Sunday, February 28, 2010

11:00 last week

Monday AM - Deciding between 3 meetings, all of which I'd accepted - on my calendar.
PM - Fast asleep.

Tuesday AM - In a cab on my way to New York City.
PM - On my way home from the airport. Fell asleep before having a chance to shower.

Wednesday AM - I have no recollection. It was a 16 hour day at the office and it's blurred.
PM - In the lab, doing experiments that were failing left and right.

Thursday AM - At lunch with my parents, having scampered away from work after having a tense meeting and before catching another plane.
PM- In a car in Louisiana, leaving the airport and heading toward a hotel

Friday AM - Just arrived back at the hotel for a nap after an intense presentation to a board of directors.
PM - Just arriving at my local airport, gathering energy to find my car and head home.

Saturday AM - At Menards with my parents, picking out pretty new light fixtures for my bathrooms!
PM - Fast asleep.

Sunday AM - In the lab again, working through 10 hours of experiments due tomorrow.
PM - Planning to be fast asleep.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New York. See?

I felt sick in the cab to the airport. My adorable black flats were soaked through from the puddles and my hair hung wetly around my face. My coat was covered with speckles of water and the windows around me were fogged from the surfeit of moisture.

“Keep it,” I said of the change once we arrived and waved my hand at the driver. “Thank you.” I followed Sibling inside, grateful for her leadership qualities as she found her way to our terminal and decided what to do for dinner.

“Are you OK?” she asked after we sat in comfortable chairs on the lower level of LGA. She nodded sympathetically when I merely said “headache” and watched as I downed two Advil with my soda. Sipping her tea, she told the waitress I’d have soup and was blessedly quiet while I willed the sickness to ease.

About 10 minutes later, I made eye contact and offered a weak smile. “I think I’m better.”

“It was probably the wind and the cold, followed by a bit of motion sickness, with your sinus infection,” she decided and I nodded. All flights had been delayed – the same wind that threatened to blow the glasses right off my nose and the pouring rain that made it impossible to see the city through those same glasses slowing the progress of flights into and out of the city.

“I did have fun,” I offered. “Thank you for going with me.”

When we failed to catch a cab – I’m not good at it and have little desire to learn – at 4PM, we ordered our local host to drop us off somewhere interesting. “It’s my first time in New York,” I told him to soften the inconvenience and a trip through the park and many stoplights later, Sibling and I found ourelves taking pictures at Rockefeller Center.

I nodded eagerly when asked if I wanted to see Times Square and we wandered in the direction a friendly New Yorker pointed when asked. I was preparing to smile and thank her when she hurried off so Sibling and I shrugged and moved along in the opposite direction.

“It’s different than I thought,” I noted as we wandered. “I thought I’d feel more closed in and intimidated. It’s really just a city.”

She looked at me and recoginizing her expression as a desire for clarification, I shrugged. “There’s plenty of room on the sidewalks and not many people around.” We passed a clock that indicated it was just after 5. “There are buildings and they’re tall, but they have those in Chciago. There are people and cars, but that’s also in London. It’s no more snooty than Paris. No more scary than LA. I guess I just expected,” I trailed off. “I waited too long to see it,” I decided more confidently. “Whenever you build something up in your mind, it’s bound to be disappointing.”

Still, we bought cupcakes at the sweetest little bakery. We grinned and pointed at the things that were interesting. I peered through the windows at Toys R Us and stood for a moment facing the massive screens and bright lights across the street.

“I’m ready,” I said after about 20 minutes of walking. “I’m cold and wet and worried about getting a ride to the airport.” So we set about hailing a cab. In Times Square. In the rain.

“So,” Sibling summarized after I’d eaten my soup, cleared security and found our gate, “you – Katie – who has clear opinions about basically everything, are left without a strong impression of New York City.”

Hearing how odd that seemed – for Chicago feels like part of the family, I have a mad crush on London and was left breathless by Paris – I paused to consider it. “Circumstances were non-ideal. We were only here a few hours and saw a tiny bit of the city in pretty miserable weather.” Thinking it had been cold and rainy on my first day in Paris, I frowned. “No,” I finally replied. “I don’t have a strong opinion. I’d certainly come back if properly motivated – I wasn’t at all repulsed. But I don’t feel like I need to plan a weekend trip for fun because I had far too little time here.”

“Huh,” she said.

