Three Reasons

There were three reasons for the second dram of scotch tonight (which might yet turn into a 3rd dram).

I could tell you about the contract negotiations that have consumed most of my waking hours since Jan 7th, but frankly I’d be telling you about hours of discussions around the meaning of the word reasonable. I’ll summarize by telling you that reasonable has a legal definition which is actually frankly unreasonable. Trust me, it wasn’t much fun to be there and there is no way I can make the recounting interesting. Mostly I’m just surviving. At the end of next week the contract will get signed and it’s more or less some sort of march to that. Not the fun kind of march.

I could tell you that my ex husband, in the midst of 210 hours of billable work in the last 3 weeks has turned up, demanding that I buy him out of the house right now. This has left me, in the little time I have left over from work, trying to figure out how that will work, and while also scrambling to figure things like how I will afford the 60K in drugs that my own drug insurance will not cover. Thus far I have gotten managed to suggest a shotgun wedding with a female friend who does not actually live in this province. While she’s (god bless her) willing, I think I might need a better plan. I’d be panicked about assuming all the financial implications, but frankly, I just don’t have the time.

Anyway. While all of those are frankly great reasons to drink a lot, they aren’t actually the reason for the 3rd glass (the second disappeared as I started this post, so there was a moment when I put my computer down and went and poured another glass). This post has been produced by a somewhat drunk woman. Sorry.

No. It was the moment in contract negotiations today, when someone said “It’s not like babies die if we get this wrong”.

Oh, you fools. You utter fools. You do not realize it, but the woman in front of you: there is no hour she would not work, there is no service level she would not sacrifice, there is no financial penalty she would not bear. That discussion of reasonableness that has taken 4 hours? She should leave it all behind to save a single child.

She knows that this not how it works. It is not often systems that kill babies. She knows that there is no contractual defence against the death of children. It is the clause we throw in the front, the one we call Force Majeure – circumstances beyond the reasonable control.

You will not see it, but she will go home and she will pour a hefty third shot. She will hold it up. Toast what sometimes (but not in this contract) gets called “Acts of God”.

Because that’s what kills babies.

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New Year

I was trying to remember new year’s last year. I know that a year ago today I got my thesis back. (Turns out I’m still choked about not getting an A+). I think I went into the new year focused on passing my thesis and getting through my last residency. I came out of Christmas and packed my bags and I drove to Victoria and that was apparently the only thing I thought about.

This was a bit of a rookie mistake because my residency was finished in the last week of Jan and there were 11 more months after that.

So, I had no plan for last year. Which is ok, but it kinda showed. I lurched around a lot. I’d love to tell you that there was some learning in the lurching, but there wasn’t. There was just lurching.

I don’t completely have a better plan for this year. At least I thought beyond January. Actually, I thought until the middle of February.

I bought myself a trip to Cancun for Christmas. I have some thoughts about books I’m going to read on the beach. I also have a doctor’s appointment to talk about how to avoid the rash I get when exposed to sunlight.

And on that beach, I promise, I’ll spend at least 5 minutes – maybe even 10 thinking about what I’m going to do for the next 10 months. I’m sure that will work better than last year.

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The Start of Spring

Here in Alberta, at 53.5444° N, the sun rose at 8:50 am. I am typing this at quarter to 5 and it is dark. The sun set half an hour ago. For those who don’t wish to do the math this close to Christmas, there was about 7.5 hours of daylight. Where I live, you cannot but notice the pull and push of the seasons.

I have mixed feelings about this day. It’s the anniversary of Gabriel’s funeral. It’s a dark day in memory and in fact. The two are so tied up in my mind I cannot untangle them.

And yet.

Today is the start of winter, but in truth, from here on in, the days will get longer. Slowly. It is actually the start of spring. It is hard to believe, in the dark and the cold and the snow that spring will come back. On the 21st of June, when there are 18 hours of daylight, it will be hard to remember the dark and the cold.

I am told, by credible sources, that the key to resilience, at least in part, is the memory of how you overcame in the past. It is nothing more than remembering spring, in the middle of the longest and darkest night.

