Saturday, December 31, 2011

Come out and play!

"You're not playful," he says. "I'm playful!" I insist, but then I think about it some more. He is right; I am not playful. And I believe this is not a good thing.

This isn't to say that I'm joyless and gloomy all the time. I do seek out joy and I have moments of happiness that are so true, they make me cry. But this is not the same as play.

Why am I not playful? I have been thinking about this. A part of play is about trust. You have to trust the ones you are playing with, and you have to trust yourself to let go. I am a control freak and I realize that this part of play is difficult for me. I am afraid of being laughed at or embarrassing myself. My discomfort at embarrasment is so deep that I can barely watch a movie or television show where I know a character is about to be embarrassed. The times I have been embarrassed at my own behavior, I relive in my head, trying to figure out a way that I could fix it or explain it away.

I wonder if I can work on this. Maybe learning to play would help me in other places: letting go as a writer, that sort of thing. Can this be my first resolution for 2012, to be better at play?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking back, looking forward

I wish I could say that 2011 was this incredible year, full of joy and wonder. However, this was not the case. I would say that 2011 was a challenging year. It's a year that I will remember for a very long time, although not always fondly.

This was a year of great loss on a personal level. One thing you can say about a major loss is that all other issues become background. I never think it's right to rank things like love or pain or sadness, but sometimes things happen that do make other events pale in comparison.

Going through this year, with all its ups and downs, I feel like I've grown in my ability to handle things. I'm no zen-like center of calm, but I'm not quite as touchy as I was. That's not to say that I don't have times I breakdown or lose my temper, but I think (I hope) that it's not as often or over just little things. I feel like I can look at how I am reacting to a situation and I can figure out where my reaction is coming from. (I will admit that some of this self-actualization comes after I've freaked out a bit and calmed down. I'm still working over here!)

I hope this coming year has less drama and (dare I say it?) is a bit more boring. But, even more than that, I hope that I keep figuring myself out and I keep working on being a better version of me.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 5, 2011

She sells cells from her cells: Thoughts about HeLa

I have just finished "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." My mom gave it to me for my birthday, thinking that a good story about biology would appeal to me (she was right.) In the final analysis, I would recommend the book, but I can't say that I agree with all of it.

The book is about Henrietta Lacks, who was poor, black, uneducated, and living in the Baltimore area. When she discovers she has cervical cancer, she is treated at Johns Hopkins which treated charity cases. It should be noted that this was in the late 1940s, before HIPAA laws, detailed informed consent forms, integration, etc. Her situation was unusual in that this was a research hospital and there was a researcher looking to develop cell lines for tissue culture. Because of this situation, they took her removed tumor and used it to develop a cell line. However, the actual treatment she received and the fact that doctors didn't ask for permission to do study on discarded tissue was not usual, class or race aside. The bit of cancer that was removed from Henrietta Lacks lead to the development of the HeLa cell line which has been extremely important in biological research. Truly, these cells were game changers. However, despite the success of HeLa cells, the Lacks family has not fared so well.

The issue I had with the book was the implied controversy. "The HeLa cells made millions but the Lacks are poor! No one knew who Henrietta Lacks was! They invaded her privacy! Despite all the research, she still died from her cancer!" The author plays with timelines, shifts the story around. I suppose it could be just clever writing, but I also think it's an attempt to make controversy when none is there. Putting two facts next to each other doesn't make them related. This is bad reporting and, frankly, just stirring stuff up. (For example: I walked to work this morning and there were free donuts in the pantry. Both things are true, but they aren't related. My walking to work did not result in free donuts. Although that would be kind of awesome.) This book loves to group some pretty awful low-points in medical ethics (such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment) with what happened here, which is nowhere near each other. Henrietta Lacks was treated to the standard of the time, but she died of her cancer anyway. This is sad, but no medical ethics were compromised here.

It bothers me that the book so badly wants to make members of the scientific community the bad guys. Research is hard. It's frustrating. Sometimes you have a theory that should work, but, for some unseen reason, it just won't happen in the lab. Sometimes you have years when you work your tail off and all you have to show for it all is a big hunk of nothing. Working in a lab takes skill and determination and some smarts and (as much as we hate to admit it) luck. The group that developed the HeLa cells into a cell culture line demonstrated this. And, even though it took all of that, they gave away a lot of HeLa cells for free. They were extremely generous. The author found one scientist who felt that the Lacks family should have profited from these cells (I'm guessing that other scientists did not share this view) and she makes a big fuss over this. It would have been nice to have the other side of the argument presented.

It should be pointed out that it is illegal to sell body parts, something the author buries towards the end of the book, almost as an afterward. In fact, if Henrietta Lacks was in a clinical study where they took her tissue for further research, the amount of money she would have gotten would have been minimal (and the same for all people who had tumors taken from them, whether or not a cell line lived.)

It sucks that the Lacks family has health issues and no insurance. But it sucks that anyone in the US is in that situation. It sucks that their mom got cancer when they were really young and then they were raised by people who abused them. I agree that the forward march of science shouldn't trample someone's rights, but, as interesting as this story is, this was not the case of greedy scientists stealing body parts from a poor, black woman.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Yeah, I watch the "X Factor." I know a lot of people diss it because it's too much like "American Idol" but I don't have a problem with that. They've taken a lot of a good things about "AI" (auditions, Simon) and added some stuff to make it interesting (older and younger singers, who really have been the story. Honestly, if they got rid of the "AI" types, I'd like the show even more.) I have a couple of issues with the show. One of them is that they rush the results shows which have been the most interesting thing thus far. This week was no exception.

For those who don't watch, one of the acts on the show is a 15-year-old kid who raps. Rap isn't my thing, but I do admire the now-renamed Astro. He has attitude which can put people off, but I think that a certain percentage of it is an act. He uses "sir" and "thank you" too often for it to not be part of what he truly is.

The thing I admire about him is that he's clearly one hard-working kid. I'd guess that he's not the most popular kid in school, mostly because he doesn't have time for teenage nonsense. He writes his own lyrics, and you can tell that he's constantly working. Now that he's living with other contestants, I would bet that he gets along with the acts that are up to his standard and he avoids the ones he thinks are lazy or just lucky.

But he is young. And because he is young, he doesn't always handle things like an adult. We've all been there: we work so hard on something, then someone else comes into the situation for about two minutes and gets us much credit as you. Or worse, even more. Somehow you have worked your tail off and this other person who did almost nothing is the star and you're forgotten. How did that even happen? This happened to Astro on Thursday. After being told how amazing he was and that he was a fan favorite, he somehow ended up in the bottom two, in a situation that he had to beg for his spot. Let me point out again that he is young. He's 15. No, he didn't handle it well, but most of us get told of our disappointments in relative privacy: your boss calls you in and explains that promotion is going to the guy you trained or that project you've been working long hours on is cancelled. Astro was told on a stage in front of a crowd. No doubt he was embarrassed, shocked, all those things. When we find these things out, we can run to our office, the bathroom, etc, and just kind of get over it privately. Astro didn't get that choice.

Yes, it's part of the show he signed up for. But at 15, you think you'll handle ups and downs much better than you really will. In fact, many of them have never really been given any negative criticism in their lives. They're too young to have been rejected for jobs or talent shows. Maybe these kids are too young for the show. But they have made the show more interesting. I wouldn't never want to see a real breakdown on television, but I know that Astro is a strong kid. I hope he realizes that he needs to show some remorse for his behavior. I think that his behavior was justified in the sense that he was hurt, but it did come off "bratty" and he needs to get his audience back.

It will be interesting to see how he handles these next weeks. It'll also be interesting to see how the other contestants more forward. I hope they start giving more time for the judges to discuss the results and reactions to the final results. I'd rather hear the judges debate which acts are worthy are moving forward than another performance by an already-established pop star.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

We Are...Penn State

I will admit to having Penn State issues. I lived in the Philadelphia area for over 20 years and Penn State was everywhere. There's some nutty statistic like 1 out of every 4 adults in Pennsylvania who went to college, went to Penn State for at least part of that time. (I have no idea if it's true but, honestly, it felt like it.) It didn't help that my university was constantly confused with Penn State (the bookstore even sold "Penn, not Penn State" t-shirts), so I would have to gently correct relatives who asked me where I was going to school.

