Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Voicing It

January 17, 2023

I am finding that the different free voice to text options currently available to me differ rather significantly. The app built into my Samsung Android phone works very nicely for text messages with few errors and little need for me to make corrections. The Google Docs app that I’m using to create this blog post persistently does not capitalize after a period. I don’t know why. I have yet to find any settings options that would let me instruct the software to capitalize after a period. Fun and games in the new to me world of tech. (new paragraph) That didn’t work either,

So I stopped dictating and edited including starting a new paragraph. I wonder if the length of pause in my dictation following a period is what triggers a capital? I just tried it. Now I need to try it without starting a sentence with I that does regularly get capitalized. Didn’t work.  nonetheless the software does reduce demands on my very painful right arm which is what has led me to try to learn a different way of creating posts. I am very aware that my thoughts flow much more smoothly directly from my brain through my fingers to the keyboard. Stopping to monitor how the software is performing impedes my thought process. One more challenge associated with the ills of aging that I am trying to appreciate as a nudge into continued engagement with an uncertain future.

 In the larger scheme of things I am very fortunate with little to complain about and much to be grateful for. Overall I still have good health and my lowest energy down days are not so severe as to prevent me from accomplishing at least the basics of my everyday routines. Also, those more serious down days are relatively infrequent or at least spaced out and not piled one after the other to the point that undone tasks stare at me and guilt trip me. 

However tedious and somewhat unsatisfactory this voice to text software is, it is nonetheless a gift that I am grateful for as it does allow me to keep to my commitment to myself to resume reasonably regular posts. the difference in how my brain functions, speaking rather than writing, is something to explore. (I just had to stop dictating and correct text that for unknown reasons began appearing in italics). I am reasonably certain that if I need to continue primarily doing voice to text writing I will want to find a program that functions more smoothly.   ( Once again the italics appeared for no apparent reason.)

I think maybe the auto save somehow triggers the switch to italics. At least that seems to be a possibility. I don’t have a lot of patience this morning to play with the software but I did want to put something up on my blog to at least indicate that I am committed to resuming somewhat regular communication and posts. I hope that by the next go round I will have better command of the software and be able to actually reflect on things rather than just report on them. In the meantime I wish all my readers and followers good days and good inner connection.

Transitions

January 10, 2023

After a 3 week alteration in the pattern of my days, I am once again at the start of a renewed sequence of “here and gone” transitions as my husband returns to work from a holiday break. We had houseguests for the same period, so I am shifting from a four person dynamic back to five days of solitude and two of companionship. We have been in this pattern for several years, with occasional disruptions for vacations or more extended periods of solitude when my husband travels overseas. I am therefore somewhat surprised that this Sunday evening on my own feels unfamiliar and has me at a loss how to navigate it.

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It is now 2 days later and I am experimenting with voice to text in Google Docs. I had to stop writing Sunday evening because my dominant arm is frequently extremely painful and prevents me from typing. This is my first effort at writing by speaking. I am told that the end result will be a more natural written document though at the moment it seems contradictory for my brain to have to think and translate into spoken words what previously flowed effortlessly from my brain down my arms and fingers onto the keyboard. 

I just requested a new paragraph but didn’t get it and had to stop and play with the software to obtain what I asked for. I will now try to pick up the thought that I ended with on Sunday evening regarding the odd unfamiliarity of being back in a pattern that I had taken a break from for several weeks. With the additional insight of these two successive days, I realize that I was not really at a loss as to how to navigate the transition so much as I was a little out of practice at doing so. It seems to be an aspect of getting older, that I notice shifts in routines and am slightly disrupted by those shifts in ways I don’t recall having to manage even just a couple years ago. Which makes the new learning associated with using this speech to text software an interesting challenge and different kind of transition then I was considering when I first started writing on Sunday.

 I’m very grateful for the existence of this software as I know many others are.  One of the members of my  book group spoke about how her dyslexic daughter has relied on this type of software not just to see her through her own studies but now to function as a teacher. We commented on  the different types of brain function that lead people to need voice to text and the different skills that are called upon in using it. Since I have a long-term interest in neuropsychology and what is now referred to as neurodiversity, experimenting with myself in this transitional learning process should be interesting. The first thing I am finding is that there are some tricks still to be learned in order to have this software capitalize the first word after a period. It also seems to randomly capitalize words, perhaps because I put emphasis on them? Much to learn. Which, after all, is a most salient illustration of living with and adapting to transitions.

Re-Engaging

November 8, 2022

I thank the members of my book group, and their input to a discussion of the Arbinger Institutue’s book, The Anatomy of Peace, for pushing me out of silence and back to a commitment to write, post, speak up. I have been aware of how withdrawn I have become, and given myself a variety of explanations for my changed behavior, not recognizing when the explanations morphed into excuses and my silence ceased to be healthy.

