Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving, 2011

I passed you, coming out of the morning meeting.  You weren’t supposed to be there. You were on your phone; still said “hi” as I went by.  I figured that you were just checking in. I wish you’d said something then, but that really wasn’t ever your way of doing things.  Later on, you were gone, with the message in my inbox that you’d resigned.  I know some of the whys and wherefores, and there’s a lot that I don’t know.  I do know that there are some things that I need to tell you. It’s part and parcel of what we talked about in terms of many other people and situations as I tried to help you as we worked together. We just never really talked about what you’ve done for me.

You took action on my behalf at a time when I was out of options. I was out of ideas; mostly I was out of hope. I was hope-less. Trapped from any of the thousand ways I tried to look at it, resigned to a crumbling future. I was beyond hating my job, hating those around me, beyond sick and tired. I was numb.  It was not “acceptance,” it was despair. What you gave me - and it was truly a gift – was an opportunity. We both know that it was also good for the company. What you did that others would not was to recognize this and do something about it. I would hope that you could consider this a success. As we discussed, many times, success in your particular position was often very difficult to measure. One of the things you understood was that success as a leader could be measured in human terms, usually ‘off the books’, even when others might not understand. I enjoyed those conversations very much. You most certainly achieved that with and for me. Thank you.

It didn’t mean that I liked my assignments. Not at first, and some of them I will never enjoy. You did, however, treat my attitude and frustrations with a compassion that amazes me, still.  These last few years have not been easy for anyone at our workplace, and you were often pretty near the end of that wagging dog’s tail. Though we (ok, me mostly) made fun of some of your statements (“It is what it is”), there was no mistaking that it was what it was, and it likely wasn’t getting any better. You encouraged, cajoled, moved stuff around, didn’t run certain reports at different times, and did your best to make it work. Often, you looked bad for our sake. Some of us recognized that.  Thank you.

The opportunities that you provided me have given me quite an education into an aspect of my career that I never thought I’d receive.  You have increased my value at least threefold; to Mercy, to myself, and hope-fully, to my future.  You’ve helped improved my home and family life – I’m a little easier to live with than I was in my six years in “The Pit.” I actually look forward to going to work, every now and then. Just don’t tell anyone – I have a reputation to maintain.  Thank you.

Thank you for looking me in the eye. Thank you for letting me rant when I needed to, to say the wrong thing, to accept my apologies for doing both. Thank you for valuing my opinions. For listening. For your confidences, which I keep. It meant that you valued the ‘working’ me, something that had been taken away.  You allowed me to do, to make a difference, to work through a new challenge to the other side, to make something better, not just fill time on the train to oblivion.

I don’t know what the future holds for either of us. I hope what you told me, the last time we talked about it, continues to be true. I know that you’ll be successful and make a difference, whatever happens, because that’s what you do. I’m just thinking about you on this Thanksgiving eve.

Thank you.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

“V-8, with a Detroit attitude”

- from “Livin’ Large in My Malibu”, Steve White


About three months ago, I purchased the above vee-hickle. Two and a half tons of Dearborn steel, an iconic hunk of Americana. This is not my first truck, but it’s been a while, and the last one I called a truck was really an SUV stuck on a small truck chassis. My first truck was a brief yet (nostalgically) satisfying encounter 20 years ago with an ex-forest service truck with a straight-six, three on the floor rattler that I frankly can’t remember what happened to it. This is my first V-8. I’m old enough that I had to do the conversion to be happy; it says 5.4 liter but that means 330 cubic inches, to me. Not quite the 350 of my ‘childhood’, and  what we Amurrcans call a “short block”, but it’s the biggest motor I’ve ever put my foot into. I haven’t actually done that, yet, and that’s going to be the point of this essay, eventually.

cropped orig side

I didn’t set out to buy this truck. I had smaller things in mind, really I did. I wanted a truck; consumer/homeowners that we are, we accumulate things (like IKEA furniture) that may come home in small packages but require disposal options not available at curbside.  We also needed transportation that could accommodate the four of us. Toyotas and Hondas were in my sights. I took Sam along to test back seats. The short story is that I saw this truck, liked it immediately for several reasons, negotiated a reasonable price, and took it home. And yes, I succumbed to its’ ‘bigness.’