When it came to college football, it was the only game in town. Who else is there? Temple? They don't even have their own stadium! So, every Saturday, it was "JoePa!" and "We are! Penn State!" and big navy blue flags. It didn't matter what their record was, they were Number One. They acted like they invented football and JoePa was perfecting it. Having grown up in the Midwest, I yawned.

As much as I enjoy the fall of Penn State football, I can't say that I'd ever want it to happen this horribly. There's a lot that's very upsetting about what's going on (and what went on) at Penn State. I'm not going to pretend I know everything but I have read the 23-page report from the grand jury. If you haven't read it, you can get to it here, but, be prepared: it's tough to read.
PSU Grand Jury Report

Obviously, a horrible thing went on and there was some degree of cover-up. How much did certain people know or how much should they have done will be debated for quite a while. The thing that upsets me the most is the power of football at Penn State. How did it get to this? How does an "academic" institution allow this to even become the story it has blown up to be?

Let's think about it: thousands of "students" rallied in the streets to support a guy (JoePa) who involved in a situation (and, yes, he was involved) that allowed numerous children to be sexually abused for years. This guy is in charge of an extra-curricular activity -- that's it! But students felt the need to take to the streets in protest! I have to wonder what would happen if the situation was slightly different, say, the head of the physics department covered up a drug-smuggling ring and got fired. Would the student newspaper even write an outraged editorial? I don't see tipped news vans or upset students being interviewed on tv. How did we let football become so important that this has become something that changes all of Penn State? How did a coaching staff get so much power and influence at a supposed academic institution?

(I would like to say that I am very pleased that other students organized a candlelight vigil for victims of abuse.)

I need to understand how JoePa is above responsibility but not above punishment. There were terrible things happening in his "house." He made a choice when he did the minimum. By doing the very minimum, he sent a message. He knows this. He picked a member of his staff over the welfare of children.

I am sure we will be hearing about this (and other terrible things in other college programs) for years to come. But maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is why are we putting so much importance on a bunch of college kids banging their heads together on a Saturday afternoon? Maybe if it wasn't worth millions to so many universities, there wouldn't be a need for presidents to cover-up for coaches. Maybe we need to rethink about what should be important on a college campus.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

You didn't stop to make me feel better

I send letters in the mail. Actual letters. My grandfather was a mailman. I get excited when I see pretty new stamps. ("Ooh, Kate Smith!") But I know I am not typical, and the US Postal Service is in trouble. They are out of money and need to make some drastic changes. And as much as I love getting a letter in the mail, I would not be upset if there were was a little less USPS.

Let's think about the Post Office a bit. On one hand, they do weird consumer-friendly stuff: they work on Saturdays, they not only bring things right to your door, they'll pick stuff up as well. That's pretty cool, right? But on the other hand, actual service at a post office is usually less than stellar. It's usually slow and the hours are limited. Mailing packages at the holidays is always a chore. When you send something, unless you pay a premium for an upgrade, you're not exactly sure when it will arrive. Maybe three days? Maybe a week? And if you try their tracking system, it's vague at best. (I generally get the "no information" message until about a day or so after the package arrives.)

Most of the fuss that the USPS will have to cut is Saturday delivery and, honestly, is that really a big deal? Now before you go all Netflix and "what about my meds?" on me, don't we already plan around having no delivery on Sundays? If this cutting of one day a week of delivery would save the USPS, shouldn't we all figure out a way to get by? (Although I might argue that perhaps we should cut a mid-week day to not have a gap of two days.)

Personally, I think we all could get used to every-other-day delivery. Keep the six days of service but do half a route one day, half the next. Let's force companies to cut the junk mail. (I am getting junk mail for people who moved from this house over five years ago!) If you pay bills on-line, don't send a statement. Catalogs must be limited to four times a year (I still think that's way more than anyone needs, but I'm allowing for seasonal changes), and if they person hasn't ordered for the company for over a year, the company needs to stop sending them. (I am sure there's a family in Hatboro who can't figure out why they keep getting cross-stitch catalogs.) I throw away a substantial stack of paper every week, most of which I don't bother to even open. If my mailperson is carrying this to everyone, we're paying someone a lot of money to deliver trash to our doorsteps.

I hate to say this, but the USPS is out of date. It's a service that we don't need as much in this modern age. We pay our bills on-line, email our friends, order from a website. That's not a bad thing. The world changes. We don't send telegrams anymore and it's alright. But I do want a postal service, so let's figure out a way that let's us still get a letter now and again. Without all the junk mail.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I'm not sure why exactly I haven't been posting to this space. I have been writing, just not here, and (in my mind) and just not enough. I haven't been taking as many pictures, either, and I'm trying to decide if these two things are related.

I want to do everything. I want to write for hours and just type long, detailed stories or blog post that (at this point, in my head) would dazzle you with their brilliance. I want to take a long walk without direction and shoot amazing photographs. Of course, this mood usually hits in the middle of the workday or in the middle of the night as a vague dream I barely remember the next day.

I have excuses: this summer was incredibly stressful (seriously, just too much), work is at the crazy point of the year, the house needs cleaning. All true. But when I do have time for writing, I find that I am not able to actually put the words down. The ideas are there, but they just seem to be hanging out with me, like someone you meet at a bar who acts like they want to talk to you, but just answers in monosyllables, expecting you to guess their story.

It's been especially bothersome the past couple of days. NaNoWriMo started and although I have no intention on participating (it's always November which is always a crazy month for me anyway), I am reading about it, hearing people get excited, and I'm sitting here with a word count of zero. Tomorrow is another day, so I'll try to be ready for that.

I know that it'll all kick in soon, and you'll be back to getting a few posts a week, and I'll be uploading pictures again. I know that the crazy of the summer is still affecting me, but that is getting better. Until then, please be patient. I will be back.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

You will never love me

I have had an iTunes library for about ten years. I had a G3 back in the day (Flower Power -- I kid you not, but we're not going there today.) iTunes was a different animal then -- you had pretty limited disc space and you had to type in all the track information (which is why I have songs like "You don't brinh me flowerd" on my ipod.) Do you remember the crazy graphics that came up when you played a song on iTunes? It was a simpler time.

Every time I transfer my library, it clears the playlist. I'm also not sure if it counts the plays on my ipods, but whatever the case, I have a lot of songs that have had zero plays on this computer. So, today, I am on shuffle and only listening to the songs that I haven't listened to, according to the computer. I have my list sorted by number of plays and I feel weirdly happy every time I "promote" one of these songs to the "1+" part of the playlist.

The truth is that I *have* listened to most of these songs. However, when I got this computer, everything was reset to zero. I'm also not sure how the count is affected by the ipods that get plugged into the system. (Yes, ipods. There are four that share this system. This modern world is complicated.) If the plays on the ipods are counting, I am assuming anything with zero plays, I haven't listened to in a year and a half. It surprises me what's on that list. Right now Sam and Dave are crooning "When Something is Wrong with my Baby" and I find it hard to believe that it's been so long since I've listened to this. This is unacceptable behavior.

I have over 9000 songs in my library. A lot of these zero songs are from free downloads, so I excuse myself from those. Others are songs I used to listen to more often, so I figure they had their day in the sun. I'm sure I'll rediscover them again, and overplay them. I justify it all and say that maybe those zero plays are at zero for a reason. But then I hear Jill Sobule sadly sing, "You will never love me," and I know I have to keep listening to those songs I sometimes forget.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Upgrade, downgrade

I am aware that is all very "you damn kids, get off my lawn" but I have to say something. Why must there be constant "upgrades" to things like Facebook?

Facebook seems to have an almost pathological need to "upgrade" every few months or so. They change lay-out or notifications or list management or any sort  of nonsense that just seems to mess things up and almost always affects your privacy settings. "We have now listed your friends by middle initial! And we made it all public! If you would like to have your privacy back, please troll through these twenty menus and click a bunch of boxes!"

