Archive for the ‘life wisdom’ Category

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.

How Old Am I?

May 5, 2019

Age is a funny thing. Yes, there is the chronological fact of the number of years a body has existed since its birth – but even that is not counted the same way in all cultures. For some a child is one at birth, for others (most?) one is only achieved after a year of existence. My reflections have little to do with chronological age, except as a baseline against which perceived age, experienced age, sensed age might be compared.

I remember a friend many years ago, a woman at that time in her early seventies, saying she got a shock each time she looked in the mirror and saw the old woman there looking back at her. She felt herself to be still young and energetic, looking forward to new experiences, as though she were still in her thirties – “or maybe early forties, certainly before my hair turned grey.”

In my own seventies now, I relate to her comments, not so much the mirror experience, but the definite discrepancy between the count of years lived and the way I feel from the inside looking out, at least most days. Yes there are some – yesterday was one – when a combination of fatigue, barometric instability, old injuries and some new pains cause me to feel my years. Fortunately so far they remain relatively rare. Or I can keep them relatively rare by getting enough sleep, eating right, using my herbal and topical pain treatments and not letting the time demands of my work overly dictate how I pass my days.

That last is the hard one. I still am not good at taking rest/activity breaks during the long and busy work days, though I know I am actually more productive if I do get out and walk a bit, or step away from the computer and the phone and give a few minutes of mindful attention to me. When the urgent deadlines pile up, work runs from 7:30 AM to 8:30 PM. That I can meet that schedule informs me that I am still young enough, with enough energy, to seem only in my fifties, if that. Stepping away from the work, when I do get an actual entire weekend off, I still feel young when I have energy to do fun things, like participate last weekend in Word Tai Chi Day, attend a Gay Pride event, the first ever in my community, and then an amazing concert by a visiting string quartet.

Yesterday, however, with all of my body aching with fatigue and hurtful reminders of every accident and injury experienced in my life, I felt every one of my years. Again, I am grateful those days are few and relatively far between.

The greatest discrepancies I perceive between “real” age and how I see myself are undoubtedly connected to my current life, married to a much younger man who is at quite a different stage of career and focus than my age mates, most of whom are busy with volunteer activities and the desirable pursuits common to engaged and energetic retirees. I do have in common with then an engagement with the raising of young children – in their case mostly grandchildren and some great grands, while in mine it is my husband’s youngsters, now mine by shared responsibility. Never having borne children myself, I still am getting adjusted to being Mama Niki to a seven year old!

From early childhood I have carried within me an awareness that, barring some accident, I would have a very long life. That expectation prepared me for working into later life, as I never had the kind of income to enable much in the way of retirement savings. When I read statistics about national saving rates, I feel rather proud of what I was able to put together, although when I look at articles dictating the amounts usually needed as retirement savings, I fall far short. In the former frame of mind, seeing what I have achieved and that I am still working and adding to that fund, I feel young. Comparing myself to the latter standard, I could lapse into a fearful awareness of being too old to get to the posited standard.

Fortunately, I don’t have to do so. I have begun to relax into the appreciation that financing my later years is no longer my sole responsibility. Indeed, I am very close to the point of being able to choose to work or to retire, an option I had not previously considered.

Enter an article I read this morning, about one aspect of a study being conducted in Cilento, Italy, and published in International Psychogeriatrics. The community has a very high proportion of very long-lived older citizens. Genetics and diet and lifestyle are all being reviewed, along with an analysis of psychological qualities which the article summarized into a list of values shared by all the residents aged over 80 who were being studied. Regardless of the state of their physical health, certain psychological traits were predominant among them.

Resilience was on the list, interpreted as a belief that one can withstand and overcome what living throws at one. Also optimism, and social engagement, and attachment to the land (the community is rural). What the researchers did not expect was the value that came up as number one – the expectation and intention to work throughout one’s entire life. This long lived populace (one in ten have reached 100 or more) have no concept of retirement. Types of work shift with physical changes of aging; fact of working does not.

