Friday, August 29, 2008

Competency is a double-edged sword

Yesterday, Ethel was lamenting how crappy her workload had been lately. Mostly, she's having to work for a really obnoxious interior design manager in the office. She feels like she's being talked down to and dimished, both to her face and behind her back. And I would agree--it's been a while since I've worked with this woman, but I recall her being pretty obnoxious. Ethel's advocate in the office is Jacqueline, which probably was a good idea at the time but she now realizes is a bad idea. "Jacqueline won't listen to me when I complain about ____," Ethel said, "but she knows what a bitch she is. Hey, y'know, maybe you should be my advocate!"

I paused. "Hm, maybe," I fudged.

Ethel's reasoning was pretty good. I'm familiar with her and her work, and she asks me for advice on a regular basis anyway, and I might be more able to speak up on her behalf than Jacqueline would. Jacqueline's not into a whole lot of maintenance of anyone really; to be fair, she's not very nurturing of anyone who isn't her 1-year-old little girl, and that's just how some people are. I countered that people know that Ethel and I hang out, and that the higher-ups might not listen to me because they'll think I'm just sticking up for my buddy. Ethel also conceded that she'd rather have me as her friend than as her advocate. I said I'd think about it.

I did, and the answer is unequivocally no. I know for a fact that no one's going to take me seriously as her advocate because I am indeed her pal. Plus, I think I know her too well--there are some behaviors of hers that I cannot defend or excuse. I offhandedly mentioned the whole advocate thing to Kellye. His next comment surprised me.

"When I had my review, I told Howie that I wanted to have you be my advocate, since I'd already been using you as a sounding board for ideas, advice, and so on," Kellye said. "Howie said that I should pick someone with more experience, because you and I had the same amount of experience."

My eyebrows arched. "Really? So if someone older than me, licensed or not, wanted me to be their advocate--?"

"I don't think it would carry the weight they wanted," he replied.

I don't envy Ethel at all right now, working for that control-freak interiors gal. But I can't save Ethel from her, or from any other frustration she has. I was hating life while working with Squidwort, but I still had to find a way to transcend it or compartmentalize it. I've heard from both within and without the office that she's not very professional in her emails to consultants, and I'm sure that doesn't help her either. I think I would work better as her informal/unofficial advocate and person-to-bounce-things-off-of, but not as anything official. I can give her tips and advice on writing good emails, but ultimately I can't do anything about her attitudes: I hate this manager, consultants and contractors are a pain in the butt and out to mess up a project and I have to keep them in line, I'm doing stupid/meaningless work. I know she wants my help and support, but there's only so much I can do. I love hanging out with her outside of work--she's fun, funny, interesting, and a delight. But at work, I have to keep a little distance.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

You say I'm cranky like it's a bad thing

I've been in an odd mood for the past couple of months. Cranky, restless, anxious, twitchy, annoyed all the time, cranky--oh, I said cranky twice. Usually, I get like this for maybe a day or two at the most, and then I wake up feeling like myself again, which is clear, focused, even, energized, and motivated. But this crankyness has saturated my being for a while.

So last weekend I was sitting on the porch (I know, I know, it's really a balcony), and I realized I was in that mood yet again. My second thought was that I had several options to resolve my cranky mood: start writing on a book based on my intern seminars, do some yoga, clean the kitchen, scrub the toilet.... And I realized that I didn't feel like doing any of those. I felt cranky, but I didn't feel like fixing the mood. I was inconsolable, and it appeared that I wanted to stay that way.

And then a calm came over me.

Yogic philosophy refers to a concept called "sitting with the discomfort." Western medical philosophy, whether physical or mental/emotional philosophy, tends to triage, diagnose, and treat any discomfort immediately. However, Eastern medical philosophy isn't afraid to examine the discomfort to see if it's really treatable, or if it even should be treated. Western psychology, says my pal and barstool therapist Vinnie, learned from Eastern thought the day it quit immediately prescribing happy pills for every American who was "a little down." Not everyone is clinically depressed; some people are just a little sad, or are still mourning a great loss, or they need to use their sadness to reassess their lives.

Along those lines, as I sat there on my porch, I realized that I was antsy and anxious and cranky because I wasn't very fulfilled at work. We hadn't had a major project for me to work on in over 13 months, so I'd been working on smaller things that didn't fully challenge me, and now I'm really slow. I'm even helping Veronica rewrite some of our marketing materials, since I have the time and am a good writer, plus it needs to be done. The office can't afford to pay an outside person to do the writing and editing, but I'm already here. This little revelation made me realize that, while I usually fix my problems myself, this was just one problem I wasn't going to be able to fix. No amount of yoga or writing or whatever would make the cranky feeling go away.

