Friday, September 26, 2014

About that last round...

I've had two fairly surreal discussions this past week.  One was infinitely more amusing than the other, although as a result I can say I'm put off cowboy boots and g/g sex for a while *revulsion shudder*.  Sharkfoxes should never be placed in the context of sex toy use, ever, but especially if it involves another woman and a doubleheader.  That's a mental imagine I need to replace...stat!

As ridiculous and entertaining as that conversation was, it is less worthy of a last round then the second conversation for sure.  After that, I needed at least two more, maybe three.

The Second Conversation: The Story

As for discussion two, my life is a soap opera, or at least a dated trashy young adult drama *cue 90210 theme*.

Do you remember the story arc in 90210 where Vanessa Marcil's character turned out to be Tori Spelling's character's half-sister but they were all awkward and hurt and then the dad died and Vanessa Marcil (because she killed him with cardio exercises!) wasn't allowed to sit with the immediate family, and Brian Austin Green was all tall and B.A.G looking with the earring and the hair as he was a total dick to VM by telling her she had to sit in back because the bitchy mom didn't like her?  Yeah.

"Where is my phone?!  I should have stuck with a smaller purse.  I knew a bigger one would just swallow everything!"  I dig around until my hand comes back up with my little black phone no one would look twice at.  "Hmm, a little sister text.  Wonder what's up." "Busy tonight? - 'Lisha"  My students start filing back in from break, I glance quickly at the clock: 7:45pm.  "I teach until 8:30pm my time.  What's up?"  Click send.  Almost instantly, "I hve a story for u"  I think, "Interesting choice of words; I bet this will be good."  I let her know I'll call when I get done teaching.

Flash forward about an hour.  94 is surprisingly busy for a Tuesday at 9pm.  Call rings through, and through, and through.  No answer.  Typical "Lisha, ready when it suits her.  Steering wheel drumming.  Lights passing.  Phone beeps.  "Call you in 5"   Home.

Five minutes, 10 minutes.  Quick email check.  "Hello there ladies and gentleman, hello there ladies and gentleman"  my phone is ringing.  Cheap Trick brings a smile to my face and ears.  I answer, "Hey, what's the story?" still looking through email.  'Lisha says, "Do you remember our friend from church camp, Carrie?  Val and I were friends with her the entire time we went, and we all instantly got along."  Reading an email about a paper..., "Oh, ah, no.  Sorry.  That was, like, 15 years ago.  I barely remember driving home tonight."  "Well, we met her back then and we found out that her mom knew Mom and Dad; they were friends too.  Anyway, she added Val and me on facebook a few weeks ago out of the blue.  Val and I were super excited.  Neither of us had heard from her in years, but we still thought about her."  I'm tired, tracking the conversation takes a minute.  Still not sure what the story is. "Ok, that's nice.  So you all are talking again?"  'Lisha inhales audibly, "Yeah, and texting."  "Cool.  It's neat when past friends show up."  Scroll, scroll, scroll.  Nothing else worth reading right now.  "So is that everything?"  Maybe I'm a bit less gracious than I usually am, but it's past my bed time.

"No.  Dad kept getting a call this summer from the same local number, multiple times a week.  You know they don't answer calls from unknown numbers." "Yeah, me neither."  "Finally I told Trace just to answer it, maybe it was important."  "They were sure persistent."  "Well, Trace answers.  The person on the other end asks for Dad by name.  Trace pretends to be Dad and asks why they are calling.  The girl on the phone says, 'I'm your daughter.'" "Hmm" "Yeah, so Trace tells her, "I'm going to have to call you back."  No more computer distraction.  Fully tracking the conversation.  Pieces falling into place.  "It was that girl, Carrie, from church camp." "Of course it was. *Days of Our Lives theme starts playing in my head*  What did Dad say?"  "He said to Trace, "Dammit, I could have gone my whole life without knowing that, Trace." "Well, obviously it was Trace's fault." Giggle, eye roll, sarcasm.  "Hahahaha, I know, right.  So she's been texting me and facebooking me asking questions and trying to get information about Dad." "Ok, wait.  What did Dad say about the possibility." 'Lisha sighs and scoffs, "He said, 'I thought she was fixed', meaning Carrie's mom."  I laugh, cringe, and shake my head.  "Classic Dad.  Women equal dogs.  I'm not surprised.  We all knew what their relationship was like.  Dad could do whatever or whomever he wanted, Mom couldn't."  I think about my mom, her life, her death.  The life of my father.  "Is it any surprise we are the way we are?"  Smiling, I say, "No, it makes perfect sense given the context.  So, what does she want?"  Silence.  "She wants to meet him but he won't talk to her.  She says she is just going to find him and talk to him.  She also wants someone to give her blood for testing.  She's always been a bit unusual and kind of crazy.  I've been trying to protect Dad so I haven't given her any information.  We had a huge fight through text last night.  She kept saying, 'You can't keep me away from him.  You're just trying to keep him away from me."  