The funny thing about this post is that I started writing this a few days ago, before the big roll-out of the "new" Facebook. Now that there are even more changes, I suppose you can guess how thrilled I am. I probably will get used to them or figure out a way around them. But this doesn't mean I have to like the change. The new changes make me feel old and stupid. This is not what I want from something that is supposed to be a sort of entertainment.

Do you know about the subscribe button? They've started something with "subscribing" to people's updates. These are people I've already declared to be my friends, and now I have to subscribe to them? (Now it's quite possible that I don't fully understand the subscribe function, but isn't that another issue? Facebook shouldn't be hard to do.) If you don't subscribe to "all" updates, Facebook will decide what the "important" stories are (they have an algorithm!) Of course, what happened to me was that I missed the announcement of a friend's engagement (apparently, not important), although I did see that he went to the high school football game that week (Facebook says: important!)

I know I'm complaining about something that's free. I know that most of us will shake our fists and do nothing but complain about it for a few days. And that's what Zuckerberg is betting on. Maybe he's right, but what he's forgetting about is the group of people who will shift away, spend a little less time on Facebook, then realize they don't really miss it. They'll find some other way to stay in touch. They probably won't take the time to delete their account (I have an old MySpace account kicking around but that doesn't mean I use it.) Technically, they're still "on" Facebook, so Zuck can still claim his gazillion "users."

I'm sure I'll stay on Facebook. I'll be checking in, maybe doing the occasional status update or uploading some pictures. But I also know I'm going to be working a bit harder to figure out Google+.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten years ago

We're all thinking about where we were ten years ago. My life has changed so much. Sometimes I wonder if it's just because it's been ten years or did September 11th trigger these changes.

We were on vacation, the former Mr. Higgy-Piggie, his parents, and me. We were down in Ocean City, planning to come home that Wednesday. At the time I wasn't working. I had decided to stop teaching in June, and I was going to get cracking on the job hunt just as soon as we got back from this vacation. I wasn't actually sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn't want to be teaching.

I swear this is true: the night before I didn't sleep. I had this weird feeling of doom that kept me up that night. I occasionally get these waves of worry, but this was one of the worst. I couldn't sleep that entire night and there was no good reason why. I'm not saying that I predicted anything or somehow knew, but that feeling of doom was there.

Like everyone else, I remember that it was a beautiful day. Perfect blue sky. We were all up to take our morning walk. We watched The Weather Channel and turned off the television at about 9. We must have just missed the breaking news.

We took a walk separate from his parents. It was a long walk, about an hour and a half. Ocean City is pretty quiet that time of year; the season is over and the kids are back in school. We were almost back to the apartment when this woman came up to us. She was a bit crazed. She was just going on and on, "They're crashing planes into buildings and bombs are going off and there are explosions!" What do you even say to this? We just nodded and quietly walked away. I joked, "I wonder if the president was Harrison Ford in that movie she saw."

We were all back in the apartment by then. Normally the television is an absolute no-no, but something about that woman got to me. Maybe I was still on edge from my restless sleep, but I asked if we could just check the news. I know that his parents thought I was being spoiled and demanding, but we turned to CNN. At that point the towers had already crumbled and the Pentagon had a hole in it. There was rumor of a crash in Pennsylvania and they were trying to determine how many other planes were missing. I just watched and watched, trying to take it all in. How could the Towers collapse? It didn't even make sense. So much had happened and it was all hitting at once.

I remember watching the coverage for hours, being pulled into it. At one point I talked to my mom for a bit, told her I was alright. I went back to watching, having a weird sense of relief as time went on that there weren't any more plane crashes. We watched and watched, no one really saying anything. We were trapped in this sticky bucket of news. Finally, TFMHP's father pointed out that they had to go to the grocery store or we'd have nothing for dinner, so his parents left. They came back about five minutes later -- the car wouldn't start.

We spent the afternoon dealing with finding a mechanic, getting a new battery, all those things that take longer than they should. It was good that something pulled us away from the coverage and back into normal life. We packed up to be ready to leave the next day. It's funny. I have vivid memories of earlier in the day, but after the television came on, it just blends together. I don't remember anyone's reaction, I don't remember what, if anything, we did to comfort each other. I'm sure we drove home that next day but I don't remember anything about it. I'm sure I was relieved to be home, but the details are gone.

The days after, all I remember is watching way too much CNN coverage. I remember being obsessed by the number of people that were missing, hoping it would go down, crying over every one of the interviews with loved ones who had made fliers. At the time we lived in a suburb of Philadelphia, and I felt like the points of the attacks were surrounding me. Every time I heard planes overhead, I wondered. Sirens in the night woke me up, panicked. I wasn't working, so all I did was watch and cry. I wondered if I knew anyone who died in the attacks, but it didn't turn out to be the case. But I just kept watching; I was trapped in the hours of news.

I felt very alone those days. Not having a job or a routine had left me floating, and I realized I was floating nowhere. Maybe that was part of my crying: thinking about if had I died suddenly, what would I leave behind? Sometimes I wonder if that was the beginning of me changing. Or do we all change in ten years? There have been a lot of changes these ten years. I'm no longer with Mr. HP, and I've moved to a new city.

After I finally turned off the television, things did start to change. It wasn't overnight and maybe it just was time for me to move forward. I lost weight, went to the gym. I started a career that on most days, I really do love. I tried to seek out my life, not just let it come to me. This took months, so I'm not going to say that September 11th triggered drastic change in my life. But it was one more reason to pick the life I want, that I need. Because it could be over, just like that.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rachel Zoe can feed the baby, grease the car, and powder her face at the same time

Every now and again, I watch "The Rachel Zoe Project." I don't watch it for the fashion or her weird phrases; I watch it because I am oddly fascinated by her marriage.

For those who don't know her, Rachel Zoe is a Hollywood stylist. She certainly touches on a lot of stuff I hate about Hollywood: obsession with image, kind of crazy, sort of bitchy, self-centered. I'd never want to actually hang out with her, but she's interesting to watch. She has fabulous assistants and she's married to Rodger Berman, an investment banker. He's mostly background on the show. His primary contribution is to say how much he doesn't understand Rachel. His wife. Just sayin'. For more about the show, go here:

Disclaimer: a lot of what I say about them is based on what I have seen on the show. I'm no fool: I know that these shows are edited and that story lines are pulled out of hundreds of hours of footage, so I know that reality tv does not equal reality. But there are some things that do come through, no matter the editing.

The past season has been about "Should Rachel have a baby?" She is, after all, a lady of a certain age (which may or may not be the one she tells you), Rodger seems to want one, she can afford it. But here's the thing, as crazy and annoying as she might seem, she loves what she does for a living. She loves the shit out of it. This is a woman who's heart is singing when she starts dressing someone. She needs her client to be wearing that dress with that belt (no, not that one; that one!) and those earrings and, no, they can't wear those shoes, and who messed with that hemline!? She's nuts and she may not sleep for three days before an event, but then she watches the people she dressed on the red carpet and she purrs with joy. There is no doubt she is doing what she loves. So it stands to reason that she's a bit obessed with her work.

This season everyone is telling her she should have a baby. I get that some of the conflict is manufactured for the show, but there are way too many "Oh, Rachel, a baby will complete you" conversations. I would argue that someone like Rachel Zoe does not need a baby. She's basically complete. She may not be what you want her to be, but she's got a complete life. The conversation should not be "she might think she has an amazing life but she doesn't because she doesn't have a baby"; the conversation should be about how she loves her life and having a baby might add a new dimension of awesomeness.

This is not to say that she doesn't want a baby or that she won't be a good parent. I suspect that she does want a kid (I can't imagine her doing something she doesn't really want to do), but she's pretty open with her anxieties about the whole thing. And what doesn't help is someone implying that the center of your life is the wrong choice. Maybe that's the anxiety some parents might have: they've made certain choices in their lives and they are happy. Now that they're considering a big choice in their life, everyone is telling them that their past choices were insignificant. Don't discount the other choices in someone's life. It all comes together to make a complete person.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

"(I think I made you up inside my head.)"

