Category Archives: work

Love That Dirty Water

When I first set foot on the algae slimed, goose-poop covered banks of the Charles River in the summer of 1983, it was love at first sight. For the first time in my life I felt truly at home. I never left, and while I still love Boston, I can sometimes take it for granted or forget how much I love it. 
Last week good weather and a decent work load combined to propel me outside at lunch to take a walk along those very same banks. It’s much cleaner now, although most people prefer to enjoy it from a sail boat or a kayak. I walked along the bank, lost in thought, until I realized it was time to head back. When I turned and saw the view, I fell in love all over again. 

Exhibit A


That’s a view of the Longfellow Bridge, better known as the salt and pepper bridge because of the shape of the 4 central towers. The state has been renovating the bridge and they took each “shaker” down to restore it and this was the first time in 3 or 4 years that I have seen all 4 back again. Add the sail boats from Community Boating, and you have the quintessential Boston/Charles River picture.

Here’s a close up of the salt and pepper shakers. 


So there I was, giddy and gushing over my city, on my walk, when I came upon city workers posting these signs.


No matter that I had just seen a dog standing in the water and lapping it up, and a while later saw a man sitting in it, communing with nature. We still love that dirty water. Boston you’re my home. 

Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth

I was struggling to write a post this week; I was torn between two topics. Going for the laugh and making fun of the fashion resurgence of jump suits, also called, lord help us, jumpers. Can these things just go away forever? You cannot easily go to the loo in this clothing mishappery, so that should automatically strike it from every designers’ drawing board. Forever. Which was a funny idea, until it then meant I was going to completely ignore the Cheeto flea’s tweets declaring transgender folks need not apply for military work.

And as my brain was swirling around, I came across this perfect piece by humor writer Aprill Brandon in the Boston Globe Magazine on Sunday, “Dark Humor About Politics Is Everywhere, But It Hurts to Laugh.” With this tagline: A “snowflake” laments politics unusual as it continues to unfold in Washington. Writes Brandon:

“I have spent over a decade shoving all my anxiety down my computer’s throat and am the happier for it. Instead of pills, I have boob jokes.

But then came 2016.

Followed by the first half of 2017.

And it is becoming harder and harder to find the humor in anything. Knock, knock. Who’s there? Oh, just the Evil League of Evil taking control of our government! Ha! Ha!”

Yes, exactly. She said it better than I could have so please read on for her take.

Thanks Aprill, you took the words right out of my mouth, and that’s no meatloaf.

 

Squeaming Is for the Squeamish

When I first published this a few years ago, I excitedly announced that it was my 7th post! I could be snarky now about my own enthusiasm (did I have so little confidence that I would actually get that far? Seriously, 7th post?). But my fatigue from all of the activities this summer is making me crabby enough, so I’ll instead take it as a reminder to be positive, whether it’s the 7th or 181st post, it is saving my bacon, and for many of you it will be the first time reading it. Win-win. Also I would like to dedicate this post to my colleague at the hospital who is retiring, and may very well have been the guy who had to make the poster mentioned below. May your life be forever anal complaint free, my friend. So, here it goes…

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.

Guardian of Harlan Ellison’s Coat

Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is out — I’m so excited!. So in honor of that, I’m reposting a blog from a few years ago about another sci-fi franchise that has “Guardian” in it. You know, because I can.

In the 90s I worked at the Boston Center for Adult Education and we had an annual writing festival. It was always a difficult task trying to find a headliner big name writer who we could afford. One year we totally lucked out with John Irving, and had been having a hard time matching that success. Trying to think outside the box, we decided on Harlan Ellison. Some of you will know his name—if you’re a hard core fan of science fiction or of the original Star Trek. Harlan wrote one of Star Trek’s best episodes, “City on the Edge of Forever.” Non sci-fi fans may know that episode because a gorgeous young Joan Collins was the guest star.

Writers, like rock stars, can come in all kinds of temperaments, and so we weren’t sure what to expect. The year before I started working there, they had landed Kurt Vonnegut and I was still traumatized by the stories of how difficult he was. John Irving was much nicer, and just as detail oriented in person as he is in his fiction. We had a discussion about the very old, defunct alarms on the windows of the room he was waiting in before his talk. The center was housed in a former mansion built in the early 1900s. “Must have been one of the first home alarm systems,” he mused, eyeing it intently.

Harlan Ellison was no household name, so I expected a humble, nerdy, sci fi guy. What we got was a big ego who blew into the center unannounced on the afternoon of his talk and started issuing orders to us about what he wanted, where, and when. The phrase, “You’re not famous enough to be this bossy” came to mind. Then he thrust his jacket at me and told me to get it pressed for the talk at 7 pm. He instructed me to make sure the sleeves were “rolled,” not pressed, and before I could even scrape together my feminist dignity and regally refuse, he blew back out the door.

