- As of tomorrow, I am officially finished with my probationary punishment, in terms of both time and tasks. I'm relieved. And pleased.
- I have been growing depressed - I felt myself withdraw. Grow anxious. Get viciously defensive. Push people away who hadn't been swayed by the initial withdrawal. I grew increasingly sad and hopeless.
- "Take more pills," Mom advised when I spoke to her this weekend. I nodded in agreement and upped my dosage, slipping into happy/encouraging mode when talking to Dad.
- He does the same for me - the happy/encouraging act that can only be sustained for minutes.
- "Pray," I requested yesterday. "The only time I feel anything less that miserable is when I'm praying."
- And today - by the grace of God - was better. Not in that it was less busy or stressful. But I was less exhausted and despairing. I felt peaceful. Settled. Ready.
- "Could you pray?" I request now because Dad's been off of chemotherapy for 4 weeks now. Abdominal swelling. Leg swelling. Kidney function. Excessive Potassium.
- But he and Mom continue to run errands. Watch the girls. Talk to me by phone each day. I want them to be peaceful and settled and happy. So very much.
- This weekend, I write the cover letter to apply for a new job.
- I need to find an old version on this laptop before writing said cover letter - I'm not sure I remember how.
- It's rained! Chienne hides downstairs. My weedy lawn grows once again.
- Nobody won American Ninja Warrior. Did you see it? Were you as disappointed as I?
- Who's excited about the Olympics? (Me. I am.)
- I'm now longer very excited about this post though.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Sunday, July 22, 2012
For what could be the last time - for the end is nigh - I'm traveling with Sibling. We've grown up together in our current roles - slipping into competitive patterns that blended gently into a genuine affection and respect. We are not the very best of friends, but we are close.
We were scolded for taking certain photos - traveling exhibits pose copyright infringements, I'm given to understand from a suited/headsetted guard. But just because I took a photo does not mean I created it - I did, not after, build Amsterdam or Versailles. Still, the artist certainly deserves credit - her touring pieces were undeniably compelling.
But as we wandered, Sibling and I talked. How I was not offered the job for which I interviewed. But how she, in contrast, was. She was beginning to pack, preparing to move, looking over places to rent near New York City.
"You'll come visit?" she asked again and I shrugged and smiled.
"It's not my favorite place," I said, motioning to the Midwestern city we currently occupy that I actually like more. "Busy, intense, overwhelming. But, yes - I'll come visit."
"Just keep swimming," I murmured, thinking that it's what I tell myself when I'm tired and achy and not near a stopping point. And I stared a bit too long into Dory's painted gaze and hoped that life doesn't always favor the wise or prepared or deserving. That sometimes kindness and mercy arrive from unexpected places.
I reminded Mom of this when I returned to the hotel and called home. She'd forgotten to change Dad's pain patch on schedule and was consumed with guilt that he'd had such a difficult day today.
"It happens," I soothed. "You're doing an amazing job taking care of him. Everyone makes mistakes. We all love you anyway, just like you love us."
"It seems like you could do that," Sibling said as we stood in front of the large pieces of art created from pins. I smiled and shook my head, reminding her that I'm too impatient to make a single circle with tiny pins, let alone a bunch of them.
"It's very pretty though," I commented as we walked away, wishing I could take a photo. (I did so from the floor above, but with a guilty feeling.) "A conglomeration of small decisions and overall planning. It makes me want to say something profound about God's plan and being present and doing the best I can with this moment." I told her.
But all I really had was the wisdom of Pixar - Just Keep Swimming.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
"I no longer hope for miracles," Mom said. "It seems that time has passed."
Dad hadn't answered when I called this evening so I tried Mom, finding her en route from delivering the girls to Brother's house. We chatted - prayer chains and Aunt's broken phone and mothers who don't feed or bathe The Ones in favor of passing the chore to over-burdened grandparents.
"I need you to stay on until I get home," she noted when there was a pause in the conversation and I nodded, telling her I understood. "Hold on," she directed and I heard her draw a breath before opening the door, both of us exhaling in relief when Dad called out a greeting.