“Huh,” I agreed and perked up enough to find my boarding pass when they called the flight that would take us home.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


"Imagine your body is in a field and though your eyes are closed, you can see the sunlight through your eyelids and feel the warmth on your face. You feel relaxed yet remain distantly aware of the problems in your life. Imagine the people who bother you, the tasks that are tedious, the bosses who think you should try harder as dandelions, their seeds white and fluffy in your field. Your breath is the wind and as you exhale, you blow away the fluffy seeds, leaving the dandelions naked and harmless. Insignificant, they begin to escape your attention as you realize you are calm and loved and in control."

I focused on my breathing as my massage therapist led me gently through a brief meditation. I saw the field and myself lying in it. I blew away the seeds while focusing on my respiratory pattern. I wasn't angry as I pictured them drifting away on the breeze of my breath - just pleased they were moving from me as I winced at the discomfort of the deep tissue work and breathed deeply when reminded.

"It is not a physical battle," said the pastor at a new church I tried. I smiled when I walked in - finding the curved pews clad in green cushions and the plain windows that let in the light appealing. I'd also approved of the website - podcasts of sermons and ample information to make me feel comfortable enough to visit. "The kingdom of darkness," he preached, "is already defeated but has not died. Since it cannot strike out at Christ, Satan and his minions seek to harm us. They make us feel weak and unloved, forsaken and in constant despair. We worry and fear - our thoughts race as we try to get more money or recognition or satisfaction. And we are distracted from God, His love for us and our purpose for being here."

I breathed then too, clutching the Bible to my chest as we sang and prayed and learned.

I grow weary of being a source of sadness and pain. So as I read, preparing myself for worship, I lingered on the lines in Ephesians 5 that read "Awake, O Sleeper, rise from the dead and Christ will shine upon you."

And I said to God exactly what I said to my therapist when she reminded me to breathe.

"I'm trying."

Thursday, February 18, 2010


"Say again," PrettyHair ordered, squinting at me with great focus. I obediently repeated the words I wanted her to say while we presented, listened while she practiced and smiled while approving changes she suggested.

"You'll be great," I promised her. "Don't get nervous - we're totally going to win."

And so we did - she, Sibling and I putting in a fabulous performance that demonstrated our ability to incorporate our manipulation lessons. PrettyHair opened with smooth confidence, her deliberate manner playing out beautifully as she outlined our goals. I took the middle, easily playing to my strength and telling an emotional story as I moved about the room. Pleased that everyone appeared both engaged and sympathetic, I nodded at Sibling that I was finished and she wrapped things up with her typical technical brilliance and straightforward style.

"I'm proud as a peacock!" our instructor cried when the class finished applauding. "You gals were just so good!" So we beamed at her and our peers, accepting their glowing feedback gracefully.

"I feel sicker," I whined as we celebrated our success with dinner several hours later. I'd dashed off to the doctor before joining them at a nearby restaurant and sipping tea while I glanced through the menu. "I mean, I felt bad before, right? I'm stuffy. My head is all full of snotty pressure. It sucks. But after she looked up my nose and told me I had a bad infection? It just validated that I'm ill and I should feel bad and it's like I gave into it."

I blinked when I realized how difficult our working environment is getting. Once we were off campus and at our class, we were praised and encouraged. We worked harder, thought more creatively and came up with something that gave us - silly as it sounds - no small amount of pride and happiness.

At the office recently, I perceive the feedback as being consistently negative. Any praise is weak and fleeting - soon buried under reprimands and criticism and questions over why this wasn't done better/sooner/cheaper. And that feeling of failure - despite desperate efforts otherwise - feels like my head. I get exhausted and woozy. There's a constant feeling of pressure from every direction. I grow discouraged - want nothing more than to escape into a book or nap.

"We need to encourage each other more," I decided after I'd settled my cup in its saucer. "Try to remind each other that we're doing well and to elevate the overall mood."

"We were good today," PrettyHair noted.

"We're always good," Sibling teased and I nodded resolutely. Tomorrow, I shall fetch my antibiotics. The professional illness, however, remains - for today - without a firm curative plan.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


"I love learning," PrettyHair sighed, glasses perched studiously upon her nose as she adjusted her notebook, pen and glass of water. "I woke up so excited that we were in class today!"

