Sometimes little things have a big impact…

You never know what someone else is going through in their life. A simple kindness can brighten someone’s bad day, while a minor slight can make their world crash down around them. This is a story of the latter, unfortunately.

First, a little background –

Ever since my ex asked for a divorce in mid-September 2014, just 10 days after my birthday, September has felt cursed. Maybe the curse actually began when we got married the previous September.  Since then, September – my birthday month – has proven difficult for me (with the possible exception of the time I spent in Switzerland, but even that trip had its negative points).

One of the little things I look forward to in September – a sense of normalcy in a month that has often been difficult – is our monthly departmental birthday celebration. For a few years, I was the only September, so I had my choice of birthday cakes. Now there are other Septembers, so we all reach agreement on a type of cake. I am usually fairly flexible with one caveat – no chocolate. I have never liked chocolate and I rarely eat it in any form.  So imagine my surprise when I walked in to our birthday celebration this week and saw not the strawberry shortcake we had agreed to, but a large chocolate cake.

I realize this is very “First World problems” and maybe I should just brush it off. But, as I mentioned, you never know what someone is going through. This has been a really difficult month for me on many levels and so I was really looking forward to that one little bright spot in an otherwise dark month.

This September started off so well that I had totally forgotten the curse.  Over Labor Day weekend, I went on two dates with someone who I had taken a liking to and who I was hoping to get to know better. My birthday (ironically, on Labor Day) started with brunch with a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while, then a visit to the spa for a massage and facial, and dinner with my mom. All in all, probably one of the best birthday weekends I have had in several years.

But that was the end of the positive this September. By that Friday, the person I was hoping to get to know better was out of my life (it came as a complete shock to me and it was particularly disappointing as I really would have liked to at least maintain a friendship). A little over a week later, I got some concerning test results after I went in for a physical. A few days after that, I started running a mysterious, intermittent fever combined with abdominal pain. It has been over two weeks since that started and it may be more serious than I first surmised.

I finally went to the doctor to have the fever and abdominal pain checked out on the day we had our birthday celebration. The visit raised several concerns (and a referral for a CT scan). Blood tests indicate some sort of infection and I am now awaiting the results of a CT scan. During that visit, the doctor had quite a bit of blood drawn to run some tests, which left me feeling woozy. But, as I told first the nurse, then the doctor, and then the lab tech, I was in a rush because I was looking forward to the birthday cake awaiting me.

I emailed the person in charge of cake for the month multiple times, letting her know first that I might be running late and then that I was done with my appointment and could, in fact, make it back in time for the celebration. I then rushed from the doctor’s office back to my office. At least 3 emails were exchanged – at no time did she ever mention there was a snafu with the cake.

I am sure my disappointment was obvious, although few people seemed to care – everyone else got a type of cake they liked, after all. Needing sugar after the blood draw, I grabbed some cookies from my office. “Why are you eating cookies before your cake,” a coworker asked. “Because I can’t eat any of this,” I responded, pointing at the cake. The organizer mentioned the bakery screwed up, so she got chocolate because she knew the other two liked it. She pointed out that she had gotten two fruit tarts (both of which had chocolate in them and both of which had kiwi, which I generally avoid). I reiterated that I don’t eat chocolate which prompted someone to ask if I was allergic – it shouldn’t matter why I don’t eat chocolate, simply that I made clear I don’t eat chocolate. Would it really have been so impossible for someone to at least pick up a cupcake or something more in line with my tastes? Would it have been so hard to genuinely apologize?

One of the other birthday people was stuck on a call that was running late and suddenly was unavailable until 3:15 – when I had to leave to get to another commitment. At that point, it didn’t matter to me – it was clear it wasn’t my birthday celebration anyway. My preferences and feelings had been completely disregarded by all involved.

As I noted, maybe I should let this slide by – it’s very “first world problems” and not a huge issue in the scheme of things. But, in the midst of struggling with the medical issues I am dealing with, and having the type of September I have been having, it was just really hurtful to be completely disregarded in that manner.

 

 

Why I believe Christine Blasey Ford

I am home dealing with some medical issues, so I took the opportunity to watch the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.

I debated whether to post this, whether to go public with this. But watching Kavanaugh rage in his opening statement, listening to his partisan rant, and hearing him play the victim, seeing his crocodile tears and the disrespect he is showing women on the committee, I felt I needed to speak up. First, setting aside any sexual assault allegations, this man is a partisan bully who has no business serving on any court, let alone the Supreme Court.

