Just another were-week at work

She was soaring above a meadow, feeling the whoosh of air currents, instinctively adjusting her wings as needed. All her attention was focused below; she was able to view the rabbit without any problem. She circled round and started on a fast descent, ready to grab the tasty treat with her sharp talons. As she swooped low… the alarm went off and Gwen Brahms was blinking awake in bed, getting her bearings on a Monday morning, the dream slowly fading away. Stretching and yawning, she noted that her arms were covered with feathers and her fingernails seemed sharper. A quick peak under the covers confirmed it; she was definitely some kind of raptor. Gwen sighed; she really had to take the time to learn more about animals. It was hard enough to wake up in some new body, but not even knowing what you were; well, that was just ridiculous.

Getting dressed she tested out her new form. Feathers had replaced hair. Her toes were longer, sharper and like talons; heels were out of the question today; in fact, none of her shoes fit. Her face still looked like her, but there was a definite raptor-like quality to it; her nose and mouth had merged into a single beak-like object, large, sharp and dangerous looking. Luckily, there was still enough soft tissue around her new mouth to allow her to drink a cup of coffee, but what she was really craving was some meat.

Driving to work, she saw ostriches, bears, dogs, and cats all driving alongside her through rush hour traffic. She didn’t blink; there was no longer anything strange about it. Oh, at first the MetaMorph had been a major event. No one know exactly when or where it started, and there were a million theories as to the cause; but regardless of all that the fact was that a majority of humankind were now metamorphosing into other creatures on a regular basis. There was no schedule anyone could figure out; a person might be a were-giraffe for two solid weeks, then two months later, that same person would wake up as a were-kittycat. The transitions always occurred during sleep, and they were never too extreme. No one ever woke up as a fish gasping for oxygen through gills, or the size of a whale. Regardless of what animal (or “weremal” as it was now called) a person was transformed into, the basic human upright, bipedal shape was still kept. As was the ability to talk and act mostly the same as the person was before the change, though aspects of their personality in keeping the weremal were heightened.

Gwen’s turning into a were-raptor gave her the appearance of a hawk, but she was still an IT project manager at InfoTechSys Inc., though now one who was sharper and more observant. Even reading through emails that morning she noticed how keenly her mind was able to compartmentalize messages into those she could ignore and those requiring action. She smiled a little, thinking of the upcoming meeting. Her team had better be on time and ready, because she felt alert and in no mood to deal with excuses. Yup, being a raptor was a good morph for a project manager. Much better than the last time, when she was a were-gerbil, 4 days mostly spent hiding in her office with the door shut. The timing of this was perfect as her project was getting behind. This week would be productive.

She strode confidently into the conference room to face her staff. Raj was himself today; Steve was different; he’d gone from the dog of last week to a bear. Amir was a sloth and Susan was the same goat she’d been last week. Too bad, Gwen thought; these were not particularly good forms for work. It would be hard to get Amir to do anything this week; not only were sloths lazy, they were unperturbed by raptors. Steve’s natural unpredictability would only be increased as a were-bear; he would most likely spend the week off on whatever work caught his fancy, regardless of whether it was the most critical item in the project plan. Thank goodness for Susan and Raj; they were going to be the lynchpins for getting anything done.

So began just another week work.

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The tyranny of hipness, the cruelty of popularity

When I was in high school, my lilywhite oh-so-gentile high school, the popular girls all had long, straight hair parted in the middle.  Occasionally they’d add a headband to their doo, colored to match their carefully put together outfit of Villager A-line mini skirt, cardigan, and round-collared blouse.  Finishing it off were Danskin tights and Capezio shoes.  These girls owned the school, marching together like the WASP sorority sisters in training they so clearly were.

My family couldn’t afford to shop at Fields, where those brands were sold.  My clothes came from Turn Style or Montgomery Wards.  My hair was wild and curly and frizzed out so much that a simple cloth headband would get lost.  I was not popular.

Later, towards the end of my high school years, a new group known as Freaks pushed forward to challenge the hegemony of the WASP overlords.  Freaks wore bellbottom jeans that were colorfully patched and embroidered, had long, unruly hair and spent lunch hours getting stoned at the back of the school’s parking lot.  Freaks were hip.  They were as fervently anti-war (that would be Vietnam) and politically left as the rest of the school was Republican and pro-Nixon.  I felt much more comfortable with this group, but lacked their coolly hip attitude.

