Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I preened over the class feedback about 10 years ago, sitting in a plastic chair in a community college classroom and listening to the air conditioner valiantly battle the heat. Having no desire to fulfill my public speaking requirement with the students at my private university, I used a small portion of the summer after my freshman year to take a course off campus. I was pretty relaxed about the whole idea, simply wanting my B so that credits would transfer neatly.

When assigned a particular project, the first day’s presenters were horrible. So awful were their performances that I was intensely motivated to make the most super-fantastic-impressive speech ever. So I researched and rehearsed and watched gleefully as everyone was suitably awed by my minutes behind the podium. The next week saw an upswing in the class’s level of effort and a corresponding dip in my own.

With nowhere to go, I wake happily around dawn. Due at work by 7AM, I resent every single second my eyes have to be open. I’d wait until Brother would fall behind before I would complete all my chores, wanting all the credit or uninterested in any of it. When gas was expensive, I bought an SUV. I’m attracted to men I can’t have. When all is calm, I tend to get irritable and find minuscule problems over which panic. But when tension is thick and tempers are short? I am at my best – peaceful and calm, helpful and loving.

The day veered in a negative direction just after noon. Until then, the group had been busy and stressed, but coping admirably. Adam called us to meet at lunchtime so we all gathered around a table to receive instructions rather than food. We sat silently, faces blank, as he outlined the problem at hand and the changes that had been made. Not one of us commented as he explained why the past week of work – long days and a weekend of intense effort – had not been wasted, exactly. It was just not going to be used.

Instead, Adam continued after glancing at us and shrugging off our collective displeasure, we would do new work! On these new documents and presentations! Because it was…well, not better, really. But different. And it wouldn’t change again. Probably.

“We’ve done this five times already!” PrettyHair finally said, making me smile when she threw her hands in the air. We take turns being the dramatic one and I had assessed Adam’s mood and decided now was not the time to push him. She continued to speak, voicing very valid complaints and nodding when others offered their own criticism. Though I agreed with their every point – and was very frustrated and tired and unhappy myself – I began to feel badly for Adam.

He’s under tremendous pressure, I thought, and having to defend himself to his own team. The changes weren’t his idea and he was coping as best he could.

“What do we need to do?” I finally asked. When attention turned to me, I glanced around. “We need to get this done and do it well. So let’s go through the workload, agree on a sensible strategy and accomplish something.” I turned my attention to Adam again, watched him blink in surprise, and was pleased when the group remained quiet, awaiting instructions. We soon dispersed and I hadn’t been at my desk long enough to complete a single item on my list when he appeared at my door.

“Do you have a minute?” he asked when I looked up and I nodded, asking what I needed to bring before following him to his office. He motioned to the door once we were inside and I obediently closed it behind me. “I need your input on how to structure this,” he offered.

Flattered, I sat shoulder to shoulder with him as we frowned at his laptop to rearrange text and reorganize paragraphs, checking transitions and drawing diagrams to step back and understand goals. An hour later, satisfied, he went to fetch other people in the group. We worked together to convince the first person, easily won over the majority and crashed and burned at the end.

I heard my voice emerge, soothing and gentle, as I explained the theme to PrettyHair. I patted Adam’s shoulder when he tensed visibly, explaining her comment in a way that wasn’t so offensive yet still retained her point. They argued and I agreed with both of them, finding commonalities and expressing sympathy over their stress levels.

“We’re in good shape,” I chirped at one point. “We’ve learned a lot! And I think this is a strong message to send!” Preening when they both grinned at me fondly, I stood to follow PrettyHair from the room after asking Adam if there was anything else I could do.

“Thank you,” he said and I waved my hand at him. “No, really,” he insisted and I paused halfway out the door.

“It’s my pleasure,” I said, feeling inordinately affectionate toward him despite the massive amounts of work he’s created for me over the next three days.

I always cheer for the losing team. Once they start to win, my interest dissipates rapidly. So we’ll see how tomorrow goes.

Monday, March 30, 2009


I pursed my lips and thought very, very hard while letting Chienne tug me through the neighborhood. The days grow longer, making my short commutes even happier since they're not consistently made in the pre-dawn and post-dusk darkness.

I shall, I decided as I guided the Jeep toward home, take the puppy for a walk. Checking the temperature displayed on my dash, I decided 40 degrees was sweatshirt weather and dressed accordingly upon arriving at home.

"Where did I drink coffee this morning?" I said out loud, unable to remember and hoping that hearing the question would make it easier. "I made some before I left but didn't have time for more than a couple of sips," I murmured, letting the wind whisk the words away as they tossed wisps of hair that escaped my ponytail. "But I'm not sleepy so I must have had more." I mused, eyebrows lowered behind sunglasses as I continued to consider.

I got to work and parked the car, I listed, deciding to go step by step. I went to a lab to check the set up of an experiment, called someone to have them take care of mistakes and dropped my bag at my desk. I answered a couple of emails as people began to fill the building with noise and then I went to the pretty conference room. There, I perked up as I remembered, I had coffee in a pretty porcelain cup perched on a matching saucer while speaking to a customer.

"It seems like days ago though - not just this morning," I told Chienne. She glanced up from her examination of a tree before trotting off again, leaving me to follow along. I received and returned phone calls. I giggled through a meeting with Adam because what we do is truly ridiculous. We plan for events that are cancelled 40% of the time, negating all the effort we spent. We argue passionately over trivial facts and absently agree on major topics. We work incredibly hard - long days, intense effort, real focus. But we seem to make very few people happy. I was insulted three times via email and only one of them made me want to cry. (That's a vast improvement - I'm doing much better.) I formed a list of things to do, acknowledged I had little time to do any of it, and shrugged.

I left shortly after 5, deciding I'd had enough for the day. Resolving to relax for the evening - watch television, read a book, take a bath, drink some wine - my shoulders slumped when I remembered something else.

