Out of the blue

An old colleague who I was friendly with randomly texted me out of the blue to let me know that his brother has recently talked about killing himself, and that his sister-in-law was worried and out of town and asked him to come stay the night at their place to make sure he didn’t do anything to harm himself. I don’t believe we’d seen each other for at least a year or two, though we were friendly when we worked together two jobs ago for me. He said he knew it was a lot to ask given we hadn’t really been in touch, but wanted to ask if we could chat.

I suppose I am a suicide prevention advocate. I fund raise to increase suicide prevention and mental illness and health awareness, so I’ve made myself the person to go to in a time of crisis. It’s almost like I have a moral obligation to agree to help. How can I say no? So we chatted for over an hour on the phone this evening and I tried to alleviate his concerns and provide some suggestions while listening to what he and his family have been going through.

The worst part about situations like these is that… it’s truly the blind leading the blind. Let’s face it: I was never successful in helping my brother help himself; otherwise, he’d be here now, right? So asking my advice, while I appreciate the thought… I’m not sure I am really capable of helping anyone. I can give my suggestions, say what they absolutely should NOT do, and then hope for the best. We can barely help the people in our lives now with their tunnel visions and chosen life outlooks. How can we help people we don’t even know?

Fire alarms all the time.

I spent this afternoon leisurely working on my scrapbooking project, which I’ve neglected since the summer time. While in my crafty mode, I was interrupted by my mom’s call. Her voice is grave, and I can tell she’s completely exhausted. In her words, “I have no juice left” (she likes to think she’s a battery). She’s been taking care of my dad’s every need since Friday when his cold started, and now, his cold has somehow blown into complete body aches and pains, as well as a fever of 101 F. She’s worrying, and of course, she thinks he’s going to die. “I need to share this with you because we’re immediate family, but no one else,” she says. Yeah, because the next thing I was going to do is email our entire family and extended family to let them know my dad has a fever.

Maybe a few years ago, I would have been a bit alarmed by this call, but this time around, I don’t really feel anything. My parents blow every situation out of proportion. It’s exactly like the cliche of “the boy who cried wolf.” If you cry all the time, no one will take you seriously.  My mom makes herself worry so much that she gets sick. But she also does that just by babying my father and making him seem like he’s incapable of even getting a glass of water. “You just don’t understand how weak he is when he’s sick.” Actually, I do. Unless you’re cripple, you’re not too weak to get off the couch and get a glass of water in the kitchen which is just about 30 feet away. He acts like a baby. And she loves to enable it and try to make me feel sorry for her, which I don’t anymore in these situations. You can tell she’s probably going to get sick in the next couple of days in the same way she did back in January when my dad was sick when I came home, and she worried so much that she had to take medication for her ailments and came down with the worst cold. Sure, he might have a fever today, but maybe it could be gone tomorrow. I’m sure I’ve had a fever at some point when I was really ill in September, but I don’t immediately think I’m going to die because of it.

And who knows. Maybe every time I post something like this, I am just waiting for the worst to happen. And then I’d write about that. I’m just so done with listening to all this worry for the sake of worry. And I’m sick of witnessing their vicious cycles of babying and whining.

Flying home again

It’s my fifth time on a plane in the last two weeks, and I’m tired. I don’t want to fly anymore. I just want to be home. I always want to travel, but there’s always a point of time when I am away from home when I just want to go back home now. I don’t think I have felt this way almost ever until the past year: during one or two moments in Taiwan in July, likely when I was sweating buckets in that God-awful humidity I thought, I would really love to be back in New York now. During moments in New Zealand where I was vomiting, I would have preferred to be vomiting in my own toilet. And this past Friday in San Francisco, I just wanted to go home and be in my own bed. San Francisco no longer feels like true home to me. I feel like a visitor when I go there. I don’t really feel like I belong.

And within hours of going back to my apartment in Manhattan, what did I end up doing? After unpacking, eating dinner, seeing a show, and coming back to the apartment, I ended up in my happy place: my kitchen — to prepare breakfast for the next day for our visiting guests. My kitchen in my apartment is my happy place. It feels good to be home and to have my luggage put away.

Warmer house with no brother.

After my work day ended today, I checked out of my hotel and went back to my parents’ house. My mom was clearly disappointed that I’d been in town since Monday night and hadn’t seen her, but that was obviously due to scheduling and the fact that I wasn’t even in the city for three of those days due to our work retreat. Because my dad was feeling under the weather (as I am, unfortunately, too), we ate dinner together at home.

They’re having some construction work done on the house; they had insulation put into the walls of the bedrooms and also had new insulated “green” windows put in, which means that not only do they retain heat and prevent the cold from seeping through the glass, but they also prevent UV light from fading colors on photos, carpets, and such. My bedroom, even when the heat was not on, was noticeably warmer than what I was used to.

