Monday, May 31, 2010

Does your head hurt when your brain's sad?

Making a grumbling sound to match my scowl, I pulled myself from the corner of the loveseat and shuffled across the room, responding sullenly to the summons of the telephone.

"Fine," I replied to Mom when she said the egg in the crisper was for salads - hard-boiled and ready for dicing.

"Fine," I answered when she asked how I was, knowing she would interpret that I've declined rapidly over the afternoon. They left mid-morning and work grows closer with every passing moment.

"Fine," I sighed when she said she was going to make an appointment for me next week. Her questions, comments, scraped against my consciousness and I wanted only for her to go away. To smooth on metaphorical lotion that would soothe the incessant itch of communicating.

She let me go a moment later and I fumbled to replace the phone in its cradle. The ache in my head, switching sides in disconcerting patterns hurt less than the one in my lower back. I want to sleep but struggle to find peaceful rest and comfortable positions, regardless of how frequently I adjust pillows. So I swallow medicine that drugs me to sleep, enjoying the oblivion nonetheless.

Despite the closed blinds and dimming sunlight, I came downstairs to recline on my comfortable couch, sinking into the old cushions much as I'm re-descending into depression after poking my head out briefly for the weekend.

I must spend tomorrow in presentations, most of which are my own. I then travel to see important customers before taking meetings with the leadership to end the week. It hurts to think of it. Literally. I feel my stomach clench warningly and pressure increase behind my eyes. Anxiety creates lists of excuses, none of which are plausible, and I fret over whether or not I'll be able to get out of the house.

Maturity - years of suffering through this and clawing my way out - have indicated I must keep it simple.

1. Wake up.
2. Brush teeth, put on bra.
3. Take dog for walk.
4. Shower - do not wash hair.
5. Dress - wear... something. I need to figure that out as it could send me back to bed if I struggle tomorrow. A dress - the black and cream. That's easiest.
6. Pack bag.
7. Give dog treats.
8. Drive to work.

Once I'm in the car, habit will get me to the office. Then it's just a matter of staying distracted enough that I can stay there.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Plot line

Aimless, I walked through the aisle between gates, searching for a quiet spot to sit. I peeked behind the pretzel stand at A13 and something about the dim, quiet area spoke of sanctuary.

My plan had been quite different, consisting of meetings in the morning and sightseeing in the afternoon. Instead, I fought with the headache and upset stomach that, for me, come when trying to push through a depressing episode. I put in an appearance, looked awful and couldn't bear the attention and soon returned to my room. Increasingly anxious, I asked and received a late check-out and slept fitfully until my wake-up call.

Fretting over what to do with the 8 hours until my flight, I mapped a formerly-tempting location and set off in my rental car. After 40 minutes in traffic, I touched Garmin and revised my location to a gas station near the airport. I failed to find the first two suggested, but filled my tank at the third and, with no small amount of relief, dropped my car and caught the shuttle to my terminal.

I checked in, nodding when the clerk blinked with surprise at my early arrival and apologized for not having a more convenient flight. I waved a hand and smiled weakly, making my way through security and waiting my turn at the metal detector. I approached the tiny shop with trepidation, in desperate need of novels for hours of distraction. I frowned over the selection of paperbacks, plucking several from the shelves and replacing them after reading descriptions, feeling myself begin to panic over what I'd do for the next 6+ hours.

I had been turning a book in my hand when I saw another, this one taller in stature and by an author I enjoy. I opened it to read the inside flap and sighed with relief. I debated on whether to buy just the second in the quartet of novels or grab the second and third. Rapid calculations landed both in my bag after a smile and signature for the clerk. I picked up a slice of pizza and large soda and settled in at A13, all alone with my story and snack.

I relaxed into a simple plot and lovely sentence structure and looked up with dismay to find the area had filled with people waiting to board the plane outside. I tried again to relax but the conversations interrupted. Picking up my bag, book safely tucked inside, I went in search of another spot. Searching behind corners, I located one where noise came from people on television rather than live and I settled there with the thought of giving people a chance to leave and reclaiming my former place soon.

Finishing the book and my watch, I decided to head to the restroom and check my flight status, unsurprised when it was delayed. I felt my phone vibrated, answered, and talked to Adam. My voice trembled then I cried and I hung up with orders for him not to worry. Unsettled, I returned to A13 and sat quietly, delving into my next book and letting the words ease my worry.

I eventually joined the crowd at my gate and continued to read. I boarded the plane and continued to read. I closed the cover just as we were descending and sighed. The trip, pure misery, was over. And books, as ever, had saved me.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Short Skirts, Stick Shifts & Slippery Slopes

“Katie,” he chastised gently as his meeting ended and the next was due to begin, “it’s an important set of guidelines they’re deciding. You should go.”

“I have things to do,” I protested softly.

“Who doesn’t?” he replied.

“I don’t know where it is,” I tried again and was soon folding myself into his sports car when he instructed me to ride with him.

I crossed my ankles and fastened my seat belt, glancing around with amusement at all the gadgets within and upon his dashboard. He began plugging some of them in – GPS, radar detector, iPod, cell phone – and I raised my eyebrow in mute condescension while he grinned in response. While undeniably brilliant, my impression of this particular colleague is that he’s unruffled. Questions fail to fluster. Arguments elicit calm explanations rather than heated replies. Problems are treated as commonplace and with a maturity I can’t help but envy.

I shifted my legs over, making sure to keep the hem of my dress somewhat modestly placed as he reached to shift.

“It’s not an automatic,” I offered rather stupidly, having watched his hand descend, change gears and return to the wheel. He took his turn at raising an eyebrow in mute condescension and I grinned back at him, rather enjoying the exchange.

