Tea Towels and Wooden Spoons

I see her around. Well, not really because she is dead, her ashes put in to the ground by my own hands.

Except that I see her. In a well dressed woman of a certain age. A tone of voice. A whiff of perfume. A turn of phrase.

Sometimes the turn of phrase comes out of my own mouth.

I see her absence too. When I walk down Whyte Avenue at Christmas and think of the shopping trips she took with my Godmother. As I cook food for a colleague whose mother is dying. When I survey worn and stained tea towels and battered wooden spoons. Too many years with no stockings.

The galaxy of small things I don’t think about until I do. The unexpected moment which catches you.

I came from something.

Not always something good, loving or even healthy. But something. I had roots. I had tea towels and wooden spoons and some idea of how to behave in public. It is Thursday. 2 years ago tomorrow I sat with her while she died. On Saturday am I held her hand for the last time.

I carry things forward. I pass on things, share care and concern. I make a friend, whose mother is dying, meals. Send thank you cards, still dress appropriately. In many ways, she is no more dead than she was in all of those years that she wouldn’t talk to me. Except when the last of the coffee mugs that she bought me broke, I lost the ability to breathe.

I can go buy more tea towels, wooden spoons. I can order them from amazon and never leave my house. A coffee mug is just a piece of ceramics.

Imbued by love. Tradition. The sense of how things should be. My mother wasn’t very good at it, but at least some of the time, she tried.

And I miss that. I miss her. I miss roots.

Posted in The language of families | Leave a comment

Judicious Application

I was talking to a friend about my financial accounting exam this coming Friday.

Mostly I am a bit panicked.

There are, I suppose, some who are simply so naturally skilled at accounting, who grasp the concepts so easily that they can skate along. Rarely is this me. I learn by a judicious application of, well, ass to seat and pen to paper. I guess, in this case, fingers to keyboard, since all of my study materials are on line questions.

I am not brilliant. I will say that again. I am not brilliant.

Mostly what I am is a combination of curious and diligent. I am good at focusing, I am good at asking questions and I am good at knowing what it takes for me to be successful, which mostly means that I know that I will pass this exam by doing question after question. It is boring. It is tedious. I may lose my mind if I get another question about costing for a stuffed alligator factory, the lampshade budgeting requirements or the break even point at the pen manufacturer.

I am the annoying kind of smart. Smart enough to be let in to do a grad degree, but not so brilliant that I will ever ace all of it, even with an extraordinary amount of effort.  Mostly I am going to muddle through. I will have occasional flashes of brilliance. Mostly I will plug away. I will do question after question. I will start my essays early, so that I have time to refine. I will read the text and then I will read and highlight and then I will make notes.

I am frustrated by the notion that I am brilliant. (Which was his word). Mostly because people assume that I don’t have to work and I don’t have reason to worry. I am frustrated because it is often hard for me. It is often challenging and rarely easy. I get my marks the old fashioned way – by hard work.

So stop telling me not to worry because I’m smart. I’m only smart enough to realize that I need to work hard.

Posted in Grad Student | 3 Comments

Endless Grey

I’ve been lacking in ambition and drive in the last few weeks. This is probably normal – it’s grey out – days of endless drizzle, sleet, snow, rain. It’s a tough time of year for me – the anniversary of my mum’s death, Gabe’s death. The end of fall, the start of winter, the lengthening dark.

I try and breathe through it, just like I do every year. Tell myself that it happens every year, that it will be ok.

I look out the window, hoping for sunshine.

Posted in Interruption. | 2 Comments

Aspirational Reading

I have enjoyed reading the Slate “Normal” series. Perhaps the virtue of aging is that you realize that you are relieved to be normal. I don’t crave differentiation as validation any more. I know my own failings: a predilection to overthinking everything, an embarrassing sort of earnestness and a hopeless love of shoes and lipstick that ill becomes a feminist. Middle age brings a desire for conformity, the endless comfort of knowing that your aches and worries and woes are the unimpeachable evidence of a undistinguished life. Middle age teaches that exceptionalism in all things is just exhausting.

This week (or maybe last?) was a post about displaying books. I am amused, the Mr. and I have a 10 foot high and 12 foot wide custom built book case in our dinning room. There are books in the basement, there are books in my den, a stack on the floor by my bed and a bookshelf in my office. My books in the dinning room are organized at least a bit artfully. The books in my den are shoved in to maximize space and let’s just not talk about my office bookcase. I’m not sure that having that many business and academic books isn’t a walking cliche.

