In a bunch of movies, there’s a scene where someone says, “It’s quiet.” And then ominously, someone else or even the same person will say, “Too quiet.” And then you find out that someone has been picked off by the serial killer or the kids are doing something they shouldn’t or generally all hell is about to break loose.
In the last week, three separate people have poked me on Facebook and said, “Hey. Your blog has been quiet. Too quiet. What’s going on?”.
The good news is almost nothing is going on. No massive bad news, no pending crises, no silent killers stalking my office. I haven’t been blogging for a combination of reasons. Some sort of Venn diagram where I’m in the middle of 5 competing circles.
Work has been crazy busy of late. I’m in an acting director position for what works out to eight months (complicated story in there of 6m, then 4m, then 6m, then 12m, then 8m in the end). The job itself is great, I would love to keep it, but that’s not entirely how life works, and life intervened heavily way back in January.
We’ve known Andrea has had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for five years, and the type she has, they don’t treat until symptoms show up. Well, they finally had enough symptoms to start treatment, just as I was starting my acting assignment. A few people have commented that it was sucky timing, but there’s a small nuance in there that I find interesting. They generally mean that it’s too bad that Andrea’s in treatment while I’m acting director. Except the nuance that is missed is that Andrea didn’t CHOOSE to do treatment now, I CHOSE to be acting director. The “variable” is me, not her. The issue is more that I made the decision to accept the acting director position before I knew she’d be in treatment.
But I had already accepted it, and if I had only that going on — i.e., the acting position — I would have knocked myself out to compete in any and every EX-01 competition I could find with the goal of making a pool and giving them the option of making me permanent. But with everything else going on in life, I didn’t have the extra bandwidth to compete in processes, to try to become an EX-01, to “go for the gold” so to speak.
And I’m okay with that. I don’t belief in regrets, but if I had to phrase it in that form, I would say that I wish I knew Andrea had been going into treatment, as I wouldn’t have taken the acting assignment. I know where my priorities lie, and I haven’t had the extra energy to really give my “all” to the acting experience.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m doing the job. That part is okay. And it has been really busy with some overtime on a few weekends, or late nights after dealing with other stuff in the day. We’re working on a major report due to be finalized in about six weeks, and then it’s just lots of approval stuff. It is a lot of work on top of a full job, and I do have to keep the lights on and trains running on other files while we put through the report.
I’ve done 80% of the job previously, but that extra 20% has been an interesting challenge, and I’ve enjoyed it. Not enough to say I want my EX-01 level for ANY job, but if I had a chance at specific jobs that were like the current one, I’d consider it.
And, yes, my wife has cancer. So there’s that. But that is not the giant time suck for me that you might think it would be. She’s on a four-week cycle — one week of chemo (appointment Tuesday, chemo Wednesday, chemo Thursday) — and during the week of treatment, there’s a lot going on. Jacob has been having problems with his legs and headaches, so I’ve been driving him to and from school most of the year. It’s about 25 minutes over and back, twice a day. During treatments, I also have to run Andrea to and from the hospital (I’m not allowed to go in).
The first month, I just took time off for the treatment days. The next four cycles, I’ve worked part days since I’m sitting around anyway. But the schedule is a bit fluid at times, simple things like appointments running late, and so there’s a bunch of juggling…can I get Jacob to school, then Andrea to the hospital, and get back home again to have a video meeting at 10:00? Or if I’m picking up Jacob at 3:20, what time will Andrea be done in the afternoon so that I could pick her up and then go get Jacob or get Jacob and then go get her?
Oddly enough, it isn’t the chauffeur duties or the juggling that is exactly the problem. It’s the bandwidth required to keep it all straight without stressing everyone else out too. Some days have been more successful than others when it comes to that. Sometimes we’ve had to reach out to friends, but even that is not always the simplest decision. Andrea is the priority, obviously. So what I really needed wass someone to pick up Jacob, not Andrea.
