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Please take a moment and grab someone close to you (whether emotionally intimate or merely physically proximal), and give them a big, wet, sloppy Ides of March kiss!

2050 years ago today, Julius Caeser was assassinated by his fellow senators for being overly ambitious -- for being too ready to put his slightest personal whim ahead of the most pressing concerns of his country.

It's high time we began celebrating the anniversary of this occasion. Each year, students and workers should have the day off to gather around the tv (or to watch the tvs that will soon be implanted in their heads) and watch our elected officials slay one of their comrades.

The victim will have been chosen by the voters beforehand, but his identity will have been kept secret from all but a handful of people. Not only the names of senators will appear on the ballot, but those of all nationally-elected officials.

At the appointed time, the person the victim presumes is his or her greatest ally will come forward and deal the first blow (using the weapon of their choice, but they must strive not to make the first blow fatal). A small group of randomly-chosen politicians will then rush in and finish the victim off.

If any of the elected officials do not show up for the festivities, or if any of the assigned assassins fail to perform their duties, these traitors will be stripped of their suits, sewn snugly into American flags, and airlifted into the center of the country we are most virulently at war with at the time. If no war is being waged, countries may bid for the opportunity to "host" the traitors.

To preserve the sense that America is a just and benevolent nation, voters will also have had the option to mark "none" on their ballot, if they feel that no elected official deserves this fate. In a year when no victim was selected, one politician will rush up to another, and at the last moment extend his hand for a friendly shake. Tv stations will then run "best of" retrospectives of past years' victims. Themes might include "Most Creative Weapon", "Took the Longest to Die", or "Most Richly Deserving of His Fate".

I wonder how this holiday might change the career plans of thousands of "ambitious" youngsters. How might it change the behaviour of those already in office? How might it gladden the hearts of common people everywhere?

I am starting a petition for this sorely needed national holiday. Please sign if you agree.
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Webogglers have become vicious these days. I just played a game where I won several times in a row, and epithets such as "Bird FLIES" and "parrot_poop" started appearing. A few nights ago the name-calling was much worse than that. I often have to switch monikers to avoid persecution. Sigh. Guess I will have to find a new addiction. Anyone know where I can get some tar heroin?
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Not that anyone reads this journal.


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So. Friday was my last day at NASA. And I'm already regretting the decision to leave.

What a great group of people I worked with. I have enjoyed most of the people I worked with all along, but the last day really brought it home for me. And it seems the feelings are mutual.

A project manager with Lockheed Martin (who used to be my sort-of supervisor and who is the only other person who stayed after Lockheed bought INS) called in the morning with his well-wishes, and said that he felt he had "made a friend for life" and that we should have lunch sometime soon. He's much more politically adept than I am (aka schmoozy), but I felt he was sincere and not just workin' me.

At my goodbye lunch, three people stood up and sang my praises in front of the group. One of my main business customers talked about my patience working with non-technical folks on the requirements for their major application, how helpful I was in support of the app, how much I would be missed and that she hoped I would change my mind about leaving. She even seemed to get a little teary. My functional supervisor talked about how I had always been considered a full member of the team (I believe this is a reference to the fact that some execs in upper management consider contractors expendable peons). His supervisor talked about how I had surpassed his expectations, which were already very high. References were offered. Hugs were exchanged. Many other kind words were said, the specifics of which I have failed to retain. Everyone was so complimentary that I felt like blurting out a confession of all my inadequacies, to counterbalance the praise that I didn't quite feel I earned. But I tried to remind myself that I have certainly been under-appreciated in the past, and to just enjoy the over-appreciation.

I received similarly complimentary emails from several people who could not attend the lunch because they worked at a different location or would not be there that day. A business customer with whom I worked closely wrote a touching email. Another business customer, whom I didn't think liked me (perhaps because, as I do, he tends to focus on aspects of a project that aren't perfect rather than spending much time talking about what's right), wrote me a goodbye email that was too detailed and enthusiastic to be considered perfunctory. And a developer whom I respect immensely wrote about how he thinks *I'm* a good developer.

When we met that afternoon in my office for a final discussion of the applications I was bequeathing to them, a newly hired developer and DBA launched into impromptu praise of my database design skills, my helpful documentation, and my organized, logical, well-commented code.

At the end of my exit interview, I even got to dispense HTML advice as a parting gift to my Lockheed Martin supervisor, who was trying to update a company web page while her normal web guru was away on vacation. The information I conveyed to her was basic, but timely, and much appreciated.

I later felt bad that I had not stood up at lunch and made a statement about how much I in turn appreciated my coworkers. But I did attempt to do so in our individual goodbyes, though it felt awkward and insufficient.