In my defense, I will point out the many letters I have written back to columnists when something I read in their opinion pieces triggered me. What I did not do, and now intend to undertake, is to share those responses here, probably with additional commentary that updates the ideas to today’s context.

Not because I expect my words to “make a difference”, but because I expect of myself to resume living by my long held belief that my purpose in this life is to manifest as best I can the Truths I know. For me that manifestation process has largely been verbal, whether speaking with friends, engaged in counseling with clients, managing an agency, writing newspaper features, or posting to this blog.

In allowing outer world circumstances to silence me, I have perhaps not betrayed myself, in that I have reoriented and reprioritized values, and can claim that I have used the time to make an important transition on my inner, spiritual life Path. But I recognize as well that my silence has extended longer than it needed to. It is time to resume speaking up, speaking out.

To begin, I will pose a question that has floated around me and my close circle for some time now. What is the difference between being older and being elderly? And why is being an elder a term of respect in many contexts, while being elderly is so often portrayed as being feeble, dependent, no longer valuable?

I am definitely older. I am not averse to being termed an elder, with its connotations of wiser, experienced, knowledgeable. I have spent much of the past couple years fighting with my body, and thus myself, about becoming elderly in the negative sense. It is challenging to learn how to remain an engaged, contributing individual when pain and fatigue dominate one’s awareness. I have found it especially challenging in the present socially contentious, nay viciously ugly public times.

What I can do, and am no longer willing to excuse myself from doing, is add to the positive, hopefully encouraging and creative content floating in the ether. The more seeds scattered, the greater the chance of a productive harvest.

Reflections on Motivation

May 20, 2022

For years, while working more than full time, I kept up a regular weekly posting to my blog, mostly reflections on circumstances encountered in my daily interactions. A friend just recently commented that I was so busy then, that I needed the blog posts to organize my thoughts. She was probably correct. I have experienced myself as someone who needs “an ear”, preferably a trusted friend or my spouse, so that I can hear myself working my way through whatever concern needs clarification, using the feedback to refine and define my perception. Lacking that in-person ear, writing things out has also served me well as a means to achieving clarity.

Enter retirement, and Covid isolation, and a spouse who lives away the 5 days of the work week, and one might think I would be that much more engaged with posting to this blog. Not so. With a great deal more free – and largely silent – time, I have instead seemingly become mute. I read steadily, back to my childhood sick bed years of a book every 2-3 days, and I play solitaire (current undefeated streak at Free Cell approaches 700 games), I follow an assortment of news and opinion newsletters, tend to my chickens, go for walks when the weather and my health permit, and do the basics of house chores necessary to keep things running here, and my husband’s second home at his work location stocked with his preferred meals. 

Yes, I talk to a few people each week – my acupuncturist and massage therapist, and a couple of dear friends with whom I have an established regular call. I also talk to a limited number of people with whom I am engaged as a part-time contracted worker, assisting the NM Caregiver Coalition and – just lately – those who participate in a weekly, via Zoom, Quaker Worship Sharing group. None of that answers my question to myself of why I have not, in the more than two years since retirement, not resumed posting regularly, particularly given the Covid imposed dearth of opportunity to talk out my concerns.

I had thought, pre-retirement, that I would be able to devote energy to small home improvements – planting flowers in the entry area, refurbishing my kitchen, clearing out years of accumulated stuff. I have made some inroads in all those areas, but not come anywhere near completing the tasks. Whatever I thought I would gain from doing so has not materialized. Instead, partially perhaps because of an unanticipated decline in energy and increase in daily pain, I have been avoiding the endeavors to not be confronted with my decreased capacities.

At first, it was easy to say I would get back to them when I recovered from the first health issues. By now, having experienced a seemingly endless cycle of two steps forward and one-and-a-half back, I am trying to accept that recovery is a myth akin to pre-pandemic normal. My new normal appears to require a degree of flexibility that goes counter to my lifelong mode of accomplishment – organized, planned, scheduled and with Plans B and C pre-mapped in case something (usually another person’s decisions) make the initial schedule unsustainable. With very little scheduled in any week, and no advance warning of better or worse energy/health/pain days, I seem to have lapsed into non-accomplishment of even something as seemingly easy as writing regular blog posts.