The above quote is from Sylvia Plath. I am reading her journals, the ones edited by Ted Hughes. I am hardly an expert on Sylvia Plath and/or her complicated relationship with Ted Hughes (both before and after her death) but I do have opinions on journal writing.

Ted Hughes writes that this is her autobiography, to which I have to point out that a journal is not an autobiography. Certainly for me, I use my journal to let out emotion. It's intentionally unedited and without direction. It is written for me, with the idea the I will be the only person who reads it.

I've read a handful of famous journals and, while interesting, they tend to get boring and self-indulgent. This is not a swipe at the writer, because part of writing is editing. I'm not sure how much input (if at all) the journal writer had on the final product. One of the few journals that actually works is "The Diary of a Young Girl" by Anne Frank but that was famously edited by the author (and her father) for publication. While she was in hiding, she heard an exiled member of the Dutch government announcing that after the war, he hoped to gather eye-witness accounts of the suffering of the Dutch people. Anne started editing after she heard this.

I love the idea of reading a journal and the raw words. But I also know that the original intention was not necessarily for public consumption. I suppose if you keep a journal, you should probably trust who takes care of it in the end.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Breaking the streak

It's been a pretty rough month. It's actually been more than a month, but let's just say this past August isn't going to be the one I look back upon fondly.

Despite all logic, I do believe in luck and karma, that the universe somehow evens things out. But luck comes in streaks and can be good or bad. And who knows how long the universe is going to wait to give you good stuff. (Of course, we all push away that thought when the universe is being good to us.)

The universe will do what it will, but I still want to push it in certain directions. Right now, I am trying break this bad streak. Unfortunately, I'm not really sure how to go about this. New good luck charms? Change in routine? The problem is that I don't want to change it up too much. It could always be worse, so I'm afraid that any change could be in the wrong direction. Nonetheless, I am looking for new lucky pennies, anything that might help.

In the end, I will land on my feet, so don't worry. I just am hoping September makes up for the end of this summer.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Poor Old Johnny Ray

There is a hurricane a-coming, so they say. We're far enough inland that, officially, we are under a tropic storm warning, which means we've all run to the grocery store to get milk, bread, toilet paper, and booze. It's a weird state to be in, right now. We've all basically prepared, but if feels like we should be doing something: stock-piling internet or bagging up some extra cable, but, of course, that's just silly.

I went for a walk this morning and it was more active than most Saturday mornings: people getting in the walks with the dogs, a little bit of exercise, whatever you would normally be doing on a lazy Saturday needed to get done while the storms were still off in the distance. We're all sending our good wishes to those who might be in the path, making phone calls while the system us functioning.

Here's hoping that everyone stays safe, damage is minimal, and in a few days we're all laughing about how we overreacted.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Believing by the non-believer

I want to believe.

I don't know what will happen when I die, or what happens to anyone. I want to believe that spirits are with us, angels, helping us along. I want to believe that there's a heaven where Nana and Papa are playing poker with everyone, and Nana has beautiful teeth and Papa has long, flowing hair. I want to believe that even though I can't imagine it, how it could work, where it might be, that something wonderful happens to us after we pass on.

But the scientist kicks in, too often. How can you be an angel and in heaven? Are you like Santa Claus or something, only visiting once in a while? I'm an eight-year-old, asking Big Questions, all with no answers. Why do I have to figure it out at all? Because: scientist. I need to explain it; I need to rationalize it. But here's the thing: one day I will know the answer. And that freaks me out.

Because I can't explain what will happen, I say I don't believe. Because my head can't wrap itself around something that can't be proven, I say that I don't believe that anything happens when you die. I know, it's called faith because you have to believe but the logical part of me prevents me from having that faith. There's nothing there, because I can't imagine what could be there.

But, here's the thing: I still pray when I have times I need to be stronger. I still ask for help from above, an above I say I don't believe in. I still imagine that Nana can see me now. And this comforts me.

(for Richard, who inspires belief)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I'm good; thanks. Really.

You would not believe the month or so I've had. (This is my attempt to explain why I haven't been writing here, so be forgiving.) I'm not going to tell you everything, and it's not all over, but this month has involved multiple travels, family stuff, mold, expensive and unexpected home repairs, a major deadline at work, a wedding (not mine), and, of course, a summer cold. To give you an idea of how crazy I've been, I got called for jury duty and I'm actually thinking, "oh thank God I'm gonna have a day where all I need to do is sit around and wait!"

The details behind everything are too much (and too boring to anyone but me) to go into, but let me just say that you do not want mold in your house because it's super expensive to deal with, but at the same time, it's just a house and there are more important things out there. I'll get through all of this and it's all a part of life.

I don't know if it's a good thing that everything is happening at once or if it's just going to make me insane. I wonder if about three months from now, it just all gonna hit me one day at the grocery store and I'll be breaking down in the bread aisle. ("Clean up in Aisle Four.") For now, I'm hanging in there with the occasional burst of emotion. I've been too busy to do much more than that.

I do have to check some of my reactions. Someone at work was panicking about a detail in a document that I was involved with ("Sometimes this report is called 'XXX' and sometimes it's called 'YYY'! What are we going to do?!") and the thought in my head is: "stop by when you have a real problem." But it is my job and important on a certain level, so I don't say what's in my head and thank her for pointing out this issue.

This all said, I am always touched as to how caring other people can be. Sometimes I cry because I am amazed that they're reaching out to me. I am thankful for every person who just asks if I'm doing okay. I am more okay because they asked.

I know this is going all over the place, but I wanted to give folks an update. Everything will work out; I know it will.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A sixth sense

When you have the same driver for that hour-long trip to the airport, you learn a few things about her. This driver tells us she sees spirits. They come to her and give her messages. I am skeptical, but I don't want to insult her, so I just smile. She explains further: "Haven't you ever seen something move out of the corner of your eye? Haven't you thought you heard someone there, only to not see anything? Those are spirits coming to you." She tells me that when the cat suddenly runs out of the room, it's because he's seen a spirit.

I believe that she believes, but I don't believe that she actually sees these spirits. I'm too much of a scientist, too much of a cynic perhaps. On this drive to the airport, she tells me that there is a blond, older woman with us. She asks if there was a relative of mine that was blond. I say, yes, Nana was a blond. She tells me that she's talking about cookies she's made just for me.

I want to believe. I really do. I would love for Nana to visit, to be the one offering me cookies. But I can't. Nana wouldn't be offering me cookies, she'd be buying me a drink and wanting to dish. She'd want to go outside with me so she could grab a smoke. She'd want to see pictures of Andrea's kids and hear all about these past few years. She'd touch my hair and comment about how long it is. She would be smiling. I miss my Nana so much and I'd love for her to be there, so I pretend. But she wasn't there on that ride to the airport.

Later, when we are talking about the drive, he tells me I need to let go of the scientist. I need to believe at least a little bit. I need to welcome the angels. Maybe Nana wasn't there right then, but I need to be ready when she does come. I promise I will try.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How it is, sometimes (most of the time)

I have anxiety. Nothing fancy, nothing that I can't control (well, most days and with varying degrees of success), but it there. If you want to know more, read this:

Reading this article was a kind of relief because it explained a lot about me to me. I always knew I had stuff in my head, but this put it together. It also pointed out to me that not everyone is thinking like me, not everyone's head goes a million different ways when faced with, well, anything. When you have anxiety, it's easy to forget that not everyone else feels the same way.

It's hard to describe what goes on in my head, but it's constant. I try to anticipate every possible outcome, so that I am prepared. What if we're late, what if we're early, what if I spill my coffee? A surprise is no good. Here's the worst part: if something goes wrong that I didn't anticipate, my first reaction is to be kicking myself for not anticipating this problem. There's a vanity in anxiety, that somehow that just by seeing the potential for a problem, I can solve it all. I have a friend who is constantly reminding me that I'm not that powerful but my anxiety tells me that I might be.

