Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Heights

I happily accepted the invitation to dinner, knowing all the while that I'd be tired and facing my not-atypical evening crankiness. But I've not eaten on the 95th floor of anything before. And as I'm attempting to expand my horizons, it seemed like something that should be experienced.

The past few days, lingering cold and forgotten anti-depressants notwithstanding, have been wonderful. I wore a low-cut dress yesterday, finally abandoning my tugs at the neckline and admitting that the new garment was designed to fit that way and I was, in fact, showing off my breasts and there wasn't a lot to be done about it. Luckily, my meetings were mostly internal so I knew the men who would glance down from eye contact and rolled my eyes at most of them. I accepted female compliments on my pretty red shoes and smiled and laughed and chatted the day away.

I wore the same dress to dinner, deciding I might as well continue the look and paused when washing my hands to shake my head at my exposed curves. "No, it's not risque for normal women," I recalled my comment to a colleague when I asked her if I and the dress were inappropriate. "It's just unusual for me and I'm very conscious of it." The poor outfit may join the ranks of another 'really pretty but nowhere to wear it' gray dress. But, for the evening I did let the hem flirt with my knees and (mostly) embraced feeling a little bit sexy with my daring neckline.

I dressed not for comfort or style the next day, but came to work, crisply pressed (ironed, one might say) suit with a soft sweater beneath. And work we did - my feet beginning to ache in my comfortable flats as I answered questions and giggled at jokes and did my best to be adorable and charming and intensely intelligent. I congratulated myself on impressing both the familiar and novel as the frequency of handshakes slowed and I was finally able to emerge into the rain and make my way back to the hotel.

I was here for mere moments, exchanging my now-slightly-wrinkled jacket for a more forgiving cashmere sweater, washing my face and applying more powder before prancing downstairs so the friendly people under the heat lamps could hail a cab and open my door for me. I proceeded to the Sears Tower (apparently we boycott its new name - sorry about that, Willis), overtipped my driver and met my party before beginning the security procedures that would allow us entry.

I tried to be subtle about taking photos but I'd never been there and did think it pretty. I had white wine and a nice steak, pumpkin soup to start and pumpkin cheesecake to finish. I talked and laughed some more, answered questions and asked some of my own, before we called it an early night. Thrilled with the idea of being in bed before 11, I tucked my arm through that of my companion, located several levels above me in the business hierarchy and politely declined his invitation for a drink when we returned to the lobby.

I frowned at him when he continued to coax me, saying I was tired and still not feeling great and if he wanted to talk to me, he should have seated himself closer at dinner (for I know I'm delightful and people do enjoy my company). (I'm kidding.) I am apparently easily manipulated or overly permissive because we sat with knees touching as I sipped a strawberry champagne cocktail and chatted about strategy. "I'll get it," he said when I opened my purse in search of lip gloss and he mistook the search for money. "Of course you will," I replied cheekily. "You're lucky I came at all and I'm prettier than you are."

"Both are true," he gallantly agreed, so, a little tipsy, I kissed his cheek before heading upstairs and shooing him toward another group of colleagues across the room.

I nearly overslept for the next day, emerging from my room rumpled and rushed for my 7:00 breakfast meeting. Blackberry humming against my hip most of the day - announcing the next meeting before I was finished with the previous, demanding answers to questions and quick introductions - I began to drag when having to deliver unpleasant news or engage in difficult conversations. It was an important and productive day, but it drained me of all energy.

"What do you like about Italian food?" the concierge asked when I requested a reservation for the evening. I stared at her blankly and she kindly made the question multiple choice and called Volare with my full support.

"I've been there," I told her. "I had a cheesy chicken risotto that I've craved ever since." Determined to enjoy the evening - the one most eagerly anticipated of this trip - I came upstairs to shower and shore up energy before meeting one of my oldest and dearest friends. I blinked back tears upon hugging her tightly in the lobby, we talked and giggled over a delicious meal and nice bottle of white, and traded questions and stories about financial planning and important careers and boys. And, much like the cheesy chicken risotto, I wished the conversation in the busy little restaurant would never end.

I was snuggled under fluffy white blankets soon after I hugged her goodbye with a firm mental promise to see her again soon. She makes me happy. The city sparkled outside in the bitter cold and I felt I'd experienced bits of it over the evenings - north, south and center - and was happily exhausted.

I wish I had time to shop and wander the streets, taking photos that weren't through windows. I wish I could solve all the problems that exist at work, for the people I've met are exquisitely smart and capable and kind. I wish someone were here with me, for flirting over email isn't nearly as good as kissing and touching in person. I wish I had remembered my anti-depressants, for my head aches and is bothered by snippets of obsessive worry and irrational paranoia at times, though it's mostly under control for I know its cause. I wish even my most comfortable flats didn't make my feet wince in pain.

Wishes aside though, it's been a wonderful week. While sad to leave Chicago behind tomorrow, I'm always tempted by its proximity and comforted by the routine of visiting again next year.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

View

I am cheered, as always, by arriving in Chicago.

"I always liked it, too," Mom sighed when I gushed over my room and the view and the simple luxury - established in childhood - of staying downtown. "Maybe we should come vacation with you rather than Chienne."

We departed early, loading bulky suitcases into large vehicles before making the lengthy-but-not-impossible drive to Lake Michigan. I fretted on the trip, staring out windows and mulling alternatives (or lack thereof, perhaps) and attention (or lack thereof, perhaps) and finally pulled laptop from bag to distract myself from being maudlin.

I beamed at the man behind the counter when he welcomed me to the city and hotel. When he offered an upgrade to a river view, I nearly fluttered my eyelashes at him before I recalled that wasn't overly impressive. I instead deemed him my favorite person for the day and was pleased when he grinned and ducked his head in appreciation.

I literally gave three happy bounces upon tossing my smaller bag on the first of the beds, deliciously soft and fluffy and bright white. I tossed aside the sheers and caught my breath, looking to the right (and quickly adjusting the gray armchair so that it faces that way) to admire the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Towers. The river glimmers green and my room is perched low enough to the ground that I can hear the cars honk and sirens wail on Wacker Drive.

I currently sit by my window, having taken more photos like the one above but in the changing light and fluid traffic, and prepared for the week ahead. I crave certainty, I admitted - once articulated, the sentence, 'I want to love someone who loves me back,' echoes endlessly in my mind. I don't know how to get there - I never have - and want to have faith that it will happen if the person and timing and chemistry are right. In the meantime, I'm trying to coach myself to stay in the moment - to enjoy what is, to not wish for what might be and to accept avoidance and annoyance with some degree of grace.

I hope this week helps with that - the opportunity to dress up for work, to have dinner some 100 floors above street level, to drink and giggle with friends and charm colleagues. To freeze in flirty dresses and soft tights and iron suits I don't wear often. And, when there's a pause, to make peppermint tea to soothe my sore throat, take cold medicine for my continued cough and achy ears, and stare out the window toward Michigan Avenue, watching the cars drive over adorable bridges and the river reflect the light that emanates from or sneaks between the buildings above.

Puppy Post (Dog Blog?)

My pretty puppy - and favorite friend - grows older. We have recently conquered an ear infection and her good eye appears to be hanging in there with the daily drops. She's still energetic and happy, the times when her joints ache so that she whimpers when climbing the stairs few and far between.

Still, she's one of those beloved parts of life that I sometimes take for granted, assuming she'll always be asleep in her green chair or off to fetch a squeaky or curled close when I sleep. Yet we make allowances for her aging body - Mom bought me a small set of steps for my bedroom so the hop up can transition to a more gentle climb. I recently bought a sectional (I wait eagerly for its arrival) that will fold flat so that if there comes a time when she can't handle the stairs to the bedrooms, we can spend our nights down here.