I am unclear what underlies not just my lack of writing, but my lack of overall motivation. I really want the kitchen refurbishment, but am defeated before I begin by the non-response of those workmen I manage to identify. Two plumbers have both said they will schedule me, but weeks go by without a call. I should be on the phone, badgering and pestering until one of them wants rid of me enough to come – but I don’t find myself with motivation to expend my limited energy being a nuisance. With the not-feeling-well days coming unpredictably, I am hesitant to enroll in a class, or schedule volunteer activities when I may not be up to keeping the commitments. I am still waiting for a day when both the unpredictable New Mexico spring weather and my energy will match, to set out bulbs and pansies in the pots I arranged last year.

None of which explains my disinterest in writing.

A friend with whom I am mostly linked by our common engagement as writers just recently asked me what I have been working on. She sets herself the challenge of a poem a day every April, has self-published quite a number of books, runs a LIterary Salon now and keeps a regular writing schedule despite her own health and energy issues and those of her husband. I had no real answer to give her, other than mentioning some thought of resurrecting a project sharing creative ways people have found to outwit the limitations of Parkinson’s. I did not recognize and hence could not admit to my problem with motivation.

The question did, thank you Sharon, prod me to examine what has been immobilizing me and, as I am grateful to acknowledge as a blessing, once the question was clearly posed, answers have begun to emerge. They lie in a need to completely redefine how I assess my sense of self, how I shed restricting core identities that have served me productively as a self-reliant and successful worker but which do not pertain to an older, semi-retired individual.

I may not yet be properly motivated, but I am interested to see what emerges.

Out of Silence

February 20, 2022

I had thought my part time job was taking the time meant for blog posts. But it is not so demanding as to leave me no writing time. I had thought pandemic isolation had stilled my ability to observe and comment. But my inner voice remained audible. I had thought there was no longer much point in posting reflections, year after year, that have mostly been one way communication from me out to ??? But I have no interest in engaging with “social media” type dialog that so frequently sinks into diatribe and vitriol. Perhaps a speck of my being wanted to see who, if anyone, would reach out to me via a comment posted to the blog site, to ask if I was okay, still alive? But I seem to have already known that was unlikely from outside my immediate circle of friends, as my life pattern has consistently been that, if there is to be a connection, I must initiate it. Very, very few people have checked in on me unless they wanted/needed something from me.

It is only just recently that I have begun to recognize my public (and to a large extent also private) silence as due to the need for a serious reconsideration of who and what I am now that I am semi-retired, with less energy to cope with more physical limitations, less accepting of deadlines, more engaged with inner spiritual goals yet finding it challenging to let go of a life pattern of attending to others’ needs before seeking to address my own.

Into this examination came a just published column by Tish Harrison Warren in the New York Times speaking to periods in her past when reading, a primary love and satisfaction, became virtually impossible. I have been aware that, along with not writing, I have lately had unaccustomed difficulty staying engaged with reading. As for Tish, books have been my companions, my escape, my primary pleasure since I began to learn to read at age three, sitting on my Grandpa’s lap and following along as he read “I Went for a Walk in the Forest” aloud to me. Now I have found myself reading only a few pages, even of favorite authors, before setting the book aside to engage with a crossword puzzle, or to extend my undefeated streak of Free Cell. Thanks to Tish’s essay, I see the why of what I had observed but did not understand.

“Sitting with a book requires some level of compassion and energy. A reader sits with the thoughts, stories, insights or opinions of another. She opens herself empathetically to the work of another human being. And I didn’t feel I had the requisite compassion or energy to do so.”

The proximate cause of Tish Harrison Warren’s loss of ability to enjoy books is different from mine, but the experience is virtually identical, including in the way, step by step, she recovered by engaging first in reading short pieces before resuming books. I have begun following, and responding with letters of commentary, to several NYT columnists as a means to counter not just Covid imposed isolation, but my retirement triggered energy crash and loss of my sense of self.

As I responded to the Harrison Warren essay, “You hit the mark, for me, when you mentioned lacking the empathy, compassion, and the energy these take, to enjoy reading. Along with retirement and disconnect from interpersonal interaction, I confronted the difficult questions of retirement. Who am I without my professional role as a caregiver? Of what value has my life been? And what of value do I still have to offer now that my body is tired and resurrecting all the old, healed and forgotten but not gone injuries and pains of my nearly 80 years of living?

Escape from a difficult family life into books was my path since childhood, making it even more disconcerting now to find that escape denied me. I am mentally yelling at Elsa, in Kristin Hannah’s “The Four Winds” to open her stupid mouth and speak up for herself, then tossing the book aside. I think I would not pick it up again were it not for the fact that it is my book club’s choice for our next discussion meeting.

I had not considered, before reading your essay, that my own inner dis-ease was the source of my new inability to escape into books. I am relieved to learn my experience is in fact a common one, and that I can hope to not only find my way back to the pleasure of reading, but also to that of writing. I will not close down my blog site just yet.”

