Monday, October 31, 2011

All Hallow's Eve

This morning Amelia woke up very early, very excited, talking of monsters and pumpkins. Her eyes lit up when she saw the huge bowl of candy sitting on the table. She asked for a piece, calmly, and didn't seem to mind when we explained to her that it was for tonight, later, when the tricker treaters came to the house in their costumes.

We had a group hug and I headed out for the early bus. As I walked, I tried to think of a good opening for this week's blog. Originally, I had planned to write about how I wasn't superwoman, how this weekend I made a decision not to run the Healdsburg half-marathon, how I spent the weekend catching up on sleep and much needed family time instead.

And then a memory that use to be very painful came back to me, filling me with this amazing sense of calm. A long time ago. I was back east for Christmas and could only make a short dinner visit. On the drive over, I pulled over to throw-up. By the time I got to the house, I was sweating, and aching all over.

She took my temperature - it was 101 and climbing. I tried to brush it of, I would be fine, it was just a cold, I could only stay for a short time, and then I had to meet my other obligations. She insisted that I stay, lay down on her lap, and rest for awhile. After an hour of absolute comfort, I got up to go and the tears streamed down my face (the fever was high). I really did not want to leave.

She picked up the phone and rang my dad's house and I could hear her say that though I was stubborn and heading for the door, she was not going to let me go. My fever was over 102 now, and I had been vomiting. I needed to rest. Her voice was strong, authoritative. She was insisting that she knew what was best for me, that someone had to look out for me, because I was always looking out for everyone else.

That night, she put me to bed, the green room. She sang me to sleep like she did so many times when I was a child. In the morning, she made me pancakes. This is my last living memory of her. But every year, around this time, she and Pop-pop are with all of us. They are the spirit of Halloween. My sister and I talk about it sometimes, their overwhelming presence at this time.

When I go back to that space, the memories are crystal clear. I know this because I experience them with all my senses. I remember a line of kids that wrapped around the corner, waiting to meet the Doc and get their candy. We would run in and out of the door, taking in their building excitement, knowing how their eyes would light up. The air always smelled like cold chocolate outside and warm licorice inside.

That low table in the living room covered in small wicker baskets, each one packed high with full-sized candy bars, full packs of gum, and a basket of special treats that Pop-pop kept close at hand for the little ones with magic in their eyes. She would make a big-fuss, and he would wink and the parents as he gave the little one exactly what they imagined would be at the end of waiting.

We would eat candy, as much as we could possibly consume, no dinner, just candy. We would stay up late with our friends laughing so hard with sugar-highs, that a couple of times, one of us actually peed our pants.

I often wish there was some way to share the magic of Park Place with Amelia, that absolute feeling of happy-tired after a full day at the beach, swallowing so much sea water that your breath is short and shallow, that lazy Saturday morning cartoons and the biggest buttermilk pancakes that you have ever laid your eyes on, Stephen's Day (the day after Christmas), stealing a sip of champagne, cucumbers and Russian dressing, and a room full of toys and clothes and sweets. 

All Hallow's Eve, cold, crisp night, when the whole town knows just what it means to be a part of that magical Park Place. That night when we were famous because we didn't have to wait in that line around the block - we could come and go as we pleased, having access to spaces that no one else could enter, but everyone assumed was full of even more magic...

And they were right.  

Friday, October 7, 2011

The adventures of Nemo

All week I have felt like this small, little determined fish in the great big sea.

Monday I left the safety of the reef and made my own way down to orientation. I gave myself plenty of time assuming traffic would be bad. It was much worse than expected, so instead of arriving thirty minutes early, I was right on time and desperately needing to pee. I asked if I could sneak out before everything started and they told me to wait... and wait... and wait. Twenty minutes into it, a very nice woman said that I could go ahead, it was taking longer than expected to start up the intake process.

