Sunday, December 18, 2011

Because You Have The Innernet

At brunch this morning my buddy said he wished he could win the lottery so that he could solve his parents money problems and the problems of another mutual friend. I asked him if his parents would take monetary assistance from him and he replied "you've obviously never been poor."

This reminded me of a story from when I was poor. I was working two jobs at the time. It was a Sunday and I was just finishing up a shift at Brookline Booksmith and meeting my former boyfriend for dinner. It was Summer and we had decided to meet on the lawn in front of Cambridge City Hall. This way if one of us got there early we could sit on the nice green grass and read a book (this was pre-iPod) until the other one showed up.

So I was headed into Cambridge from Brookline. For a number of reasons (starting with I like to walk and ending with T service sucks on Sundays) I got off at Hynes Convention Center and walked into Cambridge instead of transferring from the Green Line to the Red Line.

As a result of my decision, I ran into a friend of mine (let's call him Harry.) Harry worked at the Middle East. When Harry came into a lot of money it was well known he'd get drunk, get others drunk and hand money around. I knew that Harry did this because he told me so himself. When I ran into Harry he was clearly well lubricated. He said "Oh Hey Doll--let me give you something because you have the internet at your house. Also--this is for your phone bill because you call Ryan* in California." I did try not to take his money, ("No Harry, thanks I can pay my phone bill.") but he made me feel like I was being rude not to take his cash, so I did.

I went to the green in front of Cambridge City Hall to wait for
the Boyfriend. I told him the whole story--was I wrong to take Harry's money? Could we put it in an envelope and leave it at the Middle East for him to collect when he sobered up?

He replied "I think Harry just bought us dinner because you have the Intranet."

And then we went to the Border Cafe and ordered catfish bites.

*A mutual friend who had moved from Cambridge to California

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why Yes, my Mom is an Intellectual Badass

My parents are retired and they're now grandparents (although their version of retired involves working at least once a week, running a soup kitchen and grand-parenting--which is to say it's still pretty lively.) As our conversations over the past few years have been more about what my niece and nephews are up to and less about Hamlet, I've begun to wonder--is my impression that my parents are intellectual badasses an illusion? Is this just something I tell myself to keep them on a pedestal?

As it turns out, no. I called home tonight to talk to the Ageds. We talked Christmas shopping, I told them what day I was arriving and we discussed Angry Birds.

Towards the end of the conversation I remembered that I wanted to get a book on the Avignon Papacy (AP)--a conversation I'd had with some friends last Friday about medieval Christianity* had made me think that the AP was something I might want to know a thing or two about. When I looked up the Wikipedia article on the AP, all the sources were in French or German and when I tried to search the subject on my favorite indie bookstore's website the results were..less than promising. So I thought I'd tell mom I wanted a book on this subject matter and turn her loose on the booksellers of New York City.

When I told her what I wanted and why (information on the origin of Purgatory and other things which led to the reformation) she replied "Oh! that's not where all of that comes from! It's all due to the black plague. What you want is some of the books I read in college."

She then went on to explain (or rather remind me) a great deal about the social reactions to the black plague (flagellants, witch burning, Jews accused of well poisoning, etc.) And then we went back to discussing the reformation.

It's nice to have common interests with my mom. I can't keep up with her in a shopping marathon, but at least we can talk about medieval history together.

*What do corporate drones like me do for fun? We go to the Old Spot in Salem to talk about the history of Christian schismatism over beers with Latin teachers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bad Dreams

Since my professional life has gotten so busy/interesting this past year I've been treated to a set of rich nightmares, most of them this summer. I thought I was done with them until Monday morning. I woke up at 5 am from an awful dream. Awful enough that I don't want to talk about it*

But of course, the subject matter of the nightmare hardly matters when one slams awake in the middle of the night. The fact of it being the middle of the night, along with the leftover bad brain chemicals that linger are enough to make one terrified and awake and upset. I called in sick. True it was 5 am and I did not have to leave the house for another 2 hours and 40 minutes, but my lizard brain was in charge at the time and my lizard brain knew things were not well.

This was one of the few times I wish I had a boy (the others tend to be when I'm sick or very upset). I started to think about how nice it would be to have some nice, sleepy boy throw his arm around me after a nightmare...and then stopped thinking about that. Because I imagined some Lovecraftian creature throwing one of it's many tentacles around me.

I left the lights on and Felt Bad until the sun came up. By then my the nightmare brain-chemicals had burned off and I could grab some of the sleep I'd missed.

I've found myself thinking of this--the only time I really wish I had some boy is when I'm upset or sick (waking up from a nightmare qualifies as both) and wondering how one would express this in an online dating profile.

*Much worse than the one where my former colleague had taken to killing every one in the office who wandered into the server room and hiding their bodies. I could smell the corpses when he showed me where he had hidden them.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Set your Phaser for Stun

When we got the Xerox Phaser 8860 and I installed it I wrote a poem about the device. Like Mr Silas Wegg, I don't dip into poetry much. I'm not posting said poem, because I strongly suspect it was a bad poem.

So why did I write a poem about a network printer? Because it was a thing of beauty! It printed brilliant color and it did duplex. It actually prints from wax--the cartridges are like giant crayons. It could print files from our most difficult applications. It had routines for cleaning itself. You can take the contents of the waste tray out and write with them. It made the Financial Planning staff happy because they got to say "Phaser" a lot. Finally, I installed it myself without calling for help.

I'm kind of embarrassed to admit this last bit was such a big deal now. Network printer installation is not exactly Rocket Surgery. But at the time I was just starting to learn that I was, in fact, a competent grown up. That was in 2007.

I love tools. I particularly love beautiful, useful objects. The Phaser, with it's wax printing and self cleaning falls into the category of beautiful and useful, from my point of view.

The Phaser is not doing so well these days. There are some light streaks in large blocks of color. Every time I've noticed this before I just ran it through the basic cleaning program and hoped it would get better. There's an advanced cleaning program---where you put in the number of the ink jet that's not working--but that always seemed alarming to me (what if I screwed it up?). The printer has a test sheet which prints little Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black streaks with numbers next to them. The numbers are the print jet numbers. If there is no Cyan streak next to 134 in the Cyan block, then there is probably something wrong with Cyan jet 134.

Today I tried to clean the printer and wondered why I'd found the idea of using the advanced method so intimidating previously. So I told the printer to clean Cyan jet 134. As it ground away I looked at the rest of the test page and lined up a recently printed document (so that I could see where the light streaks on the page were) If this worked I could go through and get the printer to clean each of the jets that lined up with a light streak and then the printer would work as beautifully as it had the day we bought it!

Alas no. Seeing the light streaks on the test page in after cleaning jets number 8 and 134 saddened me. There's nothing I can do for my old friend.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Handel's Messiah makes me cry

I have had a few discussions with my best friend lately re: music, non-popular.

My friend is a violist and I grew up singing in choirs. When we were in college together she played in the orchestra and I sang in the choir. In winter terms the orchestra and the choir tended to present a work together (like Brahms Requiem.)

We are both verbals--she's a poet and I'm...well I'm me. I write essays about myself and post them on the inter-webs and I'm the one the B School students want editing our group paper.

Last week we were discussing choral music and she was lamenting that some of it is, in fact, written in English--because that distracts her from the music. I was saddened by this. It may be because I've been in choirs, or it may be because I'm twitchy, but I get bored by instrumental music with no vocals.

When presented with lyrics in a foreign language (which is most of the time--there were few good English composers) I try to map them on to the English translation. I did this when I was in choir and singing a work and I do it when I'm sitting in the audience listening to the work. I do this because I care about lyrics and what they mean (also, I suspect because it's a puzzle.)

Apparently, not every one does this. I learned this when explaining to my friend how I try to map meaning on to foreign language texts--because the lyrics are as important as the music and so I feel that it's important to understand them. I was surprised to find that she did not think as I did--about as surprised as she was a few weeks ago when she discovered that I can't read music.

"Really?" she asked. "What do you think when you see this?" She asked after googling the music to a Vivaldi piece. I explained that the nice little black dots give me some indication of whether or not the next note was higher or lower than the previous one and let me know what the duration was likely to be, but I really learned music by listening to those around me.

Last night she stopped by my place. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, I had put on Handel's Messiah. When she arrived I offered to turn it of because it was Christmas music and she--like me--has worked for a long time in retail and therefore she has developed an antipathy to Christmas Music.

She said however that I need not turn it off because it was "good classical music" although I think he technically is Baroque. "It's not like the Christmas music you hear in the mall." she said, which reminded me of the video I've embedded--which I showed her (technically, no--you don't hear Handel in the mall. But you hear Handel in *this* mall.)

I asked her if the lyrics annoyed her and she said that she couldn't understand them--so they didn't bother her. This was strange to me--the lyrics to the Messiah are in English and since I first heard it sung and learned that in fact the lyric in "For Unto Us a Child is Born" was not "and his name shall be call-ed Wonderful! Bouncible*!" I've been familiar with the lyrics of the Messiah.

We watched the flash mob, remarked on which of the singers reminded us of friends of ours and speculated as to how they might have practiced for this and I didn't cry at all.

Handel's Messiah makes me cry. To a certain extent--good, live classical/baroque music will always have the potential to do so, but the Messiah is a shooin. I have often wondered why this is so. One year at Christmastime I went with my mom to hear my dad's church choir sing the Messiah. A week or so earlier a friend of mine and a member of the choir had killed himself. The pastor mentioned him and dedicated the concert to him. I knew that when the music stared I was going to start leaking at the eyes. I hoped my mom would just assume that I was crying about my friend--because otherwise it's awfully hard to explain.

When presented with something beautiful I sob like I'm heartbroken. I used to think this was so because I was living a life with no beauty in it. Lately I've begun to wonder if maybe the reason that the Messiah makes me cry is because I can understand the lyrics and tie them to the beautiful music with no effort.

