No, boss, Hooters is a not the perfect place for a business meeting, even if “their wings are good!”

Simone de Beauvoir wrote, “representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth.”

women statue
Pop quiz. What’s unusual about this statue?

You guys, I don’t even know where to start. I am so angry after reading Emily Chang’s EXCELLENT Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley.

That book, combined with Caroline Emma Criado-Perez’s Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, has me questioning everything.

Basically, my entire professional life, I have thought I was the wrong one. That there was something about me that made me a bad fit for corporate America. That my personality – my way of being and working – was off.

And if I could just find the secret to doing it right, I would find professional success.

But I have never found the secret to doing it right. I have always been a mid-level minion who has not been promoted. I have been told I’m intimidating. (Are men intimidating?) I have gotten feedback from my boss like, “You need to stop using such big words because it makes people feel stupid.”

When I asked for examples of

  1. Big words I should not use
  2. People who felt stupid because of my Big Words,

I did not get an answer. A co-worker later explained, “Our boss is the one who feels stupid.”

I have been told to be quiet. I have been told that I am too loud (by another woman – and she didn’t mean volume, she meant that I expressed my opinion, an opinion she did not agree with). I have been given feedback that has made me feel like I am so, so wrong. That everyone else is right, that they know a secret I do not know, and that there is something wrong with me.

And then I read this, from Criado-Perez’s book. All the things that are bad in women? They are good in men.

Aggressive women

And the things that are good in women are Bad. Don’t do them. In Chang’s book, she interviews a manager who was told to be “less nice!” Even though her team got results!

“I feel like Google cares a lot about diversity, but I feel we have a very singular view as to what leadership means,” says Laura Holmes, who was promoted to senior product manager in 2015 and is one of the rare female managers at Google. “I’ve been coached to be less nice. I have a collaborative style; it works for me. I wish that when we went out to the promotion committee, there was more of a look at results than there was about approach.”

I think we have all experienced what Susan Wojcicki, a Google founder who has accomplished amazing things (Forbes ranked her as the eighth most powerful woman in the world), has experienced at Google:

“I’ve had my abilities and commitment to my job questioned. I’ve been left out of key industry events and social gatherings. I’ve had meetings with external leaders where they primarily addressed the more junior male colleagues. I’ve had my comments frequently interrupted and my ideas ignored until they were rephrased by men.”

This is the woman who has made youtube a success. Did you know about her? I did not. Why do we not know about her but know about all the jerks, like Steve Jobs?

I have experienced this, as well – the attempt to select for extreme self confidence. Which, alas, I do not have. I had an interview in grad school with a consulting company. They called me – I did not sign up to interview with them. So clearly, they saw something they liked on my resume.

But they asked me some BS question and my answer, instead of a made-up answer, was, “I don’t know. I’d have to do some research on that.”

The recruiter told me (I still remember his exact words), “Texan, I love you to death but I don’t think you have enough problem-solving ability.”

Which is so wrong. I am a great problem solver. I go way out of the box to figure things out. (Example: The little rubber thing had fallen inside the part where you inflate the car tire. Mr T was trying to use car tools to retrieve it. I looked and said, “I think a small crochet hook will do the trick” AND IT DID.)

But those stupid questions? They really were trying to find people who could BS without knowing anything about the topic. And how well has that worked out for tech? (Looking at you, crash of late ’90s.

And also looking at Uber and Lyft, who are burning through investor money and losing money on operations? I cry no tears for investors – if I can figure out that the Uber and Lyft model as it is now is not sustainable, then millionaires can, but really?)

Recall those brainteasers that Trilogy and other major tech companies used throughout the 1990s and into the next two decades. There has never been any evidence that they were useful in measuring who would be a good programmer. Yet it took until 2013 for Google to finally stop using them. “Brainteasers are a complete waste of time,” Google’s longtime former head of HR Laszlo Bock admitted to the New York Times in 2013. “They don’t predict anything.”

Well, maybe not anything useful, but they might have been good predictors of the sort of hyper self-confidence men are more prone to. When an employer asked something like “How many golf balls can fit into a double-decker bus,” he or she was basically saying this to prospective candidates: “We are going to ask you a question that has no relation to your job and one you’ve had no training in how to answer. Do you have the chutzpah to pretend that you can?”