So here’s the deal. It took me a good two months to come to the realization that I am rebelling. No, not like the middle-aged (and yes,  I am clutching at the outer edge of that precipice) guy who buys a Corvette and gets hair plugs.  I can’t say if it’s always been this way, but I suspect not – that I’m living in a society where everything I do is guilt-inducing or otherwise contra-indicated for some reason or another. I know that I consume more on a regular basis than most on this planet and, while I can and do conserve/recycle/etc., there are aspects of my living that I cannot change – right now.  Suburban life probably must change significantly if we are to ultimately sustain life on Earth; however, those changes are going to happen pretty slowly in comparison to my tenure. Having said that, there is so much noise around us about what’s “good” and “bad” that I fear none of us should truly enjoy much beyond camping in the woods, eating berries and missing toilet paper. We are made to feel guilty about where we shop, what we buy, how we cook it, what kind of pots and pans we use, what countries the spices come from, how we eat it, how we wash the dishes, and we really should be composting those coffee grounds and watermelon (I’m SURE it was union-picked) rinds. I have been wondering, lately, what ultimately costs more – sending food scraps through the garbage disposal, or putting them in the trash. Water is expensive here in Southern California; at the same time our landfill is pretty full. Yes, really, I can feel guilty about just about anything, anymore.  I was getting pretty self-righteous about that whiny, freeloading cat at our house until he reminded me of his worth yesterday by leaving mouse parts on the front porch. Alright, so he’s doing his part, he can stay.

With the truck, it’s gas. Let’s not mince words here, this As an impulse buy, I can claim that I was misled by a CARFAX® report that grossly overestimated the mileage – I later found out that it gets exactly what Ford Says it’s supposed to.  It is the heaviest truck in it’s class, and it just takes a lot to move it around. So I, good person that I am, immediately became guilt-ridden and obsessed with improving it. I got online and found lots of expert advice, including a modification to the air intake system that I performed myself with some drain pipe and a hose clamp.  Any further efforts will be costly, and must be placed pretty far down the list of things to do, if at all. I can report that the things I have done, which include driving (as one truck forum poster wrote) “like there’s a raw egg between my foot and the gas pedal”), I’ve increased my city mileage by 0.71 mpg.  This means a little over 21 more miles per tank of gas (It’s got a 30 gallon tank, fer pete’s sake), or about a gallon and a half savings  per tankful.  I now measure things/purchases/etc. by tankfuls of gas.  I’m also about ready to get over it.

I know it’s new and all (to me, it’s 4  years old. Pretty good lookin’ considering that, huh?), but I have just enjoyed the heck out of this truck. I had been driving the 20 year-old 4-door Honda Civic that the kids grew up in, complete with a back seat so encrusted with happy meal detritus. . . I need go no further. I had no fan, so no heat/defrost/AC action; it bore the scars of domestic bliss  and deferred maintenance (kinda like me, but I still have some trade-in value).  I enjoy everything about it – the space, the ride, the fact that it has airbags  and big ol’ bumpers.  I know that I will get used to it, over time. For now, the cost of operating it has turned to an appreciation for what it does for me. Not exactly a guilty pleasure, more like I’ve earned the right to have it and enjoy it. If I could afford it, I would buy one of those little electric cars and use the truck less.  I would take public transportation back and forth to work if it were practical, but, last time I checked, it was about an hour and a half each way vs. about 18 minutes by car. That is not a reasonable trade-off. 

There has to be a point where one stops bullying themselves about what they can’t do and do more than just make do. Yes, I said that in an obscure way just to over use the word ‘do.’ Must we always be willing to settle for less? Today, this suits me, and I will make the best use of it until such time as my circumstances and abilities change. One day, pretty soon, I think that I will get on a freeway onramp, put the pedal to the floor, and smile.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Forum Post

Gasp! a blog post! 
This is from me, on a forum. I think if you read it you don't really need more context than that. Just saving it for posterity, thought you might like it.

