Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Productivity

If you want something done, give it to the person who's busy. I still remember my high school English teacher saying this to me in my OAC year when I told him I was going to drop his Writer's Craft course.  Or was it when I told him that I didn't think I had time to do any additional extra-curriculars?  I can't distinctly remember now, but it was certainly because he was trying to point out to me that it was foolish of me to free up my schedule in my final term of high school because I wanted to ensure that my grades didn't drop, my Descartes (and all other contest) score(s) would be high, my clarinet playing didn't suffer, and my performance in the high school musical didn't suck.

It admittedly did (and does) get difficult to stay on track when you have too much free time on your hands.  You don't feel more focused.  You feel less so, and it shows in lowered productivity.  In the case of my final term of high school, I was right in reducing my workload the way I did.  What none of my teachers knew was that I had been living over a restaurant that had then-recently turned into a bar that blasted music until 4:00 a.m.  My room was over the speakers.  Even with earplugs I couldn't sleep.  If I didn't find other times to get caught up on my sleep, I'd have been a zombie.  But instead my grades didn't drop, my Descartes score was high, my performance didn't suck, and ... ok well, the clarinet playing suffered just a tad.  And since I was so successful in my supposition that a reduced workload would be worthwhile, for the first in many years, I started to cut out activities from my schedule.

The following Fall, after starting University, I remember not wanting to take on a job so that I could focus on my studies. The following summer, I didn't want to take non-work-related courses so I could excel at my work.   Throughout the entire period, I took singing lessons and tried to meet and sing with other musicians in the city.  This I did occasionally.  The trouble I had with any of these paths (i.e. University, work, singing) was that I didn't know why I was on them.  I felt like I would arbitrarily choose one, try my hardest at it, clear my schedule for it, and then use the experience to decide how I felt about it.  In this way, I unwittingly spent years "searching for myself" - an act that I had scoffed at as a teenager.  In the end, all I learned was that I liked incorporating elements of each into my daily life.  So, that is what I aimed for.  It was this balance that I strove for.  It became the guiding principle on which I based my decisions.

That was years ago.  Now I realize it was just my fear.  I rationalized my decisions because I was afraid to invest time in the things that mattered to me.  I was afraid of failure.  I aimed for the present because I was afraid of being disappointed by the future.  And this is because it is scary to invest time when you don't know the "right" path to take.  It's easier to take a non-committal attitude toward your career than to buckle down and decide This is it!  This is the direction that I'm going to take!  Now, I will aim to get there. It's a lot like love.  What is the "right" path?

Years later, I still make this same mistake.  To work harder at my job or school?  Or to do neither? That is my question.  My fear is always what it has been: that I'll wind up so far down a path that I only discover after it's too late that it's not where I want to be.  And I'm still the same person who invests 110% but is envious of those who succeed and don't.

I'm tired, and I just don't know if all my effort is worth it.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Running

I used to dye my hair often, and tweeze my eyebrows until they looked drawn so that daily I could paint on my face with make-up.  I would watch what I ate so as to maintain my then-waif-like figure.  I wore uncomfortable but sexy 5" heels  for every occasion I could.  And I did this until I could do this no more.

I stopped wearing the crazy heels years ago.  Physically, I just can't do it.  It's too painful.  Mentally, I just can't put on uncomfortable shoes knowing I'll need to be comfortable.  I still wear heels, but either I know I'll be sitting at my desk all day OR they're comfortable shoes that happen to have high heels.  Now, I probably don't own more than ten pairs of shoes.  I used to own dozens.

I've also toned down on tweezing my eyebrows and wearing make-up.  My effort in these areas doesn't exceed what's required of looking neat.  It's all I aim for.  Not only is that sufficient, it's professional.  At some point, I just became so comfortable with what my face actually looks like that I can't be bothered to try to make it look like something else every day.  That's what it felt like when I was younger: with make-up artistry tricks, I could conceal everything unappealing about my face.

My hair-dying went in bouts.  The last time I dyed my hair was about a year ago - I dyed it black when I started working at the Department of Computer Science.  Before that, I had long brown hair with blonde highlights.  Before that, it was medium-length and black.  Before that, it was super short, semi-spikey and red with blonde highlights.  Before that it was short, spikey, with brown, blonde and red highlights.  I'd continue to describe the cuts, but it's pointless.  I've sported numerous hairstyles of different lengths and combinations of colours over the years.  Not all were that flattering, but that wasn't what I was aiming for.  I had a purpose with every change: to make statement.  I'm bold OR I'm sexy OR I'm crazy OR I'm fun OR ... something.  The change in hair style coincided with a change in my life.  Some women shop, others eat.  Me? I got my hair done.

