Posts Tagged ‘technology’

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.

In Process

April 27, 2014

It’s early Saturday morning, and with only one client to see en route (sort of) to a shopping trip in Santa Fe, it actually feels like a day off work. Perhaps because I have no intention of opening up my work computer?

Yesterday I learned that a fairly recently hired co-worker, whose presence took a load off me, has given her resignation notice. The demands of the job are too much for her “at her age”. She’s ten years younger than I am. Hmmmm…

I am significantly aware that I have not participated in any of the several opportunities to sit with others in contemplation, as I was accustomed to do before January 1st. Engaging in moving meditation has taken on a whole new meaning – no longer a structured, slowly measured walk but rather brief minutes of focused consciousness while driving from one place to another. I am trying to also achieve moments of stillness and non-thought before starting each new task of the day, and especially before opening the work computer. It does seem that the better I am centered, the more smoothly the computer operates.

May I hope, in time, to feel the same connection to that computer as I do to my VW? I’ve scheduled the car for a visit to a local mechanic, ostensibly for a check over before I take a long drive to Sedona in mid-May, but actually because something about the way the car starts in the morning has alerted me that all is not well with my trusted steed. Will I ever reach the point of being able to tell, before opening the first screen of my job-dedicated computer, that one of its many layers of security interface is experiencing a glitch and that my work session will not go well?

Have you noticed how pervasive is the tendency to think one is doing something wrong, if a project encounters obstacles? We seem to expect that once we’ve planned a course of action, and put it into motion, all should go easily. Problems that crop up are taken as criticism of our planning, or perhaps of our intentions. How unrealistic, and egocentric a view that is! Some of us who meet such obstacles simply drop the project, believing we are not meant to succeed. Others try to force their will upon the perpetrators of the obstacle, bulling their way to the desired goal. Neither process is enjoyable, neither brings much sense of achievement.

One of my teachers of MasterPath spoke of going for an outing on horseback, following a trickling water course up toward the mountains. She had to ride around large boulders, zigzagging from side to side of the stream and occasionally pushing her horse to scramble up onto one bank or the other to get around a fallen tree. Life is like that, she said – a path toward a distant goal but never smooth and straight. More than half way to the mountain, a thunderstorm erupted near the mountain top and wise woman that she is, she immediately pushed her horse up out of the arroyo and onto higher ground, heading back toward home at a brisk trot. Going to the mountains would be the project for another day. We need to be flexible, she said, and recognize when it is – and when it is not yet – time to undertake or complete projects. When it is right to push forward and when it is wise to step aside and wait.

Valentine, with Choices

Valentine, with Choices

A true measure of success is not, then, about achieving goals in one’s predetermined time frame, Rather, it is about how one behaves, feels, enjoys the process of moving toward the goal and how flexibly one adapts to the inevitable obstacles and delays that are encountered.

I’m not revealing anything new here. Only reminding myself of my best course of action in managing my demanding new schedule so as not to reach the point where I must, like my co-worker, resign in order to survive. My choices are to increase my awareness of “the flow” so as to be better able to go with it; improve my patience so as to be better able to accept God’s timetable instead of my own; and enlarge the scope of my adaptability so as to be best able to “enjoy the process rather than focus on the outcome.” Oh, and definitely to have fun along the way!

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!

Choosing an Attitude

December 14, 2013

One of the elements of my new job that was most appealing – working from home – is also revealing itself to be a challenge in ways I did not experience the last time I had a similar employment. Just a few changes in external circumstances are making a significant difference in how I relate to my obligations.

The first time I worked from home was more than 20 years ago, when I had just moved to Sapello. I lived alone, and was hired to manage and build up the clientele of a home health agency. I enjoyed being able to spread my work over the seven day week, scheduling my leisure activities intermittently with travel to clients’ homes and with the inevitable administrative work required. While I was never “off duty”, I did have a lot of choice about what I did when. I was flexibly able to fit my personal obligations and desires around work demands, rarely feeling pressured because there seemed to be enough time for everything.

