Monday, August 30, 2010

Something is Upsetting Me

I don’t know what it is. I am having dreams where I try to accomplish something and fail repeatedly. I’m waking up with my teeth clenched and I’m getting twitchy and paranoid about doors.

There are a number of candidates for “What is upsetting Cantabridgienne?”

It could be Work. While work continues to be Delightful, and offer all sorts of interesting challenges, I don’t think that’s it. When I check in the corner of my brain where I keep work related thoughts I see apathy and despair-not panic.

It could be because I’m never going to get laid or be loved again*. Nope. That isn’t what’s causing me to climb the walls at the moment.

It could be because I’m 35 and have not yet found my life partner or bought a home and I work for someone who still hasn’t parsed that I’m his system administrator-not his office administrator (and because he signs the paychecks whatever he believes is true.) Nope. It’s not that. I don’t sense panic-there’s nothing to be done about that now. I am where I am and that’s where I’ll be until the wind shifts.

So it seems likely that the thing that’s giving me bad dreams and making me wake up with my teeth clenched is that I have to go back to school. I touch the part of my head that thinks about that sort of thing and I hear the sound of puppies standing on hot frying pans. Yup, it seems that we’ve found a winner.

Why am I afraid? School is good for me and I always used to look forward to September in high school and college. Even September at Bunker Hill and a new class in something useful didn’t scare me. Well… It is true that I have a tendency to be melodramatic, but there was really no need to invent drama in Spring Term 2010. There were plenty of legitimate panic attacks. At one point I was wondering how I would know it was Wednesday of I wasn’t having a MGT 650 crisis of one kind or another and by the end of the term my friends were suggesting therapy.

At the time I told them I was uninterested (but feel free to keep suggesting it.) So long as I do the work (and do it well) I can take panic attacks and the Malady of Doors. But. For crying out loud-term hasn’t even started yet and I’m already suffering the Malady of Doors. What am I afraid of?

I’m afraid of having missed a pre-requisite to one of the classes I’m taking. There was only one pre-requisite listed (the class is Change Management-cross listed in IT and OPS) but what if everyone is much more advanced that I am and everyone knows (except me) that you should take all your core courses (the required ones for everyone who gets to walk out the door with MBA after their name) before you take your electives? This scares me a lot. I don’t have a clue who I’d ask about it. I have former classmates’ e-mails and phone numbers but I'm not calling them.

I am afraid of running into/having to work with people who I would prefer not to work with again. Even after a term and a half, and without intentionally making enemies there are some people I’d prefer never to encounter again because they don’t do their work and I get stuck doing it. People who’s work you’ve gotten stuck with…even interacting with them in the hallway can be difficult. They can be charming or they can be nasty (either way because they think they can roll you). School is stressful enough. I admit that I am overreacting about being scared of running into these people. That doesn’t change the way I feel.

I am scared because I’m taking two classes instead of one. This is partly due to me being alone for a while this summer (since all my friends were off teaching somewhere or on difficult family business) and since I was taking one summer class twice a week and I still had plenty of time to be bored I thought I should try taking two classes.

Although I had initially planned on taking one class and learning to drive (as my second class this fall) it’s the right thing to do. Part of the reason that going back to school still scares me is that I still don’t know what the professors want from me (in terms of papers.) I wrote my first business school paper 3 times and I still wasn’t sure I got it right. I haven’t handed in a single thing that I felt sure of the way I could feel sure of a literature paper that I’d done well (and we are talking about the ones I worked on-not the ones I relied on “native brilliance” and creative spacing to complete) even though I put much more work into anything I’ve handed in at UMB than anything but my Comps at Carleton.

I suppose it’s great to never be satisfied and still get decent grades, but I really wish I had a feel for what I’m supposed to do in my 6-20 pages. Then I could know if I had done it or not. In a way, I feel like I’m still getting by on native brilliance-only I’m just working much harder. There is a guide online for what each paper should contain but it doesn’t help me much. It’s hard to write an executive summary, an intro, 6 hypotheses, a body and conclusion over things like “why don’t you just let go of the reigns and let your new manager get to work?” Or “The economy sucks right now.” I want to write something (or present something) and know that it’s right. I want to feel like this exactly what I should be handing in (or at least “this is as close as I can get.”) Instead I just have this vague feeling that I’ve worked my pants off so it had better be okay.