The reality was that I didn’t fit into either group.  I was neither hip nor popular.

The clothes have changed, but not much else.  It’s still easy to put someone down, to minimize them by invoking the tyranny of hipness, the cruelty of popularity.  Hip is hard work, requiring constant vigilance.  Network TV is not hip, unless watched online.  Certain shows are required, others forbidden.  The fallback if caught enjoying something deemed unhip is to invoke irony or retro-ness as your rationale; otherwise, you’re doomed.

Then there are the derisive “White people’s/first world problems” labels.  These can be invoked at any time to invalidate other people’s issues, while simultaneously raising your hipness credentials.  I lost my husband last year and am agonizing over this, but it could easily be labeled a “first world problem.”  After all, my husband was in his early 60s and died while under medical care.

Those two poles of existence, popularity and hipness, abide eternally.  You can choose one or the other, but once the choice is made you need make no other choices; they are made for you.  If you choose hip, you wear skinny clothes, skinny glasses.  You shop vintage clothing stores for early 60s style clothing and never, ever evince true enthusiasm.  Popularity means an embrace of mass marketing produced cultural icons and markers, and a decided lack of interest in anyone or anything outside your carefully crafted corporately sponsored world.

Neither of these options allow for much individuality, for a person to pick and choose what excites them, to select their own personal passions in life.    Neither lets you create your own path in this world.

Eventually high school ended, and I grew up and decided that I didn’t want to be hip or popular.  I wanted to be me, a person who can both embrace some aspects of each, and reject others.    There’s no tightly constructed end to this post, no simple credo to bestow; just my personal observation that life is a lot more interesting when you have to work out ideas and opinions on your own, instead of having them handed to you via membership in a group

Living without a net

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I’ve been feeling twitchy lately.  I’m ready to move, to jump, to do something.  A friend who became a widower before I did gave me two pieces of advice.  The first was to just ride out all the ups and downs during that first year.   I’ve followed that advice and boy, was he correct.  Big, giant mood swings that race over my personal landscape like summer thunderstorms.

His second piece of advice was to break out of routine and do new things.  I haven’t done that yet, in part because so much of my normal, routine life is no longer normal or routine.  For a long time, still on many days, I’m stuck on figuring out how to manage the stuff I’ve always done.

Now I’m starting to feel just the tiniest little urge to do something, anything, that’s new and different.  To lay down some memories that aren’t tied to what I’ve lost.  To start down a new path, one I’ve chosen, freely, without consideration of what could have been, was, or should have been.   There are ideas hatching.  I’m starting to champ at the bit, ready to move forward.

The roller coaster ride continues, and will for some time.  But I need to try a different ride, even if it’s just a quick one.   Stay tuned…

10 steps to being a great mom; what my Mom taught me

img070(me and my Mom)

My daughter is fully grown, so I’m at that stage of motherhood where I know everything and never had any problems. Yup, my memories of those years are crystal clear, and there were never any melt-down tantrums in the grocery store at 6pm, no rude behavior in front of people, no problems. At all. Ever. For 18 years I spoke to my daughter in a friendly, helpful manner. There were never any fights and she wouldn’t even recognize what my voice sounds like if I was yelling. Umm… yeah. Not really.

Whether because of me, or in spite of me, she’s happy with herself, has a knack for choosing good friends, and leads a decent life. That’s a win in my book. Being as there really is no way to determine how much of her success is due to me and how much is just her, I’m planning on taking full credit for it; after all, it is Mother’s Day.

Here are my sure-fire rules for parenting. And, by the way, these are the same rules that my mom used on the three of us, so these aren’t just my made up ideas – they are from my mom. And you better not be saying anything bad about her, because I think she’s pretty great.

1. Perfection, schmerfection. One of the hopes we all have for our children is that they do better and be better than we were. It’s a kind of ongoing evolution. If you struggled with school, you hope your child will be a better student. If you grew up in a poor family, you want your kids to have more. Make this easier for your kids by not being perfect. Let them grow up knowing there’s at least one area where they can be better than you.

