Posts Tagged ‘generational differences’


May 4, 2014

Today, I started my day before the sun came up, chatting with a friend in Lebanon via Facebook.

A simple statement about an activity that is far from extraordinary in today’s connected world.

But this is me – who remembers not having a telephone when I first moved to New Mexico, because there weren’t enough lines in Lamy to connect everyone.

I’m grateful for having experienced that sort of unconnected living; I learned patience and trust and self-reliance and a number of other qualities important to building and sustaining relationships.

None of which negates my current pleasure at connecting over huge distances, easily, now.

I’m equally glad the contact today was via written word; I would have had a hard time dealing with spoken conversation in the attenuated form likely to occur at such a distance. This past week I’ve been dealing with clogged ears – not sure if it’s allergies or an infection that has caused blockage, noticeably worse on the left side.

How limiting it is, to be obliged to hold a phone to my right ear and therefore not be free to use my right, dominant, hand during the conversation. Oh, I’ve tried holding the phone across my body, with my left hand, in order to write down information being given to me. It’s possible, but remarkably uncomfortable!

I’ve also had to alter my eating habits. Why, you ask? Because crunchy foods are now painfully loud inside my head. If my condition were to become permanent, would I adapt, learn to tune out the chewing noise? Probably, in the same way I learned, shortly after arrival in Saigon, to tune out the persistent noise of the cicada-like insects that created a permanent background concert in the trees. We kids enjoyed tormenting new arrivals (as I was tormented) by calling attention to the persistent chittering, just at the time that the newbie’s brain was beginning to accommodate, and thus cease to notice, the sounds.

In the Trees

In the Trees

We humans are marvels of accommodation. We live in the most diverse environments, we survive extremes of privation, we come in such a variety of sizes, colors and skill sets. . . No wonder accommodating to one another is considered to be such a virtue.

No wonder, either, that learning when to draw the line, when to limit adaptation, when to say enough, I want/need/seek to stand apart – no wonder learning how to express one’s integrity can be a challenge. Especially, it seems, for women. Even today’s emancipated, modern women. My Lebanese correspondent was writing me on her smart phone, waiting in the Beirut airport to fly to Dubai for a work day. And questioning her right to step away from a relationship because she’s not yet ready to “settle” for. . .

Accommodate, adapt, be flexible, accept what is.
Go for it, “be all you can be”, make the most of your time, your talents, your opportunities.
Conflicting imperatives, challenging us to know which one to apply in which situations.

Is it yet another sign of our adaptability that we can implement both types of behaviors? Or is it a sign of our integrity that we manage to achieve a balance between seeming contradictions?

I have my own answer to that question. I’ll let you find yours.

Letting the Wind Blow Through

February 15, 2014

A friend just mentioned he’d enjoyed my reflection on snow, bringing to mind the gorgeous silence of that recent morning, a stillness in dire contrast with the roaring, shaking, blustering, hollering wind blasting my home tonight. Gusts over sixty miles an hour have been hammering at us for five hours now; fortunately the general temperatures were warm enough today that the blasts are not unduly chilling. At least not chilling in temperature. But those who are made uncomfortable by wind can find our New Mexico spring weather intimidating. Tonight’s blasts are not unusual. A little early in the year perhaps, and lasting later into the night than normal, but very familiar nonetheless.

When I was fifteen I wrote a poem about standing up to wind, not a very good poem though the underlying thought was worth the effort. It had been triggered by standing on the edge of a precipice, at Les Baux in southern France. The town sits atop what here in the southwest we’d call a mesa, overlooking a broad plain called the Val D’Enfer. Reputedly the Dark Ages lords of Le Baux forced trader traveling through the valley to pay tribute – often exorbitant tribute – for safe passage, making the traversing of the plain a veritable descent into hell. My poetic effort attempted to recognize the strength it takes to stand up against a powerful wind, and the strength it took for travelers to risk passing near Les Baux.

I’d prefer more quiet tonight, to assure a better night’s sleep. It’s been a very long, productive but tiring day. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride… so says the adage that echoes in my mind wherever I let myself dwell on what isn’t. So instead, I’m using the blasting wind as a motivator to write this week’s post. We’ll have to see how the essay turns out! Smooth and slick, or choppy and irritating? The wind is both at once – will my essay mimic the wind, or express its essence?

“Love me, love me, say you do.
“Let me fly away with you.
“For our love is like the wind,
“And wild is the wind, the wind,
“Wild is my love for you.”

The most recent theory, from a study in Germany, of why older people take longer to respond to memory tasks, is not that ability fades with age but rather that there is so much more stored in an older person’s brain, it takes longer to sort through everything to find the relevant bit of information. I like that explanation, not just because it is more flattering. I like that explanation because it takes into account all the bits and pieces of song lyrics, like the one above, that pop out of the storage cabinet at mostly – but not always – appropriate times.

Say the word English, and I’m apt to begin quoting, “Her English is too good,” he said, “which clearly indicates that she is foreign. Whereas other people are instructed in their native language, English people aren’t.” And on and on, in Rex Harrison’s voice. I learned the entire performance of My Fair Lady when I was eight. Don’t ask me why, and don’t ask me why it’s still all there in the lumber yard storage of my brain.

That’s the term that was used, disparagingly, by the wave of neurologists who discarded “old” brain storage theories in favor of computer-link images that propose an entirely different set of rules for how our brains perform our thinking and memory functions. That new set of rules is the one that posited an eroding of capacity with age. One more reason I stand in opposition to all the supposedly “better” connectivity and computer-based emphasis of our “modern” world.