Tired, I blinked at her in surprise before managing a smile. Replying to her inquiry over how much I must love learning with a shrug, I returned to my coffee and Kleenex, wondering if I wished more to be less drowsy or congested.

"I guess I burned out," I offered when she continued to look horrified. "I like learning - new experiences, new people and places. But I'm rarely excited to sit in a classroom for 8 hours, filling in workbooks and getting up in teams to practice concepts. It's just not really my thing."

"I guess you've done a lot more - and did it recently - than I have," she said and I felt a tug of guilt for not sharing her enthusiasm. Resolving to be a better sport, I shoved aside frantic worries over all the Urgent Tasks I wouldn't complete, closed my laptop and focused on the instructor and our lessons.

Had I not been so engaged, I certainly would have rolled my eyes over my own behavior, being one of the most vocal and teacher's-pet-y of the group. I did the prerequisite online training! I remembered the story! I could summarize the points! I have feedback! I know the answer! And I all but preened whenever praised for my knowledge or insightful questions.

I realized, rather sheepishly actually, on the way home that the course could have been entitled "how to manipulate people into doing what you want." And if there's anything that could hold my power-hungry little attention span, it's that. Learning to read body language? Understanding how to get around objections? What word tricks are most effective? Dude. Sign Me Up.

I have a workbook filled with notes. I received very good feedback after practicing in front of the group. (I am blatantly and unselfconsciously emotional. Many people respond well to that. Some don't - but I am learning how to manipulate them in other ways!) Had there been gold stars, I'm reasonably confident I would have received one.

What's more, it was fun. I giggled over witty comments and made a few of my own. My brain was busy - and happily so - as we struggled through creative thinking around new topics, learning to see familiar concepts framed through new messages.

"I'm tired," PrettyHair noted at the end of the day, once again contrasting my mood but this time she was sleepy and I was bubbly with enthusiasm.

"We get to come back tomorrow!" I grinned, thinking either Industry had some really well-trained, excellent instructors or I missed classrooms more than I thought.

Monday, February 15, 2010


I joined them for breakfast after sleeping at home. We mostly avoided the water park - watching the splashing and crowds with wide, brown eyes and leaving after a fairly short time. Mom found the other pool instead and we settled there for hours - long enough for the smell of chlorine to soak into my skin where it lingered throughout the day.

I waved good-bye, giving hugs and kisses before leaving for my group meeting at work. And it hurt - the last toddling steps Smallest One took toward me before wrapping her arms around and clinging. The way Little One's long hair curled against her back as she tilted her head up to ask my mom when they could go swimming again. She's getting so big, eyes widening with delight when she realized she could touch the bottom of the adult-sized pool. And as exhausting as they were, I ached with the thought that it would be several weeks before tiny fingers wrapped around mine again. Before I snuggled blankets closer as they napped or sang songs to soothe.

Still, I found myself nearly lost in work several hours later, taking a moment to say a prayer of thanks.

"I needed this," I told Adam, turning before I left his office. He looked confused and I paused. "I needed a project - I have to feel like I'm valuable and that my effort matters. And when you reassign work - even with good motives - I start to feel worthless and stupid and miserable. So I withdraw more. I know delegating is hard for you - even more so when you're not sure how I'm doing mentally - and I appreciate your confidence in this case."

"Katie," he said, pausing and shaking his head. His phone rang and I nodded toward it before heading back to my desk.

I'm feeling more balanced, arguing without feeling attacked, working without the desperate desire to escape. But I have more traveling to do next week - the dreaded New York trip cannot be avoided, it seems. That's followed by a trip to the deep south. But at least there should be some interesting pictures.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


They were here when I got home yesterday.

I smiled as Smallest One rounded the corner and rushed toward me, arms outstretched as I scooped her up.

"Hi," I smiled at her, dipping my cheek to press to her crown as she buried her face in my neck. "How are you?"

Little One followed soon after, both of them beautiful and bright in the afternoon sunshine. Mom was sick, Dad grumpy, and my head continued to ache even as I swallowed more pills and listened attentively to their stories.

"I threw up on Wednesday," I told Mom. "Over and over in the hotel room. I just got underneath a migraine and couldn't escape - searing pain and sickness were just constant for 5 hours. I still feel the pressure, but the pain is under control now."

I made it back home with no real delays on Thursday, moving swiftly through the Charlotte airport to make my connection. I returned to several Urgent voice mails, blinking back exhaustion as I dealt with them.

