Archive for the ‘Living and Learning’ Category

Brooding

July 19, 2020

When a hen goes broody, sitting on eggs, she spends 99% of her time in one place, only getting off the eggs for a few minutes to peck up some food and take a few sips of water. She sits for several weeks and – if she is my grey “Easter egg” hen, she does more. She has chosen to sit in a trough that runs about four feet along the top of a feed manger now used only for storage of miscellany. My other hens have, until now, taken it in turns to lay their eggs along that trough, often in much the same position, such that I envision them lining up to take it in turns leaving their daily deposits to collect to a total of 4-6 that I pick up in the evenings.

Only two of the hens have the habit of announcing their laying prowess with repetitive loud crowing. I have heard those two regularly over the past couple weeks, but have generally only found one egg when I make my nightly checks. I recently mentioned to a friend that perhaps instead of two hens laying, only one was doing so and announcing herself twice – or that two hens were crowing their accomplishments but one was lying.

Instead, apparently both are laying and the gray hen is shoving their eggs beneath herself along with her own that she is trying to hatch. Otherwise there would not be, after just a week, more than ten eggs beneath her as my spouse ascertained to be the case yesterday. Grey hen gets ‘fatter’ looking each day, as she spreads herself more an more trying to cover and maintain warmth in so large  clutch.

I initially picked four eggs from her brooding spot when, just a couple days after she settled in, she was out to eat. I decided then to let her sit on eggs laid subsequently, since it is warm enough and enough summer still remains, for her to actually hatch and raise them. I did not anticipate that she would collect everyone else’s eggs to add to her own. Now I’m just curious to see the outcome. Will we in fact get babies? Of several different colors and breeds (my hens are a mixed bunch)?

It also has struck me that, in the midst of the ugly “everyone for him/herself” dynamic being perpetuated in our societal life these days, it is heartening to observe an example of self sacrifice for the collective good in a creature too often maligned as stupid.

Would that more of us purportedly intelligent bipeds were equally concerned for the well being and perpetuation of our young, particularly when it comes to finding the means to balance their health with their education and their impact on their families.

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!

Telephone-itis

April 14, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Sad.

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

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

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

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

The New Reality

March 29, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Reparations

August 19, 2019

Discussion about reparations for the historical wrong of slavery now emerging on the national scene have stirred a number of reactions in affected populations, and also in me. Let me start by saying I think the final decision about what, when and how any reparations might be effectively made should be left to the affected parties – i.e. those Black Americans who are the descendants of slaves.

I have heard widely differing views expressed within that population, about whether money is the proper currency for reparations, what other methods of balancing out the inequities of our society might be more effective, and whether the process should be individual or institutional. Not being a Black American descendant of slaves, I accept that I do not have a right to make decisions on the topic. I do believe, as an American citizen, that I have a right to an opinion on the options, and perhaps also an obligation to voice my perspective and reflections on the topic in order to assist the discourse and analyses that are inevitably going to occupy the public domain for some time to come.

My first observation is one that can easily be misinterpreted. I do not feel any personal responsibility for repairing damage done several hundred years ago, given that my ancestors were not party to that damage, and in my own life I have not furthered the discrimination begun then. 

My mother was a first generation American citizen and my father was an immigrant from Germany. They were Jewish, and endured discrimination on that basis, as they built a life in the U.S. I felt the exclusion of being the Jewish child in public school subjected to a teacher’s inclusion of “in Jesus name” at the end of the morning prayer with which classes began. (Now you know I am no longer young.) I was denied a summer camp job that “always” went to the captain of my college archery team, which I was, when it emerged that I was Jewish. The camp did not accept Jews

I have lived out of the U.S. for extended portions of my youth, have had friendships, dated and married across racial and cultural lines, have worked with and on behalf of groups considered by some to be the rejects of society. I do not feel that I personally owe anyone anything for whatever they have been held back from by skin color, lack of finances, or other residuals of their ancestors’ enslavement. I do feel a responsibility to speak up against that part of the society within which I live, which owes a great deal to many for past wrongs, yet who are presently continuing their campaign of disrespect, violence and exclusion.

