The Other End of Sunset

Friday, August 03, 2007

Please don't play sudoku near me

Please don't play sudoku near me. If I ever write a book, I think, perhaps, that will be my title. Somebody remind me of that, if it ever becomes relevant, ok?

Jeanne played sudoku. A lot. She was wild about the game. I remember buying her one of the "big books" of sudoku, and a cheat book that taught her all these strategies to win.

She spent an entire flight to somewhere -- London, maybe -- reading the book and working through all the puzzles. She was so happy, and frustrated at the same time. It wasn't easy for her -- she was very smart, but math wasn't her favorite, and she had a striking lack of self-confidence.

But that game captured her mind, and her attention, and she was really into it. She was amazing that way. She could focus on arcane intellectual exercises in an almost inhuman way.

Yeah, you think I can focus? You ain't seen nothing, my friend.

When she tried, she could focus on a problem like you can't imagine. Her career was in "learning and development". In other words, she got paid to make other people better. Once, she was thinking about a reorganization she wanted to do -- a reorganization that ultimately led to me getting connected to FiP, through many intermediaries -- and we were talking. More than talking, we were arguing. And using flip charts. She had flip charts -- the ones with sticky on the top, you know? -- all over the house. We'd start talking, and she'd start scrawling on these charts, and sticking them on the walls, the shutters, or whatever happened to be nearby. Periodically the dogs weren't even safe. (Minnie did NOT care for the flip chart sticky, thankyouverymuch.)

So, she had her charts out, and her multicolored pens, and the place was a disarray of organization charts, and names, and assessments of people, and strategic goals and chaos. Anyway, we were arguing about whether it was ok for this other part of our company to build a training function. Jeanne was arguing that it wasn't good; I didn't really have a position. I was just asking questions -- who would it hurt if it existed? What might they get wrong? What are the stakes involved?

I'm not that smart -- I just ask questions. Smart people answer questions. Second-rate hacks ask questions. QED.

Anyway, after some number of questions, she stopped writing, turned, and looked at me. "Oh, wait. I get it. It doesn't matter if they do training. We do development, and that's not training, and this will let me stop using resources to do training that I need to spend on development! You're right!"

I wasn't right. I didn't have any idea. She did.

First, she bounded across the couch like a puppy and hugged me. A whole being hug -- not just the arms, or even the body, but the entire entity that was Jeanne hugged me.

And she turned back to her flip charts and wrote, without stopping, for about 30 minutes. I'm actually not sure she was even breathing during that time. The writing was perfect -- great content and even beautiful penmanship. She was on task, and nothing could stop her. One draft, and it was all correct. She had her admin type it up, and the work was done. The reorganization was great, and the other training organization is still doing well. She got it right. In one go. Without a break.

Seems less impressive now that I write that story -- but it was freakish to watch live. Most people seek support, or concurrence, or something, while creating. She just needed ink -- she had the rest in her head.

But the focus was not all-encompassing. She couldn't be bothered to finish 90% of the projects she began -- her houses were all full of half-painted walls, and a sketchbook (or seven) each with one-third of the pages covered with human figures and dogs and chairs, some in pencil, some in pen, some in ... magic marker? She wouldn't remember what we were talking about, in the middle of the conversation, but she could remember who had stepped out on the town with some arbitrary heartthrob star.

And she never seemed to forget that she loved me, even when I didn't deserve it.

When she got sick, I bought her a little mac to take with her to treatment and doctors' offices. We borrowed a bunch of movies from my sister, and renewed a NetFlix membership. I bought her a set of comfortable headphones -- she whined, a lot, about headphones not feeling nice -- and some computer games.

I have a picture of her, in a pink sweatshirt, in a chemotherapy chair, watching a movie, while an IV dripped poison into her veins. She looked owlish in her glasses, and gaunt face, and mussed hair.

I had this vision of her sitting on the chair, or her bed, or something, playing solitaire, or the computer version of sudoku, or some Sim game, and smiling and being happy. That happy little girl who you can see in the pictures from Best Friends, or from the holiday parties. The one I remember. I thought that I could buy her happiness, and safety, and... well, I don't know.

But it didn't matter, in the end, did it?

She died anyway.

And her mac sits next to my bed, still named "JR's toy". I use it to check my email in the middle of the night when the demons wake me by scratching their claws down the window panes, leaving no sign of their passage beyond the smell of sulfur and hospitals in my sleep-sodden nostrils.

And I hate sudoku to this day.

So, please, if you care for me, don't play it near me.

Money changes everything
--Cyndi Lauper

Cyndi got it wrong. Or perhaps she's just incomplete. Money may, indeed, change some things. But death changes everything.

I spent an hour talking to a colleague about my future. It was an odd conversation, as we spent a large portion of the time talking about the past ... he asked me how I was doing about Jeanne. And actually seemed to care. Nobody really cares -- people just want you to answer "oh, I'm fine."

Well, except the folks around who get off on your weakness. The predators want you to tell them your every weakness so they can "help" you. Watch for them. They are often charming, engaging, and interesting. And they might be in your family. Or maybe in your house. Or maybe in your brightly colored shoes.

But in this case, the colleague wasn't a predator, he was genuinely wanting to understand whether my future was simply an unstable reaction to my past. Not an unreasonable line of inquiry, actually. Can't blame him. In the course of that discussion, my colleague mentioned that people don't age through time -- really. He asserted that we age through events. And that JR's event has aged me. He said he found me simultaneously more serious and sensitive. Somehow those two felt contradictory, at first anyway. I don't know why, "serious" somehow implies a loss of humor, a loss of emotion, a loss of ... sensitivity.

But on the other hand, I am still touched by sadness, regularly. I am more afraid of missing an opportunity -- you may, indeed, never pass this way again. SL and I spent an evening in Los Angeles not long ago. We drove by Santa Monica. There is a ferris wheel on the Santa Monica pier. It looks like a baby wheel -- not very large, but the view of the Pacific must be amazing. JR wanted to ride on it, on her last trip to LA. We didn't. SL saw the wheel, and wanted to ride it.

In my life, I have this weird tendency -- I don't want to try new things. Normally, I'd come up with some excuse not to do anything new. It's weird. I'm the most conservative anarchist you will ever meet. Anyway, not this time. I felt that resistance rise up in my breast... and resolutely shoved it back down, rapidly turned the car around to find a parking space and we went towards the Ferris Wheel.

It was closed when we got there. Sometimes, truly, your intentions don't matter.

I know that more now. I often find myself saying "goodbye" instead of "see you later". What if you don't? And I try not to hold grudges. What if something happens?

And I resist my urge to never do anything new. I rode a ferris wheel -- my first one, perhaps -- with SL at a company event. All around were children and their parents, looking very oddly at SL and I. I teared up.

My intentions were right. And so were my actions. For today.

That shall have to be sufficient.