Back to why it’s scary-as I mentioned above, there was no need to invent drama spring term. I’m taking two classes. I’m afraid they will come with two flavors of drama in the form of two different sets of people I will have to work with. I tell myself that neither of these classes is 650 (which made me feel like I’d joined a small cult) and that both of them intend to teach me something other than How To Deal With Other Humans as a main point. But at the same time I’m pretty sure that the whole point of any decent MBA program is not to teach you accounting or the principals of marketing and change management-the point is to teach you to deal with other humans/ They do this by teaching you things like accounting or change management and making you work with other humans to learn them. So I’m scared of people I might encounter and the drama they may cause, and what this may do to my nervous system, my digestive system and my sleeping habits.

At the same time, I need to take two classes this fall so that I can feel the weight of them on my shoulders and do whatever needs to be done to cross two more of the 15 courses I have to take before I’m done off of my list.

I have reminded myself repeatedly that just because MBA school isn’t all fun doesn’t mean that it is not worth doing. Even if every minute of it is terrible (and it’s not that bad-sometimes it's even fun) finishing it will mean that I am no longer trapped.

When I was young-maybe as young as 16-I had considered MBA school and thought that while it wouldn’t be any fun at all I could probably hold my nose through it long enough to get a degree. I am reminding myself of this version of me and comparing it to myself 2006-2009 “Oh no-I’m not something (Smart? Diligent?) enough to get an MBA.” I find the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Yes I can do it-even if it takes forever. Yes it scares me. I have found a feeling-one of those emotions that doesn’t have a name-that works out to “Yes I can do this-damn it’s going to suck while I’m doing it.” And that’s the most hopeful feeling I have about next term. This might explain the bad dreams.

*And don’t tell me “That’s not True!” because it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not-it just feels that way and the whole discussion is beside the point.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I have a new friend

I'm not much into video games. I'll watch other people play in order to be social, but I'm not that interested in blowing things up and I'd much rather read someone else's adventure than choose my own. Tank Wars is the game I enjoyed best as a kid. I'd say it was my favorite game ever, but there's another, far more addictive game that I have recently re-encountered.

In 2003 or so a friend of mine sent me a link to a "super addictive game." As I mentioned, I don't really do video games, so I figured there was no harm in me clicking on the link. I'd fark around with whatever it was for 5 minutes and then get back to work. Except that my friend had sent me a link to Collapse! In case you're unfamiliar with it, Collapse! is one of those deceptively simple games where you click on three adjacent pieces of the same color and they (*poof!*) disappear. Because that in and of itself is not very exciting, at the same time more pieces are being added to the bottom and the object of the game is to keep the wall of colorful bricks from reaching the top of the screen. It's addictive-even if you're not that into video games.

I found it so addictive that not only was I dreaming of Collapse, I was walking around Cambridge choosing to step on similarly shaped/colored bricks in groups of three so that they would...well, what I expected them to do was unclear to me (obviously not disappear) but I couldn't help being drawn to sets of three. Eventually I stopped playing the game (I downloaded a freeware game that was much less cool than the online version and that killed my interest) until last week.

August is a really boring month in the Financial Services world. It's not a quarter end and most of the clients (and the staff) are away on vacation. It's even more boring if you do tech support-as opposed to client-facing activities (there's so little to do that during the lean years-when they cut salaries and lay people off I get paranoid about job security.) So since there was not much work to be done and there wasn't anything particularly interesting happening on the internet I decided to check and see if anyone had written a Collapse! app for iphones. It turns out someone had. While it's true I'm not that into video games, playing a game on your phone is a little less obvious than sitting in your cubicle reading a book.