Men are far likelier than women to take risks like these and feel comfortable doing so….Other researchers have found that women won’t apply for jobs unless they meet 100 percent of the qualifications, while men will apply as long as they have 60 percent of the boxes checked….How well, then, could women be expected to fare, on average, in the dot-com world of the 1990s, where success almost required a willingness to be an imposter? Companies were worth what investors believed they were worth, and investors based their assessments on the founders’ claims, often wild and fanciful, and their aplomb.

Basically, being able to lie convincingly is rewarded. But in general (and please, no #NotAllMen and #NotAllWomen arguments), women are more cautious in talking about what we can do and what we cannot do.

And we have all experienced this crap – that what? THERE ARE WOMEN HERE? AND THEY ARE NOT THE SAME AS MEN?

Uber ordered leather jackets for all the men on the engineering team but not for the women. When Fowler complained to the head of her section, he emailed her, saying that because there were so many men, Uber could get a discount. But he couldn’t get a bulk discount on the women’s jackets, because they needed so few of them, so the could not justify placing an order for Uber’s female engineers. “I replied and said that I was sure Uber SRE could find room in their budget to buy leather jackets for the, what, six women if it could afford to buy them for over a hundred and twenty men,” Fowler wrote.

And all of you are nodding your heads because you, too, remember the times that you asked the person in charge of ordering shirts for the trade show to please order women’s sizes because even a men’s small is too big and even if you cut off the bottom 12″ of the shirt and tuck in the remainder, you still look like you are wearing a shirt you borrowed from Andre the Giant.

And you remember the person in charge saying, “But our vendor doesn’t stock women’s sizes!”

And you say, “BUT IT’S 1999! WOMEN HAVE BEEN IN THE WORKFORCE FOR DECADES!”

So we all remember this. And that was then. Twenty years ago. And then the Uber story (I spit on Uber) gets even worse. Because THIS IS NOW.

“The director replied back, saying that if we women really wanted equality, then we should realize we were getting equality by not getting the leather jackets.” After all, he continued, it would not be “equal or fair” to give women jackets that cost more than the men’s; therefore the women should look for other jackets at the same bulk-order price.”

This is where all of you are saying, THIS IS BULLSHIT.

And so did Susan Fowler. She talked to HR, who quickly resolved the situation.

OH WAIT NO THEY DID NOT!

Fowler forwarded “this absurd chain of emails to HR” and a meeting followed. “The HR rep began…by asking me if I had noticed that  *I* was the common theme in all the reports I had been making, and that if I had ever considered that I might be the problem.”

So we women are the problem. We’re the problem for complaining and making noise.

In 2016, a Silicon Valley industry group published the results of a survey they had done with Stanford of women in Silicon Valley and their work experiences. The study was called, “The Elephant in the Valley” and you can see more details here.

But here’s one that resonates.

I, too, have been asked to coordinate the potlucks. To be less assertive.

Elephant

Good for the women who refuse. I tell young women starting out not to volunteer for the social activities at work. Not to help plan the holiday potluck. Not to help prepare for it or clean up after it. I tell them not to bring brownies or cookies to work.

I tell them do not do one single one of those things if you don’t see senior men doing that kind of thing. If the men aren’t cleaning up after the potlucks, neither are you.

At my previous job, even though less than ten percent of the office was women, it was 100% women preparing for and cleaning up after events. (Not me, though.)

I leave you with this from an interview with Anna Wiener in the Washington Post.

There’s this sort of bait and switch that happens in tech, where a lot of these companies tell stories about themselves being different, where they’re non-hierarchical and they’re anti-establishment and they’re doing things in a way that’s new or merit-based or creative in some way. But what that does is just creates space for all these structural problems to flood in under a different sort of artifice. So different hierarchies emerge, whether that’s the distinction between soft skills and hard skills and people being put into those categories based on qualities that have actually nothing to do with their skill set or contributions to a company. 

I feel like I just wasn’t taking a wide enough view, I was sort of dealing things one by one. There was this situation — it’s not worth really going into, but I was not initially offered equity, and a man who was much less qualified than I was for the same role was offered equity right off the bat. It wasn’t until like 2017, when I was talking to a friend about this, and I was like, I think it’s because he had a computer science minor in college, even though we were both sociology majors. Or no, that wasn’t even it. He had some web-coding side project or whatever. And my friend was like:

“It’s just sexism. You are encountering sexism and you’re just trying to write yourself off again.”

