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.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


This morning when I woke up, the room was filled with orange light. Yesterday, it was a lovely shade of pink. And I thought about how much I love the sunrise.

I am an early girl, one of the dreaded morning people. I feel in the groove at about 7:30 a.m. and I'm crashing by 4-ish. I'm the perky girl at the coffee machine, already trying to have an actual conversation. (Dear world: sorry about that.) Because I like mornings, I do end up seeing the sunrise more often than not.

I'm like a little kid, running out to see it. Even though I've seen so many, I am still awed by the beauty of a sunrise. Yes, a sunset can be lovely, but there is something about the start of the day. A new day making its way into the world. Maybe it's a cliche, but when I see a sunrise, I think of all the potential magic that could happen that day.

I am such a dork, that sometimes when I look at the sunrise, I actually say, "Wow!" Out loud. I will just stop in my tracks and look at the sky. Isn't it amazing to live in a world where something so beautiful can happen every day? Yeah, I know: wow!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Working with my hands

Today I put together five bookcases. It was nothing too difficult; these were bookcases from Ikea, meant to be built fairly easily. I had to pound nails and move heavy boards around and screw things together. I'm sore and I'm sure my back will be screaming tomorrow, but I kind of love doing things like this. I don't often have days where I'm just physically working.

I've put together a bunch of things over these years. I almost always have at least one screw-up. It's usually a board put in the wrong way: I pull the whole thing together and there's a strip of pressboard showing. It's usually no big deal and wouldn't be worth the time to take apart and fix.

These bookcases don't have any obvious problems. Well, the first one I put together had a shelf with the wrong side exposed; luckily it was fairly easy to fix. One of the reasons I finished all the bookcases today is that I was feeling the pattern of putting them together: after the first one, the rest went together a bit easier.

A physical day means not so many deep thoughts. But it feels good to see what you did all day.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A love letter

Dear S,

I know we've been together for a while and I don't appreciate you the way I should. In fact, just yesterday, I forgot you completely. But somehow, my body knew. I could feel it; I just didn't feel right about myself. My stomach was upset, I had no energy. And yet, I dismissed that it was you. I blamed other things, I made excuses. But it was you all along.

Oh, Synthroid, you amaze me. So little, so subtle, but you change me completely. Yesterday I forgot to take you and I was tired and cranky (well, moreso than usual) and my tummy hurt. And then I remembered my forgotten friend. One small dose and within the hour, I was a new person. My head was clearer, my stomach was settled, I actually had some energy.

I know I shouldn't be writing a letter to a drug. It seems somehow trivial or dependent. And yet, I simply can't help it.

I promise to be true. I will stay loyal. Thank you for making me feel complete again. Synthroid, we are made to be together.

Love always,

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The inevitable American Idol posting

Can we please set aside the idea that the kids on "American Idol" actually chose their songs? I've mentioned this earlier, but last night's show sort of proved it. There is no way they picked their own songs.

Let's talk about Haley's choice of "You and I" by Lady Gaga. You know it -- oh, wait, it's unreleased! How could anyone know it? And why would Haley ever pick it? If I'm looking to reach out to America and get votes, I'm not going to find a song that no one knows. And how does she even know that song unless it was handed to her by the producers? Was it just kicking around Haley's ipod? I don't have an issue with Iovine handing her a song, but let's not blame Haley for song choice, J-Lo.

The other piece of evidence is Jacob's choice of "Love Hurts." Did you see the exchange?
Iovine: You should totally do "Love Hurts"!
Lusk: I am not a heavy-metal guy.
Iovine: No, no, like Gram Parsons!
Sheryl Crow sings very pretty.
Lusk: Okee-dokee, although that's absolutely nothing like the way I sing.

Lusk obviously had no interest in the song, but it was given to him anyway. Sure, he messed it up, but I wonder how he would have done if he had a song he actually liked.

Personally, I don't have a problem with the producers picking songs, especially for the less-seasoned contestants. I get the feeling that Scotty and Lauren might have run out of their own choices around Week 3. ("No, Lauren, you can't do another Miley song.") They're young, and they need direction. But come clean. In fact, it might be interesting to explain why a particular song was picked and how they want to see these kids develop as artists. Let's not pretend some 16-year-old found some deep cut on an Elton John album that was recorded about 20 years before he was born.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The next book

I am between books and ready to pick the next one. It shouldn't be that difficult. But I am overwhelmed at all the possiblities. There is so much out there, too many choices. In this lovely piece by Linda Holmes, you can't help but realize that you're never going to come close to reading all the books you want to read (go here for details: Too many books!) And do I want to waste my time on a book that is just "meh"?

The wonderful, terrible thing about books is that you can't know until you read it. You can listen to critics, read reviews, look at best-of lists, but until you pick it up and read it, you just can't know. There are some books that grab me and sweep me away with their beauty. I don't want them to end but I can't help but read them as fast as I can to see what comes next. These books inspire and intimidate me. I'd love to write something that touches another person so deeply, but I fear that I don't have that talent or ability quite yet. Books like this are never a waste of time. I want every book to be like this. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.

I read "Catch-22" with all these hopes of greatness: after all, it's on all these "Best Books Ev-ah!" lists. I couldn't hate that book more than I do. I hated it so much that when I finished, I was afraid that I no longer liked reading. I though that, like eating too much dessert of some kind, it was too much, that I was finally sick of it. Sure, I had been reading stacks of books since I was six or so, but this was it. I had hit the wall. I kept thinking it might get better. Surely there was something that made it a great novel. But I never found it.