"So what do you want to do?" Vinnie asked me on his barstool, watching the security personnel scuttle back and forth in the hotel bar lobby, preparing for the DNC.

I paused and thought a second. "Y'know, I'm embarassed to say this," I admitted, "but I just wanna sit on the balcony and read the Crate and Barrel catalog."

Vinnie chuckled at me. "Pixie, there's nothing wrong with indulging in some mindless comfort activities and behaviors," he said. "It's okay. You've been stressed and anxious, and it's okay to take a break from your go-go-go personality and way of life. You have to refill your well a little."

So this week has been and will be a relaxed, enjoyable week. Morning workouts are for fun, not feel-the-burn. Reading is for fun. Hell, last night I had dinner with Dame Judith, who treated me to some wonderful wine and food and even a sinfully fantastic dessert. I haven't been this calm in a while. It's a big shift for me, not packing "useful" activity into every waking moment. But I think it's a good lesson for me to learn. I've earned the time off.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Shorty on the town

Guy and I and several of our friends have tickets to the Lewis Black show tonight, so I'm off for a fantastic evening of food, drinks, laughter, snarkolepsy, and fun. Then tomorrow night, we have Guy's office picnic followed by an evening with a few of Guy's coworkers at an improv show. So, peace out, my people. Catch y'all on the other side of the weekend.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Scene: watching the Olympics at the Happy Kitten Highrise

[Pixie and Guy sit in front of the TV, watching Olympic swimming]

Pixie: I wish they'd show them from below. I want to see what their feet are doing.
Guy: They're kicking. [turns back to online poker game]
Pixie: Well, yeah, but how? And how fast?
[shot on TV flips to awesome below-water camera looking up at swimmers]
Pixie: [leaping forward on sofa] Holy flurking snit! They're kicking!
Guy: What do you mean, they...I told you they're kicking!
Pixie: Yeah, but...! [arms in air, feet sticking out from edge of sofa] They're kicking like it's going out of style!
[Pixie's feet kick quickly and hands go one over the other as Guy looks at her, then the TV, then Pixie again]
Guy: Wha...[starts to laugh] Pix, what the hell are you doing?
Pixie: I'm trying to figure out how they're timing their kicks with their hands! See, when I swim, I kick at the same speed as my hands and arms go into the water, but they look like they're kicking at twice the speed that their arms are going in the water! Holy shit!
Guy: [looks at TV, at Pixie, at TV, at Pixie, starts outright laughing] Well...yeah! They--what are you doing?!
Pixie: I'm practicing my swimming! I can swim like Michael Phelps! Look!!
Guy: [turning back to computer] You're not swimming like Michael Phelps.
Pixie: [sighs, collapses against the sofa] I know, I'm never going pro. And when I watch the Olympics, I realize that even though I work out like every day, I'm really out of shape.
Guy: See, I gave up ever going pro when I got out of the Army in 1990. I knew I was done with the pushups and running bullshit.
Pixie: [watching TV intently] Could I ever really excel at any sport? Could I be like a pro or semi-pro runner?
Guy: Uh-uh. You're too short and stocky, and you got big hooters. You won't see any big hooters in the Olympics.
Pixie: Hmph. [takes sip of sweet tea] What about swimming? I have big shoulders.
Guy: Aaaaand you're half the height of the average swimmer. [glances at disgruntled midget wife on sofa] Look, you're just not built to do any Olympic sports. I mean, you're in really good shape, better than like 90-95% of people in the U.S., but you're just not built to be an elite athlete.
Pixie: Again, hmph, I say to you. [frowns on sofa, idly pets Maddy, who has been meowing for treats through the entire conversation, and indeed, the entire Olympics]
Guy: You could medal in tunnel racing.
Pixie: [brightens] Tunnel racing?! What's that?
Guy: [hunkers down and moves arms back and forth] It's running through tunnels, and they're really low, so you'd be great at it! [cute voice] You'd kick ass, guy!
Pixie: [glares at Guy]
Guy: [hunkers, pretend runs] Tunnel racing! [hunkers and runs again] Tunnel racing?
[Pixie throws a pillow at Guy, starts laughing]

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Airblades of Glory, or, blowing hot air

We all want to help the planet by consuming fewer resources, whatever those resources may be. We at DA have been hearing about energy-saving and resource-saving washroom accessories for a long time. We usually see these in two forms: one, an automatic paper towel dispenser that uses recycled paper in the towels and only distributes a certain amount of towel by the user waving their hand in front of a sensor; or two, a hand dryer that blows air and supposedly uses less energy and no paper at all. For the most part, the healthcare facilities I work with prefer the touchless paper towel dispensers. They've found that air hand dryers can't produce a hot enough blast of air to kill germs and keep people's hands germ free, and most folks find that these dryers don't fully dry your hands in set mount of time that the air blows--you end up drying your hands on your pants, which is hardly sanitary. Really, though, it's the mechanical action of rubbing your hands over each other that gets rid of germs. Hence, plain old soap and rubbing your hands together, then rubbing your hands with a paper towel gets them hospital clean. But the air dryers mean less work for your housekeeping facilities people--they don't have to empty that trash can once or twice a day.

