Sunday, January 31, 2010
In grad school, I would sort of shut down before big exams. The stress and worry would make me disengage - I'd sleep and study and basically avoid thinking if at all possible. I'd do a lot of reading and watching television and just wait for the test to be over, at which time I'd snap back to life and become (relatively) normal again.
I thought that same was true of this European trip. I was nervous about it - missing flights or embarrassing myself in front of customers. Running out of cash or growing ill and being unable to make my appointments. So when I had trouble spending full days at work, I excused myself by saying I was resting and packing. And I proudly kept up with email while away, taking the time at airports and on planes to answer email and write trip notes and enter expenses.
I grew concerned when I had to drag myself to work on Friday. I tried to wave it away though - I'd been gone a long time and it's often a bit disconcerting to return to real life. But when I found myself shopping online - examining light fixtures and browsing books - I was rather appalled. I never do that in Industry - I'm always busy and focused and intense! But I felt listless and unsettled and eager to go home.
Rather than pouncing on my laptop during my waking hours this weekend, I ignored it all day yesterday. I read five books and took two naps. I cooked and did dishes. I curled up with Sprout and Chienne and watched snow fall and then sun shine. And I felt the nagging unease that my attitude was wrong.
Switching strategies, I squared my shoulders and opened my laptop immediately upon waking (before dawn - jetlag is better now but still screwing me over) and began to send notes from my visits to the official list of people who must know. I finished my expense report. I did some other critical tasks. I even blinked at my To Do.xls document before sighing and going to find another book to read.
I'm going to hope it goes away. My calendar is full but reasonably mild in terms of the tasks this week. I should be OK to ramp up while remaining reasonably effective. I also have more trips planned - appealing since I'd rather avoid the office. So while it seems New York would excite me a bit more than Cleveland, I look at both of them as easy opportunities to be somewhere else for a day or two. (I'm actually more looking forward to Ohio - NYC has always freaked me out somehow. It seems particularly overwhelming right now but seeing as I've successfully avoided going there thus far in my career, maybe I have one more dodge left for February.)
I'd say suggestions were welcome, but I'm not sure they are. I'm not sure I could accuse you of not understanding since I don't get it either. I almost don't want to look too closely at the feeling, having no energy to think through it and overcome it. Instead, I'll continue to wish it away when I can't distract myself.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Apart from that lapse, all has settled rather easily into normalcy.
I drove to work without thinking, moving along steadily and making the necessary turns to reach my office. Chienne and I had taken a walk - she waiting patiently until I put on her leash; I moving over residual bits of ice as quickly as possible while she explored neighborhood smells once again. I swiped the key card that had rested in the Jeep's console, right where it was meant to be. I settled my laptop on my desk and plugged in the monitor, mouse and keyboard before searching for my water bottle and coffee cup and going to get cold and hot water, respectively.
I peeked in my mailbox while peppermint tea steeped and smiled at people who welcomed me back, telling them Europe was wonderful. I received my award and took phone calls and meetings. I talked to Adam - giggling over stories and writing down instructions for next steps on certain projects. When I could no longer force my brain to function - jet lag is sucking away my stamina - I uploaded photos and ordered prints I could slip into the frame I'd bought before leaving.
I left early, waving at my group as we dispersed from one last meeting. I stopped to buy groceries, sleepily wandering through aisles and repeatedly consulting my list to make sure I didn't need to return tomorrow morning for cream (or tonight for Chienne's kibble). I smiled as I dumped the latter in her container - she gets so excited when new kibble comes. I settled food into proper places and tried to sort through piles of mail.
When I stared at an envelope for a very long time, trying to decide whether or not to open it when I knew it was junk mail and didn't matter either way, I shrugged and decided 7:30 was better than last night's 6 for bedtime.
I still feel unsettled - unsure if it's hormones or continued changes at work or other sources of worry. But it is good to be home. Perhaps once I spend a few more days here, I'll relax again.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
- I have been to Paris. A gargoyle from a shop across from Notre Dame is perched on my freezer. The Ones have dolls from an adorable store on the Ile de Saint Louis. Still, when I think of it - I have been to Paris - it's somehow wonderous.
- As I smoothed conditioner on my hair, I realized it'd been one night shy of two weeks since I'd showered here at home. I'd toweled my hair dry before bed the Friday before last and snuggled into pajamas before untangling my hair tonight.
- I had pizza with my parents and a former neighbor last night. I smiled when they talked about how I'd walked from the Eiffel Tower back to my hotel. They told her they'd seen pictures. That I'd been to London and Paris and Munich. And they too seemed somehow amazed.
- I had planned to spend the remainder of this week recovering at home and hanging out with my parents.
- I returned to my house today because I'd been summoned. When the secretary of the boss of my boss's boss asked after my availability, I basically said it'd take me four hours to make the drive if it was OK to show up in pajamas and with my dog and cat in tow.
- In fact, I asked for and was granted until Friday morning.
- I actually think he wants to congratulate me on an award. I'm not normally so arrogant but I received email notifying me of the prize before anyone had given official notice that I was winning anything.
- I asked Adam to check to make sure I wasn't to have anything prepared. He wrote back with a smiley face so I'm pretty sure I'm OK.
- I went to sleep last night, nearly incoherent with exhaustion, at 8:00PM.
- I awakened, sure it was time for coffee and conversation, promptly at 2AM. After frowning at the clock, I curled up with Mr. Sprout and did some work before I got sleepy again.
- Speaking of the pretty kitty, His Sproutness has returned home after a lengthy stay with his grandparents. He went before Thanksgiving and returned after being cruelly captured and riding in the dreaded car.
- He seems to be quite pleased though - he just came to say hello and nibble on the food in his dish.
- Chienne immediately went out to investigate her yard, bark her hellos at the neighbor dogs and has now returned to her favorite spot in my closet to sleep under my dress suits.
- I'm nearly out of dog food. I'd forgotten and for a moment wished I could call the front desk and have someone fetch some for me. Then I realized I'm not a valued guest any longer and would do the fetching myself.
- I'm so tired it hurts. My goal was to make it until 9:00 tonight but it's not going to happen.
- I have, however, unpacked.
- Washing machines are miraculous. I took clothes that had been dirty for upwards of a week and jammed in a plastic bag from my first London hotel. I remember thinking I could never wear some of them again, having been through lengthy visits and plane rides and wrinkling my nose at the crumpled mess of them. But I pulled them from the dryer - all fresh and fluffy and wonderful - and smiled over it.
- Oh! I brought home Camembert from France, yes? It Smelled. Increasingly Badly. Unable to decide if I could continue tolerating the smell despite the bag's demand to remain sealed until I reached my final destination, I decided I was growing ill and tossed it in the garbage at O'Hare while waiting for my final flight.
- My parents bought me lawn ornaments for my birthday, in addition to a gift certificate. They're rather adorable - a grinning bunny on a swing that I'll hang from the tree in the back yard, a silly golden frog on a stone and a happy bear with a pot of honey under his arm.