I sat on my bed for a while, doing nothing, which is actually extremely hard for me to do. I stared at my brother’s large framed photo, the same photo in the same frame from his funeral (I hate saying “my brother’s funeral” — that sounds like shit). And then I got really angry, wondering why my parents are deciding to do all this construction now so that Ed can’t even enjoy or reap the benefits of all this. Ed wanted to get new windows. He asked for insulation and more warmth in the house, and he never got it. He even offered to pay for it with his own money despite not earning much at all. And they both rejected his offer and said he was being ridiculous, too high maintenance and demanding of fancy things. The criticisms just rolled off their tongues. How can you want so much when you don’t earn so much? they would respond in various ways.

I don’t think they remember this, though. They probably block it out of their heads, try to forget all the ways that they failed their only and now dead son. They probably don’t remember that Ed wanted these things, or they choose to ignore it. When my mom originally told me a few weeks ago that they were having the windows re-done, I immediately blurted out, “Why didn’t you do this when Ed asked to do it?” I couldn’t help it; I was so infuriated. Even simple things that Ed asked for… a warm house… that could not be granted. It’s not like we were ever poor or lacking money to do these things. We were just being cheap.

On the flip side, at least my parents can enjoy it now. I’m happy they’re doing this now… but I’m angry they ignored Ed’s requests. They should be doing things to make their home more comfortable for themselves, as they’re clearly getting older and have a greater need for warmth and comfort. I just can’t help but be angry about how much Ed was ignored for his entire life. It’s like the anger just can’t ever go away.

Morphing colors in the passive state

What I’m about to write won’t make any sense unless I outline the Insights Discovery “colors” that act as identifiers of traits, so, this is generally what each color represents (on a good day):

Extraverted Thinking – “Fiery Red”: competitive, demanding, determined, strong-willed, purposeful

Extraverted Feeling – “Sunshine Yellow”: sociable, dynamic, demonstrative, enthusiastic, persuasive

Introverted Feeling – “Earth Green”: caring, encouraging, sharing, patient, relaxed

Introverted Thinking – “Cool Blue”: cautious, precise, deliberate, questioning, formal

After spending the last three full days with my group of 16 colleagues of all Insights colors and personalities, although it was both enjoyable and productive, I was looking forward to being back at a hotel room in a real bed this evening. Although I love socializing and having stimulating and thought-provoking conversation with crazy back and forth banter, after long periods of having this interaction, what I really crave is alone, quiet time to just be by myself and process all the information I’ve digested. I guess you could say that’s the slow thinking turtle in me.

Before I’d get to my much coveted hotel bed, though, I’d made plans to see my two best friends living in San Francisco for dinner in the Richmond District. I felt so mentally exhausted and even was tempted to cancel because I was a bit under the weather, but I knew I really wanted to see them.

The funny thing about being in a high-energy, constantly “on” environment like our retreat center is that because the energy is so bold and everyone is spit balling and constantly talking and wanting to be heard, it makes you look at your next social situation in a comparative light. So when I arrived at the Mexican restaurant for dinner this evening, although I’m fully conscious of the types of friends these women are, I feel a bit judgmental to say that the level and energy of the conversation was a bit disappointing for me after the last three days. Even though I thought I wanted something quieter and calmer, when I actually got it tonight, I felt dissatisfied. There wasn’t any disagreeing or back and forth banter to clarify topics or opinions tonight; there was no new, exciting information shared that shed light about one another; there wasn’t even a lot of self-awareness sadly that I could notice, and that was probably the biggest annoyance for me given that I spent the last three days working on trainings and exercises that solely focused on increasing self-awareness because it ultimately benefits everyone. I left my actual friends tonight feeling let down, and I wasn’t sure if it was really because of them or because of me.

The entire conversation, with a little button pushing from me, was just so passive. Passive was the resounding word in my head as the night wore on. I had one friend zoning out and not listening when work topics were being discussed (she isn’t currently working and hasn’t had a career-type job at all). She’d bring up superficial topics like which expensive restaurant she should choose for her boyfriend to take her for her upcoming birthday (and literally ask for that – an “expensive” restaurant instead of one that she just really wanted to try that might be pricey. I found it unfulfilling. Even when I wanted to go deeper and talk about the Osteria Francescana meal or how much I loved Bologna’s quaintness, we never quite got there… because I didn’t get the sense that my audience cared that much to hear those details that I enjoyed so much, and so the subjects changed. When I brought up the actual Insights training, my friends were shocked to hear that my subconscious qualities were strongly “green.” Green types are seen as being patient, relaxed, empathetic, the mediators, the peace makers, the ones who want to bring harmony to a group. There was this immediate “no” reaction from both of them. They think I’m on the aggressive side, so a red. And one of them, my most conflict-ignoring and avoiding friend, insisted that of us, she was the peace maker. I told her… awkwardly because she hates confrontation and being countered, that she isn’t truly a peace maker or mediator because a real peace maker mediates a problem and addresses it… she simply avoids and ignores it as long as possible. That isn’t the same as peacemaking, and it would be troubling to think that she believes that. She didn’t respond to this (which I expected given who she is) and the topic changed.