I'm not religious, but I can see the beauty and the rightness of the lyrics and how they fit to the music.

Even as I write this it seems an unlikely hypothesis. More likely I cry because the work of Handel is beautiful and the Messiah is emotionally charged--being Christmas music.

Elaboration on that theme is work for another night.

*Wonderful Counselor

Friday, November 11, 2011

Today is Veteran's Day

Today is the 93rd anniversary of the end of the Great War--Veteran's Day.

This is a holiday to honor the men and women who have fought in this country's wars and to thank them for their service.

Last year the wife of one of my colleagues died. I read in her obituary that she had been known to pay the bill for men and women in uniform if she saw them out eating at a restaurant. She did this, the obit claimed, because she loved her country. Having known the lady myself I can attest that she did it because she was an absolute sweetheart, but since reading that I have spent some time thinking about what it means to love your country or to be called to national service.

First--I personally could never be part of the armed forces because I can't be part of an organization who's goal is to kill people. Yes, I know, the army doesn't just kill people. The Corp of Engineers builds bridges and the organization as a whole can do good for the Americans who serve in it by paying for their college educations, teaching them useful skills and, in the case of career service people, giving them comrades and, well, a chance to be all that they can be.

However, I don't think that the armed forces should have a monopoly on serving their country or doing what they do because they love their country. Teachers serve their country by educating people. Doctors and nurses (and nurse's aids, social workers, radiation techs, etc.) in public hospitals serve their country. Civil engineers serve their country by designing bridges that won't fall down.

Before you ask--I am not at all about to imply that everyone serves his or her country professionally (I certainly don't) or even that everyone on the federal payroll serves his or her country (politicians and capitol hill pages? I don't think so.) I am simply trying to point out that we aught to broaden the definition of "serving your country."

It is true that the reason we thank our men and women in uniform differently than we thank our high school history teachers is that history teachers are not often shot at, nor do we require them to shoot at other people. We don't require them to leave their families for long tours of duty either. On the other hand we don't compensate them particularly well either.

I am not suggesting that we change the name of this holiday to People Who Were Willing to Be Shot at To Advance American Foreign Policy Goals Day. I am simply suggesting that we think hard about the nature of service (doing something because it needs to be done, for the benefit of the many--not because it would be profitable to do so.)

Furthermore, I have long wished that there was a way to do national service that didn't involve joining the army. Many countries have a requirement that all people server in the army for one year after college. I think that's a great idea--except for the "army" bit. All people should be required to serve their country for one year. This service should take many forms--if you're a cook you can cook for the country for a year, if you're a geek you can update government websites and answer tech support questions for (heh heh heh).

Everyone should be required at some time during their year of national service to do unskilled labor--whether it's heavy lifting or peeling potatoes. Everyone should be required to do what they do best--whether it's fixing cars or giving financial advice as well. In this way everyone will have done their part to cut down on the unpleasant chores that need to be done to keep the world spinning and everyone will have had a chance to do what they do best in the service of their country.

I admit that this is impractical and unlikely. It might even cost a country more to maintain such a program than the country would gain through its application. It's just something I've been thinking about for a while.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


A friend of mine recently opined that she (like me) was a man's woman-by which she meant that she found it much easier to work with men than women. I also often find that it is easier to work with men than with women.

What a lucky thing for me--since I work in IT in financial services (both of which tend to be heavily male.) I don't mind this most of the time--sometimes it makes things easier for me--I don't feel competitive towards my colleagues as some of the men I work with do. I can talk about XKCD comics instead of talking about royal weddings with my colleagues. But then there are moments like the one I had this afternoon, when it's not okay and I'm an alien.

This afternoon I was working with a couple of colleagues of mine in NJ. We were doing a proof of concept of me logging in remotely and setting up a new PC for someone in NJ*. I was on the phone with the guy who was getting a new PC and my colleague in NJ. It is true that they had me on speakerphone, and that they had worked together longer than I had worked with either of them, but there was something in their shared male laughter that I didn't quite take part in.

It wasn't that they had deliberately left me out of something--rather that there was a confidence and comfort to their discourse that does not, in any form, exist in my business dealings with any of my colleagues.

Upon reflection, I don't think this is a "woman who works best with men" issue--it's more of a "person who doesn't work well with others" problem.

*This was rather complicated--it involved figuring out what programs the user needed and poking around on the network in NJ looking for things that might be installation media, launching them and seeing what happened.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I am a Horse I Can Not Ride

Yesterday morning I took and failed a road test. It was humiliating—in some ways it still would have been so, even if I passed.

I arrived at the testing location and sat around with a couple of teenage boys and their parents. The representative of the driving school chatted with them. I played a balloon-popping game (obsessive and soothing at the same time) on my phone.

I did a terrible job on the test. Afterwards I sat in the car and listened as the guy from the RMV lectured me and explained to me why I’d failed. I remember hoping he’d shut up soon so that I could leave the car and get home before I started crying. By the time he was done with me I was just hoping to get out of the car before I started crying. It was like being 23 and drunk and going from telling myself "I will not throw up", downgrading to "I will not throw up until I get home" and settling for "I will not throw up until I get off the bus."

I settled for crying once I was out of sight of the school and not sobbing out loud until I got home. I walked down Dane Street with water leaking out of my eyes. I pulled out my phone and went back to playing my game on my phone (no-I’m not crying and walking down Dane Street—I’m playing a game on my phone and walking down Dane Street.)

I got home and let the rest of it out. There’s a reason I mentioned vomiting, because the experience was very similar.

Sometimes I feel like there are three layers to my consciousness—there’s the physical layer, which suffers headaches and enjoys salty snacks. The emotional layer reacts to events—sometimes in an irrational way and then there’s the third layer. This is the part of me that’s most logical and is trying to make sense of the data reported by the physical and emotional layers. This is the layer that has to decide if the head cold I have is bad enough that I should stay home from work, whether the soup needs more salt or more ginger and whether or not to heed my emotional layer when it (the emotional part of me) is screaming it’s head off about something. I don’t always feel all three layers, but yesterday morning was an occasion on which all three layers were obvious.

Yesterday morning the emotional layer of my consciousness was throwing up. I wasn’t going to be able to do anything—go out for breakfast, text my sister and tell her how it went or decide what to do next until it was done throwing up.

I must admit that sometimes I don’t like my emotional layer. Yesterday I was upset, but I was surprised that I needed to cry so much. I mean, I expected to fail my road test—I just didn’t expect to fail so…completely.

Part of me, the part of me that’s supposed to be riding/driving the rest of me, had accepted that and was already moving on to figure out where I went from there (get new school? Give up entirely? Get back on the horse that bucked me?). Another part of me was pitching a fit over the situation. This is not the first time this has happened to me. I’ve sat through a panic attack while explaining to other people that really, it was fine (or it would be in a few minutes.) The problem—or part of it—is that I’m not always able to tell when to ignore my emotional layer. I really should ignore it when it’s telling me that I’ve left my door open, or my stove on (but what if it’s right? Maybe I can check—just to be sure I’m not about to burn the building down.) I shouldn’t listen when it tells me that yes it was nice to hang out with those people—but they were only being polite. They don’t really like me. I’m not intellectual enough.

I’d like to counter-balance these examples with something positive—at the very least some instance when my emotional self had lead me to believe I have competencies I do not, but most of the time I sit around worrying that I think I have expertise that I don’t really have. Yesterday’s experience would certainly support that narrative. I thought I had a 50-70% chance of passing the driving test. I figured I’d fail because I got one or two things wrong. In reality I probably had about a 20% chance of passing, and I failed because I got everything wrong. That hurt—a lot. It made me very angry. But I was mad at the driving school for not preparing me properly—not at myself for trying something and failing.

I have a tendency not to be willing to try something unless I’m sure I can do it (partly because I react so badly to failure—see above references to vomiting.) I know that’s no healthier than being a chronic risk taker. So even though I wasn’t sure I was going to pass the road test I didn’t cancel it. I’m proud of myself for that. Obviously, I’d be prouder if I’d passed the test, but if I can’t drive safely, then they really shouldn’t give me a license to operate a motor vehicle.

What dismays my logical brain is the tendency of my emotional layer to seize up. As a consequence I do my best to minimize it’s exposure—since it’s bound to misbehave. This leads to a rather proscribed existence. It’s not that bad though. After failing my driving test I attended a zombie party and then went out on Sunday for breakfast with my fellow zombies.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It Gets Better

I did something tonight that I’d been meaning to do for a while—I watched a few “It Gets Better” videos. I have two reactions to this project—no I lied—I have three.

The first reaction is that all of these grown-ups have forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager. How well does logic work when you’re sure that the world is out to get you*? More importantly—don’t they remember all the PSAs by baseball stars, Mr T and Webster telling them not to do drugs and to talk to an adult if someone ever touched them in a way that felt icky? How did they react as children to these well-meaning videos?

My second reaction is the complete opposite of the first. It’s not just that Barack Obama made a youtube video telling kids to talk to their parents if they’re bullied—it’s that Barack Obama, Stephen Colbert, Zachary Quinto and everyone else with a web-cam and a heart made a video attempting to explain that it gets better. While individual videos may not be compelling, perhaps the sheer volume of them may be.

My third, and ultimately kind of depressing reaction is “does it really get better?” People are ass-hats. A good friend of mine once said that real life is more like high school than college. I find that statement depressing, but accurate. It’s not what you know it’s who you know (and sometimes how you dress.) And while no one’s threatened to beat me up in about a quarter of a century, I have still encountered bullies since then.

The bullies you meet in your professional life won’t harm you physically. On the other hand, they may be people you have no choice but to deal with (and on their terms.) Dealing with them is always going to be unpleasant.

However, you can bitch about the bullies you encounter to your best friends (while applying alcohol and guacamole to your lacerated nerve endings) and they will be sympathetic. They’ll say “I want to punch him in the nose!” And then you’ll feel better.