- I can't think of anything else. I'm tired. But happy to be home. Yet somehow dreading going back to work tomorrow.
Monday, January 25, 2010
I'd descended the stairs to the basement - a lovely spot with curved ceilings in some lovely stone I don't recognize - and had croissant with cheese and what I think was a clementine. Filled with a sense of wonder that's becoming familiar, I sipped coffee and sighed over the receptionist's voice as he called to request a car come for me after I'd finished my meal. It was chilly when I arrived at my designated meeting spot and, determining I was about 10 minutes early, I decided to walk around in order to keep warm in my dress and tights. It didn't take long to find photo opportunities in the blue light that exists so fleetingly just before dawn but none of them were overly good.
I'd had a logistical crisis in the morning and I realized I'd made the wrong call as my host - at my request - drove me to the Eiffel Tower early in the afternoon so I could begin this day's walk along the Seine. I had debated whether to start from my hotel, drop off my laptop, and head to Eiffel. But I instead decided to walk away from Eiffel and keep my laptop with me, saving my feet at the expense of my shoulders. (The hell of it was I could have put my presentation on a stick and skipped the laptop altogether. But it ended up being a negligible annoyance anyway.)
I don't know why, but the tower looked different than I expected. Having seen the iconic structure in photos and films, I was still struck that I had to correct my mental picture, deciding that the reality was better anyway. I said "No, sorry," about a million (well, 10-20 = a lot) times to the ever-jingling men with tiny metal towers on rings. Some were pretty aggressive and one called me a name - I don't know what, thankfully - and I was happy to escape the veritable army of salesmen and cross the bridge to walk along the opposite bank.
The sun was peeking through the clouds, giving me both flutters of happiness and fits of worry as I tried to take pictures in the shifting light. Still, the sky was gorgeous as it framed the Parisian scenes and I rather enjoyed my walk. It was, as I feared, my flats that gave me trouble. They are loose enough - and soles thin enough - that the bottoms of my feet were uncomfortable within a km or so and miserable before I reached the Lourve.
The sights were nonetheless spectacular and I sighed over them even as I paused to stand on my toes, trying to ease the pressure on my heels. I realized it was good I was going this alone - the pace was reasonably steady but fairly slow as I stopped to put on lip gloss or find Kleenex or toss my bag over the opposite shoulder. Taking photos for the blog (and knowing I'll show my family) gets me over the desire to tug at someone's arm and whisper "Look at that..." as I'm awed by each new angle. With a companion, I would have voiced that fact that my feet hurt and I was tired and thirsty I thought we were very far from the hotel.
Still, I was abashedly grateful when I reached the tip of the Isle de la Cite, not only because it's my favorite part of Paris, but also because the nearby Isle de San Louis contained a bed with my (temporary) name on it.
Yet, upon arrival, it seemed the breeze was suddenly bitterly cold rather than gentle against the warmth of the sunshine. My head ached, my feet were killing me and I was beginning to despair. So I stopped at a cafe near Notre Dame to eat, alternately sipping water and wine and nibbling on my ham and cheese sandwich (no fried egg!), frittes (which were so pretty I almost took a picture) and a nice salad with a mustardy dressing. I bought gargoyle magnets at a nearby shop before crossing the bridge to the smaller island. Then, across the street from my hotel, I entered a toy shop and bought beautiful cloth dolls for the girls. I even managed to find and use an ATM to pay for my ride to the airport tomorrow.
Then I slept. Because I am Katie.
I believe I'll venture out once more for a light supper somewhere along these narrow, wonderful streets. Then, tomorrow, I'll rise early enough to take a few pictures, enjoy one more breakfast with creamy cheese and crispy croissant and begin my journey home.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
I stuttered over my response to plotlines of what I'd written in the past, seated in a London restaurant, reasonably sure I was blushing at my silly attempts at forming some story. I'm not a writer. Not really a scientist. Instead, I've found a smart little niche that allows me to excel in being efficient and trying to keep people satisfied with what various teams are doing. And, with all due modesty, I'm rather good at it.
Still, there's something about Paris that arouses the creative spirit. I was struck by the passion when a couple embraced at the curb in the Latin Quarter, her arms wrapped around his waist while his hands tangled in her long hair. They were kissing while waiting for the pedestrian signal to turn green and while I admitted it was a nice way to pass the time, I also wrinkled my nose when he began to moan. It's Sunday morning, I thought. Have a little respect. There are churches all over the place.
I considered it again as I skirted a man on the sidewalk, bag of groceries in one hand and bouquet of roses in the other. The flowers were crowded tightly together above where they were held in his fist, the deep red of the blossoms creating a solid mass of delicately curled petals wrapped in purple paper. I wondered where he was going, resisting the urge to stop and turn so I might find out. While I don't know Paris well enough to set even a short story here, I can feel the tug of emotions. There's a seductive energy willing one to look harder or linger over sights or tastes or textures.
I filled my bathtub after I finished mooing at the cheesemaker down the street. (Do I seem like the person who knows the French translation for cow's milk? I was grateful, quite frankly, that I didn't pretend I had an udder while uttering my gentle bovine sound.) Settling into the water and listening to the gentle hum of the towel warmer on the wall, I closed my eyes and wiggled my toes. I tried to imagine a woman more beautiful and social than I am, attempting to mentally pair her with someone equally wonderful as I thought of how romantic my little room in the corner could be. Perhaps the stripes decorating the long walls would inspire lengthy, slow strokes of hands across skin. They could stare at the beams in the ceiling afterward, relaxing into the soft mattress and snuggling under linens as their eyes followed the straight lines of some beams and soft curves of others as they cast shadows in the dim light.
Their fingers would link, I imagined, even as my own did while I curled up in the tub, wrapping my arms around my legs and resting my cheek on my knees, water lapping gently around my sides. I swiped at a stray tear even as I sniffled, thinking despairingly of the postcards I'd tucked in my bag for tomorrow, neatly addressed and waiting for stamps so they could make their way across the Atlantic to my nieces. Would they, once grown, be horrified that it was possible to fail so miserably at finding someone to love me? Or admire that I'd found my way to the great cities of the world? Had a satisfying career? They're not mutually exclusive, I'll tell them someday - having a strong professional and personal life. It just turned out that it was that way for me.
So the writing of stories, for me, seems a pathetic way of imagining a happy ending when one won't occur - in the romantic way - in a personal sense. It's simply too awful, too heartbreaking, to articulate what could be but isn't.
There are random blog posts, sometimes with photos I've taken. There are masses of emails, communicating all sorts of advances and delays, problems and solutions, questions and answers. There are conversations - both funny and sad, thriling and dull.
But there is no book.
I had some peppermint tea with my fruit salad once settled in Terminal 5 at Heathrow. I had selected the very last seat - 26F - on the plane as it was the only option that wasn't in the middle. I leaned heavily against the wall as I felt myself drifting into unconsciousness, every second of being awake miserably painful. My head felt light and hazy, limbs impossibly heavy and cramped as my body tried to convince me to lie down and sleep some more. Coffee, helpfully served by my friends at British Airways, slapped me awake and I sighed in gratitude.