Here's an example of how my anxiety works: the bag I carry to work. My bag (and it is a bag; a mere purse cannot contain all I need) has pens (many, many, because one may run out and then another, so I better have ten) and notebooks and cough drops and safety pins and gum and a deck of cards and my phone and an ipod and a Kindle and so much more. Someone once told me that I am the person they most want to be trapped in an elevator with because I would have snacks and a bottle of water and band-aids and a sewing kit and, most likely, games. The crazy thing is not that I carry all of that, but if there is occasion when I don't have something (say, a paper clip), I find that I start beating myself up over that. ("How could I forget paper clips?! How could I be so careless?") (I have since put a few paper clips in my bag.) This is not to say that I'm organized. Hardly. I have a kind of organization but I am always misplacing stuff. when you carry the world in your bag, you might misplace a few things.

Anxiety is not fear. I often need to remind myself of this. That if I can control my anxiety, I can do anything. The anxiety won't go away but it can be managed. I rode a zipline -- it can't be all that bad. I know I'm no fun when I get anxious, but I'm trying to be better.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chicago Public Art

The streets of Chicago told me a story.

Monday, June 20, 2011


I'm away at a conference which means one thing: swag! I know that's wrong: conferences are about learning and networking and blah, blah, which, sure, we'll all try to do those things, but we all get the swag.

When I was in graduate school, the only conference I attended was the Annual Crown Gall Conference (yeah, it's a thing!) No surprisingly, it was a conference without swag. Until I joined the pharmaceutical industry, I had no sense of the potential for swag. When I joined pharma (about eight years ago), it was after the hey-day of pharma giveaways, but you could still get things. Pens (my god, the pens!), pads of paper, little flashlights, toys, all with the company's name stamped on them. The first conference you go to, you take everything. It's free! How could you turn it down? And you find yourself with about 25 pounds of cheap pens and post-it notes.

The next conference you try to limit yourself. You won't take the crappy pens. You won't take the stuff you think you won't use. You still end up with a yo-yo that lights up or another ten notebooks. How many tote bags does anyone need?

A couple of years ago, the pharmaceutical industry pulled the plug on swag. Those days are behind us. No more pens, no more pads of paper with the name of a drug engraved on the side. Last year, I went to my first pharma conference after these rules were passed. The reps weren't entirely sure what to do with themselves. They gave away a lot of food. It just wasn't the same.

This conference is near pharma but not actually pharma, so the swag is here. Each company tries so hard to make their swag stand out. It's not just pens and paper and bags, but stuffed monkeys and paper fans and tea and lots of things that light up. There are plenty of raffles (mostly ipads, but some Kindles and fancy earphones and, sadly, one company has a Shuffle.) A couple of raffles are just for cash. I guess that gets to the point.

I feel bad for the companies with the bad swag. I saw at least a couple of places that were trying to give away calculators. Does anyone need a calculator? One company tried to give me this foam penguin. I wanted to be nice, but I'll just throw it away, so I just told her no. I saw lots of purse hooks: does anyone use these?

I am in my hotel room, looking at my stuff (flash drives!) and trying to figure out what's worth taking home. That puzzle ball seemed so interesting when that rep was talking to me. Now I just have regrets.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


I am not a risk-taker. I have back-ups to my back-ups, and then Plans C, D, and E. I like my feet on the ground, and I get nervous walking across rickety bridges. I don't ride roller coasters, and no one will ever accuse me of being outdoorsy. But, for some reason, I wanted to ride a zip-line. Friday I got my chance: a work outing at Go Ape! (For more details, go here:

I suppose I could have wimped out but I wouldn't let myself. I could do this! It's got to be safe, right? Of course, the first thing they have you do is sign the waiver, which makes it clear that, yes, this is a risky activity, oh, and you could die, but let's have some fun! Seriously, what am I signing here?

A few things you need to know about me: I'm not in great shape. I'm in office-worker-who-walks-regularly-but-not-too-much-more-than-that shape. I've never had upper body strength. (Remember the kid in grade school who couldn't do a single pull-up or climb the rope at all? I'm that kid.) I'm also not the best in the heat, and it was upper-80s and humid. And I hate ladders. They move! That is not cool with me.

I have to give huge props to the way they have everything set up. You start out with about 15 minutes of instruction. Then they put on your harness, they teach you how to use all the equipment, and you literally walk through your first set of cables to get comfortable with everything. If you mix up the order of your hooks and pulley (as I did the first time), it's better to do it with your feet on the ground. Then they take you to a bite-sized version of a course with a rope ladder, a tightrope about four feet off the ground, and a short zip-line. Everything is set up in a way that helps you build your confidence.

The course is divided into sections: each section has a series of ladders and bridge-like crossings, which take you higher and higher. All end with a zip-line down to the ground and two of them have a "Tarzan swing" into a cargo net. I started out fine; it was more work than I expected, but I was doing it. I was crossing up high, one step at a time. As high as it was, I was okay with it.

Then I got to the Tarzan swing, which was actually thrilling, into the cargo net, which was not good at all. I was in the net and simply could not climb out. The cargo net had a lot of give, which made it really difficult to climb. I just couldn't do it. I tried and tried and just could not get anywhere. At this point, the adrenaline kicked in which did nothing for me but make me shake. Here I am pretty high in the air, and I genuinely feel like I have nowhere to go. (My work group was so great through this whole thing. Totally supportive and just so very nice.) I tried to regroup by just hanging from the harness for a while (and, seriously, how bad must I have been to just hang in the air from a harness?) I tried again, but all I had in my arms and legs were jelly. Eventually, they rescued me by sending up a pulley which allowed them to help me to the platform.

Even though I was on the platform and "safe", I was overheated and shaky, but I was still way in the air. I had to complete that leg of the course. I had more ladders and bridges. I had to do it. One step at a time. The funny thing was, by the time I got to the zip-line, which was the end of that leg, I was actually relieved. Yay! It's the ground! Who cares how high I am? I needed to get back to earth.

Going down a zip-line is the exact opposite of what I am 99% of the time. You have to just step off and trust. You have to just let go. When you land, you have to not care if you get a back full of wood chips or if you look graceful. You just have to dig your heels in and fall to the ground.

As we headed for the next leg, I thought about walking the rest of the course. But the next leg didn't have a Tarzan swing (and therefore, no cargo net), so I decided I could do it. This was probably a bit unwise. I was overheated at this point. As I went through the course (which went higher and higher), I got shakier and hotter. I tried to take breaks (but, seriously: I was 40 feet in the air), and at one point, yeah, I got sick (sorry to all the critters below.) Everyone tried to be reassuring, telling me I could do it, but, truly, it was more about being overheated. It did, however, pull me into this zen-ish place. At one of the highest points in the course, the crossing was a series of swinging platforms, and if I wouldn't have been so physically spent, it would have scared the crap out of me. Instead, I was just determined to concentrate on walking from one to the other, willing them to swing as little as possible.

When I got to that final zip-line, I was so happy! All I had to do was slide. At first I was just going to go, but then I took a moment. At this point I knew it would be a mistake to push myself further, so this would be the last one. I needed to take it in. It was a nice long one; long enough that you could actually process what was happening. It was great. It was everything I hoped and even more.

Overall, it was more physically demanding than I expected. It's not like I thought there would be an elevator up to the treetops, but this required some muscle. I faced some fears and did some things I never thought I'd do. And, I really want to do it again!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Making a change

I am planning on moving the blog soon. Details will be coming, so keep your eye on this space. The reasons behind this have to do with a few things: annoyance with Blogger (the server that hosts this blog), my need to edit, just wanting a change.

Most of you are probably unaware of this, but Blogger was down for quite a while for a few days mid-May (around Friday the 13th which explains my missing posts from that time). Here's the thing: I know that there needs to be occasional maintenance, and computer issues happen and all that. And I know that I get the services of Blogger for the low, low price of free. But it's crossed from the occasional annoyance to the unacceptable.

Blogger's always been a bit sensitive. It freezes up on a semi-regular basis, losing my edits. If I pay attention, I can usually notice it in time to cut and paste into another place, and I won't lose what I've been working on. But when I miss that window, it incredibly annoying and much cussing occurs. The obvious work-around for this is to write in another program (such as Word), then cut-and-paste it into Blogger. Except that touchy Blogger always makes this behave oddly. If you look back on this blog with a critical eye to things like font size and spacing, you'll notice the occasional weird one. This is from when I cut-and-paste from Word and, try as I might, I can never quite fix it. And I'm insane enough to have things like that bother me.