Supposedly, Dyson--the company that makes those we-never-lose-our-sucking-power vacuum cleaners--has solved the problem of underperforming hand dryers with their Airblade hand dryer that uses super-high-pressure hot air to dry a person's hands, and the air will blast as long as it senses a person's hands. Supposedly, the high-pressure air blasts will dry your hands much faster than a regular air dryer that uses an electric eye to sense hands under it, thereby using less energy.

I recently saw one in a toilet room. It was even mounted low enough for someone in a wheelchair to use.

I put my hands in it (bottom picture) and let it dry my hands, and it was in fact really high-pressure air, and it was comfortably warm. Not bad. But I'm here to tell y'all that it made a helluva noise. A woman in the bathroom with me started asking me something, and all I was was her lips moving like she was a Weather Channel reporter standing in Key West with 110-mph winds blowing around her. The dryer mostly seemed to blow the air clean off myhands.

I walked out of the ladies' room, and Kellye was looking at me funny. "What the hell was that? Did you have one of those Airblades in your restroom too?" he asked. "It sounded like a 747 was taking off in there!" Bear in mind that he heard this through a couple of walls and a door. Evidently, there was one in the men's room he had just been in, but he didn't use it--they also had paper towels, which he gladly and unobtrusively used.

"It nearly blew my hands off," I remarked. "Christ, I know it keeps paper out of a landfill, but how much electricity does it take to power that jet engine?"

"Sutherland and I were talking about those," Norman replied. We three had been out to lunch, and Norman was the only one not to use the restroom afterwards, apparently having a bladder the size of Wyoming. "He said that the Airblade starts at $1500."

Kellye coughed painfully. "$1500?! For a hand dryer?" he sputtered. "Hell, I can buy blue jeans for $25 at TJ Maxx that produce the same result, and for about 80 decibels less."

I shook my head. "You can sell people anything if it plugs in and makes a whirring noise," I commented. "Just call it 'earth-friendly' and people will fall for it."

So, the Airblade does indeed dry your hands thoroughly and quickly, but it's so loud I'm having a hard time seeing its use in anything but a large commercial or institutional space. Otherwise, I say keep your pants on.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Rebuilding the reserves

It's been a long-ass, exhausting week, which I hope explains the lack of posts, despite the fact that I have a lot of good post ideas here lately. After the layoffs this week, a humongous, heavy cold front swooped down over the Front Range and covered us in clouds from Thursday evening through even some of today. It rained pretty solidly all Friday and Saturday--Rev. Kit, it felt like stereotypical Seattle here in your former home! The cold, overcast weirdness settled on us and tampered a lot of activity, and frankly, my energy. Even as the weather was barreling towards us on Thursday, I have to wonder if I was feeling it on a subtle, subconscious energy level--I spent the day just inches away from punching someone. I had been trying to get some redlines done for a gal in Interiors, but I spent much of the day handling emergencies for Prudence and Howie. Howie, who rarely bugs me, seemed to have been stricken with an inability to explain clearly just what he wanted me to do for him. I found myself frustrated at every turn and unable to do the one thing that I was trying to mark off my list that day. Even a fun and relaxing lunch with Kellye was hijacked by Wanda inviting herself to join us at a studio lunch table. Plus, Squidwort called to ask what was going on with the as-builts and why everyone was emailing insults back and forth about them "not being coordinated." Finally on Friday, I was left alone most of the day to do a few things for Alex and some redlines for another architect in the office, and Norman and Kellye and I managed to escape to lunch to a little diner across from one of Denver's many medical centers.

It was in the middle of lunch that I realized my left ear had begun ringing, loudly and persistently, and felt a little congested. By the time I got home, my ear was ringing like Quasimodo was performing with Cirque Du Soleil in my head. I collapsed onto my favorite chaise, and Guy, good man that he is, offered to pick up the tab for Chinese delivery. Just the relief I needed after a week that felt a lot harder than it looked on paper.

