Archive for the ‘life wisdom’ Category

Patience – again

September 19, 2020

Quite some time ago, when I was educating myself on Twelve Step programs in the course of learning about addictions, I was told about a phenomenon noted among participants that was too often a contributor to relapse – the emergence of serious health challenges in the months after sobriety was achieved.
“I was never sick when I was using, except for withdrawals when I couldn’t get a new supply.”
“I didn’t have any health problems until after I got sober.”

It never occurred to me that there might be a similar response to retirement and its accompanying cessation of the adrenalin rush which faded with the end of deadline pressures.

Feeling somewhat at sea, unsure how to structure one’s days, seeking a new balance of tasks and relaxation – those were feelings I anticipated or had been alerted to expect, and ones that seemed reasonable. A marked decrease in interpersonal contacts would also be inevitable, given the necessary isolation already in place due to the pandemic. Loss of energy would naturally follow from a drop in adrenalin. I was prepared to avert a parallel mental/emotional sag that could seem misleadingly like depression.

I was not prepared to experience the above referenced upsurge in health issues.

The explanation generally accepted in the Twelve Step situation is that the addict/alcoholic/codependent has been too engaged with the focus of their addiction to care for themselves. Not so different a situation as that of health caregivers who ignore their own needs in the process of tending to their parent or partner ill with cancer, Alzheimer’s or other care-demanding conditions. Once attention returns to the individual, previously ignored symptoms become salient and require attention.

I did not need a day of sick leave in the last 4 years of my employment. I maintained – still do – a regular weekly schedule of health support treatments. I am an appropriate weight, have never smoked, drink very sparingly, and exercise daily. I do not have any “underlying conditions” to make me vulnerable, other than being somewhat up there in years (late 70’s) and having lived through a 5 year period, some 35 years ago, of a bad time with bronchitis. It has not been an issue since, beyond a bit of congestion if I become seriously overtired.

So why, 6 weeks into retirement, free of stress and sleeping well, am I experiencing an upsurge in frequency of ocular migraine headaches and an aggravating bout of bronchitis?

The more rest I get, the less energy I seem to have. Breathing in an unknown contaminant last week apparently triggered the bronchitis (Covid test negative) that now refuses to subside. Yes our air in New Mexico is seriously smoky, downwind from the West Coast fires and that undoubtedly is exacerbating the bronchitis flare up. But why is this lung irritation stubbornly persistent while I am relaxed and rested, when it never did so while I was highly stressed and working 50 plus hour weeks?

Probably the question I should be asking is “what, that I have not yet identified, needs my attention just now?” such that I am being slowed down, held in place, prevented from moving into new activities until I recognize the missing element. At least, that seems to be how illness has played out in my life so far.

Sometimes, when I frame the question, I get the answer promptly. Other times, I get to practice the difficult lesson of patience. This seems to be one of those latter occasions.

I’ll let you know when the insight arrives.

The Meaning of Alone

September 10, 2020

Alone but not lonely
Lonely even though not alone
Sleeping single in a double bed
No one to talk to
No one who cares
No one trusted enough to share with
No one who will (or can) listen

Free to make one’s one decisions
Empowered to act without waiting for approval or agreement
Challenged to be creative

Look Ma, no hands
Wheeeeee
Crash

I want to hold your hand
I want you to hold me, please
Babies with adequate hygiene and food but not held do suffer and die from the lack of touch
A variant of marasmus

Touch deprived adults may fall into depression, poor health
A may die prematurely

Alone can be content
Lonely cannot

What makes the difference?
Attitude
Faith
Upbringing
Insight
Learning
Choice

All challenges to the Self
That enhance growth

But mostly, I think, that last one
Choice
Think about it.

I Still Go for Walks

August 26, 2020

My walks these days are mostly down and back up the steep hill in the long driveway from our house to the mailbox by the road. I started with just a single trip, to collect the mail and take a break from the computer and phone of my work day. Now that I am untethered from those bindings, I make the trip an increasing number of times per day, usually 3-4 in the cool of morning followed by single or double hill climbs a couple more times until evening. I have been using the morning walks to prioritize the activities pending in my day, both cleaning out the house of its years of accumulated stuff, and organizing a new laptop with files saved from 8 or more years ago when I set aside my writing career to resume being an overworked but productive peon in the health care system.

