porcelainandporcupines

Archive for November 2012

Although a terrible breach of etiquette, I thought it appropriate that the call offering me the position at the Illustrious Institute came while I was in a library. It was the day before Thanksgiving; I’d picked up my niece after school and, in keeping with the tradition established when I picked her up from camp over the summer, we stopped by the local library on the way home and she ate the banana I’d brought along as a snack for myself.

Her mother had just joined us in the Children’s Room when my phone rang. I had a pretty good inkling who it would be : my references had reported back to me that they received calls checking up on me from a gentleman who sounded nice but awkwardly lacking in humor. I had met only one such person recently (who was somewhat smoother in person than on the phone), so when the call came in from an area code I recognized but a number I didn’t, I hoped that it would be following up on that meeting.

And it was. Hanging up, I received congratulations not just from my sister and niece, but from another woman who was in Children’s Room with us as well, who, it turned out, had also received a job offer that day after several months of unemployment. Which, I think, is one of the most unintentionally lovely uses of technology of my entire life : my having a phone in the library (and being rude enough to answer it) had created an opportunity for a stranger to share her good news with us, which I in turn shared along with my own, with everyone I could think of once my sister, niece and I returned to their house.

What I did not share was that, on the way to their house, we made a small detour to a local pharmacy. Through an interesting and/or bizarre quirk of scheduling, every time over the past 5 years that I’ve gone to my sister’s house  has turned out to be Special Lady Time, and, despite that consistency, I have never once arrived prepared with the proper tools to deal with the fallout of that particular situation. It’s practically a family joke at this point, albeit one we typically don’t share with outsiders. (Ooops.)

In any event, my phone rang again as we stood in our aisle at the pharmacy and, as I now recognized the entire number since the last call hadn’t come in that long before, I answered it with a bit of trepidation; it has rarely been my experience that people call back to follow up on good news with more good news. This call proved no exception : although I had been offered the correct job, through a paperwork snafu (so understandable on the day before a long long weekend), I had been offered the wrong salary; the position actually paid about 10% less than I had originally accepted. Remember : in this case, “originally” means “10 minutes before”.

I could, if I chose, take my time to consider this new offer. But, really, there was nothing to think about. The original offer had struck me as exceedingly generous – I’d had no idea what the salary range for the position was, as I had never applied for it; rather, my application for another position had actually been kept on file, so I was called when this position opened up, even though I had never seen it advertised. The actual offer that I got on that second call was in line with what I had been expecting. Plus, I was unemployed; the new wage, though less than the theoretical salary I had entertained thoughts of for 10 minutes, was much, much more than the actual salary I had been earning for the past 6 months, which was nothing. Of course I said yes.

Still, I was disappointed. Even though I knew that was irrational: I hadn’t lost anything, after all; I still had gotten the job, and the actual salary was perfectly reasonable and in line with my expectations. But, for a moment, a brief and shining 10 minutes, my expectations had been exceeded; I was excited at the prospect that things were going to be great. Now, I had to reconcile myself to the reality that they would merely be good, even as I knew I would have believed that goodness to be greatness had I never been offered and thus not considered anything else.

As I said, I kept that to myself. For the most part. I shared the news of my good fortune without caveat and enjoyed the reflected joy of friends at my success as though it had not been diluted for me either. But I’ve had occasion to think back to that second phone call several times over the past two years, as cracks have appeared and the gradual falling out of love increases in velocity as we get nearer and nearer to the earth. (I don’t, you know, know anything about physics. Although I would love to, if I didn’t have to learn it first.) Most recently when, after expressing what I thought was not an unreasonable concern that recent changes will negatively impact my career goals and desired timeline for the achievement of said goals, it was suggested to me that I could pretend to be happy. Which struck me as kind of funny. Because, for so much of the time, I thought I was.

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Some time on a sunny day a few years ago, Naopi and I stood on the platform at Sullivan Station, waiting for the next train to arrive. The platform at Sullivan is outdoors, and as we waited, chatting of nothing worth remembering and peering down the tracks, on the lookout for a train on the horizon, a larger than small furry creature poked its head out from one of the cracks in the wall on the other side of the train tracks. The rest of its body followed, and Naopi and I watched as it snuffled through the litter and the greenery that grows between subway tracks and a cracked cement wall, investigating the area, perhaps in search of something but not in a particular hurry to find it. Rather, I watched. Naopi lost interest in what was clearly a rodent (which, from a source I believed reliable at the time, I thought briefly was a Richardson’s ground squirrel but am now convinced was more likely a groundhog) and started fishing around inside her bag for a white cane which, she narrated, she had been  using as part of her training to become a mobility coordinator for the visually impaired.