I am pleased and slightly appalled to say that Collapse! is back and it's better than ever. I really feel bad sitting at work and playing games-even when there is no work but I also hate sitting there staring at the wall and I'd done every kind of boring preventative maintenance and data cleanup that I could think of to the PCs, the CRM database and anything else that's well-being was my responsibility.

As I was saying, I'm pleased to say that Collapse is alive and well and living at the App Store. It cost me $.99 and I have to say those were 99 of the best laid out pennies I've ever spent. "Got Time You Need To Pass-Try Collapse!-Makes Hours Disappear!" However, after less than a week's ownership of this little piece of software I'm a bit alarmed. I can always pause the game if something important is going on (this was one of the reasons I allowed myself to purchase it.) Things that are not important enough to pause a game so far include talking to my boss on the phone and de-training from the Commuter Whale. This morning I caught myself playing the game while at the beach. This afternoon I was trying to run the app on my computer-just so that I could play it on a bigger screen. That would be me- Cantabridgienne who prefers a 19th century novel to Super Mario Brothers any day of the week.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Happy “Liberation Day” to me

A year ago the Cambridge partnership dissolved. A certain young man told me that while he loved me very much he had been miserable for a long time (as had I). It may be morbid to be commenting on such an anniversary but I don’t plan on doing it every year-just this year. As it was one of the most unpleasant things that has happened to me, it’s worth checking in a year later to note that not only did it not kill me, I’m doing better than I was at the time.

That I got better is largely due to friends. I went to work the next morning still in shock and not really wanting to talk about it. Ted Kennedy had died that morning which added to surrealism of the moment. But I had one friend who always stuck her head in my cubicle and asked “And how are *you*?” in such a way that it always sounded like she meant it. I was pretty sure that the minute she did that I’d fall apart. Luckily for me, I happened to encounter her in the ladies’ room (instead of in my cubicle in front of all the support staff) so that when I did fall apart-crying and wiping my nose with the paper towels from the dispenser-I was at least in a semi-private location. This friend of mine had been divorced before-so she had an idea of what I was going through-and suggested that I take the next day off-she said she’d break my sad news to my employers (in case I needed more time.)

And then I was a mess for a while. My parents had always attributed any inclination toward melodrama in our family to “Lituanian genes” (I think this is because a great aunt of mine-who happened to be pure Lithuanian was likely to be melodramatic.) I have myself been inclined to be melodramatic (when a friend of mine disappeared for a year and I said I was sure something ‘orrible had happened to him he told me that I needed to stop reading so many 19th century novels.) In the language of those 18th and 19th century novels of which I am so fond, I believe you could say I suffer from an excess of sensibility. Also, while we’re at it I’m high-strung and have a tendency to panic (although that may be due to many years in a small business environment as much as innate nature.)

However I don’t think my behavior in between August 24, 2009 and mid-October 2009 was melodramatic per se-I was just miserable and didn’t know how to deal with it. So I wrote about how unhappy I was and shared it on facebook-bleeding all over the Internet.

I cried in front of people. They handed me tissues and hugged me. I tried to explain how miserable I was to my parents-in the end I just sent them excerpts from my blog. I'm not sure they got quite how miserable I was, but they took care of me. They sent me money for a deposit on my new apartment and my mom happened to be in town for the weekend I moved, so she helped me out a great deal. My parents are practical if not overly sentimental.

I did not panic over small things-in fact I turned down the first apartment I saw (something I still can’t believe I was cold blooded enough to do) because it didn’t feel like it would be home.

I had been afraid of people for a long time-in fact that was part of what was scary about having to move out. I would have to deal with people again (instead of letting the now-ex-boyfriend do that.) And, to be fair, I hold the bar for humanity awfully low, so that when coworkers expressed their condolences and listened to me talk for a bit about it I was pleasantly shocked.