I did the same today when I got home from work and Chienne didn't race to welcome me. I called. And called again. And once more before she crept from the basement, ears perked cautiously to listen for thunder.
"It stopped storming," I informed her, smoothing her coat and scratching her head. "Pretty unsatisfying overall," I continued of the rain that sputters and stops, attempting to cool the Midwest and deposit some desperately-needed moisture to our crops before seeming to sigh quietly in defeat and make way for more sunshine and incessant heat.
There is so much oscillation - a merciless give and take that offers hope and yanks it back with a cruel giggle.
I should not write that - God is good and loving and I'm praying. I appreciate any prayers you may have sent. We are immeasurably blessed and while my current situation can be excruciating - desperately miserable - it is not constantly so.
I laughed with Dad when he indicated he liked a certain commercial - sparing a moment's gratitude for the agency which designed it and offered a moment of lightness.
"I'm alligator man," he noted and I looked up to gaze at the reddened, wrinkled skin on his feet and lower legs, propped as they were on extra couch cushions.
"It's finally draining," I said encouragingly, rising to wash my hands and smooth the sore skin that has been stretched around massive edema for weeks.
But they refill when he lowers his legs to sit. And he's developing sores from sitting so much.
Mom sobs when she tells me - multiple times - of how he struggled to gag down some medication because his Potassium levels were elevated.
I beg him to eat, saying I know he's not hungry but he has to intake some calories.
Mom wept when I left yesterday, capturing the ever-elusive Mr. Sprout as he hissed and struggled and giving good-bye kisses through a small opening in my rolled-down window.
I returned to my house - its blessedly cool temperature and gentle quiet and access to solitude. And to a job that is uncertain in more ways than I can bring myself to explain.
I, like the rain, ebb and flow with my interest in these goings-on. I sometimes care deeply, my ambitious side emerging with vicious glee and manipulating everyone she can find. But those storms are brief and useless - my overall attitude to endure and reserve strength for what horror comes next.
But it's raining now - a sustained and heavy deluge. I'm left to hope that the shift with weather will do something for my mood as well.
Saturday, July 14, 2012
It's lovely even from the air, finding me twisting toward my window to try to get the proper angles as we glided among the clouds above AMS. Twisting rivers, defined towns and acres of countryside - a perfectly sunny welcome to the Netherlands.
My meetings went well - were both friendly and productive. I answered questions and presented material and indicated that I did not want to leave my current position, but might need to do so, asking them to trust that I'd direct anyone new to take good care of them.
I had dinner at Le Garage with the VI-iest of the VIPs in my circle, giggling with him and his wife as we nibbled at fish and drank a bottle of wine. My colleagues were most impressed by his restaurant choice and I nodded when my companions made subtle motions toward celebrities I did not know.
"Does he play soccer? Er, futbol?" I asked innocently more than once. "I understand you enjoy that."
Upwards of 3 hours after my arrival, my cheeks tingle from the scrape of his stubble when he kissed me goodnight.
"Three times," he laughed when I pulled away after the first and second kisses. "We Dutch are generous."
And they are - my taxi drivers were the epitome of friendliness so I chatted as I adjusted yet another of my dresses that are cut too low. (I don't know why I insist on exposing so much cleavage lately. Perhaps because dresses that are suitably knee-length and flowing try to be sexier in other bosom-based regions?)
Still, I arrived feeling pleasantly tipsy and nearly pretty with my glossy lips and curling hair and dress that flirted with the backs of my knees. I fell into bed with absent prayers for Dad - they held chemotherapy yet again as his legs remain swollen. I fear for what I'll find when I return home, but am eager to offer Mom some in-person support.
But I awakened to an email that said he had a good day. Accepted Kool-Aid to drink and had eaten a bit. In the event that God favors requests from others (which I don't believe, but am covering my bases), could you pray if you're of that persuasion? I need him to be peaceful and happy - at least in some moments. Please, please, please...
Still, when I finally felt like emerging from my pillowy nest, the rain continued. So I dressed and departed, acquiring a map and then catching the metro, bright green umbrella around my wrist.