2. Don’t make home too comfortable. I’m a boomer. When I was in high school, my parents and I didn’t listen to the same music or enjoy the same activities. Living at home was not fun, and I couldn’t wait to leave. I was willing to live in dumpy, squalid apartments with roommates who came and went (often with my LPs) because it seemed to be an improvement over moving back home (note: I am not talking about people in financial straits, but those with a choice.) Make your kids anxious to leave at 18 and feel that they are willing to put up with substandard housing just for the chance of being on their own.

3. Failures are good. Remember when your kids were learning to walk? They were short, already close to the ground, and their bones were more pliant. It was the perfect design for gravity deficiencies. Most of the time, a toddler falls, looks surprised, and then starts right back up again. Imagine if you waited until your child was a full-grown adult to teach them to walk; how much more painful the falls would be. Let your kids learn from mistakes early, when the missteps are less harmful. If Junior didn’t turn in his work and isn’t being allowed to attend to the school’s movie day, that’s great! He’ll cry and be upset and feel sad – and learn that not finishing work has consequences.

4. Pick your battles. I am always amazed at how many parents of teenagers get into heated battles over minor issues like hair styles. If you turn yourself into a perceived enemy on small things, you’ll never know about the big things.

5. The ability to make good choices may be the most important lesson to give your children. Let your kids practice making choices, and then see what happens.  Start early; toddlers can pick their own clothes from a pre-selected group. This one is tied closely with number 3, because part of learning how to make good choices is to find out what happens when you make bad choices.

6. Keep your eye on the prize. What’s the easiest kind of child to raise? The kid who dutifully does whatever he/she is asked to do, who never talks back, doesn’t question anything and can’t come up with an independent idea. Is that the kind of adult you want your child to become? If not, then let them practice early. On you. Yeah, it’s tough; but if you want your child to grow up and be the kind of person who is willing to stand up and point out when things are wrong, you can’t raise her/him to blindly accept authority. Even when that authority is yours.

7. Self-respect is earned, not given out on the end of a ribbon. Everyone knows when they are being patronized, even small children. If you want your little future adults to have a good sense of self-worth, then make sure they earn it. Constant praise for doing nothing just creates a sense of entitlement.

8. Ice cream is a fine dinner, once in a while. Look, being a kid is hard, and they have some horrible days just like you do, and sometimes it is good to break the rules. One of the best things about being an adult is that you get to choose a lot more. Sometimes do the crazy fun thing and take your kids out for banana splits instead of eating the balanced meal you were planning on making.

9. Teach your kids to think, and then respect their decisions. My Mom’s favorite saying as we grew up was that she was trying to teach us how to think. When we were older, she let us make a lot more decisions than many of my friends were allowed to make. By the time we were young adults, her mantra was “I tried to teach you how to think. I might not agree with your decision, but I respect how you got there”.

10. The days are endless, but the years go by in seconds. I was a single parent for most of my daughter’s childhood. It was grueling at times, and there were moments when I felt that I’d never have a chance to have time to myself. It seemed endless and exhausting and then, just like that, I was driving to a high school graduation. Somehow those long days of parenting were over, forever, and I had to say goodbye to that part of my life. My memories of small moments: looking out the window at 3am as I was nursing; waving goodbye on the first day of kindergarten; junior high dances;those harrowing driving lessons: all seem present and as clear as though they just happened; and yet, it was a generation ago.

Chapter 2: For friends and relatives

Chapter 2 of this guide is for friends and relatives.  You, too, have experienced a loss.  This chapter will provide hints for how to interact with the grieving spouse.

As always, I am required by bloggers law to provide notice that this is a work of fiction and certainly not inspired in any way by actual things said to me over the past 8 months.

