Sunday, July 30, 2006

Law & Order: This is your life

I was just watching L&O:CI on Bravo and oddly enough, saw an episode I had never seen before. It was kind of a creepy episode, being that it began with a group suicide, but it just got more personal from there. The episode No Exit is really about something completely different ~ which any L&O fan knows ~ the opening segment is never exactly a linear connection to the actual story.

What the story really centers around is a young woman who killed herself after being crushed by the head of her company in full on hostile work environment, workplace harassment situation. Something I'm oddly familiar with...

The family filed a wrongful death suit against the company and basically everyone she worked with lied to protect the company and the suit was dropped. The episode hinges on the guilt felt by her supervisor who not only didn't help her when she asked for his help dealing with the man who was harassing, but also lied in his deposition for the lawsuit.

So this all gets me wondering, now that I'm a year away from not trusting myself around cars and garages, are there people who I left behind who feel guilt?

I didn't kill myself, but that was sheer force of will that kept me alive. It had nothing to do with what anything anyone else did. But I reached out to people, so many people, and asked for their help. I admitted my own weakness, my disease, and confessed that I was on my last ounce of strength. I never got any help from coworkers, human resources, senior officials, the grievance system....

Granted, I came out okay, more or less. I always do. But it doesn't make the fact that so many people refused to offer me a hand when I cried out any less horrific. Do they feel the guilt? I sure as hell hope so! They were too concerned with keeping the peace and covering their own asses to even consider tossing a rope in my direction ~ it speaks volumes to their character. I hope they realize that.

If there is somewhere on the web where people lacking basic strength of character are being outed, please let me know ~ I have a few names to add. It kind of breaks my heart, too, since some of them were people I kind of respected. But I guess you never know the true strength of someone until there's a crisis. Are they the person who steps into the fray and does everything they can or are they on the edge of the crowd trying to shuffle away before anyone sees them?

As a child I hated my mother for being the person who went into the fray. She was a nurse and it seemed like she was always needed and I resented her "on the fly" patients. Now, not only do I respect her for it, but I emulate it. I don't have all the skills to treat, but I have the knowledge to identify the problems, to triage and to provide basic first aid. I also, somehow, have become great in a crisis. It actually calms me ~ I have direction; things that must be done.

You're normally supposed to dislike those attributes in others that you recognize in yourself, but in this case, I despise the lack of it. If you have the ability and are in the position to help someone, and chose not to, then you deserve to live in whatever swamp of guilt swallows you up.

You know, I kind of left my old job and home without really telling anyone except my close friends where I was going. I never put a forwarding number on my home phone ~ just disconnected it. I got a completely new cell phone and ditched the email address that the work people had. Part of me wanted them to think I had just fallen off of the face of the earth or been committed or crawled back home to my parents' home. It didn't really matter to me whether they believed I had been destroyed or resurrected. Of course, I got a tattoo symbolizing resurrection since I knew where I was going.

But there's part of me that hopes that some of them wonder if I'm dead in a ditch somewhere and if it's at least a little bit their fault. They never felt the wrath of my mother or my father, although both were ready and willing to make the trip. You don't mess with their little girl. I'm perfectly willing to hold out for karma. It hasn't let me down yet.

Maybe it'll come in the form of basic persistent insomnia or a fiasco involving bears or possibly they could get the crap beaten out of them in the wrong section of Boston. (Seriously, I REALLY wouldn't have had anything to do with even though offers have been made.)

***I should probably mention that the bear thing and the Boston beating are probably fairly unlikely since they have already been reigned down upon worthy folks at previous times in my life ~ Karma's not only a bitch ~ Karma's creative!!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

My own worst enemy....

On Thursday I was driving to meet my friend, Joanna, for lunch and passed one of the very well organized homeless people here in Central Texas. (Seriously, I think I may have mentioned this before, but they seen to always have the major intersections covered at busy traffic times and I'm never seen more than one person per area ~ it's like they have some master schedule that they work from!) Anyway, as I drove by this poor soul, I couldn't help but think, I'm one sister and two parents away from his life.