But it is the sexual assault allegations, and the absolute rage and victimhood with which he denied them, that compels me to speak. Like most women, I have my own decades-old stories. Yes, stories – more than one.

One incident occurred when I was in my late teens, in my very own bedroom. A family member’s friend, a few years younger than me, was at the house. I was in my own room, lying on the bed studying or reading , when he came in and locked the door behind him. He climbed on to my bed and made his way toward me. I put up my foot – or perhaps it was my knee – to block his way. I remember him making the kind of “come on, it will be fun” or “you know you want to ” comments that are often said in those situations as I pushed him away, making whatever excuses I could think of. Eventually I pushed him off the bed and physically pushed him out of the room as he laughed. To this day, 3 decades later, I still don’t know if it was all a big joke and he was messing around with me or if he would have done something had I not resisted. For years, I dismissed it as the former, but could never dismiss the possibility it was the latter and that he was testing how far he could push. I have lived with it for years, impacting me in ways I probably still don’t realize. And, no, I never told anyone about it until recently.

The second incident was a couple years later, when I was traveling alone in Prague. I was 19 or 20 and traveling alone (before Prague really opened up to international tourism). I was walking back to my relative’s apartment, where I was staying. Two guys (around my age?) came up to me and started walking beside me, one on either side. One tried to put his arm around me which I shrugged off. I tried to ignore them as best I could and kept walking a little faster but, moments later, as we approached an alley, one of them tried to guide, then shove me into the alley. I ducked and started running toward an open bar/restaurant I could see down the street. They didn’t follow – they just stood there laughing. To this day, I don’t know if they were just fucking with the tourist, if they intended to rob me or worse. I still look askance any time I’m walking alone and someone gets too close. Again, I never reported it, although I think I may have mentioned it to people about it over the years. I was a foreigner traveling in a country that was recently emerging from Communism – who was I going to report it to?

If we go back even farther, there was the time when I was in elementary school and wearing really short shorts (it was the 70s) while at the grocery store with my mom.  My mom was some distance away. An old man came up to me and said he could see my panties. I think he probably meant well, as disconcerting as it was. I think he was just saying I should cover up – I don’t recall anything lewd about it. But still… even if it was just a man telling a girl how to dress/behave, it has stuck with me for 4 decades.

I can guarantee you that not a single one of the men involved in my decades-old incidents remember them. I guarantee you no one nearby at the time remembers them.  But I do. They will forever be seared into my memory. I may not remember every detail, but I remember the incidents. I remember the men. I remember the laughter.

For these reasons and the millions of other stories out there, I believe Christine Blasey Ford and believe Brett Kavanaugh is unfit for the highest court in our land.

Things happen for a reason…

… and, in the same way, it seems people come into your life for a reason.

I mentioned in a couple prior posts about how my recent foray into dating didn’t work out and how the person was randomly on my mind recently. I think I now have a better sense for why the universe brought them into my life.

I have never been good about keeping up with medical appointments, including routine physicals. I was only about 4 months behind on that, but a few years behind on some other routine screenings. I have a pre-existing condition that makes one of those routine screenings particularly important and, at present, I appear to be having some issues related to it.

During a text conversation this person mentioned their own upcoming physical. At that moment, I was sitting at my desk, my computer and phone conveniently beside me, and nothing but our conversation distracting me at that moment (there was a contract I was taking a quick break from, but I digress). Without a second thought, I scheduled my overdue annual physical (for the very next week). Had that conversation happened at any other time, I would have made a mental note to schedule the appointment and then forgotten as work, school, or other distractions took priority.

Typical of such exams, my doctor scheduled a slew of tests. She also referred me to several specialists for additional testing. The results started coming in and there were a bunch of minor abnormalities, but the doctor felt most were not of concern. But last week, a different test came back with more concerning abnormalities. I have been awaiting additional results related to the issue, which finally came in yesterday. Fortunately, the remaining tests were normal, taking a huge weight off my shoulders. But it is a situation that will now require monitoring and more diligence in my personal health care.

Which brings me back to my initial point. I believe this person came into my life at this particular time for a reason. While I very much hoped we could remain friends when the dating relationship didn’t work out, I am grateful to them. They helped me refocus some of my personal priorities. But, more importantly, if not for that conversation at that particular moment in time, I would not have made that doctor’s appointment and would not have finally scheduled the other screenings. It remains to be seen what, if anything, comes of those appointments, but I will at least finally have them. And for that, I owe this person a debt of gratitude.