I am at least superficially aware of the givens of being Back in America, having learned them in an earlier interracial marriage at a time and place where I was alternately treated with cold politeness or abusive disdain for my choice of mate. I have now verbalized some of those lessons to my current African husband including the types of cautions to exercise in our community and especially if he is stopped for speeding on the highway, or otherwise has an encounter with the law. He grew up without direct experience of racial disparity and has had to learn how to be a Black man in this country. He has great skill at “fitting in” and setting people at ease with him, while maintaining his personal integrity and values, so I am confident he will adapt and also be safe. I am deeply saddened that my country requires that he make such adjustments.

Institutional reparations make good sense to me. Hearing how Georgetown University was built and financed by slavery, I applaud its recent decision to provide free tuition (room, board and books should be included in that grant) to black students accepted into its programs. Going a step further, I think it should invest in school enrichment programs in predominantly black high schools, to expand the pool of students who can qualify to enroll in their college course or who can attend other solid college programs. Many other institutions in this country, if they take an honest look, will find how much they benefited from slavery, and what might be an appropriate form of reparation to offer. 

One of those “successful despite the barriers” Black Americans interviewed in a recent survey of attitudes about reparations stressed that it is “too easy” to “throw money at a problem” and think it is being addressed. Much harder is the work of changing the attitudes within our society that accept and foster intolerance and exclusion, and deny our ugly history. The interviewee stated that nothing less than a major change in the prevailing ethos of our country would suffice to make reparations meaningful. I agree with that goal, but also realistically accept it is apt to be a long time coming, especially given the major regressive steps being encouraged by some of the present political leaders in Washington. I deny them as “our” or “my” leaders – they are NOT!

I find it curious that a discussion of reparations has arisen at the same time as society as a whole is now openly manifesting much of the ugly negativity, violence and exclusion that it has been claimed lie “in the past.” How can we manage to change the country’s entire ethos, if we cannot manage to pass laws to reduce gun violence, as desired by the vast majority of all sectors of our society? Our elected officials pay lip service to “the will of the people” but too many of them go no further than that meaningless mouthing of a platitude. 

I am not prepared to get into an analysis of all that has been undermined and shoved awry in our political system. That would need multiple essays and mostly just duplicate what is already being loudly – at times stridently – proclaimed by other writers. I do acknowledge my discomfort with the quandary presented by our society’s ever escalating disrespect for differences, and the challenge of how to continue to go high as some segments go lower and lower.

I find myself refusing to sign on to petitions I basically support, when they are worded as “DEMAND” that Congress do this or that. I may “request that my Senators give attention to” my views, I will ask that they support a particular bill, and I will thank them for doing so. I am not going to DEMAND in an angry tone that they do so (and I have to say I am profoundly grateful to live in a state where all 5 of my members of Congress listen, largely share my views, and are people I am proud to claim as “mine”.) I might feel differently if I were living in a place where my views are less well represented.

(Off the topic note: I definitely feel offended by software that questions my having written that previous sentence as “I might feel differently were I living in a place where… I KNOW my English grammar while the programmers clearly do not!)

It might seem I am straying from my topic, but I don’t think so. Effective reparations require a change in ethos – and the tone with which one conveys the importance of that change is itself part of the change. It is easy to feel one must meet force with force, and I have heard the public criticism of being “too nice” or too tolerant of offensive opinions out of respect for the basic value of freedom of speech.

Is inciting to violence an aspect of freedom of speech? I don’t think so. No more than arming with the machine guns of war is an aspect of the right to bear arms. 

The principles on which our society is presumed to be based were put in place “for the general good” and not for the good of individuals or corporations. Their distortion into “rights” that have made this country outstanding in its risk of public massacre, and more recently in its level of public hate speech, is a perversion that must be resisted because both perversions are for the benefit of singular groups, not for society as a whole. 

The most effective arguments I have read for reparations – and for valuing immigrants – are those that state we must change the interpretation of our laws to be more respectful of our history with both these issues. Respect is the value that is being trashed by the “divide and conquer” mentality overwhelming not just the U.S. public scene, but that of so many nations worldwide. The protesters in Hong Kong are standing up (and sitting down) for respect and the honoring of promises made. The Anglophone protests in Cameroon are rooted in the failure of that government to respect agreements made when sections of two different colonial empires were joined into one country, at independence.

So respect for differences instead of intolerance of them would seem to be the basis for healing past damages, bridging current divides and moving ahead into a more congenial future. 

Would that I thought that as a society we could at least begin to head in that direction.

Intolerance

January 20, 2019

Yes, the government shutdown has affected me personally.

No details will be provided.

