World Enough and Time

May 25, 2020

The wear and tear of time, plus assorted horse and motor vehicle accidents and a couple slip and falls have collectively resulted in a task of aging. More of my time than I wish had been needed over the past 18 months has been spent sorting out the causes of a variety of body pains, the triggers that set them off, and what treatments can reduce the pain to livable without creating new and different health problems. Along the way I verified the now-scientifically-proven hypothesis that ups and downs of the barometer are felt in the joints in advance of the visible weather changes they herald. I succeeded in identifying a sluggish gallbladder that the tests my doctor ordered merely confirmed. I’ve adopted some preventive herbals treatments and now have a few that have proven effective when different types of pain become too strong to ignore.

So I’m about as settled into effective symptom management as I expect is possible. And trying at the same time to settle into accepting that I can only respond to, not control, the variables, so will always have to be flexible in facing what each day presents.

All of which activity I now find may have had a different ultimate purpose than the obvious one of helping me become more comfortable in my daily activities. The detecting involved is now being called upon for quite another challenge. I want to sort out what underlies the so far inexplicable fluctuation in egg production from my small flock of hens.

Some of the variables – weather in particular – are probably the same as those that affect my pain levels. Cold and damp are not helpful. High wind is also probably as disturbing to the ladies as it is to my joints. But other potential factors are unique to the flock and as yet unidentified by me. I’m considering their amount of food (type also) and access to water in the small bowl they prefer (the bigger one that assures they do not go without is consistently shunned). I try to note whether our protective dog has been barking more – or less – at the variety of four legged visitors who pass nearby. Is she engaged with running off stray dogs who can be considered a threat by the hens , or merely alerting that the neighbor’s cows are in an adjacent pasture? Might there be a snake or a passing skunk disturbing them? Are some of them, like me, just feeling the aches and fatigue of age? I know there is one that must be recovering from the exquisite pain of laying the largest double yolk egg I have ever seen!

Two of the hens have gone broody, despite not having a rooster around to impregnate them. They will, I trust, resume laying when they fail in their attempts to hatch sterile eggs. Will they be challenged into more consistent production by the presence of 5 new flock members, including a young rooster? Or will they instead divert their energy to the establishment of a new pecking order with the youngsters put in their bottom-of-the-pole place?

Without access to comprehensible feedback, such as my own body gave me, I question whether I will ever have answers that enable me to reliably collect eggs from everyone each day. No matter – puzzling my way through the variables is a good distraction from equally unanswerable questions about what lies ahead for us all as we move on into the changing world we are glimpsing. As often as I have heard, and have quoted to myself, that the only certainty is change, my mind continues to try to find answers – certainty – in complex situations which defy resolution. Undoubtedly that is why I relax at night with crossword puzzles and Free Cell. Solvable challenges, with set answers.

That same mind that likes order and seeks connections recently made me aware of a list of seemingly unconnected situations. Green ice in the Antarctic, shrinking of the polar caps, bark beetle devastation of forests in the southern Rockies, insect destruction of olive groves in France and Italy, more frequent and more fierce storms of all types all around the globe, non-seasonal temperature extremes setting ever new records, spread of hostile insects like the killer bees into environments where they have not previously been known, and of course now the worldwide spread of virulent new virus-based illnesses. A quick and easy answer is “climate change” if the question is “what is the cause of all these negatives?” 

But when the question is “what is the solution?” no such single simple answer presents itself. 

Nor is there a single simple answer to my questions about how I will adapt to a recently changed pattern in my personal life, a change that is still evolving, with key decisions yet to be made. In past years my life circumstances enforced the learning of patience – waiting for the time to be right for significant alteration in employment, companionship and other facets of daily life. Now I seem to be facing the opposite lesson. Or maybe just a different facet of patience – learning to step back and observe fast moving changes without feeling I have to act or “figure it all out.”

Just as I am unlikely to sort out all the influences on my chickens’ egg laying propensities, and I know I don’t have many answers to the multitude of manifestations of change in the environment; just as I know my scope of action in our tormented civil (uncivil) society is limited to what I can do in my immediate surroundings; so too I need to remind myself daily that my mind is not in charge of finding answers to my personal challenges. Those require detachment, patience, observation and tolerance of uncertainty.

The way forward for me personally, and for the larger society as well, will show itself in due time.

Who knows, maybe I’ll also be gifted with an insight that turns my poultry yard into the most prolific egg production unit in the region. Wouldn’t that be fun!