I'd been drinking quite a bit in an attempt to keep myself awake and was rather in need of a toilet upon landing. But I easily made it through passport control and waited in line at the first available restroom near baggage claim. Seeing the line was crawling along, I peeked in and sighed when I saw only 2 stalls. Annoyed at the disorganization of it, I decided to find another place to go. After failing miserably, I rejoined the line and decided the CDG - and the people in it - seemed to lack all semblance of efficiency while peeing.
That took long enough that my suitcase emerged soon after I reached the carousel and I walked outside to join the line for taxis. Affronted when people were dawdling, I realized they were trying to steal a car from the end of the line! No, no, I wanted to exclaim! We get in line and you wait your turn! So caught up in being offended, I literally jumped when a driver began to shout at the man in charge of our line. They argued bitterly - with raised voices and waving arms - for several minutes as I stood there, wide-eyed. I continued to watch them as I showed my hotel reservation to my driver and he tucked me in the backseat and we drove away.
Pleased that was over, I tried to relax again and almost controlled a wince when we nearly hit a man who had cut us off. We swung around it, leaving me a little off balance and my mouth dropped open when my driver said something that sounded like "stupid" while he glared menacingly at the elderly man behind the wheel of the BMW that had gotten in our way. He spat out the p in stupid, was what I kept thinking, trying to be as benign a presence as possible. People from Paris are Pissy, I decided.
I remembered the beginning of my trip. My host said that my impression of the town in the north of England would have been far different had I come from a different direction. "When you go through the hills and see all the sheep and farms, you tend to think we're lovely. If someone drives through the industrial section on their way here, they tend to be much less impressed." Deciding the ride from CDG to the city was a non-ideal way to get to know Paris, I nearly closed my eyes against our aggressive driving though tunnels littered liberally with graffiti.
We made it to my hotel and I looked around with awe, certain we'd crossed into some other dimension that offered quiet and stately elegance rather the French curses and writing on walls. I obtained a receipt (even saying si vous plait in a pretty awful accent) and walked inside a hotel no less than heavenly. My room was ready, the woman at reception offered, telling me about breakfast downstairs in the mornings and internet access. A man arrived to carry my suitcase to the tiny elevator we rode to the second floor. He opened the door - one crowded with two others at the end of a tiny hallway - and I let out a coo of approval. The colors were relaxing and ceilings high. Appreciating the latter, I realized there were exposed wooden beams and felt myself smile. The bathroom gleamed bright white and there were brown toile throw pillows on the deliciously soft bed. "It's perfect," I told him and he nodded.
I set off toward Notre Dame, able to take only a few steps before stopping to take another photo. The architecture here is ridiculously stunning. The lines and curves - from the curb to the roofline - are just striking. It all seems old and elegant - both snooty and refined. Unsure if I was intimidated or infatuated, I continued to move through the rainy morning toward the Louve. There were men selling art prints and literature along the Siene. I kept wiping my glasses so I could see, thinking even the puddles were somehow superior to those elsewhere. I was positively heartbroken when my camera indicated my battery was nearly dead just after the Louve. Whimpering with dismay - I even bought this battery from Sony in Heathrow to avoid losing photographic capability - I decided I was rather tired anyway and could start heading back to the hotel. I'd get something to eat, change batteries and rest before heading off again.
I walked away from the Siene, drawn by the narrow streets and their pretty buildings, and got - quite predictably and hopelessly - lost. Learning from my mistake, I found a creperie and ordered, pleased when my waitress spoken English and brought me cider she said I should try. I frowned when she brought my plate, biting back my remark that someone seemed to have dropped a fried egg on my flat, brown thing. I looked at it, mostly befuddled, and glanced around to see that other people were eating theirs and speaking rapid French so it must be normal. Still, I poked at the yolk with my fork before cutting into the buckwheat surrounding my cheese and ham and decided that - as long as I kept scooting the egg out of the way - it was rather interesting.
Finally managing to find my way (only because I saw Notre Dame out of the corner of my eye when I was ready to turn the wrong direction), I headed back toward the hotel and was tempted enough to join the line at the bakery. Un baguette and (two fingers) tartlettes du chocolat later, I carried my items cradled in my arms and fetched my key at the desk.
So whether it's enraged drivers or poodles prancing on the end of a pink leash somewhere in the Latin Quarter, Paris is impossible to ignore. It makes an impression and I find myself complete fascinated.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
I carried my free map of London in my bag yesterday, pulling it out to show to one of our customers as we discussed the best route to accomplish my list of must-sees.
"The City of London was my biggest regret," I told her seriously. "My camera was out of film, night was falling and I felt my tour bus just swooped through without giving me a chance to absorb any of it. And it seemed so impressive." So I had chosen a hotel on Gracechurch and knew I wanted to get to the Tower of London and associated bridge, wander along the river and stare at St. Paul's. We had a suitable route pretty defined and I carefully memorized it while hoping I wouldn't become terribly lost.
"I should be OK," I told Jenny last night, "if I stay near the river. Then I can keep my bearings without getting distracted and turning too many times to remember which direction I'm going." She edited my plan a bit and I remembered the assorted advice as I stared at the map this morning while getting ready. Deciding I would take lip gloss but would not bring a bottle of water, I put my little wallet around one wrist and camera around the other and set off in my jacket and wedge heels with socks underneath. (I could not fit walking shoes in my suitcase.) While certainly not chic, I decided I was ready.
I assessed my condition as I moved toward the Tower, several discrete but helpful signs assuring me I was directionally correct. Shoes were comfortable. Jacket seemed warm enough. I was a little hungry but had decided a stop for breakfast along the way was in the plan. I followed sparsely scattered tourists and snapped photos at the nearly deserted Tower campus. It shivered with a mixture of intimidation and happiness as I stood outside the walls in the gray morning. Finished, I climbed the stairs and crossed the river on Tower Bridge, thinking it incredibly lovely as I wandered slowly, pausing to stare at some detail or look out over the river.
Too fast, I lamented, watching a bus go by with tourists swiveling heads and craning necks to take in the bridge and view in a matter of seconds. Even the walk seemed to be taking me by sites more quickly than I wanted and I was torn between slowing down to enjoy or keeping pace to stay warm. But before I knew it, I'd passed Potters Field and the Tate Modern, had followed the Thames West Diversion and was growing very hungry and uncomfortable from the cold. I wanted, I thought crossly, a Kleenex, something hot to drink and to cross the river again.
Luckily, I happened across Blackfriars Bridge and trudged across it, realizing I was growing miserable. I should have stopped and rested, had something to eat, regrouped before I reached that point. But I pressed on, growing ever grumpier, and reminded myself that it was nice not to fight crowds. That I actually enjoy cloudy weather. That I was in London and having a fabulous time and should find something to enjoy about it already.
