Saturday 6 February 2016

A Scowl To A Kiss

How a day can change.

I woke up at 5am one morning recently with a lot on my mind. There was nothing to be done but to get up and jog. Before leaving I checked my email and 20+ emails flooded in with pictures and problems on the house I’m trying (and failing) to renovate and re-let from the other side of the world. It’s been a pain for months and I spent 80% of my Christmas holiday trouble-shooting, scrubbing and organising tradesmen. But here I am again, seemingly mired in issues and hold-ups. This not only frustrates the project manager in me, and the live-events manager who delivers on commitments despite the difficulty of a deadline, but I am bleeding money with no end in sight.    

Meanwhile I am trying to stay focused on a project at work, with the pressure over the last couple of days mounting. I am covering for my boss while she is away too and don’t want to stuff it up. I have analysis to finish and powerpoint slides to prepare for an important meeting and want to get into the office early.

But hell, the time-difference to Australia is difficult with these kinds of things.  The mental disparity is jarring. And twenty-plus troublesome emails at 5am is too much. I really have to jog; jog fast. 

The exercise helps. The Thames is lovely in the pre-dawn, though I nearly slip over a few times on the damp and dark pavements. By 6.15am I am home and showered. Then I chance upon a Facebook message I do not need to see. It pertains to an ex who I do not want to be thinking about. And despite best efforts it gets under my skin. In fact it makes me hopping mad. As he is doing exactly the opposite of a thing I’ve asked him to do. And he’s doing it publicly, either because he intends to cheese me off or because he doesn’t care.  

Negative energy is not the way I normally start the day, but I feel it sucking me in. Murphy’s Law, how these things happen when you’re already feeling sensitive.

In five minutes I swing from the desire to ring him up to tell him what a selfish bastard he is.... to never wanting to see, hear or speak his name again. Oh that’s right, I no longer have his number. I hid it in such a good hiding place I’ve forgotten where. That was a good move. So there’s only bloody Facebook. Don’t you just hate FB sometimes. So I throw my iPad back in a drawer where it’s stayed ever since.  At least I’ve had the sense not to load FB on my phone. That way I can ignore it for extended intervals without effort. I’m firmly of the belief that if people really want to communicate they phone, text, or email (and even those I don’t have on my mobile). So I now need to get that rubbish completely out of my mind. It’s a bad use of my energy and exactly why I’m not waiting around for him anymore.

After rapidly answering messages about my Aussie house issues, I get to the office later than planned and feeling as tired as if I’ve already done a day’s work. I get stuck into the list of things I need to accomplish before 13.30pm.  It’s tight but if I stay focused I should just manage it. Then all sorts of other things come at me – dozens and dozens of enquiries I can’t possibly process in the timeframe of the current project. Colleagues appear at my desk too, various things all urgent in their own way, but none of them directly related to the work I’ve been tasked to deliver that day or by the end of the week. And unlike the damn people who should be looking after my house – the worst being the Body Corporate who after months of lobbying still haven’t fixed a roof leak – if I say I’m going to do something I bloody well do it. Somehow I have to hold back these other requests for attention and stay focused on priorities. Still I feel the pressure mounting. I care about doing a good job. But I’m not coping as well as I usually do.

There’s a moment of relief when I pop downstairs to get some data from colleagues and they notice I’m flagging.  “Anyone would think you have a lot on”, they tease.  “Agh” I reply, “it’s all very well being Speedy Julie... but this week I’m trying to be Speedy Julie and Speedy Debbie and my brain is about to explode”.  (Speedy Debbie is the affectionate name I give one of my bosses, both of them called Debbie and both tremendous women, professionally and personally.)  The image of my head exploding like a manic episode from The Young Ones brings a smile to my face. If I can just get this latest data into the slides in time for the 13.30 meeting, I can ask for guidance about the stuff threatening to derail me.  

I do get the meeting slides together. Just. I grab my lunch and head into the meeting room with piles of print outs. Various managers assemble and my other lovely boss, Quiet Debbie, takes the lead. This gives me a chance to eat. Oh yes. That’s better. Sugar reaches my needy veins. Like a pot-plant starved of water inwardly I start to revive. By the time it’s my turn to talk to a few points, I can structure my thoughts. Then something lovely happens. 