I think this is a personal failure, that I’m always trying to look for the good in people and ignoring the structural explanation that would be clarifying in so many ways.

I don’t know that it does me any good to realize that maybe it’s not me, it’s the system. How do we even fight this? I’m just so tired.

 

 

 

A modern miracle, or, Inconceivable

I was going to write about public restrooms, which you know is one of my favorite topics, but then Intersectionality Happened, and something better came along

princess bride

This miracle happened last night. Mr T and I went to a show and the show ended and I, who had smuggled a water bottle into the theater (and “smuggled” is the proper term, as they search bags now for food and liquids and weapons because God forbid a thrifty Wisconsinite not submit to highway robbery prices for food and drink at a theater although I have to admit in the defense of the people who search my bags that they do not look very hard because I have smuggled water and chocolate into every single venue I have ever tried to smuggle into ever.

Also – they never search our bags when we go to the Theatre theater. Only to pop culture stuff. The kinds of shows where the program is advertising nursing homes, annuities, and funeral services? They don’t search your bags there.)

Where was I?

Oh. So I had smuggled in a bottle of water so of course by the time the show was over I needed to use the ladies and when I got there, I was so shocked at what I found that I had to step back and take a photo.

Yes. That’s what you see in the photo above.

A LADIES ROOM AT A PUBLIC VENUE AT THE END OF AN EVENT – AND NOT ONLY IS THERE NOT A LINE, IT’S EMPTY.

So I took a photo.

As proof of the miracle.

I am not really sure how the Vatican handles this sort of thing and who the prospective saint would be, but this is Miracle Number 1.

[Miracle Number One. Hahahaha.]

And felt smug at how fast I was, even though our seats were high in the bleachers and I am not really fast at all.

But as soon as I was done with what one does in the ladies, I emerged to a huge line and I asked myself, Hmmmm. Why the line now and not before?

And I realized I had been looking at it all wrong and the real question was why had the other women lingered in the theater and not rushed to the ladies?

And I realized the answer was because they were right and I was wrong.

Because Mr T and I had attended a showing of The Princess Bride with a post-show conversation with Cary Elwes and they were all still in there talking about HOW MUCH FUN IT HAD BEEN whereas all I could think about was BOLT NOW SO YOU CAN PEE BEFORE YOU HAVE TO WALK HALF A MILE IN 11 DEGREES IN SNOW AND ICE BEFORE A 20 MINUTE DRIVE HOME.

They were thinking, The bathroom? It will always be there. But us? In here? With our friends? And the music? And the beautiful Pabst Theater? And the movie that everyone loves? Let us linger! Let us enjoy! It’s going to take forever to walk down the three flights of stairs anyhow –

[NB If there is ever a fire in that theater, I need to accept that Mr T and I will die because we always get the cheap tickets and there are not enough exits to get everyone out on time. This is a sobering thought that just struck me. Maybe we need to start spending more money on tickets. Or maybe that is how our lives will end – after we have enjoyed a lovely evening of the symphony or The Princess Bride or the Gypsy Kings. Wow. I really need to think about this.]

Forget about fire. Forget about restrooms.

If you have the chance to watch The Princess Bride on the big screen and to watch Cary Elwes being interviewed after, do it. And if you submit a question, don’t ask a stupid one like, “Will you marry me?” to him.

  1. He’s already married
  2. He’s been married for 30 years
  3. That’s boring and again, it’s stupid

Ask about listening to Billy Crystal ad-lib the Almost Dead scene. Or what it was like to work with Andre the Giant. Someone needs to ask about working with Robin Wright and did anyone see House of Cards coming, or at least that type of character for her.

And learn your lines so you can say them with the movie, because it’s only proper.

The unbearable lightness of job-searching

The pain of blending your gray after your hairdresser retires, or, do I go gently into that good night?

IMG_20191003_121750
A little bit of flair – a purse of leopardo, even when you are selling fresh fish, makes the day better. Beauty belongs everywhere.

I heard you guys. I read what you said when I raged against The Patriarchy and whether I keep coloring my hair er no. Does coloring my hair mean I am succumbing to Them? Or can I reclaim my power?