Live for today because tomorrow isn’t promised…

I spent Saturday morning at a thought-provoking and moving memorial/celebration of life for a colleague’s wife who died far too young (less than 3 years older than me). These types of things inevitably make you think about your own life and this was no different. There were anecdotes and messages shared in this service that resonated about my own life and I hope they will stick with me

First, a slight aside – at the service, I ran into several people who I hadn’t seen in several years (some I do see on Facebook, at least).  I commented to one that it always seems to be funerals/memorials that reconnect people. The same was true for my family – it was at a memorial service a few years ago (it must have been about 4 years, since it was just before my divorce) that the family gathered and I saw extended relatives who I hadn’t seen since I was much younger. Why is it we only seem to gather in our times of grief? I admit, I am terrible about maintaining contact with people on a regular basis. I get busy – we all do. And I tend to be an introvert, so social situations have a tendency to drain me. But there is something to be said for maintaining contact. I said to one person that maybe it is time for us to gather a group of us for lunch. I am resolving to put that into action, even if just that one lunch.

A second aside – another message I took away from the service had to do with how we treat our fellow humans. Speakers at the service spoke of community, of getting involved, of finding mentees. As a natural introvert, these things are very difficult for me. But I do try to do what I can to help others.

But I digress…

I have lost too many friends and colleagues over the last few years, most before their time. I discussed their impact a little in a prior post, and this service  (for the person whose death I learned of while high on a mountain) reiterated the messages I had taken from those prior deaths.  I realized that I need to remember to live in the present, to appreciate the life I’m living and to not focus too much on a future that is never guaranteed.

That’s not to say I have given up considering my future. I have spent the last 18+ years ensuring my future was secure, very often at the expense of the present. I have worked for a salary that is significantly below market because, from a long-term perspective, it provides a pension and, in the short-term, it provides other benefits that are above-market. But I have never been able to have anything close to the lifestyle I envisioned when I went to an expensive, highly-ranked private law school. I certainly didn’t expect to still be paying off my student loans (which I still will be doing for years to come).

Over the last few years, I have started to make a greater effort to stop putting things off until “someday” because that “someday” is never promised. The future plans I have worked so hard for whether my pension or my plans to do certain things when I retire – can all evaporate in a moment.

The truth is, I will have absolutely no regrets if something happens to me and my student loans are never fully repaid. But I would regret if I never saw the Northern Lights or Michelangelo’s David or the Roman Colosseum or the canals of Venice.  I have a long bucket list, especially where travel is concerned.

I am no longer waiting for someday. Someday is today.

Reflections on life

Life is interesting… and too damn short.

When I wrote most of this post I was off the grid on an Eastern Sierra trip. I had started writing on day 4 of the trip. On day 5, I had a cell signal for a short time and got word of the deaths of a colleague’s wife – someone about my age – and another colleague’s husband. I was standing on a mountaintop with a vast panorama all around me, when the news came through.

If you are going to learn of someone’s death, I suppose there are worse places to be than surrounded by nature. At over 9,000 feet, surrounded by ancient mountains and trees, the insignificance of our individual lives in the scheme of the universe is pretty apparent.* But our lives are significant to us and those we encounter – some even for just a moment. Even on this trip, I encountered people whose memory will stay with me.

I have had many friends and colleagues die over the last few years – almost all of them dying young by most standards – and those deaths have had a profound impact on me. Some helped pull me out of my post-divorce depression and led me to focus more on me. And they led me to realize I needed to spend more time living in the present, rather than just focusing on my future. I started checking things off my bucket lists and decided to go back to school with certain goals in mind.  And this moment was no different – at another turning point in my life, it made me stop and think.

My friend and I stayed in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park’s high country. We drove separately (for logistical reasons), which had the pleasant side benefit of giving me plenty of “me” time and space. It was time when I was free to go at my own pace and do whatever I felt. I could crank up my eclectic iTunes playlist and just drive. My time was mine, with no one to answer to (although I enjoyed texting with someone when I would stop for a break).

The last time I was in Tuolumne Meadows (a decade ago), I was one day removed from a breakup that hit me hard. Hindsight being 20/20, it probably shouldn’t have impacted me that significantly. But I was blindsided and my heart recklessly opens itself too wide to people. He would later tell me that he chose the timing because he knew I was going on vacation and he thought I would be able to take my mind off things. But that’s the thing up here – it’s pretty off the grid and it’s really easy to get lost in your thoughts. My memories of that trip aren’t great. I was absolutely miserable and I regret that I made things unpleasant for my aunt (who I was traveling with) because I was in a funk and pretty unmotivated to do anything. And dining in Tuolumne is at communal tables, so I’m sure there are others who were impacted by my mood.

