Where everybody knows your name

One of the things I missed the most when I was travelling overseas was the sense of connection that I felt to my place and its people. The longer I was away from home, the more dislocated I felt. I wasn’t doing the usual OE and so didn’t go somewhere like London and simply make a new place. Instead I was travelling around a lot. Always a new city, new landmarks, new people.

Eventually I landed in Temecula, California and stayed put for three months. Because I had been yearning for familiarity, I made connections quickly. I got to know all the checkout ladies at the local supermarket, the bus driver knew me by name. The coffeemakers at Starbucks missed me if they didn’t see me every day. Even the maintenance  guy at the apartment complex would stop and chat with me most days.

I was reminded of this feeling of dislocation (and the contrasting sense of home) last night at dinner, and again this morning.

Last night Stephen and I went to Tulsi for dinner. We haven’t been there for ages, but we used to go all the time. We wandered in and the Maitre d’ greeted us warmly. He gave us a cosy booth and turned the heater on for me. Then he asked if I’d like my usual…”chicken tikka and a plain naan?”. It was so lovely to be remembered. When I paid the bill, he asked if we had moved out of town, and I had to break the news that no, we had in fact been visiting other establishments. Awkward moment.

This morning, I popped in to C1 for a morning tea muffin. Obviously I’ve done this more times than I am aware of, because the woman behind the counter greeted me with, “Hi, vegan muffin to go?”. It felt good to be familiar.

The Cult of Mac

My first encounter with an Apple computer was in the early 1980s when a friend of my mother’s came to visit from Canada and brought a Apple IIe with him. It was an amazing object to me. It seemed magical. And cool. I was nine. And my first impression of Apple products has been a lasting one.

It being the 1970s and then the 1980s, I didn’t have much of a chance to play with computers again for a while (except for a brief dalliance with a Commodore 64).

The next time I got my hands on a Mac was when I started university in 1995. It was a heady time for computing and for me. The internet was a new and amazing thing. I had my first encounter with Netscape. And I bought my first Mac from my brother for $1500. It was a Mac Classic, all-in-one unit with a 9″ monochrome screen. It had 4 megabytes of RAM, and a 40 megabyte hard drive. Needless to say, I loved it.

Mac Classic 1990-1993

It couldn’t run an internet browser, but it would connect to a 14k modem, so I could use it check this amazing new thing called electronic-mail. Very slowly. It was my constant companion through my undergrad years.

My next computer was a Power Mac 6100/66. It was a soulless beast. It had none of the charm of my beloved Classic. But the 6100 was a workhorse. Just what I needed to get me through my Honours and Masters years at uni. And it ran an internet browser, opening up the world for me and my children.

Power Mac 6100/66

Against everyone’s advice (“Apple is on it’s way out, they are obsolete/too expensive, there’s no software for them, yaddayadda”) I purchased my first new Mac in 2001. It was an iBook G3 laptop. Now this thing was a TANK. I once dropped it down a flight of concrete stairs (gasp, clunk, gasp, clunk, gasp etc.) and it lived to tell the tale – with not a scratch on it. It was beautiful clear white inside and out, with a blue bumper around the outside. It had an internal modem, a CD drive, and a cute handle so I could carry it like a handbag. The love affair was firmly established.

iBook G3 – Clamshell

And as they say, once you go laptop, you never go back. My next upgrade was a little white iBook (Daisy), then a MacBook (Meagle), then a MacBookAir – my current computer. I’ve also owned a version of every kind of iPod – the original brick, mini, nano, shuffle, photo, video, touch, and now my most beloved iPhone.

Why do I love them so much? It’s lots of things. They just seem to fit – they aren’t hard to figure out, they look beautiful, and all the bits work seamlessly together. They have a hard-to-explain X-factor that draws me to them. I’ve heard it before and I agree:

“For some, Apple is not just a product, it’s a way of life”.

My feet are firmly planted in the Cult of Mac. So much so in fact, that my first tattoo includes a (subtly drawn) Apple logo. If I didn’t point it out, you probably wouldn’t even notice it’s there.

You might call it crazy, I just call it devoted.

