I Typed Too Soon (update)

Here is an update to this post.

Yesterday about five minutes before a project review meeting with my counterpart, I received an email from my recruiter letting me know my contract wouldn’t be extended. I sat down a little shellshocked, particularly because my recruiters seemed so sure I’d be staying through April. My counterpart is also a contractor, though she’s been there for a long time and is in talks with HR to join the team as staff. I confided in her right away that I hadn’t had my contract extended and we talked about it for half an hour, before even touching our work. She ended our meeting with a hand on my shoulder and her sincere empathy.

The UX team welcomed me not as a temporary contractor, but as another team member. They included me on lunches, events, meetings, jokes, and research outings. We’ve connected, had great conversations, I am learning so much. But now it’s coming to an end sometime in the next two or three weeks. After I read the email I was, for the first time in a long time, heartbroken.

To be honest, at some point in the last week I started to get the feeling that I wouldn’t be staying and tiny as the feeling it was, began to prepare for the disappointment. The signs were there: My project meetings had been pushed off and cut short, I wasn’t invited to design sprints and concept exercises, the time and attention from others that I needed in order to successfully do the work I’d been assigned wasn’t there, and something told me not to upload my photo on the team Trello board until the extended contract had been drafted and signed. I did sign a congrats card or two but I didn’t chip in for the gifts.

They brought me in to cover for someone who was on leave while dealing with Visa issues, “for a few weeks” which turned into a few weeks more, then the option to be extended. I was a band-aid from the start, and I didn’t realize how advanced the work would be that I was dropped into. In fact, it wasn’t until yesterday’s meeting, four weeks into my contract, that key components of procedure and resources were finally shared with me. In the interview, my now-manager complimented me on the wireframes in my portfolio but when I worked the same way for the assigned project, was told they weren’t done in company style (“There’s a company style?” she asked, confused). In fact, during yesterday’s meeting with my coworker, she showed me for the first time, some procedural site design style sheets I’d never seen in the three weeks I’d had the project; key elements to succeed in the assignments they gave me were missing for weeks and no one thought to show me how they do the work. They’ve dropped the ball during my time there, it hasn’t been all rainbows and bon bons, but I was so thrilled to be there, I forgave and smiled.

Last week I was invited to a group lunch to welcome the newest (permanent) hire and in the invitation, I was included as part of the new blood. My gut told me not to go and celebrate, so I let the lunch planner know that my future was yet unclear and I felt uncomfortable being welcomed if I was leaving. Good thing because as I saw the group walk down the hallway to exit the building, noticed one of the directors was in attendance, and she surely must have known about the email I had yet to receive, since she’s been out of office on recruitment lunches for a week and a half. How foolish I’d have felt had I gone, only to return to that email.

I was seeing a fantastic therapist for about a year before we moved out of Chicago. I will readily admit it, I think therapy is great when you find the right person. I’d seen a few before and they never challenged me or held up a mirror in the way I needed, until her. She was truly great and I miss her so much, there is a lot I wish I could talk to her about.

In our sessions, she helped me to realize that I often keep one foot in the cynical world no matter the situation, so I can never be shocked when something crappy happens. At the same time however, when that crappy thing does happen, I beat myself up with something that sounds a lot like, “I should have seen that coming, I’m an idiot for letting myself get excited about ____”.

This was no different. I immediately felt foolish going on about how thrilled I was at the job, and how much I looked forward to work after years, YEARS, of never feeling that way. It was everything I wanted: casual dress, a short commute, frequent and authorized work from home, a warm and excellent program director, and friendly coworkers I actually wanted to hang out with. I tweeted about it, posted a job change to Facebook, bought a new laptop bag. Then… poof. I tried my best to keep the evil voices out that afternoon, “You’re terrible at UX and they don’t want you”, “You should go back to graphic design”, “You should have seen this coming and not gotten so attached”, and while my recruiter insists it’s a budget decision, that they can’t spend to keep me longer, and they only want senior level UX Designers for the team which I am not yet, that’s only a small consolation. There’s literally nothing I can do about my skill set, though I am trying to get better (and I have my opinions about ditching excited and skilled junior staff for the sake of habit-established senior) and I can’t help a budget.

Today, I decided to work from home and give myself a mental break. I’m updating my portfolio and resume, I’m sifting through recruiter emails and LinkedIn jobs, and all the while I just feel… sad. Just sad.

