Wednesday, July 02, 2008

You're Doing Fabulously

The smoke has arrived from California; the sky at its rim is a dingy, smudged, yellowish gray. Gray sky here in Oregon is no novelty, but that particular shade is different, and disquieting.

My supervisor is leaving the Foundation, to run the database for a much bigger, international non-profit. We have our little "party" for her today -- one of those odd little events when we all sit around the conference table for half an hour and chat, and praise the admin's discernment in treats. These affairs were really dismal in software companies, where people-skills were rare -- a dozen male programmers awkwardly loitering together eating spongy cake, all twitchy, longing to be back in their cubicles, one or two managers making what they hoped were team-building gestures and being resolutely jolly. But even here, in a fundraising office, where people-skills are the stock-in-trade, it will be a bit funereal. The card the admin bought had a black envelope, something nobody but me noticed; I guess the significance of black in correspondence has dwindled away, since the years when you were notified of your son's death in Vietnam by a black-edged letter. But it was appropriate to my feelings.

I'll be tempted to lift up my head and howl, like Hagrid when they have to leave the infant Harry Potter on the doorstep. I'm devoted to Faith, but it's more than that: she's been the living symbol, for me, of leaving the corporate software world, of appearing in the world exactly as what I am. I want nothing at the Foundation to change, which of course is very foolish, since change is what it represented to me: that's how fast we set about walling ourselves in again, once we've broken out. I know that. Still. I took to Faith immediately. At the first set of interviews, when a couple people were leaving and another had not yet come in, I said to her, sotto voce, "this is what I'm worst at in the world, talking to strangers." Not something I could conceivably have said to anyone, in my former life, let alone to a stranger. She smiled with quick comprehension and said "you're doing fabulously."

There's the difference between the world in which I used to work and where I work now. Taking care of each other emotionally is simply assumed to be part of working together. The level of interpersonal intelligence is extraordinarily high. Checking in, making sure there's no hurt feelings, making sure people know you appreciate what they're doing for you, that you know how hard they're working -- we all do it. There was no lack of good will or kindliness at the software companies I worked at. But nobody knew how to apply them. And it matters, it matters deeply, over time. You need to hear it, out loud. "You're doing fabulously."

Oh dear. I'll miss her terribly.

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