Saturday, January 30, 2010


LL Cool Joe's post for today reminded me of an incident which happened to me around 4 years ago.

I was taking a part-time course to become a psychotherapist. (I never did finish the curriculum, for reasons I won't go into here.) I had done my first year, taken a year off to do a different course, and then returned to do my second year with a new group of students.

The new group I joined had a trauma to deal with. One of their classmates had committed suicide over the summer break. The class had only 20 members, so everyone knew this fellow quite well. He had been very bright, with an ironic sense of humour. I'll call him Don. Those who had spent time with him had liked him very much. The suicide had come as a complete shock.

When I started my second year, everyone in the class was new to me, except for one woman. I'll call her Audrey. I had been in a weekend seminar with Audrey the year before, and we'd gotten to know each other a little. It just so happened that out of everyone in that class, she had been closest to Don. His death had hit her very hard.

A few weeks into the school year, we gathered for a class on the topic of suicide. This was a part of the regular curriculum, however of course it had a special significance for our group. The teacher wisely began by allowing the class time to discuss Don's suicide and how we felt about it.

I sat quietly and listened to my classmates share their pain, confusion, and dismay. Some people were sad. Others were angry. One woman said she'd never liked him much and she wouldn't miss him.

Audrey put up her hand. She began to talk about her regrets, how she had promised to spend some time with him over the summer, how it had never happened, how maybe if she had just tried a little harder to get in touch with him and pin him down to a date... Maybe she could have been that one friendly face that made the difference between life and death.

I listened, completely focused on what she was saying, feeling sad for my new friends, respectful of the serious atmostphere, and helpless.

Then all of a sudden, someone flicked my left ear, hard. Someone had come up behind me, pressed their middle fingernail against their thumb, and then let fly against the back of my ear. I heard the loud "thwack" and my hair, (it long back then), was pushed forward by the impact. I jumped about six inches out of my seat.

I looked back sternly to see who could possibly be fooling around in such a serious class.

There was nobody there.

Everyone around me was sitting respectfully at their desks, listening to the discussion with 100% concentration.

I could only think of one even semi-logical explanation.

After the class, I went over to Audrey. The teacher had tried to tell her that if Don's mind was made up Audrey couldn't have changed it, but Audrey hadn't accepted that. She was still very upset.

I told her what I had experienced. Of course I couldn't prove it, but I had a strong sense that Don was trying to get a message to Audrey through me. My best guess was that he didn't want her to feel guilty about his death. I got flicked just as she was wallowing in the depths of regret, saying how maybe she could have changed things. My intuition said that the message was "No". I think he wanted her to know that no one could have saved him.

Audrey got weepy again and thanked me for sharing my experience with her. I'm not sure how much she believed it. I'm not sure how much I believed it. Some things run so contrary to Consensus Reality that it takes a lot of practice to believe them, even if they happen to you personally.

That wasn't the only time that I had a very bizarre experience in that school. They did a lot of meditation classes where the intention was to up one's psychic sensitivity, so the place was abuzz with high-frequency vibes. But this experience is the one with the most interesting back-story.

I hope that Don's spirit has found peace.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Taker

Recently someone said to me "I'm more comfortable giving than receiving." They were speaking generally, referring to gifts, attention, help, love, etc.

When I was in group therapy, this was a common theme amongst the participants. It was especially pronounced because we were in a psychotherapy school; i.e. we were learning to be better providers of help, love, and attention to other people.

Me, I'm a taker. I have no problem at all receiving. I love attention, praise, gifts, affection, assistance, all the good stuff. If someone offers me something positive, whether it's a cookie, a cheque, or a friendly hug, I will never lower my eyelashes demurely and say "Oh no, I couldn't possibly." My stock answer is "Yes please!".

I figure if someone offers me something, it's because they would honestly like to see me accept the offer. On the other hand, if they're playing games and offering things they don't want to provide just to be manipulative, too bad for them. I'll still accept. It serves them right for trying to be so sneaky.

