Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dance of the Dogs

For approaching 20 years we have had two black labs at a time, good friends to each other and to us. Our current two are really wonderful dogs, and especially now in our empty nest, the activity, companionship and extra life in the house is one of the really nice parts of our lives. We pay a fair amount of attention to animal behavior, reading up, practicing good interaction styles, etc. Still, there are things they do that just mystify me at times.

The personalities of our current pair couldn’t be more different, within the overall category of black labhood, which is generally, friendly, people-loving, with a desire to please. They are also very food oriented, which makes persuading them to follow the house rules generally straightforward, so long as we remember the incentives (otherwise known as positive reinforcement, or bribes).

We have one alpha dog with a strong desire to be dominant; probably the strongest dominance drive we’ve had in a dog for a while, though this may be distorted by the exaggerated subservient tendencies of the second dog, a rescue who is still easily cowed and has a damaged soul. These two dogs do the strangest dance about sleeping places I’ve seen.

There are two dog pads in our bedroom, which is their second-choice sleeping haunt, their first, of course, being with Shea when she’s home. During times the lights are on, the more passive, afraid dog prefers to be under our bed, in a dog cave. Occasionally, and I don’t see a pattern to when, she prefers the dog pad against the book case, out in the open, but with a solid back.

The problem is that the alpha dog also prefers that sleeping place and claims it as her right a good deal of the time. The under-dog will sometimes stand and look at the alpha dog for many minutes at a time. Sometimes, Hattie gives up the sleeping place, and other times, she just turns her back and goes to sleep. Yet, at night, with the lights out, Sophie, the under-dog, is always to be found in that place. It’s a mystery, this dance thsee two do, and I’d dearly love to understand it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Finding Balance

I received some questions about why I retired and how it’s going. The answer to the first part is pretty simple: the university is in deep financial trouble, I had more than 36 years in the system and it seemed wrong to keep taking up a full-time job when doing so might cost someone else an opportunity to keep/have one.

What I didn’t expect was the change it brought, especially since I continue to do much of the work I most enjoyed. First, the transition process itself was rough: it appears that no one had really thought through what it would mean to shed a lot of people with many, many years of service all at the same time; the process was not handled well. Though my work on many levels continues, it was a bit of a shock to have to figure out for myself a whole range of logistical aspects of the transition. And then, to get rehired on the grants/projects I’m on, I had to show up with my passport to prove my identity and refill out a ton (well, ok, nine or ten) forms showing who I am, where I live, etc. That was all on top of the self-identity issues that surfaced after an adult life of full-time employment and connection with the place.

Having gotten through all of that, though, there are some terrific aspects to being retired I hadn’t anticipated and that I like very much. For example, all the good girl rules in my head about what I “should” do have fallen away. I’m retired and I don’t need to account for myself (beyond my personal commitments) to anyone. That’s freeing in grand ways, especially since this period of my life seems to be require yet a new set of working habits to be productive.

During the very first phase of my university life, I worked at a research lab, mixed with school and other things, so it had a set of idiosyncratic rhythms. When I moved to my grown-up career as an administrator, it was set in office life: fast-moving, multi-processing that required juggling a lot of balls and people all the time. I loved the work. Then, when I went to the law school, the rhythm and pace were completely different, as well as the centrality of my role, which in a word, wasn’t. There were still a lot of people with whom to interact, but in a completely different way. It took me years to find a way to do that work that was productive, satisfying and met all my internal rules about “how to work.” Then, I was recruited to the business school and now I’ve transitioned into retirement. I’m still maintaining a lot of different projects (maybe one or two too many, I think some days) but I work almost exclusively from home, only going places when there are specific meetings to attend or classes to teach.

In part, of course, this is my new brain and the only way I can maintain all these projects is to spend a lot of time in familiar environs and in the quiet. Part of it, though, is moving into a new phase and learning both who I am now and how to work in this new and different configuration. It’s an interesting voyage and I’m learning things about myself that seem worth knowing. My endeavor now--along with keeping things going on a variety of different fronts simultaneously--is to figure out what I most enjoy and how to focus only on the things I like, not those that feel like “shoulds” when those are now exclusively self-imposed. It’s a surprisingly daunting task to disentangle all the pieces.

I’m enjoying the process, though, and this phase of life. Talking with Kearney the other day, she said “we really did brain tumor well,” as a family. We did, and emerging from that, the sense of satisfaction for having fared well as a family with all the support we got, well, that feels good and provides a great foundation for this new phase of life. The book is progressing again, the class is going well, the announcement is in the papers tomorrow, and I’m almost 15 pounds down, and counting. There’s still a long way to go, but one foot in front of the other is bringing progress. May your endeavors be moving in the direction you want, too. Cheers.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Still in Limbo

So we’re STILL waiting for the final announcement to be approved, and have been warned, repeatedly, that we mustn’t do say anything publicly without that approval. I am finding this limiting, as you can see by my continued silence here. I’m told, once again, that patience is a virtue. Personally, it seems pretty over-rated as a positive quality to me.

In other news, the first ten pounds are gone. I’m trying to feel good about this, but my negative voices keep telling me things like “well, sure, that’s ten pounds from the high-water mark, but it’s much less from [fill in any date/benchmark here].” I’m working on overcoming this attitude, because, as Michael says, it’s ten pounds from where I started, and the trend lines are all good.

One thing that has emerged from this experience so far is that 60 calories’ worth of chocolate is not nearly enough for me of an evening to be satisfying. Thus, I am working to keep breakfast and lunch proportionately lower so there is both room for a satisfying amount of chocolate and a civilized amount of wine with dinner. Thank goodness for shirataki noodles! They’re filling and have basically no calories and no carbs, and they are helping me keep the beginning of the day to 300 calories so the end can be suitably satisfying. On to the next thing and exercising this lovely quality of patience. I hope each of you has a great weekend planned.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Happy Bubble

Finally, the big project is on the verge of being announced, probably later this week, so that limitation on writing will be reduced soon, which will be a relief. In the meantime, I’ve been feeling that this is a particularly happy phase of life. Bad things have happened before and I’m sure will again, but this moment feels all wonderful. Life is comfortable, the girls are healthy and thriving, the weather is beautiful, Michael and I get to spend a lot of time together, we have great friends, the work is interesting and challenging, the dogs are sweet and fun.

As a bonus, we have access all the time to hot water on demand. The weather has started to turn so yesterday was chilly at home and in buildings around campus--the heat isn’t on anywhere this early in the autumn. As I luxuriated in the hot water in the shower the other day, it seemed almost miraculous and so easy to take for granted. Do very many things make that difference in daily quality of life, though?

My travel is cranking up again, and since I put everything off during the heavy teaching month of September, the other months are fuller. Normally, I limit travel to twice a month, but I seem to have wavered here and there in booking this fall. I’m not exactly sure how that happens; bound to be some interesting psychological fault line that rationalizes, overlooks and explains away how it will work in the future, no matter how much I regret it when the moment arrives.

While it may be a bubble and may be fleeting, I’m really enjoying this stretch of my life and hoping I can hold on to the thought about how it feels when the challenges crank up again, as they are bound to do at some point. Even writing about how good this patch is feels a little like tempting fate, but Michael doesn’t believe any of that superstitious stuff and advocates for enjoying what there is to enjoy. I’m trying his approach today (and crossing my fingers, hoping it doesn’t come back and get me). May you find pleasures, large or small, in your day. Cheers.