Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Latent Maternal Instincts

"So," I said, pressing my hands together and looking around the room. "I freshened the flowers and put all the folders in place. The name cards are on the table when guests enter and refreshments will be here on the side. When you're ready to begin the presentation, you touch this screen and press these two buttons. Oh, and I moved that row of chairs to the other side - it looked odd the old way, but I can change it back if you'd like.

"You're going to be wonderful," I assured her without waiting for a response. "You're smart, completely prepared and you look so pretty! Did I forget anything? What else do you need?"

I waited, watching her glance around the room and nervously adjust her watch. "A hug," she requested and I paused my own visual review of the room before reaching for her and murmuring an assurance into her hair before rubbing her shoulder affectionately and stepping away.


"For goodness sake," I murmured later, reaching for Adam's jacket where he'd thrown it on the back of his chair. "It's like you've never worn a suit before." I shook my head as I turned the left arm rightside out and straightened the shoulders on the back of the padded seat.

He rolled his eyes at me before reviewing the seating chart. I lifted an eyebrow in silent warning when he reached to change something and he considered me for a second or two before going ahead and doing what he wanted.

"You're lucky you're my boss," I told him, sighing when I went to straighten the table settings he'd disturbed.

"Lucky?" he teased, making me grin involuntarily. "Not the word I would have picked," he mused before leaving the room in search of a drink.


"You're late," I offered affectionately as we wandered out of the building after cleaning up. TinyFriend looked up at me and wrinkled her tiny nose before asking how I knew. "You're always late, my dear," I replied, smiling.

"6:30," I guessed when she asked what time it was. My arms were full of boxes and I couldn't reach my BlackBerry to check the time (or watch for the blinking red light). She plucked the largest of the packages out of my grasp and I reached for my phone. "6:42," I informed her. "I was close."

We chatted - she's doing well and is very happy with her new role. I'm the same as always - busy, stressed, but somehow happy with my job and life. "What time are your dinner plans?" I asked in reply to her invitation to go for coffee. She answered, adorably sheepish, that they were in 18 minutes and at a location about an hour away.

"Sweetheart," I scolded gently. "You should get started with the commute. Do you know how to get there?" I handed her my Garmin when she shook her head, making sure she knew how to use it. "I want it back," I warned her and she gave a happily distracted wave, entering her dinner destination into the device on her way to her car.


"Katie!" she shouted as I was stepping in my car, causing me to clutch my keys and stand outside once again. I was scanning her for injuries when she asked if I had someone's phone number. I nodded that I did and she asked that I make her excuses for the upcoming cocktail event.

"Is everything OK?" I asked, concerned.

"Yes," she said, then immediately shook her head. "My husband was supposed to pick up our daughter but he had to work late and the nanny is off today. So he's irritated and stressed and she's having a meltdown at a friend's house and I'm an hour away and filled with guilt from every angle."

"I'm sorry," I offered, sincere but not overly helpful. "I'll let them know about tonight." She called her thanks over a shoulder as she scampered to her car, leaving me to shake my head in wonder over how in the world anyone could balance all of that before climbing in my car and starting it.

"Drive carefully," I told her though she couldn't hear me, watching her pull into traffic and speed into the sunset. I headed east, tossed my BlackBerry in my cupholder and took a sip of water before heading home to my dog and cat and quiet little life.

Monday, July 26, 2010


I have recently acquired a Blackberry for work. I initially asked for a phone that was a phone, never anticipating that I would work constantly and travel enough to start craving email access while away from my desk. So, upon the expiration of my former contract, I clicked buttons and filled out forms and cooed over the device that was delivered to my desk one morning.

I've always rolled my eyes at those people who shuffle through hallways with heads down and eyes focused on screens, thumbs settled on trackballs. "Silly geese," I would think silently yet fondly. "Look around! Smile at people. Think your thoughts."