 

 

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PTSD and Learning the Ropes

I started a new UX contract position three weeks ago at a bank based here in central Ohio. It wasn’t at all the environment I thought I’d be in, you think bank and you picture suits, stuffy communication, cubicles, and the lamest lame that ever lamed. I am elated to report that this has not been that. At all. In the least.

While the rest of the company are in cubicles, walled off and cloistered, my IT team and I are in open pods. Desks facing each other to form a six-armed creative beast, chatting or earphones, standing or sitting. Oh, and we wear jeans. No one else there wears jeans, except on Fridays. It’s not an official law but we are overlooked and for that, I am grateful. Our director is open, kind, contributes frequently, and clearly values his carefully crafted team. Co-workers are left to design, build, create, fail, try again, present, and communicate freely. Some come in at 9 and leave at 4. Some come in at 10 and leave at 1 to finish the day at home. No one bats an eye, everyone is trusted to be adults and do the work. I’ve worked from home two days this week to absolutely no guff (on my brand new, gorgeous, company-supplied MacBook Pro).

This is – without hyperbole – the polar opposite of my previous employer. Most of them, actually. That adage about if managers and owners trust employees and treat them well, they won’t leave? That’s true. Several of my coworkers are contracted, like I am. I don’t know if they’ve been offered a job to stay on, but I know two have but haven’t accepted because they like the freedom of contract work. But it also means they’ve stayed on, uninsured, because they enjoy it there.

While the first few weeks were a little confusing and frustrating, I joined a team already well meshed and with projects in process, I learned the vibe of the group and learned to speak up with questions. I attend every meeting which could possibly teach me more or a new thing, and at my first user testing day a few weeks ago, I just sat there and soaked it in. It’s happening! I tried so hard to break into dedicated, professional UX and finally, someone let down the rope. They’ve made me feel part of the team, my manager is friendly and helpful, and the team members seem to really enjoy one another. Every day, something happens where I stand there boggled at what a difference this is compared to my previous work experiences. It’s a little like college. Yes, it’s about the job but it’s about so much more than the job, too. It’s about what you learn and what you bring in.

The UX conversations themselves are fascinating. Everyone in the room is a detail person, considerate of those around them, and concerned that communication is clear and with good intention. Problem-solving and finding ways to do things better, it’s what Interaction Design is about and its designers and writers reflect that. It’s a breath of fresh, safe employment air.

I have always been a lone wolf at every job (either my preference or accident) and I’m the first to admit that I don’t always do well in groups that I am not running. I feel insecure at their established bonds, not in on the joke, and uncomfortable at the idea of inserting myself into a group that may not want me. This is thinking and behavior that is dyed in the wool, and my new environment is challenging me daily to take out my earphones, ask someone a question that could lead to a non-work conversation, and find ways to get involved. I feel awkward doing those things, but I know that’s how the group bonded in the first place and I want to be part of them.

But because every silver lining has a touch of gray, a lunch I had with my recruiters last week left me feeling like an offer was surely coming, but two days ago they let me know that as the team is growing, the bank is interviewing and hiring (which they said was “due diligence”), and my future there is not, in fact, certain. If they offer a contract extension, it will be for six months. That will carry me through the holidays, a planned trip to New Orleans with a friend, and into April. That is more than enough time to get to Sr. Designer level, if I were to leave the bank. But the fear is that they will pass me over for those with more experience, in spite of being told I’m doing well and they like me there. Anxiety is always lurking in the corner and even when happy in my work, this is no different.

Sorry to end on a down note, it’s the piece of reality I need to keep with me to keep from being caught off guard. Fingers crossed that the next update involves a contract extension and so much more to learn.

Impostor Syndrome and Interviews

Painting delivered to great success. I haven’t given up the plan to make more but as of yesterday at 5 pm, I am scheduled for three interviews this week and they are getting all of my attention.

The first of three is later this afternoon. I’ll be meeting with six people over two and a half hours so I’ve spent the last day stalking the interviewers in LinkedIn, as you do, and cruising the company’s website to see where the problems might lie or where improvements might be made, in case they ask. I’m interviewing for a UX position in the e-commerce department and as I went through the motions of purchasing a pair of pants, I discovered broken code, confusing icons, and a lot of wasted space on the page. Perfect.

