Monday, November 25, 2013

Your Questions, Answered

 With thanks to Si Hua for her thoughtful questions.  Good luck on your paper!

1. What was one of the major sacrifices you had to make for this career choice, if any?

The biggest thing you sacrifice for a job like this is a certain amount of leeway in your interactions with others.  You need to always be mindful of representing the United States -- that doesn't mean never expressing your own opinion, but it does mean knowing your audience and being thoughtful about what you're saying and how people will take it.  Some officers will cite the need to move every few years as the biggest sacrifice.  I don't think that part of it is actually as difficult as never really getting to be "off the record" (and staying in one place forever has its own challenges, I imagine).  You do have to agree to live apart from your family for at least a portion of your career -- that sacrifice can be hard, even for single people.  My family and friends were unable to visit me in Pakistan, so I had to accept having very limited opportunities to interact with them over that year.

2. Does one need to have any prior experiences before applying for this career?

The only hard and fast requirements are that the applicant be a U.S. citizen between the ages of 20 and 59, available and fit for worldwide assignment.  Experiences with other cultures, working in teams, managing, writing, and just a demonstration of general curiosity about the world are definitely helpful, however.  You can read more about it on our recruitment site.

3. Is there a lot of stress involved with this career?

Yes.  Some of it is logistical (figuring out a new boss, job, home, friends, so forth every few years, for example, or living in a dangerous or difficult place), and some of it is professional.  We tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to preform well, and the constant wondering if you are meeting expectations and doing a good job can be stressful.  The stakes can sometimes feel very high, though you might never be sure about the true impact of your actions.  That ambiguity is part of the stress.

4. Are there any misconceptions regarding this career?

Ha, yes!  To the extent that people have an idea about the Foreign Service at all, I think they don't understand how much of what we do is just normal "office work."  Filling out forms, writing memos, responding to email, managing budgets or personnel -- all that necessary but very unglamorous stuff.

5. What is the work/family/life balance like?

It really depends on the person and the assignment.  There's a high demand to perform, but some of the most successful officers are also very dedicated parents and spouses (and siblings and children).  It's just something each person has to figure out for her or himself.  

6. What are some unique benefits of having this occupation?

Knowing that you are serving your country -- the "service" part of the Foreign Service -- is really quite wonderful.  You get to be part of something bigger than just yourself.  No matter what menial, small thing you're doing, it is feeding in to that bigger goal of helping the United States -- and helping the United States more often than not involves helping others in the world, too.  It's a great feeling.

7. What are some unique challenges of having this career?

Mostly that the challenges themselves change with each new assignment.  The learning curve for each job is incredibly steep.  You have to balance the need to take action with not always having all the details.

8. What is the work environment like?

It is completely dependent upon the place, the job, the mix of coworkers you end up with, and the political scene (both at home and in your host country).  I'd say the mix of coworkers is the most immediately impactful variable on any work environment, especially the mix of local hired staff. 

9. Have you faced any ethical problems that may have challenged your integrity?

I think when people ask this question, they assume that ethical challenges would come from carrying out foreign policy with which you disagreed.  More often, however, challenges to one's integrity come not from disagreements with U.S. policy, but from the everyday kind of ethical dilemmas we all face:  are you honest when you don't know something?  Do you own up to mistakes and accept the consequences?  Do you take credit for the achievements of others?  Do you keep your word?  I've definitely grappled with all those moments.  In a lot of ways, I think our day to day actions as Foreign Service officers -- the more mundane showcase of our integrity, if you will -- are more important than any big ethical statements, especially as representatives of the U.S.   

As far as U.S. policy disagreement goes, my ethical approach is twofold:  first, I took an oath to uphold ALL the policies that we as citizens have collectively decided, even when I don't like them -- keeping that oath is something I will absolutely do.  Second, in those areas in which I do disagree with our policy, I use all the means at my disposal to constructively address my concerns (voting for good Congressional and Executive representatives and letting them know my views, primarily; I've also used our State Department dissent channel with some success).  I have enough faith in our system to believe that misguided policies will be worked out over time -- and enough awareness to realize that my disagreement could be due to lack of a clear understanding on my part.  Frankly, responsibility for policy lies with all U.S. citizens, not just those in government, and I would be culpable for those policies with which I disagree whether I were an FSO or not. 

