Posts Tagged ‘internet connections’

Theme and Variations

November 22, 2015

After several days of wood-stove heated cold weather, the temperature has soared to cotton shirtsleeve comfort, and an afternoon originally intended for housekeeping has turned into one spent on whatever could be completed outside in the sunlight. For my husband, that has meant washing cars. I, meanwhile, cooked some of his habanero pepper sauce on the outdoor grill (its bite sets everyone sneezing and crying if prepared inside) and re-potted houseplants. Or rather, transferred cuttings that had taken root in water into new pots, and repositioned one jade plant that, for reasons of its own, has chosen to grow so lopsidedly that its pot is highly prone to tip over. Reoriented, the main stem now angles sharply to one side, but seen from a distance the whole plant looks much more balanced.

straighter now beneath the window

straighter now
beneath the window

Why do some natures veer off crookedly? How do several children raised in the same supportive environment take such different attitudes forward into their adult life? Why are some people seemingly constitutionally unable to appreciate what is offered and available to them, while others build wondrous achievements out of little more than scraps and string?

My household greenery includes five different Christmas cactus plants, one of which has begun to bloom in anticipation of Advent. If previous years are any indicator, one or two more will flower before the holiday for which they are named, and one – the largest and oldest – will only flower around Easter time. Each is a different color, one white, one pink, and three distinct shades of red. They all get similar light, water and food, and are exposed to the same temperature variations, yet each takes its own turn to blossom.

If it’s true that no two snowflakes are alike (is it so?) then my examples of variation, where similarity might be expected, become rather insignificant and small. But more people seem to be affected by personality differences among siblings than are concerned with verifying the uniqueness of snowflakes or the reasons for oddities in the flowering cycle of plants.

Discussing one of my husband’s English writing assignments brought me up against the debate about how to treat addiction – as a disease that was not chosen any more than one chooses to have cancer, or as an intentional act with moral consequences. The former position is supported by medical evidence showing that when alcohol or drugs cause the release of endorphins in stressed individuals, their brains process this chemical change as life-saving. Future use/misuse of substances becomes, at a purely neurological level, a matter of survival. There is no longer any choice involved, just as a cancer patient does not have a choice about whether his untreated, abnormal cells replicate. Addicts need to seek treatment to recover from their addictions just as cancer patients need to seek treatment to (hopefully) recover from their malignancies.

Choice – and judgement – enter this scenario when the alcoholic refuses to admit he has a problem, or fails to seek treatment. Choice – and judgement – also enter the scenario when a person chooses not to undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation to treat cancer. The same variability that leads us to ask why two siblings should turn out so differently from one another can then lead us to wonder why two similarly situated alcoholics (married, with children, good jobs and reasonably effective support systems) should follow very different paths. Where one recognizes the harm being caused to family, and seeks treatment, the other dives into denial and eventually loses spouse, family and job without ever accepting the many offers of help being extended.

Is it that we need to believe we have free choice, no matter what? Is that why we insist there is a moral standard that is appropriately applied in all life situations? Two children have the benefit of the same loving parenting. One thrives and succeeds and gains our respect. The other struggles and turns to drink and becomes an object of scorn.

We do not scorn the cactus that fails to flower at Christmas. We are happy to welcome its flowering whenever it chooses to show its colors. I do not blame my goat Storm for persistently worming her way between the bars of the pasture gate; it is just her nature to want to get to that greener grass on the other side of the fence. I can’t imagine anyone blaming a snowflake for not looking identical to its neighbors on the patio. Why, then, are we so hard on ourselves and our fellow humans? Why can’t we simply accept that there is a wide range of individual variation in how people grow and respond and live, that our natures are as different, one from another, as are the many snowflakes that covered my yard four days ago? Then it was icy, snowy and cold while today it’s balmy and delightful outdoors. I don’t hear anyone saying “that’s wrong, that’s bad, Nature shouldn’t be so variable and inconsistent.”

Am I asking too much to wish that people could be as accepting of one another’s variability as we are of flowers, snowflakes, weather and stubbornly determined animals? To do so doesn’t mean abandoning standards of conduct, or being obliged to accept anything and everything as “cool, man” or “whatever.” If I meet someone who doesn’t seem to share my values, I am free to choose not to pursue the relationship. I don’t need to judge them, try to change them, or moralize about how and why they are as they are. And I can hope that they would, reciprocally, let me pass on without being subjected to attempts to change my vibrant red colors to muted pink ones.