But you know what? What I really would have loved in that specific situation is if she actually did respond, if she did say, well, hey, there are examples in social situations where I did try to actively create peace, and maybe you just weren’t there to witness it. We’re not with each other 24/7. We may have known each other 20+ years, but that doesn’t mean we know every experience each other has had. So maybe what I have asserted is wrong because it’s solely based on my interactions with her. But hey, I’d be open to hearing them and changing my opinion if she’d be willing to share them. However, I’ll never know what I don’t know and what is not shared with me. That countering or rebuttal or continuing of a conversation that has a potential to change the other person’s mind – that just doesn’t happen a lot with us, and that makes me sad. And if it does happen, it’s coming from me 99% of the time.

I guess it also bothered me to think that they would never perceive me as a peace maker given all the family situations I’ve had to navigate and assist in within my extremely negative and dysfunctional family; have they heard me when I have described those situations? Do they remember or do they conveniently forget the most painful topics I bring up around family? How much do we all really listen to each other?

The other thing I thought about is what we discussed in our Insights training. Depending on what the other people in our group are like, our colors “adjust” or morph so that we feel fulfilled and can compensate for what may overall be lacking in the group. So in their perception, perhaps I am a red because out of the three of us, I am the strong-willed one, the aggressive one who pushes for more. I definitely feel that way when I get bored when topics are slow or boring or monotonous or when a decision cannot be made. But overall, in a diverse group of people, I rarely feel that I am the red one…. The yellow one, yes, as that’s the dominant color my evaluation says I am, but almost never red.

 

 

Insights training

Today was dedicated to Insights Discovery System training for our team. We had all taken an online evaluation that took about 15-20 minutes about two weeks ago that would be the focus of our training today. Insights enables companies to bring self-awareness to their people and teams; it’s sort of like Myers-Briggs but with an adjusted interpretation of Carl Jung’s theories. The goal is to ultimately increase self-awareness, which would then allow us to better form relationships and become more effective at our jobs. I’d taken a Myers-Briggs test years ago but didn’t remember my letter-combination; I find that the Insights approach of using colors is so much easier to remember.

One of the exercises we did was to have each person in the group answer four simple questions about their childhood: 1) Where were you born and raised? 2) If you have siblings, how many and who are they relative to you in age? 3) What was your “role” in your family? and 4) What was your biggest challenge growing up, and what did you learn from it?

I heard the questions and realized how vulnerable this was going to make a lot of us. What were we each going to share and how “revealing” would we be? How authentic to our childhood would the shared thoughts be? It ended up being this extremely emotional and intense setting, as so many facts about my colleagues came out that, if this exercise never happened, I likely never would have learned any of these details… things ranging from parenting a parent at the age of five, multiple instances of alcoholism of dads, dealing with the death of a sibling when a colleague was only 5, and being left alone regularly at the age of 4.

What you realize in exercises like this is how those childhood experiences shape you for the rest of your life. It may not always be obvious, but those experiences can come out at the most unanticipated moments. When I think about it, I can see in these colleagues who were so open to sharing and being vulnerable how those experiences at a young age manifested in the ways they lead their lives today, even in something as simple as everyday conversations or how or when to speak up in group meetings.

We had a room full of people crying and blowing their noses. Somehow, I managed to stay dry-eyed and only blew my nose when I was too congested from this stupid cold I’ve somehow caught. I never thought I’d ever be in a room full of work colleagues like that in my life. It honestly for me was an enlightening experience and one that I know I’ll probably be contemplating for the next several days.

Pescadero retreat

I’m back in the Bay Area this week for my work team’s retreat, which is the first one we’ve ever done. We’ve rented a cabin-type house in the middle of the woods in Pescadero, just 1.5 hours south of San Francisco, for a three-day, two-night retreat to strengthen our team bonds, go through our Insights training (basically like Myers-Briggs but with a different mindset and approach; this is intended to help increase our self awareness in how we are perceived and how we can better work with others who are different), and set goals for the new fiscal year.

My colleague and I have volunteered to be the chefs for the time, and we’re in charge of two breakfasts and two dinners for our group of 16. We devised our menus, planned out our ingredients and shopping lists, and spent almost three glorious hours raiding the shelves of Costco, Target, and Trader Joe’s today.