It is, of course, an entirely untrue statement... There are some uncles and an aunt; various friends of the family; a bank account; a few college degrees ~ but I could wind up there.

I won the decision with the unemployment commission. They stated in their decision that my employer had "laid me off at his or her convenience" and that my termination had "nothing to do with my job performance." But it was a rather hollow victory, as I also got my first unemployment check. Apparently, I qualify for the maximum, which is a very sad statement for the generosity of the state of Texas.

When I first graduated from I college, I was selected for this fellowship at this really cool media relations firm in Washington, DC. I was paid a stipend, too piddly little to even pretend it was a salary. It more or less covered my commuting costs since I was still living in Baltimore at the time. That was 1994. My Texas unemployment is even less than that stipend.

With my new influx of cash, I can now pay for my COBRA health coverage and either my car payment or the rent on my storage space where all my worldly belongings reside. Lucky for me, I was saving up money for my new house ~ you know, a refridgerator, washer, dryer and such. I got rid of my couch before I moved, so I need another one of those and I need to pay movers to move my stuff to my house from the storage facility. Now, I'll be lucky to not burn through it with car payments or storage facility rental fees or drug co-pays.

I am seriously desperate to get out of my sister's house, but I'm not sure how I'm going to afford it without a paycheck. I've been applying for jobs and I'm just not hearing back from them. The state system is incredibly slow and even more slow in summer. It's painfully frustrating.

And now there are issues with the house. For some reason, they don't seem to be following the design center plans (i.e. my selections for plumbing fixtures and such) I had to email the builder (after checking my paperwork from the design center to verify) that all the plumbing fixtures were wrong ~ how it didn't strike anyone on site as they installed the matching towel rods and toilet paper holder in a brushed nickel and while the plumbing fixtures were chrome and all of the metal hardware (on doors and light fixtures, etc is brushed nickel), that something was amiss is beyond me!) So that's 4 sinks, a free standing shower, a bathtub, a bath/shower combo and a kitchen sink that need to be changed out. And while I was going over the paperwork, I also verified my suspicion that I wasn't supposed to have the same ceiling fan in every room ~ that's three fans that need to be changed out. So help me god, if this pushes back the closing date, I may need to hurt someone....

And have I mentioned the ornamental grass in the front yard? This would be different from the dying sod. This would be the stuff that grows up in fan formation like big old living pom poms? Tick habitat, anyone???

Yeah, not in a particularly good mood right now...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Adding Insult to Injury

So get this.

The state employment commission called me this morning because apparently my ex-employer is fighting my unemployment claim.

Talk about adding insult to injury! Seriously! They're claiming I was fired for poor job performance. Now why does that seem just a wee bit inconsistent from being fired without cause?

I wound up spending half an hour on the phone with the poor woman from the employment commission telling her my tale of woe ~ how I had been hired by someone who was no longer there when I arrived; how my original supervisor left 2 or so months into my employment; how there was a massive reorganization and chaos ensued as to what our priorities were actually supposed to be (stated to be one thing ~ ordered to do another). I told her how blind sided I was by the firing, that I never said a single word in the meeting, I was so shocked. I hadn't gotten any negative feedback, so I never saw it coming.

And besides, if they were claiming that I was incapable of performing my job, why did it take them five months to figure it out? Shouldn't I have been fired in the first month or two?

She took down the name and title of everyone I reported to throughout my 5 or so months on the job and the basic dates of all the changes. I figure she'll just contact HR and verify that information and have proof that I was telling the truth.

I told her how I had moved halfway across the country for this job with no reimbursement ~ how pissed off did she think I was?