Aspiration Accomplished

Not One Ding-a-ling

July 26, 2015

One of the blogs I follow, Musings from a Tangled Mind, is occasionally a rant against some stupidity of daily life – usually on a subject I agree deserves a tongue lashing. I’ve not seen, there, my target today.

I am rarely able to nap during the day, no matter how tired I feel. This afternoon, I succeeded to drop off – and scarcely half an hour later my phone rang with an automated call from Walgreen’s Pharmacy, a reminder about refilling a prescription that:
1) doesn’t have refills on it, and
2) I never signed up to have reminders about.

I grew up in an environment which functioned largely without telephones at all. My recollection is that we were on a multi-party line in Washington DC, before my father entered the Foreign Service and we decamped to Vietnam in 1956. There – and later in Paris – there was a phone in our home, but it was solely for my parents and for official use only. I did occasionally use the Paris phone to arrange to meet a friend, but tying up the line to chat was forbidden, the cost considered prohibitive.

Returned to the U.S. for college, I lived in a dorm with one phone for the entire floor, or pay phones in the lobby for calling home. Again no habit of phone conversation developed. By the time I was out of school, married and living in my own space, the telephone had become a tool for necessary contact and nothing more. Thus, when I moved to New Mexico and into an area with no phone lines available, I was not disconcerted. In the one instance when my parents urgently needed to get hold of me, they had me located by the State Police, who came out to my house to deliver the message that I needed to call back East.

With time, I moved to a more developed area and met phone lines in place. I was still on a system that was small enough for us to give out our numbers with only 5 digits (Santa Fe was either 982 or 983 prefix, so my phone number was 33474, although one had to dial the initial 98). By the time I moved to the Las Vegas area, Santa Fe had 988 and 471 also in place, but Las Vegas had only 425 or 454. Five digit numbers remained the norm until the late 1990s.

Over the past 15 years the entire state has “upgraded” its land lines and sprouted a plethora of different cell company connections. In order to have service in my “second” house (the land line only goes to the main dwelling) I’ve signed up for T-Mobile, upgraded to a “smart” phone and now get calls via WiFi.

None of which justifies Walgreen’s disrupting my nap with an automated call to alert me it is time to refill a prescription!

Especially when I did NOT ask for that service. In fact, I’ve opted out of it twice already. Apparently, each time I fill a new prescription, the refill reminder is set for thirty days out, no matter what the content of the prescription says – and each new prescription requires a new opt out.

Lesson learned – no new prescriptions will be filled at Walgreen’s unless/until their system allows me to put a block on unwanted calls.

Which brings me to the true topic of this rant – the presumption that we all want/need to be connected all the time, that if we miss a call we are expected to return it immediately, that it is okay to repeatedly troll for business even after being told not to call again and even when the number dialed is on a national do not call list. We have to opt out of everything we don’t want, rather than being invited in and allowed to not participate unless we request inclusion.

A similar presumption underlies online tracking of preferences, of sites visited, etc. so that “ads can be tailored to meet your needs.” Except that no ad ever meets my needs, because I’ve learned to ignore them. They are an intrusion into my time and space, or into my spam folder. I do not have TV reception and, though I do miss the occasional drama series and a few PBS programs, the amount of advertising I thus avoid more than balances the small amount of worthwhile content that I forgo.

At what point did we cease of be people with brains, worthy of respect and entitled to be asked our preferences? How did I miss the turning point where personal space, rights to solitude and to privacy disappeared from everyday interactions?

I am not so “old fashioned” as to devalue the benefits of having a cell phone. I do appreciate being able to text and to email and reach out to people more quickly and easily than when I had to walk from my home in Lamy to the train depot to make that call to my parents, using the only pay phone in the village. I am so old fashioned as to mind that, with the advent of easy connection, has come a culture of disregard of – nay disrespect for – those who are on the other end of the connection.

Yes I realize there were people, shortly after Mr. Bell made his revolutionary invention, who said then what I’m saying now. They had it right, to some extent. Cultural norms do need to be adapted to changes in technology but not to the point of eliminating basic respect for individuals’ privacy and control of their home environments.

Just because you want to contact me does not mean I am obliged to be available to you!