And when we arrived… it was probably the most “rustic” place I’ve ever stayed. The bedrooms had spiders, moths, and other creepy crawlers on the ceilings and walls. The hot water was nearly nonexistent and slow, with drip-like water pressure at times. The hand soap provided was practically water itself. The kitchen had stove tops and ovens that looked like they may have been from the early 1900s (and yes, I have to deal with this the next three days myself), with burners that literally only had one heat setting (HIGH, HIGH, HIGH), and the dishwashers had a questionable fuse. The heat was extremely high in some rooms to the point of causing everyone in them to sweat, while the bedroom I so luckily chose (that slept three other female colleagues) had a broken heater; it was the coldest room of the house. This is certainly going to be an adventure that will be character-building to say the least.

Uber pool ride

In an attempt to save money for the startup that I work for, I’ve been opting for shared rides on Uber or Lyft when traveling for work when the individual rides are a bit over the top (unfortunately, our finance team thinks any ride over $45 is a bit questionable). The price differences can be quite hefty: for the ride I took today from my apartment on the Upper West Side to JFK airport, an Uber pool ride was $43, while an Uber X ride was $75, so I chose the pool ride.

This was not the smartest choice. The app said I was guaranteed to arrive by 3:05pm for my 4:30pm flight. I have TSA pre-check, so I usually zoom through security and have plenty of time to relax before my flight. Well, that didn’t happen today because I got stuck in ridiculous traffic in Queens, and then my clueless driver decided to pick up another passenger (I was alone) in an area of Queens that was in the opposite direction of where I was going. We were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and this idiot goes BACKWARDS? Then, the new passenger he was going to pick up saw that he was going the wrong way, and he calls the driver to curse him out. Finally, we picked up the passenger, and I had to listen to the driver and the new passenger verbally battle it out. What fun for me. This passenger sounded so aggressive that I could barely look him in the face and was a little scared to.

He ended up being really kind to me, though. He scolded the driver for not driving aggressively enough. I asked the driver if he thought we’d get there in time for my 4:30 flight. He clearly did not care and said he didn’t know and couldn’t guarantee me anything. Then, the passenger started telling him a side route to take to get me to the airport after his drop-off in less than 10 minutes. The passenger reassured me, said he was a tow-truck driver and knew all these routes inside out.

I’d give the passenger 5 stars if I could… and the actual driver 1 star. I did not arrive until 3:46pm for a 4:30pm flight.

The reality of water buses and a city of canals

Venice is vexing. It’s as beautiful as Google Images and all those cliché paintings and vacation photos I’ve seen in the past, even in what is now supposed to be low season when it’s colder and there are no blue sunny skies. But I just cannot imagine the idea of actually living in a place that has zero ways of getting around other than by foot or water taxis/buses. It’s one part charming and one part “holy crap, this is so inefficient and frustrating,” especially for someone who isn’t used to living in a place like this (which is pretty much most of the world).  Hauling luggage through Venice on our first afternoon was not fun, and that was only with carry-on size bags. Going up and down bridges here and there, rolling luggage on uneven cobble stones, and dodging dog poop everywhere was an adventure in itself. I cannot even imagine how vexing it would be for families with young children, strollers, and far larger checked luggage. We saw so many families like this, and I just felt sorry for them.

Leaving today was frustrating because we were at the last stop of the water bus that goes to the Venice airport, and the first three “buses” that arrived at our stop were all full. They just kept pulling in to say they were full, and then they would speed off.  It was raining and cold, which added to the misery of the situation of waiting. And we didn’t realize that the vouchers we got online had to be exchanged for actual water bus tickets, so Chris had to scramble to get to an ATM to pay cash when we boarded. The alternative to this water bus? Our hotel told us it would cost 120 euros for a water taxi that would stop directly on the canal in front of our hotel and take us straight to the airport. I guess that’s the premium price you can charge in a city where transport options are limited, and the only option you really have is to travel by water and water only.

 

Murano glass

Today, we visited the Murano glass factory on Murano Island. After taking a short water taxi ride to the island, we were greeted by an English speaking guide, who gave us a free tour and demonstration of the factory. The guide claimed that unless you were buying from this specific factory here in person, you were not buying authentic Murano glass. They have refused to get with the times and do not take phone or online orders; I don’t even know if they have a website; probably not unless it’s purely informational.

As we perused the galleries of original glass that you can purchase for anywhere from 35 euros for a 3×3-inch plate or a chandelier for tens of thousands of euros, it just seemed so crazy to me how much money people would spend on decorative and extremely fragile items for their home. I was just carrying my purse and DSLR, but I felt as though I had to make myself smaller to walk through the aisles without smashing something to bits. I was admiring a beautiful serving dish of multiple hues of blue, and the guide told me that it would be 1,300 euros; it probably weighed somewhere between 7-10 pounds; it was unbelievably heavy! And for reference, I just spent $29 on a serving platter on sale from West Elm that I know I will get lots of use out of. Who would spend 1,300 euros on a serving platter? He said it could be used for serving or for display. I just have such a hard time fathoming something that has so little practical use but is so extraordinarily expensive.