Thursday, December 31, 2009

Girl Griot interviews me

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to participate in a terrific interview experiment and met the truly lovely Mosey Along.

I had my turn at the microphone, held in front of me by Stacie at Girl Griot. I have really enjoyed getting to know Stacie through her blog and in the emails we exchanged; she asked me very thoughtful questions and treated both me and my blog with respect.

As she mentions, we really don't have much in common; we are in different parts of the country, with different careers, and different paths in life. But when I read her blog I feel myself nodding my head and shouting, "Yes! That's totally it!".

And I think that's the point of Neil's experiment: everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has something to say, and it is important. As soon as I started reading Stacie's blog, I instantly cared about her family, her students, her thoughts. She has an important story to tell and, for a few minutes, she's helping me tell mine.

Check her out. Read her interview of me; read her blog. She's got an amazing voice.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On being criticised

I had an impromptu meeting with an employee yesterday, and I got something I wasn't expecting: criticism. The constructive kind. The I'm-talking-to-you-as-a-person-and-not-a-subordinate kind.

Do you know how often I get constructive criticism? Go ahead, guess.

It's never; okay, it's hardly ever. I get criticism a lot, or more-ish. I have at least one employee who doesn't think much of me as a manager and I get a lot of critical observations from her. I try to extract something valuable from it, but often I feel that she's just venting at me because she disapproves of my management style. That's okay with me, people are allowed to both vent and not like me at the same time.

Eunice (okay, not really, but isn't that the coolest name you ever heard?) was a little nervous to be speaking so bluntly and she rarely lets a negative words pass her lips about me (she loves me, can you imagine?) so when she asked if she could say something to me girl-to-girl without rank and authority in the way I was both pleased and surprised.

She was polite about it, showing respect to me as a person and as her superior (in the professional way, not the better-than-her way), but she was blunt and honest with me. It isn't often that any of my subordinates will be so frank with me about things they think I'm doing wrong, especially if they like me. The people who do not like me aren't so straight-forward because they do not think I will do the right thing, and the people who like me aren't so straight-forward because they don't want to criticise me and they end up excusing or justifying my actions because they know how busy I am and how hard I work, and on and on.

To have someone just lay out their observations about me in such a blunt way was a welcome change. I am a pretty blunt person myself, and unless someone tells me they have a problem it doesn't occur to me to ask. This attitude has some merit, and I'm certainly comfortable with it, but I am learning (again? still? for the eleventy-billionth time?) that it may not be the most conducive attitude in work-force management. There is a balance to be had there, but I have not found it yet.

I think it is hard to provide such criticism towards one's manager. Unless your company has specific policies and practices that are encouraged and followed, I'm sure that most employers don't provide a safe space for employees to speak in such a manner.

Something I have worked hard for is providing such a safe place - a place where my employee's experiences and opinions are valued, a place where they can tell me if they think I am screwing up without fear of backlash or discrimination for their honesty. I didn't think I was succeeding, until yesterday.

I still have a lot to learn, but I think I am headed in the right direction. Also, Eunice is my favourite. Don't tell the others, okay?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Broken pieces

I was chatting with a friend a few weeks ago about nothing in particular, when she surprised me by asking me if I felt like a part of me would always be in love with Colin.

The question surprised me in the very best way. I love these types of conversations, because the questions always challenge me. I do not fully understand why, but they do.

I spent a lot of time thinking about Colin's death and my life and how all of it related. Even so, questions like this come out of nowhere and sometimes even I am surprised by the answers I come up with.

I said the first thing that came into my head, which is that I have always felt like the part of me that feels "in love" was broken. Broken in a way that deceives me, tricks me and blinds me to reality. Being in love back then was a little bit scary for me, and sort of unreliable. I fell in love with all the wrong people, over and over again. So imagine how I mistrusted Colin, because I was in love with him. I was sure that something had to be wrong with him, because I wanted him, and everyone I'd wanted up to that point had been like a train wreck.

When he turned out not to be a train wreck I was really relieved. Maybe I wasn't so broken after all.