There is a time and a place for communication. During church service in the morning, and again when I am napping on a Sunday afternoon is neither the time nor the place for Walgreen’s to pester me about a prescription refill for which I am not even eligible!

What’s that old parting line after a job interview? Don’t call us, we’ll call you?

If I want information I’ll seek it out. If I need a refill I’ll ask for it. If I intend to purchase an item, I’ll find the stores or the online sites with the items I’m interested in. I know my own mind, what I want and when I want it.

If you want my business, show me the simple respect of allowing me to initiate the contact, and to choose what reminders or new information I desire.

There but for the Grace…

March 7, 2015

Several of the blogs I follow have focused of late on technology – whether changing TV viewing habits because of a change in connectivity or lamenting the lost memory of a lost phone. And then there’s my friend who told his story of being at the gathering following a family funeral, and wanting to talk to some of the younger generation he had not been able to know, only to observe them quite incapable of simple conversation. They instead spent their time with busy thumbs, texting.

Meanwhile, I’ve been helping my new sister-in-law in Cameroon with an on-line course she is taking, by summarizing some of the articles on technology in the classroom that are related to her thesis topic. One of them refers to the physical changes in brain development which can be observed when children engage in a lot of “screen” time (TV and computers). Another addresses psychological issues which arise for children who, already uncomfortable with social interactions, choose to spend their time on social media sites and substitute Net “friends” for real life ones. A third spoke of the addictive nature of our relationship with computers and technological tools.

My first thought regarding the brain changes was – aha, perhaps that’s why there appears to be so much more ADHD Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in children these days. More on that later. My second thought was of the boys at the funeral dinner, unable to have a conversation with my friend. My third, albeit more reluctant, thought was of my own changes in behavior noted since I acquired a “smart” phone about six months ago. Also, I see that I am affected by the fact that I work from home and am much more reliant than ever before on email for communicating with my coworkers.

I remember sitting in my office working on projects, able to have a receptionist answer my calls and a “do not disturb” sign on my door. In theory I can do the same now, by letting the phone take messages and resolutely not checking email… but it is remarkably hard to do that. Something about the isolation of working from a home office makes being available and responsive by phone and email seem more critical. Do I think my supervisor or manager will doubt my commitment to work, if she cannot get to me promptly? I know with my rational faculty that that’s not the case… but what about my emotional mind?

Pre-smartphone, I checked personal email only at the end of the day. Now I check it in ‘down’ moments throughout the day, moments that used to be spent on…? Thinking, reflecting, just being still within myself. Now it takes a conscious act of will to not pull the phone out in those small gaps in my busy day. I’m aware that I’ve lost an important sense of pacing, of quiet time. I’ve already begun making a conscious effort to ignore the existence of the ever-connected-to-the-Net phone, even to turn it off on occasion.

Given that I grew up without even a land line phone, and that I’ve lived for periods of my adult life without one, I am vividly aware of how one’s perspective changes with changes in connectivity. Not having a means to know when a partner’s change of plans would mean he would be 2-3 or more hours later coming home than expected was, once, just part of my mind set. I would not start to worry unless the time delay became excessive – 5 hours or more. Contrast that with now, when I may find myself feeling irritated if my call to my husband goes to voice mail, even though he is very good about replying to the indication of a missed call. I don’t actually need (or want?) instant connectivity, but I do see how addictive the concept can be.

Which brings me back around to hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder. If brains are altered by computer interaction, are they also altered by the immediacy of response inherent to those interactions? Might this alteration account for the impatience, the jumping of attention from item to item that are the descriptors of ADHD?
Meditation is known to slow heart rate, improve concentration and provide a number of other health benefits. Meditation is the polar opposite of the connectivity inherent in current technology. It is a wise and talented individual who can achieve a balance between these two diverse tendencies.

Pre-smartphone, I read in the evenings. Lately I’ve been playing Scrabble against the computer, or Free Cell instead. I was shocked to realize recently that a lifelong habit of consuming at least a novel a week had come to a near standstill, replaced by engagement with games. My Scrabble skills have certainly improved, as I consistently beat the computer even when it is set on advanced or hard mode. Do I want to so far outstrip my Scrabble playing friends, that I’m not longer fun to engage with?

