Thursday, December 10, 2009

Deep Thoughts for Winter

I heard about an intriguing article in the NYT Magazine about a woman's attempt to "improve" her marriage. The story by Elizabeth Weil is about 10 pages long, so I'll confess I read the first 3 pages and then the last two, because I have a limited tolerance for (other people's) navel gazing. However, I really liked the last paragraph, and feel it's worth pondering:

"Maybe the perversity we all feel in the idea of striving at marriage — the reason so few of us do it — stems from a misapprehension of the proper goal. In the early years, we take our marriages to be vehicles for wish fulfillment: we get the mate, maybe even a house, an end to loneliness, some kids. But to keep expecting our marriages to fulfill our desires — to bring us the unending happiness or passion or intimacy or stability we crave — and to measure our unions by their capacity to satisfy those longings, is na├»ve, even demeaning. Of course we strain against marriage; it’s a bound canvas, a yoke. Over the months Dan and I applied ourselves to our marriage, we struggled, we bridled, we jockeyed for position. Dan grew enraged at me; I pulled away from him. I learned things about myself and my relationship with Dan I had worked hard not to know. But as I watched Dan sleep — his beef-heart recipe earmarked, his power lift planned — I felt more committed than ever. I also felt our project could begin in earnest: we could demand of ourselves, and each other, the courage and patience to grow."

Interesting, isn't it? Considering I've got a lovely home, a crazy-ass slowly maturing dog, a great kid and a (baffling, intriguing, frequently fun) baby, it's certainly time to put away the wishlist and concentrate on the courage and patience :)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Today's Moment from Academia

When I started the new job, a memo went around the department asking that everyone limit their color printing. Apparently, color cartridges are hard to get, the department doesn't have a secretary at the moment, and when we run out of color ink, no one knows how to obtain more. Silly me, I hoped that meant black and white printing would be ok. In general, everyone has their own printer (so frequently, two printers of different types per office), and I was given one upon arrival. After printing 4 pages or so, I ran out of toner and found that the printer was of such ancient vintage that cartridges are no longer made for it. None of the supply closets in the division had any spares lurking in dark corners (although it was amusing to see no less than 10 different types of toner cartridge in the division), so I have been printing to the department printer.

Today I walked in to find that a document I printed on Friday was resting next to the printer with a rather vehement note on it:
"To Whom it May Concern: Please don't use the color printer for black and white printing. Use your own office printer."

There was lots of double and triple underlining. I guess that means I shouldn't use the color printer AT ALL.

I was given the lowdown by my boss that the department head is very sensitive about the proper use of the color printer, and has been known to have 20 minute meetings to explain it to people. She suggested I lay low and print somewhere else, so as not to draw attention to myself.
I am coming to understand how academics get involved in incredibly trivial but bitter fights, because I am really tempted to print 1000 pages filled with my repentance, "I will not print black and white documents to the color printer." If I had tenure, I wouldn't bother to resist the temptation, and some crazy story would probably wind up in the newspaper: Faculty Fracas Fomented by Falls.

Monday, November 02, 2009

What am I Feeling?

I need a word for that feeling you get when you've just held a smiling baby, you hand her off to someone else, and yet the part of your body against which she was resting remains warm, then gradually becomes colder than the rest of you. It's not quite horror, because you know whatever it is, she's done it before, and you can take it. Is it hope, because there is the possibility that the sensation is imaginary? Or maybe hope because maybe this time your clothes aren't stained with unfortunate baby byproducts*. Anticipation, because you won't know until you look down (or take a deep breath)?

Somehow, those options seem too positive. What would describe this peculiar feeling?

*Photo of baby byproducts withheld.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Do You Know How Hard It Is To Hate Someone When They Don't Care About You?

This morning I called the gynecologist to make an appointment for an annual checkup. I've been visiting the same multi-doctor practice for 10 years or more, and while the medical care has been mildly satisfactory, the customer service has always been poor. Phone wait times are never less than 5 minutes to make an appointment, appointment delays for non-emergency (but recommended) visits are at least 3 months, invoices dribble in over 12 months, etc. I put up with it because in the normal course of a year, I see them once, and honestly, no one ever raves about their great gynecologist.

I called and listened to the computer tell me about the phone options. Two minutes later, I learned that #1 is for appointments. A clerk asked me to hold, without giving me a chance to refuse. Five minutes later, my call was terminated. I called back, and when a person came on the line to tell me to hold, I said, "No, I don't want to hold. My call was just terminated after a lengthy hold, so I'd like to make my appointment now."

"Sorry, there are 3 people ahead of you, so I'm going to put you on hold." Yes, there are now people ahead of me because your system terminated my call the first time. I waited another while, before a clerk picked up. "Annapolis OB/Gyn, how can I help you? " Well, I punched #1 to make an appointment, so I'd like to make an appointment, hmm-k?

But in reality I said, "Hi, I need to make an appointment for an annual checkup." Gave her my name, birthdate, and location. They have several offices in the region, but other than the one in town, they are at least 25 miles away from me. That's a fair field trip on a work day.

"The next available appointment I can offer you is in January, and the schedule isn't open until next week. You'll have to call back then." No apology, no regret, so little pleasant verbal offering to make this more palatable.