Great. After a quick huddle with my coworkers about my best shot at getting this done, I set off to find a dry cleaners. There were easily half a dozen within walking distance of the center, so I wasn’t too worried. I was more annoyed than anything and wished he could have asked for a bowl of M&Ms with the green ones picked out. However, it soon became clear that I wasn’t getting that jacket pressed. One after another the dry cleaners looked at me blankly and said the presses were all shut down. Apparently it was common knowledge to all but me and my coworkers that one doesn’t get clothes pressed after 12 noon. How awkward and uncivilized of us to ask! Each dry cleaner sent me to the next: “Well, we don’t do it, but Charlie’s down the street might still have his press on.” They knew damn well Charlie was sitting there, presses off, scarfing up coffee and cookies, but they had some sort of code, and I was obliged to cover a six block square area with a crumpled jacket for naught.

Then I tried his hotel. Of course they use the same dry cleaners, so the answer was the same, with the additional tease of, “Well, one of the maids might be able to iron it by hand…” Briefly raised hopes “….but we couldn’t take responsibility if anything happened to the jacket…” were dramatically smashed. And what a jacket it was. Vintage cream linen with a psychedelic lining of brilliant swirling colors. I didn’t want to think what Harlan might do to me if that jacket came to harm.

But the hotel did give me one final option. Being an adult ed center, we had all manner of household items at our disposal, including an ironing board and an iron. So there I was at 5 pm, appropriately enough on the upper floors of the center which would have housed the servants, sweating over Harlan’s damn jacket. The sweat was due to both the unusual June heat and nervousness of accidentally marring the jacket—I mean there must be a fact-based reason why so many cartoons and comedies feature clothes with a burned hole in the shape of an iron. And did I mention I avoid buying clothes that need ironing? I ascertained that “rolled” sleeves meant no crease down the length, which is a lot harder to do than it sounds. Then at one point, the iron steam sputtered and made a small mark on the one of the sleeves. I panicked and tried to get it up with a wet cloth, but it stayed fast. Luckily, it was more on the bottom of the sleeve than the top. And then the clock struck the appointed hour and it was time to go.

I carried it as carefully as I could to avoid any additional wrinkles, which you know is impossible because linen wrinkles when you sneeze on it, but I managed to get it there and hand it to him. I waited for him to ask me who the hell had done such a shitty job pressing the thing and/or rip me a new one for the mark. He whipped it on without so much as a thank you or a fuck you and got ready for his talk.

So far, so good.

Honestly I can’t tell you what the hell he talked about. All my concentration was on that mark on the jacket and replaying the ghastly afternoon in my head. I was also trying to come up with smart retorts if he called me out.  And then it was time for Q & A, and after a few questions about I don’t know what, he called on a guy, who simply said, “I like your jacket.” The world stopped.

“This old thing?” Harlan answered nonchalantly. I was having trouble taking in breath. He rattled off something about getting it in the 70s and my life started passing before my eyes, much like the Guardian in the episode Harlan wrote that shows the passage of time. And then he slipped off the jacket in one fluid motion: “Here take it.”

Time stopped. I felt like it would have been the perfect time to jump into the Guardian so I could go back to that afternoon. When Harlan tried to hand me his coat, I could tell him to take his jacket and stuff it up his Jeffries tube. Actually I was more like McCoy who had just injected himself with cordrazine and was going crazy. My coworkers had to hold me back from lunging at both Harlan and new coat owner. But what was the point? Harlan left the stage with his big ego intact, perhaps even bigger for being so generous to a fan. The fan was happy to have landed the fabulous jacket. I had to be like the Guardian at the end of the episode. (Spoiler alert my ass, that episode is 48 years old, get a grip for god’s sake.) Kirk wrenchingly lets his lover die so that Hitler won’t win in World War II, and the Guardian says, “Time has resumed, all is as it was” (or some such, I’m a fan, not a mechanical recording device). But Kirk isn’t as he was and never would be. And neither was I.

Unblinded by Science

This weekend was Earth Day and also the March for Science around the country. My friend Mike and I went to the march in Boston, which was transformed into a rally for safety reasons. That might sound suspect, as plenty of other big cities managed to have marches without mishap, but Boston is so chock full of hospitals, universities, and businesses engaged in scientific research of all kinds that marching around is probably fairly redundant. We just gathered at the Boston Common and swept our arms in a broad circle to call out the all the science going on around us.