End of Apolitical – Pt.2

May 3, 2020

Further thoughts on how challenging it has become to be apolitical, and still express anything meaningful – the simple act of being consistent in what one states as true has become a political act. Saying one thing one day, denying that one said it the next, reversing yet again and asserting that one spoke the truth “based on facts known at the time” whether or not those were the known facts is a behavioral practice commonly seen now.

To me, it stands in stark contrast to the behavior exhibited, for example, by New Mexico’s governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham as she directs the response to Covid-19. She states “what we know now” and “what the projections and science indicate is most likely to happen going forward”, followed by her assessment of how to best mitigate both medical and economic harm in the best interests of the citizens of the state as a whole. If the situation changes, as it recently has done with a spike in infections in the corner of NM that overlaps the Navajo Nation, Ms. Lujan-Grisham factually states that changed conditions now dictate a different way forward.

Consistent, responsible, believable, reliable conduct. Much needed in uncertain times.

Would that more of us all could find within ourselves the fortitude to be consistent and factual – accepting that in so doing we are of necessity also being political.

The End of Apolitical

May 2, 2020

One aspect of Quaker belief has historically been an engagement in social action, whether in support of emancipation of slaves in the mid 1800’s, as pacifists opposed to war as a solution to political conflicts from the U.S Civil War through the World Wars, to Korea, Vietnam, and the “police actions” in multiple sites around the world, or more currently in testimony against the abuse of peaceful immigrants to the U.S. This activity is often expressed as “speaking Truth to power.”

I respect the decision of a local Jewish Community entity to “keep politics out of” the monthly newsletter which informs of social and cultural events and, most recently, of how to access worship and support online. Reading of that decision I did wonder, however, whether it can be meaningfully implemented?

Avoiding outright expression of political preferences is achievable. But has not the simple statement of proven facts, whether scientific or cultural, historical or ecological, now become a form of political expression?

I admire the small individually owned fueling station/store in Santa Rosa where I purchased diesel for the exceptional price of $2.14 per gallon, not so much for the price I paid but for the fact that the store had signs announcing – and implemented the precautions – of everyone who entered wearing a mask and no more than three customers inside at one time. I am stating simple facts but am I not also expressing a political position? If I drop the first two words (my opinion) and rearrange the sentence structure, have I eliminated politics from the statement?

 Probably. 

Have I communicated anything meaningful to my reader or listener?

Probably not. 

Oh, I’ve saved someone who doesn’t have a mask the waste of time involved in driving around Santa Rosa looking for that cheap-fuel gas station. Not a gesture very high on my scale of caring activities, though perhaps important to a now-out-of-work individual trying to save their limited cash by getting cheaper gas.

Driving around myself, with VoteSmart (Facts Matter) and Science Supporter bumper stickers, I am making simple statements of fact. In today’s toxic public sphere I am also unavoidably making a political statement.

The personal has become political. Not to my liking, not the world I wish to see re-emerge from the present upheaval. But most likely the world as it will continue to be, at least in the U.S. for some time yet.

Too bad.

So sad.

Would that it were not so.

So

Telephone-itis

April 14, 2020

I am discovering a curious disadvantage to what generally would be considered an advantaged upbringing. Or maybe the disadvantage is only the result of still working at an old enough age to have grown without phones? When I was small, in D.C. before we went overseas, there was a phone in the house – a 4 party line that my parents instructed me was never to be used except for a true crisis, like the house was on fire (and I the child was alone) so lady bug, lady bug, fly away home. I don’t remember which sort of ring meant the call was for my parents, only that our phone number was a Woodley followed by 5 numbers. I have no recollection of ever doing anything with the phone but answering it when my mother called out to me to do so because she was too far away to get to it in time. I was taught to say “hello, please wait until my mother comes” and then to be still.

By the time I was twelve, we went overseas to Vietnam, and again there was no phone for general use, only a connection to my father’s office at the Embassy, so he could be reached urgently if necessary. My parents did occasionally receive or issue an invitation by phone, but I was again constrained not to consider the instrument as available to me. Moving on to Paris when I turned 15, the rules changed only slightly.  The phone in our apartment could be used to arrange to meet a friend, or to pass along a message from my mother to my father at work, but calls were charged by the minute so brevity was essential. 

College meant dorm life, one pay phone at the end of the hall shared by 35 girls. Again brevity was mandated. So it wasn’t until after graduation and marriage that I actually had access to a phone, in my home, for every day communication. Needless to say, by that point, “hanging on the phone talking endlessly with friends” was absolutely NOT my pattern. Throughout my life and to this day I think of the phone as a basic tool for brief, essential communication, period.