Perhaps that’s the point of the project—to tell kids who are isolated by bullying and by being different that they are not alone—they just haven’t found their co-conspirators yet.

*No, I was not a particularly troubled teenager. I went to a geek high school, so no one bullied me. But we should all admit that it’s not fun being an adolescent—even before you add bullies.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs is Dead-Now What?

I hated Apples as a kid. I found the GUI so patronizing--were they implying that their users weren't bright enough to deal with a command line interface?

I continued to hate them (but for different reasons--they crashed all the time) until I got my first real job after college working for a company in France that did PR for a Formula 1 team. True, the Macs still crashed daily, but aside from that, they were so easy to use and to hook up to other things (anyone remember AppleTalk?)

When I bought my first Macintosh computer I had a bit of an existential crisis--I'm a PC desktop support professional--was I going to be okay with using a Mac at home? I wasn't going to be able to tweak it to a faretheewell the way I could a PC. On the other hand it would "just work" and I wouldn't have to do any of the stuff I do at work in order to access the Internet, wordprocess, print and watch movies. This has proved more or less true, and I love my Mac.

I also love my iPhone. I am not gadget-crazy (for example I do not yet own an iPad.) I bought the iPhone because it became apparent to me that I really needed a device that provided the services that an iPhone did. Since then I've watched Droids develop and change, but I've never been tempted to swap my iPhone for one of them. The nicest thing anyone has ever said about one of them is that "this model might be able to give the iPhone some competition." Seriously--"might?"

And then there's the iPad. Yes, it's a giant iPod touch--but it has set the benchmark and other hardware vendors have only attempted to copy it so far. When I go to conferences now I don't see laptops anymore--I see iPads.

This is not a commercial for Apple. Steve Jobs was a control freak's control freak--I've heard stories of him visiting Apple stores to make sure that the white background color was exactly the white color he had in mind.

In business school (or for that matter in real life) I have learned that it's generally not a good idea to have a corporate structure that is so dependent on one individual, in the way that Apple was dependent on Steve Jobs. It's just plain wrong. I could go on about this at great length, but suffice to say that B school and life teach that part of the point of building up a company is so that you can go on vacation and trust that things will run in your absence. In fact, being a control freak is inefficient--because then you are the limiting reagent-the single point of failure for any transaction.

Most of the time when this happens at a company, we roll our eyes and agree that one of the owners has "Master of the Universe" syndrome and that he/she would do best to get over it.

Steve Jobs appears to have been an exception to that rule--or rather maybe he really was a Master of the Universe (as far as development at Apple is concerned.) I joke with my geek-friends that while being a control freak is not generally a good business model it works out well if you're designing hardware.

But where do we all go from here? Our tour guide to the future of mobile gadgetry has departed from this plane. Does this mean that the baton gets passed to Google?

That is somehow...unsatisfying--and not just because I hate Droids. I have learned to love Apple in the past 4 or 5 years because with Steve Jobs back they were back to kicking ass and taking names. Maybe it's because I'm a geek but I love my Apple hardware and I feel saddened that the man who provided the chutzpah to "make it so" is dead now.

I worry about the future though. Someone else needs to step up and be the man or woman who will create and show us the new most awesome thing ever the way Steve Jobs did.

Friday, September 23, 2011

When I was a Lad*

After a few years of fumbling around in various jobs in various industries, it became apparent to me that the field in which I'd do the best was IT. Not because I had any coding skillz (I'm a French Major and the only coding language I'd studied was Pascal--with a soupcon of C) but because after a few small successes (learning HTML, learning Dreamweaver, figuring out how AppleTalk work) that I'd had incidentally while doing other jobs, it came to my attention that if I wasn't scared of computers I could learn to deal with them. It was certainly better than dealing with people.

I'd worked, in various administrative capacities**, for a Formula 1 team, a car company and web development company. While working for the Formula 1 team I learned to use Dreamweaver (at the time, I had to close all the other programs on my desktop in order for the computer to have enough resources to run Dreamweaver 1.0) type-setting the copy in the French, Engilsh, German sections of the website and checking the French and English portions. At the end of this project he told me "toi aussi tu peut être web-master!" (You can be a web-master too!) At the time, I wanted to be a Formula 1 journalist--unfortunately so does half Europe.

When I got a job as a receptionist at a web-company several people saw that I am bright and tried to develop me. I learned HTML, some time doing QA, and wrote a few business proposals. While it was nice of these people to try to help me out--none of them had any follow through. They had other things to do, and the firm needed a receptionist (best not develop her too quickly or we'll have to hire and train another one!) More significantly, I started in 2000--when they were still getting business all the time. But soon it was 2001 and the phone wasn't ringing anymore. The Patriots had decided to find a new web-developer and we weren't getting any calls from EMC either.

In the mean time I noticed that the Sys Admin--who was probably not any smarter than I was and who spent most of his time un-jamming the network printer (not something you need a CS degree to do) was probably making three or four times what I made in salary.

Because this was a geek firm, people installed their own software. At some point in time I decided to start installing my own software as well (if I screwed up, it was no more than was to be expected of the receptionist.) One of the desktop scanners got jammed. The only guy who knew how to unjam it was the CEO. Since this was my boss's scanner I walked in as the CEO was cleaning it and asked him to show me how to fix it. He did so.

By Fall of 2001 the writing was on the wall for the web company. We'd had two rounds of lay-offs and the founders had quit. It was a miserable place. I'd dyed some streaks in my hair blue an taken to playing the Clash and Black Sabbath on my PC. I figured that no one could object since we had no clients.

Clearly I needed a new job, the trick was to find one that would allow me to move out of administrative duties (at which I have always been terrible) into IT. There was a small financial firm in Back Bay that wanted an Office Administrator and Webmaster. They gave me an interview.

"We need someone to take on some of the tech support here--it's mostly my business partner who deals with it." Said my soon to be boss "Obviously, if I'd hired some grandmother who could barely use a computer this wouldn't be a consideration."

He also said, and this amuses one of my best friends much "Some of our clients are people who live in Cambridge or JP and are into Socially Responsible Investing." She (my buddy who was living in JP at the time--I was living in Cambridge) always says I should have said "Some of my best friends live in Cambridge and JP." Instead I stammered something about how please I was that in spite of being a financial firm, they weren't all right-wing assholes.

I took the job as Office Administrator/tech support/web-mistress/carpenter/gardener. The firm has grown to the point where I moved into a purely technical role 4 years ago.

I accomplished this by working 6 or 7 day weeks (before the company was well off enough to offer comp time or overtime pay) going to Bunker Hill to take classes in operating systems and SQL and generally busting my ass. I was really hoping to work my way towards Director of IT, but so far I've only gotten to the point of desktop support.

Along the way I've learned a great deal about how small business operate, Windows Server 2008, how to deal with other people, ACAT and non-ACAT transfers, 201 CMR 17, smartphone support (mostly I've learned that Droids suck) and how to give a PowerPoint presentation (strictly speaking, I learned most of that in Business School.)

So. Now what?

*From HMS Pinafore

**because if you have a degree in French Literature you have to start out as an administrative assistant or a receptionist. Not because you're particularly suited for the job, but because it's an entry level position.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

On writing

I have many friends who write poetry and fiction that actually gets published. They write professionally--I write for fun.

Part of why I write is that my Mom was a consultant for the New York City Writing project. She believed in "never a day without a word." I'm pretty sure that none of my mom's creative work has ever been published, but that doesn't matter in this context. What she did for a living was encourage people to use their verbal skills better ("If you're stuck on a math problem write down what you are thinking")

What she did as a mother was encourage me to write. Because. What would she have done if I'd been dyslexic? Luckily for her I am not. I started my first journal in second grade. I decided that all of my entries should be in rhyme. That didn't last long. I discovered that poetry didn't have to rhyme. And then decided that poetry wasn't my thing*

I am a verbal. I like reading and I like writing. I write letters (e-mails) to friends I don't see and I write blog posts. I am happy to have the brain-space to do so much. What I'd really love to be able to do is write fiction. I haven't been able to do that for years.

I don't want to be published (although that would be an amusing thing to put on my CV) I just want to write creative fiction because nothing (with the possible exclusion of sex) is more fun.

Yesterday, I stopped by my buddy's place because we were supposed to have dinner together. He had Word open and was clearly working on a piece of creative fiction. He said he hadn't written much today--he got started late. But later, when I spoke with him I could see that he saw where his story was going. I am very surprised that the green envy leaking out of me did not dissolve the chair I was sitting in. I thought "he has no idea how lucky he is." And then we went to dinner.

Last night after I left the dinner party I went home and, much to my surprise, started to write a short story. I looked at what I had written last night. Yep, it was terrible.** But I don't care. Being able to write creative fiction is not my priority this fall--there are five other things standing in line before that. But, since I'm a professional desktop support analyst/network administration who needs to get into another graduate degree program, creative fiction is not likely to float to the top of the list any time soon (unless application essays count as fiction.)

So writing a bad short story amused me for an hour. This gives me hope that when I have the time I might be able to write a good short story one of these days.

In the meantime I'll just do my push-ups on this blog. Like my mom taught me to do.

*My parents friends had a baby. I didn't get to see the baby because small children who attend public schools are typhoid marys. My parents gave me a few particulars about the kid "She has brown hair and eyes." And I wrote a poem about the baby, because my parents suggested I do so. "You are not a pastel baby...bees bring you sweet, dark honey." The parents were ecstatic. They loved my metaphors. What metaphors? I'd never set eyes on the kid. This was my first lesson in how the author's intentions don't always count.

**The driver's ed teachers at a rural highschool have taken to smoking pot before their classes. The Assistant Principal's secretary keeps seeing them walking out of the same closet and assumes they're having an affair.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Tonight I called one of my former colleagues at home. She's got friends visiting Gloucester and, since she lives in North Reading (also on the north shore of MA, for those of you who are not from around here) I didn't know if she was staying with her friends who were visiting or staying at home and seeing them during the day. Her husband answered the phone. Yes, she had decamped to Gloucester to hang out with her Besties--she was having a Women's Weekend Away and Away means Away.