Fun Facts
  • Her name is not, in fact, Chienne. I believe I've told you what it really is at some point, but it was randomly placed and I'm not sure I could find it.
  • We share a middle name. (Sprout's is the same as Brother's. I'm not very creative, apparently.)
  • She does not like to walk in hot weather and will find a nice tree and flop in the shade. She does, however, enjoy lazing in the sun on the back deck.
  • She chews at her paws - allergies.
  • She's quite vocal - will bark at times and can cry incessantly when locked out of the bedroom or when wanting to get out the car and explore.
  • She's very friendly and has always liked people and dogs. Cats tend to scratch her nose as she's not very polite about personal space.
  • Undeniably dominant, she is possessive with toys and attention.
  • She's heavy for her size - very muscular and sturdy.
  • She loves me best, but will abandon me immediately to sleep with guests. She especially loves Grandma and Friend.
  • She growls when Sprout bats at her nose while she's sleeping. Then she'll get up, glare at him and go eat all his kibble. It makes me giggle every time until the stripey cat comes and bats at me while I sleep until I refill his dish.
  • She snores.
  • While she does love new people, she is sometimes afraid of men. The hair on her back will stand up and she will growl or bark at some people - only male. I wonder sadly if something happened to her as a puppy before I found her.
  • She travels very well, enjoying the passenger seat, but will cry if we slow down and she believes she should be allowed to exit the vehicle to explore. At highway speeds, she generally sleeps. When I yell at other drivers, she puts her head down and goes to the backseat.
  • Our last family dog would sing, loving Happy Birthday in particular. Chienne will sometimes bark if I get really exited about a song, but rarely howls along.
  • She has three baskets of toys. Her favorite is whichever one is newest.
  • Doug brought her a bone yesterday - so sweet I could hardly handle it - and she carried it around while whimpering, torn between playing with her newest possession and battling me for the spot on the loveseat next to our visitor. I giggled until I had a coughing fit.
  • She often sleeps under the covers. Her coat is thin and I like to be cold so we often cuddle at night.
  • Her favorite spot to be rubbed is above her tail. She'd rather you not pet her head too much - I'm not sure if her eyes or ears hurt, but she'll often duck away.
  • She's ticklish on her sides and will smile or tap her back leg when rubbed wrong.
  • She'll go to bed alone if I'm up too late. Sometimes 'too late' is after 8PM.
  • Our morning routine is for her to come downstairs shortly after I do. She rests while I have coffee, check email and watch the news, then we take a walk. Upon our return, we put in eye drops and she has a munchy strip for a treat. Then I'll get ready (or engage in weekend activities) and throw a handful of Snaps before I leave.
  • Red Snaps are her favorites.
  • She can manage a night by herself if I'm traveling, but she doesn't like it.
  • She will stop eating when I first leave. I'm not sure if she misses me or if she knows my parents will baby her with people food.
  • I'll bring her a double cheeseburger from McDonald's at least once a week and will share anything I eat.
  • She does not kill things - not mice or birds or frogs - and often is as startled as I am when creatures emerge while we're outside.
  • She will get in the garbage - shred cardboard or tissues or paper - and eat whatever she can find. My garbage, therefore, is in the garage and outside her path to the dog door.
  • She took to the dog door fairly easily in Southern State and again in this house. I freaking love it and can't really imagine letting dogs out to potty again.
  • She's afraid of thunder, fireworks and hiccups.
  • When afraid, she hides - mostly in the bathtub in the interior part of the house. Here, it's the guest bath upstairs. Said room typically has a blanket and pillow in the tub and I turn on the fan for background noise when it storms.
  • She's not crazy about the vacuum but she will go gather her toys before the machine eats them.
  • I've never crated her, but she doesn't seem to mind at the vet.
  • That's my favorite of her puppy pictures - her coat much softer and without the speckles of gray. But dogs are good examples of that which appear to grow more beautiful with age, but only to those who love them. She's such a good girl now - rare accidents, minimal destruction - but she does (if I'm being honest) smell like dog and is a bit bulky because of the people food and her blind eye does freak some people out.
  • She's currently impatient for her walk - and I love her so much - so I'll stop telling you about her and go freeze while wandering the neighborhood.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

2010 Retrospective, The Playlist

Will, a singularly sexy individual I have seen three times, knows music and when I asked his favorite song, he said he could never pick just one. Then he mentioned creating a soundtrack for his life, a project I found both charming and intriguing. As I sleep more and cough less, I find myself awake after midnight, lazily drifting through thoughts. And it seems - at least for me - that devising a playlist for my past takes a great deal of time, squinting as I search memories and attempt to pair sounds with the visuals I find easier to recall.

1. Elvira, The Oak Ridge Boys
This was my first favorite song and I remember carefully placing the needle on the record on the giant system in my grandpa's basement and waiting for the people inside the huge box to begin singing my song. Grandpa's face would crinkle in a grin when I told him before we'd sing a dance.

2. I Get Around, The Beach Boys
Dad had a smaller (but louder) stereo at our house and I can vividly remember Brother as a toddler as we'd take turns dancing on the blue ottoman that matched the living room chairs in the center of the room.

3. Copacabana, Barry Manilow
Mom was a big Manilow fan and I'll still admit he has some catchy songs, but this one sticks out for me because it completely bummed me out. Songs were not just for giggles and dancing. They also existed to cause deep emotional pain. Also, Mr. Manilow behaved rather badly in a limo while doing a concert in Peoria, allegedly saying something rude about our city. For shame, Barry. For shame.

4. Like a Virgin, Madonna
I know parents today must struggle with lyrics for music their children like. But I can still remember Mom & Dad wincing with sheer discomfort as Beth and I linked hands and twirled each other around the house until we were dizzy, singing along about being touched. For the very first time. (The same thing happened with Color Me Badd's I Wanna Sex You Up, by the way, albeit with my mom asking if I could just not play it anymore when I was a tad older.)

5. If You Leave, Orchestra Manoeuvres in the Dark (Is that not a good name for a band? Nice.)
Cousin's bedroom was painted black. She wore make-up and ripped jeans and shirts that would slip off one shoulder. I thought he was the most impossibly cool individual on the planet. I was allowed in her room during a family gathering and she talked to me and played music and was impressed when I memorized this song and began to sing along. "You're smart," I remember her saying and beamed with flattered delight.

6. You Got It (The Right Stuff), New Kids on the Block (In my defense... never mind. It is what it is.)
7. Good Vibrations, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch (Mark was Donnie's brother!)
8. Freedom 90, George Michael
9. Killing Me Softly with His Song, The Fugees
10. Piano in the Dark, Brenda Russell
I had a boom box situated downstairs, close to the trampoline on which I'd bounce. Next to it were cassette tapes - scattered and stacked - all of which contained rhythms and lyrics that were vitally important to me at the time. So much of that is blurred in my memory - spanning the years of grade and high school - that I can't really recall specific songs. As I write this post, I realize it's because they weren't associated with other people. I was alone as I engaged in daydreams and worked through worries and the music - while profoundly necessary - wasn't all that memorable. It was, however, mostly peppy.

11. Swinging on a Star, Bing Crosby
I won my first (and only) first place medal for my solo performance of this song in a junior high competition. It reminded me of my grandparents and I found it adorable. Still do.

12. Close Every Door, Andrew Lloyd Webber
I loved Joseph and His Technicolor Dreamcoat in high school and had a flirtation with other musicals as well. There was something thrilling about watching people perform - music and plotlines filling a theater so that nothing else was able to intrude on the experience. It is, by the way, no accident that this is a spiritually-focused musical or a song that focuses on God.

13. The Red Strokes, Garth Brooks
14. When Love Finds You, Vince Gill
15. One Boy, One Girl, Colin Raye
16. I Never Knew Love, Doug Stone
I went through a country phase in high school, much of which I've blocked from my memory. I fear if I opened those doors, the likes of Shania Twain, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Tim McGraw and Martina McBride would emerge to sing and make me cry. I literally had to pull the car over while listening to the radio more than once on my way back and forth to my rural high school.

17. Beauty and the Beast, Angela Lansbury
Grandma watched Murder, She Wrote, and I remember sitting next to her, linking my fingers with hers and thinking how the skin on her hands, a little loose from age, was remarkably soft as we watched Belle and Lumiere and Chip. When I think of unending love and unconditional acceptance - a simple comfort and enduring support - I think of Grandma. And am profoundly grateful I knew and loved her and achingly sad that she's gone.