I carry a cell phone, I have learned to text and in fact prefer texting to talking much of the time. Not sure why – something to do with having come to think of myself as a writer?

Anyway, that is the background against which the changes to my already-work-from-home-job have brought me up against a hard truth. No longer able to visit my clients for their many mandated assessments, having instead to complete two hour evaluations by phone, has turned what was the most enjoyable aspect of my work into the most onerous of tasks. Further, it has pushed me so far away from any other phone conversation that I find I am avoiding talking with friends whom I normally do connect with on the phone. 

Sad.

And troubling, in that I am left feeling like a failure as a friend, in these stressful and isolating times. I know some of the people with whom I was accustomed to having a reasonably long phone chat every couple of weeks need that interaction now more than before. I want to be a caring friend, not one who disappears when times get hard. Yet after a long work day spent largely on the phone, I so crave silence and freedom from the disembodied voice, that I don’t even listen to video clips embedded in the news. If I can’t read it, the information will not reach me.

Needless to say I don’t bother with podcasts. I have on a few occasions of long solo car trips listened to a talking book to keep me attentive. Otherwise I do not use that form of entertainment. At the end of my work days now, I mostly crave and seek silence, which I can fortunately have at home. Reading a novel, playing solitaire, cooking, going for a walk across our property, these are my activities.

They do not require talking, most especially not talking on a phone.

If you, reading this, are one of the people who is missing calls from me, please accept my apology for my incapacity. Know that you are in my thoughts. Email me, or text me, and I will reply. And know also, that once I can do my work as face to face visits with my clients, reducing my use of the work phone back to its pre-Covid level, I will once more enjoy chatting with you.

The New Reality

March 29, 2020

Being already a “work from home” employee, the stay at home order keeping us safe in New Mexico is not as severe a change for me as it is for those used to clustering in an office. The most engaging part of my job – visiting clients in their homes to complete assessments of their needs – has been altered to over-the-phone sessions which are challenging and, from my perspective and the feedback I’ve received, notably less satisfying to both parties. Not comfortable for me, a person who never learned to “hang on the phone” as a teenager, but a small price to pay for the general increase in health safety for me and my clients.

What is considerably less easy to accommodate is the withdrawal of almost all the support system that I rely on to keep my energy up and my own health assured. 

Last month, due to three successive weeks of snow storms on my scheduled appointment day, I repeatedly missed an acupuncture treatment and my overall health dipped noticeably. My provider wasn’t happy that I seem unable to maintain function without a weekly treatment. I can understand his view – but I hope I helped him feel better when I likened the weekly treatments, that I seem to be dependent on, to a person reliant on an oxygen concentrator. Without it they lose energy and fade, with it they can maintain a normal active life.

Under New Mexico’s fairly strict stay-at-home guidelines, I no longer have access to acupuncture. At the same time, the pressures of my work have doubled, as I not only have the normal load of assessments and contacts with my caseload to complete, but also have to help frail and dependent people meet their non-medical, every day needs despite the general shut down of almost all businesses and transportation.

Reading about the run on hair dye because beauty salons have closed, or the ongoing discussions of how to entertain and/or educate children at home from school, I am well aware of how many adjustments everyone (almost everyone – unbelievably there are still some who persist in disregarding the threat we all face) is having to make, and how difficult most of us find it to make major adjustments of any kind on short notice.

I was scheduled for a haircut two days after my state shut us all indoors. Many many years ago, I cut my own hair. If need be, I suppose I will do so again. Looking shaggy and slightly unkempt is perhaps not good for my emotional well being, but it is not on a par with adapting to going without acupuncture treatments. 

I have, like everyone, a list of the negatives of being limited to home except for accessing “vital” functions like groceries. But I am also listing the positives of living how and where I do – easy access to safe outdoor exercise, for example. I merely have to step outside my house and walk to the mailbox (a quarter mile by the time I go there and back), feed the chickens, hunt for where one aggravating hen has decided to lay hers hidden away from the usual places the rest favor, or follow my dog across our several acres as she chases cottontails.

Living comparatively remotely, in an area where electrical failures are not uncommon, I am habituated to keeping stocked with nonperishables. Working in health care, I keep a supply of cleansers that I routinely use after member visits. Thus I have not been caught short in the face of suddenly empty store shelves. My diet is perhaps not as varied as I would prefer, but I will not go hungry. 