Some companies set up their interview procedures to be highly organized, full of detail and prep information, and appear to know what they’re hoping to get out of the day. Today’s is one of those. I’m told they’ve been looking for a month and haven’t spoken to too many people so this being the third interaction we’ve had and first in-person, I feel pretty far down the process and that may be a great sign.*

Cue the nerves. I don’t really get nervous for interviews anymore. Sometimes my gut feeling heads me off at the pass and I don’t invest too much ahead of time, other times I have a good (or no) feeling about an interview and the need or desire to impress is greater than the intuition about an outcome. That’s where I’m at now. As soon as I start going over technical interview questions and preparing for what they might ask or have me demonstrate, the tiny little voice starts to poke me in the ear canal: *You’re not good enough in your skills for this job and you don’t deserve it yet.

Imposter Syndrome is a real thing among a lot of professionals in most fields, which can be summed up in that one simple sentence shown above. No matter how much experience or years of practice, good work, awards won, teams contributed to, that little voice persists. I came across an article today on LinkedIn (which I barely look at, I kind of hate that site and only have it for professional reasons) that suggests maybe Imposter Syndrome isn’t the worst thing and in some cases, can even help:

“That brings us back to Impostor Syndrome. The 70% of us who have it? We might be the only hope to end the scourge of Expert Syndrome.

We need to take an ironic first step: we need to pretend we have confidence. When it comes to displaying confidence, we actually need to become the impostors we think we are.”

So with that, I dive back into my document of prep questions and scribble them in my trusty interview companion Molskine. I hope they spawn great conversation and learn things I actually want to learn about the company rather than drive away, wishing I’d remembered to mention or ask about a few key points.

I should add, the interview is for a major fashion chain so I’ve spent more than a few moments wondering what to wear. Typically I go for a slightly funky or quirky piece paired with classic or conservative staple items. This time, I’m going monochromatic gray and black, and I’m wearing boots in spite of a 90 degree late September day (what is UP with this heat?!) but for a bit of flair, I’ll add a fun flower pin to my black top, so they know they’re dealing with a creative. When in doubt, go classic.

Wish me some luck.

Trading Pixels for Oil Paints

For a few reasons, one of which is a wedding present, I picked my oil paints back up again after a four-year hiatus. In truth, the last time I went at them with sincere dedication was during a particularly broke Christmas, when all I had to give was my time and skill. Almost everyone in my family that year, got a painting. Of all of them, I’m really only proud of one, the rest I cringe when I see and fight the urge to ask if I can take home to improve.

To say that I’m rusty is fair, and to say that it’s like riding a bike is also fair. The wrist action and cleanup come right back, and true to form about halfway through a day of painting, I curse my choice to work in oils rather than acrylics.

Presently, I’m working on a portrait of Gomez, a friend’s Boston Terrier. Gomez’s mom is getting married in 10 days, and all I 20170913_115057can do is pray the paint will be dry enough to transport the work with minimal issues. I should have started earlier, I think about twice a day as I work on it. A particularly bitter thought considering I had this present idea exactly six weeks ago when the invitation arrived. Sigh.

Currently, Gomez’s face is about 50% painted and at some point, I realized his eyes weren’t right. One was, the other was not. I painted over the eye that was giving me trouble and will revisit it when that part dries. Then I stepped back and really looked at his ears. Not right either, too short.

 

Why didn’t I grid the painting and picture before starting? Again, the inner voice begins its familiar flog.

I lost natural light around 4:30 in the afternoon and when the light bulb hue and fixture glares started to interfere, so I stopped work for the day. I picked up a blank canvas and my ruler. The next portrait, I’m gridding. Take that, inner jerk. I chose the photo of my next subject and got out the guidelines in Illustrator. Using a grid, there was no way my mind was going to trick my eye into seeing what wasn’t really there like it was doing with Gomez.

I’ve heard digital designers say that they had no previous art experience before learning to design on computers. This has always troubled me and made me sad, a bit like the loss of teaching cursive and home ec. For one thing, if someone is a creative, presumably they’ve been a creative life-long,  and so somewhere out there surely was another creative pursuit to draw from, right? It is a corner of the brain that has to be used and stretched. If I didn’t have a lifetime of fine art experience, it’s hard to imagine what kind of designer I’d really be aside from a by-the-book one (and I’ve met a few of those).

