Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I almost fired her today

I spoke to The Problem today. I talked of my disapproval of her recent actions, involving The Salesman in the personnel issue; she stood up for herself, telling me she needed an uninvolved party to give her a different perspective. She said she needed to speak with someone who was neutral and someone she trusted, and that person happened to be The Salesman.

As much as I disapproved of what she did, I have respect for the fact that she stood up for herself. She did some more crying, but she didn't get defensive nor argumentative. She said she didn't intend to cause a bigger problem, and she'd accept any consequences, but she stood behind what she had done and gave me valid reasons why she did it. I don't think she was expecting me to see her side; she seemed surprised when I didn't become angry at her. I think, even after all we've talked about and been through together professionally, that she still does not understand my management style, still does not really get my perspective.

One of the biggest conflicts she and I have is that she cannot control her emotions around me, and she feels as though I need to make allowances for her because of her emotional problems. She told me today that she feels she can't talk to me, and that I make her cry. That my bearing and my attitude towards her intimidate her and make her lose control of her emotions. She told me earlier in the month that I am a "cold fish", and that she feels like I don't care about her or her feelings. I can't make her see the difference between removing my emotional responses from our interactions and actually not caring about her but it's as though she refuses to see the difference, as though my lack of compassion for her emotional problems make me wrong. As though it's unfair of me to hold her to company standards because she has this large, overwhelming emotional problem. And she just thinks I'm being insensitive when I explain to her that it is not my job to care about her emotional problems. I believe that is a personal issue, one I am not qualified nor capable of helping her with at this point. She has herself so deluded that she cannot even see how she makes things so hard on everyone, it seems impossible that I could even cut through the bullshit she has enshrouded herself with and help her deal with an issue she won't even acknowledge she has. She says things that suggest she feels she should be exempted from certain standards of conduct because of her problems. She's essentially asking me to cut her slack because of these problems, and give her more time. I want to shake her and scream at her. She has herself convinced I am just a cold-hearted cunt without feelings or emotions ... if only she knew how tightly I maintain control over myself, just to stop myself from beating her to death with her own hands.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More on The Problem

I dreamed about The Problem last night. In the dream, she was doing everything wrong. I had to keep reminding her about our conversation and how she was on notice. I kept letting her get away with her same bad behaviour and every time she'd do something and I would catch her and shake my finger at her, I would remember that I was supposed to fire her. Instead I just kept giving her these "now, now, we talked about this" speeches in an annoying sing-song voice.

Today I found out that she went to another person in my office, the salesman for my branch, and wanted to discuss the issue with him. Our salesman was the branch manager years ago when I was hired with the company and The Problem was at one point a valuable (and valued) employee. She regularly went to him with her stories of unfair treatment and attempted sabotage from her co-workers. Today, she went to The Salesman to get him to talk to my boss about the recent corrective action I took against The Problem. It is an absolute mess. The Salesman, at least, refused to get in the middle of it and told her that she needed to deal with me. That's one good thing.

I am frustrated with this situation. I am extremely invested in my job; I take it very seriously, and I probably get a little emotionally involved with my tasks. Not to the point where I am too close to my employees, but to the point where I cannot leave the problems at work. I bring them home with me, carry them around and have them constantly on my brain. This makes me a hard worker, a good employee, but it also increases my stress and affects my personal life. I am frustrated that this has become such a deep issue. I feel as though I have taken the appropriate steps; I don't feel like I failed at any point. But I'm sure having a hard time turning this problem off when I leave the office.