Betwixt and between, lonely and confused, I cannot tell you that I believe in spring. I cannot remember the feeling of warmth or the smell of growing things. What I remember is a sort of mantra. The longest night is the start of spring.

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Fiat (Fizzle) Lux

Producers Note: I told Mrs. Spit that doing this interview with a glass of scotch, even if we gave her a non transparent glass wasn’t a good idea. She told me to piss off. This is *not* my fault. 

Script Note: The camera opens on Mrs. Spit. She’s sitting on a stool in front of a grey screen. 

Mrs. Spit’s Voice:
It was the gremlins or maybe the eldritch horrors. Possibly it was imps? Imps seem like a possibility. No, I think gremlins. We should stick with gremlins. Anyway, I made them angry. I know that now. 

Interviewer Voice (Sounding slightly perplexed):
Maybe you could explain to our viewers what happened? 

Mrs. Spit’s Voice (she takes a big gulp from the glass):
I told you. I made the gremlins angry with my smart switches. They decided to make me pay. 

Producer’s Note: Mrs. Spit let out a sob. I again suggested we replace whatever was in her glass with water. She snarled at us. Cut Scene to Electrician 1, who is standing in Mrs. Spit’s kitchen. 

Electrician 1 Voice:
I went and did some reading this morning. We call a neutral wire the unbalanced load, since it has a small positive charge in it. In old wiring, it can create harmonics across multiple circuits. That must be why the working. And the plug ins. Also the lights. And, I guess the fridge too. It’s really unfortunate. When we take the smart switches out, we should be back to normal. I mean, once we do that, it should solve the problem. There’s no reason why it wouldn’t. At least, I don’t think so. Nicolai Tesla had this great idea that when you brought a magnet near a metal disk, it would cause this thing called electricity, but we only mostly know how it works. Still, it should work if we just replace the switches . . . 

Producer’s Note: Cut back to Mrs. Spit. We had to replace the stool with a chair. She kept filling up the glass and after the second refill, she fell off the stool when getting on. 

Mrs. Spit’s Voice: 
It had been kind of ok. I mean the dog got confused every time I turned on the bathroom light and all the lights blinked, but I live alone and she’s always confused. I turned out the kitchen lights at the switch because I almost had a seizure from the strobing, while I made coffee. I grabbed the work light out of the basement, so I had some light. 
I figured out how to replace all the GU10 bulbs, which was pretty good, because I couldn’t before. I bought brand new, dimmable bulbs, even though the switches weren’t dimmers, just because. 

Script Note: Cut to scene of Mrs. Spit balancing precariously on a step stool, swearing. It wasn’t as graceful as she’s making you believe. 

Mrs. Spit’s Voice: 
So, on Saturday morning, I gave in. I went to the basement, turned off all the breakers for the entire house, apologized to the unhappy gremlins and replaced the kitchen switch with a manual dumb switch. I even told them that I had given up, I would be replacing all the switches, as soon as Mike the Electrician could get them dropped off. I thought that was enough. I thought they understood that I knew they were angry and I was sorry, and I was fixing this as quickly as I could. 
I don’t understand why they had to do that. 

Electrician 1 Voice: 
Well, wiring in old houses is just weird. And it sucks making an emergency visit on a Saturday night. But my wife told me that I wasn’t allowed to come home until she had power. And lights. And a fridge. And a stove. I can kinda understand why she might have started sobbing when everything stopped working. Maybe she’s right, maybe it was gremlins. Replacing the smart switches with dumb switches seems to have worked. 
They seem to be mostly ok now though. 

Interviewer Voice: 
Is this the case Mrs. Spit? Is everything back to normal? 

Mrs. Spit’s Voice: 
Not quite. The outlet I plug my reading light in the living room into is no longer functional. That’s ok. I understand. It’s my penance for making the gremlins angry. I’ve learned a seventh thing about electricity. Leave the gremlins that control it alone. They don’t want to be smart. They just want to be left alone. 

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In Between

I still believe it’s a sin to be able to help someone else and not do it. I still believe that the best way to get kindness in the world is to be kind. So, this isn’t a post to say that dammit all to hell, that’s it, I’m not doing anything for anyone else ever again.

I’m just confused.

