27 degrees is cold

Before coming to Washington DC, I had the impression that because it’s really part of Virginia, and Virginia is geographically part of the South, that it wouldn’t get cold here. Silly me. As I stand on the Metro Platform waiting for the train st 9:00 am, it’s 27 degrees. As a Michigander, I have the right to say that it’s cold.

Transitions

Not surprisingly, I have been thinking a lot lately about the future.

I gave about six weeks’ notice to my boss that I was leaving the credit union to join the Foreign Service. My boss had asked that I keep him informed of my status, because he wanted to try to find someone to replace me as soon as possible. So for over a month, I was in this in-between status of being a part of the team, and yet having an expiration date at the same time.

In team meetings, we would make plans for the future. Several times, we would talk about dates after my departure date. I would say to myself: “Wait, we can’t do that. I won’t be here!” Even though intellectually I knew that the enterprise still had to function after I left, it was strange to help make plans for a future that did not include me.

As soon as I gave notice, my focus for the future changed. It was like I was walking with people along a road, and we came to a fork in the road. I went in one direction, and everyone else took another fork. Although we were all moving forward, and we could still see and talk with each other, our paths were diverging, and eventually we would be so far apart that we couldn’t see or talk to each other.

This experience has reinforced my belief that no one is irreplaceable. No matter how important you may be to an organization, when you leave, the organization has to continue without you. Within a short time, the hole that you leave behind will get filled in. It has to. That’s the way life works.

Another transition in my family life has left a hole. Our family dog had to be put to sleep this morning. He was 13 years old, blind, arthritic, and incontinent. The vet told us that being alive isn’t the same thing as living. He wasn’t enjoying life, we could see that he was in constant discomfort, and the vet observed that putting him to sleep was more compassionate than keeping him alive.

This was my first pet, and this was the first time that I had to make this kind of decision. I know intellectually that it was the right thing to do, and that he probably welcomed the relief. It was still hard to watch him go to sleep forever, though.

Change is the only constant. That’s a cliche, but sometimes cliches have the weight of profound philosophical statements.

Change pulls us into the future. Sometimes we are happy participants, sometimes we fight against it. It doesn’t matter whether or not we want change, though, it’s going to happen to us.

Here are some pictures of my dog. His name was Licorice. We will miss his fuzzy face and good nature.

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A beginning to mark an ending

Friday, January 3, 2013, 7:31 am.

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Today is my last day at the credit union. Next week is dedicated to packing and last-minute shopping. On Sunday the 12th I will get on an airplane for Washington, DC, and say good-bye to East Lansing.

My travel orders came through yesterday morning. It is a confusing document. I can’t understand a lot of it. But I have been told that I don’t need to understand it. For now, all I need to know is that I need to provide copies of it often. When I made my flight reservation, the travel agency that the State Department contracts with needed a copy. I might need to send a copy to the hotel, I will have to check with them. I was advised to make three or four copies and bring them with me to DC. Of course I will need more than four copies in total, but we were assured that there were opportunities to print off copies at the training center, so the three or four copies were to last us until we actually begin training.

Today will be marked by sprinting to finish up my projects at work, an exit interview this afternoon with Human Resources to take care of departure paperwork, mainly to settle up my benefits and unused vacation time, and turn in my gate card and access card.

Saying good-bye to my co-workers will be bittersweet. I have enjoyed my time at the credit union. I work with some good, nice, funny and friendly people here. Credit unions are different from for-profit businesses. Because the focus is on member experience, the organization puts the interests of members first. That shows in many ways, from the quality of service that we provide, to long-term strategic directions of the organization. I can be proud to have been a part of the credit union for the last 18 months.

When I began work here, right after losing my job at the university, I was still mourning the end of my academic career. I still regret the circumstances of leaving that job. Two things make that experience less painful. Of course, moving on to the Foreign Service is the more significant factor. I am very excited to begin that new career. But my tenure at the credit union has been meaningful. When I arrived here, I was wounded by the way that I was downsized by the university, and the way that my bosses handled the situation. Right away when I began working here, I was impressed with the competent management, the professionalism and thoroughness of the human resources department, and the collegiality of my co-workers. I have experienced a working environment that is healthy and productive, and that nurtures its employees. I have to say that I did not experience that feeling at the university.

