Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Eight defining moments

Well, all the cool kids are doing it, so why can't I? Rather, it's about time I did. I've been double-tagged by Miss Kitty and Rev Kit to do the eight defining moments in one's life. Let's see if I can limit it at eight.

First, the 5 rules:
1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Sadly, everyone whom I would tag has already been tagged, so I'll skip four and five. Yes, I know that makes me a slacker. Also sadly, my defining moments will be described nowhere near as eloquently as Miss Kitty did. As a former stand-up and improv comic, I'm much better in-person than in print.

September 24, 1980

It's my fifth birthday, and Daddy says me-n-him-n-Kitty are going to see our mom "in the hospital." What no one will say is that Mom has had a nervous breakdown and has been hospitalized in an inpatient mental health facility. When I hear "hospital", I think of a sterile white-and-tile place where people go to die or be healed from major injuries. I have no idea Mom's kind of "hospital" exists.

We walk into modest brick building into carpeted hallways with warm paint colors, groups of people standing or sitting around. As they turn to see the little triumvirate walking through, they brighten: there are children here! Little hopeful faces brighten everyone's day. Mom greets us in the main meeting room, shows us around: a kitchenette where they can make snacks, some board games, we play volleyball out there and I helped my team win. She shows us her room. She has a roommate, whom we meet. She's a nice lady, with I think dark hair. What I learn later while doing my thesis on a mental health facility for the homeless is that most psychiatric inpatients are roomed with a roommate because people are less willing to commit suicide when another person is actively or possibly present. Mom shows us how cool it is that her bathroom door opens in both directions, in and out, so you can open it whichever way you like. I learn later working on healthcare facilities that this is called a double-acting door, which allows staff to rescue someone if they fall or barricade themselves in a room.

We walk back into the main activity room. A huge group of people turn, see us, and commence singing "Happy Birthday" to me. To me. A tiny little now-five-years-old person who doesn't know them, yet for whom they are glad. I receive a teddy bear and a yummy cake. As those people sang, I thought, Why are all these people in the hospital? They're not sick. That visit has forever shaped my view of mental illness. It's not a curse from God, it's not witchcraft, it's nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes it's emotional, sometimes it's chemical, sometimes it's biological. Whatever it is, I've never feared or stigmatized those with a mental illness. Because I understand it a great deal, I know when I can help and when I can't help someone, but nonetheless, it's nothing to fear or feel shame about.

Late spring of 1987

I'm at an academic awards banquet with Dad and Kitty. My name is called and I'm given a small trophy for keeping an A average all year. I've had an A average every year in elementary school, really, but this is the first year Booger County Elementary decided to do an awards ceremony like this. I take my trophy and go stand on the stage up on some folding metal bleachers. When all the names have been called, my principal says through the microphone, "Let's give all our star students a hand!"

The applause from the packed lunchroom-turned-auditorium nearly (and this is not an exaggeration) knocked me over. I felt the energy rush at me from all those hands impacting one another over and over. I realize how very important being smart and getting good grades is to me, how the dare-I-say-it perfection of my academic performance would be what would help me, take me where I wanted to go in life. I also realized that I was comfortable being on a stage. Later, I'll get to enjoy that on-stage sense when I perform with an improv comedy group and almost perform for strangers as a stand-up comic.

Summer of 1987

Dad decides that our little house in Alabama is too small for two teenage girls, so he decides to build a new house in Booger County, Georgia, only a mile from where we're about to go to junior high and high school. I walk around the foundations, watch the 2x4 walls go up, watch the flooring and cabinets get installed. I will later call cabinets "casework" and only ever deal with metal studs in walls. I don't know this, but it's coming. I walk around the house in its unfinished splendor and marvel: why the triple-height living room ceiling? Why are the bedrooms so big and the kitchen so small? (My grandmother says that's because the architect was a bachelor. Years later, I can't help but agree with her.) After it's complete and we live in the house, I find that despite its vast expanses we keep ending up all congregating the kitchen or a similiarly small space, the bathroom. Dad has a phone installed in the master bathroom because he flatly asserts that he always seems to get a call when he's on the can. Years later on our one-year anniversary to the Venetian in Las Vegas, my husband revels in the phone in the toilet room of our hotel. I echo my dad's assertions: this room is, after all, where one doesn one's, um, business. Though this house eventually ends up being my prison, it makes a light bulb come on: I want to be an architect when I grow up. It's art you can use, art you can live in. You actually shape people's behavior in a building. I want to do that. Later, I will attempt to use my powers for good by designing hospitals. Hopefully no one will die as a result.

Summer of 1993

Dad's only been remarried for a year to his wife, a longtime girlfriend. She has two younger children who are utterly unlike anyone or anything I've ever seen. They fight constantly; if they're awake, they're at each other's throats like Rottwilers on PCP. Kitty and I got along extraordinarily well growing up, and we're not prepared for this utter bullshit behavior. Luckily for Kitty, she's off at college, and Dad's off working, which leaves me alone with this woman I realize I barely know and these two crazed weasels drinking CapriSuns. I go from being nearly independent to being Cinderella in my own home. Not that anyone in the house is particularly wicked, just unable to really understand what kind of teenager I am. I'm one that is rather grown up for being seventeen-almost-eighteen. I make sure her kids are out of bed, help them get breakfast, and take them to school. I attempt time and again to mediate their ten-times-a-morning arguments. I return home and do more for them. I go pick up firewood, which does make some sense since I'm the only one in the family with a pickup truck. During the school year I'm in marching band, jazz band, concert band, basketball team, president of the band and the French club, and I make the highest grades I've ever made...ever. For my troubles of being the most problem-free child in the family, I'm treated like I'm twelve: where did you go? what did you do? with whom? how much did it cost? These are not the questions of a concerned parent, but an inquisition on someone who may have reason to believe that my presence threatens the stability of her brood. A pattern I developed as a child of being the perfect child, the perfect person in fact, became ingrained in me as my identity. If i was good enough, smart enough, nice enough, everyone would trust me and like me and and not treat me like a second-class citizen in my own home. It wasn't to be.