I understand what and how you are saying it, Oxy, but you are assuming that everyone sees this world the way you do. They do not.
It does no one any good to wish that Emma was anything other than what she is. I, of course, would welcome any treatment that would improve her cognition and abilities, but it would not change who Emma is.
There is nothing special about DS nor autism. Every child is a blessing. Yes.
The blessings are where you find them. I would hope that you could believe that many of the most contented moments of my day revolve around just being with Emma - pure love, pure fun, holds me in her arms like no one else can. I look for those moments, and savor them when they are here. In many ways, including the support I receive here and see others get, she has done more for my faith in our species than anything else. That is backward - she's a 'defective' copy, and yet she displays her humanity in ways that the rest of us inhibit to the point of self-destruction. To miss that message, in my opinion, is to miss a fundamental aspect of what it means to be human - across the spectrum of humanity. Overcoming suffering - in all of it's forms - physical and mental, from within and without - is a component in just about everyone's life, at some point. I am not saying that I am any good at it, I'm doing the best that I can, but this is another thing that has been brought into sharp focus for me through Emma's existence.
Some get way more suffering than others, some are destroyed by little, some (I have some personal heroes here) amaze me with their resiliency and personal resources. I can learn from them, but I cannot be them, I must find my own path. I can certainly appreciate and applaud others' ways of overcoming. I don't agree completely with Viktor Frankl, but what a story of succeeding through the most horrible suffering imaginable.
I put the whole "blessing" thing into the same basket with "all DS kids are happy." It is a very poor reflection of the whole picture. But blessings are there, and they are available.
I cannot follow the thought that I was somehow chosen to have Emma; the implications take me to a place that is completely theologically untenable to me. I won't know the answer to that until after I die.
I've shared the 'revelation' that I once, very grief stricken, had the thought that Emma would be made 'perfect' in heaven. I almost immediately had two thoughts: 1) How would I recognize her, then 2) how would she recognize ME? How imperfect am I?
I'm not attacking you, Oxy. I'm still angry at DS, pretty sure that I always will be. My desire is that you can find your way to see what these folks here have learned, for them, to find meaning for yourself. I'm still working on it, too.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Just Right.

Sometimes the reasons that certain things seem timeless can only be revealed in the dead of night. I realized this at about 3 a.m. this morning, as I knelt beside Emma's bed retrieving "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", to drone her back to sleep. The simple refrains of "Too Hot. . . Too Cold. . . Too Hard. . . Too Soft. . . Just Right" hold a rhythmic quality that, frankly, stalls for time when one is looking for quantity over quality. These phrases provide both, and require much less in the way of material to remember. I got almost all the way to the end by the time I could hear her steady breathing; my eyes were too bleary in the dark to see if she was sleeping.
 I don't know if the author intended it to provide this sort of comfort to weary zombie parents, their senses dulled in the wee hours, but it is sheer genius.

That I can get away with this old story with a nearly 12 year-old is some of the 'sweet' part.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Emma takes off

It’s pretty incredible – what happens inside you when you realize that Emma has left the building. She has done this, before. The last time - a while ago, a neighbor brought her to the front door before I knew that she was gone – any realizations were after the fact; she was safe. This time was different. She was gone, through our bathroom, into the garage and a double-locked door (no problem for her), and I didn’t know for how long or which direction she’d gone. A quick search of the house confirms that she’d split. Running down the street, barefoot, trying to guess which way she might have gone, trying to determine the most dangerous, nearest big intersection. Reaching it. Nothing. My cell phone battery’s nearly dead because I’ve been playing Angry Birds on it all morning. Call Sam at home, ask him to stay there. Mom’s out driving around in the car, looking.  I wander for another block or two, then head back to the house. Look through the house, again, hoping that she’s under something. What will the police think when they see what our house looks like on a Sunday afternoon of Spring Break with Emma?

I dial 911. I’m still breathing hard from running. I feel completely sick as I hear myself saying the words, “My daughter is missing. She has Down Syndrome. She’s 11. She cannot speak. . . ” What will happen to us, now? The dispatcher is calm, asking me questions that I don’t readily know the answers to; I have to dig. Part of my job at the hospital is to receive calls like these from nurses reporting missing patients; I now have a new compassion for those trying to answer the most basic questions under circumstances like these.  She’s going to stay on the line with me until the police arrive. I’m still taking mental inventory of how bad we’re going to appear, that we’re going to lose both of our kids when they see how we live. . . it’s a feeling beyond desperation. It’s like, well, realizing the diagnosis. It all comes back with the addition of this current failure on my part to keep this from happening in the first place. My mind races with where Emma might be. Time stretches into a string of consciousness; I don’t care that I’m standing in the middle of the street in a pair of shorts and a dirty T-shirt grasping a phone to my ear, making seeming small talk with a woman who’s facilitating my descent into yet another world that I’ve only glimpsed. In my mind, I’m already being questioned, over and again, our life (of which I’m making as much sense as I possibly can) is being turned over and examined by those who’ve got no clue about the hows and whys, and I see them reaching well-meaning-yet-completely-wrong conclusions. It’s all going on as I stand there. Emma will be found safe and our family will then be torn apart. It’s paranoia of the highest order. As desperately as I want the help, I fear their impending potential. Layers of fear, playing out simultaneously on this bright, cool Spring afternoon – yes I even thought this, looking up into the sky between watching for police cars. Still didn’t see any. How long has it been, anyway?