It was cold and wet and I wanted to wrinkle my nose, but I mustered my happiness and followed the crowds of umbrellaed tourists down the street away from the station. It was crowded and I subconsciously move away from crowds, finding myself alone on smaller streets without really meaning to do so. Still, the smaller streets are charming and I enjoyed the pace - pausing for photos, juggling my umbrella and camera and bag.
Content was I until a car sped down the flooded street, sending a television-worthy arc of water toward me while I winced helplessly - umbrella already folded at my side as the spray soaked me from ponytail to silver flats.
So I took a boat ride, determined to dry out at least slightly, and took many pictures blurred by the rain on the windows. I finally got my bearings and found the flower market. Had lunch. Watched a prostitute take a man through her door and behind her curtains (her dress matched my umbrella, actually - my umbrella had far more material). I peeked in sex shops and inhaled while wandering past coffee houses, trying to determine if the slightly-sweet scent was marijuana during a break in the weather.
It had started to rain again though and, tired of being wet if not tired in general, I moved toward Centraal and immediately found the metro I desired. Slipping back to the hotel, I checked email to make sure all was well at home and fell into a nice nap.
And tomorrow I go home.
Thursday, July 12, 2012
The trip thus far has been lovely. Meetings productive. Hotels luxurious. Walks beautiful and never-too-far. I'm far below budget, sleeping reasonably well and finding delicious treats.
The bittersweet component comes in bursts - firecracker swift and loud and startling. We were discussing healthcare last night over dinner. I was savoring my roast chicken, already looking forward to chocolate cake, and the topic turned to affordable healthcare.
"That's fine in theory," I replied after it was said that some procedures return too little on the investment. "But as I'm losing my Dad, I could see myself going up to and including murder to keep him just one more day when we reach the end. It's just a visceral, human response to losing someone you love."
The conversation continued and I reached past my wine glass for my water, needing the Evian to soothe my throat and found my hands were shaking too badly to risk raising the glass. So I stared out the front window at the darkening French evening and helplessly prayed the moment would pass.
On our walk back to the hotel, Adam and I chatted companionably and remarked over various items professional and pretty. Placing my flats carefully on the uneven cobblestones between the perfectly manicured trees lining our rue, I debated but finally asked if my probational period was close to ending.
"What?" he asked and I wondered if he was stalling or simply tipsy and tired.
"The plan," I explained impatiently. "You say I've done well. I think I've done well. So when is this over?" And I nodded when he indicated there was one task remaining and that it was more his fault than mine that we'd not yet checked off that list. We said goodnight and I moved into my room, kicking off my silver shoes and slipping out of my sweater that covered the plunging neckline of my dress.
"You're fine," I told myself soothingly, but the sense of failure - of shame and pitiful misery - left me breathless. It took me several hours before I could relax into sleep, leaving me to skip this morning's optional meetings so I could rest. (Which is probably indicative of my overall problem and why this probational period happened at all.)
As I waited for my quiche to warm, I shifted my dessert and drink and said a quick but fervent prayer that Dad's oncology appointment would go well today. That I'd find my professional path and move on it a bit more easily. That the woman begging on the train and people with real problems feel love and mercy and comfort.
Now, CDG, despite my frequent criticism, is giving me free internet as I wait to depart to Amsterdam. (I just don't love this airport though - in all fairness - it's perfectly nice.) I've not been there so my brain should be bathed in new sights and sounds and smells for the next couple of days before returning to spend some time with my parents.
I do hope you're all well - that there's far more sweet than bitter in your stories of the day.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Dear Canon PowerShot ELPH 500HS,
Thank you for accompanying me on this trip, like others we have taken together before. Remember when we were in Versailles in February? It's much prettier now - more colors to capture as the flowers bloom. It's rather gently joyful, don't you think?
Some may find it rather pathetic that you're my travel buddy, but I've grown fond of wandering alone through streets and up paths with you dangling from my wrist. It reminds me to pause and examine the moment. To capture the way light glimmers and flows and how petals dance in the breeze. And the output allows me to share pieces of my journey with those I love, though email and online.
I took a picture of us together in a mirror in the lobby. I'll let you keep it to remember our fun and friendship.