I have a conference call starting at 7PM tonight and another at 6AM tomorrow. I'm unlikely to remember where I drank coffee, but it's probable that I'll have more than one cup.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tough Crowd

"Hello," I said, sincerely pleased, and watched one of our more vocal customers pause to shake my hand. He had been reaching to put his arm around me and, perfectly comfortable with such a gesture from faculty members, I likely would have cuddled against him with affection. It's as if academics recognize their own, even if I happen to have left their environment. The comprehension of their work - and respect that must follow it - are deeply ingrained. I listen when they speak because I've been trained to do so. I ask questions when I don't understand because I've slowly grown confident enough to admit I didn't get it the first time but am likely to catch on soon.

"You cut your hair," I noted, while gripping his hand with my own. "It looks good." Then I grinned when he winked at me before introducing my travel companion. Said colleague was promptly grilled while the scientist sent warning looks in my direction when I tried to intervene. I returned his gaze calmly, easily deflecting some questions and answering others in defense of one of our employees who travels infrequently and is unused to the inherent criticism and complaints. I patted his arm when we walked away, assuring him he'd done well.

I did the same in our meeting, facing multiple faculty members, each with varying issues and requests and focusing intently in order to ease their concerns while retaining credibility. "I will not," I've stated with varying degrees of emotion over the last few days, "promise something I know I can't deliver." So I guided conversations and took copious notes and directed the young scientist beside me as topics shifted and questions remained.

"They had really good comments," he said as we sat in the airport later that evening. I nodded in response, mentally exhausted and wanting only to nibble at orange chicken. "They are important customers," he decided and I nodded again before taking a sip of soda. "Did you work here?" he asked and I shook my head, quickly running through my pedigree before asking after his.

"You did your undergrad in China?" I asked, attention caught by the name of the university and he nodded. I almost asked for his name, but paused while wondering if that was impolite. I've always felt twinges of discomfort around the idea that some international students adopt another name while in America. I know a Julie, Dan, Steve, Joe, Mike, Shannon. I also know any number of people who use their given names, patiently repeating them until I can parrot it correctly. Either way, I end up feeling like a stupid American who is either considered incapable of pronouncing a name or who is proven to need practice before being able to reliably call someone correctly.

"Do you think you'll go back to China?" I inquired, ever curious once roused from weariness. He nodded immediately, spoke of jobs he could do and opportunities for advancement. He ducked his head when I smiled at him, but I nodded approvingly.

"I came back home," I confided. "There's something inherently comforting about it for me - looking around and feeling that elusive sense of belonging." I shrugged. "It's not important for everyone, but I needed it." Struck by homesickness, I was happy to board the plane and hurry back to the Midwest.

Given the importance of the customer, he speaks directly with my boss's boss. (For several odd reasons, I'm artificially high in the hierarchy. You'll have to trust me when I tell you it doesn't mean I have the power to do much.) I paused to chat with our leader today in the hallway and he informed me that our difficult customer thinks I'm one of the best hires in years. I have energy and intelligence and give people hope for the direction we're going.

"Keep up the good work," I was told and smiled before ducking my head modestly.

I was letting the various threads weave together into some acceptable conclusion when I frowned in realization. The academic environs are comfortable for me. I look around and have this odd yet powerful sense of belonging. And given my travel schedule, I'm constantly tugged between interaction with those beloved and respected PIs and the corporate folks who now call me their own. I talk to important people - scientists who are powerful and inspirational and sometimes seem impossibly wise. And returning to the office and its 'let's impress the boss!' mentality and 'what's the bottom line?' focus is nearly distasteful. I remember interviewing in California and looking at the mountains so near the ocean and thinking it was beautiful. But it wasn't right. So when my colleague says he wants to eventually go home, I can easily make sense of that.

Far less clear is my own path. Much as I miss and admire academia, I do not wish to return. I want to do this - be good at it and grow increasingly effective - but I'm concerned (read: terrified) that I'm fighting a losing battle. That I'm trying to convince people to call me by a different name that I keep forgetting to answer to. That I'm overwhelmed and exhausted and heartbreakingly sad because this just isn't right. And that no amount of time to adjust is going to help.

Weeks slip by at dizzying speeds. My days are booked so solidly that I lose track of what happened when, where I was when I last wore that shirt or who asked me that question I meant to answer. A conference is approaching - the same one where I was so miserable last year because I didn't think I'd find a job. The lesson, I think, is I should learn to relax. There's a constant supply of worrisome sources, but all appears to go right in the end.

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.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


"You've never had anyone force you to do anything," Friend decided. We were bundled up on the balcony and I looked away from the ocean to glance over to where she sat. "You worked for people - for grad school and your post-doc - that let you do whatever you felt was important. And now that there's someone who demands you do what he wants, it just doesn't seem to make sense to you and you keep struggling against it."

"We need to take the door out," I told Dad. "Chienne doesn't get it - a more drastic change in environment is necessary."

The sliding door now offers an unencumbered view of the backyard. The insert that allowed dog and cat outside now leans against a wall in the garage. Not terribly far from that is a custom built structure Dad has taken to calling "The Wall of Awesomeness." While not built from chicken wire as Mom threatened, there is a barrier to define a narrow walkway that leads from the door to the house to the matching doorway leading outside. They both boast openings with rigid plastic - suitable for Chienne but not for a smaller Sprout - and I'm allowed to pull my car in the garage without allowing the canine to escape.

As we nailed lumber together and wrapped orange snow fencing around the four foot tall frame (I'm not kidding.), I kept giggling. We attached the awkward object to the walls of the garage and rafters above to achieve some degree of stability. Then we stapled and tied the orange plastic to the pieces of wood.

"I don't think it looks bad," Dad decided, hitching up his pants and viewing his creation. I laughed until my sides hurt and looked up in time to watch him pat a corner of the barrier fondly. And, to be fair, it is effective. Chienne now walks to the sliding door, blinks at the lack of opportunity to exit, and moves to the garage door to trot beside The Wall of Awesomeness and out to her yard.

I am attempting to alter my behavior as well.

"It's not right!" I exclaim, barely unable to resist stomping my feet in frustration. "I don't like it and don't want to do it and am very, very unhappy!" I want to continue, but I take a breath instead. I articulate why I think something is wrong. I grit my teeth when my expert opinion is questioned. Then I do what I'm paid to do, even when I think it's an asinine task.

