Thursday, July 19, 2007

my terrible horrible no good very bad day

I am blogging because I am curled up on my couch watching tv and looking at my cat (which is as close as I get anymore, since they refuse to cuddle now that the couch smells so much like dog). The reason for this is that I refuse to go anywhere near a moving vehicle for the rest of the day and possibly the rest of the week.

Today, I am cursed.

This morning I walked the dog a little longer than I should have and headed to work a little later than normal. As I sat at a traffic light on Route 1, minding my own very muddled and sleepy-headed business, the world shifted slightly. And abrubtly. I glanced up in my rearview mirror and saw a sunglassed brunette chewing on a muffin and waving at me distractedly. Evidently, the effort of scarfing down her breakfast was so exhausting that it became impossible to hold her weary foot on the brake pedal and so, weak with hunger, she Hit. My. Car.

I was furious. I leapt out of the car and banged on her window, screaming obscenities and demanding an apology. She cowered and cried, sobbing profuse regrets and whimpering under the stern glare of my steely-eyed fury. I let her go after repeated promises to stay alert, focus on safety and never cause another accident again.

Actually, I yelled at her from my car and made repeated and violent arm movements, increasingly infuriated by her stubbon refusal to acknowledge wrongdoing. When the light changed, she switched lanes and sped off in her poncy little red convertible, still chewing and still oblivious to the cold restrained fury of my irritatingly ineffective middle finger.

I managed, after a long day otherwise occupied with saving lives and bettering society, to forget the incident and finally, only 6 minutes late today, I crawled into my baking hot oven of a car and headed towards home. Not five minutes from the shelter, I flicked my eyes to the rearview mirror and clocked a cop behind me, far behind me, must have been right behind me at the stoplight I'd just been waiting at. But he was still far behind me, like he'd lingered at the light, and I had plenty of time to carefully assess my speed and drop from 38 to the posted limit of 35. Those of you that know me know my ingrained and inflexible terror of getting in trouble, my utterly catholic fear of authority, and my insanely bad driving skills all combine to create the most infuriatingly slow driver in Northern Virginia, so I didn't think twice about the police car and instead focused on staying in my lane.

Imagine my heart attack, then, when the lights flickered, the siren sounded, the cop was on my tail and gesturing to pull over. Muddled with anxiety and confusion, I did so, wondering if he had the authority to pull me over for my outdated stickers and reasoning that since I had the current registration in the car I'd probably be just fine. When he swaggered up to the car, I had my window open, my hand on the registration, a very curious look on my face.

"Did you notice the posted speed limit on this road, ma'am?"
I had, but I think this is an inefficient conversational track. "How fast was I going?"
"Did you notice the speed limit, m'am?" He is irritated now.
"I wasn't going over the limit," I say. "I know I wasn't, I looked when I saw you!" I am earnest, pleading.
"Ma'am, the limit on this road is 35 miles per hour. Do you know how fast you were going?"
"I guess I don't, I really thought..." I am terrified now, babbling, confused.
"I had to go over 60 to catch up with you. You blew right past me at that light."
Well, the light was green, I thought. But still. I am shocked. "I am shocked." Pause. "I really, I honestly didn't think I was speeding." I point at my dashboard. "I looked, the needle was right here."
"You had to go over 60 to catch up with me??"
"I'm not going to go back and forth with you over this," he says. He backs away from the car a step, then two.
He is definitely backing away at this point. "Look, have a little respect for the law, is what I am saying. You need to be more careful and slow it down."
I babble a bit more, I am thanking him for letting me go, apologizing, pledging future caution. And, high school physics teacher is screaming at me in my head, straining to be heard over the ingratiating apologies. The officer gets into his car, gestures abruptly for me to drive on, I carefully change lanes and proceed at a turtle pace down the road. But, thinking...

Now that I have settled, my heart has stopped pounding and my stomach stopped twisting, I have two good theories about what caused his rapid change of attitude. One is that he saw my shirt, my uniform proclaiming me to be a member of the city's public service, a fellow soldier-in-arms in the battle for public well-being. It would be in pretty poor taste to hang me out to dry over such a questionable complaint. But, primarily, I think that his high school physics teacher caught up with him, too, as he realized the questionable science in asserting that I was speeding because he had to go above the limit to catch up to me from behind.

I've tossed this around so much that my brain hurts, and I know I wasn't speeding, unless my speedometer has suddenly broken. But what really frightens me is the idea that an authority figure, someone armed and trusted with the power to issue citations and penalties, can be so arbitrary and, at the same time, so dense.