 10. If applicable, what was your field of study in college? Did the knowledge you gained from your field of study help you pass the Foreign Service Officer exam?

I double majored in Anthropology and Philosophy for my undergrad degree.  I had some notion of wanting to figure out the world around me, but I definitely had no idea how I was going to apply the things I was learning (at least not in a 'putting food on the table and a roof over my head' kind of way); the Foreign Service was an unexpected happy fit.  Cumulatively, the analytic and writing skills both majors stressed were helpful in passing the Foreign Service Exam (one of the questions even had me list the sociology and anthropology courses I'd taken) and have continued to be helpful in my day-to-day assignments.  Both majors have also helped me to deal with the world being a lot more absurd -- and a lot more tragic -- than I first imagined. 

The most helpful preparation for this job, however, was probably working in a small, perpetually-on-the-brink-of-failure frame shop.  Never taking the availability of resources for granted, doing more with less, dealing with customers and coworkers, putting in extra work for the good of the business rather than with the idea that you'll be directly compensated...  Those lessons have been pretty key.

11. What are some classes you recommend taking in college to help one prepare for the exam?

Well, first I'd say not to think of it as "prep for the exam" -- passing the exam is not the whole goal in and of itself.  Take those courses that get you closer to satisfying your curiosity about things and that help you to clearly express your questions, conclusions, and thought processes.  That will be helpful no matter what field you enter, and especially helpful for the Foreign Service.

12. What is your advice for someone who is interested in this field of work?

Read a lot -- a whole lot.  Write a lot.  Learn to be comfortable with ambiguity.  Be willing to make your own fun.  Develop healthy ways of managing stress.  Never miss a chance to tell the people you care about how you feel.  Give up on your dream of owning a collection of rare, antique glassware.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Hold Me Fast, Don't Let Me Pass

"When did you stop taking the injections?"

"I think late 2009."  I remember mainly that it was almost Thanksgiving.  I remember sitting on the edge of the bathtub and looking at the needle in my hand and feeling with complete, quiet conviction that I was done.

"And you are not on any medication now?"

"No." It takes great effort not to close my eyes and go back to that moment in the colorless tile bathroom with the full syringe between my fingers and the cold air on my exposed thigh.  It was a moment of great clarity.  You don't get many of those in life.

"And your last MRI was... in 2008?"

"Yes.  No, wait -- I had one in Jordan.  So maybe 2009?"

"Since 2009 is a long time."

"Yes, I suppose so."  Do my crossed arms look defensive?  I lower my hands so that I'm cradling my forearms.

"You know," he leans back a bit, in instructor mode.  "MS  is a disease that infiltrates the body.  Sometimes even when there are no new symptoms, suddenly there can be a problem."

After seven years with MS, I find this information neither particularly novel nor particularly persuasive.  I nod at him.  Are we closer to getting the thing that I came here for?  It does not seem so.  I struggle to keep from biting my lip.

"Why don't we start with a new MRI and go from there?  Then maybe you could come back to see me in February."

"Last time I was here," I venture, "you wrote me a letter."  This is not, in fact, true.  The letter took months of repeated cajoling before he'd finally produced it, and then I had to beg MED to give me a copy for my own records.  But it had been enough to get me to Jordan.

"You work for the State Department, yes?  I have four, maybe five patients from the State Department.  All of them were grounded here for years after the first onset of symptoms.  A few of them eventually got to Europe."  Wow.  Wow and wow.  What was this going to take?  Did I have to agree to more drugs?

"I have a job in Tripoli.  If I don't give them a letter soon saying I can go overseas, they might give the job to someone else."

"You don't think it could wait until after the MRI?"