You might ask, what is a one-time failed biology major doing at a science rally? A one-time bio major who eventually accepted herself and became a word girl, that is. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to mid-life. My ex is a nurse, I have science and math kid, and I work in communications at a hospital. And while my kid can render me inert by flashing his calculus notebook with derivatives, slopes, and tangents, I have come to appreciate the importance of science and math. I have also come to appreciate all the people who do it much better than I do and actually enjoy it, leaving me to play in my word sand box. So, thanks for that. Also, thanks for creating all of the vaccines that prevent small pox, chicken pox, and all the other poxes Shakespeare liked to insult people with. Not having to battle preventable, contagious, deadly diseases leaves more time for my writing and yoga and, you know, that crazy thing called living.

At the rally, school kids from across New England who had won an essay writing contest read their work, and they were all about cleaning the air and the water and needing science to find cures and look for other planets we could live on — clearly these kids aren’t betting on us to fix this in time. I can’t say I blame them; they are way savvier than we were at that age. When we were in school, we used stone tablets, ate bark off of trees, and called this Earth stuff ecology. Remember this symbol?

ecology

I have clear memories of coloring this on many purple-inked mimeographed handouts, oops, I mean stone tablets. I also remember the message being simpler; mostly it seemed to involve not littering. I drew a lot of pristine landscapes with full trash cans, and I picked up a fair amount of litter; although back then it was mostly soda cans and paper bags. But the general idea has stayed with me all these years, even though I didn’t even like science for a good number of them. That’s what education is supposed to do, so how come it hasn’t sunk in for some people? I’m talking to you, Cheeto Flea and your minions. Maybe a little more coloring in Cheeto’s youth might have helped us out here. Or we can just stick a Crayon in his eye now.

If science teaches us anything it’s that evolution is not always a progressive process, so here we are some 40 years later having to explain why science and the environment are worth protecting. I get that there is a lot more we should do — we need more social justice-informed funding; we need to figure out how to make the cures we do find more affordable to everyone who needs it; we need to make the information about science discoveries more accessible to everyone and be able to say why it matters. Science is a long game of patience and persistence, which is kind of a drag in our very impatient society. After discovering penicillin in a failed bacteria experiment, it took another 10 years before it was actually usable as a treatment. Many discoveries take longer than that.

So, yeah, science needs some defenders, and that’s why I was so excited to see another part of my childhood at the march, Beaker, from The Muppet Show who is the long-suffering assistant of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew. I know Beaker is a true man of science because only a scientist would have the patience to get waylaid by a grinning middle-aged women who busted in just after a kid got his picture with him. OK, maybe he was a little scared too, but the point is we all have something to contribute — as users of science, practitioners of science, or fictional characters based on science. Eyes wide open, we’re watching.

 

 

Dammit

Don’t you hate it when life tries to teach you stuff?

Life, knocking at the door: “Hey, it’s me, here for your lesson. It’s time.”

Me:”Oh, hey, hi. No thanks, I’m good here with my glass of wine and Netflix. I think the people upstairs with the endlessly barking dog could use your help, though. Wow, that is seriously annoying. Go get ’em!”

Life:  “No, I’m here for you.”

Me: “Look, I get it. You’ve got a boss you have to answer to. I’m really fine. Oh, remember all that stuff we learned a few years ago? I was curled in a ball and cried a lot? Good times! So that counts, right? I learned stuff, I’m not curled in a ball anymore. It’s all good, right? I mean, seriously, that dog. He barks constantly when they aren’t home. Have a heart and think of him. His owners surely need to learn a few things.”

Life opens the door and walks in, looks at me with raised eyebrows. “Really?”

Me: “Awwww, dammit.”

Yeah, I really hate that shit. So, we had the election, and the inauguration (I can’t even capitalize it in good conscience), and whatever the hell this is now. I’ve felt angry, nauseous, adrift, overwhelmed, and I’ve been eating too much. And that’s the part that really hurts — especially after I worked so hard long to lose weight. And I would like to point out that my son recently got sick enough to stay home. That never happened during the Obama years. Just sayin’. The facts don’t lie. Oh, ow, see? You can’t even joke about that stuff now.

So, what?!? What exactly, Life, do you have to teach me right now? Can’t you see it’s hitting the fan, like the paint on Spin art? I had to work this weekend to meet a deadline, my son is having senioritis, two great coworkers are retiring soon, my siblings are meeting this week to sort out how to best help our parents who are in their late 80s — old age is a riot, isn’t it? — and my dating life is in the toilet. And this morning the piece de resistance was getting a familiar pain in my left eye, and seeing the telltale bloodshot eyeball. Of course, scleritis. Why wouldn’t I get scleritis right now? Don’t worry, folks, it’s not dangerous, just annoying and requires lots of ibuprofen for 10 days.