Fortunately my regular spiritual practice involves contemplation, so that I’m not totally bereft of the quiet, the relaxed mind, the disengaged and soothing energies which not only heal but inform, infuse with love and acceptance, and enable me to function in my daily life. Not so fortunately, I recognize that even well-armed with knowledge of the addictiveness of technological connectivity, I can succumb to that addiction. With lots of good reasons justifying my behavior, of course.

Except that nothing justifies losing the sense of peace and flow, the ease and pleasure of the only connection necessary for all others to be fulfilled. So I am taking back my quiet moments in the day, setting a schedule for checking work emails, and turning off the phone when I want to read. And I am thanking my Master for the insight, the instruction and the rescue, which seems to have come barely in time to save me from the pain and physical repercussions of severe addiction. All things in their proper time and place. By His Grace.

Wisdom of my Teacher

Wisdom of my Teacher

As Above

July 6, 2014

I took a short vacation last week, only three days. Enough to slow down, relax in a comfortable motel, watch World Cup matches and go for walks. Not enough to get the rest I need, but at least a taste of what it will be like soon, when the greatest press of work eases and I can once again have weekends.

It’s almost harder to resume intense work now than it would have been to just keep going. My body is telling me it likes being lazy but physically active. My mind informs me there are other things it wants to consider than the myriad aspects of my demanding job. My spirit…? It seeks constantly for the Source, drawing energy to support what my other components find it necessary to do.

As above, so below is a phrase used by my spiritual teacher, to help us channel our attention in the most beneficial direction. With the proper attitude, and the correct placement of attention, we are able to let Divine energy flow in, showing us our undue attachments and the ways that we divert and misuse that energy.

Attachments are essentially misplaced attention. Have you noticed that when you dislike something, it seems to keep popping up before you until you let go of the dislike, becoming neutral on the subject? Only then, with attention directed somewhere else, can the object/experience/attitude fade from prominence in your life.

On the flip side, I can say that I am now enjoying in my daily outer life a delightful reflection of the companionship, caring, fun, accomplishment, ease and peace that twenty years of patient spiritual pursuit has achieved for me with my Inner Beloved. Not looking for anything more than the gifts already given, I am astounded to find my mundane world such a perfect reflection of the promises of my spiritual one. Not that there aren’t challenges, large and small. How could there not be, since I am far from a perfected spiritual being.

What I understand, though, is that when issues do arise I need give these outer manifestations only passing analysis. The majority of my attention needs to go within, to determine what subtle (sometimes not so subtle) concern or attachment I have neglected to clear from my being.

Today, my reliable, hardworking, much appreciated and well-traveled (220,000 miles) VW gave out as I was driving into town. Rolling along just fine, then a popping sort of bang, a huge puff of smoke, and clearly something was very wrong. Coasting to a stop, calling AAA for a tow, figuring out where to have the car taken so a mechanic can assess the problem – these steps followed in a fairly routine way. I called a friend to take me home, where I collected my second car to return to town and continue with the day’s projects.

Now I am considering what I will do if the repair bill approaches the down payment for a new vehicle. And I’m asking myself what inner, reliable and established habit is also due for a revamp or upgrade? Am I due for a change in my attitude toward spending and debt? Have I been taking the presence of some skill or energy too much for granted? Or is my reliance on the care and attention of my Divine Teacher being put to the test?

My Internet service also failed today – with a 24-48 hour restoration time frame the best that can be promised me by the repair people. And just now, our electric power went off. So three basics of outer daily function have all quit on me at once. For sure, I will be looking to see what I’ve been taking for granted on the inner, and attending to repairs and maintenance of any areas where I find my attentiveness has been lacking!

Thank Thee, Beloved, for serving me up this fine example of “as above so below” – or perhaps I should say “as within, so without”. I deeply appreciate that the lesson is being offered on a weekend day, when nothing is so pressing as to prevent me from taking this matter into contemplation.

Baraka Bashad. May these Blessings Be.

Eyes on the Sparrow

Eyes on the Sparrow

Postscript
The car blew out at 10:00 AM. The Internet quit by 1:30 PM, the electricity died at 3:00 PM.
As of 8:00 PM both electricity and Internet have resumed function.
I await the morning, to see what happens with the car.

When Life Gives You Lemons

April 13, 2014

Ah, the wonders of modern reliance on connectivity!