I went to work on Friday, marching determinedly to meetings, making and taking phone calls and frantically typing email to try to catch up. It felt like two new problems arose from each one I solved and I laid my head down for a moment to try to catch my breath and prioritize. I needed the weekend to rest and take care of some urgent but non-priority projects.

Instead, I've played Hide and Seek. I've tried to nap through the worst of the headaches. I've told Mom to stop taking the damn antibiotic since it seems to make her pretty desperately ill. I shrugged and ate Valentine's chocolate instead of indicating it would keep both girls from napping today.

"I take bath," Smallest One insists, giving an utterly adorable grin. "In Aunt Katie's big bathtub." Too charmed to resist, we're at 3 baths and counting in about 24 hours. She's already making noises about the next one.

Tomorrow we go to the water park, obeying Mom's reservation for the last of the Valentine's Day gifts. Instead of sleeping in and working by the fire, I'll put on a swimsuit and chase small bodies around pools and slides. Which is lovely, I know - they're delightful and smart and I love them very much.

But I'm ready for this - 'this' having any definition - to be over.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Polar Party

I hung my visitor badge around my neck, smiling my thanks at the zookeeper before lumbering into the building with one large bag on my shoulder and another rolling behind me. I had to shuffle my luggage in order to extend a paw, greeting the other creatures who had invited me to their zoo for a brief stay.

"Welcome!" they said, all of them smiling and mentioning their names before looking at me expectantly.

"Hello," I replied, charmed, and cocked my head inquisitively.

"So," their leader said, linking his hooves in front of him, dipping his antlers abashedly. "Did you bring the toy?"

"I did," I said, realizing what they wanted and nodding my furry nose toward the bag on wheels. The herd of reindeer took a collective step forward before pausing, allowing their leader to eagerly reach for the handle and scamper away.

"We're going to look at it!" he called over his shoulder, leaving me to trail behind them as I looked curiously around at their habitat. I sat in a corner of a conference room, watching them remove the object and place it reverently on a table. They murmured to each other, some of them pawing in the ground to make notes and draw pictures. I couldn't bring myself to stop them from dismantling it, so adorable was their interest. So I watched as they carefully took the sleigh apart, the herd watching a single member as he worked to remove pieces and set them carefully aside.

A line formed where the reindeer waited patiently for their turn to view the pieces of sleigh up close. They tended to pair, discussing how wonderful or interesting it was. When they finished, they would bow their heads in thanks to me, antlers standing regally, while I dipped my chin in return, smiling in affectionate amusement.

"How," their leader said, speaking to me though his attention remained on the toy, "did you get it?"

"I took it," I said simply. "Went in on Sunday, picked it up, put it in my bag and asked the people to put it on the plane." I took a moment to think a tranquilizer and comfortable crate probably would have been better than the multiple flights and long layovers and shrugged. "It's not a big deal."

"No," he argued, "it's wonderful. We're very happy." And I nodded as I smiled.

Apart from that, it's mostly been an odd visit. While these reindeer know a lot about Christmas (let's say - I don't really know anything about reindeer) and had great interest in the sleigh, they shocked me by not knowing how to link reins to it and pull.

"So," I ventured, having watched them try and fail for about an hour, "you think it's very nice but you can't use it?" Then they looked terribly disappointed so I tried to think of something soothing to offer.

"I can make comfortable blankets for the seats," one of them told me. I nodded, suitably impressed and smoothed my paw over one after he fetched it.

"I'm working on self-propelled sleighs," one of them offered bashfully, motioning me over to show me his initial design. I patted his back in congratulations for the effort.

I know very little about sleighs, but I tried to answer their questions, directing them back to the snowy topics where I had more expertise. I wanted to be helpful but was largely confused by their strategy. While orderly and patient while viewing the fancy sleigh I'd brought, they kept bumping into each other and tangling antlers as I watched them work. They dispersed randomly and I wasn't sure what direction - if any - they were collectively heading. Still, I found myself fond of them.

I am to head back to my own habitat tomorrow. Interestingly enough, that will change only if I get snowed in.

(Not so) small talk

She had perfect skin.

I notice such things, especially when seated shoulder to shoulder with someone on a plane. And though I'm normally not one for chatting with seatmates - far too much effort to pay attention and converse - I was replying to her questions with relative ease. No, the air vent wasn't making me chilly. No, I didn't live in connecting city - I was traveling somewhere else on business. Yes, I did do a fair amount of travel for work. No, I don't tend to mind it all that much.