This trip was better for me, albeit very different. Things happened, as if the universe was sending a sign that things in my life are moving in the right direction, tho now I have had to reconsider the meaning I imputed to them. There were dragonflies, in particular, and a butterfly that came out of nowhere and landed near me for a moment before flitting away. Both have long symbolic histories across cultures – the dragonfly of courage, strength, and happiness and the butterfly of transformation and change. I took them as signs of what was, but perhaps they were actually harbingers of what was to come.

The first afternoon in Tuolumne, I was along the river bank with not another person around. As I turned to go back up the bank, I caught sight of a mother deer and her fawn, grazing less than 50 feet away. She looked up and saw me, we shared a momentary acknowledgment as if she recognized I wasn’t a threat, then she went back to what she was doing. I didn’t have time to pull out my longer zoom, so I zoomed my lens to it’s max and shot a few photos. Then they moved on out of sight.

I climbed back up the bank, crossed the bridge, and started up the trail when I saw the deer cross the river and then cross the trail in front of me, just as close. There was still not another human around. I fired off a series of photos as the pair crossed the trail and then went off out of sight.

Maybe it’s a little cheesy, but I felt that moment was special. It was something all mine – just me and the deer – with not a single other person having shared it. It felt like it was a message, of sorts, from the universe. The deer is seen as a messenger and a symbol of  harmony, happiness, peace and longevity, particularly in Buddhist tradition, and it felt like a message.

But, while the message was mine alone, I had a feeling that I actually wanted to share it with someone – not a stranger, not my friend, but a partner. I’ve had those feelings with increasing frequency and intensity, especially in my travels. Perhaps therein lied the message?

I enjoy being single, particularly the freedom it affords. But, sometimes I do find myself missing having someone in my life, like in moments such as the one down by the river. I thought these were signs that maybe the timing was right to find someone. I thought it could be a sign that maybe I was on the right track with the person I was texting during my trip.

But my first foray back into dating convinces me otherwise – that maybe the timing isn’t right and that I still need to focus more on myself. As I mentioned, my heart is reckless –  I wear it on my sleeve and it opens itself too widely, even when my brain screams for restraint. Whatever the relationship – whether trusted colleague, friend, or a possible romance – once I let my outer barriers down for someone, my heart takes that as an invitation to fully welcome and embrace them. I don’t trust easily, but when I do it is with little reservation. For this reason, I maintain few truly close friendships. I also don’t date much and I try to maintain some emotional distance for as long as possible when I do. But I slipped this time and found in someone a degree of familiarity and comfort that caused me to let my guard down early. My reckless heart took the opportunity to run amok as my logical brain made a futile effort to restrain it. As is typically the case my heart found itself battered and bruised from its escapade, with many wounds it might have avoided had my brain prevailed.

Which brings me back to my earlier comment – life is interesting and short. There was a time when I thought I had my future planned out, with certain goals and even plans for the future. But planning rarely leads where you think it will. I spent 3 years planning around a single goal, only to have someone else’s actions destroy everything I had been working toward. Ultimately, interests change, opportunities change, people come in and out of your life.

Maybe my future won’t be what I “planned” but I’ll roll with it and embrace it because life is short and we need to make the most of the time we have.

 

* A couple of my tattoos reflect this concept, one in particular. On one shoulder I have a dragonfly surrounded by fallen cherry blossoms, being carried by the flowing water. In Japanese literature, cherry blossoms reflect the impermanence of life and beauty – the blossoms are beautiful in bloom, but they only last a few days until they fall. The dragonfly is symbolic of courage, strength, and happiness. On the other shoulder, I have a frog – symbolic of returns – and maple leaves, another symbol of time passing.

A different hard lesson learned

This post has been sitting in my drafts for a while…

In May I spent two weeks in France where my rental car was broken into and my laptop and iPad were stolen. Despite being tech savvy and regularly working with my IT department on data security issues, my personal laptop hadn’t been backed up in a couple years. In fact, I had recently moved several years worth of photos onto it in order to organize them and then back them up. But I ran out of time. My life was on that laptop.

Yes, they say not to leave stuff visible in your car. But the trunk was too small to hold everything. We were also in a small town off the standard tourist path and it was Mother’s Day in France, so we let our guard down.