Speaking of halfway across the country, I still haven't exactly told my old coworkers about my job ending. It seems like this enormous beached whale of a failure even though I know it's not a failure on my part. It just seems like I've been skimming by and hiding the failures and finally one is out there in the spotlight and there's nothing I can do to lessen the obviousness of it. That's probably just the depression talking. In my logical mind, I can't look back on my life and see a series of well camouflaged failures. I think we might need some peppy music in here...

okay. that's better...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Monitoring YOUR Future

So there's this major longitudinal study, known well amongst sociologist and other social scientists. It's out of University of Michigan and has been going on for some 30 odd years. They started out picking up whole senior class at randomly selected high schools around the country and then from those classes, randomly selecting a few students to follow for the rest of their lives. Those chosen few would receive a questionnaire every other year through their twenties and then every five years throughout their thirties. During the nineties, they expanded into younger adolescents. Since they collect both point in time data about different people at the same point in their lives as well as data about the same people over the course of their lives, they have a wealth of information that they are pretty generous about sharing with other researchers.

I can always identify data from Monitoring Your Future because of the oddly specific questions they ask. Sure, there are a ton of drug and alcohol abuse questions, but they ask these very specifically worded questioned about whether individuals believe the country will get better or worse; whether the world will get better or worse; and whether their own lives will get better or worse.

Why do I know so much? Well, I'm one of those lucky few that represent 20,000 - 40,000 other people in my age group across the country. The poor souls at UMichigan have been following me around for 18 years now. This year is the first year they almost lost me.

As a fellow researcher, and someone who understands the difficulties of mail surveys and the minefields of "lost to follow up" I have been very faithful to those folks. I'm horribly late this year, just having finished and mailed in my survey today.

I got stuck on a question. "I am happy just to be alive: disagree; slightly disagree; neither; slightly agree; agree."

There are some days, weeks, months, years, even, that it is best not to ponder such things. It makes you consider all the times that you were so close to death and consider if anything good or life affirming has occurred since then. It's the maybe-I-just-should-have-done-it syndrome.

I am no naive schmuck that happily bounces around believing that every day is a gift or some shit like that. I know first hand that there are worse things than death. And as far as I'm concerned the Life is Great! theory has yet to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

I know I'm not alone on this one either. There are any number of places on earth (many mentioned on the front page of the NYT) that I could mention whose citizens would think you were nuts if you tried to sell them on the every day of life is a gift BS. They'd call you an Ugly American and they probably wouldn't be wrong. (And still we wonder why missionaries get slaughtered in third world countries... Maybe it's their message??)

So how did I answer the question? Honestly. disagree

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Into the ocean....

So my mother has been bothering me all week to come down to the beach.

Funny thing about my mother and I. She constantly nags me to do things and I frequently refuse to do them just because she has told me to do them. The object lesson is that I would have done these things has she not nagged me to do them and she should therefore be modifying her behavior. How's that working for me? Well, let's see. I'm coming up on 36 years and there's no end in sight for the nagging. There's this teenie tiny little optimistic part of me that still believes that some day she will see that this is all an exercise in behavior modification and will modify her behavior, but the rest of me knows that there is a much greater chance that I will be identified as a divine entity and a religion of millions will be formed around me. (Be sure to get on board early...)

I'm not a beach person. I have red hair and freckles. I look at a picture of the sun and I get burned. Even before my father was diagnosed with melanoma, I was skin cancer waiting to happen. Now, I am just 80 times more so. Why on earth would I go to the beach? Seriously??? She knows all these things about me?

I did wear my bathing suit while we were on the Cape. Every morning, my nephew and I would take and outdoor shower together (I'd keep my bathing suit on until he was done); it would be almost impossible to get him out ~ he loved the water so much. He, by the way, is not a beach person either. He just doesn't like the sand.

So my father was driving down Thursday morning to take my sister, my nephew and me back to my parents house so we could fly back to Texas on Friday. There was a sign at the local public beach that advertised beach yoga, Wednesdays, 6-7pm, $10, bring a towel. My sister and I decided we would go on our last night. I though it was a little dubious, since high tide was right around that time and there wouldn't be a whole lot of beach.