"I have to go," I said before kissing Mom on the cheek at 6AM on Friday. I repeated the same line, sans kisses, to a colleague about 12 hours later. I returned to my house and admired the carpets that my parents had cleaned and happily moved to the table where dinner waited. We talked while eating and cleaning up and I wandered upstairs to find laundry folded neatly on the corner of my bed.

Tomorrow I'll return to work to do 2 major projects in the morning. I'll come home to hang out with my parents for a bit before packing and heading to the airport again. I keep thinking I'm learning - that I'm getting better at this game - but I'm not sure that's the case. But if my puppy can figure out the new system of going outside and the cat can express his extreme disappointment that his door is gone, I can also adapt.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Confined Cat

Confusion morphed into revulsion in a fraction of a second - the same amount of time I flicked the light above my stairs on and then off again.

"It's a bird," I shuddered as soon as my brain processed the gruesome scene. A nearly unrecognizable heap of naked flesh surrounded by fluffy gray feathers. I shook my head and shivered again. "Was a bird," I corrected before going to fetch materials to dispose of the remains. Upon descending the stairs, I frowned darkly at the trail of feathers that marked a path from the door, through the living room and up the stairs to where Chienne and I had been sleeping.

It was 4:30 in the morning and I was battling my gag reflex as I vacuumed feathers and scooped the creature into a dustpan.

"Unacceptable," I hissed at the cat as he observed the proceedings. He met my gaze, looking rather regal in his boredom, and I grew furious. "I will not have it," I told him firmly. "You are a bad, bad cat!"


"No," I replied to inquiries from my parents and Friend. "I haven't seen him. It is warm outside so I don't think he's frozen. But I don't know if he's coming home."

I would sniff with disdain upon seeing him after the bird incident. I fed him, tossing his bowl of kibble on the floor with obvious contempt. I'd do little more than nod upon being in the same room and began to lock the door to keep him inside at night.

"He'll adjust," Mom said when I confided that I wasn't sure I liked him anymore. "Once he's inside all the time, he'll be a sweet cat again. Plus, you did let him out. This is what cats do."

"Poor Sprout," Friend repeated, only cementing my resolve that he would understand the depth of my disapproval.

Yet when I returned from a recent trip - I've forgotten which one exactly - there was no stripey cat. No demanding meows or diminishing kibble levels in his plastic bowl. And I worried - he doesn't like people so I couldn't see him finding another family. Had he drowned in the river? Eating a poisoned mouse and taken ill? Caught some feline disease? While there wasn't the frantic worry and heartbreaking misery that would have occurred had my dog gone missing, I was very sad.

"Hi," I offered two days after his disappearance when he stretched after coming up from the basement. "Welcome home, Mr. Sprout." I walked over and scooped him up, telling him I'd been sad and worried. He tolerated the attention for a moment or so before squirming and I set him on the floor.


He's taken lessons from me in terms of attitude when thwarted. For my response to the bird has been replicated during his recent deprivation of outdoor access. When he deigns acknowledge us at all, it's likely with a sound of utter displeasure. He will not be petted or told he's pretty. He lurks in the basement or dark corners, hoping for someone to relax control of the door so he can enjoy the warmer weather.

While I was away again, my parents persisted in our indoor effort. I was curled on the loveseat, watching television with my dad, when Sprout came downstairs from the bedrooms with typical feline grace. He wandered over to examine his food and nibbled for a moment. I saw him look at the door with seeming resignation before going to peer out the window longingly. Steeling myself against sympathy, I returned my attention to the show about car restoration and was startled when Sprout leaped up to join me.

"Hey, buddy," I murmured, smoothing his stripey coat and rubbing under his white chin. I smiled when he purred, ruffling his fur and smoothing it again. He curled on my chest - a soft, warm weight - and arched into my touch as I petted him.

He looked directly into my eyes after a few moments, his eyes green and serious, and meowed. After that single sound, I nodded while maintaining eye contact.

"I know," I told him. "But it's actually my house so I get to win. You're an inside cat now, my dear. But I do love you." He regarded me for a moment before sighing - there is a good deal of that between me, Chienne and Sprout - and relaxing again. I continued to pet him absently, feeling a tug of sympathy when he went to stare out the door again.

I came up to write a blog post, lying supine upon my soft mattress among mounds of pillows. I was revising a couple of sentences when he leaped up beside me, curling on my chest again and preventing me from seeing the screen until I had offered sufficient attention. He has curled up against my shoulder, slender body rumbling with purrs, and waiting for his blog post to be finished. It is, I decided, only fair to keep you updated since I kept the pretty cat more because it made a good blog post than out of any real desire for another pet.

But we appear to be adjusting. And, for the moment, I think I'm winning.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


"Where is everyone?" I asked the guard checking my identification against the boarding pass I printed the night before. "I've never seen security completely empty of passengers before."

"You missed the herd," he told me as he scrawled his initials on the corner of my paper and wished me safe travels. I moved forward and hurriedly placed items in the bins an agent set out for me. I thanked her as she helped me organize laptop and baggie of liquids and continued to look around the empty terminal.

"It's positive reinforcement of bad behavior," I told the woman who sold me water. I had arrived late - a mere 20 minutes before boarding rather than my typical 90. I had been on schedule for a lengthy wait, but Adam required transportation so I changed course to fetch him. The timing did work remarkably well though and I spent the few moments I had to spare thinking of additional sleep I could claim instead of arriving at the airport so early.

The entire trip has seemed full of happy circumstances. I connected through Detroit, land of moving walkways. I walked all the way through Terminal A - from gate 70 to 4 - to take full advantage of the delightful devices.

Given the time it took to make my way across the airport, I had to wait mere minutes before boarding my next flight.

I scampered off the rental car shuttle first so I didn't have to wait in line to get my car.

They had a single vehicle left with a navigation system and I snagged it, making my way to my destination without confusion or angst.

I parked at my destination. For free. Both circumstances are almost unheard of at large institutions such as this.

I walked outside to one appointment through a positively beautiful day.