I express my concerns to Dad in an angry letter one evening, which prompts a discussion with Dad, the stepmom, Kitty, and me the following day. As I bring up my concerns one by one, I get shot down. Here's why it is the way it is, I'm told. It's not changing. I'm asked now and then if I have an idea of how to change it. No, I don't. I've been not given a say in things for so long that I don't know how to form solutions to sticky emotional and social problems. As our meeting winds down, the realization hits me: I'm on my own. No one is listening, no one's going to help me make this better. I either need to come up with solutions or mark time until I can get out. At least then, if I'm miserable it's my own damn fault. But I'm on my own. No one in this house is looking out for me but me.

Unfortunately, it gets worse before it gets better.

January 16, 1997
I don't hear that my father has been murdered until twelve hours after it's actually happened. An ex-boyfriend has to come find me on my college campus to bring me home and tell me. My older sister, Miss Kitty, tells the story much more eloquently than me here.

The ensuing chaos in the wake of Dad's murder by his own brother causes me to decide to remain in Georgia for the remainder of my undergraduate career, instead of going to Paris for my senior year as I'd hoped. Dad and I were going to talk about me going to Paris the very last weekend he came home, except we didn't get to talk because he came home in a box. I learned the value of a well-placed word of understanding, for one thing. The day after it happened, every relative came to me and said ridiculous things like "that wasn't your uncle that shot your daddy" and "he didn't mean to do it." All except for my uncle's daughter, then in her late twenties or early thirties. She came to me in the front room of my worst aunt's house, put her arms around me and said: "I am so sorry. My daddy has taken something from you that is so precious and irreplaceable, and you have my permission to hate him as long as you want." In that instant, my anger at my uncle melted away. Which was a good thing, since the other truth I discovered in the subsequent months was that the living piss me off way more than the dead.

I also discovered how strong I was. One of the aunts, the worst one, managed to get her hands on one of our insurance funds, which was legal due to the wording of the fund. She wanted to talk to us about the fund, mostly how to disburse it to us, and she wanted to do it now, even though it had only been a few months since Dad died and she'd cleaned out the cash into her own bank account. I said we needed to wait until Kitty was home from grad school one weekend; she was fit to be tied, trying to finish her thesis and plan a wedding. Auntie couldn't wait, she said, had to be next weekend. I met her and her no-good husband at my house, which was empty. She read from some notes on a piece of yellow paper: "Your daddy loved you. He wanted the best for you. He wanted you to be taken care of." The light over her shoulder shone through the yellow paper, and I could read in reverse her notes: dad loved her, wanted the best, wanted you to be taken care of. I thought to myself, What kind of fucked-in-the-head bitch can't remember those three things without writing them down? Should she maybe have brought a fucking teleprompter? So first, I realized I was unimpressed by people who cannot remember basic facts and feelings without writing them down, and I also realized what my aunt was trying to do. She was committing the Cardinal Sin:

She was trying to get between my sister and me.

She was trying to put the idea in my head that I, as the supposedly more level-headed sibling, had to make decisions without Kitty's consent. Nothing pisses me off more than anyone trying to insult the intelligence of my sister, a woman with a talent for languages and a photographic memory with bucketloads of film. It Fucking. Pisses. Me. Off. I remained steadfast in not making a decision about the money until I talked to Kitty, thanked her for coming by, and sent her on her way. She left behind some worksheets printed out on an old dot-matrix printer, typed up of her old Apple IIe computer . (Did I mention it was 1997 already? Enough with the Apple IIe!) A few months later at Kitty's wedding, she came up to me and pressed again that I needed to fill out the "Education Needs Assessment" sheet she left at my house, in which I'd detail out how much money I needed each month for the next nine years, when I was supposed to fully inherit the money. I said Kitty was going on her honeymoon tomorrow and she'd be back in two weeks, and we could talk then. She said it just couldn't wait.

She was doing it again. Trying to get between Kitty and me. I went home and looked at the ridiculous worksheet. It spun me into a dimension of pissed-off that I had never inhabited in my entire life. I would most certainly not fill out the worksheet, and neither would Kitty. This was bullshit on a stick. While Kitty was on honeymoon, I wrote Auntie a polite but firm letter: Kitty's and my lives were moving further and further our of Booger County, and we're both in college. My expenses vary from month to month, depending on what supplies my Sutdio professors required. You say our Dad raised us well? Prove it, bitch. Give us our money, we absolve you of any responsibility, and walk away. Otherwise, we're waiting until we're 30 to come get it. We're not going to fill out worksheets printed on outmoded technology like we were students at an underfunded rural high school. A few months later, her lawyer sent us the appropriate paperwork, we signed it, and got our insurance money. All of it. And I haven't spoken to her or any of Dad's relatives since the summer of 1997. It feels good.

I realize that I have a great deal of strength. This is good: I'm gonna need it during...

June 9-11, 1998
My stepmother has lost her fucking mind, and her kids are following her right off the cliff. In the wake of Dad's death, I've gone from Cinderella to the Holy Grail. More than once, my stepmother says, "At least your dad left me you." As if it was my job to be Dad for her, so he wasn't quite so dead, perhaps. As if I were a talisman left behind in Dad's will, meant to help her ward off reality so she didn't have to mourn or heal. I'm the only person in the house in therapy, and I feel the walls closing in as graduation from Georgia Tech comes and I know I have to spend a summer at home with these crazy people. I have figured out that she's coming into my room while I'm gone and touching things, like a couple of my dad's shirts I have on my dresser. I'm freaked because I have to help these people.

My therapist gets right down in my face. "Pixie, you can't help them. Your stepfamily is extremely depressed, and if you spend the summer with them, you're going to undo all the work you've done here. If you can swing it, move out." And I do. My first brush with real grace comes in the form of family friends on my Mom's side who offer to let me spend the summer with them. I spend the three days before graduation cleaning out my room while everyone's gone to work and school, my things from the attic, from the garage, my entire life. I throw garbage bags of trophies and awards into the dumpster at the grocery store--I know I won these awards, but they're holding me down, gotta be light to travel fast and far. I give away two-thirds of my clothes to Goodwill, as well as all my instruments, like my beautiful Ludwig concert snare drum and my drum set that Dad gave me for Christmas the year we moved into the new house. Don't need 'em--won't be playing in a band, I'll be drawing in grad school at the University of Florida. Gotta be light to travel fast and far. The husband of the couple I'll be living with owns a furniture store, and the day before graduation he send his two movers to my house after I have emptied everything. They help me move the rest of my posessions swiftly into the truck and take them to stay at the furniture store until I go to college in three months. I walk around my house one more time to touch the walls and say I'm sorry, I know you gave me my path but I have to leave you, I'm sorry I can't rescue you from her, I'm sorry.

