never a great academic," I admitted to a visitor several weeks ago. We had grabbed lunch at a cafe on campus after he gave an excellent seminar. Upon his attempt to politely inquire after my former research, I wrinkled my nose and shrugged. "You're one of those," I told him and he grinned at me. I paused, thinking if he wrote a blog, I'd likely have a tiny crush on him.

"One of what?" he asked curiously, tipping his bag of chips toward me until I took one. I held it between two fingertips as I decided what to say.

"Successful," I concluded. "Well-funded. Respected. Known. I was never going to be that and accepting that fact was always going to be hard for me. I wanted greatness, but I was more efficient and organized than creative and brilliant." I could have kissed his cheek when he rolled his eyes at my assessment, but settled on a smile instead. "But I'm good at this," I defended my earlier remarks. "I manage and encourage the greatness. I defend the brilliant people and shield them from all the mundane crap that gets in the way. I fight the funding battles, attend all the meetings, talk to the difficult customers and take the blame when things go to hell."

He frowned at me for a moment before offering another chip. He grabbed one for himself when I shook my head and continued to look at me while he chewed.

"So you've given up on greatness?" he asked, not unkindly.

"Such as defined by academia? Or my perception of that definition, I guess," I corrected myself. "Yes. I now find it ridiculous when people mention their Nature papers from 2001. I want to kick PIs who take credit they could give to their trainees. I think it's sad that much of science is done to get funding rather than because it's fascinating or valuable.

"So," I continued when he continued to look interested, "I now assess value from all that research and use it to define strategy. I work with amazingly talented people who seem to know and respect me and I take pleasure in that. I get exhausted and sad from all the crap - the evidence that people are less than they should be - more greedy, less capable. But I very much like my job. I hope I get to do it for a long time."

I do take it personally. I'm deeply offended when customers screw us over. I'm horrified when we lose deals we should have won or when people demand lower prices for truly valuable products. But it's also rather amusing when I step back and see this for what it is.

"You know," my traveling companion said, holding up traffic as he waited to get in the left turn lane even though I told him we'd turn left a mile beforehand, "despite all the profound goals we have and good we want to do, we're more or less like used car salesmen." I laughed and he grinned at me and despite the continued clicking of the turn signal, I regained respect for him.

"True story," I agreed easily and took some comfort in that before remembering the state of the auto industry. It's hard right now. I'm sorry if you're concerned about my mood or well-being - I think I'm fine. But I don't want to do anything else.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

I Said NO.

I despise you, I thought, trying very hard to relax my face from 'menacing glare' to 'they pay me to be interested and polite.' A moment later, I caught myself picturing him as a frog and realized my internal scolding was wildly ineffective. When I conjured a lovely picture of a car squashing the frog and staring at a flattened creature that would no longer hop about so annoyingly, I sighed and gave up.

I was a very angry Katie.

No, wait.

I am a very angry Katie.

"So we make a rule," I explained to Dad when I returned home from my latest trip. "And I try to enforce the rule - do what's right, toe the company line - and the damn people complain to my boss and he just reverses it all! And, well, fuck! What am I supposed to do if Baby can just run to Daddy every time Baby doesn't get what Baby wants?!"

Someone approached me for money at the airport, taking my boarding pass out of my unsuspecting hands while she talked about how families needed house and oranges and string beans. And couldn't I help?

"No!" I said, barely stopping myself from stomping my foot while I looked at her with shock and disgust. "And this is mine!" I continued, snatching the paper back while she looked surprised. "I may look harmless," I muttered to myself, "but people should Just Stop."

"Fine," I snapped when a colleague - my least favorite in the whole company - asked how I was. Do not be nice to me when you're going to go over my head as soon as I tell you no. Jackass. I rolled my eyes when he told me good night later that day.

It's unusual that I'm quite that blatant in my disdain for another human, I decided. Yet it seemed to be my dominant reaction to most everything.

Yet it wasn't until just now, when I curled around Chienne and her warmth soothed my crampy tummy, that I realized it was hormonal. The rabid anger had seemed normal. Seething impatience justified. Crazed need for chocolate - I nearly got up while the plane was taking off to claw the candy bar from my overhead luggage - a standard craving.

Excellent, I thought when I realized. Still only about 48% evil. It's just intermittent circumstances that make me hate everything.

Saturday, October 03, 2009


"I'm sorry," I interrupted his scripted remarks after answering the phone, "but no. I'd sincerely like to help and I do support charities, but there are just so many groups that telemarket that I'm giving a blanket refusal."

"We only call once a year!" he protested happily, and I shrugged and cut him off again as he went into how children/elderly/veterans/sick/nature/household pets/polar bears/science desperately needed my help.

"The problem," I said clearly, "is that I can't help everyone. There are a number of very worthy charities but I'm largely ignorant of their mission and background. I have neither time nor money nor patience to carefully consider three proposals each evening so I've ruthlessly simplified the process. If you call, the answer is no. Send me email, we're cool - I'll consider it. But I do have a set of pet projects where I'm happy to donate. So," I concluded, feeling rather good about my decision, "I appreciate your time and wish you all the best. But I won't be able to help with a contribution this or any other year that you call me at home."

I placed the receiver gently in the cradle and repeated the same message when another person called not 20 minutes later. It's easier, frankly, to use general rules to guide my reaction to situations. I'm so mentally tired much of the time that having a flow chart structure guiding my decisions. For example, when dealing with customers, I ask what the right thing is. I then evaluate if doing that could get me fired. If yes, I apologize and refuse. If no, will doing it screw over my team in terms of workload? If yes, I apologize and refuse. If no, will doing it screw me over?

I used to go into this complicated ranking at this point - how much do I care about the customer? Don't I really want to do what's right? I have some time if I wake up at 4 rather than 5AM on Thursday and might be able to manage to move some meetings so that I can handle. And while I was internally debating and reviewing my other priorities, people sensed weakness, pushed me a little and I ended up saying yes.

I don't debate so much anymore. If I can do it that week, I'll say yes. If I can't, I'll offer to revisit it at some undefined time. It's easier.

The same sort of decision tree applies to blogging. Do I feel like it? If no, don't do it. Do I have time? If no, don't do it. Do I have anything worthwhile to say? If no, don't do it.

I'm fine. Stuff happens. And, eventually, I'll start telling you about it again.