It would seem that if I want to be present for the marriage of my young sons, and the birth of their children, I need to ignore the chronological years and instead keep a strong hold on my sense of youth and energy, as well as a continued engagement with my own career. My own experiences working with Hospice coincide with the research findings from Cilento. Over and over I have seen that the single most important component in determining length of life, especially near its end, is attitude.

There is a culture, I do not recall which one, where age is counted backwards. At birth a child is given the expected life span, and each year lived is one subtracted from that total. I don’t recall how the culture handles those who live more than the expected number of years. By the standards of that culture, I would place myself at about 35 years of age. Younger than my husband, appropriate to having young and early teen children, and definitely looking ahead to remaining years of employment and new challenges.

Resilience, optimism, engagement with the land (I have run away from city living for my entire life) – those are in place. I probably need to build in a bit more social interaction, although my work has me very engaged with people on a daily basis. So much so that, so far, I prefer quiet and solitary pursuits for relaxation. If my work changes from the current health care to what I project as a future of full time writing, I am alerted now to also add new social activities to my schedule. That will give me everything in place to join the residents of Cilento in an active older old age.

 

Amends

November 23, 2018

This is the time when we are supposed to be focused on gratitude, appreciation for the gifts we enjoy, however big or small they may be. I have much for which I am truly thankful, not just on this holiday designated for giving thanks, but every day, day in and day out. Far more than I can or care to enumerate here.

The topic of my recent contemplations has not been all those reasons for gratitude. Instead, I have been reflecting on the difference between patience and tolerance. Also the unacceptable-to-me attitude that ugly behavior must be forgiven whenever the transgressor bothers to say “sorry”.

Sorry, but sorry isn’t good enough. I have no patience with such facile, mostly empty efforts to relieve guilt, and I have even less tolerance for pretending otherwise.

There is great wisdom in the Twelve Step philosophy, whether or not one needs the program to recover from alcoholism or other addictions. The key to recovery is stated as dependent on taking stock, recognizing what harm one has caused, and not just apologizing but making amends. Not just apologizing, but taking concrete steps to right the wrongs one has done, and persisting in this effort long enough to prove that it is sincere.

I find little difficulty being patient with someone who has not yet learned, or who through illness has lost the capacity, to be respectful of others. I tolerate behavior in these circumstances to which I would otherwise not expose myself. Sort of a “no harm, no foul” situation.

Not so when the person behaving disrespectfully not only knows what he/she is doing, but presents him/herself as an upright, righteous – sorry but it’s the religion that most commonly has adherents who boast of this status – “good Christian”. The uprightness is a sham, the righteous claim is actually self-righteousness, and there is nothing either good or truly Christian in the conduct, most notably when the individual pretends apology with a few standard words and then demands forgiveness as a rightful reward for the verbal “sorry”.

Am I bitter and unforgiving? In this instance, you bet I am.

(Also annoyed at the cumbersome he/she but unwilling to give in to using the gender neutral they which has become the go to alternative.)

I have no patience with hypocrisy, and choose not to be tolerant of insincerity masquerading as regret. When I have wronged someone, especially if I have done so inadvertently, and I am sorry for my action, I start the process of apology by changing my actions – I begin to make amends. Naturally I hope that my apology will be accepted but I don’t expect that to be the case immediately. When harm has been done, it takes time and consistently changed experience for the hurt to heal.

Family caring for a  – usually parent – with advanced dementia say the most difficult aspect of that care is not being recognized by the parent. It hurts to have an entire life, one’s shared history, erased. The caregivers learn to tolerate that pain, and to practice patience with the parent, repeating and repeating and reintroducing themselves day after day, sometimes each hour or even each minute. It is not an easy learning process for most caregivers. We do not readily release our need to be recognized, acknowledged, known by those with whom we have been close. Over time, most of these caregivers do let go of hope that things can be returned to “normal” and accept that the dementia has indelibly altered their relationship. A new one can be created, often new on a daily basis, that is enjoyable in a different way.