My Apple tattoo, cleverly hidden in the spots on a ladybug’s back

What do you do…?

People ask each other this all the time. “So, what do you do?” Of course, what they mean to say is “how do you waste your time in that 8-10 hours of daylight each day?”

I never know the etiquette of asking this question. I am terminally nosy about other people’s lives, and I always want to know these kinds of details about them. In my perfect world, what-do-you-do-for-living? would be closely followed by “how do you spend your other time? What are your hobbies? What are your passions? What kind of family are you from? Where did you grow up? Do you have kids? Do you want kids? Where did you go to school? What are you doing after this? What about after that?”. Honestly, if I wasn’t being polite, I could be relentless. Once I decide I like someone, I want to know all about them. People and their lives and their choices fascinate me.

But, anyway, back to the point. At hockey on Monday, we got to the “what do you do” conversation in the locker room before the game. Some people were definitely more forthcoming than others.

Why is this? Are you reluctant to share what you do with others? Is it a status thing? i.e. you don’t want to position yourself as being of either higher or lower status than others in the conversation. That was my assumption.

For me, the only reluctance is around explaining what I do. When I taught sociology and anthropology at the University of Canterbury, explaining my job was straightforward (see how easy that was?). Everyone understands the concept of a university lecturer, even if they might be a bit hazy on the sociology/anthropology bit. So it would be a conversation starter: “Oh, what does a sociologist do?”

Now, I am an educational designer and project manager. They are vague, hard to explain terms. They don’t really sound like a proper job. Telling people what I do nowadays is often a conversation stopper. People don’t really know what to make of “educational designer” and I have trouble explaining it. Usually I resort to “I write training manuals for polytechs and other places like that”. But that’s not really what I do. A big part of my job is actually managing my own and other people’s work processes. It’s what I really love doing. I spend a lot of my day tracking work coming into my company from clients, recording it, allocating the work to an educational designer, editor or graphic designer, and then sending a beautiful product back of to the client for them to wow over.

I need to develop a slick patter for when people ask me the job question. The starting point for me? I love my job. Did I mention that? I really do.

Check us out if you like: SYNAPSYS

Birthdays and such

Stephen, Bronwen and I went to Auckland over Queen’s birthday weekend to help my niece Esther celebrate her first birthday. Esther and her older sister Iris (who is just about to turn 3) are lovely girls and I am really enjoying watching them grow up, albeit mostly from a distance.

Iris is a feisty wee thing and likes to try her parents’ patience. Favourite activities include squealing at the top of her lungs, fully undressing as often as possible, stealing food (poor Bronwen coped this one) and the odd bit of biting. But beyond the less desirable personality characteristics, Iris is a charming and engaging little girl. She talks heaps and knows a lot about the world around her. She is confident and cheerful and happy to go with the flow. Esther is very different from Iris. She is a very placid kid. While we were there, she seemed content to putter around the house behind the Iris-Bronwen-Tornado, happily playing. She’s very cute and cuddly – I was reminded how nice it is to have a small child crawl into your lap, and hold on for a snuggle.

The Frompson-Thompsons: Fleur, Esther, Gerard, Iris, Bella the Dalmatian, Bebe, Bronwen, Stephen

The other fun and interesting aspect of this visit is that I was able to meet up with my sister Gillian, whom I have not seen since my own children were babies. Gillian has been in Japan for most of the 15-odd years since I last saw her. That, plus the fact that she’s always been a bit reclusive and not well-inclined towards me has meant that even when we have been in the same city and country, we haven’t caught up. It was nice to chat. Gillian and Iris have a special bond that only they understand (my sister never expressed any interest in children in any way). It is very endearing.

I find that the older I get, the more I appreciate that my family is an important part of my life. When I left home at the tender age of 16, babe under my arm, I decided that I would make a family of my own – I felt disillusioned by my family of origin. I stayed that way all through my twenties and thirties. And now, almost in my forties, I am gaining a new appreciation of that strange assorted bunch of people I call my kin. I might even call it fondness, but let’s not go crazy.

Esther and Bebe and Gillian