I speak to my stepmother that evening. She noticed I'd moved out. This means she opened the closed door of my room and looked in. I already knew but now I really knew. She wanted to talk. I was uninterested. I never speak to her again. We trade a couple of letters, but there's nothing more to say. I hear now that after moving to Florida with the kids in college (who are also doing very well), she's in a great place. I'd like to think this is because I left her and made her face reality, that Daddy was dead and Pixie was not Dad and would never be and was not going to take care of her in his place. I don't know that for sure. I sometimes feel sad about it, but I also know that she and I would not have been close friends if we'd been coworkers or neighbors. Just different people made worse by a terrible situation.

First two weeks of June, 2000
I'm driving across the country from Florida to Denver, Colorado where I will start my first real architecture job out of grad school. Mom makes me get a cell phone so I can call someone if I have any trouble. Kitty and I weep; this will be our first real separation in our lives. Even UF was only a five-hour drive from Small Town, chump change in my Ford Ranger or Kitty's Mustang. I realize how bad it sucks not to have cruise control or a CD player in my truck. My leg cramps from driving twelve hours a day, and my throat aches from singing along with the same cassettes I have. There's only so many times one can sing along with the soundtrack to Disney's "Hunchback of Notre Dame". I drive through St. Louis and think, Well, they have a river and an arch, but who would want to live here? I have lunch at an Applebee's in Hays, Kansas where my waiter tells me he attends Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. "The Little Apple!" he jokes. I chuckle and think, Boy that's lame. Who the fuck would go to a college way out here in Kansas? I also realize how utterly unafraid I am to do this. I know absolutely no one in Denver. This will be my first real job in architecture, and after a refresher course on AutoCAD 14 from my mom, with her associates degree in CAD drafting from Tiny Tech, where Miss Kitty now teaches online classes (and once had to teach Mom in an in-person English class), I feel ready to do this. I'm generally apprehensive about change and not knowing what's coming next, but not this time. Especially because in a week's time, I'm about to meet a fantastic fellow indeed, who goes by the name of [suave look] Guy. Mile High Guy.

When I meet Guy on my introduction tour through the office, I realize that I can only stare at his eyes. They're perfect. Abso-fucking-lutely perfect. Crystal blue with brownish eyebrows, a gentle voice. (He hates it when I tell this story.) We talk again a few days later. I can't remember his face, but I remembered his voice and his smile. We get to know each other. He's from St. Louis and got his degree from Kansas State. In Manhattan, Kansas. "The Little Apple," he says. I bray with laughter. We also find out on our second date that we have the same birthday seven years apart. He might be worth my time, I think. But how will I know?

October 6, 2000
Here's how I know. It's the day after my Dad's birthday, and he's nowhere. He's not here. I'm alone in my loft in downtown Denver, curled in my robe and crying. The day of his birthday, Guy rented a Robin Williams standup DVD, which we watched in my loft on my laptop (I had no TV) and took me out to dinner. But today, he's still gone and it still hurts. I don't know what to do with myself, feeling small and alone again. So used to feeling alone. The phone rings. It's Guy. How am I? Are you okay? You don't sound okay? Do you want me to come over? No? I'll come over if you want.

I don't want to bother him. It's a Sunday night and tomorrow is a weekday, we have work, don't go schlepping around at this time of night. He's quiet on the other end.

"I love you, you know," he says.

I start weeping again. He tells me to hang tight, he'll be there in ten minutes. He makes it in five. He holds me for a couple of hours while I alternately sob and laugh while telling stories about Dad. He literally tucks me into bed and locks the door as he leaves, going outside to fish a parking ticket off his truck where he parked illegally to come see me.

Months later, this man urges me to see a therapist when he notes that my sour mood has veered from hormonal into hypervigiliance and depression. Every other boyfriend I've had didn't want me to see a therapist--it made me look crazy, they said. You might find out the problem is me, they said. (They were often right.) Guy wanted me to feel better, get better. I still se a therapist now, and I ask him if it bothers him. "Fuck no," he snorts. "Shit, I can't help you with your problems. Besides, you going makes me act better." He comes in close when I need a hug, and he goes away and gives me some room when I need it, like when I'm writing a book, teaching a class with a friend, working on a project at work, cooking, whatever. I nearly lost him last summer when working too many hours for too long on Wheatlands plus taking the ARE made us tired in general and tired of each other. But we both seem to manage to talk each other down off our ledges. We both prop each other up when we need it. I finally realized that I'm not alone. I have my sister, and I have my husband, and sometimes it takes the both of them, propping me up Weekend-at-Bernie's style, keeping me going onward and upward. It is knowledge that makes me weep with gratitude, sigh with relief, and cackle with amusement. A few years ago, I gave my sister a little plaque witha butterfly on it that said:

I smile because you are my sister. I laugh because there is nothing you can do about it.

And I mean it.

Fuck, this was exhausting. I'll write about something amusing later. Thanks for playing.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A titillating post, or Why I Paid $98 for a Bra

Note: the following post is pedagogical, not naughty, in nature. Men who aren't interested in learning about bra shopping and breast politics should surf elsewhere for the day.

[adjusts Ann Taylor suit, steps up onto soapbox]

I am not ashamed in the slightest to tell you that yesterday I spent $471 at a bra shop. For my hard-earned cash, I got four bras, seven pairs of undies, two tops, and a nightgown. Many of the items I bought were on big-time sale: a flowery beige-and-gold bra which originally sold for $125 was mine for only $52, for example. However, I also purchased a few things for full price, including the following bra for $98.

[Note: Bra in above photo is not modeled by the blogger.]

Why would a sane, mature woman spend so much on something only one other person will ever see on her? Well, first of all, this $98 bra is beyond comfortable. It provided fantastic support, a wonderful shape, and I hardly know it's even on. Also, this bra also converts to a very comfortable and very useable strapless bra. Most strapless bras for someone my size are long-waisted corsets with lots of boning and structure. Sometimes, I'm surprised they don't have W12x50 steel cross-bracing with moment connections in the cups. This bra is a real find for someone who wears, at the very least, a size 32D bra. Did I just list my bra size? Why would I share such a personal detail with the blogosphere? Because, as Gloria Steinem said, the political is personal, and it is also economical. It leads me to my most important point of all.