I had set aside an important three hours on Friday morning, to enter client assessments into the data base system on which my job relies. Guess what? Not only could I not connect, the entire system is down. The only way I can complete any aspect of my work is by telephone – calling into the IT number from time to time, to learn whether the massive problems have been solved. With several thousand employees disbursed across the large state of New Mexico, there is no way – apparently – to alert all of us to a change in status.

Disaster preparedness lessons are certainly now being scheduled.

One of my duties as a Care Coordinator is to educate the clients on my caseload about disaster preparations – to help them think through where they will go if they must evacuate, what they need to have ready to take with them, how they will have their needs met in a new location, etc. The area where I live – and across which my clients are scattered – has been in severe drought for close to ten years, with this past winter being one of the driest on record. Spring is showing in town as forsythia flowering, but looking out my window I see only the dry brown of parched end-of-summer. Driving into the nearby mountains yesterday, there was no hint of green on bare branches of scrub oak, which should already be leafed out.

Like most of my neighbors, I watched TV news of feet of snow being repeatedly dumped on the Midwest, and wondered why the prevailing winds could not let some of that moisture drop on us here, rather than sailing by, overhead. Surely the scientists who can put a man on the moon can figure out how to redirect moisture flows here on earth and distribute needed water more evenly!

When will those individuals supposedly concerned with the nation’s welfare stop bickering about the reality of climate change in the abstract, and focus instead on solving the very real problems of weather extremes being experienced right now? These extremes are causing disasters of varying sorts, every season. That is a fact, not an abstract.

Does it matter whether one believes or not that there are major, impending climate alterations for which mankind is responsible? Not at all, if the priority is to address the very real drought – and the equally real polar vortex – being experienced in different regions of our country.

Stop bickering, and just fix it, already.

Meanwhile, it’s an interesting experience to observe a huge non-profit brought virtually to a standstill for an entire day, because somehow its computer networks have failed. I don’t know as of this writing whether it’s the servers themselves, or access to the Internet, or some other issue that prevents us from emailing one another, or using any of our data base systems. I only know that it is obviously dangerous to build a service delivery system around an expectation that all information one needs to perform ones job can be accessed via the computer.

I’ve ranted here before on the limited vision of techies who build their systems in the midst of large cities with good Net access, and who then expect those of us living in the mountains and “on the frontier” to be able to use those systems. I have to admit I’m perversely glad that serious problems have arisen today right in the center of New Mexico’s largest city. Maybe now, the voices of those of us who are frontier people will be heard!

Maybe now, as well, local stores will consider making the ability to do simple arithmetic and to give change a job requirement once again. They’ve had to shut down serving customers when we’ve had power outages that turn off the cash drawer calculators. Oh, that’s right, the store’s inventory tracking is based within those calculators, and heaven forbid they make a sale that isn’t tracked. After all, doing business is about making money, not about serving customers – right?

Inability to distribute food or other essential goods because the power is off, or the computer is down – now that is a recognizably man-made disaster! No need to get into the debate about man’s contribution to the current climate extremes being experienced – just look at the many local mini-disasters we most certainly cause by ignoring the fallibility of our mechanical creations. Millions of vehicles recalled, dams that crack and flood, power grids that rupture… Haven’t we collectively figured out that if it can be built, it can fail?

No, I guess not. So today I don’t work as expected. Or rather, I will schedule extra clients to visit, collecting information in an old-fashioned, hand-written file folder. Whenever the technical problem is fixed, I’ll have a backlog of data to enter – as will many of my co-workers. I do hope the upsurge in computer usage doesn’t cause a new crash! Is that potential disaster being planned for, as the current repairs are undertaken? We’ll see.

Meanwhile, if the present computer problem isn’t fixed before Monday, I’ll actually have a whole weekend off, for the first time since January 1.
Make lemonade.
Drink lemonade.
Enjoy lemonade.
YES!

A Snowy Contemplation

February 9, 2014

Have you noticed the unique silence that accompanies a fall of snow? The white blanket covering the ground somehow muffles ordinary noises of a country stillness, so that the world is – for a short time – truly quiet. I see birds at the feeder, fluffing themselves to shake dampness off their feathers, but they are not noisily jostling as they were yesterday. Even my dogs lie in, enjoying their heated porch rather than running barking at the rising sun.