Yet, as soon as I had frowned at the device and pushed enough buttons for it to get email, that flashing red light makes me jump to attention. Email? I think with interest. Chats? Texts? For me?! And so I pounce.

Mid-conversation? Screw you - I'm looking at my new email. Halfway through a meeting? Totally grinning over some witty message I just sent my boss. I am technologically savvy. Tres 21st century.

Two problems -

I don't really know how to use it. So I'm trying to look all 'yes, I'm 5-10 years behind the times, but I'm really quite good at this game nonetheless' while I try to find the damn d key with my thumb. I type correctly! But my fingers won't fit on the tiny keyboard, forcing my poor brain to try to translate a skill. It's not going particularly well.

It does keep me focused on work even more than before. Even when I'm reading a book downstairs, I have one eye on the Blackberry on my belly. Waiting for that little red light to flash.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Straight & Narrow

"Why," I asked out loud, not bothering to check if others were also walking their dogs yesterday morning, "does the forbidden become irresistible?" I shook my head, tapping the toe of my right flip flop while I scolded Chienne once again for setting paw on someone's lawn. She gave me a look of disdain from her one good eye before setting off at a trot down the sidewalk once again.

"You know," I told her conversationally as we made our way down a side street in my perfect suburban neighborhood, "if you walked closer to the curb, you could find interesting smells in the grassy area where you're allowed to walk." Undeterred, she continued to keep her little white paws as close to the forbidden yards as she possibly could, tempted to drift just a tiny bit into someone's manicured grass, then a smallest bit closer to that shrub and then ignoring my tugs on her leash and hisses of "that's not yours!" to nuzzle some flowers.

I debated as we finished our circle, wondering if we should go clockwise instead of counter. Perhaps her blind eye should be facing out so she wasn't tempted to go toward that which she couldn't see. Maybe I was confusing her by allowing her on the lawn of the condos at one corner, but nowhere else.

Puzzling over it, I showered and selected an outfit, standing in a towel while I debated outfits. "Do not put on pajamas," I warned myself sternly. I've been suffering from a lack of motivation of late - I don't think I'm all that depressed, but I am moody and impatient. And I don't want to work - I just want to lie in my basement, reading books and watching television mindlessly. It's cool and quiet and comfortable.

"Work not couch," I repeated as if it were a mantra, putting on clothes and pulling my hair in a twist. I sighed as I threw items in my bag and tossed treats on the floor and checked bowls of kibble before beginning my short commute. Swiping my key card and moving briskly to my office, I settled in and began to work. I came home 15 hours later, exhausted and remaining cranky.

I did, however, feel some sense of pride that I'd avoided the forbidden couch and it's comfy cushions before falling into bed.

As far as the weekend, it was much better than I expected, yet bittersweet. The girls are too wonderful for words - so different and creative, bright and funny. I sat between them in the van during our drive to Brother's, swiveling my head from side to side as I admired coloring books and listened to stories. We swam in the hotel pool, and I praised Little One's flutter kick even as I was careful not to get her face wet (she hates that). Smallest One, in contrast, wanted to climb out the ladder and hurl herself into waiting arms with delighted splashes. Her small hands wrapped around my thumbs as she kicked her legs and bounced off my bent knees. I smoothed their hair back from their faces and helped with meals. I giggled and scolded, cuddled and gasped when Smallest hit Little with yet another toy. (She's surprisingly physical at times.)

When we had packed up and were leaving Brother behind, his eyes welled with tears and I watched him blink them back as I buckled the girls into their seats and they waved to their father, unsure of when they'd see him again. I felt this awful sense of grief for them in that moment - having young, selfish parents who both seem more interest in finding yet another partner than in parenting. Having no constant homes - the closest they come are the bedrooms each has at my parents' house. I comforted myself that they'll grow up stronger than I am, far less spoiled and afraid of change.

I smoothed Smallest One's hair as she studiously examined the pages of a workbook, looking for the big bad wolf among the 3 little pigs' maze. I leaned down to tell her she was being very good, and she graced me with a grin before cuddling closer.