Two weeks ago today was the anniversary of my mum’s death. A week ago today was the anniversary of my son’s death. I live alone, I have no family, no partner and no tribe. At a time of year that is very focused on family and love, it’s lonely. I started planning a 6M dollar project while abruptly winding up another project. Managed the year end Brownie Christmas party.  Then the electricity gremlins came to my house. On Saturday night, as I was doing some baking for the local political campaign, the power in my house died. I had no fridge, no stove, no lights upstairs and no plug ins on my main floor. I was alone, in the dark, with no appliances and no help. 

And you know who asked who I was doing? If I needed some help? If I was overwhelmed? 

A casual friend I see once in a while. (And I’m deeply sorry that I started crying when she asked. It’s just that she was the only one who had). 

I’m confused. 

I’ve tried to get better since 2014. I’ve learned to pace myself (that’s why I haven’t mailed your Christmas card yet). I’ve learned to tell people that I’m lonely. I’ve learned to take care of myself. I bought myself flowers, I took myself out for dinner and had a second glass of wine before I went to Messiah on Friday night. I’ve learned to ask for help (and yes, that request on facebook for help changing the light bulbs I’m too short to reach was real). 

I’m confused. 

I know I’m not worth much. I know all of my failings and faults. I didn’t think it was a quid pro quo, but I did think that maybe I had friends. I thought if I asked for help, if I told people that I was lonely and overwhelmed, I had enough friends that someone would reach out. 

I’m confused. 

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Fiat (Flickering) Lux

Narrator Voice: 
For those of you following along at home, when we last caught up with Mrs. Spit, she had easily and simply installed smart light bulbs, a smart security system and smart plug ins. She was going around telling everyone that true, the smart thermostat was a bit tricky, but if you were just willing to live with a minute possibility of a low voltage shock, and you were able to completely ignore the user manual, you could easily install a smart thermostat.  
Let’s just pop in and see how she’s doing, shall we? 

Script Notes: Mrs. Spit’s voice emerges as the camera steadies on her. She’s even wearing a plaid shirt. Her hair, is . . . well, it’s not a good hair day. 

Mrs. Spit’s Voice: 
Ok. 3 tools, 15 minutes. I can totally do this. I’ll even read the instructions first. (Rustling paper). Flip breaker. pull off switch plate. Match neutral wire. Wait. 

What?!

Narrator Voice: 
It turns out that there was a Lutron switch PD-6ANS-WH and a PD something else. Mrs. Spit needed the something else. She really should have paid a bit more attention on Amazon. Looks like Mrs. Spit is going to need an electrician. 

Script Notes: Next we see Mrs. Spit in a suit. She’s sitting in front of her laptop at the office, typing an email. On her screen we see the sentence “I’m working from home tomorrow. The electrician is coming to install some neutral wires. Fingers crossed that we don’t have to cut holes in the plaster!”

Narrator Voice:
It was clear that Mrs. Spit had really bought into the dream of being able to shout “Alexa, turn off all the lights”. This is important, because that dream is going to be harder to achieve than anyone thought. 

Script Notes: Camera focuses in on Mrs. Spit sitting at her desk in her office. She’s a bit chilly, since they’ve cut power to the house, and it’s a bit dim, because it’s a Canadian winter day. Her spirits seem to be good, although it’s a bad hair day again. The screen splits. One side shows Mrs. Spit writing an implementation plan on her laptop. The other side shows electricians. One is in the attic. The other is on a ladder.

Electrician 2 Voice:
wow, you have to see this. I had no idea they could do that. I’ve never even seen wiring this old. I had no idea you could *ever* do an open air splice. 

Electrician 1 Voice:
Yeah, it’s an old house. Knob and tube was common. The splice is kinda a problem though. Let’s put it in a junction box. 

Narrator Voice:
And there went the first bit of Mrs. Spit’s contingency. Throughout the day they worked. There was banging. There was whirring. There was a bit of swearing. At one point there were 5 light switches half wired. Mrs. Spit just kept breathing and working. 

Script Notes: Move to camera shot of Mrs. Spit texting a friend, on the screen we see “well, it looks like a mad invasion of gerbils with the dust and the wood shavings and every smart light in the house is blinking. So there’s that?” 