We chatted about the Gulf Coast and his children, his travel plans (family vacations) and mine (all business all the time). Then he asked how I was doing.

“Fine,” I replied quickly – it’s my standard answer of late. I watched him shift again, thinking more men should drive manual transmissions, and shrugged. “I’m going through my Travel Time right now – every year tends to have this intense period in the spring. And I get tired. I love hotels but I start missing home. It’s hard to arrange my parents to sit with my pets so much. I feel like I can’t get anything done at work because I’m always catching up with the urgent things I missed. So I’m going through a bit of a ‘My life is so awesome but slightly difficult’ phases.”

“I don’t know how you guys travel so much,” he replied, shaking his head. I shrugged in response, wishing I had an answer for how to make it effortless. But I attended the meeting. I offered all of two comments throughout the 6 hours we spent in a room and caught up on email in the corner. The high point of the day was admiring the way my new white shrug matched my black and white dress in the mirror on the bathroom wall. Then I tugged at my hem because the dress really does flirt with being too short.

“You seemed quiet,” he pointed out when we were once again arranged in his tiny car, speeding back to the office through the muggy late afternoon. I glanced at him, drawn from my silent debate of whether or not the dress was appropriate, leaning toward ‘yes’ because of the heat and humidity, but worried that I looked trashy rather than cute.

“Not much to say,” I replied, trying for a smile. We lapsed back into silence while he began fiddling with his gadgets, finally playing music so I could stare at the window and realize that I hadn’t want to be noticed. I don’t want to be in trouble or invite criticism. I’m feeling fragile and afraid, dreading the return of phone calls or angry emails or customers who won’t be soothed by my mediocre charm.

I took my pill when I got home, settling on my loveseat to watch television, eat dinner and hope I wasn’t slipping into a depressing episode. When my bedroom grew uncomfortably warm in the glaring sunshine this morning, I went downstairs, unable to summon the energy to take a hopeful Chienne for a walk. Instead, I descended further – finding myself in the cool, dark basement where I spent the entire morning and the beginnings of the afternoon. I watched the series on how women kill their husbands – Snapped, I think it’s called – and cuddled with my dog.

She started to whimper after we had cheese and crackers for lunch.

“I know I’m nervous,” I told her. “I have bad energy – I’m sorry. But I don’t want to go. I don’t want to wear a suit and talk to people. I don’t want to listen, regardless of how interesting and relevant the topics. I’m afraid.”

She rested her head on my knee, single seeing eye rolling upward to look at me while I blinked back tears. “I didn’t get my oil changed. I didn’t pick up more eye drops for you. I didn’t go to that meeting or make that phone call. I hid in the basement and I desperately want to do that some more.”

Instead, I forced myself into clothes and pulled my hair back. I shoved stuff in a bag, hoped it was suitable, and climbed in my car, battling hard against the excuses that I might give if I went back inside and skipped this trip east. I focused on breathing, almost hitting another car when I failed to notice it merging and going the wrong way down an aisle in a familiar parking deck, wondering why all the spots were angled wrong and so hard to park in.

I was a little surprised when I boarded the plane, finding my aisle seat and scowling at the guy who was taking precious overhead space for the laptop bag that would have fit underneat the seat in front of him. I predicted I would back out, make a series of excuses and return to the quiet basement to view murder plots with vague interest. Instead, I’m watching puffy clouds out the window beside me, tapping on my keyboard as I try to distract myself from overwhelming anxiety.

I drove north through light traffic, reaching my destination far sooner than I expected. But I got miserably lost trying to find the hotel, due to poor directions from an admin I cursed soundly as I searched without finding the hotel. The front desk girl failed to properly register me, resulting in a stranger walking into my room as I was changing - so I called and yelled at her. Then my internet wouldn't work, again because I wasn't registered right, and I begged for calm before calling again, remaining polite and not once saying, "how the fuck hard could this possibly be?!" So if I wondered how I'd do as the plane headed east and felt some hope that the answer would be "OK" as the car headed north, the answer once I'm here is "pretty freaking bad."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Self Propelled

My old lawnmower, purchased at the same time as my former house, was green. My new one, acquired all of three weeks ago, is red. In addition, it has front wheel drive, leaving me only to prance behind it as it chugs through the grass rather than shoving it up hills and around corners as I clip the weeds that comprise much of my lawn.

I decided it made the chore much more pleasant this morning, my first time using the device. I followed along, watching with satisfaction as the unruly landscape was trimmed in the swirly lines I used to avoid the trees, bushes and flower beds on my little corner of the world. Chienne watched, sneezing with me a couple of times as dandelion fluff swirled after stems were mowed down, and barked her displeasure when I moved to the front yard, leaving her fenced in back.

The front has more slope and, over and over, I braced myself to push before remembering that the mower would pull itself upward. I would blink with delight and follow along, letting my muscles relax before waving the bugs away from my face. I got bored long before I was tired, crowing to Chienne that I'd finished the whole lawn quite quickly. Then I grabbed a bottle of water before getting back to my laptop and the work that waited.

It's getting easier as well - travel is less exhausting, customers less intimidating and more enjoyable, colleagues more familiar and predictable. Yet in the rare moments when I've been alone in my office this week, it's not feeling all that effortless.

"You're doing a good job," Adam offered, looking at me with concern when my expression edged toward despondent after his typical list of projects and priorities for me. "We're not meeting because I'm unhappy," he explained when I didn't respond. "I just need you to look at a few more areas within the next couple months."

"No," I said, waving a hand. "It's not that. I'm fine. You're fine. All these projects are fine - I'm happy to help. Honestly. I'm just feeling a little..." I trailed off, looking for the word. I'm not angry, though I did offer a prolonged honk at the gentleman who turned in front of me when I had the green arrow, switched lanes to get in my way, then stopped to turn left. (He was wrong to do it! Honking helps him learn.) I'm not really sad, though I have cried over television shows this week.