When I used to set foot into chain lingerie stores, such as Victoria's Secret, I have historically been looked up and down a bit haughtily, as if to say, "Oh, you have bigger than a 34C? We only have three or so bras that fit you, might not even have any of them in stock. Shouldn't you be shopping down the street at a strip-mall exotic-dancer store, or at Fredrick's of Hollywood? After all, if you're packing a pair a big hooters, you're probably using them to make money and steal my boyfriend." I then try without vain to find a pretty but wearable bra there with little or no success. The salesgirl--and I do mean girl--says, "We have more styles in your size in our catalog." Oh really? So I can order something, have it shipped to me, try it on, not like it, ship it back, and then try something else or get store credit to buy something else that almost fits? The only thing your summer-employment management-major college-girl staff knows to say to me is, "Well, a 32D is like a 34C, so try one of those!"

No, I will not try one of those. The number is your rib cage measurement and the letter is your actual boob size, and I'm not going to pretend that a 34C will fit me. And don't get me started about when I was in college and even only a few years ago when I was heavier and required nothing smaller than a 34DD. You practically choked back your laughter when I mumbled my size, keeping it down because I was afraid of being beaten to death by the smaller-breasted clientele around me, whose cups may not have runneth over, but at least they could find something in your fucking store.

And for what? Apologies to Sinead O'Connor, but I think we all want what we haven't got. My flatter-chested sisters tell me how envious they are of my ability to look foxy in a strapless dress, a bikini, even to have admirable cleavage in a ho-hum button-down shirt. Conversely, I tell them it's not all it's cracked up to be: I can't wear a strapless dress or bikini every day, and frankly I'd love just to go for a run without having to strap my chest down with spandex, cotton, and Kevlar. I'd love to be able to lean between two people at a meeting table and not feel like I have to pull my chest in with my arm so I don't poke someone in the ear with a boob. I'd love to be able to move unself-consciously through a society that still leans a little towards the notion that big boobs = loose/good in the sack/possessing my chest solely for the viewer's pleasure. I'd love to be able to find clothes that fit. Every single shirt I've bought in the past ten years has at least some spandex in it so that there might be some hope in it stretching somewhat-modestly around my bodacious boobitude.

I'd also love to escape the mixed messages our society gives us pertaining to our chests. On the one hand, plastic surgery is a booming industry and high school seniors are getting boob implants as a graduation gift. ("Good job getting those good grades honey! Let's buy you some tits so that your brains no longer matter!") Time and again, there's this emphasis on having a sizeable chest, and we keep buying into it. But then, flip through any fashion magazine, and there's at least one article proclaiming to help you find the right bathing suit/cocktail dress/wedding dress/business suit, accompanied inevitably by a photo with the words "To minimize/de-emphasize a large bust, try...." What?! You mean I'm supposed to pay upwards of $5,000 for a boob job and then tuck them into a loud-patterned tankini? Well guess what? No, I will not minimize my big tits because you have so little self-control that you're unable to stop staring at them and placing an artificial value on them. To paraphrase the vacation bible school song, these massive boobs of mine/ I'm gonna let 'em shine. And furthermore, no, I will not pay my hard-earned money that, by the way, I earn at 77 cents for every man's dollar, to get bigger boobs. There's not a damn thing wrong with the ones I have. The problem is yours, not mine.

I have grown weary of leaving chain stores heavy-hearted and droopy-chested. So when I discovered a small, non-chain lingerie store in my area, I leapt at the chance to shop there and have never been disappointed. Regardless of my size, I don't mind paying no less than $50 for a bra I know actually fits me, will fit me for more than a year, is made better than the Victoria's Secret bra I pay less for. Know what Victoria's real secret is? She pays substandard wages to people in Third World countries to make substandard foundation garments that don't fit that well anyway. My expensive bras are supportive, comfortable, long-lasting, beautiful. I feel like a real Woman in them, knowing that at the end of a long workday my shoulders and back won't hurt and that I'll look normal and nice in whatever shirt I wear.

So hell yeah I paid $98 for a bra. It felt good. It looks good. Guy said so last night, more than once. (Okay, now that might have been too much information.) I'm proud of my purchase, because I love myself. When I hug myself, I end up hugging a couple of friends I've had for 20 years. And you've ever had a friend for 20 years, you know you gotta treat her right. So I do.

[steps down off of soapbox, grabs up large shopping bag and leaves stage]

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Everybody wang chung tonight

I am beyond worn out. I'm not working more than like eight or eight and a half hours a day, but they're action-packed and stress-packed. I have the CDs for two projects going out tomorrow and then the 80% CD progress set for another project on Monday, and I a m f r i e d . Seriously. I came home today and just laid on the bed for half an hour, staring at the ceiling, unable to move. Seems lately like I'm wiping out around 2pm every day, regardless of how much coffee I drink, what I have for breakfast, what I have for lunch, or whether I go to meetings or not.

But I better get my posterior into a niche in my transmission (that is, get my ass in gear) for tomorrow afternoon, because Team Howie is having a teambuilding session. That is, we're going bowling tomorrow afternoon starting at 2:30 and chatting a bit about this booklet Howie gave us to read about seeing everyone's job from their point of view, fostering understanding amongst the ranks and whatnot. Most of us felt like the booklet was not earth-shattering and some of the topics in it made employees sound like they were whining to their bosses, like "you're not nice to us!" or "you take two hour lunches!" Yeah, so? Howie might take a two-hour lunch with one of the partners at our office, but I regularly get emails from him at 9pm about work stuff. The man earns his lunch, know what I mean. Anyway, before the shindig, we'll have to get together and talk about how we want to respond to Howie. It's nothing big, really, and our whole team is so easy to work with that communication really isn't a problem. Team Howie is really two teams. There's the team that works on Pomme de Terre for one partner, and then there's the Team Howie that works the other partner, Alex. It's the Alex team that's going bowling tomorrow: Elliot, Derek, Sasha (another gal) and me. So, we'll do a little making fun of the book, talk about some manager-employee issues more out of interest and curiosity than real problem-solving, and then it's bowl-a-rama time. Hope I can muster the energy to do it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Me no likey meetings.

