It’s Not for Me

What with the holidays coming, people are worried about spending time with their family.

Families can be tricky. It’s hard to know what to say. And when to realize you know that you shouldn’t say certain things.

There are safe subjects: helpful tropes and platitudes.

I don’t like safe subjects. I like to be able to go deep.

But deep waters are dangerous. Someone could get hurt.

It’s good to have some prepared things to say.

When I was 18 and my friend came up to me so excited that she was engaged–to a 34-year-old rock’n’roll singer who had found religion. I was so shocked that I couldn’t think of what to say.

It was almost a minute before I remembered.

“Congratulations,” I said.

She took a step back. “Thank you!” She shook her head, ” You’re the first person who has said that.”

I was not surprised to be the first. I was surprised I had remembered to say it.

I recognized the value of these sayings and started to collect them.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Best of luck.”

And my ambiguous favorite:

“Take Care.”

It’s not really about what I feel in these moments. It’s about giving a token of recognition to the person in front of me who needs it.

I see you. You.

I can wait. It’ll be my turn before long.

Mythic Gratitude

Thursday is thanksgiving in America. We tell each other the story of how the pilgrims came over from England to find religious freedom, and how so many died but they made friends with the native people who were here. Then they figured out how to have a harvest.

Then in November, they celebrated and were thankful with each other.

Is it true?

Well, it’s not entirely true. It’s certainly not the whole story.

The whole story is almost impossible to get. And I don’t mean that just for the pilgrims.

If I want the whole story, I have to pay attention while it’s happening. Each moment. But I do now have omnipresence and omni attention. I am mostly distracted and thinking about other stuff while my life is happening.

How aware am I of what the whole story of even my own life?

Many years ago, the historians of America decided to tell all the school children the story of the pilgrims and the first thanksgiving.

This decision reminds me of the Aeniad, which was sponsored by Augustus Caesar in the last few years BC.

Augustus wanted a good story that told his people what they needed to hear, a story that told them who they were and where they came from.

It was loosely based on facts they already knew. There was a guy named Aeneas in the Iliad.

But the part where he escaped and founded Rome? maybe. Could have been.

So Virgil put all the pieces together so the Romans could feel good about themselves.

There is no doubt that the historians who repurposed the first thanksgiving story used the Aeniad as inspiration.

How much of the virtuous kindly pilgrim story is true?

Some part. And even if it’s a very small part, it’s a nice thing to hold up as an example.

Let’s be thankful for where we are now, and leave behind the struggles of the past. Let’s make alliances and friends with people around us.

Let’s feast and be happy. Right here. Right now.

I’m very thankful for this moment. And all it contains.


For most of my professional career, I’ve been in telecommunications. In telecom, there is a maxim:
Five Nines

That means that our systems (mostly telephones) must have 99.999% availability. They must work 99.999% of the time.

It’s kinda cute how they give one thousandth of a percent as wiggle room.
Does anybody really do everything exactly right 99.999% of the time?

Telecom systems get pretty close. I’ll tell you how we do it.

We have systems and we put these systems in place very very carefully. We make sure that every person/entity that touches our systems understand what the processes are and track what they’ve done.

We are very aware of any changes. We keep track of errors and even near-misses, the things that didn’t actually break but might have.

And the engineers that live in this world are very very specific kind of people.

We strain at gnats. We THINK about straining at gnats.

It’s a glorious environment for perfectionists. There are designs, plans, backup plans, tests and proactive measures.

There are reports and definitions and demarcations. It’s beautiful.
You know what there isn’t?

Creativity. This stuff is not meant to be played with.

We fear change. So much that there are very serious “Change management” processes.

And by change, there’s a really strict definition.

Upgrading a piece of software? SERIOUS change.
Swapping out one old server for a new server that’s exactly the same? HUGE change

That’s what allows this 99.999% to be remotely possible.
I say remotely, because it’s usually four nines. 99.993% or 99.996%
I did say that for most of my career I was in that environment. I did well in that environment.
Now, I’m in a different environment. A couple years ago, I was trying to understand why I found my days so exhausting. I realized, I am not getting that little payoff that I got when I performed a task and KNEW it was done precisely right.

I thought, “I’m not in the world of five nines…it’s more like nine FIVES!”

Getting it right more than half the time seemed like the goal.
And for most of the people in the world that is far more reflective of their reality. After all, the definition of “doing it right” is more fluid in life than in telecom.

For things like parenting and housekeeping, it’s more like retreat and call it a victory.

Perfectionism is not a progressive stance.
I am realizing that it’s worth exploring the idea of good enough.

Perfectionism can be a very tidy trap. It’s better to be done than perfect.