In the course of the file retrieval, I came upon a piece I wrote probably ten years ago, that resonates with me now. I have welcomed input from friends both about what to do next in my life, and what changes to expect in how I will feel and how my physical self will respond to the lessening of the stress under which I have lived for so many years. My essay reconnected me with another important source of input still salient despite the fact that the person described passed on more than 45 years ago.

Enjoy the encounter with me.

A Walk with My Grampa

“I Went For a Walk in the Forest” was the book title and first phrase I learned to read, precociously at age three, sitting on my Grampa’s lap as he read the story over and over to me. The book was paper bound, about 6 inches high and 10 inches long, with a black and white cover sketch of the forest surrounded by a pumpkin-orange border. If you opened the book out flat, so that the back and front covers made one whole picture, all the animals met on that forest walk could be seen hidden among the trees. In the delightful manner of children’s fantasy, the animals collected in that forest ignored the habitat restrictions which would normally prevent them meeting, except perhaps in a zoo.

From the safety of Grampa’s lap I learned about lions and horses, a giraffe, an elephant, deer and antelope, and a monkey. When the reading walk was done we rested. He smoked, and I trapped the smoke rings he blew into a wide mouth bottle, where they magically retained shape until the genie who also lived in the bottle stirred them into a fog to give himself shelter.

I went for a walk at the zoo, with my Grampa, most Sundays from when I was seven until I was twelve. He would come down on the train from Baltimore to spend the day with us, and would take me for ‘our’ time. Not always to the zoo, sometimes to the park or just for a walk around the neighborhood. He would ask me about my week in school, what I had learned and what I was reading, and he would tell me about the poem he was working on, or the article he was writing (in Hebrew, or Yiddish) for The Forward (which he pronounced as though a “v” began the second syllable). It was important to him to pick just the right Hebrew word from among several choices for his poems, to convey mood and spirit, as well as meaning.

I went for a walk on the beach – alone now, a world away from my Grampa, he still in Baltimore and I on the sand at Nha Trang, picking up tiny pink and black and pearl-colored shells which elderly Vietnamese refugees from the north collected to string into elaborate necklaces. I wore a small gold pendant my Grampa gave me, with the Tree of Life etched into it. A link, he said, that would stretch from Vietnam back to Maryland, to keep us sharing our walks. Those were harder years, without his immediate presence and gentle wisdom to balance the emotional stresses of my early teens.

I missed him still, when I went for a walk in the Bois de Boulogne during my high school years. I wrote to him, sitting on a sarcophagus in Pierre La Chaise cemetery, one of the few places in bustling Paris that I could find solitude and quiet. Those were very hard years, for both of us. He was no longer working in his dental practice and had fewer places to publish his essays and poems. He was no longer as able to care for himself, and not very aware of time, so his replies to me were intermittent, and rarely responsive to the questions I asked.

I went for a walk in the Crum Woods on Swarthmore’s campus, during my college years, and felt his presence through the guitar in my room, a fine instrument I’d found in a pawn shop, which he gave me the seventy-five dollars to purchase. I’d asked my parents for the money, but my mother had responded in her usual fashion. “Why don’t you prove your interest in playing guitar by learning on a borrowed one before you ask me to spend my money on something you may not pursue?” Fifty years later, that guitar stays easily in tune and it’s tone is admired by everyone who plays it.

I went for walks by the Chicago shore of Lake Michigan, and along the Charles River in Boston, after helping my mother to settle Grampa in Miami, where the better weather and the presence of a few close friends made it easier for him to manage. We talked on the phone since his eyes had failed to the point that he could not write, nor easily read. With a metal-bound, rectangular, hand-held magnifying glass left from his collection of dental tools, he would slowly read the daily Yiddish press, sharing his opinions with me on the events which he didn’t trust TV news to present fairly. He worried, after the Six Days War, that while its outcome improved Israel’s security at the time, there would come from it a negative turn in world opinion toward the Jewish state. He would, I know, be distraught over the actions and decisions taken recently – the wall, and the West Bank settlements which have become symbols of oppression rather than statements of freedom.