Life just looked at me with that “are you finished?” mom face for a few minutes without speaking. I hate when she does that.

And then I couldn’t help but recount all the recent encounters of my friends showing up in my life when I need them, and the fact that my siblings can meet and work together, the substantive conversation I had with my son about how he’s really doing. And on top of that, two things that are helping ground me in this new era. And that’s the life lesson, tucked into the gratitude. Until I can find how to ground myself, I’m a liberal fall leaf getting carried down the orange Cheeto River.

One thing was the workshop I just finished on bystander intervention. I will blog more details soon, but in the meantime, if you are upset that people are feeling more free to say hateful crap, it’s a great thing to have a few techniques and a plan in your back pocket. As a reserved person in public (dancing is totally different!), all my life I have thought if I only were more bold, I could be helpful in a situation where someone is being targeted with hateful, sexist, racist, or, heck, even drunken speech. Guess what? It’s all about knowing yourself and using your strengths.

Dammit–know myself!?! As all my half-assed attempts to meditate and center myself flash though my mind, Life starts to chuckle — she’s not the most empathetic person. So before she comes knocking on your door, too, if you are in the Boston area, check out Rona Fischman’s class. If you’re not, try to find one near you.

The second thing that helped was reading a book called, Just the Facts, by Davis T.Z. Mindich. Well, I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s still helping. The subtitle is: How “objectivity” came to define American journalism. Apparently it started in the 1830s, and that was a violent era under Andrew Jackson (“I was born for the storm and calm does not suit me.”) with mobs of middle class white men dueling and caning people and disrupting antislavery meetings as they tried to preserve their, um, privilege. It did make me twitch a bit, but it made me thankful dueling and mob violence is slightly less prevalent now. In this world of fake news and the prevalence of the perceived equality of everyone’s opinion on social media and blogs, it’s a good place to get grounded in.

So I have some history to look back to, and I have learned I can dig around in my reserved bag of tricks to call out inappropriate remarks to help others both in work and in stranger situations. Rona emphasized anything you can do to prevent small incursions on civilized discourse helps it from becoming a bigger problem. And you have to know yourself to do it.

Me, holding the door open: “Thanks so much Life; you were right! I guess it’s good to be uncomfortable sometimes. It helps you grow.”

Life, settling comfortably into one of my chairs with a drink next to her, crosses her legs and squints dispassionately at me through the smoke of her recently lit cigarette.

Me: “Right. What do you want to watch on Netflix?”

 

Take a Right, Left, Then a Dogleg at the Dunkin’

This week I wanted to lighten things up, and the universe gave me what I wanted.

I was walking to the train after work last week, and as I waited at a light to cross the street, a young man sort of looked in my direction, looked away, and then looked back. He was cute, so I entertained myself by thinking he was going to flirt and turned my head, smiled, and looked full at him. He noticed, and asked, “Can you tell me how to get to the North End?”

The look on my face must have been that New England “can’t get there from here” look. Depending on where you are in Boston when the hapless, lost person asks you, giving directions can be almost cruel. “Follow Cambridge Street until you come to the third Dunkin’ Donuts on the left — the road curves and becomes Tremont Street, but don’t worry about that. Just ignore it and follow the road…” By this point, the person has that blank look on their face, and you both know they’re not going to even make it to the first Dunkin’.

I pondered which of the ways I could tell him that would be least likely to lead him astray. Then he said in a more pronounced New York accent, which I hadn’t caught before, “This place is worse than New York!”

I started laughing. Encouraged, he proceeded; “There’s no math, just old English names!”

This tickled me to no end. My work in hospital communications is the sole reason I even admit numbers exist, and over the past 9 years, I’ve come to appreciate the usefulness of numbers in the world. However, make no mistake. I’m a word girl through and through, and my world is rocked by letters and words. But I have never considered streets being math- or word-oriented. I was delighted to be in a word city.

I laughed even harder and added, “Yes, just old-ass roads with no logic.”

Now he was into it, laughing too, as he said with the perfect New York point of view: “Yeah, it’s like, fuck you, take a right!”

I got my laughter under control enough to point out the way that made the most visual sense–not the way that would have been shorter.

“Walk down this street, and at the light take a right (I skipped the ‘fuck you’). Follow that road, you’ll go under an overpass, and you’ll think I’m sending you to the devil, but just stay on it. Then you’ll see Faneuil Hall — ”

At that his face lit up. “I know that place!”

“Great!” I wished him well, and we both walked in opposite directions, laughing our asses off.

So, this is my new way of directing people in Boston: “Look, there’s no math, just old-ass English names. Fuck you, take a right.”

Image credit: From this delightful blog about Boston cartography. It’s how you have to drive to get from a point A to point B in Boston. You can see why we walk!