Absent dementia, there is little that will persuade any of us that others cannot change. We incarcerate to punish but also from a belief that negative consequences will teach the need to alter behavior. We sometimes lessen the punishment if the transgressor demonstrates true regret and an understanding of the harm done. In more enlightened systems, we may allow these latter felons to make amends in a meaningful fashion instead of being locked away. In all cases, we believe that the individual can and should change behavior in future.

Other mental illnesses than dementia prevent people from understanding how their actions cause harm. Absent a mental health diagnosis, we expect that others know what they are doing, and we require that they accept responsibility for their actions. Rightly so.

(It seems to me that much anger in the body politic these days arises from failure of those who can and should be doing so, holding the president accountable for the harm he has done or, among another faction, from failure to recognize that his mental state puts him into the category of illness which demands he be excused from being held responsible, but removed from his position.)

Being held responsible brings us back to amends – actions that reveal one has accepted responsibility for harm and has set out to restore balance and a positive tone to a relationship or situation. I try to be someone who has patience with others and tolerates a fair amount of less-than-pleasing behavior while providing feedback, in hopes of seeing them grow in understanding and change their conduct. Being that person also means that a time does come when I accept that I am not being heard, change is most unlikely and I must cease to interact. No more patience, no more tolerance, no more effort on my part to sustain a relationship, teach new behavior, or otherwise intervene to save the offender from his/her consequences. Time for tough love.

The tough love approach has much in common, to my mind, with the Twelve Step program in that it puts responsibility on the doer, whether actor or enabler, to make changes. Parents using tough love change the nature of supports for their child when they stop rescuing, just as those close to a substance abuser stop enabling the abuse behavior when they take responsibility for, and alter, their own part in the cycle. It then falls to the person whose conduct is failing, to live with their own consequences. If/when there is recognition of a need to change, then amends become possible, and a healing or restoration of relationship may follow.

In both processes, the “make amends” step takes time. Trust must be rebuilt and does not come from a single “sorry”, or even from a stream of them. Actions most definitely speak louder than words in this case. The offender needs to accept that there may never be a restored relationship, that the best to be achieved may just be tolerance of some limited interaction. It becomes the offender’s role to be patient, and persistent in showing respect, regret and a sincere desire for forgiveness.

I have worked with newly released prisoners, and I have stayed in touch with some of them for years afterward, as they fit themselves back into family lives, jobs, and society in the positive way incarceration is supposed to encourage them to learn. (The fact that our Corrections Departments so rarely correct behavior is a sidetrack I do not intend to follow at the moment.) My focus is on the experience of those who do rectify their conduct, and “fly right” from the time of their release. They tell me that ten, fifteen, even twenty years later, their history of criminal conviction does not disappear, but rather continues to require acknowledgment, explanation, and proof of change. “I find myself making amends to people who weren’t even born when I went to prison, for the harm my actions did to the community they were born into.” Said without resentment, but rather with an odd sense of wonder at how consequential seemingly inconsequential acts can be.

I seek to be tolerant of incapacity, and patient in giving guidance and support while learning goes on, but also clear-sighted to recognize when the time has come to put aside these behaviors and put consequences squarely on the head of the person whose conduct is unacceptable. I strive to also then be able to recognize a sincerely repentant individual offering to make meaningful amends, as I strive also to make amends when and where needed, for actions of my own that were hurtful.

Anything less – like a pasted over pretense of social chit-chat masquerading as apology and forgiveness – is an hypocrisy with which I refuse to engage. 

Sorry for that, but so it is.

Novels

November 17, 2018

I read novels to relax, to escape daily tensions, to forget about the ugly politics that slam into my email inbox despite my continuing efforts to remove myself from mailing lists shared without my consent. I read well written novels – often mystery fiction – for the glimpse into worlds different from my own, and for the benefit of intelligent and thoughtful observations of human interactions, motivations, behaviors – all the aspects of what we bipeds can do and be.