After living the proverbial paycheck to paycheck for almost all my working life I am, better late than never, a little more comfortable. Enough so as not to worry about meeting my bills even if my spouse should be furloughed for some portion of the economic pause the nation is now experiencing. My plans to retire by mid-late summer are probably going to be scrapped, but they were not yet firmly in place. For now, although it is stressful and fatiguing, having the work to do is also rewarding. With so many usual outlets closed off, it is good to be able to still feel useful.

Pertinent to usual outlets – I am aware of wanting to help my favorite local restaurants to survive by supporting their take-out order processes now in place, but realize that my enjoyment of an occasional meal there has rarely been about the food. What I value is the “going out to eat”, being served in an atmosphere different from home. Bringing take out home does not satisfy that desire for change – and I enjoy cooking enough that replacing my own meal with a brought in one is of little benefit. If I can help the restaurant survive, though, I am doing something positive for my neighbors and community.

The reality of voluntary seclusion (or mandated seclusion in an increasing number of locations) is bringing out a new awareness of variations in level of trust in relationships that, at least for me, would not likely have come to mind otherwise. I tend to take people as they present themselves unless or until something significant exposes that they are not what they seem. This quality of not judging has been beneficial in my employment, enabling me to obtain cooperation from diverse clients whom others have found too difficult to work with.  Now however, circumstances have led me to reconsider even relatively close relationships, as I assess if I trust someone else enough to have them into my home, or me to go into theirs. Do they have an appropriate level of conscientiousness about hygiene to assure my safety? How do I balance the importance to mental health of occasional social contact with the equally important need to protect physical health?

That latter question is not so unlike the national challenge of balancing health of the population and health of the nation’s economy. Trade offs of all sorts are bringing to the fore our very varied senses of morality, ethics, and individual versus communal well-being. The only certainty is that we, both as individuals and as a society, will not come out unscathed nor unchanged.

May we all come out and have the opportunity to see what is altered, and in what ways!

Transitions are Hard

March 6, 2020

A couple months into the new pattern of my weeks, and I’m no longer feeling so unsettled. The companion-ed weekends (whether the two or the three day ones) contain both relaxing and fun activities and a small flurry of laundry, cooking and other arrangements to resupply my spouse for the week ahead. I’m coming to terms with the pressure of choices between doing alone an activity I enjoy but he does not, if it occurs on the weekend – or spending those hours with him, since we already are separate for most of the week. I have also become accustomed to the limited contact possible during our working days. Security restrictions at his workplace severely limit connectivity. I’m beginning to keep a log of things I want to discuss, to review before our nightly calls, since I’m finding my memory for those small but important observations is not to be relied upon.

My time alone that is not spent on work is mostly quiet. Checking news feeds on my phone, reading, not as much playing of the piano as I had thought I would do, tending animals and plants, and resting. My time with my husband, by contrast, tends to be filled with sound and activity – his music being played, his phone conversations with family and close friends in Cameroon, and our discussions that are ‘catch up’ for the ones we aren’t able to have during the week. I’m relatively comfortable with both scenarios – but notably ill at ease during the transition from one to the other. And that is a discomfort I did not at all expect to experience.

Another somewhat unexpected discomfort arises from the seemingly unending accumulation of daily life challenges that I now mostly have to sort out on my own, without much opportunity to discuss them with my husband. Or is that pressure one I unnecessarily lay on myself, by trying to be ‘beforehand’ with everything that comes up during my alone days? Undoubtedly so.

Today began with me in a totally overwhelmed space, a new car problem being the proverbial last straw. Once I faced the reality that I had no more “give” to sort out the issue (which arose late yesterday) the help needed for resolving the problem came pouring in. My spiritual teacher frequently reminds us that when you push against a closed door, you prevent it from opening. I obviously frequently forget that instruction until I’m so exhausted from thrusting against the door that I collapse, allowing it to open toward me. 

Maybe today, just maybe today, I can say “lesson finally learned.” 

Reflections on Change

January 13, 2020

No excuses being offered for my long absence from posting. And no assurances being offered that this post will be followed by regular new ones going forward. 

My current challenge is to adapt to changed daily routines, and the recognition that I have up to now mostly lived my life being “of service to” others, fitting my own interests into the bits of time left over. A not unfamiliar condition of women everywhere. 

Now I have blocks of time ‘just for me’ that were not available before – or that I did not create for myself before. 

Now I am confronted with the somewhat challenging question of how and with what to fill them?