But wait-even more fun. The summer of 2009 would have been an unpleasant one even if my partner hadn’t told me to move out. For one thing it rained an awful lot and for another I had to take the GMAT. Also, a friend of ours was arrested. But I think I can say that the worst thing that happened in the summer of 2009 was that Irving Liss fell collapsed one night and was taken into Mass General where they decided that he had a tumor in his head and he’d better have it out. I talked about that while it was happening so I won’t give the full story here. Still, the night that my suddenly ex boyfriend asked me to move out he also told me that when Irving died he wanted me to come with him to the funeral. Through a mess of snot and tears and beer I told him something like “of course-duh” thinking that the Alter Kocher had a few months left in him at least-maybe even enough time to go home for a bit-he was made of some pretty stern stuff. Even after they opened his head three times he could still joke with the nurse about her reputation.

I went home to New York for Labor Day weekend. I was due to come back on the Tuesday after Labor Day. I was standing in Battery Park about to go look at the little Dutch village when I got the call. I was looking out at the harbor on a sunny day in September when my ex boyfriend told me that Irving had passed that morning. He cried. I don’t think I did-I was still a bit shocked.

I got to use all the 3G capabilities of my new iPhone as I wrote to my employers (while on the Accela back to Boston to explain why I’d be out the next day.) When I got back to the apartment in Cambridge one of the newer tenants said “get out your best clothes for tomorrow.” I went out and bought lipstick (because I’d thrown out all of my cosmetics-I wasn’t likely to need to look pretty in my new single life) and tissues. And the suckage of being dumped was consumed by the greater suckage of losing a good man and we all did what we could to comfort each other. After the funeral (which was hard) this mostly involved drinking a lot and telling stories-so the Jewish man got an Irish man’s wake.

So, yeah, I was a bundle of raw nerves at the end of last summer.

This was not what I intended to write. I intended to say how much more fun life is now that I’m not going home to hide every day. I meant to say how nice it is to have a life full of Business School and nephews and friends and Sugar Mags, which I never would have had if I was still hiding in my cave in Cambridge. But maybe you’ve gathered that already from the rest of my blog.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Tech Support Version of Saint Francis's Prayer*

I hope that one day I will be competent enough that people will say “If you need that done talk to Cantabridgienne-she’ll get it done for you.” Or “Oh if you need help you’d better talk to Cantabridgienne-she's the best person to explain how to do that.” And I hope that when (not if) I get to the point where I’m actually useful enough that people will count on me-not just to get things done but to mentor their Halflings-that I will not be the sort of mentor who can only be called upon once a month or so without getting testy.

I hope that once I am together enough to be a resource that if there are people who need to talk to me daily that I can help them learn what they need to learn-be it “Hit Ctrl –F and search for Insert Term Here” or “right click on your desktop and choose new MS Access database. Open the new database go to ‘Get External Data” Choose…” or simply “You should tell your supervisor to teach you more about X and if s/he won’t come and talk to me.”

I strongly suspect that whatever career path I take after getting done with MBA training will have something to do with tech support because that’s the ocean I swim in. I am not the best technical support person ever. This is not entirely my fault (insufficient mentoring). It’s probably not the career I’m best suited for but it’s the path I fell into.

But, while I will never be the best person ever to sort out the bizarre registry conflict that someone has because they once installed an XYZ printer and now their XYQ printer won’t work (I am not making this up-I’ve seen it) I am a much better person to have around to explain how you can install your printer drivers yourself than the geek who can find the registry issue is.

I would rather explain how to avoid the problem (whatever it is) than simply pat the user on the cheek and say “I fixed it.”

I am surrounded by people who teach for a living and are rather good at it. The idea of teaching a course makes my stomach digest itself. On the other hand, teaching people how to do things-even little ones (like how to rotate a PDF or how to upload a file to our secure client website) is something I find myself comfortable doing. It’s not quite the engineer’s need to explain everything-it’s more a need to show people (particularly women) that they don’t need to be afraid of their computers.

So here is my wish—that I will one day be useful enough that people will consider me a resource and that I will always willing to mentor someone-whether by helping them myself or (if not appropriate) then by pointing them in the right direction.

Yeah, I know. Strong Bad says "Dork Dork Dork."