You said I can do whatever I darn well please.

Thank you.

I decided OK then. I might keep coloring my hair.

Especially because I am looking for a new job and two-inch roots are not a good look on me.

But then my hairdresser retired.

Oh the pain of retirement.

Our doctor retired. Our vet retired. (How we loved our vet. How sad we are that a chain vet clinic bought his practice and we have not seen the same vet twice since Dr Z retired.) Our postman is about to retire.

And then our hairdresser retired. (Yes, Mr T and I shared a hairdresser. Carol was great.)

Carol retired even though she was our age. Her husband is a little bit older and he had a good union job and could retire early and they thought, You know, people get sick. They get disabled. They die. We have enough. How much do we need, really? We can do it. Let’s retire now.

And they did the right thing. How much good does more money do you if you are dead? Unless you are madly in love with your profession and it brings you great joy and fulfillment, if you don’t need more money, what is the point of working?

But that meant I didn’t have a hairdresser.

And I think we all know the pain of finding a new hairdresser.

I think it’s easier to find a new doctor. If you mess up with a doctor, you just die. But if you mess up with a hairdresser? YOU LOOK AWFUL AND THE WHOLE WORLD SEES IT.

Carol retired in September. She gave me the cards of two other stylists, but the cards had only phone numbers.

I called one of the stylists. She didn’t answer and I had to leave a message. And I had to wait for her to call me  back. And of course I didn’t hear the phone ring when she called back because I keep my phone turned off because I hate talking on the phone and the only  calls that are allowed to go through on my phone are Mr T’s and my mother’s.

So I had to call her back again. And then turn off “Do not disturb” and WAIT FOR HER TO CALL ME BACK.

And then she wouldn’t give me a price over the phone – depends on the length of my hair, she said.

And figuring out an appointment. When did our calendars coincide?

Lord. Have. Mercy.

I asked if she had an email address or if I could text her.

Nope.

I can’t work like that.

I cannot conduct my 21st century life using 20th century technology.

I don’t even call my mother, for crying out loud, and I LOVE HER MORE THAN I LOVE ANYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD.

OK. I do call her. But only because she is my mother and she likes to talk to me.

But I for sure do not intend to start a phone relationship with someone new at this point in my life.

So. I did what any rational person would do.

I solicited input from all my local friends and ignored it and went to SuperCuts because you don’t have to make an appointment.

I tested the haircuts first.

Let me back up.

When I was in grad school and had no money, I went to SuperCuts. And you know what? My haircuts were fine. I went to the same person every time and she cut my hair perfectly every time.

So even though a bad haircut can ruin your day or your week? A bad haircut can be fixed.

And hair does grow.

So I read the reviews for the SuperCuts near us, including the reviews for color, and they were good and I thought, I will try one haircut and see how it goes.

So I went.

And I tested.

And it was fine.

So I went back. And had another haircut. And it was also fine.

And on Monday, I took the big plunge. I looked at my two-inch roots and I looked at my job-hunting situation (I want a new job for many reasons) and I looked in the mirror and thought, “Is this the best face I can present for a first impression?”

The answer was no.

So I took a deep breath and reminded myself that bad color can happen anywhere (except NEVER WITH CAROL WHO RETIRED) and that bad color can be fixed and I drove to SuperCuts and guess what?

IT LOOKS FABULOUS AND I HAVE FOUND MY NEW PERSON AND SHE IS JOAN AT SUPERCUTS AND I DO NOT HAVE TO CALL FOR AN APPOINTMENT I CAN DO IT ALL ONLINE.

And I will keep coloring my hair and screw you patriarchy you will not keep me down.

 

 

People tell me things

You can’t just walk away when someone says, “And then my husband slept with my best friend.” It’s RUDE

IMG_20191005_115920
Me, in leopardo, listening. #BerniceEscuchaBien #IHeartBernice

Mr T wishes I would be more of A Talker at home.

Actually, he wishes I would be more of A Listener at home.

The role of Talker has already been filled. 🙂

But – we have been married for 11 years and have been together for 14, so – I kind of know what he has to say.

Don’t get me wrong.

I adore the man.

And I think he’s hot.

But – I know what he thinks and I know what he’s going to say. So there’s that.