This weekend has been spent doing a lot of nothing. I curled up on my balcony in a fleece robe and lots of layers to watch the passing storms, only being chased off when the wind switched directions and began blowing into my balcony. Maddy even curled up in my lap and purred until the rain started showering down on her little tortie ears. She shook the raindrops off and scampered indoors, with Mama following suit.

It has occurred to me in the past seven days that there are some changes in store for me, some bigger than others. I mean, nothing like I'm-shaving-my-head-renouncing-my-possessions-and-joining-the-Peace-Corps big, but just changing up some longstanding patterns for me. The biggest challenge for me in the past year or more has been that work has been slow or slowish, and I haven't really been able to own and get into a project the way I usually do, give it the real Pixie energy from which most projects benefit. Not having that kind of fulfillment at work drains my energy everywhere else. It's as if I need a certain amount of demands on my energy in order to even have energy. I realized recently that back when I was fully involved and busy on Wheatlands, I would spring right out of bed, maybe hitting the snooze button no more than twice. For the past almost year, I've been tapping the snooze button for a good twenty minutes, and the early-rising sun of Denver's summers hasn't even helped pry me out of bed.

This weird lack of energy and motivation baffles me--it's very unlike me. To combat it, I've been trying to power through it by trying to take on more stuff, starting the intern seminar series at work, pushing myself more by running farther and faster and lifting more weight in the gym. Ultimately, though, this weekend made it feel like I've been forcing the issue. Even though the summer is supposed to be a time of high energy for humans in general, this one just hasn't been mine. My Achilles tendons ache furiously when I run, I resist climbing into the pool in the morning, and every time I lay down on the weight bench, I nearly go back to sleep. It might just be time to rest, not to be productive. So I haven't this weekend. Just been bumbling around the house in a flannel road, curling up with the cats and hiding under blankets.

I'll have more on this later this week. I haven't figured it all out just yet.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ask not for whom the ax falls

Jann pulled me aside this afternoon. "Look, we're working hard to get some new projects in the doors, so please be patient. However, we're having to lay a couple of people off today, and Arnie's one of them," she said. "Arnie and ____ are being laid off, and it's partly the fact that we don't have a lot of work and partly a case of performance." Now, longtime WAD readers know that I haven't been blown away by Arnie, and Jann's never been pleased with him. I felt bad for her because she had to tell Wayne, along with Gregg. First off, Wayne's been managing Arnie and his projects for a few months now. I'm always seeing Wayne and Arnie in a conference room, going over and over stuff, or whatever thehell they're doing in there. Partly, I presume Wayne's been trying to train Arnie better and improve his performance, but I don't know how the hell that's supposed to happen when Wayne's always dragging the boy into conference rooms for two hours at a time three or four times a week. Plus, I've noticed that Wayne and his boss (and Guy's former boss) Gregg tend to manage people, and I've always understood that you're supposed to lead people and manage processes. But I digress. The reason I felt bad for Jann is that I knew that telling Wayne this would not be a short conversation. Nothing with Wayne is a short conversation. When I left the office this afternoon, Wayne, Gregg, and Jann were still in a conference room, half an hour after they walked in there. I rolled my eyes inwardly.

One of the office interns, Brooke, and I were talking about DA just today and how DA rarely lays people off. And for the most part, we haven't. Until this week, we only laid off about five people in 2008, which has been a really down year. I discussed this a little with Norman as we were walking past the Wayne-chatter-filled conference room and out to the parking lot. "Norman, correct me if I'm wrong, but if DA lays off Elliot, or Derek, or Ingrid, or me, that would be a sign that DA would be in serious financial trouble, wouldn't it?" I asked.

"Yeah, it would," Norman replied. "I mean, we could all find jobs pretty easily, even in this economy, but..."

"Yeah, but," I said. "I wouldn't go changing jobs just 'cuz I felt like a change right now."

"Yeah, true." Norman looked towards the west at all the cars in the parking lot. Folks from DA were slowly filtering out of the office, tossing insulated lunch bags into their back seats, adjusting Bluetooth headsets and taking off jackets as they climbed into their summer-hot cars. He looked back at me. "Isn't it creepy when you know someone's getting laid off, and they don't know it yet?"

"Gives me the damn willies," I responded. "I know Jann's never been keen on Arnie, and that other guy really pissed Elliot off, but still...I just get the willies in general." I got in my car, unable to shake the feeling of general creepitude.

The only people that look at ceilings are prostitutes and architects

In a previous post, I mentioned that architects look at the world differently. I finally found a good way to describe this phenomenon. Well, one example among many, really. I was in a recently remodeled Einstein's Bagels shop on the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver. It had been a few months since I'd darkened the door of this particular Einstein's, as I don't get to this part of town often. I was thrilled to see that it had been renovated and looked much brighter.