But then we would get into the dance of “Why can’t Jacob just take the bus?”. And admittedly he can. But it’s also going to stress him out quite a bit, struggling with a heavy backpack after a long day of school, and often with gym class just before he heads home. If he is running around for the full hour before school ends, then he’s often exhausted. There’s a reason why he missed almost a third of school this year for problems with his legs or headaches. Blood work, massage, counselling…it helps, but it doesn’t knock off the possible issues very fast. And if I’m prioritizing Andrea, then I would be trying to get someone to pick up Jacob, AND then I would have to explain WHY, which Jacob is a bit sensitive about. In an ideal world, I can cover all the appointments. In reality, it’s a source of stress for me.
But also a source of joy. I LIKE being able to take Jacob to and from school. I’m the first to ask how his day went and hear his summary, not second-hand after Mom already put him through the grilling. Yet when I can’t do it all, I feel like I’m letting him or Andrea down.
Fortunately, I haven’t had to compromise on the home life THAT much. In six months, I think we’ve used alternate transport three times. Maybe four. Not bad. I should be just taking those days off though, I fully admit. They often are complete sh**shows for scheduling. But work also serves as a distraction too some days. For the first three treatment cycles, Andrea was having trouble with one of the drugs. And I couldn’t be there after the first time. So she was on her own, I was worried about her, and sitting in the car outside twiddling my thumbs with nothing to do was not the best way to ensure I was in the right headspace.
The stress level is pretty high right now, even as Andrea emerges from the six-month treatment period. She’s completed five of the six treatments, they’ve ditched the one drug she kept having adverse reactions to, her symptoms are abating, and her stats look great. She’s still pretty tired and sleeping like crap after each treatment cycle, but she’s three weeks away from being done chemo and seven weeks from being done her primary treatment periods completely. She still has two things to be removed for injections and drainage, and she is REALLY looking forward to those.
But she has weathered the storm with some chauffeuring support, love and emotional/mental support, and a lot of company. Mostly she’s done it herself, she doesn’t NEED me that much to DO things, she’s pretty self-sufficient. Yet, as I said, the stress in the house is still high. Jacob finished grade 7 and is now home for the summer. For me? That’s a huge release as I don’t have to drive over to the school twice a day or even make him lunch in advance. It’s a sweet deal.
Family outings take up some time too, in a good way. We’ve also tried to re-emerge from our shell — both the cancer shell and the pandemic shell. Andrea can’t see people inside, and we cancelled a trip to the cottage this past weekend as there were going to be way too many people there for her safety and our comfort levels. Probably okay is not the same as safely okay. And afterwards, one tested positive for COVID, so yeah, not completely safe.
Instead of the cottage, we’re doing some family outings. A few weeks ago, we went to a friend’s house and sat in their backyard for an afternoon. For my birthday, one of my birthday twinsies came over and we had Thai food on the deck together. This past weekend, we went to fireworks at Arlington Woods on Friday night for Canada Day, played board games, went to Chelsea for mini-golf and ice-cream, went to Wakefield to see the covered bridge, and went to the twinsies’ house to use their neighbour’s pool and sit by the water and relax on Sunday. We also checked out the Golden Palace for dinner one night, testing out the claims for fantastic egg rolls (good, not awesome), sweet and sour pork (possibly the best I have ever had), pineapple shrimp (pretty solid), lemon chicken (definitely the best I have ever had, even with a bit too crispy skin), chop suey (meh, it’s chop suey), and pretty solid won ton soup offerings (I’ve been without a good source since our favourite Vietnamese place closed).
We’ve played more board games in general of late, trying to go for a walk regularly, watching some TV together (White Collar, American Ninja Warrior, West Wing), etc.
Aversion to the basement also plays a factor. Soooo, just over two years ago, when we started working from home, I moved my office to the basement. It wasn’t an option for Andrea and I to share the big office upstairs when both of us would be on the headsets regularly for video meetings, so Andrea kept the office, Jacob went to the first floor for his schooling with a separate desk and laptop setup, and I went to the basement.