If someone gives me a gift, I don't feel guilty if I don't have a gift to give back to them. I mean, of course I always try to reciprocate. But if someone surprises me with, say, a Christmas gift that I wasn't expecting, and I didn't buy one for them, I don't feel bad. A gift, by it's very nature, is not meant to be reciprocated, necessarily. If I demanded a gift of equal value in return for all of my gifts, that's actually not giving at all. That's bartering. So if you want to do a Christmas thing-trade with me, I'd be happy to comply, but warn me in advance, please.

I do also enjoy giving. But, fundamentally, I'm a taker.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pushing 40

I don't know if there's an official definition of "pushing" a decade, but at 37 I can definitely feel 40 looming just over the horizon.

I used to work with a sour-lemon-face woman who was forever warning me how horrible it is to be over 40. To quote her exactly, "After you turn 40, everything goes to shit." By which she meant one's health and looks. And for her, sadly, it was true. But she was a smoker, a heavy drinker, and a fast-food junkie. Not exactly a recipe for eternal youth.

I'm feeling OK about the approach of 40, so far. I'm in a good place in my life.

Most people would look to their kids as a major point of pride. As a voluntary non-parent, one of my big achievements has been to overcome my insecurities about not having any. I'm not 100% bulletproof. Sometimes regrets or shame or the expectations of others sneak up on me and get me down. But that's rare nowadays. I don't struggle with it daily, as I used to. I am as sure as I can be that it's the right choice for me.

My marriage is superb. It didn't get to be that way overnight. There have been plenty of disagreements, power struggles, and misunderstandings along the way. But these days, we're pretty much copacetic.

I love my job. Truly, I do. Despite all my bitching here and on Twitter, about stress and chaos, and sleepless nights. It's socially satisfying, intellectually challenging, financially rewarding, and almost never boring. Right now we're going through some growing pains, which will probably carry on until at least the beginning of the summer, but my team is fantastic and the stress is actually having the effect of bringing my staff together more closely than before.

I love being a manager. I'm responsible for the supervision of 10 people, plus I work with the managers of other departments to solve big-picture problems. I've been here long enough that all but one member of my team is someone I hired myself. The one person I didn't hand-pick is a good person and a good worker. Over the years, the nasty folks have all left or been let go. Those who remain are people whom I consider to be a Work Family.

All in all, I feel that I have all my ducks in a row. So I can probably skip the whole mid-life crisis drama. I don't feel the need to go running out to buy a fast car, or go travel the world, or register on Ashley-Madison. I don't have anything more to prove at this point. I'm good.

Assumptions of my age which have taken place over the past week:

32: From my newest hire, who is himself 30 years old. I mentioned the whole "pushing 40" thing and his eyebrows shot up, so I believe his guess was probably genuine and not just an ass-kissing tactic. Well, maybe he knocked a couple of years off his actual estimate... I guess I'll never know for sure.*

27: A woman who is around 50, who goes to my church. I'm thinking that the church people probably that assume anyone who hasn't had children "yet" must be under 30.

21: My neighbour, who admittedly is legally blind. I'm not sure what she based her guess on. I have an orange purse, which apparently figured into this calculation. It's a perfectly normal purse which just happens to be a lovely shade of deep orange. Nothing else unusual about it. But when I was talking with the woman who thought I was 27, telling her my actual age, my neighbour was very suprised. She puckered up her face and said "My goodness, I thought you were 21! Especially with that purse!" I assure you that no self-respecting 21-year-old would wear that purse. It's much too mature.

*I expect WIGSF to say something scathing on this point. Go ahead, give it your best shot.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Domos Large and Small

This has been an incredibly stressful work week. Lots of problems to solve and panicked people to soothe.

I honestly didn't resent the stress while it was happening. I kind of got into the adrenaline high. I can understand now how people become workaholics.

But then the weekend came, and I just couldn't unwind. I was up in the night in the middle of the weekend with work worries. That's not cool.