"Wait a minute. I just spent 15 minutes on hold and had to call twice, only to be told that you can't schedule 3 months ahead to match your long wait time for an appointment? This is a very difficult and unpleasant process."

Huff and sigh. "Well, that's just the way it is. The schedule hasn't been opened yet."

"Well, I have a job, and it just doesn't work for me to spend 15 minutes on hold while at work, waiting for a doctor's office to grant me an appointment. Is there anyway to make this easier?"

Meanwhile, she's trying to talk over me while I'm speaking to her. I swear, I wasn't screaming, yelling or otherwise being unreasonable, just asking how they can improve their customer service after giving me a bad time. One sentence, one question, that's all I was trying to get out.

"If you'll let me speak, ma'am..." "I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be rude, I'm just telling you this process is not reasonable, and asking you how to make it easier."

"Well, you can use Next MD." Long silence, as I wait for her to elaborate.

"What is Next MD?" "It's our email system. If you give me your email address, I'll give you a token you can use to make an appointment."

"Fine, " I say, and after taking the token number, I finish the call. No more than 2 minutes of unpleasant talk to a clerk-bot who couldn't care less the customer was unhappy.

I spent the next minute yelling at the ceiling while the dog watched me from under a table, then took down the phone book and looked under Physicians- Gyn." I called the practice that is in the same building, different floor (Women's Gyn as opposed to the EVIL EMPIRE: Annapolis Gyn. These people aren't great with names around here), and a person answered the phone. It took me a couple seconds to realize she was human and wasn't going to spit a list of choices at me. I asked for an appointment, she gave me one. Then she apologized that since my medical needs aren't immediate, I have to wait 6 weeks for the appointment. "That's ok, I understand how busy things can get. Have a good morning." "You too, see you in December."

Voila. A dollop of sweetness and courtesy goes a long way. So stick it, Annapolis Ob/Gyn. Look up at your stupid ceiling posters and mobiles, fetch one of your supercilious nurses who could never in 10 years be bothered to tell me my blood pressure without being asked, put your feet in your bloody uncomfortable stirrups, and stick it where the overly bright and hot lamp shines. I got a new girlfriend (to probe me slightly painfully with cold tools).

Monday, October 05, 2009

Two Much Fun

At the new job, I'm running a basic beam mechanics test on an interesting material. Although analysis might be challenging, the tests themselves are very simple: apply load, measure deflection. The hard part is that the maximum load for the medium sized beam is 350 lbs, and 1800 lbs for the large beam. The lab is not really set up for this sort of test, so instead of a testing machine, we are using... free weights. That's 1800 lbs of free weights that need to be repetitively lifted, put on the beam, and removed. That's 1800 lbs of free weights that were purchased in increments of 50 and 100 by the previous testers who skedaddled for greener pastures right after the weights arrived. Let me say here that I have the muscle tone of SpongeBob.

So after much kvetching (polite, professional, and couched in the form of questions), I convinced someone to agree with me that a soft 35 yr old with no muscles isn't the best person to sling large weights around. This other professor found the perfect solution: twin weight lifters. No really, identical twins. Yes, I now have 2 21yr old weightlifters helping me with the tests. They wear uniforms and call me ma'am (and are a little short, a requirement for my standards of attractiveness), and it would be a highlight of my life if not for this:

"Doctor of Philosophy? Does that mean you'll be able to read our minds?"

Oh my little lads, you will be as safe with me as with your own grandmother. (Which they would have been anyway we know, but maybe not in my head. Just want to clarify that for the credulous. And the spouse.)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Wisdom, From Me to You

Love is when you learn to firmly tell someone to F-off, while trying not to hurt their feelings.

Because you love them, but you really need them to F-off.

This wisdom courtesy of a small boy who felt the need to cry after a wonderful evening, because dessert was not on the menu.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's September?

Whoa, where is the time going? Crazy baby rearing, determined money earning, and slapdash housekeeping, that's where.

So here's my current dilemma, and I don't know whether to call it moral, ethical, or a matter of good taste: I live in Annapolis, home of the US Naval Academy. Our little soldier students have to stay fit as part of their educational mission, so they spend a lot of time running around town. The rule is they have to wear shirts on the Yard, but the minute the little jewels leave their campus, off come the shirts. This is traditionally considered a perquisite of residence in this town, and 10 years ago, I was delighted by it.

Now the scenery remains as eye-catching, but:
3. I no longer have reciprocal beauty. Time was I didn't hesitate to take a gander, because I knew the exchange was mutually beneficial. Now I'm thinking Jabba the Hut just had a glandular problem, and was probably quite handsome under his crusty exterior.

2. I'm old enough to be the parent of the youngest ones, with little scandal. Now when I ogle them, they are probably wondering why the matron with two little kids in the backseat is squinting at them.

1. I'm working at the academy. Should I be giving the eye to young people I might encounter in the classroom? Odds are I wouldn't recognize them with their shirts on, but they might know me. "Hi, professor, so nice to finally put a name to the lechy eyeballs."


This doesn't mean I'm going to stop looking at the running candy. I just wonder how guilty I should feel about it.