From my Window

From my Window

Not much snow fell, not much more than a promise of wetness to our parched land. But the sky is still grey, except where the rising sun has broken through a cloud bank to paint a few slashes of peach and gold. Perhaps a few more drops will bless the earth from the clouds in the west. That is the direction our winter wetness comes in from. In summer it is often the reverse – systems stretch up from the gulf off Texas to give us summer rains. This past year, Texas did not share, and after a good start in late fall, the weather gods have chosen to send all the moisture either north of us into Colorado, or farther east where the blizzards and cold have caused major havoc.

Have you noticed how people’s temperaments are affected by the climates in which they dwell? It is an almost universal truth that cultures in hot, wet environments become gregariously noisy, even in Asian regions that one tends to think of as possessing a pattern of restraint. The silence of traditional Japanese people passing each other in public (it snows in Japan you know) is vastly different from the voluble street harangues of Vietnamese pedestrians in a country where the difference between hottest and coldest weather is less one of temperature than of moisture – monsoon season, or “dry” season when the humidity is perhaps 60% rather than 85%.

I knitted my first sweater in Saigon, when I was fourteen, and wore it twice on “cold” dry season days. Not days really suited to wearing a sweater, but I did so want to show it off. By the time I arrived in a cold enough climate to need a sweater, I’d outgrown it. A pretty dark cherry red pullover, with cap sleeves and a mini-turtleneck, the sweater went with me on to college and to Boston and eventually here to the desert, where I finally gave it to the daughter of a friend to be worn during what used to be our very coldest weeks of January. Used to be – it got down to 30 below at night and not much more than 5 for a daily high over at least a couple of weeks each January, even as recently as 20 years ago when I moved to my present home. For the past ten years, the night time temperature here has not dropped below minus 10, and the sun has warmed us comfortably every day. Pleasanter living than the mid-west’s polar experiences, but dire for our drought.

A snowplow has been by, and the school bus’ flashing lights indicate it has picked up my neighbor’s boys. I see cars making their way down the road that curves toward town, heading into the start of another workday. But still it is silent here around me, in a way only snow produces. It won’t last, neither the silence nor the snow, so I cherish it.

Have you noticed how people’s expressions of temperament change with their circumstances? A man courting a woman asks cautiously will she do this, would she help him to do that. Having won her, he issues orders – we will do this now, you must do that. The woman still has choices. She can simply agree, or she can learn in what way to express her own preferences so that she is heard. It is not significantly different in non-traditional relationships – we learn each other’s ways of being and how to express ourselves to influence the nature of the relationship. We learn how to help one another grow, and sadly, we also often learn how to block or stifle one another in an expression of frustrated, never-outgrown teenage envy.

Have you noticed how, entering a new relationship, there is a tendency to ask oneself, “Should I trust this person? How far? With how much of the truth about myself?” Past personal history of support or betrayal, extent of confidence in one’s self, willingness to risk, curiosity about different life styles, what a friend of mine simply calls open-mindedness, can all blend together into a force that shapes how a relationship develops. That is the common way.

How differently the issues of trust, of exploration and communication and growth of understanding unfold, if one considers a new relationship from the perspective of why the Divine ( God, or Fate, one’s Master, one’s karma, one’s wise inner self, or a Higher Power) “has brought this person and this experience to me at this time.” All the ambiguities of trusting in another person are released to the trust that we are alive for a reason, and that we can understand that reason, learning and thriving in our understanding.

Like the rare silence of a snow-covered early morning landscape, achieving an understanding of ourselves in relationship is a blessing. The moments of silence are brief; I woke early to enjoy them. The opportunities to intuit “what we’re here for” are also brief. I wake early to contemplate them.

The line of cars I see driving to work has warmed the thin snow covering on the road, and it is already turning to splashing slush. My big dog is out and barking to let the world know he has started his new day alertly. His two little companions romp patterns into the snow of my long, curving driveway. Outside, and in, the world is no longer silent. A new day of life has begun. What will I learn? What will I hear? What will I come to understand? What will I teach? What will I give, and what will I receive? Soon enough, I’ll have answers. Soon enough, too, I’ll have another opportunity to practice trusting that what is, is so, for a reason I may or may not be able to fathom. In trusting, I live. To cease trusting would be death – and I’m a long way from ready to die!