Absent-mindedly I pet the cat sitting on my desk.  I think I should feel something about the situation, but more or less I just feel indifferent.  Shoulder shrug.  "You explained to her that our father is not the type of person you sneak up on, especially if you are someone he does not want to see?"  Fuzzy humming, sounds like 'Lisha is driving.  One of the only times she ever talks with anyone on the phone.  "Yeah, she won't listen.  I want to help her but I also want to protect Dad."  I silently question; hmm, protect Dad?  From his own choices?

"There are a lot of holes in this story.  Did you say she added you on facebook a few weeks ago?  How long have you known?"  Nervous giggle from 'Lisha, "Trace called me right away because he wants to help her, but then he told me he had to wait until after Rally to do it."  Inwardly I start laughing as I calculate it's been almost 2 months.  My siblings.  "Ah, I see.  So, *laughter* how is it that the fact we might have another half-sibling didn't warrant a call to me sooner?  That's quite the memory lapse, even for you!"  She starts laughing, "Trace swore me to secrecy because Dad told him he could never tell us, and then I just thought it would go away so I really did just forget about it until a couple of weeks ago."  I make the astute observation, "What?  When has listening to Trace ever led to anything good?  Of all of us, I am like the one person you want to keep a secret.  I suppose Val found out before me too?"  'Lisha starts laughing and I can tell she is relieved I'm not angry about the delay in the big reveal. "Yep, but only by a little bit."

I start to think more about this other girl.  My ever present need to question everything starts to assert itself.  "How did she find out? And why did she just find out about who her father supposedly is?  And what could she possibly hope for in regard to our family"  "Supposedly she found newspaper clippings about Dad under her mom's bed." "Ok, that's creep if it's true." "Yeah, I know.  She says her mom told her then.  She says she wants to be part of our family because she has never fit in.  When she added me on facebook she said we are all so beautiful and smart and talented, and she wants to be part of that."  I feel somewhat sorry for this person.  Idolizing our family has a certain hint of desperation and obvious lack of understanding.

This makes me wonder about 'Lisha's timing.  "So why are you telling me now if you were sworn to secrecy?"  Car door beeping.  I knew it.  "Uh, I don't want to do this on my own anymore.  This text fight was crazy.  I want her to find the truth but then again I don't necessarily want to know.  I can't really get any straight information from her and it pissed me off that she suggested I wasn't trying to help her at all.  Do you want to talk to her, please?"  Breathing, thinking, not feeling much.  Realizing I don't want anything to do with this, and the thought of talking to this person exhausts me.  A slight twinge of guilt when I reflect on how this whole thing will be a gigantic distraction from my academic work and that's such a selfish thought.  So tired and over-extended.  "Can I think about it?"  Big sigh from little sister.  "You're so good at getting things out of people.  You would be great at getting answers from her."  "I can't be that good if it took 2 months for you to tell me this..." I add with a slight smile.  I can envision 'Lisha shaking her head and smiling too, it comes through in her response, "I'm never living this down! Haha.  I just want it to get settled." 

"What about her mom?  Has anyone talked with her? She's a natural source of information." I point out.  "She's been trying to call Dad to but he won't talk with her."  That man, stubborn beyond belief, and probably scared too.  Not to mention practically drowning in guilt over my mother.  "Get me the mom's number and I will call her.  She's the logical choice to help clear this up."  "How do I get the number without asking Carrie?"  Oh, 'Lisha.  "There's this thing called caller id, phones have it.  It tells you the number of people who call you..."  "Oh, yeah.  I'll ask Trace."  It's been a long conversation and a long story.  We end making jokes about how ridiculous our family is and how we are so desensitized from things like this that it's business as usual.  I ask if she is sure there are no other stories she has to share...someone coming out of a coma, perhaps?  A wedding to break up dramatically?  Obviously she had amnesia for two months as this was all happening, so that's covered.