Especially annoying for me is that I am spending so much time and energy dealing with this issue, time I could be devoting to valuable tasks like preparing projects for my group to work on when their volume runs low, or evaluating policies, or completing performance reviews ... there are seemingly a million other details that need my attention, and instead I am listening to others vent about the tension in the office, or discussing The Problem's behaviour with my salesman. Perhaps this actually counts as the "negative behaviour" I wrote her up for ...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A house for a royal

I used to pass this house twice a day during my commute. It is a beautiful house in SE Portland, with big windows and a large front porch. It was built in the 1920s, and is on the market for $600K. The first time I noticed the house I was in a hurry, driving too fast because I was late, and I did not get a good look. It was fleeting, my glimpse, but it was enough. Later that afternoon, I drove past it again, slowly, and fell in love. Each day after that I would slow when I drove past the house, absorbing as much as my eyes could in that short amount of time.

I love the steps leading up the porch, sort of curved and sweeping; and the yard, raised up well above street level; the porch is large enough for a couple big, comfortable chairs and a table. I can see Jeff and myself sitting on this porch in the late afternoon sun, drinking iced tea and eating finger foods, glaring at children and watching people walk by.

The driveway is around the side of the house, right on 39th Street. The driveway leads to a garage under the house, which was a popular style then. It would probably be most inconvenient to back onto 39th Street during the morning rush-hour, so I probably wouldn't use it.

The house is two levels, and has a finished basement. The kitchen has been remodeled, and there is a fireplace. The back yard is also above street level, sort of a gradient slope that is just dirt with very small bushes planted; there is a large concrete pad in place of a traditional "yard", so one would not have to mow back there. The house is painted a soft mint green, which sounds awful but is really quite nice looking.

When I was sixteen my family lived in a very small, cramped house. My mom used to walk to work six blocks away, to save money. Each day she walked past a mammoth empty house, and she pined for it. The house was big enough to hold the four of us, and she wanted to live there very badly. One day, a for-sale sign was up in the yard, and Mom came rushing home. She told us of this house and how she knew we should buy it; she talked of all the possibilities of living in that house and she got us very excited. When my parents discovered the price, my stepdad told her to forget about it. It was too much, we didn't have the money to buy it and it just wouldn't happen. My mom is not easily defeated, and eventually came up with a plan to buy the house. Six months later, my parents signed the papers: my family owned that house.

I feel like my mom did back then. I belong in this house, in fact I've already chosen a name for it. I took several pictures of it and will place them in a special box. Into this box will go photographs of the things I desire, things I absolutely must have. And I must have this house. Probably I'll have to wait some, on account of how I don't have six hundred thousand dollars, but I will have this house.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Letting go: Bulletin Board

I mentioned in an earlier post that I wanted to try something different with my many, many keepsakes. One such item is a bulletin board my mother made me when I was a teenager. I forget exactly when, but one year she assembled various trinkets and bits that I had collected up to that point in my life and glued them onto a bulletin board; she gave it to me as a gift for a birthday, and it used to hang next to my computer at our old house.

I have always collected things, parts I find on the ground, toys from my childhood, random stuff that can be found anywhere. My mom's father, who I did not grow up knowing, used to reload his own shells; when he found out that I was interested in handguns and other weapons he started sending me things: pocket knives and other folding knives, bullets that he had reloaded, and so on. I collected patches, and buttons, and dice, and old film and camera parts. I liked old things, broken useless things that should have been rubbish but that I was too sad for. I couldn't bear for the broken things to become garbage, and thought that if I loved them they would have value. It seems silly now, but that is how I came to have so many trinkets.

Some of the things on the bulletin board have broken off, and the cork was starting to disintegrate. I had this for such a long time; I put favourite concert tickets on it, a picture of Colin and Waltzer drunk at my wedding, pictures of friends who have been out of my life for more years than I can count. When I moved, I decided it was time for this bulletin board to leave my life. It is special to me but I needed to let it go, needed to let a piece of that me go into the dustbin along with those broken bits of a life I don't really remember.

Farmer's market

I went to the farmer's market today; we got there sort of late in the day so stands were picked rather clean and the goodies were starting to dwindle, but I got a couple starts - basil and sage - for my herb garden. We were expecting rain today, but it turned out to be quite nice. We parked a few blocks away and walked in the sunshine. The market is across the street from the city library, so of course I had to go scope that out. I got my library card, but didn't do much browsing. The library is larger than I expected, and I'm anxious to spend some time there.