Inventors create a new toy and suddenly scientists see everything through the lens of that new technology. Wisdom of centuries is derided, practiced ways of relating to the world and to one another are treated as out-of-date. All theories, all explanations must fit the new paradigm.

Until a brave soul stands up and says “no” to forced conformity to what is new. Until a study from Germany says older brains are just as efficient as younger ones, but they have more data to process, more varied possibilities to consider, and so take longer to come up with answers. Until I suggest to a friend, who has been angered by a phone call wakening him at 3AM, that he can, in fact, turn his cell phone off when he wants to sleep.

What a novel idea to the ethos of today – to be disconnected!

In the midst of the wind storm, I am barraged with sound. Fortunately, I know the storm will pass and it will become quiet again. I really can’t conceive of living in the middle of a non-stop gale, any more than I can relate to those people who live constantly connected – mobile phone always on, always at hand, computer permanently turned on with multiple pages open, Youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn and Skype all demanding attention.

There are reasons to be available to others. If one is living far from home and family, computer connections bridge time zones and allow relatively inexpensive contact. The nature of my present job is such that I must be reachable in emergencies. That doesn’t mean all clients can call me twenty-four hours a day, however. They call a central, toll free number for triage. Only the true emergencies are put through to me in the late, or early, hours of a day.

Connectivity, like the wind, has its season. I do hope that before the passing of all those of us who have lived when (or where) there was not a phone in every home, those born to the age of connectivity will have tired of disrupted sleep and life in a fishbowl. I do hope for an opportunity to teach the continuing values of concentration, of solitude, of silence, of windless days and of attention to one thought, one person, one experience at a time.


Awakening this morning, I first register the silence. The storm has passed, the wind abated. A new day, and new environment surround me. I appreciate the renewed quiet, the ability to focus inward before joining the network of souls who will make up my work day. And I’m happy to think that, now that a research study has been published which respects older brains, perhaps some of the thoughts and beliefs dwelling in those older brains will also be given new respect.

Wouldn’t that be a novel and pleasant experience!

Small World

November 24, 2013

Have you ever swapped “small world” stories?

Some are simple, like the appearance in the training class for my new job of a woman who lives barely five miles from me in the rural area denoted by a dot on the map called Sapello – a woman I’d met once briefly before, but did not know until we were paired, during the training, for motivational interviewing exercises. Turns out we have a number of common interests, and a shared love of living “on the frontier” as our employer labels the area we serve.

Other small world stories are of more surprising meetings (Coincidences? Fated encounters?)

Two of mine have their roots in my stay in Vietnam, from 1956-1958. I was in my early teens, my father assigned as the economic officer at the U.S. embassy in Saigon.  Ingrid, a few years younger than I, was one of my friends. Both of us were socially awkward, neither of us fully aware to what extent the stresses within our families contributed to that lack of ease. We – in modern parlance – hung out together. After Saigon, Ingrid was sent to a boarding school in Colorado and I moved with my parents moved to Paris. She visited once, briefly, during those three years I lived in France. Then we lost touch.

Blaufarb Family with My Mother and Me Behind Them

Blaufarb Family with My Mother and Me Behind Them

Skip to four years later, my junior year in college, and a trip to New York City.

With my then boyfriend Ray, I was on a date that included a meal at the Russian Tea Room. We walked into the dining area, and saw before us a large family group seated at a round table. Ray started forward to greet one couple and their daughter Pamela, a former girlfriend from his high school days. I started forward to the same table to greet Ingrid’s parents. Ray and I looked at each other. “You know these people?” he quizzed me.

“Yes,” I replied. “Those are the Blaufarbs, parents of my friend Ingrid.”

“Pamela’s aunt and uncle. I’ve been told about them.”

I didn’t share with Ray how immediately I felt transported back to the tropic heat and teenage anxieties of Saigon, where I’d heard too much detail about Ingrid’s socially popular cousin Pamela!


My second Vietnam-based story begins at its end, tying Saigon to Sapello. One of the people working in the office of my vet is a tall, energetic woman a few years older than I, named Susan. She is the sister-in-law of Louie, who trained my younger mare, and with whom I became friends when I first moved to Sapello in 1990. At some point in my on-going  conversations with Louie, it came out that his sister had “run off with a Frenchman” when she was in her late teens, and that the siblings had only reconnected many years later, when they both settled back near their mother. in the Sapello area.

Louie told me that Susan had gone to work for “our” vet when he set up practice about three miles from my home. On my next trip in with an animal in need of care, I met Susan. Remembering what Louie had told me, I mentioned that Susan and I had a connection of both knowing French. The next few sentences revealed that we both learned our French, not in Paris, but in Saigon. We had both spent leisure time at the Cercle Sportif, the “club” where we swam, played tennis, and in my case took classes, and performed the French Can Can at one of their “spectacles” – shows put on for the enjoyment of the members.

Contemplating a Plunge

Contemplating a Plunge

Susan’s time in Saigon preceded mine – she left in the spring before the October that brought me to Vietnam, just in time for my 13th birthday. Susan’s Frenchman, whom she married at seventeen but divorced just a few years later, was the older brother of Marie Claire, with whom I became friends in the dance class, and with whom I performed that Can Can.