Meanwhile, I perhaps should put those stickers on my car now.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Every morning for as long as I can remember, I have heard the Frey's "How to Save a Life" on the radio on my way to work. At first I thought this an amusing but insignificant indicator of how a juggernaut tv show like Grey's Anatomy can combine with a catchy tune to create an annoyingly constant radio presence. But months went by and I continued to hear it--sometimes just the end, sometimes just the beginning, always on a different station, every single day. The song no longer rules the charts but it rules my radio every morning (sometimes I hear it twice!) and now I'm beginning to wonder if I'm stuck in some freakish rendition of "Groundhog Day" or if some powerful omniscient being out there is trying to tell me something or if maybe, just maybe, I should invest in HD radio or at least a couple of new CDs.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


My dog is the same color as my couch. There is a rule in the dog world (don't worry, I didn't know this either) that you own any piece of furniture that you match. The upshot of this is that, though she knows she is not supposed to be on it, she spends a large portion of each day--while I am at work, working, working hard--stretched out in doggy bliss on my beloved couch. I know this because when I come home at the end of the day she has rearranged the cushions in a more dog-friendly fashion, pulled the slipcover all to hell, and left a Doberman-head-sized imprint on the pillow. I also know this because my beloved off-white couch is now more of a dirty yellow-grey. I also know this because she gives me a baleful glare whenever I dare to sit down.

Somehow I have managed to incorporate this, too, into my life, along with the dog gate in the bedroom doorway and the hours of walking and the MIA cats. It is amazing what you can adapt to when you have convinced yourself that you are doing something noble, or when you realize that you have made an irrevocable choice and can't go back.

I always thought that when I had a dog, if I had a dog--a prospect that seemed to dim significantly when I fell into obsession with my cats--it would be a shepherd or a shepherd mix. A male, obedient, well-behaved, beautifully colored and just a bit shaggy. He would walk to heel even off-leash, respond to the slightest command, but be comfortable on his own and good with other dogs. I did not expect this, this sleek pale cancer-ridden female with her eyes that glow red in the dark and her sunburned nose and her stomach stretched from years of puppy-milling. She knows nothing, barely more than "sit," and pulls hard at the leash. Dogging my heels every minute, she hates being left alone and loves, loves, loves me and hates, hates, hates meeting new dogs. And, of late, the whole "bathroom outside" issue has come into question.

I thought I was prepared for this, but every day brings a new challenge. It does not get easier. It gets more complicated. One hurdle cleared, two more appear. Adjusts to cats, pees on the floor, gets a stomach bug (?). Find a toy she will actually chew, she gets into the trash when we're gone.

The scariest thing is that I don't know when to worry. I don't know dogs well enough to know what is normal and what might be the cancer, sneaking in, taking over. Do any of us really know cancer symptoms? If we did, the survival rate would be so much higher. So is our poop-smeared patio a victim of worms, something she found in the trash, something much more sinister? Do I spend $50 to ask the vet each and every time she acts erratically? Or just let it go until it is bad enough to do what we know will need to be done, inevitably, sometime but we don't know when?

I always have buyers' remorse, with everything I do--the job, the house, the animals, college, new jeans. Whenever I make a choice, I mourn the lost chances, the possibilities the other choice presented. It is a curse, maybe sometimes a blessing. I have to keep thinking I did the right thing, bringing this girl into our home for the time she has left, however long that is. I have to keep thinking she's happy, it's worth it, she's better off than the alternative. Otherwise it makes the early morning walks, the uncleaned bathrooms, the utter grossness of my backyard...well, an exercise in something resembling futility. And I hate futility.

Also, I do not know how to clean up my own yard. Which is a shame, because I need to water the plants.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

welcome back kotter


It's July, the beginning of July, steamy hot sweaty heavy summer. The last time I was a regular blogger, it was sharp chilly early spring. I lived in a tiny little fake-townhouse and arranged my life around my cats; I traveled and drank a lot and did everything I could to distract myself from the crushing desperation that was imprisonment in the wrong job.

In the past few months I quit my job, bought a house, brought home a dog, and switched to a Mac. I am not sure which of these things is this most momentous life change.

Also, I am tan now. It is from the dog walking. Of course by tan I mean sort of a darker shade of pale but you understand, this is still a major life change.

The point is, a different person than I, a more engaged person, a less lazy person perhaps, would have taken all these life changes as an opportunity. She would have chronicled these changes, blogged regularly, let the world in on the perspective of an American girl in flux. She would have kept friends and family in the loop and not dropped off the face of the planet. And maybe she would have even had a little writing to show for it all.

Clearly, I am not that person.

Here's the thing. I was blogging at work, mostly. I didn't have that much else to do. And I can't blog at work anymore, because I'm working. I might be shaving tangled mats off of a dog's face so he can see, or consoling a distraught volunteer about a dog we just couldn't rehabilitate, or herding a very confused sheep into a dog kennel padded with straw (to use last Friday as an example).