I also wore flats and was able to more quickly and comfortably through the pretty campus, spending more time admiring budding trees and blooming flowers than thinking about how I wore uncomfortable shoes.

I spent time getting my questions answered rather than hearing complaints. I call that an awesome visit.

I finished early, enabling an escape to the hotel where I shed professional clothes and curled into a nice nap before dinner.

We went to a fantastic place for our evening meal, meeting two collaborators so that there were four of us. There was interesting conversation and lively arguments. There was excellent wine and incredible soup (not seafood bisque, but good nonetheless). There was good bread and these odd little inter-course treats (not as sexy as they sound, unfortunately) and dessert that looked good but I had to wave away when I was too full. Dinners like this are frequent when traveling with Adam - he goes all out. I'm more likely to grab room service and sleep early. Still, his way results in some memorable dining experiences.

I've checked in for my flights tomorrow morning and have good seats - on the aisle, near the front. I also have a chance to get some rest before making my way to the airport.

Little factors, obviously, but it's been absolutely lovely to watch everything fall so neatly into place.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Beachy Keen, Day 3

"Go straight," I advised, eyes squinted in the most intense focus I can achieve - which is, in fact, considerable - while I looked out the windows and back down at the map on my lap. "Maybe left," I replied when Friend pointed at something on her side of the car. "Go left," I stated decisively when she told me I had to pick one.

"Oh, there it is!" I cried upon seeing the large fountain within the park. "I want to see it!" While Friend muttered about one way streets and parallel parking, I stared out my window at the flowering plants and twisting tree branches while a small crowd of people milled about the space I coveted. I lost sight of it and sighed wistfully as Friend selected a street that "wasn't too narrow" so that we could return to look for parking again. Upon finding a spot, we dug cameras out of the bags in the trunk and walked until Friend's toes got cold.

A feeling of dread settled around me even as I admired my surroundings. We were going home and had only stopped because there was a too much time between checking out of the condo and in for our flights. I haven't even made my list of topics requiring attention - the very thought leaves me torn between exhaustion and panic.

"Breathe," I kept reminding myself. "You're capable and talented and can figure this out." When that failed to achieve the desired results, I went with, "Look at the pretty flowers!" And somehow the profusion of color in the thousands of delicate petals loosened the tension in my chest and shoulders and allowed me to relax, at least a little.

But the worry returned as we made our way to the airport and returned the rental car. As we touched kiosk screens to acquire boarding passes and cleared security. While we found books and t-shirts and bottles of water then waited together at the gate. As I hugged Friend and blinked back tears while she went to catch her plane and tried to focus on the pages of my book. I arrived home and climbed in my Jeep, parents in the front seats, and had dinner out while we caught up.

"Creepy," I decided as we spent our last moments before the airport at the cemetery. A surprisingly somber place in an otherwise bright city, the moss seemed heavier on the trees here. Friend and I had debated descriptions of the dangling plant matter upon my arrival Wednesday evening and I had conceded that it could be called pretty at the park as it draped toward the flowers and swayed gently in the breeze.

"I think it's attracted to death," I frowned, walking away before she could roll her eyes and wandered slowly by tombs and markers, reading of men who painted miniatures, owned publishing companies or fought duels. I nodded when Friend announced she was cold, caught somewhere just before an epiphany regarding the meaning of life, I'm sure, and walked out the gate.

"I don't want the company logo on my grave," someone said to me before I left the office. I wondered what the men buried would think of theirs and soon decided it didn't really matter. Decisions have consequences and while I've made a number of questionable ones lately, there - given family history and general health - should be a number of years where I can correct any missteps. Even as the return to work looms darkly before me, the puppy snoring across the room in her chair provides some comfort as I sip water, take a last look a photos and prepare for what's next.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Beachy Keen, Day 2

We end today much like yesterday, albeit a touch warmer in the absense of such heavy wind. Feet up, laptops glowing, ocean roaring below as we sit perched on our balcony for the last evening.
"I'm taking the bed," I announced last night, shoulders braced for battle. I scampered happily to the bedroom when Friend easily agreed, demanding only the comforter. I returned, arms full of blankets and pillows, and dropped them on the couch before arranging the remainder of the fluffy cushions in a suitable nest on the bed. I slept well and woke a bit later than yesterday, taking two calls relatively early and another as it neared noon.

"Failing at vacation!" Friend announced and I nodded in agreement before grabbing my wallet and camera, phone still to ear, and followed her to the car. We arrived in the nearby city, found parking and began our search for a map. Upon acquiring two - I lost both not an hour later - we hailed a free shuttle and were river-bound.

"Tugboats?" I repeated after Friend offered the word, momentarily distracted from my search for a floppy fabric purse in the market. "Oh," I breathed happily upon seeing the group of four. "I always loved tugboats in books - they try so hard!" Friend nodded and we watched them bob in the water for a few moments before heading back inside. After evaluating three quilted bags - each boasting flowers and greenery in bright colors - I decided on the largest one and handed the nice man behind the counter my credit card.

"Just clip the tags off, please," I offered when he opened a plastic bag. I showed him the wallet I'd been carrying and he smiled before reaching over his wares to complete my transaction. I tucked my wallet neatly in the cream-colored bag and asked Friend if I could carry anything of hers since I now had a suitable item for such tasks. She handed me the car keys while I arranged my camera and lip gloss. So busy was I that I forgot to be polite when she showed me the ring she liked. "The snake freaks me out," I said honestly, smiling sheepishly when the stall owner glanced over. "The rings are very pretty," I called. "But the snake freaks me out," I muttered more softly to Friend, utterly unsurprised when it was one of the two she selected.
The day was nearly perfect - overcast and a bit cool - but the crowd began to thicken, causing us to pause on corners while packs of drunken students stumbled and shouted. We waited in line at a final shop, the air heavy with sweet scents, and bought pralines for gifts while a sample melted on my tongue. Returning to the street with bags in hands, I frowned and realized tension was tightening my shoulders. I get nervous around drunk people - they're unpredictable and uninhibited and I've never coped very well with either state. I found myself shrinking back to avoid touching them, wrinkling my nose at the yeasty fog that seemed to surround them.