Love and pretty pictures, Katie
Dear European Portion of Travel Adapter,
Please accept my apology for leaving you in my last hotel. It was a regrettable oversight - I really meant to unplug you and put you neatly with your friends for the other countries and was dismayed to find you missing upon my arrival at my new hotel.
It was kind of the housekeeping staff to find you and my colleague to fetch you in his car though, wasn't it? I promise to be more careful for the rest of our journey. The electronics demand your presence to refill their batteries so you're an important component of our operation here.
Dear Waldorf Astoria,
I've have never stayed at one of your hotels before and I will happily admit that I'm impressed. The buildings and gardens, lobbies and rooms - all exquisite. I was just sitting on the velvet chaise lounge by my large window and wishing I had it in my house. So - sincerely - nicely done.
Upon reading some reviews online though, I wondered if I might offer some advice around pricing. I, you see, am using a very reasonable corporate rate (155 Euros) and am enjoying my stay immensely. If you, however, demand upwards of 700 Euros for a suite - as nice as that suite may be - there's much more potential for disappointment. Economic times are difficult. Perhaps you could have a sale! After all, you really are a place to sleep and shower.
With admiration and advice,
Yapping Dog Down Hall,
No. Bad Dog. This is the Waldorf Astoria, for goodness sake! Dignity and decorum, s'il vous plaît.
Annoyed but whispering,
Human Next Door
Monday, July 09, 2012
“You should have told us before you had breakfast,” the receptionist scolded me. I sheepishly apologized before remembering that she – in some sense – worked for me. “It sometimes is difficult to get a car.”
“As soon as you can,” I repeated. “I’ll wait until the car can arrive.” Then I smiled politely and took my seat in the lobby as it quickly filled with other guests who had not requested rides in a timely manner.
Ahmed, my driver, arrived first and stopped traffic with a casual wave, gesturing me across the street and into the back of his sedan. I fastened my seatbelt, indicated that, no, I don’t speak French and set about the cheerful pantomime that accompanies my English regardless of which country I visit.
“It’s beautiful here,” I told him as we inched along streets lush with vegetation on both sides.
“Good bread, good wine, good cheese. Good girls, good boys!” he replied happily in his lilting accent, making me laugh. We chatted as we progressed toward the office and I admired the cool breeze entering the window as I gazed at fields of soft amber grasses and ostentatious medians – blooms of multiple hues literally tumbling in charming designs.
I cleared the security building and promptly became lost on campus. “I found the building where you used to work,” I apologized to a new colleague when she came to fetch me. “I’m not sure if I was distracted by the flowers or didn’t understand the directions. But I was nowhere close,” I noted some 10 minutes later as we continued to hike through parking lots.
Upon arrival, I was offered a table in the middle of the room and decided everyone liked me so much that I had to be equidistant from each of the occupants so no one felt cheated. I did, I decided, take extra care with curling my hair this morning. So their admiration seemed sensible even though it placed me nowhere near an outlet.
We worked steadily until my first appointment arrived. “I didn’t have anything in particular to discuss,” I told the women who joined me around my table. But I answered questions and offered insights long after our scheduled 60 minutes had elapsed. I need a challenge, I thought of my professional life, but it is lovely to be good at your job without really trying.
We went to lunch (for-like-ever...) and I stood behind a colleague even as I wrinkled my nose over his choice of ham with some odd sauce. After confirming that it was pork-body and not calf-brain, I asked if he could order me the same (as, again, I do not speak the French).
"She wants the same," he said in English and I raised an eyebrow at him.
"I could have done that," I murmured, trying to figure out how to act out "equal to" to the chef behind the counter. My colleague quickly said a whole bunch of stuff I didn't understand (and which may or may not have been complimentary to yours truly) and I was handed a full plate that I didn't finish.
"Oh, wow," I interrupted a French history lesson when I abandoned my entree to enjoy my dessert. It was this delightful souffle sort of wonder with toasted almonds atop and was somehow at once rich and light. "This is amazing," I continued as I ate it, shaking my head that my colleagues had access to such treats and did not partake.
I sent an email, using the card Ahmed directed me to use, and asked my new-friend-with-a-car to come fetch me at 4:15. Then I asked him to confirm that 1615 suited his schedule.