18. Bedroom Dancing, Day One
I thought Cruel Intentions was a reasonably good movie, but the soundtrack? It never left the stereo in college. In the dying days of the CD (though I was always a late adopter of new music technology and wouldn't have an iPod until I finished grad school), we had a disc changer and would listen to the same 3-4 albums ad nauseum, an unending alpha to omega through an artist's work or, in this case, collection of music to match a film.

19. True Companion, Marc Cohn
College existed for crushes as much as core curriculum. And, apart from bonding over the same few CDs, we also watched certain television shows with sincere and profound devotion. Felicity was one of those and my absorption in it and our passionate discussions around Ben versus Noel have meaning for me even today. (I have an unpublished post about it - I'll tell you later.) We also claimed Sunset Beach as our favorite soap opera and had a standing Friends date.

20. What Can I Do? The Coors
Talk on Corners typically was typically close to the Cruel Intentions CD and brings to mind vivid memories of sitting on twin beds in dorm rooms or double beds in our apartment and talking about sex, boys and Cosmo articles. Doing homework, establishing friendships with the depth and quality I'd always wanted and learning to have an identity that was at least a little separate from that I had with my family. Those friends, by the way, made my utter failure at attracting male attention bearable in the presence of their love and acceptance.

21. Long Day, Matchbox 20
To continue the 'whole CD' theme, I went to a concert with my girls in college. We saw Matchbox Twenty some 3 hours away and, on the drive home, realized that the car's CD player was broken.

"We'll sing," I decided and with strong support from the backseat and hesitant acceptance from our shyer driver, we went through all of Yourself or Someone Like You. A capella. Remembering the order and every lyric and giggling through some of the more off-key renditions. And it was perfection.

22. Jesus, He Loves Me, Edwin McCain
Edwin was a personal favorite of mine - I have much of his early stuff and had given CDs to Dad since he was fond of him as well. This is a sincere bow of the head to my spiritual growth in college, tied closely to Dad's heart attack just as my senior year started.

23. Elevation, U2
Grad school, following a rather decorated senior year with weight loss and academic success, started on an undeniably high note. I was confident and happy and full of hope. I was meeting people and finding my own way to be charming and, for the first time, living some distance from my parents. And though it was scary, that first summer filled with literature and new places and people was stunning.

24. Babylon, David Gray
"I feel sick," I noted the other day, looking around and wondering what had caused my stomach to cramp. "Oh," I realized after a moment when I noted this song playing in the restaurant where we were having drinks. "Freaking David Gray is making me nervous and insecure." For when I was listening to this, encouraged by my grad school cohort, classes and labs had started and I suddenly realized with no small amount of shock and terror that I wasn't nearly as smart as I'd grown to believe.

25. Bubble Toes, Jack Johnson
As it tends to happen for me, I find the right people at the time I most need them. And M, with her tiny body and huge personality, provided the stability and encouragement and support that I required as I found my balance in the big, bad world. M is, of course, from Hawaii and through countless study sessions and dinners out, we grew impossibly close. She was, for a time, my lifeline.

26. Hotel Paper, Michelle Branch
27. Turn Off The Light, Nelly Furtado
28. Sweet Surrender, Sarah McLachlan
"You're a misogynist," Carrie noted, my other favorite friend from my graduate research group. We listened to a lot of music while analyzing data in our office that overlooked the lake and she was staring over my shoulder at iTunes. "I will give you female artists and you will listen to them and you will like it." And both because she was right and because I loved her, I did. She still sends me music sometimes and we tend to monitor each other's playlists when we room together at conferences.

29. The Remedy (I Won't Worry), Jason Mraz
Few songs make me dance, even when completely alone. So I smile as I remember wiggling and twirling about my tiny studio apartment during my second year of grad school, having done quite well on my qualifying exams and feeling more confident in myself from a research perspective. If you'll notice, grad school is wildly variable - ups and downs coming quickly and with great intensity.

30. Unwell, Matchbox 20
It was clear to me that I was struggling with a mood disorder as I worked through a Masters and Doctorate. That one shouldn't be driven to tears so easily. That it shouldn't seem nearly impossible to get out of bed. That answering the phone or responding to the buzzer of my apartment should be commonplace and not cause a deep desire to hide in the corner of a dark bathroom, hoping nobody would find me until I was ready to face them. This song could also be used to describe that horror that was the very end of my graduate career.

31. Love Song for Noone, John Mayer
So as not to forget the second half of grad school, once M and Carrie had departed for greener pastures and Chienne arrived from the shelter to be my bestest buddy, I tried to find a song that offered a nod to the intense dating exercises I undertook. I was very fond of John Mayer at this time but always ended up sleeping with only my sweet canine for company.

32. Breathe (2AM), Anna Nalick
I listened to Wreck of the Day all the time when I moved to Southern State. I had these little white speakers I would attach to Chandler, the iPod, my graduation gift from my parents. (Chandler is currently on my ottoman waiting for the 2010 Retrospective playlist, by the way - great little guy.) Being terribly lonely, I was reading a lot of blogs and finally gathered the courage to start my own five years ago.

33. Only You, Josh Kelley
34. Come Down to Me, Saving Jane
35. Time, Sarah McLachlan
36. Leave the Pieces, The Wreckers
If I were to select the beginning-middle-ending-ended songs for Pete, these would be them. I was aware that these were potential selections for this project, but kept my mouse hovered over Pause on iTunes when they played, ready to delete them if I felt that awful sick feeling of rejection and loss and heartbreak. I relaxed when I felt nothing but a vague sense of nostalgia - a glimmer of sympathy for myself at that stage and some pride in knowing I worked through it and am healthier for the experience. If it seems like a lot of space to devote to a heartbreaking experience, remember that it encompassed a fairly recent and quite important time for me. I met Charlie and grew more confident that I wanted an Industry position and that there were truly wonderful guys in the world. I met Friend. I regained some confidence professionally even as I crumbled personally. And these are reminders of that more than my obsession with someone I wanted to love me.

37. Fidelity, Regina Spektor
Friend was - and is - unlike anyone I've met. And though I know a lot of words, I have not enough to fully express the love, admiration, gratitude and wishes for her happiness I have. Our relationship is chronicled in posts, for she was such a vital element to my post-doctoral experience that the blog would have been mostly meaningless without her for my last two years in Southern State. I can say that the distance between us in the past year has been like a gnat - it buzzed at my consciousness until I knew I had to fix it or go completely crazy.

So why this song? It is at times gentle and powerful, completely compelling and a little quirky. And one of my enduring favorites. Plus, she has broken my fall - or helped me heal afterward - on more than one occasion.

38. The Way I Am, Ingrid Michaelson
We move to my current home, my position in Industry, and the post-2008 version of Katie and Minor Revisions. And while the process has been neither quick or easy, I have grown more comfortable with myself - my place, my talent, my flaws. It's been a favorite song - simple, sweet, sincere and a little silly.

39. Mercy, Duffy
Though I'd heard this before, I bought it during a trip to London in January. It was playing at the pub where Jenny, Richard and I shared drinks after dinner. And though I loved meeting them and had a nice time, I'm including it more because it's become my travel theme song over the past year. It is another of those rare tunes that can make me dance and I smile when I hear it, thinking of a clumsy if heartfelt routine in my lingerie in my room in Paris in an attempt to ease my melancholy over not being in love, coughing through my attempts to shake it in Stockholm in a teeny-tiny hotel room, and hummed it as I bounced through Barcelona. If you find yourself jetlagged, I totally recommend playing this. Loud. It really does help.

40. Big Bang Theory Theme, Barenaked Ladies
I don't listen to a lot of music of late. There is always sound - I even sleep with the television on in an attempt to distract my brain from worry in order to rest. So since I do find myself giggling over DVDs of television shows rather than listening to music (today is unprecedented in that the television is off so I can focus on music), it seemed an appropriate place to pause with this particular song. It is also a gentle reminder of Will, as I attempted to introduce him to the series one night, and he triggered this post/project which Sheldon may have called, "Eight hours well wasted." It was actually a lovely and memorable way to spend a germy Thanksgiving.