Anyway, we walked down and sure enough, someone had written on the sign that the class had been moved to "First Encounter Beach" (A little know fact that the Mayflower made a few stops on Cape Cod before settling in at Plymouth Rock) We were on foot and that beach was definitely a drive away, so we decided to walk back towards the house on the beach.

I had kind of already decided that I was going to hit the water after yoga anyway, but I announced to my sister that I was going in as soon as we hit the private beach belonging to the neighborhood where our cottage was.

In I went, fully clothed in a tank top and shorts, leaving house keys in my shoes on the shore. The water was amazing as the tide came in, a mixture of the bath water temperature bay and the cold water coming in from the ocean. It's hard to explain the freedom of floating in the water with saline creating even more buoyancy than any pool and easy up and down of the incoming waves. You lay back and stare at the sky or lightly tread water with your arms while floating your toes above the surface. My sister soon joined me, seeing me smile and laugh for the first time in days.

This is why we come on these horrible vacations, we decided. For these few moments when everything seems perfect in the universe. When even the effects of gravity don't touch us ~ forget every other life stress. You get to forget everything else and just enjoy the rocking of the water.

We stayed in the water that night until it got too cold and we had to head back to the cottage. And we tried to hold onto the ocean feeling as long as we could....

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Are health surveys completely out of touch with reality or have I (and just about everyone else I know) crossed the line?

In a recent article in the NYT (see link) about the gentrification of the term "slut" an American health study was quoted as saying that the median number of sexual partners for men aged 30-44 is five to six and for women of the same age group is four.

[Okay, so I was really hoping to throw a little Salt n'Pepa here, but no can do. I couldn't even get the original version of this tune by James...]

I suppose I could begin by questioning the use of medians in this situation as opposed to means. In all honesty, I would rarely state a median without also listing the range of responses - the median was 4, but the range was 0 to 468, for example. But that's just me as a graduate school educated biostatistician with 10 years of experience. Far be it for me to tell the New York Times how to interpret survey results....

But being the person I am, and also appearing to be above the median, like every other woman I know (excluding my mother and other older female relatives and friends that I know better than to survey because I REALLY don't want to know), which I guess makes me some sort of slut ~ I always figured being able to keep it on one hand made you a complete sexual failure, but whatever...

I went back to the source. The National Center for Health Statistics. I cannot, for my life, figure out where the NYT got their numbers. And going back to the questionnaire, it doesn't even appear that participants were asked the number of lifetime partners. They were just asked the number of partners in the last 12 months. Well, doesn't that just put a whole new spin on the promiscuity of Americans????

It no longer makes me wonder if they sampled directly from Utah or strictly from Baptist revivalist weekend retreats.

It does just go to show. Don't believe ever statistic quoted in the news. As the ex-chief of NCHS once said (and I'm paraphrasing a little) first get your numbers straight, then you can manipulate them in any way you please.

So much for the sanctity of science....

Friday, July 14, 2006

Yes, as a matter of fact, I am twelve years old!!

I'm not sure why I'm even here.

I wasn't supposed to be here.

I had completely dodged the family vacation this year. I was going to be at the very end of my six month probationary period, so I really wouldn't have the vacation time, plus I would be saving the time for when I moved into my new house the following month.

I had dodged the family vacation.

So, like I said, I'm not even supposed to be. It is entirely not my fault that I am.

My mother has taken the one and only car and gone off to Truro to visit one of her college roommates at the friends new retirement home. I'm stuck at the house with the cranky pregnant woman and the cranky toddler. All goodwill that appeared with frozen chocolate beverages has evaporate with the euphoria that arrived with said beverages. (Apparently frozen hot chocolate has a very short half life.)