"Listless," I finally decided. "I'll snap out of it soon, I'm sure." Then I offered a weak smile and returned to my office and slumped in my chair. I am dutifully making lists and attending meetings. I have argued - bitterly, in fact - over technology under development. I use my sweetest phone voice when talking to customers. I made reservations for my third European trip this year and was momentarily giddy that I get to go again. But as I marked down my airlines and flight times for the trips that will comprise most of the next 4 weeks, I felt the vague desire to go home. Then I battled the urge to escape. Yet I watched the clock carefully, the afternoon dragging on despite my efforts to be distracted and busy.

I'd try to come up with some meaningful ending, but I've been working on this for 2 days and am exhausted because I can't sleep well. And it just seems hard.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Baseball & Beer

"I finished my beer!" I proudly proclaimed, not being a particularly big fan of the beverage but having dutifully acquired enough of a taste that I can keep from wincing when I am called to consume it.  I suppose I remember the childhood dread when Dad would get drunk at sporting events - the fear of embarrassment if he'd offend someone or yell at us for some mistake.  In retrospect, it was likely an overreaction to very rare altercations, but for quite some time, I couldn't bear the smell of yeast (unless it smelled like bread - bread has always been friendly for me).  But as I perched on a stool with colleagues who had gone to the beer only fast line, I sipped my ale and mostly succeeded in liking it.  

"Want another?" the waitress offered and I shook my head in vehement refusal before calming down and thanking her for the offer.  

We wandered across the street and joined the line of humanity streaming into the ballpark and I frowned at the crowd even as I admired the building.  We made our way to our seats along the first baseline and I was pleased to see we were covered by the upper deck, the drizzling rain unable to reach us except for on random gusts of wind.  

I'm not a big fan of baseball in that I don't follow any particular team, don't care much who wins or loses and will likely change the channel if it's on television.  I won't, however, turn down an invitation to go to a game, finding it both aesthetically pleasing and generally soothing.  So I snuggled in between two of my colleagues and watched.

"When do we sing?" I asked in the 7th inning.  I explained to the man on my left that I was ready for Take Me Out to the Ballgame and gasped with horror when the man on my right said they might skip it to do Sweet Caroline.  "The 7th inning stretch is for Take Me Out to the Ballgame.  We must sing, as our forefathers have sung, about the peanuts and Cracker Jacks! Such a wonderful, historical city would not screw with such a tradition," I insisted.  "So help me God," I muttered warningly. 

I grinned when the music started after the 3rd out and we all stood to sing, having missed our first opportunity as we were finishing nachos and beer across the street during the National Anthem.  They did Sweet Caroline a bit later - which was very cute - and I found it perfectly acceptable as long as it didn't fall in the 7th inning stretch portion.

I did root, root, root for the home team and they did win (so it wasn't a shame).  As I waited for everyone to finish visiting the restroom, I remembered sitting with Grandpa and singing the song with the people on television.  He would, I recalled with some effort since I had been little, drink beer from a bottle and berate the umpire for bad calls.  He'd tell me stories and we'd sing songs and it was comfortable and wonderful.  

Baseball is, for me, a rather nostalgic experience.  And I think it was a reasonably good game. 


Much as I anticipated the trip, I rather expected some level of disappointment. After my New York experience, there was a general chance that I would be left unmoved by another great east coast city. Yet I found myself infatuated on the cab ride to the hotel and have grown increasingly affectionate toward a very walkable, approachable and lovely location.

It could have been the weather - while New York City was drenched in rain that made my walk cold and uncomfortable, followed by a delayed flight and miserable migraine, Boston proved warm and sunny with accommodatingly cool breezes that made lengthy walks a pleasure. The comparison was further confounded by a leisurely trip this time - several nights in a lovely hotel and rather gentle class schedule - versus the intense in @ morning, out @ night day we forced in New York.

I found the city to be unselfconsciously patriotic, but in the way that celebrated the past and recognized the problems. There seemed, at least in the parts of Boston where I spent time, to be a sense of quiet intellect and social awareness that was present but not aggressive. Bookshops were easy to find and busy without being crowded. Even the thickest accents struck me as charming and despite the many pockets of floral blooms that I admired, the city seemed filled old trees, creating a genteel green backdrop for the buildings old and new.
"You didn't tell me I had crumbs all over me," the vendor accused and I returned his smile as he brushed at his shirt. "I got a hot dog earlier," he offered, "but then I was busy and didn't have time to eat all of it. I was gonna throw it out but then I thought of all the people who don't have enough and felt too guilty not to finish it. But it had gotten all crusty from sitting out so I crunched up the bun in the wrapper and the outside fell off."

I nodded, dropping my change into his tip bucket.

"It was delicious," he told me. "I should do it again - it was so good."

"You do good things," I quoted from television, "and good things happen to you."

So while I look forward to going home - as I always do - it's been a very good trip. If you've not been before, I highly recommend a visit - the people and places are delightful and the seafood chowders and bisques are fabulous bonuses.

Bellinis, Baby.

Katie could be, in the strictest sense, a nickname.  I have, however, always used it exclusively, my oblivion to the use of my legal name simply due to the fact that it's nobody uses it.  Apart from that, I'm not generally graced with pet names.  Conversely, I use them a lot - my general affection for people expressing itself in kiddos, sweethearts and dearests.  

He calls me baby, something I don't believe anyone has done before, just before we embrace and make kissing noises.  Though we interact rarely, I've always been fond on this particular colleague, smiling broadly when I saw his name on the attendee list.  We met a group for dinner last night, I being the only female (which isn't all that unusual), and he curled up next to me on the sofa along one side of our table while we discussed mixed drinks and watched our companions sip manly martinis.  