I usually gut books out until the end. I try to have a 100-page rule, but if I get that far, I can often see the halfway point, and then it should be downhill, so I'll make it to the end. I find myself resenting that book even more ("The Finkler Question": I'm looking at you, but that's for another post). But I want them all to have a level of beauty and/or plot and/or interesting characters. I want them all to be worth the time.

I look at my shelves of unread books. Which one do I choose? Which one will make my heart sing?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Future!

The other day, I was talking to a friend and we mentioned a song as part of the conversation. After the call, I went to my desk and sent her a picture of that song playing on my ipod. Ha, ha, right? (I am hilarious!) But then I realized, this was The Future! In that short bit of time, I did a bunch of stuff that would have been unthinkable when I was in high school.

The friend I was chatting with was in New Jersey. Long distance! Precious, expensive long distance! Surely you weren't going to be calling long distance just to chat about Paul Simon. Then I went to my desk, not home to sort through a stack of albums or cds, and on this box about the size of a cigarette pack, I could pull up a song (out of over 8000! 8000 songs in this one little box! Holy cow!) Then I took my phone (not much bigger than that box of songs over there) and took a picture of the song playing! This would have blown my high school mind on a few levels:
* That music box is actually telling me what song is playing. From what album and by which artist! I don't have to listen for a while, trying to name that tune. How does it know?
* The phone has no cord. And isn't the size and weight of a brick.
* There is a camera in the phone. A camera mixed with a phone! What kind of craziness is this?

Let's talk about picture taking for a minute. Remember when you had to have film? And it was so expensive! You saved those 24 shots on that roll of film for really important stuff. And you had to use up the whole roll before you dropped it off to get developed (another expense) and wait at least a few days (overnight film development? Who am I? Rockefeller?!) Then you'd get the pictures back, hoping that you got a decent shot. Then, if you wanted to send a picture, you either had to give up the one print you have or pay for a print to be made (another expense and wait). Then you have to send it in the mail to the lucky recipient (who has, no doubt, forgotten that earlier conversation), who would look at the picture and wonder what you were wasting film on. At least postage was cheaper.

Do you realize how almost magical it is to snap a picture with a phone and send it to someone else's phone? To have thousands of songs at your fingertips? To be able to call your friend in New Jersey and not worry about how much it'll cost? It's not the future I imagined as a kid, but it's pretty incredible. And, frankly, I'd rather have the ability to carry around thousands of songs or call a friend where ever she may be, than have a jet pack.

Monday, May 2, 2011

You can try to hold the breeze

I slept through the president telling us that bin Ladnn was killed, having gone to bed before the press conference announcement interrupted my viewing of "The Apprentice" documentaries about very intelligent things. I woke to news of a man's death and celebrations of this killing.

I am not saying that he wasn't evil and that he didn't do a lot of really bad things. No, I don't know of an acceptable alternative punishment. And I do hope that there is a sense of some closure for all of his victims and people affected by his attacks. I just find something distasteful about celebrating anyone's death.

I understand feelings of relief or revenge-completed. But celebrating a death, to me, is crossing a line, no matter who the death is. It takes away from our humanity a bit. There's just something gross about choosing to celebrate the end of anyone's existence. It starts to let you draw a circle around the deaths you can celebrate. Did they kill 100 people? Did they kill 10? Did they cut you off in traffic? Were they just kind of annoying? I know that's an extreme, but I don't want to start making those judgments.

I applaud that it's been done. I hope that, as a nation, we can start moving forward and start fixing other things that are broken. But I will not celebrate that someone has died, no matter the person.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Math problems

Today I cleaned my closet. I may have a few pairs of shoes. And by "may", I mean I do and by "a few", I mean more than 50. It's a little embarrassing. If you know me, you know I'm not exactly fashion-forward. I hate the mall and I'm a big fan of comfort. As I try to decide if I should keep the plaid heels or pink slides, I wonder: how did I end up with so damn many shoes?

It's simple math. I have been roughly the same shoe size for over 25 years. Let's say at a minimum, I buy five pairs a year (two pairs for each season and an impulse pair), that's at least 125 pairs. And, let's be honest, ladies, five pairs is definitely the low end. Even when I'm trying to be good, I just need that next pair.

The thing is, there are so many kinds of shoes to have. Heels, flats, casual shoes, boots, sneakers. And they come in different colors! And different styles! I probably have about 20 pairs of shoes that are black: flats, boots, pointy, kitten heels, sweater boots (yeah, there is such a thing), wintery casual things, sandals, pumps...well, you get the idea. And that's just black shoes. Do I need red boots? No, of course not. But I've got some. And red heels and sneakers and flats...

I love that I've stayed the same size for so many years. The downside is that unless they wear out or are terribly uncomfortable or unfashionable, there's no reason to get rid of them, until I run out of space. Do I wear the brown slides with the animal print very often? Not really. But why would I get rid of them? they're surprisingly comfortable and if I need brown, fun shoes (it happens), I'm good to go. They might need a bit of dusting, but I'm ready to roll.

And then there's the pairs that have been barely worn that I tell myself that I could make work. I know if I could stand a day or two in those shoes, they might loosen up, and they would be in the rotation. I also have the shoes that are supposedly made for walking or comfort that I'm sort  of afraid to wear on any serious walk because they feel a little "rubby" and I've had those blisters before. But if I could get past that rub and fix it...

Most boys don't get it. They have it easy: one pair of work-ish/casual shoes, one pair of sneakers, and a pair of dress shoes in the closet for the three times a year they might have to wear a suit. There are times I'm jealous of that. Then I pull out my floral flats and giggle in delight.

Today the closet is cleaner and I have gotten rid of a few pairs (the pink slides didn't make the cut this time), but most of them, I couldn't bear to let free. I swear, the red patent-leather flats would be amazing if I could just loosen the back a bit.