Fortuitously a piano became available just as this shift in family routines initiated. I last played one when I was 12. I subsequently played recorder extensively, and learned guitar basics, but have not actively engaged as a performer of music now for many years. The piano was moved in over the holidays, and just recently. I have discovered that I can correctly finger scales one hand at a time, but coordinating the two, with proper fingering, is a skill to be relearned. I can still pick out melodies by ear, and can read notes thought not complex chords. So lots to learn/relearn as I decide what type of music I want to become able to play.

My stack of books to be read grows steadily higher even though I read daily, whenever I have a pause, including while standing in check out lines. Long ago, in a workshop on addiction for people not themselves addicts, the leader asked us to identify something that, were it absent from our lives, would make us anxious, upset, afraid, churlish, or otherwise “not your usual productive self.” My answer was immediate – not having a pile of books waiting for me to turn to after finishing the one I was reading. I should plaster over the entry to my home the sign I saw yesterday on a carrier bag in my local gift/book store, “It’s not hoarding when it’s books.” So far, the overflowing shelves seem to contribute to, rather than detract from, the sense of welcome and comfort in my home. At least, visitors tend to respond with positive comments when they come in for the first time. 

But maybe that’s despite the books and because of the plants? Really rather a lot of them that have managed to survive the fluctuations of wood heat (did you know that flowering cactus and poinsettias don’t flower readily when temperatures go up and down) and our super dry weather. I’m planning a comprehensive re-potting and re-positioning of them, giving them the attention they deserve for the pleasure the give so any. Especially the ivy in the bathroom which will be 40 years old come February. I call it my riot plant, not for how riotously it grows, but because it was a baby single shoot in my office at the NM Penitentiary on February 2 1980, day of the infamous prison riot. But that event marks a very different turn to my life, one I may revisit at some point in writing, but not today.

I have also identified numerous corners of the house where things are stacked that need to be sorted through, and either reorganized and condensed, or tossed. Always one of those tasks I procrastinate about, but one I know have time to complete, bit by bit. Ah, but do I have the motivation? Hmmmmm.

Make no mistake, I still have family commitments and partnered time, but differently shaped and structured. Yet another phase/change in the progress of shared life. Yet another opportunity to learn and grow and introspect if I choose to do so. Biggest lesson so early into this shift is how insidiously past negative experience can influence and color perception of the present very different one. This morning I am deeply grateful to have seen this error quickly, talked it over and banished it from the future. It cost me a weekend of stress-triggered symptoms, but not the many weeks that might have occurred in the past. Progress.

This morning the wind is howling and so is my dog, who remains safely on the porch, under her warm light, letting the world know she is on guard though not exposed. Rather how I intend to address this week, alert and prepared but sheltered in the comfort of knowing all is well within.

Baraka bashad, may the Blessings be.

Conspiracy Theory???

September 16, 2019

A recent conversation about obtaining certificates in two different specialties (purchasing and project management) brought me to consideration of how divisive/divided everything is at present. Not just red and blue states, old style versus Trumpian Republicans, moderate versus liberal Democrats, but education programs and goals, job descriptions, conditions for social club membership… everything I look around at seems defined by exclusion. I find myself wondering whether there is some malign intent of the “divide and conquer” variety behind our present social condition?

When and how did it become unacceptable to be a generalist, taught how to think, reason, research and learn in any area one wished to apply those skills to? When and how did society shift to requiring that one have a one year LPN with but minimal work experience, to do utilization review, while a social work M.A. and 20 years experience qualifying people for the programs under review does not meet the minimum requirement to be interviewed for a reviewer position? Why does a B.A. in OSHA and Safety Management not obviate the need, listed in a job a description, to also hold a certificate of completion of a duplicative 20 hour OSHA course?

It almost seems that we have arrived at the intended outcome of an active conspiracy to manipulate and control large swaths of society by insidiously suggesting that not only are “some more equal than others” but that the “more equal” class is virtually closed off. No one may join it except perhaps through a narrow path, intentionally ill defined and held secret. Any “others” who try to become part of the exclusive, dominating class are apt to be investigated and attacked at the behest of the original cabal. 

Have the various tech giants done anything differently than the railroad and mining and other robber barons of earlier centuries? Are our community ethics so much more refined now, that we think we can no longer tolerate a morality that has prevailed for centuries? Or are the conspirators in action here too, quietly moving to keep their ranks pure?