"It exhausts me," she admitted and I smiled.

"It's very detailed," I agreed. "Keeping track of times and belongings. Watching people and being mildly uncomfortable for long periods of time. Having to do what people tell you - and pretend you're very pleased to do so. I understand - it still makes me tired. But I've adapted." I paused, feeling sorry that she looked so troubled over it, and decided to distract her. "Did you go somewhere fun?" I chirped, doing my best impression of friendly and happy Katie.

"I was visiting my daughter," she told me and I smiled encouragingly. She mentioned a hospital and mere seconds before I asked how long her daughter had worked there, her expression soured and she shook her head. "I'd hoped to bring her home," she said. "They told me they'd only need 3 months before she was better."

"Oh," I said softly, reaching to touch her arm. So we discussed mental illness - autism and anxiety, depression and obsession. I nodded when she told me her eldest child never slept well. Winced when she tried to articulate the magnitude of pain.

"It's so confusing and frustrating and exhausting to have your brain work against you," she told me, wringing her hands. "To make you feel miserable and alone and hopeless."

"Yes," I agreed simply as we sat together above the clouds, talking quietly as the sun disappeared for the day.

A lengthy layover, turbulent flight and shuttle ride later, I stood at the rental car counter.

"Tired," I answered - as I always do - when asked how I was. I never fail to hope this encourages them to hurry through the paperwork. I am consistently disappointed.

"There was a man here the other night?" she said, ignoring my repeated glances at my credit card and license lying on the counter before her. "He arrived just after they closed," she glanced briefly toward a competitive company and I wondered wistfully if they would give me a car so I could reach my hotel. "It was barely past midnight and his car had broken, but nobody was here to give him another one."

"Uh huh," I sighed, merely hoping the story was a short one.

"I told him he could go get a hotel nearby, but he said he'd just work through the night. So he graded papers - right over there." She pointed to some nearby chairs and I obediently turned to look, nodding my understanding of where he'd sat to wait.

"He taught calculus," she continued, "and at 6:20, he'd finished a stack of papers but was nodding off." I smiled at the level of detail, realizing she liked him - had noticed something about him and decided it wonderful. "He had to teach at class at 11," she said and I decided her voice sounded a bit wistful - she wanted Calculus Boy much like I wanted a Rental Car. Still, I remembered what that was like - though it's been far too long since I've had a good crush on someone. To recall details and to have your mind so full of him that stories and statements and questions just slip out without you meaning to reveal them.

It's fascinating how people connect and release. How random encounters can somehow be meaningful. Perhaps it strikes me because I'm typically oblivious, avoiding any sort of interaction when I could otherwise get lost in my own thoughts. But those two women stood against the tedium of travel and made an impression. And as I continue to struggle out of this episode I'm having, it's good - even for a few moments - to shift my focus outward.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Sunglasses & Sneakers

Writing helps. It is somehow comforting that I can - with effort - articulate what's happening. That there is some avenue through which a good piece of me can escape the darkness, make a meager mark on a sliver of the internet and then rest.

The comments help more and I wept a little in some mixture of gratitude and wonder that people see the effort to reach out and pause to extend a gesture in return. I'm hyper-sensitive right now, I know, but that strikes me as impossibly beautiful. And even before I opened this laptop, for I woke and checked work email, read a bit, went for a walk and showered before looking at Gmail, I felt sure that someone, somewhere, would offer something kind. It's simply the way of this corner of the blogging community and such a fact soothes me.

"We'll go somewhere new," I told Chienne this morning even as I scowled and jogged upstairs to grab the camera I'd forgotten. Went back again for socks. Searched once more for shoes. I made one last trip, surprised she didn't bark at me in sheer exasperation, to put in my contacts, thinking I'd been in glasses since October. I felt nearly hopeful, I decided, settling into the car - Chienne beside me, sunglasses perched on my nose and new sneakers tied neatly on my feet.

I followed familiar roads - my normal route to work, actually - and pulled over neatly at a path by railroad tracks. Then I panicked, having dropped my keys under the seat, worrying over a happy hound prancing too near the road while I searched for the key. It was too cold. I didn't know if dogs were allowed. I could get a cramp. Fall down! She could run away! Yet when I attempted to flee, Chienne frankly refused to get in the Jeep, stubbornly eager to have her promised walk, especially in a new and interesting location.