I’ve tweaked my setup over the last two years, and I have a pretty great layout overall. One complete desk for my work computers, a three-monitor configuration (two monitors plus tablet laptop). And another for my home personal computer, with two monitors, full keyboard, laptop to the right, plus my scanner, and a printer over to the left. I’ve tweaked it a bit here and there, added a new printer not too long ago, and it all works.
But the problem is that I am working so much that by the end of the day, I just want to go upstairs and get “away from work”. Yet that same reprieve of going upstairs is also the same block to going back downstairs. There are things I SHOULD be doing, most of the days I just don’t feel like it.
Blogging isn’t the only thing. I’m even behind on opening and processing mail. A cheque I got back from the health claim company last fall just went stale as I never got around to depositing it — and I have MOBILE DEPOSITS. I literally just need to take a picture and it’s done. Nope, too much like work. And it piled up on the desk. This isn’t just a “me” problem, we were behind on filing our taxes too as we knew we had money coming to us, no penalty involved, so not super urgent. Andrea’s “free time” of late, plus her need to file for EI, sparked her to finish those for both of us. My other mail? I cleared it out recently, but I’m still behind on a few key things. Including following up on the health claim stuff.
I just don’t have the mental energy to go back downstairs at night to do anything. Instead, we eat late, finish close to 8:00, and then I tend to vegetate in front of the TV for a few hours with Andrea and sometimes Jacob, or read. What I don’t do is go back downstairs to get organized for anything productive.
Which is a long way around to saying I’m nowhere near my computer to do any blogging. Occasionally, at lunch time or after work, I will check on my email or FB feeds. Not actively, but long enough to pop in. Occasionally there are questions about HR on Reddit and I’ll chime in. Most of the time, it’s snoozefest.
I also decreased my social media footprint, as I blogged about earlier. I am an analytical introvert, so I’m not the type to have thousands of friends on FaceBook. I’ve often held it to around 100 people, and earlier this year, I was up to about 125-130 or so. Then I had the “incident” with an exchange with one of Andrea’s friends that carried over into my own relationship with Andrea. I decided such a trigger wasn’t worth the risk any more and so I did a social media purge. I liken it to some version of a FaceBook divorce. I cut ties with 100 or so people, generally people who were more Andrea’s friends and family than my own, and left mostly just my friends and immediate family. But in doing so, I also have far less “interaction” options with FB too. I’m out of a few groups that had me tied to the computer, I’ve joined a few others, yet overall, it is far less compelling than it used to be. I catch up maybe once a week and scroll through, or if something pops up in my notifications, otherwise I’m not really on there.
I also realized that some of my past blogging was almost driven by my social media engagement. I would decide to post something, for example, and change it to being a blog post instead. Or someone else’s post would trigger a thought for a blog post, and I’d write that. I used to share comics and things too, but with only about 25 people in my feed, some of the people I would “tag” in my sharing are no longer in my friends group.
It’s strange, I admit. Andrea has posted updates on how she’s doing with her cancer treatments, and I don’t see any of them. I don’t know what she’s telling people, or even how she’s framing it. A number of friends have shared updates on FB that she’s seen, but since I’m not online friends with them anymore, I hear nothing unless Andrea happens to mention it.
In a sense, my blogging was an innocent bystander of my social media reduction. Some of the things I would “share” are now shared with a much smaller group, and even fewer are likely to comment. Which means I’ve even questioned if keeping my blog going is worth it or not. Would it be missed if I killed it entirely and just left my HR guide running? I could even just share that on Reddit, it doesn’t really need its own website. But I ultimately end up in the same place each time. I like blogging, I like having it, so I keep it going. At least for now.
Even if I’m not that active right now.
And I’m okay with all of it. I’m hardly “zen”, but I’m not too fussed about it. I do what I need to do, the lights are on, trains are running, we’re surviving. I’m looking forward to a few upcoming milestones…
Jacob is off for two months, that’s a big change for all of us. I’m pushing for him to do things with his friends, even if it means I have to run him somewhere.
Andrea’s last chemo is in another two weeks. That’s pretty big. Sometime around then they’ll remove two insertions too, so that will make her feel better too.