Then, Vicky comes around the corner, with Emma in the back seat. She’d found her, a couple of blocks away. She’d crawled up into a U-Haul truck, buckled herself into the Driver’s seat, and was happily running the steering wheel back and forth. No clue that this was wrong, bad, dangerous, nothing. Happy to see us, although perplexed that we didn’t seem as enthusiastic about her escapade – she’d had a grand time. I thanked the dispatcher, and we went inside. The ultimate frustration in all of this was that there was no opportunity to parent her.  I have no way to tell that she received any message that she should not have done this; the act itself is too abstract to connect any behavioral modification to. All we can do is to be more vigilant with containing her. I thought we were, but one button didn’t get set, and the opportunity arose, and it wasn’t even a matter that Emma was looking to escape – she just followed her curiosity.

That evening, Mom went to get some dinner for us. I had been sitting in the same room with Emma most of the afternoon, but she’d gone into her bedroom. It had not been actually 3 minutes when I looked in and saw that she wasn’t there. To make a long story short, I panicked and went running around the block again. Neither Sam nor I had seen Emma in my bed, covers pulled up to her nose, hanging out. I spotted her there a few minutes later doing another once-over before reaching for the phone. I then had to go back out and find the amazing neighbor who had dropped what she was doing in her yard to look for Emma. This is not the way to meet your neighbors, although it’s the sweetest part of this story.   All of this happened again – compressed, of course –  I’d ‘gone around the bend’, literally, when Emma had only gone about 20 feet.

It’s been six days, and the hole in the pit of my stomach is much better. As always, Emma is Emma. How and what she does just continues to reveal who I am, and it’s not the sort of exercise that I’d recommend. I’m not very proud of what I’ve written here, but it’s pretty close to the truth. Fill in the darker parts as you wish, or, my preference, skip it entirely. There hasn’t been much else this week that’s bothered me; my perspective’s been a bit, er, skewed.  It’s a different kind of worry. It’s got to be more constant than it has been. Complacency is the enemy, the cost of relaxation just went up $40 a  barrel.  The dangers of being locked into one’s home. The dangers of one’s own mind.  Looking for a reality check when there really isn’t one.  Learning what to let go of and what to hold. Bittersweet.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

If Andy Rooney had more than three minutes, this is what it would sound like.