"Hello. ok thx." Ahmed replied and I decided we were unlikely to be pen pals. Then he sent the same message again 14 minutes later and I decided he also thought my hair was very pretty today, being so obviously eager to see me again.
After completing some meetings but leaving a bit of work undone, I went to find Ahmed. I beamed at him as I entered the security office - one of the few French who'd not scolded me and arrived ahead of schedule. He deposited me in the back seat, closing the door gently behind me and asking about my day.
We retraced our route to my hotel and I rested a bit until dinnertime. I decided a creperie was less shameful than a pizzeria and selected the closest one that was open on Mondays. After asking permission, I seated myself at an outdoor table and ordered sweet cider while I frowned over the multitude of choices.
Upon her return, the proprietor scolded me for not deciding quickly enough and watched me from the doorway as I became increasingly stressed and indecisive. (I ended up with a camembert & salad brown-crepe and a chocolate-almond-whipped-cream pale-crepe for dessert - they were delicate and delightful.) (My ever-present dining-supervisor was less so.) (Though she did bring me a spoon when I had more chocolate and whipped cream than crepe at the end. So perhaps she was just bored. Or couldn't stop looking at my prettily-curled hair!)
I wandered a bit, admiring the wispy grey clouds making patterns in the sky, before returning to climb the spiral staircase to my room. I shall finish some work before bed.
And email Ahmed to see that he takes me to my new hotel tomorrow morning.
Sunday, July 08, 2012
Step 1, I decided, was to pack and clean. And so I carefully selected wrinkle-proof dresses and miscellaneous underthings, rolling them into the Vera Bradley overnight bag I received for Christmas. I brought the same one on my last European trip - that happy time in February where I flitted across France and Italy and the UK. My plans this time are less grand. Meetings at the local office in France. A quick stop in Amsterdam before heading home.
My life, this time, is much worse. Step 2, you see, was going home. Carting unhappy canine and feline and forgotten items from my family's last trip to see me, I arrived on Wednesday, taking advantage of the holiday weekend to steal a bit more time with my family.
Step 3 was getting here - to this hotel in this suburb of Paris - and each time I wanted to wince at my plane-related discomfort or swear viciously at people who were thwarting my attempts to move through various lines, I would think, 'Is this worse than watching Dad die?' So I would shake my head and pray with all my spiritual might, meager as that may be.
He was grotesquely swollen when I arrived - pitting edema, Friend says - and his legs would barely bend. I had to place my hand beneath his flip flop and lift as he struggled into the car on the way to the oncologist on Thursday. The next morning found us at the hospital to have some of the fluid drained. They took 12.3 Liters before returning him to us.
Can you picture 12.3+ liters of orange fluid on your belly? Trapping you in chairs because you're too heavy to rise? Unable to lie down because of the pressure and pain? And so I sat, staring at him, as he slumped in his recliner or on the nest of cushions Mom made on the couch. His head bowed, dozing at times, skin hanging from his face because he's lost so much weight but belly and legs distended from all the fluid. Though I remained quiet, my brain was screaming - calling out in pain and fear.
As I flew over the Atlantic, moving back to step 3, I wished - just for a second or two - that I would tumble into the ocean. Disintegrate on impact so that this body - this place - can't deteriorate or attack itself or be abandoned by those I love. But while I am profoundly sad, I am not suicidal. I did not attack anyone in the sweaty passport-control line in the bowels of CDG. I climbed on the train and not in front of it for my trip to the suburbs. I continued to walk even when laden with luggage and miserably lost from 60 minutes of searching.
The man at reception found a room for me when I arrived, shaken and damp with sweat from the sunny morning. He brought me a bottle of water before sending me up the stairs to get a cool shower and nice nap - I nearly kissed him. I showered, rinsing the travel and misery from my skin, and climbed into bed to let my mind and body relax into sleep.