I reached over to tap the tip of Little One's nose and smiled. "She usually wants what I have," she told me, glancing at her smaller sister.

"True story," I nodded. "It's hard not to want what we can't have."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mistakes of Romantic Proportions

I've not mentioned Brother lately. There has been much turmoil and drama, but the physical distance has helped retain some emotional separation as well. I'm bothered when Mom is upset, but appreciate that we all tend toward the dramatic so I try to react with some sympathy without lending credibility to her idea that she'll never see the girls again.

"Mom," I say gently, "you provide free babysitting 3 days a week and most weekends. When they are sick or terrible or unwanted, they come to you. It makes no sense for their parents - both pretty selfish individuals - to cut you out of an arrangement that benefits them greatly. So relax. Let things play out. And stop giving Brother money!"

After months of unemployment (it's actually semi-employment but the whole story is overly complicated) and with encouragement from our parents, Brother has headed out of town to accept another job. I shall join the family in my parents' bitchin' van - Little and Smallest Ones, my parents, myself and my dog - to venture to Brother's new location for a visit. I'm dreading it a bit, honestly, since spending time with my entire family is a bit like therapy in that I am confronted with facts that I'd rather ignore.

Brother, since he was a little guy, was beloved by his peers. I can remember, when Little and Smallest One's bedrooms at my parents' house belonged instead to Brother and me, two girls visited the house over the summer to perform for him when he was in 2nd grade. They had a dance routine choreographed to Barbie songs on their boombox, and I shook my head and left the room while he watched. While I read books, alone in my room, he went through girlfriends at a steady pace. They would call and giggle at first, but it would soon shift to complaints, sometimes sobbing others screaming, as he'd move on to the next pretty girl.

I attended a single dance in high school - with a great guy named Jason - who gave me a corsage with a white carnation and baby's breath and smiled gently back at me when we danced on the creaky wooden floor of the old gym. We didn't date afterward - I found some set of flaws that I now can't recall and decided I'd rather wait - alone - for someone who valued me as I deserved. Someone sexier, stronger, more admired by those around him.

Brother, in sharp contrast, never missed an event. He thrived on female attention and had a habit of letting relationships overlap so that he was never alone.

"How," I asked him as he grew older, "can you convince new women that you won't cheat on them? When they start sleeping with you knowing you're involved - hell, engaged even - and expect to develop something deep and lasting and real?"

He shrugged, brown eyes the same shade as my own meeting my gaze, and grinned. "It's easier to believe it's not my fault - for them and for me. It was the other girl - she was bad for me, didn't treat me well - and they believe they'll be better?" he guessed.

"And do you?" I asked, genuinely curious even as I was repulsed by his habitual abuse of emotions.

I don't remember his response, but it's clear he's always in search - perhaps subconsciously - of someone better. As am I.

"He doesn't want her to go with him," Mom told me of his latest girlfriend. They met at a bar, and she's a nice woman, though about 20 years Brother's senior. His marriage ended, shortly after Smallest One's birth, for a number of reasons but the new girlfriend was one of them. I have avoided getting close to her for the same reason I maintained my dislike of his ex-wife. I'm worried and bitter that Brother can't get his life together and finds women to enable his self-destruction. It's not their fault, of course. But I also know they will eventually be replaced. So I don't get overly attached.

Perhaps it's also a twinge of jealousy - he has people to love him, to sleep beside him and share his happiness and fears - while I instead have four bathrooms and a job I love. He is storing his stuff in my parents' basement while he lives in a studio and has only a motorcycle for transportation. I have a PhD and post-doctorate training while he didn't finish an Associates degree my parents tried multiple times to fund, though I estimate we're equally smart. He has two girls - wonderful, amazing children - while my chances of having a baby are minuscule. So while he won't be alone for long, I'm sure, and I won't be with anyone for a long time, if ever - I wonder if we'll both end up unattached - always in search of something that can't be had in a partner. Perfection.