If, by the way, you have something you think I should hear, leave a comment. Please and thank you. And should you decide to do a playlist of your own, could you send me a link?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Home for the Holiday

"I'm almost home," I croaked to my mother, pausing at a stop sign in the cold, dark evening before accelerating toward my house. I pulled in the garage, assuring her that I would take medicine and drink lots of fluids and stay nice and warm. I paused to cough when I emerged from my Jeep, grinning when Chienne emerged from her dog door in a flurry of ecstatic whimpers and wiggles.

"I'll call tomorrow," I promised Mom, repeated that I loved her and disconnected so I could crouch for kisses and cuddles. "Hi, pretty girl," I whispered, hesitant to strain my voice. "I missed you."

The trip, while mostly pleasant, could also be called mostly pointless. I found myself following a boss up the concourse we'd descended only 26 hours before. We passed the same little restaurant where I'd eaten a very nice pasta salad and carried the same bags, albeit filled now with a change of dirty clothes rather than clean.

"It was a good meeting," my travel buddy commented and, after asking him to repeat it because I can't hear anything, I nodded my general agreement. The flights had been timely, the commutes with moderate traffic and the conversations had been lively and interesting.

Apart from the pressured air torturing my poor ears, I had coughed and blown my nose through half a box of tissues I took from the hotel. I slept poorly last night, waking myself with winces of pain from a stuffy head and achy muscles. I had to clear my throat before answering questions and offering comments during a Very High Profile meeting.

The one insight I found worthwhile was that I'd desperately wanted to work with pharma when in grad school and for part of my post-doc. I would have battled someone to the death with merely a spoon for a weapon in order to meet that group of people. Then I would have been too terrified of making a bad impression to say much of anything, avoiding the opportunity to make a good one.

I was unguarded yesterday, charming and smart and effortlessly gracing them with exactly the impression I wanted. And even through the discomfort of this cold, I felt professionally pleased. If only I could apply the same concept to personal situations. I find myself obsessing over every moment - wondering if I did something repulsive or said something offensive or made a poor decision. I'm exhausting myself, trying to sort out how to encourage men to do what I want them to do, and the worry weighted me on the flight back last night.

I always love returning home after a trip though, so my spirits lifted as I had a late snack, showered and cuddled with Chienne before nuzzling into my pillows and falling asleep. When I woke after midnight, I rolled over and coughed, finally sitting on the edge of my bed to let my legs dangle as I tried to catch my breath. I frowned at myself when I realized my mood was descending to match my physical state, so I came downstairs.

After a couple attempts at distraction - a book, blogs - I shrugged and reached for the bigger of the two laptops that sit beside my loveseat and began to respond to email that had accumulated during my short trip. My brain engaged, feeling busy and useful and, finally, happy. I worked for about an hour - answering questions, sending material, confirming details and approving documents.

"Now all you need it to get married and have children," my travel buddy noted as I drove him back to his car at the office. I'd told him how much I loved my job - how settled and accomplished I was in this role and how I was eager (but not too eager - I like where I am) for new opportunities. "You're great at your job. Your family is a few hours away. You're young and pretty and smart."

I nodded in amused agreement.

"That's the reason I started dating," I told him, reminding myself at the same time. "I'm very happy with my life in general. So any rejections or disappointments or worries should be quite bearable when put into context."

And, sometime near 2AM, it felt like that piece fit neatly into the overall puzzle again. I'm fine. I'm happy. And whatever happens from here - be it sexy or sad - will, at the very least, be interesting.

"I think I'll stay here," I told Mom when she called to check on me this morning. "I do want to see you, but I also feel like crap," I paused to cough and fetch a Halls. "So it'll be good to rest and catch up on work and cook chicken rather than turkey and just settle a bit."

"That's fine, princess," she replied, for she calls me that sometimes though it is mostly reserved for the tinier females of the family. "It's crowded here with Brother and his girlfriend, the girls, your dad, the cat named after a car. You and Chienne would add more confusion and if you're not up for it, it's better to avoid it."

"Agreed," I decided contentedly. And so today I'll take phone calls and devise an interesting menu for tomorrow. I'll shop for a few groceries and pack for my upcoming trip and sleep and bathe and settle. And I'll be properly thankful for the opportunity.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Men @ Work

“No,” I offered simply, my voice sounding low and stuffy, after Morose finished his story. He sighed – a deep and meaningful exhalation of air – and I couldn’t help smiling in response.

I wear a lot of black and gray, but can never resist adding a bit of something to relieve the absorption of all light. Red shoes, a sparkly necklace, an oversized ring, a colorful shirt under my black or gray sweater. Morose is clad in black from head to foot and I’ve often wondered if there exist other colors in his closet. If so, they must be rarely worn and out of place.

“This is stupid,” he told me and I nodded companionably. It’s difficult to work in the field and being handed orders from headquarters, so I don’t mind complaints when people come visit, settling in my office to tell me we’re all idiots.

“We didn’t make the call,” I replied kindly, “and the group is working to reverse some of the worst pieces of the process. But it’s sucky. I’m sorry.” When he simply looked at me, I wondered if he wanted to squash me like a bug under his black shoe or tug me closer to his black button-down shirt for a cuddle. Undoubtedly the former, I decided, and stifled the urge to ruffle his hair. “It’s like airports, kiddo,” I offered, realizing I only use that endearment for men older than I am. “If you want to fly here…”

“I don’t,” he interrupted me and I giggled without meaning to. Clearing my throat, I continued.

“Fair enough. If you must fly here,” I paused and he nodded, “then you must submit to the body scans and intimate pat downs and luggage screenings. Our current process is like that. It doesn’t really help anything and mostly exists to waste time, but it’s part of working here so you can uselessly rail against it, find another job, or discover a way to work with the process.”

“Fine,” he said, the word weighted with disappointment that he must interact with such inferior beings, and walked away, his shoulders straight but head slightly slumped with the hideous nature of our existence.

I can’t help it – I like him. He amuses me.

***

“So you’re dating,” one of the upper managers noted conversationally as we walked across campus to a meeting.

“I am,” I confirmed, cocking my head with affectionate dismay as to how quickly gossip spreads. Especially when I so rarely do anything interesting on a personal level. Deciding I should continue the conversation, I asked if he had dated much before meeting his wife.

“Not at all,” he replied and I nodded, wondering how it felt to meet the one you wanted to know forever when you were young. Or old. Or at all.

“It’s an interesting and happy process,” I confided. “And I’m better at dating having worked here – I guess I’m more comfortable meeting new people and exploring new situations with some degree of confidence and grace. And I enjoy men – think they’re smart and funny and interesting. So it’s good.”

He didn’t reply and we still had several minutes left to walk so I tried again, thinking he’d selected the topic so I might as well go with it.

“How long did you and your wife date before you got engaged?” I asked and blinked when he replied that they’d talked on the phone for about 20 minutes.

“Arranged marriages are fairly common,” he explained when I remained speechless, trying to simultaneously 1) sort out a suitable response, 2) decide why I was so surprised when I’d actually heard something about his personal life and 3) repress all the questions I had about that situation.

“Oh,” I said and smiled weakly, no doubt impressing him with my quick thinking, unending charm and impossible wit. I’m waiting for news of my next promotion to arrive at any moment.

***

“You know,” I offered as I trailed behind Adam, “most of my photos in Tokyo have your left shoulder in the right corner.” He glanced behind him, offering me a puzzled expression that has grown familiar, and I sighed. “I find I follow you around like a puppy dog. It’s a little insulting.”

“No,” he disagreed, stopping for a moment so I could catch up. “It’s more than a little creepy.”

“It is not!” I protested. “You knew I was there! I do not follow you around when you don’t know. Like I even care what you do or where you go. Jackass.” And he laughed and laughed which made me giggle and so I bought him a soda before we sat to have our weekly progress meeting.

We chatted and I made notes and he tossed a kernel of popcorn at me when I told him he was being stupid. I argued that some tasks made no sense but agreed to do them anyway. I flat-out refused to work on something else and basked in compliments for recent Big Events that have gone exceedingly well.