I talked to her husband, who I had missed talking to since my colleague left the organization, for a few minutes about work and how his oldest son had gone away to school. It was a good conversation in fact. I said I was wicked busy and he asked whether it was the good kind of busy ("yay! I have projects! they are fun! I'm getting help from other people!") or the bad kind "It's killing me me. I can see the end of my rope just barely because it's half a mile behind me.") He's an engineer--therefore he understands both kinds of busy.

Then I called my friend to recommend restaurants in Gloucester. I figured it would be easier than texting her, but also, after talking to her husband I realized that it would be nice to actually talk with her. I missed her.

We talked for a few minutes. She told me about where she was staying and took my recommendations of where to eat and shop and then she had to go to dinner.

Twas lovely. I had a happy glow in my stomach because there were people who were happy to talk with me on the phone (even if the cell phone reception in my apartment sucks.)

Here's the problem-by tomorrow morning I'll be obsessing over those conversations. Did I say the wrong thing? Were they just humoring me by taking my call? I could feel the obsessive worrying start, which is part of why I'm writing this.

I said out-loud to my apartment "What will it take for you Cantabridgienne for you to accept that..." I wasn't sure what came next. That it's okay for me to call my former co-worker and her husband (with whom I had gotten on well)? That people might be okay with talking to me on the phone? That if I was interrupting something they wouldn't *answer* the phone?

Hell, the husband actually called *me* back. If he didn't want to speak with me he wouldn't have done that--right?

I asked myself this question because I'm tired of being afraid of people. It really is tiring being so very anxious. While many of my metaphors and similes are computer related (i.e. "I feel like a processor.") clearly my brain is not a logic engine. People, friends, colleagues and former colleagues do in fact answer my e-mails, and agree to have lunch with me. Some of them even call me on the phone-and not just because they're having trouble installing Adobe Acrobat.

So what does it take for me to believe that people who haven't gone to college with me, aren't related to me by blood, or doing graduate school project work with me at the moment might want be willing (happy even) to take my calls?

Does everyone have this problem? I am sure that everyone has to deal with a certain amount of awkwardness when transitioning people that they worked with and liked into friends. Some of it involves deciding whether your former colleague is still friends with you "for business reasons."

I don't actually think any of the former colleagues that I e-mail or have lunch with occasionally are friends with me for strictly business reasons. They are still friends of mine because they are nice people. They ask my advice occasionally and I ask theirs occasionally. That's what friends do.

I guess the question I really meant to ask is "What is it going to take for you Cantabrigienne to accept that you're good enough, you're smart enough and dog-gonit people like you?"

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dork Dork Dork*

It all started with guacamole. One of the women I work with was asking me where the best place near where we work is to get guacamole so that she could snack on chips and guac. I told her to go to Trader Joe's

"Their guacamole is called something like "Avogadro's Avacado." I said (I looked it up just now--it's actually called "Avocado's Number Guacamole.)

Another guy walked into the kitchen and, overhearing our conversation said "Oh-Avogadro's Number."

"What's that?" asked my guacamole-seeking colleague.

"It's the number of molecules in a mole--right?" I answered looking at the guy who had just entered the kitchen.

"Yeah--6.02 something..?" He replied.

"Well I know it's not 273.."

"Right because -273 is 0 in Kelvin-absolute zero."

"They actually know how many molecules are in a *mole*?" Asked Ms. Guacamole looking perplexed and a bit horrified.

"'s a constant." I said. "We don't mean a *mole* as in an animal--not one of these." I said putting both hands up to my nose and wiggling my fingers to imitate a star-nosed mole.

I laughed and so did my other colleague.

"You do realize that you are laughing about a *number*!?" said Ms. Guacamole as she pulled her soup out of the microwave.

"Well yes." I said "But he has a CFA and CFP and I work in tech support. *Both* of us work in financial services. So by any definition we're already dorks, so we might as well laugh about numbers."

I don't think she got it, but as I pulled my own lunch out of the toaster I heard the conversation propagating itself down the hall. I heard someone else say "Avogadro's number--that's the number of molecules in a mole."

This is the thing I like about working with smart (dorky) people--none of us has had to know what Avogadro's number was since we were undergraduates (or high-school students.) As far as relevant knowledge for what all of us do for a living, or what we're going to make for dinner or whatever our current hobby/obsession is it's as unimportant as Lady Gaga's latest alter-ego (although most of us probably have an opinion about that too.)

But yet, when Avogadro's number comes up in conversation we can all find it on the back shelf in our heads, where we've left it since the last time we had to take a Chemistry class.

*This title comes from Strong Bad's Haiku in this

Friday, August 26, 2011

How Mom got trapped in My Sister’s Van

I went to Lynch Park with my sister and her three small children and my mother. Lynch Park has two beaches, a playground a rose garden and an ice cream stand, so it’s the perfect place to take small kids. My Mom used to take my sister and I (and all of our cousins) there when we were kids for the same reason. Unfortunately for us, Lynch Park has lately removed all their trashcans in an effort to save money. (Because allowing people to throw litter on the ground and make the place disgusting isn't going to eat into your revenue stream the way having trashcans will?)

We spent the morning on the beach, and aside from the part where my smallest nephew decided he was afraid of seaweed, we had an enjoyable morning. We ordered take-out from Dom’s Trattoria in Beverly Farms and ate the take out at a picnic table. Because there were no trash cans Mom and I took the pizza boxes and plates back to the car to throw out in my trash. Here is where the problem arose.

We got stuff into the trunk, but then Mom wanted to put my niece’s shorts (which had gotten wet) into the car to dry so that my niece could wear them later. Mom pulled on the handle of one of the back doors to the mini-van and the car started crying. “Now we’re going to have to go get your sister.” Said Mom. I didn’t want to walk all the way up the hill to where my sister was, because then I’d have to oversee the three small children while she walked out to the parking lot. Also, the car would be crying and using up its battery the whole time this took, so I called my sister to ask for help. Unfortunately, she wasn’t answering the phone. I kept calling her.

After another 5 minutes of trying to get doors opened, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. I don’t drive—but I troubleshoot machines for a living. I asked for the electronic key fob. I pushed all the buttons on it (luckily for us, this key fob did not have a panic button which sets off the car’s alarm.) When I hit the button for close and lock all the doors (I assume-the key fob is a bit worn so the icons convey less information than they originally did) the car stopped crying. But now my 70-year-old mother is trapped in the back seat and the back doors won’t open (when she tried to open them the car started crying again.) She was uninterested in climbing back into the front seat to go out the two doors that work.

So I did the thing that made the most sense to me. I sat in the driver’s seat and turned the car on. “Do not turn the car on!” Said Mom.

“Mom, if I’m going to figure out what’s wrong with the car I have to sit in the Command Center.” (A friend of mine laughed her ass off when I described the driver’s seat as the “Command Center” but I think my metaphor was not too wrong.) I had unhappy machine. In order to figure out why it was unhappy, I turned it on and went to the place where all the information was displayed.

“Turn the car off!!” I really don’t know what she was thinking—*I* know I can’t drive—I didn’t plan on solving the problem by taking the car for a spin. “Turn the car..!! Oh. It’s in Drive. Put it in Park.”

“How do I do that?”

“Move the lever—no not that lever—the other one. Up one. No up one more.” My mother has a Master’s degree in Education, but apparently this does not apply when Teaching How To Operate a Motor Vehicle.

“So..the doors wouldn’t open because the car was in dive?” I asked.
“You didn’t put the car in Park when you ‘parked’ it Mom?”

It was at that point I heard my phone saying “To replay this message press 1.” So the whole episode was caught on my sister’s voicemail.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


On Friday morning, I was discussing Frankenstein with a good friend of mine over breakfast. We were in Sugar Magnolias,in Gloucester awaiting one of the best breakfasts to be had in Massachusetts. Now, my buddy Mike does not like Frankenstein where as I, well it will be hard for me to say I *like* it (which I will explain more about in a minute) but I think the book is very important and as a Sci Fi fan I think he aught to respect it more. Consequently I bring Frankenstein into the conversation and wave it in front of his face whenever I think there is an opportunity to make him think better of the book. I was bringing it up in this instance because I had asked him about the most recent Planet of the Apes movie which he had gone to see and which he had enjoyed. When he described the plot, it sounded remarkably like the plot of Frankenstein and I asked how he could still hate the book, when this enjoyable movie had the same plot.

That my buddy Mike will continue to engage me in discussions of Frankenstein, instead of shutting me up with a withering glare or by simply saying that I don't know what I'm talking about is a kindness given that 1) he is a professor of rhetoric and I'm a network administrator and 2) as became apparent in our most recent exchange he has read the book more recently than I have.

I don't remember what age I was when I first read Frankenstein, but I remember that I got the book by ordering it from Scholastic through my school. When I was a kid, before the advent of, Scholastic and other publishers of children's books would distribute catalogs through schools. The catalogs were age-appropriate so that a 4th grader would not see the same catalog as a 1st grader. A kid would get a catalog and an order form from his/her teacher and take it home. The kid and his/her parents would decide what books to order and bring the order form and a check back to the teacher. A few months later, the books would arrive.

I wanted Frankenstein because I was fascinated by horror and occult books. When the thin volume arrived I was disappointed because it said "abridged" on the cover. Even as a grade-schooler I saw no point in reading abridged books. I don't know what I actually expected the plot to be--I only remember that having discovered an interest in ghoulish literature, I was delighted to see a book that I knew (even at the age of 8 or 9) was a classic work of horror in my catalog.

I was disappointed and shocked. This was the saddest book I had ever read. I hated it, because it made me so sad. Why did Victor Frankenstein suddenly hate his own creation? It wasn't horrible to him when he was sewing dead limbs together (which I personally, would have found gross) but once it was alive he despised and feared it. Why would he not, once his creation had come to him and begged him for a wife not give it to him? His creation merely asked for a companion.