Electrician 2 Voice:
Ok, we are all done. I’m going to leave Electrician 1 here to finish cleaning up. 

Mrs. Spit Voice:
Great, thanks so much for doing this. He’ll make sure I have power in my office again? Then I can pair all of the lights and it will be done. 

Narrator Voice:
It seems something had happened. (Insert sad and expensive sounding music here). A breaker, a breaker that seemed to control well, pretty much everything it seemed had given up. The electricians headed back downstairs. They called out to each other. The lights would come on, flicker, go off. On again, off again. Mrs. Spit started unplugging electronics. This went on for 2 hours.

Electrician 1 Voice:
Ok, I’ve installed a new breaker. You now have power again. 

Narrator Voice:
But it was not so simple. As Mrs. Spit turned on the bathroom light, which was not a smart switch, all the smart lights started blinking madly. 

Electrician 1 Voice: 
Uhhh .  . . 

Script Notes: Freeze frame on Mrs. Spit’s horrified face. 

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It Goes Better

When the thieves who broken into my house finally opened up my jewellery box to see what they got, I wonder what they made of the odd things I kept. A very tiny shard of china. A single earring. A button. A scrap of paper torn from a poster. Things that have absolutely no extrinsic or even intrinsic value. They are nothing more than touch points. Small and visible pieces of a larger whole. The ultimate in intimacies – things only I know about. I couldn’t even explain to anyone why they had meaning. 

Rather like the jewellery box, which housed pearls and an engagement ring, my box of compliments houses both the obvious and the obscure. The incredibly smart and famous mathematician who called me a high energy particle. The friend who said “I knew you’d know to call.” And last week. 

The business partner on a project, as we wrapped things up on a project, who took the time to tell me “it goes better when we take care of each other, and you took care of us.” 

Not the obvious compliment about my competence or my ability to lead. Something more intimate. Something that matters in the very heart of who I am. So I carefully tucked it in the box as a thing that was precious. 

I thought of it yesterday, as I took care of myself. Was gentle, was kind. Didn’t wait or expect for anyone to do this. If we take care of others, surely we can take care of ourselves? 

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Atom and Void

Leucippus in 500 BCE was the first philosopher to suggest the idea of atoms – something which is uncuttable and cannot be composed of anything else. Lederman calls the Higgs bosun the God particle because it gives us all mass. We found it when we proved it could decay into other things. Atomism, not quite yet?

Lucretius, in 50 BCE gives us the first ontology – that nothing can come from nothing and nothing perishes into nothing. The physicists trying to figure out exactly what happened in the Planck Era are in search of nothing. Something from nothing, in a void?

And Einstein. Einstein of a multitude of universes where another you made the choice you didn’t. Where time goes backwards, forwards, swirls in a kaleidoscope of repeated choices and patterns. Physics and philosophy at once.

We are trying to see the smallest parts of ourselves. We are desperately trying to plot where we came from and perhaps then, where we will go to. We ask – ourselves, our loved ones, our gods, our galaxies and our bosuns – why?

And we hear. Thoughts. Voices. Hymns. The hum of cosmic radiation.

Today I will wake up in the eleventh year without him. 4,015 days.

I will ask why.

Having let go of God and hymns, I will let the background hum of radiation tell me – we came from a void into atoms. Matter is neither created nor destroyed. Einstein tells me – somewhere, somewhere a mother and a father and a son are together. As predictable as the speed of light.

Happy 11th birthday little boy. I miss you still.

******

Dear friends and loved ones,

With great joy and heartbreak, we wish to announce: at 10:26 PM on December 10, 2007, Gabriel Anton was born into the hands of Cathy, his midwife, sang to in the arms of his mother, rocked in the arms of his father, bathed in the arms of his grandmother, and baptized in the arms of Regula, his Parish Priest.

At just after 11 PM, he was carried to Heaven in the arms of the Angels, where we will meet him again one day. At 520 grams (1 pound 2.4 ounces), and 33 cm (13 inches) he was wee, with 10 fingers and toes, and a full head of hair. He was a perfect, but very tiny baby.