"No."  I do not point out that one of his earlier statements (to wit, "Sometimes patients come in complaining of symptoms and their MRIs look fine; sometimes their MRIs look terrible, but they don't have any symptoms at all") makes me question the utility of an MRI as a prognostic tool, much less the utility of visiting a neurologist.  I similarly do not point out that if I had any plans to ever again seek treatment, this likely wouldn't be the first time I'd have made an appointment since I got back to DC.  The goal here is a fairly singular one.

He looks at me contemplatively for a bit.  But then he pulls his keyboard closer and starts to hunt and peck, glancing at regular intervals from this hands to the screen.  When a letter scrolls out of the printer to my left, I almost can't hand it over to him to sign, I'm so fearful he'll hold it hostage.  After he passes it back, I quickly slip it into my bag.

"So you will get the MRI and come see me in February, and we can talk more."

"Yes, of course."  I am all smiles in my gratitude, despite the fact that this entire exchange has cost six hundred dollars and the MRI will cost that much and more --  and none of it will make me better.  But maybe it will get me to Tripoli.  I wonder if I should kiss his ring before I leave.  Instead, we shake hands.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

(Rent to) Own It

I doubt that Kaylea thought about it much when she introduced me to her A-100 colleague, a new officer headed out to Tripoli for a Pol job.  "Katie's going to Libya, too," she explained.  "Oh?  What job will you have?" was his natural question.  He was casual and friendly, clutching his messenger bag.

Hallways are great social equalizers, and I hated to disturb the laid back nature of our encounter.  But a direct question deserves a direct response:  "Pol Chief."  I injected every bit of confidence I could into the words.  It was the first time I'd ever said the job title aloud.

"Oh!"  He straightened up, surprised, all but saluting.  There was some quick rearranging of the messenger bag to a slightly less slouchy angle.  I was surprised, too -- surprised that he had taken my confidence at complete face value.  He clearly had no idea that, just that morning, I had been wondering when someone was going to call my bluff and let me know they'd rethought the decision to put me in charge of a section.  Because, honestly -- what were they thinking?

A clarification that I wouldn't be getting there till 2015 (i.e., I would not be his boss) allowed him to relax again, but the polite deference remained.  Polite deference I certainly hadn't earned, but which protocol dictated I accept.  It was... uncomfortable?  Strange?  Humbling?  I wasn't really sure how to feel about it.

If I can just fool all the other people at Post, too, I'll be golden.  If I could earn the deference -- even better.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Cuppa Cuppa

I discovered this today scribbled in an old notebook; I think it's from my first or second month on the Desk.

Whoa whoa whoa -- Katie, what have you got there?

This?  It's a teapot.  The 7th Floor staffers wanted another one, and it's just sitting here, so I thought I'd send it to them.

Who else has seen it?

This teapot?  Well, it's been out in the common area -- I think we're all passing familiar with it.

But you haven't had anyone check it to make sure it's suitable?

Suitable for the 7th floor staffers?  It's a standard teapot -- handle, spout, lid... we sent them virtually the same one last week.

Does it have a tea cozy?  Does it come with cups?

What?  Well, no, I guess not.  But they didn't ask for those things.  And, like I said, we sent them one last week just like this, and they seemed perfectly happy.

You should run it through the Teapot Review Committee.  You'll need to knit a cozy first, obviously, and hand-throw and fire some cups and saucers.  It should all go as a set to the Committee before it goes up to the 7th Floor.  Don't forget to clear it laterally with the OHBRC, too.

OHBRC..?

Office of Hot Beverages and Related Condiments.  The OCBRC should probably see it as well.  The 7th Floor might make iced tea, and we want to be covered.

Uh, okay.  Sure.  Where do we keep our potters wheel and kiln?

You'll need to build them.  Call facilities if you need instructions.

And our knitting needles and yarn?

Facilities can give you wool carders and a spinning wheel.  I assume you have access to your own sheep?

Sure.  I mean, no, but I'll figure it out.