When I discovered that I had to read the book in 9th grade English I was dismayed--I hated that book. I have not reread the book since then. Why then am I forever bringing this book, which I hated in (let's say) 4th grade and again in 9th grade into the conversation?

Frankenstein made a big impression on me. At the time I first read it I was simply horrified by how stupid and cruel people could be--even smart ones like Dr. Frankenstein. But as I've read more science fiction, I have come to the conclusion that Frankenstein is important because it is one of the first pieces of science fiction. The story is important because although science changes and the manner of writing books changes (epistolary novels have fallen out of fashion) the story is still relevant. I realize that I am not the first person to have made this connection--but I made it on my own without the guidance of a professor or anyone else (since most of the people I know who have read the book prefer, like Mike, not to discuss it.)

My undergraduate degree is in French Literature--not English Literature. If,like my buddy Mike, I'd had to read Frankenstein in college and spend hours discussing, and writing papers on, whether Frankenstien's fear of his creation had it's roots in Pygmalion or whether he (Frankenstein) was trying to be God by creating new life, or whether the whole book was really about how people were afraid of science and scientists I'd probably hate the book too.

Instead I've come to my own conclusions about Frankenstein. They range from "why not just pick some guy who died of a heart attack and replace the heart--instead of building a whole new being" and "well, actually it would never work because once the brain dies, if you reanimate it, it will be with severe lack of function" "The real monsters are the normal humans" and "If you're into reanimating corpses, make sure you have stomach--not just curiosity."

That I think is the real point of the book, and it's one that is still relevant. If you are creating a monster, have some plans for what to do with it once you've created it. Have some sympathy for your monster

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What I have been doing a lot of lately

It's 10 PM on a Tuesday and I'm pacing around my apartment having several conversations with myself. Most of them have to do with what I need to do at work over the next few days.

I have been very busy lately at work. I have been busier with straight-up work (as opposed to work-and-school) than I have ever been excepting the 12 day week I worked in Winter 2010 when we moved our environment to new servers.

I like being busy. I like learning new things (and I have certainly learned a boat-load of new things in the past few months*.) But I am overwhelmed. I feel like a processor in a computer. I move all day and cannot say at the end of the day what I have done (partly because my short term memory is shot, but also because I feel like I spend all day answering requests for data that someone else has to process.) I've become afraid of going into the kitchen for coffee because some staff member might corner me with a problem they're having with a printer or our Document Management System or worse, a problem that a client is having accessing our online client vault. I feel bad about this.

At the risk of ranging into Christian metaphors--the user community is my flock and I am their shepherd.** Or to put it another way, they are *my* clients and when they ask me for help I would like them to see my willing, helpful face as opposed to my "whaddayouwantnow-I'm bizy" face.

It's times like this that I wish I had some sort of partner. I can't explain everything that's going on at work to my friends and I can't express everything that I feel to my co-workers. I wish I had someone who could listen with a sympathetic ear and provide advice "Look into the SQL Management Console" or alternatively "Never touch the SQL Management Console again."

However, the technical problems are not as worrisome as the "people" problems. Technical problems can be hammered out, usually by speaking with software and hardware vendors. Technical problems are matters of electrons, resistors, conductors and the software that was written to make these things all work in concert. I cannot imagine that the ways in which we are trying to make our software work have never been though of before, so somebody must be able to make them work.

Working, as I am now, on IT projects all the time I had assumed that once we had gotten a blessing from the owners I would be working with geeks--INTJ types like me and that would make everything work smoothly. Sadly, no. I don't understand why.

Here I can't go into the details, because it's private, but suffice to say that people, who I had known for years to be sure to think "x" had suddenly decided to think "y."

I know that large technical projects are rarely completed on time and within scope (70% are not according to my Project Management professor Fall term.)

I am beginning to take a cynical point of view. I think of two things that people have told me. The first is my best friend on advising me on how people in New England drive "think of the least logical-the stupidest--way that people will behave and expect it and you'll be alright." The second thing that comes to mind with this current project is something a friend of mine in high-school said "My mom says that the number of teenagers present is the inverse square of the number of brains present" (assuming I stated that correctly 2 teenagers - 1/2^2 or 1/4 brains present.)

If anyone is actually reading this post I apologize for being vague and rambling. The point of this post was more to scratch a boil on my brain than to make any sense.

*to the point that I've had bad dreams about SQL 2008 Management Console and Microsoft Exchange
**Only in terms of technology. It is for others to decide everything from standards of customer service, trading workflows and financial planning workflows.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Perfect Storm

"When the first involuntary breath occurs most people are still conscious, which is unfortunate, because the only thing more unpleasant than running out of air is breathing water. At that point...the drowning begins in earnest.*"

It's sentences like these that initially kept me from reading Sebastian Junger's _The_Perfect_Storm. I have a healthy fear of water. As far back as I can remember I've had dreams of sinking boats or being swept out to sea. I put this down to growing up on an island (even if it was the Island of Staten) and spending a large amount of my childhood at the beach. Don't get me wrong--I love the ocean, but It is large and I am small. I had no interest in _The_Perfect_Storm because I thought it would give me nightmares and make me afraid to set foot in any water deeper than a clogged-drain puddle for about 6 months (have I mentioned that I have a lively, morbid imagination?)

In addition to my original fear of the text, I have the book snob's abhorrence for any book that has been around for a while but is suddenly popular because It Was Made into A Movie or Oprah Read It.

But I got over all of that about two weeks ago. My best friend and I were perusing her library. We are bibliophiles and we shop each other's libraries shamelessly. We are also former booksellers--so we hand sell our own books to each other.**

"Read _The_Perfect_Storm." She said.

I responded by saying that I hadn't read it because it scared me.

"Oh but it's fascinating! No one knows what actually happened to the boat, so he fills the gaps with all sorts of other details about the industry--he writes *around* the unknown parts. You can skip the part where he explains what drowning feels like."

I didn't pick the book up then, but after her description I was hooked. I picked the book up two weeks later. And she was right--it is fascinating.

The book is about the last few weeks of the Andrea Gail--a swordfishing boat that sailed out of Gloucester. I *love* Gloucester. I love the beaches, I love Stage Fort Park, I love having breakfast at Sugar Mags or Zeke's (where the cook is a woman and they do toads in the hole and grits). I love watching the boats come through the narrow canal where the draw bridge is, I love hiking in Dog Town and going out on the breakwater to watch fishermen haul in stingrays--still alive and jumping, I love Bass Rocks, Destino's subs and I even love the Ugliest Guest House on the Promenade.

My Gloucester is not the same Gloucester that the characters in _The_Perfect_Storm encounter. They are fishermen. I am a Bougie from Beverly who's there for Sugar Mags and the beach.

A week ago I was in Gloucester with my Mom and my Aunt (who had read _The_Perfect_Storm_.) As we drove past The Crow's Nest my Aunt asked if my buddies and I ever went in there. "No. We mostly come here for breakfast at Sugar Mags. We would be out of place there. The Crow's Nest is a place for other people-not for us." Writing this down it sounds snobby, but really--it's a fisherman's bar and we are not fishermen. If I went there with my buddies the locals would think that we were either Perfect Storm tourists or Bougies who were slumming/looking to cruise a sailor.

Sebastian Junger has done a good job of making the denizens of the Crow's Nest-people who would otherwise fly under my radar (and probably yours--if you're being honest) sympathetic characters. The people in the book are swordfishermen. Swordfishing involves going out to sea in dangerous conditions and working 20 hours a day doing dangerous and/or gross work for a month at at time.

"Baiting has all of the glamor of a factory shift and and considerably more of the danger." ***

Baiting involves putting squid or other bait on a hook on a long line along with buoys, and radio transmitters see here for details. The fishermen put about $20,000 of gear in the ocean every time they set a long line, which is to say every night they are out.**** Also, it's apparently very easy for the man who sets the bait on the hook to get caught on the hook and pulled out to sea. The men who do this work are often high-school drop outs and men who owe a lot of money (for child support as crew member Bobby Shatford does.) The author does not romanticize his characters--he gives enough spoken dialogue from surviving family members to make them human.

And the details are fascinating--everything from the physics of ocean waves to the way that boats call out that they are entering Canadian waters and all their fishing gear is stowed.

My obsessive little heart loved the fact that every time the fishing boats pull into port they overhaul the engine. "Imagine" I thought "Downtime to do a complete overhaul before putting a system back into production. I wish I could do that."

In the end I even read the parts that describe drowning. I found the book a good read not just because it was fascinating, but because the logic of the narrative is so obvious. The author gives definitions of a number of objects--his characters (through their surviving family members' words) and nautical terms (down-flooding, long-line fishing etc.) and then constructs his narrative with these objects. He gives examples of what might have happened to the Andrea Gail and then reinforces his credibility with accounts of what actually happened to several other people who experienced the perfect storm and lived to tell about it.

So I give the book two thumbs up.

Once I took the Boston Harbor Ferry out to one of the islands for a day trip. When you take the Boston Harbor Ferry, they narrate your trip. They point out the islands and other places of interest as they pass them (including Deer Island's ginormous sewage digesting tanks.) One of the places they pointed out the pier where they hold a fish market at Fuck You O'clock in the morning. It's there that the restauranteurs go to buy what will be their "Catch of the Day." I like to imagine that as a place where men and women in Armani suits from Legal Sea Foods, Number Nine Park and Locke Ober go to talk with men like Captain Billy Tyne of the Andrea Gail--fresh off a voyage in a flannel shirt and jeans. They would discuss subjects of mutual interest--the quality of fish and the Sox over a cup of coffee.

This, I admit, is a romantic fantasy. Captain Tyne sold his fish on the pier at Gloucester to seafood distributors and Legal and the other restaurants probably deal with those distributors, but I like my fantasy because I like the idea of legitimate business people-Suits-having to bargain with the fishermen and giving them a fair amount of money for the fish that they worked so hard to pull out of the ocean.