Emphasis in that preceding sentence on intelligent and thoughtful.

I don’t have much opportunity for intelligent and thoughtful conversations. Working from home, providing health care coordination to members of a Medicaid managed care entity, my face to face conversations are primarily with my clients and focused on their immediate health needs. Interaction with coworkers is by email or on Skype, and limited to the basics of our work. Occasionally a suggestion I make for an improvement in the work process gets a “good idea, we’ll put that forward” reply, and sometimes I see the idea implemented, which is gratifying but does not meet the criterion of a conversation.

So it is in my relaxation with books that I am most apt to experience an approximation of dialog with the author, when I come across an observation or comment that stimulates reflection. If an opportunity arises I will discuss the ideas with a friend. If, as more commonly happens, no such opportunity presents itself, I can at least turn to this blog and post my side of the conversation.

Which is what I am doing today, with the juxtaposition of quotes I encountered in two books recently read. The first is from Willful Behavior, Donna Leon’s Inspector Brunetti series set in Venice, more philosophical reflections on life in that city than determined “catch the criminal” detective work.

“People in possession of what they believe is truth will do anything to see that the facts are arranged to agree with it.”

The second idea jumped off the page of Murder in Hindsight by Anne Cleeland which I read just afterwards.

“If you discredit the source, the quality of the evidence has no relevance.”

Put the two together and you have what, in my opinion, is a perfect description of the way in which our current political discourse is being twisted, distorted, denigrated, destroyed. From the Discrediter-in-Chief on down, facts are denied, sources denigrated, research suppressed and opinion presented as truth. There can be no meaningful nor beneficial discussion under such conditions.

So I read novels.

 

Et Cetera

November 11, 2018

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.

(Are you old enough to hear Yul Brenner’s voice pronouncing those words?)

I spent part of this cold snowy 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 single advocacy site which has 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 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 integrity (and verifiability of that integrity) of its elections, as well as for inclusiveness of all social groups, ethnicities, races, et cetera (et cetera, et cetera) in our state and its political process. We have an absence of 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 voting 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 has begun, and New Mexico is moving 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, as far as I know, the first state in the nation to have two women competing for governor (back in 2010) did not make the national news. And there has been, so far, no coverage on-line of the fact that the present transition is from one Hispanic woman governor to another Hispanic woman governor-to-be.

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 to me 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, come January, is being touted as the most diverse ever, and closer than ever to reflecting the diversity of our nation. Would that a little more positive 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 much more mud-slinging in recent political ads, 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 have been ousted after nearly costing the school its accreditation. Or just this past week, the Fire Chief, his daughter a Payroll Officer, and his friend who is also an official in the fire department of Mora County who have all just been 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 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 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.

 

Lessons Learned

October 27, 2018

As vacation comes closer to the end, and we start the return trip by driving from NOLA back to Mobile where we catch the plane tomorrow, I am considering what I’ve learned over the week of vacation, travel, meeting new people, seeing very different country… and sleeping more, at the same time as being much more active.