And then, really, he turned out to be the biggest train wreck of all. He healed me in the few years we were together before his death. And with his death, he broke me all over again.

So when I was asked if I would always be in love with him, in that moment I knew I wasn't in love with him anymore, and hadn't been for a long time. It's true, what they say: you really can get another husband.

What they don't tell you is that you can never replace your first real love; you can't ever replace the person who taught you how to love and laugh and cherish life. The unique interaction with someone who loves you and gives so freely of their heart just can't be replicated, no matter how many such people enter your life. There is no healing salve for a broken soul. Time helps, but that old saying about time healing all wounds... turns out that's a little bit of bullshit. At least, it is for me. Time just teaches you to go numb in places. Open up that wound, and it's just as fresh as the day you got it. You just get good at hiding how much it hurts.

I haven't thought about Colin in terms of "love" for a long time. You do learn to love again. You learn to laugh again, and to cherish life again. He was my best friend in so many ways and he changed my life; those are the parts that I miss. I miss his personality, and his heart. His bigger-than-life-ness.

I don't miss him as a husband or a lover. But as a friend... no matter how many I have there's a little space in my soul that remains empty, and always will.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Interview: Mosey Along

This year I participated in Great Interview Experiment (about which I would not have known had MPJ not participated, so thanks MPJ!) and had the good fortune to get to peek inside the mind of the lovely lady behind Mosey Along.

I'd like to start first with a big 'thank you' to my interviewee for allowing me to ask such deeply personal questions and for participating in this process. I had a lot of fun reading this blog and getting to know her. If you don't follow Mosey Along, I recommend checking her out. She has a fresh, creative outlook on life, and the grace I found in her blog was moving for me.

I find myself curious about what makes people 'tick', and my questions leaned toward the deeper, more personal issues she touches on very lightly in her blog. She answered my questions with a dignity that I hope to share with all of you.

That said, read on!

You have alluded to melancholy in your blog; do you find that blogging about such feelings has helped you to deal with any negativity you have surrounding the reasons for your melancholy?

I've heard many bloggers refer to their blogs as free therapy, and pretty much that's what it is for me too. It's not like a personal diary or journal necessarily - I mean people are reading this, including my parents! - but although I'm aware there is an audience, small as it is, I do try to at least acknowledge where I'm at and what I'm feeling so it's out there, without letting it *all* hang out. I'm pretty conscious of where my melancholy comes from, and although being mired in those feelings is not pleasant, I don't look at it from a negative position, if that's possible to understand. Because I always come out the other side with new insight, or at least a renewed appreciation for the life I've got.

I really get this perspective. Our ability to assimilate information and analyse it can provide us with the tools to better enrich our own lives (and that of our children).

My own mother suffered from depression to varying degrees when I was growing up, but she never talked about what her challenges were; what are the biggest challenges you face with regard to your melancholy, and raising a young child?

You pretty much hit it right there - the biggest challenge is being a good mother. My daughter has definitely borne the brunt of it - I'm a stay-at-home mother so she's always been right here when it hits. I'm sorry you had to experience it yourself with your own mother. I feel gratitude that I have never had to be hospitalized or medicated, although I support whatever therapy works for an individual, and when I read about families dealing with any degree of mental illness that impacts the lives of every member of the family, that biblical quote "there but for the grace of God go I" resonates deeply.

Do you share your feelings of sadness with your daughter, or talk with her the nature of your melancholy?

When I have my periods of melancholy, as I call them, she's a witness to them. I hate that part of it. But I've been fortunate that there seems to be a time limit on those periods, and when I'm able we always talk about it or acknowledge it in some way. I've had to apologize to her many times for my behaviour, and also reassure her that no matter what she is loved completely and absolutely. She is remarkably mature and compassionate for a six year old, and I'm so grateful that she seems able to state her feelings very clearly and honestly, and perhaps she's had to be.

I think a parents' ability to acknowledge and/or apologise for behaviour they regret is what makes a child really aware of their own actions. Showing your daughter that you are aware of your actions, and aware of her feelings seems to me an invaluable lesson. We can't be perfect, or always as good as we want to be, but if we can be honest about ourselves we can teach our children how to be honest and caring in their own lives.