I leaned against him as we looked around, poking his arm approvingly and grinning when he told me he worked out.  I giggled at stories, unconcerned about not knowing all the inside jokes.  Instead, I enjoyed being a temporary member of a long-established group of guys who obviously found each other hilarious.  

Already tipsy, I tucked my hand through his elbow as we navigated the bumpy sidewalks to our dinner destination, commenting that the rain was so pretty and hoping they offered us bread immediately so my head would stop spinning.   There was bread - with butter! - and I happily began drinking again, my bellini not as bubbly as I liked but otherwise peachy.  We laughed until my stomach hurt and I controlled my sympathy as lobsters were delivered around my stuffed shrimp, not patting the claws sadly as I wished to do. 

"I'm done for tonight," I offered as they decided which bar to visit next and we ended the evening with hugs and handshakes (one of us was more conservative than the rest, which I don't mind at all though it's easier to make me love you if we hug).  Not offering to walk me back to the hotel (which I would have declined, but still), they set off in the opposite direction.  

"Bye, baby," he called and I turned to smile and wave before placing my feet carefully again and moving toward my room.  I'm battling a headache in addition to congestion this rainy morning, but I'm counting it well worthwhile.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

By Sea or By Foot

The water was my goal for the day, so I clad my feet in flip flops and set off for the harbor.  I purchased my boat ticket and checked my watch to see that I had a bit of time before boarding.  I wandered the wharfs, admiring the sparkle of sunlight on water and the petals of flowers that fluttered in the pleasant breeze.  More sensibly, I went to purchase sunscreen and a pomegranate pear juice and greeted the crew 15 minutes before our scheduled departure before perching happily in a seat in the sun.  

I breathed the briny scent of the ocean, thinking it perfect since my earliest memories of the ocean are of the Atlantic in Florida.  I shivered happily as we released the ropes and set off on our narrated journey, replying to direct comments and questions until my colleagues left me to my thoughts as the vessel rocked gently as it moved through the water.  I practiced a vague sort of meditation, letting my mind clear and focusing on my breath and the movement of the boat and the waves in the water.   I even took photos sparingly - watching the prettiness but not feeling the compulsion to capture a piece of it for later.  

I followed the group through the cobblestone sidewalks, enjoying clam chowder so ridiculously good I almost couldn't stand it and smoothing on more sunscreen before traipsing across town to look at more buildings and dutifully participate in group activities. 

After several miles (did I mention I'm losing weight with all the sightseeing?  My life is so good right now!), the tops of my feet were sore from the rubbing of the straps on my shoes.  I frowned down at them, determined to embrace the experience and enjoy the historic buildings and gorgeous weather.

"My feet hurt," I finally confided to the man beside me which sparked a not unsympathetic discussion on pretty versus comfortable footwear.  While I conceded that heels often do hurt me - my arches ache and soles swell - flip flops are generally kind to me.  "These," I offered conversely, "are new and they rub in an odd spot.  But I bought them because my sneakers were hurting my heels." 

Deciding that was the lesser of two evils, when we stopped back at home base, I slipped on socks and renewed my relationship with Reebok.  I'm fond of shoe stories - I don't know if my feet are odd sized or that I'm intolerant of pain there, but I often think about footwear and how it can serve as a vehicle to discuss progress and change. 

The trick that I've learned - especially while traveling - is to take multiple pairs of shoes and to select each pair carefully for form and function.  If you need pumps, bring the most comfortable pair.  If you're going to be walking, take sandals and sneakers - both are likely to hurt but it will be in different places so switching will offer relief.  I've likewise learned to be adaptable in my interactions with people - a trait this class emphasizes in some interesting ways.  We are to learn what motivates people - be they customers or colleagues - and understand how we can merge goals for mutual progress. 

"So," I offered as an example, "I wanted my feet to stop hurting and Joe wanted me to stop talking about how my feet hurt.  So he should have carried me and we'd have been all set!"

Joe frowned before saying I should consider the implicit desires of people, like not carrying colleagues through city streets. 

"You could have been quiet," someone offered unhelpfully, making me smile before asking how that helped my feet not hurt. 

"Barefoot," another colleague suggested and I considered it, thinking rather happily about walking across the grass without shoes before wrinkling my nose at the thought of stepping on sidewalks in a similar fashion.  We went through a series of options before returning to a more reasonable example and I realized that, despite the initial general dread, I quite enjoy training once it's started.  

Monday, May 17, 2010


"Nice job," she offered and I jumped in response as I was putting my camera back in my pocket.  I turned to apologize, assuming I'd done something wrong - that the tip of my flip flop got too far on church grounds or that I'd blocked her path when I rejoined the pedestrians on the sidewalk.  While I sorted through what I did to deserve the sarcastic statement, I looked at her - a tall woman around my age who was far prettier than I - to find her smiling brightly at me.  I let my lips curve tentatively in return, generally happy to smile at people, even when confused.  

"You got the light," she explained, tilting her head toward the flowers I'd paused to photograph, the setting sun illuminating them from the west and casting interesting shadows.  

"Oh," I said, beginning to relax even as I trotted to keep up with her.  "It's most interesting in the morning and evening," I offered.  "But it changes so quickly that it's more luck than skill to catch the right moment."

"But you did," she smiled.  "My roommate and I live near here and we've kept track of the church gardens."  Then she started naming flowers and when they had begun blooming, carefully tended by the church staff.  "I didn't know those had gotten so full," she explained, "but I stopped when I saw you taking the picture and it was a moment of real beauty - the way the sun hit the flowers and the colors against the stone walls.  Great photo."

