Friday, January 20

trying to pace myself in a random way

My work life has become very intense and high-pressured. The pregnant colleague left to give birth this week to number six (mazal tov!). Not bad enough that she was leaving in the middle of one of the two most intense periods of the year, but also it was 2 wks early, by pre-planned caesarian due to lack of amniotic fluid AND breech presentation. She has been the Rock, the Source of All Arcane and Much-Needed Information, while I have constantly invoked, over the past year, the TMI law: Don't give me too much information -- need-to-know basis only, if you please. Keep It Simple. And, since it takes two to tango, I have to add that she's the type who would just as soon do a thing herself as spend much time bothering to explain a bunch of details to someone less ept than herself... which would be moi.

It's a disorganized company, and it's gotten more and more disorganized, it seems, since I started working there a year ago. (I take no credit for this.) I just realized that we've had a 90% turnover in our product manager team, which is shocking and appalling. There is only one of these managers left from the whole team that was in place a year ago, which means the vast majority are on various stages of a learning curve that makes them very hard to be helpful to my job: writing technical documentation when I know zero about the technology. It's insane. And right now, our flagship products are both being released in new versions, which means there is tons of documentation to edit/update and very few people around who know what they're talking about.

All this just goes to answering your silent (nonexistent? indifferent?) question as to why I haven't posted in two weeks.

How could I? There was too much work to do, and it turns out I have some semblance of a work ethic after all. My one or two regular readers will know that I far prefer to cruise through my 9-1/2 hours of forced daily labor, taking breaks in my internet surfing/blogging to produce the odd bit of output for my employer. Sadly, however, those days seem to be over. Instead of my omniscient earth-mother colleague, I now have minimal support from a part-time (barely 2 days a week) temporary writer on contract for the few months the colleague will be away on maternity leave. He is also religious, ultra-orthodox, in fact, and dresses the part. One learns not to judge a book by its fat, bearded, religious-costume-wearing cover, however: He's a pretty cool dude, extremely knowledgeable and experienced, and is thankfully a very patient teacher who is more than happy to share his technical writing tools and organizational savvy with me. In fact, he's made it explicit that his main agenda for the coming few months is to turn me into a confident, efficient tech writer.

It's kind of sweet to be someone's pet project.

Because I am really not smart about time-organization. I should work at this, since the concept of time pressure is my biggest stress. We hired a professional to teach our daughter the organization skills of a good student, and we only got as far as weeks of forcing the kid to create a schedule of her activities. We paid a hell of a lot of money for this lesson, and yet we're still not applying it. But some lessons need to sit with you for a period of time until you're ready to learn them. None of us (myself, Mr. Squarepeg, and the young ms.) are very amenable to being scheduled. We are free-flowing spirits. We do things when we feel like it. And that means that things we really do want to do may or may not get done.

We are not organized people. We are random people. And randomness, I suspect, would not rank noticeably on the list of the habits of highly effective people.

Probably randomness could not actually be considered a habit, anyway. Randomness must really be by definition the (non-deliberate) lack of habits. “Random,” says the dictionary, is haphazard, without definite aim, direction, rule or method; lacking a definite plan, purpose or pattern. I’m a very random person. In the past, I have been called both a dilettante and a loose cannon. Mr. Squarepeg has referred to my attitude as one of living in a bubble.

Highly Effective people surely must be the opposite of random. For to be Highly Effective they must make plans, and have the determination to stick to them. Highly Effective people, I feel sure, are committed people, whereas I of course am a commitment-phobe.

To the extent that I am truly random in my nature, my life’s course is determined by accident rather than design. Whatever happens, happens, “without regard for regularity or outcome”. But it also means, in the scientific sense, that I am allowing all life’s elements “equal probability of occurrence”. This reminds me of a "definition" of Clutter that I came across and saved, from I know not where, some time ago. I read it and feel much more patient with ms. Squarepeg's bedroom, which she insists she hates to see tidy (even if someone else has done it):

“Clutter invites us to make meaning in the absence of pattern.

Clutter tantalizes us, lures us into a relationship with material in a way that is far more interesting than discernible order. In clutter, you may not be able to find what you are looking for, but you may find something else instead.

Clutter may not be about the way we hide things from ourselves but about the way we make ourselves look for things. It is, as it were, a self-imposed hide-and-seek.”

That is SO ms. Squarepeg, I have to admit, playing unconscious busy-games with herself. Is this randomness such a bad thing, really? I guess it depends on what I would like to see get done.

