Monthly Archives: April 2014

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Divorce

I admit divorce isn’t funny, but there are funny things that can happen while you’re going through it. Or at least I found things I could make fun of to get me through it. And by things I mean me. Like how I was so proud of myself and my then-husband for consulting with therapists and divorced friends for advice about how to tell our son and help him cope. When the time came, it was the hardest conversation I’ve ever had, but I think our preparation helped make a horrible situation a little less horrible for him.

However, I soon realized that the time I had spent congratulating myself on handling it so well could have been better spent, say, learning the basics of home repair—previously the purview of my ex. About a week after he moved out, it hit home that I was on my own; my son shook me awake in the middle of the night to tell me his pillow was wet. I stumbled to his dark room, praying it was something I could fix—a waste of a prayer if there ever was one. The only chance was if his pillow contained sentence fragments or passive verbs. I flicked on the light and assessed the situation. His pillow was right under a window with an air conditioner that seemed to be leaking. Hmmm. I know precious little about the physical mechanics of an air conditioner when I’m alert, never mind when I’m sleep-fogged. But I remembered it probably had something to do with tilt—water needs to exit, and was currently doing so inside, on the pillow. I just needed to tilt the appliance so that the water would flow out the back of the air conditioner, drop down two stories, and harmlessly hit the ground below. Foggy brain directed sleepy hands:

Step one, open the window.

As I slid open the window about two inches, there was a short pause and everything in the universe skidded into Matrix-like slow motion. My awareness kicked in just in time to see the power cord rip away from the outlet and whip around like an angry snake. I managed to grab it, just like in the movies, but my victory was brief—the air conditioner effortlessly detached from the cord like Apollo 13 jettisoning its first-stage rocket boosters. It made a loud, adrenaline overdosing crash when it hit the ground. My son and I stared wide-eyed at each other in shocked silence. It took a minute more for my brain to catch up, and I finally, futilely exclaimed, “Holy shit, I just dropped the air conditioner!” Lucky for me, I lived in the kind of neighborhood where loud, random sounds were normal, so when I went outside in my pajamas to inspect the damage, no one peeked through their windows or came out to witness my stupidity. It hadn’t hit anything, so I pushed the pieces into a pile next to the house and went back inside. I promised my son we’d get another one the next day—if I couldn’t assure him I was handy, I could at least let him know I could replace things. As I passed through the kitchen on my way back to bed, the refrigerator rattled in a threatening way.  I gave it a stern look, and its watery gurgle sounded like a snicker. At least it couldn’t fall out the window.

Image credit:

The Boston (World) Marathon

I have mixed feelings today about the Boston Marathon. Living in the area, I’ve been in the midst of the memorial events, moving stories, and the 24-hour news cycle rehash for a few weeks now. As you learned from my previous post, I’m squeamish and highly sensitive, so in the face of the marathon today, I’m sad, disturbed, proud, worried, angry, and optimistic. I’m thinking of all the other people who have died of violence outside of the marathon, and reaching down deep for resiliency, and not feeling the least bit humorous. To quote Elvis Costello, what’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?

So instead I’m posting about a webpage and app issued by the Boston Marathon folks that lets you take part in the marathon where ever you are. It may be a little late to do any running before the marathon starts as the app suggests—the mobility impaired participants start at 8:50 am EST today, with everyone else following in stages by 10 am. But you can see who did sign up from all over the world and where they ran and their distances. Something about the world joining together virtually today helps me feel better about all this. Thanks for joining in.


Image Credit: Screenshot from iTunes App Store

A Nerd by Any Other Name

“You’re not a geek, mom,” said my teen son in the same tone a snooty maître d’ would use to dismiss a commoner. I had made the cardinal mistake of using “geek” and “nerd” interchangeably. “Well, then I’m a nerd,” I countered, ready to flash my Vulcan sign and attest that I had attended a Start Trek convention featuring Gene Roddenberry in the mid-70s. And don’t make me break out my version of the “I walked 20 miles in the snow to school” story:  I belonged to the Math League and my friend and I were the only two kids who ever carried books on our high school bus. We often feared for our lives among the pot and cigarette smokers, which included the bus driver.

My son gazed back at me, unimpressed. It’s bad enough that I struggle to keep up with technology, have to eat better and exercise more just to keep my middle age body the same, but now I couldn’t even keep up with being a nerd? What the hell was happening to the world? And more importantly, how could I lose my nerd status now that it was cool? Back in my day, you just had to dress up like a Star Trek character for Halloween and be smart, and bam, you were a nerd. Granted most people tried to avoid that label, but for those of us who couldn’t, we tried our best to embrace it. Now, according to my son, there are different rules and distinctions to being a nerd vs. a geek. He went on to patiently explain them, but it was my turn to glaze over. At some point there was a whole subsection about his group, being a hard core gamer. Since he was eight or nine he has loved video games—playing them, reading about them, watching videos about them, and following the industry news about the companies that make them. But by then I just nodded my head and smiled: a nerd by any other name is still a dorky cool person outside of the mainstream.

Which brings us to dorky cool nirvana, aka PAX East, the annual gaming convention that was in Boston this past weekend. We started going when he was 13 and it’s his third year. When I told friends and coworkers how I would be spending my weekend, I got looks running the gamut from sympathetic, to puzzled, to a blank stare: “What’s PAX East?” Indeed, what it is? It’s short for Penny Arcade Expo, and is an explosion of sight, sound, and happiness all focused on video games and whirling around 80,000 people. “It’s THREE days?” is usually the next question. “What on earth do you do?” Mostly, I just follow my son around and enjoy how happy he is. I don’t play video games myself—when I was a teen, only the rich kids could afford gaming consoles, and I was not one of those, nor did I especially want one. Occasionally I would mess around with Ms. Pac Man, but I was more into reading books and watching Star Trek. Yeah, that’s how old school nerd is done.