Great.  Try and have it ready before lunch.  Also, don't forget that you owe the Front Office a chaffing dish.  Have you read the crockery assembly manual?  It's in Section G, Tab 2, of the SOP that NEA/RMA sent out.

Hey, could we just call the 7th Floor staffers and check to see if they're okay with the teapot as is?

Ha ha ha!  "Call the 7th Floor staffers..."  You new desk officers crack me up.

[Intrepid Intern]  Katie, what's in that teapot anyway?

[Me]  Here, look for yourself.

[Intrepid Intern]  Is that... a tempest?

[Me]  Why, yes.  Yes, it is.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Benefit of the Doubt

"Be Charitable" is my motto for this tour.  It took me some time to settle on it -- nearly a year.  But I've decided it's the sanest way to operate in a system driven primarily by email where tone and intention are quickly lost in the flatness of forwarded Calibri font size 11.  Don't assume the worst; give other people the benefit of the doubt.  Probably the other person isn't out to get you or circumvent you or humiliate you.  Probably.

It's perplexing how hard it is to keep this in mind, despite all manner of post-it note reminders urging calm and circumspection.  "Stop it, stop it," I found myself chanting today, pressing my hands over my eyes in hopes that doing so would take the snarl off my lips.  In this weird, cubicle-bounded prisoner's dilemma, there's no need for more conspiratorial thinking.  I wish being my best self wasn't always so challenging.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Relax

For weeks, every single email we've received has been 'URGENT', 'FLASH', or 'IMMEDIATE'.  Sometimes a combination of all three.  We've been in such a state of heightened alert -- heightened frenzy -- for so long, to suddenly have a slow week is disconcerting.  Like a windsock, we're collapsing without the constant outside force to keep us taut.  Suddenly, you notice your own lassitude.

Normally I'd feel guilty.  Mostly I find I'm feeling giddy.  This must be how ER doctors react seeing a crash on TV and having to wait just a bit too long for the bodies to roll in.  You know you shouldn't let your guard down too fully.  Right?  What if the ambulance pulls up just as you're sitting down to dinner?  But, oh man, the hospital cafeteria is serving pot roast, and I sure don't hear any sirens.

One or two slow days go by.  Then another.  Then suddenly you realize you've unclenched your fists and settled back into your chair.  Today, I had an hour-long meeting with another office just to 'talk over the current situation'.  I met a friend for coffee.  I came back and not a single thing was on fire.  It's crazytown.  Ramping up again is going to be very painful.

-----------------------------------
 Update, August 30:  Well, that was shortlived.

Friday, July 26, 2013

[PLACEHOLDER]

"Hello?"

"Katie."

"Yes."

"I'm calling about  that same issue.  Any word?"

"Ah, nothing yet, but there's a meeting this afternoon that should provide some clarity.  As soon as I hear anything, I'll let you know."

"That's the same thing you told me yesterday."

"Not so.  Yesterday I said there was a meeting that might provide some clarity.  I'm sure you can appreciate the distinction."

"So... you feel more certain about today's meeting providing clarity than you did about yesterday's meeting doing so?"

"I don't think I am prepared to take a position on that.  I refer you back to my earlier 'might and/or should' statements."

"When might and/or should I expect a more satisfying end to these conversations?"

"Best guess?  Call me back in a couple of weeks.  There are lots of meetings planned between now and then, but I only have so many verbs left to convey the likelihood of actual outcomes."

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Meaning of Mt. Rushmore

I don't know why America works.  Probably I ought to know -- ostensibly,  part of my job is explaining the United States to other people.  Plus, I've been American for a long time.  You'd think I'd have figured it out by now.


"Democracy:  The Meaning of Mount Rushmore" the pamphlet declares.  Joe and I hop around  in front of the monument taking pictures, then sit in the amphitheater to admire the view of the presidents.  A very American moment.  The woman to our left comments to her husband, gesturing toward the mountain, "They could put Reagan in that space there."  Joe and I exchange glances.  "Gift shop?" he asks.  Yes.  Democracy at its finest.