If I sit down and make a schedule -- not in stone, but on a computer screen -- does this tie me down? Of course not, but the inner me balks at the planning activity itself. I tend to plan on-the-fly, as they say in the hi-tech world, aka 'in real time'.

Ooof, what a wishy-washy commitment-phobe I am.

continuing my literary education

Well, at least I haven't been idle in my randomness -- not that there's anything wrong with idleness!! There's loads of creativity fermenting in idleness.

Carrying on with my plan to erase my literary ignorance one book at a time, reading the classics that get referred to here and there while I just think "huh?" ... I finished The Scarlet Letter this week. It seems that Americans read this book during the course of their high school studies, but it wasn't on our Canadian curriculum, and I've always wondered about it.

And thus completes my trifecta of desperate adulterous heroines (along with Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina) who made the old-world, culture-compelled bad choices of mainly much older, ultra-conservative, and/or just plain boring husbands, and consequently either had to kill themselves or have their souls erased by society. Hester Prynne, a nonentity in too many ways for all her youth, following one burst of passion, gets to become a wise old crone for the rest of her lonely life.

Did I say "old-world, culture-compelled"? As if we have different options in our modern world. Sure we have options. So I wonder why so many of us still end up choosing the one that Anna, Emma and Hester did?

Friday, January 6

bulldoze this

It's a sad time with the whole country, like vultures, on deathwatch. Slowly we come to terms with the fact that Sharon is gone, for all intents and purposes. Odds are he either won't live out the week, or will live a short while in a brain-damaged state which is not preferable to blissful release. But speculating is like trying to play God.

Funny thing, about playing God. My distrust of doctors and their poison potions has only been reinforced this week with current events. It would seem that ill-advised blood thinners prescribed by Sharon's doctors were the cause of his massive brain hemorrhage, hurrying his exit somewhat.

But who knows how much time he would have had? Perhaps this script was written a long time ago ... even Shakespeare couldn't have written a plot with more dramatic timing.

Tuesday, January 3

things I do with my keys

This morning I couldn't find my keys. I was running late for an appointment and they weren't in any of the usual places. I got a sinking feeling in my gut and opened the apartment door to find them, sure enough, hanging in the keyhole on the outside of my apartment.

They'd been there all night, like an open invitation. I had come home yesterday evening with four bags of groceries and -- well, you can visualize the scene: put down the bags, unlock the door, pick up the bags without removing the keys, close the door, and then with full hands completely block the memory of the keys still outside, and latch the door (so that no one could have gotten in anyway). When I arrived home this evening, I had a fleeting thought as I unlocked the door, that someone very devious could have stolen the keys in the night and had them copied, then replaced them as if nothing had happened, so that he could come back while I was out during the day and clean me out. But I breathed freely when I saw everything was just as I left it.

I had a similar "Alzheimer's moment" about a year ago, also when my husband was out of the country, as he is now, and that is a factor that makes me wonder: Am I more spaced out because he's not around? That time, I checked the mail inside the entrance to our building just before going out, and went away with the mail, leaving the keys hanging there from my box for hours, until I returned home and needed to get into the apartment and couldn't find the keys in my purse.

Such experiences of one's own idiocy are acutely painful.

But it gets worse. Just a few months ago, in the summer, I took my daughter to get a haircut. Because she talks nonstop, my brain frequently fails to function when she's around, and when we got out of the car, I just walked away leaving the keys still in it, and unlocked. I had parked on a busy street, and no one even noticed, apparently. It was only as we were returning to the car, two hours later, that I searched for the key in my bag and immediately realized I'd never taken them out of the car (or locked it, obviously).

But to make this true story stranger than fiction -- this you won't believe, but unfortunately I swear I'm not making it up -- just one week later, I did the same thing again (once again, my chattering daughter was with me, but honestly, how much can one blame on a 13-year-old?) This time I upped the ante, though, because I had actually left the car running! Unbelievably, I had parked in a free open parking lot in the middle of my quiet little suburb and left the car running, with the windows open, for two hours. The shock of realizing I had done this again, only worse, shook me up.

Am I going senile? Should I be chaperoned at all times? Perhaps my name should be pinned to my shirt? Maybe it's a gingko deficiency? This airheadedness is disturbing. I've been awfully lucky so far -- four lapses and no consequences -- but the odds say that can't go on forever. Maybe the patron saint of senility is watching over me.

By the way, I thought my tank would be empty, but you'd be surprised how little gas is consumed by cars just sitting in parking lots without moving.