Yes, all the controversy surrounding this year’s Women’s March has affected me personally.

No details will be provided.

Yes, the plethora of open demonstrations of intolerance, racism, bias and hate by groups and individuals over the past year have affected me personally.

No details will be provided.

Because one of the most pernicious dangers of the current embrace of extremism in the U.S. is to stifle discourse, and I am not immune to the fear of reprisal from one or another of the governmental or private entities that would use those details against me, if I were to provide them.

I note a few facts. In the controversy surrounding this year’s Women’s March, and the perceived anti-Semitism of some of its national leaders, there was an astounding lack of recognition that not all Jews are white. There are Ethiopian Jews, and other black-skinned Jews from a range of countries. There are Hispanic Jews, with their own language, Ladino, that is an amalgam of Hebrew and Spanish, just as Yiddish is an amalgam of Hebrew and German. When I was just barely into my teens in the mid-1950’s I was taken to a number of historic sites in Manila, including both churches and an already 100 year old by then synagogue in Manila, learning that there were Filipino Jews and Chinese Jews who attended, as well as the European Jews who had fled Nazism by going east instead of west.

A white teen choosing to wear a Chinese dress to her senior prom, because she thinks it is a beautiful style, is attacked online. “Cultural appropriation!” is screamed at her. Would that  denunciation be leveled at a Black or Native girl who did the same? Or is it only white skin that made her action offensive to some?

When I go to a party wearing the traditional Cameroonian clothing gifted to me by my husband when he returned from his trip home last year, will someone look at me with anger because my skin is not black? Based on experience from earlier in my life I can predict that the answer will be yes. A long time ago in Boston, shopping in a store that catered to the African American population, to get a dashiki for my then husband who also was dark skinned, the store owner refused to sell to me and ran me out of her shop, accusing me of “taking our men like you took everything else from us.”

I can understand, while not accepting, her anger. My husband had asked for the dashiki to wear to an event where he would be performing. He was genetically equal parts black, Native American and white. Was he guilty of cultural appropriation, even though the term was not “on the radar” forty years ago?

I don’t understand, and also do not accept, any leaders encouraging their followers to judge people by such surface traits as skin color, clothing choices, language preference, use of particular terms (like Negro, black, Black or African American), place of birth, age, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. (You betray your age as comparable to mine if you just imaged Yul Brenner.)

But mine seems to be a minority voice these days, when I speak up for tolerance,  understanding and efforts toward bi- or multi-partisanship. I recently was cut out of the life of a woman with whom I have had a 30 year quasi-family relationship, apparently because I appeared to her to have taken the side “against” her, when what I did was choose not to take sides at all. Between “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and “if you’re not with me you’re against me”, there is no room left for disengagement, reflection, tolerance, or occasionally for a carefully judged neutrality.

Yes, I agree there are many situations where a clear right/wrong demarcation needs to be upheld. Preaching/teaching hate is wrong, period. (I won’t soften that statement with an appeasing “in my opinion.”) Ignoring abuse, starvation, the effects of natural disasters is wrong – again not minimized by being only an opinion. What is a matter of opinion, in my opinion, is how one chooses to respond to these wrongs.

In my opinion, it is wrong to shut off/shut out the voices of reason, to block communication, to label and blame based on misperceived differences and unexamined biases. And it is particularly wrong to enshrine those blocks and biases in government and law as has been happening, and looks likely to be continuing, in the upcoming Supreme Court session.

I have no answers, and sadly little optimism for the next few years, outside what I can do in my own immediate circle, to continue to embody the values I espouse. I wish it were otherwise.

My lack of optimism most probably explains the relative infrequency of posts, of late. Or maybe I am only shut down by the gray, cold depths of winter?

 

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.

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.

Old, New, Newer and Older

September 2, 2018

I think I have the beginning of an understanding of the stereotype of older people, particularly older workers, as rigid and inflexible. Not saying the stereotype is valid, but that I am seeing in myself some qualities of resistance to change that could, if taken to an extreme, become a rigidity not conducive to continued employment.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is only one expression of a mindset that I recognize can be attributed to older people, older workers, including myself. “Been there, done that, don’t need to do it again to know it doesn’t work well” is another. As is the certitude that having explored a variety of ways to complete a task over years of  trial and error, and settled on the best alternative for myself, I am unlikely to welcome the suggestion that I shift to a different option.