This is one of several editions that I’ve been stuttering on over the past few months.  Let’s see if I can make it to the “Publish” button, today. It’s all the way up there on the menu bar . . . and I seem to be in a strange humor, this morning.
I can’t really blame the meds, this time.  There’s a lot going on. As I’ve stated in earlier missives, reasons for omission seem to be overwhelming my desire to capture what’s going on for posterity. In addition, I’ve been reading Samuel Clemens, it’s like going to see Steve White play; you’re not gonna pick up a guitar for a few days afterward. Because the Internet is forever, or seemingly so. Blogging for me has assumed a certain liability - akin to the perils of having “unprotected” sex – the potential implications being enough to inhibit those of us with the proper fears and sensibilities installed.  What if my potential employer reads that I think that Healthcare management in this country is insane? It’s a pretty radical concept. There - I’ve said it - no turning back, now.
To my tortured mind, it’s always been the argument between “You’re not talented enough” vs. “You’re not disciplined enough.” There is probably more written about being a writer than any other subject, it only stands to reason.  Writing about Writing is the next best thing to, well, Writing.  “Being A Successful Writer” – the statement itself contains 4 words that are wildly open to interpretation, individually. I recently read an article that pointed out that having a world-changing “thing” was not enough; it was the implementation and, er, exploitation of that idea that really made the difference. Thank you, Adolph, now PUT YOUR ARM DOWN -  I’m not going to tell you again.  Exploitation is such an ugly word. Sausage tastes really good, though – you just don’t want to know how it’s made. I know that they use high-pressure water hoses in the manufacturing of SPAM . . .
I’ve been reading more random blogs these past few days. Google Reader has a “recommended” button that somehow aggregates blogs based upon one’s saved blogs/recent activity/shoe size/bank account statement/last physical/?? (I’m sure Google knows what I’ll be doing tomorrow, at least upon the intertubes). People I don’t know. Families with Down Syndrome and Cancer in their lives. I don’t know why, but Cake Wrecks keeps coming up – it’s hilarious. And, of course, tsunami pictures. Blogs from Americans and Japanese who are there and say that it’s not so bad, where they are. News about purported and potential radiation plumes, and the page that proves that my home is 48 miles from the San Onofre Nuclear Plant, just inside that magic 50-mile circle.
This experience has re-affirmed for me that Faith and Love are really the essence of our existence – the best of Human production. They need to be together for us to be worth, well, a plug nickel.
Our lives, individually and collectively, are being recorded ‘seismographically’. The extremes often become defining moments, although (usually) they are the anomalies in an otherwise bumpy but boring pass under the pen.  So often, the gritting goal-attainment gets ignored. The Japanese are being described in glowing terms at the moment, based upon their suffering and stoicism. I’m not begrudging this – just noting it. One Japanese official has already made a bonehead statement that this was their Gods’ (purposefully  plural, thank you) punishment, then retracted it. It’s nice to be reminded that we don’t hold the exclusive rights on ignoramousness. God gets blamed for a lot; it makes the senseless so much more sensible. I suppose.  Our species has such a way of saying the dumbest things at just the wrong times.  Of course, I have to put this blog into that category by definition. See how I can talk myself out of this?
I found it so very unsettling to sit here comfortably in my chair while I watched the sea engulf Sendai and the north coast of Japan. Long shots displayed the passionless, inevitable rolling wall of water. Closing in, to watch a thousand tragedies unfold, methodically, without regard, without any reason other than the principles of Newtonian physics. Sensible, yet senseless. To share, at least, a sense of powerlessness with the camera operators, helicopter pilots; those who could only witness what was transpiring below them.  It was not so long ago that the world would only learn of these things by eyewitness account, often weeks later – dramatized and/or sanitized by layers of editorial effort.  I had a God’s-eye view (if I might be so impetuous to imply) of this as it was happening.  Having been made in God’s image, I can understand that I’d be unable to sleep if I were He,  having to constantly see that sort of thing. And then get blamed for it.
Emma.  She’s becoming more articulate in her own inarticulate way. That I’m having trouble coping with my soon to be 12-year old daughter is as “normal” as it’s supposed to be. The problem is that the problem is me.  She’s learning how to get along with other people, not just the three of us, and they don’t treat her as abruptly as I tend to. I haven’t grown out of the “terrible twos” mentality – you know, ask , ask, ask, ask more firmly, ask even more firmly, threaten, threaten, then move you where I asked you to go ten minutes ago. Not so easy when the ‘askee’ is about 100 lbs., a girl, who now has the vocal abilities of Maria Callas with a megaphone and the physical presence to collapse onto the floor in the most dramatic and embarrassing way.  I need to respect her more, and not just because it’s inevitable that I’m not going to get my way all of the time, anymore.  It helps very little to rationalize these things when I’m tired and grumpy myself (that would be between the hours of noon – nine p.m.).  To put it into whatever context this rambling has produced, I love her dearly. I need to invest more faith in her. So we’ll probably be even later than usual to whatever event you’re hosting, if you invite us. Yeah, both of you.
We’re starting another no-fly-zone. We’re wasting our money on war while those who need caring for are getting less. Ideology and idiocracy overwhelm Faith like paper covers rock. “The Money” is going somewhere. The Golden State is drowning, and our earthquake hasn’t happened yet. We will not be lauded for our orderly society when it does. It helps very little to rationalize these things when I’m tired and grumpy – oh wait, it’s only 10:30 in the morning. Time to check the news.