Monthly Archives: November 2013

Random Things for which I am Thankful: Making Connections

I read this short story in my early teen years that described an unusual and cleverly designed prison.  The cells were set up in a sort of spiral within a stone enclosure.  Each cell contained one prisoner and the prison term for that prisoner was based on the length of time that it would take for his cell to work through the spiral to the opening once again.  During his term he would have no contact with other people.  I found this both fascinating from a logical standpoint – how would he eat, how did they remove waste, etc.; and horrifying from a human standpoint.

 

I no longer remember the title or the author but the premise for this story stuck in my mind.  Perhaps because it is the antithesis of our social human experience.  The time alone appealed to my introverted side, but disturbed my extroverted brain cells.  Even the most rabidly introverted person can usually see some benefit in connecting with other people, if within a much smaller group.

 

At about the same age that I came across this story, I believed that if you made a deep connection with someone, you would remain connected to that person forever.  I have a collection of hurtful memories that belie that idea.  Connection does not equate loyalty or longevity, but it doesn’t require these traits to be worthy.

 

A person met in a time of need and never seen again can have a profound effect upon you.  One person caused a terrifying car accident when my boys were very small but I choose to remember the dozen or so strangers who stopped and offered assistance without ever expecting anything in return.  I return this gift by doing the same whenever I can for other strangers in need.  These are the fleeting connections that go under the name of random acts of kindness.  They strengthen our humanity.

 

We have blood connections with family that extend from close relatives to cousins two and three times removed.  There are shared experiences of various family gatherings, there is a built in support network when times are tough.  My aunt and uncle took time out of their busy schedules to drive up and sit with my boys when I had major surgery a few years back.  It was right before Christmas but they understood that my boys would need to have advocates who had been through such an experience before.

 

The sibling relationship is so nuanced and complex.  We have shared so much, but sometimes as rivals and sometimes as allies.  When it comes down to it, a brother might be the worst tease of a sister but don’t take that to mean that as an outsider to the family you can do the same.  The brother may take you to task.  (Can you tell that my brother teased my sister and me mercilessly as children?)

 

Then there are friends and acquaintances.  The selection process for these connections begins randomly – a shared class or activity – and grows deliberately in depth, breadth and length as we nurture the relationships.  My oldest active friendships originated in my junior high years.  The interactions may go dormant here and there and due to all my moves we have a physical distance as a barrier, but we remain friends.  Connected.  In this past year I have added new people to this category; met randomly, identification of some kindred sensibility, connection growing.

I should have written names back in the day, but I am still connected to  4 of the 13, not counting myself.

I should have written names back in the day, but I am still connected to 4 of the 13, not counting myself.

 

Sometimes I might feel as though I am stuck in a stone cell, but I can shake this feeling off by remembering all my varied connections.

 

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Random Things for which I am Thankful: Reading

Reading has been a great boon for me.

 

There are many things that crowd in and call out for our attention, some important and others not terribly so.  We must constantly prioritize all of these external needs, not forgetting that we have our own different internal needs.  I want to focus on one need that is usually quiet and reserved – therefore not often gaining the attention that it deserves from us in the clamor from all the other things in our lives.

 

We should feed our brains regularly.  Sure you think that your brain gets plenty of stimulation with that impossibly long to-do list.  Stimulation and feeding are very different things.  I’ll explain what I mean by feeding, I think you are plenty clear on stimulation.

 

Remember back into your early days when you were eager to learn things that adults knew and that seemed wholly mysterious to you?  Like reading.  I hope that you have at least one memory of curling up in an adult’s lap and reading.  While you search your memory, I’ll share some of my thoughts on reading and some memories.

 

The earliest books that we were given had wonderful pictures and some had a combination of pictures and these black shapes that adults could decode.  Growing curious, it started to become clear that many of the shapes repeated again and again and they were somehow related to the words that the adult would say to tell us the story.  How many of you had a favorite story or two that you knew so well you could pretend to read it?

 

When it was time we finally went to school and learned how to make sense of those shapes, called letters, and to understand how they combined to make words and sentences which made up these stories that opened up our worlds to things far beyond what we could experience in our little neighborhoods.