But yesterday, when we went to pick up our free rain barrel from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewer District – this was very exciting because the coupon has been on our fridge for six months now, ever since I attended the required two-hour meeting to learn how to install said rain barrel, most of which I ignored because I outsource all technical work in this house (See: COMPETENCE IS HOT), I started to talk to the receptionist while Mr T was gathering the pieces of the rain barrel. And I found a story I wanted to hear.

Actually, it was more like Mr T started to get the barrel and the lid and the other bits and pieces and this guy ran out into the lobby all excited that someone was getting a rain barrel and asked Mr T if he knew how to put it together and if he knew that we could put the lid upside down and fill it in with dirt and flowers, which we did not and which, I will admit, is pretty cool.

And yes, I can see why the MMSD guy was excited that someone was getting a rain barrel because this is a big initiative here because we have this flooding problem that leads either to flooding basements or sewage in Lake Michigan, neither of which are good outcomes – and we have had the flooded basement ourselves three times and IT IS NOT FUN – and MMSD is doing everything they can to solve the problem without having to dig up the entire county and build new infrastructure.

Where was I?

So while Mr T and this guy are talking technical stuff, the receptionist asked me to fill out the coupon completely.

Receptionist: Did you attend the session?

Me: Yes, but I didn’t really pay attention. I married an engineer just so I wouldn’t have to do this kind of work.

Receptionist: Yeah, I’m looking for a mechanic myself.

Me: I highly recommend marrying technical competence. Sure, it’s not as sexy as some other things, but when you’re older, I promise you won’t regret it.

Receptionist: My first husband…

Me: Your what? How old are you?

Receptionist: 49.

Me: What? You look like you’re about 29! Holy smoke you have stayed out of the sun!

And then ensued a discussion of how she had married her high-school sweetheart and she had gone to work at a factory —

Receptionist: But the factory closed. And we all lost our jobs. So I re-trained as a health-care worker. And I got a new job. And I was making way more money than I ever made in the factory. But then, without any warning, they had this big re-structuring and I got a phone call and my job disappeared.

Me: Oh honey I am so sorry I know how that goes.

Mr T: Hey let’s go.

Me: Not yet.

Receptionist: And then I had to start again looking for work. So I found this job through a temp agency. But then I got divorc–

Mr T: I’m ready. Let’s go.

Me: Not yet. Why did you get divorced?

Receptionist: Because my husband was sleeping with my best friend.

Me: WHAT?

Receptionist: I. Know.

Mr T [who, in his defense, has not been listening to this conversation because HOW CAN A NORMAL HUMAN BEING WALK AWAY FROM A CONVERSATION LIKE THIS?]: Are you ready yet?

Me: NO! Not yet! YOUR BEST FRIEND SLEPT WITH YOUR HUSBAND? I HATE THEM BOTH!

Receptionist: Yep. My ex and I get along OK now because of the kids. I mean, we talk. But my best friend? No. We don’t talk.

Me: No. We hate her.

Receptionist: And this job – they hired me on as a regular employee. It’s the best benefits I’ve ever had. I learn new things every day. So it’s OK.

Me: Good.

Receptionist: And I’m looking for a mechanic.

Me: Good idea.

We sound like women ¿y qué?

We will not be silenced

IMG_20191005_183520
I love these fierce Spanish women in San Sebastian. Heels! On cobblestones!

One of the things I regret and one of my big mistakes was trying to change how a female co-worker sounded on a podcast.

I started making podcasts at work. These were for internal use only, but were very effective at getting the message out about new products and services. My co-workers loved them – they asked how to download them to their phones so they could listen to them while they walked their dogs.

And they were fun to make! It’s fun to be a journalist – to interview people and see where the conversation goes. I love the rabbit holes. I love going in with a few leading questions and then just following the conversation. You learn a lot of interesting new things.

And I think that’s why my co-workers liked the podcasts as well – they just didn’t know what they were going to hear but they knew it would be something interesting and that they would learn something useful.

I worked at an engineering company that was almost all men. I wanted to record a podcast with a product manager who was a woman.

And I was doing it all wrong.

I was concerned that her slight upspeak detracted from her credibility.

I wanted to re-record the podcast and have her change how she talked.

Lord have mercy what was I thinking?