  • Hmm… I can maintain my pattern of relatively limited food intake away from home while enjoying a much greater variety of foods.
  • I miss my daily ginger tea with lime juice.
  • I am able to be active without getting so tired, perhaps because at sea level there is so much more oxygen to be had with each in-breath?
  • Soft water, which I experienced for the first time, is really sweet to my skin, and well worth the feeling of needing to scrub extra long to get soap removed.
  • Seafood is as expensive on the ocean shore – at least in restaurants – as it is in my high desert home, which makes no sense to me.
  • Vegetation on the Gulf Coast of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana is both similar and subtly different from state to state, but replete with flowers and plants my husband recognizes from his home in Cameroon.
  • Graduating 500 students as occurred this year at Columbia Southern University takes about three hours even when the speeches are short and “the walk” is well organized and fairly quickly accomplished. Nearly half of that 500 were minorities, and many of the students had traveled in from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Such is the power and reach of a good online university.
  • Blacks and whites appear to function side by side without overt friction in this part of the Deep South, and we were treated everywhere with appropriately businesslike courtesy, but in the week here I saw only one mixed race couple such as we are.
  • Most of the French Quarter seems tacky, full of rip off bars and hokey tourist traps, but retaining the architecture for which it is famous. I hope I am not too biased when I say that the Santa Fe Plaza, or Old Town in Albuquerque retain a traditional look and draw tourists without becoming quite so “shlocky”.  We did have an excellent bowl of gumbo – duck and andouille for me – at Gumbo Ya-Ya by the Quarter area wharf where we took our Mississippi River jazz cruise to mark my birthday.
  • Motel beds vary enormously in quality, and are not consistent by company brand. Fortunately, the two places we stayed for several nights both had good ones.
  • Driving side roads is infinitely more pleasant that taking interstate highways, when time allows.
  • The Vietnamese population in NOLA is reduced by a third from per-Katrina; people moved away again, rather than start over a third time on the site of their second life disaster.
  • Baton Rouge got its name from a red pole that marked the boundary between two native tribal territories in the area where the first governor of the then Spanish territory decided to place his headquarters. It has a lovely Mississippi frontage with a bike and walking trail for pedestrian enjoyment of the river.
  • I was able to divert my thoughts from work on the few occasions that the enormity of what is awaiting me rose to awareness.
  • Google directions can be helpful but I still prefer using a detailed map to waiting for the voice to tell me what to do, too close to the last minute, especially in rush hour traffic. Orienting myself overall with the map, then getting the step by step for details worked out reasonably well.
  • I HATE being pursued everywhere by telemarketing calls and texts trying to influence my choice of Medicare insurance when I am not in the market for insurance at all because I have it through my work. Being on a do not call list doesn’t help, blocking unknown calls doesn’t stop them, NOTHING stops the ugly intrusion into my days. I would have just turned off the phone, but I did need to receive calls from the people repairing my car.
  • Mobile claims to be the original site of Mardi Gras, in the early 1800’s. Wonder how the festivities came to be so strongly identified with New Orleans (and Rio) and not so much with Mobile?
  • The historic downtown section of Mobile has the look of a cross between the French Quarter and Uptown (Garden District) of New Orleans, and is lovely.
  • Drivers in Mississippi and Alabama are FAR more courteous than those in Louisiana. I wonder why?
  • Excited children are as shrill with a southern accent as they are with a western one.
  • My hair still gets unmanageably curly in a humid climate, despite decades of adaptation to high plains desert dryness.
  • A full week on the road is enough to make me ready for a rest at home, although not enough to get me ready to return to work.
  • Most motels do NOT cater to tea drinkers. The little in-room machines are useless for heating water if they have ever been used to make coffee (plastic retains the coffee taste and passes it into the tea), and reservoirs of supposedly hot water in the lobby are not in fact hot enough to brew tea. The only places that actually “work” for a tea drinker are those that have a hot water spigot on their “breakfast bar” coffee brewer machines available 24/7.
  • Given  choice between New Orleans and Mobile, I would unhesitatingly take Mobile. Better meals at a reasonable price, less hectic ambiance, equally pretty historic areas, and access to the Gulf. Unknowns are the differences between Alabama and Louisiana overall as places of residence.
  • Driving in a hurricane’s edge rainstorm reminded me of a trip home from Taos in an equally blinding snow storm, only this time I was behind the wheel instead of the passenger providing a second set of eyes. Both journeys were made successfully, and will undoubtedly remain linked in my memory.

Reaching the turning point of a vacation where one has begun the return trip engenders feelings a bit like reaching a point of age where one is aware that the end of life is fast approaching, and is now much closer than one’s beginning. From the long period of anticipation before a vacation through the trip itself until the return journey starts is rather like the many years of earlier life. While it is certainly true that a life may end at any point, that awareness is usually set aside until an accident, illness, or accumulation of years bring it into more immediate awareness.