What brought you to the US?

Work! I graduated with a degree in animation and was very fortunate to be hired by a renowned visual effects company in the Bay Area - twice. First as an intern after graduation, and the second time a few years later on a more permanent basis. That's where I met English hubby, who still works there, although I do not.

Are there significant differences in culture between your Canadian heritage and your husband’s British roots, and how does your family blend them in your home?

No major cultural differences, I think the similarities are actually what worked for us in our initial attraction and in our lives together now. I get his jokes (and usually have to explain them to others who can't cope with his accent), he gets mine, and although we've had other differences that we've had to deal with, nothing that has caused us any major trauma. Both of us have trouble nailing down what is so similar other than we spell words the same way and have many of the same social and pop-culture references.

You have mentioned something of an emotional discomfort with the faith of your childhood; has blogging affected your faith and your feelings toward it?

No, other than the fact that it is another outlet for expressing those feelings on occasion. The honest truth is that I feel a very deep connection to that faith, even though I don't walk it in my daily life now. And I think the reason why I feel that discomfort is because it feels disloyal, both to my upbringing and to my parents who raised me. Everything I am as a person was instilled in me by them, and it's hard to feel that I am disappointing them by straying from the path they set me on. Not that I've strayed far, my moral character and compassion and knowledge of my place in the world are who I am.

Do you raise your daughter in a particular faith, or teach her any philosophical path?

English hubby and I want her to grow up with an awareness of God within her, but we don't go to church except when I'm with my family in Canada, and don't follow a particular philosophical path. He and I do not share the same beliefs, or didn't when we first met, but have since found a language that works for us and honours both our spiritual journeys. But we talk about and educate Sweetpea as much as we can about what faith is. She definitely has a deep spirituality, and frequently surprises me with her questions and requests. She will ask to pray, even though that isn't something I've necessarily taught her how to do. She knows how to meditate to relax and settle herself. I'm exposing her to the story of Christmas by reading it throughout Advent, and love her observations of that amazing story. (for example, "Jesus is the King of Being Nice") :)

Reading your descriptions of your daughter and how she thinks was quite fun for me. I think she's absolutely brilliant! I think it is wonderful that she knows how to meditate to relax herself - I wish more children knew about this!

Is there anything you'd like to share that I haven't asked?

I guess the only thing I'd like to clarify is why I call my melancholy that, instead of depression. I don't want to lessen the impact of what depression means for anyone else - it can be incredibly debilitating and effects everyone around the person who is suffering from it. Other than post-partum depression for which I sought treatment, I've never been formally diagnosed. I know people who suffer horribly from depression and I have done a lot of reading about it, and I know that when someone is in the middle of a depressive episode, it feels like you will never come out of it - that there is no escape from it. For me, even when I've hit what for me is rock bottom, I'm still aware of the light at the end of the tunnel. In one post back in April I talked about how I'm touched lightly by melancholy for the most part, and that it isn't necessarily a negative word. It's just life.

Also, because of the type of questions you asked, I do want people to know how happy and grateful I am in my everyday life. Melancholy is just a small piece of the puzzle.

I am glad you mention this. I don't think I have done a very good job of highlighting the many facets of your life as you describe it on your blog. Maybe you'll indulge me for round two? ;)

It is evident to me that I would make a terrible reporter, but I have to say... I had a lot of fun with this interview experiment. As the people in my life will attest, I am forever questioning them about their lives, and how they feel about certain things. My mom instilled in me a thirst for knowledge and a deeply ingrained curiosity about how other people live, so this interview process was big fun for me.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dear Santa, please bring me a camera (and a Kitchenaid. and a book about cooking. and that nifty pen that records what you write.)

Somewhere in the middle of my soul a secret desire sits: I want to take pretty pictures.

Also, I want to be a ninja and maybe a Malibu Barbie Doll but those are secret secret desires.

I will often describe, with words that boil out of my brain, the things I see in life. Lately, I want to take pictures of them too.