 

Reading became something that could be shared such as story time at the library, or as part of a classroom lesson – or reading could be something that could be done alone.  For me, reading was always a treat.  Gradually the books became longer and the pictures less frequent but the words would create pictures in my mind to flesh out the story.

 

As I grew I always had a book that I was reading for pleasure – even as an English major in college when I had quite a stack to read for class.  I made time for reading with each new stage of my life.  Then as an expectant mother I had visions of the joy that would come out of sharing my reading passion with my baby.

 

And we did read together, and it was just as wonderful to be the adult cuddling a child in my lap as it had been to be the read-to cuddled child.  (The downside of early motherhood, especially after I had 2 little ones, was that I only managed to read one very short book for my own pleasure in a whole year’s time.)

DSC03604

My boys and I read together often, even once they could read on their own and they got into all the after school activities.  Then our shared reading time moved to a bedtime ritual.  We progressed into classics like Watership Down and read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (I skipped the Elvish).  It was regular together time that fed all of our minds.  I was devastated when they told me perhaps it was time to stop once they were in their early teen years.

 

I consoled myself with the thought that we had kept story time going much longer than most other families.  Plus we had the bonus of the Harry Potter series.  We reconvened for the latest in that series until my older son was 16.  (Sadly, we each read the last book separately – but discussed it together afterward.)

 

These are good memories with my boys.  I have so many more memories of books that resonate for me down through my years – books that I read as a teen or young adult that have deep meaning to this day.

 

I know that your life is full of so very many obligations, I do.  But your brain wants to be fed.  One of the simplest ways to accomplish this is to pick up a book.  Any book on a topic that interests you – fiction, biography, sports.  I will tell you that it can take me a ridiculously long time to finish even escapist fiction.  I might only read a page or two in a day.  But that page or two takes me away from the everyday of my own life and allows me to experience life as someone else.

 

Reading about something outside your own experience, fiction or not, provides the opportunity to expand your knowledge base and the mental tools that you use to be successful.

 

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Random Things for which I am Thankful: Opportunities

A person once told me that ‘You have to try new things’.  Now we’ll set aside the irony that at the time of the telling, despite my lower age, I had already tried many more things than this person and we’ll focus on the intent of the statement itself.  She was right.

 

There are so many quotes from well-known people past and present about opportunity, carpe diem (seize the day), that I could fill the rest of this post with worthy quotes and have done.  Plus there are whole books on this topic, but my take is why I am thankful for opportunity.

 

I would, and did, tell people right on up through my 30s that I was risk averse.  I wanted a quiet, pleasant, family-centric life filled with familiar things and regular rituals like gathering for Thanksgiving.  My life had taken me to different cities, in 6 states, which stretched my shyness sorely.  I learned to advocate for myself and my family because we were far from the support of extended family.  I had seen all the bumps and hassles with moving companies and utilities and the like as pure frustration, but looking back these were opportunities to learn to be polite but firm, to probe for mutual solution, to be my own best advocate.

 

Moving regularly means leaving behind family and friends, again and again.  It means being the new person wishing for a friendly face.  It means learning how to turn a stranger into a friendly face by taking small steps; by not fearing a roomful of people.  Moving taught me the baby steps to networking long before the word’s definition included this facet of making new contacts and turning those contacts into relationships of varying degrees.  Back then a network was CBS, NBC or ABC.

moving out-8-28-99

Moving means getting acquainted with the fear of the unknown.  Whether the move is a happy thing, or a necessity it is a change in routine, a new set of places to learn; familiar possessions in new positions and unfamiliar rooms.  It shakes things up and rearranges.  Complacency is broken, sometimes providing fertile ground for new ideas to grow.  ‘I can’t do that’ can be seen from a new angle to realize, ‘Well, I know most of what I need to do that’.  Moving gets a person to develop what resilience they have naturally, which is really handy when life offers other bumps in your road.

 

I haven’t talked about opportunity in the familiar manner – get a job offer that you can’t refuse sort of thing.  Because opportunity is often much more subtle than that and therefore far more frequent.  We aren’t likely to get amazing job offers out of the blue very often, but opportunities probably present themselves almost daily if we pay attention.