"Ready to go?" Friend asked when I bumped into her again and I shrugged. "I'm ready to go," she decided, frowning at the crowds as well and I nodded gratefully before we made our escape. Ascending to Bay from River Street, we took photos of flowers and began moving toward the car again, wandering through the squares and complimenting the trees and moss, bushes and blooms. We walked slowly, pausing often to capture images in cameras and peer into windows, only to roll our eyes at the intense amount of silly green hats and fluffy green boas before drifting onward once again.
The beach seemed even more of a sanctuary when we returned, free of drunken crowds and relentless green. Eager to forget about the messages I'd heard when I checked my cell phone, I put the Very Angry Customer out of my mind and followed Friend to the sand, both of us bundled in sweatshirts while ankles and feet remained bare, and paused to look at shells almost immediately.
"There's a reason you haven't made it all the way to the lighthouse," she deduced and I blinked at her as I stood up, pink shell held between two fingers.

"It's pretty," I explained, tucking it in the pocket of my sweatshirt before walking beside her again. She stooped down equally often, finding interesting bits of bright color or interesting shape. After rolling her eyes at my demands that there be nothing living inside, she would peer around the curves of the shells before handing them to me. After checking her work and admiring the treasure, I'd tuck it in my pocket with the others while seafoam gathered on the sand before being tossed in the wind.
"I keep thinking it's litter," I told her and smiled when she threatened to take a picture if I chased some down.
"It tickles my toes," she offered and I immediately moved so I could feel it too.
We did finally reach the lighthouse and I cooed when she noted the light was on, burning through the cloudy skies and misty rain around us. We continued, reaching a line of large rocks settled into the sand, clear water slipping around their edges and forming tiny pools between boulders.

"It's pretty," I said again, looking out at the waves made angry by the wind, smiling at the birds as they pecked at the sand and glancing at the shells left uncovered by low tide. I tucked my camera in the back pocket of my pants, waiting for Friend to climb back over the rocks (when the sign clearly indicated one should not do that. Danger!) before we turned toward home again and began to walk.

"Tailwind," I noted, grateful for the force at my back that made it easier to move forward. I shivered before realizing I had a hood, tugging it up and immediately feeling more comfortable. After getting more shells and playing again in the foam, I decided I was hungry. The bisque downtown had been unacceptable - a word Very Angry Customer used in our conversation when I called him back - and Friend said we could return to the brilliant cafe we visited yesterday. Visions of rich, golden broth guiding me, I called for reservations and secured a table by the door in 20 minutes. After bisque (a bowl - exquisite) and crab cakes, we had to order key lime pie to go.

After gently discovering that I could take the bed again (yay!), I took one more call while Friend began to clean up inside. As I placed shells in a plastic bag - tiny ones from high tide, bigger ones from low - next to the can of mixed nuts for my parents, I half-listened to my colleague on the phone while eager to return to the balcony to give the ocean more attention.
It's been a nice break, though I did fail miserably at taking real time off. The stress still tugged at me, but there were moments when I could care more about shells and conversations than profits and plans. I'll have a day with my parents when I get home and a little more time to rest before heading back into the battle once again. And for those of you with beach plans in your near futures, I hope you enjoy your time by the water as much as I have.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Beachy Keen, Day 1

I leaped - 90% gracefully - over a tiny stream of water after I rounded a tip of the island. Lighthouse in view, I wiggled my toes in the sand and moved forward again, eager to get a closer look of the charming structure that warned the multitude of boats not to get too close. I was busy with thoughts as I walked, pondering conference call content that had forced me to awaken before dawn, trying to plot my return to efficacy at work, and deciding whether attempting to date again would be the epitome of foolishness or wisdom. Sending looks of distaste their way, I avoiding stepping on any of the (many, many, many) dead jellyfish and pounced eagerly on any shells I thought were pretty or interesting.
Pleased with my progress, skin warm from sunshine and muscles loose from walking in the sand, I continued to place shells in my palm, examining them for quality before curling my fingers around them protectively. I stopped to take a photo of the lighthouse, admiring its reflection in the pool of water to my left while the waves crashed at my right. The water was cold, I decided when it began to lap gently at my feet, but after the initial introduction, I welcomed the fleeting touches. After plucking a shell from under the water, I glanced around and realized I had very little land left.

"Huh," I said mildy, momentarily picturing a daring rescue as I bravely fought the rising tide before someone came to my aid. Deciding such an event would mean the loss of my carefully selected shells and the ruin of the camera that dangled from my wrist, I pivoted to hurry back to the tiny stream that had gained me entry to the rapidly diminishing bit of sand that still sparkled brightly in the sun. The water made pretty patterns as it overtook the land, streaming with greater volume from the ocean inward. I forced myself to ignore shells and sighed when I finally reached the considerably larger stream.

Prancing through the waves at the shore, I giggled helplessly as I raised my arms to protect shells and the photos stored inside my camera and splashed through the shin-deep water. I clamored (90% gracelessly) back to land and looked behind me as the ocean continued to inch toward the pool of water that awaited it across the thinning line of sand. Pants wet to the knees, I belatedly tucked shells in my pocket that held the room key and moved toward the lighthouse again, this time safely away from both pools of water. Deciding I was shifting from pleasantly warm into sweating and hot, I took a final photo and headed back the way I'd come.
Already being wet, there was no reason to just flirt with the water so I sloshed through the saturated sand as the waves lapped at it. I chirped greetings at the older couples who now shared the beach with me. I yipped with alarm when I realized a small crab-like creature (I don't know) wanted the same pretty yellow shell that caught my eye. I let him have it, moving quickly away on my tiptoes so he couldn't harm me with his teeny-tiny claws.