"It's good to get away," I assured Mom when he moved and she agreed. "A change of scenery is sometimes a necessary shift in the system to let someone change. Look how well things have worked for me in Industry."

But, at the heart of it - where we love and are loved - does anything really change?

Friday, July 09, 2010


After we'd reviewed progress and projects, Adam sat back in his seat to think. He gave several compliments - I'm very visible and well-regarded. I do great work and am an asset to Industry with tremendous potential to continue growing.

"Two things," he warned and I smiled weakly before bracing myself.

The first was something I've heard before - my communication is overly flowery, as he put it. I like words and get attached to new ones and use them often. I feel strongly about things and tend to use words to indicate my joy or fury over certain decisions both verbally and in writing. Adam tends to think it unprofessional - and I don't really disagree. But it is a Katie characteristic. I can, however, try to revise it out.

"It's a minor thing," he assured me and I nodded, trying to be reassuring myself.

"No, Adam, it's fine. I'm good. I'll work on it."

"There was one more," he murmured, looking away with a squint as I wondered whether he was trying to remember or finding the right words to tell me. I filled the silence with chatter over all the good things I'd done - talking and talking about people and projects and finally trailing off and nodding once to show I was ready.

"Your health," he said. "Can you tell me how you're doing?"

"Yes," I said on a sigh, looking down while I did my own searching for the explanation I owed him. "I'm better," I offered. "I feel good - I'm not struggling anymore. That's the first thing."

"I know," he replied gently. "You're a totally different person."

"Right," I smiled weakly again. "I think it was all the travel, Adam. I thrive on routine and rest and stability. But I love this job - I love being important enough to travel so much," I grinned. "But it's hard on me. I got really depressed and I couldn't pull out of it. And I was physically ill," I told him. "It was just the mental piece that got really tough this time."

He nodded, asked some questions. And I continued to talk, feeling vulnerable but not overly uncomfortable.

"I didn't screw up too badly," I decided. "I was able to do the customer interaction pieces, though I did skip internal meetings. I wasn't well during the last part of my travel, but I did my job - it was useful for me to go. I just..." I paused to think and he remained quiet, his gaze steady when I glanced at him. I took a breath, made eye contact and continued.

"I'm afraid of people. When I'm like that. I feel panicked and struggle to breathe. Like everyone knows I'm sick and useless and I can't bear it. I just can't. But I'm on different medication and it's easy to come in now. I don't have to talk myself into getting dressed or answering email while other people are working. I can argue and listen and be in crowds. But I couldn't before."

He nodded, thinking. "I wondered - well, guessed - based on how you reacted. Like it was hard for you to answer questions."

"It was so hard to even make the phone call to join meetings," I told him. "There wasn't any energy left to engage in the discussion."

"So, next time," he said, and I loved him for moving forward and understanding there would be a next time. "I need you to tell me. I want to know how to help you - how to answer questions from people, how to deflect work from you, what to expect from your recovery."

We talked about triggers and my plan for 2011 to avoid the travel exhaustion that left me unable to tolerate the dip in mood before it became a spiral. I said I would try to tell him if I felt myself slipping, but that once I was in that suffocating cloud, I was too ashamed and afraid and disengaged to want him to know.

"OK," he nodded again and I barely resisted the urge to lean over and kiss his cheek so great was my affection. "So what's our code word?"

Thursday, July 08, 2010


I vividly remember being on my bed in my parents' house and reading my graduate school handbook as I finished my undergraduate work. I like knowing the rules and being prepared. Why, I thought as I shuddered with horror, would anyone want to write a dissertation? Or defend it in front of a group of people? It sounded impossible - something for only the truly brilliant and special to accomplish. What if they asked a question you didn't know? Or thought you were stupid or inept or otherwise lame? Not for me, I thought decisively.

Yet I did write one and did defend it and can honestly put ", PhD" after my name. And while it was difficult and scary and horrible at times, it just became something I did for those years between 2001-5. And there were some amazing people and fits of giggles and a lot of learning and growing up that happened along the way.