20170913_182820.jpgI realized, after I painted over Gomez’s eye and the fear set in, perhaps the best thing about switching gears between digital art and fine art, is that they both share a skill for which digital design is synonymous: Problem solving. Something’s not working? Step back, analyze, adjust, proceed. When it happens in digital designs, sometimes I just wipe out the work and start all over (crtl+z is the best lifesaver around) but with paint or any other physical medium, that’s not always an option. Erasing Gomez’s eye to create a new one would have taken seconds on the computer but in oil paint? Now I need to wait for that little section to be touch-dry enough to work on it again. It was a decision that added two more days, at least, to my project. Oil pants, by the way, have anywhere from a five to 10-day dry time once the last bit is on the canvas. It’s a long game, to be sure. What a huge departure from digital work, which can be done in a matter of hours and sometimes days, and requires no setup or cleanup!

All art is a lesson in deliberate choices and forced patience, some mediums more than others. And like in life, when in doubt, stop before you’ve gone too far to turn back without risking the entire piece.

Gomez final

Gomez, complete.

Intuition When Logic Protests

quote

I was working with a recruiter, I suppose maybe I still might be, who set me up on an interview with a company based here in Columbus for a “UX position”. From our first conversation, my recruiter let me know that the woman doing the interview would also the boss, and she felt it was significant that I’d been granted an interview because the boss lady had tossed out a lot of candidates up to that point.

The experience just getting to the building was a harbinger of sorts. I drove 30 minutes to the industrial park the office was supposedly located in. My GPS guided me to a parking lot with huge buildings, all showing the wrong street numbers from what I should have seen. I reset the GPS to the same result, I was in the general area but no streets showed, just gray blobs denoting parking lots. I took a chance and went into one of the doors and was directed to a different building around back. It seemed correct but there were no street signs and no address numbers so I took a chance and went in, luckily I was early and it was correct.

Our interview went well, we went through my portfolio and she told me about the position. The more she described it however, the more red flags began to pop up. She required one program be used, the program she uses, which I am not proficient in. The work was already done, she said, and just needed to be set up into the required prototyping program*. I waited for the keywords of typical UX to cross the table but they never came. Among the descriptions and basic timeline of work, she let me know in not terribly subtle ways that she was not happy with the company. The creative department is housed under marketing, which is a terrible idea, she was alone in the position and her help had just quit. She would hire two of the five contractors she planned to bring in, and the contract would be for two months with an offer coming shortly after. She spends much more time than anyone should, creating almost complete prototypes of her designs to give to her developers, because three out of the four were bad and needed that much hand-holding to produce accurate work (this revelation housed like, four red flags all on its own). Her calender was 80% full two months out, she had no more time to do the work herself and needed help, yesterday. By the time our conversation was over, we’d connected on a few items but mostly I had a stack of questions and warnings about her working style and the company both. In spite of that, as I drove away I felt an offer would be coming that day.

When I returned home, I sent an email to my recruiter to let her know of my concerns, which were plenty. I let her know that the required program wasn’t listed anywhere in the job description (and had it been, I’d have bowed out before wasting anyone’s time), that without any additional design help, we’d be a team of two so she likely would have deep expectations about that software straight away which could spell disaster, and above all, the impression she gave of the company simply was not good and she didn’t really hold back letting me know that. I’d had a bad feeling about the position from the very first mention of it, and that feeling only grew after learning more. I told my recruiter that I wanted to keep looking. She called me within five minutes of receiving the email to let me know an offer had been extended.

She assured me that the woman was excellent to work with, she treats her coworkers like rock stars and I would get all kinds of credit for helping to build the team. The permanent hire offer and salary which would likely come after two months was staggering and I briefly figured I could put up with anything at that point, and while she admitted that the expectations for using one program was a blindside, she encouraged me to give it a day and remember that the contract itself was only for two months so if I wanted to leave then, I could without harm or foul. That caveat along with some thoughts and advice from trusted people, I decided the next day to accept the offer.

Two mornings later, I realized I’d been carrying around a heavy ick. I was supposed to finish some paperwork and take a drug test but something told me to postpone it, so I did. After much thought and an unexpected call from a hiring manager at another company I applied to wherein our brief talk the fit seemed legions better, I realized I needed to trust my gut and pass on the job I’d been offered. Those two months of trial simply carried no real weight. As soon as I had that thought, my shoulders lifted and I felt better than I had since even before the interview. I talked to D about changing my mind, that we wouldn’t have a guaranteed additional income soon after all, and that I needed to continue the search. He gave me his full support.