When Friend finally woke, my pants were hanging on a chair outside and I explained that I'd become wet after getting stranded on the sand. After mostly ignoring her patient explanation of tides, I returned to my book and soon decided I was tired. Not eager to nap on the semi-comfortable pull-out sofa where I'd fitfully slept the night before, I curled on the now-empty bed and, still able to hear the waves and smell the sea, slept.
Some three hours later, I blinked myself awake and wondered where she'd gone. I was just returning some calls I'd missed when she returned to place her pile of shells next to mine on the table. We both read until I complained that I was hungry and wanted seafood - not bread and cheese - so we pulled wind-tangled hair into ponytails and brushed sand off of shorts and shirts before setting off to a little place that came highly reviewed.

After thoroughly enjoying a cup of bisque - oh, the cream and the bourbon and the seafood perfection - I blinked at the amount of food that had been placed before Friend.

"If," I told her, "it was a sea creature and could be fried, I believe it has come to your side of the table." She nodded, busy with a bit of blackened grouper before moving on to scallops, shrimp, oysters, calamari and crab cake. It wasn't long before she admitted defeat to the fried sea creatures, though my crab-stuffed shrimp had long been pushed aside, and we returned to our rooms to sip wine while bundled up on the balcony, watching cargo ships pass within feet of each other as they headed in from and out to sea.
She's now inside where lights glow brightly and I'm nearly ready to join her. Out here, the blanket is making a valient attempt at keeping me warm against the cold winds in the darkness. But sometimes a retreat is the smartest way to go.

Shattered Utility

I winced when it hit the ground – the hard thud of contact and subsequent shattering of plastic casing and metal pieces. I realized with no small amount of dismay that I was searching for places to hide the evidence – wondering if the accident could be traced, estimating the cost of the object I’d accidentally broken – while I hurriedly bent to pick up the pieces.

No, I told myself, searching for some remnant of sanity. Someone will eventually need this and it should be replaced before that happens. You’ll let the appropriate people know, apologize and all will be well. With one final look around for a suitable hiding spot, I took a breath, sent a sad look toward jagged pieces that had been useful before I ruined them and went back toward my desk.

“I need a DVD, please,” I stated after greeting one of the friendlier women at work. Without waiting for a response, I opened the drawer where they were kept and frowned when I didn’t see any.

“I have more,” she assured me, glancing back at my bleak expression, and after patting me on the arm led me back to a room we use for storage and private conversations. “How are you?” she said, looking a bit too concerned as we walked down hallways and through doors. I shook my head in mute response and she frowned more severely.

“Can you leave?” she asked the room’s only occupant when we arrived and I immediately protested. “It’s important,” my companion insisted and the man waved off my protests before saying he could come back later. “Talk,” she then ordered me and I disobeyed by beginning to cry.

“I just…” I attempted, wiping at tears and swallowing against sobs. I huffed out an impatient sigh before trying again. “I’m not…” I shook my head when I couldn’t continue and she rubbed my knee firmly, leaving her hand and letting me cover it with mine. After swiping at tears with the sides of my fingers, I kept my eyes on the table and tried to explain.

I like analogies, I told myself, but this one doesn’t work. You are not a shattered resource, broken beyond repair, with no solution but replacement. People – important people – think you’re doing very well and appreciate your enthusiasm and talent. You can fix this. “Adam and I argued again – we try to talk but I’m always so frustrated with him – and he me – that I walk away from those conversations so demoralized that I don’t know what I’m doing here. And I broke a thing and I was harsh with someone when she didn’t do what she said she was going to do. I feel all this responsibility and know I can’t do everything. But when I feel like I can’t do anything, I start to wonder if this job – this career that I worked for and planned for and wanted – is completely wrong.”

After several hugs and reassurances, she left me with firm advice. I followed it and think the meetings that will follow should help. I emailed one of the managers and told him where to find the broken equipment and apologized. I took a couple more meetings with Adam, a few with the team and headed home before 5PM but after I’d planned. My parents looked worried when I explained that I was struggling, but brought me to the airport before returning to my house to stay with Chienne.

Several hours and two flights later, I sat on the edge of a planter at a charming airport near the coast of a southern state. I called Friend again to see if she was close and expressed my utter displeasure when told she was not. I watched as the bustle of cars and people and luggage dissipated - hugs given, bags loaded and cars driven away. About 40 minutes later, there were two of us left in the area. I continued to sit, glancing between the pages of my book and the entrance where I hoped Friend's car would appear and smiling wanly at the man who had opened his case and began to play his trumpet very softly.

I grinned as I shook my head, feeling ever so melodramatic and despondent and appreciating the humor even as I ached. I’m not important enough to people, I thought as he played notes, each soft sound transitioning smoothly into the next. There’s something wrong that makes me easy to ignore or forget. That lets people move on from me when they’d stay with someone else.

I’m unhappy, I acknowledged – hurt and angry and filled with this negative energy that keeps escaping in wild burst and seething hisses – and I feel trapped inside it. There were no more flights back home – I could only wait and hope Friend eventually came for me. It’s not like the job market would be friendly toward a venture of ‘I think I screwed up. Can I try again?’ And, honestly, I do love so many pieces of my work. I admire my colleagues; I think we do incredibly significant work; I crave power like you wouldn’t believe. But something has to give and my previous plans - work harder, focus more, prioritize better, ignore outside hobbies and interests - have failed in spectacular fashion. And I felt completely alone and unloved as I sat there, waiting, powerless to be of any use to anyone. Thinking sadly of the three large pieces of plastic and splinters framing them on the ground.

Friend did arrive. We’re now at the beach. I had time to work and sleep and walk by the water and think. We’ve talked and while I still feel bad, there’s a tiny glimmer of hope as well. But that’s the topic for the next blog post.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Just Say No.

Adam asked if I could attend three days of meetings later this month. I sighed before clicking over to view my calendar.

My first conference call began at 7AM yesterday. The last one ended around 11PM. Today followed the same pattern.

I'm traveling at least 2 days of every week in March. This week is by choice - I'm meeting Friend at the beach for a couple of days. Next week is east for a day, the following week is another day on the Atlantic coast. When faced with following that trip by an immediate departure west, I looked at the email again and touched the button that lets me reply.

"No," I replied simply. "I think the organizer is useless and would rather avoid working with him. I have a number of priorities and this would be very low on the list." I hit send without feeling even a twinge of guilt.