I wrinkled my nose at his last request and he paused to sigh at me, threateningly holding another puff of popcorn to throw my way. I narrowed my eyes and crossed my arms, prepared to pout and let the popcorn hit me if need be.

“I don’t want to,” I whined dramatically. “I’m sure he’s a lovely person, but I’m not impressed so far.”

“Katie.” Adam rebuked, eating his popcorn and making me glare. I don’t mind being disobedient, but I hate being disappointing so I immediately recognized he’d started to manipulate me.

“He’s bossy!” I tried to explain. “And it bugs me.”

“He’s French,” he stated simply and I paused to think.

“That’s oddly true,” I decided after a moment. “The general rule is French + Industry = Katie wants to kick at you. At least at first. Is it me? Am I difficult to work with? Too Midwestern?”

“Yes,” he replied simply and I nodded before stealing the rest of his popcorn and agreeing to mentor the Frenchman.

***

I'm traveling - which is lovely as I've started to miss it - but terrible in that I do have a cold and my ears didn't pop when the plane landed so everything sounds like it's underwater. Except anything I do - it's insanely loud when I walk in my pretty flats or chew gum or swallow a drink of water in some vain attempt to stop the aching in my ears.

I'm also fretting, which is silly, so I'm giving you little stories rather than paragraphs of 'why Katie is concerned' because I work with delightful individuals and I'm always concerned about something anyway. I hope that you're all healthy and happy and otherwise well.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Deep

I am writing quite a lot, spending hours with my laptop and drafting paragraphs and puzzling over how to articulate certain thoughts.

It helps - much like therapy, I suppose - to understand and clarify and remember and process as I attempt (and achieve, I daresay) some personal growth. There are some pages of text I expect I'll eventually share, for it's beautifully written and there's something about cataloging life on my blog that appeals to me, but there are other stories that will likely be just for me. Tucked away on in a laptop and backed up on external hard drives (and sent to myself on Gmail just in case I lose all copies), I can see myself opening the file to sigh and smile someday.

I took a bunch of the trees when I was in Chicago, and noticed all of them are somehow flawed. To get the lighting I wanted, I was shooting into the sun, which tends to saturate my poor camera's levels. It was a little windy and some of the leaves flipped backward, showing their dull undersides rather than brightly-colored fronts. But if you ignore the few pixels that aren't perfect, the picture becomes pretty - light and color and shape and texture blending into a memory that is happy and stunning.

So what can I share of my past days that weren't perfect but were pretty wonderful? I received compliments on an event I organized and I didn't obsess about the details and it went incredibly well. Lesson: Relax and it will often work out.

My head feels better but my throat is sore. I'm not thrilled with how it hurts to swallow but I'll take this over headaches any day.

I talked to Friend, both online and by phone, and got nearly giddy that I get to know her again. I missed her a lot and she's bright and funny and honest. Example...

Me: And then he kissed me. A man I really like wants to be with me and kissed me! Shocking, yes?

Friend: Actually, a little.

Me: Huh.
It is not the gushing, "Of course he kissed you! You're adorable and smart and wonderful!" that I'd get from others, but I find her delightful in a different way.

I'm keeping my head above water at work, but it's challenging. There's a lot going on right now and everyone is stretched and stressed and sick (or getting there).

I have upcoming travel - all domestic - and I'm pleased to be going places again. I've been home for a while now (which I love), but I have missed being out of the office and the lovely break in routine. Plus, I really like hotels.

Mom is feeling better and the girls are doing well. Brother is home from his first training session and appears to enjoy his new job quite a lot. I pray it works out for him this time.

Adam and I did not discuss last weekend but are friendly and normal again.

I cleaned and organized and dusted (I hate dusting for some reason) today. Rearranging furniture in my tiny living room always makes me happy. I'm not sure why, but I'm going with it nonetheless. I've also done laundry.

Someone thwarted me at work on Monday and though I saw it coming, I still hate to lose and was frustrated by the situation in general. On Tuesday, however, she proposed something lame and I was able to pounce and stomp her argument into the ground. I was quite proud of myself until I realized that we both lost and killed two projects instead of one. Then I decided to screw it, I'm manipulative enough to revive my project and work around her - she's far less vicious than I am.

Now I need to think of something nice I did... I gave all the credit for one project to my collaborators, but they deserved it. I give cuddles to an elderly black lab who wanders out to meet Chienne and me on our morning walks, but that's more for me than him - such a sweet boy. I did answer a bunch of emails from the sales team - I know it's my job, but I'm also very nice about it.

I'll go to my sweet, little church tomorrow and hope my voice holds out for hymns.

(Perhaps I should have put quotes around the title as this wasn't very deep at all. But I'm happy and sleepy and can't think of anything better.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Password: Headache

My disease-infested family has infected me with some sort of bug - I feel achy and nauseated, my head constantly aching but with varying degrees of intensity. Unfortunately, the degree of professional intensity has remained higher than average, consisting of various meetings with out of town visitors and the typical dinners that accompany such visits.

We argued on Monday, listening to presentations and debating various points with pointed and articulate statements and sarcastic questions. It was delightful, but I guarded my energy selfishly, inserting a few comments here and there but mostly nodding in support of my scientific colleagues.

I sat shoulder to shoulder with my closest partner, united in our focus on a particular organ system, and whispered and giggled and made faces. And I slumped against him when my head grew achy and asked him to cover for me when I want to throw up. He frowned with concern when I returned, rising to go fetch me soda and water, and patted my shoulder. I managed the team dinner through a haze of medicine and made my way home to allow the sleep I so needed.

I awakened too early though, muttering encouragement to my poor body as I shuffled to the bathroom and blinked at myself in the mirror. I arrived at the office before dawn, pleased that all the materials had been delivered as I'd ruthlessly planned and began to connect computers and arrange binders and organize nametags.

"Do you know the password?" a colleague said after he arrived and I rattled off letters and numbers until he nodded his thanks. I made it through 2 hours of greeting and answering questions and fetching materials before I placed a trembling hand in my bag to retrieve my keys and made my way home to throw up again.

When I have sick headaches - and am midway through Big Event 2 of 3 - I try to focus my mental energy past the pain. I picture myself as a stone near the edge of a waterfall, content to nestle with my friends in the shade of a nearby tree and listen to the roar of the water, watching it sparkle in the sunshine as it flows over the edge.

Other times I am a spearmint leaf, bright green and fragrant as I float in a mug of hot water, steeping myself into a nice tea laced with thick, sweet honey. Perhaps my ruffled edges curl up as I swirl around the edge of the cup, drifting lazily with other leaves just like me.

"Be the pillow," I reminded myself, scrunching my face into a pained mask as I begged the pain pills to take effect, forcing myself to breathe and think of myself as a fluffy rectangle. Encased in a silky pillowcase and nestled on a soft mattress, ready to hold an achy head or be cuddled to a warm chest.

I canceled my evening plans for tonight with no small amount of regret. I have no idea how I'll cope with tomorrow - and a very full calendar - if I'm still feeling terrible. So I suppose I should sleep and hope to dream of rocks by waterfalls, spearmint tea and mounds of soft pillows.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Dissonance

I tucked my hand through my companion's elbow and moved quickly from the room and through a wide doorway into the next gallery, ignoring the graceful groupings of art.

"I'm so confused," I whispered, surrounded by high ceilings and interesting exhibits and a small but milling crowd. "We're colleagues, yes, but also friends! I've been tipsy with him, seen him in pajamas, giggled and talked and shared huge disappointments and thrilling successes. And then...and then I say hello and he acts as though he barely knows me. Like I'm an intrusive near-stranger who dared invade his personal time."

"Well," Doug said, glancing down at me while I frowned, "some people separate their personal from professional lives. It may have been weird for him that you approached him."

"But it was weird for me that he acted that way!" I protested and lapsed into silence as I tried to sort through the wide gap between expectation and reality. I redirected my attention, pleased this was a fourth date and I didn't have to hide every neurosis from poor Doug, and found we enjoyed the same pieces as we traded stories and comments. For the most part.

"People love it or hate it," he concluded after explaining a large piece done in grayscale. I frowned again, standing shoulder to shoulder with him as we looked over the ledge and down upon the canvas.