I want this yesterday. Like everything else that I want I'm ready for it to happen right now. The waiting hates me, like something ticklish inside me.

My favourite library is moving to a new building and I went to take pictures of it with my cell-phone a couple weeks ago. It wasn't enough. I want more. I want to capture, somehow, the pure haven-like quality that library had for me when I was growing up.

So, stay tuned. Pretty pictures may be stopping by from time to time.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Imagine what I'd do with a kid...

Mr. J and I brought Zoe and Emma home as wee six month old kittens. We (and by "we" I mean mostly "me") tormented them outrageously. Mr. J taught me about putting socks over their heads. The first time he did this, it was quite possibly the funniest thing I'd ever seen. I nearly peed myself, I laughed so hard.

The description of Zoe's reaction would probably have PETA howling for my head, and that was before I had a cell phone that was capable of taking pictures, let alone video. So, sorry.

These days, Zoe simply removes the sock from off his head within seconds. It's not as funny, but I made a ridiculous video just for you. While I supposed to be cleaning and packing for our beach trip tomorrow. Oops.

Wednesday whimsy

Do you ever feel like you really, really want to write, but have nothing that needs to be written? Today my word confusion is not persistent or frustrating; I have words that need to get out, but they're sort of a mess.

I am going to the beach tomorrow. This always sends my thoughts flittering about. Can I tell you how much I am looking forward to a weekend at the beach with my best friends? I met my newest BFF this time last year at the beach. I loved her straight away. This is unusual for me; I traditionally lean towards neutrality (if not outright hatred) upon meeting someone for the first time. I can be nice enough, if I have to, but I like to spend some time getting to know a person before deciding if I like them.

With Eula, I knew the moment I saw her. Partly she's just so cheerful. She smiled at me, big and happy, and I wanted to take her home and make her my little sister. She is dating another close friend of mine, and she makes him happy. How can you not love someone who makes your friend so happy?

I went shopping with my dad last weekend. This is sort of a tradition with us, and one we haven't participated in for the last several years.

Do you know about my dad? I have talked a little about my relationship with him when I was young, but I don't think I have talked about how much I have enjoyed getting to know him as an adult. We've had some extreme ups and downs, but my dad is one of the most loving, supportive, encouraging people I have in my life.

I was a daddy's girl when I was a child. I emulated him at every opportunity. I craved his attention and his approval. I have grown into a person who no longer looks for approval from others, sometimes even going to extremes and rejecting it when I encounter it, but when I get encouragement from my dad it really pleases me.

Dad told me that my writing is good, and that I should write more.
So, here I am. Writing, without one important thing to say.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Unicorns did not visit me today

    People will disappoint me.
    The same people will make me endlessly proud.
    Others never behave as I think they should.
    I rarely take my own advice.
    Sometimes people surprise me.
    I have no patience with repetitious noises.

I learned these lessons today. Again, and for no reason. While working, talking with co-workers, musing in my head (cause that's where I do it). They leap out at me, jumping up and down, these lessons.

Lookit! Over here. They demand. You're not looking! When I keep my mind averted, they become insistent and bouncy. Whispering at me in their thunderous voices.

You're not learning right. They say. This catches my attention. I can learn right. I think I read a book on that once. I'll learn my lessons up good.

And I did. I learned about breathing deeply (again) and waiting for the other person to finish speaking before I began talking (so rude) and about remembering that they only have one me, and I need to be available for them when they need me.

Bloody demanding lessons.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Painful perfection

Sitting on the floor, my back to the sun.
My kittens are sprawled around me, kitten-like.

A cup of hot coffee, from yesterday, spiked with Peppermint Mocha creamer.
It tastes like perfection going down, but it leaves a horrible after-taste in my mouth.

I am anxious to get dressed: I have library books waiting for me. Twilight and New Moon. Again. Because I'm hooked.

Reading Twilight is like my Peppermint Mocha coffee in reverse: it tastes gritty going down (totally holding back from being snotty about Stephenie Meyer's writing, see how I'm growing?) but leaves a delicious, silky after-taste once I've swallowed it.