The feedback I've received from upper management has been incredibly positive. I'm bright and enthusiastic and I follow through on any statements I make. (Pet peeve - Customer: "I was promised this!" Me: "I heard that statement - we said we'd try.") But in order to continue that trend - to avoid being exhausted and irritable and to set expectations properly, I'm going to refuse some opportunities.

I think I'm beginning to get it.

Saturday, March 07, 2009


I remember seeing a SeriouslyBigDeal Professor at a conference when I was in grad school. I was a bit awestruck, frankly, that a person who had been so important to the field was just walking around. How cool would it be, I thought wistfully, to study with someone like that. Instant name recognition and immediate respect - that must be a wonderful feeling.

As good as I was at research - and I honestly wasn't terrible - I was never going to matter on any grand scale. I'm not particularly brilliant - I understand science, but it fails to spark that need to delve deeper and know more. I was bored a lot of the time - forcing myself to read through poorly-written papers and debugging lines of code until my head ached. Publishing was hard, requiring many iterations before I could adequately define my objectives and communicate my results. And - if confession is my goal here - I didn't like being unappreciated. I wanted people to ask my opinion. I wanted to matter.

My attention to this blog sprung, at least in part, from that desire. I wanted someone to care enough to read what I thought. I needed a community of people who saw me - noted that I had ideas and amusing insights and painful stories. I felt some sort of desperation to record text daily to indicate I did something. That I was here and if I were to go away, there would be something left when I moved on to whatever is next. That I chose to fill those needs in such an ephemeral space - to make my mark through words that could disappear if Google decides to take them and to be seen by people I'd never meet - is interesting, but it changes nothing of the human desire behind my actions.

As I returned from my last trip, physically exhausted and at my emotional limit, I realized that those needs are now being met in other ways. When I sit down across from those men I admired at conferences, when we make decisions that could result in changing health care for given populations, when my questions are answered and people know who I am and what I think - I matter, if only in my own mind. And despite how furious or heartbroken I become over given situations, I finally feel like I have the power to make a difference. And whether we launch products that can be used to treat depression or diagnose liver disease or detect cancer earlier, we're talking about global distribution and millions of people who see the results of what we do.

The magnitude of that is a bit terrifying to me - I'm daunted by the task before us and continue to be slightly surprised they're letting me do this. It's not for everyone, obviously. Despite an impressive salary and benefits package, I'm willing to bet that very few of you envy my professional position. And that's fair - I've traded creativity for power, freedom for leadership. Having never been good at teaching, I imagine my feeling when we release prototypes or launch products is a little like knowing you've changed the way someone understands biology or physics or how if/else loops function. But this is something I can do - rally the troops, argue passionately, organize time lines, hold meetings - and I am immensely proud of it.

When I come home and kick off shoes I've worn for 12 hours and snuggle into pajamas before skimming the blogs I've always read, I often don't have energy to write a blog post. But there are times when I do have a bit left. And I often change computers and answer work email, revise upcoming presentations, make sure items are captured on my 'to do' spreadsheet. Because that - in part - is where I find meaning.

Even having written that, I acknowledge that I miss it here. I used to compose posts in my head nearly constantly, wanting badly to entertain someone. I don't do that as much now as most available resources are being used to multi-task as I run an experiment, talk on the phone, answer email and review data simultaneously. Perhaps circumstances will shift and the blog will emerge nearer the top of my priority list. But for now, I'll soothe myself with writing when I can and hoping someone is still reading when that happens.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

All Times Local

6:00AM - Awaken and shower. Feel clean and happy, go back to bed.

7:30AM - Awaken again, think the (digital) clock says 8:30 (I don't know). Frantically begin to pack and finish laundry. Realize it's an hour earlier than I thought and sip coffee while printing boarding passes.

9:30AM - Dad arrives and greets Chienne. I give hugs and kisses, pick up my bags and depart for the airport.

10:10AM - Arrive at airport and park to maximize time on moving walkways. I love moving walkways very much.

10:12AM - On the moving walkway! Feeling super-fast and wishing moving walkways were used in more locations.

11:30AM - Board plane. Begin reading sexy novel.

1:30PM - Board second plane. Wriggle happily in seat when the door closes and nobody is occupying the middle of our row of three. Immediately take up more than my share of space with water bottle, book, sweater.

2:15PM - Nibble on pretzel crackers and chicken salad while eying the Milano cookies left in my snack box. I've never understood why people like them - perhaps I'm not very cultured or refined. Feel pleased that I haven't slopped snack on my scarf and finish my book.

5:40PM - Shift uncomfortably - far different than my happy wiggle several hours prior - and wish the freaking head wind would let us arrive already.

5:50PM - Meet my party at arrivals and head toward the rental car. Arrange myself in the back seat since people who outrank me were up front.

6:30PM - Ride toward first destination. Frown darkly when hearing the rooms may involve a shared bathroom. Wonder if the lack of culture that makes me refuse to share showers with strangers causes the absence of appreciation for Milano cookies. Unable to think of suitable experimental design, abandon idle musing.

6:50PM - Arriving at destination. Blink worriedly at old building with flashing lights, ride elevator with colleague, bracing ourselves against the wall in case we plummet several floors. Resolve to take stairs for remainder of stay. Check in room, sigh with relief when seeing my own shower, sniff and wonder what that smell is.

6:51PM - Open window and admire shutter/blind contraptions on windows. Hurt myself trying to close them and decide they're not that pretty.

6:52PM - Plug in laptop to download email and hurry down stairs, casting suspicious glance at elevator on the way.

7:05PM - Arrive at dinner a bit late and make small talk and nibble Italian food for 3 hours.

10:15PM - Enter colleague's hotel room while he drags an additional (old) chair to the single (old) desk. Smile when he asks what he should wear tomorrow - suit or just jacket - and giggle when he takes off his shoes and promises that's all that he'll remove.

10:30PM - Abandon work on slides to chat about life and work and pressures. Smile sadly when he says I'm doing a wonderful job and people are widely aware of my contributions. Indicate I still feel like I'm failing.

11:30PM - Call presentation good enough, stack notes made on tiny hotel notepad and climb more stairs to my room.