No, I don’t really believe there is a conspiracy at work – but there certainly has been a change in values, an ever expanding emphasis on specialization and diminishing of respect for what used to be called a Renaissance mind. At the same time, our society – and a good many others around the world – have become much more fractured, partisan, intolerant. While I doubt this outcome is the intent of a controlling cabal, I do think there is a direct correlation between the narrowing of fields of learning and the splintering of society.

What may have started as a well-intentioned effort to help students prepare for jobs and careers by specializing in areas where workers were needed seems to have morphed into a misguided focus on defending the ranks by excluding as many “others” as possible. Is the tendency to define “us” as “not them” so deeply rooted in the human psyche that as exclusion by race or gender was legislated away, other less obvious criteria for separating “the wheat from the chaff” were written into the marketplace, the workplace, the country club and our living spaces?

A neighbor described to me the co-housing arrangement her son just moved into in Los Angeles. He had to apply and be accepted into a group of artists (generic term, they are painters and actors and musicians or, as in his case, models) to rent his cell-sized pod and share kitchen, living room, studios, and other amenities including a recording studio. The young man is biracial, vegan, well educated and has been working as a professional model for several years. The co-housing rent is half what he would have to pay for an efficiency apartment, and thus a really good arrangement for someone just starting out in L.A. He did comment to his mother, my neighbor, that he’d try to hunt up “some science types” to hang out with, to balance what would otherwise be a rather unitary social scene. Co-housing is a fine concept. Why does it have to be implemented in such an exclusionary way?

A student at the nearby United World College asked me for guidance on what to expect and how to conduct herself during a project she would be conducting at the local detention center. She knew I had taught in the New Mexico Penitentiary years ago, and might have insight into prisoner mentality. We discussed the challenge of being “human” enough to connect with the prisoners without becoming vulnerable to being manipulated. We also talked about how prison culture had been altered with the advent of gangs. What historically was a value system somewhat like the stereotype of the old West, with one’s word being one’s bond, has shifted to allegiance to one’s gang affiliation, with it being perfectly acceptable to lie in support of the aims of that group. I could not resist drawing a parallel to politics of today, with allegiance to one’s political party being expected to take precedence over integrity, precedent, and even the law and the Constitution. Yet another instance of the we/they divide which makes “cross party negotiation” equivalent to betrayal.

No, I don’t really believe there is a cabal whose conscious intent has been to fracture society and our nation – but yet I cannot ignore the seeming evidence that SOMETHING has produced a shift in values that I find deeply disheartening, downright fearsome, and needing to be pointed out and combated.

Are there other generalists, negotiators, open-minded learners, willing to cross party, culture and national lines with me?

Crotchety Older People

September 2, 2019

My kitchen has two sets of silver, one of my choosing the other inherited. They live one above the other in their respective drawers. Is it so hard to sort them into their proper slots? As I do the task not done by others in my household, I recognize that my irritation is out of proportion to the amount of time the task takes and pause to ask myself, why am I wasting energy being angry? 

My “day job” is full of constant and multiple deadlines, with extra “24 hour” ones thrown in randomly, on a daily basis. I used to pride myself on handling them all promptly but lately I’m resenting, and exhausted by the relentless demands and lack of freedom to schedule my days into some semblance of balance.

Familiar, sadly frequent and therefore now expected computer glitches make me increasingly angry, where I used to be resigned to their occurrence. 

My cat’s meowing insistence on being tended to NEOW, instead of drawing my attention to her empty water dish, just rouses in me a perverse determination to ignore “yet another demand on my time.”

What the heck? What’s going on? I don’t think of myself as someone so easily angered by meaningless, petty daily events. It certainly isn’t my goal or desire, to be angry! I know I’ve never been a laid back, “whatever” personality, but for most of my life I’ve been able to take changes and uncertainty in stride, adapting as necessary, especially to the demands of a career that has never been predictable. So why, of late, are those same demands so frustrating?

One of the accusations leveled at “older” workers is that they are inflexible and reluctant to adapt and change with changing conditions, new technology, or different performance expectations. It is mostly a myth, that charge. But I see a hint of truth behind it, if I consider my present dislike of the constant barrage of small procedural changes thrown at us weekly, sometimes daily, as my company incorporates a new data management system. Fortunately for the reputation of older employees, most of my coworkers are significantly younger, but they share my sense that it’s time the changes were put on hold and we were allowed to develop some routines and patterns that would permit us to complete our “on deadline” tasks without having to constantly resort to “cheat sheets” listing all the steps for each activity.