I attended a meeting at one of the medical facilities on which I'm working. A building we'll call Mile High Research and Clinic (MHRC) is where I'm doing the procedure suite and the radiology suite, and today was a meeting with the doctors and bigwigs in charge of the scope procedure suite. First of all, I really hate meetings, mostly because they exhaust me. My pal (and local psychologist) Vinnie says it's because meetings require a great deal of focus and listening, which in turn take a lot of energy. I'm good at focusing and listening, but after a couple of hours without a break, I'm done for. Add to the pressure of this meeting that the facilities director at MHRC thought we were doing a user group meeting and we thought we were doing a final plan check before we issued CDs tomorrow afternoon, and now we're focused with lots of cranky energy in the air. Around 10 or 10:30am, while the engineers explained how baseboard heaters worked and the docs rambled on about bronch carts, my mind drifted to the following thoughts:

  • You know, "word up" really is the code word; because no matter where you say it, you know that you'll be heard.
  • Know what would be awesome right now? If this whole meeting turned into a dance number, like "Age of Aquarius" from Hair. But I'd have to sing the title track 'cuz I know I'm the only one of us who can do a sustained vibrato.
  • I have got to have Mom hem these pants. I swear to God, how did my ass get so close to the ground that I need petite-length pants hemmed?
  • Why do I seem to get along better with electrical engineers than mechanical engineers? Except for that one punk Miss Kitty dated, they're just so easy to get along with. And they don't want much, just a 9x10 room to put all their breakers and ATS's in.
  • Fame! I'm gonna live forever...I'm gonna learn how to fly! High!
  • Dammit. I didn't get a chance to put on lipstick before I got here. Maw-Maw always said never go into battle without your war paint on.
  • Man, SOL's having a sale this weekend. What time do they open? I better be there spot-on or I'll never get a fitting room.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Skin Caintzer-free Pixie

Finally got in to see the dermatologist today, and it turns out that the Mole of Concern is called a nevi, which is a benign raised mole that very very rarely ever turns cancerous. Good news for a Shorty. "I could take it off you," he said, "but it would leave a scar, and if we cut down deep enough to remove the hair follicles you'd need stitches."

"Which would work if I were a bouncer," I replied. "Thanks, but I'll keep it." However, a nice badass-looking scar might help in dealing with some contractors. It's hard to "little lady" someone who looks like she chews broken glass and spits WD-40.

In the interest of paying it forward, allow me to drop some knowledge on y'all, courtesy of the American Cancer Society pamphlet the dermatologist gave me.

These are the signs of a mole that's bad news: if the mole's shape is asymmetrical, the border is irregular, the color is inconsistent through it, or it is larger that 6mm (about a pencil eraser on the end of a pencil) in diameter. My Mole In Question was raised but dome-shaped and circular in shape. It was also "skin colored," or a light brown, not super-dark or black. If my Mole In Question were to change color or to develop dark spots inside it, I should return for a recheck.

Consider yourselves educated. And when in doubt, get it checked. My $30 copay is a hell of a lot cheaper than lots of worry, or worse, surgery and treatments for melanoma.

Monday, July 23, 2007

So, what is beyond the bed and the bath?

Sunday was spent by the pool. Guy started to work on the bathroom cabinets, and I said:

"Reckon I need to swiff the house."

"Nope," came Guy's reply. You need to go lay by the pool for a couple of hours. When you're done, get a shower and we'll go to Bed Bath & Beyond."

I've always wondered: shouldn't there be some commas or something in that store name? Anyway....

We ended up replacing both sets of our placemats and napkins as well as our kitchen towels and oven mitts. This sounds silly, but I gotta tell you, it felt nice. The house looks clean, perty, nice.

Table and chairs: Crate and Barrel. Chair covers: Mom. Pleather powder blue placemats and matching linen-look napkins: Bed Bath & Beyond. Flowers: Whole Foods.

There's a saying, that the cobbler's children have no shoes. Well, the architect's children have no Ikea furniture. Guy and I haven't really started working on our house in earnest until last summer when he started painting. Then, he hurt his back and the majority of painting didn't get done until February. After working on remodeling other people's spaces all day, we really don't feel like it when we come home. But strolling around BB&B oogling microplaners and cutting boards? Oh, honeh, my pulse....

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Okay, okay, I get it.

I've been feeling run down of late; physically, mentally, and emotionally. I've found it hard to concentrate at work and home and have been utterly uninterested in anything and everything. I can't make myself read something fun. I can't sit still for more than 15 minutes. I'm just cranky and tweaked. At least, though, I thought, I can keep up my workouts.

Mmm, nuh-uh.

I went for a typical run Friday morning, and by early afternoon my legs ached tremendously. I mean serious I-just-retraced-the-Bataan-Death-March kind of ache. I left work a little early and dragged myself home. I was happy that I had a massage the next day, but I remembered I was supposed to bring brownies for the office picnic tomorrow. Damn. I really didn't feel like going. I see those people every day--do I have to see them on the weekends too? My calves were aching so that I could barely stand up, hips so clenched I walked like an old woman. Guy cleaned out his tub and I soaked in some Epsom salts and hot water for a while. I had to make myself sit there for more than five minutes--I couldn't be still, felt like I should get out and do something. I got out and rubbed some analgesic oil on my legs, put them up. My mind was loud with crankiness. "I don't wanna GO tomorrow!" I declared to Guy. "Then don't," came his response. "Quit agonizing about it and don't go."

Guy was right. Early this morning, I called Ethel and sent my regards. "Get some rest, would you already?!" she said. "You just don't know how to relax." And she's right--I don't. I'm so accustomed to being busy and defining myself through my business and my productivity that I don't know what to do when I'm not. To me, an easy workout is a four-mile walk instead of run. An easy day at home is only two or three chores.

I went to the spa and succumbed to the effects of my 90-minute massage, my masseuse a talented artist with her hands and a fellow runner to boot. She understood completely and commented on my super-tight muscles. "Your body's trying to get you to slow down," she said. "So it's stopping you completely." She wasn't kidding. This has me busted back to swimming for the next couple of weeks at the very least.