I can’t begin to explain the sick feeling that hit me like a punch in the gut, as I realized 1) someone had access to some intensely personal information on that laptop and 2) it was all gone and I no longer had access. I also feared insult would be added to the injury when I returned the rental car and was hit with the bill for the repairs (I had coverage through my credit card, but it’s a reimbursement type of coverage so I’d still have to go out of pocket). There also was the ordeal of filing a police report in a foreign country (thankfully, a local couple went out of their way to assist us, coming to the police department and translating – be nice to strangers, folks, because sometimes it comes back around).

Within 24 hours, I had calmed down. My laptop was password protected, so I realized the odds of someone accessing my data was limited (besides, it was a gaming computer, not a business one, so it didn’t look like it would have a ton of valuable data). I also realized that the thieves were likely looking to make a quick buck, which meant they would likely sell the laptop for scrap/spare parts or they would simply wipe the drive. It was an old laptop and I needed a new one anyway (although I wasn’t prepared to buy one yet). My iPad and some other items in my backpack still bothered me more – most particularly my Agent Scully Funko Pop which has traveled with me and been the subject of some interesting photos (and would cost me over $40 to replace).

The worst part was losing all the work I had done editing photographs from my prior trips. My entire Lightroom library was gone because it had only been backed up locally. On the positive, I still had the SD cards from my most recent trips and I was able to recover older trips from my old computer.

So, it was a hard lesson learned that I should have learned long ago – back up your computer regularly.

Bucket lists (travel)

Eight days ago, I returned from a trip to Iceland where I checked some boxes off my travel bucket list. Chief among those was a chance to see the northern lights / aurora borealis (they were oddly underwhelming in person – they looked more like thin, barely visible clouds than the bright green you see in photos – until I looked at my photos and realized I got some good ones).

The other day, I was thinking about bucket lists and, for a short moment, I thought I had put a serious dent in my bucket list over the last three years – Yellowstone, Rome, Venice, Pompeii, Florence, Iceland, the aurora… Why the sudden burst of travel? After my divorce, and after a few friends died too young, I realized I needed to do a little more to enjoy life today and to do things for myself.

I have been at my current job for over 17 years and have been working at a below-market salary (for many years it was quite significantly below market) for all those years. I have been doing that, in part, with an eye toward my future in the form of a fairly generous (particularly by today’s standards) pension and also toward the present in the form of above-market benefits. Among those benefits is very robust vacation accrual, which I rarely took in my first 10 years.

My future was accounted for, but what was I doing in the present? In 2010, I started taking advantage of my vacation time, with a 2-1/2 week trip to Japan, a place that feels like a second home to me. My next trip was 2011, to see the Kings open the season in Berlin and then to travel around France with a friend. And it was around that time that I met my now-ex, who lives in Stockholm (yes, Sweden).  For the next 3 years, my vacation time was spent almost exclusively visiting my ex or spending time with my ex here in LA. But that was okay, because I was planning a life with this person – a life that would eventually be based in Europe where, I thought, I’d be close enough to many of the places I hoped to see someday. Plus, my ex and I had some of the same places on our bucket lists and had planned to visit them some day, as well. I figured I had plenty of time to whittle down my list. But then my marriage ended and, with it, so did those plans for the future.

About a year and half later, an opportunity presented itself in the form of a conference in Rome. I had the chance to both check Rome (and a few other cities) off my bucket list and to learn something. So I took it. And I realized around that time that I could make my own opportunities. And when some friends passed away suddenly, I realized life was short. I had been working hard to ensure my future, but I needed to start considering the present. So I started checking places and travel experiences off my bucket list.

But was I really just down to just two more, one of which I anticipate knocking out next year, after just a few years of travel? As I started talking about travel I realized there were so many other places and experiences still on that list.

Among the remaining bucket list items:

  • Cambodia and the Angkor temples
  • The Galapagos Islands
  • The ancient ruins in Greece
  • Israel (with a detour to Petra, Jordan)
  • A safari in Africa
  • The Scottish Highlands
  • Stonehenge (yes, I know it’s underwhelming), Bath and other sites in England
  • Castles throughout Europe
  • The rain forests in Costa Rica
  • Snow monkeys in Japan and the Sapporo Snow Festival
  • The pyramids and Sphinx in Egypt
  • Iguazu Falls
  • Auschwitz (not so much a bucket list item as something I feel I need to see in my lifetime)
  • The national parks and national monuments in Utah

I am sure there are others and new ones will replace the ones I check off. But it looks like I have some busy years of travel still ahead…