I walked up a hill, thinking I might do something drastic if that building I could see wasn't St. Paul's. It was, and my dangerous mood dissipated as my breath caught, seeing the dome up close. I tilted my head back in a blend of wanting to see more and needing to show some sort of awe at the structure. I walked across a narrow street to a cafe and thought it couldn't have been more perfect had God plopped it there just for me. I found a table at the window where I could gaze at the cathedral, ordered a bagette, hot chocolate and apple juice for a mere 5 pounds (I would have given him 50) and settled in to warm up, sip drinks and nibble on what had to have been the most perfect bread ever baked.
People went by on more tour buses, arms stretched over heads bundled in hoods and hats and scarves to get photos of the dome. The lumbering vehicles would pause for a moment and take off again, leaving me feeling rather wonderful as I lingered over my chocolate and spread butter on the last of my bread. Consulting my map once more, I paid my waiter - pleased to be getting rid of some of these heavy coins - and set off again. Had it not been cold, I would have settled on a wooden bench and said some prayers. Instead, I recited a few as I continued to walk, pausing to make some requests and offering a bit of thanks.
As I moved ever closer to my hotel, I thought my initial visit was more a survey - riding the bus and learning what I liked and where I needed to spend more time. Though I'd been criticized by colleagues for my choice of locations this time, I was utterly pleased with myself. The morning was even better than I hoped, affording me the luxury of stopping to take pictures along sidewalks that might otherwise have been crowded, looking at stunning buildings and feeling rather proud that I'd executed on my plan so effectively.
In a predictable Katie-like move though, I'm back at the hotel to write things down and take a nap.
Friday, January 22, 2010
"Piccadilly Street, please," I requested, sighing as I sat back in the seat and felt my tummy twist with nerves. "I'm not to be there until 7," I mentioned, wondering if the plexiglass between us would allow him to hear. When he looked at his watch, I decided he had and smiled when he politely informed me it wouldn't take an hour to get there. "No," I agreed. "I'll find someplace to wait."
Having watched out the window, I had identified suitable places and only had to walk a block through the misty rain before I could buy a soda and settle into a cushioned seat to deal with email and action items. I tackled my notes from today first, wincing when I recalled being shouted at twice. We struggled, honestly, and what was meant to be a 2 hour review turned into a 7 hour exercise in misery.
Glancing around occasionally, I lost myself in email while I sipped Diet Coke. After I finished the most urgent of messages, I tried to relax. I smiled at the girl in the corner, gesturing wildly as she complained that her colleague was just horrible and wouldn't work hard enough and clearly didn't understand! Her companion, a man a bit older than her early twenty-ish years, nodded but said little during her tirade, mostly avoiding eye contact.
The energy of youth, I decided, feeling a bit staid and settled in my early-thirty-ish age. I noticed a woman on the far wall was reapplying make-up, looking carefully in her tiny hand mirror as she brushed color on her eyelids and pursed her lips to apply gloss. Waiting people greeted those who arrived, exchanging handshakes or hugs as they settled into chairs and conversation with enviable ease.
Making a face, I realized it was time to close my laptop, escaping the safety of work in order to walk the block to my dinner destination. Some silly social impulse made me invite Richard for a drink and while he at first turned me down (something about being busy), he invited me for a meal after we finished work on Friday. Given that Jenny was joining us, I couldn't bring myself to opt out despite being nervous. They are, after all, the only two writers I know in London. I'm pretty sure that makes them famous and equally certain Americans like famous people. So I forced myself up the two steps and through the door, mustering my courage to greet the pair of them even while I wondered what I was doing.
As I expected, there was a blind-date-like awkwardness at the beginning. Having done more blind dating that I'd care to admit, I know the odd feeling of trying to rush through the natural discomfort some of us (aka me) feel when meeting new people. It actually helped when Jenny said something about it being like an interview as she and Richard sat across from me at the table. I'm good at interviews, I thought, and prepared to dazzle them. I even ordered water so I could stay sharp, give the correct answers to questions and try my best to be charming and funny.
When we ordered meals and a second round of drinks, I decided I was doing well enough to have a glass of wine. As I calmed down, I found her to be even better than I expected. Equally eloquent and bright as I imagined, but somehow with more warmth. I thought I'd like her - knew I'd be impressed with both of them - but I was a little surprised that I wanted to urge everyone to buy her book and read her blog and maybe even send her presents.
Richard was trickier. I knew him a bit better and though I sternly advised against it, would have been a bit hurt had he been obviously unimpressed. But much like my dinner with Sciencewoman (we all agreed she was missed), there were moments of easy familiarity when he laughed at something I'd said to elicit such a reaction paired with a disconcerting sense that I knew pieces of someone who was sometimes far different than I expected. Still, as reality reconciles with a mental image, it became easier to talk and laugh.
I still hesitated when deciding whether we should go to a "proper pub." It seems that means somewhere darker and louder (I did go - that's how I know that). After all, why ace the interview if you don't want the job? So we chatted a little longer while I had one more glass of wine before watching them both hail a cab while I waited patiently on the curb.
It's an odd and lovely thing, I decided sleepily as the cab wound through the streets of London to deposit me at my hotel. The internet - the blogging communities - make the world seem small. I can know intimate details of people who live far-flung or unknown places and although I'm aware that there's so much more behind that, it's still somehow amazing when confronted with it. To find unexpected commonalities (Jenny and I are both nervous flyers) and differences (Richard seems to adore living in London - I think it's fabulous to visit but there's always a piece of me missing the space and quiet of my anything-but-city home.)
"Did you take any photos today?" he asked at some point, and I shook my head sadly. I will do tomorrow though - it's a sightseeing day and I'm very excited about it. I did, however, remember the often buried under corporate business impulse to pull out my laptop and type out impressions so I wouldn't forget something I wanted to remember.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
I blinked at the man who spoke a whole lot of words I didn't understand when I finally arrived at a reception desk. "Right," I finally said when he looked at me expantantly. "Hi. I'm Katie." And though that shouldn't have helped him at all, he handed the key card with my name scrawled on the holder and pointed me toward the actual entrance to the hotel (he had to explain twice - I didn't get why it was separate from the reception area) and bid me good night.
Unsure if it was the coffee I had at 3PM (or 12+3=15:00) in London or the stress of the I-suck-for-not-speaking-German trip, I realized I was wide awake. I took a shower and washed my hair. I put on lotion I'd taken from The Trafalgar Hotel, longing for it when I looked around my current room that, while nice, wasn't nearly as lovely. I tossed and turned, turned and tossed and can remember looking at the clock after 2:00. So when the trash collectors woke me up at 7, I was pretty much ready to write Munich off. When they continued to talk and make noise outside my first floor room, I was tired and cranky and terribly disappointed when I opened my eyes and wasn't in London (even though I wished that as hard as I could).