Sometimes I blogged at home, sitting in front of the tv. I don't do that anymore, because I am not sitting in front of the tv. I might be walking the dog down to the frozen custard shop for mint chocolate custard and puppy pops, or watering my plants in the backyard, or pushing a dust mop endlessly around my floors, or trying to figure out how to get my windows-formatted iPod to work with my new Mac without losing all my songs, or thinking about dinner and deciding between farmers' market foccacia and sweet corn or one of the adorable cafes down the street.

So I'm at a crossroads here. Part of me wants to keep (start again) blogging--I like having an outlet when I want to share something funny or upsetting or confusing, I like keeping in touch with minimal effort, I like keeping my mind active and my communication skills sharp (ish). But the other part of me is slightly lazy and constantly overwhelmed with work and stress and keeping house and staying in touch. That's the part that can't be bothered to open up the computer and sit down to blog. That's the part of me harboring the sneaking suspicion that my passive, accidental choice to stop blogging was the right choice after all. That maybe it's less important to talk about life changes and more important to live life changes. That while it's nice to ponder and muse and share thoughts, I'm better off experiencing and feeling and enjoying.

Also, you can't get a tan from sitting in front of a Mac.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"you just gotta keep livin, man, l-i-v-i-n."

Eleanor and I were talking yesterday about work, and life, and careers and changes and all of that. She and I came to the agreement--it was so refreshing to find someone who agrees with me on this!--that you spend too much time at work, too many hours, too much effort, to not love it. To not enjoy it. Or at least to not find it meaningful or important in some way.

I have always felt this way, but it was a sneaky dirty secret in the back of my mind, a shameful suspicion that I was different somehow. I would always pretend that things were great, I loved my work, I was so glad I went to grad school and got to do this FOREVER until I died. Then, when I was comfortable with someone, when I felt safe, I might tentatively foray into the truth. In a tiny little voice: I hate my job. And always, without fail, one hundred percent of the time I heard "Nobody likes their job. That's why they call it "work." " For a very long time I felt that I was the one person in the world destined to be unhappy, that there was something wrong with me, that I couldn't fit into the real world and the way you were supposed to be and that I would never be a fully functional adult. But I wasn't just mildly annoyed by my job. I wasn't just a little nostalgic for the days that I managed my own time and had free time during the day and sometimes got to see the sunlight. I felt caged, restless; I was trapped behind a desk and in a routine and the world was going on without me and as long as I was working I would never, ever get to know what a spring afternoon in DC smelled like or lay on my couch with the windows open late into a summer evening and not have to worry about mentally preparing for the next day of torturous empty mind-numbing work or sleep late on a weekday and go to the grocery store when it wasn't crowded.

I carefully broached the subject with a few close friends, wondering if it is possible that I just wasn't cut out for the 9 to 5. The general consensus was that the 9 to 5 world sucks, but you learn to deal with it. Sure, we'd all be happier not working, but such is life. Bills need to be paid. I still couldn't shake the suspicion that this went beyond growing pains, beyond not wanting to work; that the yearning for sunlight and flexibility, the desire for challenge and variety and meaning in my work went beyond just a little boredom with office life and that maybe just maybe there were people who weren't cut out for desk jobs, weren't right for the part, needed to find something a little different.

As it turns out, I was right. Eleanor and I were discussing this, as I mentioned, and we were talking it over early in a warm spring evening as we drove up to Ellicott City with a Bullmastiff named Lexie in the backseat. The sleeve of my shirt was damp with Lexie's enthusiastic drool and the sun hit the top of our heads and we listened to music and gossiped about work and talked about animals and their welfare and ways to do better in our jobs. We were checking out a dog rescue group that we want to start working with and they offered to take this dog and yes, I got home a little late and yes, traffic was a bitch but when I saw that gorgeous dog stretch her legs out and bound through her new yard I laughed, and I thought "I don't know why they call this work."

Sometimes I work through the weekend. Sometimes I miss things like bridal showers and parties and sleeping late, things I would like to do but can't because I have to work. And there are late nights and hard decisions and it is work, people, every day with the decisions and the critical thinking and the difficult conversations and the tricky interactions with the public and the constant struggle between non-profit resources and ambitions. But I get to be outside sometimes during the day, and I get to play fetch with dogs, and I get to do weird and crazy things like get interrupted from my tedious computer work to go help evaluate a dog's behavior or figure out how to get a half-wild cat out of a cage. And I have days off during the week and I can run errands or watch daytime TV or do anything I want. Now that I don't need two hours to mentally prepare for the next day my evenings are so much freer, I can go to Lowes or do laundry or hang out with friends and my time is my own, I'm living the whole day now and not just waiting for the weekends. This job that demands so much more of my time has given me so much more time to live.