I don't quite understand this. I dislike so much about these books even as I love them.

I suppose it's like my coffee creamer: I continue sipping even though it makes me want to gag after I swallow it.

I should go, get started on my day. But I've waited this long, and the sun feels good on my back. My kittens are soft under my hand, and my head is throbbing with a perfectly vicious headache that threatens to tear my skull apart the moment I move.

So I sit, enjoying the sun and the fur and yummy-horrible coffee and a terrible headache. For just a few minutes before I have to face the partly sunny with a slight wind day outside.


It's happened. The thing I thought wouldn't happened. I stayed away for so long, but it got me: The Twilight Saga.

I wrote the series off as kid books when they first came out. I was at the theatre the day Twilight premiered and one thousand screaming thirteen year old girls convinced me I wanted no part of it.

Now? My inner screaming thirteen year old has been dragged from the depths of my psyche and now ponders that same burning question: Team Jacob or Team Edward?

Me? I want them both. Why should I have to choose? But then, I've always wanted it all.

Jacob is certainly very sexy business, with his heartbreaking smile and perfectly perfect musculature. With his endearing promises to Bella: to always love her, to never leave her or hurt her. With his ability to protect her from harm. And, let's face it, who wouldn't want her own cuddly wolf to keep her feet warm on cold Washington winter nights? Jacob is earnest and open and... well, you get it.

But Edward... certainly not as sexy and he doesn't turn into a giant-sized wolf. The mystery of him, with his tortured eyes and his deep soul-burning secrets. I've always had a problem with the mysterious type who doesn't quite treat you right.

The messy triangle between those three reminds me of the two serious boyfriends I had in high school. Not precisely, but a little tiny bit.

My first, and my second-first. The first was the all-American type: boy scout, blonde-haired, blue eyed. His father worked, his mother ran a day care. He didn't turn into a wolf, but he was endearingly earnest and mostly-honest.

The second-first was the exact opposite of that. He was mysterious and intriguing and I was absolutely smitten with him. He had no deep secret like lust for human blood or anything, but he was into drugs and I loved the danger of that.

I was smitten with them both, really, for different reasons. They were both bad for me, for different reasons. And I didn't choose between them, until they made me.

So, not exactly like Jacob vs. Edward but I know for certain: if I was Bella, I wouldn't choose. I'd find a way to get them both.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Control freaking

I was watching a television program tonight (not my favourite thing), one of those clever FBI dramas. I heart me some FBI dramas, especially the kind with David Boreanaz as the star actor. The show seems to be about a team of FBI agents and their cases; they also have a psychologist who counsels the agents.

One scene in particular showed an agent and the psychologist waiting for another member of the team to join a meeting. When he joins them, late, the psychologist says, "Chronic lateness is often used as a tool to exert control over a situation or a person."

Or something like that.

It immediately occurred to me that I am chronically late to my weekly staff meetings. I have also been accused of being a control freak. (Freak. Me. I know.)

It's true that I am often in control of, you know, everything. I am seen as controlling. But (you knew there was a but, didn't you?) I have good reasons. It is important to me to make sure things are done correctly, that mistakes don't happen if they are avoidable, and that people know what is expected of them.

To me, being in control means being responsible. It means being accountable for myself and living up to the expectations of the people who make decisions about my future. In the workplace, this means having my finger on the pulse of all the details (how's that for a metaphoric brick wall?); it means making sure everyone knows what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.

I am not controlling because I want others to fail. It's not malicious, nor born of a desire to hurt or manipulate those around me. But I have discovered through my experiences that my true desire -to do a good job and maintain success- doesn't come through. When I control details I am trying to say, this is important to me, let's do a good job. But what my employees hear is, I don't trust you to do this right so I'm going to remind you for the eleventy-billionth time how important these details are.

I have learned a lot in the past few years, and one of the things I have learned is that I totally don't know as much as I think I do. I learned that certain management styles don't work with everyone, and I tried a new approach.