Work issues aside, there remains something bothersome to me about my level of irritation with minor disorder. It is so clearly “not worth the cost in energy drain” to become angry about spoons in the wrong slot! I don’t want my cat going without access to fresh water, and I used to be appreciative when she drew my attention to the empty bowl. What has changed?

The easy answer is too heavy a burden in the day job, and that certainly is a truth which I have already addressed with my supervisor. He has responded positively and my caseload is being reduced to the purported standard, after years of me carrying a significantly higher number of clients than we are “supposed” to be assigned. I am appreciative of the anticipated consequent reduction in work schedule from 50+ hour weeks to something more like the standard 40.

I don’t, however, think the easy answer is the “true” answer, since it is not the time needed to sort spoons that angered me, but the fact that others do not seem to respect my desire for order in my kitchen. One of my clients, who has an explosive anger problem, recently blew up over a misplaced measuring cup, accusing his worker of stealing it. I am fortunately not so irrational in my irritation, recognizing instead that something in me needs shifting. But what is that something?

Aha – the perception of older workers may in fact have a kernel of validity, if I acknowledge that the creaks and pains of an older body, which come and go unpredictably (or remain persistent, annoying, and unavoidable) make me/us more reliant on order and control in those areas where we have a small hope of it. If most aspects of a day are orderly, I can more easily handle the unpredictable. True for everyone, no matter the age, I believe. What age throws into the mix is an increase in unpredictable challenges to be handled, mostly arising from the wearing down of the body and an associated decline in physical capacity.

In the past 5 years I have developed an unpleasant response to barometric fluctuations – my bones hurt and I get ocular migraines. The visual distortion of the migraine usually only lasts about 15 minutes and, if I have to, I can continue working despite it, though doing so worsens the headache pain that comes after the sparkling light patterns have faded. Carrying on while in pain is a given for older bodies, but it does draw down one’s allotment of energy. With less “disposable capital” in the form of energy, spending any of it on organizing what someone else “should” have put right themselves can feel frustratingly wasteful of a precious resource.

My client reported that he spent over an hour going through everything in his kitchen, even checking inside the freezer, looking for the missing measuring cup. He was in the midst of making a pie and he had a second measuring cup available to use  – “I have one set for wet and one for dry measure. I don’t like to mix them up.” – but let his anger at the lack of order totally divert him from his project.

Without going to the irrational extremes that my elder client accepts as normal (“I have a great deal of anger and fight to control it”) I do see in myself, as I also grow older, a  parallel growing desire for what is around me to be consistent, in its place, orderly and reliable so that my daily ration of energy can be used most productively. Having to travel 85 miles in order to have a tech turn off an auto-sync feature in my laptop, costing me half a day of time needed to meet my work deadlines (and hence requiring that I work well into the evening playing catch-up) is a waste of my precious energy resource. I resent that waste. Why didn’t the techs programming my computer think about the limited bandwidth those of us working in rural areas have access to, and NOT program in an unnecessary auto-sync? 

I used to be resigned to the fact that techs living and working in New Mexico’s big urban center would not consider the restrictions facing the couple hundred of us in my job category working “in the boonies” when making their decisions. Now I am not so sanguine. I have, in this domain at least, clearly become a stereotypical crotchety older worker.

On my non-work days, I am productive – often highly so, provided the days are not overly pre-scheduled. Using my daily ration of energy according to my wishes of the moment works remarkably well. On this three day weekend, without feeling over tired, I have not only written an essay, cooked five meals, cleaned out the back of my car, done normal daily housework, finished reading two books, balanced three bank accounts, done the week’s grocery shopping, and organized my home office, but also had a half day outing to a spa in Santa Fe (still 85 miles away), a meal out at the home of friends, a two mile walk, and several online chats with friends. Oh, and napped twice. All that done, without any irritation or sense of exhaustion, because it was at my pace and sequenced as I chose.

Which would suggest that older workers only become crotchety when they are subjected to energy-drain in the context of scheduling/demands imposed by others. Give us what needs to be done in a structured way at the start of the day/week/month and leave us to get through it in our own way, and you will have a happy, productive and effective worker, no crotchets.

Oh, and do your own part correctly, please!

Et Cetera

August 19, 2019

I haven’t heard if there’s a politically equivalent term for compassion fatigue but if there isn’t there should be one. Or maybe compassion fatigue can be extended to my present state of exhaustion with constant demands to “support this”, “sign if you…”, “tell your Congressman,,,”, “urge your Senators…”, “protest this”, “vote for…”, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

(Old enough to hear Yul Brenner’s voice pronouncing those words?)