When I was thirteen and grew tired of being pegged as boring because I was the smartest girl in the tiny little class of mine, I chopped off the long black locks and wore a T-Boz-inspired cut.  When my first boyfriend broke up with me, I dyed my hair black and grew it long after having worn it short and brown for the duration of the relationship.  When I dated 'high school sweetheart #2' who told me that it wasn't "cool" to use words that were "too big" for his friends to understand, I chopped off the "sexy" long black tresses and sported a more conservative short, boyish cut to make him cry (just before I dumped him).  In my adulthood, whenever I  started a new job, or moved to a new place, I'd get a new look.  And generally speaking, throughout my life, whenever I wanted to feel brand new, changing my hair was what I did.

As regards watching my weight, high school sweetheart #3 taught me how to enjoy eating.

In retrospect, I realize that the real statement with every look, and every change was I hate myself. I had  been running from myself for years.  I haven't done anything to my hair or my looks in just over a year.  Maybe ... just maybe ... it means ...

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Unspoken

In high school, there was a girl that I really loved to talk to.  She was smart, sarcastic, mean - perfect!

At the height of our friendship, we spent our days daring each other to do stupid things in the cafeteria and making fun of people.  It was a match made in heaven.  Well, it was for me.  One day she just stopped talking to me.  I don't know if I was supposed to ask why.  I just let it go.  She wasn't rude to me afterward, so I didn't have the impression that I had unwittingly offended her.  She just stopped talking to me, and spending time with me after school and on weekends.  And I know that people get busy, circumstances change, and that the quantity of time spent together doesn't dictate the strength of a friendship, but in this case it did.  We never did have any heartfelt conversations after that.  And even though we are in each other`s extended networks, I won`t be surprised if we never do.

But I`m not here to whine about the reasons why  people leave us hanging.  I`ve left people hanging - sometimes intentionally, and others not.  When the shoe is on the other foot, and all I can do is infer to the best of my abilities as to the motives behind their leaving me hanging, I am content.  Need I hear the reasons?  I could go either way.  I both respect a person's commitment to truth, and his/her  reservations.  I have to trust that if he/she didn't tell me, that he/she doesn't care what impression I am left with, or to help me grow and learn (i.e. that I wasn't worth the effort). So I won't [grow and learn from the experience], and I can misguidedly try to, but for my own sanity, I just take the best from it and leave it at that.  Besides, there are no such things as friends that we are meant to have, so I don't cling desperately onto anyone who doesn't want to be here.  There are only the friendships that we keep.  It's simple.

In the high school yearbook of my graduating year, as my farewell I wrote that I'm not afraid of saying good-bye, a sentiment that I stand behind today.  I only fear forgetting...because we lose a part of ourselves.  But letting go lets us appreciate the beauty in every moment. I still remember writing this.  It was my way of saying to some people that we may not have ended on a high note, and we may never get a chance to fix that, but I would (and actually do) remember the best of what's transpired.  I appreciate everything, in spite of everything.


I suppose that if she ever cared enough to offer to share with me the reasons, I would be flattered but would ask her not to and tell her that I already understand.  There is nothing more perfect to me than an ending because it endows me with a sense of completion.  It lets me finish a story, and consequently lets me share it.  It can be an intellectual exercise - I can then dissect it: draw up the trees of possibilities and pick out the likeliest candidates, figure out what I should know for the future or decide that it was hopeless from the outset.  What is a "happy" ending, anyway, besides one that is unambiguous?  Need it be anything more than that?  She didn't leave me waiting mid-conversation, or make plans that we never saw to completion.  Nor did the friendship fizzle slowly into non-existence.  No, instead there was a definite end, just one of which I was not explicitly notified.  The continuing friendships have value either in having been "worth the effort", or for the history.  We hopefully learn and grow from the ones that end.  This being said, there is nothing more tragic to me than the exchange of unnecessary and hurtful insincere words.  Disingenuous words are better left unspoken, and I would rather have been left hanging.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Quirks