For where your treasure is, there also will be your heart. Luke 12:34

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The Granddaughters of Witches

On the edge of the U of A campus, just outside of the registrar’s office is a memorial to the murdered Montreal women. I went to school there for a long time, I had no idea it existed. A friend told me about it. It’s not even a memorial, not really. It’s a good sized rock with a plaque on it. 

I stop for a minute every year on December 6th, it seemed appropriate to stop there. They were engineers. I’m a management consultant who dabbles in technology and code. I was 11 when they were murdered. I have lived my entire adult life knowing of them. Women killed for having the audacity to do what a monstrous man thought of as men’s work. 

Someone had cleared the rock, lit a candle and laid some flowers. I suspect the friend who told me about it. It seems like the sort of thing he would do. I stood there and thought about where we are now. 

An hour before, as I was loitering outside a meeting room, in the middle of the computer science building, I watched a young man belittle and humiliate a woman. It was the tone. The tone women know well. The hectoring, the sneering, the air of smugness. They seemed to be working on a project – or rather she seemed to be working and he seemed to be criticizing. I wanted to kick him out of his seat. Sit down next to her, ask if I could give her some advice I would have wanted a woman to give me at the edge of 20. 

Don’t ever- for any reason –  let anyone treat you like that.

I told myself I was butting in, that my advice wasn’t asked for, I didn’t know the context. In hindsight, I wished I’d at least figured out the class and section – maybe I could have figured out who the prof was and alerted them? Maybe they would have cared? 

I say this, because as I stood in front of the memorial about 3 pm, in the dying winter light,  I thought about whether it is better or worse. It’s 29 years tonight. It must be better. But that young woman? It wasn’t better for her. I failed her today, even if I have no idea how I could have succeeded. 

I stood in front of the memorial and the memory of 14 dead women, and I thought what I’ve seen in my career, I thought of the young woman in the computer science building, and I thought of my one Brownie, the one that wants to be a fairy astronaut. 

We are the granddaughters of the witches you could not burn. 

I think of that quote each year when I think of those women. Each year I try and figure out if things are better and what I can do to make it better. This year –  I promised them that there were many of us now, and we would send so many more into the world. There would be so many of us that a monster could not hope to kill us all. 

We aren’t there yet. 

But the granddaughters of witches are multiplying. 

(I realize that some of you may never have heard of the Montreal Massacre. It’s one of only 23 mass murders in our 151 year history. This was one of only 4 murders where more than 10 people were killed. This was a particular tragedy in that the murderer specifically killed women – his suicide note blamed women for ruining his life. December 6th has become the National Day of Morning and Action against violence against women.) 

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In the Middle of HomeSense

This summer I screwed up. I behaved in a most unladylike way. It doesn’t matter how or why. I behaved in a way that made people who know me really quite well express shock. I behaved in a way that was totally out of character. I made a spectacle of myself. This wasn’t the sort of situation where I could go back and apologize, so I was a bit stuck. In the end, I drove out to where we scattered mum’s ashes and I told her what I’d done and apologized. 

She wasn’t there. I mean, she was in so far as that was the spot I tipped her mortal remain. I just didn’t feel any sense that she heard me. I was mostly left feeling miserable by myself. I was mildly annoyed and I told her so. 

If you knew my mother, you can imagine her response. (Something to the extent of “Cheryl-Nancy, I’m dead. I’m fertilizing the roses and the thistles. I raised you to be a lady. I can’t imagine why you did that. You should be embarrassed.”) 

I suppose it’s no surprise she’d come to me in the middle of HomeSense. I was staring at the Staffordshire Christmas plates. I’m almost certain we had a set, you know back in the 80’s, when dessert plates were a thing. There was a tray in the shape of a Christmas tree, and then plates. I remember something about rum balls. 

And suddenly she was there. Right there next to me, telling me about the plates. About how they were chipped, about when she used them. 

I’ve thought a lot about that. How she wasn’t there when I needed her, and was there when it was sort of immaterial. In an ideal world, I’d tell you that there was some sort of resolution in HomeSense. 

There wasn’t. 

But for a brief moment, with all her faults and flaws, she was next to me. 

It’s was 4 years ago today. About this time of day. Beautiful bright sunshine and fresh snow, like today. 

I miss her. 

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