So we walked, making our way to the trail and heading east. Gloves on, hood up and right hand clinging to her leash, I followed as she moved along the pavement. I eventually relaxed enough to listen to the creek as it bubbled off to one side. I paused at the wooden bridge to take photos, enjoying the way my shoes sounded as we walked across the boards, the way the water sparkled under the partly cloudy sky, the way snow drifted gently to the sides. So I breathed, the air feeling cold as I inhaled, and let myself relax into the rhythm of walking.

I read all three new books once I thawed and returned home, losing myself in words upstairs by the fire and downstairs under blankets. Chienne and Sprout stayed close, napping and wrestling and napping again as afternoon hours drifted by and darkness fell again. I'm slow, settling into a post-panic lull perhaps, but feel slightly less listless than before. I'm able to pick up messes, albeit haphazardly, and answer email, though only the important ones.

Dad arrives tomorrow, for I travel again on Monday. I'll be gone a couple of nights and can't decide whether I welcome the break in my miserable routine or dread the disruption as I desperately seek balance again. Regardless, I'm to go and so I will.

As for vacations, I've little talent for them. I'm more of the 'live to work' type and I get twitchy when I don't know what's happening or if I'm needed for something or other. Worse still, when I do relax and actually let go, I'm loathe to return to my reality. So - for now, for better or worse - I'm struggling through my days and hoping they begin to feel consuming and fulfilling again. I'll get through this next bit of travel and my family will visit immediately after.

And when it's hard - for I've no doubt it sometimes will be - I'll picture the moment outside my car this morning, Chienne tugging insistently on her leash and demanding we go explore, even when potential consequences left me terrified. And remember that what sometimes feels impossible in the beginning often levels out and becomes manageable, even with moments of beauty, in the end.

Friday, February 05, 2010


I am, as always, proud as a peacock of my new header and sidebar graphics. Tres Parisian if you will, but I remain wildly infatuated with the photos from those hundred hours or so I spent in France.

A new header, as (almost) always, signifies I have excessive spare time and am likely huddled at home, hiding from the outside world in a fit of depression. I am less than proud of my behavior of late.

I'm lashing out in moments of energy, effortlessly bringing anyone around to my level of misery whether that requires them to get angry or feel sorry for me or get worried about some minuscule problem I've magnified greatly. I feel ashamed afterward - bitterly so, actually - while I'm interacting with people, the pain spreads. As the black tentacles slip from the cloud that surrounds me, encircling others and wrapping tight, it feels as though the suffocating darkness eases.

I encountered a feeling of dark satisfaction after upsetting a colleague. He works for another company and I felt it utterly necessary to jerk him around, ridicule his attempt at a proposal and indicate I could easily go elsewhere. I blinked in a moment of clarity - at once shocked and appalled and afraid - and told him I needed a moment. He blinked at me in return, surprised that I'd depart an argument I was dominating so completely, but I moved from the room and found an empty office. Closing the door behind me, I clasped my hands, bowed my head and prayed. The resulting moments of relative peace allowed me to apologize and help plan next steps before I escaped to my office and begged time to pass more quickly.

"This is a problem," Adam said of my frequent absences this week.

"I know," I replied, staring at him without offering a solution. He sighed, opened his mouth only to close it again and shook his head at me.

I'm never comfortable, I realized. I'm either overstimulated or horrifically bored. I'm sweating because the heat is too high or shivering in a desperate attempt to ease the cold - all without moving from my spot on the bed. I vary between absolute terror that I can't pay my bills to complete disinterest in going to work and ensuring my income continues. I avoid phone calls, glaring at the phone every time it dares ring, but am desperately lonely and wondering why nobody would worry over me.

I made it 8 hours today, I congratulated myself, resolutely satisfied that the illness had not forced me from the office after 2-3 hours as has happened most of the week. It hurt - it was hard - sitting there, wanting escape so badly I trembled and my head ached obligingly to offer an excuse - but I stayed. I prayed. I breathed deeply. I sat in the bathroom a lot.

Almost as a reward, Smallest One demanded the phone when I called my parents. "I talk," she said firmly. "Aunt Katie? I talk." And I smiled over her, relaxing just a bit.