Back in the car, I check my blackberry in between appreciative scans of the South Dakota countryside.  The scenery is soothing; the story out of Egypt less so.  People there have been trying to figure out democracy, too.  I try to imagine some equivalent scene in the United States -- Secretary Hagel letting Congress know it's got 48 hours to pass a budget, or the military would be taking steps. Why doesn't that happen here?  What makes it seem so far-fetched?

We hit Wyoming, my favorite state.  "You could put your blackberry down, you know."  So I do, for a while.  Just a little while.


Saturday, June 08, 2013

National Donut Day

This week I left the office reflecting happily on how I'd managed to prune my inbox.  'Only 182 unread emails', I'd thought.  Yes, only over 150 potential tasks to go.  And that was just the unclass side.*

I used to think that work flow like this didn't leave a lot of good choices -- that essentially I could decide between being a bad employee, a bad colleague, a bad friend, a bad daughter, a bad sibling, a bad renter, or a bad date, and so, aiming for balance, I should just settle on being a bad person.  That seemed fair to all involved.  I'm more sanguine now.

For example, feeling overrun today didn't stop me from leaving the office to get a free donut. That's a choice I felt pretty good about.


*I know that at least some of you reading this are smugly thinking, 'Whatever, _I_ had over 300 unread emails when I left work today'.  Well, I say, good for you.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Leadership

Sitting across from the person I most respect in the Foreign Service, I was (as always) in awe not just of his competence, but of his surety.  I suppose one leads to the other, but I feel it's rare to be so comfortable with responsibility.  The only time I ever remember him second guessing himself was when he thought he'd done an unkind thing.*  That, too, I feel is rare -- the ability to wield power with kindness.  To be able to tell people they are in the wrong without making them feel small.  To take the time to see someone lowly in the midst of the sort of busy schedule that only the truly powerful can have.  To say "give us five more minutes" when your scheduler comes to let you know it's time to leave for the Hill.

I've searched everywhere for an adequate definition of 'leadership'; the dictionary definition is a little flat.  Peter Drucker said that "leadership is doing the right things."  That's surely close.  Susan Lyne says that it's about owning decisions.  No doubt.  The FS Core Precepts sum it up as innovation, judgment, openness to dissent, community service, team building...  You almost never read of the connection between compassion and leadership, however.  About how a true leader has the courage to be kind and will spend the energy to make you feel valued.

Machiavelli says it's better to be feared than loved.  Maybe my idol is secretly ruthless.  But I don't think so.  He asks me where I'm going next.  "I really don't know," I tell him.  "Send me your bidlist and I'll help you to not make bad choices," he teases.  There's no way he has time for that.  But I'll send it to him and he'll somehow reply.  I don't think he has any clue what this kindness means to me.  It's hard not to stretch my hands across the table and declare, Ruth-like, "where you go, I will go; and where you stay, I will stay..."  He would laugh at the idea.  I keep my hands folded in my lap.

Part of me wants to ask him -- do you have some plan for me?  Because I have none for myself.  I have genuinely no idea what he wants me to be achieving.  I don't see in myself the things he seems to, and I feel deeply unworthy of his attention -- but so grateful for it.  I want to be the person he thinks I am capable of becoming; if I have any ambition, it is only to engender the same loyalty and gratitude in others as he does in me.  To not live up to his expectation would be devastating.  The ability to inspire that feeling is the best definition of leadership I know.


*He had not.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

'Tis the Season

I'd love to tell you that EER season is like hunting season or baseball season or flu season or really any other season than what it is most analogous to -- which is fashion season.  And not even professional fashion season; more like a season of Project Runway.  Writing an EER means cobbling together some 'fabulous' creation and then parading out your efforts in front of your peers, everyone waiting to see what the trends and buzzwords will be for this year (hint:  if you weren't recommended for promotion "immediately" this cycle, consider asking your rater what you did to incur his wrath -- and I hope you didn't fall into the pit of 'telling a breathless and exciting story' for your personal narrative!  Oh, sweetie, that's so 2011...).