*Saint Francis's Prayer (in case Google doesn't work where you are)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Happy Birthday To Me

Today is my birthday. It's been a quiet birthday. As me and most of my friends are still recovering from last weekend's wedding extravaganza I decided to keep it quiet. I took myself to a nice dinner and I've been sitting in front of my computer trying to come up with meaningful thoughts to share.

I don't really have any. I spent the last year doing a bunch of things that scared me (moving into my own place, starting an MBA program, etc) and they have for the most part turned out well. Part of why they worked out well was just me discovering that I had it in me to rise to challenges and actually use my brain for something.

A good portion of it is down to my friends. I'm talking to all you all who sat on me while I wrote papers, listened to me bitch, took me out for drinks, offered your help, let me pet your dog, answered the phone when I called saying "Help!" and helped clean my apartment for the bridal extravaganza.

Thanks to you all.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Là ci darem la mano

I grew up singing. When I was a kid my mother tempted me into the Catholic Church because they had a children’s choir. My dad was into musical theatre and he got me interested. At the same time, it became apparent to me at some point that while I can carry a tune without a bucket, I don’t have a beautiful voice-I make a better chorus member. That doesn’t mean I can’t sing along with iTunes when I’m doing housework or cooking however. Neither does it mean I want to do karaoke. It means that when I’m happy it’s okay to sing a bit-just enough to help someone identify a song or make a joke-in front of others without embarrassing myself.

When I was last home in New York I was standing in the kitchen listening to my parents (who had just gotten back from Italy) explaining that they had not seen Don Giovanni because although they had tickets to the opera at one of the places they visited, there was an opera strike on at the time. I was holding one of my nephews and he started fussing. Because he is less than a year old and because he’s named Giovanni and my parents had just been talking about not seeing Don Giovanni I started singing him Là ci darem La mano while rocking him. I sang the tune with vowel sounds because it occurred to me (as I was singing to my nephew) that in spite of the fact that I’ve known the tune to this song for 20 years I didn’t know any of the word except “Andiam Andiam.”

The tune and the rocking calmed my squirmy nephew down, so I decided that it would be worth my while to finally learn the words to the song. Perhaps it was long past time-since it’s one of the best duets ever. So I found the lyrics online and downloaded a version to my iphone. It’s a duet between a baritone and a soprano. I am neither. I can only hope in singing it in my own register that I’m not flat (as I have been told I tend to be.) But the tune I know. It was the words I was acquainting myself with. The song is (of course) in Italian (because all operas were written in Italian at the time-no wonder for it is easier to sing than German, French or English.) I don’t speak Italian. However, I’ve grown up watching the Mozart/Lorenzo Da Ponte trio of operas (Le Nozze De Figaro, Cosi fan Tutte y Don Giovanni) and mapping what language I understood to English. Because that’s what I do.

I am a Babelfish. I do not know if this counts as one of my talents or one of my obsessions, but if you hand me a piece of music in some other language and the English translation or if I watch a foreign film with English subtitles I will do my best to map one on to the other until (best case) I understand the foreign phrase well enough that I don’t need to translate it into English in my head to know what it means-this point comes when “Voi che sapete que cosa et amor” is interchangeable with “you who know what love is”—not that I have any cause to use either phrase in my day to day life. This doesn’t always work out. Surprise surprise, It works best on Italian and Spanish and Latin. It doesn’t work well on Swedish, German or Russian-but that doesn’t mean I don’t try (I also occasionally try to read the code for various software packages that we have. But that’s another story).

I digress. I decided to learn all the words to La ci Darem la Mano because it was high time I knew all the words to this song and I had a wee nephew to sing it to. I bought the song from iTunes (Pavarotti and Cheryl Crow) and pulled the lyrics off the interwebs and applied myself to both. Not too terribly surprisingly, I fell in love with the song all over again. It is beautiful and might even be so without Mozart’s music. Don Giovanni sings a verse begging Zerlina to give him his hand and run away with him and she responds with interest and misgivings. They then sing lines from their verses until they agree to Andiam. Right after that, one of Don G’s old girlfriends shows up and puts the kaibosh on the whole thing, but you don’t know that if you take the song by itself.