I'm a manager, and therefore called upon to keep my head while all around my are losing theirs. And trust me, there is more than one Chicken Little in my workplace, willing to create a whole hour's worth of disturbance over a problem that was solvable in 10 minutes. Keeping my patience in the face of these shenanigans requires me to pack my own frustrations and anxieties into the back of my brain, on a shelf, to be dealt with later. Except later never comes, during a busy week. Until the wee hours of the morning, when the box spontaneously starts to jump towards the edge of the shelf, making threatening noises. Then it finally spills itself open, and all the pent-up feelings come roaring out, overwhelming me.

Fortunately my Ken is a night owl, so he's up in the wee hours of the morning when I emerge from my bed, heart pumping 120 bpm, or weeping pitifully. We talk, and sometimes he fixes me some water with half an ounce of vodka in it to help my body gear down. Don't worry - I'm not doing this every night, nor in any danger of becoming a lush. It's just a little something for the rough times.

Anyway, Ken has been a prince these past couple of weeks, taking care of things in the house for me so that I have less to worry about. I come home to a hot dinner every night after my long days. And he's there to talk when I need him. He's always looking for little ways to raise my spirits. Which brings me to Domo Kun.

Our mutual love of Domo Kun began a couple of years ago when I needed a new wallet. Ken brought me one with this odd, brown Japanese character on it. I no longer have that wallet because I wore it out, but my new wallet also features Domo Kun (and his friend the rabbit, Mr. Usagi).

We found a few episodes of Domo Kun's TV show on YouTube. The stories make no sense at all, but nevertheless we both became very fond of Domo. He's not very smart; he sweats a lot when he's nervous; and he's clumsy. And yet, irresistible.

Ken has a couple of mini-Domos on his desk in his home office. They are Business Domos, as you can see. They help him to get his work done.

The next addition to our family was a little Domo.

Here he is sitting on one of our dining room chairs.

Cute little fellow, isn't he?

Today we went to Pacific Mall for lunch. There's more than one store there that specializes in stuffed animals and other products emblazoned with the myriad of characters popular in Japan. That's where we met Big Domo.

Ken picked him up, then passed him to me. When he saw the smile on my face, he didn't hesitate for a second. When Ken is determined to cheer me up, practical considerations are no obstacle. He bought Big Domo immediately.

We buckled Big Domo into the back seat of the car for the drive home. He's rather short and stocky, so the shoulder belt ran across his face between his eyes. He didn't seem to mind. Here he is sitting on the same chair that Little Domo was posing in a moment ago.

Yup, he's big alright. But so far he seems well-behaved. He spent the afternoon on the couch, settling in. Uh oh, maybe I spoke too soon...

Big Domo! Stop eating your little brother!

I guess I'm going to have to keep an eye on him for now. I think he's well-intentioned. He just has to learn some basic rules of the household, and then we'll be...

Big Domo! Those houseplants are not your salad!

I think I'd better go fix him some dinner.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I met a dog called Taco. He's an odd breed that has just a few wiry hairs here and there. The rest of him is skin. Patting his head was like patting an old man's cheek. Even though he was a very nice dog, it was kind of creepy.


I was feeling cold at home, so I was all bundled up in three layers of sweaters and wearing my puffiest slippers. Ken was at the computer eating blueberry Eggo toaster pancakes. When I shuffled up to him and put my icy fingers on his bare arm to warm them up, he generously took his freshly toasted blueberry pancake and pressed it to my cheek, so that I might absorb the heat from it. It's small, thoughtful gestures like this that confirm his love for me every day.


Ken and I were having dinner out. We ordered a plate of french fries to share. At our favourite restaurant, the fry size varies from order to order. Usually we get long fries. But the time before last we got fry gravel. This time was somewhere in between. The average fry length was about 1". Ken deemed them to be "cigarette butt fries". In my mind's eye, the plate between us transformed itself into an overflowing ashtray. I don't know what it says about me that I was able to imagine the french fries as cigarette butts, and continue eating them. With ketchup.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Switching to the Switch

I'm home today feeling under the weather, on the couch, typing on the lap-hot. No that's not a typo. The MacBook makes my lap hot, so that's what I'm calling it.