Sometimes all you can do is laugh.

It is rare, but occasionally I am glad my mother is dead.  While I don't think she would be angry about the situation, she would feel the need to help, and that can be just as harmful.  It has been a bizarre week.  I'm glad it's coming to an end.    

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Garish Neon Sock Monstrosities

My younger sisters are both hilarious in different ways.  'lisha is genuinely funny and quite witty-- a very sharp tongue to say the least.  Val is also funny, but more in a slightly awkward, innocent kind of way.  I likely fall somewhere between currently.  I've given up on my bold, ever present sarcasm, but on occasion I'm somewhat humorous.  Both of them came to my immediate rescue today during a dreadfully boring Saturday class, for which I can't thank them enough.  One regaled me with a story regarding a patient asking for testing for diabetes because they slept with someone with an insulin pump who "didn't tell [them] they were infected" (yikes!!!), the other sent me text impressions of Gus Gus from Cinderella.  We also just had a great realization that none of us match our socks when we wear them, and we all have a bizarre affinity for garish neon sock monstrosities.  Ah, sisters.  I'm so lucky! 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Scheduling Tetris: Long Days, Short Nights

So, this is one of the many things I do in my life.  Volunteer scheduling.  In this case, I am scheduling about 150 volunteers across four different locations.  This image is only page 1 (of 3) of my scheduling tetris.  The process to complete this schedule happens three times per year (after making an impassioned plea to go from quarterly scheduling to trimesters last year).  It takes a month and a half to go from beginning to end on a schedule.  The color coding here indicates this is a draft from about a month into the process.  I changed the font so the names would not be identifiable, however, every line represents one person.  The grouping is in reference to the teams the volunteers work in.  There are now 21 different teams across the four sites that I am responsible for in terms of recruiting, hiring, scheduling, managing, and training.  Each of the teams is designed to maximize the diversity of the individual members to better serve clients but also improve the volunteer experience.  I also have to balance the number of students in training with more seasoned professionals, and new volunteers with ongoing volunteers.  There are three different types of volunteers with three different roles. 

Each volunteer indicates their open and preferred volunteer availability for the upcoming term.  Then I remove people who have indicated they are finishing, move the people who have requested to be moved, look at the availability of people who have been interviewed and ok'd and then place them on teams if their availability fits.  It is essentially a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, but the idea of scheduling "tetris" is amusing and keeps me sane.  The tetris concept is very useful when volunteers start making numerous requests to be moved back and forth or for special consideration or demand a slot and then quit three weeks into the term etc.  I am also responsible for finding substitute volunteers when someone can't come in.  Ha!  On 20 (paid) hours per week, that is a stretch at times to say the least.  Luckily, this type of scheduling has helped me practice my skills around organizing my own life.        

I sometimes get bogged down in my own frantic schedule, which leads to complaining and stress.  The stress is understandable, the complaining is annoying.  I got myself into all that I currently do: grad school, teaching, non-profit volunteer coordination, clinical work...and the list goes on.  The basic framework of my weeks looks like the calendar below.

I took a screenshot of it a couple of days ago, and I've already added an additional advising meeting, a volunteer interview, and another volunteer training.  I've also got 30 short papers to grade.  It doesn't show that I get up between 4:45-5am each morning or that I often stay in one of my offices until 7-8pm to read/write etc. before going home to read/write some more.  I had to stop trying to schedule a lunch and dinner time for myself because it was just taking up space on my calendar and not actually reinforcing taking a break.  I really appreciated the comments of a former professor this week when he said, "You can't do all of those things in one semester (prelim exams including oral defense and paper, dissertation proposal, internship applications, teach, work, see clients)."  I said, "Watch me."  His reply: "Maybe you can...but you shouldn't."  It made me think a bit.  

I now understand what they mean when they say some advisors don't know how to protect their students.  Well, part of it comes down to protecting myself.  I might be too good at scheduling tetris for my own good; I manage to line my blocks (tetriminos) up and create space before they pile too high.  So far, the fall hasn't started out with a downpour of s and z blocks, so I might make it.    