I called my recruiter and told her I was having serious reservations about the position (which mind you, I’d already said a few times and a few ways), that ultimately I was going to have to pass on it, and that I was sorry for the waste of time. She got pissy with me almost immediately. Her tone changed and she asked if I would still be needing her services, and if I’d been speaking to other recruiters. I assured her this was a clear headed decision and I’d like to still work with her going forward but that I had intended to keep looking on my own as well. Her goodbye was barely that before she hung up. I figured there’s a good chance that’s the last time I’d hear from her, and while I was indeed sad to possibly break that connection, I had to remind myself that she deflected or attempted to change every reservation and red flag I mentioned to her. Aside from some other issues like poor communication and blowing up my phone several times a day rather than calling or texting me, I had to face the fact that she is perhaps early in her career and doesn’t yet know that as a recruiter, the person she’s placing has to be a good and right fit or it’s bad for everyone. She took it personally rather than professionally, and that is a shame.

Nothing about this decision was rational. The money was there and would have been great. It could have lead to many other opportunities if my recruiter is to believed, by having this company on my resume. It would have meant a likely offer in two months unless something went seriously sideways, and more money than I’d ever seen in my working life.

But it was wrong, everything about it felt wrong. It was a bad scenario and two months with a built-in out or not, the moment I decided not to take it, I knew that was the right decision. I know something will come soon, I reached out to four more recruiters after we hung up and corresponded with two of them. An opportunity is out there, a better fit, and the lesson in all this is to never try to out-think intuition because it will always win, one way or the other.

*general school of thought for UX notes that whatever tool gets the job done, is ok to use. As soon as a company specifies exactly which tool needs to be used, it becomes a question of micro-management, licensing, accessibility, or a sturdy refusal to let the designer use what works best for them. In the case of this position, the program is a hearty but outdated prototyping program. It’s great for a lot of things, but to be proficient in it would definitely require a heads up in the job description, since many designers are proficient in newer, updated programs.

My Dog is Sick

Fred came into our lives in a surprising and totally unplanned way.

In August of 2015, our friends Cindy and her daughter were driving around the northwest side of Chicago when they glimpsed a scruffy, scared mess of a dog zigzagging across the street, with a man giving chase. Being the sort of people they are with warm hearts and arms open for the action, they travel with a leash in their van seemingly for moments such as that. They pulled over, jumped out, and rushed at the man who by now was holding a squirming Fred and probably happy to hand him off. Cindy quickly put the leash around his neck and comforted him, thanked the man, and deposited the dog into their van, then headed back to the building we both lived in.

D’s phone rang that evening and on the other line was Cindy, who knew D had a history of rescuing animals and a soft heart. She told him about the dog they’d found, that they had his chip scanned at a vet which came back with only three pieces of information: A chip implant date of January 2008, a non-working phone number, and a name, “Scruffy”. They gave him a bath to rinse off some of the dirt he’d accumulated, cut his hair to rid him of knots and mats, one of which rubbed his eyeball enough to cause a corneal abrasion. Aside from being somewhat overweight, the vet told Cindy he was in relatively good shape for apparently being abandoned and on the street. So now they have this little freaked out dog who is avoiding everyone but Cindy, and the thing is, they’re going out of town on a 10-day trip pretty soon, and would we mind fostering him for that time?

D and I had been married for all of two months by that point, and lived in a studio apartment. I hadn’t been around a live-in dog since my family dog who we had from when I was 3 to 18, and I was not friends with her. I had no clue about dog ownership or fostering, behavior, feeding, going out habits, you name it. D however, had fostered many in his day and loved them dearly. When we met, he had a rescue pit named Jorah who he loved deeply but who was wild. Sweet but nuts. The place we lived “didn’t allow dogs”(read: Pits), we couldn’t afford to move to a new apartment, and every attempt to re-home Jorah fell through. Heartbreakingly, we gave him up to a shelter, which was one of the worst things I’ve ever been through and possibly the only thing to date that garnered so much judgment from others. It was a terrible situation and we weren’t quite healed from it (we may never be, really). So wounds were still open and Jorah still got some of our tears, then all the sudden there’s this ball of shivering fluff in our living room.