Maybe it is only the juxtaposition of this long awaited vacation with a major milestone birthday that has me seeing a parallel? Will I be as accepting of experiencing whatever awaits me when I am called home at the end of life as I am of experiencing the comfort of returning now to familiar pillows, easily available tea, clear dry air and bright starry skies, and the many other elements that define my sense of being home?

Foxes and Owls

September 23, 2018

I spent the past week in training to learn a new data/case management system being implemented by my employer. We were a mixed group of current employees and newly added imports from a former quasi-competitor, all of us working in care coordination as either first level case managers or second level supervisors. To simplify my referents here while maintaining a degree of anonymity for the companies I will refer to my employer group as the Owls and the newly integrating staff as the Foxes. Both groups previously provided services to Medicaid recipients under contracts with our state government. The Foxes contract was not renewed and its clients needed to change providers effective January 1 2019. In a negotiated arrangement, the entire caseload and some 300 employees were transferred into Owl as of September 1. The Fox staff thus has had to learn not only the case management system new to all of us, but also to adapt to the Owl corporate culture which is notably different from their own.

That difference in corporate cultures seems to me to be reflective of somewhat divisive differences in our wider society these days. It also seems linked to my observation of a worldwide and concerning repetition of a trend from the early 1930’s. Following the world wide repercussions of the 1929 stock market crash, economic differences between classes of societies in many countries became exaggerated. The relatively small number of economic “haves” were resented by the large number of economic “have not’s” in a fashion similar to the current anger of a large portion of U.S. society against the “1%” – or the 10% depending on which metric you prefer. Now, as then, reaction is taking the form of both scapegoating on some defined “other”, and a movement toward more authoritarian leaders. Recent election results in several countries suggest the phenomenon is not limited to the U.S. Resentment of immigrants, a rise in nationalism and parochial views, and growing intolerance of difference seems to mirror that experienced in the years before the outbreak of World War II.

The voices advocating “going high” are increasingly drowned out even on the so-called liberal side by strident demands for forceful counter measures. I do not have TV reception in my home by intent. Spending a week in a motel while at the training, I did turn on the set in my room one evening to watch the 6 PM news. I did not see the program through because I was so appalled by the viciousness of all the political ads peppered throughout the show. Not one presented a candidate’s platform, views, aims. Every single ad – all funded by political pacs, rather than individual campaigns – was an ugly, twisted and negative attack exaggeration of some opponent’s purported position. As little as I care to imitate anything in the conduct of our current president, I did find myself scolding the TV for “fake news” as I turned off the set.

Our instructor for my training week is now an upper level Owl manager with whom I have worked for five years. We started together and while I have chosen to remain a front line worker, she has advanced in well merited fashion to my supervisor, then my manager, and now up yet another level to program management. (I have 20 plus years of management in health care behind me and have less than no interest in ever again being responsible for anyone’s work product other than my own.) Holly did an outstanding job of both teaching the Fox staff the procedures we Owls follow to manage our cases, and teaching all of us how to get the work done in the new computer record system. Inevitably, usually in the question sessions, differences came out between how the Foxes had handled some of the work and the way they would now be expected to handle it as Owls. Many of the differences were minor tweaks to procedure (we were after all both subject to the same mandates in our State contracts) but some revealed a deeper difference in corporate culture which may well have contributed to the Owl’s State contract being renewed while the Fox contract was not.

The Owl company originated locally early in the last century. It has grown steadily and is now one of the largest employers in the state. Throughout, it has espoused and manifested a culture of open communication and of caring both for its clients and its staff. It is not perfect – no large business will ever be flawless – but it does consistently get high satisfaction ratings both from its customers and its staff. The Fox company is a regional branch of a major national corporation. It is continuing to do business in our state, just not any longer providing Medicaid managed care here. I have interacted with current and former Fox staff over several years, and learned much more about their operating culture during this past week of training.