I was supposed to get together with my dad today and show him around this city, but he had to reschedule so I dragged Jeff around town with me instead. It was nice to get out and wander around. I have been off my diet and exercise routine, so I'm feeling a little unhealthy. A big change that I wasn't expecting has been finding a routine in the new place. I figured I'd move out here and just have it all figured out, that I would just slip into a routine of things and do all the things I wanted to accomplish before. I had been looking forward to a not-commute, but hadn't really planned what I would do with all my extra time. Oh, I figured I'd start exercising again and working out in the weight room, and spending more time on my crafty projects. I plan to start school sometime out here, and cook and clean more ... so many things, but I hadn't really figured how it would all work together.

Previous to moving here I spent so much time commuting and working, and thinking about commuting and working, and devoting so much energy to rushing around from one place to the next that I never felt like I had enough time for anything. Everything was hurried, and when I had time not to hurry, I came to a dead stop. I didn't have any in-between time, in which I could rest for a little while, then go off and do something energetic. I had break-neck speed and complete stillness.

Now, I have a lot of time. I don't have to rush in the mornings. I'm not carpooling with Tanya any longer, so no one is really waiting on me; the drive to work takes me two minutes. It is hard for me to rush around now. In the mornings, I can't seem to get motivated to get ready in anything resembling a timely manner. When I come home in the afternoons, I mosey around and do anything that strikes my fancy. I'm so off any sort of disciplined schedule or routine, and I'm having a hard time finding my way.

I think I'm just swinging towards the opposite extreme, just taking my time getting into a rhythm after years of such stress; I'm not really worried about it, but it feels a little weird to me right now. I moved out here so I'd be able to balance all areas of my life better, and now I'm experiencing the opposite problem: I'm still not getting much done, but not because I have no time - now it's because I have all the time.

At least I'm cleaning more.

An anniversary, of sorts

Eight years ago today I had an abortion. Colin and I had been married for nearly two years. I was on birth control, two forms of it. I had a lot of problems with birth control - they gave me migraines, interfered with my sex drive and made me lose weight. I had tried most of what was available at the time, and was transitioning from Depo-Provera back to the Pill; I got my last Depo shot, which would provide birth control for three months, and started the Pill at the same time. My thinking was I would be double covered and wouldn't have to worry about pregnancy for that first month on the Pill.

I was also taking St. John's Wart at the time; I have since read that St. John's Wart counteracts the Pill, but that wasn't known back then. It wasn't in any of the Pill literature and wasn't common knowledge. I got pregnant in March of 2000.

In April, Colin and I moved to a new apartment. In May I found out I was pregnant. Actually, Colin told me I was pregnant, that I should get tested. My menstrual cycle had always been unpredictable and untimely, so not having a period wasn't any sort of clue for me. He harassed me about it until I agreed to get a test, and he was right. I've always thought it was sort of telling about me that I didn't even know I was pregnant.

I immediately went into a depression about it. I felt sick, literally like I had a disease inside me that needed to be removed. Like it was cancer that needed to be cut out. I wanted to die, wanted to cut my own stomach open and pull it out. I considered killing myself if I couldn't abort; I didn't want to be a mother, didn't want to have a child. Colin and I had agreed in the first days of our relationship that we would not have children. Our agreement was that if we changed our minds we'd adopt a Chinese baby and raise it.

Something changed with Colin when we found out I was pregnant; he wouldn't look at me or talk to me. He wouldn't touch me, and started avoiding me after work. He would come home after work and change clothes and leave, not telling me what he was doing or where he was going. We didn't have cell phones then, and I never really knew what was going on. He'd come home late, often drunk, after I was asleep and we would never talk about it. I was going through my own issues at the time, and sort of ignored his behaviour.