This preference for patterned behavior shows in the sequence with which I complete member assessments for my work, and the place I like to keep the salt shaker by the stove in my kitchen. Not that I can’t do the work in a different order, or find the salt when I need it after my husband has left it where he last used it, but I know I am more efficient and sure of the outcome if many small bits of my daily life follow the consistent, established routine.

I don’t think that’s a preference unique to older people. Though I’ve lived amid accumulations of things in relatively small spaces most of my adult life, I’ve nonetheless kept an order to the piles and know exactly where to lay my hands on whatever I need.  And I periodically go through the stacks and discard or give away. Rather it seems to me that one of the benefits of growing older is having had the time and experience to understand the value in routine, consistency, and a personal sense of order and rightness to how things should be done.

Which isn’t to say that I refuse to change. My life has been mostly about change these past 6-7 years. New work, new marriage, new friendships, new style of cooking, new patterns everywhere I look.  And now a whole new database system being introduced at work that I have embraced to the point of volunteering for the work group implementing the transition and will be serving as one of the “go to” mentors for my coworkers when they have questions about how to function after “go live” in October.

I do see, however, that I am inclined to notice what the new system will not do as well as the old, or to identify likely points of friction for myself in adapting to the new process requirements . This attitude is in contrast to (mostly all much younger than I) management’s persistent, cheer-leading enthusiasm for how the new system will solve all the problems we have had with the old one. I do see advantages to the change – but I also see disadvantages, as well as the load of work for each of us getting our caseload records switched over.

One apparent benefit to the new system is the way it tracks mandatory contacts and schedules for the worker, so that deadlines are much less likely to be missed. For many of my coworkers this structure seems beneficial. Never having had a problem with keeping track of and organizing my workload, to me it felt like objectionable micromanagement until I understood the system well enough to know how to address the “to do” list in a way that gives me back my sense of being the one to control my workload.

The older-person me first perceived the objection. A younger-person me (as I usually experience myself) understood that I needed to learn enough about the new system (cooking style, living arrangements, income sources) to adapt its methods to my needs and also to adapt myself to its structure. Which is what reducing the stress of change is all about. Adaptation.

If living long has taught us anything at all, it must be that life is inevitably about change and adaptation. Failure to change and adapt is, essentially, death. Maybe not instantaneous, but certain.  Most interviews with people who have exceeded normal lifespan expectations include mention of continuing to engage with life interests and learning, continuing to seek new stimulation even if the level or extent of options is reduced by physical frailty.

The most productive workplaces, then – indeed the most productive communities, groups, social organizations – would seem to be those that have recognized the importance of balancing the energy and enthusiasm usually associated with younger people against the wisdom of experience offered by older participants. In simpler societies, even in our U.S. culture not so very long ago, that value was recognized and respected.

Is it just my jaundiced old lady view, or am I accurately seeing yet another exacerbation of polarization in U.S. society, and a deepening divide between young and old, each group believing for example the scare headlines about cost of, loss of, social programs and a resultant mistaken belief that here again we are faced with “us” against “them.”  

My still young mental self, the part of me that embraces change and declares itself ready to adapt as necessary, is seeking to find commonalities between generations, and encourage the valuable cross-pollination of ideas that benefit us all, just as it has been ready to learn the new work database system, simultaneously appreciating its benefits and questioning how we will manage its shortcomings.  My older self can be heard repeating the voice of the 70 something protester against the effort to impose a Muslim ban (and the broader reintroduction of blatant discrimination that many of us fought against in the 60’s and 70’s), “Didn’t think I’d have to be here protesting this yet again.”

Another adage, about those who do not learn from history being condemned to repeat it, comes to mind. Unfortunately, on a societal level, the unpleasant repetition also imposes its negative effects on those who have learned the lessons and done their best to prevent the country from falling back into old ways. Living long enough to see this cycle around and back again becomes both a blessing and a curse, an opportunity to teach but only if there is someone ready to listen and learn.

It has never been different. I am reminded, almost too frequently these days, of the translation of a tablet excavated from the ruins of a Greek village, in which a father lamented the laziness and reluctance to work of his teenage son.  The writer who shared that tidbit of information concluded, as I will here, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

I therefore do my best to detach, discern where balance can be found, place  my attention on those things that matter in the long run, and cultivate an attitude of patient acceptance, doing what I can where I see myself able to be effective, and letting the rest slide by.  

“I am here. I am alive. I am trying.That is enough.”


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