Despite the informative narration, I was incredulous. Turning briefly away from the groundhog, I asked what she was doing; an unexpectedly large cane tip  in hand (you don’t expect those things to come in more than one size, but they do), she resumed her explanation, which I again cut short with a very firm “Clearly, I need to be looking at that [nod toward furry creature] right now.”

Generally, I like to cite this episode, specifically Naopi’s condescending response* to my completely inoffensive preference of rodents to her conversation, as evidence of the justification of the dissolution of our friendship and a reason to lament that I did not take a more active role in said amicability abatement. However, what I recently realized is how this incident demonstrates that, contrary to my belief that I’ve gotten astoundingly less intelligent in the past two years, I’ve actually been getting stupider for much longer than that.

Initially, I had feared it was my job at the Illustrious Institute, which began roughly two years ago, that could be held accountable for my newfound stupidity. Not long into my employment, on a day that I had mistakenly taken off due to a misunderstanding of the holiday policy, I realized that the calculations I used to determine the frequency with which I had to attend yoga class to get the full benefit of the monthly membership for which my sister was generously paying contained a very basic error, to wit that I had divided by 3 when I was under the impression that I had divided by 4. And, I further realized, that this was the second time since starting at the Illustrious Institute that I had made that very same error, which was of some concern, as I had always considered myself to be strong in the field of basic mathematics, particularly in regards to 3s and 4s, although I will admit to experiencing some confusion regarding 7s and 8s (56? Come on. And 15? No thank you.).

Embarrassing though it may have been, it seemed likely that, rather than symptomatic of some new ill, this problem with division was merely a sign of the distinguished new company I was keeping : I merely seemed stupider, because the people around me were smarter. Of course, the problem with this theory was that many of the people around me were not smarter, certainly not those around me most often, and definitely not more than those around whom I had often found myself in the past. And, of course, a greater problem with the theory was that it did nothing at all to justify the rabbits.

And the rabbits need justification. Because, like a dog and a squirrel (and also this one, because it’s the best) if there’s a rabbit around, I can’t not pay attention to it. To a degree that I do, on some level, understand is abnormal, because it’s not really a hallmark of maturity to abruptly end a conversation by excitedly shouting “Oh my god – a rabbit!”, and then standing, transfixed as if by a hypnogourd, unwilling to focus on anything else. Even though I can see, out of the corner of my eye, that the rest of the world has not stopped because of the rabbit, that while people may take note of the rabbit, none will be detoured by it, much less frozen, and I know that my response is the weird one, all I can think when I see them continue to go about their business, is “Oh my GOD, what is wrong with you? There is a rabbit right there! How do you not see that? And it’s hopping! Look, its hind legs are longer than the front!”

It’s weird. Ever the moreso because there is no shortage of rabbits on the grounds of the Illustrious Institute. There are so many rabbits that even the rabbits are blasé about them, nibbling grass unconcerned by a person getting too close or a loud heavy truck going past. I see a rabbit practically every day that I walk across campus,  and even though I’m slightly concerned that their abundance is due to some terrible hybridization experiment gone wrong (you guys : I have some theories, but I really have no idea what happens at the Institute outside of the libraries), every time I feel that thrilling zap of recognition – rabbit! – I have to stop and stare until it moves on.

Yet the rabbits were not of concern to me, not really, because it was other people who were too busy and because I had misunderstood the significance of the groundhog from all those years ago. But then a few weeks ago a co-worker brought her dog into work one day and suddenly the groundhog was put in a whole new light. The dog had been in the library before – not my library, but another one on campus not too far away – but I had missed it on every occasion. I knew that there was a chance that the dog would be in that day, which I tried not to get too excited about, but when I got an instant message letting me know that he was actually there, I abandoned any pretense at work to rush to the dog’s location. By “rush,” I don’t mean “hurry.” I mean “ran.” I ran to see a dog. Because, sure, I was excited, but also because I was walking down this really long hallway, and it was taking such a long time, and I thought you know, I bet if I run, I’ll get there faster.

And that, I hope, is the apex of my diminishing mental capacity. Not that I ran to see a dog, which, admittedly, kind of shows poor impulse control even if dogs are rarer in my life than rabbits. But that I actually had to think about running. Running is not a decision that you make when you need to go faster – it’s what you do. It’s instinctual; (most) rabbits do it when danger gets too close, dogs do it to greet you at the door, cats do it because they have an inherent flair for the dramatic and know how to exit a room.  Without comprehension, animals understand that running makes you go faster, whereas I had to take a moment to calculate the effect of running on my travel time. On the bright side, I did at least get that particular calculation right.

*Condescending response blogged separately**.

**Not as of yet, nor on the agenda.


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