Ingrid now divides her time between New York and Maine; her son went briefly to Swarthmore, where Ray and I attended college. Looking through a Swarthmore Alumni Bulletin sent to her son, Ingrid found an essay I’d written. Through the college, she obtained the information to once again contact me, some forty years after our last encounter in Paris. I’ve since traveled to the East Coast. We met for an afternoon. Ray recently traveled west, and we also met after a parallel forty year gap, as I recounted in a post this past summer.

Meanwhile, Susan is retiring from the vet’s office for a combination of reasons, including the fact that the vet is introducing a complex new computer system to the practice. Susan “does not get along well with computers” and decided the stress of trying to do so would be an unacceptable strain on her health. I’m feeling vivid kinship with her now, as I try to understand the complexities of the several computer systems I must master in my new job. I don’t share Susan’s aversion to computers, indeed feel fairly comfortable with them – or thought I did – until I encountered the multiple encrypted layers of security that must be understood to navigate around a health provider’s regulation-compliant system. Thank heavens, Presbyterian’s tech support is a seven-days-per-week operation!!!

I expect I’ll still see Susan occasionally, as we live quite near one another and have overlapping interests. I’m in intermittent contact with Ingrid, and with Ray, by email. If the occasion arises for me to introduce them to Susan, will that somehow close a loop that stretches over fifty-five years and around half the world? Linkages through the Internet, which enable me to “chat” simultaneously with a friend in Singapore and one in Norway, have already made the world much smaller, but enjoyable as they are, those conversations don’t have the same feeling of “oh my, how amazing” that accompanied my encounter with the Blaufarbs in New York, or with Susan at the vet.

Is it just me, or is it something to do with the life experiences of my age group, that makes the face-to-face connection of a small world encounter more precious than even the most globe-encompassing Internet link?

Chaplin and Me

November 9, 2013

As I headed toward the employee entrance to Presbyterian Tuesday morning, I flashed on an old movie – a Charlie Chaplin, I’m pretty sure but I don’t recall the title – of flocks of workers pouring into a plant, each showing an ID card and punching in before taking their places on an assembly line. In Albuquerque on Tuesday, we were a smaller clutch of workers, each wearing an ID badge which provides access via a scanned bar code, through multiple levels of security-locked doors, to our classroom, desks, and computers. How did I get to my seventh decade without ever working in such a large, regulated establishment? Even the government programs where I’ve been employed feel relatively small by comparison.

In orientation, we were told that Presbyterian hires about 2000 people per year, employs more than 8000, and receives over 100,000 applications for the annual openings created by turnover or – in the present case – by the expansion of its Medicaid program services. We were congratulated on being “special” because we were part of the select group chosen to be hired. I listened to the numbers in some awe, not in self-congratulation but rather in disbelief. What have I gotten myself into?

These past two days my subgroup (half the class of new Care Coordinators) received training on the still-being-completed-and-tested computer system which will be the primary support of our jobs. We will receive our assignments, create our case files, document our time and our activities, meet State and Federal mandates all within this one system. Given that there are quite a few bugs in the program, and pieces that have not yet been implemented, the training was likened to teaching us “to run the systems that fly the plane that the State still hasn’t finished building.” Take off is set for January 1st. Ready or not, off we go.

What fun!

Assigned to work within the Presbyterian computer system from my hotel room, I spent two hours in frustration at my inability to get through multiple layers of access in order to connect my highly secured work laptop to the hotel’s Internet. A classmate finally figured out the path, based on issues she’d had previously with her connectivity from home. I remember, back in the dark ages when they were new to the workplace, how we were assured that computers would make things easier.


My homework included an opportunity to provide feedback on fixes the system needs to make it into a more effective tool of care management. The programmers have had barely seven months to design a system that normally is budgeted for a year or more of development and testing. I do appreciate being given a voice – I just wish there were fewer issues for me to speak up about! And that the changes and improvements could come sooner than the projected six months out from “going live”, which happens in less than two months.

Is any of this beginning to sound like

Remember, Niki, you were hired for your “adaptability, independence, ability to think on your feet” and your implied tolerance for a very unstable and changing work environment. I do have those skills in person, and person to person. I’m not so sure I have them when it’s a matter of interacting with “technology”. I still complete the cards my students earn in their CPR certification classes on a (gasp) typewriter because that is easier for me than trying to create a computer template that will instruct my printer to produce them with all the right info in the correct small spaces.

Call me a Luddite – I’ll wear that badge proudly!

Until now, even the “field” workers for Presbyterian have been based in offices in towns and cities. They speak of those of us who will be working from our homes scattered in rural areas as working on the “frontier” – but still plan for us to use systems that rely on urban technology. I’ve only been able to access DSL at my home within the past year. If I lived a mile farther up the road I would not have it at all, would be dependent on satellite (or dial-up) and couldn’t get my work computer even to boot up due to timing out from the connection. As it is, the DSL flickers enough to pause my work on my fast and lightly loaded personal laptop – it repeatedly froze me out on the work computer which is slow and cumbersome, weighted down with multiple very complicated programs. Yet the concept is that I will take the laptop with me to client homes, to complete interviews and assessments.

I don’t think so.

Not when most of those homes don’t have connectivity at all – isn’t that what’s meant by the frontier? Out where people are living simply, often in the same way as their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc.?

We’re told we’ll be given paper copies of all the documents we have to fill in – and that we can then scan and send them to an assistant in the central office who will code them into the computer. That procedure will allow me to get my work done within the established time frames. It is offered as a support strategy – so why do I feel as though it means I will be dumping chunks of my work off onto someone else?