In my previous workplace, people tended to stress their youth.  All day, I'd hear about how well they were doing for someone their age.  Perhaps not explicitly, but it was implied!  Here they stress their seniority.  In every other (ok, perhaps less) email or conversation, someone alludes with pretentiousness to the length of their work history.  (Aside: I know and you [hopefully] know that there is just so much that is wrong with making sweeping generalizations, but I'm still going to make them and refer to them even if I offer no measure of proof.)  There is also a larger female to male ratio in my previous department than in my current one.  (This is easily measurable and proven.)  And while there is undoubtedly a whole host of things that differentiate that department and this one, I'll stop at these two.

With regard to gender ratios, I never used to think that this was something that would ever matter to me.  However, in consideration of such nonsense as sexual harassment, crazy co-workers who cross sacred lines, or the concern that my generally pleasant demeanor may be (as it has been) misconstrued and used against me, why can't I believe that the staff gender ratio is a major contributing factor to my potential happiness in a workplace?  Admittedly, I speculate (probably correctly) that it is so much more than just the high staff female to male ratio that made it such a wonderful place for me (and the rest of the staff) to go to every day.  But there is so much to be accounted to it that I'd be a fool to overlook it.  I viewed the senior leaders, who are all women, as mentors and aspired to be like them.  In my most recent role, I had the great fortune of being able to work directly under their guidance.  The entire staff (senior leaders included, of course) is composed of beautiful, intelligent, accomplished, hard-working, women who acknowledged with pride their roles as mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, etc...  I was never made to feel inexperienced, young, or too girly.  I knew that my opinion was valued, and felt capable of effecting positive change.  All of our opinions were valued.  Everyone had and shared their opinions.  There are some who would say that this was a negative thing, making for unproductive staff meetings where we each gave our two cents, but I would say that they loved it in spite of the long meetings.  They are and always will be dear friends to me.

In spite of how wonderful the social atmosphere was there, it had its downside.  The experience filled my head with crazy ideas such as a sense of pride, and notions of self-worth.  They led me to believe that I'd be able to either find or recreate the atmosphere anywhere.  I should have known better.  At least I can say that I never took it for granted - neither then nor now.  It was both an honour and a pleasure.

Addendum

I remember being in high school and taking the TTC there and back every day.  Well, most days.  In the warmer months, I liked to walk the 4.5 kilometers home.  In winters I would hitch a ride from friends.  In both cases, the purpose was to save the money allocated to bus far and use it for more fun and social things, like going to Eaton Centre after school, or on the weekend.  In the months where I calculated that a Metropass would not be to my benefit, I would purchase tickets/tokens, and sometimes I would use cash.  I still have a distinct memory from high school of having left my bus fare in a neat stack on my desk, walking away to do something, and returning to hear my peers joking:

One person: "Whose pile of coins is that?"

Another: "Who else'?  Do you know anyone else in this class who suffers from OCD?"

They would have continued in this fashion, but I jumped in to point out that one neither has nor hasn't OCD, and that there's a scale - a degree to which one suffers.  Then we all laughed heartily until the joke got boring or another topic started, I presume.  I can't say for certain now what really happened next, or even if I`ve misquoted my high school peers.  But this scenario makes sense and the options for the ending put forth are suitable and likely candidates so I'll contentedly move on.

All I really wanted to get at was that I never really concerned myself with what others thought of me.  It was always too troublesome to point out their folly.  On occasion I would, but then it was out of boredom.  I had the time to explain myself fully.  There were, of course, some persons whose opinions mattered to me.  There were many reasons why this was the case, the most important one of which being that I respected them.  But for all others, even when I disagreed completely with their opinions of me, I couldn`t be bothered to correct them.  I can barely even bring myself to exhaustively explain now while typing to myself on this blog.  I just that feel these things should be obvious.  You should know that I can`t be concerned about what you think if I don't respect you.  (And that if I don't ask for your opinion, well, ... )  You should know that I'm not going to invest time in explaining myself to you if your opinion of me matters little to me.  You should know that I feel that my efforts would be fruitless because I don't expect you to understand, anyway. The subsequent frustration is worth avoiding, and the disappointment from having my time wasted, unnecessary.  So I don't bother.  Only out of boredom would I bother [to explain something so obvious to someone who can't understand it].  It pains me greatly to even type this out.  (I feel I should point out that in theory, then, it should be difficult to differentiate between when I'm bored, and if I am showing respect to you.  This is a burden that I have to bear.)