I went for one last walk with my Grampa, along the path beside the railroad tracks in Lamy, here in New Mexico, after he could no longer live on his own. My mother and I moved him into a nursing home outside Santa Fe, where I visited with him several times a month, and brought him to my little converted boxcar house for an outing, the one weekend he was strong enough to come. I told him the story of looking out the train window, age twelve and on my way to Vietnam, seeing Lamy as a strange, wild and western place – missing him desperately and never imagining that we two would walk together there. He answered that it was good to walk with me, though he didn’t really grasp where we were, and complained to me that there were people in his nursing home whom he could hear speaking Yiddish from a distance but who, when he came close and spoke to them, would not answer. I tried to explain that they were speaking Spanish, not Yiddish. He was by then seriously deafened, hearing just enough scraps of language to know when it wasn’t English being spoken. Like most speakers of more than one tongue, with advanced age Grampa’s communication abilities lasted longest in his first language, or in his case his first two, Yiddish for everyday and his beloved Hebrew for poetry and praise.

My grampa died within days of his official 91st birthday. Official, rather than real, because he had to transfer a birth date from the Jewish (lunar) calendar used in what he called the “dot on the map village outside the dot on a map town” where he was born in Russia, to the western calendar he encountered when he entered the US as a twenty year old man in 1907. Knowing Shvat to be a spring month, he arbitrarily called it March. He equally firmly rejected the proposed Americanizing of his name to Hill, insisting that “no, my name is Domnitz, Aaron Domnitz.”

I go for walks now, often a brisk measured mile by Storrie Lake, or a leisurely stroll along Bridge Street, and realize I am just a bit above the age my Grampa was as my parents prepared to take us (his only close family) across the world to Vietnam. After 14 or more years of weekly trips from Baltimore to DC (he began them when my mother became pregnant with me), how great a change – and loss – that must have been for him!

I wonder – but obviously have no one to ask – why my parents didn’t bring him with us? Perhaps it was discussed and he refused? More likely, I’m afraid, my mother determined that she “didn’t want the responsibility” as that was her standard reply with which to block everything from my having friends for a sleep over, to helping host visiting dignitaries whom it was my father’s job to entertain. Blessedly it was also her response when Grampa needed nursing home care, so that I got to have him close to me for those precious last 18 months of his life. We went for so many lovely walks, in our talks, during my on-my-way-home-from-work visits with him!

Because life in his natal village had gone virtually unchanged for centuries before he left it, his awareness bridged nearly 300 years. Thus, we talk-walked streets of the 1700s in Russia as readily as those of Santa Fe in 1975. He shared the concern of many, that our technological skills so far exceed our ethical advances. “Will we now bring war to the moon?” was his question after that one giant step for mankind.

Grampa’s dental cabinet, filled with a fragile, gaily decorated porcelain tea service from Vietnam, sits in my Sapello home. I use his magnifying glass when I need stronger eyes. The guitar provides music from many cultures, when I entertain students from the United World College. I pick my written words with care, respecting the importance he gave to nuances of meaning.

My Grampa started me reading about a walk through a forest to meet different animals. He continues to guide me on my walk through life, meeting its varied challenges. Some of that guidance arises from one of the last things Grampa said to me, shortly before he died. I’d asked if he had his life to live over, what he might have done differently. His answer was that he had only two regrets. The first was that he thought perhaps my mother might have been a happier person if he had remarried (he raised her on his own), but he’d never found the right woman. The second was that he wished he’d learned to play the mandolin. No wonder he supported my learning the guitar!

However long my own life walk turns out to be, I hope that when it ends, I will have as few regrets as my Grampa did. With his gifts surrounding me, and his ethics a part of me, I have every reason to succeed.

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!

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!

Cultural Divide

August 2, 2019

I recently attended a wedding celebration that was notable not just for the radiance of both bride and groom (he is known for his smiles and was positively overflowing with joy) but also for its uniting of an Hispanic and a Cameroonian, who have known each other for six years already and have (hopefully) ironed out the cultural kinks in their relationship. I was seated with my husband at a table mostly of Cameroonian guests, one of whom brought his Hispanic girlfriend. While my husband talked in pidgin with his country-mates, I did my best to both follow their conversation and chat in English with the only other non-pidgin speaking guest at the table. She, unlike me, understands nothing of pidgin. We made the sort of small talk two strangers can be expected to begin with – where do you live, what is the current focus of your daily life, how do you know the wedding couple, etc.