I picked a swell day to stay home. Yesterday, at work, I got some weird complaints about our network. I arranged for a tech to come by today and troubleshoot. Here's my definition of weird: each office computer is connected to the network by a single cable, which delivers e-mail, internet access, and access to our company database. One user, then another and another, complained that they couldn't get onto the internet. However, they were able to access our database. And the other 95% of the computers had no problem accessing the internet. So the internet connection was working and the cables were working... what other component could be faulty? I had no idea. Well, we can live without internet for a day, no biggie.

This morning while I was lolling around in my p.j.'s, taking my temperature for the 8th time (Do I have a fever now? How about now?) and feeling sorry for myself, I got a call from work. Apparently the whole network was crashing, slowly and painfully, one computer at a time. User A's computer was fine first thing in the morning, then lost all connectivity for an hour, then came back online for 20 minutes, then went offline again. User B's computer could get e-mail but no database. User C, who couldn't access the internet yesterday, was one of the few computers that could get the internet today. None of it made any sense, and the users were panicking.

I figured this must all be caused by the changes that have recently been made to our network.

In a nutshell, a year ago I noted that our one and only server, which we are completely dependent upon, was out of warrantee and needed to be replaced. I started a process of getting quotes for an upgrade, but due to getting screwed around by two different companies before we got a decent proposal, and due to the need to continuously give priority to putting out fires instead of working on the upgrade project, it took a full year to finally sign off on a proposal. By the time work was due to begin, I was very concerned that this poor old server, at the end of its natural lifespan, could choke any day, leaving us high and dry.

The installation of the new server systems began a couple of weeks ago. First we got the physical components. Then the techs came in and spent many days assembling the new systems. Finally, just this week, the whole rack of new goodies got plugged in and powered up. The head tech told me that nothing on the old system would be affected until the scheduled cut-over date, but I've worked with I.T. long enough to know that it's never that simple. The new components are on our network, so they must be affecting it in some way. I figured one of these new bits and pieces must be to blame for all the problems.

Alternately, and equally likely in my experience, was human error on the part of one of the techs. The company we used to work with sent guys who were sloppy. They'd come in and change settings in order to troubleshoot problems, but they wouldn't track all the changes they'd made, and then when they didn't reset everything back to the regular settings at the end, we'd have more problems. I knew that the new techs were monkeying around with our firewall, which controls internet access, so I figured they may have screwed it up. They've given themselves remote access, so they can make changes to our systems at any time and I wouldn't know it.

The solution to the problem turned out to be much more satisfying than either of those scenarios.

Our hub has always been a bit touchy. (The hub is the big box that serves as a cross-connection point for all the network cables in the office. Cables come from the back of each computer, run through the office walls and into the server room. There they all plug into the hub.) If you so much as breathe on any network cable on that hub, it may lose its connection to the network. I have to figure out which port is affected and gently push the cable back in, very carefully, otherwise in the process of plugging one node back in I'll lose another one. It's not ideal.

The techs installed a new hub this week. Actually, it's a switch, which serves the same function as a hub, except it's better. It's the difference between a four-way stop and an intersection with traffic lights. The switch will manage our network traffic more efficiently.

The techs had moved a few test computers from the hub to the switch already.

I got a call later today with the diagnosis and fix for the network problems. It was the hub. That testy old thing had finally decided to go completely senile only three days after the new switch went live. What fantastic timing!

If the hub had died any sooner, we'd have been completely screwed. The whole network would have gone kerflooey, and business would have ground to a standstill. Instead, the techs simply unplugged all the network cables from the hub, popped them into the switch, and Bob's your uncle!

Talk about synchronicity.