Sadly there were no Star Trek characters at PAX this year, but some people dressed up elaborately as video game characters. Other than people watching, there is a main floor of all the gaming companies, big and small, where you can try out new games and buy games and game-related merchandise. The rest of the convention center is filled with all kinds of events and panel discussions—yes, you heard me—panel discussions. About gaming. Some are about the state of the gaming industry. Others focus on specific games. One cool one we saw was on how to curb hatred in the gaming community—the anonymity of online gaming allows people to say some pretty nasty things. The panel talked about how positive gamers need to step up and set a better example. That panel and others feature well-known You Tubers, that is people who actually make a living by making funny and serious videos about video games on You Tube. I’ll wait a moment while you digest that. Ok, ready to go on? You Tubers are stopped in the hall and asked for photos and autographs. They are politely swarmed by fans after the panel discussions to chat and sign. And everyone is soooo patient. They will wait an hour for a signature, two hours to play the hottest new game. And no one gets mad, no one makes a scene. They are happy to be there, they are happy to get deeply involved in a conversation about a video game with the person waiting in line next to them. They are just happy.

Which is why I like to be there. Sure, it’s loud, overstimulating, I don’t get the inside gaming jokes, and lord knows I can’t play anything, but being a writer, I do get the creativity—serious gamers care deeply about the story of a game, the quality of the characters, and the originality of the game play. And I recognize that while they are a group of people who are gaining acceptance, they are still outside of the mainstream. As one You Tuber commented, “My family still doesn’t understand what I do for a living.” Many artists and writers and other creatives can relate to that. Ultimately I go to support my son, because that’s what parenting means to me. For a few years when he was younger, I hung out on soccer fields and little league bleachers to cheer him on. In the cold spring weekday evenings. The chilly fall Saturday mornings. In the rain. In the wind. During playoffs that always seemed to happen during a scheduled vacation. I definitely prefer supporting the out-of-the-mainstream activities, especially if they are indoors. If that isn’t proof of my nerdiness, then I’ll meet you at the Boston Star Trek convention in June. I know my Spock ears are around here somewhere.

Squeaming is for the Sqeamish

Today I’m celebrating my 7th post! Thank you to everyone who is following me—you guys rock!

I’m squeamish, sensitive, and emotional, so I’m not sure how I ended up in hospital communications. I have a cartoon pinned to my cube wall that shows a doctor saying to a patient, “This procedure is not for the squeamish. Squeaming is for the squeamish.” That pretty much sums me up. The main reason I can actually work there is that most everything I write is about data, metrics, redesigning care procedures, and information technology—it’s beautifully bloodless. I could never do my colleague’s job—she writes moving profiles about patient care, like how a nurse finds a key psycho-social element to care for a dying patient. Those stories always have me bawling, which is kind of uncool at work, even in a hospital. It doesn’t help that my desk is located in the hospital building. My squeamish coworkers and I call our administrative area “the bubble.” Once we serpentine through the less public halls to get to the bubble, the rule is to avoid leaving it at all costs. Over the years I have cultivated a number of additional tactics to help: I bring my lunch most days so I don’t need to go to the cafeteria, but I also found the back way to get there. If I have to interview someone, we either meet in the bubble or a neutral place like the cafeteria. I once had to interview a doctor in the Emergency Department, but my therapist says I shouldn’t dwell on it. I do occasionally have to go to the ATM which involves running the gauntlet of the main corridor plastered with posters. For the most part though, the posters and the signage are sensitive to the fact that patients also see them, so they generally don’t get too graphic. They mainly publicize hospital support programs and celebrations for nurses’ week or patient safety week. Even the more medically related ones are pretty tame and use smaller print for the medical case details. It’s easy enough to walk by quickly without being able to read them, which is normally what I do. Except for last week.

This poster stopped me cold with its 200 point type bold headline: “Managing Common Anal Complaints.” There was no escaping this thing, but after my initial squeamishly scientific reaction (“Ewwwwww”), my brain paused, ruminated, and then started a steady fire of questions I didn’t necessarily want the answers to: how could there be enough kinds of complaints to warrant a whole lecture on just the common ones? How many are there in total? Thanks to Preparation H commercials, I know there are hemorrhoids, but what other “complaints” could there be? And if they are so common, why don’t we see more commercials for medicines to relieve them? It’s not that big of an, er, organ, if that’s the term, and it only has one function, so how on earth can that many things go wrong with it? And dear god, what the heck is an uncommon anal complaint?

Even though I was able to retreat to the bubble, my mind was trapped in front of the poster like a witness to a car crash. I couldn’t stop thinking about it—is this some kind of silent epidemic that needs to have a campaign ribbon (you know what color it would be) and a month named after it? Common anal complaint awareness month? What unlucky health problem would want to share their month? Would they have a national conference and draw straws? You could just see the pink breast cancer awareness people wrinkle their noses, while other health awareness groups pressured the “Fruits & Veggies – More Matters Month” group to team up; “Your topics are kind of related,” they’d say enthusiastically. As I was considering the fruits and veggies group’s response, I realized something.

Not only had my squeamish tolerance increased, it had taken a horrible nerdy turn. In all my ponderings I never once went to that place: you know, the teenager place of farting, pooping, sexual innuendo, and pain-in-the-ass jokes. Which is probably the more normal way to think about it, rather than imagining, say, “Common Anal Complaints Awareness Month.” OMG! What have I become? A common anal complaint nerd, that’s what. Now that’s a real uncommon pain in the ass.

Image credit:,