  1. On finding out that the bereaved partner visits the gravesite on a regular basis, act surprised that the visits are occurring.  When asked why, respond with “You weren’t married that long.”
  2. Tell the surviving spouse that you are so grateful they were willing to take care of the deceased during the final illness, because you were not able to do so.  Use a tone of voice that clearly indicates your belief that the spouse was far less important to the deceased than you were, and that you never expected them to act in a responsible or caring manner toward their life-partner.
  3. If the grieving individual ever tries to talk with you about some part of what she/he is going through, be sure to bring up an anecdote that imparts the message of how miniscule the problems of the grieving friend are in comparison with, you know, something or someone more important.
  4. Be judgmental. When seeing that the grieving person is in a good mood, subtly indicate your surprise that they might just be experiencing happiness during that moment.  If they are in a low mood, act impatient about their inability to snap out of it.
  5. Ask, repeatedly, about the cause of death.  Don’t be satisfied with vague answers; keep pressing for more information, like Mike Wallace after drinking a double-shot espresso.
  6. Make sure everyone knows how sensitive and caring a person you are. When you see the bereaved individual out at a social event, lavish a great deal of attention on them in exactly the same way you’d treat a 3-legged puppy.  Interrupt the person several times to give them big hugs, tell them how sorry you are, and how “brave” they are.  Look at them using the same facial expressions as a Precious Moments figurine.  Make sure you time these moments for when the person is actually having a decent time.
  7. Ask how the person is doing, and then ignore or discount what you are told.
  8. Complain a lot about all the things you dislike in your spouse.  Make a joke about how much you envy your now “single” friend.
  9. Shortly after the funeral start a Facebook conversation about the deceased that impugns them, their life and how they died.  FB is the perfect place to do this as the widow/widower will be sure to see all the back and forth correspondences related to this conversation.
  10. If your relationship was primarily with the deceased individual, assume that no further acknowledgement or contact is needed.  Don’t go to the funeral, don’t send a card, and don’t call.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Through the Door

The door to your house/flat/apartment/abode has come unstuck in time. The next time you walk through it, you find yourself in the same place, but a different time entirely. Where are you, and what happens next?

As usual, I’m leaving late for work. I was up at 2am, wide awake and unable to get back to sleep; the curse of the newly widowed, middle-aged women and guilty people. I fit two of the three categories. Which meant that by the time I finally got back to sleep my sleep cycle was off and when it was time to wake up I was still tired and ended up sleeping for another 15 minutes. Which is why I’m racing out the door at 7:45am instead of 7:30am.

I locked the apartment door and ran down the two flights of steps; it hurts my knee but I could hear the elevator was busy and I didn’t have time to wait. Got to the front door and pushed it open while still buttoning my coat. It’s been a cool spring and the temperatures are still chilly early in the morning. As the door shut behind me, I realized that everything seemed a bit odd. The air felt thick, like walking through fog, and everything seemed a bit hazy. I pushed forward and there was an almost audible snap I could feel; suddenly whatever had been holding me back was gone.

Well, that was unusual, I thought; and then stopped. Somehow, some way, everything seemed different and I couldn’t figure out how or why. The first thing I noticed was that the construction on the street corner looked to be about a week further along than it had yesterday. Then I realized that the day was a lot warmer than forecast. And the trees – those same trees that were just budding yesterday afternoon – had fully opened leaves on them. I stopped, unconcerned about work. This was odd, really odd. Something strange was going on.

Still standing on the front steps of the apartment building I started looking at everything carefully. I realized that, while most of what I saw looked the same there were differences. The cars going by were mostly familiar, but about every fourth one was a kind I’d never seen before. A lot of the cars were painted bright colors, purples, greens, pinks, that looked almost fluorescent. There were fewer SUVs, more bikes and people walking.

Something had happened and I wanted to learn more before I went any further. I turned around and went back inside. The hallway of my apartment building looked reassuringly the same. I took the elevator up to my 3rd floor apartment and then stopped to stare. There, outside my door, pushed into the corner was my pair of rain boots. Next to them was a pair of men’s snow boots.

My husband died last year. The boots were his. But he had died at the end of last summer. I’d brought a big bag of his winter clothes, including boots, to Goodwill at the start of the winter. Those boots weren’t outside the door when I left this morning. But they were there.

It was too much to take. My legs were shaking; I could barely stand. I started to put everything together; the only explanation that fit was that I had somehow made it to a parallel world. One where more people rode bikes, where the cars were a little bit different; where my husband hadn’t died. I could hear the public radio station playing from inside the apartment; the radio that I never played in the morning, but he always had.

With trembling hands I brought the key up to the door handle. What would I see when the door opened? Would he be there, smiling, asking me if I forgot something? Would he be the same person I knew or would he have changed, be slightly askew the way everything else seemed to be? If he hadn’t died, what else had changed? Was our relationship in this world better, or worse, or just different?