The end of the article talks about the to be read (tbr) pile, more specifically the aspirational TBR pile that apparently some folk instagram. I carefully consulted instagram and I continue to see photo’s of cats and children and food and knitting and pumpkins. Apparently no one I know is cool enough to have an aspirational reading list. Possibly my TBR pile is exceptional.

I have a stack of books. I buy more than I read these days. These days of middle age – I read for 5 minutes before I fall asleep. I’m still reading through four year’s worth of books I bought in airports across the continent. I’m still reading through the books I bought second hand when I took the new job last year (I thought I was going to have all the time to read). I’ve bought books since then. There was a united way book sale and I had to buy books, it was for charity.

I find books, or at least being in their company, comforting. I know that my aunts will read this post (Hi Aunt Deb, Hi Aunt Robin) and they will laugh because they too have piles of books. My mother died with books unread (They are now in my to be read pile. Towards the bottom. I’m not that deeply invested.)

I’ll keep my TBR pile. It’s nothing special. I’m glad Slate agreed that it’s normal to have books you haven’t read.

Posted in Books | 4 Comments

Smile and be Pretty

I get handed the dumpster fires at work. Your train wrecks, car fires, blazing inferno’s? Project over budget, behind schedule? You don’t even know what’s been done? That’s where I shine. I’m good at that. I’ll take your mess and I’ll sort it and people will be happy. Clients will like me when I’m done. Most of my colleagues will like me after everything is fixed.

I’m competent.

I was on my way to a meeting yesterday. The sort of meeting that really should be an email, but because of the way we humans are, it was going to work best if we just got everyone in a room. As it happens, it took 3 minutes to explain the issue, 5 minutes to discuss some history and 4 minutes to agree on a solution. Another 4 minutes of next steps, add in some chit chat about cars, weather and hockey and you have a 15 minute meeting to solve a problem that had been going on for a month.

Competence and dumpster fires are the back ground – the main act occurred in a hallway yesterday at about 1:58 pm. I was running late for  the meeting I just told you about. Came across a colleague and a senior member of the client staff. My colleague – a man – put his hand on my shoulder – looked at me and said “young lady, what have I said to you about always smiling for the client.” 

There are so many places I could go with this.

If you are a woman I don’t need to go anywhere.

You are with me in that hallway.

You know I felt tiny and belittled and humiliated. I wasn’t competent. I wasn’t going to solve a problem. It didn’t matter that I was tired because I solve dumpster fires for 50 hours a week and I go to school for 20 hours a week. It didn’t matter that I didn’t feel well, that I was worried about a friend losing his job and that I was trying to sort out two other problems.

None of that mattered because I wasn’t smiling and I didn’t look pretty.

I’m not stupid. I know I’m playing at a man’s game. I know that. I know that there are fewer women hired into tech and that even less of us stay. I know it doesn’t matter that Justin Trudeau said “because it’s 2015”, that the Premier of my Province is a Woman.

What happened yesterday, it’s just another scene in the ongoing drama. Another act. Following on from the time the senior developer asked if my pubic hair was the same colour as my hair. When I’ve been called honey. Had my ass grabbed. Called a bitch and offered midol for daring to tell a man he was wrong. Been asked to make the coffee, do the photocopying. The time the client thought my BA was the project manager because he was a man.

I sent an email. Told the colleague his behaviour was unacceptable. Followed up with a note to my boss.

Apparently my bottle of “very expensive apology scotch” will arrive. This was my bosses’ suggestion to make amends.

I don’t want a bottle of apology scotch. I’m not interested in washing down my demands for basic equality with a side of light peat. I sure as hell don’t want to drink with someone who thinks I should look pretty.

I’m competent. I’d like to be equal too.

 

Posted in Evil Corporations, Feminism | 4 Comments

Proud As

I failed an MBA class. I’m proud of myself.

Well, not for failing the course. That is a bit bewildering. I aced papers in the other class. The class where the papers are marked by the former Dean of the program. There’s a 17 percent discrepancy. Apparently my goals were not “specific” enough in the final paper. I’m mystified because I defined when they would be achieved and how I could prove this, but there you have it, not specific enough. Since I wasn’t giving out the grades, my logic doesn’t much matter.

Anyway. That’s not why I’m proud of myself.

When I was doing my undergrad, failing a course would have sent me into a tailspin. I would have hidden for days. Shame would have moved in, taken over and held me hostage. It would have been the end of the world.

