Sunday, April 27, 2003

Knowing the Unknown

Big things have been happening in my life of late that challenge the idea of knowing or dealing with the unknown. The biggest one is that my mother has cancer. Ovarian cancer. I learned this a few weeks ago and after spending a day or so in a complete state of denial, I realized that not only is it real but it is happening to my mom. Since there were so many unknowns it was especially hard to wrap my mind around what this news really meant. After a week of this, she went in for surgery for the debulking procedure, the first step of her treatment. It seemed to go well and next week is her first appointment with her Oncologist to decide on the next step. I’ll be going home next weekend and hope that the not knowing will diminish through the week. I talk to mom regularly and she seems to be in good spirits. It helps with the worrying, but not enough. There are still too many questions that no one can answer. The combination of worry, fear, frustration is powerful. I knew that I’d have to deal with something like this some day; I just didn’t realize it would be happening so soon.

I figured that keeping up with the bad economy and keeping my job would be my biggest worry. So the news above has cut the additional worry that I may get laid off or “bumped” from my position. I really do like what I do. It’s still managing a computer help desk, something I’ve done for the past 9 years. I enjoy the people I support and the people I work with in my department. It’s not a high stress environment but we still have lots to do. I can put in a 40 hour work week and know that I’m doing good work that people appreciate and that makes a difference to my customers so that they can support their clients better. Sounds good, eh? Well the budget needs to be balanced and being a civil servant, that means that new people with less seniority are at risk if they end up reducing the deficit with our positions. The unknown comes in now. Our union contracts are up for negotiation. How bad the budget is might be exaggerated to get the unions to take less at the bargaining table. Or if it is really as bad as they say, I might get bumped by someone in my classification who has more seniority than I, even if they don’t have the skills to do my job. Or I might have to supervise someone who bumps one of my staff. (Really the least of my problems but a potential headache of the worst type – the type that lasts until that person retires.) How all this happens is decided by a complicated set of rules.

And as you might imagine I got both sets of bad news at around the same time. I’m fairly resigned about my job. There is only so much I can do. I have gone back to living as if I’m already unemployed in an effort to build up a little bit of a nest egg. In a moment of panic I started scanning the job boards, but soon realized that’s just adding fuel to the fire. My boss has been especially good about telling us what is happening and how we might be affected. While it’s lousy news to deliver, it’s good that we are talking about it openly. The rumor mill can demoralize anyone with the bad news, so I appreciate the effort he is making to stay on top of things as best he can.

I’ve been talking about this stuff a lot to various friends and family which help me more that I would have thought. One friend told me I seemed especially stoic considering the news. I assured her that it was just that I had reached a state of acceptance, realizing that I can’t possibly know the unknown and to get all crazy about it would make me crazy. Once I get past my most obvious issues, I found that things were going pretty well for me. I can deal with the job, I’ve been through worse and I have a better support network now than I did a year or two ago. I will do the best I can getting through my mom’s cancer. I plan on being as supportive as I can for her and know that I’ve got a great support behind me so that no one gets to go through this alone.

How are things going for you? Can I send you a hug?

Friday, April 18, 2003

Fine art of solo movie viewing

Last Saturday, I was troubled by a few things and was finding it hard to focus on anything. Ordinarily I might have found a close friend to spend some time with, but wasn’t feeling particularly talkative, so I decided that the best thing to do was escape to the movies. It was perfect movie weather, a grey rainy day, so I went to a local theatre and found something to see.

I’ve noticed that some people have a hard time going to the movies by themselves. This seems to fall into a self-conscious category that keeps those same people from feeling comfortable changing in a locker room. I know it can be tough, but it’s worth working past this.

So back to the theatre, it really doesn’t matter what you see. The only rule is that you have to pick something that you want to see. Yes, since you are seeing the movie by yourself, you don’t have to negotiate which movie you get to see. Or if there is a movie you saw once and just have to see again, here is your opportunity to do so without anyone else busting your chops about wanting to see that stupid movie twice. I should also mention that you can get whatever snacks you want. Popcorn with butter or without, candy no one likes but you, or if you are feeling particularly decadent, go and sneak in food from outside. My mom, a big movie watcher would drive other people crazy when she would sneak in chicken wings from Roy Rodgers. In the days before you could get a meal at the movies, bringing in fast food, Chinese food or if you are really good, pizza was great. You get to eat what you want and while throwing off the other patrons trying to figure out what that great smell is.

Okay, so you’ve picked your movie and you’ve gotten your snacks. Now you get to pick the seat you want. If it happens to be a full theater, there are always single seats available without having to sit in the first two rows. Once you get comfortable you might have enough time to get in some people watching. Without a companion to distract you, you can listen to all the conversations around you without distractions. It’s like the pre-show entertainment.

At some point the lights will go down. When the movie sucks you in you can just go with the flow. No one is going to talk to you or nudge you to pass the Jujube’s and distract you from the dialogue. And after the movie is over as you make your way home, you can think about the movie, the characters without having someone distract you with questions about running errands or what to do next.

Sure, sure, there are equally strong arguments for going to the movies with someone but there is nothing that beats this special sort of escapist treat than going to the movies by yourself.

What’s your favorite thing to do by yourself?

Friday, April 4, 2003

Power of Thought and Roller Coaster Rides

Have you ever thought about something and had that thought manifest itself into something real and tangible in your life? Sure it sounds flaky, but it’s amazing to think (even if it’s just for a moment) that you created it by the power of thought.

So what was I thinking about? I had been thinking about how life is like a roller coaster ride. It’s got ups and downs that are both exciting and scary at the same time. Where things happen so fast that you can barely react or so slow the anticipation is driving you crazy. The other night I was driving home after getting my haircut. The wind was blowing hard and there was a slight nip in the air. It was only 7ish but the sky was really dark as I started up the hill where I live. The fog and clouds, in contrast, were crisp and white reflecting the lights from below. And they were blowing by so fast I thought that I was in some surreal time-lapse movie. I was at the top of my street at this point and found myself looking at the views of downtown to the north and the valley to the west. It was like being at the first crest of a roller coaster ride. So I decided to keep driving going down the steep decline in front, then a quick turn to the right and a short dip before rising again.

There weren’t a whole lot of cars out so I drove around for a little longer pausing at each crest and thinking how cool it would be to design roller coaster rides on the streets of San Francisco. I enjoy how going over a steep crest and down the hill below still catches in my throat. Finding the right combinations of ups and downs and turns would be cool, especially since they would also have some nice views.

I remembered when I first moved here, I thought the hills were fun and took advantage of my Mom’s fear of heights, seeking out the steepest grades, as we explored this new city. Eventually I started fretting over the hills and how I was overworking my clutch (and clutch leg). I thought to find the routes that were less hilly and safer.

A lot of things have happened since I first moved here. You can’t really avoid the roller coaster effect in your life. It’s going to happen no matter how safe you play things, so perhaps it makes sense to try to have a little fun along the way.

What sort of amusement park ride does your life most resemble?