Because in my 20 plus years as regional manager for a home health agency serving that same rural frontier, I had no administrative support? If I needed copies, I made the copies. I typed my own letters, entered all my own work into the computer systems, and was the support for my staff when they got behind, or needed help tracking certification due dates, etc. We were a branch office of 5 with a case load around 300 clients and a field staff of close to 350, for whom I was the top-of-the-chain-of-authority supervisor.

(Now you know why, as I went job-hunting this past year, I determined I wanted a position in which I would only be responsible for my own work product!)

Had all those employees come into the office every day, we would have looked like my experience of this past Tuesday, or the Chaplin film, minus the time clock and swipe cards.  But my field staff were dispersed across a quarter of the large state of New Mexico. I went to them (as I will be doing to member homes in my current position) rather than bringing them to me. In between visits, I communicated with them by phone – either directly, or via their supervisors.

My new supervisor expects me to communicate primarily be email – with phone calls when email isn’t available. The company does recognize that even cell service is spotty “on the frontier” so they are acquiring a few satellite phones to be checked out to staff when they may be needed. I suspect, if I end up covering the same area now as I did for the home health agency, I will have one of those phones permanently in my car. Along with my emergency survival kit, including an extra book (paper, not Nook) to keep me entertained if I’m stranded.

Along the Open Road

Along the Open Road

My new job will definitely be an adventure! I’m curious to see how the blending of futuristic programming and frontier life plays out. I look forward to working in an environment that stresses being part of a team, offering clerical and administrative support I’ve not been used to receiving. I’ll do my best to not be a burden on my support staff, which means I’m committing to becoming as proficient with the computer systems as my connectivity will allow. I’ll need encouragement to resist being tempted by my paper “backup” procedures.

Will you come along on this adventure with me?     

The Tools of our Trades

September 23, 2013

I make it to the New Mexico State Fair just about every year, including this one. Some events, like the Fine Art show, and the Hispanic, Native American and African American art and cultural shows are housed in permanent buildings not too far from the entrance to the fairground. To get to them – and to all the other “housed” activities – one must walk past a midway full of rides and also past clusters of food booths selling barbecued turkey legs, ribbon potatoes, lemonade and – this year at least – such exotica as frog’s legs and fried ravioli on a stick.

Next one must negotiate the plethora of booths filling both sides of the main “streets” of the grounds. These are all commercial. They offer multiple opportunities to acquire surprisingly similar items, from painted faces to sports memorabilia and cell phone accessories, purses, dresses, make up, the latest fads in hair adornment, and cheaply made but not cheaply priced glitz jewelry.

Farther into the grounds are a Spanish village and a Native American village where culturally traditional items and foods are sold, and groups perform appropriate music and dances. Also near the middle of the grounds is a large building housing the many types of items we older folk associate with the shop and home economics classes that used to be mandatory in all junior high and high schools, but which now seem only to be found in the context of career programs at community colleges. Wood workers, quilters and seamstresses, experts in home canning and baking submit their finest products in hopes of winning a coveted blue ribbon.

Nearby there is also a space for flower arrangements. Other hobbies are represented as well. I acquired a book mark with my name in exquisite calligraphy, and watched two ladies carefully making lace, twisting bobbins around the pins which mark out a pattern. I remember seeing the famous lace makers of Bruge, in Belgium, sitting in the sun and chatting as their bobbins flew in complex designs they knew by heart from a lifetime apprenticeship in an ancient craft.

One has to complete a long walk across the full length of the fair’s main street in order to get to the true core of a state fair – the animals.

4-Hers and adults spend years breeding to obtain a perfect specimen to enter into their county competition before advancing to the state fair. Horses are trained to perform complicated maneuvers, mule and draft horse teams pull wagons or increasingly heavy loads on sledges, demonstrating their ability to perform the classic work of a ranch. Judging the quality of livestock is a learned skill, often passed down within families. As I walk along stalls with handsome palomino heads protruding to be admired, I overhear a discussion of which judge will be in charge – competitors clearly have their own favorites.

There is much less foot traffic at the livestock end of the fair grounds. Kids tug their parents to the petting zoo and pre-teen girls congregate in the open space between the rows of stalls where their horses wait with them to be called into the ring for their classes (the level of competition each has achieved, showing off the gait and conformation of their rides). Older teen boys lead cattle of various breeds and sizes to and from their show ring, talking about weight and sale price. Many of the animals, like much of the handwork in the crafts building, will be sold or auctioned before the fair ends.

Sitting on a bench near the horse stalls, enjoying a treat of ribbon fries, I try to imagine what the fair would be like without all the commercial booths – or at least only with ones related to farming and ranching. There are no representatives of John Deere on the main street. Instead, lines of old cars are displayed, most from the 1920s, including an early fire engine whose siren sounds whenever an ambitious child cranks its handle. What was marketed at the fair when the attendees arrived in those early Fords? Back where I relax in the livestock area, it is not hard to imagine myself in that earlier time.

I suspect there would have been many more teams competing in the draft horse heavy sledge pulls. And many of the contestants would have arrived by horse power, not automobile. Canned goods, instead of being one row of the crafts building, might well have taken up a tent all on their own. The same with sewing and quilting.

I can’t help but feel dismay that our modern preoccupations, if assessed by the balance of items offered up to view at this year’s Fair, have become so faddish. And so mass produced. And so poorly made.