Here is an example of the different working environment at the credit union. A few weeks after I started working here, my boss’ boss knocked on the door to my office, and leaned against the door frame. “Hello, Dennie,” he said. For some reason, I instantly became wary, like I was preparing to be reprimanded or to have an unreasonable request made of me. I returned the greeting, and he asked “How are you settling in here?” Fine, I answered, waiting for the other show to drop. Then he smiled, and said that he just stopped by to see how I was doing. He wished me a good day, and that was that.

I had to reflect on why that exchange freaked me out. After a few days, I realized that in over 17 years of working at the university, the only time that my boss came to my office to see me was when she was going to ask me to do something that I didn’t want to do, or when I did something wrong and she had come to scold me. At the credit union, I had to accustom myself to my boss actually caring about me as a person.

I am incredibly excited to begin my new career in the Foreign Service. I am sure that it is the best fit for my abilities and ambitions, and I have not doubt that the experience will be rewarding and challenging. But if this opportunity had fallen through, I think that I could have been happy, albeit in a different way, at the credit union.

So I am finishing my career here with mixed feelings. I can’t wait to see what the next chapter of my life brings, but at the same time, I’m turning this page with some sadness.

Onward and upward….

The texting equivalent of a wrong number

Someone sent me a happy birthday message on my phone. It isn’t my birthday. Not knowing if it was an honest mistake or a viral marketing scheme or someone being a jerk, I assumed the worst and decided to be a jerk. Hilarity ensued.

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The book that I am reading

I read books in Chinese to keep up and build my reading skills. Because the books are in Chinese, my progress through them is slow. It is not uncommon for me to take a few months to get through one book.

I brought several books back from Taiwan when I was there in 2009-2010, and I’m slowly making my way through them.

The book that I am currently reading is called “An illustrated history of Taiwan.” I explores the history of the island’s human habitation from prehistoric times to the early 21st century. Because Taiwan’s history went through so many big changes over time, the book’s structure consists of short chapters that characterize significant events from various eras.

What makes the book easy to read is that the chapters are short (only a few pages long), so I can read the book in small chunks and not lose the narrative. I can get through a chapter in 10-20 minutes (depending on how many words I have to look up). I read near my computer, so that I can look up unfamiliar characters using my online dictionary. I also keep a notebook handy so I can write down new words and with luck, remember them. 😉

The book is just over 200 pages long, and I estimate that I will finish it in a few weeks. It’s a good read, and either my Chinese is improving, or the writing gets simpler as I progress through it. 🙂

 

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Books shouldn’t make one feel stupid

Even though I freely admit that there are severe gaps in my knowledge, I nevertheless consider myself to be intelligent and well-educated, with a better-than-average vocabulary. However, I have been defeated by a book. “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy is a frustrating read, because every paragraph seems to contain more than one word that I have never seen before, and that I can’t guess the meaning of through the context. The book is on my Kindle, which is helpful, because I can point to words, and the built-in dictionary shows a gloss at the bottom of the screen. But about half of the words that I look up in Blood Meridian are not in the dictionary. I tried skipping over the words, but that didn’t help. McCarthy’s prose links so many phrases together with conjunctions that the sentences in the book are often a paragraph long. It’s hard enough following such a long sentence when I understand the words that I’m reading. When I have to mentally hold place markers for unknown words, reading becomes an unenjoyable task.

My disappointment with the book is aggrevated by the praise that others have given it. I persevered with Blood Meridian much longer than I would normally do, because so many people have said such great things about the book. That disconnect between their appreciation for the book and my own experience only made my difficulty with it more frustrating. Finally, last night, I decided that the benefit wasn’t worth the struggle. I deleted the book from my Kindle. I usually fire books because they are poorly written or don’t hold my interest. With this book, I don’t feel like I’m firing it; I feel like I’m quitting.

I guess that I now have a greater appreciation for the frustration that poor readers have when trying to read. The cost of understanding how other people may struggle with reading is too high, though. Reading should be a pleasurable and/or educational experience. Reading should not make one feel stupid.

If McCarthy’s motivation was to show that his vocabulary is greater than the average person, then he succeeded. If his motivation was to get me to read his book, he failed.