My accountant boss is going to be thrilled with this story. We couldn't have squeezed even one more day of use out of the old hub. It's a very efficient use of resouces, you have to admit. It makes me look good. I warned my bosses for months that we couldn't drag our heels implementing the new equipment because the old components were living on borrowed time. They wanted me to wait until the summer of 2010. I told them we couldn't afford to wait. Now I can say "I told you so." Darn straight I'm going to say it right to them. It's called building credibility as a manager.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go take my temperature again.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Goody Goody Two-Shoes

What does that expression mean, anyway? I've never known troublemakers to wear a different number of shoes than well-behaved people. Granted, if you run across someone in the street who's only wearing one shoe, you're likely looking at a problematic situation. But I've known plenty of bad people who wear two shoes. I'm just sayin'.

Anyway, the point of this post is to tell you about a most unique experience I had over the holidays: the Church Chum Party. You already know that I sing in a band at church, but I haven't told you much about the other members. In fact, I know very little about them. We've all basically gotten together only for practices every month for almost a year now. One of the newly married couples in the group decided it was time we all sat down for some proper socializing.

The players were: Ken and I, the host (and group leader) and hostess, another set of newlyweds (piano and bass guitar), our drummer, and a cute Korean exchange student who barely has half-a-dozen words of English at her command, but is remarkably cheerful. The exchange student is our backup piano player.

I always have a dilemma when visiting someone else's home for the first time. I'm as poorly insulated as Ron's house, so I like to know in advance what environment I should be dressing for. Will they have the thermostat turned down to 68 degrees? Or, since this event was billed as a fondue party, should I be prepared to swelter in the presence of many small pots of fire?

I figured the two factors would even each other out, so I dressed for a moderate temperature, and brought a pair of slippers along for good measure. What I should have done was wear my snowpants, boots, and a parka, and politely decline to leave any of the above in the coatroom. That lovely, spacious, character-filled post-war flat was chilly as a refrigerator. They had a fire going in their honest-to-goodness wood-burning, brick fireplace, but a couple of the girls parked themselves in front of it like cats and absorbed all the heat. My little slippers were no defense against the artic drafts that blew across the highly polished floorboards.

Not to worry, I told myself. I'll have some nice hot dinner. That'll warm me up. Sure. Picture this: eight hungry people fighting for cooking positions at two tiny fondue pots. You skewer a wee bite of food on your fondue fork, throw it in the pot, and watch the clock for three minutes before you can eat that bite and start cooking another one. Did you know that three minutes is a very long time in between bites of dinner? Try it with your regular dinner tonight. I dare you.

The host and hostess had gone to a great deal of trouble to set out a lovely spread, with all sorts of yummy tidbits and sauces, but I was cold and hungry. I tried very hard to feel grateful and not get too cranky.

Fortunately there was a kick-ass dark chocolate fondue for dessert. That made up for some of my complaints.

Then the conversation turned to matters religous. The bass player, a theology student, had a lot of Opinions and his wife, the pianist, was quick to second everything he said. Brows furrowed and the atmosphere grew earnest. Some people offered stories of how they felt they had served The Lord, and others reminded the storytellers to beware the sin of pride. The conversation struggled in an uncomfortable no-man's land between peoples' desire to come across sounding Holy and Knowledgeable vs. their desire to come across as humble and self-effacing.

I offered up a couple of opinions and found that people were disagreeing with me. Except I didn't even understand what their basis for disagreement was. Either I had expressed myself poorly, or they had gotten the wrong end of the stick, because I couldn't find any difference between what we were saying. I tried to clarify the matter and came away no further ahead. Eventually I sat back and let the eager folks keep track of who had put their hand up when, in order not to interrupt each other. It was truly unlike any other party I've ever attended.

It seemed to go on for hours, but I thought that was just my icy feet talking. In fact, the Korean exchange student looked at me worriedly and showed me the face of her wristwatch: 12:30 am!! Good grief. She whispered "When finish?" I was like "Now, if I have anything to say about it!" I grabbed my guy, my coat, and we made tracks out of there, leaving a hurried trail of thanks and take care's behind us.

I had a lot more fun on New Year's Eve with our secular friends. Our church friends are wonderful people, but I'm still not sure exactly how to deal with their angle on things.