He didn't go with me for the abortion. He went to work, and my mom picked me up and took me to the clinic. Everyone at the clinic assumed I was single, probably a teenager. When I told the nurses I was married, but that my husband couldn't get the day off work (a little lie to avoid saying he didn't want to come with me) they looked at me with such pity and anger in their eyes. I found myself wanting to justify his not being there, to stand up for him and talk about what a really great husband he was, and how he just couldn't be here for this. They asked me several times if my husband agreed to this, as though I was having a stealth-abortion without his consent. It was very uncomfortable.

I was on the last day of my third trimester, and the clinic almost didn't agree to perform the abortion. Afterwards, my mom took me home and Colin was there. He took care of me, got me all sorts of easy food and treats, and did all the things a husband should do. I resolved to believe that he just wasn't comfortable with the process, but that he really was as okay with the abortion as he said. He committed suicide three months later, and I often wonder if he wasn't okay with it at all.

I don't regret my decision. I don't buy into the justification that an embryo isn't really a person. I don't believe that it isn't "murder". I won't say that there aren't other options besides abortion, and I won't try to convince anyone that I was "right". It's the decision I made at the time, and it's the decision I'd make again. I'm not proud of it, nor ashamed of it. But, sometimes, I think of what that child would have been like. I never knew the gender, don't even think it was apparent. Would it have been like my side of the family, petite and dainty? Or like Colin, larger than life and a personality to fill up a room? It would have been smart, certainly, and probably very charming, for Colin was exceptionally charming.

They say that a fetus can sense love, that babies know when they are loved and wanted and cherished. If that's true, and I believe it is, they can also sense the opposite; they can sense hatred and anger and disgust. I'm sure they can sense un-want, just as they can sense want, and I was filled with un-want. Whatever, or whoever, that child would have been, it would have grown up without its father and with a mother who thought of it as a parasite. I wish I had felt differently sometimes, but I don't, so somewhere among the energy of the world is the soul of a person who was never allowed to be a person.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Lost and found

I lost my jade ring. I think I lost it during the move. I could cry. It is a simple ring, carved from a jade so deep green it appears to be black. The ring itself is not terribly special; I got it at the Gold Door for five dollars, so it's not as though I can't replace it.

During the move I also found a bracelet I thought I had lost years ago. I have joint and tendon problems with my left wrist, and discovered that a copper bracelet I wore helped ease the pain a bit. I hadn't seen this bracelet since I was 16 years old, then I found it when we were cleaning out our garage. I have been moving it around with me all these years and just never bothered to open the box it was in. Aside from the delight of finding a lost object, this also helped point out to me that I shouldn't be moving boxes from one place to the next if I'm not even aware of what's in them.

I'm extremely pleased about the bracelet and now I'd really like to find my jade ring.

It's official

I am now an Oregonian. I got my new license today. I failed the test on Wednesday and studied my brains out over the last couple days; today I passed like a rock star!

And that officially wraps up every last thing I needed to do after the move. I have insurance, registered the cars, changed utilities over, and am now licensed to drive here. It feels good to have everything taken care of; I felt like I was in a real state of limbo for the past couple weeks, on my way to something else but not quite there. I was talking to a friend recently about "home", and I made the statement that I have never really felt at home anywhere I've ever lived, that I always felt like I was in an in-between place. After thinking about it, I realize that's not entirely true, that my last house did feel like a comfortable home-place; but it's true that for most of my adult life I haven't really felt very settled. Colin and I always talked about leaving the NW, and living somewhere else. We never settled on another place but we both felt a pretty strong need to get out of this area. The places he and I lived together felt very impermanent up until the last place; we had a small apartment very close to the office we both worked in. It was across the street from a market and an excellent Thai restaurant called Bangkok Palace. In fact, that apartment was located right in the centre of just about everything a person could need to be happy and feel connected to life (except a strip club, of course). Jeff lived in the same building as us, so we even had one of our best friends nearby. That was probably the place I lived that I felt most comfortable, most at home; it was the place I lived in when Colin died, so as wonderful as it was at the time, my memories of it are tainted by the image of his body there.