The first day kind of reminds me of that part in Nemo where Marlin is swimming around trying to figure out where to go. Come to think of it, there are lots of parts of the week when I am swimming around trying to figure out where to go. It's a big ocean. There was the usual orientation for contractors. Pretty straight-forward, get your stuff and get ready to move, fast. I made my way to my new building and met a co-worker who brought me to all the important stops in the building, fast, no chat, just here is this and here is that. Deadlines and annual review time. And she knew that we were going to lunch, which would be when we could relax a little.

The ocean is that way. There are designated times and spaces where it is OK to relax a bit and let your guard down.

The team went to lunch in one of the many cafes and then it was back to the desk to try and absorb all that is new around me. I had some green-behind-the-ears moments on the first day. Couldn't get into the wifi and couldn't find any outlets around my desk. Went to tech stop to sort out wifi - they couldn't figure it out. Raised a ticket to get a socket and connection point for an ethernet cable. On the start of my second day, realized that my backpack was blocking the outlets for my desk - and despite looking everywhere, it never occurred to me to move my bag. Also, in accessing wifi, I was entering the wrong security codes - it was my own human error. So I added a comment apologizing in a self-deprecating way. Something tells me that doesn't happen too often in the ticket tracking system.

Day two, facing one security wall after another, my manager, a warm woman with lots of experience, reached out to a friend to see if he could help. He suggested I come find him in the fish bowl. Having seen random fish around the place, I was looking for an actual fish bowl. Turns out it was just the nickname of the room where he and a group of writers work (these guys are amazing, seriously). He introduced me to this very cool woman. I hesitate to call her Dory, as she is incredibly smart. But she is Dory in the way that she is kind and so very open to helping you get to where you need to go. I left work on day two still feeling like a small fish in the big sea, but not so alone anymore.

Day three, an opportunity to do real work, a chance to show that I am pretty good at this writing stuff. I decided to bring myself to the giant blue fish upstairs (I am not speaking metaphorically here). I spent a few hours working away in the body of a big blue fish with a big red bed. The work felt good. And there is something about my experience that is very different to the world here that might add a tiny bit of unexpected value. It is still early and I am humble. But I see a glimmer of hope. I am a pretty good writer.

Day four was a somber day. Steve passed away and there are lots of people around me who are genuinely sad. You cannot help but feel it, the loss of someone so great who has touched so many lives. That very sacredness of striving for excellence no matter what - a complete denial of the politics that normally dictates the pace of the corporate world, a true creator... I continued to make baby-steps towards real productivity. And I started to get a feel for the varying people on the teams that I will be working with. It is going to be very important for me to show people what it is that I am good at, but I need to do it in a way that is subtle, non-invasive. It will happen. One day soon. But I can't push too hard. It doesn't feel right. I need to make some significant strides on my own, kind of like Nemo swimming up the filter. At the end of day four, I got an email from 'Dory' - she sent it to all the new writers - a chance to earn my first tee shirt. I ran out of the office over to one of the cafes, participated in an experiment, and went home chuffed about my new shirt.

Each morning and night, I have been joking with the bus drivers - nice guys who have helped me out. And I couldn't help but notice that people don't talk to the bus drivers and not many people actually talk to each other, even just a polite smile and hi is a rarity. Then last night its like all my preconceptions came tumbling down. I turned to the person I was sitting next to and asked him a unix question and wound up talking the rest of the way home about his mad job (he spent the weekend in promotions with a famous enough rock band). As I got off the bus and said my usual good night to the bus driver,  all the other people getting off said good night to the driver too. I realized that even though I am a little fish, I am making an impact.

This morning, I decided to wear my running gear on the bus, thinking I might be able to sneak in a run before the morning started. And I started to notice around me that lots and lots of people were wearing work-out clothes. As I got off the bus, I waved to the bus driver, and he beeped and smiled. I dropped off my bag at my desk and headed off for a run on this glorious Fall morning in sunny California. So many people running and waving and smiling. Friday is like a different ocean all together here. Heading up to my desk afterwards, there was a coffee station set up with fresh blueberry cake and decent music playing.

I grabbed my Odwalla and headed up to my desk feeling pretty darn Googley.