I remember, albeit more vaguely, thinking I wouldn't be great at this job since my social skills aren't the most sparkling I've seen. I was especially worried about dinners with customers and collaborators as I strongly tend toward being a morning person and fade pretty quickly after 7PM. So the idea of meeting with Famous Scientists and trying not to end up utterly humiliated while spending a couple of hours dining seemed impossible.

As is typical, I decided I would try to avoid it as much as possible. Yet, over the two years I've worked here, I've had many, many dinner appointments. I realized as I was driving home from one tonight, the sky bright pink as the sun finished setting and my tummy full of delicious steak and mushrooms and a surprisingly nice local wine, that I had a wonderful time. I was tired by the time we gathered and felt even sleepier after my glass of wine but happily listened to stories, asking questions and giggling when appropriate. I accepted compliments because I have been doing good work lately and after the depressing dip in productivity, it feels good to bask in the glory of goodness again.

I stopped briefly to pick up mosquito repellent for tomorrow's walk on my way home. For as I killed the tenth horrible insect on my chin during Chienne's walk, I thought that I couldn't do this anymore. It was impossibly horrible to have them touching me, biting me, potentially infecting my blood.

But I am stronger than I think, as I think most people would say if they fairly assessed themselves, and those bastard mosquitoes are done screwing with me. Yay for progress!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Mid-week Updates

Nearly gagging, I rushed to the sink to wash away the smear of blood and remains of the mosquito corpse I'd squashed on my arm. I chased the other grotesque insects around the house with bleach (mental note: buy better poison) as they flew around like minions of Hell.

My hatred of these creatures shocks me a bit, but they ruin my morning walks! Chienne and I are fairly happy as we wander the neighborhood, smelling and thinking, respectively. I watch the rare cars drive by in the soft light after dawn and sigh over the dew on the grass and the sparkle of sunshine. I think about work and life and God and sort of settle before going to work.

Or I used to. Now I shake my head and wave my arms like some deranged horse, swatting at the flying monsters and waving them away from where they perch on my dog. (Nobody screws with my dog!) I return to the house mostly enraged and it's growing tiresome. But I keep forgetting to buy Off products for protection. And I'm buying some of that spray that attaches to the hose so I can launch my own attack. Dammit.


Sibling borrowed a book from the library that was written by a blogger. So we've chatted about if we do anything that would persuade anyone to read something we'd written. (My official response = only out of some sense of habit or pity!) She doesn't think enough funny stuff happens to us - it's more frustrating than amusing. But I did have a fit of giggles this afternoon.

I had gone to a meeting where 2 people are leaving a team of software developers (by choice so it's a good thing for them). We were discussing how to continue with a project they'd devoted a good deal of time and effort to - and it happens to be completely cool and rather relevant - and I was trying to think of a way to organize something.

As I was thinking I need to keep a spreadsheet of people who owe me favors, I listened as they identified one person who would be perfect to understand and support the project.

"I understand," I replied carefully. "But those teams are under tremendous pressure right now for product issues and their ability to support research projects is very limited. So I agree that he's great but I know that he's intensely busy. So let me talk to his boss and see if we can come up with a solution."

Agreeing to check back with them next week, I flitted off to check more stuff and talk about more things. On my afternoon of office errands, I ended up in the midst of engineering. The cubicles, typically noisy with the tapping of keys and buzz of conversation, were quiet as many of us are on vacation this week. I moved through the maze of desks and computers and found a chair to wait when the engineer's computer was at his desk but he was not.

I smiled when the only other occupant in the quartet of seats snored, reclined in his desk chair with multiple computers hummed in front of him, nary a screen saver active. I envied him his ability to catch a quick nap midday - I'm not able to sleep unless horizontal and sprawled out so I spend my working hours awake.