This apartment I'm in now feels like that other apartment, warm and comfortable, without the dead body. It feels peaceful and safe and relaxing. Once again I'm across the street from a market, and very near to my office, and again right in the middle of all the things that make life convenient -except for a strip club, dammit.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


I bought a Rosemary plant today. I have wanted Rosemary for the longest time, and my plants keep dying. My grandmother has an enormous bush that she tore a sprig off and mailed to my mother, who put it in a jar full of water and now Mom has a Rosemary plant. A friend planted some she bought at the market in dirt, and now she has a Rosemary plant. I, however, have no Rosemary plants despite many attempts to grow some .

I came home for lunch today -now that I'm ONE MILE away from work, I can come home randomly in the middle of the day!- and went to the market a block away; I saw a wee Rosemary plant. It came with instructions, so I bought it. I am determined to have Rosemary.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Problem employees and how not to treat them

I did an incredibly insensitive thing.

I have a problem employee. She has been a problem for me for a number of years, but I have only recently been in a position to do something about her. When I took over managing my branch last May I sat down with her and reviewed her file. Together we identified a couple areas she needed to grow in, and a couple things our last manager wrote her up for that were unfair. We had a big discussion about everything and talked about my expectations for her as my employee, and her expectations for me as her manager, and we left the meeting with a refreshed perspective on each other and our circumstances. We understood one another and really aired our differences. It was cathartic, in the way that throwing up or screaming your brains out can be cathartic.

That was nearly one year ago. Over the course of the past year her attitude and behaviour has gotten consistently worse, so that she is now back to being the problem she had been previously. I have asked her if there is an issue I can address for her, have given her so many opportunities to let me know if I am failing her or contributing to an environment where she cannot succeed, and each time she breaks down into tears and either admits that it is all her fault, or tells me that others are sabotaging her. I hate crying. I hate doing it, I hate it when others do it. I am not comfortable with it. I understand the necessity for it, and I understand crying out of frustration but I have very little patience for it when I am trying to go about my business at work. It feels manipulative when my employees cry in such situations; it also feels useless to me, energy wasted on an action that won't help in the current circumstance.

I have done my level best to help her and guide her, and finally concluded that I am doing all the work. So I have another talk with her, another very serious talk in which I explain that her negativity and attitude are unacceptable, and that I don't see the improvement we discussed last year. I have put her on final notice, and any display of poor attitude or poor performance on her part will result in the termination of her employment.

Meanwhile, my branch is bringing more work in; one of the jobs we will acquire soon demands that we assign a full-time operator to perform scanning duties. Instead of hiring a new employee, I decided to offer the work to our existing teams; each year their work volume decreases to such an extent that I am forced to cut hours. So I offer them this additional work in the hopes that they can re-coup some of the losses they experienced earlier in the year when I cut their hours. Everyone jumped at the opportunity, included my problem employee. Tanya and I interviewed everyone and picked the best candidates among the group to train for the new job, and chose to train everyone else who applied as back-up staff, so that everyone gets a chance to learn new skills and challenge themselves. I had decided that I wasn't going to offer the same opportunity to The Problem, because I want her to focus on changing her behaviour. It would also set a bad precedent if I have to fire her and she applies for unemployment, wherein the fact that I gave her an opportunity for growth after putting her on notice will work against me in an unemployment hearing.

So I remove her application from the stack of trainees, and plan to speak with her to explain the situation. I get busy, as often happens towards the middle of the month. She has a scheduled vacation and I don't see her for a couple days. Yesterday, Tanya and I announce our decision to the staff and call out the names of the ladies who will be trained. The Problem was, of course, not on that list. Afterward, she comes into my office to ask me if there is a reason why her name was not called out.