I'm online trying to find training opportunities to take advantage of since I qualify as a displaced worker and the pages just aren't loading ~ have I mentioned how much dial up sucks? My nephew is stalling his nap. He wants another peanut butter sandwich; he's still hungry from lunch. So as my sister walks by, in her little temper tear, she makes some comment about how I have been online more than long enough and unplugs the computer from the phone jack.

I'm so angry I can't even see straight. How exactly does my computer use affect her life at all whatsoever??? I can't bear to even be in the same house as her. I grab my shoes, a twenty dollar bill, a credit card, and my cell phone and walk out the front door with out saying a word to her.

I start off in the general direction of a yarn shop on Rte 6 that I wanted to visit that's 1 or 2 miles from the house, I need the walk to calm down. Then it starts to rain.

As the rain gets harder and harder my resolve kicks in. I am not going back to the house.

Almost a mile later I arrive at the local newspaper/deli/ice cream/convenience store. I am soaking wet and shivering in the 10 degree temperature drop. I am hoping to catch a cold and keep my sister up all night for the rest of the vacation in the bedroom we share. As I ring water out of my tee shirt the girl at the counter asks if I'm alright. All I can say is "It wasn't raining when I left..."

I give her a soggy twenty for a hot chocolate and a beach towel and she hands me dry change which quickly becomes wet in my soaking pants. I huddle in one of the chairs on the covered porch in front of the store and call my mother, but her cell phone is turned off. I leave her a message that I am at the store soaking wet and it's my sister's fault.

An hour or so later, my mother stops to pick me up on the way back to the house. She is angry at my sister. I'm apparently in a fragile state and only she and my father can be unkind.

This is of course par for the course for our family vacations. Everyone fights with everyone else ~ in the end some big issues get resolved, some new ones are created.

Later that night my sister apologizes. She says she needed my help with my nephew. "Assume I always need help, unless I tell you otherwise," she says. I admit to her that I'm not always able to provide help. I feel like I'm drowning, I admit. So there is the consensus.

I'm still saying that I wasn't supposed to be here in the first place.

That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

What Would Willie Do

You can't really live in Austin without allowing that Willie Nelson is the owner of a great deal of wisdom and life lessons. A guy named Gary Allan has recently made a buck or two off of said presumption. I'm mentioning here, not because I'm actually in Austin (I am not), but because sometimes you need to look to a sage or a power beyond yourself for insight.

I am miles from Texas and the closest thing I'm seen to Willie is a photo of the first Bush president hanging on the wall of a seafood restaurant the had an entire gift shop full of lobster stuff. Would you believe?

Anyway, family vacations are not my favorite times. I look for(search, beg, create through questionable means)the opportunity to spend quiet time on my own. I tend to believe that sharing a single bathroom, a single car, sharing a room, and having dinner together every night is more than enough togetherness for a family where all the kids are grown ups, even if they are not treated as such.

My parents took the opportunity (my first visit home in nearly a year) to independently discuss my character flaws and failures as a human being. I guess they felt my self esteem might be too high with all this unemployment and homelessness happening. They guessed it! I was feeling pretty proud of myself! If only I could have managed to throw in an unplanned pregnancy with a complete stranger!! That would have been the trifecta!!

On the up side, after explaining all this (the double teaming) to my sister over frozen hot chocolates (proof enough for me that a higher power must exist), she is cutting me some much needed slack.

As for Willie...

You know sometimes I wonder when I ain't gettin' nowhere
What would old Willie do when it all gets too much to bear
And I can see him on his lonely old tour bus
And he's got his problems just like any of us
Well he'd just take a deep breath and then he'd let it all go
And he'd take another deep breath and let it all go
And he'd take another deep breath...and he'd hold it
Ah and I bet he'd feel hungry in a way that seems strange
Yeah hungry for all the things that he just can't change
Like the time he passed out in is own bedroom
And his wife sewed him up in the sheets and beat him with a broom and he forgave her
And you think that's rough, well then the IRS came and they took away all of his stuff
They took his golf course and his recording studio, and he just went out and did another show
So when it's all coming down on you
You better ask yourself what would Willie do

Friday, July 07, 2006

Family Vacation

Three words. Nervous. Breakdown. Inducing.