Apparently there are other people who are sheepish about announcing their warm feelings, especially in front of a group of people. A network guy who had been totally silent at lunch came to say goodbye to me that evening before he left. He's one of my favorites, because of his quirky, reserved yet stubborn personality. On Wednesday, he had said he would miss me, with a wistful tone in his voice. And on Friday, we talked, as we had on prior occasions, about his plans for the future and how he might maneuver himself into application development since he was unhappy with network administration (especially in Windows). I actually care about what happens to him. I've often had the experience of feigning interest in such stuff in a work setting. It's nice to have the opportunity to be genuine.

I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to my functional supervisor, because he had to leave early when I was still in my exit interview. I wrote a few quick words to him in an email, but I plan to send a more thought-out and lengthy statement about how much I appreciated him and his management style. People who know me well know that I can be pretty damn fluent when it comes to expressing negative feelings. But I feel bashful when it comes to telling a coworker just how much they meant to me.

I exchanged personal contact info with quite a few people, and I hope to stay in touch with some of these folks. I didn't maintain contact with anyone I worked with at previous jobs for more than a year after leaving, and my impression is that it's a fairly rare occurence for former coworkers to continue meaningful contact with each other long-term. I hope to experience the exception.

I feel inadequate as a programmer and as a work-place politician, but receiving all this praise lately has made me acknowledge that there are some things I do well. Can that many people be that wrong about me? For once, I am taking the optimistic view and answering, no they can't.

Can I continue being a curmudgeonly negativist, after experiencing all these warm fuzzy feelings? Of course I can. In fact, my mood was dampened as soon as I came home from work to find a rejection letter from The Millay Colony (one of two writing residencies I applied for back in October). Kind of ironic, since one of the reasons I quit was to have the time and freedom to concentrate seriously on writing.

I have to steel myself for the possibility that I won't get into Hedgebrook either. They received 424 "qualified applications" this year, for something like 40 spots. And who knows if the people who are evaluating this year's applications will happen to resonate to my frequency.

Also waiting for me when I returned from work was a painting my jailbird penpal, M, had done of my mother with various family members' pet parrots (Sammie the Eclectus, Cazoob the Mini-Macaw, and Winston the lovebird) perched around her. It was a flawed piece: M got my mom's skin tone wrong, painted her hair black instead of dark brown, and made her nose too wide and too sculpted. He missed the little dotted lines of dark feathers that look like stitching around Cazoob's eyes. Winston's back end is a little too chunky, and his persona doesn't come through. But M captured Sammie's typical "on alert" body position perfectly: you can feel the tension in his anxious crouch. He portrayed the goofy, wide-eyed expression on Cazoob's face, and his casually splayed feet. And he even conveyed a bit of the sparkle of my mother's smile. Not bad for someone who necessarily worked from pictures rather than in-person (and in-bird) models. The piece is propped up on my living room couch right now, and it gives me a smile every time I pass it. There's a message in it too, the same message encoded in much of the rest of my Friday: Something can be worthy without being perfect.

I have ideas about what I would like to accomplish with my time off, but one of the primary benefits of not working for pay is that you don't HAVE to accomplish anything. I don't want to replace one set of shoulds and musts for another.

Some of the things I originally wanted to do have to be nixed or modified now, since my feet and ankles are still far from healed. I can't exercise much. The hiking I had planned to do is definitely out, and even just walking slowly is a chore. I'll probably be healed enough to swim in a little while, but don't know if I can tolerate the humiliation of appearing in public in a bathing suit.

I'd still like to go to a gun range and become competent at shooting my .357.

I'd like to write, and to publish more of what I've written.

I'd like to get involved in more social activities and maybe find some more good local friends. I'm renewing my membership in Mensa and will force myself to attend some of the events. I'm thinking of finding someone who would allow me to ride on their motorcycle when the weather becomes warmer.

I'd like to complete some house projects that have been on my list for quite a while.

And of course, I will hang out with parrots. Maybe even find a parrot charity to volunteer with.

But thus far, all I've done is slept and read. I haven't enjoyed myself much yet. I'm worried I made the wrong decision. I'm wondering if the drain on my finances will be worth it. When I worked, I always used to bemoan the stress of commuting and the infuriating politics and the lack of time for extracurricular pursuits. The thought occurs that a depressive will find something to be depressed about. But I *cannot* allow myself to now spend my time off bemoaning a new set of problems.