Fuck. I forgot to talk to her before making the announcement to everyone, so she found out when everyone else did.

I feel badly about this. It is certainly not the end of the world, and definitely not the worst mistake I've ever made as a manager, but I feel like I didn't do the right thing by her, like I owed her (or anyone in her position) the courtesy of an explanation prior to a big announcement. Not telling her ahead of time was something our last manager would have done, because she enjoyed holding that sort of power over people. It makes me feel bad that I have behaved in a way our last manager did, because she was an awful person. Certainly, my reasons were not the same: I didn't do it to hurt the other person, but it was careless of me. I am frustrated with myself for not being better organized, for not being more focused on important details like that. I apologized, and acknowledged that I owed her more than what I gave her, and she graciously forgave me and agreed with my reasons for my decision, but I still feel like a shit.

Friday, May 9, 2008

I can has iPod?

Our stimulus check arrived today, magically in the bank like a delicious melty treat. Jeff let me spend some of it on a new toy, so I bought myself a 4gb iPod. It's tiny and cute and fits right in my pocket, just like a cookie! I'm having more fun than I thought importing my dorky music.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Run Lola Run

I finally got round to watching Run Lola Run. Aside from a tremendous crush on Franka Potente, I loved this movie. We watched it with subtitles, which always makes me pay just a little bit closer attention to what is said than if I were watching an American film. Something I noticed about this movie is the lack of dialogue. I mean, we heard the right amount of words to convey meaning and we hear interaction between characters, but so much is conveyed without a lot of extra nattering. I am no aficionado of films, but it seems that pictures made in other countries use far less dialogue than American films.

The movie seemed simple to me, easy and fresh with a fluidity of purpose. It was straight-forward in its meaning, and didn't waste time explaining away details that don't appreciably change the plot or character development. I especially liked the glimpse the audience got of a character's life-path when Lola intersected them at various times; something about the way that was put together really tickled me. I enjoyed this movie, and wish I hadn't waited so long to see it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Knit project: box

I'm looking for patterns for knitted boxes. Can you help? If you have a family pattern your granny shared with you, or something you came up with on your own, I'd love to hear from you. I've got a project in mind for creating some boxes that I can use in my dresser and on bookcases to help organize my stuff, and I'm not inclined to go out and spend a bunch of money on fancy-pants boxes.

The daily grind

There is a coffee shoppe in SE Portland called The Daily Grind. I did not get that today, but the other daily grind. Today was my first full day back at work since the 14th. I got accustomed to doing non-work stuff over the past couple weeks and today was a bit of a shock to my system. This happens to me, to everyone, I'm sure, each time I take more than just a day or two off work; I know I should prepare for it and I never really do. I got to the office a little later than intended and had several complaints to deal with seemingly the moment I walked in the door. This also happens whenever I take significant time off work, and this I cannot do anything to prepare for short of hanging a sign around my neck that says "don't bother me with your bloody issues", but seeing as how I'm in charge of the issues I think the home office would not approve.

For the most part the complaints were just annoying things, small and silly things that people just need to vent about, but there was one very large issue that required me to deal with it promptly. I was venting to Tanya a little bit before addressing my issue, using her as a sounding board to get my thoughts out and maybe get some feedback before dealing with the problem. She gave me some advice, some really terrific advice, for getting myself in an open frame of mind for my confrontation. She told me to make eye contact with the person I was reprimanding and silently say "Namaste" before jumping into the problem. The point was to align myself spiritually to be receptive to discussion versus conflict, to soften my spirit a bit. It sounded very positive, and I tried it. I called the individual into my office and once she sat and looked at me, I met her eyes and silently said the word. I took just a second to try to convey with body language and my non-physical self that I am a person, and to try to recognize the other persons' person-hood; to try to open my mind and my thoughts and my chi to being a little bit softer, a little bit gentler when dealing with this issue.

I think I need a bit more practice at that. I don't gentle up so easily, apparently.

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