 

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Wanted to do This, but That Got in the Way

Have you ever just been eager to start on something but been prevented because something that you need to do what you want requires attention before you can get into your desired task?  So frustrating!

 

For the last month plus I have been finding more often than not that when I sit down to write – blog post idea percolating away in my head – my Microsoft Word must be reinstalled.  Grrr.  Now I must deal with this technical issue and risk losing the essence of my post idea unless I start to write it out long hand.  My thoughts come faster than I can sketch out this way, that is why I love composing on the computer.

 

There are plenty of other examples; getting ready to bake something and finding I am short on a key ingredient, wrapping a package and the tape is missing in action, nearing the end of a project but still have an open question due from someone else.  So close, and yet…  Ticking this task off the to-do list will just have to wait.  Darn it.

Pushme-Pullyou from the original Dr Doolittle movie.  (my appreciation has lasted a lifetime)

Pushme-Pullyou from the original Dr Doolittle movie. (my appreciation has lasted a lifetime)

 

A few years ago I just couldn’t quite motivate myself to get in the car and go off on vacation.  A vacation that included my cousin’s wedding.  I’m not sure what prompted my malaise, but I waited until the morning of departure to pack and then did so in a desultory fashion, all the while fighting with the idea that I just wouldn’t go.  When I finally got myself on the road, it was only perhaps an hour into the drive when I started to think of toiletries and other items that I had forgotten to pack and by the time I stopped for a break I had almost a dozen things listed.

 

It wasn’t anything that I couldn’t replace at the nearest drug store – the worst was my favorite lipstick and the drug store where I stopped didn’t have an equivalent color.  And it was more my own head that got in the way in this instance and created external obstacles, but I still had to push through it.  I did end up having a lovely time, and a much needed break from work.

 

Hmm, my frustration with Word is what prompted this post and I’ve taken it somewhere I didn’t intend.  I guess my point then is that it is good to plan, but also to push through the unplanned or frustrating parts.

 

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Not an Optimal Time to Think

If we were to be asked, we would say that we should always think about what’s going on, what we are doing because it cuts down on mistakes.  And then there is reality, often a far cry from what is best practice.  Well, to err is human.

 

Ask a person how something went wrong – a car accident, a work mistake, hurt feelings after a callous comment – and the answer most likely boils down to ‘I didn’t think’.  Too much was going on in that person’s mind at that moment and the most immediate task became the casualty of the overtaxed thinking process.

thinking

This is why we practice things, why we drill something over and over, so that the activity creates a sort of groove in our brain and that memory kicks in every time we take up that activity.  (Think of the times that you have been tired and pulled into your driveway and realized you don’t remember the trip at all.)  All that practice makes it more possible that we’ll do the right thing even if we might be fighting panic or illness or something else entirely.  But it isn’t foolproof.

 

I have tacked up bits and scraps of paper near my writing desk (which I rarely use now that I have a laptop…), these scraps hold advice on writing from past well-known writers.  One is apropos for today, because it can be applied to thinking as well as writing.  It is Herman Melville who said it, but it comes to us through Sarah Paretsky; a writer must be in a ‘silent grass growing mood’ in order to write.

 

Think of all the times that you know a thing but it just won’t crystalize in that moment.  Most likely because that moment isn’t an optimal time to think – there is noise, distraction, pressure coming from somewhere and clouding your thought process.

 

I equate this to my math difficulties.  My brain shuts down on any math when I am in a group.  This goes back to a horrid game that was suddenly introduced to me on a steel gray February morning in 2nd or 3rd grade.  I had just moved to the school, so my classmates had been practicing this game for months.  To this day my brain simply says no if I have to do math when there is any attention on me.

 

I needed a silent grass growing mood to get a firm grasp on math concepts and then practice to gain speed before I played that stupid game.  Even understanding the root of my math anxiety, it is rarely an optimal time for me to think in mathematical concepts when I’m in public.

 

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Do You Know When You’re Done?

I was just plowing through a few household chores, feeling effective because I could see immediate results as things were put in their proper place, wiped down and such.  I felt like I accomplished something – a feeling that is hard to come by in our modern world.  Particularly at work.