OK, we’re living in a wired age and we are hooked on our technology. So, where are the hand-beaded cell phone covers? Why don’t I see tooled leather cases for laptops? What has become of pride in beautiful, well made, durable crafts to embellish the tools of our modern everyday trades? Why are hand painted Easter eggs, braided rugs and crocheted blankets considered only to be examples of “saving the skills of the past?” How did these arts become locked into traditional forms, instead of adapted to the items most commonly in use today?

In the Vicinity of Acoma

In the Vicinity of Acoma

English: Original lithograph for report of J.W...

English: Original lithograph for report of J.W. Abert of “His Examination of New Mexico in the Years 1846-47” to the Secretary of War (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The day following my visit to the State Fair, I was escorted by a friend to one of the last places in New Mexico that I wanted – but had not yet made it – to see, Acoma Pueblo. The majority of current tribal members live in two communities in the valley, near Interstate 40 in the western half of my state. According to our guide, only about 30 people (of about 6000 tribe members) still live atop the mesa that is historical (from the 1100s) Acoma. Most of those who do live on the mesa appear to be the potters and practitioners of other traditional arts who market their wares to the groups of visitors escorted on tours coordinated by the tribe.

Our tour guide provided a lively account of the history of Acoma, in an interesting language style which notably did not use standard past tense. “The people were living atop the mesa and were welcoming the first Spaniards to come to their area. Because the straw in the mud coating of their sandstone homes reflected golden in the sun, the Spanish were thinking they had found the mythical Seven Cities of Cibola, so they were demanding that Acoma turn over its gold and, not believing there was none, they began subjugating the people with torture and killings.”

The effect of our guide’s narration was to make his listeners aware of how differently the Acoma people (and most other Pueblo tribal groups I’ve interacted with) perceive time – how intimately their distant history informs their present day lives. The mixture of tradition and history with modern innovation and adaptation is also evident in the Acoma art – mostly finely painted and incised pottery – which was on offer. Some of the artists appeared dedicated to repeating ancient family patterns; others clearly added personal perspectives and made use of new colors and forms, while still reflecting traditional cultural styles. I was delighted with the demonstrated Acoma talent for maintaining art forms yet adapting them to modern needs!

WLA brooklynmuseum Pueblo Acoma Water Jar

WLA brooklynmuseum Pueblo Acoma Water Jar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hope some of my online friends whose work lies in the decorative arts will take up the challenge implicit in my two days of contrasting experience. Can someone run a contest to see how many different “traditional arts” can be adapted to making modern day accessories for our ubiquitous cell phones, laptops and pads? How about a quilted dash cover? A pretty lace wrist strap for the new wearable smart phones? It would be such fun to visit the State Fair again in a few years and, instead of what I overheard one visitor describe as “so much schlock”, see rows of booths offering well-made, hand crafted items of practical use to the modern, hip visitor!

Older… and Wiser?

August 30, 2013

Have you noticed that the ‘older’ part of ‘older but wiser’ is singularly obvious in wrinkles, aches, and the need for Post-It notes littered over every surface – but the wiser part is much harder to recognize? Especially when the dog mouths one of those Post-It notes, and you have to make an extra trip back to town for the three forgotten items of the six that you need to make supper.

How delightful, how ego-boosting it is, then, when circumstances allow you to recognize that the ‘wiser’ at least occasionally manifests. A recent experience allowed me to feel grateful for whatever passes for wisdom in my brain. I had thought to pursue a course of study which would require me to hold in equal respect two conflicting paths to spiritual understanding. My training directed me along one path, my mental inclination tempted me onto the other. The studies would have meant constantly balancing two goals, two world views, two concepts of self. The outcome of the program would have enabled me to practice in a field I’d like to enter, for which I do not – at least at this point – see another means of qualifying.

So I did all the paperwork, wrote the essays, completed the application – and then was denied acceptance. What to do now???

Here’s where the wiser comes in. I did nothing, just let the fact of the denial settle into my awareness. Within a few days, I had one of those blessed “aha” experiences, a flash of insight that allows me to lay at least passing claim to wisdom. Recognition is enough! Seeing the differences between the two paths, understanding how different aspects of myself are drawn to each of them, and knowing that I am capable of continuing to follow one while learning the other – that is the recognition. And it is enough. I don’t have to also undergo the stress of carrying awareness of the paths and their differences through a two year course of study.

Wiser seems to be at work in my growing ability to move through a mine field of life choices while maintaining a ‘neither for nor against’ mentality.

Older is definitely a handicap in my search for paid employment. I cannot help but believe that the on-line application and screening systems which substitute for preliminary job interviews include an edit that discards all applications with college graduation dates before 1990 (the application isn’t accepted if a graduation date is left blank). No other explanation accounts for a year of denials of my applications for positions for which I meet every criterion, which mirror work I have already done successfully, and which are written using all the key words of the job description included in my work summary. Wiser allows me to keep the constant rejection at arm’s length, not translating it into a feeling of personal inadequacy. The right income opportunity will come my way, so long as I keep an open, explore-everything approach to the search – and all this rejection is good practice for the inevitable “send out twenty stories to get one accepted” that mark a writing life.


Older is what I will be – starting another decade – on my next birthday in the autumn. Wiser is what I hope also to be by then, having learned the parameters of a new job which I’ve been offered, and having experienced yet again the virtues of patience. I’ve been hired into a position which exceeds every criterion I had set – flexible hours, service to others, supportive and enjoyable coworkers. And I have almost two months to discern how to maintain my established writing pace while fulfilling the job’s requirements. I’m old enough to know that won’t be easy. Hopefully I’m wise enough to know both how important the writing is to my sense of well-being, and how possible it is to “have it all.” With patience, I will see the way.