The thing that pisses me off the most is that it's not like Blogger is some small bog-hosting site. It's Google! Shut downs of more that a couple of hours are completely unacceptable. If it gets to that point, they should have sent out an email. We all have to have an email address to register our blogs; they can reach us. Especially when it acts fine in one window (where you compose), then won't publish and that work is gone! I hate redoing a post; it feels fake, like reposing a picture you missed.

At this point, I'm still living here, but trying to decide how and when to switch. Don't worry; I won't let you miss it.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Stepping backwards

Yesterday, I watched "Terms of Endearment", one of those movies that I always seem to catch the last half hour or so (spoiler: Shirley MacLaine freaks out about Emma's pain every time, but she dies of cancer anyway. No, I don't cry every time, you do! It's allergies!!) This time I watched because I caught the beginning. The movie is almost 30 years old, and, inevitably, there are some parts that feel dated (although I'm always surprised as to how well it does hold up). In fact, when I think about it, we were more progressive then compared to now.

Just a quick reminder of characters: Emma is married to Flap, a struggling academic. Aurora is her insanely-close mother who does not approve of the marriage for both valid and selfish reasons. Emma is a stay-at-home mom, following her husband's career to various posts around the country, away from Aurora. It's not clear why Emma is a stay-at-home mom: they clearly need the money and, despite her best efforts, Emma is not the greatest mom. She shouts, she threatens to hit the kids, she and Flap fight often and loudly in front of them. (I'm not saying that Emma didn't deserve to shout: Flap cheats and lies and seems to be without direction.) I have to say that it's refreshing to watch a movie that doesn't idolize Saint Mom.

How was it that there seemed to be more choice and acceptance back then? Why does it feel that we've stepped backwards? When Emma visits NYC with a childhood friend, she is asked when she's going back to work after the birth of her third child, and it's actually met with disapproval that she has no plans to do so. This isn't a statement about being a stay-at-home mom or a working mom and which one is better. Emma just sort of owns her choice. There is no right or wrong way, just the way that feels right for her.

The movie is just more open to choice or non-traditional families than current movies are. Aurora wants Emma to leave Flap, even though her kids are fairly young. At one point, she actually encourages Emma to get an abortion when Emma thinks she "might" be pregnant again, asking her how else will she be able to get on with her life. Emma probably should have left Flap, and, in her way, does at the end, when she has her mother raise the children rather than him. She even considers having her single friend raise her daughter but decides against it, not because her friend is without a man, but because she wants to keep her kids together.

It's sad to me that we're in more boxes now, that there are more, not less, labels and expectations. How did we let this happen?

Saturday, May 28, 2011


There are days that I simply can't write. I look at the blank scene and nothing good can come of it. A few days ago, I had one of those days: the intention and the time to write were there, but there was nothing. Actually, that's not accurate. There was nothing worth writing. I often find that the days I can't write are the days with the most thoughts. There are so many bouncing around that I can't focus. They swarm but nothing actually lands.

What do you do on these days? Is it better to push, perhaps to only add to the frustration, but perhaps to break through? Or is it better to view this as a sign that today isn't the day for the words? I suppose if I were simply writing for myself, I'd probably just push myself to write something. But when it comes to posting something, I don't really want to put just anything out there. Yes, I care about you, dear reader.

There are times I'm walking and these amazing ideas come to me. I start composing in my head. I know I should take the time to write myself a note or two, but the ideas are just rolling and it's so easy, and I can't believe that I won't remember it all for later. It's obviously brilliant and it's fitting all together so nicely as I walk. However, later, I am in front of the computer and: nothing. Sometimes I can't even remember what the topic was in the first place.

I am getting better about notes to myself. I still have a ways to go until I'm as clever on the page as I am in my head, but I keep at it. And so, dear reader, bear with the occasional post that seems forced into the world.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ode to Toy

After much resistance and some budget justifications, I finally got a smart phone. An iphone, to be specific. I thought I would be one of those people who get one, played with a few things, then I'd just treat it like a phone that lets me read my email when I'm in line at the grocery store. But truly, I've fallen in love.

I'm still in that "I'll download this even though it seems kind useless because it's free!" stage. Do I need the golf clap sound effect or the Lego camera? Of course not, but they're fun! (I did draw a line at the fart piano, so it's not like I'm out of control. I have standards!) I try to clean up on a regular basis, so it's not like I have pages and pages of apps I never see.

With so much available for free, I find I suddenly turn into the cheapest person in the world when it comes to getting new apps. "Ninety-nine cents for the upgrade!? Outrageous!" I say, drinking my $2 coffee. Unfortunately, in some cases, it does seem you get what you paid for, and a lot of the free apps are useless or difficult to use. I now read more reviews instead of just downloading something because of a cute name and icon.

I tend to grab multiple versions of the same types of apps: list-making apps, travel-planning, diet and exercise, the search for the app that will solve it all. For as many of these that are out there, I haven't found one that really works for me so I'll keep at that. I've been surprisingly frustrated at the map functions. It seems like they take forever to download and then they're not very helpful. I'm not much of a game player, so I keep that page pretty clean.

The photo apps are the most fun. I still take most of my pictures with my camera, but I have a handful of apps that let me play with my pictures: I can doodle on them or turn them into black and white with a pop of color. I have a panorama camera and a bunch of special effects that make pictures look like ink drawings or cartoons. I have an app that lets me take videos that look like silent movies, including an old-timey soundtrack. I blow kisses into the camera, pretending to be Lillian Gish.

My iphone brings me joy. It allows a certain level of silliness, which pleases me to no end. And I can't begin to tell you have much I love the photo app that puts Obama in my pictures.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rapture, be pure

So, we all missed another rapture. Yeah, we all were so cool, laughing at it, making the jokes, all of that. We shook our heads at the folks who sold their houses, quit their jobs, got in a camper, and drove to the middle of nowhere. Why would they believe all of this? Who could believe that idiot and his predictions?

Here's the thing: whenever one of these religious crazies gets serious about the apocalypse talk, there's a part of me that gets nervous. Of course, I know that these end-of-the-world guys are either delusional or grabbing for attention, but I can't help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, one of these guys are serious. It's possible I've seen too many movies with that one scientist insisting that the signs are all there and everyone laughs at him, but, sure enough, here comes the asteroid or aliens or whatever is destroying us all this summer.

You might think that because I'm a scientist I wouldn't believe these things, but it's because I'm a scientist, I will take in all theories. There are a hundred stories of that person with a crazy theory that turns out to be true. You have to keep an open mind. The problem with an open mind is that nagging doubt you get when you actually dismiss something.

Do you ever watch horse racing? If you want to take big chances and win some serious cash, bet on a superfecta (the first four places, in order.) There are times long shots come in and you see these huge pay-outs. The superfecta for this year's Kentucky Derby was close to $50,000 (for a $1 bet!) What does this have to do with the apocalypse? At the Kentucky Derby, the betters who could look at all the factors: the horses, jockeys, post positions, track conditions, all of that, and pull it together figured it out. Maybe some day, there will be someone who actually does see those signs of the apocalypse and will announce that the end of days is coming.

No, I didn't really believe the world would end this weekend, no more than I believe it'll end next year. But do me a favor: don't talk about it too much in front of me because it really does kind of freak me out.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Taking what they're givin'

As often happens, The New York Times picked up on my blog post and had this interesting article on the job market and recent college graduates:

There are some interesting points here, including that college graduates are pushing out non-graduates for lower-level jobs (which, in its sad way, actually speaks to the value of higher education, although it's a bit wrong to thing, "Yay! I'm more likely to get that job at McDonald's now that I have that engineering degree!") I don't like the idea of assessing the value of something based on the group that had it for the shortest period of time. They touch on this point later in the article, that a college education (and beyond) should help you in the long run, but it's buried pretty far down there.

I hate the idea of college being viewed as simply a job-training program. This isn't the deal when you sign up. If that's what we want out of our colleges, then the whole system needs a big change: contracts between students and employers when they enter, promises of specific coursework, GPA's, all that. I dont' think we want to go there just yet.