In the meantime, Guy and I will be ordering pizza and watching out latest DVD from Netflix this evening. Tomorrow will be a whole lot of nothing. Hopefully I can actually make myself do nothing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A different flavor of crazy

Ethel steamed over to my desk yesterday afternoon. "I'm so pissed at Wanda that I'm afraid to start venting or I won't be able to stop."

Yes, Wanda's back on the crazydar, my friends.

"Our CDs for this research building are due on Wednesday, we've got plenty of work to check, details to work over, but no! She's got me working on text!" she fumed. "She's complaining how the text isn't the same font on different pages, so I'm going through all the drawings to make the fonts the same. Then just now she's decided she wants all the text to be 1/8" high, not 3/32" high, like she told me to do last week!"

I was rather shocked. Wanda's been off my crazydar for a while now, and I'm surprised I didn't sniff her out earlier. Longtime WAD readers recall her outbursts and belligerent behavior earlier in the year, which seemed to quiet down a great deal after a talking-to by Howie (and, I believe, refilling a prescription, because the change in her behavior was pretty drastic). Ethel went on to describe some pretty annoying behavior from Wanda: she would tell Ethel to do something that Ethel thought was a bad idea, and Ethel would call her on it. Wanda would insist on doing it that way, dammit. Later, Wanda would come to agree with Ethel and go, "Why did we do that?" and Ethel would have to say, "You told me to," and Wanda would say, "No I didn't." And there's Ethel, looking like the fool. "I know I'm not always right, but dammit I do know some stuff!" Ethel declared through her teeth under the breath to me.

Wanda and Ethel are working on this project under another associate in the office, a laid-back but very knowledgeable architect named Sven. I told Ethel that in the future, if she disagreed with Wanda's direction on a detail, construction system, etc., she should go to Sven and ask him for a tie-breaker decision. After I recounted Ethel's story to Guy, he went one further: "I'd tell Sven that she's got me fixing fucking text fonts instead of checking drawings and completing details," he said. "Wanda's shitty management is gonna mess up Sven's project." Good point, I agreed. I also told Ethel to send emails confirming directions and make written notes everytime Wanda gives her directions so that she has a record of Wanda telling her to do something stupid.

However, all of this working for completely-unable-to-prioritize-tasks Wanda has given Ethel the courage she needed to ask Howie for her own project. She still has four ARE exams to pass and lacks some knowledge of exterior building systems, but in architecture the business, there's no really good way to learn something except to do it. There are many things I never knew how to do before I did Wheatlands, but I had to do them to learn how to do them. That's the great paradox of the business of architecture: many firms only want you if you have experience doing something, but the only way to know how to do it is to do it. Seven years ago, I was lucky that Design Associates believed (and still believes) in investing in interns. I had no real architectural experience when I got out of grad school. Now, I can run projects with my eyes closed. And oddly enough, it was working for a complete nincompoop in 2004 that made me think, "Jesus, Mary, and Phillip Johnson, if this incompetent fucktard can run a project, then so can I" and then ask Howie for the chance to run Wheatlands. Boo-yah.

Monday, July 16, 2007

ADAAG: Not just a good idea, it's the law

This past Saturday, I witnessed a scene that simultaneously aroused both wonderment and a combination of anger and annoyance. I was sitting in a metropolitan installation of a major coffee/pastry/bread chain, drinking my coffee, eating a bagel, and flipping through the comics section when I noticed a woman in a wheelchair paying for her breakfast at the cash register. She took a paper coffee cup that the cashier handed her and rolled over to the countertop across the room where one could self-serve and doctor and decorate one's coffee. The woman poured her coffee from the large dispenser tap-thingy, rolled a few feet over along the bar and added creamer and sugar...and was stopped cold by the cup lids.

Now, the countertop was low enough to be compliant with ADAAG. I could tell without measuring; if it's at a height that I don't have to strain or struggle with to use, then it has to be less than 36" high. However, it occurred to me as I saw her reaching across the countertop to the plastic cup lid holder/dispenser mounted to the wall that the counter was too deep. ADAAG mandates that to be accessible, a countertop must be no higher than 34" and no deepr than 24" in order to provide an obstructed side reach of 48", which is 4/5 my height, by the way, meaning that the average wheelchair-bound person may not be able to punch me in the face but will most likely have unobstructed reach to poke me in the throat. Not that I get in that many fights with mobility-disabled people. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. So, this woman tried reaching acouple of times to get a cup from the wall-mounted rack that help the cup lids, as if to confirm, yes indeed, I cannot reach this damn thing.

So she pauses, looks around on the counter. Now, bear in mind, I'm not talking about a little old lady in a wheelchair, which is our stereotypical wheelchair-bound person. Nay, prithee. This woman might have been in her mid-thirties, had brown shoulder length hair with dark blond highlights, stunning eyes with very well groomed eyebrows (what? look, I've started noticing eyebrows since I've had mine done), and wore a white sleeveless polo shirt and light blue pants and white sneakers. She was in one of those really lightweight wheelchairs with the wheels that angle in a little bit for better maneuverability. So, for being in a chair, this gal was really able. And here she was, foiled at getting a lid for her hot cup of coffee. And why shouldn't she have one? She's a gal on the go in that chair! Oughtta have had a cup holder on it! (If I was in a wheelchair, fuckin'-A I'd have a cupholder.)

But she does the coolest thing: she pulls a couple of wooden coffee stirrers out of their container (that she can easily reach), leans across the counter, and lodges the other ends of the stirrers under the edge of the top lid. With a one-two-three, she lifts the top lid up and flips! it out of its plastic, wall-mounted prison onto the counter within her reach. She takes the lid, snuggles it down onto her cup of joe, and rollrollrollrolls out the door, bagel in lap and coffee in hand.

I watched this unfold, not sure if I should get up and help (would that be insulting?) or just stay put (would that be rude?). I have to say that I marvelled at her improvised ingenuity and practically grinned as she left. But my delight darkened a bit when I remembered that necessity is the mother of invention, and this is likely not the first time she's had to do this sort of thing. Sure, the big stuff is taken care of: she can roll in and out of buildings and move from floor to floor, use the bathroom, wash her hands, maneuver through doors, and so on. But I gotta say that it's the little things that can fuck up your day. I'm only five feet tall, which is short but not abnormally so, and I often find myself frustrated in the world by being unable to see over something, reach to get something, etc. And I'm standing up with full use of all my limbs when I get five shades of pissed off. What's life like for this gal?