August 18, 2013

For the past year I’ve been living in a way most of us are taught not to… day to day, with no ‘life goals’ and few plans that reach more than a week or two into the future. It’s a natural way to be; children wake each morning to a truly new day, one full of possibilities. They have to be trained to ignore distractions and to stay focused on mandates – good grades, keeping a room picked up, personal cleanliness, helping with household chores, thinking ahead.

Oh yes, thinking ahead. You didn’t make your bed when you should have done, so now you have to do it instead of watching your favorite TV show. You should have thought ahead! You’ve been skimping on your homework, now you’re failing 5th grade, though you’ve been warned over and over. You only have one six week grading period left to bring your work up to acceptable level. You’ll be doing nothing but school work from now until the term ends. No trips, no play, no time for fun… you should have thought ahead!

Sorry, Mom and Dad, but I’ve been determinedly not thinking ahead. There is a point, ahead out there somewhere, when I will run out of savings and, without income, be destitute. I’m not ignoring that fact, but I’m not focused on it. My wise teacher instructs that attention is food – what one attends to grows in one’s life.

Conversely: ”If you want something to leave your life, take your attention off of it.”

I see no benefit from worrying about a maybe some three years off into the future, so I am attending to what is here with me in the present. I have been searching job boards, applying for everything that seems a possibility. Like many older people in the job market, I get few responses. Experience seems not to be valued any longer. Employers want new young minds to train to their special priorities. They want to mimic parents, who know instinctively that training children to think ahead, plan for the future, and learn habits of daily living is easier when the children are young and haven’t yet had enough experience to question the parental dictates.

So how do I communicate, in a standard application and resume submission, that part of my experience has been learning to be open to new ways of doing things, new goals and new achievements? Do I say that I have been living day to day for a year now, proof of my ability to be flexible and adaptable? Do I use, in a cover letter, another image from my spiritual teacher, of riding a horse up a creek and, at a moment’s notice and for no conscious reason, jumping the horse up onto the bank? Knowing when to listen to one’s inner voice (intuition, or spiritual knowing) can indeed be the skill that saves one, in what turns out to be the nick of time, from a tumultuous flash flood gushing down the creek bed.

Asked what I’m looking for in new employment, I could perhaps best answer by saying I seek the employer who will appreciate the depth of meaning in my teacher’s story. Or one who could read Lesley S. King’s recent post entitled Face Your Inner Mischief, about her yapping mind, and understand it for the beautiful parable it is. I seek an employer who has the ability to appreciate the innovative, the creative, the self-directed in others because that is what he/she is also. Someone not threatened by new ideas, not hearing questions as challenges to authority but rather as the positive contributions of an assistant engaged in the process of achieving goals which, themselves, may shift with time and experience.

Living each day for what it offers, as I have done of late, could be considered a rejection of the values my parents, particularly my father, taught – to plan, to delay immediate gratification for a larger achievement; to save and be mindful of expenses, so as to have financial resources when they are needed; to be cautious and consider all possible consequences before acting. Indeed, much of my life could be seen as a rejection of those values; I’ve left higher paying jobs for lower paying ones on a matter of principle; I’ve spoken out about fundamental rights and been blacklisted; I’ve challenged the status quo in large and also in small ways, living as my friend Jane said recently, when she wrote, “I did what the Holy Spirit led me to do, and I can do no other.”

Nonetheless, there is a way in which I still embody the underlying lesson my father – and most parents – try to teach their children. That silent message is about acquiring the ability to choose – i.e. to have an understanding of cause and effect, an ability to be patient long enough to experience outcomes, and a sense of what information comes from within one’s being and what is imposed from ‘outside’. With these three skills, one can choose – to follow outside dictates or respond in opposition to them; to stick with an unsatisfactory job or to leave it without another already in place to go to; to value integrity more than security, or patience more than impulsiveness.

Ultimately, it is our choices – or lack of them – that define our lives. Lucky is the child of a parent who knows to teach how, but not what, to choose. Blessed is the individual who learns from a spiritual teacher that worlds exist beyond the mundane, and that we all have within us the capacity to manifest Truth, to Hear the Word, to be led by the Holy Spirit, in whatever language or manner of Knowing we choose to embrace.

As I continue to practice not knowing, living open to whatever turns out to be my ‘next step’, I am content. I have made my choices and, again like my friend Jane, I have paid a price, but “I would do it all over again.”

It’s good to know that I’m fulfilling my promise to myself, made shortly before my grandfather’s passing, to live my life so that whenever my time of transition arrives, I will have as few regrets as he did on his deathbed. His nearly final words to me were, “I possibly should have remarried – it would have been better for your mother, but I never found a woman I wanted to marry… and I wish I’d learned to play the mandolin.”

May we all make our choices such that we can sum up our lives as contentedly and succinctly!

Plenty of Nothin’ is Plenty

August 4, 2013

I wonder if the hardest part of getting older is not the challenges of coping with a failing body and mind, nor the inevitable sorrow of losing friends and peers, but the gradual – or sometimes very sudden – loss of illusions, loss of aspirations, loss of hope. At some point we all face the recognition that a cherished desire or goal is not going to be fulfilled. What then?