11:31PM - Slightly out of breath, call elevator a name when I walk by it.

12:10AM - Climb out of shower and snuggle in pajamas, curl in bed, say prayers, fall asleep.

5:30AM - Awaken and sigh. It's raining outside and I can hear gentle sounds come through the window. Thinking ahead of lack of sleep in coming days, wish devoutly that I could stay in bed.

5:31AM - Get up and brush teeth. Begin checking email.

6:00AM - Call in to group meeting. Get Hideous News and react with furious shock that 1) said decision was made and 2) my input was not requested and 3) I didn't receive any warning. Adam and I argue bitterly in front of the group and I finally indicate I have to go and hang up on him.

6:32AM - Blink back tears and take deep, shuddering breaths to try to calm myself.

7:25AM - Finished dressing and packing, hair and make-up in place, emails sent to colleagues to battle against Hideous Decision while I'm away, descend stairs.

8:00AM - Meetings begin.

12:10PM - Starving, I fall upon a very decent sandwich and apple and devour them as politely as possible. Decide, midway through a sugar cookie, that it is far superior to Milanos. Wonder about why I think about Milanos so often.

1:30PM - Impatiently wait for group to gather for afternoon meetings.

1:35PM - Indicate I hate being late and begin to glare warningly.

1:37PM - Tap toe of heel while keeping arms crossed.

1:39PM - Snap at local team for being unorganized and ill-prepared. Inform them that if they're going to be bad at their jobs, I'll simply go alone.

1:40PM - Go alone.

2:00PM - Arrive at destination, sighing at the gorgeous campus and lovely buildings. Begin meetings promptly on schedule.

2:22PM - Glare at local team when they finally arrive. Resolve to seek my revenge later.

6:00PM - Meetings end. Begrudgingly return hug from one of the three local people who I moderately like. Walk tiredly across campus to car.

6:30PM - Go with colleague to another facility. Find a spot to check email and work while he takes additional meetings.

8:30PM - Depart last facility and slump in my seat as the car heads toward another destination.

9:55PM - After a bit of driving and chatting, we find a dinner spot.

10:00PM - Order Vietnamese as the restaurant closes.

10:15PM - Nibble at egg rolls, shrimp, chicken and rice. Deem it delightfully tasty and ignore colleague's teasing about my use of a fork.

11:00PM - Wait impatiently as two others check in at my hotel before more. Want to scream at them that I'm exhausted and need to sleep! Stand quietly instead and wait my turn.

11:19PM - Arrive in hotel room, think I love hotel chains and am particularly fond of this Hampton Inn. Smile at the candy, Oreos and water they've left for me.

11:25PM - Admire their Purity line of products as I shampoo my hair. After clean, I put on pajamas and fall into bed.

1:00AM - Unable to sleep as my wind swirls through opportunities and problems, I grow panicked as I realize I have mere hours before I need to be awake and at the airport again.

4:00AM - Whimper pitifully as I crawl out of bed to brush my teeth. Pull back hair, throw on clothes, pack and take a last wistful look around the lovely room before tucking the receipt in my bag and heading to the lobby to turn in my key.

4:20AM - Sip coffee and try not to spill on myself as the shuttle bounces along the road toward the airport. Peek curiously into the breakfast bag I was given and remove the granola bar and apple. Finish small bottle of water to take Excedrin after coffee is gone. Begin to feel slightly better.

4:45AM - Greet recently-introduced collaborator as we walked through the security line together. Waved as he headed to his gate and I wandered toward mine.

7:30AM - Arrive at destination after boarding a quick flight on time. Buy coffee and argue with credit card company over fraudulent charges. Continue to sip iced coffee while admiring the weather outside the airport.

8:30AM - After waiting outside, basking in the sunshine, my ride arrives to fetch me. I greet the local sales rep and settle myself in her car.

9:30AM - Arriving at a coffee shop, I find a table and begin to check my notes. I ask her for an iced mocha and also request she get internet access codes. Feeling rather like a princess, I continue to work.

10:40AM - Depart coffee shop after going to the bathroom and checking my presentation again.

10:50AM - Nearly cuddle second local salesperson when he admits he hates being late. Get settled for meeting, find water, freshen make-up and wait patiently for our collaborators to arrive.

11:00AM - Meet additional impressive people, think briefly that I might get tenure if I go back to academia given the recognition I'm now receiving from top members of my field, and begin pitch.

2:00PM - Meeting concludes with list of items to discuss later.

2:25PM - Arrive downtown to see sights, courtesy of second salesperson, and get treated to a delightful lunch outside.

4:00PM - Am left at the airport with a wave, ever hopeful I can catch an earlier flight and get home.

4:10PM - Hopes dashed, I walk sadly toward the security checkpoint, a 7 hour wait until my original flight time ahead of me.

10:50PM - Tremble uncontrollably as flight begins to board. Realize I'm freezing and tug my sweater closer around me, teeth chattering. I wonder fearfully if exhaustion can make someone go into shock.

11:02PM - Sag gratefully when I realize the flight isn't nearly full and nobody will sit next to me. Begin to sleep before we leave the gate.

4:02AM - A short 3 hour flight (and time change) later, I feel better. Having slept fitfully, I still was able to rest and am no longer feeling quite as desperate. Realize it's the second day in a row that I've been at an airport at 4AM or so and decide I'm freaking amazing.

4:55AM - Arrive at last gate, having walked slowly through the airport without a single moving walkway to cheer me. Check operating hours of pretzel stand and decide I'll have one while I wait for my flight.

6:30AM - Finish book I'd begun as I waited for my flight the night before. Cry though it wasn't that sad, decide I'm past my limit of sleep deprivation and have little emotional control.

7:35AM - After boarding on time and a very short flight home, I disembark first and move quickly toward my car. Too tired to appreciate the moving walkways, I convince myself to endure a little longer.

8:10AM - Arriving at home, kisses and cuddles for Chienne, hugs and kisses to Dad before he leaves. I move upstairs, tugging off dress clothes I've worn for 26 hours or so and fall into bed to curl around pillows.