*_The_Perfect_Storm_ Sebastian Junger, 1997 page 180 in the mass market edition.
**If you're a bibliophile the need to get people to read books that they would enjoy is baked into your OS (Operating System.)

***Page 64
****Page 83-84

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Walk in my Favorite Ocean

I love when the tide is out and I can walk far out on the lovely waved sand. In cold weather I'll put on water proof shoes and walk out as far as I can. In warm weather I'll wear short shorts and walk from Dane Street Beach to Lynch Park Beach.

There haven't been many beach days for me this year--it's been rainy or I've been busy on weekends. The few beach days I've had have been high-tide days. There's nothing wrong with a high tide day--those are for sitting on the beach and reading a book while baking and then quickly dipping myself when I get too hot. Low tide beach days are for walking over the whale road from one beach to another.

Walking on the whale road means walking over parts of the ocean that are generally not visited by people--that's part of what makes it fun. I see lovely manes of seaweed and strange things that feel off of boats and old lobster traps. Also, usually the water is clear because people haven't been walking in it.

Unfortunately for me, I showed up at the tail end of low tide, so many people had been walking in the water, so it was rather murky. I took my flip flops off because it was annoying trying to walk with them on, but that was before I got to the parts of the ocean that were murky. Still, I got to see a few interesting things for my troubles--I saw an old lobster cage that had seaweed in three different colors growing on it. I saw a seagull with a whole skate in its mouth. A whole skate.

That was the end of my walk being any fun. My brain likes to find things to be afraid of. I have an overactive imagination and I'm twitchy and obsessive. This fear-loving part of my brain does not listen to reason. "There could be skates in the water" it says. "If there was one that the seagull found--there's one that your foot could find. You can't see where you step, and they blend in with the sand." It does no good to remind this part of my brain that in 50+ years members of my family have been beach-bumming and sea-bathing in Beverly no one has ever been attacked by a skate.

It doesn't matter. I am suddenly sure that I'm going to be the outlier--the one who stepped on a skate. I can't see my feet and suddenly I need to get to the rocks where the seagull who was eating the skate was. Not being able to see my feet is problematic, even if I wasn't suddenly afraid of skates, because there are rocks, and seaweed (which is slippery and I'd prefer not to have an emergency seating because I've got my phone with me) and possibly broken beer bottles. I remind myself that I've only seen dead skates in the water by the beach. "When have you seen live skates? Only on the break-water in Gloucester--that is deep water." That memory doesn't help because I remember how the skates looked twitching about and how the fishermen avoided the skates tails. I only picture my foot landing on one and it twitching about to sting me.

I arrive at the rocks and clamber up. I have ruined a perfectly good walk by letting my panic monster have something to panic about. Well no, not ruined--I walked half a mile at least through the water before I freaked out and I still have the rocks to scramble over and the tide pools to admire. As I clamber over the rocks I watch an old man with a fishing pole take his grand daughter out into the water. "That guy has spent much more time than I have on the beaches of Beverly and he wouldn't be bringing his grand daughter out if he expected her to step on a skate." I told myself. But logic doesn't work on the panic monster. So I stayed on the rocks until I got to Lynch Park.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Enjoying the Company of Women

Tonight I was scheduled to have drinks with a friend of mine in Jamaica Plain (JP.) I had been meaning to do this for a while, because I miss going to JP (James' Gate, JP Seafood, Wonder Spice Cafe.) I love JP--sometimes when I lived in Cambridge I'd go to dinner there by myself, but that's kind of a ridiculous undertaking now that I live in Beverly. Furthermore, this friend of mine had been coming up to Beverly a lot and I wanted to return the favor (let me do the traveling instead) and I wanted to meet her girlfriend.

My friend emailed me today and suggested that since the weather was so nice we should just have dinner and a few beers at her place outdoors. Twist my arm, why don'tcha? I hadn't seen the house she bought last year and while I missed James' Gate dinner outside was more appealing. I bought beer at the liquor store by the T stop and showed up laden with bags of beer and a bouquet of flowers. I found my friend and her girlfriend and another woman sitting outside. They had been gardening all afternoon, so they were wearing shorts and bandanas. I was wearing business casual drag, but I didn't feel out of place because they were welcoming and friendly. I said I'd keep the bag from the liquor store because the Internet Order Fairy had visited me today.

I'd bought a dress from JCrew and had stuffed it into my handbag along with half a focaccia and the soap I bought at the farmer's market. "Oh! What did you get?" asked one of the women who had just met me for the first time."Model it!" I pulled out the dress and held it out. "Oh yes--that's nice!" "That line will cover a multitude of sins!" It was a black A line dress with no sleeves-I plan on wearing it to work with one of my ridiculous cardigans. And I bought it because the design of the dress has a flattering line (covers a multitude of sins.)I hadn't even had my first beer yet and already I liked these women.

My friend gave me a tour of her house. "There are two cats." She said. At my feet was the biggest cat I'd ever seen--stretched out to allow as much of her body as was possible to be on the cool floor "Are there really two cats or did this one eat the other cat?" I asked. She snerked. The house was lovely. There were two kitchens (there are multiple people living there) and there are mermaids on her shower curtains.

We ordered pizza from Bella Luna. I'm lactose intolerant, so I can deal with goat cheese but not cow cheese. My friend spent 10 minutes trying to explain how we wanted a pizza with just goat cheese on a quarter of it("It doesn't have to be perfect--we don't have a protractor.") while the rest of us giggled. The pizza arrived as requested 1/4 sans mozzarella. I told my friend that she had used up her pizza karma for this month. All ate pizza and sighed happily.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Jackie Chan

Today I assisted as my friend E moved her cat Jackie Chan (or Ms. Chan, as we often call her) to her new house. My friend E has two cats and a dog. She and her husband moved most of their possessions the dog and one cat over to their new house last night. Today we were moving the other cat.

Ms. Chan is one of the cats that hide. I joke with my friend E that Ms. Chan is an odalisque, because she's generously proportioned, she likes to hide and she has eyes that would not be out of place on a Turkish slave girl. Also, she reclines on her back like a Playboy model (another friend of mine calls her "Porno Kitty" for this reason.)

Although I've known Ms. Chan for several years and have been a frequent guest at her house the extent of her familiarity with me is that she will sit near me and purr (provided I don't touch her) or, lately, if she's in a good mood, I can hold out a hand and she'll rub her head against it.

Yesterday, her owners moved most of the furniture out of the house where she lives (including the cabinet under which her basket is) and didn't come back until this afternoon. That was bound to mess with her little kitty head a bit. Later today we came back to move her and she sensed that Something Was Going On. She went and hid under the couch. To get Ms Chan into the cat carrier, my friend E told me to leave the room and put a bowl of yogurt out. It took 5 minutes of coaxing before Ms. Chan would come out and I heard a few "Ow!"s before she was unceremoniously dumped into the cat carrier. I thought "this is not likely to improve her outlook or make her a friendlier kitty." And I felt sad for her because she didn't actually get to eat any yogurt.

"She's going to cry all the way to the new house." My friend E told me. "You and Ms.Chan can make angry cat noises through the whole ride!" offered E's husband M. We gathered up all Ms. Chan's stuff--her catnip and her litter box and her bed full of enough cat hair to knit another cat and drove across town. E drove, I held the cat box. Not surprisingly, Ms. Chan complained the whole ride. Because she is a big cat, I could feel her changing positions in the box. We spoke soothing words. I meyowed with her. We got her to her new space, set up the food dish, water dish and litter box and let her out.

It's fun watching cats explore new spaces. Her tail was twitching the whole time. She found a tiny crawl space she could sneak herself into (we got her out and blocked it) and then went to "hide" behind things left on the floor under a desk.

I went in to check on her before I went home for the evening and she not only rubbed her head against my hand but actually let me pet her. Well, maybe even thought I'm not her favorite person, I'm at least familiar.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Today, For Example

I knew it was going to be a long day. How did I know that? Well, as I have mentioned a few times my employer is in the process of going through a merger. They’ve hired a woman with a CFP® and an MBA to help them integrate the two firms—I’ll call her Marie. She works out of both offices (Massachusetts and New Jersey). I enjoy working with her, but the weeks that she is in Boston are always busy, full weeks for me. This week this was doubly true because some of the integration projects have moved beyond planning and into implementation*.

As is often the case, when I find I have 5 things to do in a day I’m probably lucky to accomplish 2 or 3. At the beginning of the week Marie and I had 15 things we needed to get done together. As the week progressed I started to feel nervous about there still being 6 or 7 things left on the list. Yesterday at about 5 we made a list of stuff that still needed to get done (not just because it’s easier for us to do it when we’re in the same office but because it needed to get done, but because if we didn’t get them done other things would be delayed.) In addition to these 5 things that we needed to do, she had 5 meetings today and I had 3. One of these meetings was a kick-off meeting for a project I was supposed to lead—which is its own special kind of Hell. That’s how I knew today was going to be a long day.

I prepared for my long day. Last night I went to Harvard Bookstore to replenish my supply of mystery books. When I got home I picked out clothes to wear—a shirt with a collar and smart skirt and heeled sandals. Some days it’s important to dress comfortably and some days it’s important to dress well. People do take you more seriously when you’re dressed well, but more importantly you take yourself more seriously when you are well dressed (my colleagues in New Jersey would not be able to see how I was dressed over the telephone, but that didn’t matter).

I got up early and took an earlier train into Boston. I was both tired and wide-awake at the same time, with my stomach tied in knots. This is not a pleasant combination, but as I walked from Back Bay Station I reminded myself that while this was going to be a long day I am very, very good at managing to get multiple things done while feeling stressed out (as my coworkers and B school colleagues could attest, I do some of my best work while well dressed and jumpy) so while it wouldn’t be fun to be me today I’d still get through it all. This is not a small point.