When I got up to leave, I went to the counter, leaned across it and measured with my arm. Sure enough, the counter was 30" deep, which is illegal by 5". I sighed and stepped into the Denver summer heat.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Area Woman Argues with a Slipcover: Film at 11

After going to Guy's office picnic last night, it was high time this morning to do laundry, including the bedcovers upon which Someone Furry or Someone Else Furry barfed a few days ago. I had four loads of wash going by 8am, including the cotton twill slipcovers for our Crate-n-Barrel red chaise. After a couple of years of cat and human butts alike slurming on it (including mine for ten months straight while studying for the ARE), it was time to defunk that particularly hard-worn piece of furniture.

Getting the cover off the back pillow was easy, and the cover came off of the main seat cushion a bit like removing pantyhose, but getting said covers back on took a shoehorn, fervent prayer and cursing, and an act of Congress. The back pillow again wasn't too bad, being that the pillow insert was designed to give and flex inside the cover, but the seat cushion was meant to have a pretty damn snug fit. I spent the better part of ten minutes wrestling the cover on the seat cushion only to find that I was putting it on backwards. Gott in Himmel. So, I wrestled it off again like pulling a snowsuit off a squirmy toddler hopped up on Snickers bars and Yoo-Hoos and spent another eight or some minutes putting it on correctly, then another five zipping the damn thing up. All that relaxing I just did by the rooftop pool has definitely worn off.

Yet again, I find myself utterly without energy, without motivation. At work, I'm staring down the barrel of projects I was hoping not to be on for the long haul but seem to be. And I'm staring at four projects, that is; multitasking is not something that I do well for very long. Either the work suffers or my mental health suffers. I swiffed the house, at least. I dont' know about you, but swiffing the house is the one task I can make myself do every week. A couple of swiffer cloths encrusted in black mile-high dust and cat hair make me feel like I've accomplished something. If I do nothing else the rest of the weekend, I can at least say that I've done something around the house, something semi-productive. I could stand to mop that nasty kitchen floor. However, I plan on baking salmon tonight and I know that's gonna be energy I'm gonna need later.

Does all of the above sound like a lot of mental noise and busywork? Seeing my stream of consciousness typed out in Arial font makes me sound like Woody Allen with tits and better glasses. I see small piles and messes around the house that need sorting, straightening, or throwing out, and I can't bring myself to do it. I see splotches of dried Kool-Aid in the kitchen floor and think, "Mmm, not happening. Where's Maddy? Does she like Kool-Aid?" I suppose the only thing left to do this afternoon is to take this polish off my toes (thanks for the props, Baxtersmum!) and redo my nails. Hell, Guy's even napping right now. Sarge often says that he prefers to do some of his chores during the week after work so he doesn't end up spending his whole weekend working. It's a good plan indeed, but what happens when I can't even get my chores done during the week? And why the hell do I even care when I ought to be snorgling Maddy, who's glaring at me from the hall, and relaxing and enjoying a nice warm summer Sunday in Colorado?

Hmm...I think toes and fingernails will be Orly "Flagstone Rush". Mopping might be better saved until Monday night.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

oh ths is funee

For the love of God and all that is holy and cute, please go to this website:


If my cats could type, this is how they'd spell/write/conjugate irregular verbs. And they'd post cute-ass pictures like these. If you love Cute Overload and Stuff On My Cat, you're gonna dig this.

It's getting hot in here

I have a meeting tomorrow with the client for Big Downtown Medical Center (BDMC) as well as all the engineers. BDMC is where we're doing the scope procedure suite and the radiology suite. I really don't want to get so involved in Jann's projects to the point that I'm doing meetings, but it's a bit late for that, huh? I'm doing the design, doing meetings, making face time so people know who I am and know that they can call me with their concerns and questions. So, face time is nice for the engineers but not vital. I've worked with consultants for years and never laid eyes on them, not even from a photo. But face time is vital for the owner--they need to see you to know that you're okay to work with and call. Showing up means you care about their project. Well, it's supposed to mean that anyway.

Meantime, I have zero motivation. To do anything. I don't feel like going to meetings. I don't feel like cleaning the house. I don't feel like going out. I don't feel like staying in. I don't even feel like reading, which is really creepy because I love reading. WTF? It reminds me of a line from a Joan Osborne song: "I don't feel sleepy/ Just feel like lying down." Being unbusy brings out a weird side of me. I reckon I need to be unbusy, but damn. This just feels...weird.

Maddy! Go scoop your litter box! Help Mama out!
Sorry cat. Won't even lift a paw to help out around here. Just wants to sniff Mama's toes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Well, someone furry got their revenge today.

When Guy and I got home, we discovered a furry cat barf on the bed. Ech. We quickly dabbed/wiped it up with a paper towel, but it had already gone through the summer quilt Mom made us and onto the top sheet. Fortunately, Someone Furry and Deviant honked in a place that we could let air dry and wait til the weekend to launder the bed covers. I know that makes us sound deviant too, but we live in a condo building with community laundry facilities that wash and dry at a buck a load. It costs Guy nearly $20 to do all his laundry.

Evidently, we need to reinstate weekly brushings to cut down on random hairballs. Maddy doesn't mind them so much, since she enjoys luvvin', but Hazel would rather square off with a pit bull on PCP than be held, nay, snorgled by the same human she's lived with for nine years and be brushed. However, I am the big cat around here, and a small cat won't be getting a say in the matter. Hairball or not.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Well, Blogger is acting up and won't let me post a title. I've been plagued with computer issues lately, especially at work. My computer's been super super slow lately, so I got the nicest guy from IT to have a look at my machine. Just a few clicks and the problem was found: I only had half a meg of RAM available.
"Augh!" Donnie exclaimed. "Windows likes about 30% of your hard drive free for running programs, and you've got like 1% free."
"Oh," I said, deeply and with great intellect.
"Question," he said. "Do you have an iPod or iTunes on your machine?"
"...yyeeahh, how come?"
"Do you store the music on your hard drive?"
"There's your problem, then," said Donnie. A few more clicks and Donnie illustrated the issue for me. "Your iTunes is taking up 18 gigs of memory...18 gigs that your computer needs to run things smoothly."