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

September 1st: Beginnings and Endings

September 1st.  What a day.  It's the beginning of a new month, the beginning more or less of the academic year, and it marks the end of my mother's life.  This is the 9th year since her death.  She has officially been dead half as long as she was alive in my lifetime.  In another 10 years, she will have been dead as long as she was alive in my life.

I've written about this before including how much it generally sucks to have a parent die when you are not yet an adult.  I'm not sure it is necessary to cover that ground again.  I can say, however, nearly a decade of constant awareness of her absence has provided some important perspective in my life.  Though I would much rather be able to have her presence and thoughts in person as well as the experience of continuing to share parts of my life with her, I have learned and grown on account of her death.

It is unfortunate that the US typically does not deal well with death.  We can dole it out to others for "just" causes and "defense" but we cannot aid others in attempts to ease their suffering, we rarely discuss the topic of death openly often only seeing it attached to media representations that glorify the act but not the experience and process of those involved like some twisted fable.  We use euphemisms such as "pass away/on", "departed" or we just don't talk about it period.  All of these things combine to make death in a person's life a typically sad, upsetting situation which it is to an extent.  I suspect that due to this approach to death, though, so much positive experience is lost.  It also makes it difficult to grieve in a way that fits people's specific needs.

I was rushing to get back to my life when my mother died.  I was 5 hours into a 10 hour drive when I got the call that I needed to come back.  I was ordered back, really, by my grandmother.  Then it was a death vigil for about 4 days.  I would take my sisters out to do something instead of sit in the depressing hospital waiting for her to die only to get a call to say, "you should come now, it will be soon."  So, we would stop whatever we were doing, herd into my mother's room and stand and stare.  After awhile I would shuffle my sisters into the family lounge again to wait.  We stayed in the hospital 24/7 until the 4th night.  I looked at my father and my aunt and said very calmly, "I'm taking the girls to Amy's [my cousin who lived in the city with the hospital] to sleep, shower, and eat.  Do not call me unless she is dead.  I am not bringing them back here to wait more."  I said goodbye to my mother briefly even though she was in a coma at that point, collected my little sisters, and went on our way.  I was sleeping but heard the phone ring.  It was pitch black, but I sat up and put my shoes on.  I was tying the second lace as my cousin came upstairs and said, "Rita, she's gone."  I went to the room my sisters were sleeping in, they had heard the phone ring too.  When I opened the door, they both stared at me looking terrified of the news I was bringing.  I said , "I'm sorry."  We all cried, I hugged them.  My cousin drove us to the hospital.  We all gathered in her room to say goodbye once more.  It was about 3:40am.  I don't remember what happened after that other than most of the nursing staff coming in and giving their condolences, some of them cried too.

The next day my brother and I met with the funeral director to plan the funeral.  I wrote the obituary, we chose her urn, the musical selections, and the memorial pamphlet.  There were three vans of memorial flowers people had sent the day of her funeral.  The local flower shop was wiped out, and the owner donated what was left having also known my mother.  Over 200 people came to the funeral.  They broadcast it over the speakers outside because not everyone could fit in the chapel.

Three days after she died, I came back to my apartment after making the drive and within 24 hours I started my sophomore year.  Some of it I regret, some of it I do not.

Despite her absence, and the profound loss involved, I know I am a better person because of her and her death. I approach everyday knowing that she believed in me, loved me, and respected me as a person. I fight for my rights and the rights of others because of her, especially those who need the most empathy and compassion because they are discarded by others. I use my healthy skepticism to question authority and ask questions other people are afraid to ask- because of my mother. I am a strong person, and so are my siblings; thanks Mom. I stay open in my mind and heart to people who are different from me because my mother taught me how to respect and honor those differences while building friendships. And I know how to manage my own pain and struggles through her life and death. I know how to take care of myself too and persevere when life is uncooperative in helping me meet my goals.    

I sometimes wonder if she would be disappointed in me.  I'm not sure exactly what would be cause for disappointment in what I've done since she died, but I wonder anyway.  I think questioning myself about it keeps me on my path and prevents me from giving up.  I'm not even sure it would be about "making her proud."  It's more like not squandering the love and effort she put into raising me based on the brief time we had together.  She literally risked her life, safety, and long-term happiness to help ensure I would succeed in life.  I'm going to define that success.  And when I make it happen, I'll know who to thank in large part...but that will only be a new beginning.