 

Back when we were mostly an agrarian society, it was easier to see when we were done – animals fed and given clean stalls, garden weeded, wash on the line to dry.  A person could end the day with a sense of accomplishment.  Most of these tasks would still have to be repeated the next day, but a person could rest knowing that the job was done for that day; stability had been maintained.

public domain image

public domain image

 

Now there might be a quota of orders to fill in a warehouse, or parts to be made on an assembly line or projects to be worked on in an office but done is a bit harder to see and feel.  So what if I made and received a lot of calls plus dealt with many emails, I didn’t get done because there are still more.  That quota in the warehouse or plant might have been met, but there are still more behind them that the workers can see.  The quota is lodged in a computer somewhere.

 

We need to feel a sense of accomplishment, but we’ve made this nearly impossible to achieve.  That stability that previous generations could build seems nebulous to us.  How do we capture and nurture it again?

 

I wish I could say that I have an answer that works for me.  Even as I was whipping through the straightening and minor cleaning of my house this morning, there were glaring hints of the larger jobs that have been neglected for one reason or another (time, know-how, money).

 

One thing that I can say, since I have been aware of this accomplishment deficit, is that I make a point of reviewing what I have completed every day.  Even if it wasn’t something that I intended to do, or is very minor.  By consciously focusing on these checked off, crossed out tasks I can somewhat counteract the weight of all the partially done tasks in front of me.

 

What about you, do you know when you’re done?

 

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Coloring, Color, Colorful

Did you like to color as a child?  A boxful of crayons and a coloring book, a rainy afternoon, a good spot at the table – happiness was mine.  I envied the kids who got the big box of crayons but I could do a lot by blending colors.  I manage to revisit this simple pleasure periodically – with my own boys, then nieces and nephews.  The kids grow out of their coloring stage and my urge goes dormant.

My Crayon Stash

My Crayon Stash

 

But not the joy that I get from color – I am not a monochromatic person – my preference for color is always active.  Over the years the colors on the palette that attract my eye the most have changed.  In childhood it seemed that everyone said their favorite color was blue, so I decided that I wasn’t a fan.  Until cobalt blue came into my life.  And I had a sweet little electric blue car for a few years.  Plus combine blue with green and I can feel my muscles relaxing.

 

Walk through a garden with its green and splashes of color and suddenly you realize that there are countless shades and tones to a single color.  I dare you not to smile.  Your heart not to feel just a bit lighter.

 

I live in the suburbs, more green that many cities, but mostly shades of concrete.  Bleh.  When I can get in the car and drive away until green is the predominant color, I can feel my breathing getting deeper and my eyes seem to see more clearly – cleansed of all the suburban tans.

 

I do wear the neutrals – your grays, blacks, browns and tans – as a basis for some type of color.  I would have made a terrible Goth going around trying to add a spot of color to everyone else’s outfit.  Just ask anyone I see regularly who wears too much black.

 

How about you – how does color affect you?  Or doesn’t it?

 

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Intellectual Calisthenics

Some weeks just seem to be overfull of mental obstacle courses – over this wall, through that muck, around the barrier, dodge the danger zone, swim this channel, start this next obstacle course.  And again.  Oh my.

photo credit: Wikipedia, Marine Pull ups

photo credit: Wikipedia, Marine Pull ups

The brainy neuroscience folks like to tell us that this is good for our minds, keeps us sharp.  Hmm, I feel more like I have a puddle in my head after a couple of days like this and can’t be trusted to decide what’s for dinner.  I don’t really care in those moments that I might be lowering my risk of dementia.  In fact I tend to feel slightly demented after too many days of intellectual calisthenics.

One good puzzle here and there and I agree, my brain is the better for the exercise.  For instance in the calm quiet as I write this, it has been a good challenge to remember how to spell calisthenics.  (My fingers don’t want to spell it correctly and resent that I keep using the word.)  It’s when there is a relentless string of exercises that things get wearing.  Like I’m in my own extended, real life version of a disaster movie.  How much more can be piled on?

(That last question is rhetorical, I don’t really want to find out.  I thought that I better put that point out there, just in case some force wants to explore the answer.)

Well, the sun is shining and that is a November feat not to be ignored, so perhaps I should take a break from intellectual exercise and go get some of the physical kind.  The leaves need to be raked, so I’ll think about that as I take a walk and soak up some sun rays.