Psychologists have given labels to the behavior engendered by some of these confrontations – empty nest syndrome and male menopause being the most prominent. Those two experiences are primarily about accepting transitions in one’s life path rather than about loss of a way forward. It may be hard for a mother to accept that her children are grown and must be allowed to live their own lives while she redefines herself – she will still be a mother, but engaged differently in the lives of her family. And just as business managers must adapt their style when a company transitions from growth to maintenance mode, so some men must accept – at some point in their careers – that they have reached a plateau where they may expect to be for the rest of their working lives.

(Yes I’m aware of the sexist, stereotypical nature of the two above examples. Men may indeed have troubled letting go of a familiar pattern of fathering, and career women also have to recognize the point at which their professional lives plateau.)

Except, of course, that creative men and women reinvent themselves, begin new careers, take up new interests and continue to make contributions to their community, their families and themselves, often to the end of their days. Of what is that creativity made? Is it something more than a stark refusal to concede to lost illusions, lost aspirations, lost hope?

Consider a particular expectation – that of finding someone with whom one can walk life’s path, a partner to share the joys and sorrows, someone to ‘be there’ when support is needed. Some of us are lucky enough to find such a mate. Almost all of us are given the expectation that we will be in that lucky group. We read novels about these ‘good’ marriages and we see – or think we see – examples around us. We may or may not also learn that romantic love doesn’t hold up well to the stresses of married life, but that if again we are lucky, we discover a more stable, enduring form of love that does survive the inevitable losses life brings. Above all, if we are lucky, we find someone with whom we can share (and thereby halve) the pain, and share (and thereby double) the pleasures life brings our way.

But what of those who do not find such a partner? Or who find a partner incapable of sharing in a way meaningful to us? There are many such people, their stories recorded over and over again in country western songs. How do we move past the realization that we have come to a point in life where it is clear there will not ever “be someone to hold me while I cry?”

Those of us who are fortunate enough, wise enough to let go of the demand for a single person to fulfill the human need for companionship often find ourselves with support in unexpected but very meaningful ways. When I cracked my spine in a horseback riding accident, a neighbor showed up daily to do my chores and another took off from her work whenever needed, to drive me to my own work and appointments. And years ago, after the love in my life was yanked away, an acquaintance from the Quakers volunteered herself into my new home to help me unpack and settle, and to hold me while I cried.

My spiritual teacher instructs that attention is food. What we give attention to multiplies. Inversely, the way to remove something unwanted from one’s life is to simply take one’s attention off it. Focusing on what is missing from life (a forever mate for example) will only push the possibility of finding one farther away. Psychologists have used transactional analysis to spell out the emotional dynamics of this truth, and shown how unhealthy, unequal relationships are formed from neediness. Most are unfulfilling and unsustainable. In the end, they rupture and dump the needy person right back where he/she began, in the classic cycle of repetitively marrying an abuser, an alcoholic, a philanderer, et cetera. I love the accuracy of the title of the landmark book in this field, Games People Play.

We have the option not to play games. Creatively fulfilling our needs for companionship, for attention, for support by drawing on a variety of resources – including ourselves – shifts attention away from lack and loss and toward plenty. With attention on plenty, it multiplies in a happy way. Porgy, in the operetta Porgy and Bess, expresses giving attention to sufficiency so well:
I got plenty of nothing,
And nothing’s plenty for me.
I got no car – got no mule,
I got no misery.
Folks with plenty of plenty,
They’ve got a lock on the door,
Afraid somebody’s gonna rob ’em
While they’re out (a) making more – what for?
I got no lock on the door – that’s no way to be.
They can steal the rug from the floor – that’s OK with me.
‘Cause the things that I prize – like the stars in the skies – are all free.

I have so much more than nothing. Most of us do. Whether or not all our dreams are fulfilled, are we not plenty-full?



Forging Ahead

May 28, 2013

OK, so I have my new computer, running Windows 7, and I’m enjoying its speed, though it’s tedious reloading programs and learning how and where to shut off its unwanted bells and whistles.

I’ve set about having this blog. I’ve registered a domain name, Comcado, and am starting to plan a web site. And instead of using my time writing, I seem to be using my time undoing problems I create because I don’t know enough about online interactions to ‘get it right the first time’. Like how to link the blog to the domain when the domain isn’t being actively hosted yet. Or how to get pieces of my identity correctly reflecting me, and not the stripper with my name, who has already tried to appropriate my way of spelling my name.

I’m on a learning curve – or at least I hope I am! Some days it seems more like an unlearning curve, sloped sharply downward into a state of totally frustrated chaos. Then I have to turn off the computer, go for a walk, and try to remember that this too shall pass. Actually, the ‘help’ people at WordPress have indeed been helpful, as has the friend whose Bluedome business hosts my domain.

I wish the same were true of customer service in other areas. Because of a rotten attitude toward customers in a new subsidiary of my longtime propane provider, I recently chose to change to a new supplier. And now I have another frustration, trying to figure out how to make adjustments to the utility room where my hot water heater has been reliably and safely performing for 22 years. Because of the supplier change, I had to undergo a state building code safety inspection which revealed the room is too small (supposedly) to safely supply enough fresh air for the heater. Never mind that the room is so poorly insulated that air already comes in freely around the windows and door. The inspector was nice, and made several suggestions – and could understand that I was legitimately more concerned about the pipes and washing machine freezing in our 30 below winter nights if I add 4 inch outside vents, than I am about a hypothetical exhaustion of oxygen to the heater flame. Building codes have changed since the heater was installed in 1990, So now, thanks to my choice to eliminate dealings with a rude and uncaring business office, I have to obey dictates and endure expenses that ignore my circumstances.