What seems most salient to me as a difference between the two companies emerged in a lunchtime conversation I had with a Fox supervisor who was stressed by what seemed to him to be a conflict between what he had been told at the general orientation he had attended just two weeks prior to our training, and what Holly explained as a step in the Owl case assignment process. At issue was whether staff preferences for types of cases could/would be respected. In the general orientation, a presenter had stated that Owl management strive to enable employees to work in the areas for which they feel a passion and commitment. The supervisor heard this statement as supportive of Fox structure which allowed case managers to choose to handle only adult clients, or specialize in children; take on long term care cases or work only with clients needing links to physical health providers. Holly explained that Owl new case assignments are given on a round robin basis, and the case manager is expected to work with a variety of types of clients, with assistance from subject matter experts.

The supervisor could not reconcile what he heard as directly contradictory statements. Either case managers could specialize according to their preferences or they could not. Which was it to be?

I am aware of Owl company efforts to encourage staff to find their niche even as I work a caseload that includes members whose needs are quite far afield from my areas of expertise. I have not felt this to be a conflict because I know if I feel strongly enough that I am unsuited to managing a particular case I can discuss the issues with my supervisor, and either receive the necessary outside support or have the case transferred because it is in the best interests of the client to have a more knowledgeable coordinator to work with. I am also aware that an underlying expectation of Owl employees is that we will stretch and grow rather than stay locked in predetermined boxes doing only the same things over and over. And I have experienced the spirit of cooperation, interaction and helpfulness to one another that is a basic performance expectation in the Owl world.

Trying to explain to the Fox supervisor why I do not hear the two statements he cited as being in conflict, I suggested that he has been functioning in a “black and white” culture, with defined guidelines coming down from the national level and little if any room for discussion or interpretation. “Do it this way” because that is how it has been decided at corporate headquarters, where the responsibility for maintaining standards is held.  He agreed that was the essence of Fox corporate culture. I described Owl culture, by contrast, as a “rosy” culture where guidelines are more fluid. Our standards are clear and expectations communicated, but individuals are encouraged to take more responsibility for their own performance as they contribute to the group’s overall achievements. Flexibility, adaptation, change and growth are the norm for Owls. If those changes start to feel like they are coming too fast, we can speak up, be heard, and know that we will be offered support to adjust.

I suggested to the Fox supervisor that the challenge facing him was not to resolve a seeming contradiction in case assignment guidelines, but rather to shift from hearing things from a black and white mindset to hearing them in a rosy mentality. He thought for a few minutes and agreed that making that shift, and helping his supervisees to do so, would be a big part of his new responsibilities.

What does this employment environment discussion have to do with the near century old cycle of political movements with which I began? For me, Fox culture mirrors the have/have not, missing middle ground rigidity and authoritarian patterns that relieve individuals of personal responsibility but which almost inevitably lead to conflict and war. Owl culture seems to embody a more interactive and democratic model that demands flexibility and willingness to change, as well as taking personal responsibility for one’s actions, but offers a road to negotiated settlement of disputes.

Not everyone is comfortable within Owl culture. Employees resign because they need a more clearly structured environment, with very specific duties that they know they can complete. Or because they are unwilling to put in the overtime sometimes required, or to keep adapting to procedure changes implemented in an effort to further enhance customer experience. I can relate to their frustrations with Owl culture. I understand their need for more control as an extension of my own unwillingness to be promoted to a supervisor or manager role because I want to “only be responsible for my own work product.”

Despite that preference of mine, I know I would not last in a Fox corporate culture. I don’t take well to a highly structured, “my way or the highway” environment. I value the give and take, openness-to-suggestions approach that I have experienced as an Owl. Which is why I labeled the environment a rosy one, rather than the traditional gray  contrast with Fox black and white.

What I don’t know is how to bridge the divide between the two cultures.