Most of the lyrics were easy to learn because it was obvious to me what they meant but there are a few lines of Zerlina’s which I still can’t remember because I couldn’t figure out what they meant. I am pretty sure (because I’ve seen this opera a decent number of times) that within “Felice, è ver, sarei,
Ma può burlarmi ancor. “ is something like “this could be awesome but he might break my heart.” But because I cannot be sure exactly which word means what I cannot remember them as easily as all the others. I can remember to repeat the last line-but I cannot always remember what it is.

While that irks me (and I will solve this riddle) it didn’t matter this week when my sister and her kids were in town visiting me. I once again got to hold a squirmy Giovanni who needed a nap and as such was not happy with anyone but his mom holding him. Not even Grandma would do. But his mom was busy watching over her other two kids as they dipped themselves in the ocean. So I sang him his song. He doesn’t know that it’s a song I learned for him but he calmed down and fell asleep instead of squirming and crying.*

So overall it was a win. I’m not going to be invited to join the Met’s chorus any time soon but I don’t care. I set myself a small goal (really it’s time you learned the words to this song) which had nothing to do with work or school or keeping my house clean and I achieved it—at least enough to make the crying baby go to sleep.

And now I know more than I did before. It’s not something I can put on a CV, but it means that the next time I sing this song to myself or Giovy I won’t have to sing “La did a dum dum dum dum.”

*I’m not particularly maternal, but having the fussy baby calm down and go to sleep while I’m holding him ranks with having a difficult cat (I’m talking to you Ms. Chan) want to sit in my lap or at least be willing to let me pet her.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lynch Park

Today we took my sister’s kids to Lynch Park in Beverly. My sister had brought her kids up from New York City mostly to take them to Lynch Park. My mom went to Lynch Park when she was a kid. My sister and I went there (along with our cousins) when we were growing up and now I live within walking distance of the park and go there myself to bake in the sun.

The kids took to the beach instantly (of course.) It’s clean and has nice white sand and-tide pools. My oldest nephew wanted to go down to the water by the rocks. I showed him the tide pools and the hermit crabs and in no time we had a bucket and were collecting hermit crabs. I am happy to go hermit crab watching any time by myself. It’s like looking at one of those magic eye posters that were popular when I was in college. You stare at the tide pool and you see nothing until you see one set of legs protruding from a periwinkle shell and then you see another one and suddenly there are hermit crabs everywhere.

It’s (I think) and awesome occupation for young children because 1) it’s easy once you get the hang of it 2) it involves live animals but has no danger of injury to the kid and very little to the hermit crab. Even my niece, who wasn’t really into crab-hunting was happy to hold one in her hand and feel it tickle her palms.

Once you’ve got the hang of hermit crab catching it’s time to move on to (for the lack of a better phrase) “regular” crab catching. Hermits are pretty easy to see and easy to catch, but the small side-walking crabs are another matter. They’re camouflaged and they can swim and burrow which makes them tougher to catch.

Nephew and I had a small plastic sieve on a stick and I could pick up a rock and scoop up the sand underneath. We’d both peer at the mud and wait to see if it moved.
“Did we catch anyone this time?”
“No not this time. Let’s try another rock.”

Finally I moved one rock and out popped about ten crabs of various sizes-ranging from Almost Worth Eating to Penny Sized—It was like we were the cops who had just busted a crab-rave.

We chased after the biggest one with our plastic implements-both of us wanting to catch him but still a little spooked by his alien appearance (and afraid that he was big enough to pinch us). Finally we cornered him and got him in the sieve. As I dumped the crab into the bucket with all the others it occurred to me that for a few minutes I had not been an aunt playing with a nephew. Instead we were two people playing a game (Catch the Biggest Crab) and we were both doing the best we could (and probably we were about equally skilled even though he is five and I am almost 35.) It was not a "bonding" moment-it was better than that. I realized that I was treating him like a person--not like a kid who might be a person in 10 to 15 and it was great to be able to do that.

And that was the most awesome moment in an already pretty awesome day.