I thanked her and nodded when she said she'd have to bring her roommate back and try to catch the light again.  Then I waved as she sped her strides again, wishing me a good evening as she went toward home and I wandered to meet my dinner companions.  

As is typical, I was earlier than my group and felt moderately guilty about taking up a prime table for 4 when those without reservations were being turned away.  Deciding to take a lesson from my flower friend, I attempted to relax and enjoy the moment.  I ordered a champagne cocktail to sip while I waited, the peach flavor that made it a bellini offering a hint of sweetness to the bubbly drink.  

While I waited and sipped, I pulled my camera from my pocket and examined the display.  It was a pretty photo, I decided, but the white flowers were too bright.  People who are happy, I decided, would likely tell me it was a decent effort - enjoy the colors and contrast, thinking it lovely that someone had paused to chat in the shadows of an old church.   I'm happy, I realized, grinning at my waiter when he brought bread and telling him the drink was perfect.  Then I resolved to express that more effectively. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010


My last trip occurred about 5 years ago.  I recall cathcing my breath as we circled for landing, admiring the bits of land and sea as the plane drew closer to the ground.  I met a driver at baggage claim, feeling terribly adult and quite nervous as we made our way through tunnels toward town.  I checked into a hotel with equations printed on a throw, a robot standing sentry in the hall, and was so impressed I could barely stand it.

I asked about places to see as I navigated the interview process, my version of small talk being "the city seems nice - what should I do while I'm here?"  What I did, in fact, was head back to curl up under the equations, sleeping fitfully as I prepared to fly to my next interview.  As I flew away from the scenic spot on the east coast, I felt much like I did when leaving LA a few years later - a bit melancholy because I knew it wasn't home and doubted I'd be back.

I have eagerly anticipated my return since learning of the opportunity, feeling blessed that I get to travel to amazing places and not pay for anything other than keepsakes.  Photos are free though so I spend a good deal of time wandering around and soaking in the scenery.  Some smart commenter noted that I seem happiest outside and I thought it rather insightful.  I rarely explore buildings (other than cooing over my hotel room - I love, love, love hotels) from the inside, peering instead at my map in a quest to cover as much ground as possible.

Having arrived and downgraded my room type to check in early (always happy to do that - I hate checking luggage and not being able to freshen up when I arrive), I decided I was hungry.  So I ordered room service while I unpacked and got settled.  Then I decided I was a little tired.  And I didn't feel great.  Tempted mightily to lie down on the fluffy bedding and nap, I nudged the sheers aside and looked out my window at an undeniably gorgeous day.  Packing my map and camera, I dutifully set out to explore.

I got lost, of course, finding myself between Washington and Franklin, then Summer and Winter, before giving up.  But my impression of this American city - apart from delight that I can take a direct flight, not check bags and not need my passport - is that it possesses a sort of timeless and effortless elegance.  Flowers bloomed tastefully.  People were clothed comfortably - stylish and pretty but the colors were pleasantly muted and, even when I started to look, I failed to find a single person looking trashy.  I approved even as I felt intimidated, settling carefully on a green bench in the pretty park and smiling at the dogs as they trotted by and the children ignoring the signs while they fed the ducklings. 

I skipped over the stately shops, knowing I brought plenty of clothes and reminding myself that I'm trying to finish the last of my credit card debt.  I was not strong enough to withstand the bargains though, nudging people for space and rifling through racks at Filene's and ending up with a couple of tops, two new bras and a necessary pair of flip flops (my sneakers were giving my Stockholm blister a new layer of painfulness).  Pleased with my purchases, I sniffled and limped my way back to my pretty room. 

My class lasts most of this week, albeit with people I vaguely know and have decided to like a whole bunch and with a good amount of downtime that I hope enables me to watch some baseball and get on a boat.  I'll keep you updated as time permits.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Delightfully Debonair

I paused, trying to think of a suitable word for him. I let the conversation drift around me, paying enough attention that I could contribute if called to do so, and leaned a bit closer to the object of my current interest, thinking him beyond lovely.

Debonair, I decided suddenly, grinning with pride when I realized the fit perfect and causing his lips to curve in response when he looked in my direction. I shook my head when he lifted an eyebrow in elegant inquiry and his gaze held mine steady for another moment before he returned his attention to the meeting that occurred around us. I offered remarks when necessary, more often finding myself admiring his long fingers and heavy cuff links.

"I should have worn a tie," he noted, extending a hand to help me from my chair when the group dispersed, leaving only me to linger near him.

"You're perfect," I breathed before I could think better of it, blushing a far deeper color than the pale pink shirt he wore under a gray suit. He thanked me, calling me darling as is his habit, and treated the whole exchange casually. I decided people around him routinely practice admiration and contented myself, for a while at least, to being one of an adoring crowd.

"There's loverboy now," Adam teased last night. I would have regretted my tipsy confession of infatuation were it not so glaringly obvious otherwise. Normally sweet and friendly, I found myself unable to resist falling all over myself in front of this particular man.

"Hi," I beamed as he crossed the room to greet the group around me. Adam echoed my greeting in a high but soft falsetto, leaving me to nudge him aside so I could drift closer to our newcomer with all the subtlety of a bulldozer.

"Hello, darling," he replied to my greeting gallantly and I tilted my face up to receive a kiss on my cheek. I tucked my hand through his arm, thinking I should be embarrassed about my uninhibited displays of affection in front of colleagues. I abandoned the group without a second thought to follow my companion to a table, sitting too close to him even as he tilted his head toward me to converse.

He was irresistible, I decided. The way he put words together, the subtle scent of his skin, the way his hands moved to emphasize certain statements - a wave for disdain, an upward facing palm when he asked an insightful question. It was with no small amount of disappointment that I interrupted him a bit later, placing fingers that are neither elegant nor expressive on the sleeve of his expensive jacket to tell him my bosses were waiting for him across the room.