The inspector recognized that I’d probably create the vents and then stuff them with insulation to keep the cold out of the utility room. “What you do to protect your pipes after I verify that you’ve drilled the holes is your business,” is actually what he said. Nice man, just doing his job, recognizing that rules that don’t make sense are unlikely to be taken too seriously.

Maybe that’s where my problems lie with online issues – rules that I don’t understand and that, therefore, don’t seem to make sense to me? If I learn the language, understand the difference between replying to a post and creating a new thread, figure out how to explain the problems I’m having in a way that experts can help me resolve them… if I find my center in a whole new world…?

Have you seen those lists of adages, paired to show how contradictory they can be? Like “The early bird catches the worm” but “Slow and steady wins the race”. Well, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” – but ”When you stop learning, you start dying.”

I’m not ready to die yet, not if I have a choice in the matter. So this older dog is learning new tricks as fast as I can. Please have patience with me while I do so!

On Being Computer-less

May 25, 2013

Much is being made about the changes in form of social interaction since the advent of cell phones, texting, and social media on the internet. “They don’t know how to talk to one another! They sit at the same lunch table and instead of chatting, they text! Nothing is considered private! Do they really think people are interested to know their every move, every moment of the day, as they tweet their locations in the mall?”

“They”, of course, are younger people, not “us” – not people who are old enough to have lived before cell phones and – oh my god – before the internet! A few of us are even old enough to have experienced a world in which not every household had a phone – or if there was a phone it was on a party line, with a different ring for each of as many as six families, and an etiquette for not tying up the line (i.e. only short talks about immediate necessities).

So how is it that one of the “us” – I – have come to feel so disconnected when my laptop (I have advanced from a bulky desk computer, but do not have a smart phone nor a ‘connected’ notepad) is gone for two days to be repaired? Suddenly, I cannot readily work on my novel-in-progress, complete the job search required by my unemployed status, know what is happening with former United World College students now scattered around the world, communicate easily with professional acquaintances, nor ‘talk’ (via Skype) with distant friends. I have thought of my life as consciously ‘disconnected’ to the extent that I do not shop on line, my finances remain in my physical hands (in the form of cash and checks), and I scrupulously avoid any sort of ‘automatic’ interaction with my bank accounts except for those government programs which demand the use of electronic deposits. How can I have nonetheless become so internet-access dependent?

I live in the epitome of rural America, where only dial-up internet access was available as recently as three years ago. Now there is satellite and – within the past six months – phone company-provided DSL has reached my home,though it is not yet available two miles farther up the road from town. I recall raging at the mechanical voices telling me, as I waited on hold for a person to speak to, that I could access my account on line at www… The customer service person who ‘got’ me inevitably was told to report to the higher ups that “there are a lot of us who live were we don’t have internet access, and it’s aggravating to have to listen to recordings telling us to use an option that doesn’t exist”!

Over the years I’ve collected enough points on a credit card to ‘purchase’ a tablet. It just arrived – and guess who is learning to use it to check the email and websites I’m expected to access daily? I still can’t store data, work on my manuscript, keep my accounts or job log up to date – but I can at least respond to critical, time sensitive messages with a stupidly slow two finger poke-type typing. I’ve gone shopping for a new laptop, in case my present one needs more expensive repair than it is worth, a highly probable outcome, given our throw away economy. As I search, I find that everything I most dislike about my new tablet is virtually all that is available on new computers – Windows 8.

It’s the equivalent, for lazy surfers, of the only gear shifts available on new cars – sloppy excuses for the tight, single engage point, hang-on-a-hill-using-just-the-clutch transmissions on which those of us with a little age and experience learned to drive… gasp … back before there were automatic transmissions! We also learned to type before there were electric machines! We’re really old!

So what, you ask, am I writing on, to complete this essay, if I do not have a computer? No, not an old fashioned electric typewriter, though I have one of those – I even have a standard, non-electric, dings-when-you-come-to-the-end-of-a-line, manual-carriage-return machine like the one I originally learned on in typing class, in high school. No, I’m writing on an AlphaSmart Neo – three double A batteries last about 900 hours of use of a keyboard as lightweight as the slimmest of tablets, with eight separate memory files, simple editing and correction commands, and ability to cut and paste, and to link to a computer to transfer documents for printing or transmitting. It’s the ultimate in flexible, go anywhere technology designed for a writer!

When will the techies discover the world of people who mourn the loss of the tools of typing, who are appalled by the concept of devices and software designed exclusively for those who want to ‘swipe’ their way through life? When will they remember that there are writers who don’t feel the need to be instantly connected to anything and everything – people who still turn off the phone and silence the doorbell in order to focus and work uninterrupted, unconnected? When will they remember that there are people who choose to live in places not yet wired to the rest of the world?

I’m set. I can check email with the tablet, write on the Neo, and hunt for a replacement laptop that still comes with Windows 7, though my choices are apt to be quite limited. I’m set for this go around. I don’t know what I’ll do when, too few years in the future, I yet again have to get a new laptop. Oh, I know – by then equipment will respond to my thoughts and I won’t need my fingers to type! After all, monkeys with electrodes in their brains already use thought (or desire?) to control mechanical arms that reach for food. Can automatic computer writing be far behind?


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