I'm backing off from the idea of selling my house and taking a few years off with the proceeds, and of the idea of moving to the west coast. I think it's likely I'll take the originally-planned 5 or 6 months off, and then return to work at a closer, hopefully non-contract job. I don't think my parents will be alive for too many more years, and frankly, as their only child, I don't want to spend their remaining years 3,000 miles away. I told this to my mother a couple of weeks ago and she actually cried. I thought she was crying because we were discussing her mortality, but she said that she was crying both because she did not want to feel she was standing in the way of my dreams and because she did not like to think of me without a mother.

And on that cheerful note... it's time for bed.
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An ex of mine, C, was a 2nd degree blackbelt in Shorin Ryu karate. He tried and utterly failed to get me interested in martial arts. I attended C's events and watched him teach, but was only really interested because I liked him and not because of anything I found interesting in the art itself.

I did not accept his claims that karate masters could perform superhuman feats like leap across entire rooms or set themselves on fire without harming their body. He explained that such feats are never demonstrated to outsiders, with the implication that we don't deserve the honor -- but to me it seemed (and seems) disingenuous to boast of accomplishments one isn't prepared to prove.

One of the principles that was important to C was "chi". Chi is, to use a simplified definition, life force. It is present to some extent or another in all living creatures (or even all objects, depending on who you ask), and imbalances in it result in ill health according to Eastern medicine. C spoke of chi often, considered it of great import, and was dismayed that it wasn't important to me as it was to him.

My main reaction to C's lectures on chi was to shrug. He seemed to be saying that there was a distinct chi substance, just as there are distinct bodily fluids such as saliva and blood. It's not that I disbelieved in chi totally, just that I considered it more a way of framing and discussing concepts like energy and life force rather than a distinct physical element. And not a way of framing that I found particularly useful.

C spoke of a profound experience he had with an ex-girlfriend (who also studied karate) where they turned the lights out in a big windowless room and then found each other by sensing each other's chi. I'm sure I reacted to this story with an inward snicker. I even feel a snicker developing now as I type this.

I did take a few tai chi classes at C's urging, but felt silly and awkward and was not convinced of the supposed health benefits (which, again, were never specified for me as an outsider). I also grew tired of trying to contort my beliefs and interests to fit C's. I don't need any bamboo from the mountain, thanks, and if I am going to impersonate an animal I'd rather it be a parrot than a monkey.

Since C and I broke up seven or eight years ago, I have had nary a thought of chi. But I have found myself thinking of it again because of an experience I had last weekend. I'm not sure what to call the person with whom I had this experience -- is he a friend? an ex? a current Relationship with a capital R? I guess he doesn't have a label at the moment.

Anyway... we had not seen each other in a few weeks. We are both very tactile and enjoy cuddling and caressing. Such stuff seemed even more enjoyable than usual, and especially when we were in bed holding each other, I felt an electricity travel through both of us. It was as though a circuit had been completed when we touched and now current was flowing through it. Much later, it came to me that this must have been chi. It's not an abstract concept. It is in fact some sort of element of nature, some kind of distinct energy. Maybe it's there all the time and I don't normally notice it. Maybe it was intensified in that encounter, and/or my awareness of it was heightened.

All the explaining in the world is insufficient in order to convey what chi is (though why I am bothering writing this if that's so?) It needs to be demonstrated. Someone needs to feel it in order to know it exists. I think if I start chasing after this feeling again it will be elusive. But I do want to keep myself open to its reappearance.
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Part II will have to wait a while.
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Today was one of the most difficult-to-get-through days I have ever experienced. Not the worst -- since no one died and no lasting effects will likely be felt -- but one of the most stressful. I am glad and somewhat surprised that I survived it without keeling over.

I've had the flu (I think) for the past week. Fever, sore throat, back/head ache, congestion, cough, dry/red eyes and small bouts of nausea/barfing. The headache was at some points so bad that I had to push my hands as hard as I could on the top of my head when I coughed so my head would not explode. The backache was in the beginning so bad that I could do nothing but writhe in bed for hours. The sore throat was at one point so bad that I would have paid someone a thousand bucks to take over swallowing duties for me. And I've gotten little sleep the last week because when I lie down I fill up with phlegm, and if I do get to sleep I am so hopped up on various medications that I have psycho dreams and wake up after only a little while.

Some of the symptoms (backache, fever, nausea) are mostly better now, and I don't believe I am contagious any longer, but I'm still quite sick. *And* it was the third day of my .   But I had had had to go into DC today for an awards ceremony. Since one is not supposed to blog about the specific, publically-identifiable details of one's job, I will simply say that the award was for a team I was on and was a big-deal formal affair held at an intimidating ornate DC building with thousands of Suits in attendance.