My identity was academic success. Failing meant that I was stupid. Being stupid was the end of the world.

This time I looked at all the things I do well, all the personal and professional success, and I shrugged. Failing a course is not a big deal. It’s going to be a pain in the ass to make it up. It’s going to be expensive. Eh. It’s only time and money. Not the end of the world. I let the shame go. When it tried to come in the front door, I stood and barred the way.

This time I sent the program co-ordinator an email. Booked some time with the instructor to review the feedback. Sent my paper to my writing coach. When I didn’t like the answer about how to make good on the course (effectively re-take the course) I appealed to the program head. I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere. I have a great argument for the option I presented them (re-write a harder paper, equivalent to re-taking a final exam had there been one), but this really is a cash grab on the part of my university. They have me over a barrel and they know it; they are not going to give up a couple of thousand dollars.

Mostly what I’m proud about is that I did all of that.

I acknowledged I failed, did what I could to understand why (it turns out if you are writing about leadership goals in this program, your goal is to get a maximum rating on the emotional intelligence ranking of your performance appraisal. Anything else is not specific enough). There was a hoop, I missed the hoop. I’ve actually always sucked at academic hoops. This is nothing new. It pissed me off during undergrad and it infuriates me now.

I failed the course. I proved that I have learned a few things since my undergrad days. That’s worth a lot.

 

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On the Night of My 38th Birthday

On the night of my 38th birthday, I met the system admin for dinner. I didn’t tell him it was my birthday when I texted to find out if he wanted to meet. I told him that my meeting was going to end late and I’d rather eat with him than be stuck in traffic.

I was sitting at the restaurant, still in my work suit, heels kicked off under the table, drinking my wine when he turned up and called me a brat for not telling him why we were meeting. We weren’t meeting because it was my birthday, not really. Being stuck in traffic on my birthday would have been crummy, but fine. Being alone on my birthday would have been crummy, but fine. We met because he makes me laugh. He makes me lighter, happier.

The year I was 19 was the first year that I decided to work on a skill as part of my birthday. That year I chose balance. It is obvious that I was only 19, thinking I could master balance in a year. At twice that age I think if I might manage it over a life time -if the person doing the judging squints. I try for more achievable things now.

Last year I told you about gathering many I loved for my annual birthday dinner and how I was going to learn to live in the moment.

That was what I was going to do.

That wasn’t what I did.

I learned something harder, way more painful and ultimately far more useful. I learned about investment. I learned about costs and I learned about return and I learned about reading the contract carefully.

It has broken me at times in the last year. I’ve sat on my couch, in the corner, sobbing. I haven’t talked about it here. Much of it is has been murky and painful and not always simple or easy to explain. I have walked away from relationships I thought I would never leave. I find myself surprised by how much easier life is. Saddened too, that I invested so heavily into something with no return. I have gotten better picking when I invest. I catch myself much sooner and shut things off quickly.

On my 38th dinner, the System Admin made me laugh. He grabbed my ass like he always does and told me I’m not too shabby for an old lady. He reminded me that I am worthy, that I am smart and capable and most importantly, cared for. He affirmed the best of investment, when we go all in and they do too. When we get through the times that are hard and sad and reach the moments where we eat steak and we bicker over the mushrooms and he tells me that cheese cake is a vegetable for my birthday.

I have no idea what I will learn this year. None. I’m sure I’ll realize soonish. I usually do when I start thinking this way.

On the night of my 38th birthday I celebrated investment. It was glorious.

birthday

Posted in Feats of Wonder, Learning Life | 2 Comments

Standing in the Same River

I am told that you never stand in the same river twice. I am not sure. Maybe.

There are times in this last three weeks that it has felt like the same river. At times like boarding school, large scale implementation projects and more often that I would have liked- junior high.

The water was cold and fast moving and it almost took my breath away.

I have been held up, kept warm, nourished.

A random classmate who is one of the kindest women I’ve ever met. I should like to be her when I grow up. (She’s younger than me, I have some catching up to do). Ms. Fab who has rescued me and comforted me and on one of the hardest days here simply told me that she was coming to get me. A friend I have called every night. Every night I call and I tell him how much I dislike most of my team. I tell him a bit about interesting readings and the fact that someone complained it is “too hard” and every night he listens to me and never tries to fix it.

And the amazing and glorious Mr. Spit. Who tells me every day that he believes in me. That I can do this. That I am smart and funny and capable and I have something to give. (My team does not believe this.)

I don’t know. Maybe this isn’t the same water. It is the same river.