The lights with shades on them over the tables were new, as was the track lighting and flat screen TV on the opposite wall. New paint, flooring, posters, and tables, chairs, and booths had been installed. But then, as only an architect can do, I looked up.

This ceiling tile is one of many that were dinged, scratched, and askew in the ceiling grid. You can touch up dinged ceiling tiles, I learned from a contractor, with a small brush and some white paint. It'd be easy to do here, since the ceiling in this place was easily 10'-0", which means it's hard to really see. Unless you're looking, like me.

More dented, dinged, askew tiles in dingy-colored ceiling grid. I'm not sure the grid color is coming through in these photos, but trust me--it wasn't new. And I know it's around a column, and cutting ceiling tiles around a column is hard to do, but seriously? Y'all just renovated the pants off this fine food service establishment, and you couldn't even touch the ceiling? What, is there asbestos up there and you can't pop a tile or you'll have to evacuate the building?

Well, obviously you did pop some tiles, because the green drywall soffit with the track lighting is new. So how about the ceiling over the public food prep area?

Oh no you di-int.

At least these tiles are moisture-resistant scrubbable tiles, but again, we have the discolored ceiling grid couple with askew tiles and a really aged mechanical diffuser. I think the linear things behdin the diffuser might be aged lights, but I couldn't tell. Either way, they looked...old. Old and kinda greasy.

Look, I'm sure this place passes its health department inspection, and I would totally eat here again. The food is good, the service is great, the seating is comfy, the bathrooms are clean, the coffee bar is stocked, and it's a fine establishment overall. But I just want to throttle tenants who decide that they're going to fix everything but the ceiling. And I know this is done because no one notices ceilings except for prostitutes and architects, and yes I know I'm kind of repeating myself by saying "prostitutes" and then "architects." But dammit, if you're going to fix most of it, fix all of it. Ceiling tiles and grid aren't that expensive. They finish the look of a space. Have a bake sale and spend the money on ceilings. We know your bagels are good enough to make the cash for it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Next on Lifetime: "She's Too Thin"

Guy has been saying that Maddy looks thin. I have only paid moderate attention to Guy’s kitteh observations, as he doesn’t look at/snuggle/cater to the cats as much as I do. However, I looked down at Maddy one afternoon and realized her stomach (or bibbin, as we call it around here), was nonexistent. I put a finger on each side of her tummy, and they touched in the middle, only skin between them. A quick test on the household scale revealed that my big girl had lost 3 lbs in 7 months. This would be like me going from my healthy 121 to 81 in the same amount of time.

Not cool.

My friend Moira mentioned that her kitty Gabe had a similar problem, which turned out to be hyperthyroidism. “It’s treatable,” she said, “but you need to get Maddy diagnosed so you can help her.” So, off to the vet for blood work, thermometers up the back side, a return visit in the morning for a urine sample.

Two days and $250 later, Maddy’s thyroid is fine. She also tested clear for diabetes and a host of other illnesses, but her white blood cell counts were elevated. “She’s fighting off an inflammation or an infection,” said the vet. “Given her increased appetite and energy along with the extreme weight loss, she may have some kind of intestinal parasite.”

So, off to the vet again for some intestinal-parasite-killing powder to mix into her food. Her recheck will be in three weeks. Guy met this news with surprise, mild disgust, and some actual concern.

Surprise: WORMS?!
Disgust: Don’t let her on the bed, and don’t let her rub her ass on you like she does.
Concern: Did they give us anything to treat Hazel? Are the worms gonna get to her too?

I met his parry with my own.

Surprise: I know. Maybe she could have gotten them from a bug she ate?
Disgust: I don’t let the cats put their asses on me. It’s you who’s poking your finger in their butts all the time.
Concern: Thing is, in order to feed her the powder, I’m gonna have to increase her wet food intake so I can mix it in.

Some of us are really enjoying this medicine thing.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Mile High Fixie

My shower horked on Thursday. It refused to do anything other than spit out a little bit of water at an uncontrollable temperature. Guy attempted to fix it, but pronounced it dead within 15 minutes. He had just fixed the leak that had plagued my shower on and off all summer, and now this. "Get a new showerhead this weekend," Guy told me.

So I bought one at Bed Bath and Beyond. Now, Guy went to Boulder today to visit a friend for lunch, which leaves me sweaty from a morning walk and showerless. Shorty must get her plumbing on. Thankfully, this low-flow five-relaxing-setting-with-pause-button contraption came with directions.

Is this thing on?

It's ALIVE!!!!