I seriously debated calling my supervisor this morning and begging off attending. He knows how sick I am because he heard me hack and cough my way through a presentation yesterday that I also had had had to go into DC for. But I decided, at great personal cost and for no other reason than loyalty to my team (the award doesn't mean anything to me) to drag myself in. I woke up at 3:30 AM and could not get back to sleep, so I started the time-consuming-under-the-best-of-circumstances process of making myself as much like a female Suit as a slobby computer geek can. Other than my red eyes and my Casper the Hostile Ghost skin tone, I think I achieved decent results. I did the sparkly clothes, the jewelry, the hair, the makeup, and -- pay attention to this one, folks -- the HIGH HEELS.

Flash forward a bit. I'm sitting in the horrid "rush" "hour" traffic on I-270. At one point everything stops completely, EXCEPT the car driving behind me. I can see in my rearview mirror that he's coming up too fast, but I have nowhere to escape. He slams into my just-turned-10,000-miles 2005 Honda CRV.

We fight our way over to the shoulder and survey the damage. The whole front of his green Isuzu truck looks crumply. My CRV looks ok except for the spare tire, whose cover is slashed and that has glass imbedded in it. (The spare tire is mounted in the middle of the rear door, I believe for the express purpose of absorbing impact in a rear-end collision [thanks, CRV designers!!]).

I attempt to take down Not-Paying-Attention Guy's name, rank, and serial number, but he balks when we get to the part about car insurance policies, saying that he is "in the process of switching insurance companies" and "would prefer not to go through an insurance company." I read this at the time as a veiled way of saying he doesn't HAVE insurance, which is illegal under Maryland law. Since I am sick and have an event to get to, I don't press the matter, and leave without any insurance info. I resign myself to an outlay of a few hundred bucks to get a new spare tire and cover and to get my vehicle inspected for any further damage that I might have missed.

This is a treacherous commute. Some idiot side-swiped my poor little Honda Civic on I-495 in spring of 2004. Now I have a rear-end collision on I-270 to add to that. All I need is a head-on collision on George Washington Parkway, for a complete matched set of all three major legs of my journey and the three main types of collision. (Hey, if I joke about this, it can't happen, right? RIGHT??)

Between the bad traffic and the accident, I realize I am most likely going to arrive at work too late to go to the awards with the rest of the group, and will have to try to find the place alone. I can clearly picture the copy of the directions a co-worker printed out; it's sitting on my desk. And then, I also clearly picture my security badge, which is lying on the dining room table at home. I normally put it before I leave for work, but this morning, broke my normal routine because I was all dolled up and wearing a gold necklace. A plastic security badge simply didn't complement The Ensemble well. And somehow the badge never found its way into my purse.

I realize that somebody is going to have to sign me in to the building. Or better yet, someone could tell me the directions over the phone and I could go straight there. I call my supervisor's desk and cell phones and get no answer. I try again shortly before arriving and again, get no answer. I probably should have called other coworkers, but at this point, I think everyone may have left for the ceremony.

I can't park in the [large government entity] garage without my badge, but I find parking nearby and rush to the subway station, noticing that the pair of heels I am wearing today for the first time are very uncomfortable to walk in, especially on pavement. I know what subway stop to get off at, and I know the name of the building where the awards ceremony will be held; I'm hopeful that I can ask a subway person for directions and still get there in time.

End of Part I. Will write about the rest of my day tomorrow.

Must go fall into bed now. Please wish me luck on achieving sleep. I really need it!

Current Mood: exhausted exhausted

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THE most ingenious idea I've ever heard of
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From http://www.undoingdepression.com/livingwell/lwagenerousspirit.html: "If you can cultivate a true generosity of spirit, you can't be depressed."

Honest translation: "I need to believe that the world is really not a depressing place. So if you view it as depressing, there must be some deficiency in you and the way you interact with the world. I also need to believe that you have the ability to overcome your depression by fixing your deficiency. This way, if you continue to be depressed, I can dismiss you and your pain as self-caused. If I were to take an honest look at the pain in the world, I might feel depressed myself. If I were to acknowlege that perhaps your depression is not caused by a lack of some essential quality in you, I might feel hopeless myself. Since avoiding the slightest discomfort matters infinitely more to me than does your greatest anguish, I will construct a rationalization that allows me to feel optimistic, to feel that I am helping you by magnanimously advising you of your deficiencies, and to not get any of that messy pain you're feeling all over myself, if you continue to insist on wilfully feeling depressed".
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Apparently my Weboggle habit has made me the object of envy and admiration among other hopeless addicts. Recently, I'd been changing my handle frequently, sometimes using a different one every game to have "conversations" with other players or to do take-offs on others' handles. Guess I'll have to resume always playing as parrot or parrot person, so I can more effectively frustr -- I mean, edify my admirers.


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