I'm at my desk going through a 100 page report. It's one of the most boring and badly written things I have ever read. I'm trying to take in the sense of it, but my eyes keep sliding off the words.
One of the biggest problems I face in life is my own short attention span. It's frustrating both at work - like now, when I have to reread paragraphs three times because it's boring and I forget to keep reading in the middle - and in my personal life. I regularly zone out when someone else has been talking for a long time, and it's hugely embarrassing, especially when I know it's something important to them. With my close friends, because they know me well, I'm more relaxed about it. But when it happens with people I don't know well it's very difficult to deal with.
In this case I forgive myself, because the report is brain-numbing. It's so difficult to read it is beginning to make me angry. I deal with the person who wrote this regularly and he sends me funny, sparky, readable emails so I know he can write. I don't understand what happens to people when they hear the word "report". It's like they somehow think they haven't done it properly unless it has lots of long words and convoluted sentences and words like "whilst" and "hence".
What I have in front of me is making an important and interesting subject inaccessible and also ruining my day on several levels, so when an email pings into my mailbox it's a welcome distraction. Then I see who it is from.
From: Haywood, Derek
Sent: 16 August 2012 10:16
To: Chambers, Alice
Subject: meeting today
Our meeting today is scheduled from 1pm until 2pm. I'm wall to wall with meetings today and I won't get a chance to have lunch - how about we go out of the office? My treat, naturally.
I sit back and think. I do not want to go out of the office for lunch with Derek. I find one on one meetings problematic enough. He has insisted on a meeting - to "catch up" - once a fortnight. This is excessive. There's rarely enough to catch up to justify a meeting once a fortnight.
After some thought, I email him back.
From: Chambers, Alice
Sent: 16 August 2012 10:22
To: Haywood, Derek
Subject: RE: meeting today
I have a heavy workload, and it sounds as if you are busy - there's not much to catch up on. Let's reschedule.
I return to the report. Now it's even harder to concentrate, because I know he will reply. He does so seven minutes later.
I'd rather have the meeting. I need to brief you on several urgent issues.
I don't feel I have any choice, so I email back and accept, and he says he will walk down to my office to collect me at ten to.
I'm cross with myself. It reminds me of something Gin said to me once after a particularly bad episode with a guy I was seeing at the time. "If you were a prime minister, you'd be Neville Chamberlain. You meet an aggressor, and instead of standing up to him you adopt appeasement. You try and survive by ceding parts of your personality to be occupied and hope they'll eventually get satisfied and leave you alone, which didn't work on Hitler and doesn't work on your boyfriends either." (It is probably useful to point out at this time that Gin has a master's degree in modern history, which she describes as "utterly useless" in her current career as an HR advisor with a local law firm.)
She's right. Although I do feel that, like me, Neville Chamberlain was doing the best he could to avoid outright war through negotiation. It might even have worked, if he had been dealing with reasonable people.
Derek takes me to a restaurant which is much more expensive than anything I would have chosen for myself. He insists he is paying for everything. I hate this. It feels like I'm in debt to him.
"How about a glass of wine?" he says.
"I can't," I say. "I have a lot to do this afternoon."
"Oh, it won't hurt you," he says, and asks for a bottle of red wine. I don't like to drink red wine in the middle of the day, but he hasn't asked me what I like to drink.
I'm worried that he hasn't listened to me, but at the same time I'm feeling very unhappy and I can't deny that a drink would be welcome. Drinking, in fact, might be the way to get through this. I remember Amanda saying if you can't change a situation, get drunk and then you won't care about it. I remember Gin laughing at her. I remember Sally made sushi for me. I remind myself that this man in front of me doesn't know any of the essential things I know, he doesn't know my life, he doesn't know me, and I feel slightly stronger.
The wine arrives. He pours. He takes a sip and looks at me over the rim of the glass. His round werewolf's eyes are amused, assessing me.
"How was your weekend, Alice? Did you do anything nice? Go out?"
"Not really. It was quiet. I saw some friends, but we didn't really do much." I have no intention of going into detail.
"Go out with your boyfriend?"
"I don't have a boyfriend," I say. I would rather have lied, but I suspect he will know I have lied and then he will know I'm afraid of him.