Don't get me wrong, I like my family. In small doses. At a bit of a distance. Over a phone or some other device that I can hang up. Preferably with a locked door between us. The kind I control entrance through.

This whole idea of a bunch of us going to a small space with one bathroom, one car (remember how cars = freedom), and did I mention NO space. Even if the place you're going is really beautiful. I have a head ache coming on.

I have no idea how I managed to be convinced to spend the day flying with a cranky pregnant woman and a two year old. It's a toss up as to which one is more difficult to reason with ~ seriously. Oh, and the big brown bear. How could I have forgotten the big brown bear that's the size of your average two year old whereas the two year himself is the size of a four year old. And the pregnant woman get BAD motion sickness? I'm not sure she can take Dramamine now. I have no idea how the topic has failed to come up. I'm picturing the pregnant woman vomiting all over big brown bear. This is where I see myself tomorrow. I can't imagine why I'm having difficulty settling down to get to sleep. This whole thing must be proof that the depression is recurring, because I'm looking at this whole plan and it has suicide written all over it.

So, there I've said it. Depression. My life is a car wreck. I'm unemployed and living at my sister's house, which she takes time to point out whenever possible. I hate that. I would never lord something like that over her if the situation were reversed. I would just be thrilled to have my sister near me when she needed me.

Now that I've slammed my sister, how much do I confess? I have seen a psychiatrist or a therapist in over 6 months? I'm still taking my meds, almost all the time. I'm sleeping night and day and it's really the only thing I want to do.

That, and make plans for my house that I need to have a job in order to close on. Oops! Yup, the dream plan took a turn for the ugly when I lost my job -- who woulda thunk it? I still have nearly two months before the house closes to acquire verifiable employment. There's always plan B where one of my parents is co-signed on the mortgage. It would actually be pretty funny to find out that there were some blemishes on their *perfect* credit reports.

Well, I've just been waved to go to bed by my sister/master. Are you getting the point about the locking door yet? I was just perusing the employment selections on the state health and human services job postings page. Nothing like a little depressing reality check to lull you off to sleep....

Just a little something to get you into my mood...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Marathon Job Interview from Hell

Kill. Me. Now.

I just spent more than three hours of my life that I will never get back.

Would you believe an hour and a half verbal interview of highly technical information on data analysis followed by a two hour (let's all be honest with what we're talking about) exam on epidemiology and sexually transmitted disease. So the interview could have gone better. "Relational database" just drew a blank. All I remembered was this really, really long morning of a training on an analysis software system where they felt the need to discuss relational databases in great detail. It was something I had already learned about in grad school under some other name, so I decided to ignore them, in great detail. (Statistical analysis is kind of like dinosaurs ~ every few years, some one gets bored and just changes the names of everything.) So for the life of me, I couldn't remember what it was that I knew about relational databases as. Whatever.

I aced the exam. Just really cramped up my hand from all the writing. They were obviously trying to weed out the folks with MPHs from the fly by night programs that have you take 3-6 credits of epidemiology and crown you an epidemiologist. They could have saved us all a lot of trouble simply by checking out my program ~ I have an MS from one of the oldest schools of public health in the country and took something like 30 credits of epi.

But, GOOD GOD! Reality check! The job they described sounds like dull as dirt mind numbing number crunching and the pay is not that great. So they're interviewing in search of some technical whiz who also has an excellent educational background in epidemiology. Good luck with that. A person with that skillset will be looking for more money and something interesting to do. Or at least that's what I'm doing.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Leaving Town Alive

Just heard this great song and I had to share....

And coincidentally, this song basically sums up the last year of my life....