Monday, June 28, 2010

desk denizens

Kittens Tippy, Tyler, Sammie and Eli have discovered my desk and that pens make great play things.

Oops! Sammie and Tippy have lost their pen! Where'd it go?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

owning our choices

Earlier this afternoon I enjoyed a long phone conversation with one of my two best friends. She reads my blog sometimes, so my apologies dear, for appropriating a piece of your life to make a point about my own.

My friend has what I would consider (and I think she also considers) the workplace from hell. It is not her own position per se which is so dreadful, but the larger conditions of the institution for which she labors that are so problematic. It is an institution that appears to be run by the worst assemblage of leaders, managers, and administrators of which I've ever heard. Every few months my friend regales me with fascinating stories of venal, callous, petty, and sometimes even Machiavellian machinations on the part of the decision-makers at her workplace.

My friend who is now past full retirement age and already receiving social security, has been talking about retirement for sometime. So each time we connect I ask if she's notified those above her that she is retiring. And each time we talk she has a different, well thought out, reasonable explanation why it is just not yet the right time to announce her retirement.

We've had nearly the same conversation now every few months for more than a year. But this time, as I listened to her, I realized that as dreadful as this institution is, as many horror stories as she has told about it, there is a deeply embedded part of her that loves working there. In that toxic environment someone who is a compassionate, carrying, principled and decent as my friend makes an enormous difference. She is a bastion of integrity, a protector of the weak and defenseless. This gives her work and her life meaning in a way it would not have in a more benign environment.

Just because it seems to me as a caring friend that she would have a more pleasant life away from that cesspool, does not mean that she should leave. If this is where she finds purpose then perhaps it is not time yet for retirement. I'm sure that there are many other ways that she could and would contribute if she did retire, but there's no reason to retire if she's full-filled where she is.

It is easier to have insights about other people's lives than it is about our own. My friend does not seem to realize how much value this workplace has in her life, and does not understand why she is so reluctant to leave it, having spent so much time over the past few years complaining about the conditions there.

As I drove to the store reflecting upon my friends situation, I began to realize that I too spend a great deal of time complaining about the very things that give my work and life meaning. My favorite phrase is "too much work, too little time." Yet I'm always accepting new assignments, choosing to take on additional projects.

Being "too busy" is what makes me feel needed and necessary, gives my life a sense of purpose and value. It makes me feel important to complain about how busy I am. It gives me an excuse not to do things I don't want to do, because "work comes first." Although that's not really true -- I find time for the things I really value, like talking to my husband, reading mysteries, taking care of my animals.

I think from now on, I won't complain about "too much work" but rather brag about it -- that's what I've really been doing after all. I won't be "too busy" but rather "wonderfully busy," or "blissfully busy."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

father's day ruminations

For the first time in 49 years, I am not sending a father's day card, gift or making a father's day phone call, because my father died this past October. And my primary emotion is relief.

My feelings about my father have been very ambivalent for three decades, a complex push and pull of positive and negative emotions. Before that, from about age 8 to age 23 they weren't ambivalent at all: I hated my father, hated him with a passion that terrified me when I was a teenager, hated him with a passion that pushed me as far away from home for college (again for graduate school) as I could reasonably get. And before that, before the age of 8, I remember adoring my father.

What happened -- that is the huge mystery at the center of my life. How did I go from adoration to repulsion and hatred? I genuinely do not know. I have suspicions and circumstantial evidence, but no concrete memories that provide incontrovertible answers.

What I do know is that my father was a truly brilliant and talented man who suffered frustrations and obstacles in his education and work life, always having to work for other people who were less intelligent and knowledgeable, and as a consequence was bitter and extremely controlling in his family life.

Friday, June 18, 2010

ice watch

Since the summer of 2007, when Arctic ice extent hit an all time measured low, I have developed an ice watch fascination that generally sets in when the summer heat does in June.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center Sea Ice Index, provides a daily snapshot of the extent of ice in the Arctic Ocean. Both in map form and in a graph. The gray line is the average ice extent from 1979 to 2000, the green dotted line was the ice extent in 2007, the lowest ever measured. Right now, in June 2010 (blue line), the extent of Arctic ice is well below that of the recorded minimum from 2007 -- less ice, more open water, less reflected sunlight, more absorbed heat. This does not automatically mean that we will set a new record in 2010 for the smallest ice extent, because Arctic winds and storms can retard ice melting (and increase it); but a new record low ice extent does seem to be possible this year.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

a truly pessimistic view

I have begun to wonder what if the leak caused by the blow out of the Deepwater Horizon rig is never capped or contained. What if, as some fear, the pressures have caused fissures in containment below the surface? What if dozens of leaks arise that simply cannot be contained?

So I wondered, how long could this go on? How long before all the oil would be gone? What kind of world would we be living in if it kept on?

Today, the technical committee empaneled by the federal government has increased estimates of the size of the flow from this accident to closer to 40,000 barrels of oil a day (up from an estimate of 12,000 to 19,000). This new estimate was necessary, because the new containment "top hat" and new riser installed June 3, made it possible to measure fairly accurately the amount of oil flow being captured -- which is about 16,000 to 17,000 barrels of oil per day. Given that there are still huge billowing clouds of oil that are NOT being captured, that pushed the overall estimate of the flow upwards. See the live images at for confirmation.

The amount of oil proven reserves under the Gulf of Mexico is 3.655 Billion barrels of oil. I realize that these proven reserves are not all in one continuous field, but on the other hand, pro-drilling advocates have argued for years that 3.655 Billion barrels was only the proven reserves, that that were was probably much more oil under the Gulf.

So for the sake of argument let's imagine that the oil field that the Deepwater Horizon had tapped into is some 3 billion barrels of oil, and that the rate of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico is 40,000 barrels of oil a day. How long could that continue to flow at rate? About 205 years, that's how long.

So the deeply pessimistic side of me wonders, what if the Gulf of Mexico turns into a continuous, poison petroleum swamp for more than a 100 years? What happens to us then?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

circle of life and death

In the past year, we have said sad farewells now to four elderly cats. First Booger last summer, then Tigger in the autumn, James Tyler in early March, and today in June, we lay sweet B.J., or Buford Jacob as John named him, to rest in the corner of our yard that has become the pet cemetery.

The same circle of life that draws our beloved cats away at the end of their lives, sweeps new kittens into our lives. It was certainly not by our plan or design that as life ushered out four cats, a new mama cats and four kittens would plunge us into the whirl-wind.

In the last five days, as the kittens abandoned their quiet nest in the backroom to run rampant everywhere else, jumping, climbing, leaping, tussling, Buford quietly moved into the backroom where he dozed in peace and quiet, slowly letting go of life.

Today we helped him make the final passage with dignity. Sleep well, B.J.