My books came from amazon - far sooner than they should have since I selected free shipping - and reading new stories felt more like a pleasant pastime than rereading old books in hopes they'd ease my poor brain.

My plan remains the same as always. Be vigilant about taking medication. Spend time in prayer and seek peace in the quiet. Walk outside - watch my dog enjoy her outing and increase blood flow to my brain and look at the world and realize it's not so terrible. Make sure I have some human contact - whether by phone or in person. And remember that I'm OK. I'm just sick, not broken. And it will get better.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Across the Street

I'd barely greeted the black lab before hearing a shout.

"Did you leave the door open? Guys! God bless it." I heard her mutter the final sentence as she scampered from the house across the street, calling the dog's name and instructions to her children in a single breath.

"I think you were supposed to stay home, sweetheart," I told the lab, looking down at her affectionately and smiling as she and Chienne wagged their respective tails. I had tiptoed onto the snow coating my driveway, trying not to get any in my black shoes before heading off to work. The hound at the end of my leash pranced, looking rather silly with a fluff of snow balanced on her black nose from when she'd buried her snout to better investigate some scent.

"Sorry!" she called cheerfully, jogging across the street and around the snow banks on the curb to reach us. I'd curled my fingers around the bright red collar that encircled her lab's neck, leaning down to deposit a kiss on the top of her furry head before handing her over. "Thanks!" my neighbor said, harried but cheerful. "The kids are supposed to be at school in 5 minutes - no way we'll make it - and the house is a mess and my mother-in-law is coming and the dog's across the street." She shook her head, ponytail bouncing with the motion, and tugged her canine against legs bared by tiny shorts.

"Good luck," I offered and she laughed before waving and moving back across the street to order her two children into the car.

It struck me as odd somehow - we lived barely 100 yards apart and were roughly the same age but our mornings looked shockingly different. Far from readying children and ferrying them to school, I awaken quietly to shuffle toward the bathroom, brush my teeth and start coffee. I watch the news on channel 4 until 7:00 while reading email, using commercial breaks to wash my face and curl my hair. I find clean clothes amidst general clutter and, once I'm dressed, Chienne whines her desire to go for a walk.

Encountering the cheerful chaos from the smaller house across the street was somehow disconcerting. Her husband sometimes waves when I leave for work early, his truck loaded with construction supplies as he heads off to a job. I see the children out playing with others in the neighborhood - calling to dogs or throwing a ball, riding bikes or playing tag. I wondered, as Chienne buried her nose in the fluffy snow again and I trailed along after her, if the little ones work up happy and energetic or slow and mopey. If breakfast was a messy affair or more like when Dad served Brother and me bowls of cereal at the counter years ago.

I came back inside to put drops in Chienne's eyes, check the food dishes and toss treats to the floor in an apology for leaving and a bribe to be good. I hadn't seen them leave across the street, but it seemed there would be chatter during the commute - questions and answers, jokes and laughter. My own ride was quietly lovely. I admired the way snow clung to branches that shifted slowly in the breeze. In the silence, I thought of choices - the series of decisions that leads a person to a given place, surrounded by noise or encountering only quiet.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

By Any Other Name

Courtesy of a colleague who enjoys dumping work on me, I had the opportunity to discuss my role and responsibilities with a graduating dissertator last week.

"It's more business oriented than I thought," she finally said politely and I grinned before agreeing. My job revolves around communication - can I understand problems from our customers and collaborators well enough to translate them and motivate teams to find technical solutions? I sit in meetings and take phone calls. I visit sites and pitch solutions, listen to criticism and observe workflow. I don't code nor do I invent. And while I can occasionally test something, I'm more likely to write the plan and delegate the hands-on work.

From her questions, however, I have been considering what might bother me - what clearly does trouble some of my colleagues - were I a scientist in the corporate culture. Loss of independence is a frequently cited drawback thrown against better salaries, larger resource pools and longer-term stability.*

* Since we tend to hire scientists directly from grad school, I'm comparing against the alternative of a post-doctoral position. Given that starting salaries range from $85-100k depending on location and experience, we clearly crush even the best post-doc in terms of cash flow. We spend untold money (well, someone knows - that person isn't me) on research and development and access to equipment is rarely problematic. We also don't institute a '3-4 years and out' type of policy - you could spend your career as a scientist in Industry and be quite content, according to men who have done just that.