Across the Pasture Gate

Across the Pasture Gate

Another wave of snow clouds is sweeping in, flecks of white are drifting across the window. I will delay, just briefly, starting my own work day. Because I can do so, I choose to savor for a few moments more the regained silence (dogs still, birds quiet, no cars passing on the road), the blessing of extra drops of precious water, and another opportunity to consider why I am where I am, and for what inner purpose my outer life has taken on its latest form. Thank Thee, Master, for these gifts!

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.

Hah!

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 Healthcare.gov?

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?     

Sounds of Silence

October 1, 2013

First, I should explain that a different type of silence was imposed on me over the weekend, preventing me from putting up this post when I intended to do so, on Sunday afternoon. The internet link at the motel where I was staying was somehow incompatible with my computer, and the IT people weren’t able to reset it properly. I am back home, and once again connected – able to ‘speak’.

Thank you for patience, for reading, for following, for being there.

Niki
**************


Noise pollution is one of the issues not being adequately discussed in relation to my county’s examination of a proposed fracking ordinance. I brought the topic into the discussion, and I have to keep raising it as others focus insistently on water quality and scarcity, and contamination of the air and soil. By comparison I suppose noise can be considered a less significant negative – but not to me.

I live in the countryside – what most people would consider a truly rural area. My small 900 square foot house is set back from the road, on four acres, abutting a several-hundred-acre ranch. I have three neighbors – houses close to the road with entrance driveways off it, in a cluster with my own entryway. Across the road are two more homes. Most of the time, those neighbors are quiet – so much so that I wonder if they are at home. No loud parties, nor growling outdoor machinery.

I do hear traffic on the highway. My house is situated on a hill toward which the road heads before it veers off, resulting in the longish driveway that snakes from the road up over a hill to my front door. Sitting in my living room, looking out its floor to ceiling windows, I can see a section of the road, and all the vehicles that travel up and down it. I cannot see – but can hear clearly – the heavy trucks and the rattle of gravel excavation that is going on a further 2 miles away, on a section of land that “ought” not to be considered to be in my neighborhood. Something about the lay of the valley funnels that noise straight up to my house.

The gravel operation is new this summer. I don’t know yet if I’ll notice it when my windows are closed, but I am very aware now, with windows wide open, of the days it is running and those, like today, when it is not. Perhaps I’m more sensitive than other people to the ambient noise within which I live?

I do not like to have music playing “in the background” of my days. I work better, think better, live better in silence. I enjoy music, go to concerts, play records (there’s an oldie for you) or CDs with intention to listen to them – emphasis on the intention to listen. If my intention is to work, I prefer to do so in silence.

Undoubtedly, that preference has something to do with my enjoyment of Quaker Meeting, and Buddhist zazen sessions, as well as my own daily spiritual contemplative practice. Undoubtedly it also has something to do with my appreciation of the skill of the young musicians from Curtis Institute who performed Britten’s Quartet #3 for Strings at a recent Music From Angel Fire concert near my home. Two of the piece’s five movements, including the last one, end with a prolonged silence defined by the musicians holding their bows immobile above the strings of their instruments until, as one, they relaxed in their seats, signaling the end of the silence that was part of the movement, and the beginning of the silence into which the audience could inject its noises of appreciation.

Once before, many years ago in Boston, I attended a concert which featured a piano performance that included long silences as part of the piece, and then too I was able to ‘hear’ the difference in quality between the silence that was integral to the music, and the silence of the piece’s end. That time, as I recall, I had no visual cue. I was sitting too far back, in the cheap seats, to see the pianist’s hands. I could only rely on my ears, and the pianist’s flawless sense of timing, to distinguish when musical silence transitioned to an appreciative silence from the audience, which in turn transitioned into loud applause.

A few of my acquaintances seem to understand what I mean when I express my awareness of the difference between the silence of Quaker Meeting, and that in a Zendo. Even the famously silent Meetings (the oldest, historical ones in Philadelphia) which I have attended, have a busy-ness to them, a sense of minds occupied with focused reflection, that is distinctly different from the no-thought silence of a practiced group of Buddhists in meditation. And different again from the life in silence of the Benedictines (and their guests) living at Christ in the Desert Monastery. Different yet again from the experience of many hundreds of chelas (students), attending to the silent communication from our Beloved Teacher at a MasterPath gathering. Dare I say that there are many different sounds of silence?