So, am I who you think I am?  I'm not going to answer that.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Contrast

[December 25, 2003 - from a journal entry - "...I want everything to be flipped upside-down.  But what is "everything", so where is "upside-down"?  What, then, is the difference?  Essentially, the difference is all I long for.  It's afternoon now, evening will come, night will pass, then morning... Oh morning!  The sounding of a new day with hope and promise.  Then it's afternoon again.  I will be here again mocking myself being mocked by time..."]

Change happens both abruptly and gradually.  In the case of the former, it's easy to remember and see the consequences, but not so in the case of the latter.  An event, a move, a new beginning, an end - these are things that have immediate and noticeable effects.  It's more difficult to see the effects of such things as the accumulation of savings, months of rehearsal, having experience, the development of trust, the strengthening of convictions.  Each incremental change is so small.  Patience and foresight (or ignorant persistence) are necessary to find the motivation to continue with these changes since they proffer no immediate reward.

After high school, at the end of each calendar year I wanted to take inventory of the events from the year prior.  I would include such things as awards or distinctions received, jobs I started, grades I got, places I've sung, people I've sung with.  I wanted to keep track of all of the positive things that I had accomplished, and all of the things that I wanted to accomplish in the future.  These lists gave me something to feel proud of.

My efforts were misguided.  You can't gauge improvement and growth through lists of accomplishments.  Through my journals, diaries, spontaneous scribblings on paper, and blog posts, I was fortunate.  They were successful where the inventory fell short.  They've shown me what I couldn't see, what I've become - happier.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Unforgettable

From an entry made on Tuesday, October 16, 2007 in a previous blog:

"I wonder who remembers me. I consider all the things I've said, all the actions I've taken, words I've typed, notes I've sung.  To whom is this memorable?  To me?  To anyone else?  To the people to whom these actions were directed?  I should hope so.  But I don't know."
In 1.5 hours, it will be the two-year anniversary of this post.  It is an excerpt from an entry from an old, private, discontinued blog of mine that nearly none of you have or ever will see. But neither of these facts are important.  My feelings aren't cyclic with an annual or biannual period.  Neither are they recurrent in any even seemingly ordered fashion.   Perhaps a lot of my feelings will reside entirely in the past.  Anyway. I wrote this entry at a time when I felt cynically about people, and the friendships that I'd made.

I've been spending a lot of time with old friends and colleagues as of late.  These words have trickled their way into my thoughts, resonating in the back of my mind all week.  To whom is this memorable? To me? To the people to whom [the things I've said, words I've typed] were directed?

It's taken me two years minus 1.5 hours to be able to answer with certainty.  To both of us.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Unforgiving

I used to pull all-nighters.  Perhaps not all the time, but I did them.  I could do them.  Now it's just too painful.  When I'm tired, I couldn't keep myself awake even if my life depended on it.  Well, I know from experience that an energy drink would fix that, but the subsequent physical discomfort from being fatigued and wired isn't worth the restoration of my temporary alertness.  Why be awake if I won't be 'all there', anyway?

I no longer even compromise a minute of my sleep.  I don't like to.  I don't stay up late.  I try to and usually do fall asleep roughly 7.5 - 8 hours before I need to awake.  I don't drink coffee after a certain time in the day.  I don't drink more coffee, or caffeinated beverages than I know I can handle.  I exercise.  I usually put on some relaxing instrumental music when I get into bed just before I go to sleep.  At present, I'm quite partial to the more serene pieces on the Gladiator soundtrack.  I don't watch television so that I won't get stuck to it.  I don't surf the net for the same reason plus there's the fact that the fan in my laptop makes just enough noise to ruin a good night's sleep.  I also try not to read before sleeping.  I usually get my minimum of one hour per day of reading done earlier on when I'm more alert, but mostly I do this because I'll dream about whatever it was I was reading, and likely grind my teeth in the process.  (Ah, sweet dreams of the influence of Newton and Goethe on Nineteenth century physics... Just what I want to dream about!) I don't turn off my phone, but I do put it on a different profile to ensure that I'm not awakened by any emails.  I keep alarm, phone, and SMS functions working just in case I need to be contacted for any emergency.  I don't have a land line, and you never know what could happen.