I lost track of time as I worked while waiting, glancing at my watch about 20 minutes later before giving up and heading back to my desk. Before I left, I glanced at the nameplate above my still-snoozing companion and snorted when I saw that he was the very person whose time I'd defended that morning.

His eyelids twitched at my small sound and I held still while he shifted in his chair and quietly moved away when he began to snore again. And while this could be one of those 'had to be there' situations, I was so tickled by the whole event that I had to lean against the wall while I laughed and laughed. I felt a pleasant residual glow that I feel better, the gloom of depression having dissipated.


It is my 2 year anniversary in Industry! I celebrated with guacamole. God bless the avocado. And cilantro. And lime. I wish I had more guacamole right now...

Monday, July 05, 2010


"We should have started boarding 20 minutes ago," I fretted to Sibling, watching her glance up from the magazine she'd brought from home. "It says 8:40 on the ticket," I held it up to show her, "and it's now 9:00."

She blinked at me, paused and said, deadpan, "wow," before returning to the pages on her lap. And I giggled.

We got off the plane (which did depart late, by the way) and I reached the spot she was waiting, having frequent-flyered her way into first class while I - having no particular airline loyalty - sat a few rows back in coach.

"That was the worst flight I've endured," I told her. "Stupid summer storms and their severe turbulence."

She nodded sympathetically but looked vaguely confused. Intercepting my quizzical look, she shrugged and confessed that she'd slept the whole journey. And I giggled again.

I finish tasks - even odious ones that irritate me - promptly and tend to come early to whatever is happening. She procrastinates on most projects but performs brilliantly nonetheless, arriving late enough that I've started suggesting we take separate cars to the same events even though we live in fairly close proximity.

When people call us by the other's name - which happens very frequently, actually - I always smile and shake my head. "I'm Katie, not Sibling," I said once in front of a group of people. "I don't know why people confuse us - she handles a different area of interest, is tiny and Asian." And she is beautiful - a size two with a casual grace and confidence though she'll very occasionally stumble over words. Conversely, I only speak English, but speak it well - I'm far too rounded to be beautiful and am charming and amusing when I'm not pouting over something or other.

Still, there's a mutual admiration for intelligence and work ethic, for being effective and successful despite not being trained for this particular role. Our methods are different - she's outwardly unruffled and I laugh easily and often and glare the same way. We spend time together with ease and I find myself sharing meals with her at least once a week when we're both in town.

On our way back from an office party, I yawned in her passenger seat, having enjoyed two cocktails and feeling pleasantly tipsy. (Sibling doesn't drink.) She chatted about her plans for the weekend - people and places. I nodded with interest, asking questions and thinking it sounded rather lovely.

"What's up with you?" she asked politely and I shrugged, saying I didn't have plans. She began to make suggestions - day trips and people she'd heard were remaining in town - and I smiled.

"I like the downtime," I replied. "I have some revisions to do from my post-doc project and I'm annoyed enough that I want to just do it so I can stop thinking about it. I have several internal briefs to write," I paused while she told me I shouldn't be working during the holiday weekend, "and I want to work on my yard," I continued, undaunted. "I'll nap and read books. Check email and daydream." And I sighed happily, thinking it sounded perfect.

It's been easy and lovely - I sleep when I'm tired and think when I want. I shampooed my basement carpet and took long walks with Chienne. I've read five books and watched mindless television. I tried a new recipe and repotted a plant.

I'm going back to work tomorrow - Sibling is taking the week off. But there's some sort of comfort in appreciating qualities and indulging in personal preferences.

Sunday, July 04, 2010


I am revising what is likely to be my last academic project.

If I don't have anything nice to say about the reviewers and editors, I shall not say anything at all.

I therefore remain in seething silence.

The happy news is that, once completed, I am free from these egomaniacal assholes.

Updated to Add: Freedom! After correcting one last figure, I'm ready to submit revisions and refuse to do more with this. And I resisted the deep desire to write "statistical stuff...blah, blah, blah" in one section.