"It's like a dark vortex of nothingness," I repeated. "And I don't hate it, but..." I paused, cocked my head and stared harder. "No," I corrected myself. "I do kind of hate it. I like color and light and happiness." And beloved colleagues who greet me with equal enthusiasm when we meet in a public place on a rainy Saturday. I even looked nice! My hair shiny and straight, new cashmere cardigan a nice contrast to my blue sweater underneath.

I looked at Doug - you'd like him and I'll ask if I can tell you more about him sometime - and sighed. He'd handled the whole Adam atrocity with an easy grace - guiding me away from additional encounters, offering conversation so I could avoid eye contact when we continued to meet in random galleries. And I had a lovely time - enjoying his company and our surroundings.

The reason it bothered me, I have decided after some sleep and additional obsession, is the mixture of hurt feelings related to that specific moment and confusion over dating in general. Nobody likes rejection, I know, but I seem to take it - even the implication of it - very hard. And as I look at this picture - which I love - and how the curves and light extend backward as far as I can see, I wonder how this momentary but surprising reaction to my presence from a colleague translates into the future and more personal situations.

While having a man interested in me is not unique, it is a rather rare occurrence. And in the past, when I do attract the notice of someone I find somehow wonderful, he always changes his mind. There is always a metaphorical moment where I say, "Hi! How are you? Why haven't you answered my email, you silly goose?" and must blink with pained surprise when he can't make eye contact and shuffles his feet and mumbles words whose meaning is lost behind the overall 'please get away from me and never return' message.

And I do, of course, manage a wounded and inelegant retreat from the situation and person, left to forever wonder what I did. I did ask once, adding to the pathetic reaction I have when rejected, begging for insight into what shifted so I could predict it in future situations, avoiding the stupid shock in addition to the underlying pain that someone I had grown to know and love wanted nothing so much as for that situation to stop. (He, by the way, gave an 'it's not you,' reply that was, if memory serves, quite kind but utterly useless. If it's not me, then what was it? And how do I avoid it happening again?!)

So that's where I'm stuck - as if I'm a chord that's sharp and can't fix it because my instrument is out of tune - and knowing it may not be me, but it affects me too much nonetheless.

Note: This post marks my blogiversary! I have been posting for five years, having pressed publish for the first time on November 13, 2005. And while I'm still not without issues (see above post), I do think I've made remarkable progress, both in writing and in life. So I will thank you for your presence and patience in my life - for offering support and encouragement and gentle suggestions - as I've struggled to grow up. And as I reach to give you a bloggy hug for being so wonderful, do not turn away and pretend you don't know me. It hurts my feelings.

Love,
Katie

Pros & Cons

For every shriek, there is a corresponding cuddle, though the two events are temporally separated. For every time I rolled my eyes at a selfish or icky or annoying act, I smiled at two - Smallest One kissing Chienne, ponytails swishing when we walked outside, stories told with great detail and excitement, chalk art covering my driveway in an explosion of color and shapes.

The left after 30 minutes of loading belongings into the van, the girls giggling as the neighbor cat came to visit and allowed himself to be petted. I smiled and gave hugs and kisses and waved goodbye until the van lumbered out of sight. Then I came inside, showered and settled my phone next to my bed before slipping into a peaceful nap, embracing the quiet that settled gently over my home once again.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tangles, Snags & Other Messes

Are you familiar with Sonic? It is a chain restaurant that differs from many fast food options in that there are a bunch of parking spots - on either side of the building, actually - each with a menu and speaker so you can peruse the menu, order at your leisure and have the people bring your food right to your car. You can even eat right there in the parking space if you want to.

I had a fondness for Sonic when I was a post-doc for 2 basic reasons. One was that it was the closest place to my house and the other was that they add flavors to drinks. Lured by the thought of a diet coke with cherry and a little bit of lemon, I decided to go to the new location on my way home from a meeting last week. I frowned at the line in the drive-thru, wondered why everyone avoided the friendly parking spaces with their individual menus and pulled neatly into one, pressed the button and waited for someone to take my order. Then I waited and waited and waited some more for someone to bring my drink.

I was in a good mood, however, and decided philosophically that the procedure was different up north. Should I want a diet coke with cherry and a little bit of lemon again, I would join the line of cars and order at the bigger menu and pick the drink up myself.

I was driving home today, having worked for four hours of the day I was meant to take off, and realized it was 3PM. Sonic, I remembered, had Happy Hour from 2-4 where all drinks were half price. I wasn't feeling particularly happy, having screwed up the software load on all these computers I need for an event next week and generally getting in the way of the lovely engineer who had been sent to handle the project.

Remembering my realization from last time, I dutifully pulled in behind two cars waiting at the drive-thru window and waited. I frowned and wondered what was taking so long about 4 minutes later, having been mulling over my Linux failures and feeling rather dumb. I realized when the car ahead of me honked that the man first in line had just been sitting there. Not ordering. Not waiting for another car. Just staring at the menu. And we were sitting behind him like idiots.

At Second Car's impatient noise, he pulled forward enough to begin his lengthy order and she coaxed her car over the concrete barrier to pull into a spot and place her order as Southern Sonics would have you do. I looked at the bump and decided that the man must almost be done with his endless questions and debates over options and waited behind him until I could order my drink.

I waited while he - a man close to my age, by the way - took a good 2 minutes (yes - I did watch the clock) to find money to pay. He changed his mind on a couple of items at the window and reevaluated options. He took the bag and examined each item individually before slowly creeping away from the window. Then, as I was handed my diet coke with cherry and a little bit of lemon, I watched, open-mouthed with furious dismay, as he pulled into an empty spot and began to eat.

Now I maintain this guy is an asshole. To completely ignore a wildly viable option to do exactly what he did but not get in anyone's way is asinine. That I wished I could hit him with my car, get out to kick at him, then yell for a moment before pulling away means that I'm in a bit of a mood.

I had to take a deep breath when we went shopping and Smallest One would not stop with the "I want that. I want that. I want that. I want that..." I am happy to buy her something and she did pick out slippers and a fuzzy sweatshirt and a toy. And if she wanted to trade the toy she had for something else, I was also cool with that decision. But to endlessly see and demand without any real knowledge of what that even was? It grated on my nerves.

When she and her sister argue - the constant picking and taunting and tattling and yelling eventually turns my gentle, "we don't do that, sweetheart," to "stop, please" to "Knock it Off, Now!" And after I shout, they "cry" and while I know I should feel bad about it, I watch them dispassionately and think that if they're going to do such a lousy job at faking sadness, I'm certainly not going to reward it with apologies or cuddles.

There are mountains of requests at work - projects that have been kept on life support as I've focused on the event that just wrapped up. And now that said event has concluded, the pressure is overwhelming and coming from all angles. "Could you take a look at this? Review that? Come to these 10 meetings? Make this trip? It's only for a day. Well, maybe 3." And that's understandable - and I do want to help! - but I'm tired. I have this other event that requires Ultra-Priority Attention. And so I must deflect some requests and when colleagues are - justifiably or no - irritated? I either snap and glare if said irritation is expressed in person or viciously delete emails and ignore subsequent messages if you dare cross me in writing.

I need sleep. Solitude. And a shower. And while I can get the latter and catch bits of the first, it's the middle that's tripping me up. Much as I hate to admit it, I want my family to go away. I want work people to stop bugging me. I would not mind if a cute boy wanted to offer sympathy and stroke my hair, but I also know I'm positively awful right now.

But it should ease shortly.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Eventful

"Yours was the best one," my last student murmured and I resisted the urge to cuddle him and instead squeezed his forearm with great affection before thanking him.

I sighed when the room emptied for the seventh time, facing my partners in the day o' lectures and sighed. "We were amazing," I told them, "but I am exhausted." They smiled and agreed and I plodded back to the podium and began to grade the last batch of quizzes before scampering to the closing session.

I shook hundreds of hands. I mustered excitement and emotion for every group, gesturing and imploring and offering stories. I answered questions, only writing 3 of them down throughout the day so I could check with my more technical colleagues. But, for the most part, we were completely prepared and wildly impressive.