I sat on the couch and watched as D sat across from Scruffy (who wasn’t yet “Fred”) and slowly moved closer as he fed him little treats to gain his trust. After some time, D could sit next to Fred without Fred running away from him or moving to the other side of the room. I don’t remember him interacting with me, I was still deep in observation mode and didn’t want to overwhelm him. We took him for a walk in the rain that evening, renamed him en route, and when we brought him back home, I grabbed a ratty beach towel and wiped him down. I pulled him up on my lap and dried off his chest, his feet and his face. I dropped the towel and he stayed put. So there we sat, Fred taking in his surroundings on my lap and me taking in Fred.

In the following days, we learned he had separation anxiety particularly at night, when we crawled into our lofted bed and he stayed in his bed, out of sight. He cried and whined, and I’m sure D went down to comfort him and sleep next to him against both of our better judgments. He barked whenever we left our apartment, seemingly the entire time we were gone because upon our returns, we could hear him from the elevator (our unit was next to it). We thought he would be miserable the entire 10 days, what had we gotten ourselves into with this poor thing?

Then the night came: D was going to go hang out with his friends and I’d be alone, with Fred. Just me and this dog, who hadn’t really bonded and didn’t quite know what to do with one another. In truth, I wasn’t really a dog person. I appreciated them from a distance, but I never wanted one and didn’t know how to just be with one. I was hesitant to bring Fred into our home for a lot of reasons, mostly based in non-understanding of the animal. After D left and I settled onto the couch with the blanket and Roku, Fred appeared. He lept up, settled into the little spoon position, and slept. Hard. He snored. I was filled with a feeling of nurturing and affection that took me by surprise. Here was this scared, nervous dog and he chose to settle in next to me and rest, maybe his first solid rest since he arrived in our building. I remember having to pee so badly but I didn’t dare move until D came home to take him out.

Those 10 days passed without incident apart from re-naming and the birth of a dozen nicknames which have all stuck to this day. Cindy and her family returned and asked how it had gone, by then we were smitten and Fred was adjusting so we decided he should stay with us. The building had a moratorium on new dogs, ostensibly due to allergies and safety, but we concluded this was more them covering their behinds in their rejection of Jorah. Also, D and I intended to move out in the fall, and it wasn’t worth the fight for anyone. As life had it, our plans were pushed to the spring and we weren’t able to move out until May, and by then Fred was firmly entrenched in the apartment and in the hearts of those who met him. The anxiety barking stopped, he slept comfortably both on the couch and with us depending on the mood, and we got pretty good at bathing him in a tiny bathroom.

Let me tell you a bit about my friend Fred: He, and his breed from what I understand, are mellow. Meh-low. They were bred to be lapdogs, have low prey drive (meaning they don’t fetch, YOU fetch), they are way into naps, and are the sweetest creatures in general. Fred’s smart. He has a dignified, almost aloof air about him. He caught onto commands quickly and aside from occasional stubborn streaks (also built into the breed), doesn’t hang around with his mouth open and tongue out, waiting to please. Due to this discernment, we refer to him as our “weird furry roommate”, when almost everyone else refers to him as our child, or we as his parents. Nothing about that feels right, he came to us as an old man, he’s now in his mid-50s. He’s not our child, but we snuggle him as if he was. I should note, he does this adorable thing where he leans into you and tips his head to lean on you, and stares into your eyes. It’s too much to take sometimes, and I coo at him like he was a baby. He doesn’t seem to mind, just don’t put your face right up to his or touch his feet, he’s not into that. At all.

Fred’s allergies started to bother him in the fall of ’16 so we began giving him a half Benadryl as needed at the urging of our vet. They made him sleepy and lethargic but they do that to everyone, right? One day, I came home from work to find D upset that Fred had behaved strangely while I was gone. He was shaking and confused, and didn’t seem to know where he was, but was responding to D’s voice. It passed within minutes, but Fred wasn’t himself for the rest of the day, sleepy and withdrawn. After some research, we thought perhaps he had vestibular disease, common in older dogs, and the symptoms seemed to fit. It’s untreatable and incurable, so we kept an eye on him and made sure he was comfortable and safe when the rare moments occurred.

By late winter of this year, he was having those incidents once every two or three months, so we let our vet know and made an appointment for March. Right away, she ruled out vestibular disease. She called Fred’s moments “seizures”, which neither of us were keen on since we’ve both had dogs that had terrible grand mal seizures and these were not those. She hesitantly suggested a very unlikely and extremely rare cancer called insulinoma. She asked us to get Fred an ultrasound and suggested we space his feedings throughout the day rather than two large feedings per day, and to keep her posted. We made the changes to his eating times and he seemed to bounce back immediately. His energy was so high, he acted like a whole new (young) dog, which have us hope he’d be just fine. We made the ultrasound appointment for April, in the midst of our decision to move to Ohio.