How have you exercised your own mind lately?  And how do you feel about it?

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

The Cold is Coming

The sun has melted today’s light layer of frost from the still green grass and shrubs.  I read a brief article in the paper a couple of days ago that our autumn is protracted this year because it started out and stayed mild for so long.  I read a different article early last month that predicted a cold and snowy winter (of course I believe that was the prediction for my area last year too, which was far from the truth).  Cold is coming.

Frost on dying peony leaves.

Frost on dying peony leaves.

 

I’ve lived in places that experience all four seasons for most of my life and I do like three of them – it is a toss-up whether spring or fall is my most favored.  But I haven’t ever been a fan of winter with its limited color palette; difficulty in getting around in snow, ice and slush; few hours of daylight; and nippy temperatures. 

 

I can only think back on a handful of times in my life that I enjoyed winter – a few blissful afternoons sledding with friends, learning to ice skate, and the stark beauty and silence of a frigid winter night with the crunching crust of snow underfoot as almost the only sound.  Certainly joyful things have occurred in winter months, but these were not dependent upon the winter weather as part of their charm.

 

We humans like to make adjustments to our general environment to suit our own needs, so in my imaginings I have wiped away winter.  But the wild green growing things that are now settling into dormant slumber need this respite to thrive.  And I can’t deny them this necessity since they offer me so much the other 3 seasons of the year.

 

I am therefore, deeply grateful that I live in this age of central heating with programmable thermostats – allowing for a comfortable room temperature when it is time for me to get up in the morning.  I wince at the discomfort for our ancestors who had to gather their fortitude just to get up and start a fire to be warm. 

 

I appreciate that we have holidays during these cold months which will add splashes of color to the whites, browns and tans nature offers – red and green for Christmas, more red for Valentine’s Day.  Colors are important for visual interest and stimulation.  Not to mention how they can affect mood.

 

Every year at this time I watch the birds fly south (I walked past a tree full of songbirds the other day, probably the last for a few months) and wonder how I might do the same.  I read about the animals who hibernate, and have been dodging all the squirrels frantically preparing for their long sleep, and wonder if that might be my solution.  Knowing that neither option is viable for me, but wishing all the same.

 

Perhaps you will help me to pass the time, and make it worthwhile, through this cold and dormant season?

 

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Assigning Motives

Sometimes I watch these procedural dramas on TV like Criminal Minds and CSI because I like to see the methodology.  But the creators seem to think that they must show obscenely deviant behavior to make their point and that is wearing.  We have so many of these shows and books that it starts to seem much more common than it really is to have psychopaths running loose.

 

We do like to know why something happened, why someone did something.  It helps us to know what to do with the experience.  Most of us will never, thankfully, encounter someone who is psychotic but we do have plenty of incidents in our daily interactions and we assign motives to the other participants in these incidents so that we can categorize the why, make some sense, decide how to react or move on.

 

For instance, we should all be conscious in our interactions with businesses that their motive is profit – sometimes in a manner that is beneficial to us as well as the company and sometimes at our caution.  (I’ll refer you back to my post about my dumb phone, I don’t see the services offered with these smart phones as more beneficial to me than the profit the company gains – or even as equally beneficial.)  Businesses have marketing folks to smooth over their profit motive and make their product or service as attractive as possible to the largest pool of potential customers.  And buyer who forgets the underlying business motive beware.

public domain image

public domain image

 

Where assigning motives really gets interesting, though, is in our one on one or group interactions.   Have you heard friends or coworkers say things like, ‘he’s out to get me’, ‘she always gets her way’, ‘of course the company scheduled X when I had other plans’?  When we are assigning motives, they are usually negative.

public domain image

public domain image

 

We all do it, but do we ever question what our own motive is in making these assignments?  What criteria are we applying to come to this conclusion?  Back to these shows, sometimes they come up with these outlandishly fully realized motives from the thinnest of clues.  (Purportedly the characters are just that brilliant.)  We need to examine the criteria that we are applying for false reasoning, question our own motives in assigning motives once in a while.

 

Complex and devious motives probably exist more often on these TV dramas than in our own interactions.  What do you think?

 

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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