And so here is a post, after long silence. Step one, writing as well as reading short pieces. I may need to use other responses to recently read columns, in order to resurrect the habit of posting, as I am using the reading of those columns to resurrect my ability to find the compassion and empathy necessary to read books and engage once more with a wider world.

Or maybe not? Maybe I will find that engaging outwardly is no longer so important or rewarding as is withdrawing inward to “dip into the Divine spiritual current always flowing, if only we take time to seek it.”

Human Creativity

August 23, 2021

Portions of what follows may be lifted from a recent letter written to a friend, in response to an essay he wrote about a meaning of creativity. Somehow that topic blends with the dilemma I faced upon awakening this morning – what to do with a week of time stripped of its usual structure by the absence of providers I normally see weekly. I do have some commitments throughout the week, but not my “usual” ones. Thus I am both empowered and challenged to be creative with my use of time, especially knowing that in a few weeks there are apt to be substantively more demands fon my time and attention with consequent reduction in fluidity of my schedule.

I am marking a year out from retirement, and remembering how happy and relieved I was, initially, to have unscheduled days, free of deadlines, un-pressured time to do whatever I felt like doing, energy to climb the hill in my driveway 6-8 times at a good pace, or equally to sit on the couch reading all day if I wished to do so. Today I did climb the hill twice already and will do so at least once more, but I know I am not able to complete more trips without feeling a substantial energy drain. I still have the discipline of a year ago, to pursue what needs doing or what I want to accomplish, but I am missing both motivation and a sense of direction as targets for the discipline. All my previous pending and accumulated have to’s are done, management of daily chores now so routine as to not require thought, and want to’s mostly vanished into impossibility due to the curtailment of options imposed by the pandemic.

All that seems to remain with me is a desire to communicate, to engage in an exchange of ideas in order to create a sense of connection despite the emphasis in our larger society on division and unbridgeable difference. Hence my own short essay in response to my friend’s reflections on creativity, and any number of letters recently written to the various NY Times essayists whose columns I follow. Only the outreach to my friend starts a discussion. The other letters serve to clarify my views, but otherwise are written into a void as they are not replied to nor published (with one exception).

The point I made to my friend had to do with the tone of articles about the “new discoveries” being reported lately in unearthed artifacts and in animal studies. Isn’t it just one more example of ego and arrogance, to keep being astonished that earlier versions of humanity could imagine and create, just as we do? No different than the hubris behind amazement that various animals invent and use tools, or that cuttlefish have memory, or that apes exchange hello and goodbye gestures.We present day humans are not at all special except maybe in our arrogance and destructiveness.

I awoke this morning to a gorgeous sky, the sun reflecting through and off of scattered clouds creating a full palette of color. The joy I felt lasted through morning coffee, feeding of chickens, watering the garden and climbing the hill, but has now begun to fade. I do not want to sink into dulled awareness, or a routine plodding through the day. Nor do I want to continue writing into a void.

The biggest threat, according to psychologists, of extended pandemic restrictions is not to our economy but to our mental health. People comment in surprise at the resilience of others who have lived through violence, ongoing war, famine and severe stress like we are seeing in vivid pictures just now from Afghanistan but which are happening in multiple places all the time, just not reported in our press. I suspect that the resilience noted should be no more surprising than the discovery that cuttlefish can learn and remember where to get their preferred food. So long as there is a sense that “we are in this together” and a collective effort to manage the tasks of daily life despite fearsome environmental conditions, people can be resilient.

Wearing masks which hide our faces and limit nonverbal cues we rely on for connection, keeping safe social distance and forgoing hugs, cancelling group activities in the name of staying safe are intended to reflect a concern for all of us being in the pandemic together. The same actions, however, sever our sense of togetherness and connection. While I do not in any way support or condone actions of the objectors to basic public health mandates, I do understand how deeply rooted their unacknowledged motives may be. Verbalized and justified as standing up for individual rights, the resistance is, I think, mostly an expression of the need to remain somehow connected. Yes, the rule breakers exhaust the rest of us, anger us, seem to want us to all sink and die together rather than survive what is morphing into a permanent condition of living. But yes, they also seem – however unconsciously – to be expressing a basic human need for connection, interaction, and the creativity of interpersonal contacts.

In that expression, these people I distinguish myself from are just like me. We seek “call and response” and a collective sense of belonging. We differ in how we manifest that desire. Please, someone, some expert somewhere, or some especially creative thinker, find a way for us all to feel engaged and connected, “heard” and together as we try to learn and adapt to the changed reality we are, collectively, facing.

I Still Go for Walks

August 26, 2020

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

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

Enjoy the encounter with me.

A Walk with My Grampa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Cultural Divide

August 2, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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