Unfortunately for me, my Super Power is working very well in a pressure cooker. I didn’t have time to obsess over how I was going to deal with the kick-off meeting for my first inter-office project. I had to overnight the hard drive with our data on it to the outsourced IT partner, discuss the 7 things I and Marie needed to get done, call a vendor and have a difficult conversation, and papermail signed contracts to another vendor. The meeting went badly (as I knew it would—I was presenting something that I expected to be unpopular) but hey—on to the next meeting (with some of the same people—equally unfruitful).

The final meeting that Marie and I had today was with our new phone service provider. I work in a jargon heavy industry. We write IPSs (Investment Policy Statements) for our clients. We do RMDs/MRDs (Required Minimum Distributions ) from IRAs. We have a DMS (Document Management System) a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and a PMS (Portfolio Management System) and I work in the IT department so I have a copy of 201 CMR 17 (Massachusetts data privacy law) tacked to my cubicle wall and talk to my vendors about our DNS (Domain Name Server) and our VPN (Virtual Private Network) so when I say that telecom providers are the most acronym-happy people I’ve ever dealt with, I think that statement has some weight. Worse, they pronounce their acronyms. POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) is “pots” and FOC “Firm Order Commitment” is fock. This confuses things even more—I don’t tell my IT vendor that our “dennis” (DNS) is messed up and we don’t advise our clients to set up “Iras.”

So, after a long day of meetings, when Marie and I joined our last meeting of the day and the telecom happy people kept talking about the FOC date (fock date) what were we to do but giggle into our hands? It didn’t help that their participants on the conference call kept dropping the call and having to come back in (aren’t these guys the Telephone Company? Why did we hire them, exactly?)

I left work feeling like most of my brain had been replaced with tofu, but that I’d still had a productive day. FSM help me, I’ve got to have another such day tomorrow.

*I’m being vague about this because I’m feeling paranoid about what I can and can’t say about work on the inter-webs.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

This is 2011 not 1911-a rant

And I live in Beverly--not Horseshoe Bend ID or St. Petersburg in Russia. So why is the train service so unreliable?

Today I got on the 5:40 commuter whale train to Newburyport and the train left North Station, traveled about half a mile and then sat for 20 minutes. At first they told us that the previous train had left late, and so we were being held so that we wouldn't have to ride right behind it. This narrative is suspect, since the previous train didn't stop at the first 3 stops--it runs express to Salem. My seatmate was a lady who felt like talking a bit. We discussed the situation and I said "Well at least they're not backing the train into North Station, making us all get off and get on another train." (This happened to me this winter, but I'll say more on that subject later.)A few minutes later, the train started backing up. A male voice said "This is not a good sign." My seatmate and I laughed, because well, it wasn't a good sign.

Now they told us that there were electrical problems and we'd have to take an alternate route but "there is no problem with this train." Eventually we started moving again. We made it all the way to Charlestown before the train stopped again. We were stopped on a bridge. The surrounding area was industrial stuff and swamp. We were stopped for long enough that I wondered if they were going to make us get out (and how? Where would we debark?) The next announcement claimed that because of the weather (lightning storms) there were electrical problems and that was why we weren't moving but "We are doing paperwork so that'll get us moving soon." Both my seatmate and I were mystified as to how "paperwork" was likely to improve the situation. Finally we more or less started moving.

But this is not an isolated incident. This winter, when I got to the commuter rail station I felt like I might as well be living in Horseshoe Bend in 1911 as far as the train situation went "Yes there will be a train. Sometime today." When I got to North Station one evening all the trains on the board were listed as "Delayed." Yes, there was a lot of snow, but this is Massachusetts, where "a lot of snow during the winter months" is an expected condition. Shouldn't the people who run the T and the Mass Bay Commuter Rail expect this and plan accordingly*?

On one of the evenings when all the trains were delayed, I fell in with another comrade from Beverly. We both noted that some of the trains (our in particular) had changed from "Delayed" to "information coming soon." That's nice. Our train's not just delayed-it's Wicked Fucking Delayed. The announcer kept assuring us that they were bringing "new equipment" out on the track. To me "equipment" is, power drills, tape measures, screw drivers, anti-static wrist bands, hack-saws, slide rulers, calculators, paint brushes--tools that you can hold in your hand to do...whatever you plan to do--not trains. (Which is what they meant.) My buddy and I laughed about the "new equipment."

But seriously. I live in the US. We were once proud of our railroads. They were once one of the things that Made This Country Great. Now, I live on a rail line that has a bridge that was built in the 1800s and so gets stuck open (because it hasn't occurred to anyone these past 200 years to modernize it?) The last time I took the train to New York I booked Acela tickets both ways, by my train broke down on the way home in New Haven, so they put all of us on the Peasant Train that was across the tracks (the Peasant Train stops every 50 feet between New York and Boston and they are still using the same cars that they were using when I was in high school) so I rode from New Haven to Boston sitting in the aisle next to the toilets. I didn't write and complain because, well, it wasn't Amtrak's fault--strictly speaking.

My parents went to Italy last year. Meaning no disrespect to my Italian friends, my impression of Italy (while I was living in France last decade) was that it was not the most efficiently run state("oh you sent it by post to Italy? Well maybe it will get there, eventually.") However, my parents (who don't speak Italian) were able to buy tickets--with seat assignments--on a train that came on time and delivered them to where they wanted to go (Ravenna.) They were very impressed by the efficiency of the Italian railroad.

I was pleased to hear that they were impressed and that Italy had an efficiently run railroad. At the rate things are progressing in the US, I expect that somebody I talk with soon will be impressed by the Iraqui** railroad, as compared to ours.

It makes me angry that our rail infrastructure is such a bad state--not just because I use it to commute to my job or go to New York to visit my relatives--but on General Fucking Principle!

It is true that the railways did not start in the US---the first railroad was in the UK--but as I've said above, our railways were one of our achievements as a country. I don't know the history of how they were removed from private hands and made a public service, but it is shameful the state they are it as compared to other countries. When I lived in Paris I could get to London in less time and with less headaches than it takes me to get from Boston to New York. When I came back to the US and heard about the Acela trains they were planning to start using I was thrilled to death. But, the trains could not go TGV speed because the tracks were in a bad state.

I am not a politician, but I really don't understand what the payout is in *not* investing more in our railroad infrastructure. I have heard politicians moan about how Amtrak is not turning a profit, but isn't the point of making something a public service removing the profit motive? The Beverly Police Force is not earning a profit. I'm not suggesting that we defund them.

I work in Boston, so (even when I lived in Cambridge) showing up an hour late and saying "The T" is perfectly acceptable. But I feel that by not bothering to be reliable the T--whether it's the Red Line, the 39 Bus or the Commuter Rail is showing contempt for it's riders. "The T--where the Hell are you going in such a big hurry?"

*This really seems obvious to me--I did not need my business school professors to explain planning for expected conditions to me. I work in financial services. I know that quarter ends (and even more so year ends) and tax time are busy times. I plan my work around these times---I don't suggest that we roll out new software in December or in April. Whenever possible I do preventative maintenance before crisis times. I'm not a genius and this is not a new idea.

**Yes, Iraq--that country we invaded a decade or so ago where people still don't always get electricity or clean water

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Navel Gazing Again

Yesterday my boss assigned me a project and told me that I needed to "stay focused" on it. While I often roll my eyes at unsolicited advice (particularly from management) this suggestion highlighted something I've been thinking of for a while.

I work hard (which is why suggestions on how to do my job irritate me) but I don't always "work smart." As far as focusing goes, I'm very good at concentrating intensely on whatever is in front of me--whether it's a client that can't log into our vault to see his/her statements, cleaning the mildew off of my shower curtain, reading my book on the T or editing a paper for school. What I'm not so good at is dealing with anything with a due date later than next Thursday.

Much like my tendency to panic, while I'm sure most of this is innate, it has probably been exacerbated by working in a small business environment since college. Small businesses are lucky if they can manage strategic planning instead of just moving from crisis to crisis. And while it's nice to know that even if I'm freaking out I can perform well, in order to succeed as a human it would be helpful to have some long term planning skills.

My own inability to think beyond next Thursday is also, I suspect, partly due to my fear of failure. On the whole, my inability to deal with long term projects has been a problem. When I would think of applying to grad schools or learning to drive any time in the past 12 years, the project always seemed too big or too complicated. So for a long time I couldn't manage anything more complicated that "do the laundry" or "upgrade the server and support the result." These are both necessary things, but as a grown up, I should be able to do more than react, play "what could possibly go wrong?" and think beyond nest week. While I will always be best in the here and now, I've come up with ways of dealing with larger endeavors.

No one was more surprised than I was when I actually got into an MBA program--not because I'm stupid, but because it was the culmination of a long process that was entirely self-motivated. No mentor, manager or teacher was checking in with me--I had to make myself jump through all of the hoops. I had friends who helped me (and very helpful they were!) but I had to make myself go. I succeeded by 1) frightening myself into believing I needed to get a graduate degree and 2) dividing the project into smaller bits (parts that didn't involve thinking beyond next Thursday.) First there was the GMAT project, then there was the recommendations project, then there was the essays project (this last involved three friends sitting on me while I wrote them in Gulu Gulu and one of the three editing what I'd written.)