The Fox supervisor was oriented to changing his own view. “I’m grateful to have a job instead of being out of one at my age.” He said he has been encouraging that attitude of gratitude in his peers, many of whom were finding it hard to accept their sudden transfer of employer coming after 9 months of uncertainty about Fox renewing its State contract. Over the next months, we will see who can adapt and who decides to leave and seek different employment. Those who remain will obviously be those who can accept, perhaps even welcome, the change of culture. Those who leave will seek the culture they prefer, and for their sake I hope they find it.

Can a third generation coal miner adapt to building solar panels? How do we help a worker on an auto assembly line feel comfortable living in a different state and manufacturing wind turbines? What steps have not been taken as/when they should have, to facilitate maintaining a middle between the 10% and the rest of us? As some of us continue to push for environmental protections, more equitable sharing of resources and social supports, and genuine equality of opportunity, how do we facilitate transitions for those who see themselves losing out in the change?

We are not all Owls. Our societies need Foxes, and need to include them in determining how there can be a place for them to feel productive and important., working alongside Owls. Otherwise, I see more and more countries torn by internal strife, and society as a whole repeating the century cycle ending, God forbid, in a World War III.

What’s Yours is Yours and What’s Mine is Also Yours

September 2, 2018

It’s scary how deeply embedded childhood experiences can be, how instinctual one’s resulting emotional and visceral responses to triggers that occur a half century or more later.  No wonder conscientious parents can obsess about the smallest things, for fear they will “mark” their children for life. At the same time, children are generally quite resilient and can come to accept and live with quite appalling conditions.  Only when their circumstances change, and they gain a different view of those conditions, do they experience noticeable emotional reactions to what they have lived through.

What triggered this reflection was one of those small, meaningless in itself, interactions with my mate.  I had finished cooking a few slices of bacon, and set them aside while I used the remaining oil to fix a small serving of stir fried rice. Bacon is a treat from my childhood that I rarely indulge now. While I was stirring the pan, one of the bacon slices was scooped up and eaten.

I am quite happy to share everything with my husband, yet my first reaction was to feel angry and disrespected. Immediately, I was other where, my hand holding an ice cream cone, my mother taking half the scoop in one large bite, after she had refused to buy a cone for herself in order to “stick to my diet.” That scene repeated itself over and over, in various forms, throughout my childhood.

Whatever was supposedly designated as mine would be co-opted in part – and often entirely – by her, without “sharing” ever going the other way. I was forbidden to touch anything that was hers, forbidden to ask for a taste, let alone a portion, of what she was eating.

At Halloween, when I came in from my trick or treat foray, which was restricted to the  10 houses on two sides of the block we lived on, my bag of goodies was confiscated, to be doled out to me in small quantities for at most three days. “It’s not healthy for you to have a lot of sugar.” By day four, the stash was reportedly exhausted, even though I knew I had not eaten any of the popcorn balls or fudge I had been given.

Approaching a birthday when I was already into my teens, I was walking and window shopping with my parents when I saw a necklace in a window that I fell in love with. It was not particularly expensive and I risked pointing it out and suggesting that it would be something I would love to receive as a present. My father had asked me just that morning if I knew what I might like and I’d said I needed to think on the topic. My mother criticized the necklace design and suggested it wasn’t worth its modest price.“Don’t ask again,” she scolded.

I don’t recall what I received for that birthday. I obviously have  never forgotten that about a month later my mother began showing herself off wearing “my” necklace. Apparently her opinion of its value differed when the purchase was for herself.

To this day, I am generous with my possessions, and very approachable with requests for sharing of whatever is desired – but also immediately bristling if, instead of being asked, my whatever is appropriated in the way that piece of bacon was picked up. I’ve learned not to voice the anger and usually can quickly talk myself out of the offended response. But I have never yet succeeded in not responding in the first place. No amount of reflection and understanding of the source of my reaction has been sufficient to excise the visceral memory of those many childhood hurts.

I dealt with the immediate situation by offering to cook more bacon, and sharing the fried rice. Would that it were equally simple to deal with that shadow mouth gulping down my ice cream!


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