"Until later, then," he offered, patting my fingers soothingly. I smiled bravely as he moved smoothly away.

"I love him," I sighed to Adam when he took the seat a moment later and grinned as he laughed at me. "It's ridiculous," I said, spell fading as the distance increased though I continued to watch him as he crossed the room. "But I feel the need to make an absolute fool of myself around him."

"I noticed," he teased and I giggled.

"I don't even care," I said with a shake of my head, hair arranged in careful curls since I'd primped shamelessly before the meeting. "I want to sit too close and flutter my eyelashes - I'm even wearing mascara," I turned to face him more fully so he could see, grinning when he rolled his eyes. "I want to tell him he's brilliant and funny, has excellent taste in clothes and a perfect haircut."

"Good Lord," Adam interrupted.

"I know," I said. "But do you see how pretty he is? How debonair?"

"Not my type," he replied easily. "But I could get you a napkin if you're going to drool."

I remembered that statement as the evening drew to a close, making my way through the crowd of women three deep on each side so I could say goodbye, wondering if we should have handed out bibs since there was a widespread desire to just eat him up.

"I wanted to say good night," I offered, grateful for the hand he placed on my arm when I stumbled (pretended to stumble - whatever) a bit and moved closer. "I have an early morning so I should be going."

"Always wonderful to see you," he smiled, pulling me closer and I shamelessly slid my arm around his waist and pressed against him.

"You're popular," I teased, watching him dip his head a bit and shrug helplessly at the crowd of females clustered around him. "Everyone who meets you tells me how wonderful you are - which I obviously know. I'm going to have find another favorite if your throng of admirers keeps growing."

"Don't you dare, darling," he replied immediately, tightening the arm he hand around me. Alliteration, I thought, wondering if it would be overkill to swoon. Just before I swore a solemn oath to cherish the very thought of him until my dying breath, forsaking all gestures of dignity, I smiled and stood on tiptoe to brush a kiss across his cheek before walking dreamily into the evening.

Monday, May 10, 2010


"That can't be good," I murmured as I settled the laptop on my tummy and looked at the referring website on my SiteMeter page. I squirmed uncomfortably against my pillows as I skimmed the comment, blinking with no small amount of surprise that someone disapproved of me so vehemently. Then I waited for the inevitable reaction. The shaky hands and sick stomach, the hot embarrassment and bleak dread of what horrible thing might happen next.

I frowned when nothing happened. Held out my hand and waited for a tremble that never came. Closed my eyes and searched for a stomach cramp or headache, finding neither. I wasn't upset, I realized with a sense of awe. Bemused, I realized I remained stuffy and a bit sleepy from having coughed myself awake multiple times, but I was otherwise right as rain.

"Huh," I finally said, getting up to brush my teeth and head downstairs, settling with my work laptop and habitually switching on the news so I could listen while I read my devotional, checked email and reviewed my calendar. I took Chienne for a nice walk, folded the rest of my laundry, showered and dressed, then left for work. Some 10 hours later, I knocked on a door and peeked around the corner at a worried colleague.

"What's going on?" I asked gently and listened as he told me. I nodded and frowned and sat thoughtfully after he finished.

"I struggled in grad school," I confided. I frowned as I tried to remember my first year of graduate study clearly, having been nearly 10 years ago. (Goodness - I can't believe that's right.) "It was so much harder - different pressures, higher standards - and it all felt so terribly important. I had problems."

I nodded when he asked if I could elaborate. "You could say I was pretty self destructive," I decided. "I'd skip class. Sleep all the time. Not answer my phone or email. I just wanted to be alone - to try to escape the constant feeling of impending catastrophic failure. It would last for days - rarely over a week, but generally just around that time frame. Then I'd get better - I had good friends who would catch me up and cover for me - and just wait for the next episode, I guess."

I shook my head when he asked if I got better. "Well, eventually," I corrected myself. "I'm here now and I'm sometimes still surprised I'm well enough to do this job." I grinned at him. "This morning? I got up and something unpleasant happened. A couple of years ago, it would have sent me back to bed and I would have spent a day or two thinking about how I was a horrible person and the world was filled with vicious, miserable creatures who were out to get me. I would have cried and been terribly angry and played it over and over and over in my mind until I was exhausted. But today, I got up and came to work. I took meetings and phone calls. I was busy and productive and happy. And I'm sort of ridiculously proud of myself for it.

"But," I continued, "I was unwell - off and on and to varying degrees - until my late 20s. I tried medication and didn't like being that kind of person so I stopped. I tried therapy and it was so miserably hard that I stopped. But I found environments where I could be sick and still function at an acceptable level. I always found one person who I loved and admired and who would - for some reason - decide to take care of me when I couldn't do it myself.

"Eventually, Friend urged me to get help. She said it was OK to take the pills and good to see a counselor and was so accepting of me yet insistent that I help myself that it became a feasible solution. And I guess I grew up enough to let go of the worry about being that kind of person and understand that sometimes important realizations are miserably hard. And I'm better now - nowhere near perfect, but better than I was."

We talked a bit more and I promised to pray and reached to pat his hand. I paused before reaching to open his door, turning to watch him from across the room as he slumped in his chair, worry making him seem much older and more fragile than he is.

"Tell her," I requested, "that it's OK to be scared and overwhelmed, angry and sad. That people - some really good people - have felt just that way before. It's not her fault - perhaps there were some questionable choices and there are places where responsibility should be taken - but there are also factors beyond her control that led her to this awful place. Tell her," I said, blinking back tears and remembering lying curled on the bathroom floor, alternating between moments of blessed blankness and of suffocating pain, "that she will get better. That when she's ready, she'll find something - medication or counseling or a different career path or new coping mechanisms - that makes these weeks something that happened in her past and not something that defined her future.