As I've said, I wasn't always like this.  I used to do whatever it took to finish ... anything.  I remember doing this for school, and especially work.  I know that it wasn't good for my health, or my success, but I used to think that it was.  I would kill myself for schoolwork just to have the perfect [insert school assignment here].  And I used to stay up all night for work, come in to the office after staying up all night, work like an animal, and feel it was somehow "impressive" that I could ignore all of the signs of fatigue that I was showing just so I could say to my co-workers with absolute certainty "You don't work as much or as hard as I do." (On this, I think I had, and to this day still do, put too much stock in leading by example.)

But what was the point?  I fabricated a measure of "success" that I could meet, then met it.  It feels foolish now.  I wanted to work harder, and party harder than everyone.  It was exhausting.  I couldn't handle it.  I spent four straight months in the summer of 2005 sick, even after taking antibiotics for the cold.  I look at pictures, and I can see that I was killing myself.  It makes me uncomfortable to look at them.  For the most part, I've just gotten rid of any pictures of myself from that time.

I didn't instantly improve, but I have improved substantially and continue to.  With every passing year, and every better habit I adopt, I increasingly and unfailingly find:

If you interrupt my sleep, I will hate you.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Tolerance

Five years ago, if we had an agreed upon time to meet and you showed up late, I would have (1) left within fifteen minutes, and (2) not spoken to you until you learned how rude and disrespectful it was to waste my time.   It was my way of saying that I don't tolerate tardiness.

I've lightened up somewhat since then.  I've learned that there may exist good reasons to be late, or not show up at all.  I still get ridiculously angry while I'm waiting, but I have learned to not hold long-term grudges for it.  Well, I won't when there's a genuinely good reason for wasting my time.  If not, then in my mind I just label you as "disrespectful, and irresponsible".  There's nothing wrong with that.  That's just the case.

I suppose I understand how scary it was/is to tell me the truth.  But I so greatly respect the person who makes me feel guilty for how unfair I'm being than the baby who is afraid to.

Some days, like today, I wonder if it's just a general human condition to be irresponsible.  Other days I feel like it's my masochism, retaining the company that I do.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Childhood Memories

When I was eight, I would tell my friends that I measured the strength of a friendship through its ability to continually recreate itself.  Though I still believe this, I propounded it at the time because I had several friends that I didn't like very much that each called me their best friend.  I used to hope that each of those friends would keep my words in mind when I stopped talking to them, we lost touch and then moved on, but I know better.

I also recall constantly being pestered with "tests" of my friendship.  I would be asked to recite such silly things as one's favourite colour as a testament to the friendship that we shared.  I always failed.  I thought it as ridiculous then as I do now, except back then I would have (and had) enumerated all of the reasons why.  I still don't feel apologetically about that.

Up until MF, I had no romantic notions of friendship.  I considered them necessary in that we're social creatures and require them, but felt that any particular instances of it were arbitrary and occur only out of circumstance.  I suppose I still feel mostly the same way.  (I don't mean to diminish any of the circumstantial friendships I now hold... I still find value in them in spite of their arbitrariness.)  Notwithstanding our atheism, I still felt romantically towards my friendships within MF.  We weren't your stereotypical group of buddies.  We were MF: rude with no particular inclinations to be kind, thoughtful, or generous to/with each other.  We didn't celebrate birthdays, or holidays.  We didn't consider each other's feelings.  We didn't do anything that "friends" do for "friends".  We solved problems, and argued.  We criticized ideas, and critiqued documentaries.  We were honest about our ugliest opinions in that we unabashedly shared them.  We encouraged and hoped more people would join us and do the same.  It was my ideal.  My dream set of friends: people with different opinions who proudly and confidently shared those opinions, and who could count on getting thorough feedback on those opinions in the hopes of teaching/learning something.  It was cathartic.  And now it's over.

There was a particular "friend" from my childhood who accused me of treating my friendship with him as a "commodity" (his words, poor choice).  In particular, he accused me of not caring.  I can see and admit now that how I treated him was completely unfairly:  I should have told him from the outset that I didn't value his company in the slightest and spared both he and I the subsequent lie that was our "friendship" during our high school years.
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