I experienced something very close to physical pain the first time I delegated an important project to one of my team members. I wanted to throw up and die when two hours went by and I didn't get a status update or any questions. I am not a micro-manager by nature and I hate to hover so I refrained (miraculously) from doing anything annoying or embarrassing but it was hard.

And it worked. When I backed off and just trusted that it would work out, it did. When I trusted people to make the right decisions, they did. My employees became more reliable, more accountable. They made better decisions, based on logic and fact, and their confidence in themselves increased.

Tomorrow I think I'll make a point to be on-time to my staff meeting. Because even if I don't mean for my lateness to be a means of exerting control, maybe it appears that way to the people I rely on the most.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On being girly

I was a bit of a tom-boy as a girl. Not to an extreme, but certainly a little bit. I'm pretty sure my dad wanted a son instead of a daughter, so he taught me stuff he would have taught a boy. My mom very much wanted a little girl, so I was dressed up like a dolly while playing with my army men and pretending to hammer stuff.

I was encouraged to pursue endeavors characteristic of both genders. Wood and metal shop, which I thought made me a total bad-ass. And poetry and calligraphy, which was a little embarrassing (what with it being all girly) even though I secretly enjoyed writing crap about love with a really expensive pen. I learned mechanical stuff, practical things like how to change the oil in a car as well as sissy stuff like sewing and crocheting.

As a teenager, I shunned most things that I considered to be weak and overly feminine. I wore dresses, but only paired with combat boots. I didn't carry a purse, but had a wallet on a chain.

I wasn't allowed to wear makeup or use a curling iron. Hair spray and styling gel were strictly prohibited and my waist-length hair did not feel the heat of a blow-dryer until I was grown and out of the house.

(by the way, it is absolute fucking hell to have waist-length hair in the Pacific Northwest when your mom won't let you use a blow-dryer, you know what I'm saying?)

I had jobs in my teens and into my early twenties that didn't call for wearing fancy, dress-up clothes. Not really the dress-and-heels type, I gravitated toward the sort of work where jeans and boots were acceptable, even encouraged, attire. From dispatching at a towing company (where nearly every surface was covered in a fine film of motor oil and dirt) to physical labour (you try pushing a cart loaded with about 200 pounds of computer equipment in a dress, I dare you).

In my mind, "feminine" and "weak" were interchangeable. Being female and very, very tiny, people have often viewed me as helpless. Too short to do anything useful and too pretty to have a fully-functioning brain, I was often treated, by the people who didn't know me, as useless and stupid.

I hated being a girl and I was far too stubborn to be helpless. I ignored my femininity and worked to eradicate everything that I thought made me girly and sissified.

Overcoming that skewed perception of what it means to be feminine has been a big challenge for me. I have devoted a lot of energy towards correcting that skewed image and embracing that which is "feminine".

One of the things I have really enjoyed about being a girl in the past few years is make-up. I still prefer Doc Martens with my skirts most of the time, but I am rarely without my pretty face on.

So while window-shopping this weekend I found a perfectly-perfect make-up kit with 42 different eye shadows and oodles of lip glosses and things to make me shiny and glowy and rosey and I absolutely had to have it.

I wheedled and begged and pouted and pointed out how it's on sale and it's in pursuit of my spiritual practice until The Husband rolled his eyes and gave in.

See how I'm totally embracing my femininity?

Meditating my way to sleep

I can't get comfortable.
Breathe in, breathe out.

My clothes are too tight.
Let go.

I am too warm.
Open the door of your heart.

I am tangled up in sheets and pillows and warm bodies.
Give up.

The Husband and Zoe the Cat crowding close to me.
Stop trying to control.

I can't calm my mind.
Let the mind wander.

There's knitting to be done.
Focus on the intent.

I go back to work tomorrow. I have to make a list.
Focus on the journey.

I am trying to relax. Trying not to think too far ahead.
Focus on the breath.

I breathe deeply, counting breaths. Trying to calm myself.
Focus on the mind.

I'm doing it wrong. I can't ever get this part right.
Be imperfect.

What number am I on?
Let go of expectations.

I start counting again.
Focus on love.




These are the words Ajahn Brahm would say to me, if he said words to me.

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