I find events like this are rough in the preparation. I've been preparing slides since I was in Japan. I've practiced and reviewed with various teams and rehearsed in my car while making my short commute. I've critiqued my colleagues and yelled at Adam for changing formats again and whimpered with delicious gratitude upon falling into bed at night.

"So much fun!" I told my boss's boss when he continued to check in. For there was a positive energy throughout the days - an eagerness to learn and discuss and understand. And I do like talking. "I'd actually rather present than listen," I told one of the attendees when he asked how I was holding up. "Time goes faster if I'm thinking and people pay attention to me." I felt comfortable and confident and found myself thinking I love my job. Which is always a nice feeling.

It was sipping wine at one event and marveling at the elegance. It was gulping coffee at 5:30AM and praying I could make it through just one more day before life slowed down a bit. It was blearily typing emails to arrange a different event for next week, glancing at my Blackberry and trying to answer the critical questions so the details were properly arranged. There were cosmos at the end, followed shortly by margaritas and guacamole at a relaxed team dinner. It was winks and grins and applause as we worked. Rubbing shoulders, kissing cheeks and walking with linked arms as we chatted and argued and laughed.

My family arrived midweek and I added the rather surreal moments of opening my eyes at 1AM and finding Smallest One grinning at me from the side of the bed. "I'll come up there," she informed me and I scooped her up and settled her on a pillow before falling asleep once again. They came in this morning to check on me, two wonderful girls with tousled hair and monkeys on their pajamas with wide smiles and eager inquiries over when I was waking up and what we were going to do today.

"I'm happy," I told Mom and Dad when I finally got home last night. "It's been wonderful and busy and I'm so proud of how well we did. But I'm exhausted - I need quiet and solitude and sleepytime." All of those will be in short supply over the next week - my expected (and eagerly anticipated) lull next week morphing somehow into busy days at work followed by important social events in the evenings.

But it's going well. I feel productive and smart and rather special all around. And a surprise bonus as we left dinner last night was just icing.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Sunday's Sermon

There were eleven congregants, the pastor and piano player making us a baker's dozen clustered in the old church at the top of the hill. We stood together, a silent semi-circle at the front of the church, while the pastor prepared communion. We prayed and sang and talked of life after death.

A sense of peace pervades the place and, whimsical as it may sound, called to me from the bell tower peaking out of the trees, all that I could see as I drove by on my way to another church in past months. I am happy in the moments I spend there, though we are early in our budding relationship - this church and I. Still, elderly faces creased in smiles as members welcomed me back. I relaxed into the corner of a pew, feeling comforted by the thought of the many people who had settled there before me, though few of them were in attendance on this particular Sunday.

There are just so many little pieces that I like. The way the usher pulls the cord hanging in the back of the sanctuary, waiting for the swing of the bell and it's resultant peal of noise to signal the start of worship. The flipping pages of hymnals before we stand to sing. The way the light washes across the floorboards and glimmers against the polished pews. Saying 'debts and debtors' rather than that thing about trespassing in the Lord's Prayer. Sermons that, while imperfect, make me pause to consider points and perspectives I'd otherwise have missed.

We talked of the Sadducees - their story is in Matthew, Mark and Luke - and their questions of a situation in which a woman had multiple husbands over the course of her life and to whom she would belong in the afterlife. So we discussed death in a quiet church with light streaming through the windows. And though he didn't mention it, I paused to think of The Great Divorce. Of the necessary release we make of the secular in order to direct our attention and begin the climb toward God. I read that during a very dark time and it gave me a sense of peace and hope and understanding that I desperately needed.

I find myself at a much brighter time in my life of late, but there are still interesting - and relevant - reminders of what this place is meant to be and how it differs from what waits. So it was a good lesson - and interesting sermon - but I would have approached it differently. (Just as last week when he took the opportunity to remind those of cultural popularity versus spiritual morality using the civil rights movement as an example from the past. I would have taken gays and lesbians in the church as a discussion for the present for it's rather ridiculous to tsk over the past when you're sinning in a very similar way in the present, says Katie.) But with both visits, I've spent some time thinking through my interpretations and how I want to apply scripture to my life.

So church is clearly an ought in my life but I also want it to be a like. And it seems I've found a place that enables that outcome. Thanks be to God. And peace be with you.

Changes in Chicago

"I'm thinking of going to Rome for my birthday," I announced over lunch, satisfied nearly to smugness when my friends ceased nibbling dim sum and looked at me with surprise.

"Why?" PrettyHair finally asked. "Does the local team need to see you? Customer visits?"

I smiled and took a sip of jasmine tea before shaking my head. "I'm thinking of going for fun. Staying at an elegant hotel, wandering the streets and staring at fountains and buildings, drinking Prosecco and eating nothing but Italian food."

They stared at me for another moment (Sibling's husband took the opportunity to send a wink my way) and then Sibling and PrettyHair immediately began their campaign of strong support for such a trip. They have ideas of where I should stay and what I should see. And January might be a bit cold, but, oh, Katie likes the cold so it will be fine. And I could shop for shoes! Rome really is amazing - full of atmosphere to experience - and it's really a fabulous idea for turning 32!

I have been trying - quite hard, actually, so feel free to offer encouragement and congratulations - to nudge at the boundaries of my comfort zone. I am a creature of routine and relaxation in my spare time, but I'm taking stock of what I'd like in relation to where I am in my life and realizing the landscape almost sparkles with opportunity. I feel like I'm heading toward a spiritual peak on my continuous religious oscillation, my prayers coming a bit more easily of late. My family is good, though Mom is struggling with her breathing right now, and they will be coming for a visit this week. I'm nearly giddy with the thought of having my house invaded with noise and clutter and happy giggles and whining pleas. I am, quite frankly, amazing at my job, having achieved that delightful state where I'm comfortable enough to take chances and can watch people grin when I offer something insightful or witty during meetings. I'm liked. I know fascinating people and - due to being rather happy - am able to focus past what happens in my brain to what's happening in theirs.

To that end, when invited on a road trip, I happily accepted this time. Chicago isn't an impossible day trip from where I have my house, but I've always thought it more trouble than worthwhile. I'd have to get up early and wear something other than pajamas - perhaps even curl my hair. I wouldn't get my mid-day nap that I treasure on Saturdays and I wouldn't be able to putter with cleaning and catching up with work and running errands. And I enjoy that quiet after the constant conversation that consumes my professional life. Still, I told myself when Sibling issued the invitation, there was a tug of 'I'd like to do that' so I steeled myself against laziness and asked when and where we were meeting. (But I'm still Katie so I asked if I could not drive.)

I ended up curled in the backseat of a rented sedan and we chatted about dating and butterflies and overall compatibility. About small businesses and large companies and how it feels when you work at something and realize it actually made a difference for someone - solved a problem, offered an opportunity, helped them understand something that had been previously confusing. It was lively and lovely and though I was a bit 'Dude - what the hell?' about the length of the drive and the volume of traffic, I reminded myself to relax and succeeded at least a little bit.

We had dim sum in Chinatown, my repeated glares at the dumplings that dared escape my clumsy control of my chopsticks resulting in a fork being placed by my plate. I wondered briefly if I should be insulted, shrugged and happily speared my bit of shrimp and cilantro yumminess with my western utensil. We wandered around before piling back in the car and heading downtown where I complimented Sibling's husband for his driving skills and talent at finding street parking. He grinned at me and Sibling patted his arm affectionately, making me smile.

We walked and snapped photos, admiring the scarlet trees in Millennium Park and clustering together to take self-portraits in front of the jellybean sculpture (which fascinates me no matter how many times I see it). Standing before it, surrounded by friends, I blinked at the distorted reflection and wondered with some degree of shock when I stopped thinking I was ugly.

"How odd," I mused silently, cocking my head and watching my reflection do the same. "But how wonderful," I decided after a moment, smiling a bit harder when my reflection's lips curved, and tucking my hand through PrettyHair's arm in happy affection for my friends. We had churros (how I love the churro - all crunchy and sweet and delicious) and shopped at CB2 before beginning the lengthy drive home. I yawned in the back seat, listening to Sibling speak in foreign languages on her cell phone as I sifted through my thoughts and thought of the pictures I'd taken. I won't lie - I fretted over several issues and made faces in the darkness as I puzzled through situations that made my stomach hurt a little. Growing boundaries is important, but it results in a feeling of niggling discomfort for me. I need to pause and assess and see if I'm comfortable with the additional space.