Sure enough, the ultrasound came back indicating a very small 2 mm insulinoma or in other words, pancreatic cancer. The ultrasound tech was not a doctor and could not offer much medical advice, just a basic “what’s next” list of options, some of which included: exploratory surgery, a CT scan, actual surgery, and possibly radiation afterward. We sat quietly, holding sleepy Fred and his shorn belly. D cried, I retreated into my intellect and asked questions while I took notes on my phone. We drove home in silence, cradling our sweet boy. When we got back to the house, D hopped on his computer while I sat on the couch and we began to research. What was the cost? What was the likely outcome? What is his stage and prognosis? How much worse can it get?

The answers came slowly but clearly: Too expensive, surgical outcome is only 40% successful with likely inevitable metastasis, and when it finally grows, it moves very fast. “Quality of Life” becomes a conversation within a year. It was April. How much time did we have from then? How long had he had this thing lurking in there? There were tears, D’s company is amazing and let him have the day off with pay, my boss let me take the following day off (without pay, less amazing). We knew that there were too many physical and financial risks to surgery, and our focus had to be keeping him as happy and healthy as possible, for as long as we have him. We decided to shelve the conversation until we got to Ohio.

It turned out that the seizures weren’t exactly that, but rather tremors from hypoglycemia, a side effect of his type of cancer and a marker for its progression. In the last two weeks, Fred had had two tremors but both were minor and fixed quickly by a finger of honey each time. I called the vet to get him in, that was more than he’d ever had close together in the last year.

His first appointment with his new vet was August 29th, Fred’s “Gotcha Day”. She’s no nonsense, to the point, and confirmed the ultrasound’s results while adding that she hadn’t seen an insulinoma since vet school and even then, she’d only ever heard of them in big dogs, and it was strange territory she’d have to research more. In the meantime, to slow it down and keep his weight evened out, she prescribed Prednisone and asked that we check in with her in two weeks, and to note any tremors should they happen in that time. She put Fred’s prognosis at about one year, give or take. She guessed that may be accurate because of how quickly his symptoms seem to have advanced just in the five months since the ultrasound. More tears, another quiet drive home. Except this time, there was no more research to be done.

So here we are. Giving Fred, this amazing, best-dog-on-earth, furball the most comfort, love, and reassurance that we can. He has no idea this is happening and aside from watching us cry from time to time, thinks nothing is wrong in the world.

Reluctant Money-Grubbing Slug

Three days into week #3 at my contracted UX gig and a few things have come to light: The reason I found myself working then sitting and waiting for hours to talk to the Director about that work, is because the client is not high priority (read: we’re doing free work) therefore the UX I’m doing is also not high priority, particularly because I’m being paid by the client and not the agency (because the agency isn’t being paid, see). This has resulted in what will amount to about 104 billed hours but only about 10 actual working hours. I’ve been sitting around. A lot.

I’ve discovered something about myself in this barren wasteland where duty should live and that is: I want to work. Friends who are aware of my situation have reminded me that I’m in an ideal moment, being paid to job search, online learn, and poke around websites, oh and do occasional design as needed. But that’s not what I’m here for, it’s not what I’ve fought and studied and moved and worked for, for a year and a half. I want to do UX design. I want to work.

If I had to guess, I’d say 90% of humanity would love to be paid to sit and do basically nothing and I get that, I really do, but when I show up every single day at 9 am after driving in rush hour traffic with the worst drivers I’ve ever experienced, sit for eight hours doing anything I can do to keep myself occupied and entertained, then drive back home at 5 in that same traffic without a single thing to show for my time (but a paycheck), it kills my morale. I find myself getting jealous of the two graphic designers who sit near me, as they work on their stuff all day and every day.

It’s no one’s fault, not really. The client had unreasonable expectations for time and content, the agency had to bring me on to do work to show that client that it was happening. The client determined how much they’d pay me, not the agency. The Creative Director is crazy busy, I am but one plate spinning among many, but he simply hasn’t made time to speak to me about the project in two days and here I sit.

Lord help me, I don’t know how I will get through the next two days, 16 hours, of doing absolutely nothing but be online. Got any good websites for me, people? Anyone? Anyone at all? Sigh.