And I am glad of company in it.

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click

If you know me in real life, you know that I’m not finding the academic portion of my MBA particularly difficult. It isn’t a breeze, there’s reading and essays and mid terms and homework, but it’s not rub your belly pat your head hard (Or impossible. That’s impossible). It’s all about time management and focus and concentrating effort on the right things and getting good at distilling an argument. I’m pretty competent at those things.

What’s killing me is the team work.

No. Actually what’s killing me is my team. I described them to someone as “not my people”. I’m not some sort of gentle flower that only copes with people exactly like her. I can make it work.

Usually I don’t have to. My clients and colleagues – the vast majority really, are kind, smart and likeable people.

They believe in collaboration. Not because it’s how you get good marks or because someone in authority said you “should”, but because when we take a single idea and we build on it together, we get something that vastly exceeds the sum of a part. When it’s done most brilliantly I don’t recognize my idea and you don’t see yours, instead we sit back at the end and we are struck by the luminosity and simplicity and elegance of what we did. We know in the marrow of our bones that we could not have achieved this on our own.

I was in a team meeting on Saturday and several members of my team were overjoyed to discover that a number of other teams were taking a patently wrong approach to a problem. This wasn’t a degree of interpretation, the other teams were wrong. This isn’t competitive. We are marked for this assignment on the merits. On the face of it, it neither helps us nor hinders us if another team fails. It’s nothing to do with us.

Save this. These are my classmates. I will be on other teams with them. They are people. Humans. Working on a team. Their assignment is also worth 30% of their final mark. Competition not only doesn’t matter, it’s not only a useless diversion from the merits of our own assignment (“we were better than the other team” isn’t actually going to get us a better mark), it’s not the world I want to live in.

::click::

I don’t understand the competition. I can see that it’s happening. I just don’t understand it. Why is that where you went?

I don’t want to understand it.

It’s not illegal, it’s not even immoral.

It’s just not me.

It’s the not the world I want to live in.

You be the person who cheers at another’s failure.

I’ll just be over here. Looking for collaboration. Looking at what we are doing and realizing that it could have been brilliant, it could have been remarkable, we could have raised the water line for all of us and how amazing would that have been. What might it have been like to think back a decade from now and realize how much we achieved building more than the sum of the parts.

I’m sad. Hurt. Weary.

*****

This was hard to write, because I don’t want to sound sanctimonious. I mean it when I say that they can be them. I just can’t join in. That’s hard and lonely and isolating. They took a chunk out of me because I don’t want to succeed badly enough in their eyes. That hurt some.

 

Posted in Grad Student | 4 Comments

Learning and Confirmation

There is this terrible moment  . . . in hallways, in the cafeteria, where someone comes up to me and asks me how I’m managing. They say it with a sort of wild-eyed look.

And I sort of mumble something.

Grad school boot camp is like every other software implementation, down to the crunch, it’s falling apart, we don’t have enough time and we need to deliver, project.

Knuckle down. Do only this. Let everything else fall away. Sleep enough. Be organized. Make your bed because a bit of routine helps. Play to your strengths. Drink water. It is no surprise that the day I described yesterday sounds regimented. No surprise that I returned to routine, that I started writing here so that I could process my feelings. This time it’s called grad school, but this project has had so many names. That makes it not hard. There’s volume of work, it requires a fair degree of organization and the ability to plan, but I have not had a single moment where any of this has felt out of my grasp. (the writing thing is probably my biggest stretch.)

They said I would get better at time management and at ambiguity – not knowing the right answer or what would happen next. I’m actually pretty good at time management. Working a bit more on focus and not getting distracted, but time management is ok for me. Improvement is apt to be marginal.

Ambiguity is an interesting one.

I’ll comment about that by commenting about something else. The blessing of someone you have known forever is that they know all the old stories. The challenge is when those old stories hold you in place. I think we do this to ourselves too.

I would tell you that I’m not good at ambiguity, that I am always the woman with a plan. I’ve also realized this – I arrived at school, looked around and realized that this was clearly a well constructed program and they knew they were going along for the ride. They aren’t always able to tell us where we are going, but I have no doubt we are going somewhere.

They can have the plan. I don’t need to know. I need to know what time class starts today.

I live in the consulting world. My answer to everything is . . . it depends and and here’s why.

I have a whole post on feelings and a whole post on MS, but I thought I would start here – I think I’m pretty good at ambiguity and time management. Which may well be why I’m waffling when others ask me how I’m doing.

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