Reminding myself that there was no pressure and that I could always nap on Sunday after church, I relaxed until we arrived at Pretty Hair's house where our respective cars waited, gathered my pretty purchases and waved affectionately before climbing in my Jeep and heading home. Before I drifted to sleep, Chienne behind my knees, I decided that in addition to my Sunday nap, I was also going to price flights to Rome. And see if I could quantify a cost that matches personal progress.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Personal Pause

I have been - well, am, actually - dating.

Given my tendency to over-think most situations I find interesting, there are several posts I could write and several more I have written but not published. What I want to do - what I used to enjoy doing - is tell a cohesive story. There are reasons and plans and timelines behind why I started dating and what I hoped to get out of this and who I've met and what's gone well and what's been wrong.

"I don't believe in soul mates," one date told me as I stared across the table and thought about how completely sexy he was. "I think there are many people with whom you could have a relationship."

And - in my mind - he is correct. There is a spectrum of individuals - some are wildly repulsive, others completely unattainable and then a whole crowd of men in the middle. There are predictable permutations, of course, but also a number of surprising subtleties.

At a high level, I subscribe to a line from The Screwtape Letters. "I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked."

"All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients
said on his arrival down here, "I now see that I spent most of my life in doing
neither what I ought nor what I liked". The Christians describe the Enemy as one
"without whom Nothing is strong". And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to
steal away a man's best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of
the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of
curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of
fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in
the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give
them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature
is too weak and fuddled to shake off."

[Aside: Is CS Lewis not ridiculously elegant? The entire chapter is online. I also highly recommend The Great Divorce. If you enjoy audiobooks, both are excellent for a thoughtful listen as well.]

Therefore, if I like someone but don't particularly desire him, I've been willing to explore a second date. And sometimes it's lovely but not right. And that's fine as long as I'm enjoying the process.

And when I desired someone I ended up not liking, I ended up with a naked man in my bedroom and asked him to leave. Sex, for me, is not casual or solely physical, but that's a longer story for a different day. I can say that I very quickly realized it was for the best though.

There was a completely perfect first date - a post that made me tingle and smile and hope even as I wrote it.

I've read someone completely wrong - my default opinion that cute boys can't like plain Katie not holding true in a constant sense. I'm both baffled and flattered when someone is attracted to me.

I'm learning preferences. I like tall men - there's something about standing on tiptoe to hug or tucking my hand through an arm when walking through a parking lot to the car. I'd rather kisses start slowly and build gradually. I love knowing someone is thinking of me and am completely enjoying the distraction of thinking of someone and looking forward to the next encounter.

I hesitate to reveal all my thoughts at the moment though. First, I think too much already - I don't want to tell some pieces of the story until I'm really ready to assess and share it. Second, I do use my blog email when meeting men and there are some neuroses better hidden in the beginning. (Though, yes, I'm aware that any time spent reading the blog as it exists now could find any number of quirks and oddities.) Third, if I fail - and I might - I'm going to be going over the experience in excruciating detail in my mind so I may as well write about it then and avoid being redundant!

Luckily enough, my professional life is ramping up at a rather alarming rate, meaning next week is utterly date-free. And while I wouldn't have selected this particular week as being off-limits, perhaps it will work out for the best as I settle and process thoughts and feelings.

But I wanted to tell you that I'm happy. I'm gathering confidence and learning that there may be someone for me after all. Either way, the story is yet to come.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Placeholder Post

I have The Best Story and a wildly different reason for being awake at almost 2AM! But I'm going to sleep now and let the anticipation build.

(But, honestly, truly wonderful story. Feel free to start being happy for me now.)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Thoughts, Recent but Random

"This is incomprehensible," Adam said and I looked up from his notes on my presentation and frowned. I had worked and worked on those slides and our conversation thus far had been wonderful - constructive suggestions and much encouragement and even a few smiley faces scrawled in the margins.

"It is not incomprehensible," I argued, leaning forward to attack. "Just because it's not exactly what you would have written doesn't mean it's not good! Now I've done what you asked - even when I thought you were wrong - because I know you're stressed but this is ridiculous!" And I have had enough of my boss - much as I normally like him - lately. What with the urgent requests and late-breaking feedback, he has been making a challenging process even worse. But I keep reminding myself that I love my job and puttering away at all sorts of Important Tasks.

He grinned and pushed the paper across the table toward me.

"Oh," I offered sheepishly. "This is incomprehensible." And we giggled because the printer got confused at the end of my job and decided to place a bunch of symbols and shapes in lieu of my conclusion text. And I came across the same slide when I was making revisions this evening and laughed some more. I'm nearly done with this particular project and feeling rather good about the effort.

****

"Hi," I greeted the little girl at my door on Halloween. I grabbed several pieces of candy from my basket and deposited them in her plastic pumpkin and watched her touch one of my guard bunnies with her sword.

I raised an eyebrow at her mother and smiled and she shrugged in response. "She likes your yard ornaments," she explained, "and is trying to do magic on them - first the frog in your flower bed and now the bunny. I think she's trying to make a prince."

"That," I replied after laughing, "would be fantastic. Keep at it," I advised the little magician. "And have fun."

****

"No one without a neurological dysfunction is 'bad' at fucking, any more than they can be 'bad' at eating, or breathing, or walking."
- Credit withheld

I have been thinking about sex of late and found the above to be rather profound. I love the idea of putting intimate matters in the realm of preference rather than performance.

****

"I like your house," a little boy said after I gave him candy.

"Thank you," I replied politely, wondering if it was because I was giving handfuls rather than a piece of sweets. "I like it, too."

"Do you have a son?" he asked and I shook my head.

"A daughter?" he persisted as I distributed candy to his friends.

"Nope," I replied. "Just a dog who is trying to escape," I murmured under my breath.

"Do you have a husband?" a young girl asked, her expression earnest and concerned as she looked up at me.

"No, I don't," I said gently and smiled at her.

"I'm so sorry," she told me.

"It's really OK," I replied. Then I wondered if I would have been hurt had I not had plans for this week that have me feeling rather happy.

****

"Oh, I talked to Tom, Dick and Harry," I told Adam yesterday. "They had some interesting ideas, but it took four hours to wrap up the review."

"So you're all Dicked out?" he asked and I disagreed, saying Dick provided valuable feedback and alternate mechanisms to achieve the same goal.

"Dicked out," I repeated after I finished, shaking my head at him. "Don't," I immediately warned when he opened his mouth, eyes lit up in delight.

"What?" he asked as he chuckled. "I was just going to ask if you were still dating!"

"Goodness," I scolded. "I am dating, yes. But I'm not dignifying your opening statement with a response." I stood to leave his office and called over my shoulder, "and it's very sad that I think you're funny."

****

I had a google search for 'why is being a postdoc so miserable?' If said searcher was just curious, my response would be that it wasn't constant misery. There was a flexible schedule, being surrounded by intensely smart individuals, the potential for collaboration, the ego boosts of publication and some travel opportunities for conferences and the like.

If said searcher was suffering, I suppose I'd say I'm sorry. Because it is tremendously difficult at times to do a postdoctoral fellowship. Personally, I was recovering from a tough ending to grad school, fell for someone who was as unavailable as I was desperate, struggling to find my place in a very competitive academic environment and wishing I made more money. Or was prettier. Or had a chance to re-do certain decisions.

Remember that the point of higher education is to stretch - to take in knowledge and strive for innovation. To face funding and publication systems that are inherently critical and attempts that often fail. You're paid very little and asked to do a whole lot. For me, it made all my flaws obvious - put all weaknesses on display. But in that experience, you can find confidence and strength and, regardless of what comes next, find yourself remarkably well prepared for it.

****

Yes, I am awake at 3:38AM. I had thoughts. I also have an 8AM meeting so I'm going back to sleep.