There was no means of making coffee in the room and the only television I could understand was CNN so I learned about Haiti and felt miserably guilty about being miserable in my charmed life. So I resolved to buck up and get dressed and wandered down to find coffee.
When a woman greeted me with a happy string of German words, I said good morning and asked if I could sit anywhere.
"Of course, madam," she said immediately and I decided that madam was much nicer than ma'am. Feeling a bit more hopeful when she set coffee before me, I sipped before going to fetch some breakfast. Visions of plump sausages and fluffy eggs dashed, I nonetheless enjoyed the bread and antipasto while greedily gulping coffee.
"You're American," a woman said with a hint of Boston in her voice and I smiled up at her from my seat. "Can I sit?" As she was already moving my coat aside and had settled her own coffee on the table, I nodded, deciding I rather liked her. So we chatted and she told me about her family while I finished my coffee and wished her luck on her shopping trip.
Feeling better once fed and caffeinated and having made a new friend, I smiled at my escort for today when he arrived and we set off to work. When we finished, early as expected, I dashed his plans at escaping babysitting duty and told him to take me downtown.
"I need to take pictures and look at pretty buildings," I insisted, though he'd instantly and manfully nodded in response to my demand. So I followed my colleague's example and bought a subway ticket and we chatted on the short trip. When we made our way back above ground, I caught my breath at the town hall and beamed at him.
"Perfect," I breathed, reaching in my jacket pocket where my camera waited. And throughout our walk, I chattered and snapped photos and asked him what signs said. I smiled and forgot that my feet hurt and my nose was cold and I was rather exhausted. "I'm so happy," I told him, patting his arm affectionately as we rode the train back to the rented car.
I have remembered only that one word that made me laugh so I decided to look it up once I got back to the hotel. It seems to mean an off-ramp or exit. Having through it was an actual place - some city or town - I smiled at the idea that it was a concept and wondered at the coincidence that I'd noticed it when I rather wanted to exit - in general - myself. So though I don't think Germany is going to be my favorite of the stops on this journey, I'm very glad I came.
I found all of them fascinating and lovely, giggling at stories, enjoying Chinese around a too-small table for lunch and chatting about complex topics and long-term dreams.
I sighed, happily enamored, as I settled myself in the backseat of the private car which would, courtesy of my colleagues, transport me to Heathrow. Like the cab ride in the morning, I sheepishly dug my camera from my bag to capture photos of the city, feeling hopelessly charmed and fascinated.
“Are we taking off shoes?” the man behind me asked as we inched forward in a painfully long line at security.
“I don’t know,” I replied, grinning at his American accent (which I’ll admit I first identified as a lack of an English one). “There doesn’t seem an obvious pattern.”
“I can’t figure it out either,” the man – this one younger – in front of me said, also clearly American in his speech. Even as I smiled politely at the man supervising the loading of bins, obediently settling my jacket over my laptop and moving through the metal detector, I thought that while I’m positively thrilled to be visiting, I’m no less happy with where I call home.
Germany is wonderful, I'm sure, but I haven't quite realized it yet. My hotel - the only one recommended by a colleague - hasn't the ambiance or charm or bathrobe and slippers of my previous temporary residences. I had a moment of panic on the plane at the first German I heard spoken, taking inappropriately and oddly back to filmstrips in school of WWII. But I've made it safely. If I didn't sleep well and face my Wednesday exhausted and a bit grumpy, I'm sure I'll see something pretty and be happy again soon enough.
Monday, January 18, 2010
I scurried across my lovely room a moment later, scooping up the two hangers and hung them in front of the pants, feeling better that the latter clothing wouldn't be lonely this way.
The first day I can claim 31 years was, for the most part, lovely. I was busy and felt productive. I learned a lot, some of which might help people. And all went right according to schedule, calming my frazzled nerves when I made my train to St. Pancras Station.
I slept, peaceful and deep, after having chicken tikka masala and many bottles of (still) water. When my iPod played Trip on Love, I first incorporated it into my dream but blinked my eyes open to see the hotel-supplied alarm clock, turned it off and closed them again.
Two hours later, I dumped water from the kettle on instant coffee and sipped gratefully. My brain, sulking for a moment that it was really 2AM, started to work and I got ready for my day. I trudged up the hills behind my host, scowling at his back when I had to wave aside another apology that we didn't take a taxi.
I snuck away to the toilet to cry once - medical procedures, regardless of how altruistic, with children break my heart. But I gulped back my tears, refreshed my make-up and went back in to the room and smile at the young mother, thinking I was older than she even before I turned 31, and told her newborn was beautiful.
I wrote pages of notes I was unable to transcribe because my Brookstone adapter smells alarmingly of burning electronics when I plug anything into it. I sheepishly borrowed an adapter from my current hotel, currently thinking said choice was very worthwhile. I read Practically Perfect on the train, finding it lovely even while I wished it was light out so I could coo at the scenery. I took a cab to my hotel downtown, checking in and sniffing absently at the soap. Last night, the plane was lavender; yesterday's hotel ginsing; tonight's lemon.
In the rare moments when I'm tired or nervous or out of sorts, I look around and think "I'm here!" and am happy.
"You should have done something special for your birthday," one of my customers said today.
"Oh, I am," I assured him. "I'm in England."
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Deciding it likely had a charm all its own and I was simply too tired to properly appreciate it, I was nonetheless grateful when the train sped through more picturesque scenes – fences on hillsides and stone buildings in the valleys. As I turned sideways in my seat, muscles protesting any position that wasn’t completely supine, I squinted in fierce concentration as I tried to decide whether the pretty boundaries seemingly placed at random were made of stone or wood. I grinned, ducking my head when I caught my reflection, when I saw sheep dotting the landscape and sighed, shifting in my seat and trying to soothe myself with the thought that I was nearly done with the hardest part of the travel on this trip.
Out of America
The drive to my parents’ had been smooth and uneventful. The short trip to their local airport was less so, Little One asking constant questions and Smallest One being quite vocal about her opinion that Aunt Katie was Not to Leave. They were both in tears by the time I tugged my heavy suitcase out of the back of the van and I checked in with aching heart and throat tight with sadness. I could not, I decided, as I cleared security and reassembled myself and my belongings, do this job if I had children.
The flight to O’Hare was late, leaving me rather twitchy with the worry that I’d not be able to get my international power adapters or local currency. It turned out I did both, with a lavender neck pillow and bottle of water as a bonus, and I boarded the flight and blessed American Airlines when most of the middle seats were left empty. I don’t do well on lengthy flights, though the one to Manchester was less than 7 hours, but feel the shifting and groaning and readjustment of my body into less torturous positions after hour 5 is aided when I don’t have an immediate neighbor. So, lavender wafting from my shoulders courtesy of my new pillow, I read and nibbled the food they brought, watched movies while trying desperately and futilely to sleep and waited until we landed.