My work project will be submitted in mid-August or so, if not sooner.
And I’ll take two weeks off in September. The timing isn’t perfect for Andrea and Jacob, he’ll be back in school, but I’ll take some holidays before then too, days here and there, maybe a week if the project is done.
But the big news for me was that although I don’t continue as acting Director, I accepted a new job with the Provincial / Territorial Labour Market Programs in our branch. We transfer billions — yep, with a b — to the PTs for labour market programming and then monitor what they do with it. Another division is responsible for the policy files, but my new division is responsible for the operations side. I had possible options to do a coordination role like what I’ve done before; perhaps a more technical function with systems and data that has some ties to things I’ve done before; or the one I actually went for, the team responsible for transferring the money and monitoring everything they do, a pseudo-program manager / policy manager / stakeholder relations manager function. I’ve been managing small teams since 2017, except for the division I’m currently managing (13 but with two managers handling day-to-day), and my new team will be 8-10, so a step up in responsibility of sorts. I like the director and the director general, so when they had an opening and an offer, I said yes.
That was a weird week, I confess. I found out on the previous Friday that the job that I had left and was theoretically moving back to was changing, and while I had A job waiting for me, the exact details were up in the air. I was totally comfortable going back, giving it a go, see if it was something I wanted or alternatively could turn it into something I liked. But I thought, “Why not poke around?”. See what else was out there.
I’ve blogged before that the last time I did a big job search in 2017, I was looking for something REALLY specific and it was pretty demoralizing to have little interest or take-up. The current environment? It’s way more of a seller’s market this time. I sent seven emails out and had four pretty strong expressions of interest, with three of the four going almost to full job offer instantly. Within two days I had three offers that I could have pursued, but the one I took firmed up even faster. I wonder if there was some part of me that was like “Thank god, take something, end the extra stress of a job search”, but I didn’t feel that way. It seems like a good match with my skills and experience, I like my new boss, I’ve known her for a while, everything seems like a good fit and it is definitely a solid job.
It’s more work than I would have been doing in the other positions, most likely, but that’s not a bad thing. Andrea and I met with a financial advisor recently, and I may not be retiring as soon as I had hoped. Depends a bit on our own goals and the market, I suppose, but we’ll revisit in a few years. So a big file is likely a good choice, something I can dig into for a few years potentially.
Soooooo if I look at the other mental draws on my time and energy, the circles that are intersecting around me, blogging isn’t ranking very highly these days. I barely remember to log in and check email. I like to aim for “inbox zero” fairly regularly, almost every week, and my regular inbox has hundreds of unfiled emails sitting in it. I’ve read them all, I think, mostly on my phone, but that doesn’t mean I respond immediately when something shows up. And I do find it hard to remember non-pressing commitments, even when they are in my calendar.
Yet I’d say I’m doing mostly okay. Even without taking much time to blog.
I have a few things that I’m worried about. I am REALLY emotional some days. In the middle of reading a YA novel, the death of a character (think Harry Potter and the first “good” character to die) almost wiped me out. TV shows can create waterworks. That often happens when I’m really tired (I’m sleeping like crap) or just completely stressed, or both.
Equally, I had a weird-ass dream last week — I was lucid dreaming, half awake / half asleep, I knew I was dreaming, and then out of the blue, the phone rang in my dream and it was my father calling, as he was dying, to ask for help. What the F*** was THAT? I haven’t been thinking about him or anything, and that event never happened, but wow. That could mess with your mind pretty fast. It didn’t, I woke myself up pretty fast to move away from the imagery, but that was weird.
Some days I do feel it is quiet, too quiet. Like in some ways I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. I don’t actually think any shoe WILL drop, I just know there are a few out there. In the meantime, I’m reading more, hanging out more with the family upstairs, and spending a lot less time on my computer. In the short-term, that’s generally a good thing. At least until I need some “me time” with my projects. I have a 3D printer I haven’t assembled yet. My goal is to get that done before I start the new job.