"And," I finished, "remember that my parents cried too. They worried and visited and tried desperately to help me. And now they get to know that I have work that gives me purpose and pride. I laugh and cry and think and love. And they still worry, I'm sure, but not that I haven't gotten dressed all week or that I won't answer the phone. Know that this will pass. That she'll be fine. And, until then, if there's anything I can do, I hope you'll let me know."

Then I came home, feeling conversely heavy with the knowledge of suffering and bouyant with the hope of recovery.

Saturday, May 08, 2010


I am home.

I coughed and blew my nose, took tablet cocktails that were to ease the sore throat and congestion and coughing, respectively, as I took a train to Arlanda, a plane to Brussels then another to O'Hare. There I waited patiently through a series of delays and nearly wept with gratitude when finally finding Tylenol Cold. Yes, I did have sore throat, headache, stuffy nose, coughing! Yes, there were severe!

"God bless America," I mumbled, eagerly pawing at the package so I could swallow the pills inside even as I sat on the floor in an airport corridor. My symptoms eased about 10 minutes later and I sighed even as exhaustion surpassed physical misery as my problem of note. I rested my head against the wall between two banks of pay phones and closed my eyes, clutching my Vera Bradley bag and a duty free sack with two stuffed toys inside against my chest. We were finally allowed to board, eventually were airborne and then I was back in my city, mentally coaxing myself that it wouldn't be much longer as I waited for baggage and fought traffic in the rain to get home.

"Oh," I breathed after greeting my happy hound with kisses and cuddles and promises of lasting love and devotion. I looked around the house and shuffled over to the phone to make the fourth call of the afternoon to my parents.

"Thank you," I said simply, tears welling as I glanced around with my hand to my chest. "I know you're having dinner with Brother and on your way to Little One's graduation but I just got home and it's," I trailed off, coughed and sniffled with a mixture of emotion and illness. "Perfect."

"I'm so glad," Mom said, having heard from Dad that I'd arrived in Chicago, having talked to me upon news of my delayed flight and having heard Dad tell me they were having dinner but were glad I was driving home. "I thought you'd appreciate it and we loved doing it for you."

The lawn was mowed and flower beds weeded, a new and silly statue - a frog perched on a rock - standing guard in the rainy evening. A lamp left aglow in the living room made it easy to see the freshly shampooed carpet and rearranged furniture - all dusted and decluttered. A pile of mail awaited me near the loveseat and flowers were perched prettily in a vase on the kitchen table. I walked over to touch them while I told Mom how nice it was to come home to this, leaning down to brush my cheek against the petals since I was too congested to smell anything.

"There are ruebens in the fridge," she told me. "And pork barbeque. Some pasta. Your dad complained because I made the cheesecake-type brownies but I told him you liked them."

"I see them," I said, brusing my fingertips over the covered baking pan on the stove. "I'm so tired. So sick. But I'm so happy to be home. I feel loved and special and wonderful."

"You are loved and special and wonderful," she confirmed and told me to drink some water and go to bed. And so I did, curling under the covers with my dog and drifting off to sleep against piles of familiar pillows.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


Sunday was non-ideal. I was up early for breakfast, was quickly drafted to help write a talk and only after we finished was I allowed to go for a walk. It was sunny but cool so wandering along the waterways was wonderful.

The wonder abruptly ceased when my sneakers caused a blister on my left heel, making me wince even as I acknowledged I was at least 2 miles from my hotel. Muscles taxed by yesterdays rambling trek and hours on a plane protested mightily. But I bought a bottle of water and continued to walk, this time toward my temporary lodging.

After attempting to bandage my poor foot, I set off to the meeting I didn't want to attend and found - whether by mood or poor planning - it was even worse than I'd expected. Alcohol might have saved it but we were prohibited from even wine until after the four hours of formal presentations. I was promptly scolded when a request from a colleague earned a firm negative response. I believe I said somehting like, "If you people can't plan ahead and let me know, you'll have to look foolish on your own. I'm not ruining my credibility because you can't do your job." Which was, in retrospect, hardly politically savvy. But screw it - I was tired and annoyed and responded to Adam's warning glare with an impertinent raised eyebrow and early departure from the social gatherings afterward.

Still, I don't like being in trouble, so I was all bothered. I took a nap and ordered room service - delicious mushroom soup delivered by an even more delicious Swede - I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped when I opened the door.

Sleepy Nostalgia
I hit a wall on Monday in terms of exhaustion, reminding myself firmly to open my eyes again when blinking rapidly turned into "Crap - am I asleep?" events. I sat in the back of large meetings and tried desperately to be engaged and attentive during events where my presence was more prominent. But it hurt.

I do happen to be at a conference and while last year the science did not lure me, I find it more appealing now. The distance from the pain of bad results or rejected papers has lent a gentler glow to the overall work. I soothe myself by reminders that I promote discovery and translate that into products that should help a great deal of people. But there are times when it stings a bit to know that I'm only in front of a room of people because Industry paid for the privilege - not out of any merit-based knowledge.

I don't know if it's the bittersweet memories or the extent of exhaustion, but I found myself being overly honest during my last presentation of the day, desperate to be done for the day and meet old friends for dinner. So as it neared 9PM, I answered questions honestly about timelines and availability - earning appreciation from some and hostility from others. I am not, I thought several hours later, a bit tipsy and wildly tired, representing myself so well here.