I recently spent part of a Sunday systematically removing myself from mailing lists of one group after another, clearing out my email inbox and hopefully leaving only a few daily news summary feeds, and requests from the single advocacy group that responded to my demand for assurance that if I sign something on their behalf, they will NOT share my information with any other organization. I actually received a personal response guaranteeing that Issue One does not share its mailing list with any other group, and I am therefore staying connected to that advocacy site, which is a bipartisan focus on restoring integrity to our governing system.

In the process of surviving these past months of ever increasing anger, outrage, brutality, fear-mongering, disgust, determination et cetera, et cetera, et cetera (Didn’t he have a mesmerizing voice?) I have also come to take even greater pride in my home state of New Mexico, felt most keenly on the last (2018) election day. While we too often come out near the bottom in national surveys of graduation rates, maternal health, pregnancy rates of high school students, and similar social measures, my state is decidedly in the very top tier for the integrity (and verification of that integrity) of its elections, as well as for inclusiveness of all social and racial and ethnic groups, et cetera et cetera, et cetera in our state and its political process. No gerrymandering accusations, all inclusive voter registration opportunities (driver’s license and public assistance applications both include an invitation to register to vote if eligible), and accessible voting sites with ample early and absentee voting options.

I felt deep pride as I marked my paper ballot, watched it being scanned into a reader, saw the recorded count indicator tick up one, and noted my individual voting number to use if I should wish to verify that my votes were recorded exactly as I cast them. No races in the state were close enough to require recounts, the gubernatorial transition went smoothly and New Mexico moved forward with its familiar absence of presence on the national news, other than noting that we elected one of the two “first” Native American women to the House. The fact that we were the first state in the nation to have two women competing for governor (back in 2010) did not make the national news. And there was also no coverage on-line of the fact that the most recent transition in the governor’s office was from one Hispanic woman to another Hispanic woman. 

I rarely watch television – don’t have reception in my home – so I cannot confirm that the national news still omits New Mexico when reporting on weather events in the southwest. My father was the one who first commented that the announcers will talk about California, Arizona and Texas skipping New Mexico entirely. I reminded him of the cite in Milagro Beanfield War describing “poor New Mexico, so far from heaven, so close to Texas.” Then I remarked that the quote most probably did NOT originate with a New Mexican, as many of us feel we live pretty darn close to heaven in our beautiful state with its clear star filled skies, amazing sunsets, varied terrain and dramatic weather variations across a single day. I am happy to add to the heavenly aspects the warm reception given to Vietnamese refugees, to a growing Muslim population, to survivors of Katrina who chose to settle and stay after what they had thought would be a temporary evacuation, and even to Californians, New Yorkers and yes, Texans.

The look of the House of Representatives since this past January, was touted as the most diverse ever, and closer than ever to reflecting the diversity of our nation. Would that a little more notice might be taken of New Mexico’s diversity, and the extent to which a singularly poor state manages to balance the differing priorities of that diverse population.

Or maybe it is better that we continue to be overlooked, omitted, frequently thought to not even be part of the U.S.?

Left to ourselves we have been largely spared the uglier aspects of the current national scene, though we have had a couple shooting rampages and quite a number of incidents of cronyism and corruption that have taken too long to be exposed. Left to ourselves, we do expose them – like the President and members of the Board of Directors of Luna Community College who were ousted after nearly costing the school its accreditation. Or the fire chief, his daughter a payroll officer, and his friend who is also an official in the fire department of Mora County who were fired after an investigation into misuse of County funds.

That is the same Mora County, historically the poorest county in our poor state,  which became the first entity in the nation to attempt to pass a local ordinance banning fracking within its borders. They were ultimately unsuccessful at establishing legal precedent, but they did bring the oil and gas exploration effort to a halt for long enough to enact needed strict controls on the exploitation process.

I could identify other positive “firsts” New Mexico has achieved which have also gone largely unnoticed at the national level. But this post isn’t about bragging on my home state. Rather, I set out to write my way toward a less exhausted frame of mind, hoping to find inspiration to remain engaged enough to continue reading the daily news feeds that I will receive from those few sources that give me facts without a deluge of demands for money or petition signing, or other prodding to action that would once again put my email address onto countless other lists.

I’ll let you know in time, whether I’ve succeeded. For now, I can reiterate that I’m proud of how New Mexico handles its diversity, assures the integrity of its voting process, and quietly goes about achieving first in the nation status for choices I think important. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

 


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