Then she (I will refer to her as E) asked me how long my husband and I have been married and after I answered “five years” followed up with the question “what is the most difficult part of being in a cross cultural marriage?”

A good question. After a bit of thought, I gave her an answer but I’ not sure now it was the right answer. I told her it is especially easy to miss take how something is said and misinterpret intention when the nonverbal cues between the two cultures differ significantly. Communication between people is a miracle of overcoming different mindsets, background experiences and values. Add in different nonverbal cultures and it is amazing that people manage not to be constantly at war. The wedding dinner experience at our table was a perfect example. I knew that, seated with country-mates, my husband would mostly engage with them and expect me to fend for myself in conversation. I don’t think E expected to be left so much on her own and out of the loop. She may have felt neglected by her boyfriend, whereas I have learned not to interpret my husband’s engagement with his fellows as lack of concern for me. Rather it is a sign of his respect for me, his belief that I am quite able to make my own way in a group of Africans.

I told E that different cross-culture relationships require extra effort to bridge the unspoken communication subtleties, but that knowing this one can succeed, by always stopping to ask “is this what you intended?” before letting an emotional reaction take over. Not always easy to do, and not really any different than what one is advised to do in any relationship. 

As I’ve thought over E’s questions subsequently, I find I have a slightly different answer. The challenges still lie in the nonverbal arena but have less to do with direct communication and more to do with the intangibles of what “feels comfortable” to each partner. The most salient aspect of difference in my home has to do with what I would call noise level, but my husband most probably would just describe as ambient volume (noise having a negative connotation).

A good number of years ago, I offered housing to two new graduates of the United World College located near me, when they were stranded and unable to get home in a timely manner. The girls were friends, one from Senegal and the other from Nigeria. I worked full time while they spent the days in the house. I became accustomed to arriving home from work and, as I pulled into the garage, hearing what had been loud music suddenly shut off. The girls knew that at the end of a hectic work day I craved the country quiet of my home. They explained that the same silence that comforted me frightened them. All their lives they had lived in what I might call boisterous cultures, what I would inevitably experience as much too much noise. 

One need not go outside the U.S. to know this sort of cultural distinction though here we are more inclined to view it as simply a difference of personal preference. Some families are expressive, others restrained, even within the same sub-cultural group. But there is also, within a culture, an underlying, unspoken assumption regarding what is a proper and appropriate level of … I can’t think of a good alternative word for noise, though I would like one that is more value neutral. Oh, I can use sound.

As I have reflected on E’s question, I’ve recalled complaints from some of my prisoner students, when I taught classes in the New Mexico penitentiary, that the black inmates were “always too loud.” I’ve also recalled visiting with my college roommate and her family at their summer home in northern Minnesota. They are Finnish and spoke so quietly that their conversation blended easily into the soft background sounds of fish jumping in the nearby lake. In that environment my normal speaking voice was loud, even to my ears, and I consciously toned it down.

Now, I have begun to wonder to what extent the larger political upheaval we are experiencing in the U.S. is rooted in not just a difference in values, and a fear-based antagonism for what is different, but in a subtle, fundamental and unnamed discomfort with, intolerance for, cultural differences in sound. And not just sound, but other equally subconscious non-verbal behaviors, like social spacing, or the meaning of time.

Our African friends issue two types of invitations – for a party at 8 PM, or for a party at 8 “white man’s time.” The former means arrive whenever it suits you, the latter means get there at most a half hour after the start. There is no expectation that any invitation means to actually get there at the stated start time. What a contrast to my German father’s indoctrination to always allow for the unexpected which might prevent me from being present exactly “on time.” That training is so ingrained that I am usually early, and wait in my car until it is appropriate to show up where I am expected.

Might the tensions expressing themselves in our present national political debates be seen as complex reactions to two fundamentally different concepts of how to deal with underlying cultural differences? One one side is the approach embodied in my response to E, to become aware of these nonverbal differences and be prepared to make allowances for them, to accommodate differences, reach across the barriers they may pose, communicate, learn and share, and thereby both show respect and grow closer. On the other is reaction, mistrust, rejection, withdrawal into separateness and an eventual unbridgeable divide.

My choice of words makes it obvious which approach I practice, and recommend in relationships, and also which I believe we as a nation should be embracing.


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