I expected it to feel more different than it did, which seemed silly even as I moved briskly through the airport corridors toward passport control. I got to talk to the cute boy agent, reminding myself sternly to be unflappable and instead chattering like a chipmunk when I was charmed by his accent. Regardless, he let me in the country so, after asking directions to the train station and hoping I didn’t slip on rain-slicked sidewalks, I managed to print my prepurchased tickets and found the bus that replaced the construction-ridden train to Piccadilly. It took me a mere 4 minutes (I timed it) to frown at the mass of humanity waiting for said bus, all of us laden with luggage and looking rumpled and worse for wear after flights, before I gripped my suitcase once again and headed off to find a taxi.
I felt my shoulders slump at the prospect of carrying all my things back up the steps since the blasted escalator was broken, but squared my shoulders, set my mouth and bent to grab my suitcase. A man paused, having just lifted his suitcase and grinned at my expression before reaching for the larger of my two pieces.
“Oh,” I said, startled and more confused than I ought to have been, “you don’t have to…” Smiling at his “No trouble at all,” I scampered up the steps behind him and smiled my thanks, wanting to hug him when he bowed his head in return. Newly pleased with the country in general but wondering with some horror if I was starting to smell, I went out into the damp, cool morning and waved at a waiting driver.
“I’d like to go to Piccadilly Station,” I told him simply and waited for instructions.
“Would you like me to take you there?” he asked, already opening his door and coming round the odd car with the huge area between back seat and front and placing my luggage in before offering his hand to help me. I must have looked wobbly, I decided, making the modest step into the car and settling in. He chattered about how smart I was to take a cab rather than wait for the bus, discussing how I could get tea (or coffee, he allowed) and pastries before it was time for my train to depart. I waved and nodded when he made sure I understood his directions to the platforms, managing yet another flight of stairs (I’m afraid the country is in dire need of escalator reform) and going to find more water.
I remembered being there, in the bookshop, on my last trip to England so I smiled and went to find something to read. When nothing appealed, I selected a book by a Katie whose last name escapes me. Realizing with some dismay that she had several titles available, I debated mere moments before reaching for Practically Perfect, deciding the name fit the first day of my European adventure.
Oh, the hotel
Of all the places I’ve booked – in the center of London, on the island in Paris – I’ve anticipated this one the most. And it was lovely – at once charmingly friendly and elegantly attired. They sent me off upon arrival as they continued to deal with guests checking out before the 11AM deadline, but I returned not an hour later.
“I’m sorry,” I told the young man behind the glossy counter. “I’m exhausted and I can’t bear whiling away hours right now. It just hurts to think. So if I could get my smaller bag back, I’ll just sit over there in the corner and read. Until 1,” I concluded, though the thought nearly made me whimper. He settled me with some juice when I declined tea and coffee and I hadn’t even managed to figure out the wireless internet when he returned to say he’d found a vacant space I could have if I’d like to check in now.
I think I called him an angel – I’m certain I thought it – and followed him dutifully onto the lift and through the corridors (see what I did there? I’m using their words!) and into a positively wonderful corner room. Too thrilled to be much more than mildly confused when I couldn’t get the lights to turn on, I shrugged and showered in the diffuse light coming through the sheer curtains covering the tall windows in the bedroom. Blessedly clean, I battled to gain access to the internet before slipping out of the hotel robe and between soft, white sheets and falling deeply asleep.
I opened my eyes a couple of times to peer at the clock, stretch in the unexpected sunshine streaming through one window, and scold myself for screwing up my jet lag plan. Unfazed, I snuggled back into the perfect mattress and luxurious bedding and rested some more.
When I finally awakened – after an – I’m sure – ill-advised 3 hour nap, I called the desk to ask how to get online. Given the magical code, I sent a quick note home and took out the outfit I’ll wear tomorrow before shoving items back in my suitcase. I scampered to answer the knock at the door a few minutes later, happily accepting the cupcakes I ordered to celebrate my birthday tomorrow, and deciding to ask about the lights.
“I wondered what that was for,” I told her, when she placed my room key in the white slot just inside the door and every light bulb in the room immediately illuminated. I blinked at her, shrugging bashfully and thanked her. (Tricky British with your games and rules to turn on a lamp.)
Work begins in a mere 2 hours with dinner before the full day tomorrow. But I’m happy. I’m here. And so it begins.
Friday, January 15, 2010
I depart tomorrow afternoon for my trans-Atlantic flight and have been declining meetings and reminding people at every given opportunity that I'll be in Europe next week. And it sounds impossibly lovely each time. I'm spending time in London. Ending my trip in Paris. And when people say, "Oh, you're not going for fun?" I raise my eyebrows and remark that it's Europe and I'm profoundly grateful to be going for work. I don't have the $5,000 USD this is going to cost, frankly, and am not terribly good at taking vacations anyway.
So I've carefully written out my schedules. I've confirmed meetings with all the collaborators I'm eager to visit. I just re-packed for the third time, matching tops to bottoms to jackets to shoes and trying hard to pare down the load so I could carry on my suitcase and exquisitely-organized laptop bag. I'm so lucky and happy and excited about this!
I also happen to be sick with nerves and wishing rather desperately this was over already. Will I have trouble at customs or get caught in some embarrassing search scenario at security? Have I forgotten something about international travel that will trip me up. Will the Germans and French be kind enough to forgive me speaking barely a word of their respective languages? How Will I cope with the time difference? Will I be exhausted and cranky throughout this wonderful opportunity? My cold lingers - will my ears ache through the lengthy and numerous flights? What should I wear on the plane for maximum comfort? Will I be able to get adequate pounds and Euros at my connecting airport tomorrow?
I begin my drive home first thing tomorrow. I arrive in England Sunday morning and will post pictures at first opporunity. My plan - since I hardly flit off to Europe often (though the plan is to go once a year) - is to write and take photos and pick up small bits of prettiness that I can tuck away at home or give to people when I tell them about my time abroad.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
I like my job. I don't mind having priorities delivered from on high (to some extent). I do what I'm told and balance that with what I feel is important. And it generally works.
Except I'm sometimes a sucker. And when a poor, lost engineer comes to my door with pleas for help, I'll typically shrug and pitch in. So when I heard there was an urgent need to test a new piece of hardware, I nodded and said I'd support it. I joined three different meetings. I wrote out some tests that should be completed and added in the appropriate spots to initial and fill in some blanks.
Problem solved, yes? We have a change. We need to (1) test the change and (2) document the results. Check and check.
Except this turned into a system of two different teams refusing to sign off on the set of documents that were created from an approved fucking template. And you look at them when they talk and they shrug and say they've not done it this way before and wouldn't I rather use this other template? Or write this other justification? Or do it this way and that way and maybe the other way as well?
They blink at me when I glare my meanest glare and say "I don't care," in a hiss. "Just make up your mind! You've turned this into some horror show of ridiculous paperwork that does nobody any good! Just tell me what it takes to make you sign and I'll do it."