The point that needs to be made is that the real reason college grads aren't getting jobs easily is because no one is getting a job easily these days. Times are tough and it's gonna take a bit more work to get something going. This doesn't take away from the "value" of the degree. It's not like there's a better alternative out there.

Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward. Here's my story: after graduate school, after I had worked a few years in academia and decided it wasn't what I wanted to do, I started the job hunt. Admittedly, the only plan I had was "not academia" and my timing wasn't the best, so I was out of work longer than I had hoped. I finally got an interview for a temp job at a non-profit where they said they'd love to have me but could only pay $14/hour. I pointed out that it was more than I was currently making, and we had a deal.

Fast forward a few months (shortly after the temp job ended) to a job interview at a big pharma. Turns out, the guy interviewing me had worked at the same non-profit years earlier. I ended up landing that job (with a very nice boost in salary). He told me later that one of the main reasons he hired me was because, if I was willing to work at the non-profit, I would work super-hard now that I was getting a decent salary.

Sometimes you have to take that not-so-great job to get the good one. If I had taken my snapshot of "Is grad school worth it?" when I was at the non-profit, the answer would have been, no way. But less than a year later, the answer would have completely changed. Whether or not college is worth it (if it's only about the job-getting) needs to be examined down the road: once the economy changes, over a lifetime.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why did/should you go to college?

With it being college graduation season coupled with an iffy economic status, there have been a lot of "Is college worth the price?" sort of articles in the news lately. There are some good points. A college education has gotten very expensive and there's more and more data out there that what you get with a diploma is a hunk of "not much."

There is an obvious concern about the mountain of debt one gets handed along with a diploma that may or may not translate into a decent job. College costs are crazy-high these days. The average cost for a public, in-state institution is $7605 for tuition and fees. That translates to over $30,000 for in-state, 4-year college education -- and this isn't including food and housing and all that. If you want to hit the private college scene, well, that number will just hurt your soul.

The question is: is it worth it? You may have heard the statistic suggesting that a college graduate earns, over their lifetime, approximately a million dollars more than a high-school-only type. There are plenty of errors with this argument, as shown here:

That said, there is a question of getting your foot in the door. If you're applying for a position, how many resumes go in the "no" pile just because you don't have certain letters after your name? And, more importantly, what is your level of control over the type of job you can get? You may be able to get that entry-level position, but you may be passed over for those manager-type positions.

A bigger question is: what is the purpose of a college education? If it's simply to get a certain type of job or earn a specific salary then you do need to crunch the numbers as to the worth of a college education. Personally, I think that college is more than a job-prep program. I am still enough of a romantic to think that there is an intellectual value in a college education, that there is something valuable about an environment dedicated to learning. In this economy with these costs, the decision for higher education has to come from a love of the experience of going to college.

Back when I was working at a university (oh so many years ago), I used to advise my students about whether or not they should go to graduate school. I told them that if it was simply a next step then they should probably not go. But if they just really loved biology, the they should go. For a lot of people, going to graduate school would have little impact on the financial level. (On a personal note, I left a $35K/year job to go to graduate school and, after I finished, I was earning $33K to teach at the college level.) College now falls into this bucket. Is this a required piece of the puzzle of your life?

This is a complicated and expensive thing. I think we've reached the point where a kid shouldn't go to college just because it's the next step. I hate saying this because I think education is truly a big deal. But I don't know how much of an education kids are getting these days, at a very high cost.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Give me the news

Today I have a doctor's appointment. Just a check-up and that's all the specifics you need. This is not where you get the details of my anatomical in's and out's. But I am anxious about it. Not for any specific reason, but just the general anxiety of going to the doctor. Because, in my mind, it's either status quo, which is a neutral outcome, or bad news. The doctor just doesn't come in with this news: "hey, that extra 10 (or more) pounds you're carrying? Let me do this painless procedure that will not only get rid of it but convert it to GOLD. Yeah, it sucks for those skinny bitches that don't have that extra to convert!"

The fact is I have general anxiety. I overthink everything. It shouldn't be a shock that I have this nervousness about going to the doctor. I try to talk myself out of it (believe me, I argue), but there's still a jumping in the pit of my stomach. Yes, I understand that if there's an issue (don't say that; knock on wood!) it's best to know sooner rather than later. But that doesn't mean I really want to know. Ignorance is bliss and all of that.

I'm sure there's nothing wrong here. It truly is just an annual check-up. I think my body is just keeping watch: if we act like it could be something, then it won't be. Anxiety is not about logic. Nor is it your friend. But it's always there for you.

Dear Kitty, Take two

Blogger restored the post! How about that! Here's the "Dear Kitty" post in its complete version.
I started regularly writing in a diary about a year and a half ago. I use a large, red Moleskine calendar. I write exactly one page a day. No more, no less. I paste in fortunes from cookies, flower petals, lottery tickets, notes from the Universe. I've kept diaries before, with varies degrees of loyalty and production. Th elongest stretch was for a couple of years when I was in grad school. This current set-up works for me. I get a page a day, and I just go.

I write in the morning. I want the complete day behind me before I write about it. I try to not edit myself when I write in my journal. Not that I go completely free-form. I do write complete sentences and try to have a bit of a narrative. But I try to let my thoughts just flow. Sometimes it surprises me what ends up on the page. I'll be upset or bothered about one thing and, as I write, it morphs into another thing. I'm not writing a story; I'm just releasing. It's a chance to open my head up, to not care about the exact way I'm presenting it all. Sometimes I solve problems. Sometimes I ask more questions.
This diary is for me and no one else. I haven't reread older entries, nor do I plan to, at least not for a while. Maybe I need a five-year rule or something before I go back. Maybe ten. For now, it's where I cleanse, where I let go. I wonder what should become of these books. I wouldn't want it to be read wrong. I sometimes just vent or write things I wouldn't say out loud.
I write my hopes; I write some of my dreams (some dreams are too big to leave me just yet.) Every day, a letter to myself, pushing me forward.

Monday, May 16, 2011

About a girl, part 2

Do you still talk to your best friend from high school? Unfortunately, I do not. And this makes me sad. I'm still in touch with a number of people from high school, but the person I would have said was my best friend in high school, I have not talked to since college.

Did something happen to cause this? Yes. When people ask, I give the short answer: she stole my boyfriend. Which is true, but that's not the real reason we don't talk. It's an easy answer, and people nod and kind of laugh at it. But, truly, I am not heartbroken over the loss of this guy (but, oh yeah, it hurt at the time.)

Here's what happened. I met a guy and we started going out. Guy had a group of friends, I had a group of friends (including former best friend [FBF]), we all started hanging out. We went out that summer between high school and college; Guy was attending same local college as me and friends, it was going to be such a great summer! But then in early August, with no warning, Guy dumps me. I did not see that coming. And, wow, it really hurt. It wasn't until months later that I found Guy had dumped me to be with FBF.

Look, I understand hormones. I get that sometimes attractions wander. These are forgivable. But once it happened, once Guy chose FBF, they should have told me. Tell me the truth! It would have sucked, but I needed them to come clean. At least then I'd get why Guy dumped me. And, FBF, don't hang out with me for months while you're dating Guy on the side and not tell me. Because that's what cuts my heart out. That she couldn't tell me. That I would ask her if she met someone, now that we were at college, and she'd tell me, nope, no one there. I had to find out by accident.

I thought we were close. I thought we were best friends since the eight grade. I thought we could talk. I thought we didn't hurt each other. And the thing that really hurts isn't that FBF hooked up with Guy or even that they kept it a secret, but that, once I found out, FBF never ever said she was sorry. Not once. She just avoided me, disappeared from my life. Even Guy took the time to write a letter trying to explain (I wrote back something like nine pages of hurt and anger, but, really, it was less him than her.) (And nine pages -- what was wrong with me?!)

Why don't I talk to my best friend from high school? Because she thought so little of me that she couldn't take the time to say, "I'm sorry." Because I was that easy to set aside. Because she could break my heart and not care.