Capable, intelligent, sensible people accustomed to making hard-hitting policy decisions like whether to press forward with a trade agreement or what socks to wear to that ribbon cutting ceremony -- people who write regularly and well in the routine course of their jobs -- will suddenly be paralyzed by the belief that an improperly formed sentence has more power to derail their careers than the actual accomplishments the sentence describes.*  Late at night on the day before my EER was due, I admit to having spent twenty sweaty minutes agonizing over whether to use the phrase "U.S. interests" or "U.S. concerns" in the last line of my carefully crafted Leadership Example paragraph.  TWENTY MINUTES.  When they fail to promote me this year, I'll know I made the wrong choice.  It will not be any less tragic and heartbreaking than Kimberly burning a hole in her bird-inspired dress in Season 9.

Theoretically our promotions depend upon demonstration of certain Core Precepts.  Every year, you must pick one of the Core Precepts to focus on as an area to improve.  At some point in murky FS history past, it was decreed that the precept "Interpersonal Skills" would be off limits as an area of improvement -- its appearance in your EER a definitive sign that you were unfit for service.  This is because (clearly) only mouth-breathing social invalids would ever need to work on that precept's sub-categories of "Professional Standards," "Persuasion and Negotiation," or "Adaptability."  When one particularly stellar EER I was reading for a review panel nevertheless indicated "Interpersonal Skills" as the employee's area of focus -- with the perfectly rational explanation that the person could do more in the "Representational Skills" sub-category in reaching out to local groups -- I am ashamed to say that I gasped.  But then reconsidered.  I can see bucking the "Interpersonal Skills" taboo becoming the exciting new EER trend for next season.  That and a pop of color.


*in fairness, it probably does.

Monday, May 06, 2013

"Those who stay at home may live more comfortably and grow richer than those who wander, but I desire neither to live comfortably nor to grow rich."

Recently someone asked me if I felt "secure" serving overseas.  "No," I told him, perplexed.  "But if I wanted to be secure, I wouldn't have volunteered for this career."  No one would suggest a soldier only be deployed if she had absolute security.  Why would it be different for us?

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being "eating cereal on a Saturday morning at your parents' house in the suburbs" and 10 being "Dear Lord, very sorry for any wrongdoing; please be kind as I'll be with you shortly," I was normally around a 2 or 3 in Pakistan.  There were a few discrete times when I got to maybe an 8.  I remember one of the FSNs asking once that we leave a place.  "You only have the one life," he explained.  "When we're here, we can't be sure something isn't happening to the car."  I remember when a bomb went off and none of us was quite ready.

I don't know what to think about the person's question.  Is it cheesy to say you would die for your country?  Or wrong to expect that some of us -- tragically, sadly, but with open eyes -- might?  In some ways I feel it devalues our jobs to suggest that we shouldn't expect that.

On Thursday, they changed our State memorial wall to show the name of the officer who was killed last month.  Today, I went to the office for a bit, then to the Vietnam Memorial across the street.  A troop of school children was filing out of the V-shaped depression, headed toward the Lincoln Memorial.  A church group gathered nearby, singing.  Tourists were milling around.  Maybe because of that officer's work, those people will be more secure.  Maybe they will have a better life.  I hope so.

And maybe because of the work of all the other officers who came before me, I have a better life.  I want to believe that.



Tuesday, April 30, 2013

一期一会 or The Building will Never Love You Back

Hurry

I have to hurry

Even as we wash the tiles and the dominoes go click-click-click and I smile -- tightly -- yes, I'm enjoying myself thank you but I need to go I really must go
to the office.

And why?

Is the office in a hurry to receive me?  Is my desk waiting for me, expectant?  Is Egypt going somewhere?  Hello Katie please sit -- please sit here it is quiet very quiet and no windows for
distraction.

And my friends get married and I think -- how did you find the time?  And I wonder what would happen if I asked him to dinner.  Probably he would be

busy.

Friday, March 29, 2013

And for my next trick...