"It doesn't bother me," one man told me over chips and guacamole. "I actually think it's kind of cool - to realize there's a technical solution and a corresponding clinical problem and - even if the latter is outside my comfort zone - be able to learn and adapt and create something valuable."

But I joined a Rose meeting this morning - we've met for well over a year now to discuss Roses and how to grow them and what colors we liked and how they should smell. The group - all scientists - have gardens planned and are well along to hybridizing or whatever the hell one does with Roses. And they're quite content - this one with his bushes of red, that one with long-stemmed yellow blooms in crystal vases. It's a good group and I enjoy them.

Yet, when the first of the roses was done, it was handed over to me for productization. And they fretted, the scientists, before hesitantly handing it over - both thrilled they'd done something valuable and horrified that another team of gardeners would change or ruin what they'd created.

Sure enough, the product teams took one look at the pretty pink petals and shook their heads.

"Too complicated to mass produce," said the engineering team, stripping some of the petals to reduce it to base functionality and increase reliability. I dutifully bent to scoop up the discarded pieces, determined to glue some of them back on or save them for future updates.

"Costs too much," argued our business leaders, turning to engineering to ask if we really had to fertilize or if leftover water from the cafeteria would be sufficient.

But marketing was the final straw for the poor scientists. "It's pink," they noted approvingly, "but Rose sounds too snooty. We'll call it Tulip!"

Now I personally like tulips and, having talked to customers, thought the new branding strategy made sense. The inventors, however, visibly shudder each time they hear it, clinging doggedly to the rose name they feel is more appropriate and correct. So when I discuss Tulip as an upcoming release, I inevitably know if scientists are in the room since "Rose" is softly but firmly uttered immediately afterward.

In my mind, at least, it's not so much that the business decides what you work on - problem definition and prioritization tend to be embraced if the story is right and true. But the fact that you find a solution - grow and nurture, live and breathe - that is inevitably taken from you by teams you may not know or trust certainly can be a difficult thing.

"It is different," I tried to soothe them, but fear I did the opposite. "Tulip is no longer pink Rose. Certain features are changed. It smells a bit different and the blooms are smaller. So it's OK to have a different name - let pink Rose be what it was and know that it contributed to Tulip - a more accessible, distributed solution to the same core problem."

Yet there is a lingering sadness - a certain protective nature when it comes to the new bushes they continue to tend even as we look at purple Rose here at Headquarters and think it might make a very nice Violet indeed.

Monday, February 01, 2010


I murmured, my soft sound acknowledging he'd spoken without disturbing the fragile peace that surrounded me.

"Rest," he said kindly. "We'll talk later." I snuggled into the table, now supine after being prone for nearly an hour as he coaxed tension from my muscles. He'd told me, as I was turning over amidst sheets nubby from so many washings, that my energy was stagnant. Something about how I had wide channels - a large capacity for happy energy - but that my limbs felt heavy and blocked.

I spared a moment's sympathy for my stagnant thighs and calves before drifting into my thoughts again. He continued to use long, smooth strokes until finding a sore spot. I'd feel fingers drift over the knotted muscle as it resisted the soothing pressure, finally hearing him bracing his weight to push constantly against it. He pinched my shoulders, forcing the tense muscles to melt between thumb and fingers.

"I have a headache," I'd told him as we sat facing each other in the beginning. Holding my right foot in both hands as it balanced on his thigh, he pushed his thumbs into my arch and applied pressure. "I'm grumpy and unsettled and I just can't seem to fix it."

He nodded, nodding toward my cup of tea in what I took for encouragement to sip. I obediently slurped at the hot, fragrant liquid, feeling a mellow sweetness linger at the back of my throat after I swallowed. "We'll see if we can't get you settled in your body again," he said, putting my right foot on the floor and reaching for my left. I pulled my robe tighter and nodded.

"I'm afraid to get up," I whispered when he gently told me we were finished. My headache was gone for the moment, finally easing after keeping me up part of last night and nagging at me throughout the day today. I felt calm, finally settled and serene, and dreaded the return to worry and stress and uncertainty.

"Take it slow," he cautioned, smiling when I blinked my eyes before looking at him while I stretched.

Now, oil showered from my skin and out of my hair, my head no longer aches. I'm still unsettled but less frightened about it. I need to get back to church, I decided, but I think 90 minutes getting my back rubbed was quite worthwhile.