So, i finally bought an external hard drive onto which all my music has been moved. Donnie ran a defragmentation program (usually called defragging) on my machine when I left for the day, so between these two things my machine should run like a champ tomorrow morning. That should be a relief: my AutoCAD and Adobe Reader have been chugging along at glacial speed for the past few months. It was my music slowing it down all along.

From the time we start architecture school, we listen to music while drawing in Studio. And with good reason: one works in Studio with a certain amount of solitude during class hours (usually a 3-4 hour long class that meets three days a week) and especially so after hours. Also, Studio classes are often held in big open rooms with more than one class in them, and sometimes you've just got to shut out the noise. After five or six years of thinking about spaces and churning out drawings to the sound of The Cure or Sarah McLachlan or Depeche Mode or Rollins Band (all good choices for the Pixie), it's hard to enter the work world and think about space or churn out drawings without that same stimuli. There are a very few architecture firms that don't allow music, but the vast majority of firms allow their staff to listen to headphones. It's a good policy, really, in terms of productivity, and especially in open offices like DA's. I can hear people laughing 120 feet away n the Landscape Department, and I know they can hear my witch's cackle, so it's nice to have a way to block that out.

With the hard drive, I can still have my music while not impeding my computer's progress. I need tunes and speed to get work done. And coffee. Yeah, coffee too.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

There is no 13th floor...until now.

Part of the deck (floor or roof surface) of a 14-story building under construction collapsed today in Greenwood Village, CO, which is about 30 minutes south of Denver proper (in an area we call the Tech Center). From the photos, it looks like it was a post-tensioned cast-in-place slab that collapsed. Despite the fact that it was top news here in town today, I had to hear it from Miss Kitty via an IM chat this afternoon. According to one local news channel's website, a portion of the 14th floor collapsed onto the 12th floor. "There is no 13th floor, said officials" the website reported.

Um, yeah. You do have a 13th floor. As comic Mitch Hedberg observed, "If your building goes from 12 to 14, everyone on the 14th floor knows what's up."

Here's a photo showing the section of the building that fell, just one floor.
The website reported that the fall may have had something to do with some formwork being removed and some supports underneath giving way. Here's a closeup of the collapsed section.

The long stringy things that are hanging down are the post-tension rods that are now not in tension because the concrete around them is gone. You put the rods in sleeves, then pour concrete around them, then when the concrete is cured you use a machine (I think it's a machine, some type of tool; my mom used to work on post-tensioned CIP slabs) to stretch the cables. Stops on the ends of the cables hold them in tension, and the slab then gets its strength from the tension of the cables pulling against the concrete. If that makes no sense, don't fret. I'll do an upcoming Detail of the Week on it.

See the vertical wood sticks to your left of the hole? That's shoring--supports holding up the concrete as it completes curing. Funny they said that about the formwork. When I read the news report online this afternoon, Norman came over to my desk to look at the damage. "Wonder if there's an RFI in there about 'can we take the formwork off early?'" he said.

"What, you think that's what it was?" I asked him.

"Maybe," he replied. "Every project I've ever done and ever seen done with cast-in-place slabs has an RFI where the contractor wants to take the formwork off earlier than the structural engineer says to, just 'cause a lot of engineers make them leave it on longer than necessary."

"Hmm." I didn't have much of a reply. Wheatlands was precast concrete, so there was no arguing from the contractor. I'm even more troubled by the website's indication that construction was behind schedule, and rushing to finish is a good way to make mistakes. I don't know that rushing and being behind is why maybe just maybe the formwork was popped off early and the floor fell in and 14 people went to the hospital, but.... It sure doesn't make them look good.

But it doesn't end with the contractor. According to the news report on the website, the owner added another floor and made changes that possibly pushed the schedule behind. Adding a floor to a building that's already been designed and engineered sounds like a nightmare to a Pixie. I thought the staff at Wheatlands finally choosing radiology equipment a month after the CDs went out was a pain in the ass. Reckon I don't know pain like this project knows. 14 people in the hospital kind of pain.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Dispatches from 10" AFF*

meow this is mady ./ i em very madd cuzmama tuk me too th vett an thenn wen on vaykashun.,..

seeemy lef fwont paw>? it layz flatr thn myrite fwon paw an i limpp alott., so mama tukme to de vet n he pokd an stikkd mee wif niiddlz an tuk sum blud an peee./ thn i got hoam an mama givvd me mebbicin an it tastd bad an she set th ket feeder-=timr thing., thn shi an papawent to de baysbal gaym an to a hoatell fr theew nite.
I wil hav my revenj.,

*AFF = above finished floor

Monday, July 2, 2007

Ain't worth a damn in Denver.

This was Maddy on the back of the futon on Sunday.

Not that she hadn't earned the rest. Being cute 24/7 is hard work.

Actually, it was a semi-productive weekend. I cleaned my bathroom, swiffed the house, and did all my laundry. Guy did some of his laundry; he seems to generate more funky clothes in the laundry basket than I do. Perhaps it has something to do with my dry-clean only Ann-Taylor clothing fetish. Which brings me to a question for my peeps in cyberspace: how do you divide up chores between cohabitating couples? Guy and I take turns cooking dinner and cleaning the catboxes, but he takes out trash and vacuums while I get groceries and swiff. We each clean our own bathroom and do our own laundry (though we aren't opposed to offering to do a little of someone else's whites or darks when we have a small load to do).

Anyway, laundry is tough in our condo building, especially on a Sunday morning. Guy and I got up at 7:30am to be the first ones to the coin-operated laundry machines in the basement, and some older women had already beat us. We still managed to get a lot of laundry done, and after I cleaned the kitchen Guy cooked omelettes. Suddenly, we found ourselves done with our chores at 11:30am. "What now?" I asked Guy, unaccustomed to having time on my hands.

"We hang out and do nothing," said Guy. "I'm ready to kick some ass on my new computer game."

"Ah," I said. I shlumped down on the futon and found a Deadliest Catch marathon on Discovery Channel. Later, Cops came on, and I switched back and forth between the two. I was so worthless I took a nap. A nap, people. That's something I very rarely do, even on a weekend or vacation. I was evidently so snoozy and useless that Maddy felt it necessary to hop up on the back of the futon and shlump, too. Like mama, like kitten.