Tri-Cornered hats

As an American, tri-cornered hats always mean the heroes of the American Revolution.  AKA the good guys.

I had to re-examine my assumptions about these hats last week as I was watching “The Rise of Catherine the Great”

Russians wore tricornered hats too. In this series, they put fur around the corner. Ekaterina, known as Catherine the Great to English speakers, wore this fur-trimmed tricornered hat when she dressed as a soldier. Most of the time she wore gorgeous dresses and fabulous jewelry.

The series is in Russian, with marginally translated English subtitles. But the dresses and the winter palace made it very worthwhile.

Thing is, the tricornered hats were tough. Tricornered hats are as big a “good guy” flag as a super hero cape. I mean really!

But the world of Catherine had very few good guys. I wouldn’t even say that Catherine herself was a good guy.

There was a lot of intrigue and power struggles going on.

The tricornered hats clued me in that all this was happening during the same time period as the American Revolution.

What? There were other things happening in other parts of the world OTHER than the American Revolution. This is nothing we ever discussed in school!

In the world portrayed in this TV series Peter the Great’s daughter Elizabeth is ruling Russia. It turns out that another “great” was gathering strength. Frederick the Great (is this getting a little tedious, all the greats?) of Prussia was ripping through Europe.

Prussia was a proto-germany. Germany hadn’t yet congealed. It was a bunch of different little states, so when Frederick the Great took his little army of Prussians and tore through Europe it freaked everyone out. He wan’t supposed to be able to do that.

It was called the 7 years war. We don’t know about the 7 years war in America, even though it spanned 5 continents. Here it was called the French and Indian War. George Washington got to be a baby officer in that war—a sixteen year old lieutenant.

But in Europe, England and France were fighting, when Frederick jumped in and took advantage of their distraction. England allied with Frederick and kept fighting with France.

All this happened immediately before the American Revolution, and it was really the first world War.

One thing I’ve picked up about world wars is that they seem to repeat. Like, 20th century world war 2 was really an extension of World War 1.

So, as it happened, the American Revolution was really ANOTHER world war, and a continuation of the one just preceding it.

Remember how England was allied with Prussia? And France was fighting Britain?

I DO remember from grade school that Ben Franklin persuaded the French to fight for America. Now that I’ve learned the history from a tv series, I can see that it had less to do with Benjamin Franklin’s charms and more to do with sticking it to England.

I also remember that the Hessians fought AGAINST the Americans. Since the British had allied with Frederick just previously, it makes sense that they would get German troops to fight for them.

Catherine the Great was amazing. And with a combination of this Russian historical drama and Wikipedia I put the pieces together and really learned something about the world outside my front door.


American Man

Week before last I got to go to a weeklong work training.

26 people, four women.

I was pretty sure I’d be the only one, but when I found out there would be four of us I wondered if we would all group together and make our own enclave. Or should I say coven?

When I got there, that is not what happened.

It turns out I like working with men, which is good because that’s all I’ve done. I’ve always been in male dominated careers.

Yep. Never a line to the bathroom when I’m at work.

I started out in information technology, and those guys were far more likely to try to impress me with their knowledge of database configuration.

Now I’m management in construction, and they don’t do they. These guys are simpler: they wink at me.

Both groups do a lot of “mansplaining” but the new construction guys are more tedious because the subject matter is more basic.

Although they do a better job of offering to lift heavy boxes.

So there’s that.

At my training, I got to meet people from all over the country, which is fun. I met a guy who was from the Minneapolis office.

“I’ve been to Minnesota. Everyone is named Krista.”

He was actually from California, but moved to the twin cities because his GF was from there. Now she’s his wife.

“Is her name Krista?”

He laughed.

Then there were the guys from Texas: Boots. They know the answers, but they don’t rush to tell you.

The ones from New York, they tell you. They tell you like they are mad you don’t know already. But that’s just they way they talk. They aren’t really mad, you know?

They actually will help you and be really nice about it. As long as you are listening, they are very sweet.

The guys from Chicago, well, don’t interrupt them. I have learned this. They will talk fast and ramble on, but there’s this thing about interrupting that can totally derail the conversation. If I interrupt with a comment, polite Chicago boy will stop, which was not required, and when I invite him to keep talking, he’ll consider that and interruption too and we have to wait quite a while for him to gather his courage enough to continue the conversation.

It’s a bit awkward, but they are nice guys.

I have to wonder if these guys have a whole other way of talking to each other that is different from how they talk to me, a woman.

I wish I could find out.

It’s not that I want to be a man. I just kind of wish I could find the zipper and unzip this woman suit and step out into the world a smooth green genderless alien.

And that I could interact with people based on my knowledge and experience, not on the shape of my body.

Haven’t found the zipper yet.