It didn’t matter. It was a chance, a chance to fix everything I regretted, right every wrong, appreciate every moment, a chance to get the life back that I missed so much. I turned the key in the lock, and went through the door. To my new life.

This weekly challenge fit well into a recurring idea I’ve written about, but haven’t yet shared. Everyone has those moments wondering “what if”: what if you’d made made another choice at some crucial life moment, “what if” some of those major events, either in your personal life or of greater import to all of society, had happened differently (or not at all). I’ve been writing a series of vignettes on the idea of being able to visit different versions of yourself in parallet worlds. This challenge seemed perfect for that idea.

Grief is exhausting; a response to the blogger angry at her friend

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m exhausted. My job requires a degree of what I can only call “presentness”; the ability to be highly alert and focused and analytical while still seeing beyond the details to grasp the full picture. I’m not cutting it. A colleague mentioned that I looked to be having an out-of-body experience. I agreed, and took off for home.

In the course of an average week I am asked to negotiate, mediate, facilitate, mentor, hector, consult, instigate, invigorate, and inspire. When I’m alone at my desk, I’m supposed to create and manage the myriad of tools used to track progress and document status; project plans, charters, risk plans, process flows and more. At any point in time I am expected to jump in and be ready to discuss any facet of any project to which I’m currently assigned.

In normal times, I like the unpredictable and multi-faceted nature of what I do. It’s rarely boring, and never predictable. These aren’t normal times. I don’t feel normal.

This afternoon I was looking through other blogs tagged grief, and read something written by a woman about a friend of hers. Seems her friend’s husband died recently and this women was upset that her friend didn’t want to see her and kept brushing off her offers of socialization by saying she was too busy, or too tired. The blogger was hurt and angry, and wondered how something as minor as raking a lawn could make someone tired.

Grief is exhausting, mentally and physically, I would tell this blogger. Yes, your friend’s lawn isn’t large; but I bet that every pass of the rake drives home the fact that she’s doing this alone. So many little things seem terribly challenging. I’m starting to go through the seasonal switch in clothing. While I’m doing this I’m trying to clean out some of Rick’s clothes as well. This isn’t exactly heavy lifting work, but it’s taking me forever and I’m dragging after spending 10 minutes looking at his clothes. There are 7 (I counted) burnt out light bulbs in the house. All I have to do is get the ladder and change them; but I can’t manage to summon the ability to do that. It seems too hard.

Before all this happened, Rick and I went out every Friday night with a group of friends. Sometimes we’d stay and have dinner, sometimes we’d stop for a single beer and go home. It was fun. I’m still invited, but I don’t go. It’s too hard, too sad. It’s another Friday night, and I’m exhausted. I spend all week being focused and on target, looking professional, paying attention, doing my job. When I get home, there are evenings where I just sit and stare at the computer for hours, doing nothing but playing games. Or stare at the TV without even being aware of what’s on it.

I have friends. I see them, sometimes. Other times I just can’t. It’s not that I don’t care about them; it’s just that sometimes being with other people is just too damn hard. The blogger ended her post in a righteous anger at her friend; she’s not going to contact her anymore. I got the impression that her friend’s husband died very recently, maybe 2 or 3 months ago. I became a widow 8 months ago, and it’s agonizingly difficult, each and every day. I go up and down, back and forth. April was a terribly hard month; now I’m feeling slightly better. Soon I’ll be reliving the memories of our last few months, going through the awful downward spiral that started in July last year and ended in Rick’s death in August. In just a few months, I’ll be remembering what that final month was like when every day brought more bad news. I’ll get to relive our final wedding anniversary, 6 days before he died.

I won’t be the most socially adept person this summer. I may not respond to FB events and emails, and may forget to return phone calls. There will be times when I go out to do social events and (as has happened over the last 8 months) do nothing more but sit and stare until I decide to just go home.

I hope that my friends who care about me get that when I act this way, it’s not about them. I hope my friends are able to see past any unintentional snubs I give them and have some patience and empathy for me. And, if the blogger whose post I read sees this, please, don’t write off your friend. Be patient. Keep asking her to do things, and understand if she doesn’t want to. Give her some time to grieve the way she needs to. My friends have done that with me, and I’m grateful.