Starstruck & Starboard (& Sick)
Yesterday was much better. I slept hard and long Monday night and felt more reasonable about my schedule. I arrived and started taking meetings, settling in a comfortable chair and greeting those that came and sat to chat. There are multiple people who are - at least in my mind - scientifically famous and know me, honestly, because Industry puts me in front of them. Feeling suitably grateful for and blessed with my current job, I giggled and conversed, learned and planned.

Unfortunately, my belief that it was springtime and therefore comfortably warm has lead to a lack of suitable clothing here. The predictions that my penchant for wandering in the wind was going to land me with some illness has been proved correct with a vengeance. My throat was sore all day yesterday and last night I was too stuffy to sleep. Now the cold air or strong perfume or cigarette smoke makes my eyes and throat burn. It hurts to swallow and aches to breathe.

Yet when a group decided to take a sunset cruise, I promptly and happily accepted the invitation. "I want to go on the boat!" I offered, nearly bouncing with excitement, and despite the large windows and warm air inside, I couldn't resist standing on the deck and leaning on the railing, talking with colleagues who had come along and marveling at the scenery. I reflected on past meetings - spending evenings alone in my room, feeling isolated and unimportant and homesick - to my current schedule. It's crazy and busy but it's a happy sort of chaos - full of brilliant people and funny comments. Lots of alcohol and late evenings wandering home.

I ended up walking home from the boat ride alone despite that camaraderie - my friends deciding to go out a bit longer and requiring me to claim exhaustion and head back. Memory served to get me across Gamla Stan, pausing to sigh over the winding streets and pretty storefronts. But I crossed the wrong bridge, ending up completely alone in a lovely square with darkness all around me.

"I'm scared," I admitted out loud, not sure of where I was and how to get home, cold, sick and alone. But I took a breath, winced at the resulting pain, and squinted at the skyline before retracing my last steps and finding my way. And that's a rather nice conclusion to my summary so far - it's not been perfect, but I'm figuring it out.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Sans Suitable Title

The Stockholm Sweden Series, Section 1

I arrived on schedule, tired and stiff from sitting more than 8 hours, but pleased to have landed on Swedish soil. The flights were fine, but Continental’s performance at Newark was so poor that I became rabidly angry and drowned my misery in a frozen margarita before boarding my SAS flight to Stockholm.

I dutifully followed the signs, helpfully printed in Swedish and English, to passport control and was shocked and appalled that everything Fell the Fuck Apart. There were but two lanes open to deal with four incoming flights. The signs were not visible above the crowds that prevented new people from getting off the escalator, resulting in a very polite shoving session to make room. After over an hour of my poor, efficiency-based brain sending enraged signals that there were no defined lines and no real process applied, I finally got into the country with a wish that I enjoy my stay, scampered to pick up my suitcase just before the carousel was ready to swoop it back into the back and, with an irritated sigh, followed the line of people through the arrivals hallways.

Tempted by the taxis outside, I steeled myself to take the less expensive and more environmentally friendly train to the city. It was pleasant enough – the ticket lines were orderly and quick, the train arrived and departed on schedule and was clean and easy to navigate. I emerged from the station and quickly found my hotel, beaming at the front desk staff when they gave me a room despite the 9:00 hour.

Finally buoyed by the strong coffee I gulped on the plane, I changed clothes, sent a few emails and set off with a map donated by my friends at the front desk. It was a short walk to Gamla Stan and I did find it lovely. I was also happy to be using my muscles, feeling the stiffness ease as I moved through the brisk morning. I took photos, smiled sheepishly at the guards around the royal palace and squinted at my map to find the suggested route to see the island whose name I can’t remember (Dj…something, I think) to see the boat and the bears.

Despite the charm, obvious even in the cloudy cold, I grew tired as I walked by all the ships that were docked. I smiled at other people – tourists and residents uniformly friendly and wonderful – and realized I was miserable. My chest was hurting from breathing the cold air. I felt a headache coming on. My feet were growing sore. After checking my watch, I realized I’d been at it for 2 hours and glanced at my map once more before forsaking the Dj…something island for today and going shopping instead.

After finding a clock and going to two stores (with really lovely employees – really. The Swedish are remarkably lovely in both manner and appearance.) to buy a power adapter that I’d forgotten from home, I came back to the hotel, put on pajama bottoms with my dressier top and fell asleep.

I forced myself out of bed after three hours, glancing around my rather sparse room and realizing I was a bit disappointed in the simplicity. It’s growing on me though – the lovely shades of the wood on the floor and on doors, the soft sheer drapes with more opaque stripes and soft linens in blue and white. I washed my face and set out again to buy a pass for the commuter trains then decided I might as well practice getting around town. Finding it remarkably easy, I watched the scenery out the window and though Stockholm was more industrial than I expected. Once outside the city – at least in the directions I was heading – the charm diminished a bit and it seemed like any other sullenly growing location.

Back at the hotel, tired and cold and cranky once more, I got out of clothes and into the shower after sending Adam a quick note that asked about dinner plans. He replied that he’d just arrived and would meet me in 20 minutes, which coaxed me to get dressed and head out again. There was a wonderful place not far from the hotel and they allowed us to eat a single course at the bar because we’d not made reservations. I had wine and we shared olives before digging into our main courses which were deliciously simple.

“Drinks or bed?” he asked and I shrugged, mostly indifferent, as we exited the restaurant after descending the curved staircase. “We’ll get a beer,” he decided. I followed, nodding at the bartender’s suggestion of a wheat variety that was easy to drink as I felt myself grow sleepy. We kept bumping into each other as we made our way back the short distance to the hotel lobby, the mixture of drinks and jet lag demanding notice. Waving vaguely, we set off to our respective rooms, me with plans for an early breakfast and a morning walk.

And so, back in pajamas and comfortably locked in my room, ends day 1 – I’m here. It’s very pretty. And there’s much more to come.