(A shout-out to Tracy, who inspired this post.)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dear Kitty,

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the journal I keep. Alas, Blogger had its issues (those details coming soon), and it is gone, nothing put electrons in the atmosphere. I'm really bummed about this, as I thought it was a pretty good post. That said, I'm not up to rewriting it. There's something about that that just feels artificial to me.

At any rate, here's what I had started with. Let's be experimental: you can fill in the rest...

I started regularly writing in a diary about a year and a half ago. I use a large, red Moleskine calendar. I write exactly one page a day. No more, no less. I paste in fortunes from cookies, flower petals, lottery tickets, notes from the Universe. I've kept diaries before, with varies degrees of loyalty and production.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My personal work-life balance

As much as I may grumble about it, personally, I feel I have a pretty good work-life balance (WLB). Yeah, I'd love more vacation time, but, really, who wouldn't? That said, I have to work to get it. There will always be a pressure to do more: from work, from home, from your own ideas of personal growth. You have to (to a point) go after the balance on your own.

In a previous job, not so long ago, I was issued a Blackberry. At the time, I thought it was a good thing. I thought that I had hit a certain status. I didn't have any direct reports, but I liked the idea that I was important enough that I could be reached if they absolutely needed me. (I know, ego is an amazing thing.) The truth was, it messed with my own WLB. Was I at the Air and Space Museum on a Saturday checking my email? Yes, I was that jerk. The Blackberry kind of obsessed me. "I'm just checking!" became a regular statement.

Yes, I know that was on me, but if it's there, I'll check. That's my head. When I took this new job, I was offered a Blackberry and I refused it. As long as I don't have direct reports, I can think of no medical writing emergency. Whatever goes down can wait until I come into work the next morning. I have learned to say "no" every so often. I have to allow myself to ask for flexibility.

I think that some people get away from WLB because of ego. There is a feeling that if they don't do it themselves -- and quickly -- somehow the company will crumble around them. That's not to say it's not important to hit deadlines, etc. But when your coworkers can compare which teeth have been broken off due to grinding while sleeping (true story, by the way), maybe it's time to take a hard look at what you're doing to achieve balance. The company will somehow be able to push on if you don't respond to that email at midnight.

There are people out there who do want work to be the center of their lives. I get that. But if you need better balance, you have to work to get it. It's not always handed to you. It's scary to tell your boss that you need more time. Sometimes your boss will say no. You might even have to change jobs. But if it's what you need, you have to try.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Work policies

Hey, look! It's Part Two of my Work-Life Balance rant!

When committee such as this WLB group are formed, it's always an odd thing. The group was formed because some upper-management type has decided, based on this survey, that this is An Issue! Of course, upper management type doesn't actually have the time to be on a silly committee like this, so he appoints a leader gathers a few minions (I am a minion). You now have a group of about 10 people, all wanting different outcomes.

I would like to state for the record that this group has some really smart folks on board. There have been some spot-on statements and observations. The problem is that we don't actually have any power. We don't set policies and most of us aren't even managers. And our policies: oh my! One of the first tasks we did as a group was evaluate the WLB policies and they are a piece of work.

The first question is: What, exactly, is a WLB policy? My company has decided that WLB policies primarily deal with time off (okay) and gym memberships (not so much). HR gathered all the WLB policies and sent them out to the group. There is a total of 14. I found that two of them were no longer applicable (one was about a bonus day off we got last year and one was for a Sprint discount that expired. In 2008.) There were three about specific gym memberships, and the rest were about things like sick time, paternity leave, etc.

The HR rep shows up to these meetings and assures us that there is flexibility within the policies. Really? The sick leave policy is so specific, it reads almost like a joke. If you are sick, you need to call in and talk to your supervisor within 30 minutes of the start of the day (no, that's not exactly defined. The start of your day or your supervisor's? It's not clear, but it is 30 minutes, dammit!) No, you can't email and you can't leave a message. No, you can't have someone else call for you. This is spelled out very clearly in the policy. Technically, if you email your boss that you've been throwing up all night and won't be in, not only are you breaking the policy, but if your boss accepts this, s/he is also ignoring policy. And HR sort of stating that they can be flexible at some small group meeting doesn't exactly erase this.

Another thing: how is a gym membership WLB? It's a health benefit, sure. But the issue I have is that it is a membership to a specific gym. I applaud any company to acknowledges that people want to do more than work. But shouldn't they be funding everyone's hobbies? If you are demanding that people get in shape, then they should be paying for at-home exercise equipment, new tennis shoes, Weight Watcher's membership, any of that. It's not like they keep track of your visits to the gym. Not only that, you have to join certain gyms. If you have a gym a block away from you and it isn't in our policy, too bad. You have to pay for it on your own. So much for flexibility.

I suppose the good news is that there is so far to go here, it should be easy. I just hope that we're allowed to do something. That this committee isn't just for show.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Work-Life Balance

This will be the first in a series of posts, just as a warning to those of you expecting the usual stuff about "American Idol."

I have recently joined/been recruited to be part of a work-life balance (WLB) group. Here's what happened: they did some surveys at my place of work and the one thing that came back is that our WLB is not good. I don't think my place of work is that unusual in that most of us think we're overworked and want more time for our lives. And, as all typical corporate-type places like to do, they formed committees, and I got to be a part of one.

The first thing that's obvious about WLB is that everyone has different needs and wants. This makes companies crazy because what they want most of all is for us to all want the exact same thing. They want the easy fix. "Free soup on Tuesday!" "Yay!" The good news is that when you boil it down, most workers want more time off, a better working environment, more flexibility, and less work. The bad news is that companies don't really want to give that to them.

Being on this committee has gotten me to think about what I want. How would I get more balance? How much time off is reasonable; how much time off is crossing into slacker territory? Free coffee is nice, but should I get snotty if it's not Starbucks? What kind of perks help my WLB and which ones are just kind of nice?

If you ran a company, what would you do to give your employees WLB? Should this even be a question? Maybe it's better for a company to just lay down the law and say "suck it" to their employees. As long as people are still looking for jobs, maybe that's the better strategy.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother, may I?

Let's pretend you meet someone: maybe at a party, maybe at work. Let's say you start talking about this and that, and you find out they didn't go to college. Would you start saying things like "Why wouldn't you go to college? You seem smart enough?" Would you wonder about their financial situation or if they could cut it. Perhaps you might think some of these things, but you wouldn't say them out loud. You wouldn't be that rude. If later in the conversation, they commented on something, you wouldn't dismiss them with a "oh, you've never been to college; you wouldn't understand." And yet, people feel they can act this way towards people who haven't been parents.

For some reason, plenty of folks think that commenting on someone's status as a parent is fair game. I take that back: commenting about the fact that someone isn't a a parent is fair game. You'd never say to someone, "You're a parent? Good Lord, that must be some sort of train wreck!" And the assumption seems to be that everyone who chooses to be a parent must be amazing at it, and, frankly, I can't think of anything that everyone is good at.

The decision to be (or not be) a parent is a biggie. There's a lot of factors that go into it. Sometimes these factors are out of your control. I had a friend (yes, really; this is not me, so no sympathetic, off-to-the-side emails are needed) who was trying to have a child for years: lots of IVF and other treatments. It was really tough for her and she was pretty private about it. And yet, I saw coworkers go up to her and just flat out ask her when she was going to start having kids. "Oh, you'd be such a great mother!" And, unless she wanted to tell them about the pain she was going through (emotional and physical), she had to just fake smile and sort of shrug off the question.

There are hundreds of reasons someone might choose to not be a parent, many of them private. Maybe you can't afford it, maybe your partner has a secret drinking problem, maybe you think you might not be good at it. Maybe, like my friend, you are trying but not succeeding. Maybe it's just not your thing. Whatever the reason, it's most likely not something you want to talk about over the water cooler at work in front of semi-strangers. And saying things like, "I don't know what people like you do on Mother's Day" probably isn't helping.

I know that you're just making conversation or being friendly. You don't mean anything nasty by asking these questions. But before you comment on someone's status as a parent, ask yourself if you have a couple of decisions you've made in your life where you'd like to keep the reasons behind that choice private.