Now, a year and a half later I have the Driver's Licence/Car project. There is a car sitting in my parents' drive way. It is my sister's former car. It's her former car because after having her third kid she needed to upgrade to a minivan (or start making her husband ride in the trunk.) The longer the car sits in my parents' driveway, the more likely it is to become a Car Shaped Object, as opposed to a Car. Since moving out of Cambridge, I've been meaning to get my license, but it's always seemed like too much hassle to learn to drive (and oh, by the way I have a project due for work/school next week.) So this Summer the only classes I'm taking are driving classes. Is learning to drive still a big scary project? Yeah, kinda. Do I have a plan for it? Yes I do and it's not anything that I need to think farther than next Thursday to execute.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Les Miz

It is rare for me to encounter a novel that works out better as a Broadway musical than it does as a novel. I'm the sort of difficult individual who will *not* see the movie made out of the book until I have read the book first. This is because I hold the book as a superior interpretation of whatever the author had to express. When one sees the movie made from the book one sees the director's (and script-writer's) interpretation of the author's work--so it's a few degrees of separation from the original. I admit this is a bit pig-headed of me and it has made people mad at me but really--if the book was that good shouldn't I just read it--instead of seeing the movie first?

This doesn't mean I won't see the movie, or the play or the musical--it just means I want to read the book first. With Les Misérables, I really had no opportunity to read the book before I encountered the musical. It opened on Broadway in the 80s--when I was way too young to be reading books that were 2.5 inches thick. My voice teacher in junior high had taught me to sing "Castle on a Cloud*" even before my parents bought the soundtrack (I preferred my voice teacher's suggested cadence to the Broadway version.) I was studying French in middle school, so I was intrigued by the idea of a French musical, and all of New York was crazy about Les Miz. But I didn't see the show until I'd at least taken a stab at reading the book (in English). I failed to work my way through the book at my first attempt at age 14. Of course, at that time I had not yet learned to love big, thick novels and 19th century novels in particular.

I saw the musical some time when I was in high school. We got student tickets and ended up in the second row. I loved every minute of it.

As I've mentioned above, I love 19th century literature and thick novels. I love Dickens and Tolstoy and I also love a lot of what Victor Hugo wrote (I read a bunch of of it--starting with "Notre Dame de Paris" aka "The Hunchback of Notre Dame") while living in Paris, but I found "Les Misérables" to be impenetrable. It was the only book I left in Paris. I see that there's a story to be told-but M. Hugo fails to make it interesting--which is why it's the only novel I've read that actually makes a better musical than a novel.

Part of the reason that the book is so hard to read, in my opinion is because the author intentionally leaves Les Miz-the miserable ones--characterless-so it's hard to sympathize with them. Furthermore, this is a miserabilist novel--designed to show the unhappiness of others. That makes it less-than-fun-to read.

I got into an argument about the book with the former proprietor of Ave Victor Hugo books in Boston (lots of used French books.) The proprietor was into 19th century authors and when I said that I liked Victor Hugo but *not* "Les Misérables" he just got a superior look on his face and said that I just wasn't ready to understand the book yet. It's been 10 years since we had this conversation, and I think I can safely say he was full of shit. I like the concepts that Victor Hugo wanted to present to the world-but he didn't do a good job of presenting them. He did such a bad job, that we must be grateful to the Broadway stage for doing a better job of presenting his ideas than he did himself.

*I also made her teach me "I Dreamed a Dream." She didn't want to--"No sweetie-you are too young for that one"--but when I sang it for her she admitted I had a point--it worked out because I was so young.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bonk by Mary Roach

It’s been a while since I reviewed a book so, dear readers, I would like to recommend to you _Bonk_, by Mary Roach. This book is subtitled “The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.” I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Roach’s first book; _Stiff_; which was an exploration of what happens to cadavers in America. Her second book _Spook_ (which was about evidence-or lack there of-of life after death) was rather “meh.” However, since second books often suck, when I found _Bonk_ in the remainder section of the Harvard Bookstore I thought it might be worth purchasing. I have to say that was definitely $6.99 well spent.

Ms. Roach is a journalist. Her non-fiction books read as if each chapter was an article she had to write. She has chosen for her books the sort of subjects that inspire, um, morbid curiosity. Somehow she manages to admit this and be snarky about it while still being respectful to (in the case of _Bonk_) the human subjects who volunteer to do sex research and the scientists who do such research and (in the case of _Stiff_) the cadavers she views. Because _Bonk_ is a look into the history of scientific studies of sex I feel that if I just say it was a fun read you, dear reader, will just roll your eyes and say “duh.”

Well, yes, duh, books about science and sex can be fun, but the reason I feel the need to write this one up and share my impression with the world is because this morning the chapter I was reading on the commuter whale made me laugh out loud. I feel a bit bad for the guy who got on at Salem and had to sit next to me (in an older car—the ones with the smaller, blue seats that aren’t really big enough for two people) while I laughed as quietly as I could between Salem and about Chelsea. Unlike most commuter whale-riders he was unequipped with an ipod, a kindle, an ipad, a laptop or even a book. All he had was a folder with some notes in it and he got to sit next to me, reading and shaking with tears coming out of my eyes. Poor man.

The chapter that made me laugh so much was about suction devices designed to help with sexual dysfunction. Apparently, not only are there suction devices to help men get their thing up, but there is also one suction device designed for women (it sucks blood into the clitoris.) The chapter in question was about this suction device for women however the Eros* wasn’t what made me almost fall out of my chair. What made me laugh was the case of a man who had died while beating off with his vacuum cleaner. I’m not sure whether it was that he had suffered “burns on the area in contact with the beater bar” (Bonk, page 208) or the fact that his wife had previously caught him masturbating with the vacuum cleaner, or that when he was found dead he had “one arm encircling the canister in the manner of a lover’s embrace.” (Also Bonk, 208)

Why did these things make me laugh instead of making me squirm? Well let’s start with this one “Dear Future Soul Mate-whoever you may be-I realize that “You can’t love another without loving yourself (Shakespeare) or to put it another way, even in a committed relationship it’s okay for a human to spend “quality time” with himself, however if I catch you putting the moves on my vacuum cleaner we are going to have a serious talk.”

I admit I found the cherry-picked history of scientifically studied sex interesting (with a big eye-roll for Freud) but what really amused me was that there was a man who thought it was good fun to put his dick in contact with the beater bar of the vacuum cleaner-even after his wife caught him at it. Now maybe she suggested that this was not wise and he ignored her. He died of a heart attack while being sucked-off by the vacuum cleaner. And I found this so funny that not only did I laugh out loud on public transportation, but I also stayed up late to write about it on the inter-webs.

*The device that sucks blood into the clitoris. Available for $400 by NuGyn

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Le Corps d'un Ennemi Mort Sent Toujors Bon*"

I've been out of the world attending a company retreat for the two days. Yesterday, as the conversation at the breakfast table was flagging, I pulled out my phone to "read the paper" (i.e. look at and's apps.) "Osama bin Laden has been killed by US forces?" I said aloud. "Oh yeah. Didn't you know that?"asked the guy next to me.

I found the whole thing not only shocking but odd. The lead story was about Osama bin Laden's death. The next story on was his obituary. Huh? Do we normally print obits for people we hunt down and kill?

Before I continue musing and navel-gazing let me say this--Osama bin Laden got what was coming to him. He claimed responsibility for terrorist acts against the United States. Either he was involved with the acts with the acts (the bombing of the USS Cole and the 9.11 attack on the World Trade Center, for example) and took responsibility for them, knowing that this would make him a legitimate military target or he was not involved and took credit which still makes him a legitimate target. In the latter case he was a fool. In the former case he knew what he was getting into.

Also, he blew a giant hole in my hometown and in doing so, changed the world--and not for the better. He opened a door, and through it strode fear and jingoism. We haven't recovered from the effects of 9.11.01 and I don't feel like the death of Osama bin Laden makes things any better. I don't mean to be whiny about this, but as we're all sick of hearing "September 11th changed everything." We've changed the way we think and the way we behave. We don't like taking our shoes off or being X-rayed (or patted-down) to fly, but we put up with it. We don't like discovering that that there is warrentles wire-tapping, but we put up with it. I personally don't like the idea that someone may be tracking my Google searches, my phone calls, my personal e-mail, my text messages or my facebook account, but I put up with it.**

The death of Osama bin Laden doesn't change any of that.

I am a little put off by the rejoicing at his death, I must admit. Although I've been out of the world, I've had brief moments to look at facebook. I've seen ambivalence, jokes in bad taste (which are still funny--if we cannot laugh about something we are no longer human) and blood-thirsty GO TEAM USA comments. The last comments bother me a bit. I would have preferred that they brought Osama bin Laden to trial, but I recognize that this was not a likely outcome. It could have been politically embarrassing in many ways. But, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out, even if one hoped that bin Laden would be captured and tried, if he put up resistance was killed in the process, no one can argue that he was simply assassinated. And, as I mentioned above, even if he was simply "taken out" he was kind of asking for it, so it shouldn't have come as a shock to him. This is not a case of some 18 year old kid pulled off the streets of LA because he had family in Afghanistan and took it into his head to go home in the Spring of 2002 and got hauled off to Gitmo for it. As I said before, he got what what was coming to him.

I am not sad for him. I am not even particularly sad for his family--they must have known what he was doing and what the consequences might be. I am sad for us--the rest of the world who wonder if our e-mail is being examined, or are harassed at the airport because we're carrying breast milk in a container, or have our bags checked at Back Bay T station, by TSA employees. I am sad that people--including our president--are pointing the death of one bad man out as one of the greatest American accomplishments--personally I'd prefer the telephone or even the atomic bomb--any medieval lord/lady given enough time can track down an enemy and kill him/her. But it takes more than that to develop a computer, a telephone, the Internet etc. These are the kind of things that make me want to shout"Go USA!" not the finding and killing of an enemy.

In Assassins, by Stephen Sondheim, the narrator says about John Wilkes Booth "Damn you Johnny you paved the way for other madmen to have their day.."That's kind of how I feel about bin Laden. He was a bad man--he was an asshole. He got what was coming to him, but the rest of us are still dealing with the after-effects of his actions.

*The dead body of an enemy always smells good. A Dumas, La Reine Margot
**There's no reason why anyone might be tracking any of these things. I'm a thoroughly boring individual as far as National Security is concerned--I don't even belong to a book group, but I feel that if anyone wanted to put me or anyone else under surveillance it would be easy to do so now.