I was not cut out for the 9-5. I wish I had honored that thought earlier, wish I had not doubted myself and listened to others for so long. I am so much more alive now. But I am glad that I figured it out, that I took this chance. In looking back, I realized now that I should have known years ago, when I seemed to be the only person in any office I was in that couldn't understand the basic fundamentals of the business-casual environment. The ingredients were so simple: black pants, cardigans, blouses, polo shirts in neutrals, flats and boots in black and brown. Perhaps a belt or two. I had all of these ingredients; why was I never able to pull it together? Fifty million lint rollers in my house, and from the knee down every pair of black pants I owned were covered in cat hair. Nobody else seemed to have this problem--I know, I looked. Right then, it should have occurred to me to find a job in which heavy-duty navy blue police-issued cargo pants were standard attire.

It is Friday night. I work tomorrow. I can't wait to get there.

Monday, April 23, 2007

on a brighter note

I have become comfortable enough in my new job to start feeling feisty.

On Sunday we packed off a group of hamsters to a rescue group. I don't know much about hamsters, just enough to know that they are little and furry and that we don't adopt them out; we give them to rescue groups. I give the groups as much information as possible based on the information that is given to me, and they come and get them and adopt them out or keep them or erect shrines to them or whatever it is they do.

Today I got an email from said rescue group. It said,

I just wanted to let you know that one of the hamsters was pregnant and went into labor this evening. Also, there was a male in with a female. I just wanted to let you know so you could take steps to prevent this. Thanks!"

First, I'd like to note that I'm not responsible for caging the critters or determining their sex or pregnancy status. But soon I will be, so I forwarded the email to my boss and the shelter director with the following addendum:

"Oops. I guess the first thing I should learn is how to sex hamsters. I guess at least we're giving them more bang for their buck. However, I suppose a little less bang would have prevented this from happening in the first place."

Does anyone know how long hamsters gestate for?

Friday, April 20, 2007

today we are all the same

Each time I logged in this week to add to my blog, I lost interest and moved on to other things. My heart is heavy and my mind is still slow with shock. I have thought of things to blog about, had some funny work stories and philosophical insights and amusing anecdotes to ponder, but is my homepage and each time I open internet explorer on the way to I get sidetracked by the headlines and the images and the grief and the questions and the blame and the heartache.

As a Virginian, I take great pride in the wealth of quality higher education that my state offers. Given my upbringing in the central part of the state, I have friends who went to all of the universities in Virginia. I have attended games at many; I drank too much at several; I learned things at a few; I have lost my virtue and found my inspiration and lost my keys and found my self at more than one campus in this great Commonwealth. I've always had a little uppity UVA in me, a great deal of W&M intellect, some VCU toughness, a little Mason diversity, maybe even some Tech spirit. God knows I spent enough time hanging over the campus hooked to a tree belaying my high school boyfriend during his rock climbing exploits, but that's another story.

I have spent the last ten years of my life on college campuses. One of the great challenges of the past few months has been learning to establish my identity when I don't have a ready-made community like William and Mary or GW or UVA. As a student or an administrator, your campus becomes your world, your small little piece of the universe, a microcosm of all of the politics and entertainment and social circles and bureaucracy of the world. Everything becomes contained in those few square blocks--you run your errands at the student center, you make friends in varying departments, you get your news from the student paper. Yet you are also part of a larger community: the sometimes archaic, always political, largely rewarding world of academia. As a student, you identify immediately with other students, rivals though they may be; your collective unconscious of shared experiences like keg stands and moldy showers and all-nighters and open-book exams bonds you regardless of school colors or athletics ranking. As an administrator, the daily challenges of straddling the awkward friend-authority line or the constant battle between red tape and student needs make for easy conversations and ready empathy. In my years as a college administrator I never thought twice about picking up the phone and asking a complete stranger for advice or assistance, nor did I ever balk at helping out a fellow student affairs professional. Academia is unlike any other world; the university is one of the few places where the lines between adolescent and adult, customer and provider, teacher and student blur so freely. It is the one place where, though some may at times lose sight of it, the bottom line is always fundamentally the love and appreciation of knowledge and learning and the benefit to society that education provides. It is a world of which, though I chose to leave, I will always be grateful for having been a part. And it is that world that has been shaken up this week.

Perhaps my heart is so tired this week because the daily stressors and sadnesses in my job make me prone to inappropriate emotional responses. Perhaps it is because I have so many friends and family personally touched by the tragedy. But I think we are all affected by this because of that larger community to which we belong--that place in our history where we struggled on the way to an early class, wore our flip-flops on the first warm morning, pulled out our notes eager to make a point during discussion. And you do not have to be a professor to feel dismayed at the loss of promising younger and distinguished older minds. It is the student in me that grieves. It is the college counselor in me that aches. It is the educator in me that mourns.

But today it is the Hokie in me that still hopes.