When I awakened, I sent email to let my parents and brother know I'd arrived, pulled on now-dry clothing (I packed light - there's no help for it) and went for a walk, map in hand this time. I tried to enjoy the pleasant afternoon - the shafts of sunlight amidst shimmers of sprinkling rain, all against the backdrop of French architecture, of whim I'm inordinately fond. And I did coo at the flowers and pause to take photos, stopping to say prayers at the churches, begging help for my family as fervently as I did yesterday while holding my parents' hands.
"I ate a banana!" I scolded my calf when it cramped yet again after I rested on the bed I'm renting for two nights. "Stop. Relax. I'm doing all I can."
And after I walked away the pain of spasming muscles, I decided to take my own advice. Stop. Relax. Do what I can. So I ate pizza (I know, but there were calf brains and snails on the menu of the French place!) and wandered back and think I'm sleep some more before going to the office tomorrow.
We'll call that Step 4.
Monday, July 02, 2012
I was introduced to a research group who had previously been unknown to me. As is my typical procedure, I set up a phone call, indicated that, no, I don't have a travel budget that would tolerate a visit in person.
So we had a call. And I got overwhelmed by the quantity of research interests. And one of the fastest ways to land in the 'deal with it later' pile of a busy Industry professional is to lack focus. The best procedure?
- What do you want from Industry?
- Why do you want it?
- Why would Industry want to give it to you?
In the absence of what information, I can't form an action plan and we just have endless discussions about how great you are and how much we like you but nothing really gets done.
Still, as an Industry representative who cares about your needs and time, I should always (always, always) follow up with some offer of another discussion. But let's pretend I deal with dogs, specifically. This group liked dogs. But they also liked cats and snakes and birds (of all colors). Had more than a passing interest in zebras, giraffes and primates. And those folks over there were fond of cows, chickens and goats. And that guy in the corner who I couldn't really hear over the speaker phone kept mentioning seals, penguins and blue whales.
In short, I got overwhelmed, knew I couldn't even begin to tackle this group to begin to make connections and prioritize and passed it off to another individual. This person shall know be known as Useless.
I sent detailed notes to the team - people who'd introduced me to this group, Useless, Useless's Boss, my boss and other who might be interested. I told Adam I didn't have the network of cross-functional managers to adequately follow up and he agreed to the Useless plan.
I had a call to get Useless organized.
I wrote email to remind Useless that I was out of the office for family issues and asked that he keep me updated as meetings moved forward.
I did everything right! Hence the * in the title! (Except one notable thing. Do you know the notable thing?)
Recently, there was a Severe Escalation (read: Everyone Panic!!) because nobody had contacted the site. And now they were understandably frustrated and Important People wanted to know who messed up and why.
So there was this flurry of emails and phone calls. My contribution was to send my original notes, find the emails that indicated I handed off this responsibility and tried (mostly unsuccessfully) not to get upset.
Useless was trying to follow up. I got four Useless calls in the matter of an hour asking random questions until I finally advised that we all calm down and relax a little bit. Then I took my own advice, picked Friend up from the airport and had a really lovely weekend with one of my favorite people on the planet.
This morning, I drafted an email to the leader of the varied-interest group. I begged her pardon and noted that we did need someone at a higher level to participate and had meetings to that effect, but something got lost in translation. I explained that I'd been out for personal reasons and sincerely regretted that I'd not introduced her directly to Useless so that he could follow up. I expressed our interest in learning more and advised some initial focus to get started. Then I apologized again, textually hanging my head because I'd been bad.
And this is OK because I did screw up - I should have included this leader in my follow up plan, ensuring everyone was completely clear on what I expected to happen next. As I didn't do that, her perspective was that I still owned the next step and that was a fair (and frustrating) assessment. Which I did sincerely regret.
But! Now this email - my thoughtfully-written, head-hanging email - is being circulated throughout the sales team as evidence that Headquarters Has Apologized and We Can Now Move Forward. And I keep writing responses that indicate it wasn't really my fault! If Useless were Reliable, we'd be finished by now! I had email that vindicated me! I was trying to be the bigger person here and maintain the relationship by taking a hit to my ego.
But I can't. Because that does nobody any good.
But at least now you know - * I do not think this was my fault. And apart from sighing too loudly when Useless calls me (and ignoring said calls sometimes), it seems this was my only option for venting.