(Yes I know the Simon and Garfunkle song The Sound of Silence. It doesn’t fit into my narrative because the song is about the negative aspect of silence – silence as a barrier to communication and a symptom of loneliness.)

We seem, in the modern urgency of tuned-in lives, to have forgotten the old adage that silence is golden. We settle for the silver, the copper, even the dross of noisy, busy “I’m somebody, doing something important” daily life and think we are fulfilling ourselves. Just yesterday, I had a Facebook ‘chat’ with a young friend who is torn between his desire to study the classical languages necessary to read ancient Buddhist texts in their original, and the supposedly practical necessity of getting a degree in a subject that can lead to a job. How practical is it, to go against one’s nature, to ignore the still, small, inner voice directing one toward a path of spiritual fulfillment, in favor of a loud, outer, boisterous demand to focus on earning a living?

Inside golden silence, there is much to hear and learn. Whole worlds of perception, of wisdom, exist within our inner silent spaces. Would that we all, individually and collectively, were more insistent on spending time in that beautiful silence within! Would that we all, individually and collectively, could share the golden wealth to be acquired from listening to the songs of the Divine played so beautifully within us. Listen…. and you will hear…

Creativity in a Second Language

September 15, 2013

I’ve started a new class through Coursera – a MOOC – that apparently has close to 125,000 people signed up for it worldwide. Mind boggling to think of that many students going to class together. The topic is Creativity – and in keeping with the course’s intent to promote more creative lives among the students, I’ve joined a subgroup of French speakers enrolled in the class. A challenging way to resurrect my skills with a language which I once spoke and wrote fluently, but which I’ve had little occasion to use in the last thirty years. Since the class is on-line, that means I’m writing French – the most difficult way to use a language skill. Should be an interesting eight weeks!

The first assignment included an option to make a sort of life map – identifying a core value at the center of everything one does, and then listing 3-5 priorities in each area of life, such as family, career, community, etc. I found the exercise relatively easy to do, given that my spiritual path (MasterPath) calls for a consistent effort to examine and process one’s life experiences. But I also attribute some of the ease to age – one doesn’t get to 70 and still engaged with employment, learning and community service, without having examined one’s priorities, and kept tabs on how they evolve over time.

What didn’t get addressed by the Life Ring activity was what I’d call a question of style – how do you, I, we approach daily life? I’m scheduled to facilitate an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop with a competent co-leader who is very organized, detail oriented, and most comfortable when every aspect of the workshop is clearly spelled out in advance, including how each activity links to a small number of specific topics. I on the other hand, like to ‘wing it’ for at least part of the weekend. I’ve put together an agenda that includes exercises which can be related to a number of different topics. Part of the challenge – and the learning – that I value in AVP is how it reveals interrelationships that participants have not previously considered. I trust my own skill at helping tie those relationships together, and therefore like to leave room for the unexpected to emerge as the activities are processed.

There’s a lot to be learned co-facilitating with someone whose style differs from mine. Birds of a feather may indeed flock together – but do they learn how to get along with those of a different plumage? We draw reassurance from associating with others like ourselves. We learn and grow when challenged by those with whom we have differences. Which makes the concept of thousands of students from a hundred or more different cultures all joining together to explore creativity a highly innovative concept.

The Francophone subgroup is on LinkedIn, enabling me to check the careers and interests of other members, as they can review mine. Most of those I’ve looked up so far are younger, in business, engineering, industry, very few list teaching, none that I’ve found so far work in social service or health-related careers as I have done. The instructors for the course want the students to find ways to apply the concepts we study to our fields of endeavor, and to work together in teams to develop those projects. I seem to have set myself up to stretch my creativity to the max, finding ways to apply my skills, in a second language, to areas of life with which I have little if any experience! Should be fun…Meanwhile, the course does stress that we all have the capacity to be creative – and that our styles do indeed differ. We have all been asked to take a survey that classifies us along a continuum from adaptively creative to innovatively creative. I come up moderately innovative. I suspect my AVP co-facilitator would land somewhere on the adaptive end of the dimension. I’m realizing, as I write, that by putting on the workshop with her later this month, I will have completed the major assignment of the course – which is to apply the principles of creativity, in conjunction with others, to an aspect of my professional life. Thankfully I don’t have to put on the workshop in French!


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