Let me back up here.

This woman?

Has a PhD in engineering from a top 10 research university.

She is actually more qualified to talk about the topic she was discussing than any other person in the company.

Any. Other. Person. In. The. Company.

And the company has lots of technical PhDs. But she was the person with the PhD and the research on this topic.

And I was asking her to change?

To sound less like who she was?

Because she didn’t sound like a man?

I was so wrong.

And you know what? Even as I type these words, I realize that even if she didn’t have a PhD, even if she were a regular product manager, it would still be wrong for me to ask her to change her speech patterns to sound less like who she is and more like a man.

The way she sounds?

That is what an expert in her field sounds like.

Even with slight upspeak. Even with the occasional “like.”

I went back to her. I apologized. I told her I was wrong. I said told her the podcast was fine as it was and maybe it was time people – including women like me – learned that this is what expertise and authority sound like.

Oh man. Even when you think you know, you learn that you don’t. What else am I doing wrong?

 

Schrödinger’s cancer

It’s not a tumor

It’s not. It was negative. So don’t worry.

But this was the second-worst Christmas of my life. This was the Christmas where I learned what fear feels like.

The first-worst was Christmas of 1996, when we found out my dad had cancer and was being medically evacuated from Sigonella naval base in Italy , where he and my mom had just moved so he could teach science at the junior high school on base, to Frankfurt.

I had returned from the Peace Corps the year before and was still looking for a job. Shockingly, employers were not jumping to hire someone who had just spent two years increasing profits in a foreign language in another culture. I guess they thought – I don’t know what they thought. I guess the words “Peace Corps” put them off?

I was back in Austin, living with friends (thanks again, Laura and Dave xoxox). They were out of town for Christmas and I was alone on Christmas Eve and my brother called me to tell me that a family friend – a nurse – in DC had called him. I think my mom was relaying information to Mrs S to relay to us.

We didn’t have a diagnosis yet. My mom and dad were in Germany and there was an ice storm and all the non-essential personnel were told to stay home so nobody was coming into the lab.

What that meant was my dad was sick enough that the navy had flown my dad from Sicily to Germany to try to figure out what was going on and still didn’t know.

We were in cancer limbo.

We didn’t even get an answer until after New Year’s, when my dad was sent to DC and then to Lackland in San Antonio.

That was the worst Christmas.

The second worst was this one.

I had my regular annual mammogram on Thursday December 19. I went in, had my boobs squeezed, left, and thought no more of it.

As one does.

As one does when one has been lucky and has never had to think of it again.

And then I learned what it feels like to feel fear.

Yes, I felt fear when we learned my dad had cancer but that was fear mixed with certainty mixed with dread. When I saw my dad that New Year’s Eve, with the extra water weight and his pale face and the pain, I knew he was going to die. When the surgeons explained there was no way they could operate – that it would like like trying to cut out a soggy paper towel, I knew the cancer was going to kill him. I felt fear but it was fear mixed with pain and sorrow and loss and despair.

When I got the phone call four days after my mammogram telling me I needed a follow up to check on a few things, I felt the fear of surprise.

This was fear mixed with the vast unknown.

This was fear with nothing to touch.

This was fear with vast emptiness with nowhere to look.

I didn’t know anyone who had had a follow-up mammogram.

This is not something I have heard talked about.

I had no idea if this was common or not.

And I didn’t want to google.

My sister is a nurse practitioner, but I didn’t want to ask her – not so close to Christmas.

I sent the test results to my friend Ilene, who is a pediatrician.

Technique: Full-field digital images of the breasts were obtained in the CC, MLO and XCCL projections. Computer-aided detection was utilized for this exam. Findings: Breast Density: Heterogeneously dense, which may obscure small masses The pattern and distribution of the glandular tissue are unchanged from the prior exams. Early vascular calcifications are present. An asymmetry with associated architectural distortion is questioned within the medial right breast middle depth on the XCCL view only. No significant mass, calcification, or other finding is seen in the left breast.

She shared them with a physician friend who treats adults and wrote back that yes, I did need to have this looked at.

When your doctor friend says something needs to be checked out, you listen.

The earliest appointment I could get was Friday, January 3.

This was Monday, December 23.

All I knew was I had never heard of anyone being called back for a follow-up mammogram.