But they pushed my past my limit when - after saying they'd all sign - someone decided to change the approach again. So I thought, when I left work in a huff after snapping at more people, that I despise this part of my job and can't imagine ever being very good at it.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
It went well. I slept, read 3 books, showered, plucked my eyebrows and finished a single work thing that happened to be due yesterday. I wrote a blog post and basically enjoyed my freedom for the duration.
This morning, I got out of bed after sleeping poorly. I have this one spot on my left shoulder blade that twinges and aches. I do not know how I acquired this soreness but it's annoying and persistent. Still, I gathered up a week's worth of laundry and headed downstairs to start the washer. I read while the clothes tumbled through soapy water then hot air, folding them neatly to avoid wrinkles. That finished, I decided to tackle the snow I'd stubbornly ignored yesterday, dutifully following my snowblower as we swept up and down the driveway and sidewalks.
I encountered a very sad canine upon completion and grinned at her before clipping her leash on and setting off to follow her down the street to the park. As I stumbled and scrambled over ice and snow, I realized yesterday worked. I feel clearer, more tolerant, less scattered and unsettled. So I sent email and scheduled meetings, planned out my last week before leaving for Europe and realized the sick dread that held my attention last week has largely dissipated. Having accomplished all urgent items before 9AM, I decided to have one more day - a Not Really Day rather than a pure No Day - to rest and settle before heading back to battle tomorrow.
Saturday, January 09, 2010
Being wildly impatient and more than a little passionate, I tend to take a very direct approach to getting what I want. It is frustrating to me, therefore, that I get so offended when people figure me out so quickly. I think I have this image in my mind of who I'd like to be - elegant and refined, composed and steady. Yet I pull my hair into ponytails when I'm concentrating - meaning it's rarely down. I think a lot and say what I've decided. Then I argue over it as if it's the end of the world.
When I'm hurt, I'm vicious. I laugh too loud when I think something is funny. I blushed when I met a colleague who works remotely. I stood politely and he said something about it being jarring when a mental image doesn't align with reality. I laughed, thinking he was far shorter than I'd pictured him and he grinned immediately and widely. "I would have known you earlier had you laughed," he said. "It's my favorite part of phone calls you're on."
"Stop," Adam said softly when I was mid-conversation. Over the last 18 months, I've learned to trust him so I ceased speaking mid-sentence and scrambled to exit the conversation. I made my way to where my boss waited and we walked as he said I should relax. I'm open about knowing his new boss isn't all that impressed with me, finding it both disconcerting and hurtful. "First," Adam said, not unkindly, "you're overreacting - it's not that bad. Second, I don't want you singled out as a problem when you're anything but. So lay low, stay quiet and keep your head down." He raised his hand when I opened my mouth. "Just for a little while, Katie. I know it's hard for you. I need you to try."
Having given myself a firm pep talk yesterday morning before entering what promised to be a tense meeting with Adam, his new boss and several other players, I was relieved when our new leader didn't attend. I muted the line in Adam's office and bounced happily in my seat when he said I didn't have to be restrained. "This is stupid," I remarked immediately after unmuting the call. "We decided on this months ago and we still can't make progress! This is asinine." When Adam said we should revisit one of the first steps in a sequence of decisions, I stood up to shout at him. "No going backwards!" I exclaimed, hands on hips and glaring with all I was worth. "We made that decision - and several more afterward - and we are pushing through this final step - not backtracking to waste more meetings on this." Not twenty minutes later, having ranted and threatened until I was nearly exhausted, I had what I wanted.
I rather like throwing tantrums - it's consuming and exciting and what the hell else do I have? But they do wear me out. So I went to the cafeteria to get a candy bar.
"Hey," I greeted some colleagues as they sat at a table near the window. Sighing when seeing evidence of tears from one, I pulled out a chair, glanced at the clock and joined them. I was quiet while they talked, wanting desperately to advise that the wounded party confront and argue and explain. But she was so sad about the event and clearly afraid of what would come of such a conversation that I couldn't make myself do it. Instead, I reached out and patted her hand, curling my fingers around hers when she gripped my palm.
"You're like this," she said, nudging my Snickers with our joined hands.
"Nutty?" I asked, smiling at her.
"Sweet," she corrected and I squeezed her hand. On my way back to my office, I decided that being open to impatience and anger kept me emotionally available for sympathy and affection. And I value that.
"You're quiet," another colleague commented during a break of another lengthy meeting. I nodded and he grinned when I purposely didn't speak for a moment.
"I'm trying out a more gentle approach. Listen. Consider. Think."
"You do that," he said, looking confused. "And then you Speak. I'm missing the Speak." I nodded before thanking him but left the meeting confused about how I want to interact with people. Knowing there's a time and place, I was fine being known for being forthright and emotional about the work. It's sincere and comfortable and I hate to deviate from what has worked.
So what's best? When you think of people who tend toward being open - both professionally and personally - what would you advise?
Thursday, January 07, 2010
It all seemed too loud, tempting me to close my door though I steeled myself and left it ajar. I didn't grow worried until email failed to distract me. Instead of getting lost in the work - in the ebb and flow of questions and answers, projects and approvals - it grated at my attention, leaving me feeling scattered and vulnerable.
It was therefore no surprise that a new boss's boss stuck me as nearly unbearable. Coping with major changes in atmosphere and operating mechanisms was horrifying - I couldn't make my brain accept it with any grace and visibly struggled against it. Despite numerous pep talks, I've been defensive and overly sensitive to any suggestions. And the hammering of discussions and complaints, heavy email traffic and constantly ringing phones is making it hard to breathe.
I took a walk yesterday morning, clipping the leash to Chienne and making our way outside in the snow. Realizing I left my boots at work - I'm regularly forgetting details of late - I wore little canvas shoes as I pranced through the snow. I smiled at them as we walked, their bright pink color and happy white dotted pattern seeming ridiculous and wonderful against the slushy snow and ice that coated the sidewalks.
Realizing I'm spending a good deal of time with my head bowed when I get overwhelmed, I wore them to work, pairing them with a pink sweater in a halfhearted attempt at being businesslike. I hoped I would glance down and smile at the silliness. It backfired, feeling like I was attempting to draw attention rather than being nearly desperate to avoid it. Unable to go barefoot, I made my way through meetings with shifting times and problems of high urgency.
At noon, after another criticism-laden meeting with my new leader and two more phone calls that created massive amounts of overhead, I trembled and rested my head on my arms for a moment. Breathing deeply, I tried to settle - to decide what to tackle first, how to reschedule certain meetings, a method of coping. Instead, I canceled everything and came home around noon.
I kept my eyes on my shoes as I hurried through the building, hoping I'd not see anyone during my escape. I did, of course, and several of them stopped me to talk, making my nerves crackle with pain. Once outside, I barely checked the need to run but jogged the last few steps to my car before hurling myself inside and driving away. I came home and read a book. Slept. Opened my laptop to deal with the urgent issues in a place where I felt more calm and safe.