I honestly tell the group, including the Programme Director, that I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by what's landed in my in-box and ask for guidance re how to juggle the unexpected with the week’s agreed deadlines. As I say it, I feel the urge to cry. Nothing bad is going on. I’m just tired (a bit PMT) and can’t absorb anymore. For a change I’m not being Super Woman and ploughing on regardless of the effort to output ratio, I am genuinely asking for help. And I get it. They let me immediately off the hook. Individually and collectively they each give me a strategy for responding and an excuse if anyone complains. They are sympathetic. And seem to genuinely appreciate the work I’m doing – which I didn’t know I wanted to hear, but find myself feeling happy about it. They make jokes too, about the chaos we are collectively swimming through, and the discussion takes a few enjoyable turns as people look for suitable metaphors. It’s a good meeting. We get through the agenda, sharing wisdom, jokes and fears. I feel privileged, especially as a contractor, to have been allowed to make a contribution; to be so welcomed by the core planning team.

Phew.  Back at my desk I breathe. I get back on track with core tasks. And I’m grateful to be surrounded by such a terrific bunch of people.            

The rest of the day is comparatively quiet.  I’m approaching the challenges again with the positive energy which is my default – providing I protect and nourish it.

At the end of the day there is only Quiet Debbie, the Programme Director and myself left in the office. Something has just landed on his desk which is disappointing and they are discussing the pros and cons and ways they might respond. Instantly I recognise how much pressure this lovely man is under all the time – and will be until he/we deliver this massive change programme. How he keeps his cool a lot of the time is as mysterious as it is admirable. The programme is so lucky to have his calm and approachable influence. When he looks over the desk and says “it’s been a bad day”, I feel for him.  It is a moment of quiet sharing, and not the kind of thing you usually hear from him.  “It really has been a tough day” he continues, “one difficult meeting after another since 5am”.  Wow, I am not the only one - an important reminder when we forget that others too might be struggling. Then he smiles at me and says “except your meeting Julie, you make me laugh. I enjoyed your meeting”.  And suddenly I am moved and joyful. Quiet Debbie smiles too.  “What a lovely thing to say” I reply, “well, you took the pressure off me today when I needed it and I am very grateful, thank you”.  Our lunch meeting had been a little oasis, a refresher, in more ways than one.     

By then I’m putting on make-up and perfume so they guess I have a date. Well, I’ve already told Quiet Debbie ‘cause I’m rather looking forward to it. “Have a good time” they call out as I skip down the steps. I arrive in the meeting place first and order a beer. It’s good to have a few minutes to process such a full and varied day, and to get ready for what I think (but can’t be sure yet) is a first date.  We’ve only met once, had a couple of beers together and exchanged a couple of emails. That was a few weeks ago on the other side of the world and he’s just flown in to London. So I’m open and curious as to what this ‘date’ might or might not be. But of course I’ve dressed in something better than regular work gear and feeling a small flutter of expectation. 

Suddenly he’s beside my table and greets me with a warm hug.  In two minutes we are deep in conversation.  Hours pass between drinks, dinner, more drinks, until we are sitting back in the first venue beside an open fire and talking about when we might next see each other. It seems our new acquaintance is of mutual interest.  It is now 1am and the evening has flown. As a first date it is definitely a success. Comfortable. Engaging. Great conversation. Shared interests. Just enough flirtation to keep it interesting. And a lot of fun.    
It’s one of those evenings where it doesn’t matter what it is. It doesn’t matter what’s next. There’s no need to worry about anything. It’s just really nice.

So when we walk to a place where we can both catch a taxi, the goodnight kisses are a bonus. Mmmm.  The Sweet Kiss. Perfectly pitched. Perfectly appropriate to follow the evening we’ve shared. Perfectly given and received. Perfectly sweet. With no downside.

As he puts me in the taxi with another stolen kiss he says “don’t write about me”. This makes us both laugh.  Ah, To Kiss Or Not To Kiss.  I told you I always err on the yes side of that question!

Wow, how a day can change.  Good night and sweet dreams J

p.s. If you’ve read my book To Kiss Or Not To Kiss and haven’t already left me a review on Amazon, please do. You’ll find Author Central pages in the US, Aust and the UK.  Cheers.