"Add more to this call sheet, but make it shorter."  This is so far my favorite (though not my first) 'request for the metaphysically impossible' that I've received during my tenure on the Desk.  Add a half page of information, but make the paper a half page shorter.  Time frame to complete this request?  20 minutes.

May I change this from first person sentences to broad bullet points?  No, you may not.  Should I cut any of the existing information?  No, leave it all in and add this extra bit.  But make it shorter.  18 minutes left to go!

Alright-y then.

If you suddenly receive a very blunt, completely unnuanced phone call from someone at the State Department, well, just know that the call sheet did not exceed the mandated page length.  Eventually I expect us only to convey information to other governments via tweets, so this is good practice.


Saturday, March 09, 2013

LOL OMG

Did AID and US/SESSS clear on the TPs for the AL MOU?

TPs or BCL?

TPs on the MOU; the BCL is for the OHCHR meeting.

Oh, right.  I'll check with the POCs after I finish clearing this IM on FMF.  It's with F and H.

Was that the task from the DC SOC?

You mean the IPC?

Yeah.

It's related, but I got more on EXBS from ISN that changed it a little, so I'm doing this for D(B).  I'll let NSS know.  ATA still has to weigh in, too -- I might have to write a separate AM if the info from the CS was accurate.

Sure, just don't forget to update the point for the AA.

Ah, thanks -- I'll call DSCA.

Who?

They're in DOD.

Oh, I can never keep track of all those military acronyms.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Nothing is Different, But Everything has Changed

Karyn is sick.  I hadn't really planned on talking about it -- the big challenge for me is to let her experience MS her own way and not jump in to 'assist' with my own experience of it.  Plus, selfishly, all these years later, I still want to hold on to my own trauma/drama/melodrama as something unique and unshareable.  Shaking and shaking and worrying over the holes eating their way through my brain and nerves like cigarette burn marks.  Worrying about being desirable.  Worrying about being able to work.  Overblown worry, as it turned out.  As I tell myself.  As I tell a string of boyfriends.  As I try to tell my bosses when I explain, "I'm so sorry to not be on point lately -- I have MS, and it bothers me [rarely! hardly! almost never!] sometimes."

"Nothing is different, but everything has changed," Karyn tells us.  I understand -- I completely understand.  There's a philosophy thought problem that asks, if everything in the world one day doubled in size, would we know?  Yes, as it turns out.  Yes.  Yes, we would.

"My sister is sick," I tell my friends.  There's not much in the telling.  "Will she be alright?" they ask.  Yes.  Yes, she will.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

And Time Yet for a Hundred Indecisions, and for a Hundred Visions and Revisions

"See over there?"  I followed the trajectory of his pointing finger out the window to the street scene below.  Puffs of light mustard-yellow smoke were floating from behind a glass-fronted building block, forming a low fog T.S. Eliot might have admired.  The murky mass didn't quite rise over the courtyard fence beyond which apparently oblivious -- or maybe just uncaring -- short-sleeved men were playing soccer.

"Tear gas?"

"Yup.  His promised briefing forgotten, my Embassy POC rubbed his hands together in concentration.  "If you watch, you'll see the protestors darting in and out."  Watching for a bit bore out his prediction.  The pick-up soccer game looked far more organized in comparison.

After a few minutes, I cleared my throat.  "I should go."  The last thing I wanted was to get stuck in the Embassy and miss my evening flight back to DC.  Well, maybe not the last thing.  It was mesmerizing, watching the tear gas and the protestors and the soccer game.  The scene neatly encapsulated the sensation I've come to most often associate with Egypt:  a kind of voyeurism bordering on scopophilia.  None of us has any idea what's coming next -- but you want to be there when it happens just to say, 'yes, well, anyone could have predicted this'.

I wanted to linger.  Maybe just a minute more of watching, and I would have understood it all.  But in the end, my responsible nature prevailed, perhaps in some small part influenced by the sudden stream of people throwing on jackets and heading for the doors.  To be on the ground, on the ground...  it's tempting.  But maybe not so close.