And I didn’t feel like I could talk about it over Christmas.

Mr T and I celebrated Christmas with a huge cloud over us. Did I have cancer? Did I not have cancer?

It wasn’t until an open thread on Ask A Manager that I learned that there are so many callbacks. So many. Callbacks that have led to biopsies that are still negative.

But I still didn’t know if they were callbacks for asymmetric thingies. And I didn’t want to ask that specific question. Because what if that was The Bad Kind? What if that was the Really Bad Thing that is Usually Cancer?

I wasn’t eating.

I wasn’t sleeping.

All I could think of was Cancer.

Mr T, the engineer, was trying to logic me out of my fear, which is how engineers approach these things.

He had talked to a friend of his whose wife has had multiple callbacks and everything has been fine.

He pointed out that the odds of my having cancer were very low.

I told him that although my head might understand that, my stomach did not and my stomach was ruling at the moment.

Fear.

Fear.

Fear.

Thursday night, I couldn’t sleep.

Friday morning, I couldn’t eat.

I forced myself to eat some toast for lunch. I didn’t need to pass out in the waiting room. That would be too expensive.

(I might be terrified but I am still practical.)

I texted my friend L that I needed a follow-up mammogram and asked for her good wishes.

She wrote back that she had been told the same thing on December 23 via voicemail but wasn’t able to talk to anyone until December 30.

She’s one of my best friends and I hadn’t told her because I didn’t want to worry her.

She hadn’t told me because she didn’t want to worry me.

We could at least have been terrified together.

Then I messaged my sister that I had to have a follow-up mammogram and that I was scared.

She called me immediately and asked why I hadn’t told her.

“I didn’t want to ruin your Christmas,” I said.

“BUT I’M YOUR SISTER!” she yelled. “And I’m A NURSE! AND I KNOW THESE THINGS! AND I’VE HAD CALLBACKS! AND THEY HAVE BEEN FINE!”

She told me that a mammogram is a screening tool. And a follow-up mammogram and a follow-up ultrasound are screening tools. And even a biopsy is a screening tool. She told me many are screened but not everyone has cancer.

Mr T and I went to the hospital. He complained about the bad signage to the breast care center, which he is correct about, and about the prevalence of sick people, which – hello.

Mr T externalizes his stress.

I internalize mine.

I am not sure if that is a good combination but there we are.

I left Mr T in the waiting room and went into the inner waiting room and changed into my gown. The radiology tech called me into the room with the machine and introduced herself again. She was the same tech I saw in December.

She asked me to spell my name and give her my birthdate.

I couldn’t speak.

She asked again.

I still couldn’t speak.

She reached into a shelf above her computer and pulled down a box of kleenex and handed it to me.

I finally choked out the spelling of my name and my birthdate.

She squeezed and x-rayed me, then took me back into the waiting area.

“The radiologist has to read these. It will take at least 20 minutes. Depending on what he sees, you might need the ultrasound test as well.”

I tried to read a magazine – good Lord Prince Andrew you were defending Jeffrey Epstein what were you thinking? – but honestly it’s hard to concentrate when you are about to find out whether or not you might have cancer.

It was the last few minutes of not-knowing.

It’s better to be in limbo than to know you have cancer.

It’s better to not know than to know you do have cancer.

I would rather be in suspense, I think, than to know for sure I have cancer.

Because in that state of not-knowing, there is a sliver of hope that there is not cancer.

The not-knowing includes both states: Yes cancer and No cancer. They exist simultaneously. The hope and the fear. And they take turns. There are slivers of calm in the days of waiting for the appointment – slivers of OF COURSE I DON’T HAVE CANCER WHAT ARE THE ODDS? – slivers of being able to breathe and eat and sleep for a bit – but there is also the fear. The fear of yes cancer. The fear of pain and chemo and shots and losing my hair and maybe death.

Not knowing is better than knowing if knowing means cancer.

It took only a few minutes before the tech came back for me.

She took me back into the room and the radiologist came in.

“You’re fine,” he said. “You’re fine.”

“I don’t have cancer?” I asked.

“No,” he said. He then explained all the technical stuff but my head was spinning and all I could hear was roaring in my ears and I was trying not to cry and trying not to fall to the ground in relief.

The tech smiled. “See you next year.”