Eventually the agency grew to the point that we established an office, and I became subject to a more consistent and common work schedule. I left briefly, for personal reasons, and spent eighteen months self-employed. I completed several contracts and saw clients privately for counselling sessions. When I returned to the agency, again as its branch manager, I was subject to the standard “8-5 in the office” schedule, to which I adhered for fourteen years. Eighteen months of semi-retirement and job search brought me to my present full time, salaried and home-based position.

I do not now live alone. I share my very small house with my disabled former husband, for whom I am guardian and with whom I remain friends. His health is slowly and steadily declining. A sequence of aides come to the house, to help him during the day and to see that he gets supper. The schedule is meant to assure his safety when I am away. In consequence, there are several different people added to our small space, to whom I must accommodate when I am at home. While I am, mostly, relieved of responsibility for my housemate’s care, I do have to step in, unpredictably, when an aide is unavailable. And I am responsible to assure that the schedule of services is established and maintained.

Over time, our home has become divided into “my” room, which is also the living room that contains the day bed where I sleep, and the rest of the space – sleeping area for my housemate, dining area with the table covered with items he uses for his craft projects, kitchen and bath which we share. While I was still employed at the agency, the aides were scheduled during my work hours. In the eighteen months since, I find my necessary privacy and quiet time at night, often writing (as at this moment) or reading. My housemate watches TV with earphones on, allowing me valued silence for contemplation and creation.

Embarked on my new job, I have been away from home for extended periods of orientation and training. Shortly, I expect to be scheduled for long, busy days traveling to clients’ homes, interspersed with long and demanding days at home entering information into the complex computer systems my employer has been training us to use. I’ve had just a few weeks at home, to set up my “office” and establish those systems as functional in my rural, no-cell-service area. The systems are only partially in place so far. I do not yet have a land-based work phone, and I continue to uncover wide areas from within which I have no connection to the Internet. For clients who live in those areas, I will have to take notes and then enter data later at night, after I get back home.

My office is now in a corner of the dining area where my housemate – and his aide – spend most of the day. I’m having to learn to shut out their conversation in order to concentrate on the tasks that come to me by computer. On a recent visit to a building in Albuquerque newly occupied by some of the staff of my company, I walked through a huge room of employees in cubicles, thinking how grateful I am not to be similarly situated. I only have to shut off two voices, not hundreds.

I’m realizing that one of the serious sources of stress over the last years of my former employment came from the lack of doors on offices in the various buildings that agency occupied. As a manager, I relied on knowing (hearing) what was going on throughout the office. As a person, my need for silence around me, for auditory privacy, was consistently challenged. Personal validation and social support, also important to well-being, came from co-workers and from those engaged in the various volunteer activities I’ve pursued. For recuperation, reflection, and privacy I could count on quiet at home.

Changes in my housemate’s health, including recent medical emergencies disrupting my work day plans, new aides requiring instruction that he does not provide, and the expectation from my present employer that I be available on an 8-5 Monday to Friday schedule, have combined to eliminate my control over how and when I do what needs to be done. As a result, work is not staying in balance. It is seeping into my sleep time, rousing me at 5 am to try yet another way to solve a computer problem that proves not to be solvable by me. I begin to feel encroached upon by lack of quiet personal time – and by the necessity of at least temporarily giving up almost all of my volunteer activities.

During a recent two nights alone at home, while my housemate was in hospital, I was jolted to realize that many years have elapsed since the last time I had this space to myself for more than two hours! There is already so much activity filling the house, can I actually bring work here too, without losing the last bits of “me” space?

+++++

Yes, I recognize my issue is a matter of mental attitude. My spiritual Path teaches that “the mind is an excellent servant but a terrible master.” Private, quiet, contemplative space for myself will exist wherever I am, if I make it a priority – and “set my mind”  (no, actually not my mind, but my attention) to assuring it occurs.

I may not be able to go strictly by the clock, dividing work time from private time, especially while I’m still learning how to accomplish work tasks in an efficient manner. I cannot force my work computer to move through its paces more quickly. I cannot fix my situation of intermittent Internet connectivity, which disrupts the intended work flow process and requires me to “do double work” entering data already recorded on paper.