As for today, there is a Major Meeting and I'll struggle into a suit and sensible black shoes and make my way off campus to our designated location. I will be calm and friendly. I will try - very, very hard - not to take suggestions as personal attacks. But I can't figure it out - my perception is so very skewed right now that, even recognizing I'm not right, I can't figure out what's real and problematic and what's in my head and fleeting. Given that I'm making myself ill with nerves as I postpone getting dressed for my day, I suppose it's time to stop thinking of reasonable excuses and ready myself for work.
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
"I'll be there on the 18th," I reported to some colleagues. "That happens to be the day I turn 31!"
"You're 31?" one of them asked, blinking at me.
"No," I replied, blinking at him in return. "I'm 30. I turn 31 in a couple weeks." I smiled and patted his shoulder when he settled his forehead against the desk and lamented that he barely remembered being 30.
"To be young, brilliant and attractive," he sighed at me and I loved him a little for it.
Adam has a new boss. Said boss - while fantastic, I'm sure - makes me defensive and sensitive and very upset. I'm trying not to visibly bristle when he criticizes me. I know I work for him and must do as he says and gracefully accept his suggestions. But I'm not used to anyone questioning me. I hate feeling like I'm not good at the job I feel I've learned pretty well. So this is an unexpectedly difficult time.
It helps that I have redecorated my bedroom. I read an article on decluttering and making the master suite feel peaceful. So I rearranged furniture, put a bunch of stuff away and decided to move all my black and white prints to this room. I also tore down the blinds that clad my sliding doors and replaced them with cream crushed satin drapes framing taupe sheers. It looks like my window is wearing a fancy nightie. Between the lovely atmosphere and new flannel bedding in the cold, winter nights, I'm sleeping very well.
My precious project at work is getting less respect than it deserves. Which isn't that big a deal, but - on top of leadership shifts that affect me - makes me very sad. So I'm reminding myself that change - while unnerving - can be very positive. I'm carefully taking my pill each night and forcing myself to commute to the office each morning. And I know it will get better soon.
Saturday, January 02, 2010
I was happy, I realized, taking a moment to smile over it even as I moved to my office to collect my power cord, bits of data storage and notes. I removed a cart from a storage closet on my way by, tossing my items on the lower shelf and navigating the maze of hallways as I collected equipment on my way to the labs. Swiping my card, I gained entry into central space and remembered that I'd reserved the most coveted of labs to begin my work.
Leaving my cart and tucking my card in the pocket of my jeans, I moved to collect more material. I dutifully recorded my name in the logbooks for the expensive devices, carting them with me even as I wrinkled my nose at the safety glasses I was to wear. Glancing left and right down the long hallway, labs still and locked on either side, I shrugged and decided against protective gear. Holidays, I decided, peering into the delightfully empty rooms I all too rarely have the opportunity to inhabit, have their uses.
Nary an email arrived as I carefully consulted my notes and set up the experiments, arranging equipment to my satisfaction before beginning to program the computer that waited at the large, marble counter. I wriggled into the comfortable chair, considering and discarding the desire to steal it for my office, and was pleased no customers or colleagues were there to disturb my project. There were no comments on my choice of attire, for the replacement of pants and sweaters with jeans and the t-shirt I slept in were even more uncommon than the sneakers that currently adorned feet normally clad in something prettier.
Once settled, I opened the spreadsheet I'd been populating over FW52 and began to acquire data. And it was lovely. I nearly wrote 'inexplicably lovely' but my sense is that far more people than I have felt that shiver of happy productivity when executing an experiment well designed, paper neatly outlined or other job much loved. There was little more to do than push buttons and record measurements for the next 2 hours so I aligned a tube of lip gloss with an uncapped water bottle and my opened laptop and grinned, utterly pleased with myself, my job and the world.
Some 5 hours later, I checked the time in the third lab I'd visited that day, loving that I could move from space to space at will but beginning to despise the virus causing my severe congestion and headache. Shrugging when I realized it'd been merely 2.5 hours rather than the prescribed 4, I took two more tablets and wished very hard for relief. Most other labs, while often busy, were not as luxurious as my starting spot for the day. Sturdy tables replaced marble countertops and custom cabinetry. Machines roared and hummed next to the operator rather than being carefully tucked away so as not to disturb visitors to our labs. Glancing at Outlook, I decided mechanical noise was far better than email traffic and attempted to recover my earlier mood.
Looking at the hundreds of rows I'd entered into a spreadsheet, I tried to summon some feeling of accomplishment. I reminded myself that I'd not delegated this particular project for a reason. Questions around this topic have followed me since very early in my graduate career so when they resurfaced for the business, I eagerly volunteered to write test plans and review literature. When Adam noted that's not really what managers do here - it was more a science project than a customer-facing or product-driven activity - I pouted and cajoled and pointed out how much I do for the group until he, with rolled eyes, granted permission.
I recalled, sitting there yesterday afternoon, that the question that was asked at many interviews was pretty easily talked around simply because finding the answer involved a tremendous amount of work - a huge number of systems and exhaustive data collection. Very precise test plans and tedious acquisition steps. There was a ridiculous amount of variability that required a large number of carefully controlled steps. Given that, historically, my thinking doesn't get comprehensive until I'm actually looking at data, I wasn't willing to sacrifice some poor soul to days of acquiring data that I'd look at, say oops and send him back to get something different.
Guilt-free, I added acquisitions as they occurred to me, neatly updating my notes. I tried several different analyses to convince myself my sampling approach was reasonable. Queasy from multiple doses of cold relief tablets and no calories from the water I'd been drinking, I plodded back to the restrooms at the back of the labs and realized the soft thud of my sneakers on the tile floors sounded tired. My ponytail looked sad and straggly; comfy t-shirt stained from carrying equipment cradled in my arms and pressed to my tummy as I transported it. My sweatshirt, half unzipped when oncoming fever made me chilly, hung nearly off my right shoulder and, peering into the mirror, I realized I'm beginning to look a bit old without my normal moisturizer and make-up routine.
"You're lucky you don't have a family," Cousin said tiredly on Christmas. "With my new job, the hours are so long and the work so intense that I'm desperate to find the energy for home that I need." I nodded, thinking my sacrifices different. I dealt with the loneliness that ebbs and flows in exchange for a more modest guilt at neglecting loved ones. I had abandoned my parents at home in favor of the luxurious freedom of open labs at work on the January 1st holiday. It's all trade offs, I decided as I walked back to the lab and sat down to finish, wincing at the aches in my shoulders from slouching over computers all day. (I get physically closer to interesting information so my poor posture is, at times, due to leaning forward in fascination.)
Finishing the last of the first acquisitions, I checked my calendar for the times I'd reserved next week to do some re-tests. I closed my notes and unplugged my laptop. I made piles of what went back to my office and what came home before retracing my steps to sign equipment back in, replace items I'd borrowed and check that all spaces were secured. Finally, jacket zipped and bag on my shoulder, I walked from the building into the afternoon sunshine sparkling off drifts of snow.