On a Recent Misty Morning

On a Recent Misty Morning

I can teach myself not to be frustrated by the computer’s slowness, and I can line up tasks to do during the waits (like creating a  card file of important numbers and contacts). I can “take time to smell the roses” or, in this winter season watch the birds. I can revel in my ability to look up from my computer to see snow dappled fields inviting to deer, doves perched in a row on the fence beside the feeder, a squirrel gorging himself on seeds, and little birds on the ground waiting to collect what the doves and the squirrel shove over the side of the dish.

Yum!

Yum!

I may need to extend work hours into the evenings and weekends – but I can still define times when I turn off all electronics and soak up the natural sounds of wind, dogs chasing rabbits, birds arguing over priority at their feeder, and snow dripping from the eaves.

Serenity surrounds me. I need only put myself within it. I am blessed.

Disconnects

November 17, 2013

It’s odd how easily what seems like a simple communication can be misunderstood. I received a spread sheet from one of the higher ups at my new job with a label of “Staffing and Skill Set”. It only listed two of the six areas in which I have skills. I replied with a query regarding why my other four skill areas were not shown. Then from a co-worker I heard that the spread sheet is meant to indicate the areas of specialty to which we are being assigned. OK. Those two are fine with me. I replied to the emailed spread sheet with that acknowledgement, only to learn from my manager that the sheet was indeed meant to cover all our skills. Full circle, confirming a gap in communication.

*********

This morning I tried to complete online registration for the 401(K) I’m eligible to participate in, through my new employment. The managing company’s form kept giving me error messages related to the amount of contribution I wished to make, although the money is already being deducted from my check in accord with a paper application I completed through my employer’s Human Resources office. The online form doesn’t provide options for non-traditional contributors like me, who are not restricted in size of contribution, due to already being over retirement age. Nor is there any way to communicate this information without waiting until next week to call and – presumably after punching lots of irrelevant buttons – hopefully reach a person with whom I can talk through my situation.

*********

Last week, I joined a group of my classmates (all career women, all aged early 40s and up) in the bar area of the hotel where we are housed during orientation. We were taking advantage of the free drink per person, and light snacks, offered by hotel management as a thank you for our extended stay. That evening was our last together, at the end of our five weeks of orientation, before we dispersed back across the state, to work from home.

We progressed from drinks to dinner, and from talk about our training and upcoming new responsibilities to more personal sharing of events in our lives. Unaccustomed to this sort of socializing, I mostly listened – and laughed at some of the wryly told stories. Young teen offspring wanting tattoos led to the revelation that the person we all thought least likely to have one actually had three. She showed them to us, discretely – breast, hip and lower back. Another woman stood to reveal her numerous decorations on legs, arms, neck, lower back – and one that remained hidden because she said she couldn’t reveal it without stripping off her top.

She did not hesitate, however, to offer up her (clothed) chest for “a feel” of her saline implant breasts in response to a query from the woman sitting next to her, who recently underwent a double mastectomy.

At this point, we became aware of the lone male in our vicinity (by that time the only other patron in the area) whose attention was fiercely glued to his smart phone. He appeared to be in his 50s, muscularly well-built and attractive, grimly determined to ignore the behavior of our cheerfully frank and laughing group. We did, briefly, consider inviting him to join us. Embarrassing? To him, or to us? No, just funny – and a reversal of experiences we have all had, being professional women who occasionally go alone into predominantly male environments.

*********

Direct deposit of pay is mandated in my new work environment. I expected to receive a pay stub, or some similar accounting of the allocation of my money, when the disbursement was made, but so far nothing has arrived. Maybe there’s a place within “my” portion of the employer’s website to find this data, but if so I haven’t been introduced to it yet. It is, for me, a singularly uncomfortable feeling that changes are being made to my bank account virtually without my knowledge. A lifetime of instruction on the importance of being in control of my financial status is totally undermined by processes that seem designed to “go behind my back” and wrest that control away from me.

Communication is connection.
A feeling of connection is important to emotional well-being.
Why then is so much of everyday experience so disconnected, misinterpreted, overlooked, or ignored?

ERRor, ErroR, ERroR, ErrOR

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…

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!

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.

YUCK!
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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